Thursday, June 02, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 3

Wow, what a boring day. Kansas is flat, flat and more flat. I drove clear through the state without stopping for more than a few minutes. That's Denver, CO to Kansas City, MO. I might've stopped for more time, but there was just nothing to stop for. I'm not in Kansas any more. It's prolly a great place, but there's just not much to entice a traveller, at least along I70. It is a stark contrast to the changing landscapes of the previous days. The more I drove, the more flatness presented itself. To make matters worst, their was tons of construction work being done to the freeway.

I made it to my hotel in Kansas City, MO a bit later than I hoped. The hotel was nice, but not quite what I expected. See my previous article for the reason. As such, I didn't get to enjoy Kansas City as I had originally planned. Oh well. At least I slept very well for the first time on my journey.

Cross-country trip - day 2

Day two of my journey across America was met with viciously perfect weather in Salt Lake City, UT. I didn't have time to do any real sightseeing, so I did Japanese tourist-style sightseeing (I drove by a couple of important sites, and took a picture). I did go to a little hole-in-the-wall place called Bruges Waffles & Frites (of Man V Food fame). They serve waffles Belgian-style, and have double-fried fries called frites. My waffle was good, though for the price, it didn't seem like enough food.

The drive eastward from Salt Lake City into the mountains is beautiful. The mountains are as green as I can imagine. They are offset with gorgeous white caps of remaining snow. The drive was windy and fun. There was barely any traffic.

Wyoming was a pleasant drive as well, for awhile. The mountains gave way to rocky hills. One hill looks as though it's a bunch of mountain trolls mooning the freeway (see the picture). Eventually, the Great Planes appeared. Let me tell you, the Great Planes are boring! This fact becomes even more important on the next day of my trip.

I stopped briefly in Cheyenne, WY before continuing on to Denver. Driving in the rural states is different from the urban states. The left lane on the freeway is really only for passing in the rural states. Don't hang out there. I travelled fairly close to speed limit for most of my drive through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and even Colorado. I almost never got passed by anyone.

I didn't have enough time to do any sightseeing in Denver. That will have to wait for another time.

Be wary of the Hotwire unpublished rates service

You get what you pay for. This is a poorly grammarred sentence that gets to the point. It is true with Hotwire's unpublished hotel rates service. I recently used this service (via Expedia) for a trip to Kansas City, MO. I thought I was getting a 3 or 4 star hotel that was centrally located near a popular area of town. The hotel offered a good rate through Hotwire's unpublished rates service. I didn't get to pick the hotel using this service, but was able to select the general area in town.

The hotel is very nice, and is likely 3 stars, but not for me. Here's the drawbacks. Though the hotel was in the general area I picked, it was not nearly as close as it should've been. I wanted a hotel within walking distance of the central area. I got a hotel that was within a 5 minute drive. Annoying. The hotel offers a complimentary breakfast, but not for me. The hotel offers free wi-fi, again not for me. The hotel did offer me an upgrade to receive those normally complimentary services ($15). Wanna guess on their published rate for the room? I'm guessing it's very close to the Hotwire's unpublished rate plus the $15 upgrade fee. Funny how that works.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cross-country trip - day 1

Given the fact that I'm still in my thirties (very late thirties), my bucket list is still fairly long and under developed. One item on the list is to drive across the USA. It seems this item would only be fulfilled if I ever had a reason to do this, otherwise I'd just fly and get to where I want to be much faster. Well, I now have a reason. That reason will not be discussed right now; maybe it will be at a later date. Bottom line, I'm driving across the great country of America!

My first day started off right on schedule at 7:00AM from Silicon Valley in the South San Francisco Bay Area. The time was important because the destination was Salt Lake City before sundown. The drive took me through Reno, NV. I've been there before, so I decided to just eat an early lunch (or Second Breakfast, as the Hobbits might call it) and refuel my car. No stopping for sightseeing.

The landscape drastically changed as I drove. As I travelled through California, the landscape slowly morphed from the tan colored hills and flat agricultural land to the forested mountains of the Tahoe area. In Nevada, that all gave way to the bush covered desert. The color of the earth changed from brown to an ever changing mix of red and light tan. The vegetation changed from greenish to mauvish and a mix of many other colors. I briefly stopped in Elko, NV for another fast-food meal and refueling.

I didn't really stop for sightseeing until I crossed the Utah border. There was a rest area in the middle of nowhere (where most rest areas can be found). By this time, the land was very flat and bare. The rest stop had an observation deck. The ramp up to the deck appeared to be handicap accessible, but any person in a wheelchair would be hard pressed to make it up the ramp. Anyway, I took a picture of myself in front on the vast empty landscape. The mountains in the distance offered an interesting contrast to the flat land of the desert. Later on, the land next to the freeway was under water, in what appears to be semi-permenant shallow lakes. Some of the lakes appeared on my TomTom map, and some did not. One funny item was that many of the lakes had miles of fence posts embedded within the water of the lake. Seriouly, what's the point of that?

Wow, I travelled across three Western states in one day! I arrived in Salt Lake City in time to relax in the hotel. I saved the sightseeing for the next day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Airlines are a mess

I'm now flying a few times each year for various reasons. Though I don't fly all that often, I've noticed a decline the airlines. When I came home from San Antonio, TX in January, my flight was delayed several times before we finally boarded. Then the plane broke down and everyone had to wait for a new plane to come in even later. Today I'm on my way to Kansas City. I'm stuck in the Phoenix airport because the second leg of my flight was cancelled due to the plane breaking down in Sacramento. I'm spending enough time at the airports between flights to qualify as actually visiting these intermediate locations! Crazy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Senseless Sunday: the long and short word

  • The word hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia means fear of long words.

  • Flint, Michigan is the largest city in the U.S.A. to have just one syllable in its name.

  • An urban legend defines a twit as a pregnant gold fish. Gold fish do not get pregant. They lay eggs that get fertilized afterwards. A twit is also not a comment on Twitter. That is a tweet.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

San Antonio, TX recent visit

I recently visited San Antonio, TX for a world conference that I attended. Though I didn't get to explore anywhere outside of the downtown area, I did visit The Alamo , River Walk, and the Tower of the Americas (known to the locals as "Space Needle" in apparent recognition that it was built to compete with Seattle's Space Needle).

San Antonio appears to have a lot to offer both visitors and residents. The downtown area is large, with a lot of restaurants and places of interest.

There's a saying that everything is bigger in Texas. However, The Alamo seems a bit smaller than expected. The history around this monument is told throughout the associated park. It's worth a visit, but don't expect to be wowwed.

The Tower of the Americas is beefy and tall. The problem with it is that there's just not much to see from the top. In every direction is the city of San Antonio, the good and the ugly. The Seattle Space Needle has a much better view since Seattle has a more interesting skyline, greener city, and beautiful coastline.

The River Walk is a glorified shopping mall. It is a good place to visit, but perhaps too touristy for the locals to hang out. I enjoyed the water tour and walking around.

The week I spent in San Antonio had similar weather to Silicon Valley over the same period. However, a week before there was a terrible storm, and a couple weeks after there was a snow storm. We barely get rain in Silicon Valley, and it never snows.

I guess my trip to San Antonio, TX taught me that there isn't nothing terribly bad about it, nor is there anything very compelling. It's a good place to live and visit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Silicon Valley International Auto Show and Traffic school

Allie went to traffic school this past Saturday for a ticket she earned during the Thanksgiving holiday. In the past, the real life edition of traffic school was a preferable over the online edition. However, she reported to me this time was no picnic. The class of more strict that before. She then told me several tales about her 1 day adventure in dealing with many different kinds of strange people. How do people fit that much annoying interaction into a lousy 8 hours?

So, on Sunday, I planned an in-town day trip to downtown Campbell for lunch, and also the 2011 Silicon Valley International Auto Show in downtown San Jose. This trip is notable for one very strange fact. We were actually able to take local light-rail public transit to each of our destinations. Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area are notorious for poor public transportation options. The fact that we were able to go to two enjoyable locations using light-rail is amazing.

Anyway, there were some cool vehicles this year. Here's some pictures from the show.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The bear at the Bellagio

Here's the bear in the Bellagio (Vegas) xmas display.  Its adorable, but if it was real, I'd never be this close.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Senseless Sunday: fruitville

  • The peanut is misnamed since it is actually a legume.

  • Pineapples are coalesced berries.

  • If a raisin is dropped into a glass of fresh champagne, it will float and sink over and over.

  • From 1923 to 1969, Illinois had a law making American their official language[1].

  • After Canada and Mexico, Russia is the nearest neighbor to the United States, via Alaska. In the middle of the Bering Strait, Russia’s Big Diomede Island and the U.S.’s Little Diomede Island are only two miles apart. "I can see Russia from my house."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Android Top 10 Utility, Tools and Communications Apps for 2010

A lot of new apps are now available on the Android Market this year. With so many new apps and Android phones, it's hard to keep up. So, I'm going to do several top ten app lists for various categories this year. This is the 2010 installment of my Top 10 Android Utility, Tools and Communications Apps for 2010, in no particular order.

  • Star Contact by StarObject provides advanced Contacts search functionally that is missing from almost all smartphones (even Palm). Though I do not use this app every time I need to look up contact, it proves itself to be essential when searching contacts based on criteria other than a person's name. (Also listed in 2009.)
  • Easy Dialer Premium by UIP ($) does cost a small nominal fee, but it is worth the chump change! It provides a well designed speed dial interface that really should be the standard for any Android smartphone. There is a free version with small and unintrusive ads called Easy Dialer. (Also listed in 2009.)
  • App Referrer by Drathus allows one person to quickly give an app to another person's phone by scanning a simple barcode. (Requires Barcode Scanner app from Google.)
  • Blogaway by Kumar Bibek is a simple and convenient method to post articles to your blogs.
  • WordPress by Automattic, Inc (WordPress makers) is a fairly powerful app that allows you to add and edit comments, articles and pages to your WordPress blog.
  • Shazam by Shazam Entertainment Ltd is a powerful tool that can quickly identify a work of music just by listening to it, with information about the artist, myspace pages, etc.
  • FPT System Manager by FPT Software is a powerful app provides detailed system and app information, with many tools built-in. Unfortunately, this app may no longer be available.
  • Mute by Marko Mitic is a very simple tool that allows for one-button press to toggle the fully muted mode on the Android phone. This is on my home screen and I use it almost every day.
  • Tip Calculator by Techmind determines a tip on the pre-sales tax price. It also calculates the amount each person owes on split bills. There are many tip calculators on the Android Market, but this is gets straight to the point with a simple and easy to use interface.
  • Twidroyd for Twitter by PostUp, Inc is a great Twitter client app with a lot of bells and whistles that are missing from homepage. It tracks multiple accounts, has LivePreview which automatically shows webpages or profiles associated with a particular tweet, and has an intuitive interface. There is also a paid version called Twitdroyd Pro for Twitter, which I recommend if you want additional control over your Twitter experience.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Senseless Sunday: stop the numbers!

  • Adding 10 inches to 6 millimeters equals exactly 26 centimeters (10 in + 6mm = 26cm).
  • Tautonyms is the word for scientific names where the genus and species are the same.
  • Taxi is spelled exactly the same in English, French, German, Swedish, Portuguese, and Dutch.
  • Mexico uses the Spanish word alto on stop signs; Spain uses the word stop.
  • Don’t ask a quantum physicist to define the time length for a jiffy. You might get a long answer.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Senseless Sunday: eyeing time

  • The old statement “a broken clock is right at least twice a day” is meaningless if the clock is digital.

  • The tool used in old shoe stores to measure foot size is called a Brannock Device.

  • The eye muscle is the fastest reacting muscle of the whole body. It contracts in less than 1/100th of a second.

  • The number googolplex cannot be written out since a googol of 0’s (zeros) cannot fit into the observable universe.

No on 20 and Yes on 27 (my personal experience)

As someone who has gone through the applicant process for the Prop 11 Citizens Redistricting Commission, I can say from personal experience that the process is very bizarre. The Applicant Review Panel, which selected the applicants, is not following the constitutional requirements in how they have selected the applicants. They have extended deadlines in direct violation of the Prop 11.

My personal experience have given me the impression that the Panel didn't seem to understand how to assess the skills of average Californians when picking applicants. They have selected a body 60 individuals, many of whom might be described as academic elitists and career bureaucrats. To illustrate this point, the body of 60 applicants (in the current pool that will eventually be narrowed down to 14) is heavily favored towards those who are in the highest tax brackets, and almost all have higher education degrees. Less than 30% of Californians have such degrees and far less have such incomes, yet the current applicant pool almost entirely of consists of college grads, including a high number of PhD's.

It doesn't seem like the current pool of applicants represent the average Californian. This is not in the spirit of Prop 11. I don't believe this is what Californians expected when they voted for Prop 11. Additionally, the semi-final random selection process (random drawing for the first 8 of the eventual 14 individuals) will not be guaranteeing compliance with Prop 11 either!

Prop 11 and Prop 20 might be good in principle, but have just turned out to be yet another Sacramento mess, in my opinion. There has got to be better solutions out there. We are better off not having Prop 11 or 20 right now. Seeing the mess from the inside has prompted me say No on Prop 20 and Yes on Prop 27 this year.