Slashdot News Roundup

Been a little while since I've caught up on the interesting tidbits I see around the web, so I thought I'd take my lunchbreak today and consolidate the news from yesterday.

First up, we have the Google release of their online office suite (plus lots more).
Google Apps for Your Domain is Google's entrance into the office productivity world, but contrary to popular expectations, the company is not shipping word processor or spreadsheet for corporate use just yet. Google, Inc. bundled e-mail client (Gmail), shared calendaring environment (Google Calendar), instant messaging client (GTalk) and HTML page generator (Google Page Creator) to be used across specific domains. The service will be ad-supported, reports the Associated Press.
From that article:
The free edition of Apps for Your Domain is, like Google's main site, supported with ads. By the end of the year, the company also plans to launch a paid version that will offer more storage, some degree of support, and likely, no ads. A price for this edition hasn't been set. Providing e-mail and other applications for businesses moves Google closer into what has traditionally been turf occupied by Microsoft Corp. Earlier this year, Google released a program that builds simple Excel-type spreadsheets but lets users access them on the Web.

I gave it a try and signed up for the Beta, not sure exactly how I can incorporate it all into what we run at home, or how it might look, but it will be interesting to see.

Next up, something amusing to pass the day, as Apple has released new "Get a Mac" TV ads.
Klaidas writes "Apple has introduced 3 new "Get a Mac" TV ads: "Accident", "Angle/Devil" and "Trust Mac" " Normally, posting ads would be make me cry, but these are genuinely funny and well done.

From the woomp-there-it-was dept. comes a story that reminds me why I only buy retail from Dell, and prefer to build my own boxes for performance. Slashdot article entitled "New Alienware PC an Overpriced Underperformer".
Alienware has jumped on board the Core 2 bandwagon and rightfully so, but their new Area-51 7500 loses out to cheaper and faster solutions from other companies. From HEXUS.net's review 'No matter which way we dress up the Alienware's performance and feature-set, it's relatively poor in comparison to SKUs that we've reviewed recently. Value for money may not be the greatest concern in this sector of the pre-built market but when you can get substantially more for less, it becomes impossible to recommend this particular Area-51 7500.'
They've always looked cool, but if I want cool looks with performance I can easily build my own for less with more quality components. But, to each their own. (And yes, I do know that Dell bought Alienware.)

From the gaming front, we have "How Strategy Guides Affected Gaming".
2old2play has another great story up looking into how games have become more complicated due to strategy guides. From the article; "Strategy guides have affected gaming by making games harder for all of us. That's right, it's not a typo -- strategy guides have created more difficult games. Lend me your eyes and attention spans, and I'll explain. Admittedly, it may be a rambling explanation, but bear with me and we should get there eventually.
I've a tendency to use strategy guides, same as CmdrTaco, "because some puzzles are just ridiculous and I have no interest in trial & erroring for an hour when I'd rather kill monsters." There's also the question of just how much time you are able to invest in one sitting to a game. Sometimes you just want to get to the (perceptually) fun stuff.

And next we have news from the World of Warcraft front, as the official WoW Expansion Talent info from their upcoming "Burning Crusade" expansion nears release.
smartidiotaz writes "Blizzard has finally released more information about the talent trees after leaks broke out over the internet. " As typical, every class thinks every other class got a better deal, but the Pallies get to mean it.
Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth commence. (See, this is why I play multiple classes...)

Finally we have "17 Web Based Competitors to MS Office".
Red Herring magazine takes a look at 17 projects in the Web 2.0 space competing with Microsoft Office for the attention of the office workers worldwide. The table lists Thinkfree, Zoho Writer, Writeboard, Google Writely, Rallypoint and JotSpot Live as Microsoft Word competitors, JotSpot Tracker, Numsum, iRows, Zoho Street as Microsoft Excel alternatives, S5, Zoho Show as PowerPoint contenders, ThinkFree, gOffice and Zoho Virtual Office as suite offerings. Even Microsoft Project has its fair share of Web 2.0 competitors: Basecamp and JotSpot Project Manager made the list.

Have a nice day!


My Hero

We all had 'em when we were growing up. Role models, heros, thos we aspired to become or at least live by their code. So here's mine. And yeah, he's still my role model.

How to Remove Startup Programs

Though it's a bit on the basic side, this is something I often get asked by people, basically why their computer is sooo slow compared to what it used to be... Typically the culprit is a program that's started up by Windows that you don't realize is there or even running, and there's no entry in the Startup folder or an icon in the taskbar. So from today's O'Reilly Network Newsletter, comes an article called "How to Remove Startup Programs":
Got a PC that takes a week and a day to boot up? It's most likely filled with programs that start at bootup --- programs you don't need. Mitch Tulloch shows you all the secrets of how to ferret out and remove these time and resource wasters.
Since I read that, I also got an email newsletter from Steve Bass of PCWorld, who talks about the egregious amounts of crap he had to, well, de-crapify from a neighbor's new Dell. If you think about it, Dell and other PC manufacturers aren't really profiting from hardware. Instead, they're making their margins by picking up a few bucks when buyers renew or upgrade the trial versions they dump into their new desktop images, or use a recommended ISP. He mentions a program I haven't had a chance to look at, the PC De-Crapifier, which was reviewed by Denny Arar, PCWorld's "Consumer Watch" editor. You might, however, be as leery as I am about using an unknown third-party invasive tool...
But let's say you're the DIY type. Then you'll love Andy Brandt's recent "Step-by-Step," in which he tells you in excruciating detail how to remove all the useless gunk from a new system and set it up to your specifications:
So go forth and cleanse.


40 Percent of World of Warcraft Players Addicted

Um, yeah. Right off the bat I can see I'm going to have to take this article posted via Slashdot five days ago (yes I am behind) with some serious salt.
MMORPGs and game addiction. If you're suffering from dry eyes, headaches, back aches, erratic sleep patterns, it may be more than just your average hangover: according to Dr. Maressa Orzack, you could be suffering from video and computer game addiction. A clinical psychologist, Orzack is founder and coordinator of Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Newton, Mass., and is also an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Computer Addiction Services is one of the few outpatient clinics in the U.S. that provides specific treatment for game addiction.
There were many reader comments left on this thread. Mostly summed up by Spad who scoffs at the source of the claim:
"Doctor with vested interest makes sensational statement to support business model" Shocker.
Some readers' horror stories about their gaming lives strain credulity, but Dirtside was one of many who described getting too far into a game:
I was addicted to WoW. It got to the point where it was interfering with taking care of other things around the house, and occasionally paying attention to my kid. I finally quit cold-turkey a few weeks ago, and I'm glad I did. The game's fun, but it's just a game; I kept looking at it as "gotta accomplish more, gotta get all these characters to 60, etc."
"Anything can become an addiction," though, asserts diamondsw:
It is true that MMORPG's (World of Warcraft being far and away the more successful) encourage this. You have monthly fees that (aside from paying for the infrastructure, bandwidth, etc) entice you to play to justify the ongoing and mounting expense. Grouping makes sure you show up at given times, etc. The random rewards of epic loot in advanced dungeons is similar to random reward studies (which show it's the most powerful form of behavior shaping - see slot machines). You have to set limits on it just like anything else, whether it's drinking or TV.

However, there are some differences here [compared to] to other addictions. There is no physical addiction, and hardly any psychological one. You can put it down, and other than mild obsession (what's going on in Azeroth?), it has no ill effects. Hell, you can discontinue your account, and they keep all of your character info, so you can completely unplug, and return at some point in the future when you're interested again, much like an offline game. There's also a limit - you may play a lot to reach level 60, but then you do stop. Sure, you can join raids, get gear, but the drive to constantly improve falls away (other games, like Disgaea, are far, far worse in this regard).

The most important difference is that if handled well, it can be a positive social tool. I play, but only with people I know in real life. That way we can talk about other things and it allows a set time for us to get together, without having to drive out to each other (I live over an hour away from many of them, and that's just suburban sprawl!).

Mostly, this is a lot of fuss over nothing.
That's more along my line of thinking, but I believe reader cculianu hit the nail on the head:
What the hell is wrong with our society? I don't believe that such a thing exists as being addicted to non-narcotics (such as games, sex, your friends, a good book). I think that's just called enjoying life!.

For example: Would we have called Leonardo Da Vinci addicted to science because he spent long 20 hour days cutting up cadavers or studying mechanics?

Would we have called Einstein a hopeless physics junkie?

It's called having a passion. Doing what you love. What's so bad about it?

In this work-obsessed culture we live in, if you aren't working and doing something THE MAN tells you to do, you must be doing something wrong. You don't see clinics popping up for people that work at overtime at McDonalds because they can't pay their bills -- we find it absolutely OK to not see your family most of the week because your job makes you work from 8 till 8, but when a person comes home and wants to spend 3-4 hours doing something they want to do you have people thinking its some sort of a disease.

I don't get it. Where are the priorities? I really am an advocate of being a professional idler and trying to get out of wage slavery. What's so bad about playing a game for 40 hours a week (something you choose to do, and enjoy)? Compare that to working which is something you HAVE to do or else you get evicted by some property owning assholes and end up living on the streets and going crazy!
So there you go. Addiction or not? Though I might jokingly refer to my "addiction" to WoW, I don't really mean it in the sense that the good doctor does. After all, I do still go to work. I was able to go on vacation for a week, WoW-free, without any ill effects or withdrawals. But I still believe it is a really, really great experience and I cannot wait to enter into the WoW universe whenever I am able to. So take it as you will.


Boston Vacation, Day Six: American Girl and Home Again

So the kids are finally settled in for the night, and Donna's trying to sleep off her pain - she's still hurting from her fall, and sports a nice kaleidoscope of colors on her knee as well now. But here I am, back on my home computer, CrazyHarry (how I missed thee, old friend) to wrap up the vacation narrative.

Had a bit of difficulty sleeping last night. Might have been the unfamiliar surroundings, or Carrie's tendency to loudly proclaim her indignation on the course her dream has taken (I'd still like to know exactly what it was she took and what she was doing with it)... But no, I have the feeling that it might be the jackhammer on the street outside that was intermittently trying to tear up the street until 12:30am. Yeah, I think that was it.

But the day dawned early and bright, and I grabbed a shower before we headed out, dolls in tow to make the American Girl Brunch. Let me tell you, though this was a very expensive hotel, the location made it worth the stay. Everything is in walking distance, from Times Square to the theatre district to Saks Fifth Avenue (yep, passed the original, right on 5th). And AG was only two blocks down, very nice.

The American Girl Place was a bit of a wonderland experience for my girls. Imagine, if you will, the coolest possible gadgets or books or whatever your passion is. Imagine it crammed into four stories of shopping space, with beautiful layouts and plenty of ideas on how to use them, as well and helpful staff and other fanatics of whatever this passion is. Now, magnify it on the order of tenfold, and you might come close to the exuberance dripping from so many girls and tweens and teens running amok across the landscape of American Girls. For my six- and nine-year-old, they were in heaven.

So let's see, we did the brunch first. The girls got little table-clip-on seats for their dolls. I was quite fond of the American Girl Berry Tea myself, and the flowered decor was simply lovely. Yeah, and I wasn't the only dad their either, there are still some of us secure enough in our masculinity to do all we can with our daughters, even answer the party questions geared for girls. (I happen to be the kind of person to show up late to the big show, but my favorite color of the day indicated I was only looking for somewhere quiet to relax. Boy was I in the wrong city...)

After brunch we made our way down to the hospital, where we learned that the scuff marks on the Bitty Baby's heads are just love marks (and would otherwise require head transplants, not an option my girl's would accept) but we did get the strings on Carrie's Amanda tightened up. Next stop, the hair salon. Oh yes, you heard me right. Both the babies got a spa treatment (washed up and shined to a glow, with a ribbon tied around their head) and Katie's Jess got a new hairdo. They actually have little salon chairs there and get a lesson on doll maintenance. Who knew such things were so complicated...

Carrie got herself her first actual American Girl doll. Though we tried to interest her in one of the historical ones, she decided on one of the lookalike dolls, so we ended up with Daisy, blue-eyed and brown-haired (with highlights). Armed with their bestest buddies, the girls proceeded to the photo shoot, which I am ashamed to admit I haven't even seen the outcome for. I found myself a nice corner to sit in amongst the birthday outfits and the flowered dresses for both the Bitty Babies and for the girls (yes, all outfits have a match for their owner). Out of the way, I could rest with my burdens and not get stepped on.

By the end of the day we had time to make the late checkout (2pm), get our car packed (actually the bellhop loaded all our bags on the dolly, and then loaded up our van for us - I could really get used to that kind of service, even if I have to tip more for it) and hop on the road. This time we avoided the Holland Tunnel like the plague itself, and instead took the Lincoln Tunnel. And guess what? We were out of the city within a matter of minutes and on our way through New Jersey.

Mostly uneventful ride back, clear shot via 78/81 to home. And yes, the kitties were pissy, but very glad to see us. Tomorrow: Laundry! (Yet I shall not regale you any further with such awe-inspiring events.)

In case you lost track, you can read from the start of the vacation and work your way back again.


Boston Vacation, Day Five: You Want HOW Much For That????

So now a brief word on matters of perspective. On the ferry ride back from the Statue we talked to a very nice man who evidently lives in Jersey and was showing his friend around. He obviously goes into NY often, and regaled us with the most expensive dessert shop in NY where all the celebrities gather, and the three-hour waiting list, and how to stand in a certain line for two hours to get tickets to sold-out shows... How easy it is to take a $50/day bus tour around NY and see things...

Know what folks? I just can't do it. I can't sit there and enjoy something knowing how much of an EXCESS it costs. City life might be for some people, obviously it is otherwise there wouldn't be so freaking much of humanity here. But all I can think of is how expensive it is. Looking at the hotel room service menu, it costs $20 just for two eggs. Nothing else on the side, just two eggs. All other restaurants will charge you TWICE what the same chain (e.g. Applebees, Ruby Tuesday's, etc.) would otherwise.

I just don't see the point in it.

In any case, we're on vacation, and I intend to enjoy it without fretting about the costs. Especially when we spend tomorrow at the American Girl Store (the highlight of the trip for my daughters) which we can fortunately walk to. Praise be for that, as it's costing $50 just to park the car overnight here... but I digress, we're not thinking about the prices...

They already got off to a good start at the hotel today. We got the American Girl package, which means they have little beds made up just for their dolls, and little bathrobes for them they get to keep. I wish I got video of Carrie jumping about in glee...

And they finally got their room service tonight. Mostly because we just were not up to going out again once we found and checked into the hotel.

Brunch with the dolls at the American Girl Place is at 9:30am, followed by much shopping and pampering (hairdresser appointment, magazine cover shoots, exploring the 4-5 stories of merchandise) and a visit to the AG hospital to get their dolls fixed up. Katie's Bitty Baby is going on 7 years old now and needs a little touching up.

After that, we head home. Back to our comfy beds and a pair of (almost certainly) very pissy kitties.

Read on for the last vacation post...

Boston Vacation, Day Five: New York, New York

Sitting here in my glamorous 5-star hotel room (yes, I do highly recommend the New York Palace for those potentially traveling to this city), and listening to the drone of jackhammers at 10pm, I am reminded why there exists the nickname "The City That Never Sleeps". I'd sure like to at some point. It's been a very long day for having accomplished so little. But as internet access costs $15 a day, for only one computer at a time, I'm pirating an unsecured wireless network right now while I wait for Donna to finish loading her pics. And this is a dirt-slow connection too, but hey what do you expect for free in this city? Not much, let me tell ya...

First, driving in New York. You should have already read much of my rants on Bostonian roadways. (Side note: Why the heck do they call a roundabout a "rotary" anyways?) I have now endured the streets of New York. Am I prepared to alter my opinions of Boston? Not at all. In fact, I can readily state that I would prefer driving in New York rather than Boston. Surprised? See, in NY people drive like DC rush hour, all the time. They're pushy and ignore most traffic laws. (Except the one about no car horns - did you know there's a fine of $350 for blowing your horn in NY? :et me tell ya, it's an awfully hard law to adhere to hereabouts...)

But I can deal with that. I'm pretty good at adapting to most traffic situations and I can drive like the drivers wherever I'm at. (I got some pretty startled looks from people when they noticed my out-of-state plates... or it could have been just "What the heck is that dang redneck doing driving here?") So congestion and offensive driving I can handle. So long as I can tell where to go. Un-navigatable roads like Boston just heighten my stress level and make it unbearable. I guess I'm just more uncomfortable with not knowing where I'm going than with obnoxious drivers...

So we left the hotel in Plymouth plenty early this morning. Had to make a 1:30pm ferry to Ellis Island from the New Jersey side. Mapquest (Full Disclosure: AOL owns Mapquest. That said, I neither endorse nor vilify Mapquest in any fashion. No matter how I may desire to do the latter at times.) stated it would take 3.5 hours. But as it was routing us through downtown via 95, we gave ourselves an extra hour. And did it take the full 4.5 hours we allotted? Oh no, dear readers, it took SEVEN AND A FREAKING HALF HOURS to get there. With one badly needed bathroom break at a McDonalds in the Bronx. And not a particularly friendly part of the Bronx. I can now say I've been there, and that's all that needs said on the subject.

So, by the time we manage to get ourselves to Jersey across the Holland Tunnel (I think we spent about 45 mins alone in the Tunnel) we only had time to see the Statue and not Ellis. Donna was pretty bummed about it, but we did get some quality pics and memories from the Statue of Liberty, and it was very cool looking up inside her skirts through the glass ceiling inside.

By the way, Donna took a very nasty fall getting to the ferry ticket area, tripped over a low concrete step and landed hard, face down on the camera. She has wicked bruises right on her sternum area and a banged up knee. Fortunately though she was holding Carrie's hand, they let go of each other first. The camera was pretty scratched up but still works.

To be continued...


Boston Vacation, Day Four: Plymouth

So the plan was to get down to Plymouth and see stuff around there. Welllll.... First we stopped off at the USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides" - that was a very cool tour, pretty sure I've done it before but I didn't remember much and it was all new for the girls. Then we headed to the downtown Boston market to get some knick-knacks. Paid freaking $30 for under two hours... I tell ya, I'm in the wrong business... Anyways, by the time we made it to the hotel, we were beat. It's a much nicer hotel, actual pool there and nicer beds. Brand new in fact, only opened three months ago! So we instead got over to the Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse which ended up being a fun place to eat. The waitress gave us directions, and we popped by Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower just to say we were there.

Side note: When I retire, I want to do so in Plymouth. I didn't think I could fall so completely in love with a little New England coastal town like that, but I did. OK, enough said there.

Got back to the hotel, took a swim (and a niiiice soak in the hottub) and got to bed.

And so ends day four. Spiffy, eh? Actually quite relaxing. No pics yet, we haven't downloaded the camera flash card, as you can tell we got kinda lazy towards the end of the day...

Tomorrow: New York! (God help us all...)

Boston Vacation, Day Three: Of Whales and Ducks

So yesterday we had two, and only two real objectives. A whale watching boat tour at 10am, and then a ride on the Duck boats (old WWII amphibious craft) at 4:30pm. Lots of time in between, so no worries, right? Hahahahaaaaa.....

Our first mistake, admittedly, was in following the directions from the boat tours website blindly. They never seemed to have updated it since the Big Dig (more on that later) changed everything around. So the exit they told us to get off on didn't exist anymore, and we ended up waaaaay south of the city. Called them, they said they'd put us on a later boat as they couldn't hold it. Fine, so we managed to find our way back again, to the right spot, grabbed a lunch at a very nice French bakery (I had a lovely cold-cut with Brie cheese on a baguette, which came back to haunt me the next morning... from about 4am onward... ugh...) and got our tickets. Boarded the Aurora, a double-hulled pontoon boat with three decks (two covered). Seemed like a nice, stable craft... So both Donna and Carrie got seasick (can't blame them the boat was rolling so badly) and I got a headache eventually from it all, but it was a beautiful day for being out in the bay. Way, way out in the bay. Really, past the bay and into the ocean. Did I mention it was supposed to last from noon to 3pm? Sing with me, people:
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port,
Aboard this tiny Ship.

The mate was a mighty sailin' man,
The Skipper brave and sure,
Five passengers set sail that day
For a three hour tour.
All together now!
A threeeee hour tour...
Yeah I got that song stuck in my head for the whole trip.

But there were whales! We saw one humpback, named "Teapot" around 1:20 or so, and other named "Baja" with her new calf around 2pm!! Very cool, got some nice pics of those tho I missed the tail fins, they were too quick for me...

The mama and baby were very playful and ran right alongside the ship for awhile. In fact, we all had such a grand time looking at the whales... that we got back to port a half-hour late. So where we were supposed to have had three and a half hours between the whale and the duck tours, we now had an hour to trek back, get the car, hop back across town... I dropped Donna off at the line and parked the car. Got back to find that our Duck had already pulled out, but they found us some room on the 5pm one. Ah, well.

It was worth the wait. Our driver, Ensign Ex (shortened from his first name of Excellent) was a trip and a half. Very entertaining.

Didn't learn much new, but he did have lots of little tidbits, and gave us a long and detailed history on the Big Dig and where all the news reports seem to be blowing this way out of proportion... Seems that the sensationalist reports of budget overruns from $3bn to $15bn are a tab inflated. Considering the $3bn is in NINETEEN EIGHTY-SEVEN DOLLARS when the project was first introduced. So yeah, that's a bit of difference. Also on a government funded project, only construction costs are estimated. Litigation and law enforcement are not, that can account for a third of total construction costs. And we also learned that the Boston roads were nonstop jammed with traffic, no exception. Roads that were created to handle 60K cars a day were handling 170K. Now it seems much better. (Ha. After my rants about the roads and drivers, I cannot imagine it before the Big Dig...)

Both Katie and Carrie got to drive the Duck on the river, that was a lot of fun as well...

So we finished up our tour, made our way back to where we originally parked for our whale watching trip and ate at the Barking Crab. With a name like that, ya gotta eat there at least once... Had me some awesome black bean and crab soup, and a Lobster Roll. (Lahbstah?) Sat outside on a covered deck with good music, my family around me and eating some damn fine seafood, sipping on a Twisted Tea (a hard tea, got the Peach, very nice). I think that was my best memory of Boston right there, even after the day we had.

So, the next morning we check out and head to Plymouth (changed our reservations so we could spend a little time in Cape Cod and Plymouth). But that's for another tale...

Boston Vacation, Day Three: Bostonian Drivers Redux

Somehow I managed to drop off to sleep early last night, so I'm now a day behind in my blogging. Not that anyone's glued to the screen, gleefully anticipating my prose.

So, in reward to your infinite patience, you get to hear me rant about the roads of Boston again. Yeehaw!

Here's something people may notice when they drive through the city - lanes merge without warning. I'll be driving along, and all of the sudden the lane divides will disappear (like I wrote about earlier) but the lane will start to shrink! It's like we're stuck in a bad sci-fi movie, "The Incredible Shrinking Highway!" Other cars, naturally, know this is going to happen and they start to move into each other. Yes, Bostonian drivers have this unique ability to move into a space fully cognizant of another person there but fully expecting them to move. And if you don't move, you will be hit. Period. Unlike in DC, where if you merge and someone is there, blaring of horns ensue and somebody backs off. Not in Boston, oh no, whoever is doing the merging somehow mysteriously obtains the right-of-way from the powers-that-be.

Queen said it best: "Get me out of this cheap B movie!"

And can the city not figure out how to label their streets at all? Did I already rant about this? Well too bad, 'cause here we go again... Looking at the map we should be on one road, but if we see a sign at all it's for a different name, and you're lucky to even get that. Should a historical city such as this not have some clear marking for tourists to get around with any shred of decency? Could there be a more tourist-unfriendly driving city around? (Note: As I have yet to endure the streets of New York, I may revise that statement tomorrow...) Donna is of the opinion that Bostonians are all descended from mind-readers. Since one tour guide said that the streets of Boston are virtually unchanged in the past 100 years or so, I'm of the opinion that Bostonians all have it ingrained where everything is, and they just expect everyone else to as well.


And now back to your regularly scheduled blog...


Boston Vacation, Day Two: Lexington and Concord

OK, wrapping up the day (continued from the last post). So we finished up the walking tour clear across town from where we started, much less where we parked.

(Side note: The heroic Paul Revere, only made famous because of a hugely inaccurate poem written many years later by a man whose research consisted of one conversation with a tourguide, and neglected the one man who actually made it to Concord, is seen here riding a male warhorse. Yet he rode a mare into Lexington. As our tourguide stated, they just can't seem to get any statues correct in the town...)

Donna and the girls went up into the Old North Church and onto the nearby playground and park, while I trekked back across town (navigating with only a street map, what kind of geek am I without a GPS handy) to fetch the car.

After coughing up the $31 to extract my ride (ugh) I managed to make my way back to where my family was waiting. Well, somehow from the opposite direction than I was trying for. But hey, I got there, right?

We then headed for Lexington and Concord. Missed the tour bus, somehow found the two spots we wanted (Lexington Green and the Concord North Bridge). Got to hear a good story by a ranger about that day in Concord.

And yet, the best memory of those two towns for my daughters (possibly for Donna and I as well, when all was said and done) is playing Pooh Sticks off of the wooden bridge.

It was a long day by the end, only made longer by our getting lost several times on the way home, and the fact that the local Girl Scout store did not post their summer hours on their web site and so were closed by the time we got there (grrr). And after all, we spent time together as a family, and that's the important thing. I'm hoping that tomorrow we will spend more time relaxing and enjoying things, rather than get so worn out as we did today.

Got the whale watching tour tomorrow morning, and the Duck tour tomorrow afternoon. To be continued once again.

Boston Vacation, Day Two: The Freedom Trail

So the bulk of today's activities revolved around the Freedom Trail. The local Girl Scout troop has a special patch for this, so we were working off of some activities to accommodate that as well as enjoy some of Boston's sights and history. Today was to be a walking tour. Well, ok so I didn't really think a walking tour of Boston would entail actually walking across the entire city. On foot. Yes, walking with a six and nine year old. More like dragging the six-year-old to keep up with the nine-year-old who couldn't stay with her parents no matter the threat or physical restraint. Did I mention we were on foot the whole time?

Anyways, we started out at the Commons once again, with a delightful lady by the anachronistic name of Freelove Bliss (yes that was her tour guide name, but this was an authentic historical figure):

Donna did a much better rendition of Freelove's personage than I could with my wholly holey memory (yep, like a steel sieve, that's me):
Freelove Bliss was born in Connecticut, and was wanted in at least 5 states, not including Massachusetts where she is currently hiding out and counterfeiting currency for Virginia and other colonies.
One of her favorite people is in the Granary burying ground- he was a goldsmith and invented the metal copper plates used to print money, making her job easier.
She was very familiar with the back alleys of Boston, and thought we should slum through them like part of the south mob instead of follow the red line like "tourists"
She knew lots of history about the north end mob and the south mob and their joining to become the Sons of Liberty, as well as their runnings with Sam Adams.
Back in her day, while it was frowned upon to create the currency of the state in which you were a resident of, there was nothing illegal in creating another state's currency. Nice loopholes for independent colonies (I know, I keep mixing colonies and states, see this is why I never finished my history degree...).

So we walked a goodly amount (I think I already covered my viewpoint on this) and hit some landmarks with extremely colorful and dry commentary by our tourguide.

Only John Hancock (of the ostentatious signature's fame) could have such a huge monument overshadowing all others in the graveyard, according to Freelove. And phallic to boot.

Amusing story on how much John hated George (well yes, he did hate the King, but also the Washington): When the time came to pick a leader for the rebel rabble, John seemed the obvious choice - handsome and rich (half of Boston worked for him) - yet he lacked any military experience. Washington did, however the fact that he kept losing the battles he fought was of small import, that could be worked with. John was so humiliated by Washington getting the job over him, he never forgave him. And of course, who was the guy that ended up with the top job? Not John, who always wanted to be a king himself, oh no... When Washington went around for his inaugural speeches and ceremonies, all the colonies turned out for him. Yet when he came to Boston, no-one lined the streets or came to meet him. See, the governor of Boston (guess who?) neglected to inform the populace that Washington was coming at all. And who said petty politics were a recent trend...

Mrs. Hancock did not share her husband's misgivings about Washington. In fact, she didn't really get along with John at all. And when their first son was born, can you guess what she named him? George Washington Hancock.

To be continued...

Boston Vacation, Day Two: Bostonian Drivers

I learned to drive around the DC beltway, which has traffic that make midwesterners quiver with fear. I have driven for years around the Hampton Roads area, where the military personnel and families hail from all over the nation, again traffic which truly make a driver into sterner stuff than seen elsewhere. I have ridden a rickshaw through Bangalore, India, which completely revised my definition of the word "congestion". All this< I believe, lends me some degree of credence and experience with which I can authoritavely state the following:

Bostonians can't drive worth a damn.

Granted, it's not altogether their fault. The byzantine labyrinth of streets in Boston and the surrounding areas are enough to confuse someone skilled in navigating the streets of DC, no mean feat in and of itself. And there are numerous places where (most likely during hairpin curves and merging of intersections) the lane dividing lines will disappear altogether, leaving you to wonder where exactly you are supposed to be driving. And let us not forget the Big Dig, created to ease congestion and make traffic flow through Boston with the grace of a ballerina. Even with the closure of parts of the road (fortunately beyond where we needed to go, towards the airport) I cannot imagine what things were like to convince the powers-that-be such measures were required.

As it stands now, things might be better with either gas prices of $15/gallon, or tolls on every road in & out of the city. Or hell, just ban cars altolgether and make the use of public transportation mandatory. (That being said, in all fairness it would seem that the Boston metro area gets far more use out of their public trans system than the DC metro area does. IMHO, of course.)

OK, enough about the traffic. I'm still a little stressed after spending an extra hour on the road, all locally, trying to figure out my freaking way back to the bloody hotel. So, next post: Why my feet hate me right now...


Boston Vacation, Day One Dot One

(Post continued...) Here's Trinity Church (I've gleaned through the pics we've uploaded onto our family pics site, you should have a login if you think you do, otherwise why would you think so, eh?):

Also got to see the actual bar from Cheers:

In between we got off at one end of the Boston Common, a huge and beautiful park in the middle of downtown, ate some lunch at Bennegin's and took a swan boat ride (basically a big pontoon boat driven by one guy on a paddlewheel).

Lots and lots of ducks proliferated:

But by far the highlight of the day was a walking tour included with the trolley ticket through the elite Beacon Hill residences (as the trolleys were not permitted down those streets. Gorgeous houses, from $1.5-5 million apiece (and not a lot of house to go with that either, we're talking maybe 2000 sq. ft. for the expensive ones). Got to see John Kerry's residence when he's in Boston:

And we met up with some enterprising young Beacon Hill residents who decided to set up a lemonade stand along the walking route, which was most welcome:

Carrie, as usual, tried to grab a cameo in each shot:

At the end of the walking tour we ended up at the other side of the Commons, where there existed a great wading pool called the Frog Pond. For once Carrie decided to avoid the camera, but failed to take into account Donna's new camera with it's action-setting:

We finally dragged our sorry rears into the cafe across the street for dinner and retired for the evening. Though we had a full day, we're going to try to accomplish even more tomorrow - a walking tour of the freedom trail, and then a bus tour of Lexington and Concord. Somewhere we will try to hit the Girl Scout shop up here as it is close to Lexington, and the girls will hopefully have completed the work they need to do towards the Freedom Trail badge.

Stay tuned, more details as events warrant.

And no, we have seen no flying concrete debris as of yet, but thanks for asking.

Boston Vacation, Day One

So today we started our vacation in Boston. Arrived late last night after a very, very loooooong 9-hour drive (possibly longer with all the stops, praise be for onboard video...) to a decent enough hotel, nice rooms with two queen-size beds, relatively clean and all. Donna seems a bit let down, but she's coming back from Texas staying at the Gaylord 5-star, me I keep fresh in my memory my stay at the little air-conditionerless one-star stop on that weekend trip over in India. All a matter of perspective...

Anyways, today we spent on a trolley tour of Boston, primarily along the freedom trail. Took us bloody well forever to find the stop at the USS Constitution (Shouldn't that have been an easier find? Big wooden ship on the water?) and after a few circles, u-turns, and finally a helpful local at a Dunkin' Donuts (according to one of the trolley conductors, they have ensured a decent police coverage in town by putting a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner - a fairly close estimate - but there is not such a readily available explanation as to the Starbucks on every other corner) we gratefully stepped aboard the orange-and-green bedecked trolley, piloted by the stalwart Peppermint Patty.

About 17 stops across Boston, and we can get off wherever we like and reboard the next one to come along (every 15-20 minutes). Got to see some beautiful buildings.

More to follow in another posting, just so I don't write for an hour and lose it all due to a freak power surge or something.


AOL Planning Move to Ad-Supported Model

Article from Slashdot on the news coming out of my employer today. As AOL is in fact my employer, I will refrain from making any comments whatsoever. Safer that way.
In recognition of the fact that its subscriber-based revenues continue to plummet, AOL is planning to shift to an ad-supported business model. AOL's subscriber base, which peaked at 30 million users, now has less than 19 million subscribers and is still dropping--over 800,000 subscribers dropped the service in this year's first quarter alone. In addition to seeing fewer AOL CDs, a shift to ad revenue also means some serious cuts in staff size, especially in the customer service and retention departments. From the article: 'Time Warner plans to announce a series of changes at AOL that analysts say will mark the end of the company's paid-subscriber model. The company will begin relying on advertising sales rather than monthly fees paid by customers, according to the Wall Street Journal. 'I don't know whether advertising will work, but my thinking is (the changes) are basically an acceptance of what is happening,' says Joseph Bonner, a media and telecommunications analyst at Argus Research. 'This is a reflection of reality, that they have to find some other source of revenue.'
Interesting times. Definitely keeping busy at work, not the least because of this... Stay tuned for AOL / Time Warner's announcement today.


So I just Wooted for the first time today. Can't believe I'd never heard of this site before. Basically, you check in around midnight CST when they change their page to whatever the new deal is. And they have some really nice deals - like the Razer Copperhead 2000dpi Laser Gaming Mouse I just picked up for $40 including shipping (whereas Newegg carries it for around $60 + shipping). Yep, that's 2000 dots per inch. Meaning you move the mouse one inch, the cursor travels 2000 pixels. As opposed to my very awesome Logitech MX1000 Laser Cordless Mouse that I have currently, which is 800dpi. I'm hoping for some seriously upgraded gaming experiences...


Pitfalls of Medical Testing

An article from Slashdot covers how "...the four TGN1412 test victims learned recently that they have no detectable t-cells, which makes it "likely" (read certain) they will suffer from numerous diseases and truncated lifespans. It has been determined that Parexel was negligent in its aftercare of the victims. The victims have already suffered severe injuries such as gangrene requiring the amputation of all toes and three fingers (without toes you cannot remain standing or walk, btw) and endured unimaginable agony. But it seems Parexel, despite having the moral responsibility for the outcome of its incompetence and the financial ability to pay proper restitution (estimated yearly revenue of $750 million) is ignoring the victims and using the legal system to avoid liability. The lessons are that $4000 is not worth risking your life over, that that is what you are doing if you are foolish enough to volunteer for medical testing whatever promises you receive not withstanding, and that if you are so foolish you will be left to die by the company responsible without legal recourse should things go wrong. In other words, only an ignorant would sign up for medical testing. I predict a decline in voluntary test subjects, and a rise in the use of prisoners and other 'disposable' human subjects." Talk about corporate arrogance run rampant...