Archives » October, 2004

October 31, 2004

Trick Or Treat With the Governor

Nevada is notable for every year having trick or treating at the Governor’s Mansion. And most years the governor is actually there handing out candy on the front porch. So this year, even though we voted against this governor twice, we thought it would be an experience to brave the line and trick or treat at the Governor’s Mansion.

The Governor’s Mansion is decked out every year.

Taxed to death?

In all, it was about a 45-minute wait, longer than many of the lines at Disneyland. They had a long snaking queue set up in the driveway, and Capital Police guiding traffic to make sure nobody got out of place. There were zombies and devils roaming the grounds, and songs like “Ghostbusters” and “Thriller” being played over the loudspeakers.

Satan plays with his dolls. Raggedy Andy is just about to sell his soul to get into Raggedy Ann’s pants.

Going to see the Governor? I thought this was Space Mountain!

“Here sleeps Jim Dandy—He choked on a chunk of Halloween candy.”
It sure ain’t Suess.

We finally made it to the head of the line, and had our thirty seconds with Governor Kenny. That’s the Gov in the orange parka, and Viola and Sammy on the left. Keirra is the teddy bear, and the other two kids are her friends. The hippie is not me, that’s the other kids’ dad Rich. And no, that’s not a costume. He always looks like that.

It’s rare to actually see the Governor in the capital city. 95% of the time he’s in Vegas.

The area around the Governor’s Mansion is the ritzy historic part of town, and some of the houses decorate pretty extensively for Halloween. I’ll have to put up a photo tour of the other houses. At the rate I’m going, expect to see it around Memorial Day.

October 30, 2004

Nevada Day, Baby!

Happy Birthday Nevada!

Big day today, big day. I believe Nevada is the only state that makes a big celebration out of its Admission Day. We’re at 140 years now since Honest Abe signed the order to make state #36. And we do have a party of it in the capitol, with parade, carnival, fireworks, and more. We did most of it, and now I’m ready to collapse, so here’s one picture. More to come. Later. Maybe. As usual.

October 29, 2004

Modern Ruins

One thing the Reno/Tahoe/Carson area lacks is some good ruins. In fact, aside from a few ghost towns, the whole western US has a shocking dearth of ruins. But around here in particular, when a building has outlived itself, it’s actually torn down instead of being left to rot. Even if it’s an historic building, like the Mapes in Reno or the old V&T Roundhouse here in Carson, they’ll tear it down and leave an empty lot rather than leave it abandoned. The best chance for finding ruins around here is up in Virginia City where there are a few abandoned houses. But even up there everything’s made of wood and it falls down before too long.

That’s why every so often I find myself getting sucked into sites devoted to East Coast ruins. I never mean for it to happen, I’ll just be following a harmless link, and before I know it I’m clicking from one site to the next, having completely lost track of whatever I was doing before. The fascination started years ago with the site, although when I look at it now I don’t think it’s been updated since I found it years ago. Then I found out about the Buffalo Central Terminal, and I couldn’t believe such a great building could just be left to rot like that. And then I discovered Forgotten NY. It’s about the New York City less travelled, the parts of the city that have been left behind while everything else grew up around them. A lot of it is old signs on buildings, and old street lamps that haven’t been replaced. But today I was cruising around and I found the Rossville Boatyard. This apparently is where New York discards boats when they’re finished with them. Dozens and dozens of rotting holds, some of them nothing more than a few ribs sticking out of the sand. From that page I was led to other sites with pictures of the Boatyard, like Andrew here who explains how he was out taking pictures and got stuck in the mud with the tide coming in, and counts himself lucky to have escaped. And that page led to Andrew’s whole Exploring NYC site, where you could get lost for days. Another link went to Shaun O’Boyle’s Boatyard pages, and that led me to his Modern Ruins page with tons of photo galleries. And that in turn led me to Bannerman’s Castle on the Hudson River, and from there to the Hudson Valley Ruins site. If I don’t stop following these links I’m going to be in serious trouble. This is too much of a time-waster, and I’ve seen whole afternoons disappear chasing links like this.

So why can’t we have any magnificent ruins like these out West? I started up a page of abandoned buildings in Carson City, but most of them have been torn down or renovated already. Where’s the fun in that? And the only abandoned buildings left in Virginia City are rickety little shacks. What we need is a good spooky castle that nobody’s lived in for years. But I guess spooky castles aren’t welcome here.

October 28, 2004

My Stories

Okay, it’s official. MS Photo Story rocks. I wrote about it earlier, and Paul Thurrott said to download it immediately, so I did. And it could not be more exciting. It’s really easy to get it to do what you want, it makes its own background music for you, and it’s one of those programs that actually gets the creativity flowing. You see one demo of what it can do, and all of a sudden the ideas just come spurting out, almost faster than you can keep track of them. This might be how I’ll send pictures to family from now on, just throw together a slideshow like this.

Anyway, here’s my first story, cobbled together in about an hour with pictures from our trip to the Space Needle this summer. It’s 52 seconds, and weighs in at only 640kb. You do need Windows Media Player to watch it, but if I was spreading it far and wide it could be converted to MPEG. The quality is kind of low so the file size doesn’t get out of control. (I put together a hi-res version, and it was 6MB.) And the music’s a little cheesy, but it makes the whole thing more fun, so who cares?

October 27, 2004

Postcards From Titan

Cassini successfully finished its flyby of Titan the other night, and now NASA’s busily slogging through all the pictures and data it sent back. It’s going to take them a while, I’m sure, and for now they’re just putting up the most remarkable ones on their website. They’re staying away from really explaining what it is we’re looking at, possibly because they’re still trying to figure it out themselves. Look at the close-up photo. Is it solid? Is it liquid? Both? Could this be an ocean with lots of little islands, or just different colored rocks? NASA might know, or they might not, but they haven’t said yet.

Of course, nobody ever said the scientific process was quick. I remember back when Galileo was doing its survey of Jupiter and its moons, and not many people were visiting NASA’s website hours after a flyby looking for quick news. Back then I was content to wait until Scientific American put together an article on one of the moons, after they’d had plenty of time to process what they had found. Now I’m impatient. Too much instant news out there on the internet, I guess.

Photographing Titan is hard because it’s the only moon in the Solar system with an atmosphere. And it’s a thick, hazy atmosphere, more like Venus than Earth. So if they take pictures in visible light, all they get is this orange soup staring back at them. Exciting for a few seconds, maybe, but everyone wants to see what’s underneath the soup. That’s why for this part of the mission they rely heavily on the infrared and ultraviolet cameras, as well as radar. Those wavelengths can cut through the soup of Titan’s atmosphere and see the surface, and the pictures they get back look like real pictures. It’s just not what you would see if you were actually standing there.

Anyway, whatever they discover now, we’ll hear about it over the next few weeks. And it will all be augmented in a couple of months when they chuck the Huygens probe at the moon and see whether it goes splash or crunch.


Since I don’t have a ’pod, I’m stuck with CDcasting if I want to go mobile. That’s where you download a podcast and burn it onto a CD to listen to in the car. 90’s tech all the way, but you do what you have to. Today I burned Dave Winer’s chat with Robert Scoble. Tomorrow it’s the Gillmor Gang. I’m not completely against podcasting, like I might have come off as earlier. I just need something I actually want to listen to.

Even though I had to drive way out of my way today, I still ran out of road and had to listen to the last fifteen minutes in my office. Either the podcasts are too long, or my commute is too short. I’m hoping it’s the former.

Photo Story 3

I found out on Channel 9 that Microsoft Photo Story 3 is out now. Although it’s apparently in its third version, I’ve never heard of it before today. (Maybe that’s because until now it was part of the Plus! package, as Paul Thurrott points out in his review.) What Photo Story does is let you build “stories” out of your digital photos, “stories” being slideshows that can have background music, narration, text, and pan and zoom effects (“Ken Burns style”). It’s Windows-only, of course, and it creates a file that can only be viewed in Windows Media Player. But it’s not like Photo Story is the only program that can do this. You could build one of these “stories” in Flash or iMovie, or a bunch of other programs. MS is clearly pushing this as a nice little add-on to Windows, like Movie Maker, that takes only the few features that home users are likely to use most often and wraps it up in a seamless UI. It’s what they’re best at, after all.

I haven’t used the program yet, just looked at a couple of the demos and read about it. But it sounds like you can do some fun stuff with it, going beyond the basic slideshow and jazzing up your digital photos a bit. And when you’re done you’re not completely stuck in Windows Media. You can stick your movie on a VCD or DVD, and from there send it out to anybody to watch.

So I’ll give Photo Story a run through and see if I can make it sing. Paul Thurrott seems sold. He says, “If you use Windows XP, you need to download Photo Story 3 immediately. It’s that good.” I just might have to do that.

October 21, 2004

Titan Calling

Four days and ten hours from now the Cassini space probe will be making its first close pass to the moon of Titan. These Titan visits are probably the most exciting part of the spacecraft’s entire visit to Saturn, and this first flyby will gather data that NASA will use to plan the Huygens mission this coming January.

Huygens is a little probe—well, at 700 pounds, not so little—that is going to detach from Cassini and parachute to the surface of Titan, taking pictures all the way. What they will find is the big question, but they’re prepared for blinding ice storms, rocky cliffs, or a splashdown in a sea of liquid nitrogen. Huygens only has two and a half hours of battery life to record everything it can and transmit back to Cassini. After that it’s just a frozen chunk of metal on an alien world.

But that’s not ‘til January. This month Cassini will just glide by the moon and take a close look, and NASA planners will try to pick a good spot for Huygens to touch down. They’ll also find the answers to a million questions, and probably get just enough data to create a million more. They should get plenty of answers, though, since after this flyby, and the Huygens mission, Cassini is scheduled to come back to Titan at least 40 more times.

Galileo exposed the secrets of Jupiter’s moons last decade (as well as raising a million new questions). Now let’s get cracking on Saturn.

October 16, 2004


So the big thing this month is podcasting. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. I think they just made it up a couple of weeks ago. Everybody’s talking about it and how it’s something new, but it’s not totally new, but it’s new enough, and in any case it really seems to be taking off. I’ve also been re-listening to the digital lifestyle panel from Gnomedex. So here’s some jumbled thoughts on all of it, run through the Crank-O-Meter and thrown into the ring.

It’s not the pieces of podcasting that are new, it’s the glue that brings it all together, the automation behind it all, that people are so excited about. So what is it? Basically, podcasting is when you have a downloadable audio show that you’re interested in, something with new material on a regular basis. Adam Curry, of MTV fame, has started doing what he calls the “Daily Source Code”, which he records and edits and makes available for download. It used to be that you would go to the website and find out there was a new download available, and you’d manually grab the MP3 and listen to it. But now publishers are putting together RSS feeds that announce when the file is available. And with the right kind of feedreader, you can have the file automatically downloaded as soon as it’s announced. So there’s one step, automatic downloading. The next step is the software that takes this fresh download and shoves it into your digital music player (usually an iPod, hence the name podcasting) for you. So the idea is you can go to bed with nothing, and when you wake up the audio will already be waiting for you on your iPod, with no work on your own part. Cool stuff.

Here’s the rub: I don’t own an iPod. Or any digital music player. I don’t have daily MP3 shows that I listen to. I don’t go for walks around town. So podcasting is useless to me. I know there are thousands of people out there that do it and love it and that’s great for them, but they seem to think this will change the world for everybody. And I want to go on record as a geek that knows about it, that understands it and gets it, but that still won’t use it.

And why won’t I? Well, the discussions at Gnomedex brought this one up: it takes a lot of time to listen to these shows. You have somebody like Dave Winer, who when he writes on his website posts an average of fifteen words. But you put a mic in front of him, and half an hour later he’s still going. I don’t have half an hour to listen to these things; I have twenty minutes driving in to work, and twenty minutes driving home. I could maybe listen at work, but then I couldn’t read or write anything else simultaneously. I don’t go for walks, and when I do it’s with my wife. I’m not going to stick headphones in my ears then. Dave Winer goes for a walk every day, but he’s single and he lives in Seattle. Walking in Seattle is invigorating. Walking in Nevada is depressing and soul-crushing, because all you see is brown. So that gives me 40 minutes per day when I can listen to these things.

The next thing is that they’re audio. I’ve railed against audioblogs before, and I just don’t get why they’re so great. I don’t want to listen to audio, I want to read. If you’ve got that much stuff to say, put it in your blog. So few people seem to do long form blog posts, and I always figured it’s because they didn’t have time or don’t have anything to say. But here they are, going on and on for an hour in these audio posts. I don’t want audio! I want to be able to skim over some parts, and reread other parts, and stop on some parts to just let it all sink in. I can do that with text, but it’s tedious to do it with audio. I’ve heard how podcasting is “timeshifting ideas”, but having a block of text I can dice up how I want shifts things even more, puts me in more control. So I don’t like podcasts because I don’t want to listen to these things, I want to read them. And to make it worse, the audio I do want to listen to, like the Dr. Demento show, isn’t downloadable anywhere. Or it’s only streamable, like all of NPR’s stuff. When everything’s locked up in audio, what’s a poor boy with a reading fetish to do?

Then there’s the fact that I don’t have a portable MP3 player. Those things are a huge investment, especially when you’re lower middle class and paying off ten years worth of credit cards. So I don’t want one unless it does everything I need. Most of them only do one thing: play back MP3 files. Well, super. But what about the rest of my wish list?

  • Be able to listen to FM and AM radio.
  • Be able to record FM and AM radio to MP3, so I can play it back later or transfer it to my PC.
  • Be able to timeshift radio broadcasts – tell the device to record 105.7 on Sunday nights from 10pm to midnight, so I can actually hear Dr. Demento for once.
  • Have a microphone to make good quality live recordings, of a concert, or a lecture, or a telephone call.

Give me all that, and then we can talk about getting me interested in portable audio. We could be getting close with things like this. Right now the only portable audio I have is the CD player in my car. Will iPodder automatically burn a CD for you in the middle of the night? Will it ever? Didn’t think so.

This isn’t meant to be a rant against podcasting, even though it may sound like it. It works for a lot of people, and that’s great. This is just a reminder that there are people out here, yes, even geeks, for whom it’s just not ideal. The technology is one thing, but you’ve got to be interested in the audio that’s being put out there. And so far, it’s not grabbing me.

What would be great, gadget-wise, is an in-dash digital music system for my car (and not one of those that needs a PC in the trunk, but a one-piece system in the dash) with Wi-Fi that I could send audio to while it’s parked in the driveway, and listen to through my stereo while I’m driving. Give me that and I’ll be happy.

Until then keep on podcasting, but don’t act like it’s changing the whole world.

Cult of In-N-Out

Christopher Baus says in my comments:

In n’ Out is like a cult. I personally don’t get it.

There are cultish parts to it, like that guy who bought 40 burgers at once. But for me, it’s just about the taste. It’s a damn good burger, and you’d be hard pressed to find better at a fast food joint. You probably could beat it with an Awful Awful down at the Nugget[s], but then you’re committed to at least 45 minutes and a couple dollars more. If you’re just looking for something cheap and fast, In-N-Out is a remarkable deal both ways. Plus, it gets good endorsements from the folks behind Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me, both of which are virulently anti-fast food. So that counts for something too.

And I know there’s evidence to the contrary, but I’m actually not a huge In-N-Out nut. I did the website because I like posting pictures, and I knew that an in-depth study of the In-N-Out would get some hits. I don’t go to casinos either, but look at how much work I’ve put into the Ormsby House. I’m just a big website nut. I like it when I have a new idea for a photo gallery. And I only gave the opening so much coverage because of the special treatment I got. Give me free burgers and a couple of t-shirts, and you’ve just bought yourself a lot of free press. It’s Gonzo Marketing at its best.

In this area, I think the scarcity whipped up a huge frenzy. In-N-Out was a special treat because it was something you could only have while on vacation. It was the same way with Weinerschnitzel back in the 90’s. The only Weinerschnitzel in town was torn down in the 80’s to make way for Smith’s supermarket, and so you had to go to California to get your hot dog fix. When it finally came back to the area, first to Reno and then to Carson, folks went nuts. Six years later it’s happening again, this time with burgers. In-N-Out for me is just one on a long list of chains that I desperately wish would come to the Reno/Carson area. I’m just as passionate about the Old Spaghetti Factory, and a Southland mexcian food chain called Don Jose. I was thrilled when Del Taco and Chili’s finally came to Carson, so we didn’t have to drive to Reno anymore. And it’s not just about restaurants. When we travel we like going to Fred Meyer, because it’s like Super Wal*Mart without the white trash vibe. And I’ve yet to find a better supermarket than Haggen, in the Seattle area. All that’s happened is one got crossed off the list: our In-N-Out is here, it’s open, and now we don’t have to treat it like anything special anymore.

But if you really want to see me go wild, build an Old Spaghetti Factory in Carson.