Recommendations

The New York Pizza Department in Goodyear, AZ serves the best pizza I’ve had the privilege of enjoying in a very long time.  Of course, it takes 20 or 30 minutes to get the pizza once you order it, and it ain’t cheap.  But it’s good.  Debra especially liked the white pizza:  ricotta cheese, fresh tomatoes, fresh spinach, garlic, and mozzarella.  My pepperoni and sausage with fresh basil was quite good, too.  Highly recommended.

Debra saw a beer called Four Peaks Kiltlifter on the drink menu there at NYPD.  Always willing to try a new beer, I ordered one.  What a delight!  This beer has some very good flavor.  A little sweet, and a smoky flavor that at first reminds you of baker’s chocolate.  At 6% alcohol you probably don’t want to have more than two of them in a short period.  We’re going to buy at least a sixpack of this stuff to take home.  Maybe I can figure out how to duplicate it.  Again, highly recommended.

Another beer I recommend is Red Hook ESB.  It’s a lot more popular now than when I last had it several years ago, but it’s as good as I remember it.

There’s a Black Bear Diner here, just across the parking lot from the hotel.  Debra and I have eaten there three times now, enjoying our 10% hotel guest discount.  The service is definitely better than what you’ll get at the big chain pancake places, and the food is very good.  My only gripe is that the portions are huge.  Even the “smaller” portions are more than I normally eat in a single meal.  I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to find a Black Bear, but if there’s one nearby when I’m hungry, they’ll get my business.

User interface design is not just for computers

I don’t claim to be a great user interface designer, but I’ve designed a few programs that people have found useful.  And, like many computer users, I know a bad design when I have to struggle with one.  And, like users of other devices, we know when the interface is cumbersome.  It’s a sad thing, really, that we often don’t recognize good designs, but rather just the flawed ones.

The motel room here in Goodyear is nice enough, but it has some oddities, one of which is particularly annoying.  First, the room layout.

room1 room2

As you can see, the room was designed to accept two beds, but this one is fitted with a bed and a fold-out couch.  That’s all well and good and, as I said, it’s comfortable enough.   But putting the bed right next to the HVAC unit wasn’t such a good move.  The bed should be over where the couch is.  That would make entry into the room much less cluttered, and would allow air from the HVAC unit to circulate better.

The room also includes a writing table on the other wall, along with a dresser with a TV and a refrigerator/microwave stand.

room3
It’s actually a pretty nice table with enough space for me to put my laptop and work reasonably comfortably.  Except for one thing:  it’s too high.  The table top is 32 or 33 inches from the floor.  Standard desk height is 29 to 30 inches.  That extra two or three inches makes a huge difference.  Without an extra cushion in the chair (I knew that couch was put here for a reason), I feel like a little kid sitting at the big kids’ table without a booster seat.  The table would be perfect height except for the casters.  For some reason somebody decided it’d be a good idea if the table could roll.

Finally, the bathtub fixture is just a bad idea:
fixture

The instructions read:

  1. To turn WATER ON – Move HANDLE UP
  2. To turn WATER OFF – Move HANDLE DOWN
  3. For HOT WATER – Move HANDLE UP and to LEFT
  4. For COLD WATER – Move HANDLE UP and to RIGHT
  5. Once Water is Running, Move Handle Right to Left until you have Desired Water Temperature.

Please to not twist or turn handle, as this will break the shower handle.  For help, please call front desk.

Thank you for your Cooperation!

You just know that the instruction placards were printed and placed after guests had destroyed several fixtures.  I can only hope that the people who selected those fixtures don’t make that mistake again!

Notes from Phoenix

Phoenix is crazy.  I thought the Austin area was overbuilt with new housing developments, shopping centers, and strip malls.  Austin has nothing on Phoenix.  Friday we drove the 101 freeway from Scottsdale to Peoria, skirting around the city on the north.  It was like driving through one huge shopping mall.

Saturday we drove out to Buckeye (20 miles west) through yet more shopping malls and strip centers.  There are plenty of new housing developments, some of which have a huge number of vacant houses.  I also saw many “Coming Soon” signs for retail or residential developments that have been abandoned in various stages of completion.

I think what surprises me most is that I can’t see how the number of new homes could even come close to supporting the glut of retail development we saw.  They overbuilt on an astonishing scale.  How they managed to forget the lessons of 20 years ago, when the Phoenix area was one of the hardest hit by the S&L crisis, is beyond me.  I suppose everybody was once again saying, “this time is different.”  It wasn’t.

We managed to arrive in Phoenix during NASCAR weekend.  Phoenix International Raceway is in Avondale, which is right next door to the city of Goodyear, where we want to stay.  But with the race, hotel rates are sky high:  the Super 8 Motel wants $155 per night!  We stayed the first two nights with family in Scottsdale, but it’s 50 miles from the hospital.  Last night we stayed with another family friend out west, but he doesn’t have Internet access and we really do need to be connected.  We’re hoping that we can get a reasonably priced hotel after tonight.

Right now I’m sitting in the Starbucks inside the Safeway grocery store in Goodyear, AZ, connected to their wireless.  Free wifi is a wonderful thing for checking email or making a blog entry, but I don’t think I could do any serious work here.

On the road

speed80

Debra and I are on our way to Phoenix, driving rather than flying because we’ll be there a week or so and will need a car to get around. We left home just before 6:00 this morning. We’ve covered the 650 miles from Round Rock to Las Cruces, NM in 10 hours. You can really eat up the miles on I-10 in West Texas with the 80 MPH speed limit.

Debra’s driving now while I check my email and make a blog entry using the Sprint Mobile Broadband connection supplied by the company she works for. It’s not especially fast, but we’ve had pretty good service throughout the trip. Ain’t technology wonderful?

It’s been 12 years since the last time I made this trip, and things have changed quite a bit. I’m especially interested in finding out more about the wind farm near Bakersfield, TX. There are hundreds (dare I say thousands?) of wind turbines lining the ridges along a 20+ mile stretch of I-10. With the speed of this Internet connection, it’d probably take me until my battery expires to find more info. So that’ll have to wait until I’m checked in at my hotel in Phoenix.

New road food: Doritos Toro Habanero chips. Yum!

Update:  It’s called Indian Mesa Wind Farm.  The Web site says that there are 125 turbines producing up to 83 megawatts.  I know I saw more than 125 turbines in that area.

1,050 miles.  16.5 hours.  I’m beat.

Goldie

Goldie is my third 5 Minute Bear. It’s made of basswood, about 3 inches tall and 1 inch square.  I named it Goldie because I painted it with a very thin gold paint.

goldie

This is not (yet?) really a five minute project.  It took me about an hour to carve, and another 15 minutes or so to paint.  Still, it’s a far cry from the many days it took to create Pounce the cat.

Pounce!

I completed the cat carving Friday evening.  This morning I gave it a first coat of mineral oil and took a few pictures.

Pounce the Cat

I call the cat Pounce, because that’s what it looks like he’s doing: crouching on the shelf, ready to pounce on anybody who walks by.  Pounce is about 4.5″ from nose to tip of tail, and about 1.5″ from the shelf to the tip of his ear.

I did this carving without instruction, starting from three pictures (top, side, front).  I’d carve a little, then look at the piece and the pictures trying to figure out how to free the cat from the wood.  The result doesn’t look a whole lot like the pattern, but it does resemble a cat.  So I’ll call it a success.

I’m going back to simpler carvings for a bit, to learn a little more about technique.  First stop:  the five minute bear.

Carving Tutorials

I started carving a kind of cartoon cat a few months ago, but then got busy with other (non-carving) things, and only recently got back to the cat.  If all goes well I should complete it this weekend.

I found the Woodcarving Illustrated message board shortly after I started carving back in November.  There’s an unbelievable wealth of knowledge there, and the members are, as a rule, very willing to answer questions.  They’re extremely patient with beginners.  As with any message board, the quality of answers varies widely, but the experienced carvers really do provide excellent advice.

Many of the carvers post picture or video tutorials that show, step by step, how to make various types of carvings.  For example, Lynn Doughty’s Out West Woodcarving blog has dozens of projects with detailed instructions and sometimes hundreds of photos on the accompanying Picasa photo album.  I consider Lynn’s projects a bit beyond my current abilities, but perhaps I’m just being timid.  I’ll certainly look into them when I’m ready to try caricatures.

Gene Messer, another very skilled carver who frequents the forum, started making video tutorials and posting them on YouTube.  I’ve watched a few of the videos and, although I haven’t yet tried to do the lessons, I’m pretty sure they will be very effective.  As soon as I finish my cat, I’m going to try my hand at his 5-Minute Bear project.  He has a couple of other short and simple projects that look very appealing.  The 5-Minute Wizard, for example, would make a great Christmas tree ornament.

It’s no surprise that carvers specialize.  But I was pretty surprised at how narrowly some specialize.  There’s a fairly large subgroup, for example, that specializes in carving Santas.  Arleen, a carver from Pennsylvania, has produced a couple dozen videos that walk you through carving simple Santa figures.  She also includes basic carving techniques and some information about painting.  She, too, makes the carving seem very approachable.

I’m simply astounded at the wealth of information out there.  For free!  Even five years ago, you would have had to spend hundreds of dollars on DVDs or classes in order to get the quality information that you can find for free now on YouTube and on carvers’ blogs.  The sites I mentioned above are just a sampling of what I’ve found in my brief research.  There are surely more, on many different topics.

If you’re interested in carving—or in any other craft, come to think of it—you’ll probably be able to find a lot of very good tutorial videos on YouTube.  Take a look.  What have you got to lose?

Broadband and the business of media

Earlier this week, Time Warner Cable announced plans to expand their use of metered broadband:  charging customers by the gigabyte rather than providing the all-you-can-slurp service we’ve come to know and love.  As a TWC customer, I have mixed feelings about this.  I realize that they’re in business to make money.  But as a government-protected monopoly (a practice with which I strongly disagree), they should have a moral responsibility—if not a legal responsibility—to upgrade their networks in order to provide the best possible service.  It’s not like the explosion of media and online gaming came as any surprise.  If they can’t provide adequate service at reasonable prices, then they should lose their monopoly protection.

TWC is also harassing business customers who actually try to use the bandwidth they’ve contracted for.  Customers who have been guaranteed 10 Mbps service, for example, get phone calls when their usage approaches 75% of that.  As a TWC business customer, my feelings on this practice are not mixed at all.  They contracted to provide a certain level of service, and they should honor that commitment.

J:Com, the largest cable company in Japan, offers 160 Mbps service for about $60 per month.  They had to invest about $20 per home in order to upgrade their systems to support it.  Seems to me that, rather than trying to charge more for less, U.S. companies should learn from J:Com.  They’d make more money and have happier customers.

Cable companies, by the way, are in danger of becoming no more than utility providers.  With sites like Hulu and programs like Boxee, you can view TV programs and movies from your Internet connection.  Why pay a middleman who wants to sell you two good channels and a package of crap when you can get everything for free? 

This conflict of interest could be a major reason why U.S. cable operators are reluctant to provide inexpensive high-bandwidth connections.  Doing so would further cannibalize their cable television operations.

Content creators, too, need to start thinking about how they’ll get paid.  Without the cable company packaging model, pay channels will have to sign up individual subscribers.  Ad-supported channels will likely have to find a format other than the traditional commercial break every 10 minutes.

I think motion picture studios are okay for a while. People are still willing to pay $10.00 or more for the privilege of watching movies in a theatre on opening weekend. However, I think DVD sales will begin to decline as more people move to on-demand video services.

Since its inception, the whole business of media has been based on the scarcity of content.  Today, Internet users have almost infinite choice.  A large portion of what’s available is dreck, but there’s a lot of really good stuff out there, too.  Big record labels are in their final death throes due in large part to the ubiquity of good music available for free or by direct purchase from the artist.  As bandwidth and storage become cheaper, cable companies and video media providers will find it increasingly more difficult to make money in the old way.

Companies like Time Warner Cable, who cling to the old idea of scarcity as the way to make money, will find themselves losing customers to companies who make it their business to provide high quality service at reasonable rates.  As far as I’m concerned, it can’t happen soon enough.

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