Sunday, January 28, 2007

Straight on 'till morning

With it snowing like crazy outside, I find winter is the best time to plan getaways. It gives you something to work toward when spring comes.

And so this year, I think I know where I'm going. Here it is.

It won't be quite as long as last year's Route 66 trip. Then, I cruised 6,000 miles of American highway. This time it'll only be about 5,000 or so. But really, what's a thousand or two miles?

Seattle's one of those Great American Cities that I've always heard good things about, and - for some weird reason - I thought driving through Montana sounded like the best experience since the Mojave Desert last year.

I did some number-crunching, and I'm looking at about $350-$400 for gas, about $200 for lodging (I'm good at sleeping in my car, it seems - but I haven't really found a place I can't get some shut-eye), probably $300 or so for food, leaving me with a total cost of about $900, with $100 leeway for the Just-In-Cases.

The plan is to high-tail it out west on the interstate (who wants to take their time through North Dakota?), speeding down I-94 and I-90, visiting four new states along the way. Stay in Seattle for three or four days, check out the town, then jog north into Vancouver and British Columbia and take the 1 through Alberta and Calgary east through Saskatchewan, then hit the 16 and 17 through Manitoba and into Ontario, round Lake Superior, and take the southern route home.

My vacation time is set. May 26 through Memorial Day week and on into the next weekend, spending the weekends mostly driving and the week in Washington.

I want to see all four corners of the country, and this will technically be corner number three. I thought about a New England driving trip, but I'll still have vacation time in the fall to do that one - if I still feel ambitious.

Next year will be a train tour through Germany and surrounding countries, and from there who the hell knows.

Now that I've got the skeleton plan set, the rest of the winter and early spring will be filling in details, saving up, and dreaming of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest.

I'm starting to feel like I should get paid to do this sort of thing. Where is National Geographic or the Travel Channel when I need them? But I'm sure they'd place restrictions on me, and frankly when I leave town I just want to do what pleases me.

What pleases me now is looking forward to another cross-country adventure, seeing vast swaths of barren and isolated Northern Lands, cutting into beloved Canada and seeing it the whole way through, and coming home to crawl into bed, taking a nap, and dreaming of impossible vacations.

That, my friends, is living.

Monday, January 15, 2007

It's a marshmallow world in the winter

These pics are mostly for the folks who aren't in Michigan any more.

I know Oklahoma got some winter weather here lately, and maybe some of this reached south. But winter has finally arrived in Michigan it seems, even if it only comes in spurts and sputters.

The rain began to freeze last night, putting a glaze over everything. Even the grass is slippery, and breaks like glass when you walk on it.

Power is out all over the place around these parts. The morning drive wasn't so bad, but on the ride home I saw lots of downed tree branches. It was gorgeous.

The pictures are just from around the apartment complex, but I thought of going down the street - the really old part of town - to catch the action. Entire streets were nothing but white and ice and quiet. Everyone stayed in today, except us at the credit union, because of Dr. King's day - and because of the weather.

These are the kind of storms I remember as a kid: dragging my sled around the neighborhood, picking twigs off the crabapple trees and sucking on the ice that coated them. Big snow piles in the parking lot you could either slide down or make a fortress for you and your friends.

Winter was childhood, especially in Michigan, although any season was ripe enough to go outside and play.

The trees are bent because of the weight of the ice. The lucky ones are still standing. Don was watching the news last night, with reports of car ports crashing down on the vehicles underneath because of the snow and ice.

"You should move your car," he told me.

I laughed. This is Michigan. It might as well be Ontario, or Minnesota. We know what winter is, and we build things to withstand the extra weight. Nature forgets, though.

I though I was forgetting, too, until I woke up this morning with a tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat.

Winter is the time to get a cold. Those spring and summer colds are just a kick in the crotch. You're not supposed to get sick when the sun is shining and warm. Winter is the proper season, because everyone's miserable, and no one feels sorry for you.

"Yeah, that's going around," they tell you. No, "Aw shucks," or "Boy, I hate being sick this time of year." No, those condolences are saved when birds chirp.

This time of year, you're on your own.

It's the season of hot soup and warm cider and the never-ending drone of the heater, so being sick only makes sense. Who wants to go out in this mess, anyway?

Well, except maybe to grab a few pretty pictures. Then it's okay.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Call me on my iPhone

The wait, my friends, is over.

Well, almost over. We have until June. But then Apple will finally release it's much-rumored iPhone.

It was announced at this morning's Macworld keynote speech by Steve Jobs, right after the AppleTV product update.

It's gorgeous. It's amazingly beautiful. It has the potential to shape cell phones, mobile computers, MP3 players - all of that - for years to come.

But Jesus is it expensive. $499 just to get you started.

No buttons to press. Few switches to switch. It's controlled by your finger and a touchscreen. Scroll through your iTunes library by dragging your finger along the screen. Resize pictures on the fly by "pinching" and "pulling" them - literally.

You control your music, your e-mail, the web, your contacts, your calendar, and your mobile phone all through this smart, intuitive, clever little gadget.

It's enough to make you want to run out and...well, save up. It doesn't come out until June.

What I love about it (just by watching the keynote - you can view it here) is how it makes navigating and controlling and organizing all your info so goddamn easy. Apple loves to make things easy. Look at the iPod. Look at iTunes. Look at the Mac.

Driver and I discussed it after the launch, and we both wonder about a couple of things. First, you have to use Cingular (Apple's reasoning being they're the biggest and best), a giant dinosaur that has been absorbed into the even bigger dinosaur, AT&T. I don't like AT&T, but if I want an iPhone I'd have to stick with them.

Driver worries about battery life: how long can a device that does so much and look amazing while doing it last? Jobs bragged about five hours of continuous usage, but he likes to over-estimate his products.

We both worried about the price, and I worried about storage. A four-gig and eight-gig model? How much music and pictures and videos and movies can eight gigs really hold?

And frankly, I'd use the thing without the damn phone part. But it has to be a phone, too, and you have to pay for it.

But I remember thinking when the iPod was released how obnoxiously overpriced it was. Maybe, like all things, the price will come down a bit. I really think it could be worth it. It's like a mini-Mac, a full-sized iPod Nano, and a cell phone all in one.

When I first got my cell phone, I flirted with the calendar and the notes and the alarms and all that, but I gave up after realizing I hated inserting letters with a 10-digit keypad. It's crude, and slow. What I would love is to be able to sync it with the iBook and be done with it. And I know there are phones out there that allow you to do syncing stuff, but no one seems to have it down pat.

Not until now.

With the iPod so successful, and now the iPhone and AppleTV, Apple is getting more and more into non-computer related fields and making them a user-friendly experience. So "Apple Computers, Inc." is no more. Now there's just "Apple, Inc."

If you have a spare hour or so, sit down and watch the keynote, because it's hard to capture the beauty of this beast in a stupid blog. Think your iPod is fun to use? Wait 'till you see this.

Friggin'. Visual. Voicemail.

Instead of slogging through six voicemails to hear every one of them, you can select - with your finger, not your time and ear, which ones you want to hear in any order you wish.

Want a keypad? Hit the keypad button and they appear. When you're done, they disappear. The keypad on my current phone doesn't disappear when I don't need it, does yours?

The Safari web browser shows actually pages, not truncated, squat versions of webpages. Need to see something closer. Tap it with your finger to zoom.

Apple found a way to make all that stuff we get frustrated with and...well...just fix it. Poof.

So six months from now, maybe I'll have the $500 to buy an iPhone, maybe I won't. I didn't think I'd get an iPod, until I went to the Apple Store in Novi and actually tried one out for a while. Maybe that's what I'll do this time - make a little recon trip.

And hey, my current cell phone contract expires in July. Coincidence?

Yup. But I'll call it good timing too.

Now if only they would work on an iRemote Control for our TVs...

Go Gators

There's revenge, and then there's revenge - and then there's admitting you're wrong.

I remember feeling, like the rest of my state, that Michigan was screwed out of a rematch shot with number-one ranked Ohio State when Florida moved up into the number-two spot.

But now? Well, after the Rose Bowl, and tonight's championship game, maybe we were all wrong. Wrong about Michigan, about Ohio State, about the Big Ten in general - who only won two bowl games this season.

I still feel that 40-50 days off affects a team in ways I can't even begin to imagine. It's the spring semester at most schools now, and they're still thinking football. It's basketball season, you dummies.

But then part of me feels like OSU fell short of the Real Deal. They beat Texas, sure, but barely surved their encounter with Michigan. Then the break.

Then the Break.

Against high-flying offenses and constant pressure from the defensive line, the Big Ten's Big Boys fell apart.

Since Michigan didn't play, I didn't have a favorite in tonight's game. But I will say I rooted for the Gators, out of fairness and underdog-ness and spiteful glee at the prospect of that neo-robot Troy Smith getting shoved into the turf.

There's something about those SEC colors, too. The bright orange and royal blue stood in stark contrast to the midwest's own drab colors. We don't dress brightly here in the North, especially now that the snow is finally falling. In Florida, you need bright colors to stand out from all those beaches and swamps and howling hurricane winds.

Speaking of Hurricanes: I propose the Midwest/Florida Bowl - something where some team from the Sunshine State and some other team from the Rust Belt go head-to-head on some rain-drenched Pacific Northwest field. We'll play at Washington State. They don't need their field. Boise State can show us how things are done.

This marks the first time I've paid more attention to the NCAA than the NFL, and I'm so glad I did.

Now we wait until late August, when the marching bands warm up their instruments, the cheerleaders stretch in the late summer sunlight, and students paint themselves in orange and maize and scarlet and cheer on the last vestiges of the War Between the States.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Living life 1.5

I picked up a copy of Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" issue and - lo and behold - the person being celebrated was me.

And you... And everyone.

The shiny, white iMac on the cover caught my eye, as did the reflective Mylar - a postmodern gimmick that reflects the viewer's own image back at them - and because I've been hearing so much about user-created content and Web 2.0, I just had to read more.

What I learned, and what I'm sure everyone logging into MySpace later today already knows, is that people are taking over the internet.

It goes something like this... In the old days, big corporations - Nike, Coke, Apple, The New York Times - built web pages where people would go to read, purchase, browse, whatever... But the companies and organizations that owned the web site controlled what you saw.

Web 2.0 says we control what we see... Go to my Flickr account and you'll see all the photos I've taken in the last year... Come to my MySpace profile and read about how I survived New Year's... Go to eBay and bid on stuff I'm selling... Point your browser to and read the book review I just wrote... That's Web 2.0.

And, essentially, it's the power of all that people-created stuff that made Time pick everyday citizens as the people of the year.

Why not?.. From the sounds of it, we've all been pretty busy...

This raises concerns, however, because if you've ever visited a random YouTube video - maybe the one where the guy performs dance moves to music through the decades, as Stacy showed me one day (and I want that six minutes of my life back, dammit) - you know that there's an awful lot of garbage out there.

That makes the quality stuff, the real cream, harder to find among all the junk... Web 2.0 provides tools, like, to help us sort, thankfully... But after a whlie all that crap takes up a lot of our attention - and a lot of our time.

For the most part I've embraced a lot of 2.0 stuff... I love reading through Wikipedia... I could spend hours on there, browsing through all the links, learning about how information interconnects... I use backpackit to keep a list of books I want to buy or interesting software I want to check out... I read Lifehacker every day to see how some geek in Idaho turned his Mac SE into a neon fish tank (and how I can repeat the process)...

I also read about people spending their entire lives on the computer, noting every little moment, typing in every little to-do for the day, wasting hours on YouTube watching a kitty fall over asleep.

Brian Williams, in a kind of counter-argument to the "Person of the Year" spread, wrote that "the danger just might be that we miss the next great book or next great idea, or that we fail to meet the next great challenge...because we're too busy celebrating ourselves."

I like spending time online, and wasting time reading my friends' blogs, but I make sure to actually live Life, version 1.0, because that's where the really good stuff happens.

You can't beat a scrap piece of paper, scribbled with the daily to-dos and crammed into your pocket... You can't beat actually watching some goofy animal do some goofy trick, right out there in nature.

[Side story:.. I'll never forget the day I watched a squirrel fall out of a tree - actually lose his/her footing and come crashing to the ground - while I was eating my lunch outside one summer day... That's life!]

And you sure as hell can't beat finding out about a person's life from their own lips... I learn more about Suzanne or Don or Ladane from spending a good meal together than I ever will reading their bulletins, no matter how much information they pack in there.

It makes me wonder how people my grandma's age ever got along without the Internet... Isn't that a strange thing to think about?.. Life Before?.. Here we've grown up with..the Web..since we were at least teenagers, and I've learned a lot trying to teach my grandma what all is possible with something as simple as, say, a Google search on who sang "Lean On Me.".. She still heads to the encyclopedia, even after all these years.

Sometimes just sitting, and thinking, and picking your teeth with a toothpick can be the best thing in the world, you know?

...well, maybe not... That one's pretty personal.

It'll be interesting to see where all this stuff leads to - where, say, Web 3.0 could take us... I just hope it won't be the hyper-celebrations of the Me Culture, the incessant desire to become..some crypto-Internet celebrity, that I have nightmares about.

But in the meantime, I'll be living the best of both worlds - trying to stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest, but still taking the time to live a life that isn't contained within a 17-inch LCD screen.