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So it was time to retire my old, reliable 1999 Saturn station wagon. In the swapping arrangement we’ve established for automobiles, that meant that I’d get my wife’s old car and we’d buy her something new. At this stage of life, luxury cars seem enticing and that’s the market segment I investigated first. My wife’s criteria for a new car is pretty succinct: it has to have heated seats and not be white. Simple enough. But there is one other factor to consider: gas mileage.
All of the luxury models I looked at had mediocre to poor gas mileage. Most were in the MPG range of 17 city/25 highway. Disappointing. This applied to all of the entry to mid-level models of Audi, Mercedes, Infiniti and Cadillac that I looked at. With gas prices expected to hit $5/gallon this summer this started to look like a real drawback. A small idea that had been sitting in the back of my head for months started to grow: “what about the Chevy Volt?”.
The Volt’s new, uses new battery technology, has a limited track record, and (most importantly) is expensive for what you get. For a car that looks essentially like an economy model, it costs as much as any of the aforementioned luxury brands. Is a Chevy worth $40,000?I had to think long and hard about that. But the more I looked at the Volt, the more I found to like.
The first thing to figure out was the technology and how the car actually worked. Unlike the Prius and other cars casually referred to as “hybrids,” the Volt is a different animal. It’s really a fully electric car. The wheels are driven full-time by electric current. On a full battery charge, the car can be driven about 36 miles. When the battery is exhausted, a small gas-powered engine kicks in to supply the electricity and recharge-the battery. The gasoline engine is not connected to the power train of the vehicle in any other way. In that sense, the Volt’s not really a hybrid at all. And, unlike other hybrids, if you drive less than 36 miles per day (as we do during our daily work commutes), you never need gasoline…ever. As long as there’s a conventional 120V house current plug around, the Volt can be ready to go for the following day’s commute on about $1.80 of electricity. Nice.
Okay, great. I knew how it worked and satisfied myself that it was a car that we could live with but there was still that little issue of the high cost. It came down to the Volt and an Infiniti G37 coupe. We had test driven both and they essentially cost the same to lease for three years. The Infiniti was nice and had all of the amenities: leather seats, swanky interior, cool gadets…but in the end it was just another car, like a half dozen other cars that we’d owned over the years. The Volt was completely different. I just felt that it was a game-changer: a car that drove in silence, emitted no pollution from the tailpipe and was not tethered to the pump or the seasonal fluctuations in the cost of gasoline. Plus, it was American made and could be driven on energy from domestic energy supplies. I would not be subsidizing unfriendly foreign governments. That’s a nice feeling.
I have to say that we haven’t regretted the decision for a second. We both felt good about the purchase from the beginning and we love being able to plug the car in at night and be ready to go in the morning. The car feels tight, the interior fit and finish feels as solid as a Japanese car and it drives great. The acceleration is strong enough to merge with confidence on any expressway on-ramp and the computerized instruments provide plenty of feedback on the efficiency of your driving. Unlike the Nissan Leaf, we’re not limited to a 100 mile range and can drive the car across the country if we need to. We can always power the battery from the gas generator if necessary. It seems like the perfect compromise.
One very strong impression that I’ve had from the first time I drove the Volt off the dealer lot: this feels like the future. After driving a silent electric car, it just leaves you with the feeling that all cars will be like this within the next ten years. With the competition growing for diminishing oil resources, it seems only logical that we’ll all be making the shift to electrics in the near future. Even if every other driver on the road hasn’t realized it yet.
On November 3 I had the opportunity to see on of my favorite muscial scores performed live by the New York Philharmonic: Philip Glass’ Koyaanisqatsi. Mr. Glass was on hand to participate in the performance, adding some subtle keyboards to a few select portions of the piece. The film itself was projected above the orchestra as they played.
I first saw Koyaanisqatsi as a college student back in the late 1980s at a local art house in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t at all familiar with Philip Glass or his music at that time. By the time I left the theatre, I was determined to seek out more music by this composer. It was a kind of rhythmic, meditative, propulsive music in a style that I had never encountered before. It was utterly unique. Thus did I form a life long fascination with the composer’s work that continues to this day.
Glass’ music was a perfect companion to the subject matter of the film: the insanity of our often hyperactive modern lives. (Koyaanisqatsi itself is a Hopi word that can be translated as “life out of balance” or “life that calls for another way of living”.) Through a series of wordless visual sequences, director Godfrey Reggio creates a scathing indictment of modern man’s opposition to nature. Nothing need be said; the images speak for themselves. I was deeply affected by this film when I first saw it. Though I’ve seen it many times since and the initial impact has dulled somewhat, it remains highly compelling.
When I saw that the score was to performed live by full orchestra and chorus in New York, I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on some tickets. I was really looking forward to seeing how a live orchestra would handle this extremely difficult work with it’s amazingly rapid, repetitive instrumental sequences. Some of Glass’ work seems more suited to machine than human players. I wanted to see how it could be pulled off.
Pull it off they did. I think I detected no more than one missed note (from the horn section) throughout the entire performance. The live score was completely faithful to the recorded one I’ve become so familiar with. The full chorus was particularly impressive. All of those voices producing a power that’s simply not reproducible through any home stereo. It reminded me of the need to see music performed live.
Sometimes it’s easier to show than to tell. Here’s a project from a couple of years ago. The charge was to redesign a community engagement site, incorporating revisions in content resulting from a hard-hitting analysis of the old site by an outside reviewer. One of the required elements of the redesign was that it project a more inviting tone, highlighting the partnership between the institution and the surrounding community. Work proceeded quickly from benchmarking to content development, to wireframing, to completed design. The final site can be seen at www.bnl.gov/community.
So here’s a review of Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca, a little gem of a restaurant tucked away in the middle of nowhere in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The Finger Lakes, if you’ve never been there, are a lovely collection of long, narrow lakes oriented north-south in a particularly verdant part of the state. In recent years, the Finger Lakes have become known for their burgeoning wine industry. While it’s hard to produce a decent red wine grape in the harsh New York winters, the area is perfect for cultivating white varietals. Rieslings are now the wine that the area is best known for. A bit sweet for my taste, but you have to work with the climate that you’re dealt. I digress.
While on a trip in the area a few months ago, my wife and I had to stop in to take a look at Dano’s. Housed in very modern architecture, the building alone jumps out at the traveler making his way up the eastern edge of Seneca Lake. After passing through quaint old towns whose best days are behind them, one does not expect to see such a structure nestled on the hillside of the lake…even given the recent explosion of new wineries and attendant tasting facilities. I poked my head into the restaurant just to see what the interior looked like. I immediately knew that we had to come back. The decor is as fresh and contemporary as anything you might expect to find in Manhattan and the unobstructed view of Seneca Lake is simply stunning. I quickly noted the name as one that I had to google when I got home. And the name is confusing. “Dano’s Heuriger”. What does that mean? What’s a “heuriger”?
Turns out that a heuriger is the name of a common Viennese establishment, sort of like a bistro in America. It’s a casual atmosphere designed to facilitate relaxation, conversation and good times with friends. Dano’s features an a la carte menu of German or German-inspired food. Sharing of food between guests is highly encouraged. We started out with a variety of flavored spreads and bread which were very good. For an app, I had a delicious tomato soup and we all shared a serving of cold, lightly cooked potatoes soaked in oil with some onions mixed in. Better than it sounds. For an entree, I had a classic Viennese dish, Wiener schnitzel. Delicious.Five or six deserts were available but I was too stuffed to try them out.
The wine list is strictly Finger Lakes. Lots of well-rated whites. If you’re looking for a deep cabernet sauvignon, forget it. There are none on the menu. The closest you’re going to get is a cabernet franc. The one I had was inoffensive but forgettable. The 2008 Herman Wiemer gewurztraminer, on the other had, was very pleasant.
The staff is very friendly and helpful. The interior space is expansive and beautiful. And the view of Seneca Lake…simply wonderful. I look forward to going back.
Here are some of the reference books that I have to show for 10 years of being in the web design business. I think almost all of these books would be familiar to anyone in the field: Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards, at least one Eric Meyer CSS book, Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think!, O’Reilly’s HTML book, etc. They were all indispensable at one time. I almost get nostalgic for the time when a few of them were novel…when the web was new and nobody knew exactly what the rules were.
What’s the difference between a developer and a programmer? We usually sling these terms around without distinction. Alan Skorkin has taken a stab at clearly defining the two. Here’s what he thinks a developer is:
They write code. Making it well-factored and clean is important, but other factors often take priority. Math skills are very much optional, but it does help to be aware of common problems and solutions related to the domain they are in. Communication and people skills are paramount. Process and team dynamics are bread and butter skills. They are consummate generalists without any truly deep specializations. They are expert at finding ways around problems and plugging components together to fulfill a set of requirements. In their personal time they are either trying to build the next Facebook, or engage in activities that have nothing to do with programming, developing, or computer science.
Y’know, my old fashioned Apple laptop comes with a very convenient built-in keyboard and multi-angle display that can be adjusted to my viewing position. I can very comfortably type on the laptop while in a lounging position on a couch. With the iPad, I have to buy an accessory that needs to be situated on a table in order to be used.
The iPad’s keyboard may be a huge disappointment to some because it resembles the one on the iPhone, which has drawn major complaints for users, only bigger. Early reviewers have noted that it can be awkward to type on the device. Already recognizing that users could take issue with the iPad’s keyboard, Apple plans to release a keyboard dock for the iPad which lets users type on a traditional keyboard, while charging their tablet.