Retrospective: 2016

Retrospective: 2016

As has become my custom, I take a look back at the previous year, the good and the bad, the surprising and the obvious, and reflect on the year as a whole. Many would agree with me that 2016 was not a great year. It saw turbulence across the globe, in all aspects of daily life. From the unfortunate events leading to Black Lives Matter, to the impossible-to-predict effects of the Brexit vote, the huge political upset in the United States where a TV reality star and business mogul won the Presidency, and technology became not just an effect on everyday life, but became responsible for affecting actual change. It has been a year for the record books, and not necessarily in a good way.

As for myself, I’ll be happy to put 2016 in the past, and move forward into the future.

This year, looking back, it was clearly about one thing for Jenny and I: my parents. By the end of this year, I was feeling the effects of the stress and weariness of the pressure of dealing with my father’s deteriorating health, and my mother’s need for assistance with the same. It’s never easy to see your parents getting older and dealing with their age; I’m learning how difficult that is first-hand.

Still, I’m gratified by the fact that Jenny and I are in a position to provide the assistance they need; things would only be more stressful if we weren’t.

So breaking down this year falls into a few distinct categories: Mom and Dad; Mom’s Health; Dad’s Health; and Jenny and I. I’ll also throw in the Things That Changed category, where I detail all the things that changed in our lives (other than the clearly obvious ones).

Mom and Dad

By the end of 2015, it was clear that Mom and Dad needed to move closer to family, whether that be myself, my brother Don, or Dad’s family in San Antonio. Their secluded property in East Texas was not healthy for them, and they could no longer rely entirely on each other for their daily needs.

On January 8th, we paid the deposit on an apartment for them in Houston, and the move was officially on. Over the next few weeks, I would make nearly weekly trips up to the property to help pack, and prepare things for the move.

 

On January 24th, during one of those trips, we nearly lost Freckles (one of our two dogs) when she got loose during a bathroom run. There was an enormous open field that she could have run for miles and miles, and she was not at all interested in returning to us. Fortunately, there was another man walking his dog nearby, and she decided to run and bark (and torment) that dog, rather than run off, or run the other direction into traffic. The man helped us capture Freckles, and we were able to get her back into the car, and ultimately, home. We were upset with her for several days afterward, but she wormed her way back into our good graces with her cuteness. Hopefully we never experience that again—it was frightening.

On February 5th, Mom and Dad officially put the property up for sale, as it was clear that they would no longer need it, and would need the money at some point in the future.

On March 5th, the movers arrived at the property, and loaded up the majority of what Mom and Dad needed for the apartment in Houston. We got everything into the apartment, and settled enough for them to spend their first night back in Houston that evening. Of course, the next few days (and weeks) were spent getting them all settled into their new home.

On April 16th, I was able to take Dad out for lunch for his 75th birthday. While we were out, we drove over to the old neighborhood and looked at the house we lived in for so many years.

On May 7th, I took my mother out for lunch for her birthday, and just kind of enjoyed an afternoon with her. The very next day, on May 8th, Mom, Dad, Jenny and I all went to an Astros game at Minute Maid Park, where we had fantastic seats in the Crawford boxes. The game was played on Mother’s Day, so the Astros were decked out in pink. Sadly though, I was not able to get a ball.

In July, Dad took a trip to Michigan to stay with Don and Saundra for a couple of weeks. He left on July 16th, and returned on the 31st. It was kind of a miracle that he was able to go at all, as he was in the hospital up until the day he left—more on that in the Dad’s Health section.

While Dad was in Michigan, Mom adopted a new dog named Honey. Though he’s got his issues, he has helped fill a void in Mom’s life, since the passing of her dear dog Buddy, in late 2015. Honey has become a full member of the family, for sure.

On August 19th, Mom and Dad were having some issues, and Mom moved in temporarily with Jenny and I, giving her some time to have space from Dad. She didn’t intend on staying that long, but surgeries, and other issues prevented her moving back until October 22nd.

On August 29th, Dad decided to take the Mini out for a drive, just to see if he could still drive. He couldn’t. He hit a tree and got lost, and ended up calling the police, who took him home. Mom and I retrieved the car the next day and returned it to the apartment.

As a result of many factors, Mom and I broached the topic of assisted living with Dad on September 7th. He wasn’t completely against the idea, which surprised both Mom and I, and so we began a search for a place for him in earnest.

The very next day, September 8th, my grandmother, and Dad’s mother passed away, at age 94. She had been suffering from dementia for years, and had been on her deathbed for quite some time, so it was not surprising to anybody, really. Still, it was a sad day. All four of us traveled to San Antonio on September 12th to attend her funeral. We let Dad stay for a few days to visit with family afterward, and I returned to pick him up later in the week.

Later in September, on the 24th, Mom and I toured a place named Brookdale Shadowlake for the first time. It was immediately obvious it was at the top of the list for assisted living for Dad. We would look at some other places, but none of them were as nice or helpful as Brookdale.

While trying to make plans to get Dad into Brookdale, Mom’s wallet was stolen on October 3rd, while she was shopping at Walmart. Then, on October 6th, when trying to get the Mini fixed, we found out the car was totaled, since the repairs would cost more than the car was worth. This would lead to an actually positive result, but at the time, was less than ideal.

As a result of Grandma’s passing, the inheritance allowed Mom to afford a brand-new car, which she purchased on October 15th. It was her first-ever brand-new car, and she absolutely loves it. She purchased a Kia Sportage, which is large enough to fit Dad’s wheelchair, and easy enough for him to get in and out of. It also happens to have some very nice features, like an enormous sunroof, and leather seating.

On October 30th, we moved Dad’s belongings into Brookdale (he was still in a physical rehab facility during this time). His new home was settled, and all of us eagerly awaited his arrival there. We were excited for him, as he would get the help he needed, as well as some social interaction with people other than Mom and I. He officially moved in on November 7th, when he was released from physical rehab, and was much stronger and more alert than when he arrived there. The very next day, on November 8th, we brought over a replacement TV stand for him, as he fell and destroyed the existing one after less than 24 hours in his new place.

Mom moved in with Jenny and I officially on November 4th, and we spent the new few weeks cleaning up and removing items from the apartment, before turning in the keys by the end of November.

In all, it had been a whirlwind year, but finally, things have begun to settle down to a new normality, which we all need desperately.

Mom’s Health

Mom was really quite healthy all year, but had several surgeries, and a couple of mishaps during the year.

On May 20th, she had a tooth removed, which required some minor surgery.

On July 7th, she had surgery for carpal tunnel in her right hand.

On August 18th, she was admitted to the hospital for observation, after I took her to the ER for chest and neck pains. She was discharged the next day, but it was never clear what the cause was, other than low magnesium.

On September 15th, Mom had a major surgery for a hysterectomy, which required quite a bit of recovery, and limitations to physical activity. This was one of the main reasons she stayed with Jenny and I, rather than returning to the apartment.

On September 20th, Mom and I returned to the ER believing she had internal bleeding, as a result of the surgery. Fortunately, this turned out not to be true, and she was sent home without being admitted.

On October 7th, the day we were clearing out the Mini, Mom fell and hurt her knee rather badly. Fortunately, nothing was broken, but the swelling and bruising was quite considerable, and took several weeks to clear up.

Lastly, on December 8th, Mom had her other carpal tunnel surgery, this time on her left hand, which will hopefully allow her to live pain-free in both hands.

Dad’s Health

Over the past couple of years, Dad has suffered from numerous UTI’s, leading to hospitalization several times. 2016 was no different, and like clockwork, he suffered from the same conditions.

On March 12th, less than a week after moving to Houston, he was admitted to the hospital with a UTI.

He was back in the ER almost exactly 2 months later on May 13th with another UTI. He was not admitted this time, but sent home with antibiotics.

Almost exactly two months later (again), he was admitted to the hospital on July 14th with a UTI. This was just a couple of days before his scheduled trip to Michigan, and we feared he wasn’t going to be able to go. Fortunately, he was given a good bill of health, and released on the 16th, just in time to get to the airport and make his flight.

On October 3rd, Dad had his first visit with the VA doctor, who is his Primary Physician now. It was a great visit, and something that we should have done sooner. The VA has been great.

Unfortunately, on October 15th, Dad was admitted to the hospital once again for a UTI. This one was nearly 3 months to the day since his last hospitalization for the same. This also happened to be the same day we were out with Mom buying her a new car. We had to go straight from the dealership to the hospital, as his condition noticeably worsened over the course of a couple of hours. This was the worst UTI he’s had in quite some time, and resulted in his being sent to a physical rehab facility to help him get his strength back.

On November 1st, Dad had an appointment with the VA hospital in the Houston medical center for a mental evaluation. It was a chaotic and stressful day, and not one of Dad’s finest. He was officially diagnosed with Dementia, which Mom and I had suspected for some time, but was finally confirmed.

Now that he’s been in Brookdale for over a month, he’s doing much better, though the cost of the facility (which is increasing January 1st) will prevent us from keeping him there indefinitely. Already, Mom and I are having to look at alternatives.

On November 8th, the check for the property arrived, closing the door on that chapter of their lives. The trailer was (literally) buried and gone, and the next chapter for Mom and Dad has begun.

Jenny and I

Though 2016 was a rough year, it wasn’t without its moments. As is usually the case, Jenny and I had our own things we wanted to do this year, and were able to accomplish some of them.

On January 16th, I hosted my first LAN party at the house. This is a party where my friends and I get together and play computer games. It takes over the whole house, as it’s filled with men, their computers, and lots of swearing and yelling, but it was a lot of fun, even if I’m getting too old to play games for hours on end without sleep.

On March 1st, I flew to Dallas, TX to receive my performance review. It was nice to get to meet some of my co-workers in person for the first time there. I got a good review, which I’ve come to be proud of, and overall, it was a nice day-trip.

On March 8th, Jenny got into a tiny car accident, causing minimal damage to her car, and none to the other, so no insurance claim was filed by either party.

On March 12th, Jenny and I went to the Livestock Show to visit with some friends of Jenny’s, who were in town.

Later, on March 19th, I was the ‘official’ photographer for Jenny’s Aunt Beth’s 90th birthday party. I got some excellent photos, and the family was very appreciative of my efforts.

April 7th through the 10th, Jenny and I traveled to Memphis, TN for a trip we had been looking forward to for quite some time. We rented an Airbnb for the first time for the trip, which worked out pretty nicely. Unfortunately, Jenny had a severe migraine for most of the trip, so it wasn’t as enjoyable of a trip as we’re used to taking, but we still had a good time. We visited the Lorraine Motel, and the Civil Rights museum, as well as walked along Beale Street, and ate once again at Rendezvous, which was just as good as I’d remembered.

On May 31st, I headed out for a trip to Chicago for work, where I got to meet several of my colleagues from Canada, who were in town for their annual meetings. We had a large group that went to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, which was very fun. The Cubs won the game, too, which was nice.

On June 26th, my brother Don and his wife Saundra came to town to visit Dad. They stayed with Jenny and I and were around through July 4th, so got to take part in our first fireworks display at our house. It wasn’t much, but was still fun.

While here, we went for a road trip with Don and Saundra to Waco, TX, where we visited the Magnolia Silos, made famous by the TV show Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines. Neither Jenny or I had seen the show before going there, so it didn’t mean all that much to us, but Don & Saundra were excited.

Later in July, on the 24th, we got a group together to go see the new Star Trek Beyond film, but shortly before the movie started, the power at the theater went out, so we ended up having to take a rain-check. We would end up seeing the film the following week.

On September 23rd, I began an epic teardown of all my LEGO modular buildings, in preparation for putting my my annual LEGO Christmas village. The only place we had to put it up this year was in my office, and so I had to make room somehow.

Jenny went back to Waco on October 7th, along with her dad, hoping to get copies of a book written by a family member decades ago. Unfortunately, it’s still under copyright, so only 30 pages or so could be photocopied. There are only two known existing copies of the book—one of which is in Waco, and the other is in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

On October 22nd, history was made when the Chicago Cubs won the NLCS and advanced to the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and went on to win the World Series on November 2nd, in an epic Game 7, giving the Cubs their first championship since 1908 – a 108 year wait. Needless to say, the city of Chicago, and all Cubs fans across the country went nuts. The fact that I was able to attend a game at Wrigley during their winning season helps me feel a part of it.

On November 8th, the country took to the polls, and Mom and I watched the returns closely for most of the night. When it was all over and counted, Donald Trump had won the electoral college (though not the popular vote) to become the next president of the United States. It was one of the biggest upsets in modern history.

November brought other things to our home, like a baby shower for Jenny’s cousin, Tamara on the 12th. We spent a lot of time preparing the house, cleaning, and getting things ready. Once that day arrived, I left the house to avoid all the ladies, and went and visited my dad at Brookdale.

On November 13th, I finally convinced Jenny to let me get a drone. I’ve been wanting one for a long time, but since my ‘helicopter’ accident back in 2010, Jenny wouldn’t let me near anything that flies. I got an insanely good deal on a DJI Phantom 3 Standard, which I couldn’t pass up, and so we bought it. I was immediately hooked by how awesome drones are, and am a huge drone enthusiast now. I’m always on the lookout now for places to fly it. I even used it at Thanksgiving for a family portrait. Speaking of which…

Later in November, we celebrated Thanksgiving at home, with many family members, including Mom and Dad. We had about 19 people at our house for the holiday, and it worked out pretty successfully. It wouldn’t be the last holiday we hosted this year though.

Moving into the final month of the year, there was still a lot on the agenda. On December 7th, Jenny got her early birthday present, the Cozmo robot, which is a nifty little piece of technology. We went out for her birthday on the 10th, eating at The Melting Pot for the first time. It was quite the experience.

On December 17th, Mom, Jenny, Grandma Phyllis, Zach and myself went to see “Star Wars: Rogue One” on IMAX 3D. It was an amazing film, and I would go on to see it a couple more times in theaters.

On the 22nd, Don and Saundra flew in to Houston for Christmas. I picked them up at the airport.

On the 23rd, I had an eye exam, and I ordered a new pair of prescription glasses, as well as a pair of prescription sunglasses (my first ever.) I haven’t really had a pair at all since September, when my existing pair got destroyed by one of the dogs.

On the 24th, we brought Dad to the house to have Christmas with us, and we opened our gifts, ate some fantastic food, and just enjoyed the holiday. Everyone really enjoyed their gifts, including myself.

Don & Saundra’s visit came to an end on December 27th, when I took them to the airport. They were headed back to Michigan to enjoy a few more days off, before having to return to work.

Jenny and I also took a much-needed vacation to Austin, leaving on the 28th, and staying at the Lakeside Resort Spa, where we relaxed, and enjoyed a top-notch hotel. We tried eating at Franklin Barbecue, but long lines prevented us from doing so, so we went to our old standby for great Austin BBQ, The Salt Lick. On the way home on the 30th, we hit up Round Rock Donuts.

Finally, we capped off the year with a New Year’s Eve get-together at our house, where we played Cards Against Humanity, drank alcohol, and I took my drone up before Midnight to capture the fireworks from up high.

Things That Changed

On February 6th, we ordered all-new living room furniture, including a couch, love-seat, recliner, coffee table, and entertainment center with piers and bridge. Most of it got delivered on February 11th, but some of it didn’t arrive until March. Overall, it’s a very nice addition to our home, and feels a lot more ‘grown-up’ than our other furniture.

On February 24th, I once again started using Mint for my financial software. I’ve had problems with Quicken, and was never all that crazy about YNAB. Mint has always had its roadblocks for me too, but I finally gave it another shot. It seems like I am constantly looking for a decent financial software.

On May 5th, I made a big change to my daily to-do lists, abandoning Todoist, and switching to using Outlook (for work) and the Apple Reminders app on my iPhone/iPad/Mac. The ability to add tasks hands-free by voice was the main reason for this, and I’ve been very happy with it since making the switch.

On June 21st, I found out I was getting a new boss at work. This was mostly an organizational change, as one of my colleagues was getting promoted, whom I got along with very well. This didn’t really change much from a day-to-day basis.

On July 12th, I bought a set of Philips Hue light-bulbs for home. These were the color-changing bulbs, which are actually pretty unnecessary. Still, being able to automate lights, and voice-control them is pretty nice.

In August, I finished a project I had been working on for some time, getting all our movies digitized, so we could watch any of our films without having to dig through boxes of DVD’s.

On September 9th, I pre-ordered the new iPhone 7 for Jenny and I. I chose to go with the larger model this year, the iPhone 7 Plus. It took some getting used to the larger size though.

On September 28th, I got my new LEGO Christmas set, and our new iPhones arrived the same day.

On October 22nd, I painted Mom’s room (what used to be our guest room). She picked a nice purple color, and the room turned out quite nice.

Jenny had a lot of problems with her new iPhone 7, and so we took it into the Apple store on November 13th, where they exchanged it for another unit. Unfortunately, the problems would reoccur later in December.

And lastly, with the new data limits ISP’s have been placing on home internet connections, we were entering our 3rd month of going over the limit. As a result, I upgraded us to Gigabit internet through AT&T, which comes with unlimited data, so bandwidth isn’t a concern any more. Unfortunately, the 1Gbps speeds are a bit underwhelming. I get about 500Mbps (at most) through a hardwired connection, and only about 90Mbps via WiFi. Still, it’s a lot faster than the previous connection of 24Mbps I was getting, so streaming 4K video is an actual option now.

Summary

All in all, 2016 was a stressful and event-filled year, where I was going full-tilt for most of the year. I was glad for things to finally stabilize a bit in December, though. 2017 looks to be interesting for any number of factors, including the inauguration of a new president; our 10th wedding anniversary, Dad’s continued health deterioration, and settling into our new normal, with another member of the household.

Still, I can’t help but feel immensely grateful. Grateful for my wife, who is understanding, supportive, and puts up with my and my quirks. Grateful that my parents are close-by now, and regularly able to be a part of my life. Grateful that I have a great job that allows me to afford both the type of lifestyle that I’ve become accustomed to, and presents me with the challenges to keep my engaged and occupied by my profession. Grateful that my health is still reasonably good (even though I could afford to lose some weight, and learn to eat healthier).

Here’s to putting 2016 behind us, and moving into the new year. Here’s to 2017.

What I Read in 2016: The Year In Review

What I Read in 2016: The Year In Review

For the Goodreads graphical version of this report, click here.

Over the past few years, I’ve set myself fairly aggressive reading goals, and managed to hit those goals. 2016 is the first year that I can remember falling short of my goal, and not by a little bit—but a lot.

My challenge to myself this year was to read 20 books, and I’ve only managed 19. That’s down almost in half from my total last year (itself down significantly from the year before). In fact, it’s the smallest number of books I’ve read in over a decade, and probably longer (I started tracking in 1999).

My staggering decline in reading started with my new job, which eliminated my daily commute. I used to let my Kindle read to me while driving to and from work, which allowed me to get through books at a more prodigious rate than simply reading when I had free time available. Add to the fact that 2016 left me very little free time at all, other than just before bed, and I end up with the low numbers overall.

Still, that’s not to say there weren’t some great books I read this year, because there were. Unfortunately, there are more books on my to-read list than I’ll probably ever get to. When I ended 2015, I had 84 books on this list. As of the end of 2016, the list stands at 96. At my current rate of reading, it will take me six years to finish them all—and that’s assuming nothing else gets added to the list, which most certainly will happen.

Looking forward to the next year, I’ve got some series that I want to both begin and continue, as well as some standalone novels that look really interesting. My choices lately have been difficult to make, partly due to the fact that I want to spend my limited time reading good books. As a result, I’ve shied away from some books that I might otherwise have selected.

Still, it’s time to look back at what I read this year:

Books

Books Read: 19
Pages Read: 7,650 (20.95 pages/day)
Average Length: 403 pages
Shortest Book: 332 pages (Old Man’s War)
Longest Book: 583 pages (Leviathan Wakes)
My Average Rating for 2016: 4.1

  1. Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt (370 pages | 1/1 – 1/11 | My rating: 4/5)
  2. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (498 pages | 1/11 – 1/31 | My rating: 5/5)
  3. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (400 pages | 1/31 – 2/16 | My rating: 3/5)
  4. ** Morning Star by Pierce Brown (545 pages | 2/16 – 2/28 | My rating: 5/5)
  5. ** Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (583 pages | 2/29 – 4/7 | My rating: 4/5)
  6. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi (332 pages | 4/8 – 4/19 | My rating: 5/5)
  7. Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer (366 pages | 4/21 – 4/29 | My rating: 4/5)
  8. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (467 pages | 4/30 – 5/21 | My rating: 4/5)
  9. Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray (352 pages | 5/23 – 6/24 | My rating: 4/5)
  10. The Long Cosmos by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (400 pages | 6/25 – 7/10 | My rating: 4/5)
  11. ** Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (336 pages | 7/10 – 7/18 | My rating: 4/5)
  12. Star Wars: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig (448 pages | 7/18 – 8/7 | My rating: 4/5)
  13. Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey (348 pages | 8/8 – 8/15 | My rating: 4/5)
  14. Join by Steve Toutonghi (336 pages | 8/24 – 9/17 | My rating: 4/5)
  15. Death Wave by Ben Bova (414 pages | 9/17 – 10/9 | My rating: 3/5)
  16. ** One Second After by William R. Forstchen (351 pages | 10/10 – 11/27 | My rating: 5/5)
  17. Star Wars: Catalyst by James Luceno (352 pages | 11/27 – 12/9 | My rating: 4/5)
  18. Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston (400 pages | 12/10 – 12/15 | My rating: 4/5)
  19. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed (352 pages | 12/19 – 12/31 | My rating: 4/5)
    ** Denotes highly recommended titles

Looking forward to the new year, I suppose I should set myself a new reading goal for 2017. Considering I shot for (and missed) just 20 books this year, I will endeavor to read at least that many next year. Therefore, if I can finish 20 books in 2017, I’ll be very happy.

Retrospective: 2015

As 2015 ends, I take my yearly look back, at what has happened, not happened, and try to determine how happy I am with the previous year. 2015 has been quite a year, with mostly some very significant ups, and the downs being fortuitous in that they could have been far worse.

2015 could be summed up with the following: weddings, travel, and changes to our house. But of course, just these three things barely encapsulate the entire year’s events. There are far more events that make up the past twelve months’ happenings that really tell the story of how it went.

We lost loved ones this year, made some great new beginnings, and set the stage for a hopefully bright future. Of course, lingering beneath it all is that constant dread: that the worst is inevitably just around the corner, and it could all come tumbling down.

I thought this year, it would be interesting to recap events month-by-month, rather than by topic alone. This will give an idea of how the year flowed.

The biggest events didn’t occur until the 2nd half of the year, but there’s still plenty of noteworthy items early on.

January

  • 1/1 – Kicked off the new year with a wedding (one of several this year) by attending Jenny’s best friend’s brother’s wedding in an out-of-the-way (aren’t they all, nowadays?) venue. It was a pretty typical wedding, except for the date, and the lack of a wedding cake. Still, Jenny and I had a good time, and got to spend time with friends and family.

  • 1/17 – My brother Don’s mom lost her fight with cancer, and passed away. I’d only met her a couple of times, but she was very nice to me. Don was understandably devastated, as is natural, and makes me appreciate the time I have with my own mom that much more.

  • 1/24 – I started using an app on my computers called F.lux, which limits the blue light on your screen in the darker hours of the day. At first, I was just curious, but now, I can’t stand using anything without it. Health benefits aside, it’s a very useful tool.
  • 1/29 – I’ve never been very happy with how our house got wired for Internet, resulting in everything being in our master bedroom closet. So I finally purchased a network power line adapter, which lets me have an actual cabled connection between my home office, and the modem upstairs. This made life immeasurably easier for me later in the year.
  • 1/31 – Capped off the end of January with my 2nd sleep study.

February

  • 2/1 – Bought a new desk at IKEA, a sit/stand model, which allows me to raise the entire desk on a motor, and use it as a standing desk. This was the perfect option for me, as I have tried to get healthier in 2015.

  • 2/5 – My neck started hurting again, and would do so several times throughout the year. Still, this was a sign of things to come.
  • 2/7 – My Dad was hospitalized for another UTI. This would be the 2nd time in as many months, so it was worrisome.

  • 2/8 – Jenny and I went to the movies to watch “Casablanca” on the silver screen. I had never watched the movie in its entirety, so it was an interesting experience.
  • 2/23 – Finally started using a CPAP machine on a pretty much daily basis. It would take some time before the results were apparent, but this was a life-changing event.
  • 2/28 – We had some new neighbors move in across the street. It would take us some time to get to know them, but they’re very nice, and have a beautiful little daughter, and a little boy on the way!
  • Throughout February – I decided it was time to re-design BKB Designs. I ended up creating not one, but two new logos, before settling on the 2nd to use as my new brand for the site. So far, nothing has materialized, but I’m not exactly promoting the site right now either. Still, it was notable to me.

March

  • 3/1 – My Dad was hospitalized yet again. This for yet another UTI and sepsis. This was a pretty severe one, and would require a 2-3 week stay.
  • 3/8 – Probably the most devastating event of the year. We lost Jenny’s grandpa Gene on this day. This of course set off an emotional roller coaster, and altered lives of many people, on many levels. Gene’s funeral followed on 3/12, and I was asked to be a pallbearer, which I couldn’t refuse. It was the first time I’ve had the honor to perform that duty for someone, and it was an emotional moment. With almost all of my living grandparents passed, I considered Gene as much my own Grandpa as anybody else. He welcomed me into the family without reservation, and for that I will always be grateful. He was a great man, and one that I will miss dearly.

  • 3/22 – Jenny and I decided to re-do our flowerbeds (perhaps unwisely) and learned how much work a seemingly small project can entail. The fruits of our efforts looked fantastic, but would be short-lived. Summer would take its toll, and kill off all we did, and much of what already existed.
  • 3/23 – A big moment for me. I received my official offer letter at work for my new position with the company as a Project Manager. This is a new career, which I’ve posted in more detail about in Career 4.0, but was still a highlight of my year.
  • 3/27 – We were in Austin for another wedding, and decided to try In-and-Out Burger for the first time. None of our group were particularly impressed by it though, myself included. After being able to eat Whataburger for so many years, most everything else pales in comparison.
  • 3/28 – Jenny’s cousin Tamara had her wedding on this date, which we attended. Though it wasn’t without its issues, the wedding itself was very nice, and the reception was a lot of fun. I walked around taking LOTS of pictures, and essentially turned into an unofficial wedding photographer. I got some GREAT pictures, which I shared with the family.
  • 3/31 – Dad finally returns home from this latest hospital stay. A complete month away from home was a long time.

April

  • 4/19 – Jenny and I chose to upgrade our living room television setup. We had long had a 720p plasma television, and I had wanted to upgrade for some time. We broke down and bought a 55″ LG 4K television, and sound bar, which we absolutely love. Now if only more 4K content were easily available.
  • 4/25 – Our 3rd wedding of the year to attend, this time to Jenny’s cousin Brad. It was an event filled with lots of people, lots of booze, and lots of noise. Still, we had a good time, though we did bow out a tad early.
  • 4/27 – I was notified of a substantial raise from work, though it wouldn’t be effective until July 1st. Still, it was commensurate with my new position, and in line with what I felt I deserved.

May

  • 5/1 – I officially started my new position at work. While it would be a while before I could work from home full-time, it was nice for this half-a-year-in-the-making event to actually occur. This culminated on 5/4 with my meeting my new boss in person for the first time, when he visited Houston as part of the transition in the company.
  • 5/1 – The Houston Astros had a great month of April, and I predicted that the Astros would make the post-season this year.
  • 5/14 – I started using a new app for my journaling called Day One. It took me some time to commit to it, but once I did, I was glad, and it’s got a lot of nice features. I’ve also found cross-platform options for it, which allow me to use it, even if I’m not on an Apple device. I would spend the rest of the year working on migrating all my previous journal history to Day One, and still not be completed, but it’s my journal tool for the forseeable future. There’s just something considerably easier about doing everything digitally.
  • 5/21 – 5/26 – Mom & Dad came down to visit for a few days for my birthday. It was nice to see them, and we had a good time. There wasn’t a lot on the agenda, other than a birthday party I was having on the 23rd, which a lot of people came over for, so it was nice.
  • 5/28 – Google launches Google Photos, which I immediately sign up for. It’s been one of the greatest products they’ve launched so far, in my opinion, and has really made finding the photos I want easier than ever. I love this product, and can’t recommend it enough.

June

  • 6/6 – Making Jenny sad, yet proud, we attended the high school graduation for her cousin Jordan. Seeing another generation grow into adults is kind of staggering, really.

  • 6/8 – I was struck by an odd pain. Though brief, it was quite severe, and would turn out to be a kidney stone. This was the first sign that I had of something brewing, and it would make things interesting in the days ahead.

  • 6/12 – I was finally able to pick up my seats from the Astrodome! We had bought these back around the time of my birthday, but at last, I had two genuine seats right out of the Astrodome. To make matters even more unique, I actually got row BB, seats 5 and 7 (randomly handed out), so it was a neat coincidence.
  • 6/22 – 6/25 – Spent a few days at Mom & Dad’s as my father had knee replacement surgery on 6/23. He would need quite a bit of recovery time, but it made a significant amount of progress in helping his mobility.
  • 6/30 – Kicked off vacation season for Jenny and I, as we flew out of Houston to Newark, NJ and then drove to Cooperstown, NY.

July

July is where our year really took off. We had been planning a trip to New York for a couple years, actually, and really got serious about it early in the year. Finally, that trip became a reality, and we flew out for quite an adventure!

  • 7/1 – We spent the morning in Cooperstown visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which was quite the museum. Sadly, we had to leave behind the picturesque village of Cooperstown to head for Middletown, NY, the location of our next event.
  • 7/2 – Our 4th and final wedding of the year, my cousin Renee married her now-husband Otto, in a beautiful ceremony and reception in Middletown. This was actually our ‘excuse’ for going to New York at all, but it was great to see her (especially so happy) and some other family members I hadn’t seen in a while.
  • 7/3 – 7/7 – We finally made it to New York City! We timed our trip to coincide with being in the city for the 4th of July holiday, hoping to see some amazing fireworks (we did not). It was not only memorable because we were in such an amazing city, but also because I ended up in the emergency room on 7/5 with a kidney stone attack. We didn’t let it ruin our trip, and it only shaved a few hours off our sightseeing. If you’d like to read more about this trip, see my vacation post.
  • 7/12 – Due to my kidney stone issues, this was the day I finally gave up soda completely. I haven’t a one since–one of the hardest things I’ve done.
  • 7/17 – Began another project a long-time coming. Since we built our house, we had wanted to close in our formal dining area and turn it into a dedicated home office space. We finally had the money to do so, and I began seeking quotes to get the work done. I didn’t realize how long this process would take, but it was worth it, in the end.

  • 7/23 – Our most expensive home repair to date, our water heater stopped working. After having someone out to fix it, and $450 later, our water heater worked again. I’m sure I could have gotten better pricing had I shopped around, but we were eager to get it repaired quickly and to take hot showers again.
  • 7/24 – My website died–the one you’re reading this on. I had some backup issues, and feared I had lost the entire site for good. With luck, I was able to get most of the site restored fairly easily, though it took some significant effort to get everything back up and running. As a result, I took advantage to re-brand with a new logo, color scheme, and theme, etc. The new Brad World website re-launched on 8/5.
  • 7/31 – Dad ended up in the hospital for a UTI once again. This was his 4th hospital visit of the year, and 5th going back to December 2014.

August

  • 8/1 – Having realized the frustrations of Jenny’s aged camera in NYC (still got great pictures, just missed a few), we purchased a new camera, the Sony A6000, which is still a highly-regarded unit. It’s a mirrorless camera, so much smaller than Jenny’s, while still getting fantastic pictures.
  • 8/6 – Having settled on a contractor for our home-office build, we went and ordered custom doors for the office from Lowe’s.

  • 8/12 – After going through bouts of pain and numerous doctor visits, I had surgery to remove my kidney stone. The recovery was actually pretty rough for a few days, but once I started feeling normal again, it was great.

  • 8/15 – Our new dining room furniture was delivered! We had needed a decent dining room set for a while, and we finally found one we could agree on. We absolutely love it.
  • 8/20 – Our 2nd big vacation in as many months, we flew to Chicago. This was technically a business trip, but we decided to make a vacation out of it, and see the Windy City. It was my first trip to my company’s home office, where I got to meet all my new colleagues, as well as meet some people face-to-face that I’d been working with for a long time. It was a great visit, and I had a really good time while up there.
  • 8/21 – 8/23 – We stayed in downtown Chicago, and visited lots of great city sights, ate some really good food, and enjoyed what I wasn’t expecting to be such a nice city. The weather was absolutely perfect, too!
  • 8/27 – Back home in Houston, shortly after returning, Jenny and I attended An Evening with Kevin Smith, which was a fun romp, and unexpectedly-long night.

September

  • 9/14 – The doors for my home office finally came in, ending an excruciating wait, and letting the work on the office begin two days later on 9/16.

  • 9/21 – Mom & Dad had to put their dog Buddy to sleep. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately, they had to do what was best for themselves, and for Buddy. He was a great little member of the family, and Jenny and I miss him already.

  • 9/21 – This was also the date that construction on my home office was finally completed, and I was able to move into it and get things setup the way I wanted.
  • 9/23 – My first day of work in my new home office. It was nice to be able to close the doors, and shut out the outside world for a little while to get my job done. By the next day, I had finished painting, decorating, etc. and the office was completely finished.
  • 9/25 – Jenny and I upgraded to the iPhone 6s. We both love our phones, and are now on plans that will let us upgrade each year to the latest version.
  • 9/27 – Finalizing some of the home renovations, I finished the painting downstairs, and so our entire first floor is finished being painted and we can focus on other parts of the house.

October

  • 10/4 – As predicted on May 1st, the Houston Astros made the postseason for the first time since their World Series appearance in 2005. They would continue in the postseason after beating the Yankees in the Wild Card Game.
  • 10/6 – We received a device called Kuna (www.getkuna.com), which is a WiFi-equipped porch light with camera built into it. Since our front door has no peephole, we had no real way to see who was at our door. This solved that problem, and also provided us with the ability to record video when motion is detected. It has not only provided us with convenience, but with a higher sense of security.
  • 10/11 – I attended the first postseason baseball game in Houston since 2005, when I saw the Astros host the Kansas City Royals in Game 3 of the ALDS. Houston won the game, and very nearly won the next game to advance, but ultimately lost the series in Kansas City on 10/14.

  • 10/13 – Dad goes into the hospital for a 5th time of the year, this time for a heart-valve replacement. Fortunately, there are no complications, and the surgery was a success.

  • 10/16 – Jenny and I attended the Oddball Comedy Festival in The Woodlands. This was my 2nd consecutive year attending, but the first that Jenny went with me. This year they had Amy Schumer, and Aziz Ansari headlining, and both were quite funny. There were a number of really good acts, and we both enjoyed ourselves a lot. I can’t wait to see the lineup for 2016.
  • 10/17 – We had our first garage sale! Our neighborhood only has (sanctioned) garage sales twice per year, and this was the first time we felt we had enough stuff to put into a garage sale. Various older computers, accessories, furniture, etc. allowed us to do fairly well, not only getting rid of a lot of stuff, but making about $500 in the process.
  • 10/31 – The new Apple TV, which I had been waiting a LONG time for, finally came out. I immediately got one and it’s become our primary interface for television ever since.

November

  • 11/1 – Jenny finally talked me into renewing our Sam’s Club membership. We bought a few things then (and since) but I still don’t know if it’s worth the money, for the way we shop. We also bought our new Christmas tree this day, getting a good deal on one at Michael’s, and replacing our broken tree from previous years.
  • 11/6 – After Mom & Dad’s medical issues, Don and I have been concerned about them. I ordered them medical alert units, so hopefully if anything happens, help with only be a button-push away. So far, they haven’t needed to use them, which will hopefully remain the case for a long time.
  • 11/8 – We made our annual trip to the Renaissance Festival, this time taking our neighbors, one of whom had never been before. It was a cool day, but one without rain, and everyone had a good time. I actually ate far less than I usually do, which surprised me. In fact, we came back with money left over!
  • 11/11 – Remember that app named F.lux from way back in January? Well, they finally found a way to make it available to iOS users rather easily! I immediately installed this on my iPhone, iPad, etc. Sadly, Apple forced the developers to remove the app a day later, but not before I got copies of it! Just as it did for my computers, it became a necessary app for my iOS devices as well.
  • 11/15 – While attending a birthday lunch with friends, the discussion of a Podcast came up. Luis and I decided to move forward with it, but the origins began here.
  • 11/20 – 11/28 – Mom & Dad came down to visit for Thanksgiving. I had the week off from work, and so we were able to get lots done while they were here, and really just enjoyed a nice week together.
  • 11/20 – I’ve struggled with my financial software in the past, and once again, I’m back to using Quicken. I really liked You Need A Budget (YNAB), but for actual budgeting I found it too finicky, so switched back to Quicken–for now. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I change software.
  • 11/23 – After doing some research and reading a lot about podcasts, one thing that was clear was that we would need good microphones. I bought the Blue Yeti microphone, and was immediately impressed by the quality.
  • 11/27 – Thanksgiving was an odd holiday this year. It was our turn to go to Mom & Dad’s for Thanksgiving, but we all decided to do it at our house this year. Not only that, but then Jenny and I did something we never do–Black Friday Shopping–on Thanksgiving night, no less! Jenny finally relented, and let me buy the Apple Watch as my Christmas gift, so we waited in line, and I was lucky enough to get the last of the model I wanted. I’ve actually been really happy with it, and am enjoying the functionality it brings to the wrist.
  • 11/30 – Finally found a name for the podcast (of which we’ve yet to record an episode): Shut The Tech Up! It’s got a nice humorous yet catchy name, and wasn’t in use by anybody else. Bought the domain shutthetechup.net, and started working on our plans to record and launch the podcast. Hopefully coming soon in 2016!

December

December is where things kind of went off the rails, and unfortunately closely mirrors another year not too long ago.

  • 12/6 – We bought a ceiling fan for our living room, and while installing it, I fell and hurt my knee again. Something quite similar happened in December back in 2010, so I kind of knew what to expect, and it wasn’t good news.
  • 12/8 – Had MRI’s taken (my knee, and my neck) to determine the level of damage to my knee, and the status of my herniated disc in my neck. When I got my results a couple days later, the neck showed pretty much the same results as back in 2009, so I was referred to a pain specialist for a steroid injection. My knee was diagnosed with a possible tear of the ACL. It was decided to go in and scope the knee, to see the extent of damage, and replace the ACL if necessary. However, it was considered unlikely that the ACL would need to be replaced again.

  • 12/9 – I gave Jenny her birthday present – a new Kindle Paperwhite. She was due for an upgrade, and she seems to like it very much.

  • 12/10 – Jenny’s car exhibited some issues after an oil change, so she was stuck driving my car for several days while we had to wait to get hers fixed. Fortunately, it was completed on 12/14.

  • 12/16 – This was a big day for our household, as I received my latest computerized gadget: a 4-bay NAS. For a while now I’ve been wanting to consolidate all our household data and media to a single device. I’d half-way done this through my computer, but I wanted something that provided both redundancy (for data loss) and that wouldn’t require a computer at all. We now have something that will last us a very long time, and lets me host all our media from a central location. This will also allow me to digitize our entire movie library for easy access.
  • 12/17 – Went and saw an early screening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be.
  • 12/19 – Saw “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” a 2nd time, this time in IMAX 3D, along with Grandma Phyllis and Zach. This was also Jenny’s first time to see it. I liked it a lot in 3D, though I’ll probably see it again in 2D going forward. I still want to see it a 3rd time, but I haven’t had an opportunity to.

  • 12/23 – Had surgery for my knee, in which it turned out the ACL had been ‘shredded’, and indeed needed replacing. This of course puts me off my feet for a significant period of time, and affected all else for the rest of the year, and into the new one.

  • 12/25 – Christmas was hosted at our house this year–at least partially. Jenny’s immediate family spent the day with us this year, and it was nice. It was kind of relaxed, and quiet, and peaceful. The food was excellent, no thanks to myself. The work was all done by Jenny and Martha, and they did a great job.

  • 12/29 – To cap off the year, I had a procedure to inject a steroid into my spine, to assist with the herniated disc issues I experienced throughout the year. Fortunately, all of this was covered 100% by insurance, as I’d hit my out-of-pocket maximum for the year back in October. It’s part of the reason we pushed through so much in such a short period of time.

  • 12/31 – As a last act of the year, I used my Christmas gift cards to get a new iPad.  I find myself using my iPad more and more, and wanted something that would hold up a little bit better than the 2 year-old model that I had at that point. I wanted to get the mini 4, but nobody had them in stock, so I ended up getting the iPad Air 2. So far, I’m not sure if I really like the larger size. Maybe it’ll grow on me.

For New Year’s Eve, we hung out at the house, and called it a night early. I guess we’re too old to stay up all night anymore.

Looking Forward to 2016

2015 was a year with its very high ups, and very low downs, it’s been one of the best years of my adult life; certainly one of the most professionally rewarding. I don’t think I’d trade any of it for a different result.

Looking ahead to the next year, and what it will bring… it’s hard to say. I’ve got the obvious physical therapy ahead of me, we’re hoping to get free of our credit card debt once and for all, to do a little more renovations at home to our kitchen, and to take at least one fun vacation, while trying to save some money for a MUCH bigger one in 2017. We plan to spend Christmas 2016 in Michigan with my brother Don and his wife, and Mom & Dad should be moving back to Houston in 2016 (hopefully early in the year).

But otherwise, I know work will keep me immensely busy, and that life’s unexpected challenges will continue to throw their curveballs my way. Still, I look forward to each and every day, and what it will bring with it, good or bad. So long as I keep waking up, I’ll keep looking ahead.

What I Read in 2015: The Year In Review

For the condensed, graphically pretty version of this that Goodreads provides, click here.

While my reading rates continue to decline, my to-read list certainly hasn’t kept pace; it has grown by a full 20 books this year, which means nearly every book I read got immediately replaced by another added to my list–not the trend I was hoping for.

Still, I read some great books in 2015, and some that were just mediocre. I’ve been using Goodreads to track this data for a while now, and I really like it. In fact, the site really makes this review almost unnecessary. However, I still like to force myself to ponder what I’ve read, and what I plan to read, and this review does that nicely.

So looking back at 2015, I did manage to exceed my reading goal of 25 books. I actually ended at precisely 30 books finished.

I ended 2014 with 62 books on my to-read list, and have added 22 more so my list stands at 84 books. This is actually conservative, as a couple are the first of a series, that might entail more books, should I enjoy the introductory volume. Factoring in the less ‘captive’ time I have to listen to or read books, it might be a very long time before I make my way through this list–in fact, if I ever do.

All books this year were eBooks, though I have some physical novels lying around, I’ve yet to read them. I even managed to collect some of my past reading list into electronic form, and have a pretty complete catalog of them. While I certainly don’t have everything I’ve ever read in eBook form, I’ve got a large percentage of it that I’ve been tracking for the past several years.

So let’s break down the year, using Goodreads’ metrics:

Books

Books Read: 30
Pages Read: 10, 208 (27.96 pages/day)
Average Length: 352 pages
Shortest Book: 60 pages (Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon)
Longest Book: 880 pages (Seveneves)
My Average Rating for 2015: 3.6

  1. Golden Son by Pierce Brown (464 pages | 1/1 – 1/8 | My rating: 5/5)
  2. Final Days by Gary Gibson (384 pages | 1/9 – 1/19 | My rating: 3/5)
  3. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (200 pages | 1/19 – 1/23 | My rating: 2/5)
  4. A Murder of Clones by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (362 pages | 1/23 – 2/2 | My rating: 3/5)
  5. Brilliance by Marcus Sakey (434 pages | 2/2 – 2/9 | My rating: 4/5)
  6. A Better World by Marcus Sakey (390 pages | 2/9 – 2/13 | My rating: 3/5)
  7. * Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (393 pages | 2/14 – 2/24 | My rating: 5/5)
  8. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (349 pages | 2/25 – 3/6 | My rating: 3/5)
  9. K-PAX V: The Coming of the Bullocks by Gene Brewer (195 pages | 3/6 – 3/11 | My rating: 2/5)
  10. Search and Recovery by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (221 pages | 3/17 – 3/24 | My rating: 3/5)
  11. The Peyti Crisis by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (351 pages | 3/24 – 4/4 | My rating: 3/5)
  12. Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno (228 pages | 4/4 – 4/10 | My rating: 3/5)
  13. Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne (305 pages | 4/10 – 4/21 | My rating: 4/5)
  14. Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress (192 pages | 4/21 – 4/23 | My rating: 4/5)
  15. * The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (640 pages | 4/23 – 5/8 | My rating: 5/5)
  16. Star Wars: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp (320 pages | 5/9 – 5/20 | My rating: 4/5)
  17. The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson (304 pages | 5/21 – 6/3 | My rating: 5/5)
  18. The Hercules Text by Jack McDevitt (354 pages | 6/3 – 6/20 | My rating: 3/5)
  19. Depth by Lev A.C. Rosen (304 pages | 6/20 – 6/25 | My rating: 4/5)
  20. * Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (880 pages | 6/25 – 7/27 | My rating: 5/5)
  21. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson (480 pages | 7/28 – 8/12 | My rating: 4/5)
  22. The Long Utopia by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (368 pages | 8/13 – 9/5 | My rating: 3/5)
  23. Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (346 pages | 9/5 – 9/18 | My rating: 2/5)
  24. Power Surge by Ben Bova (368 pages | 9/18 – 10/5 | My rating: 3/5)
  25. Vigilantes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (262 pages | 10/7 – 10/24 | My rating: 3/5)
  26. Starbase Human by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (338 pages | 10/25 – 11/16 | My rating: 3/5)
  27. Masterminds by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (384 pages | 11/16 – 12/6 | My rating: 4/5)
  28. Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon by Delilah S. Dawson (60 pages | 12/8 – 12/8 | My rating: 4/5)
  29. Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft by Multiple Authors (12/9 – 12-24 | My rating: 4/5)
  30. Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster (272 pages  | 12/24 – 12/29 | My rating: 4/5)
  • Highly recommended titles.

Looking back, I’m also a little bit surprised how many books I read were ‘series’ books, in one form or another. Looking toward 2016, while there are some really good standalone books I’m interested in, there are also a lot of series books in my list, many of which will get prioritized. While I have a few that are a little bit off my beaten path, most are straight down the science fiction path that I tend to adhere to. For yet another year, the Culture series remains on my list, as well as Orson Scott Card’s Shadow series.

At last it’s time for predictions. My 2016 reading goal is for 20 books, which is by far a very small goal for me. However, considering my reading pace had slowed drastically, and I don’t envision a lot of extra time spent reading over the next year, I feel it’s a realistic expectation for how much reading I can get done.

Review: HP Stream 7

How much would you pay for a 7-inch tablet? An iPad mini, with a slightly larger screen starts at $250, and most Android tablets cost at least $100–$200 or more for a decent one. What if you could get a 7-inch tablet that could also double as a full-fledged PC for only $79? It would be hard to pass up, which is exactly why I didn’t.

Microsoft is currently selling the HP Stream 7 Signature Edition Tablet for $79, which is $20 off its normal price. Considering it comes with a 1-year subscription to Office 365 Personal (worth $70 itself), a $25 Microsoft Store gift card, and credit for 100 Skype-minutes, which combined are worth $95, you’re essentially getting a free tablet. Wanting to test the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a tablet device, this seemed a perfect opportunity to do so with minimal investment.

Because I immediately installed Windows 10 on this tablet, I had very little time to confirm performance of the included Windows 8.1 Bing version of Windows. Since this is mostly a hardware review, I’ll try to avoid criticizing performance where possible, considering that the version of Windows I’m running on it is still in development, and far from optimized.

To see my impressions of Windows 10, and how Windows stacks up as a tablet OS, see “Another 24 Hours with a Windows Tablet“.

Packaging:

For $79, you wouldn’t expect top-of-the-line packaging, and the Stream 7 meets that expectation. The tablet comes in a thin, cardboard box, with decent printing on the outside, but nothing special happening inside at all. A cardboard insert holds the tablet in a plastic sleeve, a Quick Start guide, USB charger, and USB cable, and that’s it. Ironically, it comes with a small printed insert containing a number of windows keyboard commands (which are virtually useless on a touchscreen device.)

Hardware:

Again, for $79, you wouldn’t expect this to be of the highest quality, and it’s not. It’s much better quality than I would have expected for the price, though. It’s a bit hefty, and probably just a little too heavy for extended one-handed use, but certainly reasonable for propping up. It’s quite a bit thicker than an iPad mini, but not so much that it’s unwieldy.

What you get for this price though is pretty nice:

  • 7-inch HD IPS touchscreen 800 x 1280
  • Intel Atom processor Z3735G (quad-core)
  • 1GB memory
  • 32GB SSD (with a micro-SD slot for expansion)

Display

Though the screen is not the best I’ve seen on a device, it’s actually quite nice for the price. It’s reasonably sharp, and though not Retina-class quality, it’s certainly more than functional. Websites render crisply, and text is easy to read. Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of bleed-through from the backlight, especially in the lower-third of the screen. Again, considering the price, it’s a nice-looking screen.

I will say that I was very happy that F.lux installed and worked perfectly on this tiny tablet. I’ve had no luck getting the utility to work on other Windows computers, so I was pleasantly surprised. F.lux is a nice utility that removes the “blue” and dims the display automatically for nighttime use. This is one feature that I wish I could emulate on my iPad, but simply can’t. This immediately makes the Stream 7 a useful tool when reading or browsing in bed at night.

Casing

The plastic case surrounding the Stream 7 is adequate. The entire case is a fingerprint magnet–the screen especially so. There’s no nice oleophobic coating for the screen like on higher-end tablets, but it doesn’t make the device unusable. Because the screen has no special coating, fingers sometimes don’t slide as well as you’d like, but then again, Windows tablets don’t have a lot of gestures that rely on smooth finger slides.

Touchscreen

The Start button is touch-sensitive, and works pretty well. Touchscreen sensitivity is rather poor, I would say. Though not as bad as the resistive touch screens of olden days, it’s certainly not up to par with most touchscreens I’ve used. I didn’t exhaustively test this with the included Windows 8.1 before upgrading to Windows 10, so I’m not sure how much of this is related to that OS, but I get the impression that it’s just not a great touchscreen.

Touches routinely don’t register, or don’t register in the correct position. It seems necessary to tap “above” what you’re trying to reach. It could be that the inexpensive touch panel has particularly thick glass, or could just be a poor touch panel. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s annoying enough to impact the experience.

Cameras

To call the cameras on the Stream 7 poor would be an understatement. Put simply, they’re so bad they should have been omitted entirely. A 2 megapixel rear camera, and just a 0.3 megapixel front-facing camera means it would be embarrassing to try to Skype or Google Hangout with someone, and taking photos with it is pretty much not even worth the trouble.

Performance

At first glance, the tablet seems to perform fairly well. Again, I’m running the Windows 10 Technical Preview on it, which is still in development. This means that not only is it buggy, but they likely haven’t done much work to actually optimize performance on low-end tablets like this.

Still, it’s clear that the Stream 7 is underpowered for most functions. Just getting the keyboard to pop up for things like searching, whether the Microsoft Store for apps, the computer itself, or the Start search felt incredibly laggy.

Browsers like Chrome and Internet Explorer seem to work well, but actually loading and rendering websites felt dramatically slow, considering their Android and iOS counterparts. Trying to use split-screen to watch Netflix and browse the web became unbearably slow, to the point that I gave up trying. It’s a shame, too, because this could be a killer feature of Windows on a tablet. Considering that a lot of buyers would be considering this for kids to play basic games on, I’m not sure they would perform very well at all. Even trying to play Facebook games felt excruciatingly slow.

Battery Life

Battery life was a bit hit-or-miss. Out of the box, the tablet came with about 70% of charge, but by the end of the afternoon, I was down to 5%. The good news is that the hit to battery life didn’t seem to dramatically impact performance. Even at 5%, the tablet was chugging along pretty well, and not reminding me every 5 seconds to charge it. There is a configurable automatic battery-saver mode that’s supposed to reduce background services to save battery. Over the past couple days, the device’s battery has drained down without a lot of use, and I could see this needing charging every other day, at least.

Sound

The Stream 7 is limited to a single mono speaker at the bottom of the device, which puts out adequate sound, but is far from what I would call good. Even the iPad’s universally-panned mono speaker puts the Stream 7 to shame. Headphone audio seems to be tinny and has background noise, so this isn’t going to win any awards for audio quality.

Summary

In all, the HP Stream 7 isn’t going to win any awards for tablet-of-the-year. The Verge only scored it at 6.3, which is fairly low for a tablet, but not so low that it falls short of most other tablets in its class. For $79 it’s a steal, and hard not to recommend for budget-conscious shoppers. The Office 365 subscription alone makes it worth picking up at this price. But for those with specific needs, such as myself, the Stream 7 falls woefully short from being a daily-use tool. I’ll continue playing around with it, but there’s no danger of me getting rid of my primary–or even secondary–tablet any time soon.

Retrospective: 2014

As has become my habit, at the end of each year I look back at the previous 365 days, and reflect on events–good and bad–to see just how my year has gone. 2014 had its challenges, and 2015 certainly looks like it’s going to be full of change, one way or another. So let’s take a look back at my 2014…

In World Events:

  • February 2nd – Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away.
  • On March 8th, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared. Worldwide search begins.
  • June – ISIS situation in the middle east escalates, leading to worldwide tensions.
  • August 11th – Robin Williams passed away. It was later revealed he was suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease, and depression, and had committed suicide.
  • September 30th – The first case of an Ebola infection in the United States (in history) is diagnosed in Dallas, Texas.
  • November 12th – The Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae probe lands on Comet 67P. This is the first time humanity has soft-landed a probe on a comet.

There were, of course, many more events of note in 2014, but those above are those that stand out to me, personally.

Injuries Abound

On September 1st, Jenny and I went to the Katy Mills mall to ride Segways through an off-road obstacle course. Neither of us had ridden one before, and we both had incidents with our ride. Unfortunately, Jenny’s occurred early on, resulting in her falling, and the Segway falling on her ankle. At first appearance, it didn’t look too severe, but when the pain and swelling got worse, she had an MRI taken on 9/26, and eventually was diagnosed with a deep bone contusion. Fortunately no surgery or anything was needed, but it took several months for her ankle to return to normal.

On October 27th, a most bizarre situation occurred to me. While at work, my left elbow started hurting, and very quickly swelled up to nearly the size of a golf ball. Jenny and I went to an urgent care clinic, where I was diagnosed with Bursitis. They drained the fluid which reduced the swelling a little, and referred me to my orthopedist (the same one I used for my knee when I tore my ACL). A week later, I learned that I had a staph infection in my elbow, which is what caused the Bursitis; I still have no idea how I contracted the infection, since I had no cuts or open wounds at the time. I was put on a strong oral antibiotic and had to go back to the doctor every couple days to monitor the progress.

This was a scary situation, because staph infections are quite serious, and can be potentially fatal. By November 7th, my doctor wasn’t pleased with the progress of the antibiotics, and recommended surgery. On Monday, November 10th, I went in for a Bursectomy, and was put under general anesthetic, while the doctor performed the surgery. He took another culture during the procedure, and a week later, I was deemed infection-free and healing nicely. Two weeks after surgery, I had the suture removed, and my elbow was on its way to being back to normal again.

On November 29th, Jenny grew sick, and was home from work for an entire week. This was highly unusual for her, as she rarely gets sick like that (though it happened at Christmas last year). A doctor’s visit proved that she had a severe sinus infection. Fortunately, the medications seemed to help, and by the time she returned to work, she felt much better. She still has a bad cough that’s taking it’s time going away, though.

Lastly, on December 20th, I underwent a sleep study (at last). I’ve been wanting to have one done for some time, but they’re fairly expensive, and until I’d met my deductible (due to the surgery on my elbow), I had postponed having one done. It seems that no matter how much I sleep, I rarely feel well-rested in the morning. I’ve grown worried that I might doze off while driving, so felt it was necessary to get a study done to see what’s happening with my sleep.

The sleep study itself was an interesting experience. There’s about 25 wires that get hooked up to you, all over your body, but most of them on your head. It’s difficult to sleep normally with so many wires attached, but I did my best. I won’t know the results for a while still, but I’m curious to see what the doctor can determine about my sleep, to see if anything can be done to improve on it.

So 2014 wasn’t a great year for our health, though I suppose it could have been much worse.

A ‘Switching’ Year

Of any word that could encapsulate 2014, ‘switching’ would probably be the most appropriate. I did a lot of switching this year, from the way I use technology every day, to the technology itself. For example:

  • 2/20 – I switched from using Any.do to Todoist for my daily to-do tracking.
  • 3/17 – I switched from Evernote to Microsoft OneNote.
  • 3/20 – I switched to a trackball, rather than a regular mouse (at home and at work.)
  • 3/27 – I switched to LastPass from 1Password for keeping all my passwords secure.
  • 5/15 – I switched from HostGator to StableHost for my website hosting.
  • 6/21 – Jenny switched cars, when we bought her a 2014 Ford Escape.
  • 6/23 – I switched back to using a physical journal, rather than on the computer.
  • 7/14 – I switched to a paperless life by buying a scanner, and getting rid of my paper files.
  • 7/24 – I switched to the beta of OS X Yosemite, which was a big change to my daily computing.
  • 9/19 – I switched from Android to iPhone, with the purchase of my iPhone 6.
  • 9/30 – I switched to using Windows 10 at work, with the release of the preview.
  • 10/24 – Jenny and I both switched to new computers, with our purchase of new iMacs.

Most of the changes I made in 2014 were technology-related (no surprise there), but looking back now, it’s clear to me how many things I changed, and how useful those changes have become. In fact, the past few years have seen many changes to how I use my technology, and it’s really simplified things for me. I’ve found it’s easier for me to get things done, and I believe these changes have a truly important impact on my future. More on that in a little bit.

A Possible New Career

On December 2nd, I learned that my job is changing at work. It’s never good to hear things like this, but in my case, this is actually a huge opportunity. Since starting this job, I’ve always had a goal of handling projects of bigger and bigger scale. Fortunately, I’ve had great opportunities to apply my skills to projects at work, and have been pretty successful. Recently, I’ve begun studying to take the CAPM exam, which is kind of an entry-level Project Manager certification. Eventually, I hope to earn my PMP (Project Management Professional), but it requires more experience that I currently have in order to obtain it.

My position at work will be phased out at the end of March, but there are other jobs within the company that I can apply for. One of those is Project Manager. I’m excited by the idea of the job (even though change is always scary) and feel I will do excellent at it. Within a few months, I likely would have been looking for this role regardless. I like the company I work for, and didn’t really want to leave, but I was ready for something new, and this opportunity feels like perfect timing. Plus, it would let me work from home!

There’s still a lot that has to happen before I get the job, but I’m on the right track, and feel confident that I can land it. If I do, 2015 could be an excellent year. If I don’t, 2015 could be a rough one. So for now, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Miscellaneous

  • 4/7 to 4/11 – Took a week’s vacation, and stayed home.
  • 5/20 – Bought my first-ever audiobook. Wasn’t particularly impressed by the experience.
  • 5/26 to 5/30 – Took another week off from work, but stayed home once again.
  • 6/21 – Bought Jenny her 2014 Ford Escape. Got a great deal on it, and it has all the bells and whistles that Jenny wanted.
  • 6/23 – Restarted my physical journal. I had slacked off on keeping a journal for far too long, and this was designed to get me back into the habit; I think it’s been successful.
  • 9/1 – The Astros fired their manager Bo Porter, due to conflicts between him and the General Manager. It was kind of surprising, since Porter was only in his 2nd year.
  • 9/20 – I finally got to see comedian Louis C.K. live, when I attended the Oddball Comedy Festival in The Woodlands. Lots of good comedians, and I had a good time.
  • 9/29 – The Astros find their new manager, in A.J. Hinch. He was pretty much an unknown to most people, though apparently pretty respected in the baseball world.
  • 10/2 – I found Ruby Red Squirt in Houston! Those who know me know that I love this soda, but that it hasn’t been available here for decades. This usually is only found in the northern states, but our local Walmart has been carrying it recently. It was quite the find, though I credit Jenny for spotting it before I did.
  • 10/7 – My best friend welcomed his 2nd daughter into the world as Avery Elizabeth Specht was born.
  • 11/21 to 11/28 – Took another vacation at work, this time for Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad came down for the week while I was off, so we got to enjoy the time together.
  • 11/27 – Jenny and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house. This was the 2nd time we had done so, though previously it was at our rental house, so this was the first in our home. It was also the first time Mom and Dad were here for Thanksgiving at our house, so it was extra special. We’re taking over Thanksgiving duties from Jenny’s grandmother, so we’ll be hosting it every other year, when we’re home for Thanksgiving.
  • 12/24 to 12/27 – Spent Christmas with Mom and Dad at their house. We took the dogs with us, as has become the norm, and everyone had a great time. Mom & Dad especially liked their gifts, and Jenny was surprised by her new iPad mini. As for me, most of my gifts came early, so I didn’t have a whole lot of surprises, except for one from Jenny, which was a great gift.

Summary

Looking back, I’d have to consider 2014 a good year. With the exception of our injuries, 2014 was pretty uneventful. We plan to go to New York in July this year for my cousin Rene’s wedding. We’re both very excited to go, and if I do get this new job at work, it will mean some necessary changes at home to accommodate the new job, so this could be a very eventful year. Here’s looking forward to 2015, and whatever it might bring.