Saturday, January 31, 2009

Another new toy - I suppose I say "Welcome" to iPhone

OK, I'm too lazy to bother going back and finding the different posts - suffice it to say that, while Apple is an "enemy" of Microsoft, which makes Apple a friend of mine, I'm not entirely enthused with them as well.  As I mentioned in one of this month's reverse posts, I would have liked to get a MacBook.  Part of that though is to have the ability to triple-boot into OS X, Linux, and Windows.  So now I just dual-boot, mostly into Linux with the occassional boot into Windows Vista.  OS X just misses out on my getting to play around with it (and play is all I would do as Linux is my "real" OS for getting anything real done).

Likewise, I've never been impressed with my wife's iPod (and yes, I did get it for her as a present).  I have much prefered my mp3 players because of their ability to play both ogg and mp3 files.  They also did not require iTunes to be loaded just to get music on them.  The DRM infested iTunes files my wife would buy were always a source of annoyance as well and when her desktop died, they were lost to that.

Despite all the things to not like about Apple products, I still decided to consider an iPhone for a smartphone purchase.  But I should back up a bit.  Almost three years ago we switched our cell phone service to Verizon.  Two factors went into that - coverage where we live and the discount my wife could get through a workplace affinity program.  Even at that, coverage here at the house has always been spotty and weak.

I'd been looking into smartphones for probably a year now since we had reached a point where we could upgrade with significant discounts.  Alas, Verizon's web site did not work with Firefox (much less Firefox on Linux) so, trying to get anything done was always a challenge and probably contributed to my not having done anything sooner.  Nevertheless, I had about decided to get a Blackberry Curve at some point when I had the money (and could afford to slap a data plan on the account as well).  Interestingly enough, the price reached a low point last fall and had been going back up.  And here I've been reading the country is in a recession.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Remember Kay Yow

I'm sure anyone reading this is now aware that legendary NCSU Wolfpack women's basketball coach Kay Yow passed away last Saturday after a 20+ year battle against breast cancer.  The coverage has been extensive - of both her extraordinary career as a basketball coach as well as her even more extraordinary life and the influence she had on so many people.  So I won't try to rehash any of that as others have done a much better job of it than I ever could.

I have been very moved on many different levels by this.  I still remember the battle that Jim Valvano fought against cancer.  At the time, I even managed to attend the funeral of Jimmy V to pay my respects.  Just recently I paused once again to watch his infamous speech on ESPN during the ESPYs.  As moving as that was, his last address to a crowd at Reynolds Coliseum, which I was present for, may have been even more powerful (maybe because I was there, live, for it).  So this is another legendary member of the Wolfpack Nation to move on as a result of cancer.

I've also been moved because my father died from cancer a few years ago.  In his case, it was esophageal cancer.  He was diagnosed with it in the spring, underwent chemo and radiation, then surgery, only to have it re-emerge several months later.  That was one of the biggest blows as it has like a 90% mortality rate in the first year and we thought he had it beat.  Alas, the cancer succeeded in claiming him within a year's time.  Far too soon.

Finally, I'm moved because I have two daughters who are quite the athletes.  They have been playing soccer for several years already and have now started taking up basketball.  No matter what path they take in life, one thing I can be thankful for is that people like Kay Yow helped to open doors and blaze trails for women to pursue their dreams no matter what they may be.

On Friday, Jan. 30th they will be holding the public funeral for Kay Yow.  Unfortunately, I don't own a pink shirt to wear tomorrow.  But I have made some badges for my Mini to sport tomorrow.  So remember Kay Yow and all the others in the world who may be battling cancer.  And maybe you can even help financially by visiting Pink Ribbon or or some other charity that could use your support.

When Life Kicks Badge

Kay Yow WBCA Badge

Pink Ribbon Badge

Monday, January 26, 2009

THMMC - 2009's First Motor

Hmmm, Mini likes to use the term "motoring" in a bunch of their advertising.  Part of their branding efforts.  But for the title of this post, if I wanted to substitute "drive" with something else, as in "THMMC - 2009's First Drive", is "Motor" the proper form?  I don't really know.  I suppose other words that would work include "event" or "tour".  Anyway, I'll leave it as Motor even though it doesn't sound right.  Maybe I can start a new trend in the Mini-verse.

Meanwhile, this post is quite late in getting made.  If you read my last post about the death of my Compaq laptop, you have some idea why that is.  Back on January 10th, the Tar Heel MINI Motoring Club made their first run of the new year - a run up to Stone Mountain and then on to Sparta for some lunch.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

RIP Compaq - welcome to the house Acer

Should have been blogging about this all along so it wouldn't be so long.  But then, I suppose that would have been kind of hard to do.  Why?  Couple weeks ago my laptop computer died.  I'm not real sure what happened to it or how it happened.  I give it a small probability that some problem with the Mepis energy management caused it to overheat and cooked something on the motherboard.  I had noticed a boot problem earlier in the day that it occurred, but the laptop recovered on its own.  That evening though, it froze up and then would not boot.  I cannot even get to the BIOS settings.  Tried both hard drives, no luck.

Fortunately, my wife let me go out this past weekend and buy a new laptop.  In the meantime, I had been borrowing hers or using my desktop (which meant being banished to the office).  I really was ready to go for a MacBook and look at trying to triple boot it into OSX, some Linux, and Win XP.  But we had to go cheap, so the $999 MacBook became a non-option.  We spent Saturday night looking for something at Office Depot, Best Buy, and Office Max.  Office Depot had three different options - back to them in a minute.  Office Max really did not have anything at all.  Best Buy had a couple that I was interested in.  One was a Dell that must have been a returned unit or something as it had a handwritten price card indicating it had been written down from $565 to $515.  It was pretty nice.  The other option was a nice Compaq that was on sale for $449.  It would have been a really good computer.  Alas, Best Buy was out of stock.  They indicated the closest units were at the Cary store.  But they couldn't have them send one over.  And they couldn't order us one to pick up at a later time.  They were trying really hard to not sell us a laptop.  We decided to go back to Office Depot.

Back at Office Depot, I had settled on a nice Acer that was on sale for $449.  But, they too were out of stock of the unit (as well as the other two we had identified as possible options).  They indicated they would sell the floor model to me, but they would not give me a discount.  They reasoned that it was the last day of the sale and they only extend discounts on floor models early in the week.  ????  I can only guess they really wanted to keep that floor model and sell it later at full price.  Must not be much of a recession going on for them if they aren't willing to work with a buyer in hand.

I was so frustrated at that point, we decided to just not do anything.  Instead, we headed off to the theater to see Gran Torino.  Excellent film (better than Nights in Rodanthe that I had to see with my wife a couple weeks earlier), but we had to come back for the late show due to the crowd at the theater.  I've never seen it like that.  Apparently the big draws were Notorious and My Bloody Valentine 3-D, although it was a packed house for Gran Torino as well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Posting in reverse - some winter driving

Sigh. I have quite a queue of posts to complete. Who knows if I'll get to all of them. Anyway, in reverse order, starting with the most recent, thought I'd mention that today we had some snow. I had to drive in to work, which involves a slightly more than 30 mile drive to Durham. Our neighborhood and the first "major" road were ok if snow-covered. Little spinning making the turn out of the neighborhood.

Main Street in Graham was in pretty good condition. However, I had to make a stop at my bank this morning and when I did, I had to turn onto a side street (which interestingly enough, leads to our local DOT branch - you'd think they'd have it salted/sanded). As I pulled over into the center turn lane to make a left into the bank entrance, the Mini just took off sliding down the road. Luckily there was no one coming in the opposite direction so I was able to recover, go down the road, and turn around. Ever notice how few people know how to do that - go down the road and turn around when they miss or are about to miss a turn? Instead they try some wacked move or stop and hold up everyone else for their problem? Digression! Digression!! I was a little worried in the parking lot of the bank as there was a lot of spinning going on there too.

Anyway, I finally made it to the Interstate. I thought that would be good to go. Surely DOT would have put out the brine mix, sanded, salted, whatever, to keep the Interstate safe, right? Nope. Had to be some of the worst winter driving conditions I've ever seen. Not sure why, but the slushy mix that had developed was extremely slippery. Saw several accidents. One included a guy who had been tailgating me back in Graham and once we were on the four lane, started zipping through traffic. He had backed it into the center concrete median and was stopped with his vehicle (Chevy Venture?) blocking the far left lane. Guess he couldn't move it as he was missing a rear wheel. Yeah, it is hard to not get some pleasure out of someone else's misfortune, though he obviously had it coming.

I finally made it into Durham and got into work. The ride home was much better, but I still saw some folks having traction problems as I got close to home. So here is a pic from the Durham Expressway as I was heading in.

Update: Below is a pic of the Mini after a few days of driving in the salty, sandy, briney soup that our roads became. Such is the life of a daily driver. I finally went by a car wash at 10:30 on Thursday night in 32 degree weather to clean the Mini. Hope the wax is holding up. (Note - this update being done via an iPhone app for Wordpress blogs.)

Monday, January 05, 2009

MINI WUF Gets First Check Up

It seemed like it would never happen, but the Computer Based Service system on Mr. Mini Wuf finally counted down to the point where I could get my first service.  Amazingly, the computer calculated this to occur at about 20,200 miles.  I tripped that on the drive up to Flow Mini for the service.

Making the appointment was a matter of filling out an on-line form at the Flow Mini web site.  They responded the same day to let me know they could schedule me at the requested time.  That time was last Friday, January 2, 2009.  I pushed it into January so I was able to also get my State inspection completed.  Yay - no more window sticker.

Friday, January 02, 2009

NC Scenic Byways - Colonial Heritage Byway

I think I've mentioned it here before, but one of my "projects" that I am currently working on for the Tar Heel MINI Motoring Club (THMMC) is a covered bridge run.  The other big project being the Blue Ridge Parkway Tour 2009 (and I suppose as an extension to that, help with some related events like The Great Ice Cream Run 2, Bar Harbor Invasion, and Minis On Top). And in the background, I continue to toy with an idea to run a "gimmick rally" for the club.

Work on the covered bridge run has been plodding along and has been a little frustrating.  I'm sure Twister, THMMC founder, who proposed the original idea for a covered bridge run was hoping we could drive to a small handful of covered bridges and actually drive our Minis on them.  That would appear to be a pretty big challenge as there aren't really any public covered bridges in NC anymore.  At least, not historic ones.

The gimmick rally work has been a little bit slow as well, but perhaps a bit more fruitful, at least in the early research stage.  For both of these events, I have discovered some resources on-line.  One of them is the Visit NC website where I was able to find a bunch of information about historical sites and places to visit that could prove to be destinations for the rally.  The other site has been one that provides information about Scenic Byways in North Carolina (and other states if you are so inclined).

I drove portions of several a few weeks ago while scouting out the Pisgah Covered Bridge.  More on those in a later post.  On New Year's Day, my wife and I decided we could squeeze a little motoring in between some errands and other stuff we had planned.  So, we decided to give the Colonial Heritage Scenic Byway a try.  The Google route is shown below:

View Larger Map

We drove it from the west end to the east end.  It just worked out that way, but it looks like the State recommends that way as well.  The route starts off Hwy 29 on the north east side of Greensboro at Hwy 150 in Monticello.  Though I don't recall seeing the town or community named Monticello.  Following the route took us through some very nice country with some rolling farmland.  Notable were a few horse farms that we passed by.  The route worked its way up to Yanceyville.  I don't recall more than a couple good twists in the road, but being all two lane country roads kept it interesting.

In Yanceyville you pick up Hwy. 62 toward Milton.  As you approach Milton you get some good twists in the road.  Some Mini enthusiasts may recognize Milton as also being the location of Virginia International Raceway.  I also travelled this portion of 62 on the way to Waynesboro last year for the BRP Tour 2008.  At Milton, you take a right and head down Semora, where you take another right onto Hwy. 119.  The roads are a little more interesting through here and my wife reported seeing a huge wild turkey off in the woods as we travelled down 119.

From 119 you have to make a turn onto Stephenton Road.  This caught me by surprise, but I managed to get it woah'ed up enough to make the turn.  It helped being out in the middle of the country where there is no other traffic.  Stephenton Road started to get us onto some more "back road" type asphalt, which also raised the twisty factor considerably.  At the end of that, you turn back onto Hwy 158 (which was the road that led into Yanceyville and you are not far from Yanceyville at this point having made close a loop) which was still a little twistier here than earlier in the route.

From there, you hook up on Hwy 86 heading south into Hillsborough.  This was probably the worst part of the route.  Very straight, big road.  According to the NC guide on scenic byways, there are a couple examples of old country stores along this section.  I'll have to look harder next time.  Just before hitting Hillsborough, you take a left onto Governer Burke Road, then do a little loop into downtown Hillsborough.  Where among other things, you can see the old Orange County Courthouse.  Cross the Eno River, and then hang a right on Hwy 70 (the business route).  You follow this into Durham where you hang a right onto Hwy 751 for a short drive through Duke Forest to the end of the byway.


One event of noteworthiness during this particular drive was hitting 20,000 miles in my Mini.  This happened on the twisties of Hwy 62 as we neared Milton.  A nice appropriate place for that to happen.  According to Google, the drive should have taken three hours, but I did it in about an hour and fifty minutes.  Not sure what the disparity was - I wasn't really driving that fast.

That gave us a little extra time, so my wife wanted to head down to Fearrington Village.  Problem was, she didn't know exactly where it was.  And thanks to AT&T, I still do not have an iPhone that I could use to GPS it.  So we asked for directions in a couple places.  Below is where we ended up driving:

View Larger Map

Later we figured that we just missed it.

So, that is a scenic byway I can check off the list as having been completed. It was nice in the middle of winter to be able to get out for some motoring. Still debating whether I'll propose it as a drive to the THMMC. I know there are many members who are really looking for the twisties and this probably would not be the most appealing drive for them. But it is an opportunity to get on some back roads and see the NC countryside. And not much traffic to have to contend with. So maybe I'll do a series of these drives. If I had the money and time, I could probably do one a month in different parts of the state. That might help get some more club members involved in drives if they new they didn't have to travel so far and could do something closer to their home.