A 21st Century Savior

A 21st Century Savior (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 12-25-14)

Luke 2 1 In those days during the presidency of Barak Obama a great decree went out across the United States and, for that matter, the entire world.  All those that seek a better life and free healthcare would not be turned away at the border. 2 (This was not the first time that amnesty had been granted to illegal immigrants entering the United States.  Amnesty has also been granted under the administration of Ronald Reagan.)  3 And everyone began to travel to the United States to register.

4 So Joseph also traveled from a town in Central America to America, to Bethlehem, in Georgia, the town of his brother David, because David had a house and said that he could stay there.  5 He went there with his wife Mary, who was living with him at the time and was very much pregnant.  6 While they were there, the baby couldn’t wait any longer, 7 and Mary gave birth to her very first child.  It was a boy.  She dressed him in hand-me-down clothes given to her by her sister-in-law, and placed him in a crib they set up in the garage, because David’s other brother and his wife were using the spare bedroom.

8 And there were many people driving through north Georgia, keeping a watch for deer and speed traps in the night.  9 An asteroid passed too close to the Earth, entering the atmosphere, and the glow of the burning asteroid flared upon the ground, and everyone started dialing 911. 10 But a voice on talk radio (Austin Rhodes,  I think) said to them, “Don’t freak out, my friends.  I have great news for the listeners.  This should really change things for the better. 11 A. B. just got this off Facebook, that in the little town of Bethlehem, Georgia, right outside Athens, our Savior was born.  That’s right!  The Messiah!  Our Lord!  12 Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s how you will know.  Drive to Bethlehem, go to David’s house, and the baby will be right there – wearing hand-me-downs and sleeping in the garage.”

13 Suddenly the asteroid broke apart into a multitude of pieces with each piece amazingly having the shape of an angel.  The asteroid pieces whooshed through the air producing a sound like the voices of a multitude of angels praising God, saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill to men.”

15 After that happened, everyone stopped his or her cars on the side of the road and just looked at each other saying, “Holy [bleep]!  Did you just see that?  We’ve got to check out this kid and see if what the radio guy said is really true!”

16 So they all drove to Bethlehem, found Mary and Joseph, and peaked through the garage window to see the baby sleeping in a crib next to the workbench.  17 After they saw him, they tweeted to the entire world about the events of the night and what they were told about this child #BABYJESUS, 18 and all those that followed the tweets were astonished by what was posted online.  19 Mary linked everything to her Facebook page, and wondered in her heart what it meant for her little boy’s life.  20 And all the people went back to their travels refreshed and revived in their spirit and singing praises to God, as everything that was predicted occurred exactly as it was described.

Merry Christmas!

Until next time @gregory_a_baker






Dad, I Gotta Go!

Dad, I Gotta Go! (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 12-18-14)

When on a long car trip, a situation will inevitably arise that requires the immediate and accurate knowledge of the closest restroom.  Between Augusta and Atlanta, the situation is not terribly bad.  The longest stretch between stops occurs between Thomson and the Flying J at Siloam (about 30 minutes).  More over, the restrooms between here and there are pretty decent.  For that we should all be thankful.

While traveling over the holiday, however, you’re more likely to find yourself in a more uncomfortable situation.  For example, if you’re driving between Vicksburg and Shreveport, short of Duck Commander, where can you find a stop appropriate for the kids and acceptable to the wife?

This is an area where social media should truly excel, but where it comes woefully short.  Have you ever noticed that there isn’t a Facebook page on the best potties in America?  Reporting the quality of a public restroom is not a difficult matter.  Quite honestly, there isn’t too much middle ground – the girls are either going in or they’re asking to find somewhere else.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that knowledge of a clean and accessible toilet is among the most valuable pieces of information the Internet could offer!  Yet, Charmin’s “Sit-or-Squat” does not seem to rank that high, even during the busy travel seasons.

It’s my goal to begin rectifying this deficiency.  I want to start by listing some of my most memorable travel stop experiences.

First of all, one of the better travel restroom my wife and I have encountered is the Texas Best Smokehouse III at the intersection of I-20 and US-271 in Tyler, TX.  Very rarely will you have words “Truck Stop” and “Granite Countertops” come together, but the Texas Best Smokehouse III makes it work.  Just a short 13-hours from Augusta, the TBS3 provides the first chance to get real Texas brisket.  It’s not an opportunity that we will likely ever waste.

 The worst bathrooms we’ve seen were in China.  Granted, much of our opinion may be based on cultural bias.  For those unfamiliar with eastern toilets, they do things differently over there.  Think “no seat.”  The equivalent Charmin app would be “Squat-Hi-or-Squat-Lo.”  In truth, most of the toilets were quite sanitary, and it was just a matter of learning how to balance.  Only once or twice did we have to perch upon a couple of concrete blocks.

 In the United States, I’m still wary of those highway exits that only have a single gas station.  Often times, these gas stations are old school – do have repair bays and an abundance of grease, don’t have a mini-mart.  The one that comes to mind is on the right-hand side headed west as you cross the Mississippi state line.  The folks were friendly enough…it probably helped that I had Georgia tags.  I got the impression, however, that they didn’t mind that I kept driving.  What can I say?  I can have that effect on lots of people.

So as you travel this season, keep an eye out for the best and the worst that our pit stops have to offer.  And please DON’T FORGET TO SHARE!  Of all the small things we can do for each other, this ranks pretty high in my book.  Yes, I understand, potty stories are not the best way to kick off a conversation.  But when you’re on a long trip, the moment will come when you hope beyond reason that someone decided to pay it forward.

Not convinced?  Let me give you four little words that might change your mind.

“Dad, I gotta go!”

Happy travels!  Until next time…@gregory_a_baker








Dad, I Gotta Go! (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 12-18-14)


Slightly Used

Slightly Used (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 12-11-14)

Over the past 10 years or so, electronics manufacturers have blessed this country with an uncountable number of electronic devices.  iPhones, iPads, iPods, Android, phones, Android, laptops, desktops, Chromebook, MP3 players, MP3 speakers, cameras, smart appliances, smart thermostats, Playstation, Xbox, Gameboy, DS, Tivo, DVRs, GoPro, GoogleGlass…it’s pretty clear to see that billions of electronic devices populate the purses, briefcases, and backpacks of our country.

The extreme growth in the number of electronic devices brings a very significant consequence.  At some point, the excitement surrounding all new and exciting devices fades.  The device become ordinary, and eventually, users look for the newest technology to replace yesterday’s gear.  The mainstream media would have us believe that the disposal of all these devices leads to a major environmental disaster where only cockroaches, carrion-eaters and mutated small mammals will survive.  At Augusta Tek, we don’t subscribe to that point of view.

We see some really good deals on used equipment.

And why wouldn’t we?  Very rarely do electronic devices go bad.  The screens and casings get beat up with daily wear and tear, but the internal electronics typically perform the same now as they did when purchased.  (This assumes that the O/S and firmware is properly maintained and that the device is not turned into a submarine.)  Also, nowadays we don’t see the significant performance jump in consumer product releases that existed 10 years ago.  That two or three year old laptop you are dying to replace still has enough resources to run any application that you need.  Don’t get me wrong…many other reasons exist to upgrade – supportability, new software features, to name a couple.  However, the upgrade doesn’t necessarily mean that the old one is “bad.”

As we enter the holiday season, purchasing used electronics provides a good opportunity to save a little Christmas cash.  However, that isn’t to say that this is a no risk proposition.  Following a few simple rules will help you maximize your savings, and help you keep from throwing money away.

First of all, research the item you are buying.  Vendors of used products will not perform the same level of handholding that typical retailers give.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they are less customer oriented.  These vendors are just used to working with a more knowledgeable customer base.  Buyers need to know which specific products they want and already understand which product features are available.  Buyers also need to do their homework on price.  Pricing for used electronics can be fluid, especially if purchased on an auction site such as eBay. 

Two channels for purchasing used electronics exist for most folks.  The first is purchasing directly from other individuals.  These purchases typically occur through online connections such as eBay and Craigslist.  The best deals are realized through direct sales.  However, this channel also carries the highest risk for the buyer.  Products generally come with a “No Return” policy and no warranty after the sale.  Sometimes products sold in this channel possess subtle damage due to improper use (e.g., overclocking video cards to get better performance) that may not be apparent until after a few weeks of use.  If you decide to go this route, make sure you’ve done your homework.

The second channel involves purchasing through a company that focuses in used equipment.  These vendors may specialize in a subset of used products, such as only Apple computers.  Depending on vendor, sales may include a 30-day money back guarantee and/or a 90-day warranty period.  Some manufacturers allow their used products to be sold as Certified Refurbished.  In these cases, the products have passed an inspection process determined by the manufacturer.  The manufacturer will often provide an additional 1-year or more warranty on Certified Refurbished products.  In my experience, Certified Refurbished products may show some wear-and-tear, but you can count on them to run good-as-new.

With regards to choosing an online store to purchase your used electronics, all the rules of online commerce still apply.  The vendor’s reputation needs to be checked, and customer reviews on how the vendor handles returns and warranty items need to be read.  Google is your friend here.  Also, avoid cash sells or any payment that requires you to provide unnecessary personal information.  By staying smart, you can end up with some great products under the tree and a little extra cash in your wallet.

Until next time…@gregory_a_baker




Cybernetics Monday

Cybernetics Monday (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 12-4-14)

Undoubtedly, you’ve read all the stories about how Cyber Monday has changed Black Friday.  Instead of rushing to the stores on Thursday afternoon or early Friday morning, and without allowing sufficient time to properly digest their Thanksgiving meal, those of the door-busting crowd utilized the power of the Internet to start their holiday shopping.  Retailers were more than happy to oblige by providing their best deals online and extending those deals well past Cyber Monday.

Our own personal experience confirms the sensibility of this approach.  After all, who wants to be stuck in a mob of Wal-Mart shoppers when you can sit with your iPad on your sofa wearing your fuzzy slippers and calling to your spouse, “Could you please bring me more sweet potatoes, please?”

Of course, all of this online activity and the associated free shipping creates an enormous logistics problem.  Last year, Amazon reported that customers ordered an average of 426 items per second on Cyber Monday.  The statistics are still coming in, but by some accounts, sales are up anywhere from 25% to 50% over last year.  How in the world are all these items going to be delivered to their rightful purchasers?

Amazon is turning to advanced robotics to speed up the product distribution cycle.  Amazon has introduced a fleet of 15,000 Kiva robots to reduce the amount of time it takes to fulfill an order.  Instead of sending pickers roaming through the stacks of shelves looking for orders, the Kiva robots literally pick up the shelves and bring them to the pickers.  According to Amazon, the average time to fulfill an order using this system is approximately 15 minutes, down from the hour and a half required when using a human wondering around the warehouse.

No matter how you look at it, that’s an impressive number.  However, I have it on good authority that Amazon is still far short of the fulfillment metrics posted by the elves during the holiday season.

Even if robotics still hasn’t caught up with elven magic, here’s a few robotic items that might find their way to someone’s gift list.

  • Lego Mindstorms EV3 – This Lego system gives the capability to create robots that “walk, talk, think and do anything you can imagine.”  The Mindstorms system comes with an EV3 programmable brick that provides the intelligence for the robot.  The EV3 brick accepts inputs from sensors bricks and sends output signals to motors according to a program written with the EV3 software.  This is more than a toy…it’s a platform for extreme creativity.
  •  MiP Robot – This is a cute little robot best suited for your resident geek.  MiP uses a Segway-like mobility system to putz around.  In its autonomous mode, MiP will respond to your hand signals and perform in various game modes (i.e., Tracking, Dance, Roam, etc).  MiP is also controllable via a iPhone or Android App.  MiP will follow real-time commands or follow a path drawn on your smartphone screen.  MiP comes with an attachable tray to stack items for MiP to carry.
  • Roomba – Roomba is iRobot’s classic vacuum-cleaning robot originally released in 2002.  Now in its 4th generation, Roomba supports a number of advances over its predecessors.  And if you are looking for more than a vacuum cleaner, iRobot offers robots that scrub the floor (“Scooba”), mop the floor (“Braava”), clean the pool (“Mirra”) and clean the gutters (“Looj”).  With any luck at all, basic everyday cleaning will be a thing of the past.

Until next time…  @gregory_a_baker