T Minus 2 to Black Friday: Today’s Recommendation

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If you are thinking of cutting the cord, your options have never been so plentiful.  From Smart TV’s to streaming media devices, it may actually be possible to cut the cord this year.

One of my favorite streaming devices is the Amazon Fire TV.  It’s a small HDMI dongleFireTV that plugs in to the HDMI port on your TV.  Amazon sells three versions, the Fire TV Stick at $39.99 is the smallest and portable.  The current version does not yet support 4K video, but still delivers impressive quality, at 1080p, on any TV.  The Fire TV is $69.99 and does support 4K and HDR video.  There is also a bundle that includes an HD antenna to pick up local digital broadcast networks.

If you are an Amazon Prime member, you have access to an incredible library of content and apps to really make the Fire TV and impressive media device.  Each version also includes the Alexa enabled voice remote, which lets you search and control playback with your voice.

With live TV services like Hulu Plus with Live TV and YouTube TV, you now have access to more services than ever.  Most concerns with cutting the cord are around access to local broadcast networks, including syndicated sports broadcasts.  Amazon Fire TV and many of the other streaming services now have options to satisfy just about every viewing desire you may have.

If your cable bill is really starting to bother you, this may be the year to explore cutting the cord once and for all.  Even if you are not yet ready to cut the cord, these devices make a great gift that will allow the recipient to explore the world of entertainment beyond what the cable company delivers.

Bluetooth Headphone Recommendation: Apple AirPods

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There are so many Bluetooth headphones on the market today, it is really hard to know which is the best, or which would be the best gift to give.  To be sure, almost any pair will be a welcome gift, but one pair does stand apart from the crowd and that is Apple’s AirPods.

airpods-610x340If you are an Apple device user, pairing your AirPods with your Mac, iPhone or iPad is just super simple.  The good news is, you can also pair your AirPods to any Bluetooth device, like a Windows PC, so while most Apple products only work with other Apple products, AirPods cross platforms nicely thanks to complying with the Bluetooth standard.

What makes the AirPods the Bluetooth headphones to beat are their size, weight, sound quality and compact charging case.  As far as untethered Bluetooth headphones go, the sounds quality is tough to beat.  What I mean by this is that there is no cable connecting AirPod Coverthe two AirPods, each is independent, so you won’t have to content with a cable running behind your neck.  AirPods are light and fit nicely in most ears.  I will admit that the fit of my own is not as snug as I might like, but they stay in place and deliver nice sound quality and also work seamlessly for phone calls as well.  When I am active, working out and wearing them, I slip them into a pair of covers with hooks, to hold them snugly in place, especially while running.

AirPods have been hard to get ahold of, but Apple seems to have caught up with demand and they are once again readily available.  That said, I expect they will be a very popular item this holiday season, so I would not procrastinate if you have these on your gift list.  Grab them as soon as you see them.

557954-bose-soundsport-free-inlineI will also mention one other pair of similar headphones that I think are an excellent alternative to AirPods and those are the Bose SoundSport Free.  They are larger than AirPods and relatively new to the market, but build on the success of their tethered version, so I suspect these are an excellent choice as well.

Whatever you decide, you will have one very lucky recipient to receive a pair of Bluetooth headphones this holiday season.

Ski Technology at its Finest

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While I would love to be talking about the technology in my 2017 K2 Pinnacles, that’s not what this post is about.  However, it you are looking for an incredible all-mountain ski that performs above expectations on both east coast mountains and the Rockies, this is the ski for you…but I digress.

I spent a week skiing in Colorado with a good friend and my son.  The skiing was fantastic, as expected.  What I was pleasantly surprised with was the use of technology on the mountain to make the experience even more pleasant.

We mostly skied at Vail Resort mountains.  Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.  We also skied a day at one of my all-time favorites, Steamboat.  The ticketing systems at both mountains leverage RFID technology to make the experience simple and efficient.

Here is a picture of the RFID card issued at each mountain.

EpicDayCard_LIThe EpicDay card is Vail Resorts card.  You can go online and purchase single or multiple day lift tickets and just pick up this card on your first visit to any of the mountains.  Once you have the card, it just needs to be on your person, somewhere on its own, so the mountain RFID readers can scan and validate your card as you ski.

When at the base lifts on the mountain, lift staff carries a Symbol/Zebra RFID reader and will wave the device in front of you to pick up and validate your ticket.  Once you are up the mountain, there is no longer a need to read the ticket, as you wouldn’t be able to get there without riding a base lift first.  However, every lift still has RFID readers and they are used for a couple of purposes.  Namely, they keep track of the lifts you ride and they are used to calculate the wait time in the lift line.  Vail Resorts has a mobile app called EpicMix which will track all of this for you.  There are even photographers on the mountain and they too will use RFID to track your photo opps.  If you hold a season ticket, these photos will automatically post to your Facebook account if you allow that.

At Steamboat, their technology is called QuickTrax and SteamboatCard.jpgworks similarly.  You register the card and it’s good for 3 years.  You don’t have to visit a ticket window again during this time.  You may simply go online, purchase your ticket or tickets and load them to your card so you can walk right to the lift and get to the slopes.

One thing to keep in mind with RFID technology is that you don’t want to have interference issues.  If you have both of these two cards in the same pocket, only one will read and you might have issues getting on the lift if the card that reads is not the mountain you are at.  Credit cards and cell phones may also interfere, so just be sure to have the card in an outside pocket on its own and you should be fine.

 

There is No Substitute for Good Customer Service

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If you regularly read my blog, you know I am a fan and a loyal customer of C&J. For those unfamiliar with the company, C&J is a bus company that runs regular commuter and traveler services from the Seaocast of New Hampshire to Logan Airport and Boston as well as New York City

I mostly use the service when traveling for business of pleasure, to get to and from the airport. The buses run hourly and with free parking, it makes for a very reasonable, convenient and stress free ride to and from Logan. The buses, which C&J calls coaches ar comfortable, with leather reclining seats, productive with WiFi and clean, complete with an onboard restroom.  There is always cold bottled water and daily newspapers onboard as well. I have found their staff, both terminal and drivers to be friendly, helpful and professional. It’s a great service to have readily available just 10 minutes from my house. 

I’ve also just taken the New York service, for the second time and can enthusiastically recommend it as well. The NYC coach is an executive class coach with 2 seats on one side and 1 on the other. It reminds me of jetBlue‘s Embraer 190‘s. These seats have plenty of leg and recline room.  Like the airport coaches, they also have power at every seat. In addition, there are pillows and blankets and a nice galley and rest room in the rear. The galley has a Keurig with plenty of blends to choose from, cold water and sofa, snacks, fruit and the USA Today. It’s a great way to travel from close to home to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the heart of Manhattan. 

When I booked this most recent trip, I discovered that we were booked on one of the airport size coaches for the return trip. There was an error on the booking site that didn’t flag that particular departure as being a substitute run to accommodate the additional volume needs on this particular weekend. When I discovered this, I was not too happy.  I did not want to spend the five hour ride on th non executive class coach, with its numerous amenities. Especially as I use the time to get work done and the extra comfort and space makes it much easier. 

I sent an email to customer service and to their credit, they acknowledged the error on their site, apologized and offered to change our reservation to the one hour later departure, at no extra charge. Because the NYC service offers reserved seating, there is a change/cancellation fee and the fare can be different. I was once again impresssed with this company. Truly exemplary customer service and a concern not to let their customers down. I appreciate that and let them know. As did they, signing their message with their standard brand appreciation, “Thanks for riding with C&J.”  Something this loyal customer  will be doing and recommending whenever the opportunity presents itself.