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Posts tagged ‘cool’

Welcome Home “Big Stick”

In LA, we’re pretty jaded when it comes to celebrity. After all, on any given day you can stumble across crews filming everything from “Transformers” to “CSI Miami” to the next hot commercial you can’t get out of your head. Dare to get out of your car and you could end up face-to-face with Tom Selleck or Tom Petty or Tom Brady. It takes a lot to get and hold our attention.

Full 16-in IOWA broadside in 1984. She could bring it ...

Today, however, we welcome a special new celebrity who’ll be making her home in Los Angeles . The USS Iowa, among the last of a long line of proud American battlewagons, arrived this morning off LA Harbor after a 4-day tow from the Bay Area. She’s spent the last decade or so in the mothball fleet in the back bays up there, waiting for either a new home or a date with the scrap yard. I for one am thrilled that the former has come true, and even more so that the aforementioned new home will be in my back yard.

I’ve been a huge Navy fan all my life, particularly of the World War II era. While other kids were reading Sports Illustrated, I was reading Samuel Eliot Morison’s sixteen-volume “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II“. When I was old enough to afford it, I bought my own set – and still own them. A decade ago, when she was being prepped for decommission and museum duty in Pearl Harbor, I was lucky enough to spend time offshore near the Missouri – sistership to the Iowa – as she was stripped of ammunition off Seal Beach. Just two months ago, I spent an hour walking the decks of the battleship Texas – a pre-WWI dreadnought and the oldest remaining battleship – during a visit to Houston. I can’t wait to do the same when they open the Iowa up for tours in July.

IOWA sits at anchor off Seal Beach

The Iowa has had a proud and at times controversial career. The lead ship of a 4-ship class of battleships, she was launched during World War II and saw service in the Marianas and Leyte Gulf campaigns. She pounded the beaches of North Korea before spending nearly a quarter century in mothballs. Reinstated during the Reagan era and retrofitted with modern weaponry such as cruise missiles and Phalanx guns, the Iowa saw her career cut short when a 1989 explosion in the #2 main turret killed 47 sailors. The investigation of the accident, which included rumors of homosexual affairs and suicide by sabotage – all of which was ultimately shown to be untrue – was not the Navy’s finest moment, and marked the end of the road for Iowa. While her sisters Missouri and Wisconsin were firing Tomahawk missiles at Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, Iowa was back in the mothball fleet awaiting her fate.

For now, though, it appears that fate will be a bright one. Like her three sisters, IOWA will soon take up her final duty station as a museum piece. She currently sits anchored several miles outside of LA Harbor, where in the next few days a team of divers will scrub her hull of all the nasty things that collected during her decade in San Francisco Bay. After that, it’s a short tow to Berth 87 where she’ll be on display alongside the Maritime Museum on the main channel. Shortly after the 4th of July weekend, she’ll be opened to tours – and I
already have my ticket … 😉

Thoughts of a Foreigner

I’ve been kicking around this part of Texas for the better part of four days now, and I still don’t even know what to call it. The news peeps refer to the “Houston/Sugar Land/Baytown” metro region, but that’s all north of here. Whatever you want to call it, I like it – it’s close enough to the water to feel its effects without feeling its property values, and close enough to Houston to enjoy the city without having to enjoy the traffic. It is different than home, though, and as I drive around I continually see things that confuse, bemuse or amuse me …

Texas Trees

Know what kind of trees these are? Hit the Comment button below ...

– Singing roads: If someone tells you “it’s hotter than asphalt in Texas,” you know they’ve never been here. I assume it’s due to the heat, but the roads here are all concrete. Being as this is hurricane country, and concrete and rain don’t play will with cars, the roads are all grooved to allow the water to slough off. The result is that as you drive down them, particularly at speed, the tires play a melodic tune. Takes a little getting use to, but soon you realize that sound like a squealing Britney Spears fan is in fact another driver about to overtake you. Which brings me to …

– Drivers: As a native Angelino, I take a certain amount of abuse about our drivers, but they’ve got nothing on the folks around here. I’ve never been to New York, but I’ve been to Tijuana, and I can tell you the locals here are far worse. They drive with their adrenaline at full, and consider turn signals to be for sissies. I can be going twenty miles over the speed limit on a midsize highway and traffic will be stacking up behind me – or passing me on the shoulder. From now on, when I need to kick it up a notch in LA traffic, my mantra will be “channel your inner Texan” …

– Signals: You know those traditional red-over-yellow-over-green lights we all have? Not here – rotate them 90 degrees clockwise and read ’em left to right. I’m guessing it’s either a stable-when-it-blows-like-hell thing, or just a desire to be different.

– Starbucks: I don’t want this to make me sound too left coast, but it took me two days to find a Starbucks around here. Worth noting that in the same time, I found four Waffle Houses and six Whataburgers …

– Trees: There are two and only two kinds of trees here. The first is some kind of weed tree that seems to grow everywhere, and I suspect was the native cover here before any development. The other are the water towers that poke above the treeline, one per suburb. Inasmuch as this place is flat as a board, it’s the only way you’re ever going to have any water pressure. They also make wonderful navaids, since each is conveniently labelled with the town monicker.

Battleship Texas

Firepower is a wonderful thing ...

– DejaGoo: This isn’t so much a comment on the area as the the technology available to familiarize yourself with a strange region. I had an hour to kill last Friday, so, anal-retentive toad that I am, I scoped the place out in Google Maps. Using their Street View, I was able to virtually “drive” from my hotel to work, seeing all the landmarks. Once I arrived in the real Webster, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen something that I recognize – even though I’ve never been here. Cool and eerie all at the same time.

Our workshop ended earlier today, and I had a chance to spend an hour touring the battleship Texas – an awesome experience. Tomorrow it’s Galveston Island for half a day then home.

The Old Girl’s Still Got It …

Once upon a time, the Big Three networks ruled the airwaves. A group of upstarts at FOX wanted to change that, turning to edgy programming skewed to a younger demographic to establish their place on the dial. It worked, as shows like “Married … with Children” and “The Simpsons” paved the way for Fox to join ABC, NBC and CBS as a permanent television network.

Amazingly enough, The Simpsons are still with us today, rolling on twenty years after graduating from a series on short skits on the “Tracey Ullmann Show”. Today, it is the longest-running series in the history of television, and showing no signs of ending anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t getting a little long in the tooth – what was once edgy and daring can with time seem stale and stodgy … just ask Jerry Brown.

The good folks at Gracie Films understand the criticism, and despite the long run are capable of bringing the heat when necessary, as we saw last Sunday. One of the long-running gags on the series is the opening credits, where we get a thumbnail view of the Simpsons world, often spiced up with topical references. Last night, though, it was a little spicier than normal, as British street artist Banksy provided his perverted spin on the credits – complete with a look inside the Simpson merchandising process … and the seemingly deplorable conditions therein:

Now, on one hand it’s nice to think that the Simpsons can still be edgy after all these years, willing to bite the hand that feeds them. But we can also invision Rupert Murdoch’s FOX minions chuckling as they count the money, secure insiders to the gag. We’ll leave it to you to decide …

Looking For A Little Place In The Country?

Everyone dreams of a wonderful place to spend their retirement. Some dream of a lanai on the Big Island, others a penthouse balcony in Manhattan, but a lot hope for a little country home they can call their own. Well, if you have a little change jingling in your pocket, have I got a deal for you!

We’ve all seen the Kevin Costner baseball flick, “Field of Dreams.” For those with a short memory, Costner’s Ray Kinsella is an Iowa farmer who follows the advice of a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field. Amazing things happen, and the catch phrase “If You Build It, He Will Come” (#39 in the American Film Institute’s list of famous film quotes) was born.

Universal Pictures build a real diamond in a real Dyersville, Iowa cornfield for the shooting, and when they left it turned into a real tourist attraction – and now it can be yours.

The baseball diamond is part of a 193-acre tract that Don and Becky Lansing have had in their family for more than 100 years.

The Lansings are asking $5.4 million for the field and surrounding farmland plus the house used in the movie, two souvenir stands and six other farm buildings.

The sale will be conduced without stipulations, meaning the new owner could potentially plow under the field, just as the fictitious Ray Kinsella was urged to do by his bankers in the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams.”

“We love the land and the field, but it is time for us to head to the locker room,” said Becky. She added “we are getting up there in years and it is time to think about retirement.”

Both Costner and co-star Ray Liotta were rumored to be interested in buying the property, but that was just an urban myth. The unfortunate reality is that most small farms (and yes, this qualifies as “small”) are bought by neighboring corporate tracts, which could result in the field being restored to it’s earlier pre-baseball condition. But it’s not too late to step in and buy your own little piece of heaven – interested parties may contact real estate consultant Ken Sanders about the property at (414) 803-4220 or e-mail him at kensanders20@gmail.com.

Need To Send The Mother-In-Law Back To Her Home Planet?

Then have I got just the thing for you. Courtesy of Craigslist comes a little peace of mind – not to mention silence – in the form of your own personal spaceship!

This space ship is in excellent condition! Only 300 million Intergalactic miles, 4 passenger, no meteor dents, possibly needs reactor seals and recharged flux capacitor, 1 owner. Still have the original owners manual.

OK, so maybe the listing was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but for $3500 it’s still a cool little find. Just imagine this baby in the back yard as a playset for the kids, or with a kegerator as a mini-man cave, or wired as the ultimate personal office. The possibilities are as vast as the galaxy itself.

Act now, before this one hyperdrive’s out of here … 😀

If It Had A Verizon Logo, I’d Already Be In Line …

Let’s say you work for Apple. Pretty cool to start with, but you can top it – you work with the uber-secret new toys Steve Jobs loves to surprise the world with. Not only do you get to play with the new cool stuff, but once in a very rare while you actually get to field test it. And then you leave the iPhone prototype in a bar

Unfortunately for one soon-to-be-ex-Apple employee, that’s exactly how the folks at Gizmodo ended up with what they believe is the working prototype for the next generation iPhone.  A “source” found what seemed to just be a typical iPhone in a bar and, unable to find the owner, took it home.  Only after discovering the case was a fake and a totally new kind of iPhone was inside did he realize something was different.  Eventually, the phone made it to the rabid hands of Gizmodo, who promptly disassembled it.

As you might expect, it runs the new iPhone 4.0 software that was recently announced. It also comes with a chat camera facing the user to go with the normal opposite side picture-taking variety (which also seems to be upgraded as well).  Most intriguing, though, is that the design of the phone itself – which has remained relatively unchanged since the beginning – has undergone a makeover:

At first sight, this new iPhone’s industrial design seems so different from the previous two generations that it could be discarded as just a provisional case. Even while the finish is so perfect that it feels right out of the factory, some of the design language elements that are common to all Apple products are not there. Gone is the flushed screen glass against the metal rim. Gone is the single volume button, replaced by two separate ones. Gone is the seamless rim, and gone are the tapered, curved surfaces.

Despite that, however, this design is not a departure. Not when you frame it with the rest of the Apple product line. It’s all the contrary: This new iPhone gets back to the simplicity of the iMac and the iPad. In fact, you can argue that the current iPhone 3GS—with its shiny chrome rim and excessively curved back—is out of place compared to the hard edges and Dieter-Ramish utilitarianism of the iMac and the iPad. Next to the iPad, for example, the new iPhone makes sense. It has the same feeling, the same functional simplicity.

So, much as some pundits have called the iPad an oversized iPhone, now it’s the iPhone that will be called an undersized iPad … :-) Personally, I like the new design – I was never that happy with the rounded back of the iPhone … it just seemed to want to slip out of your hand like a slivered bar of soap. Interesting stuff, and if nothing else it’s good to see the folks in Cupertino aren’t remaining static in the face of the Droid challenge. It’s good to be king, but uneasy rests the crown …

UPDATE:  Now Gizmodo has ratted out the Apple engineer in question – a guy by the name of Gray Powell.  They give more details on how the phone was lost, and the guy is even participating in the comments on the thread, which is one of those things that makes alarm bells go off for me.  Not sure what to think now … truly lost prototype or ultimate underground advertising … guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

Victory To Remember

I think we all knew the big story of the Masters would whether the famous golfer with wife trouble would win the Masters – we just didn’t think it’s be the other one.

In many ways, Phil Mickelson is everything Tiger Woods is not: Tiger has a chiseled physique; Phil has man boobs. Tiger has a smooth, precise game; Phil prides himself on punching it out of the cabbage. Tiger’s best asset on the course is his brain; Phil’s biggest albatross on the course is his brain. They do share a couple of traits, however – both are at the top of the world golf rankings and both have beautiful blonde wives.

Both golfers came to Augusta with something to prove, but for entirely different reasons. While Tiger was taking time off tour to recover from having cheated … and cheated … and cheated … on his wife Elin, Phil was taking time off to be with his cancer-stricken wife, Amy. A fixture on tour following her husband down the fairway with their kids, Amy’s illness forced Phil to miss time last season – and he lost more when his mother was diagnosed with her own case of breast cancer months later. Amazingly, Phil’s game flourished despite the missed time, and he captured the season-ending Tour Championship last September.

Although he played several events prior to the Masters, there was nothing in Lefty’s performance that would lead you to believe he would be competitive. But with Amy on the course for the first time in a year, Phil played like someone from whom a huge burden had been lifted. While Tiger got all the press coverage and performed understandably erratic, Mickelson played solid golf throughout, remaining close to the lead through the first three rounds. It wasn’t until he went eagle-eagle-birdie on the back side of his third round that people started to really notice him, and when Lee Westwood collapsed on Sunday Mickelson was able to cruise to a relatively easy victory and his third green jacket.

Phil is a pretty level-headed guy, but there was no holding back the tears this time – a third Masters victory (and first major since 2006) with his wife alongside was more than he could take, and who could blame him. Unlike the controversy swirling about Tiger Woods, which was entirely of his own making, Phil dealt with external challenges with character and grace, understanding that his place was with the ones he loved in their times of need. Anyone not touched by this victory really needs to take a look inside and wonder what they’re made of.

UPDATE: Just in case you thought all the emotion of the moment might overshadow Mickelsons playful nature, here’s a shot of the 2010 Masters champion with his family at the drive-thru window of a Krispy Kreme donut shop the morning after – and yes, that’s the green jacket … 😀

On A Clear Day, You Can … See!

LA takes a lot of justifiable abuse for the two most-visible by-products of our super-sized population:  traffic and smog.  Politicians work hard to resolve both (generating a lot of hot air in the process … ) but the truth is that neither will be solved until we figure out how to decrease the local population – and we all know that’s not gonna happen any time soon.  Every once in a while however, nature steps in and lends a hand, if only temporarily. 

Los Angeles is a basin plain, wedged between mountains on the north and east and oceans on the west and south.  The prevailing sea breezes would like to sweep the smog to the east, but it only makes it as far as San Bernardino before it backs up, leaving us with the hazy skies we’re known for.   The further west you live (and the Home Office is about as west as you can get), the better the air quality, but it’s only gonna get so good.

This winter, though, we’ve been fortunate to be hit by a series of stronger-than-usual storms.  Well, perhaps “fortunate” isn’t the right word, or is at least in the eye of the beholder.  I suppose if I lived in one of the burn areas and was watching 4 feet of mud roll through my living room I might have a different opinion, but for the rest of us there’s a huge upside.  Once the rains end and the front passes through, the breezes that follow on the back side of the storm are usually strong enough to flush the smog out of the basin for a couple of days – and the results are breathtaking.

I was driving up from Long Beach yesterday on the 405 and as I passed the blimp port in Carson I glanced to my left and was amazed to see the Hollywood sign – clear enough to read.  Just to the right, the dome of the Griffith Observatory and off to the left, the Getty Museum.  Behind them all, the snow-capped mountains. 

Once in a while, nature reminds us what an amazing place this really is … :-)

Looking For A New Boat?

Is it me, or does it feel like the recession is starting to turn around?  The unemployment numbers are still bad – but not as bad as they were.  The stock market is better, folks are buying again (except Toyotas, of course), and the sun is starting to shine on the economy once again.  There are many ways to mark the economic turn around, but none as certain as when the ultra-rich aren’t afraid to spend big once again.

Let’s face it – there are some really big private yachts out there.  For a guy like me, who loves to fish but isn’t even in the same ZIP code as boat ownership, a battlewagon like BAD COMPANY is a mighty big boat.  For others, the luxury yachts lined up in Cabo San Lucas or Monaco are the ultimate prize.  If you’re really swimming in money – and the lawyers haven’t locked it up yet – you might roll with a megayacht like Tiger Woods’ aptly-named behemoth, PRIVACY.  But there are those out there for whom even a couple of hundred feet of luxury just isn’t enough – at least, that’s what one boatyard is betting.

The folks at Emocean Yacht Design, a Belgian marine architecture firm, have begun planning what would be the largest private yacht yet – a 200-meter monster.  For those of us on this side of the pond, that works out to 656-ft – over 150-ft longer than the current ARLEIGH BURKE-class Navy destroyers.  They haven’t found anyone ready to pony up the $500-to-$900 million needed to launch the beast, but here’s what the new owner can look forward to:

Drive-in garage, vehicle garage, two 30m day boats, helipad and hanger, 30m swimming pool, nightclub, casino and games room, 2 level cinema, 3 beach clubs with health spa, 10 vip rooms, 22 guest suites and owners deck

Did you catch that?  Two 98-ft onboard “tenders” and a full Olympic-size swimming pool.  With all that, she’s supposed to hit 28-kts and cruise at 20 – although the vast majority of us couldn’t even afford the fuel.

Of course, if this is still a little rich for your post-crash tastes, you can always charter Richard Branson’s yacht:-)

And The Winner is … iPad!

Well, the worst-kept secret in recent memory is finally out of the bag, as Apple yesterday introduced their new tablet computer to the world. Not the “iSlate”, “iTab” or “iTampon” (as some wags dubbed it after hearing the real name), the new machine is called the “iPad” and it appears to be everything the spies claimed and then some.

Your Kindle just became a relic ...

In typical Apple style, the event was held in San Francisco with CEO Steve Jobs once again taking the stage to demo the new product (One aside: Jobs appeared lively but still critically gaunt. He’s looking more and more like a man whose body will fail him long before his mind …). The presentation mixed canned presentations of the device’s capabilities, followed by live demos that backed up the promise. From all accounts, the promise was met, as the iPad seems nimble, capable and quick.

There are those who will see the iPad as nothing more than a steroid-driven iPod Touch, and initially that’s not a bad comparison. The iPad can run all iPhone apps, both in the native iPhone resolution or full screen using pixel doubling. It syncs via iTunes and a connector identical to those found on iPhones and iPods, and most of the applications developed by Apple for the iPad release are simply rewrites of the iPhone apps with larger, more capable interfaces. However, part of the presentation was devoted to a series of presentations by app writers who showed how in just a few weeks they were able to improve their applications to take advantage of the real estate and capabilites of the iPad. As Jobs commented later, “imagine what they can do with a couple of months?”

The challenge now is to convince the user public that there is a role for the iPad. Jobs from the start pointed out that the last device considered the logical item to slot between smartphones and laptops – the “netbook” – failed miserably. As he put it, the new device needs to do things better than both laptops and smartphones to survive, and the netbook did neither. The iPad, however, he believes will.

Unlike any computer Apple has produced before it, the iPad is clearly a consumer device. Apple believes that it can be shared by members of a family, passed around the same way you might the TV remote, and be used to view television and movies, surf the web, check email, and read books and magazines. In fact, a key new element of the iPad is the iBooks app, which is a slick e-book reader. Unlike previous Apple media apps, this one uses a standar e-book format, and it includes integration with an iBook store where new books can be purchased and downloaded in seconds. Naturally, it has a classically Apple interface, resembling a bookshelf. Jobs said that five major publishing houses had already signed on to provide books, and negotations would begin immediately with the rest that afternoon.

Another target of the iPad will be newspaper and magazine readers. The print media has been worried at their shrinking market share, and some are following the lead of the New York Times and contemplating charging for content. The combination of the iPad platform and the iTunes/iBook stores should allow them to advance the concept and perhaps regain readership.

It was only briefly mentioned, but Apple also sees the iPad as a wonderful textbook reader. Apple has long been a favorite of the education community, and I can certainly see this as the future of the textbook.

One interesting thing I saw from the reporting of the event was a sense of … disappointment … that the iPad was less revolutionary than evolutionary. People forget that when the iPod was released, the general sentiment was, “Gee – another MP3 player … how nice” – it wasn’t until the iPod was mated to the iTunes store that the real power was felt and the paradigm changed. While I welcome the faith and enthusiasm the media has in Apple’s ability to force societal change, I suspect their faith will be rewarded in the long run as content becomes available and apps are written to take full advantage of the iPad’s capabilities.

The first of several models of iPad (differeing by memory capability and connectivity options) will cost $499 and ship in the next month or so. Time will tell if this is the game-changer the iPod and iPhone were, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

I guess in the end, the winner is … everyone!