Random Thoughts

For all those we lost…

This is a very special poem we read at America’s Camp, and which I will be reading at a memorial in Suffern tomorrow.

In the rising of the sun and its going down,
We remember them.

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
We will remember them.

In the opening buds and in the rebirth of spring,
We remember them.

In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
We remember them.

In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
We remember them.

In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
We will remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength,
We will remember them.

When we are lost and are sick of heart,
We remember them.

When we have Joys we yearn to share,
We remember them.

So long as we live, they too shall live,
For they are now a part of us,
As we remember them.

Random Thoughts

Product Review: Nokia Astound on T-Mobile

I received a Nokia Asound on loan that I’ve used on and off over the last few weeks, in order to bring my friends a review. The phone runs on the T-Mobile network in the US, and this was the first time I’ve tried T-Mobile in a very long time. Nokia provided a pre-paid SIM for the trial (worth about $30 for disclosure purposes, though if I used $3 worth of calls it was a lot). The phone was returned after the trial.

Initial impression

This is a smallish phone – smaller than an iPhone 3G and tiny compared to my DroidX. It feels pretty solid. The display is very clear, bright and has good color.

Setup was a bit of a challenge, as was almost anything I needed to do in the software – the Nokia Symbian OS feels unnatural to me. I admit I still try to figure out what some things do in Android and where certain settings are. But the Symbian controls are a bit buried in the menus. For someone used to a feature phone and not a Blackberry, IPhone or Android, a lot of this would be irrelevant. I’m a techie user and I like to be able to get at the controls, and that wasn’t as straighforward.

As always, I’ll tell you the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good

As I mentioned, this is a solid phone with good display. The call quality was very good. I tried calls in NYC, in the suburbs, and in areas of Boca Raton, Florida. I never had trouble getting a signal and I didn’t drop any calls which was better than I expected. I also had pretty good data coverage everywhere. I was careful with the data since the pre-paid card only had 30MB (Hey T-Mobile – $30 for 1500 Talk and Text is great, but 30MB of data? Please.)

I was able to connect one Gmail account with it’s contacts and calendar without too much hassle. The calendar and contacts took a while to come in – but once they did, they were pretty up to date. The phone only allows one “Exchange” type account so I couldn’t get other calendars or contacts from multiple accounts like Android allows.

I’m glad that in this phone they seem to have solved the issue that I found when I tried an N95 – specifically that the phone was either on Wifi or the network and you had to switch it. There was no challenge with that. Wifi coverage was solid and easy to set up.

There were several games pre-installed, including Angry Birds. It played well, but one feature that you find on iPhone or Android – the ability to pinch-zoom the screen to see the whole game board – was missing. Fruit Ninja worked just fine. There is the ability to have RSS widgets to see headlines from CNN, for example. There is an App market for the Ovi/Symbian world, but I didn’t try it out.

One of the best features is the camera. Nice LED flash with an 8MP camera. Very close shots are tough, but at usual distance to infinity, the photos are very very good.

The web browser was adequate and handled a lot of sites quite well. The phone has “Flash Lite” which may help with some flash-enabled sites, better than iPhone at least.

The Bad

Let me say, there was nothing really “bad.” Just annoying or “I really wished this worked better.” You get the ability to customize your 3 home screens. I found the icons tough to configure but eventually was able to do what I wanted.

The phone comes with Ovi Social as a main front screen widget – a way to connect to Facebook and Twitter, but no other social networks. It seemed to forget my Twitter password all the time. It did remember my Facebook password, and I would see people’s face icons go by and as well as *very* short portions of their updates. I couldn’t find a way to make the widget go back – so if you miss that person’s update and you want to find it again you have to wait for the phone to cycle it back. I really wanted to make this widget double the size so I could actually read the updates. Not critical, but an annoyance.

The fact I could only connect one calendar and set of contacts and have “push email” from one account was annoying – again, this is more of a consumer phone or a step up from a feature phone so not a problem for people with only one email.

The on-screen keyboard is small – it is for smaller fingers than mine. I suspect a teen or woman with more narrow fingers would be fine with it.

The map and directions feature was no where near as good as the Android/Google Maps navigation. I wanted to go to a place about 9 miles away and avoid a certain road that has traffic during the afternoon. The phone suggested that road, since it was the fastest route. I deliberately chose a parallel street and the phone kept trying to get me back to its original route.

Additionally, when I was driving “with the traffic” the phone was like a nagging nanny telling me I was going over the speed limit. I couldn’t turn that feature off while I was driving and never did find the switch to turn it off in general. I think I would like to make that mandatory when my kids learn to drive, but again, annoying and tough to configure.

The Ugly

Modality. More specifically, having to click multiple items to accomplish things that most other phones do with a button or a more simple interface. My biggest example – email. I open an email to read it. To reply I have to choose “Options” then pick “Reply, Reply All or Forward.” Additionally, the delete, move, mark as unread and some other options are under “Options.” Why aren’t these buttons on the screen? Everyone does one of these things for every email. My Blackberry from 2004 did this. This problem of making people click multiple buttons to get to features or settings is just the way the Symbian OS seems to work. And again, it is not “bad” – it just is not the way I want to work anymore. It almost reminds me of command line interfaces.I have another Nokia I bought on a trip to the UK last year for £4 (About $7) and it has a similar interface – I expect that. For a $299 phone ($49 with contract) the user experience and interface could be better.


I think if you’re a narrow-fingered person looking for a great camera phone with occasional web and email use, this is a good phone to check out. Upgrading from a “feature phone” this is going to feel good and powerful. If you’re used to an iPhone or an Android device, this phone is going to feel like a step backward. The phone calling was solid, and the T-Mobile network was surprisingly better than I thought in areas where I live, work and vacation. Be aware that Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft means that this OS may be the end of it’s line, even though Nokia has spoken about keeping it going.

Random Thoughts

What Quiet Dignity Looks Like

I’ve been watching as the media is interviewing people who lost relatives on 9-11 and asking what Bin Laden’s death meant to them. This is a post about the people I know personally, and my take on how they’ve reacted. I’ve been privileged to work with the families who lost rescue workers on 9-11 since a few months after that tragic event, as a staff member of the Twin Towers Fund. I’ve also worked with the kids from many of the families who lost parents in the towers or on the planes and their parents have trusted me, along with my fellow staff members, to be their counselors, care takers, guardians and friends at America’s Camp and related events for almost 10 years now.

I’ve seen the hurt, the anger, and the sadness on the faces of these children, up close, for myself. I’ve also seen them laugh, play and have a chance to be normal kids, not “that kid who lost his dad on 9-11.” As a photographer and videographer, I’ve captured moments that show these emotions, and that break through our everyday lives and show what it means to be human.

That’s why I’m proud to share a few quotes today about what quiet dignity looks like. Some can shout “USA” and post about “mission accomplished*,” these children (now adults) are sharing what this terrorist’s death means to them on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

I’ve blurred the names and pictures, as I’ve promised never to share family information out of respect when I worked for the Twin Towers Fund. I won’t change that now.

From a graduate camper who lost a parent, now a counselor – see her concern for her bunk campers, a group of younger kids who lost a parent.



From one of the campers who has helped my photo and video team in the past:



From a quiet but strong graduate camper, now a counselor:


And the discussion on his wall:







And finally, another graduate/counselor’s tweet, one that inspired this post:







Thanks to all my America’s Camp friends for responding to this news in your own way. You continue to inspire me and show me why I’ve worked at camp for, as of this summer, 10 years.

*By the way, in my mind, our mission is “accomplished” when our service men and women are building levies in New Orleans with the Army Core of Engineers, building villages in Haiti or providing logistics support in Japan, instead of getting shot in Afghanistan or Iraq. Be safe, service men and women!
Random Thoughts

What I Learned About MS by NOT Riding the Bikeathon Today

My backpack is packed with extra tubes, tire tools, supplies, Clif bars, and electrolyte jelly beans. My bike jersey sits alone, unworn. I did not get to ride with my friends Tony and Andy today on the 30 mile trip around Manhattan that we’ve been training for since early spring. Here’s Tony and me on one of our recent trips. Who knew the ambulance sign in the background was foreshadowing?

I exceeded my $1000 fund raising goal thanks to you, my friends, some of whom I’ve only occasionally heard from in years but who still opened their wallets for my cause.

Hell, I’m ready to ride! I did 16 miles last weekend over hills and Manhattan is basically flat compared to where I’ve been training.  And I was so psyched to be with thousands of riders, riding the highways of NYC without fear of cars and enjoying the city skyline from my bike. The legs are willing. More than willing.

My back, however, is not up to the task.

Yesterday, after a short 5 mile warm up, I reached down to pickup my helmet and that was the straw that tweaked my back. Maybe it was two 7 hour flights in coach, or lifting luggage, or walking with a heavy backpack through London. But since yesterday morning, I’ve taken Advil, Aleve, Valium,T equilla, back patches and cold packs (only some of them at the same time). Nothing has stopped my muscles from being clenched and keeping me about 20 degrees off vertical when I stand. I walk like Bart Simpson’s grandpa.

I can only say how disappointed I am that I couldn’t ride. But on the other hand, in a few days, this will pass and I will be up and about again, happy to be riding and working and doing whatever. My sister and those with MS know this kind of feeling well – the inability to get through the day and do simple things when you need to. This small setback for me is just that. But it helps me appreciate even more that I’m basically healthy.

So, I owe you all 30 miles. I’ll be up to it, soon. In the meantime, your support helps fund research that may eventually allow my friends or my sister to bike alongside me and talk about the times when she couldn’t. Until then, we continue to ride for the cause.

Thank you.

Random Thoughts

Klout and Lone Star 3

Klout and Lone Star 3

Originally uploaded by HowardGr

I got this as part of a package via a Promotion with the Fox TV Show Lone Star. I’m supposed to do a Party for viewing before the launch of the show next week. Unfortunately, due to Yom Kippur I’m not sure we’ll be able to host a party this weekend. But we’ll enjoy the Popcorn and let you know what we think of it.