Photographer: Events, Weddings, Portraits – Austin, Texas

Off Topic

How To Get a Free AT&T Phone Charger (and a free backup battery)

I wanted to blog about my recent experience of trying to get AT&T to fix or replace my phone and share the frustration I felt. But I also thought that it would be fun to make lemonade out of lemons by sharing what I learned. Although it was not really helpful for me, it might help you get a FREE phone charger (and maybe a battery). Here’s how…

I normally write about my experience as a wedding and event photographer, but this blog is sort of off topic. Like many photographers, my work phone is a cell phone – meaning that the phone number that I depend upon for business needs (i.e., new photography clientele) is attached to a cell phone – and only works when the battery in the phone works. Lately, my cell phone has been on the blink, so I went to AT&T (my service provider) for help.

I purchased a new, basic (non-smart) phone about 6 months ago, to simplify my life and to have a dependable, yet simple, (see my blog about simplicity and smart phones) cell phone for communicating with photo clients. Unfortunately, in the past week my cell phone lost its ability to charge, which can mean lost business opportunities for Austin Americana Photography. I contacted the AT&T representatives via their 800 number and was transferred to the warranty department. They told me I needed to go to a brick-and-mortar AT&T store, and they gave me the address where to go here in Austin. So I visited the recommended AT&T store, and the representative basically blew me off (there was an attractive female that required help from both male reps at the time, which left me twittling my thumbs – but who could blame them, right?!).

cell phone photo of bride

Bride at Wedding Being Photographed with Cell Phone Camera

The less-than-helpful rep quickly ushered me off to the AT&T device support center, which was about 10 miles away. This is where the free charger part of the story starts. I told the new AT&T rep that when I plug my phone into the wall to charge, the phone display shows the phone is charging. But after hours of waiting for it to charge, the phone battery, in fact, does NOT charge and actually drops in charge. She quickly looked at my phone and told me that they didn’t have batteries or chargers for my phone onsite and that she would arrange for AT&T to mail a new (free) charger to my home. She indicated that I could also request a new battery if the charger didn’t work.

Now the bad news for me is that I’m still walking around with a cheap phone that won’t charge. And after speaking with 4 different AT&T representatives and driving to 2 separate locations in Austin, I still don’t have a working phone. I searched online for the replacement battery and charger specifically for my phone and found the charger costs around $4.99 and the replacement battery costs only $10.99 (plush S&H). Now you might ask, well why don’t you just purchase the replacement parts yourself? And to that I would ask why I have to purchase replacement parts on a 6-month old phone that is still under warranty and has been well cared for.

I suppose it’s the principle of the matter. I’ll wait for my new phone charger to arrive and go from there. So when did life get so complicated?! All I want is a basic cell phone that works. I guess sometimes we just have to admit that we don’t have the power to affect change for the day. We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

Some important AT&T Phone Numbers:

AT&T Customer Service: 800-331-0500

AT&T Warranty Service Center: 800-801-1101

AT&T Phone Insurance (Asurion): 888-562-8662

Letting Go of Technology: What Annoys Me About Smart Phones

It seems like everywhere you turn these days people are talking about how great technology is and what smart phone that they are using. What wireless service do you have? Is it a 3G or 4G network? Did you check out those new apps for your wireless device? Well friends, I’m not going to do those things. However, I’ve decided to make my own declaration: I’m going to say good bye to technology and hello to freedom and solitude.

But why? Why give up the amazing gadgets that are hitting the markets right now, like the Android, the iPhone, the iPad and so many other new wireless devices that supposedly make our lives more fun and easy?

Because I don’t need them – that’s why!

The other day I overheard some friends discussing some the latest technology for their smart phones – a phone application that helps you select what clothes you are going to wear. I believe the app is called “Cool Guy”, and it’s for the iPhone. I couldn’t help but laugh.

Bride at Wedding Being Photographed with Cell Phone Camera

Now some of my readers are probably saying, “oh, wow!” “Where can I get this app?”

And if that’s the case for you, then that’s ok I suppose. Just click on the link above. But, I’ve decided that downloading and looking for new apps is not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like new technology and I’ve been down the smart phone road already. In fact, I’m quite amazed by the iPad and the latest iPhone (for the most part). But my situation is not necessarily one that fits into the young, single, tech-savvy model of American smart phone/device user. I’m married with a 2-year-old boy, I work about 50-60 hours/week, and I stay busy on most days with not much down time to tinker with new tech toys. Much of the time I’m near a computer, which means I’m accessible via email during the day, thus all but negating my need for a wireless device with email capability. And I’m still searching for the smart phone app that I just could not live without.

Another thing I did was to visit my bank and inquire about my checking account balance. The bank teller assured me that I don’t have thousands of dollars just lying around, which means I probably don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to purchase a new smart phone or iPad, and conversely, I won’t be required to purchase a special rate plan with my cell phone carrier that includes a “data package”, which in my opinion is expensive. Phew!! Thank goodness!

Instead, I cut the cord (or cut the wireless “cord”, if you will). I called my cell phone carrier company and told them that I wanted the cheapest cell phone plan that was available. While speaking with the cell carrier representative, I swear I heard a “thud” in the background which I assume was the cell carrier representative falling off of her chair. Ok, so that probably didn’t happen, but the woman on the other end of the phone line definitely seemed bewildered by my request, which made me feel all the more confident that I was doing the right thing.

So what’s your beef with smart phones?

As an aside, I have a few “beefs” with smart phones. I realize that technology is changing fast and what was slow or was poorly made yesterday is not the same today. But as a photographer, I get so tired of seeing these cloudy, murky, fuzzy pictures that are snapped on peoples smart phones. It always irks me when I see people depend so heavily on their cell phone camera to capture moments in time that can never be repeated, only to have an image that is all but worthless in the end. It just seems heartbreaking to me, especially when you are photographing friends and family.

My other beef with new phones is their delicacy. I’ve witnessed so many people with cracked or damaged smart phones. To their credit, the phones continue to work in many cases. But why do they have to be so delicate? Something that is meant to be taken with you and used in a mobile state should also be somewhat rugged and tough.

So to finish my story, I also visited my cell phone carrier store and let them know what I wanted to do (dump the smart phone, get a cheap cell plan). They attempted to talk me out of giving up my smart phone. The service representative reminded me of the great value that I was getting with my unlimited data package attached to my smart phone. But I didn’t give in and proceeded to select a simple, non-smart phone which I could utilize with my basic coverage package and which would cost nothing. The catch was that I had to sign a new contract with my carrier. But what I pay now monthly is a fraction of what I was paying before with my smart phone.

I no longer get emails on my phone which makes me feel more peaceful during the day. It  gives me the power to check email on my computer at my convenience. Sure, I can still be contacted by phone at any time, but these days it seems that no one likes to use their phone unless they are texting and emailing, which is ironic!

But I think the bigger question that we should be asking ourselves is why? Why do I need to make myself available 24 hours a day by phone? And why can’t I live without all these apps and better yet, all this technology? Personally, it is my opinion that too much technology and too much phone means that it is less possible for you to have some peace in your life. We should all be able to just turn things off at the end of the day and just rest in peace (but not in a morbid sense). I mean, do you really need to let all your Facebook friends know what you are doing every hour or to tweet every 20 minutes? (I think the answer should be emphatically, “no”.)

Have an opinion about this blog? Feel free to share your experience or opinion by posting a comment below!

Building a Garden Planter Box

I frequently blog about photography related subjects, so I’ll divert my attention for a minute to gardening. My last blog was about gardening and this one will be about our new garden that we planted this weekend.

On Friday I arrived home and found the garage open and a stack of gardening supplies awaiting me in the driveway. My wife had just returned from a local gardening store with a car load of things such as mulch/gardening soil, lumber, hardware, a slew of plants and a plum tree. And for those people who know me fairly well, I’m not only the family photographer; but I’m also the designated family gardener and landscaper. And I like to think I have a green thumb to some degree.

When I was eleven years old, I took an interest in the flowers and gardening that my mother did around our rural Texas home. She was very successful at growing plants, especially flowers, and I wanted to learn all of her gardening secrets. She showed me the things that her grandmother had taught her and I learned to garden in a simple, organic way (before it was cool to be “organic”). Eventually I took it upon myself to plant and maintain an herb garden, including herbs such as basil, dill, oregano, parsley and the like. It was a great success for the most part and was a great experience for a kid who wanted to connect with nature in a positive way.

So the challenges that my wife laid before me:

1.  plant the plum tree and keep it healthy and bearing fruit;

2.  build a wooden, elevated garden planter box in a place in the yard that will provide just enough sunlight for all the plants that would be included.

Most of the day on Sunday was devoted to building the wooden garden box. I used wood screws and nails (whatever I had on hand), along with the metal connectors to link all the boards together. The long side of the box was made up of 1X4″ and 1X6″ boards; the short side utilized 1X4″ and 2X4″ lumber. Once I hammered/screwed all the pieces together, the bottom was lined with plastic with holes (to allow excess water to drain from the box). Next, 4 stakes were driven along the sides of the box to provide support for the outer wooden panels and to have something to attached chicken wire to. The final step was to attach a layer of chicken wire (poultry fencing) from the top of the wooden box up about 3 1/2 feet (the width of the fencing), to keep animals out of the garden (not pictured).

Ultimately I think this design will work well. The box measures approximately 3X6 feet, which seems a little small now that it’s built. We planted tomatoes, squash, watermelon, peppers, etc., which is too much for one little planter box. The tree was easy to plant, if you don’t count having to dig a hole in ground that feels like concrete! But with a little elbow grease that task was completed too and now after a few days of watering it seems to be looking healthy and ready to make fruit (hopefully).



Austin Backyard Gardening

This weekend my family spent some time developing our green thumb (to what degree we can) and getting in sync with Mother Nature. We built a wooden garden box, dug around in the old flower beds and planted some flowers. Having grown up in rural Texas, these activities were things that I’ve always taken for granted; but now I’m starting to realize all over again and perhaps in a new way the importance that experiencing our natural world can have.

One of the most exciting things that we did was discovering that our flower bed, which is rich in plant detritus, fertile black soils and covered in mulch is also home to lots of skinny, brown worms. My son Roman is extremely curious about bugs and we try to quench his thirst for bug experiences every time we get the chance. He was amazed by the squirming, squiggly little worms that we found and he wasn’t afraid to touch them. He immediately identified the worms as snakes (everything that resembles the letter “S” is a snake) and he poked a little stick at the worm.  My wife and I did our best to explain to our 2 year old boy that worms live in the soil and they like a cool, wet, soil-covered home. We’re never sure how he interprets our explanations, but hopefully he got it.

Earlier in the back yard, another important lesson occurred. We learned about the importance of plants and how they have feelings too. I was in the middle of constructing our wooden garden box, hammering nails and the like when I noticed that Roman was toting around a small green tomato plant that my wife had just picked up at the store, which will presumably be a part of the garden box. He carried it around in the yard for a while. When I went over to talk to him about the plant, he looked at it, considering what I’d said, and then proceeded to toss it on the ground. Now you have to realize that when a 2-year old boy tosses things, they’re not making any sort of statement. They frequently throw anything they can get their hands on, and the only interpretation that I make is that he’s done with whatever he just pitched onto the ground.

But I want my son to fully understand the importance and value of all life. I realize that in life “bad” things happen and not all of the things that exist or the events that occur are considered desirable. But on some level there is a deeper sense of perfection and divinity in everything. So when Roman threw the plant down I immediately picked it up and told him that tossing the plant down on the ground wasn’t good for it and harmed it, especially when some of its soil came loose and fell out of the cardboard pot.

Some people might think that this is silly to even discuss and that it makes no difference. And perhaps they are right – but I can’t believe that. I keep thinking that every small lesson like this one needs to be met head on with a great amount of thought, consideration, empathy and understanding. I need to believe that all these little lessons that my son and I will experience together will add up to him having some character and humanity that seems to be lacking more and more every day in our world.

At any rate, we try to have fun and learn something too! We also did some other fun activities outdoors. My wife painted a bird house with really bright colors. It will probably be more for decoration though. The finch family that has made our back porch their home for 2+ years have returned, but they prefer building their own nest of sticks and other debris in the corner of the porch near the ceiling.

And a few days ago we also added a plum tree near our backyard peach tree. I’m hoping we have as much luck with the plum tree as we’ve had with the peach tree. Trees can be finicky about where they live or if they are going to live at all, and to me, they are a test of one’s gardening skills. They require a lot of attention when they’re young, but are really rewarding once they’re bigger. So here’s to peaches, plums and whatever else grows in our not-yet-planted garden…

Fun Friday Fotos (The Terribly Fun Twos)!

Roman will be turning two years old in April and he’s already begun the “terrible twos”. Actually, it seems like there are lots of other names for the terrible twos and I guess the name just serves as a blanket term for the entire episode of a toddlers life. It could also be called the “mischievous twos” or the “talking twos” or even the “terrifying twos”. I thought I’d share a few photos of Roman with his cute “what’s up dog?” shirt and of him tormenting his mother by trying to pull some of her crucifixes down from their places on our wall at home (while riding his horse). There’s never a dull moment around our house with Roman on the loose, unless he’s sleeping of course!


One other interesting note. I recently acquired Adobe Lightroom 3.0 and I’m currently bringing myself up to speed with some of the new tricks. One that I kind of like is being able to you a single slider to adjust softness of skin, something that previously was far more difficult and required more effort and potentially expensive secondary software. Notice how soft and smooth Roman’s skin appears in the photo of him and his mom below. I was able to easily cover up most of the cheetos debris that was on his mouth with just a few minor adjustments. Very cool! Can’t wait to learn more about the newest version of Lightroom.

What's Up Dog?

Riding the horse with no name (and trying to grab the crucifixes)

Why Don’t More Guys Get Pedicures?

Since last week, I’ve been pecking away on my keyboard, preparing a blog about how to deal with wedding stress. But I decided that, for now, I was tired of researching that topic and that I would like to write about something a little more topical and interesting – kind of like if you are in line at the grocery store and you have the option to read about the Federal Omnibus Spending Bill (boring!) that Congress debated or to read the latest gossip tabloid about what celebrity is breaking up with whom, which are you going to choose? Exactly.

I got to thinking about the topic of men and pedicures this weekend when I went to get a pedicure for myself, along with my wife. Now, I must admit, my recent visit to the nail salon in my neighborhood wasn’t my first. My wife has been encouraging me to get pedicures for some time now, especially since she’s a big fan of them. Like many men, I was resistant to the idea of having someone work on my feet, but I eventually capitulated and took the pedicure plunge. But it left me wondering why more men don’t get pedicures?

Let’s talk about what is involved in a pedicure. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “pedicure” as, “a trimming, polishing, etc. of the toenails.” And according to Wikipedia, people have been receiving manicures (hands) and pedicures for at least 4,000 years, when they were being performed in greater Asia and Africa (Egypt). Even the Bible makes numerous mentions of foot washing in the Book of John.

My experience in getting a pedicure has involved the following elements:

  • Soaking the feet
  • Cleaning the feet
  • Trimming/cleaning the toenails
  • Scrubbing/exfoliating feet/legs
  • Secondary cleaning/rinsing feet/legs
  • Hot towel massage of feet/legs
  • Drying feet
  • Buffing toenails

The whole process usually requires 20-40 minutes. For the most part, it is a very pleasant experience. To me, just having your feet washed and cleaned feels somewhat cathartic.

I remember the first time my wife suggested that I get a pedicure I felt a weird, gooey feeling inside myself, like someone was asking me to do something that wasn’t “man-like” (whatever that means). I guess I mean that in our society, males and females think of themselves as characters who play a role in the “theatre of life”, if you will. From the time we are born, our parents encourage us or discourage us from doing certain things; it’s ok for boys to play with trucks and girls to play with dolls, etc. As children get older, the gender role divides more and it seems ok for boys to be rough, tough and dirty; whereas girls are expected (in general) to be more refined, sensitive and attractive. Again, I realize that I’m generalizing and that these roles don’t fit everyone; I’m simply making the observation. In some ways, as we grow older and more independent, we have the option to change what our role is. So in my own small way, after being given the opportunity to make a change, I did so – albeit a small one.

I then wondered what some of my male peers thought about the subject. So I asked about 10 men that I associate with whether they have ever had a pedicure and what their opinion was on the subject. The age range of the group of guys was from around 25 to 50 years. The guys are all considered “middle-class” and all live in the Austin area. My findings were not all that surprising.

My informal poll of men on the subject of pedicures was this: 100% of those polled stated that they have never gone to a salon to get a pedicure. When asked “why?”, many men stated that they never really considered it. Some men said that they didn’t like people touching their feet or that they felt “weird” about stepping into a role that is perceived to be almost strictly the domain of the opposite sex.

My poll also coincides with what I’ve observed during the past 3-4 visits to the nail salon with my wife. Every time I’ve visited I have not observed one male receiving a pedicure and each time I’ve gotten a pedicure I was the only male in the salon. However each time I’ve visited, at least 4-5 females were visiting the salon to have pedicures/manicures performed.

Now I don’t want to make any rash judgments about men in general or the pursuit of pedicures. And I certainly cannot draw real conclusions about my informal survey, given the tiny group that I polled; I suppose this discussion is purely anecdotal. But it is very interesting to note that there does appear to be such a strong trend or tendency by males to strictly follow these cultural and sexual boundaries created by society.  Something tells me that the disproportionate amount of males who appear to get pedicures, as compared to the number of females, will likely change in the future.

So why not guys – go out and get a pedicure. Feel anxious about taking the pedicure plunge alone? Take along a friend who has had a pedicure before and who knows a great place to have one performed. You never know, you might actually like the experience.