Taken a few years ago at some joint on Broadway in Nashville, this was one of several photos with good-looking girls I had never laid eyes on before. It wasn't my birthday, but the Nissan crew was telling every attractive female we encountered that it was. Here's to getting older!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Taking the Telluride Challenge in the 2017 GMC Sierra HD

The Sierra HD my driving partner and I drove from Telluride to Paradox, CO.
I'm not the kind of guy who balks at a little cold weather. In fact, I like getting into the snow and cold now and then, if I'm prepared. So, I didn't hesitate accepting when Autotrader asked me to head to Telluride, Colorado for the media launch of the updated GMC Sierra 2500 HD pickup in mid February.

That I live in South Carolina where winters consist of average daily high temps in the mid 50s, and nights in which the lows only sporadically drop below freezing, had no impact on my decision. I have a leather bomber jacket that escapes my coat closet maybe three or four times a year. I own six sweaters and might or might not make a full rotation through all of them during any given winter. But, freezing temps be damned; I was going to Colorado!

My primary-care physician, Dr. Budelmann, complained I wasn't including interior shots in these posts, so this is for you, Doc!
Having lived in South Florida for 25 or so years before moving to SC, my winter clothing received even less of an annual workout. I owned a fair collection of winter garb while in Fla. only because of my travels with "Discover America" when I worked on that TV series. We taped episodes year around and a bundle-up wardrobe was a must. Here's the thing about owning winter clothing while living on Florida's Gold Coast, it lasts forever. And, I mean, forever. I have snow pants, fleece jackets, boots and sub-zero-rated coats still stowed in a cedar chest that I've owned since 1992. It all looks like it just came out of an LL Bean mailer. I've accumulated even more from time to time as chachke on winter carmaker media trips. My cedar chest of winter finery runneth over.

Yep, it was stunning!
Because of all the gear required for shooting segments of on these trips, I already need to drag along a bag large enough I must check it. So, I was spared agonizing over taking just a couple of things that would fit in a carry-on, or stepping up to a large bag and taking a bunch of rarely used duds. Even then, though, winter apparel is heavy and thick. I was still forced to pick and choose among my collection of cold-temp gear.

My invite to this event was late in arriving. Actually, I received it after the registration deadline. GMC made room for me on the final wave of media, but the tardiness resulted in problems with booking flights. Telluride and Montrose are the local airports; however, both are small, offering few flights in and out. Delta, my airline of choice, has limited service into Montrose, but those flights were all booked.

I don't like flying across time zones on airlines on which I have no clout, but I was forced to fly United out and American back. Not only did I have to pony up $25 each way for my checked bag, but I was denied all the courtesies of being a status flyer on Delta. I felt like the Irish on the Titanic. (I'm sure if my plane went down in the water somewhere, the supply of life vests would have run out long before they reached row 29, where I sat.) Before boarding the first plane, I downloaded several episodes of a TV series from Netflix on my iPad for the trip, and made the best of it. Oh, the humanity. 

One of our modes of transportation to dinner the first evening.
Telluride and its surrounding area are absolutely gorgeous this time of year. GMC bunked us at the Lumiere Hotel. I probably couldn't locate it again if you put a gun to my head. Ideal for the witness-protection program, it's one of a gaggle of look-alike lodgings packed around the base of some mountain in Telluride. I probably heard the mountain's name, but it's lost on me now. Quite beautiful in its own right, though, Lumiere was an ideal jumping off point for the trip's activities.

On the first night, GMC loaded us on one of the enclosed gondolas going up the mountain. At the first stop, we degondola'd and transferred to an open sleigh pulled by a snowcat. On up the mountain we climbed to the Gorrono Ranch. After drinks at an outdoor saloon, we adjourned inside for a terrific dinner. Reversing the process, we returned to the hotel in time for a libation or two in the hotel's well-stocked Bijou Bar.

The updated GMC Sierra 2500 HD Denali was the star of the show. We received a brief introduction to some of its finer points and specifications at a presentation our first morning. We then paired up, mounted up and drove the trucks to Paradox, CO for lunch.

Qualifying the Sierra HD as updated is its next-generation Duramax 6.6-liter turbo-diesel. You could spend a day going over the Denali versions we drove with a magnifying glass and a tape measure, and not find enough changes to warrant the search, save the re-engineered engine and refined Allison 1000 six-speed automatic tranny. Oh, and there's a functional hood scoop now, too. But, hey, in the world of full-size pickups, changes are few and far between. In this case, taking the Duramax up a notch or two more than qualifies as a major upgrade. 

Our intrepid little group of snowmobilers.
GMC managed to devote a four-page press release to the diesel's many improvements. Even I was a little blurry eyed by the end of page two, but here's the CliffsNotes version....

More than 90 percent of the parts in the revised Duramax are new. Peak torque is up 19 percent to 910 lb-ft, and is delivered from 1,500 to 2,850 rpm. You could jerk the bicuspid out of a Tyrannosaurus Rex with that much grunt. Horsepower is up 12 percent to a class-leading 445 hp. A variable vane turbo (Don't ask.) delivers better engine braking and helps with a 35-percent reduction in emissions. Extra acoustical material around the engine bay hushes noise from that quarter. Hustling engine output to the wheels is a beefier six-speed Allison 1000 automatic transmission. GM isn't talking much about towing limits, but the engineers concentrated on providing safe, effortless and quiet performance at 25,000 lb; so, we'll go with that for the time being. Because the government doesn't measure fuel economy for big trucks, no clue what sort of mileage this bad boy delivers. 

You can get into a Sierra HD for just under $60,000. The Denali versions we drove rang the register north of $70,000.

Cocktail hour before dinner our first evening.
Managing to tape three just3things segments and my standups during the lunch break (I'm wasting away from not being able to eat lunch on these ride-and-drive days.), I was able to take advantage of GMC's offer to snowmobile in the afternoon. I hadn't been on a snowmobile in 15 or 20 years. Pressed for time, we did an abbreviated 90-min route, but what a rush!

For dinner that evening, GMC hauled us back up the mountain in multi-passenger snowcats to Alpino Vino. Situated at nearly 12,000 feet, this 28-capacity restaurant specializes in wine and five-course dinners. It also lays claim to being the highest-elevation restaurant in the U.S. It was quite an experience. It is also the only time in my life that a high altitude has affected me. Halfway through my second glass of wine, I was positively loopy. I wasn't alone, however. Half of our group was struggling to stay awake and upright before the main course arrived.

We skipped the usual after-dinner drinks in the hotel bar. I for one, was more than ready for bed. An uneventful trip home -- albeit in steerage -- was exactly the ideal way to wrap up this Colorado winter adventure.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I'm Knee-Deep in Laptop Hell!

I'm not the kind of guy who has an abundance of patience with technology. I think I'm correct when I say that it's supposed to make our lives easier, right? So, here I am struggling with it and ready to bitch slap an orphan.

I set a series of dominoes falling nearly two weeks ago when I downloaded the latest update of my Corel Videostudio X9 Pro editing program. What a colossal misstep. I haven't been able to edit a video since. I have spent countless hours exchanging e-mails with Corel's customer service and technical service people, while following their instructions to solve the problem. All of it for naught. The program still crashes every time I attempt to string together two edited clips.

Because I had the purchase of a new laptop better suited to edit videos on my to-buy list for 2017 (See last week's blog post here), I decided to go ahead and buy it now, download the latest version of Videostudio (X10) and just start over.

I choose an msi P Series laptop. I did as much research as I was willing to do over two or three days early last week. I know; I have friends who are thinking, why in the hell didn't he buy a Mac? The answer is simple: money! I didn't want to spend $1,200 on a laptop I'd want to replace in three or four years. I work for a living.

I purchased the still-sealed-in-the-box msi from a vendor on ebay. I'd done business with the same vendor before. It was shipped out the next day via UPS. Because I calculated it would arrive while I was in Chicago last week for the auto show, I had the package drop shipped to my closest UPS center for pickup. Retrieving it was the first thing I did Saturday morning.

Returning home from the gym (Despite my scale telling me a different story, I actually still think my daily workouts are accomplishing something.), I was ready to set up my new purchase and get cracking on editing a video or two. There's a knee-slapper. It's 9 a.m. on Sunday and I have yet to even re-install my editing program on the new laptop.

All day yesterday – and I mean, all day – was spent saving documents, photos and videos to my external hard drive. I have judiciously backed up my laptop to this hard drive at least once every two weeks for years only to discover none of it was on the external drive. Well, the recycle bin was with its gazillion bytes of crud, but that was it.

No doubt, if I were at least somewhat computer savvy, I could have done something else, but I wasn't in the mood to do the online research required to shortcut the task of saving the documents I wanted from my previous laptop; so, I went through my directories saving things manually. I began around 10:30 a.m. and finished up around 7:30 p.m. That was Saturday shot to hell.

Here I am on Sunday morning installing some of the things I use on the new laptop and waiting for Corel customer service to open so I can get them to allow me to re-install my X9 before I can purchase and install the X10 upgrade. The $1 million question: Will I actually be editing videos by this afternoon?

It's a mystery.

The next step: How to get my dual monitors working with the msi? So far: no joy.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Last Week I Spent Money As Though I Have It

Why, oh why did I download the latest update for my Corel Videostudio X9 program?
I'm not the kind of guy who makes big purchases without agonizing over them for days, weeks or even months. This goes for house projects, as well as the acquisition of material goodies. I had been noodling over my upstairs bathroom remodel for more than a year when I finally pulled the trigger on that. Although I knew what I wanted and needed to do for months, I didn't put the plan into motion until I accidentally stumbled across a couple of the more expensive components at ridiculously reduced prices. A $289 vanity top and sink for $59? Yep, I'll take it. Time to make the donuts.

I wasn't always so deliberate and reasoned in my spending. For years, I was the king of instant gratification. Waking up one morning a decade ago to find myself wallowing in more than $20,000 of credit-card debt, transformed me into a more reflective consumer. I began considering purchases in terms of needs rather than wants. Of course, I'm a creative guy with an uber capacity for convincing myself a new pair of athletic kicks is a need rather than a want. But, I've significantly tempered my impulse buying. In things financial, I've become annoyingly patient in my twilight years.

If you follow this blog with any degree of dedication – bless your heart and please find a hobby – you know that the preceding two paragraphs must be leading up to a commentary on some recent purchase. You would be correct; two, in fact.

Particularly with things related to my work, creative Russ can be quite innovative at convincing myself an item is a need rather than a want. In addition to a couple of house-remodeling projects on my radar for 2017, I entered the new year with three major purchases queued up for the attention of my meager disposable income: a new(er) smartphone, a new laptop and a new mattress for the master bedroom.

The smartphone and the laptop I can drop into the easier-to-justify, work-related column. Yes, I use my smartphone for personal communications and other assorted bull shitery; but in my industry, social media is the newest shiny ball and even those of us who question its value in marketing new cars, must have the tools to play the game. Anyone who seriously believes that a person tweeting a photo of a new car model with some caption is going to motivate some follower to buy said car is out of his (or her) cotton-pickin' mind. But I digress. 

Yep, I do love the larger keyboard on the iPhone 6.
I am always an iPhone generation behind. I bought a refurbished example of the 5S when the iPhone 6 launched a couple of years ago. When the 7 launched, I began watching ebay for bargains on the 6. Last week I found one for $199. I bought it. I fully expect the photos to be better. I also hoped the significantly larger keyboard would reduce my frustration and stress when typing insipid captions for the expected Instagram posts on the car events I attend. Receiving the phone on Friday, I was out bright and early on Saturday taking it to a local ATT branch for activation. After using it for something shy of 24 hours, I must admit, the larger keyboard alone is worth $199.

In this tale of the cash-register tape, the iPhone is the more frivolous, less-considered purchase. In fact, had I realized when I ordered it that I would be forced to buy a new laptop in the same week, I would have back burnered the iPhone purchase. I would have struggled with the smaller keyboard and screen for another six months. In reality, it was more a want than a need.

Here's the 411 on the laptop. My current Toshiba is at least four years old. It still functions perfectly well – albeit rather ponderously – for 80 percent of what I need. More than a week ago, however, when I opened my Corel video-editing program, a message flashed that Corel had an update that I should download. I did. And, I haven't been able to edit a video since.

For eight days, I was in daily e-mail contact with a Corel tech-support person. I assume Kevin is actually Deepankar because I would e-mail him at 10 in the morning after I attempted his most recent suggested fix, and he would respond with the next suggestion at 2 or 3 a.m. the following morning. On the positive side, he was relentless in providing suggested fixes. And those suggestions contained very detailed steps for accomplishing them. He took nothing for granted in terms of my technical illiteracy. He didn't begin his instructions with step 3, so I had to research how to complete steps 1 and 2. Nope, he walked me through each and every step.

After a week of this, however, we were wading deeper and deeper into the weeds. He had me setting up new administrator accounts on my laptop and flipping switches on, what I assume were, basic operating programs. Nothing worked.

Because acquiring a new laptop was on my 2017-purchase list, I decided to bite the bullet and move up to a computer better suited for video editing. I won't go into the details of this purchase until I have a chance to work with it for a few days. That won't happen until next weekend.

Bottom line: In week 5 of the new year, I satisfied two of my big, planned 2017 purchases. I'm not happy about this. There can always be a shortage of gigs when earning a living in the gig economy. I no longer take even my best client relationships for granted. Here today and gone tomorrow is pretty much how it works.

So, I will be a bit jittery for the next several months until I get these items paid off. Home remodeling projects will need to wait until the spring. And, as for a new mattress, I can live with the one I have until the fall, or sleep in the guestroom. Adapt and overcome is now my mantra when avoiding taking on new debt.