Near Thunderbolt Speeds with USB 3.0

If you do a lot of video or photo editing you will find out quickly how important a fast hard disk becomes.  The ability to read and write massive amounts of data is a must.  Depending on what kind of work you do a simple USB drive may be fine.  For those who need more may need an SSD drive or even a thunderbolt connection if you have a Mac or a PC with thunderbolt.  What is thunderbolt and what is USB…

USB 3.0

Right out of Wikipedia…

“USB 3.0 is the third major version of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard for interfacing computers and electronic devices. Among other improvements, USB 3.0 adds the new transfer mode SuperSpeed (SS) that can transfer data at up to 5 Gbit/s (625 MB/s), which is about ten times faster than the USB 2.0 standard.”

Thunderbolt

Right out of thunderbolttechnology.net…

“Thunderbolt™ technology is a transformational I/O innovation that provides a leap in performance over current I/O technologies with 10 Gbps of full-duplex bandwidth per channel. It significantly simplifies the end-user experience by concurrently supporting data (PCI Express*) and display (DisplayPort) connections over a single cable. Thunderbolt products may be connected using electrical or optical cables. Thunderbolt technology enables flexible and innovative system designs by allowing multiple, high-performance, PCI Express and DisplayPort devices to attach to a computer through a single physical connector.

Gbps and Gbit mean the same thing…gigabit per second.  So on the surface it seems that thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB 3.0.  Before we go much deeper lets put the gigabits into a measurement that we can deal with.  I use the black magic drive disk speed test software for my tests and it measures in MB/s or megabytes per second.  So 5Gbps would be equal to 625 megabytes and 10 Gbps 1250 megabytes.  Both are very very fast.  So lets get a relative sense of speed.  Here I have tested a western digital 2.5″ backup hdd using USB 3.0 interface and lets measure some speed.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 2.32.25 PM

 

So indicated by the Black Magic disk speed test this drive would not be suitable for editing video.  It is able to write 86.5 megabytes per second and read 93.4 megabytes.  It works just fine for moving data, data storage and files that are smaller in size but not good enough for the huge throughput that A/V requires.  The main reason for this lack of speed has nothing to do with the interface.  We know that the USB 3.0 interface can handle more but the drive is a basic spinning disk at 5900 rpm and is slow in todays world.  No matter how much throughput you have the disk will only provide so much.  We are limited at the disk.  Think of it like driving a Yugo on the Audubon.  You couldn’t go 150 miles an hour if you wanted to.

So the obvious next step would be to use the USB 3.0 interface with an SSD drive to reduce the bottle neck.  I did just that.  I found the most highly rated, least expensive, drive on Amazon.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 2.13.36 PM

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 2.13.15 PM

 

I mounted this silicon power disk into the inateck case and gave it a whirl.  The drive on the Black Magic now performed very well at speeds of  about 400 megabytes per second.  This is easily enough to edit video except for some of the most demanding resolutions and color depths.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 2.45.47 PM

 

With the new 4k resolution craze and some new video formats around there still could be a need for even more speed.  I started looking at thunderbolt devices and specifically 2 drive bay cases.  I found out quickly that thunderbolt is very expensive.  Even thunderbolt version one products cost 3-5 times as much as the equivalent usb 3.0 devices.  I decided to try a test to see what kind of speed I would get if I created a raid 0 array with a second SSD drive and case and this is how I did it.

With the Mac and OS X you can actually create various raid arrays through the disk utility and their software controller.  This is called a software raid.  A hardware raid is made by the actual hardware or disk cases having various switches and settings.  Hardware raids are more versatile but I am on a budget.  Software raid it is.

What is raid 0?  Raid 0 is a way to “tie” together two disks and letting the computer see them as one “virtual” disk.  Why would you want to do this?  Allowing the computer to access two disks allows it twice as much space and throughput as the normal configuration.  Example:  lets say the computer has to send 10 pieces of data to the drive.  On a normal single drive system it would send them 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, then 6, then 7, then 8, then 9 and finally 10.  Now if it had two drives to write to it could send by twos… 1,2 then 3,4 then 5,6 then 7,8 then 9,10.  More lanes, bigger roads easier to drive fast…

Pro’s and Con’s

A risky con…A normal single drive is a bad idea for back up.   If the drive dies, the data dies with it.  In a Raid 0 scenario if either of the drives in the array dies then all of the data dies with it.  Even if the other drive is working it only has pieces of all the data it needs and can’t make any sense of whats left.  So in effect by having two drives represent one whole set of data you have doubled your risk of drive failure because now you depend on two.

Another smaller con is that you use up two usb ports because you’re using two drives and this software raid will only work with the software that created it and not on all computers.

BUT

Lets look at the pros

SPEED…Check this out.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 10.40.05 AM

 

With both drives in a Raid 0 array they achieved more than 700 megabytes throughput!  That is ready for any kind of video or photo editing you can throw at it.  WOW!

IMG_1950

I literally strapped the two drives together to keep movement to a minimum so cable wouldn’t come loose.

IMG_1951

 

I then went into the Disk Utility on my mac arranged the two drives as Raid 0.

The new Mac OS x made things a little more complicated for me.  There is no longer a user interface for creating Raid arrays in disk utility.  I had to go to the terminal window and type:

diskutil appleRAID create stripe [arrayName] JHFS+ disk0 disk1

** ! make sure you select the correct drives for the array…mine happened to be disk0 and disk1 yours could be different ! **

Disk0 being one of my SSD drives and Disk1 being the other SSD.  Once I hit return the array was created and showed up as one drive on my desktop with the name I gave it.

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 2.12.28 PM

You can plug in the usb cables for the array in any order.  They did not however work through a usb hub.  I plugged them directly into the back of my machine.

IMG_1949-1

 

Now make sure you don’t just yank the cables out when you’re finished using the drive.  You want to eject the drive first…let it complete the exit and then pull the cables out.  Remember if you corrupt the data on one drive its ALL gone!

Anyway at these speeds I am comparable to most Thunderbolt 1 drives that are similar that I have seen.  Yes there are combinations that are faster but not for this price.  I paid a grand total of $312 for all of this and a thunderbolt drive setup similar would cost double or more.  Its a good option if you’re on a budget so try one on your Mac.

Feel free to ask any questions.

 

SMOOTHIES…

Recently I purchased a new toy.  

image2

My new Blendtec high-powered blender.  About 10 years ago I used to enjoy smoothies quite a bit.  I was doing a tough workout and needed to get nutrition that I wasn’t getting through my normal diet.  The biggest problem was it just seemed like I was focusing on when, where, how and what to eat way too much.  I quickly learned by making a smoothie and jamming a bunch of different ingredients into it you can cover a lot of nutritional ground very quickly.  Not to mention the broken down food for easier digestion and the ingredients were raw and better for you.  My friend left a blender at my house that I used on a daily basis and I really enjoyed making my berry smoothie every morning.  That blender finally failed and I never replaced it.

A week ago I was walking through Costco and came across a section with a blender by Blendtec.  Prior I had researched a little and knew that Blendtec and Vitamix are the two that are always talked about when it comes to professional, high power blenders.  The price was right so I picked one up.  When I first got home my wife was a little “unhappy” at the fact that I just purchased a $250 blender.  Actually they retail at $329 so I thought it was a good buy.  Not much different from her justifying her purchases by saying “it was on sale”.  🙂

I have to say WOW!  This thing is a beast.  It will munch up just about anything you put in it… in seconds.  I have even won my wife over with the new Oreo Blizzard knock off I have created.  The thing spins so fast that on the right setting it will heat your mixture into a hot soup.  There are actually some funny videos produced by the Blendtec company called “will it blend…?” on YouTube.  They blend everything from iPhones to rake handles.  Amusing to watch for sure.

There seems to be a rivalry between the Blendtec camp and the Vitamix camp as to which one is better.  It’s similar to the Iphone vs. Android battle.  And much like the phone controversy they are both good just depends on what you want.

If you want to make a quick, nutritious and portable meal, a smoothie is a great way to get it done.  Try one of these new high-powered blenders they are a blast!

My Breakfast Berry Smoothie Recipe:

image1

1/4 cup frozen mixed berries

1/4 cup milk or almond milk

One large spoon full of greek yogurt

One spoon full of peanut butter

1/8 to 1/4 cup of dry uncooked oatmeal

1 scoop of protein powder

A few ice cubes

 

 

Dollar Shave Club – Initial Impressions

How many times have you needed to shave and you either can’t find a sharp razor or the razor you have is full of hair and it’s not your hair?  Between my three daughters and wife I may get a chance to use my new razor once before it is taken away.  Hey, it’s just the way it is and everyone needs to shave sometime.  The only problem is that razors aren’t cheap.  I feel that when my girls use my high dollar razor blades on their legs it’s wasting money.  Replacement razor blades in the store can cost $15, $30 upwards of $50!!  So looking for a solution to my problem I came across the Dollar Shave Club.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 9.26.29 AM

The Dollar Shave Club is a company that provided razors, handles, and lotions via online order.  You sign up online and establish an account.  You have three choices…the $1/month double blade “the humble”, $6/month Multi blade “4x” and the $9/month mac daddy “executive”.   One small catch is that the $1/month is actually $3/Month because this is the only level that charges delivery.  The other two higher levels are free delivery.  For Blade choices you can follow this link www.dollarshaveclub.com/blades.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 9.43.32 AM

I went for the lowest level of entry thinking that if it wasn’t good enough I could upgrade to a nicer blade.  My package arrived yesterday so I wanted to share my opinion of the first shave with the “humble” razor.

Bottom line…it’s good.  It’s not spectacular but its a solid razor for a really inexpensive price.  Beyond the razor this is what I like about the program.  I no longer have to remember to get razors.  I no longer have to worry if the store has the correct kind of blade for my handle.  I won’t get upset when others use my blades…there are more coming next month.  AND…the shave is pretty good.  Keep in mind this is the entry-level so I didn’t expect the shave to be the best but it’s actually better than I expected.  In the kit I received a cool box, a razor handle, five razor blades and some shaving “butter”.  Not crazy about the shaving butter but its ok.  I prefer the old-fashioned shaving cream.

So, initial results…thumbs up.  I will check back and update to let you know how long the blades last and the opinions from my girls.  So far so good, you may want to give it a try.

Update:  July 13, 2015 – I have used the first blade for the first week and it is still shaving close.  I think my face is adjusting to the angle of the blade.  5 shaves and they are still clean and close.

Update:  October 21, 2015 – Tracey from Dollar shave club contacted me to thank me for giving DSC props and to request a link to the blade choices…done.  🙂

SONOS – SIMPLY MUSIC

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.41.55 AM

I thought with the recent sale going on with Sonos it would be a good topic for a blog entry this week.  I have had Sonos now for about a year and I have to say its been very enjoyable.  A few years back Sonos took a different approach to music and I think it has really paid off for them.  Until Sonos there were speakers that needed wires and/or bluetooth to operate and play music.  Sonos did away with the connection point and created a listening “ecosystem” for music.

What is Sonos?

Keeping it very simple, it’s a wireless speaker that uses you’re in home network to play music.  That doesn’t sound too impressive.  Sonos isn’t even battery operated or portable.  It needs to be plugged in all the time.  It doesn’t use bluetooth and only a few devices allow for a wired connection.  Who would want that you might say?  A lot of people!

This is why…

Sonos uses you’re in home network to connect to the internet.  The Sonos is independently smart.  What I mean by that is even though it can be controlled by a device (iPhone, iPad, smart phone etc.) it doesn’t need one to operate.  Sonos has its own “brain” and uses music services as its source for music and playback.  Setting up Sonos is super easy.  You plug it in, download the app on your iPhone or smart phone and follow the steps.  It will connect to any in home server you may have with your own music as well as any music services you are a member of.  The services include but aren’t limited to Pandora, Spotify (paid account only), Slacker, Iheart Radio, Songza just to name a few.  There’s a bunch to choose from.

Versatility  –  Lets say I am having a party at my house.  I have a Sonos (doesn’t matter which one) in the family room, living room and study.  To get things going I decide to connect all three to the same music source (rock).  Into the app I go and I can choose all locations and set them to play the same music.  It will play in synch perfectly in all three locations.  I can adjust the volume in each location independent of one another or all together at once.  Now, once the music is playing and I have set it up on my iPhone, my wife says she needs ice.  I run out the door like a good husband and guess what.   Nothing changes, the music keeps playing.  A bluetooth or wired speaker couldn’t do this.  Sonos has it own connection and internal “brain” and software so the music is being streamed to and through the Sonos not the phone.  The iPhone app is simply a remote control.  Now, my wife goes into the living room with a friend and decides to change the music to classical.  She grabs her phone, picks the zone, chooses the station and done.  Now you have rock in the other two rooms and classical in one.  Anyone with the Sonos app can connect and change channels, volume or whatever they choose.

Configuration  –  I would say the single greatest selling point to Sonos is the ways it can be configured.  So its Sunday morning and I want to listen to some smooth jazz in stereo.  The Sonos devices are mono so how the heck do you do that?  Simple, into the app and pick the two Sonos devices you want to use as a stereo pair and bingo, you have left and right stereo channels.  Sounds nice but I need more bass.  Open the app and add your subwoofer to the mix and now you’ve got a stereo pair with a subwoofer.  All wireless, all in synch and guess what…the Sonos stuff sounds great!  I would put it on par with anything built by Bose with similar sizes and configurations.  Too bad it doesn’t handle surround sound.  It does!  You can use the sound bar, add the sub, add two like Sonos units for the rear and you now have 5.1 sound.  See sample configuration photo below.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.39.17 AM

Scalability  –  This ties into configuration but this I wanted to break out to discuss two points.  Low cost of entry and limitless growth.  I really like the Sonos system as it allows you to grow when and how you choose.  You can buy the least expensive product and its only $199 which is a deal for what you get.  Right now you can get two Sonos Ones for $349 which is $50 savings.  I have had my “one” for a year and haven’t purchased another Sonos yet.  It has a really full and nice sound and I haven’t really needed to add another yet.  When I am ready I can just pick my product and I know it will integrate seamlessly.  I can have one or thirty Sonos in my house.  It’s up to you and what you want.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.44.21 AM

It’s not all perfect.  Yes, no battery means you’re always tethered to a wall outlet but there are many of those in a house.  The surround configuration has two limits…its only 5.1 capable not 7.1 but for me that’s good enough and it will only play surround with the surround bar being fed a 5.1 signal from a TV, Blu-Ray or TV Box optical output.  The best way to configure for surround is using a TV with 5.1 pass-thru but that TV is not easy to find.  Vizio and Sony are a couple of brands that can do this but that’s a little limiting.  It will play sound out of all speakers if its being fed a 2.0 channel configuration but it will be simulated surround but that sounds ok.

One last thought…Sonos is a perfect gift for Weddings, Graduations, Students…if they don’t have one they’ll love it and if they already have one they can add to their network!  You can never have too many :-).

If you haven’t experienced Sonos get a Sonos One to start and give it a try.

 

See how the application works on an iPhone.  Click either link below.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 1.02.47 PM

 

Video to Demonstrate the Sonos App

 

 

 

Understanding Exposure With The Exposure Triangle

A great video that explains the relationship between Aperture, ISO and Shutter speed.  Once you understand this relationship its much easier to dial in the look you want and get great photos!  A little long winded but stay with it as it is very informative.

 

As nice description below

Exposure-Triangle

Meerkat – Live Stream Video on the App Store on iTunes

 

 

 

This is a cool new app that was brought to my attention by Chris Fenwick who hosts one of my favorite podcasts (FCPX Grill).  Meerkat is a live streaming app that uses the twitter servers to stream live video and audio.  The cool thing is once you have an account and you go “live” it notifies all of your twitter followers that you’re sharing an event live.  You can also announce and schedule events so viewers can plan to watch.  I think of it as turning your iPhone into a news van.  You can up link and stream anything anytime to the entire twitter world.  The uses are in their infancy but I expect cool things to come.  Check it out.

Read reviews, get customer ratings, see screenshots, and learn more about Meerkat – Live Stream Video on the App Store. Download Meerkat – Live Stream Video and enjoy it on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Source: Meerkat – Live Stream Video on the App Store on iTunes

Royalty Free Music Library from PremiumBeat.com

One of the hardest things for videographers is finding reasonably priced and good quality music.  Premium beat is one of the best websites I have ever used to find great audio tracks.  The prices are very reasonable and once you purchase the music it is royalty free.  They also offer loop packs to allow you to make transitions and complimentary passages within your edit.  It is extremely easy to preview music with their built in web player and you can even start a “wish list” or a collection of music you like for easy reference.  If you’re struggling to find just the right song try them out!

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 10.54.23 AM

Source: Royalty Free Music Library from PremiumBeat.com

Final Cut Pro X Plugins and Effects by Pixel Film Studios

For All the FCPX editors out there you may want to check out Pixel Film Studios.  They offer a wide range of editing effects, tools and transitions all made to work directly with FCPX as well as other software.  Most plug-ins are reasonably priced and some are really powerful.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 11.04.13 AM

Source: Final Cut Pro X Plugins and Effects by Pixel Film Studios. FCPX Plugins and Effects

Germany – My Visit – Part 1

My daughter was awarded a great honor.  She received the scholarship for the CBYX program.  This scholarship is awarded by U.S. Congress, called the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program.  This allows a student to live with a host family and attend high school in Germany while becoming fluent with the language and having a culturally immersive experience.  Needless to say she jumped at the opportunity and now my second oldest is signed up and getting ready to go as well!

My family decided to go visit with my daughter, in Germany so I wanted to share the experience so anyone traveling there for the first time would have some perspective from this “first timer”.  This was my first trip to Germany and my first trip to Europe.  I am not a worldly traveler at all.  I am sure I will get few things wrong but I will do my best.

16847531669_c6e32aa43c_b

Getting to Germany is expensive.  Flights ranged from $850-$1500 round trip so to get 5 people to Germany is about the price of a used car.  You have several choices of airlines and they all run specials at various times.  I think that if you’re like me and going for “best price” you’ll end up on Turkish Air or SAS.  We chose SAS.  The flight was about 8 hours to our connection and then about 1.5 hours once we made our connecting flight.  Our flight was delayed 2 hours upon arriving to the airport.  People told us that this is not uncommon with international flights.  Other than hanging out in the airport a little longer this was not a big deal.

Germany is 6 hours ahead of the US (east coast).  My friend said the quickest way to adapt to the time shift is sleep on the plane and to just stay up when you get to Germany and “push through” and go to bed at your normal bed time in Germany.  This would mean you have to endure one hell of a long day but it’s not too bad after that.

Upon arriving to Düsseldorf airport, in Germany, it was a little confusing.  It probably didn’t help that I was tired but it wasn’t clear where our baggage was and no one really told us.  We finally found it.  Luckily my daughters CBYX program liaison (Bianca) met us at the airport and took us under her wing.  So getting the rental car and getting to my hotel was easy.  We can’t thank her enough for all of her efforts.  We really appreciated her!

16858034010_718310283d_z

Hotels, Rentals and where to stay.  Traveling to Germany is expensive and everything in Germany can cost a bit more than the US as well.  We found most things to be comparable as the Euro and Dollar exchange rate was working to our advantage on this trip.  We stayed in our first place and coordinated it through HomeAway.  HomeAway is a house rental site where individual property owners advertise and rent their personal properties.  It was a good alternative to hotels for us due to the size of our family.  You need to be careful what you choose and do a little homework but you can find some really nice places.  I think we lucked out.

16411342794_834e83bdc3_z

The first thing you’ll notice is the general size difference…of everything.  The cars, the streets, the stores, the houses, all are smaller.  Not a bad thing just a fact.  The byproduct of less space and smaller things is that you’ll find some pretty neat innovations.  Some are so cool you’ll think  “why don’t we do that, that makes so much sense”.  Example…all residential toilets have slim tanks or wall buried tanks mounted in the walls and have a small and large flush button.  Saves space, saves water…why not?   One of my favorites was the windows.  They have windows that are full panes of sashless glass unlike our typical double or single hung windows.  The view out of this type of window is unobstructed by grilles and sash frames.  They are double hinged too…you can tilt the window in at the top allowing a breeze while being kid safe or change the handle position and the whole window will swing in allowing for max breeze.  Opening windows in Germany is important because there aren’t as many places with central air conditioning so the air exchange is not like our homes.  Opening windows becomes necessary to freshen up from time to time.

16411341244_5e93f68a8a_z

Germany is old, real old.  We in the US consider our country history…independence, civil war etc. “a long time ago” but the US time scale is like a few hours relative to Germany’s time line in history.   Not making our history any less important but what you’ll notice is this age and historical character oozes from all areas of the German surroundings.  Architecture, monuments, churches…its a real eye opener and really quite an experience. Have you heard of the Neander Valley?  No?  Neanderthal Man?…yeah, that’s Germany.  Pretty cool.

17074625015_3fb00124a4_o

Just a sample of the “Age” you feel while walking around the city.  A simple window sill that you can tell has been there a really long time.

16866142567_0fb3e75014_z

On Easter Sunday I took a walk in the city and while the Church bells were going like crazy I snapped a picture of this church.  I am sure the people of Essen don’t even notice it but I really found it incredible.  This type of building and architecture is everywhere.

16887248039_ab84f4d12b_z

We were welcomed by my daughters host family and even invited to an Easter bonfire that is an Easter tradition.  The community will gather, socialize, eat and yes…drink a little beer.  🙂

17071035272_2b284abf3c_z

We thought we would bring a little USA to the event and had brought Smores makings all the way from home.  So out came the graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows.  It was so funny to see the locals with marshmallow stuck to their fingers but the German children really appreciated the sugar.  We were introduced to our own new campfire treat.  The Germans place uncooked dough on a stick and actually bake bread on a stick at their campfires.  It is less mess and more filling, so cool!

16884552050_73ae24f51d_z

I would say one of my favorite features of Germany that stuck with me is the stone work in the streets and sidewalks.  Even in modern cities they use stone for streets, walkways and various areas that really give the city a unique character and texture that’s hard to explain unless you’re up close and can see it.  My photos don’t do it justice but gives an idea.

16883496600_41301d5d65_z

The photo below is actually from a Schloss (castle) that we visited.  The modern city stone work is not this rough  but you get the idea.

17048531486_a1fd43d58b_z

The other feature I like about the German mind-set is that they are willing to walk.  People walk a mile or two like its nothing.  Go to the store, grocery shopping?…just walk.  Mass transportation is readily available too.  It’s not uncommon for Germans to catch the bus, jump on a train, go to a city an hour away and then back.  This is an area where I really think the US could improve.  Then again we have such immense land and space its a harder thing to accomplish this network for travel but our cities and surrounding suburbs could certainly benefit from better mass transportation.

17073636765_c41d0575d1_z

Lets talk Castles…”Schloss” in German.  I think Germany has more Schloss’s than the us has 7-Eleven’s.  All kidding aside there are literally too many to visit.  We started our trip in Essen visiting my daughter in a nearby city.  While there we branched out to neighboring towns and visited a couple of Water Castles surrounded by water motes.

16886593748_9fbf49054c_z

The two water castles were very different but equally beautiful.  From old statues and monuments to a guy offering paid drives in his Lamborghini (no I didn’t drive it…) there were plenty of things to see.

17048167886_304cd43abd_z

I really wanted to take this Lambo out on the Audubon!

16886277078_9641dd2126_o

You will see some interesting vehicles in Germany.  What I like most are the many models of the car makers that we have in the US.  It’s interesting to see a Mercedes hatchback diesel that’s smaller than a Volkswagen Golf.  I wish we had a wider range of models for BMW and Mercedes in the US like Germany, they certainly would sell more cars.  Also its fun to see the cars you have never even heard of.  My son and I were constantly asking each other “whats that?” as we walked the streets.  I still don’t know what the car is in the picture below but I want one!

IMG_9727

Driving in Germany is not too bad.  It’s important to know what german words mean “one way” and “do not enter” as there were a couple of those incidents on this trip.  Ha ha.  The driving location/position for the cars and streets in Germany is the same as the US.  Road rules are more or less the same too.  Two road rules that stood out…if there is a person even thinking of crossing the road you had better give way and you never turn on red, ever, not even a right turn.  They also have an “almost green” light.  Our traffic lights go from green (go) to yellow (stop if you can) to red (stop)…but the germans add one more sequence…after a red light you will see a RED and YELLOW light at the same time which means “it’s about to turn green” .  Not sure why but I think it’s allowing those standard, stick shift drivers to get in gear and get their foot on the clutch.  There are far more diesel cars and manual shift transmissions in Germany.  It would be wise to make sure if you rent a car to let the rental car company know if you are unable to drive a stick shift.  I actually drove a VW Sharan, diesel, stick shift…that’s a stick shift mini-van!  Took a little getting used to.

17092228451_a60ecf276c_b

Ok, I know you’re wondering about the Audubon. Yes I drove it and contrary to popular opinion it isn’t always “speed limit-less”.  It ranges near cities from 80-120khr that’s 50-75mph approximately.  On the country side while driving in more rural areas it was time to rock though.  I would drive on average from 100-115mph and there were cars passing me like I wasn’t even moving.  The best thing about the German highway driving is that people live by a rule…if you drive slow stay in the right.  You can pass on the left but if you see a rapidly approaching vehicle in the rear view mirror you better move over!  They take that rule very seriously and I have to say it works well and traffic moves along nicely with this simple concept.  You can actually get a ticket for driving too slow in the left lane.

Check back in a few days as I will outline my trip and list all of the places I visited and share many photos of the journey.

Stay tuned for Germany – Part 2

 

 

 

My Switch to T-Mobile. A few things you may want to know.

TMobileLogoWhite

 

I have been an AT&T customer for a long time.  A really long time.  Let me first say that my move to T-Mobile had nothing to do with a problem or deficiency with AT&T.  Loved them, still do.  Service was second to none.  Now thats out of the way lets move on.

The AT&T family plan that I was on was affordable but if I were to upgrade phones/devices then my plan pricing would have skyrocketed.  I have 7 lines on my plan and everything starts to add up.  I was sitting at about $255 month for AT&T but heres the thing.  For every phone I upgraded there would be an upgrade fee ($99, $150 or whatever) and then a monthly charge for that upgraded line of like $25 or $35 dollars per month.  I had four iPhone 4s’s, one iPhone 5C and two iPhone 5’s.  So upgrading all the devices would have added $200 per month or more.  Basically unless I purchased my phones outright then my plan pricing was going to be in the high $400’s at least.

I had always discounted T-Mobile.  I assumed it was a struggling 3rd place wanna be carrier that was using gimmicks to lure customers away from their current carriers.  The more I read about them the more I became intrigued.  T-Mobile in the last couple of years has been making a march on their service increasing speeds and overall coverage.  No they aren’t as good as AT&T or Verizon (yet) but keep reading before you judge.  I will give you the rundown in just a minute.

This all started because I wanted an iPhone 6 plus.  So I started crunching numbers.  Here is how T-Mobile is set up.  Family plan $100/month includes 4 phone lines at a level of 2.5gb of data per line for the first year.  Not sure what happens in year two.  Think data probably drops back to 1.0gb with the option to upgrade but the family plan price is guaranteed not to change.  Each line after the four comes at a $10/month additional charge.  The data is handled differently than Verizon and AT&T.  Its per line and not a family “bucket” of data.  There are both advantages and disadvantages to this.  Advantage, when I need more data I can pick the actual line that needs it.  Something very cool is that T-Mobile does not count music streaming as data usage so Spotify, Pandora, 8 tracks and quite a few other music streaming sites can run all day and not cost you data.  Another cool feature is that its teen proof in that if they run over their data limit T-Mobile doesn’t charge you more, they just throttle the data hungry user back to 3g speeds.  I think T-Mobile is also starting a data roll over program where your unused data from the month before gets pushed to the next month.  Cool!

Back to pricing… $100 for first four lines, $10 per for the next three lines (remember I have 7) so $130/month for 7 lines.  Each line has 2.5gb data and unlimited text and talk and free music channels for streaming.  Not too shabby.  Wait, I still have old phones!  Upgrading and purchasing phones is fairly cool as well at T-Mobile.  T-Mobile sells you the phone at full retail and takes the price and streams the amount into 24 equal, no interest payments over the next two years.  You pay zero down on certain versions of phones…IF…you have excellent credit.  I do, so no worries with this.  Its not zero down for every phone.  The more upgraded/features the phone has the more up front money they require but what ever you give them up front comes off the price of the phone and its payments.  You always get what you pay for.  Its fair.  After two years your phone is paid off, its yours and you can upgrade or buy another and sell your old one on eBay.  Nice thing is you don’t have to pay that upgrade fee like AT&T and then pay off the phone too!  The big boys are double dipping.  This chart shows the breakdown of the iPhone 6’s and the upfront and monthly fees.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 10.32.11 PM

 

Pricing…$100 first four lines, $30 for three more lines, I bought four iPhone 6’s and on one iPhone 6 plus so $140 per month for these.  I increased my personal data to 4.5gb  at $10 a month and picked up insurance on the iPhone 6 plus with early upgrade option for another $10 a month.  Grand total with tax I roll in at about $300 per month for seven lines and five have been upgraded.  I am only $45 dollars more than with AT&T.  Yes, its more but AT&T with the same phones…$480 or more.  They also offer some buy outs and trade ins for your various equipment and current service.  Don’t be fooled there will be some out of pocket expenses cleaning up your old phone account and getting things on track at T-Mobile but it will all come out in the wash in the end.

How is the service?  Pretty darn good.   Not bad at all.  I live in Northern Virginia outside of DC so I have very good coverage.  This is something you will want to be careful with.  If you live in a rural area and T-Mobile service is sketchy then stick with your current carrier.  I get 3-4 bars of 4G LTE in most places near me.  I even ran a few speed tests with my buddy and in some tests I bested his Verizon speeds.  When you get T-Mobile LTE its fast.  When you don’t, you just don’t.  I traveled from DC to North Carolina (rt-66 to rt-81- to rt-77) and two thirds of the trip I was without data.  I could always make a phone call but data was in and out.  One feature to note is that T-Mobile phones have the ability for wifi calling.  That means that if you’re in a location and you have wifi then you can make calls through the internet on the network.  This is good because lets say when you’re home your service is weak.  Well, in the house once wifi kicks on your phone you’re good to go.  I tested and converted only my personal line to T-Mobile for the first month.  I was able to test the service and fortunately it worked out.  I would suggest trying before buying to make sure you’re ok with the service before jumping in both feet.  I expect the service to only get better in the next two years.

Lets talk people.  Fairly impressed so far.  The retail staff seems very competent and the call in phone support is always very knowledgeable and courteous.  I had a problem finding an iPhone 6 plus and one of the support managers went out of his way to chase one down and called me back two hours after the call and let me know he overnighted the phone to me for FREE!  Two thumbs up for that kind of service.  Verizon isn’t even in the club.  Sorry, everyone knows its true.

I must say that so far I am fairly happy.  Out of 5 stars I would give T-Mobile a strong 4.0.  Pricing is great, service is great but I would take away 1 point just to be objective and say that the service when not LTE is not great and I had a tough time finding iPhones but that may totally have been an Apple issue and not T-Mobiles fault.  Give T-Mobile a look.  They might be a good choice for you.  Do your homework first but I can honestly say so far so good.