Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bahamas 2007, Day 3

Our first morning at sea found us pulling into the Nassau harbor.

After squeezing through the breakwater, our enormous ship pirouetted within its own length to back into its berth in port. The ship has lateral jets below the waterline that allow those kinds of maneuvers.

Having spent several days in Nassau last year, we did not feel a need to take much time ashore this time.

The port has a vendor area constructed specifically for cruise ship passengers, which is where we also saw an exhibit of junkanoo costumes, worn primarily during the massive Boxing Day celebration.

We made sure to drop in on our friend Greg and his family, who are finishing up their stint in the Bahamas as part of the U.S. State Department. Greg then took us on a tour of the U.S. embassy, which was predominantly institutional drab spiked with a little high formality in the ambassador’s office, with the omnipresent security provided by U.S. Marines hovering malevolently just out of view at all times. A fascinating place to work. We happened to be in town just a day ahead of a major election that, believe it or not, was heavily influenced by the Anna Nicole Smith hubbub. The State Department folks were keeping a close eye on the race between the incumbent ruling party and the opposing party running on an anti-corruption platform. Later that evening, while aboard the ship in the harbor, we heard and saw a loud parade demonstration processing down the main road through town; I think we were among the few on board who knew what it was all about.

We headed back to the ship early so that we could maximize our time on board. The kids immediately headed to the pools, where we took advantage of the poolside hamburger-and-hotdog shack for our lunch.

The weather was gorgeous, and we all got a good start on our sunburns.

In the evening, we attended a production of Hercules in the main theater, which was very funny and enjoyable. Many jokes are made at the expense of entertainers who are reputed to have only “cruise ship talent,” but whatever that dismissive assessment may mean, we were treated to the work of some talented actors, musicians, technicians and set builders.

After the show we waited with Uncle Walt for dinner to begin:

By the time dinner was over, we were exhausted and ready for bed, where we found this little guy:

In the middle of the night I was awakened by a sharp bang in the room, which turned out to be one of the closet doors sliding open. It was just a couple of minutes after 2 a.m., the scheduled time of departure, which meant that the door had moved because the ship was no longer in port. I got up to look out over the verandah, and sure enough, the now-familiar profile of Nassau was sliding by silently.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Just Some Simple Maintenance

German cars are notoriously expensive to maintain. One obvious reason is that the parts are usually manufactured overseas, and are not in great supply. I have become convinced, however, that there is another, more sinister cause of high maintainance costs. Those Schwabian pranksters who design Porsches, in particular, seem to take perverse delight in hiding the parts that wear out in the most obscure and difficult to reach places. The 911 is not a large car, and in the nearly 40 years that the original design was produced, the designers devised many clever ways of packaging the various components that became more numerous as time went on. However, clever is not always convenient. Consequently, when the proverbial ten-cent part (ha!) breaks down, you must disassemble the car to get to it.

You think I'm joking. I most assuredly am not. Here is my Memorial Day project:

Behind and below each headlight is a device known as a ballast resistor, a hunk of ceramic about the size of a small cookie with four inches of wire protruding from it. One side works with the oil cooler that is in the lower right front bumper; the other side is part of the air conditioning system that has its condenser in the lower left front bumper area. However, to access these miserable little devices, at a minimum the car must be put on stands, the front wheels removed and the front wheel well liners removed (14 screws total). It doesn't help that on the oil cooler side, the resister is held in place with a nut accessed from below, whereas on the AC side, the resister is fasted with an allen-head bolt accessed from above (I'm sure there are very logical, very German reasons for this). It is said that some can make the repair at that point; however, one would have to have intimate knowledge of each and every milimeter of the inner workings of these systems, and also have hands the size of a newborn. Since most of us do not possess those qualifications, the way the average shade tree mechanic must go about the task is to also remove the entire bumper cover (18 screws total), as well as loosen the oil cooler and AC condenser so they can be moved a critical three inches or so. Even doing that, the resistors can either be seen or touched, but not both at the same time. In fact the oil cooler resistor really can't even be seen very well. In the picture below, even with the oil cooler pulled down a few inches, the resistor is invisible up in a slot between the aluminum-colored object and the painted fender:

Nevertheless, I forged ahead. Five hours to disassemble and reassemble the car, ten minutes total to actually swap out both resistors. I even managed to get everything back together without finding a mysterious surplus of screws at the end of the project, and only forget to reconnect one side marker light (fortunately, I was able to finish the job without further disassembly thanks to one of those long, flexible grabby tools).

It's not setting the timing or replacing a clutch, but the sense of satisfaction is similar, and enough.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Blast From The Recent Past: R.E.M.

While we wait for the rest of the Disney Cruise pictures to upload...

For those of a certain age, who are now in prime career/childrearing/living life to the fullest years, chances are high that R.E.M. was one of the pillars of their personal musical landscapes. Melodic enough to be accessible to nearly everyone, yet quirky and anti-establishment enough to give suburban kids the feeling that they were really indie, dude, R.E.M. helped define college and, eventually, popular music for about 15 years through the 80s and mid-90s.

As further proof that everything exists on the internet, and that you can find it if you look long enough, an enterprising soul has created a site with a brief analysis of one R.E.M. song every day.

This just might kill off the rest of my week.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bahamas 2007, Day 2

Our first morning in Florida found us fully encompassed by the Disney gravitational pull. After a great buffet breakfast in the hotel, we packed our bags and set them outside our hotel rooms, festooned with custom Disney Cruise tags. The inscrutable workings of the Disney machine would, we were assured, swoop in to collect our suitcases and deliver them to our cabin on board the ship some four hours hence.

In the meantime, we gathered with sixty other gaily dressed families in the expansive hotel lobby, where we were met by Disney Cruise representatives who checked our papers, nodded sagely and guided us en masse to the busses. Like a bunch of overgrown kindergartners, we traipsed though the Orlando airport traffic to an unused part of the baggage claim, where we were left in one line of several to await boarding of the bus that would take us to the ship (Orlando is about 40 miles inland, after all).

In the course of our 45 minute wait, we saw an astonishing number of Disney busses, some painted as resort-bound, others Cruise-bound with painted faux portholes, endlessly stopping outside the makeshift depot to pick up another shipment of revelers. Predictably enough, the bus came complete with a DVD system that played a film that introduced the entire embarkation procedure in a smile-it’s-Disney sort of way. The film, of course, lasted precisely the amount of time it took to get from the airport to the ship.

We waited an agreeably brief time in the terminal prior to boarding the ship:

Following a personalized welcome on board that was met with many huzzahs by the ever-cheerful crew, our first task was to get lunch at the 9th deck aft buffet. Here we first encountered the occasional frustration of the elevators, which could be easily overwhelmed by moderate use. Following lunch, we got to know our cabin (or “stateroom,” in the grand language of cruise ships). Regardless of the perceived frivolity that may attend the Disney-fication of a cruise experience, I found myself impressed by the boat itself. Admittedly, I had no basis for comparison, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the convenience and efficiency of our stateroom.

[Michael took that last one]

The front part of the room was the closet and split bathroom (tub/shower with sink in one, toilet and sink in adjacent), which led to the queen size bed. The rest of the cabin, which had a couch, desk with TV, large trunk and chair, could be divided from the front portion by a curtain. The sofa converted to a bed, with a bunk dropping from the ceiling above it, with yet another bed pulling out, Murphy-bed style, beyond those. On top of it all, we had a veranda, as did about half of the cabins on the ship. This is the way to go.

We pulled away from Port Canaveral around 5 pm after a raucous party at the Goofy Pool (amidships).

That evening we had our first go at the dining experience that is the heart of the cruise. We met the three servers who would be with us throughout the cruise, and learned what really great food was all about. I’m pretty middle-class in my tastes when it comes to cuisine, so it was a distinct pleasure to learn that, yes indeed, some food really is better than others. (Rumor has it that the adults-only restaurant on board, for which an extra charge is required, has even more superior food. Something to keep in mind for next time.) As our dinner was scheduled for 8 pm every night and lasted nearly two hours, we found ourselves without sufficient energy to take advantage of all the activities for both kids and adults that carry on deep into the night. Instead, as the ship rushed toward Nassau across light seas at up to 19 knots, we settled in for a pleasant night’s sleep, the TV tuned to the station that plays nothing but classic Disney animated movies to help us on our way.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bahamas 2007, Day 1

Our (unexpectedly) second annual trip to the Bahamas began in pre-dawn darkness that felt little removed from post-dusk darkness. I, in particular, had barreled headlong into the trip on the heels of a ridiculously busy week that kept me occupied until midnight the morning we were to leave. After scrambling to finish a trial brief into Friday evening for the trial that had threatened to prevent me from going on the trip, but which was scheduled to begin as early as Monday anyway, I dashed up to a camp above Lake Castaic to give a kickoff speech for a leadership retreat. The trip includes 30 miles of lightly traveled backwoods twisties, which are particularly entertaining in the dark. Fortunately, I’ve made the trip before and had a passing familiarity with the road. I managed to pull into a parking space outside the camp hall at about 8:42, just in time for my 8:45 speaking engagement. Of course, I had to make myself nearly carsick to get there in time, but that’s what Porsches are for, right?

After the speech and a little socializing, I dashed back into the night. We were due to leave for the airport in five hours, I was an hour from home, and I hadn’t packed for the trip yet. Thankfully, Cheryl had taken care of 95% of the packing, including much of my own, so after throwing a bunch of brightly colored shirts and bathing suits in my bag, I was pretty well done. Lights out at 1, lights on again at 3. It’s vacation, kids, get a move on!

We caravanned with Cheryl’s parents down to LAX, arriving about half an hour ahead of the beginning of the Saturday travel rush.

Check in and all of the security measures were easy and quick at that hour, made much easier by the fact that we no longer have to travel with either a stroller or car seat.

The last time we made this trip, we traveled on Delta’s Song subsidiary, their answer to JetBlue. That means one thing: in-flight TV. Flying on Delta itself, we had no such luck this time. Michael was quite disappointed, which made Daddy quite disappointed, too. Still, the flight was uneventful, and we landed on time in Atlanta, where we were to meet up with Cheryl’s sister and her family, who had flown in from San Francisco just minutes ahead of us. The cousins enjoyed their reunion:

Our next flight, aboard the same airplane that delivered the San Francisco crew, took us to Orlando, where we would spend the night. I can only imagine that Orlando has a unique and feared reputation among flight attendants. Upon boarding the (substantially overbooked) flight, it became obvious that this was the Disney milk run. Adults and children populated the airplane in about equal number, and the preflight din was unusually loud and high pitched. Much to the delight of all, the seating was perfect. Cheryl’s parents had two seats to themselves on one side of the plane, Cheryl’s sister and her husband had two seats together on the other side of the plane, Cheryl and I were in the middle section roughly between them, the three girl cousins took up the middle section behind us, and the two boy cousins sat together across the aisle from them:

The Orlando airport comes complete with a Hyatt right in the middle of the facility.

The airport is so immense, spread out over 23 square miles (I looked it up), that there is little more jet noise in the hotel than you would find just living in the general vicinity of a regional airport. The Hyatt is quite a nice hotel, and we got a room with a balcony overlooking the runways (my request).

After a very nice dinner in a hotel restaurant, we finally got some needed sleep in preparation for the start of the cruise the next day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Good Times

Sorry for the dearth of posts recently, especially since a couple of you may be waiting to see happy snaps of our recent vacation. Those will be coming shortly, I promise.

However, I've been a bit distracted recently. Professionally, this is about how I feel these days:

(if you don't get the reference, Google "Peter Finch" and "Network".)

I hope to resume normal programming within the next three months or so. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cool Views in Hot City

Twice in the past month I have watched the hillside hear my office erupt in flames, the most recent occasion being yesterday. The office is at about fire height, so we get a great view of the spectacular work performed by the LA City Fire helicopter pilots as they drop water and fire retardants on the hillsides. Unfortunately, because I use Griffith Park for part of my commute, I've been forced to contend with LA traffic a little more often than I would prefer because of the fires.

A friend of mine who lives directly up the hill from us took this picture last night of the Griffith Park fire, showing both the Los Feliz section (to the left) that has received most of the publicity because of the danger to homes, and the main Park element of the fire (to the right):

Before the place totally goes up in flames, take a look at this interesting "photograph" of the park. There are other similar works available at the artist's site. (Incidentally, the artist happens to be the guy who played Lurch in the "Addams Family" movie and the Giant in Twin Peaks, among many others.) I haven't taken the time to investigate the technology that yields these images, but the result is interesting and beautiful, and uniquely computer-based. You really could not view these images in a gallery, unless the gallery included computer screens and a few basic controls. Neat stuff.

Yes, vacation pictures will be coming soon!