Saturday, June 1, 2013
This year's installment? Not so much. And, it started at the opening gates and pretty much continued throughout the day.
In previous years, there were two entrances for getting in. We parked midway between the two usual entrances - slightly closer to the one. We saw the line at the closer one and decided to walk to one we'd used in prior years. When we got there, we found "vendors only" (and similar) signs. We asked if we could still get in there (since they had the usual table full of sampling-glasses) but were informed that there was only one gate usable by patrons this year. So, we made the long trudge back to the other gate. It turns out the reason there was such a line, this year, was that there was only the one patron-gate. Two, perfectly serviceable entrances, but they were only allowing patrons in by way of the one.
Even better? If you'd bought (and brought) your ticket ahead of time, the line to get your ticket taken was much longer than either the line to buy tickets or the will-call line. So much for being smart and getting the tickets sorted out ahead of time.
In previous years, the place was organized with with trinket and other sellers arrayed along the fence at the top of the hill, interspersed with food and beverage sellers. They also had what was, essentially, an outdoor food-court. Granted, the food that was sold was middling, county fair style and quality food - nothing to write home about. That said, these food-vendors knew how to move a large number of people through their lines, sold food at a surprisingly reasonable price for what's essentially a captive audience and they gave you more than just a few morsels for the price paid.
I guess this year they were trying to respond to prior years' attendees complaining about the quality of the food. This year, they decided, "lets bring in chefs and 'gourmet' food trucks". While this would have been a great way to supplement the prior years' offerings, they opted to have the food trucks completely supplant the prior years' food sellers. Unfortunately, this caused a number of problems.
At this venue, there's a paucity of shady spots. Given that most years, the weekend they hold the event tends somehow always seems to manage to be both sunnier and warmer than normal for the time of year, the lack of shade really sucks. That said, there was at least some shade available to take refuge in. This year, all of the shady spots were occupied by food trucks. In prior years, these areas had either had cooling tents in them or trinket-sellers who didn't object to you spending time under their tents, even if you didn't actually end up buying anything. All of those sellers were now pushed to the inner area of the field and, apparently, their tend-sizes restricted.
The food trucks were also troublesome from the perspective of service pace. The prior years' "slop-slingers", while pushing middling food, pushed it quickly. If they were operating a 15 foot wide food-stand, they were servicing four to five lines in that space. This year, the food trucks each hogged up 15 feet of shade yet could each service only one line. And, because of how the food trucks operate, that one line they were able to service moved much slower than any one line previously serviced by the slop-slingers. To say that the lines were long and slow would be an exceedingly charitable characterization.
Now, don't get me wrong, lines by themselves aren't an inherently evil thing. If what you get at the end is of sufficient value - tasty, adequately filling, etc. - then it can be a worthwhile tradeoff of the time spent. However, when you're getting gouged for tiny portions of middling food and have to wait in the scorching sun and humid heat for a half hour or more, it's not a good value. It's rage-inducing.
Further, when the food trucks have displaced the cooling tents and reduced the number of places for getting water, particularly in a place where people are consuming a dehydrating substance like alcohol, it's a recipe for fainting spells or worse. Saw the medical assistance golf carts go by on more than a few occasions. Sadly, with the huge lines caused by the slowness of the food trucks' service, those medical assistance carts had a tough time getting to their assistance-targets on a timely basis.
And, whose brilliant idea was it to have a cupcake truck? Really: you want to try to serve up heavy, overly-sweet baked goods in northern Virginia heat? The market definitely spoke on that one: I didn't observe a single person attempting to buy a cupcake. The only people I saw were those who stopped to see if they had any water for sale (they didn't). Otherwise, the cupcake truck sat there completely unvisited (yet still soaking up 15 feet of space that could have been used for sitting down or seeking refuge from the sun).
About the only good part of the food trucks? With everyone stuck in line waiting for food and water (the food trucks displaced prior years' beverage sellers, too), the lines for the wine sellers were much shorter this year than in prior years.
Unfortunately, the value of the shorter lines was greatly reduced by the size of this year's pours. This year's pours seemed to be maybe half the size of prior years' pours.
While this may be a positive from the standpoint of making it harder for people to get blind-drunk, it also makes it difficult to actually tell "do I like this wine enough to buy a bottle of it". And, to be honest, the reason I go to wine-tasting events is to see what wines I'd like to buy and to take home a case (or so). I'm not there to get smashed, I'm there to find stuff I want to buy. However, when you're pours are so small I can barely fully wet my tongue with it, let alone swish it around in my mouth to fully experience its flavors and textures, it's not going to make me want to buy. And saying to me, "this one has a really great mouth fill" after having poured me something that doesn't allow me to experience that feel makes me want to just punch you in the goddamned throat.
Needless to say, the usual case-plus that we've bought in previous years wasn't repeated this year. The folks we were with also bought radically less. Prior years, one of our complaints was the wait to pick up the wine we'd bought inside. Judging by the nearly non-existent lines at the wine-pickup area near the venue's exit, it wasn't just our party that was buying considerably less. If I were one of the wine-sellers, I'd be pissed at this year's changes.
I'm pretty sure that 2013's incarnation of Vintage Virginia will have seen the end of our attendance at these events.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I, myself, have three or four locations I work-locations that my badge(s) will get me into without having to file any additional paperwork. On top of it all, I can even sometimes work from home. I have my designated seat at one of our enterprise lab facilities. From that facility, I can reach production systems as well as the lab most of my engineering/test systems are in. My secondary work location is much closer to my house, but because it's at one of the "thousands of cube-rats" office parks, parking and traffic are a nightmare, so I generally avoid going there. Because my secondary work location is part of the core enterprise network, I can reach the production servers from there. I also have the ability to reach the resources at my primary work location.
Recently, I got put on a project that requires me to access assets at a secondary lab. This lab is more than double the distance from my house that my primary work location is. From there, I can reach assets in production, assets at that lab, and, depending on the workstation configuration, assets at my primary lab/work-location. However, given the distance an the nightmare that is traffic in Northern VA, I've gone to that facility once in the past 18 months.
Lastly, I have the ability to work from home. From here, I can reach either lab via VPN. However, because it's via VPN, I can only connect to one or the other at a time. Oh... and I can't connect to our production networks from home.
So, when I'm working three projects and supporting production, I end up having to split my day. Mornings are spent at either the main lab or the headquarters facility so that I can work on production networks. Afternoons and evenings are spent working from home so that I can reach each lab's resources.
On the plus side of time at home, the only things interrupting me are my dogs asking to go out to pee.
Friday, January 18, 2013
So FaceBook's announced its "Graph Search" functionality. The tech publishing community, looking to create a story where one likely doesn't meaningfully exist, wants to grab eyeballs by loudly asking, "should Google be worried" or stating "FaceBook is encroaching on Google's turf". I'm not sure I can buy into this attempt to grab page-views.
In order for something to be "social" it has to be more than two dorks, each sitting by themselves, doing the same solitary activity. To be honest, I don't really care if my friends are watching the same movie on NetFlix or listening to the same tune on Spotify that I am. If we aren't sitting in the same room, able to MST3K it together, what's the point.
And, before someone chimes in, "you could be on chat or headphones doing just that", no, actually, you can't. None of the media services currently offer a synchronous consumption capability. Ironically, about the only way you have that is if you happen to both be watching one of the legacy "on demand" cable services from the same cable company - not one of the "new media" service providers' offerings.
If I'm watching something that's even 1s ahead of the other person, my MST3K'ing is going to be a spoiler (in our house, this is seen with hockey where the feed to my wife's set-top box is usually 1-3s off of the feed to my set-top box. Instead of being a good thing, it's actually rather annoying when watching the same sporting event and one of you hears the other "woot" or "groan" in reaction to an even the other has yet to see.
And, while I value the opinion of friends on services, movies, etc., most of my friends are geographically distributed enough that I'm much more likely to get a valuable recommendation for a plumber/restaurant/etc. from a nearby stranger than I am a friend who lives 30 miles away.
Thanks, I'll take a basic Google search or a Yelp search to a "Graph Search" when I'm looking for more than "what is my friend doing right now". Even when I want to know the answer to that question, it's mostly because I am thinking of calling them to see if they're free to do something that's actually "social" rather than something that is communally-solitary.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
This past weekend, we received the replacement for our 2004 Saturn VUE.
At eight+ years of age, the Saturn was starting to make some alarming noises and had some alarming handling characteristics (a really horrible shudder at about 72MPH and tendencies to buck when attempting to hold speed, uphill, in the 25-30MHP range). So, back in September, we'd decided "this car's probably going to be very expensive to try to keep for much longer: time to look for a replacement".
We didn't need a vehicle the size of the VUE. The VUE had been bought when we were trying to have kids. Now, with no kids or ability to have kids, we only needed a vehicle suitable for holiday trips with two 50lb bulldogs. So, while a Fiat 500 would be well too small (though, having test-driven one, they are quite nice), we still wanted something smaller and more fuel-efficient than the VUE.
"More fuel-efficient" wasn't a major challenge. Even when brand new, the VUE got 18 city/25 highway. In the past year, it had been averaging around 17MPG with mixed-use (though, primarily city) driving.
- While a car with the mileage of a Prius would have been nice, they're utterly joyless cars - purely utilitarian.
- While a Tesla S would have been a rather nice choice, the $85K for the range and other options we wanted made that choice a non-starter.
- The concept of the Chevy Volt was nice, but, for a $40K+ vehicle, it felt really cheaply made.
- Most of the other hybrids and EVs suffered similar problems to the Prius and the Volt.
Having been well-impressed by the A3 TDI sport-wagon I'd driven for over a month while working in Germany, we sought out one of them. Unfortunately, Audi had decided to discontinue making it after October of this year. All that was available were the ones already stateside. All of the A3's within an eight-hour radius of the DC metro region were: A) automatic transmissions (*ick*); and, B) some boring shade of silver/grey/white/black/beige (double *ick*). We really wanted a stick-shift and we wanted something that wasn't one of the boring colors that seems to have taken over northern VA in recent years. We also really wanted the sport wagon, not its sedan replacement. So, the Audi fell off our list.
Our next contender was something from Mini. They have decent fuel economy. Even more, for that fuel economy, we didn't have to compromise on performance or comfort. They were a bit lower on fuel economy than we wanted (26/32 for the Cooper S variants) and a bit more expensive than we'd been hoping for. But... At any rate, after taking several different Mini variants out (tried the classic Cooper, the Clubman and the Countryman, each in two-wheel and all-wheel drive variants and turbo and normally-aspirated variants), we decided we wanted a manual Countryman. For the options we wanted, they didn't have anything on the lot. Much like all the other Northern VA dealerships, most of what they had were automatics and in colors we weren't interested in. So, we opted to order one.
Then the waiting began. For three weeks, the order status (on the Mini Owner's Lounge) stayed stubbornly on "order submitted; awaiting scheduling". Then, one day, it changed to "slated for production" ...but stubbornly stayed in that status for a further 2+ weeks.
It seemed odd that it would be scheduled but not produced for so long. So, I called our salesman to see if he had a more granular view of its status. He checked his system and saw that it had actually left port!
On the one hand, it was great knowing we were on the home stretch. On the other hand, it just ratcheted up the pain of anticipation. Every day, I logged into the Owners Lounge to see if its status had changed. The magical "at the distribution center" status update finally happened. So, I called my salesman to see how long it would be till it was on the lot.
I know when I'd ordered my last car, it came into the port of Baltimore and was at the dealership three days later. I was hoping for the same, especially given that such a timetable would have meant we could have had it in time to take our Thanksgiving roadtrip in the new car. Alas, it got hung up at the processing center. We were due to leave for my mom's house on November 20th. It wasn't due into the dealership until the evening of the 21st. DRAT!
We slumped off to PA sans new car. Was an enjoyable, relaxing trip. Good company and good food. Donna and my mom did some Black Friday shopping, but Donna was eager to hurry back to DC to try to pick the car up as early as possible. I told her, "even if we leave now, it will be dark by the time we get there" (early sunset of a daylight savings time day!) and I don't pick up new vehicles in anything but full daylight. Too many things can hide in low-light conditions.
We got up Saturday and did our normal morning farmer's market run. Upon hurrying home, Donna pestered me to ping our salesman on when we could come pick it up. I sent him a text message and we sorted it out that we'd meet around 12:30.
We headed over to the lot at the appointed time. I'm glad that I'd insisted on a full-daylight pickup. When we got there, I noticed that the racing stripes had some bubbling and peeling (and some other shipping blemishes). Turns out that all those striped Minis you see out there have those stripes applied at the distribution center rather than the factory. They're hand-applied, not machine applied. I was disappointed at both the application errors and the fact that they were a post-shipping, manual application rather than part of the paint-job. Oh well.
So, we did all the paperwork on the car, but left it at the dealership for them to fix. They dropped it off Monday:
Donna took the picture with her phone. Framing's a bit squished, probably due to her excitement. Any way, it's a nice little car. Unfortunately, it's still not free and clear...
When we'd done the paperwork, Saturday, we couldn't find the title-release for the car. No major problem, normally: just go to the DMV and get a copy from them. Today, Donna headed down to the DMV to do just that. Unfortunately, the DMV didn't have a record of ever having received the title-release from the lien-holder. Joy.
Went online - pulled the VIN number from our insurance company's web site and looked up the phone number for the bank we'd financed the VUE through. Wouldn't you know it: the bank we'd financed through had changed ownership. When I called the new bank, their automated system couldn't find our record by either VIN or SSN. So, I did the "find the human" dance with the new bank's call-tree.
Eventually, I got hold of a nice woman. She informed me the reason that I couldn't use the automated system to get my account info was, having paid the car off nearly four years previously, it was no longer in their online system. They'd have to pull the record from their archives. She'd found the vehicle information and was requesting the restore. They'd mail it out and it should be at our house in 3-5 business days. I thanked her for her assistance and hung up.
Given that the dealership was expecting to have the turnover paperwork, this week, I called them up to let them know "ran into an issue - won't be able to do the DMV paperwork for another 3-5 business days". They seemed to be cool with it. Probably isn't the first time they've had this happen. But still can't get this all sorted out till at least next week.
On the other hand, the loan paperwork for this car won't even have gotten into my new bank's hands for nearly two weeks. I'd tried to login to their electronic loan system, last night, but they had no record of me. Turns out, they typically don't have the stuff available in their loan system for up to two weeks from the purchase date.
"Waiting for procedures" seems to be not only the story of my work life, it's the story of my personal life, as well. Fmeh.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
So, I live in Northern Virginia (also known as NoVA). These are the Virginia suburbs of the Washington, DC metro region. All in all, it's a fairly well to do area. Sadly, it's a fairly soulless area. If you come from a city like New York, Philadelphia, Boston or Baltimore, you're used to areas that have "neighborhoods" - distinct communities that have common cultural bonds.
I've lived in NoVA for just shy of 20 years, now. In that time, the only things I've noticed to dominate the area are homeowners associations. NoVA is the shining example of what's wrong with HOAs and the types of people that love them. HOAs are part of an overall pattern of enforced blandness and suburban ennui. Worse, in areas like NoVA, the HOA mindset seems to permeate all aspects of life here.
I guess it almost naturally follows that if your stuck living in neighborhoods of cookie-cutter neighborhoods of hundreds of HOA-approved beige single family homes, the unrelenting beigeness will come to fill the empty space left by your shriveled soul. So, I guess it only follows that, if you live in a house that looks almost identical to your neighbors', you'll want to dress like them, drive the same vehicles as them, eat like them, etc. In NoVA, you can be an interchangeable clone, just like all your HOA-dominated peers.
You start your day by slipping into your khakis and stumbling down the stairs to take in breakfast. You take your McKids to their school because, god forbid they walk the five blocks to get there (and the local school district won't bus them if they live closer than 1mi. to the school). I mean, it's too dangerous for little Brayden to walk a few blocks to school. And if there's bad weather? Heavens: no one has invented boots or umbrellas yet - they'd catch pneumonia if you didn't drive them to school!
So, out you go in your silver or grey (or other automotive beige-equivalent) minivan or SUV. Kids bundled in back, watching the mandatorily-installed mini-LCDs. It'd suck to have to actually talk to your kids or have your kids pry their eyes away from a TV set for more than the length of time it takes to transit from the house to the car. Thank god for iPads, though, because even that gap can be filled!
Kids safely deposited at school, you take your drab little soulless car and hop on the beltway.You make the two hour, thirty mile trip to work. You find a space to park your car - not too close to the other cars, lest someone ding your grey pride and joy, though! You lurch into your non-descript office building and trudge your way into cubicle-land. You talk about the latest thing you've TiVO'ed while taking half a bagel or donut from the tray in the break room. You spend your day staring at a computer monitor while what's left of your humanity dies a little more.
The day crawls by in a blur of pointless meetings and pointless smalltalk. You stumble out into the parking lot trying to remember, "where did I park my car" because, god knows you can't tell your little grey or silver suburbia-mobile from another. Thank god you got that "clever" personalized license plate, those "funny" bumper stickers and the family window stickers to help you tell your little grey or silver suburbia-mobile from the others. Ah! There it is - the one that chirps when you press on your keyless entry system; the one saying "it's me you're looking for!" You toss your laptop case in the car and ready yourself for the slog home.
Two hours later, you've navigated the thirty miles back to your drab, beige house. The spouse is home, but the kids are still off at the mall. You can't remember which one, because there's so many nearby and the all look the same and have all the same stores in them. Time to send out the "come home for dinner" text message.
Eventually, the kids come home (yes, somehow, deepest, darkest suburbia is safe enough for them to be out at the mall, just not enough to walk to school). No one feels like cooking, so you pack the kids into the family truckster and head off to the nearest place to get chain food. You ignore each other over dinner, staring into your respective cellphones or notepad computers - catching up on the latest that FaceBook has to offer. Dinner is acceptable but utterly forgettable - it's just like the thousands you've had before at this or some other chain-food outlet.
You trundle the kids back to the family truckster and drive home so the kids can do their homework and so you can lose yourself in all the things you've TiVO'ed this week.
It goes on like this for the rest of your life. It all goes blurring by, featureless. One day, you actually die, but you don't really notice.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
My wife's car is getting long in the tooth - especially for a GM, apparently. It's making noises as though it's going to require some non-trivial maintenance (at eight and a half years of age it's got less than 80,000 miles on it - so those noises may just be paranoia on my part). So, we were looking at replacing it.
We've decided on the vehicle we want and the set of features we want. Unfortunately, the dealer doesn't have the car with anything really approaching the combination of features that we want. That means we have to order it from the factory. Absolute best case for delivery is approximately four weeks. Expected worst-case scenario is approximately twelve weeks.<SideRant>
Why the fuck is it so hard to get an on-lot car: A) with manual transmission; and/or B) that isn't only available in some shade of silver or grey)
My bank is currently offering about $1800 in discounts off the price of the car we want ...if we use their financing. Mostly, that discount makes up for the 1% higher interest rate for their offer versus dealer-financing). That offer, however, is only good through 11/14/12.
I'm good if the car takes less than 8wks to arrive. If the car takes more than that, I'm boned with respect to my bank's package (unless they extend the current package's end-date or initiate a new, similar program afterwards).
Looking at BankRate.Com, the direct-loan offers I'm seeing from the banks they aggregate data for start at about 0.5% higher than my bank's current promotion. But that costs me both the $1800 discount and a higher interest rate.
Only bright side is that the dealer offered to lock me at their current rate. Would cost me the $1800 discount. However, I think that would be about a wash. Oh well, I'll take my wife's truck in, tomorrow, and see what they can quote me for a trade-in.
Man. Shoulda bought before the economy started to recover and banks and car companies were both starving for business. :p
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
I'd been hoping to get a small, fun, fuel-efficient car to stand in as a daily driver for my BMW Convertible. Unfortunately, things seem to be conspiring to put the kaibosh on that.
My wife's Saturn has been showing its age, lately. Things coming loose (e.g., keep having to re-seat and re-tighten the hood's latch-bolt). The A/C has been a joke against this summer's heat (so, probably a leak in the coolant system) - and requires driving in a lower gear to keep the car a reasonable temperature. The car shudders under low-throttle conditions (e.g., when in going through an uphill 25MPH zone and trying to maintain a constant speed). In all, it means I've had to turn to thoughts of finding a suitable replacement for it.
We'd bought the Saturn when we were still hopeful of having children. At the time, we were hoping to need a vehicle the size of a VUE. Plus, it was one of the few SUVs in its class that had comfort features like heated front seats (this was 2004).
Since the prospect of children are no longer an issue, I'd really wanted to replace it with a smaller vehicle. I was thinking something more in sport wagon form-factor. Basically, a smaller, more fuel-sipping car, but still larger than my convertible. Since we've still got pets to haul and pack heavy when going on road trips (e.g., the holidays), this seemed like a good compromise.
One of the vehicles I'd been considering was the X1. Tonight, traffic was such that I had to take bailout routes (actually, bailouts from the bailouts). The GPS routed me past BMW of Alexandria. I figured, "I'm in the neighborhood...". I'd figured that, since the X1 was positioned similarly to the Audi A3 sport wagon, that it'd have similar efficiency specs. Not so much, though. Long story short, the X1 is pretty much off the table. While it's the right size, I'm just not gonna pony up $50K for a 3500lb+ (base weight) sport wagon that only gets 17/27.
My goal for any replacement for the SUV is a vehicle whose lowest MPG is 30MPG. In other words, I'm looking at hybrids, diesels and other fuel efficient gas vehicles to replace the Saturn. Given that I have the A3 and (had the) X1 in the list of considerations, I'm not looking for an econo-box, per se, I'm just looking for a nice ride that doesn't require weekly stops at the gas station.
To be honest, I don't understand BMW's direction, at this point. I have a 2002 e46 convertible. I bought it new (custom ordered, actually, when BMW still offered their "BMW Individual" program on the 3-series). I'd always considered it to be a bit heavy for it's class, but dealt with it. It also got respectable mileage (rated at 18/26 but I usually get closer to 30 on the highway). However, when I look at my e46's current siblings/cousins, I'm just lost. This years' 3-series vehicles are bigger than my model year's 5-series vehicles were. Granted, for their size, they get decent mileage, but that's about all I can say for them. I look at competing models from Audi and it's even more apalling (the most feature-fitted A3 still has a efficiency rating of 30/42).
I like small, sporty, efficient cars. BMW used to offer cars that were relatively efficient for being sporty. Now, their cars are all too freaking big, their rides have been softened and their efficiency is abyssmal. It's like, "WTF". It's no wonder Audi has been eating BMW's lunch, lately.