December 30, 2003
There's a new Frequently Asked Questions page about iPod battery issues. It includes (down toward the end) a very handy resource guide with links to almost anything you would want to know about the iPod.
By the way, my first-generation 5-gigabyte iPod is now 2 years old, and the other day, I did some battery testing. After 5 hours, it was still showing half-charge. That suggests that the battery lifespan issues are not universal. since my iPod has seen pretty heavy use.
December 28, 2003
Townshend on Operation Landslide
Pete Townshend is finally talking about his questioning and police caution for viewing child pornography and providing a credit card to a child-porn site.
Pete seems to not even know exactly what he was accused of, or the legal status of child porn in the UK:
He even says at one point: 'I feel that what I did was for the best of intentions, and I know I broke the law legally, but the law was broken when it was retrospectively changed. I wonder whether Blunkett changed the law to gather up the names that had been found by the FBI on the Landslide list. It's quite possible he did.'
This, in the words of John Carr, internet adviser to the children's charity NCH [National Children's Home], is 'the realm of total fantasy'. (Carr is actually a life-long fan of the Who, who tells me he has just bought the band's retrospective box set for his son for Christmas.) Carr points out that the current legal framework governing the viewing of child pornography was established in 1988.
If you have any interest in Townshend and The Who (and I think he's absolutely brilliant), this is a very interesting look into his personality, not just because of the accusations, but because of how he reacts to them.
There's a pretty good biography of Townshend available.
10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more...
Here's a good example of great web writing. Posted to Kuro5hin, it's a fairly even-handed look at the controversy surrounding the downing of Manfred von Richthofen, World War I's "Red Baron". It's footnoted, carefully reasoned, and supported by the evidence.
It also makes one of my favorite points about history: The only good history is revisionist history. When I was a kid, the official line in books about World War I was that Capt. Roy Brown had shot him down in a dogfight.
December 27, 2003
Magic Kingdom tipsFirst, don't go Thanksgiving week. Or Christmas week. Those are, respectively, the second- and first-busiest weeks at the Magic Kingdom. When Sophie was 3 (and not yet in school), we went the first week in December, and crowds were fairly light, so we thought it might be the same this time. No such luck.
I had a very good guide this time -- The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2004, by Bob Sehlinger. Unfortunately I picked it up on the Thursday before we left (on Saturday), or I would have known about the busiest weeks of the year.
The author points out that some percentage of what he writes will be out of date before the book gets into print, and for us, it was ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, widely reviewed as the scariest ride ever at a Disney theme park, which closed down October 11 to make way for "Stitch's Great Escape", scheduled for sometime in 2004.
We took full advantage of Disney's newish FastPass system to minimize time in line. Disney has set up separate areas near the entrance to popular rides where you can run your admission ticket through a machine and get a time-stamped return ticket that lets you jump right to the head of the line. Disney controls how frequently you can get a FastPass; in some cases, we could immediately get another one at a different ride, while at other times, we had to wait until just before our scheduled return time to get another. On heavy days, very popular rides may distribute their full allotment of FastPasses by noon.
The only ride that I really wanted to ride and didn't was the new Rock N Roller Coaster at Disney-MGM Studios. New rides for me: Tower of Terror (which had just opened when we went last time), Mission: Space, Test Track, Splash Mountain, and Kali River Rapids.
Mission: Space deserves the glowing reviews it's been getting. It's a junior vomit comet, using simulator technology and your own body weight to simulate high-G activities like a shuttle takeoff.
Tower of Terror has added a few twists. Originally, riders were taken to the 13th floor, where their elevator wandered down the hall. When it reached the end, a window opened, and the car and riders plunged 13 stories at faster than free fall. Now, the car drops, then returns to the 13th floor and drops again a random number of times.
One thing Disney was trying out at Disney/MGM Studios was setting up a FastPass system for character photos and autographs, which are a much bigger part of the park than they were even 5 years ago, when we first took Sophie. There are dedicated character areas at Epcot (Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco, Belle in France, etc.), and a Disney Characters on Holiday bus (below) that occasionally discharges a dozen or so characters for 30 minutes of intensive autographs and photographs. (As always, click through for larger images).
A good tip from the guide was to find out when the bus visit at Epcot was scheduled and get there 10-15 minutes before. By the time word has spread that the characters are there, you can have 4 or 5 pictures and autographs.
- Clever things we did:
Also buying a copy of Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids, By Kids 2004 for Sophie. This a) kept her somewhat busy on the drive south, and b) gave her some ideas for things that she either wanted to do or absolutely didn't want to do.
- We stayed on the park premises at the Swan, the Michael Graves-designed companion to the Dolphin. The location was terrific, since we could walk to or from Disney-MGM and Epcot (a major advantage after the evening fireworks or light shows), but there was nothing that great about the hotel itself. The Dolphin seemed to have more kid-friendly features. The Swan DOES now offer free high-speed internet access through the same proxy-based service as Sheratons (Sheraton manages the Swan).
I can argue either side of the on-site or off-site lodging argument. We got a pretty good rate at the Swan, so we decided to go with it for the better convenience, but then you find yourself eating in the resort restaurants, with their airport (heck, in some cases, stadium) pricing.
- Renting a stroller. A double stroller was $15/day (which covers all the parks; show your MGM receipt at Animal Kingdom for a new stroller), and made all the difference a few times, when the kids started to wilt.
Pal MickeyOne thing I kind of wanted to try out was Disney's new Pal Mickey, an interactive plush Mickey Mouse doll that offers location and time-sensitive advice for kids in the park ("The parade is starting in about an hour. You might want to find a place to watch!").
Pal Mickey is $60 to buy, or $8/day to rent. If you choose to rent one, the $60 is charged as a deposit, and the difference is refunded when you turn the unit in. Many of the Disney World hotel gift shops carry Pal Mickey, as does the store right at the front of Disney-MGM, and the shop next to the stroller rental at the International entrance at Epcot.
Sophie loved Pal Mickey. In addition to providing park info, he tells horrible, 8-year-old friendly jokes. When you first rent him, a Disney employee uploads the latest info through a Compaq/HP iPaq, so that event times and attraction information are up to date. I believe (based on his opaque nose) that Pal Mickey currently gets location information through infrared; this is backed up by their recommendation that children hold him face-out, or attach him to a belt.
I'm sure that in a lab somewhere, they're working on the adult version of Pal Mickey. WIth a small LCD screen and 802.11 connectivity, it could include the current menus for restaurants throughout Walt Disney World, including hotels and resorts, park traffic reports (allowing Disney to do some real-time traffic management), and could even allow communication between multiple groups (say you've split up for the morning). Wouldn't it be cool if you were standing in a 45-minute line at the Magic Kingdom, and discovered that nothing in MGM Studios was more than a 15-minute wait?
It could offer not only time and event pointers, but special offers on food, lodging, or souvenirs. If a particular restaurant or section of the park is having trouble holding its own, Disney could try targeted promotions aimed at the family decision makers.
Goodbye, Kung-Log; hello, ecto
Christmas tech support: HP 7660 and OS XMy parents gave Christy and me a Hewlett-Packard PhotoSmart 7660 for Christmas. I had been considering a photo printer for a while, but hadn't pulled the trigger, and this seems like a nice choice.
I unpackaged it, and hooked it up to the 500-mHz TiBook I use to record TV shows and spool jobs to the office laser printer. I loaded the software from the HP CD, ran the included web updater to pull newer software from their web site, and printed a calibration page without a problem. I fired up iPhoto, loaded up some glossy photo paper, chose a cute kid photo, and let 'er rip. Oops -- iPhoto unexpectedly quit. Ouch. How 'bout Graphic Converter? Unexpectedly quit. Hmmm. Try the miniBook; iPhoto unexpectedly quit.
Google didn't turn up anything. HP's support site didn't turn up anything. But wait! I noticed that the driver HP's updater pulled down is version 2.3.5, but that deep in the bowels of their web site, there's a version 2.3.6. Loaded it, and everything works exactly as expected. I printed out a 3.2 megapixel image on letter sized photo paper, and it looks fantastic.
December 18, 2003
If you're looking for my Tour de France site, it's here.
During the Tour, it will be the default weblog for my domain. Otherwise, it's at notd.blogs.com/tdf/. I had left it as the default until last week, since I hadn't migrated my general weblog over yet....
December 12, 2003
Amsterdam vs. New Amsterdam on two wheels
... ridership over the East River bridges (i.e., the Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensboro bridges) has gone up 62 percent--from 2,410 to 3,875 per day--during commuter hours (7 a.m.-7 p.m.).
Yet to decrease the number of cars on its roads (a stated goal of the Bicycle Master Plan) and make for a healthier urban environment, the City will have to deliberately displace vehicles by taking away car lanes and parking spaces. Whether that will happen is to be seen, but at least, by adopting the Bicycle Master Plan and creating auto-free routes, New York is inching down the path to change.
No one has been waiting with bated breath for me to make up my mind about the Democratic presidential candidates, but I have, and you might be interested in how I got there. I'm for Howard Dean -- because he's going to win.
So what manner of monster is behind these outrages? I have known George W. Bush slightly since we were both in high school, and I studied him closely as governor. He is neither mean nor stupid. What we have here is a man shaped by three intertwining strands of Texas culture, combined with huge blinkers of class. The three Texas themes are religiosity, anti-intellectualism, and machismo. They all play well politically with certain constituencies.
Ironically, I saw both of these linked at Red State Rebels. I say ironically because in an incredible piece I found linked from The American Prospect's weblog TAPPED, Robert David Sullivan advances a case that Red vs. Blue is a typical American oversimplification, and that there are actually 10 regions that matter. The accompanying map puts me in the Southern Lowlands, near the border with Appalachia. The article does a great job explaining how Bush and the yet-unnominated Democrat can expand their party's electoral totals from 2000.
December 02, 2003
What's Frank been up to?
The company that's arisen from the rotting carcass of MTNI is called The Transit Grapevine. We've assumed the long-term agreement with the Cleveland RTA, and recently completed an agreement with MARTA in Atlanta. We've installed half the signs in Cleveland, and are displaying content from Cleveland.com, (coming soon) scheduled train departure data from the transit authority, and (again, we hope, coming soon) advertisements.
Here's a collage of a sign in action (click through for a larger version):