Monday, December 29, 2008

Historical Sites & Retail Haven

H and I are in St. Augustine to enjoy the historical sites.
We started off at the light station which has been turned into a museum. The big attraction is the 164' lighthouse. Climbing to the top is an adventure in itself for those of us who have a fear of falling. There are 219 narow metal mesh stairs that spiral to the top that are crowded with comers and goers. The view from the top is worth it. You can see for 20 miles.
After the lighthouse we went to the Castillo. It is the oldest mortar fort in the continental US. The walls are made from conquina which is a type of limestone formed from millions of tiny shells. The US park service provides a self-guided tour of the fort. We also saw them fire one of the small cannons. It only has a range of a mile and a half. The big cannons have a range of three miles.
After the fort we headed over to historic St. George street. Despite knowing better, I hoped that it would be a living museum set up showing the town as it was in the days of the Spaniards. It is a living museum, but not one that is frozen in time. The buildings have all been preserved and there are plenty of ways to get the history of the place, but there are no actors. Instead St. George street is a thriving commercial area. There are a lot of shops and eateries. Some are tourist traps, but most are nice. While the insane purist on me wants to keep the history free of shallow comercialism, the realist in me knows that sometimes the best way to preserve history is to allow it to change with the times.

Mobile Blogging from here.

Group Dynamics

On the long drive to FL I started catching up on my backlog of "This American Life" podcasts.
One episode was about people who ruin it for the rest of us. The intro was about a study that proved that there are three personality types that can poison a group. They are so infectious that they erode any group they encounter. The types are: jerks, slackers, and depressives.
The intro also talked about studies that prove that a group is only as strong as its weakest link. An amazingly strong group member can not make up for an amazingly weak one.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Two Lanes?

Why is the major north/south highway on the east coast only two lanes through the Carolinas? Today seems to be the day that all the Northeasterners who are too cheap to fly to Disney (H and I included) decided to clog 95 south. We were joined by all the Floridians returning from Christmas visiting. The result was a six hour drive through SC.
SC may have some beautiful places, but the 95 corridor is not one of them. It is flat and homogenous. It is the kind of landscape you want to fly through at 80.
Today the drive was a lot like bad sex. You zoom, then slow to crawl, then zoom, then suddenly stop, then zoom... And so it goes without such as a glimmer of eventual release.
Then there was Santee, a foggy oasis of fast food and crap. The perfect way to break the fun.
Thank god for Georgia's three lane high way!

Mobile Blogging from here.

Two Guys Grill

Today's leg of the Journey started off well. The roads were clear and traffic moved swiftly. Then somewhere in NC we hit a massive traffic jam. In over an hour we moved about 3 miles.
Lunch brightened the day we stopped at Two Guys Grille in Lumberton, NC. I got the southwest chicken salad and it was sublime. The Cajun spiced chicken had just enough kick to clear the sinuses and the cheese was just enough to balance it all out. H got a salad 'freddie' style. It was topped with the innards of a hoogie. It was a little greasy, but not too cheesy.
It gives me hope that the next 400 miles will fly by.

Mobile Blogging from here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Flying" to Florida

H was feeling a little guilty about never visiting my Mom in FL, so we decided that Christmas would be a great time to go. It is also the most expensive time to visit. The cheapest flight and car rental combo H could find cost $1000 and had terrible flight times. Joking, I said we should drive...
So now we are in a Days Inn just outside of Petersburg, VA after a very long day of driving.
One bright spot on the trip (other than getting to spend time with H) was an Itallian resturant named Giuseppe's Pizza in Ruther Glen, VA. The food was simple, cheap, and good. The atmospher was casual. It really hit the spot after 10 hours of traffic.
One other thing that made the drive go by was a Christmas present. H's Dad gave me a Griffin AutoPilot so I can play my iPod through my stereo and keep the iPod charged. Egg 2.0 has an auxilary input, so the audio plays crytal clear. The AutoPilot pulls the audio signal from the dock connector which means there is no messing around with trying to align the volumes.
From the technology incompetence file: We tried to get the GPS to plot the route to my Mom's house while zooming down the Garden State Parkway at 70, but it would just lock up. This was very upsetting because it has been a trusty piece of gear until this point. Eventually we stopped at Dick Clark's American Bandstand for lunch. (It was as bad as the name implies.) While waiting for lunch we decide to give the GPS a chance to redeem itself. After an eternity of calculating it finally pops up with a route. H checked the route over, decided the thing is busted, and hands it to me to check out. The route takes us off of the highway and down a series of back roads.... The last time I had used the GPS was on the bicycle... The GPS was working just fine. I was impressed that it managed to figure out a bike route from NJ to FL. Once I set the GPS to route for a car it spit out excellent directions.

Mobile Blogging from here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Kayaking, Blogging, iPhoning

While I tend to cleave towards extreme simplicity (I ride a single speed bike and paddle with a piece of wood) I also love my high tech toys. I dig my digital camera, my GPS, and my shiny MacBook Pro. My favorite piece of digital wonder is my iPhone. It does more than a Swiss Army knife. It is my phone, my music source, my address book, my date book, my mobile e-mail, my link to the vast store of human knowledge, my guidance system, and my game boy.
What does any of this have to do with kayaking? Well in addition to all of the other things it does, my iPhone is also a global tide table. The app store has several tide apps. I decided on installing TideApp. The interface let's you select tide stations across the globe. The first page sorts the stations by US ports, non-US ports, and favorites. The tide reports seem to be pretty accurate. There are only two potential drawbacks: the times are always in EST and the app appears to access the Internet to get the tide data. For me, neither is a problem. I live on the East coast and the iPhone is usually connected to the Internet.
One other bit of iPhone and kayaking related business. To keep my precious safe while its in the day hatch, I wrap it in an Otter Armor series case. The case is water proof and protects the phone from shock. It adds some bulk to the phone but it is worth it. The phone is mostly usable while wrapped in it's cocoon. The only functionality that does not work in the case is the phone speaker. You can still use the phone with a headset or in speaker phone mode. Sadly, Otter decided not to make a version of this case for the iPhone 3G. It is one of the reasons I'm holding off on upgrading.
The iPhone has one other neat trick up it's sleeve for the kayaking blogger. It makes a good mobile blogging platform. I tried to use the Web version of the Blogger interface and it was passable but not a tool I'd use regularly. Then I found an application called iBlogger. It is made by the same people who make the ecto blogging client for OS X. The app usually cost $4.99 but I managed to get it on sale for $0.99. It works with all of the major blogging services, makes posting and editing old posts easy. The interface is uncluttered and makes working with a blog on the go easy. It does not, however, support posting pictures. The only pain with mobile blogging is the tiny keyboard.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Something New, Somethings Repaired, Some Wind

After a month without the Q-Boat, I was itching for some time on the water even if the forecast was less than stellar. Besides I wanted to try out the the repaired mighty stick, the Q-Boat's new keel strip, and the Egg 2.0.
The drive down was excellent. Egg 2.0 is a nice ride. The roof racks are a little noisy, but the stereo cranks good quality sound at plenty of decibels. It also has speed sensitive volume: it gets louder when the car goes faster. I took advantage of the aux jack to catch up on Mark Kermode's movie reviews - he blasted the new version of the "Day the Earth Stood Still."
At the put-in things started to go awry. I had forgotten to pack a spray skirt... I had seen H's in the wall in the garage and never thought to double check that mine was in my box... (The spray skirt hanging on the wall of the garage is not H's). The wind was stronger than I had expected. BH was running very late.
Fortunately, JS had an extra XL spray skirt. So once BH showed up and got his stuff together we set out.
There was 6 total in the group: JS, BH, KF, J, T, and myself.
We paddled out of Sakonnet Harbor and turned south - faces into a steady 15knt wind. I was glad to have the mighty stick for battling the wind. I am not in tip top shape and the paddle out the lighthouse was a slog. The wind waves made the slog even more challenging. The Q-Boat's bow would ride up one and crash into the middle of the next one. My face was covered in cold spray.
From the lighthouse we headed along the outside of the islands. It was a lively run. The wind was pushing the waves hard into the rocky shore.
When we turned back toward shore we got some very nice rides. JS told us to enjoy the rides, but to not get too close to each other. We didn't want any collisions....
J was looking for seals. We spotted a zodiac with six gentleman surrounded by swimming ducks. It wasn't until JS yelled that the ducks were decoys that I noticed the shotguns.... We made sure not to get too close.
We mucked around for another hour or so before stopping on West Island (Easter Island) for lunch. We managed to find some decent shelter for lunch. We also spotted a pod of seals who were staring mighty hard at my PB&J....
After lunch we decided to call it a day. The wind was picking up and it was cold.
The paddle back to the harbor was fun. The wind whipped up some sweet waves and pushed us right up the river.
Despite the cold, the wind, and the lack of a spray skirt, it was a good day. The mighty stick appears to be fully restored. The Q-Boat is in fine form. The repairs to the chines are hardly noticeable and the new kevlar keel strip looks like it was meant to be there. Egg 2.0 performed its job as kayak carrier with aplomb.

Egg 2.0

The quest for a new car is over. Last Friday morning I picked up Egg 2.0.
I took my time (sort of) figuring out exactly what type of vehicle would be a worthy successor for Egg 1.5. I knew the following were deal breakers:
* it needed to be less than 21k
* if couldn't be a truck
* it needed to have a hatchback
* it needed to be able to have a roof rack attached
Based on that criteria I made a list of the possible replacements and came up with the following list:
* Mini Clubman
* Suzuki SX4
* Mazda 3
* VW Rabbit
* VW Jetta SportWagon
* Honda Fit
* Toyota Matrix
* Subaru Outback Sport
I ruled out the Scion xB because it was too much like a truck. The Scion xD and the Nissan Versa didn't make the list because the Fit got much better reviews. I ruled out the Saturn Astra because I was uncertain about GM future.
From the long list I ruled out the Clubman (despite the fact that I really, really wanted to make it work) because it was a) too expensive, b) too small, and c) it takes premium fuel. I also ruled out the Suzuki because I couldn't find a local dealer and I wasn't sure about the overall quality of Suzuki's cars.
The other six cars on the list got test drives at dealers along the Auto Mile in Norwood.
The Mazda 3 had the sportiest styling of all the cars. It also had the steepest price tag to get it decently equipped. The inside on the top of the model line was OK. The seats were comfortable, but the rest of the cockpit felt a little cheap. The stereo was the best of the bunch. The interior was a lot like the feel of the car on the road. It felt really sporty, but didn't really handle that well. The suspension was stiff, but not stiff enough to give it a sport car feel.
The Toyota Matrix drove like an old station wagon that was wrapped in flashy packaging. The interior was gaudy. The suspension was stiff, but the handling was sloppy. The seats were not comfortable. The shifter was in an awkward location. The engine lacked punch.
The Honda Fit was a nice little car. It has comfortable seats, a nice stereo, and a polished interior given its bargain basement price. The stereo comes with built-in iPod integration. While not exactly sporty, the Fit handles nicely. It has decent pep and it takes turns crisply. Its ride is pleasant and the rode noise is minor. The Fit also had the 2nd largest cargo space of the group. Of all the cars I test drove the Fit surprised me the most. The only downside I found to the Fit was that it did not impress me as something I'd want to take on long highway drives with a couple of sea kayaks strapped onto the roof. It would make a great city car or a great short trip car though.
The VWs were both excellent drives. They share the same engine and drove nearly the same. Both had comfortable and polished interiors although the door wells seemed a little too deep. The controls also seemed a little too complicated in their layout. The engines had plenty of power and they accessed it smoothly. The suspensions were stiff but not jarring. They both cornered nicely. The models I drove were 6 speed automatics with triptronic shifters. It was nice to be able to manually shift the cars if desired.
The Subaru was a familiar ride in a lot of ways. The new Outback Sport looks completely different from the Egg, but much of the platform is the same. The new version is quieter and the heated seats are a nice bonus as is the upgraded stereo. The new cup holder layout is also much better. It had plenty of power that transferred to the road smoothly. It handled very well. The new suspension is a little more plush, but still stiff enough to give a sporty feel. It felt like driving my car, but just a tad nicer.
After the day of driving, I narrowed the field down to two cars: the Jetta SportWagen and the Outback Sport.
I gave them both a second drive and this time I made sure to get a 5 speed Jetta. The 5 speed Jetta was marginally zippier than the automatic Jetta. The shifting was very smooth and the golfball shaped shift handle was comfortable. The only strange thing was the shift pattern. VW puts R to the left of 1st.
The decision came down to features because I liked how they both drove.
The Jetta has 30 more sq ft. of storage area. It also comes with 30k of free maintenance. It has 5 stage heated seats, turn signals on the mirrors, anti-pinch windows, and the ability to shut the windows using the keys. It also gets better gas mileage and costs about $600 less than the Subaru.
The Subaru has AWD, fog lights, more ground clearance, a windshield wiper deicer, and a heavy duty suspension. Inside it has a rubber cargo mat and a 10 speaker, 6 disc changer with controls on the steering wheel. The Subaru also comes equipped with a custom roof rack system that is super easy to remove.
Ultimately, I decided that the Subaru was the proper choice to be Egg 2.0. The AWD, the fog lights, and the heavy-duty suspension are more important to me than the extra cargo space. Besides, the Subaru is a sexier looking car.
After two trips to RI this weekend, I can say that I am happy with the car.
One super bonus is that the car has an auxiliary jack that I can use to play my iPod through!! No more radio dead-zones!! (All of the cars in the list have auxiliary jacks and the ability to have iPod integration installed.)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Egg ID

In a comment on my last post about looking for a car to replace the egg, Marlana wisely suggested that I look at Subarus. When H read the comment she chuckled because she was pretty sure I never mentioned what kind of car I actually drive (other than an egg with antlers).
Well the egg is a 2004 Subaru Outback Sport. It has been a terrific vehicle. So much so, that I am likely going to replace it with a shiny new egg. The only real struggle I'm having is that I feel like buying the same car three times in a row is a little boring. (The egg was a replacement for a 2002 Outback Sport that suffered a tragic drowning incident at a poorly marked boat ramp.)
I'll report later on my research into cars for kayaking.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Kayaking Cars

After six years and 93k hard miles being both a sports car and a gear hauler (some times simultaneously), the egg needs some major maintenance. The head gaskets are starting to leak, the exhaust is starting to succumb to the salt, and the pistons are making some noise. I can invest a few K in refurbishing it and it should last a few more years, or I can trade it in and get a new car. While I really like the egg and don't really want a car payment, the cost of the refurb is close to its value and I'm really hard on my car.
So if I'm going to replace the egg the question is: What to replace it with?
The car I think I want is a Mini Clubman. It is sporty, gets good gas mileage, and has more room than a regular Mini. Sadly, it is only a two door and more room than a regular Mini does not translate into much room for stuff. It also doesn't have All Wheel Drive.
I like to be ale to carry two kayaks, all the gear needed for two paddlers (Spring/Fall gear-levels), camping gear for at least a weekend, two bikes, the gear for the bikes, and potentially a child and their associated stuff.
As H pointed out what I really want is an economical, sports car that has the hauling capacity of a van. While there are many cars that come close to fitting bill, most fall short.
A new egg has a ton of room, AWD, 4 doors, and drives like a sporty car. Unfortunately it gets similar gas mileage to most small trucks.
I tried out a Honda Fit. It has tons of room, 4 doors, and gets great gas mileage. Unfortunately its powered by a gerbil.
I was thinking about trying out a Mazda 3, a Suzuki CX4, and a Rabbit. They all claim to be sporty wagons. The Mazda has the Zoom, Zoom image, the Suzuki offers up AWD at bargain basement prices, and the Rabbit has German engineering.
Are there any other cars that would fit the bill? They need to be sporty to drive, have 4 doors, and have largish luggage capacity. The other requirement is that it needs to be under 25k.