Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Month That Was - December 2006: Good bye to 2006. Don't let the door hit ya.

It's a Wrap
Mouse House
Plane Stupidity
Pod People
Where To?
It's a Wrap: Good riddance 2006, mostly due to events on a personal level that I keep private, but even on a public level I feel like it was a wasted year. I shouldn't feel that way, but strangely, I do.

I did a good bit of traveling. Had a great trip to Tahoe. Turks and Caicos was disappointing. Was sick for practically the duration of my desert spa visit. And there were the various weekends from Chicago to DC to Orlando (see below), and of course, Vegas.

I was not able to restart writing fiction in any meaningful way, which is a huge disappointment. But I did get a ton of hotel reviews out, and of course, the football column. So it's not like I did nothing but stare at a blank Word document either.

But now with the football column over (except for the Superbowl Special edition coming at the end of January), I am once again vowed to get back to fiction. There will be no more criticism or journalism. Apart from my monthly updates here, I MUST get focused on Misspent Youth. (I also have to get Business as Usual away from its current publisher, who are dirtbags, and try to get Apple Pie's publisher to take it on. It's a long story; I may share it once it's resolved.)

There are other goals, which might be called resolutions if I possessed anything approaching resolve. I need to get my investments in order, take some losses, re-work some winners. I need to re-decorate my home office. Last year I did my bedroom -- got the room painted, some new furnishing, had some minor misadventures in getting a custom brass bed delivered -- this year it's the office, which is currently full of all sorts of crap; it looks like a big storage closet. Oh, and I need to redesign all my web sites. Just the usual kind of stuff. I will likely get about 50-60% of it done.

I suppose I should be grateful that I don't have anything truly daunting to do like, oh, "survive cancer" or "file for divorce." I don't even have the usual things like "get in shape" or "find a new job." And yet, I have no sense of satisfaction in that.

I have, however, learned the importance of not giving in to negativity, especially unwarranted negativity. Despair is a sin. 2007 here I come.
Mouse House: I had to hit Orlando for the day job so I added in an extra day to troll around a bit in the mouse house. I like Disney, so you won't get any commercialism-is-the-death-of-all-that-is-good-and-worthy rants from me.

Obviously, the place is almost exclusively designed for families, rugrats in particular, so there wasn't all that much for me to do on my own, but I was situated right across from Downtown Disney, which contains Pleasure Island which is the closest thing to a place for adults. (Despite the tawdry name it is fine for kids, just geared towards adults.) There are some 18+ dance clubs, but I can't really recommend them.

One spot I can recommend is the Adventurers Club. It's themed after an a sort of African or East Indian explorers club from the heyday of the British Empire, sort of like where you'd expect to stumble across Alan Quartermain sipping a gin and tonic and hiring coolies for his next expedition. The staff is all in costume and in character. They put on little skits and engage in banter with the crowd. Good drinks. It's just bawdy enough to be interesting for adults without any possible offense to any children within earshot. Recommended.

The only theme park that is remotely suited for adults is Epcot. I caught the shuttle over and spent a longish afternoon wandering through the cultural exhibits. There's some good food to be had and there are genuinely interesting little performances that go on throughout the day. Mexico has one of the coolest looking restaurants set up like a deep dark jungle with a volcano in the background. There was a great film on China -- shown in a round theatre with 360 degree screens. The Canadian section had a rock band that featured a bagpiper. Not exactly sure how Canadian that was, but they weren't bad.

All this is set around a sizeable lake; and of course, it's Florida so the winter weather is perfect -- especially to someone from Michigan.

So it turns out a grown up can do OK in the mouse house for a couple of days. But it's still Disney, which means it is still way too expensive. These pics are free:

Epcot Lake (~265k)
Fake Morrocco (~420k)
Fake Pyramids (~265k)
Epcot Garden (~420k)
Plane Stupidity: There is a particularly annoying "puzzle" floating around the web, making appearances in various blogs. I would like to answer it for you ahead of time.

The question is posed: If there was a treadmill large enough that could hold a jet plane, would the plane be able to take off?

If you are lucky enough to stumble across this on a fairly active blog that allows comments, you will be privy to all sorts of moronic "explanations" as to why the plane would take off. They are wrong, it wouldn't.

Most people get this wrong because they assume that the jet engines are what cause the plane to take off. That is false. The engines provide thrust, but a plane flys because of lift, which comes about because the plane's wings are designed so that the pressure from the air under them is much higher than the pressure of the air above them. I believe this is also called the coriolis effect. To generate that air pressure you need speed; you need to be moving forward very fast. If you believe you are moving forward on a treadmill, you need to get to the gym more often. On a treadmill the thrust from the engines does not result in any air pressure on the wings; the plane will not leave the ground.

This explanation will not mollify the idiots you encounter in these blogs. They will continue to believe in their own theories, however asswitted they may be. That can be frustrating at first, but then you realize that it gives you an excuse to mercilessly flame their profound lack of intellect and their suspect genetic heritage. Which is nice.
Pod People: Well I am now a pod person. I have been threatening to buy an MP3 player for a while now, and if you are of the Mac persuasion (which I am these days) it makes little sense to buy anything but an iPod to go along with iTunes. My first instinct was to get something a little out of the ordinary -- one of the funky color combos they offer at Colorware so that everyone would be buggin' over my stylin' gansta' ways.

Then I realized that I really have no idea if I will end up making use of this thing, or it will sit on my kitchen counter for a couple of years until I get around to selling it for ten cents on the dollar. So I decided to go low end. Not quite as low as the Shuffle; I really had difficulty with the idea of no display or arbitrary song and playlist specification. I ended up going the next step up to the silver Nano, with a whopping 2 gig.

Actually it is "whopping." I have ripped maybe 12 CDs at the highest mp3 quality setting in iTunes and have a little over half the iPod full. It'll do me for a while.

A nano is a wee thing, though, and you cannot help but fear, rationally or otherwise, that you will inadvertently snap it. So the first thing you have to do is go out and buy a case for it. (I found a good one at Circuit City for twenty simoleans). Sadly, that doesn't allay my other fear: that I will wash it. 'Til then, I be jammin'.

Interestingly, Apple has just released two new devices. One is called iTV, which allows you to play videos purchased through iTunes on your TV. Once all TV shows and movies, including extensive libraries of titles long gone, were available for purchase, I would have to re-evaluate my cable TV subscription, but for the time being I can't see using this.

The other is the long anticipated iPhone, which combines an iPod, a Blackberry, a PDA, and a (poor quality) camera into a single Apple-branded device. Like everything else from Apple it is hip, stylish, and cute. But it has problems. A) It is too big -- primarily, one supposes, because it needs a keyboard. B) It is too expensive. $499/$599 with the purchase of a Cingular plan. Yow. Unlock it'll probably be pushing a grand. C) It tries to do too bloody much, as do all such multi-function devices. I cannot imagine wanting to run my phone, iPod and Camera all off the same battery, never mind a blackberry if I had one. I can go days without recharging my individual devices, could I say the same with this thing?

I do like the lovely Apple touch-screen interface of the thing. Is it too much to ask for a simple, inexpensive phone that has the sweet interface? Probably. But I'm sure some clever Korean company will make a decent knockoff in time.

Of course, I probably griped about the iPod a few years ago and look at me now. My littlest iPod along with my littlest iBook are hanging in there, but by 2010 I'll probably have drunk the Kool-aid bought into more Apple gadgetry. Maybe I should buy some Apple stock in the hopes of making enough to cover future purchases.
Where To?: So where should I go this year? What should I visit? Any thoughts?

I am once again tempted to hit the Caribbean simply because it is close, yet tropical. Still, with the exception of a single day on St. Barts many years ago, I have never been to a spot there that I felt the need see again. It's possible I have not found the right place. I have had the notion of a more off-the-beaten path trip; maybe Saba or Montserrat or Dominica or all three.

I have never been to Europe and strangely, don't feel any particular compulsion to go. I probably should -- how can you consider yourself a traveler if you have never been to Europe, right? But I would hate to waste precious travel time going somewhere just from peer pressure.

A closer hole in my travel resume is Mexico. I would like to see Cancun and the Maya Riviera, simply because I have an affection for man-made monuments to commerciality and Cancun certainly qualifies. More recently the town of Zihuatenajo on the Pacific coast looks nice.

I always have major journeys in my fantasies, such as the South Pacific (Oceania, Australia, or Southeast Asia), or even somewhere in the Indian Ocean (The Maldives -- yum). But the expense is huge and the travel is arduous. I would want to plan for three weeks at least in any of those places and do a multi-locale tour. Feasibility issues, to say the least.

Likewise with adventure holidays like, say, the Galapagos or the Masai Mara. Those would be cool, but the generally require formal tours and that means double occupancy and frankly, I know few people who can free up the time and I gave up on strangers as roommates after college.

It may end up being a year of re-visits, which would be fine. Hawaii could stand another visit, this time including the Big Island. Tahoe is all worth more time. A spa trip will be in order should I drift into unhealthy behavior at any point. The Northwest and the Northeast are both somewhat unexplored by me. I could throw in weekends to Chicago and Manhattan. I still haven't gotten back to New Orleans. Closer to home, I have been threatening to get to the Stratford Festival in Ontario for quite some time. So whatever my time and money circumstances, I do not want for things to do.

However it falls out, I'm sure you'll hear about all of them.