Sunday, August 26, 2007

Is there no way to heaven?



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Originally uploaded by chuck_kramer

This sign will really confuse you. Found in Columbia, MD.



Monday, August 20, 2007

Taking a break from long posts

I'm am going to make an earnest effort to rely on micro-blogging and Twitter for several months and see how it works out. Watch my Tumblr posts. You can also follow me on Twitter.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Calibri strikes again

After the wonderful meal we had there on Friday, we decided to head back. We got lucky and a table opened up within minutes of our arrival. A few appetizers fit the bill after the big lunch at Waterfront. The sad part was that I knew the walk back would be the last of the San Francisco scene for me for quite some time.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Last Day in San Fran

This was a see the city day. We took the "F" tram to the Ferry Terminal to check out the restaurants for lunch. Came across this sign and I thought it was phrased a bit oddly. "Please do not sit on the historic stairs". Well, which ones are historic and which ones aren't?

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The place was full of people and the lines long, so we walked down to Pier 7 and the Waterfront Restaurant there. Pretty good calamari.

Then a bit more walking and wandering before grabbing the tram back to the hotel for an afternoon break.

iPhone Update

Well, its been over a month and I have to stand by my original assertions regarding AT&T and the iPhone; they have been the sole dark spot in the entire process. From taking over a week to get activated to the 300 page invoice I received. Don't even get me started on the fact billing errors. Unfortunately, I have to relent to Steve Jobs on one point -- despite all of these issues AT&T may have still been the best choice.

The instrument is pretty nice and the suggestions I have for improvements are generally the same as others all over the 'net so I won't repeat them. I do want to suggest one though.

I have a lot of contacts, business and personal combined. It is unlikely that I will want to call many of these people from my phone but I do want the contact info with me. Now, if I leave them in the address book, whenever I link via Bluetooth to the phone, I have to go through the entire address list one-by-one. If Apple could give you a way to identify a folder in the Address Book to use for your external link, that would be such a welcome feature.










Day 4 in San Francisco

Final day of training. With the APA crowd here, finding a place for lunch was tough. Getting around the hotel was tough. I have never seen so many people that can't operate in crowds before. We ended up at Mel's Drive In again. It was crowded, but we got a table reasonably fast and made our alloted lunch time work. However, a few others were late back to class.

After class, we decided to take a short rest break and regenerate. I took the opportunity to hit the Apple store here and got a magsafe airline power adapter for the return trip. Once recharged, we decided head to the mall and check out the other floors that supposedly had nice, full-service restaurants. There were some decent looking places but none really appealed to us. We decided on Mexican, missing our usual Mi Rancho lunch. However, finding a Mexican is tougher here than back in Maryland. We got a referral to a place called Cortez and direction. The directions were easy and we found the eatery. Glancing at the menu, there were Rhode Island dishes, French dishes, and almost everything BUT Mexican. This now called for a search of the area.

Remembering the iPhone commercial, I got mine out and started the Google Maps application. I entered our location, then entered “mexican”. Several locations appeared with one being only a block away. It all worked just like in the commercial!

A block away, just like the iPhone said, we stumbled across Colibri Mexican Bistro. It was full and they expected reservations, but a little charm and light banter with the hostesses got us a great table near the window, across from the theater. I got a terrific Walleye with cornbread and rice along with some potatoes au gratin. This food was absolutely incredible. I was full but couldn't stop eating. Unbelievably good! Really, it was GREAT!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Another day down

For lunch today we walked over to the Westfield Mall food court here; its only about two blocks from the hotel. The food court was a bit unlike any from home, with mid-quality and high-quality vendors throughout. The burger I got was one of the best I have ever had.

Back to the hotel, it soon became obvious there was something afoot. First, the hotel is beginning a renovation and was relocating the front desk and other services from the main level to the second floor. Combine this with a huge influx of people for the American Psychological Association for their conference and the place was just crazy; pun intended.

I have a hard time understanding why folks in this field have such a difficult time functioning in public. The number of them, complete with conference badges, that would get on "up" elevators and trying to go down; blocking the narrowed walkways while engaged in personal conversation; and one I saw that couldn't operate the revolving door. Incredible.

Chinatown for dinner. Walking down Grant street at dusk was nice, if you ignored all of the trash containers along the street. We found a small restaurant that had a fair little crowd of locals (usually a good sign). We decided to get the "family meal" and it was pretty darn good -- sizzling soup, shrimp fried rice, and a portion of deep-fried squid.






Thursday, August 16, 2007

First day of training

Went well, other folks in the class are interesting. I am surprised how many are from the mid-Atlantic. Construction next door was causing some noise issues, but we were told it would only last an hour. They we close at two hours.

For lunch we went looking for the "culinary institute" recommended by the instructor. Turns out is is a place called "Educated Pallate" and no longer serves lunch. Across the street was "Mels Drive In", a 50's diner throwback. Pretty good food and reasonable prices.

After the day's session was complete, we decided to walk the surrounding neighboods looking for food. We found a little cafe for a refreshments and a quick rest off our feet, then walked to John's Grill, an apparent icon and the oldest operating restaurant in San Francisco. DSCN0731.JPG


It was too busy so we went across the street to the Jazz Bistro. The band was decent and it was kinda nice overall. Good food, okay prices. Turned in early - tired.

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Sitting on the dock of the Bay

Terrific weather, around 65 degrees and sunny. Our first target was Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf. We got there by way of the "F" trolley, which runs by the hotel. It was crowded, but an interesting ride. Twenty minutes later we were disembarking at Pier 39. It wasn't too busy, but by no means deserted either. A long stroll with stops to check out the artists and views took a bit.

We stopped into Wipeout for a breather. I decided to have a beer anyway.

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About an hour later, we wandered to Fisherman's Wharf and settled into a nice little place staffed by college students from Slovakia. It made for interesting conversation. Taking an interest in them got us a really good seat by the water too.

it's been a long day so back to the hotel and sleep.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

San Francisco, the city by the bay

Off to the home of Alcatraz, the city by the bay, Barry Bonds country. Day started early, waking at 3:15. In the morning. I had to drive to Dulles Airport, about 75 minutes, and wanted to leave plenty of time. I cruise along the various interstates and feeling pretty good. Then it happens; a tractor-trailer has overturned on the beltway and the entire outer-loop is closed! Fortunately, I make my way to the final exit before the closure and use my in-car navigation system to make my way on the side roads to the next exit -- past the accident scene. Then back on to the beltway and cruising at highway speed while thousands of others sit in the backup. I can't get over the feeling of elation that comes from this.

I make the airport in plenty of time and head to the long-term parking. It looks easy. Upon entering, there is a sign that says the BLUE lot is full and please proceed to the GREEN lot. Okay, sounds reasonable. Except, as I drive through, I notice that there are literally hundreds of parking spots in the BLUE lot. I grab one next to the shuttle pickup and am on my way.

To the airport and the gate is pretty ordinary; I won't bore you with details. The plane is on time and I am amongst the first to board -- being in first class for this leg. The usual routing ensues of sitting, getting a beverage, and waiting for the remainder. I won't bore you with the details. However, a gentleman (loosely defined) siting in front of me caused quite a problem. First, he wouldn't get off his phone and caused to to be delayed leaving the gate. Then, we lot our slot in the takeoff schedule and had to wait for an opportunity, during which he got on his phone again. This caused the flight crew to confront him and threaten to remove him from the aircraft. H relented and turned off his phone, but in the end, this probably cost us 15 minutes. Why do these people think that they are so important that they don't have to follow the rules or directions of the flight crew? I now recall seeing him in the gate area trying to finangle himself to be the first to board.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Disney World Resort Experience

Over these many years, I have usually preferred to stay on property when visiting Disney World. The benefits were easy to enumerate; including transportation, quality, extra access to parks through early opening and e-ticket events, merchandise delivery, and the attention Disney gives to the little details of your stay. My few offsite experiences were certainly positive, but did not approach the wonderfulness of staying in a Disney Resort.

That has been changing.

I will say, with little doubt, that Disney's premium resorts are a true wonder. How do they compare to offsite facilities? Well, I think that most folks who stay in these resorts aren't too concerned about saving every last dollar; the expendable income is likely to be a little higher. However, I have noticed that offsite resorts are increasing the amenities and benefits they include while Disney seems to be cutting back.

Merchandise is no longer delivered to your room, but it is still sent to the resort. You usually have to go to a central location and pick it up. This works better when the castmember actually calls you as they are supposed to do.

Transportation has been going downhill overall. Premium resorts should provide premium service, not so with the buses though. I have consistently spent more and more time waiting for the correct bus to arrive and it is not unusual for it to be SRO or completely full.

Dining is great in the sit-down full-service restaurants. Not so great in the food courts. Overpriced for mediocre quality. Disney is not like this all over. At the Boardwalk you can get a great hotdog for $3.00 and I have even had one for $2.50 in the Magic Kingdom. But, $9.99 for what amounts to a few chicken fingers and frozen fries?

Accommodations are good, but they are good at most nicer hotels in the area. TV channels are a little limited and the amenities like ice, vending, and even elevators are typical for a nice resort. Not necessarily outstanding here. On my last trip, we experienced an ant infestation (on the 4th floor), a leaking kitchen sink (2 times), a non-working HVAC, and a refrigerator that would only make things cool -- not cold. Service appeared right away after each report, but it took a conversation with the housekeeping manager to make the fixes permanent.

Staff is an interesting area of comparison. Disney castmembers used to be the absolute best, all going out of the way to make you feel really welcome and comfortable. Many still do, but the hires of the last few years are a different breed. Perhaps it is a cultural shift due to adding a higher percentage of college program staff and immigrants, but the bright-smile and welcome just aren't as pervasive as it used to be. On the other hand, the quality of staff at offsite resorts is generally a step below that, making the experience just a notch lower on the happiness scale.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Virginia, almost home


After midnight I pulled into the Virginia Welcome Center for a short break. While I had made pretty good time up until then, experience has shown that Virginia is a bit more aggressive in adding to their staet and local coffers. As a result, I knew I was close to home but that these next few hours would really drag.

As I drove through the state, I watched the "estimated time of arrival" on my navigation screen slowly increase the minutes later and later. I eventually turned it off because it was so depressing.

At this time of night, I headed straight up I-95, choosing to forgo the I-295 bypass. Traffic was light and, although the speed was slower, I made decent time. When the roads merged back together above Richmond, I noticed a few familiar vehicles that I had been "packed" with before stopping at the Welcome Center. Assuming they all didn't stop together, I estimated that meant I picked up about 10 minutes by not using the bypass.

This was the first time in about 6 years I had driven through Richmond. The new flyovers, overpasses, and underpasses they have constructed are just CRAZY! Some are hundreds of feet in the air! I wish it had been daytime so I could grab some photos. Its also the first time in years I passed through the Springfield Mixing Bowl, where I-495, I-395, and I-95 meet along with some local byways. It too looks just like spaghetti but not as outrageous as the Richmond construction.

At 3:05 am, I was crossing the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge with a view o the lighted National Harborplace on the water; it looks like it will really be nice when they complete it. About 40 minutes later I was pulling into the garage and not the least bit tired.

Good road trip. I need more of those and with more time.

Looks like rain


After enjoying nearly six hours with the top down on the BMW, these ominous clouds in north Georgia forced me to pull off the road and raise it. Good thing too as it really let loose with a torrent of rain for over an hour. At several points it was so bad that most of the traffic pulled off the road to wait it out. That just cleared the way for me.



Castle by the shore


I'm not quite sure what this structure is. It caught my eye as I was flying north on 1A just outside of St. Augustine, and I think south of Ponte Vedre, Florida.



St. Augustine, FL


I love visiting St. Augustine. On this trip, with the temps near 100 and humidity near 100%, the horse-drawn carriages weren't getting much business in the early afternoon. Hopefully it picked up in the evening for these intrepid folks.



Welcome to Georgia


Well, there is nothing to make a traveler feel more welcome in your state than displaying a torpedo, an offensive weapon, at your Welcome Center outside the door that leads to the Women's restroom.



Friday, August 3, 2007

Mastery in Chocolate

The artisans that create the chocolate sculptures for the Kona Cafe at Walt Disney World's Polynesian Resort are terrific. The realism, attention to detail, and effort to replicate a two-dimensional character in 3 dimensions is worthy of praise. This photo doesn't do justice to the current Lilo & Stitch on exhibit there.

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But, if these chocolate wonders were edible, I'd bet that Stitch's ears would be the first to go!

Good gosh I love the coast

I have GOT to get me a house on the beach!

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Maybe one of these homes north of Marineland will do someday, after I win the MegaMillion lottery of course? I can only imagine the insurance payments!

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I followed this motorcycle through Ormond and all the way into Flagler Beach. It wasn't until she turned left that I realized that there was only one person on the bike.

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Eastbound and down

Headed out of Orlando around 10 am. I pulled off a number of exists looking for a store I had visited several years ago. I was pretty sure where it was, but when I got there it was a Mall. That's progress for you. So I continued East and into Daytona Beach.

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Traffic in Daytona was pretty light for mid-day. I decided to head north on A1A and drive up the coast. I found Ormond Beach and Ormond By The Sea to be quaint and welcoming locales. I am going to try to get back there to spend some more time.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Disney has Class

Seeing the details and attention to quality around the Walt Disney WOrld property, especially expensive "accessories, like this classic wooden boat, remind me that Disney really does exhibit class in a lot of areas.

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So, which one do you think goes faster?

The red one on the right, or the big black on on the left (assuming the jack is removed)? Odd, but there is a slight resemblance in their overall shapes.

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No Pirates of the Caribbean here

Can you believe that Disney has an almost lifesize pirate ship that they haven't turned into marketing for their movie franchise yet? Well, neither could I so here it is. It's the water slide at the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.

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Moving Walks Up and Running

This sign was on a moving walkway at San Francisco airport. I thought it a bit odd to say that the moving walks would soon be up and running.
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Duckpin Bowling in only 15 feet

These mini-bowling machines are pretty cool. They use real duckpins spaced closer together and a variation of the string-reset machines. The ball is more like a candlepin ball, being around 4 inches in diameter. You get a game of five frames for your money. I think I want one for my basement.

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We found this one in the Arcade at the Walt Disney World Yacht & Beach Club Resort. After munching out at Beaches and Cream of course.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Free wireless at Georgia rest stops

Perhaps others already knew about this, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find that Georgia has free wifi at some (all?) of its rest stops. Gave me a chance to check mail, post to my Tumblr, upload my photos to Flickr, and check the weather on the road ahead. Kudos to Georgia for catering to the traveler.

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Minimum speed limits

Spending as much time on the road as I have lately, I think we need more of these minimum speed limits; not to mention enforcement.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

South of the Border

The venerable institution that made Pedro famous and occupies hundreds of bulletin boards.

Six hours of sun, Fours hours of strong thunderstorms

So, the first six hours was fine. Headed down US301 and across the Nice Bridge at the Potomac. Then through scenic eastern Virginia. The storms hit as I neared Hopewell. Just as the storm ended, I found my way to City Point National Cemetary where I hoped to locate a Smeltzer who died there during the Civil War. Unfortunately, I had no luck and he wasn't listed in any of the onsite directories. It was still a sobering moment, to be there with all of the headstones from long ago.


Headed south again, the storms came in earnest. Several bouts of rain were so strong that traffic was pulling off the road to wait it out. I pretty much flew through the state though, stopping for a short spell in Fayetteville. I had hoped to locate my brother, but had no real leads I could follow on a weekend. Maybe on the return trip.

On the road again, I can't wait to get on the road again

Road Trip!

I'm headed down the eastern seaboard to Florida, and then back again. Sun, breeze, and the top down on the convertible. Watch this space for posts about the trip.

Monday, July 2, 2007

An Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Steve:

I assume I can call you Steve since I have been a longtime Apple customer (and Pixar and NeXT). I am sorry to say that I think you blew it this time; this time being the iPhone. The instrument itself is terrific as far as I can tell from borrowing my son's, but you blew it by picking ATT as your partner. They don't understand, nor do they care, about the customer experience the way Apple does. Their money-grabbing penny-ante antics to try and reap every cent out of this has created a series of bad experiences for many of us who are (soon to be WERE) ATT business customers. Now, I grant you that all the mobile telecomm companies probably act like this, but perhaps you could have had more influence over a SPRINT or T-Mobile.

The biggest issues folks have experienced could have been easily anticipated; business accounts and traffic/load-scaling. As for business accounts, the sad part is that it could have likely been easily solved through simple communication. How hard would it have been to simply put a sign in the stores (both Apple and ATT) that encouraged business customers to ask before buying. The worst part is that the only way most of us found out about the problem with business accounts was to open the iPhone and attempt activation through iTunes. Even that didn't give a clear answer. Of course, this is also creating an issue with the refund when we try and return it. Oh Steve. Steve, Steve, Steve.

I think many of us actually expected the scaling and customer service issues with ATT. After all, watching the MacWorld keynote this year it should have been clear that ATT executives just "do not get it". Old time telecomm thinking just doesn't work anymore. It makes me think that there might be room in the marketplace for a new player. Oh, Steve.

As I bring this to a conclusion, I am packing my iPhone to return in the morning to my local Apple store. We'll see how the question of a FULL refund goes under the circumstances. As for ATT, I think this was the final straw for me. This has made it clear that they cannot, or will not, support my business needs. So, I am taking my $10K/month account and shopping it. If you can't get customer service anywhere, I may as well try to save our shareholders a few bucks.

Good luck with this ATT partnership. I think you are really going to need it.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Trip Cancelled

I had to cancel my trip to Disney so there won't be any interesting new Florida entries. Unfortunately, my 12-year old dog has been in bad health and I didn't feel comfortable leaving him for the kids to deal with. It was a good decision. On Tuesday he was diagnosed as having a massive carcenoma in his chest and we made the decision to euthanize him on Wednesday. It was a very sad day indeed.