Who’s Spying On You? Nearly Everyone!

Hey Verizon and Yahoo!, saying you’ll be ridiculed and publicly shamed isn’t going to make me less interested. It’s not something I want my government hiding behind either.

Here’s another one of those stories that’s smoldering in the geekosphere but ready to light up like a Roman candle. A Freedom of Information request was sent to the US Justice Department by an Indiana University grad student looking for some insight into what info our government gets from our Internet service providers.

Before the DOJ could answer the ISPs chimed in. They were not happy.

From Wired: “Verizon and Yahoo intervened and filed an objection on grounds that, among other things, they would be ridiculed and publicly shamed were their surveillance price sheets made public.”

Hey Verizon and Yahoo!, saying you’ll be ridiculed and publicly shamed isn’t going to make me less interested. It’s not something I want my government hiding behind either.

I am very uncomfortable if the people I entrust with my email or to provide my Internet access give away my secrets, often without a warrant. This is just plain wrong on a variety of levels.

And don’t think these are isolated incidents. You will be shocked by how often this happens!

From “slight paranoia“: “Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009.”

Like I said, this is smoldering now, but not for long.

Confessions From An iPhone App Slut

They do a lot, but I suspect they would do more if there wasn’t such a stringent approval process from Apple–the controlling psychotic girlfriend of computing.

apple-iphone-3g.jpgAfter a few weeks with my new toy cellphone I am an iPhone app slut. There, I’ve said it. It’s out in the open now.

Apps are the little plug-in programs that extend the functionality of the iPhone. They do a lot, but I suspect they would do more if there wasn’t such a stringent approval process from Apple–the controlling psychotic girlfriend of computing.

Most paid apps cost $.99, though they do go higher. There are thousands of free apps too. In my role as an app slut I hardly ever pay. Of the dozens I’ve installed my total expenditure is still around $5.

Many of the apps take websites and customize their content for the phone’s smaller screen. We’ve got one (a very good one–no BS) at the TV station. The Times, Huffington and lots of other publishers have them too. I also have a few for weather data.

Oh–speaking of that the iPhone has no Flash or Java plug-in. That’s a major deal. There are a few weather applications I use daily which need Java&#185. I am suspicious this too has a lot to do with Apple’s control freak mentality.

Apple also prevents apps from running in the background. That means a GPS logger only logs when it’s the only thing running! Answer a call or look at an email and you have to restart the app. Maybe there’s a technical reason for this, but we’ve all come to expect multitasking and Verizon is heavily promoting it’s Droid’s ability to do that.

When the Google Map product just announced for Verizon’s Droid phone gets ported to the iPhone it will surely need to be downloaded as an app. This will happen. It probably won’t happen until the Droid has received the full benefit of its exclusivity and coolness.

I was playing with using the iPhone as a radio in the car, bringing in the NPR shows I like without the static I now get. My idea was flawed because NPR’s app is horrendously flawed (after using it a minute or two the buttons become extremely unresponsive) and Internet reception can sometimes be spotty.

Even if you lose the signal for just a second or two the NPR stations’ software sees this as a new connection and gives you a pre-recorded underwriting spiel before restarting the program. Sheesh!

On the other hand I’ve taken photos with the iPhone’s reasonably good camera (using an app called Tripod to steady the shot in low light) and had them posted on Facebook (using its app) seconds later. Very cool.

I downloaded the Joost app last night. It’s a video service claiming 46,000+ videos.

Don’t let the numbers fool you–that’s not a lot.

I watched a black and white Lone Ranger episode I’d watched as a kid. Even then I recognized very distinctive rock formations that amazingly showed up in every town the Ranger and Tonto visited. They were there last night! Now, with the Internet, I understand most of the episodes were shot in LA’s Griffith Park.

Joost suffers from what every video site suffers from–bad search. There’s just no good way to search video yet. That’s not an iPhone specific problem. Netflix and Hulu and, to a lesser extent, Youtube haven’t figured this one out.

The iPhone is a very good video player. It’s large enough, with a display dense enough, to make viewing a full show a reasonably enjoyable experience.

My secret friend from the San Fernando Valley said last night, “It’s the best toy I’ve ever had.” That’s a defensible position. This is a lot of fun and a lot of function.

I’m curious if Verizon/Motorola/Google’s entry into the market will force Apple to loosen up a little? I believe there’s a lot of potential being held under wraps, because even though I’m an app slut, Apple isn’t!

&#185 – Java is not javascript nor are they similar (One upper case, the other lowercase). The iPhone does javascript.

On The Occasion Of My Dad’s 84th Birthday

I’m not sure what my 84th birthday will be like–if I’m lucky enough to even have one, but being 84 and being like my dad doesn’t sound too bad.

harold-showgirls-large1.jpgIt’s my dad’s birthday. He’s 84 years old today.

The photo on the left is from his 80th birthday when we just happened to run into three showgirls at the MGM Grand’s valet parking area (really). He loves this photo.

I’m not sure what my 84th birthday will be like–if I’m lucky enough to even have one, but being 84 and being like my dad doesn’t sound too bad.

Yes, he has the physical infirmities that come with age. He’s only got one working eye… and it’s no prize. His hearing is awful even with hearing aids. He suffers from essential tremors which makes it difficult for him to hold his hands steady. He downs enough pills every day to make a junkie jealous.

That stuff’s unimportant. From the ears up my dad’s nowhere near 84.

He teaches a beginners computer class at his condo complex. Friends and friends-of-friends call for his assistance when a printer won’t work or they can’t get their email going. He is not intimidated by technology. He’s patient and understanding to those who are.

Though he no longer drives he wanted a GPS unit for his birthday. It arrived last week and he immediately opened it and walked to the car so he could plug it in. I totally understand. He’s not so jaded that he won’t let himself be amazed by what’s happened to the world around him.

He grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood where deliveries were often made by horse drawn wagon. It was a pre-TV, pre-microwave, pre-touchtone, pre-credit card, pre-jet, pre-computer, pre-McDonalds era. He is pre-prenuptial. He has seen it all.

My folks are active. They live in a place where it’s fun to participate–and they do. Maybe that’s why they seem younger than the numbers indicate. They’re busier today than they ever were.

From time-to-time my father will say he’s “I’m an old man Geoffrey.”

That’s not a complaint. He’s not putting himself down. He’s saying it because he knows he’s younger than whatever the calendar currently shows. He’s bragging.

Without a doubt he is this blog’s most faithful reader. Could a son ask for more?

Happy birthday daddy. Many, many happy returns. I love and respect you more than you’ll ever know and I cherish each moment with you.

In One Fell Swoop Google Makes GPS Units Obsolete!

Probably not a good day to own Tom Tom, Garmin or Magellan stock.

Verizon has been showing off its new Android based cellphone, “Droid.” Today came word it ships with turn-by-turn GPS navigation. If you buy the phone this functionality is FREE!

In other words, that GPS you have built into your dashboard or mounted-by-suction on your window–obsolete!

Google Maps Navigation is an internet-connected GPS navigation system with voice guidance. It is part of Google Maps for mobile and is available for phones with Android 2.0.

Google Maps Navigation uses your phone’s internet connection to give you the latest maps and business data.

Probably not a good day to own Tom Tom, Garmin or Magellan stock.

Word is this will be coming soon (possibly not quite as fully featured) to my iPhone. Apple and AT&T can’t afford not to.

Has there ever been a moment in history when so many game changing/industry changing events have come so quickly.

Now That I’ve Got An iPhone I’ve Got Questions

I’ve got 38% of my battery left after having the phone on for six hours. Granted I’m probably hitting the Internet harder today than I will be in a few weeks.

apple-iphone-3g.jpgI’ve been a happy BlackBerry user for the past few months, but it’s hard not to be enticed by everything the iPhone is. For the past few weeks I’ve been talking about it–mulling over the good and bad of a switch.

“Just get the phone,” Stef said yesterday as we drove home from getting her non-working in-warranty BlackBerry swapped for one that worked. And so I did.

We already use AT&T (among the few carriers providing service at my house) so that part was easy. We’re two years after my last phone, so the iPhone 3Gs cost $199. Other than that there shouldn’t be much change to our bill. The data plan for the iPhone costs the same as the data plan for the BB.

Apple designed the iPhone to be more like a computer than phone. It has a larger screen than the BlackBerry with extremely high resolution. That makes small text cleaner and easier to read. Think paper, not monitor.

The screen itself is touch sensitive and allows you to use two fingers resize the underlying content. That’s really powerful since nearly every website is designed to be viewed on something much larger that a phone.

I got home, downloaded some software and began to peruse the “app store.” This too is a genius feature from Apple. There are tens of thousands of applications which run on the iPhone and take advantage of its screen, GPS, compass, accelerometers and other things I haven’t quite discovered yet.

Now my phone has applications to identify music and which stars are shining above. There are also apps for news sources and games installed. So far I’ve spent around $3. Many apps are free and most cost $.99.

The phone is elegantly efficient. There’s hardly anything that needs explaining.

OK–there are a few things. “What’s this little silver button?” I asked myself yesterday. It wasn’t until I got to work and spoke to another iPhone user that I found it isn’t a button, it’s a switch! It turns the sound off just in case you work in a TV studio or your wife wants to sleep.

The fact Apple placed a switch so elegantly that it looked like a button says a lot about the fit and finish of this phone.

That being said, I’m still not 100% convinced. BlackBerry has set the bar high.

The virtual keyboard is difficult for my stubby fingers. I’m constantly mistyping and hitting backspace. It is much easier to use in the wider landscape mode than the portrait mode. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the switch to landscape in some keyboard modes.

Why? Dunno. Seems out-of-character for the Apple designers.

I need to connect to two Enterprise mail servers. Sorry–iPhone only supports connecting to one.

I wish I could set up profiles for work or home or out-and-about. I don’t think they exist.

And then there’s the battery!

I’ve got 38% of my battery left after having the phone on for six hours. Granted I’m probably hitting the Internet harder today than I will be in a few weeks. Still that’s unnerving should I take the phone away from home where I’ll need a true full day’s service. Unlike other phones I’ve had you can’t pop out the battery and throw in a spare.

“Can I return it if I don’t like it?” I asked before leaving the AT&T store. I’ve got thirty days.

Most likely it stays, but I wouldn’t bet the house yet.

GPS Astounds Me

It says Mohawk Mountain is in Corner of the Pines, CT–probably a name used sometime in Connecticut’s history.

gps readout mohwak-cornwall.jpgMore than any other technology GPS and all its applications simply astound me (Click here or on the image to see a GPS track of Saturday’s photo journey to the Litchfield Hills.

Think about it. You can accurately locate yourself within a few feet instantly then get customized driving directions in seconds. I can’t imagine there is are many tasks more difficult than directions because there’s an infinite number of possible routes.

I’m using a program called GPISync right now. It’s freeware and hosted by Google. It takes the lat/lon info from a miniature GPS logger I carry when using my camera and adds that location data to each of my photos. Totally crazy!

(Found IMG_5133.CR2 …taken 2009-10-10-17:28:54, writing best latitude/longitude match to picture: N 41.821781 ,W -73.296776 : time difference (s)= 1

Geonames: 1.64 Km North-East East Cornwall Connecticut United States US, writing geonames)

The only problem is the overly complete database of placenames using many arcane or historic locators. It says Mohawk Mountain is in Corner of the Pines, CT–probably a name used sometime in Connecticut’s history.

GPS will soon be in nearly anything that moves the way clocks can now be found in nearly anything that plugs in! There are good and bad implications in that.

Bringing In The Ships

I’ve always wanted to go out with the harbor pilot and bring a ship in. I get to do that a little later this morning.


New Haven Harbor is a small working port. There are always a few ocean going freighters docked or ready to dock. Today while out in West Haven we spotted two just beyond the breakwater.

I’ve always wanted to go out with the harbor pilot and bring a ship in. I get to do that a little later this morning.

Yes, I am excited.

Helaine is apprehensive and thinks I should down some Dramamine. I’m taking my chances. The Sound will be glasslike on what promises to be a sunny Sunday,

Clicky is ready to go. I’m taking my full compliment of lenses, memory and charged batteries. I’ve even charged the sometimes dependable GPS logger.

Photos will follow

Google Maps Enhances Traffic Reporting While Scaring The Crap Out Of Me

They know where you are. And by they I mean Google and anyone holding a subpoena!

Have you ever checked out the traffic using Google? In the past few weeks a major change has totally transformed the experience making traffic reporting on Google so good I am petrified of the technology behind it!

When you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you’re moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions.

They’re reading the GPS on your cellphone. They know where you are. And by they I mean Google and anyone holding a subpoena!

google-maps-traffic.jpgThe cool part is being able to aggregate the GPS data from many phones. Right now Google shows some slowdowns on I-95 in Fairfield County, but they also show Whitney Avenue in Hamden running well with discrete green lines for north and south. There are some minor secondary roads you’d never expect to see tracked which are!

Sometime very soon technology like this will integrate with the data in your GPS to seamlessly route you around traffic in real time. The upside potential is great. Think of the savings in worker productivity and gas consumption.

The scary part is this is one more way we’ve lost any semblance of anonymity.

I’m not sure why I care, but I do. I’d like my thoughts to be my own. I’d like my route… my travels to be my choice without question or oversight.

Who am I kidding? That ship has sailed.

My Sense Of Direction

Like an air traffic controller guiding an errant Cessna that mistakenly made it to the wrong airspace I started moving Stef in a large circular path back toward the Throgs Neck.

“You have no sense of direction.” Those are my wife’s words talking about me. She’s probably right, though I grew up thinking the opposite.

There have been two times I’ve had to overcome that genetic blindspot. Both have to do with Stef and one happened about 10 minutes ago.

She’s on her way back having visited college friends from Long Island. She heard construction was causing problems getting to the Throgs Neck Bridge. Would I help her with a detour?

Though I left Queens the very first day I owned a car, I still know my way around. There really haven’t been too many new highways built there in the last forty years.

All was going well until Stef blurted, “Oh shit.” That’s never good.

She’d found her way to a lane which forced her to exit toward the Whitestone Bridge. Whatever traffic problems the Throgs Neck has the Whitestone has more–by far.

“I’ve gone 2/10 mile in 20 minutes,” Stef said when, in frustration, she called me back.

Like an air traffic controller guiding an errant Cessna that mistakenly made it to the wrong airspace I started moving Stef in a large circular path back toward the Throgs Neck.

At times like this her GPS system is an impediment. Stef told me where she was, heard my words and followed the GPS. It had no idea how bad the Whitestone was. It only knew that was currently the shortest route. The last thing I needed was directions competition!

“Turn the damned thing off,” I barked.

Stef sped through Northern Queens, finally getting off the highway and heading through a residential area and finally onto the northbound Clearview Expressway.

“You’re Father-of-the-Year,” she said.

“Just don’t get a ticket,” I replied.

Matt And Geoff’s Great Brooklyn/Queens Adventure

I was born in Brooklyn and went to high school there (via a bus and two subways). I figured I’d done my time. Did I have to go back?

I asked fellow meteorologist Matt Scott if he wanted to go to the city? Helaine had business on the other side of the state and I’m drawn to New York. I know Matt is too. We just didn’t know what we’d do once we got there!

Not to make a joke of it, but even as we left Connecticut we didn’t have a clue where we’d go or what we’d do.

IMG_1552.jpg“I’ve never been to Brooklyn,” he said.

I was born in Brooklyn and went to high school there (via a bus and two subways). I figured I’d done my time. Did I have to go back?

We drove over the Throgs Neck Bridge, onto the Cross Island and then the LIE.

There are signs on the Throgs Neck stating photography is strictly prohibited. At the same time on any given Saturday and Sunday the Brooklyn Bridge is infested with thousands of tourists and locals–most with cameras. What makes the Throgs Neck so insecure? Do they really think it’s a more tantalizing target than the storied Brooklyn Bridge?

I asked Matt if he’d like to see where I grew up and went to grade school? What was he going to say? I was driving!

A few minutes later we were standing in front of PS 163. The front door was propped open. A man was outside smoking a cigarette.

“I went here 50 years ago,” I began.

Shit, that makes me sound old. Luckily, I’m immature for my age.

Before long we were in the school.

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This building is the equivalent of one of the locales for MSNBC’s prison doc block! It was a school unsuited for me run by a woman I suspect hated me. From grade two to six I suffered inside.

The only saving grace was it was an amazing school for learning–even for someone who fought learning as much as I did! PS163 was firmly grounded in “tracking.” That’s the practice of grouping students of similar abilities together. Tracking has lost favor today. I’d be surprised to hear it’s used anywhere, though it certainly benefited me. I spent five years competing in a class of overachievers.

We had no gym. We had no recess. We had little outdoor activity–ever. Imagine.

There was… there still is a large room in the front of the building where, for a few years, we did some sort of cockamamie square dancing.

I was astounded to see numbers still painted high on the walls. This was where each class lined up in the case of emergency. The numbers corresponded to room numbers. This paint job is at least fifty years old!

PS163 worked out so well I asked Matt if he wanted to see Electchester, where I grew up? Again, to my surprise he said, “Yes.”

Everything looked smaller as we wound our way through the south end of Flushing. We headed to Kissena Blvd. then the LIE’s service road and up Parsons Boulevard where I lived. I put the top up on the convertible and we got out.

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I’ve used this analogy before, but these buildings (and the ones across the street at NYCHA’s Pomonok Houses) are reminiscent of the worst of Soviet style architecture! Considering the two complexes had well over 5,000 residents we were pretty devoid of amenities and services.

Because of how our individual building was turned to the street it was always much more convenient to enter through the basement which was 100% concrete and had asbestos wrapped exposed pipes and conduits. Maybe if I’d used a more formal and ‘softer’ entrance my experience would have been different. I’ll never know.

Matt and I walked around the building as I took photos. I wasn’t about to go in an see who was living in 5E where my family moved in 1953.

Stopping at these two places was amazing even though my experiences at both were sub-optimum. I decided to give Matt his trip to Brooklyn… but would he mind if we stopped at my high school?

We drove down Jewel Avenue to the Van Wyck Expressway then westbound on the LIE to the BQE. Without a GPS the rest was dependent on instinct and luck.

“See that tall antenna?” I asked Matt, pointing at a tall radio tower atop a building. “That’s my high school.”

We took the turns I thought would get us there while Matt tried to keep the antenna in sight. When we turned onto Fulton Street we were home free.

The neighborhood has really changed for the better. The brownstones on Ft. Greene Place were decrepit and often abandoned when I went to Tech. Now the neighborhood is gentrified. Don’t think of looking at a brownstone for less than seven figures.

I remember getting off the GG (now G) train at Fulton Street and walking by three bars before turning toward the school. Even at that early morning hour I remember watching drunks stumble out as I walked down the street. The bars are gone. The new stores are nice.

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Brooklyn Tech is currently surrounded by scaffolding. There’s some sort of major renovation going on. This is, after all, a school built as a stimulus project during the Great Depression. It’s aged.

We walked three sides of the immense school building stopping at every outside door to see if it was open. At the very last door we saw three men at a car. The adjacent door to the school was slightly ajar.

“Do you work here?”

New Yorker’s aren’t usually quick and free with information, but they answered yes.

“I graduated forty years ago and haven’t been back since. Can we go in?”

The boss looked at one of his workers and told him to take us in. We couldn’t stay long. There was work to be done.

No matter how large a high school you went to mine was larger! Allow me to sing.

Tech alma mater molder of men.

Proudly we rise to salute thee again.

Loyal we stand now six thousand strong.

The rest of the song is inconsequential. Six thousand boys went to Tech. That’s the important part.

Most of the school was eight stories tall with five corridors per floor. A smaller part of the building went to eleven stories. Yes, we had elevators, but you could only use them between certain designated floors.

“What’s that up there?” Matt asked looking at a glass covered area on the highest floor.

“That’s the foundry.”

Yeah, we had a foundry. In high school I poured molten pig iron! I know what a cope and drag are and how to make a wooden pattern for pouring.

Tech was where you learned to be an engineer. Our course of study was perfectly designed to fill the needs of 1940’s America. Alas, it was a little long in the tooth upon my arrival in 1964.

We stopped for a few photos in the 3,000+ seat auditorium and a look at some of the intricate work produced by government employed WPA artisans. Remember, Tech was built both as a school and as a make-work project to employ people during a horrific economic crisis.

Again, this was a great stop. I was totally shocked we’d been let in. Thank you unknown custodial staff. I appreciate your kindness.

When Matt originally mentioned Brooklyn it was because of a weekly flea market he’d read about. It was in the neighborhood and we headed right there.

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As is the case with much of New York City this flea market was a veritable United Nations. Every possible shade of skin as well as an immense variety of accents were represented. There was enough diversity to make everyone a minority.

It’s tough to describe what was being sold because so much of it was totally off-the-wall. Yes, there were books about Hitler. Yes, there was a Jesus Christ Action Figure.

“It has wheels,” said the guy trying to sell it.

Like Tech this was a bad neighborhood at one time. Not anymore. I said to myself, “I could live here,” though I’m not really sure that’s true. Certainly on this lazy summer’s afternoon it was quite lovely and inviting.

The flea market closed at five and we were back in the car heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge. Last August I’d walked the bridge with my friend Steve. I thought Matt would enjoy it too. I had only the vaguest of guesses where the bridge was as we set out.

“There it is,” Matt blurted, but he was looking at the Manhattan Bridge.

Typical out-of-towner mistake. A bridge is a bridge–right? But knowing where the Manhattan Bridge was the same as knowing where the Brooklyn Bridge was because they’re so close to each other.

We found on-the-street parking a few blocks from the entrance to the bridge’s walkway. A whole day in New York City without paying for parking! My father is proud!

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The Brooklyn Bridge provides an incredible vista from which to view the city. Crossing the East River the bridge connects Downtown Brooklyn with Downtown Manhattan. It’s about a one mile walk.

I bought a bottle of water from a vendor and we headed over.

I cannot recommend this trek enough. Looking south you see Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. In the distance tall cranes mark the port facilities in New Jersey.

To the north is the nearby Manhattan Bridge and a glimpse into Midtown. The Empire State Building dominates most northward views.

The East River is a working river. There’s plenty of commercial traffic though not the international fleet found on the Hudson.

There were lots of interesting looking people on the bridge, but none more interesting than the couple (by her accent, French) who found a girder with hand rails which led over the auto roadway to the edge of the bridge. It looked scary. They had just begun to head back when I spotted them.

After the bridge roundtrip we were hungry and found the Water Street Restaurant and Lounge. Surprisingly it wasn’t busy. I had a Cajun Blackened Sirloin Burger with BBQ Sauce, Andouille Sausage, Crisp Onion Ring, Cheddar Cheese. Matt had the Norwegian Lox Sandwich with Avocado, Pickled Cucumbers, Lime Mayo on Black Rye.

Good choice! Dinner was tasty.

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Our last stop was the area under the two bridges. This being the weekend there were weddings taking place with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop. When you get married down by the banks of the East River you’re inviting anyone around to stop and watch. It’s really quite sweet, romantic and frugal!

We stayed near the river until the sun went down, then headed home.

We’d set out with no firm plan and yet (even Matt will admit) had a really fun day. It was nice to go back home. It was nice to see how Brooklyn’s changed. It was good for Matt to discover Brooklyn.


I’m A Tracking Fool

My Tuesday ordered computer mostly arrived Wednesday. UPS now says the rest, shipped from California and originally coming Friday, will actually be here Thursday!

Can we talk about package tracking? This is just another version of crack cocaine, right?

When was the last time you ordered something and didn’t check at least once… or seven times? Personally I feel anything worth tracking is worth tracking constantly. UPS and FedEx need to install GPS readouts! I want street-by-street tracking.

My Tuesday ordered computer mostly arrived Wednesday. UPS now says the rest, shipped from California and originally coming Friday, will actually be here Thursday!

It first went from Baldwin Park, CA to Ontario, CA. My guess is that’s a truck route. Then air freight to Dallas, Orlando and Boston.

Hmmmm… sounds like Southwest routing. I’ll check for peanuts upon arrival.

Two hours after it arrived in Boston it moved out again to Windsor Locks. Next stop is probably North Haven then out for delivery.

There are no stores locally that sell the stuff I just bought. Mail order drove them out. Even with instant purchase gratification it’s tough to compete with the selection and convenience of online.

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome

At 2:30 Rhinebeck held an airshow. Imagine an assisted living facility talent show… but for airplanes!

I don’t know how I knew the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome was there. I just knew there was a grass strip airport over-the-border in New York State that featured classic airplanes. That’s all I knew when I asked my friend Harvey Kliman if he wanted to go?

Harvey knew less than I knew!

We both knew it was a photo op. For Harvey that means video with his HD camcorder. For me stills–lots of stills.

Sunday was forecast to be beautiful so we planned to meet around 10:00 AM for the two hour top down drive. The automated routemakers from Google and Garmin wanted us to drive the fast way but I had other ideas. We headed up Route 8 to Winsted, then west-northwest through the corner of Connecticut and into New York.

With less than three miles to go and no other automotive aerodrome traffic in site my GPS turned us onto a neighborhood street which quickly became a gravel road. Before Harvey and I could get a handle on what was going on the gravel turned back to pavement and a small sign assured us we were on the right path.

Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is what the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum might aspire to, if it could just use the Washington Mall as a runway!

Rhinebeck is a museum of the living. Its home is an idyllic strip of land nestled between the trees. A few handfuls of very old planes sit adjacent to a grass runway. These planes fly!

I walked to a cotton rope which separated the hoi polloi from the exhibits. A man dressed as a mechanic circa 1935 said I could come in and take some photos.

Good God, flying was different back then. These planes were simple–yet intricate. Simplicity meant a minimum of adjustments and controls. What was intricate were the cables and spars and fasteners that held it all together.

Safety was never a design consideration. Pilots were outside and exposed to everything the plane had to take.

For $65 I got to climb into a 1937 New Standard D25 and fly a few circuits over the Hudson Valley.

I have flown in everything from an F/A-18 to an ultralight. This was a totally new experience.

With four passengers and a lone pilot the plane taxied to the end of the runway and up a tiny rise. That little molehill provided a extra speed for our lazy takeoff. On this calm day there was more connection to the atmosphere than I expected as we clumsily lurched skyward.

Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe our view. We flew low and slow toward the Kingston-Rhineclif Bridge. The sky was blue. The air was warm. Beneath us were farms and the huge homes of rich city folk who sometimes bought them. There were mountains in the distance in nearly every direction.

It was loud in the open cockpit–and windy! I held Clicky tight, wrapping its strap around my arm.

The trip didn’t last much more than 10 minutes, but that was enough. I was convinced.

At 2:30 Rhinebeck held an airshow. Imagine an assisted living facility talent show… but for airplanes!

One-by-one small crews of men gingerly coaxed the engines to fire. There was smoke as propellers began to spin. Sometimes the engines made it clear by their sound there was only so much they were willing to do! The planes taxie to the runway’s end, turned and then ran toward takeoff.

For the oldest few takeoff meant a few feet up before setting back onto the turf. I heard someone say they don’t fly “higher than the pilots would want to fall.”

Most rolled down the runway at full throttle then eased off the ground and over the trees.



Mothers Day

It’s Mothers Day. I thought everyone was supposed to be on-the-road visiting mom?

Doesn’t anyone love mom anymore? It’s Mothers Day. We drove to Long Island to see Stef and so we could begin taking stuff back from her soon-to-be abandoned dorm room.

In the car, we left Connecticut around 10:00 AM and with the exception of a slowdown where I-91 empties into I-95 rolled smoothly all the way to campus. We must have made exceptional time because Stef wasn’t ready.

Even our late breakfast at a normally busy diner started with immediate seating (and then lackluster service).

It’s Mothers Day. I thought everyone was supposed to be on-the-road visiting mom? Decades ago this was the day long distance phone service use to break down under immense strain! Restaurants would turn away patrons. Everyone would see mom. Where were they?

This was the day to roll out a new GPS–a Garmin nüvi 260W. I bought it ‘factory refurbished’ on Amazon. If it is less than new, it is so in a way I can’t see.

I suctioned it to the wndshield and let it lead the way even though we could do this trip in our sleep.

I know GPS units are ubiquitous, but can we step back for a second and marvel?

  • It knows where we are.
  • It knows virtually all the streets in America and has a reasonable expectation of how fast or slow travel on each of them will be.
  • It can figure out a route in a few seconds, though there are essentially an infinite number of routes to choose from.
  • It presents a map which is constantly updated while it’s doing its other jobs.
  • It does all this while tracking a constellation of satellites whose signals are so weak it only knows they are there because the noise in its receiver is no longer truly random.

Yes, its guesses at pronunciation sometimes leaves something to be desired, The Meadowbrook Parkway is called “Muh-DO-brook.” Others names are equally bollixed, but not enough to make them undecipherable. And it calls out the streets in a myriad of voices and accents. It is cleverly useful.

Look around as you drive and see how many cars have one stuck where the driver can watch it. It is no longer the exception.


Eight And A Half Hours

Google Maps puts the distance at 2,612 mi – about 1 day 15 hours by car!

onboard-sw1234.jpgWe left our room at the Mirage at 2:00 PM PST. We got home about 1:30 EST. 8½ hours door-to-door. That’s more than a little amazing considering we traveled across most of the US.

Google Maps puts the distance at 2,612 mi – about 1 day 15 hours by car!

The flight back was uneventful. There were a few areas of light turbulence, but nothing frightening. Both Helaine and I attempted to sleep and got a little. I think airplane sleep shortens your perceived time aboard but doesn’t reduce what you’ll need in bed later. That’s a non-scientific observation.

swa1234-over-lake-erie.jpgAt one point Helaine got up and I moved to the window seat. I didn’t have my GPS running, but the clock on my camera is 2 seconds off. The photo was taken at 11:13 PM EST. Based on FlightAware’s flight tracker we were at 39,000 feet over Lake Erie. Our ground speed was 490 knots–564 mph. I think it’s a nighttime shot of Fairport Harbor, OH with Painesville in the distance. That’s just a guess. I could be wrong.

So, we’re home. It’s a few hours short of a week since we left the house on our way out. We did so much. It seems we’ve been gone a month!

Now back to the real world.

Not Yet To Bed

I was relaxed about what I was doing. Helaine and her family looked like they were on their way to a firing squad. All the pressure is with the bride.

I’d like to think I’ve remembered everything. I just went downstairs and signed a few anniversary cards. That’s important. I think everything I’m responsible for is packed. God–I hope so.

I have packed too much gear. I’ve got my camera, plus five lenses and a tripod. I wish I knew how to cut back. On top of that there are all these wall wart items that need a discrete one-of-a-kind plug. Phone, camera, computer, GPS–there’s a small bag full of electronics.

For the past few years we’ve been bringing a strip plug extension when we’re on-the-road. I told my mother–bringing one too! When do hotels start adding on electricity surcharges?

I’m trying to remember back 25 years ago. This night before our wedding was reasonably quiet. There had been a beautifully fluffy early season snow which quickly melted away. I was relaxed about what I was doing. Helaine and her family looked like they were on their way to a firing squad. All the pressure is with the bride.

There’s an immense amount of coordination taking place today. We should land in Las Vegas about the same time as Stef, who is flying non-stop from JFK. My parents get in a little earlier, non-stop from Ft. Lauderdale. Our California cousins have an early morning court date (they’re attorneys) then drive through the desert.

We have to get a car, check-in at the hotel (if they let us check-in early), freshen up, then drive to the chapel. As the Sun goes down we’ll be getting re-married.

Our weather looks quiet until Las Vegas where rain is expected. We are changing planes at Chicago/Midway–always a wild card, though we’ll be early and the weather non-threatening.