Saturday, 22nd of April, 2006
Six Flags over Texas is the original Six Flags - and it could use some help as far as theming goes. I didn't think it could get much worse than St. Louis, but it is - the one in San Antonio, in contrast, was really good for a Six Flags. You can tell they're trying to bring the Arlington (over Texas) one up to standard though - they're doing plenty of construction from what I can see.
Though this Six Flags does feature the fastest ride they own - the Titan, complete with a 255-foot drop and a top speed of 85 mph. It doesn't look all that ominous from either the ground or on top - perhaps my encounter with the 300-foot Millenium Force up at Cedar Point makes this one relatively tame. The Titan is still pretty thrilling though, and it does get moving pretty fast. It's extremely stable - unlike the Millenium which I felt like was about to thrash me out of the seat the Titan is extremely smooth, and feels like it could handle a bit more speed if they had only built the track that way.
Then there's the Texas Giant, a 62 mph wooden coaster built in 1990. It's built nice and close just like the 66 mph Boss coaster in St. Louis, but age has taken it's toll on the Texas Giant. They kept closing the ride off and on throughout the day - and it needs to be taken out of commission because it is not smooth enough to handle 62 mph anymore. That is just about the most outrageously thrashy ride I've ever been on. I've been on 40-year-old wooden coasters that felt better.
Back at the Hilton, we were going around doing room checks for all the students and I came across a group of rooms where a school might have missed the whole point of taping in the students' rooms.... In case you still don't get it, the doors open in in hotel rooms.
Friday, 21st of April, 2006
Actually later that evening we went to a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert and I find that acoustics are much better in the choir loft behind the main stage. Being able to sit there for a concert is excellent - and the Dallas Symphony is a good one too. It's the first symphony I've heard in a while that's in the same league as St. Louis's.
The Dallas Symphony also premiered a piece called "Musical Dice Game", by the Texas composer Robert X. Rodriguez. The pre-concert lecture was excellent, and featured a bit where Rodrigeuz explained the piece he composed. He claims it's not minimalist, but it sounds a bit like it to me and I loved it. It even had the interesting dual-orchestra setup that you find in other minimalist pieces.
The Hilton we stayed at was right off of I-635 near US-75. Yup, that interchange is the big "High Five" interchange - with five levels - and it's finished!
Wednesday, 19th of April, 2006
Students cautioned as recruiters and police log on to Facebook:
Mark Smith, director of career planning and placement, says that during hiring decisions employers are looking for someone who exhibits good judgment and would represent their company well.
"You don't want any barriers to prevent you from getting a job," said Smith. "You don't need something like that. You want your application clean."
In addition to pictures involving drugs, alcohol, nudity and related paraphernalia, Smith warns students to monitor the groups they join and the messages posted on their walls.
"Think of a boring 50-year-old person who doesn't get out and doesn't have a sense of humor," he said. "It may not be fair, but it's reality."
Smith said one University student recently lost a job opportunity because of an improper Facebook profile. The interviewer found it and immediately declared him out of the running.
"Just as you research employers, they're going to do the same thing," said Smith. "The safe thing is to go with a safe profile."
Employers are not the only ones scanning profiles. Police are also getting into the act. At Northern Kentucky University, students were charged with code violations when a keg was seen in a photo of a dorm room.
But (Don Strom, Washington University's police chief, says) that the University police department doesn't and wouldn't use Facebook to actively search for students with potentially incriminating profiles.
He said that such use would be "inconsistent with the University philosophy."...
Sunday, 16th of April, 2006
Basically, I'm tired of making decisions on what I want to listen to - which using an iPod and MP3s requires. I want a good DJ to read my mind and select it for me.
Someone has gotten pretty close to doing just that. While I was down in Austin, Haley's mom had XM Radio in the car and we listened to one of the XM Classical stations for a while I was just blown away by how it played piece after piece of stuff that I wanted to listen to and was familiar to me, and without commercials. I decided I'd gladly pay $13/month for just that station alone - let alone all the other stations that come with a subscription. I'd also gladly pay $13/month to get rid of all the commercials on radio when I listen in the car - I spend a lot of time and displeasure changing the radio station every time a commercial comes on - so much that I end up driving in silence.
So when I was in Circuit City last night I went over and picked out an XM unit that I could take to work, listen to at home, and maybe in the car if I felt like it. This is important, because your subscription is tied to your unit - extra units cost extra monthly, in addition to the upfront unit cost. The end result of this purchase is, I can't imagine casually listening to music any other way now, other than live in concert, obviously.
They were selling the Delphi MyFi XM2Go as a big kit that included the car kit and the home kit, which I didn't mind so much since I'd probably eventually want all of it anyway. It even came with a remote for home use. Even though it's a "portable" unit, the antennas that it comes with really are important. The structure of an automobile is enough to ruin the signal - you really have to have an antenna mounted on the exterior of your car and plug it in if you want to listen to it in the car.
Even though it's obvious, it still took me a while to really think about satellite radio as similar to, well, satellite TV, in terms of what it needs to receive a signal. It is not FM radio, and it is not a cell phone - it will not work well inside buildings, or under a concrete bridge.
I brought it home last night, called XM to set up my account, and I was receiving channels in only a few minutes. Here's a good thing to know - your antenna needs to face south. Good thing I have a south-facing apartment! All I had to do was point the antenna out the window - didn't need to set it outside. Turned it on and received the quality classical station that got me into this whole thing to begin with, and was so pleased I was ready to leave it on all night. Woke up in this Easter morning to it playing Handel's entire Messiah suite. That made me very happy.
The other thing I noticed about XM was that the quality and fidelity of the sounds is noticeably better than FM radio. We're definitely in CD quality here. I can't remember a time I've ever listened to FM radio and heard Yo-yo Ma's breathing while he's playing a Haydn Concerto.
And of course there is more to this than just the classical station, even if I can listen to that all day. After just a few minutes of listening to The Message, I was pleased to hear some smooth transitions between one song to another, absent of silence. It's particularly cool when the two songs happen to be in the same key. It goes along with what XM radio is all about - listening to as much music as possible in the amount of time you have. And you can also listen to Trance Techno all day too - can't get that on the airwaves here.
This played no part in my decision to XM, but now that I have it, I can see myself tuning in to the Old Time Radio station and listening to old radio programs for some quality entertainment. Now here's something you can't get anymore on the airwaves. I don't own a TV, and I don't subscribe to cable TV. For a fraction of the cost of both, I now subscribe to something that used to provide people with the same type of entertainment before TVs existed, and doesn't rot your brain like TV does.
One of the big features of this unit that gives it the "Go" part of the XM2Go is that it has built-in memory that can store 5 hours of programming for playback later. I found that feature kind of puzzling at first and ignored it completely in making the decision of which unit to buy, but obviously I wound up with it anyway. Without the ability to transfer what I record off of the unit, or put my own music onto the unit, I found that to be a completely inferior to, say, buying a 1GB MP3 player. Besides, who records things off of the radio? People would rather listen to a CD.
It took me a day to figure it out - again I've missed the point of satellite radio. The whole point I'm buying this is because I want to listen to a stream of music and have all the decisions of what is being played made for me. Comparing this to a 1GB MP3 player contradicts why I bought this to begin with - I'd be back to wasting time figuring out what to put on that 1GB and generating the playlist, completely what I am trying to avoid doing.
Listening to 5 hours of "live" feed from the satellite is pretty much the same as listening to 5 hours of a pre-recorded section of the live feed I love so much. And once I get tired of one "playlist" I just record another 5 hour segment and listen to that for a while. Given how sensitive this little portable unit can be to anything that gets in the way of the satellite signal, I can see why you really want to have an alternate music source than the live feed. For those moments where you're driving through tunnels, or on the wrong side of a mountain...
Really, the "2Go" function ends up making this unit superior to all the other XM units by making up for the reception challenges of satellite radio. With the ability to do timer recordings, it's like having some sort of audio equivalent of a Tivo hooked up to commercial-free satellite TV. And the amount of pleasure it has brought me is about the same as if I had gone out and bought a big TV, subscribed to commercial-free cable, and got satellite TV for my car.
When the iPod came out, it didn't feel like something I'd ever get based on how little satisfaction playing music off of a hard drive on a computer was already giving me. When satellite radio first came out, it didn't feel like something I'd get based on how little I listened to radio - it wouldn't be worth $13 just to get rid of commercials when listening to music in the car. I was right about the iPod - don't own one and probably never will.
I was wrong predicting if I would adopt XM radio - because XM radio is nothing like FM radio at all. It not only subsitutes FM radio in the car, but also that jukebox at home, at work, the FM walkman/CD player, and in some ways cable TV.
Wednesday, 12th of April, 2006
Tuesday, 11th of April, 2006
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating 109 reports of Fusarium keratitis infection in patients in 17 states since June 2005.
Federal and state health officials have interviewed just 30 of those patients. However, of the 28 who wore soft contact lens, 26 reported using Bausch & Lombís ReNu brand contact lens solution or a generic type of solution also made by the company."
So now everyone is going around saying that Bausch & Lomb sold everyone contaminated solution. Never mind the millions of others who use it and haven't had problems, or the other 4 people of the 30 who don't use that brand. I'm more inclined to think that there has been an outbreak of eye fungus finally because so many people are wearing contacts for long amounts of time and taking them out and putting them in in unsanitary places (like the office cube, public bathrooms). And that Bausch & Lomb solutions do a crappier job of cleaning contact lenses than all the other brands, which studies have shown to be true for years now. So those using Bausch & Lomb are at a higher risk of getting the eye fungus because their defense against it is weak, but it's not the cause of the problem.
Tuesday, 4th of April, 2006
Monday, 3rd of April, 2006
The exciting car is the new $13,850 2432-pound Honda Fit! This one boasts the same 21 cubic feet of cargo room that you'd find in the boxy Scion xB. I hope they didn't bolt the rear seats further forward in the cabin to achieve this - because one of my favourite things about the Scions is the rear seat room. I will have to wander into a dealer and find out for myself.
Because if all this really is true, you can now get a Honda for the price of a Scion, without the stupid center-mounted gauges, and with "the most supportive seats (in the class), the most expensive-looking interior (in the class), an Acura-grade gauge cluster, and the ergonomics of an Accord." (Car and Driver, May 2006) And while Toyota can go around selling boring cars without a problem, Honda customers expect more - "the Fit sailed through our lane-change test 6 mph faster than anything else here - faster, in fact, than a Corvette Z06." (Car and Driver) I'd like to see this one up spank a base Mini Cooper at an autocross.
Picture - Dodge runs an A/C vent into the glove compartment in the Caliber and calls it a great design. This is what Honda calls a great design: rear seats cushions that fold up for loading tall objects, or fold the whole thing down for a regular flat wagon cargo area, without removing the headrests. Note even the water-bottle holders.
So rising fuel prices are finally allowing Americans to enjoy what the rest of the world has already been enjoying from Honda - they have been selling the same car, called the Honda Jazz, in 70 other countries. Even Car and Driver's lead-foot driving produced 35 mpg in the Fit.
I was in the Galleria today and noticed that Sam Goody was closing their store and having a 50-60% off everything sale. The store has almost been completely cleared out - there were a couple guitars, amps a handful of DVDs and CDs, and the furniture that held all that stuff. But sitting on the table I spotted a Logitech Driving Force wheel for the Playstation 2. With the entire store almost cleared out I'm shocked nobody has picked this one up for $32. There was 1 pack of 9V batteries left at a crazy price of $2, and the last gem in the store was a 16MB PS2 memory card for $10.
I spend almost all of my time on the Playstation playing Gran Turismo, and supposedly this wheel was optimized for that game. I have shunned away from force feedback wheels in the past because there is a tendency for game designers to use force feedback to simulate bumping into objects and varied road surfaces with the forces - arcade-style, instead of as a true driving feedback mechanism that simulates the forces on the steering wheel at a variety of traction situations. Gran Turismo 4, from what I've discovered today, is not completely exempt from this situation, even when placed in "Simulation" mode. I have played several arcade games that have provided more feedback on traction situations than Gran Turismo 4 currently does.
However, the real advantage of this wheel that may make all this worth going through is a precision that I have never experienced before on any steering wheel, even other Logitech wheels. Force feedback wheels by nature don't have much of a "dead zone" in the center, and this one feels completely natural. There are those who say operating the regular gamepad is the best way to attain the fastest lap times in Gran Turismo, but I've put it through a few situations where the wheel provided a distinct advantage - there are flaws to the game's interpretation of the steering position using the gamepad input, and situations where a wheel provides faster and more precise inputs.
The lap mount mechanism is about what I expected - sub-optimal. It's usable, but it does require clamping the knees together somewhat unnaturally. This wheel is really designed for mounting to a table.
Sunday, 2nd of April, 2006