Monday, April 29, 2013

EMP Museum

It's only taken two years of living in the Pacific Northwest, but I finally went to the top of the Seattle Space Needle.  I'm glad I did it, just to be able to say I've been there, done that.  Cross it off the list and not live a life wondering what I was missing.

In hindsight though, holy cow that was some highway robbery!  The cost of the tickets to go up the Space Needle and check out the view were astronomically high.  You'd think we were actually funding putting the Space Needle into orbit!  My wife's cousin has lived here in Seattle for over a decade and has NOT been to the top of the Space Needle.  She's now gone so long without it that she considers it a matter of pride and refuses to go when invited.  To her I say, WELL DONE!  She is much wiser than me.

After the Space Needle, we went to the nearby EMP Museum.



I didn't really know what to expect.  My wife said she heard it was cool and it had musical instruments and stuff.  I said okay, sure, why not?  I'm always up for some new experiences.

I'm SO glad we went.  The EMP Museum is TOTALLY worth the price of admission.  If we weren't getting ready to pack our household goods for yet another cross-country PCS move, then I would have bought the annual pass so we could go back. 

If you have ANY interest in ANYTHING sci-fi related from Star Wars to Star Trek to Dr. Who to The Fifth Element to Men in Black to Aliens to Terminator to War of the Worlds to the Matrix...  You should go to the EMP Museum.  I LOVED the Icons of Science Fiction exhibit.  It's a museum of costumes and props from just about every sci-fi movie and television show you can imagine.

The Art of Video Games exhibit was like going back 30+ years through a time warp and conducting a pass-in-review of the various electronic boxes that have consumed hours upon days upon weeks of my evening and weekend free-time away from school and eventually work.  Starting with the Commodore 64 and working your way up through the first Nintendo to the Wii, XBox 360, and Sega, there is an exhibit for each computer or gaming console and a sample of four types of games to show you the quality of graphics and sound.  Man some of those old games brought back memories!

Up on the third floor they have some pretty cool music stuff.  There's a Sound Lab full of different musical instruments for you to try, with an interactive touch-screen computer display for each instrument.  I was pretty impressed my eldest son picked up the bass guitar, figured out the bars works the same way as on his cello, and started plucking out the notes of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" on the guitar.

Then there's this exhibit called On Stage where you can go do a simulated live performance in front of a huge crowd.  You make up a band name and choose from a short list of cover songs to sing.  My family chose the Go-Go's "We Got the Beat."  If you really do know how to play the instrument, then they can turn it on so you'll really play it, but otherwise, you just pretend you're banging away on the keyboard or guitar and sing along.  They play background noise like there's a screaming crowd of fans in the audience in front of you.  We had fun pretending to be rock stars on the stage.  Of course, after you walk off the stage, then they would like to stick a vacuum in your wallet and get you to buy DVDs of your stage performance and posters of your band on stage, etc, but that's all optional.  We skipped the souvenirs, but we had fun playing on the stage.

There are several more exhibits there to see, and you can check them all out on the EMP Museum website, but those were my top three favorites from our visit.  The website is well-done and has a lot better pictures than what I took with the camera in my phone.

The gift shop was pretty dangerous for us, too.  My boys are obsessed with Dr. Who, and there was a TON of Dr. Who stuff in the gift shop.  They've both been wearing their new Dr. Who t-shirts as often as my wife gets them through the laundry.  That resulted in my youngest son wearing his Dr. Who shirt to school two days in a row.  Plus they had a lot of funny Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Princess Bridge paraphernalia like glasses labeled "IOCANE POWDER" and t-shirts with "HELLO:  My Name Is... Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die."

My advice, skip the Space Needle and just go have fun at the EMP Museum!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Forerunner versus Fenix

You don't have to read my blog for long to know that I'm a gadget freak.  I love electronic gadgets.  When I go hiking or kayaking, I need a nerdy vest with half a dozen pockets to hold the GPS, the phone, the camera, etc.

In the category of GPS, I'm a big fan and a stock-owner in Garmin.  I started off with a Garmin 12XL way back in 1998.  When I got bit by the geocaching bug, I upgraded to the Garmin GPSMap 60CSx, which I still love and use a lot.  It was sorta bulky for carrying with me when I went running outdoors, so a few years later my wonderful wife gave me a Garmin Forerunner 405.  There were things I liked and things I didn't like about the Forerunner.

Forerunner Likes
- Compact / Wrist-worn.  As previously mentioned, it was a little awkward running with the bigger handheld GPSMap 60CSx in my hand.
- Automatic Wireless Data Uplink.  I loved that all I had to do was walk into the same room as my computer, and my Forerunner would automatically start wirelessly transmitting the data from my run / hike / kayak / outdoor adventure-du-jour to my computer.  It would upload automatically to the Garmin Connect website where I could see where my outdoor adventure took me on a Google street map or satellite image, along with plots of my altitude, speed, heartrate, and anything else I could want to analyze.

Forerunner Dislikes
- Sort of like Gizmo in the movie Gremlins.  DON'T GET IT WET! 

Yes, yes, it's water resistant and wasn't damaged by getting wet.  However, the Forerunner was minimalist on buttons and instead had a touch-sensitive bezel to operate it.  It was pretty cool, but the first time I went running in the rain, oh my!  I discovered it treated every rain drop as a touch and activated all sorts of different sub modes and features.  I think it was telling me how many calories I burned in Swahili, but it wouldn't let my legitimate touches get it back to the display screen that I actually wanted. 

Okay, no problem.  If you push both buttons at the same time, it locks (or unlocks) the bezel.  I would just lock it before going on a hike in the rain or going kayaking where it might get splashed.  I just couldn't change screens or modes while it was wet.

- Battery life was meh.  I could use it one day for a GPS activity outdoors and then would need to recharge it.  If I hadn't recharged it in the previous couple of days, then the battery was likely to die in the middle of my excursion.

Again, no problem.  It was manageable.  I just made a point to put it on the charger the night before any outside activities.

Overall, I liked the Forerunner and used it A LOT.  I've got 153 entries in my Garmin Connect log dating back to October 2008 to prove it, and you can see the Garmin Connect widget on most of my hiking and kayaking blog posts.


Enter the Fenix.

I was pretty excited when I read about the Fenix on the Garmin website, primarily because it's waterproof and the battery life is much better than the Forerunner.  I got the Fenix in the autumn just before leaving on patrol, so I haven't taken it out on any real outdoor adventures kayaking or hiking yet, but I've been messing around with it on my way to and from work and while at sea.

So far, it's living up to my expectations.

Got wet?  No problem!  It's been pouring rain here and with five buttons on the Fenix, I can do any sort of manipulations I want while it's wet.  No touchscreen to go haywire with rain drops.

The battery has been doing GREAT.  With the old Forerunner, my only battery indication was when the Forerunner DIED (typically in the middle of a run or hike).  The Fenix has a handy indication on the screen to tell you the exact percentage charge status of the battery.  I have been able to use it for weeks at a time just as a watch with the GPS turned off.  I have also used it for several hours at a time standing on the bridge of a submarine with the GPS turned on and had PLENTY of battery capacity left over.

I love that it is very adaptable.  You can have as many or as few screens as you want.  You can customize each screen with different data parameters to display.  You can customize the buttons to do just about anything except order a pizza. 

I like that it monitors temperature and includes that in the plot of speed and other parameters on Garmin Connect.  Now, the temperature reading isn't accurate when it's on my wrist and sensing my body heat, but I've been using it in very cold environments, attached to the outside of my cold weather gear.  I also got one of the remote temperature sensors that I will attach to my backpack when I go hiking in the summertime, and it will wirelessly transmit the temperature to the Fenix at some periodic interval. 

My only complaint about the Fenix is: No automatic uploads.  It doesn't transmit wirelessly like the Forerunner did.  I'm okay with that.  I don't mind plugging in a USB cable.  The frustrating part is when I open Garmin Connect, it "sees" the Fenix is there and plugged in, and I click on "upload activities," and it says there are no activities to upload.  In order to get the data from my Fenix into Garmin Connect, I have to manually open the file and import it into Garmin Connect.  So it's a little labor intensive, but I can live with that.  

Overall, I'm ecstatic with the Fenix, and I'm anxious to go try it out hiking and kayaking now that I'm back in port.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I'm back!

Received a gentle nudge from one of my two or three readers who asked if I had "given up on the blog?"

No!  I haven't given up on the blog. 

I've just been...  away... for a while.

My Christmas stocking was hung in the wardroom in hopes Saint Nick would find his way down through the main induction sump.

Shipmates from the Mighty MSP might have noticed this was the first time I haven't made a post on December 29th. 

I didn't forget.

I wore my Sailors, Rest Your Oars black armband, and I led training with all my officers and chiefs on the painful lessons learned from that day in Plymouth.

A few weeks fortnights later, I observed a beautiful sunrise on Easter Sunday.

I've been in the Navy almost 19 years, and that was the longest I've spent at sea without setting foot on dry ground.  At least fast attacks get a port call every few weeks or so.

Now I'm back, and we are again approaching that transition that comes with every PCS move.   The moving company was at the house today doing a visual inventory of all our shtuff and how much packing materials they need to bring on pack-out day.  The Navy is sending us back to the Pentagon.  I suppose I'll need to go back and re-read my own posts on Pentagon gouge.  We're excited to go back to shore duty and to see all of our friends in the NoVA area again.

...and I suspect I may have more time on my hands to write blog posts again.