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Samsung Phone and Safety Assistance

April 10, 2017

Posting Sunday about shopping for a new cell phone (specifically Android vs iPhone) reminded me of another Samsung phone feature that I stumbled upon in an amusing way.

For Christmas, my loving and generous children gave me a Samsung tablet. They chose Samsung knowing I have a Samsung phone (s5) that I’ve been really pleased with.

I was still adapting to the tablet when one evening I sat at the dining room table enjoying dinner alone though my daughter was home, working in another room. I had both my tablet and my cell phone with me. I was deeply into reading the 12 novel Poldark series by Winston Graham. I was reading the books through Kindle on my tablet.

Not wanting to be disturbed by my phone as I ate and read, I reached to lower its notifications volume.

The story has to divert here for additional info…
My new tablet has both the power button and the volume buttons on the right-hand side. My cell phone has the power button on the right-hand side, while the volume button is on the left-hand side.

Anyway, in my aging brain, I confused where the buttons are on each of the devices. I reached to turn down the volume on my phone and repeatedly pressed the button on the right hand side – the power button, thinking it was the volume button.

About three seconds later, my daughter appeared behind me and asked, “Mum, are you okay?” She was very serious. I said, “I’m great, just having my dinner!” She said, “Are you sure?” I looked at her and could see consternation on her face as she studied me and then her eyes suspiciously glanced around the room.

I assured her, “I’m perfectly fine. Why are you asking?”

She said, “You just sent an emergency alert out through your phone.”

“Who did I send it to?”

I don’t know. Who did you set up to receive it?”

“I have no idea what it is. I don’t think I ever set up anything.
Oh, God, did I sent it to all my contacts? How did I send it?”

Now we’re nervously laughing!

“Quickly text your brother and tell him I’m fine!”

At this point I study my phone. Two new images have arrived in my gallery – in a never-before-seen file labeled “Emergency.” One image is completely black. The other is an image of a small portion of my head and the dining room ceiling! I am amazed! And confused. (In retrospect, I think the phone automatically shot images from both sides of the phone. As it was face down on the table, one was completely black. The other shot caught a bit of me and the ceiling.)

My kids were able to reassure me that it looked as if I only sent the alert to them. So, I studied my settings to see what possibly could have happened. And here’s what I found:

Samsung has Safety assistance as a setting, which, now that I know about it, I love. When set to “On” the user can rapidly press the power button three times (as I did thinking I was lowering the volume…) and a message will go out to up to four pre-chosen contacts. I still have no idea how or when my children were chosen. But I love knowing this function is available on my phone.

On their end, what they received is text messages saying “SOS” and “I need help” as well as my google maps location. An audio recording is also sent out from the phone. (Click to open images and see captions).

Though the recording is short, I imagine that if the mic had picked up any sound, it would have kept recording.

I am amazed by this technology. I now carry my phone in hand with my thumb on the power button whenever I’m in a parking garage or parking lot or any other place where I don’t feel totally safe!

Thank you, Samsung!

Android vs iPhone = Android

April 9, 2017

I want this technology:

Not this technology:


I’m in the market for a new phone. My Samsung Galaxy S5 is well into its third year and I’ve put it through its paces as I take tons of photos. The battery is showing signs of not holding a charge as well as it once did and the phone is acting a bit sluggish, I’m sure from processing a bazillion pixels.

I buy a phone based on the reviews of its camera. As a photographer the camera function is as important to me as the communications abilities. So I began my phone camera research last week and by this weekend the dual lensed iPhone 7 Plus and LG v20 were the top contenders. Never before have I considered an iPhone for its camera.

To consider the iPhone was a big change for me as I’ve used Android phones (HTC and Samsung) exclusively for several years, though my first smartphone was an iPhone. I switched to Android years ago because they had better cameras.

All those years ago, when I switched from the iPhone to an Android, it was like being born again. The Android system was far more intuitive and “smart” than Apple’s phone and it had features that made sense for real life (an example to come below…). But I did miss the syncability to my MacBook Pro and still do. So it was with a little bit of excitement that I drove to the phone store this weekend, thinking I might again enjoy that mega perk of brand loyalty.

I arrived at the store prepared to compare the iPhone to the LG. Once in the store, I went to the iPhone first. It’s certainly an attractive phone, shiny and sleek. But as soon as I opened the texting app my heart sank as it always does with the iPhone interface. Looking back at me from the screen was the most archaic keypad.
This is the sum total of it.iPhone keyboard

To me, an Android user, the iPhone keypad looks like this, a child’s game.
child's keyboard
(from Looney Tunes Phonics)

With the iPhone if you want numbers or punctuation marks, you have to click to switch to a separate keypad, then back again for your letters. That’s a ton of wasted clicks and time. Not very smart.

iPhone has had this keypad forever. Zero forward motion toward anything hipper or more efficient. This one feature alone, halted my considering the iPhone. The sales rep and I checked for an app that might override this three-line toddleresque interface, but there isn’t one that offers numbers and punctuation on the main keypad.

For comparison, here’s what an Android keyboard looks like:

Samsung phone keyboard

Without taking up much screen view real estate, it has numbers across the top and each letter key has a dual function that is activated by simply pausing for a fraction of a second when you tap the key. This is the keypad of a smart phone. (Note: The user can switch to the symbols keyboard if he/she prefers.)

So I left the Apple area of the store and went to look at the LG, which is way too big for me. I know I’d drop it a lot as my fingers can barely wrap around its edges.

In addition to the keyboard issue of the iPhone and the size of the LG, much to my surprise, neither the iPhone nor the LG has my favorite Samsung Galaxy feature – the Ultra power saving mode. I realized the tremendous value of this a few years ago when a rogue snowstorm knocked out the power in my New England home the day before Thanksgiving. Anticipating the possibility of losing power, I had charged my phone. As soon as the power went out, I switched to Ultra power saving mode. The phone switches to a black and white screen (that alone saving lots of power I’m sure) and the home screen presents access to six apps (of the user’s choice, from a menu of nine apps): Phone, Messages, Internet, Calculator, Clock, Facebook, Google+, Memo, and Voice Recorder. A full charge gives you 8-12 days of use in Ultra power saving mode, depending on the amount of phone time you engage in. Now that’s smart. (Samsung also has the standard power saving mode that most phones offer.)

I’ve used Ultra power saver a half dozen times while owning my current phone. It gives a great sense of security when you need it – like during Boston’s greatest traffic jam a couple of years ago when I moved barely two blocks in four hours. Seriously. To know that I can get significantly more hours or days out of my phone in a crisis has become key to me.

Anyway, between the infantile keyboard on the iPhone, the size of the LG and no other phone but Samsung having Ultra power saving mode, I think I’m going to end up with Samsung Galaxy again (yes, despite the battery issue of last year) and I anticipate getting the Samsung Galaxy S8 which has a really good camera. A new camera is expected to come out in the Samsung fall model. The sales rep says I can upgrade then if I prefer the new phone without having to pay for whatever monthly fees are still due through my carrier plan on the phone I buy now.

I can’t believe that I am walking away from the iPhone’s new camera because I just cannot accept its archaic keyboard.

Get smart, Apple!

(Top two images courtesy of ClipartFest)

Poldark vs. Warleggan

February 14, 2017


Happy Birthday, Valentine Warleggan (or is it Poldark…?!)!

Thank you Winston Graham for your twelve wonderful historical fiction novels about the Poldark family in Cornwall, England, 1783-1820. And thank you PBS for your amazing films based on the Poldark series.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all! 💘

Twitter and the 2016 Presidential Debates

October 17, 2016


Here’s the link to a post I wrote for my work site, Syntax and Style. I wrote it in an effort to help my followers better understand the power of social media, in particular Twitter, during the campaigning of this presidential election. It’s an appropriate post for sublime days as well.

Twitter and the 2016 Presidential Debates


New Publications – A Book of Essays by Preston Browning and A Book of Poetry by Jordan Pomazon

July 12, 2016

book The Greatest Race: A Collection of Poetry and Rabid Verbalizations book Struggling for the Soul of Our CountryCoincidentally, I have two Massachusetts friends who have published books in the past two months. One friend is an octogenarian who lives in western Mass. while the other lives on the north shore and is in his 20s. One has compiled a collection of essays written over many years, the other a collection of poetry written over the course of a decade.

Preston Browning taught Literature at the University of Illinois (at Chicago) and in his retirement he operates Wellspring House, a writers retreat in Ashfield, Massachusetts. I have spent time at Wellspring House on several occasions and it’s a wonderful place to write, in large part because of Preston’s inspiring presence. He’s often writing as we, the residents, are.

Preston’s just-released book is timely. Titled Struggling for the Soul of Our Country, Preston offers ten essays – with titles such as American Global Hegemony vs. the Quest for a New Humanity and Why I Am a Christian Socialist. What backs his well-informed voice? Here’s his bio (taken from his publisher’s page about the author and the book – link above).

“Preston M. Browning Jr. holds a BA in history from W&L, an MA in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a PhD in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago. While a member of the English Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago for thirty years, he was a Fulbright lecturer in Yugoslavia. He is the author of Flannery O’Connor: The Coincidence of the Holy and the Demonic in O’Connor’s Fiction and Affection and Estrangement: A Southern Family Memoir. He operates Wellspring House, a retreat for writers in western Massachusetts.”

Jordan Pomazon’s book, The Greatest Race: A Collection of Poetry and Rabid Verbalizations shows promising talent from a young man with a BA in Fine Arts (Graphic Design and Creative Writing) from Montserrat College of Art. Jordan’s book shows steady bursts of literary talent. He strikes me as “a natural” – a poet who spills forth raw-honest musings from his heart. Describing a time when his poetic well had gone dry, he says in the Preface of his book, “It was a mix of lacking content to write about, a lack of motivation, a sense of disconnection between me and other writers and a lack of life experience. I was floundering in a most spectacular fashion…” That’s the truthful voice of youth. And it’s that voice that drives the work in The Greatest Race.

I’ll share here (with permission) the first poem, Bruise, in Jordan’s book. I enjoy the revisit to a Jack Kerouac style of riff that permeates the final verse.

by Jordan Pomazon

This isn’t a bruise
It’s makeup
I like to force the dramatics
And these aren’t shoes, they’re horse-shit
I never had strong foundations
This isn’t a hand, it’s a hammer
I like to wave it around until it’s actually needed
And these clothes, they’re actually clothes
But they don’t really cover much

So what we have isn’t that special
But what we do is a miracle
And we all want to have more
I go to bars
But they aren’t bars
It’s an act of faith
And all the patrons
They’re the faithful

And I go to shows
But they aren’t shows
They’re a carnival
Crazy and wonderful
And honest, of all things
My dashboard is paradise
My mom’s kitchen is Valhalla
My bed is just a bed
But the airport is a sanctuary
The doodle in my wallet contains the universe

We’re people, but no, not really
We’re stars
Standing, shining
Burning, burning, burning
Until we exhaust and explode
Until there is nothing left
And until we all fall back down
And all we want
Is to leave our lives for just long enough
To bruise

If you’re interested, you can purchase either of these books by visiting the links provided in the post.

What Are The Chances

March 22, 2016


Yesterday was my birthday. I love my birthday. As I go about my day, I tell everyone, even strangers, that it’s my birthday. After a transaction at a cash register a person might say, “Have a nice day,” and I reply, “I will! It’s my birthday!” They smile and wish me a happy birthday – and more joy is added to my day.

This year, all the usual happiness occurred on my  birthday, with one remarkable exception, about which I’ll write last.

Throughout the day, I got text messages, emails, fb postings, and cards (e-cards and real, paper cards). They all contained images of hearts and flowers, candles and cakes, fireworks and butterflies, as well as words of love. It was good vibrations all day long!

A lifelong, joyful aspect to my birthday is that I share it with my aunt, my mother’s only sister, who is the dearest person. I had tears of happiness in my eyes as I read her (paper) card, which arrived in my mailbox precisely on our birthday. At age 95 she still handwrites the envelope and heartfelt message to me.

There’s a numeric quality of my birth date, 3/21, that fascinates me:  backwards and forwards in counting ~ 321, 123; addition and subtraction ~ 3-2=1, 1+2=3. These mathematical gymnastics float through my mind throughout the day.

And always, Mother Nature surprises me. Because my birthday is the first full day of spring, it’s on the edge of winter’s exit and spring’s arrival. I’ve had sunny, hot birthdays – with temps in the 80s, as well as full blown blizzards. Yesterday, I awoke to a gray day with snow falling at a good clip, courtesy of nor’easter Regis. Fortunately, only a couple of inches accumulated. By mid afternoon, the sun was shining brightly from a blue sky and it was in the high 40s! This is typical of my birthday.

But this year, the most surprising thing happened in the early evening. I went to CVS to pick up a few things. I waited quite a while at the end of a customer line. During that time, I saw a woman sitting and waiting for something. She was called to a register, handed her product and then she maneuvered to the end of the line, directly behind me.

I said, “Why did you have to come to end of the line if you had already waited and were then at the register?”

She explained the reason, which seemed reasonable to her, though it bothered me.

So I said, “Please go ahead of me. You’ve been waiting longer than I have been.”

At first she protested, but with my insistence she did move to in front of me.

After a minute she turned to me and said, “You know if I weren’t so tired, I would have been happy to wait. But I’ve had a long day. I was out all day with my brother and sister-in-law. They called me early this morning and said, ‘Why don’t you spend the day with us since it’s your birthday.'”

I said, “Oh my gosh, it’s my birthday, too!”

She said, “No.”

I said, “YES!”

We laughed and wished each other a happy birthday and talked on and on about how uncanny it was that we should meet on our actual birthday!

As it turned out, my celestial twin and I ended up at registers side by side. When the pharmacy clerk asked for her date of birth, she replied, “3-21” and then she turned and smiled at me. Five seconds later, I was asked the same question, to which I answered, “3-21,” and my new friend and I laughed at the amazing coincidence of our encounter, on our birthdays.

When my transaction was done, we said goodbye. As I walked away she smiled and called, “My sister’s birthday is tomorrow!” I laughed and said, “My brother’s birthday is the day after tomorrow!”

I treasure such moments of human joy!

On St. Patrick’s Day I’m An American

March 17, 2016

Under my mother’s watchful eye, preparing her parents’ grave site for Memorial Day. (circa early 2000s)

When I was young, I’d wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. Sometimes I’d wear a button on my jacket declaring my Irish heritage. I was proud of being of Irish descent.

But now, the day doesn’t have as much meaning. The struggle of my ancestors means a great deal to me, but after all that they achieved, I am left with the gift of being fully American.

One strand of my maternal family came to this country in the 1600s, about 16 generations ago. In the late 1800s, my great-great-grandfather was the first Irish Catholic mayor in New England – in the then booming immigrant city of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

John Breen, first Irish Catholic mayer in New England (City of Lawrence, Massachusetts)

John Breen, first Irish Catholic mayor in New England (City of Lawrence, Massachusetts)

It’s hard to imagine that Lawrence still had a rim of country land around it. But these photos show the home of the mayor and the field across the street from his home. These photos show the progress of an American immigrant family given opportunity and being self-motivated.

My great-grandfather held the drop-kick record at Purdue for nearly 100 years.


Charles Breen, Purdue-University football, held dropkick record for nearly a century.

My grandfather was the managing editor of the Lawrence Eagle Tribune. When I was 22 years old, my own father was given the honor of being asked to be the Grand Marshall of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Lawrence, a city he served with his surgical skill. I choose the word “served” because he thought of his profession as one of service to the people of his community, all people – regardless of their country of origin or the number of years they had spent rooting into their new home land.

My generation, in photos below in 1977 at the Hibernian Dinner Dance the year my father was Grand Marshall of the parade, enjoyed a good life because of the hard work and courage of our predecessors.

I am proud enough of my Irish heritage and family history to have placed the story of my book, The Setting of the Sun, in the city of Lawrence in an Irish Catholic family.

My blood is about 7/8 Irish. The remainder is a smattering of English, Dutch and Native American. But in my heart, I am fully American. Perhaps I feel strongly about this now that my parents are gone. And perhaps it was their personal history and patriotism that caused me to transition to not really celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Each of my parents served in WWII – my father in the Army, my mother in the Marines. Every year of my childhood, on Memorial Day, my mother would walk us, her children, the quarter of a mile to the passing parade. She’d instruct us to put our hand over our heart as each American flag passed. She’d talk to us about giving honor to “the boys” who lost their lives to keep our country free from tyranny.

My mother’s solemn disposition on Memorial Day had an impact on me. Looking back now, I believe that each year, I’d feel more and more American because of her influence.

At age 70, my mother went back to work. She worked for several years in the Immigrant City Archives in Lawrence. She loved the legacy her home city had left on the Merrimack Valley. She especially loved the mix of races and cultures, and the contribution of each to the American way of life.

My mother was a solid member of the GOP. I don’t believe she ever voted outside of her party. She followed politics with the same zeal that is associated with sports fans. She understood her civics and she could determine with a fair amount of accuracy, by following every move of the Senate and the House of Representatives, who might bid for the presidency and how he/she would be receive by both parties and the American people.

I think of her often as I watch the current presidential election. I believe she’d be in a dilemma. Her party has put forth a candidate whose bigotry and aggression is a threat to this country. It would bother her to hear his anti-immigration and immigrant bashing statements. She’d wonder how Donald Trump could lead a country whose military has already acknowledged that it will not follow his illegal commands regarding torture and the killing of civilians (family members of terrorists).

I am my mother’s daughter, and though we did not see eye to eye on all things, we loved each other dearly. Like her, I am proud of the courage it took for my ancestors to leave the home they loved and brave the seas to find a better life. I’m proud of what they achieved in their small way. This is the American story for every family in this country that is not Native American.

So, on St. Patrick’s Day, I thank my Irish ancestors for my American heritage. And I want this country to continue to allow the privilege of American heritage to any person fleeing oppression, violence, tyranny, starvation or lack of personal freedom and human rights.

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