Friday, May 18, 2012

Justin Bieber: Not Just Another Pretty Face!

Bieber PixlrLove him or dislike him, there's much to be said about a kid who sells out Madison Square Garden in 22 minutes before he's even reached the age of majority (18)!

There's also something to be said about a young adult Christian who before age 18 started reciting the Shema (the holiest prayer in Judaism) prior to his performances.  He recites it in Hebrew, and although some may think he's just doing it out of respect for his Jewish staff (including manager/discoverer Scott "Scooter" Braun and music director/guitarist Dan Kanter), Justin Bieber seems sincere about the whole thing.

More info on this later in the article, but I just learned that a national gay newsmagazine in 2011 reported that Justin might be an "emerging ally" for the LGBT community. 

As I write this, the Biebs is in the Number 2 spot on Twitter (according to Twitter Counter), and is just a few thousand followers shy of the Number 1 position, currently held by Lady Gaga.  He has also logged over 15,500 tweets, so he might need a carpal tunnel surgeon before he turns 19 next March.

Even Forbes magazine has taken interest in Bieber and they are featuring him in their June 2012 edition. The photos and a four-minute video of the partial interview are available on Ryan Seacrest’s website.

I also recently learned that he's a huge belieber in the "pay it forward" concept of asking that a good deed be repaid by having it done for others instead.  I never heard about the concept until recently when I stumbled on the 2000 film "Pay It Forward," starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and a very young Haley Joel Osment.  If you haven't seen it, don't miss it!


Not a Brat; Truly Sincere!
I recently posted on Twitter that Justin is a cross between Michael Jackson, Tim Tebow, and Claude M. Bristol (author of "The Magic of Believing," 1948).  He has the talent of Jackson, the faith of Tebow, and the positive thinking concepts of Bristol (whom the late Liberace happened to admire).

Justin thus far doesn't appear to be some type of snot-nosed rich kid.  My months of "research" (all for educational purposes, mind you) has convinced me beyond all reasonable doubt that he's the real deal when it comes to being positive, giving to others, reaching for the stars, and achieving what some of us only dream of.

His sincerity is evident in the "My Worlds Acoustic" (2010) digital booklet, where he thanks his fans.  It reads, in part: "So this album is taking it back to how we started together on YouTube - me and my guitar just singing.  You took a boy from a small town and made dreams he didn’t even know existed real.  So thank you, thank you, thank you.  This one is for you.  And we are just getting started!  Love you - Justin."


"Belieber!" Book is a Great Bieberpedia!
Belieber Book
Before I go any further, it is important to note that this blog article started out as a lengthy e-mail "letter" I spent weeks drafting to Cathleen Falsani, the author of several non-fiction books that deal with religious, spiritual, and cultural issues.

Her tour de force is "Belieber!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber" (2011).  I get no money for this plug, but her book is available from Amazon in paperback, audio CD, Kindle, and Audible formats.  The book is like an encyclopedia for everything Bieber and one will also learn about other musicians and some interesting insight about the author.

It is very important to note that "Belieber!" is not one of those trashy tabloid-type books that are often written about celebrities.  This is a well-written and thoughtful book that should interest every JB fan, no matter their age, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and so on.

My draft correspondence to Falsani was was a very comprehensive account about my evolution in coming to appreciate Justin Bieber (hereinafter "JB"). I concluded it would be more beneficial to share my thoughts and feelings in this article to reach a wider audience (all five of you).  So, with all due respect to Falsani, I scrapped the correspondence to her altogether and instead incorporate much of it herein.

My Journey to Bieberland
justinbieber-with-love-hearts
At 51, I really have little interest in young boys or girls that sing "bubble gum" music so I never really gave much thought when I kept seeing the name "Justin Bieber" in the news.  I rarely watch live television, and he wasn't on any of the political-oriented podcasts I watch/listen to regularly, so I wasn't even sure what he looked like until recently.  I recall laughing out loud after seeing some headlines about his "old and new hairstyle," but now I understand what that is all about.

When he turned 18 on March 1, 2012, that was of interest to me since my birthday is also in March.  I then learned his favourite colour is the same as mine (purple), so that also piqued my interest. 

logo-twitterI then heard a story on an ABC News podcast about him posting a partial phone number (presumably his) on Twitter with the last digit missing, and young girls were dialing the phone number by filling in the missing digit, thinking they would eventually reach JB himself.  At least one elderly lady in Texas was not amused when she received calls from lots of girls asking for Justin.  I thought that was a scream! (JB is quite the prankster, and if you don't believe me, check out the Punk'd episode he hosted on MTV.)

It was probably shortly after BieberPhoneNumbergate that I made a conscious decision to find out what all the fuss is about this kid, so the first thing I did was check out all of his professional music videos that were available at no charge on Vevo via my former Xoom tablet. 

I'm more drawn to rebels such as Eminem and Rise Against, but after watching a few JB videos, I decided that even though it's not my preferred type of music, he definitely is talented and I now appreciate why he is a huge sensation and young girls can't stop screaming when he is in their presence.  In fact, even as an agnostic, I am very drawn to the song (and video) "Pray," which further demonstrates his commitment to changing the world.

What may have impressed me the most from watching the Vevo videos was the range of talent he has teamed up with in his musical numbers, which introduced me to musicians and singers I never even heard of (or rarely listened to in the past).  For example, I learned that actor Will Smith's son Jaden is a very talented young artist.

As a former longtime clarinet player in public school and short-time choir member in my synagogue, I could also appreciate JB's extensive musical history dating back to age 2, the range of his voice, and some of his dance steps remind me of the late and great Michael Jackson (who I later learned JB very much looks up to).

watch-justin-bieber-never-say-never-online_136060892I have viewed the Bieber-sanctioned documentary "Never Say Never" (both versions) and was just mesmerized from beginning to end.  The director's cut does include about 10 minutes of clips not shown in the regular version.  There's also a very cool thing only available in the director's cut involving creative captions of the lyrics while JB performs one of his songs.

My first impressions were, "This is not just another pretty face; this kid is amazing talentwise, personalitywise, you name it."  It was then that I also came to the conclusion that this isn't a talent who is here today, gone tomorrow; he's definitely here for the long haul.

I watched two biebermentaries on iTunes which were informative and then I managed to find a bunch of radio interview podcasts via iTunes (including two with Ryan Seacrest) and those were interesting.  The one with Seacrest is also available in video format on YouTube, as are numerous other interesting radio interviews he has done around the globe throughout the years.
   
It-Gets-Better-ProjectAfter watching the three documentaries, I continued my bieberquest on YouTube where I viewed his "It Gets Better Project" public service announcement and was really really thrilled  to see that.  Evidently, he was bullied as a kid, and to have someone of his caliber involved with that important anti-bullying project is very important.

Justin-Bieber-BookAfter viewing his anti-bullying PSA, YouTube had recommended clips to me of interviews he did with Ellen DeGeneres on her TV program, so I watched those and that was when I believe (oops, I meant belieb) I first learned he wrote a book, since he autographed one for her during the program.
 
"Justin Bieber: First Step 2 Forever: My Story," by Justin Bieber, isn't available at Audible.com (my preferred format), so the next best thing was purchasing a copy from iTunes and using the text-to-speech feature which works okay since it isn't a lengthy book.

I was shocked Audible didn't have the book available and told them as much.  They were kind enough to respond, in part:
"Based on our research [the book] is currently unavailable in a digital audio download. However, I have forwarded your request to our Content Team. While we can’t guarantee a positive result, we are always working hard to expand our catalogue, so your suggestion is very valuable."

More on "Belieber!" Book
It was Audible that lead me to Cathleen Falsani's   book.  When I was looking for JB's book, I simply typed "Bieber" in the search field and her book title appeared in the results.  In fact, it is the only book to appear when using that search term.

When I first saw the words "faith" and "religion" connected to Falsani's book, I thought to myself:  "I don't know.  I want to read it, but as a Jewish gay agnostic, I wonder if I just might not appreciate the author's perspective on JB." (I know that was a close-minded thought, but it was my initial reaction.)
 
In the end, I decided to practice my lifelong mantra of being open-minded (easier said than done), and bought "Belieber!" from Audible and am really glad I did.

I nearly fell out of bed when Falsani starts the book with a quote from the Talmud (her book cites the Talmud at least one other time).  In fact, there is stuff about Judaism in her book I never learned (or at least do not recall learning) in my many years in Hebrew school, so that was a nice nugget. 

Her tidbits about things she learned from two rabbis she befriended, and her statement that Christians would benefit from learning more about Judaism is very cool.

Most important, her "Belieber!" book is clearly written from her heart and soul.  She definitely succeeds in offering a very unique and thorough perspective about the new King of Pop.

While it would have been interesting for Team Bieber to have participated in Falsani's book (they declined her offers), in the end I think it actually may have worked out better without them because it's easy to get influenced one way or the other by personal interaction with celebrities.  Without their direct input, she simply wrote what she observed, researched, and what her heart told her to write.  That is enough authenticity for me!

Falsani is to be commended for being inclusive of many faiths (and various social issues) in her book, which isn't always an easy thing to do.  After listening to the book, I have found that there is no doubt that JB has values that are lacking in many celebrities today, many twice his age or even older. 

I have to admit that when I hear people pray or talk about faith, I often jump to the conclusion they are going to be preachy hateful types (since I was surrounded with that growing up in Orange County in the 1970s).  As a result, it is often very challenging for me to not jump to that conclusion.  Falsani happens to reside in Laguna Beach, California, which is one of my old "stomping grounds."

Bieber an Ally to Lesbitrangay Community?
3527688-rainbow-flag
It's no secret that JB is a belieber in faith and Christianity, but he doesn't shove it in people's faces.  Also, he clearly isn't one of those redneck, right-wing, anti-gay fundamentalist types, or he'd never appear on Ellen, nor would he have participated in the "It Gets Better Project."  He seems to be rather open-minded; probably always has been. 

According to a 2011 report in the national LGBT news magazine, The Advocate, JB has been publicly supportive on LGBT issues.  It's a very interesting article that I just discovered while doing research for this article.

Charity Begins With Bieber
Near the end of "Belieber!," Falsani  lists numerous  organizations (some or all of which JB supports, if I recall correctly).

ProductRedThat list of organizations is very impressive and includes ProductRED, which is fighting AIDS globally.  I first learned about them on Twitter years ago, and as a result purchased a custom-made pair of Converse ProductRED tennis shoes (purple, of course, with my name embroidered on the sides).  It was so cool that I could design my own shoes and help fight AIDS at the same time.

charity-make-a-wish-foundation-justin-bieberJB, who is active with Make-A-Wish Foundation, has visited underprivileged, ill, and dying children during his travels throughout  the globe.

Help-support-Pencils-of-Promise-throughour-Schools-4-All-campaign-justin-bieber-21103178-411-368He's also active with Pencils of Promise (PoP), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that builds schools and increases educational opportunities in the developing world.  The organization was founded by Adam Braun, the brother of Scooter Braun (the man who discovered JB and helped put him on the map).

Many clips available on YouTube with JB on the The Ellen DeGeneres Show further demonstrate his commitment to giving back to the world, which he can do in a huge way because of his name recognition and financial success.  Just the same, the little people (like me) might be inspired by him to do our part (financially, or by volunteering, or just spreading the word).

My Make-A-Wish!
jbBatMobile2
After listening to Falsani's book, I learned that JB has a custom-made Cadillac with "Batmobile" emblazoned on the trunk and the Batman bat insignia on the front grill (and the trunk).  A very cool ride, to be sure.  So cool, I challenged JB on Spacebook that if we would give me a ride in the Batmobile, I would be happy to loan him my purple tennis shoes (since I know he's a huge collector of sneakers)!  Short of being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, though, this will be something I will just have to keep dreaming about.  Or maybe I will just need to belieb more?

Official (and Unofficial) JB Websites
Justin Bieber Believe Charity Drive

Justin Bieber Music

The Official Justin Bieber Fan Club (Bieberfever)

Lesbian Who Look Like Justin Bieber

Monday, September 12, 2011

Online Privacy Is An Oxymoron

privacy If you want privacy, stay off of social networking sites. (Now you don't have to read the rest of this blog, unless of course you are curious.)

Here's where social networking can come back and bite you in the ass without you (or me) even knowing about it!

I happen to be signed up with LinkedIn, Spacebook and Twitter.  I like to reserve LinkedIn for its intended purpose (professionals hooking up with other professionals), while using Spacebook and Twitter as my playground or sandbox to say whatever the fuck I like.

After all, I am self-employed and it's not healthy living in a closet of any kind.  No, I am not going to tell folks on social network sites what I ate for breakfast or how bad my sex life is, but if I think of something funny, I have no problems putting it up on Twitter and/or Spacebook, no matter how crude. (And you thought Beavis and Butt-head and the South Park gang were the only ones with "potty mouth syndrome"!)

I just learned that the viewing of "My Activity" on LinkedIn appears to have a default setting of "ALL CONNECTIONS," which I had no clue until I heard from a friend of mine who happens to be a professional in the real estate industry (no, not my FB friend A.J., but someone else).

For convenience, I have my Twitter linked with Spacebook so that friends of mine on Spacebook who are NOT also signed up with Twitter can see my posts on Spacebook.  I like to use Twitter to post my one-liners.

So I posted a tweet in late July that read, "Weird that I keep getting emails about how I can make my penis bigger. Don't these people already know that I am a real big dick?"

I had no clue at the time that those feeds were also ending up on LinkedIn, which is set up for  professional social networking, not really a place to goof around.  All of my connections who wanted to could see the post in question.

My good friend, who was one of my connections on LinkedIn, decided to comment on the penis post from within the LinkedIn site.  She simply wrote, "I get the SAME emails. What a hoot!"  She was unaware that by doing that, ALL of her LinkedIn connections (many of whom are professionals within the real estate industry) would see her comment AND my original Twitter/Facebook post.

I had no clue either, and wasn't real thrilled to learn about all this after the fact.  I have since changed my LinkedIn settings so that "My Activity" on social networking sites is seen "ONLY BY ME."

About one week after my penis post, my real estate friend emailed me and told me she would have to unfriend me on Spacebook and that she was actually "cancelling" her LinkedIn account as a result of all this.

Her e-mail to me said, in part:
"When you remarked about the ads for p---- enlargements and I responded that I get the same ads, it showed up on Facebook, LinkedIn, and EVERYONE I'm connected with . . . One of the agents mentioned it after our office meeting today, while there were still plenty of agents standing around . . . ."

I thought to myself, "Holy crap, Batman, how does this shit happen?"  Well, now we know.

Bottom line:  If you have a sensitive job (pole dancing, for example), are cheating on your spouse/lover, doing one thing when you told someone you are really doing something else, it just might end up in cyberspace.

If you want privacy (which really no longer exists), keep a low profile and stay off of ALL social networking sites. Or if you do go on those sites, just stay in the closet (which isn't a whole heck of a lot of fun).

Perhaps Spacebook founder Mark Zuckerdoodah was right when he talked about the issue of privacy in 2010.  I was critical of him then, but now I totally get it: what privacy?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How I Got AT&T and Samsung to Show Me the Money!

att_sucks Let me start with:  Pay the extra $5.00 every month for cell phone insurance; it's cheaper than Xanax!

Well, it's been nearly a year since I have had any major disputes with my wireless carrier (AT&T); pretty amazing, considering my overall experience with them as a longtime customer. 

After months of research, in August 2010, I purchased a Samsung Galaxy S Android Captivate phone.

About two months after purchasing the phone, I noticed what folks are terming "screen burn" or "screen burn-in" on my phone display.  Remnants of my applications, battery indicator, signal strength indicator, time of day (you name it) are forever burned into the display of a phone that I paid nearly $200 for (and retails now for around $450).

I started researching the issue online and found hundreds of reports in the reputable tech forums, such as Android Forums, ADA Developer, etc.  Other folks were experiencing the same problem with the AMOLED or Super AMOLED displays on their cell phone, no matter the carrier.  (Please see references at the very end of my blog for links to the forums and articles with detailed info on this topic.)

At first I thought the screen burn was something that I was responsible for, like charging the phone too long, having the display on a lot (even at dim level), etc.  But when I got anal about unplugging the phone as soon as it was fully charged, reducing my "display time" each day, and double-checking to make sure it was on "auto dim," the problem still became worse each and every month.

A few months back I showed the phone to a rep at an ATT store and she said, "Yeah, that's not right, I'm sure our warranty department will fix it, but you have to go to a special ATT store for same-day exchange, transfer of data from one phone to another," etc.  That "special store" was at least 80 miles away and I didn't care to make a 160-mile round trip.

My friends think I'm kidding when I tell other ATT customers to always take at least one Xanax an hour before calling ATT Customer Service and literally plan to spend one, two, or even up to three hours on the phone with reps, supervisors, or even the Office of the President at ATT.

I called ATT about a month ago regarding my Captivate and was transferred to the Warranty Department and she confirmed the information what was told to me by the ATT store rep. 

I said, "Don't you still drop-ship new phones to customers who have a broken phone under warranty so they aren't stuck without a phone?" 

To my surprise (and dismay) the lady in ATT Warranty said, "We don't do that anymore, sorry."  Silly me, I took her word for it.  Ends up, I find out later, she was wrong.

In addition to the ongoing display problem, the earphone plug started crapping out on me in late May, so I figured I better get the phone exchanged because it will be out of warranty this August. 

Based on previous information given to me, I played it safe and upgraded the second line I have for a colleague and paid cash out of pocket for a new Captivate ($135, including tax).  After I placed that order (on June 7), I called 611 from my phone to make sure I am prepared before my new phone arrives to follow the proper procedures for swapping numbers to different SIM cards because when you upgrade one number and install a SIM from another number, it can create problems.

I forgot to take my own advice (regarding Xanax) before calling 611, but ended up with a very nice and competent rep, which helped.  I told her my saga, and she said, "What Warranty told you a few months ago is not correct.  We still drop-ship phones to customers and then they have 14 days to return the damaged phone to us under warranty." 

She even double-checked on her computer and confirmed that the policy had not changed.  When she connected me with a Warranty rep, she again confirmed with that rep that the policy had not changed.

While the original rep stayed on the line, the Warranty rep asked me to describe the problems with my phone.  She put me on hold, came back on the line and says, "Sorry, that's not covered.  When you go to the Market Place and download apps, things can happen to your phone" blah blah blah. 

I quickly interrupted her and said, "What does the Google Market Place have to do with whether screen burn is covered under warranty," and she gave me another song-and-dance number.

I told her I had seen hundreds of apparently reputable posts on tech and cell phone forums online (including ATT's own forum) and she said, "We don't pay attention to what people post in forums."  "Okay," I thought to myself; whatever.

I told her this was unacceptable, that ATT is basically saying I did something to cause the problem on my phone, which is not the case; that it is clearly a known issue and they (and/or Samsung) should cover the phone under warranty. 

She called Samsung while the original rep and I chatted.  During that hold time, the rep credited my ATT wireless account for $55.00 for the inconvenience of the whole thing and waived the $18.00 upgrade fee I had to shell out for a new phone because of no fault of my own.

The Warranty rep came back on the line and said, "I just spoke to a rep at Samsung Warranty and they say screen burn isn't a known issue and they won't cover the repair or replacement, so there's nothing we can do about it at AT&T."  She sympathized with me and agreed it didn't sound like I damaged the phone in any way, but the warranty language is very clear about all of this stuff.  Yeah, I thought to myself, it's clear if you're an attorney.

I then said, "Well, what about the earphone jack being broken by no fault of my own.  Can I at least get that fixed under warranty?"

She said, "No, you can't.  If we send that phone in for repair under the warranty for the earphone jack and Samsung sees screen burn, which they don't cover, they won't fix the earphone jack."  She said they would also charge me the retail price of the phone if they repair or replace anything that is not covered by the warranty.
I was thinking to myself, but didn't tell the rep, "Is this where I hire a class action attorney?"

So we dumped the Warranty rep from the line and the original rep and I chatted.  I asked her to escalate this higher and a very nice supervisor came on the line.  He also sympathized with my plight, but said I would have to take it up with Samsung directly, there was nothing ATT could really do at this point. 

When I pressed him about me having to shell out money for an upgrade that I really shouldn't have had to do, he gladly credited my wireless account another $50.00, so that plus the other credits nearly covered my out-of-pocket expense for the new Captivate.  I thanked him and told him the original rep went above and beyond the call of duty and to please put a commendation in her file.

I then called Samsung and explained the entire situation to the first rep who answered (he clearly was an outsourced worker in some distant land) and he said, "No problem, we will fix your problems with your phone; I am issuing an RMA number and a free shipping label which will come to you via e-mail."  I told him "thanks" and that I wanted to speak with a supervisor so that hopefully the screen burn issue would be properly handled in the future by ATT Warranty AND Samsung Warranty departments; other consumers shouldn't be put through this nonsense.

He transferred me to a supervisor and that person promised they would make a note, blah blah blah.

About a week after shipping my phone to Samsung, I received it back, expertly repaired with a NEW display, touchscreen and earphone jack.  As such, the phone qualifies as “refurbished by manufacturer,” so I can fetch a decent price for it on eBay; sweet!

Since screen burn is obviously a "known issue" with phones (and even TVs) that have this type of display, I recommend that everyone who invests good money in a smart phone take out the $5.00 monthly insurance plan because then NO MATTER WHAT, even if you drop the phone in a swimming pool or toilet or throw your phone at Donald Trump, you get a replacement phone without dickering around for hours, days, or weeks with ATT and/or Samsung!

I'm not sure it was worth the aggravation, but I did get what was owed to me and then some.  ATT reimbursed most of my new phone replacement expense and Samsung restored my broken phone to original working condition free of charge. 

When a consumer has reasonable issues with a company, it is important to never take "no" for an answer.  Just be patient, keep taking it up the ladder from supervisor to supervisor; threaten to take your business elsewhere; or, if relevant, tell them you are calling the tech journalists at the major newspapers about the problem.

Last June when I had an issue with ATT changing my data plan without proper notification, as soon as Rob Pegoraro, then a tech journalist at the Washington Post, contacted the spokesperson for ATT, I heard right back from the Office of the President at ATT.  I just learned that Pegoraro, a very talented journalist, parted ways with the Post in April of this year and is now with Discovery News.

Quite frankly, I would be happier if ATT wasn't the lowest-rated wireless carrier (per Laptop magazine and J.D. Power and Associates), but if they want to keep putting money in my pocket, I will tolerate when they craptivate on me.

Anyhow, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

REFERENCES:

1) Wikipedia article "Organic light-emitting diode":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_light-emitting_diode
*includes link for "Screen burn-in"; article also refers to Samsung's screen.

2) Wikipedia article, "Active-matrix OLED":
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amoled

3) Android Forums recent posts regarding screen burn-in:
http://androidforums.com/samsung-galaxy-s2/280935-screen-burn-galaxy-s2.html

4) XDA-Developers forum posts from owners of both the Samsung Captivate and Focus experiencing screen burn:
http://forum.xda-developers.com/archive/index.php/t-937667.html

5) Burn-in on Nexus One Google phone:
http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/android/thread?tid=57325a5900f1a491&hl=en

6) Whirlpool forums re Galaxy S, which is the class of phones that Captivate, Fascinate, etc. belong to:
http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/archive/1705139