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Ford delivers (via FedEx) excellent customer service

About a year ago, we were in the market for a new car. We wanted a roomy midsize car with good gas mileage, and lots of tech toys for me to play with. After much searching around, and too many test drives to count, we chose a new Ford Fusion Hybrid.

We don’t drive so much that a hybrid makes economic sense, but I so despise Oregon’s “can’t pump your own gas” law that we went for the Fusion Hybrid’s 47/47mpg rating (at the time we bought), and its expected 600ish mile range between fill-ups.

Our experience with the car has been nothing short of terrific—given I hadn’t bought an American car in over 30 years, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the car’s comfort, quietness, reliability and features. (More on our experiences with the car itself in a future post.)

Overall, our gas mileage has been great—we’re usually around 40mpg in the city, and often over 47mpg on the highway. Our experience versus the EPA sticker didn’t surprise us, as we’ve previously owned a hybrid (a Camry), and saw similar results. I also don’t think I’ve ever hit the EPA numbers for any of my prior vehicles, hybrid or not. So while we weren’t seeing 47/47, we weren’t far off, and were quite happy with our mileage.

Which made the FedEx we received yesterday all that more surprising…

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The (semi) hidden world of Dulles’ Z gates

I spent the last three-ish weeks on the east coast, visiting family along with various tourist sites. We flew in and out of Dulles International Airport, via a direct flight (oh wow, they still exist!) from/to Portland.

If you’ve never been through Dulles, it’s an interesting airport—though a bit less interesting now than in the past.

In the past, you entered the main terminal, cleared security, and then boarded a bus (a two-headed elevating bus, similar to what’s seen in the image at right, often with tails on top to help them be seen from the control tower) to one of the outlying buildings holding the actual gates.

Now most terminals are served by a train system, or via a walkway. But Concourse D is still accessed via the bus, and that’s where we were set to fly out. It was just me and my kids for the flight home; my wife had returned a week earlier. We arrived at the main terminal about 90 minutes before departure. After clearing security, we were headed for the bus to Concourse D when I happened to check a departure sign…and discovered that our flight was delayed for 50 minutes. Ugh.

The Concourse D building at Dulles isn’t one of the nicest places to wait, especially with kids (it can be noisy and hard to find space to relax). But I didn’t really want to head back through security either. Standing there near the entrance to the shuttle busses, I spotted a sign for “Z gates,” which I’d never heard of before. So we headed down that way, just to see if we could find somewhere quiet to pass the time before boarding the shuttle bus.

What we found was a wonderful, nearly deserted oasis of peace and quiet right in the heart of Dulles.

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Watch It: Noises Off

Noises Off coverNoises Off (1992) is a movie adaptation of a farcical stage play about the production of a stage play. The camera moves freely between front stage and back stage, so you get to see both what the audience sees, and the behind-the-scenes action the audience will usually never see. (The movie’s name is taken from a theater term for sounds produced offstage, and there are plenty of those in the movie.)

Just watching the movie, it’s fairly obvious that it would work better as a play (because of the layout of the set and the nature of the humor). But this movie is an entertaining and (according to those who’ve seen the play) faithful adaptation of the play.

The cast is loaded with recognizable names and faces, including Carol Burnette, Michael Caine, Marilu Henner, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker, Nicollette Sheridan, and the too-early-gone John Ritter and Christopher Reeve. They’re all quite funny to watch, and the timing amongst them is (and has to be) spot on for the movie to work. Thankfully, the timing is spot-on, leading to many humorous moments.

The movie follows the stage troupe working on their play, starting with rehearsals and opening in Iowa, traipsing through various other small towns, and finishing up with the big opening night on Broadway. Along the way, we get to watch as the group teeters on the brink of disaster, each night’s show bringing a fresh crisis. Whether it’s an alcoholic old-timer or relationship issues between some of the actors, there’s always something going on to disrupt the play’s normal flow. Many scenes stand out, but there’s one involving bottles of alcohol, flowers, and hijinks among the actors that leaves me laughing every time.

Sadly, this oldie hasn’t been remastered for Blu-Ray, nor is it available for legal streaming on any of the services I checked. That leaves just the Amazon DVD, or “alternative solutions” if you’re interested in watching some great actors have a lot of fun with a unique concept. Well worth watching, and probably not a movie style you’ve seen done before.

iTunes Store
Not available
Amazon
DVD
The Movie DB
Details
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [57%]

A useless analysis of OS X release dates

Updated and republished for the OS X 10.9.4 (Mavericks) release; skip it unless you really really care about all the OS X releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of OS X from the public beta through the latest public version, which is OS X 10.9.4 as of June 30th, 2014. Note that this release marks the 81st release of OS X (counting major, minor, and released-then-yanked updates). Wow.

Note: Click the ⓘ symbol to read Apple’s release notes for a given update.

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Trip report: Touring the White House

Last winter, our family decided we’d head to Washington, DC for our summer vacation. With our kids being 11 and eight, we figured they’d be old enough to appreciate some of the history and sites in the area. One thing I remembered from my youth was a White House tour, and I thought it’d be fun to take our kids on the same tour.

Needless to say, things have changed quite a bit since I toured many decades ago. I don’t recall the setup details from my youth (as my parents handled that), but I assume security was somewhat less stringent.

For those interested in possibly taking a tour themselves, here’s how it worked for us…

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Search the iTunes Store from anywhere

This morning, I wanted to send someone an iTunes App Store search URL, so that when they clicked it, they’d see the list of matching apps in the iTunes App Store. There’s no apparent easy way to do this within iTunes, but after much futzing about, I figured out how to structure a URL that will open to to the search results screen in the iTunes App Store.

Because Apple has separated iPhone apps and iPod apps in the store, there are actually two separate URLs, one for each type of app. The iPad version of the URL is:

And for the iPhone, it’s identical except for the entity bit:

Hopefully obviously, replace TERMS+TO+SEARCH+FOR with the keywords you want to use for the search, separating words with the plus sign. You can then use the URL for whatever you like: send it to someone, add it to your bookmarks bar, whatever. When clicked, the search will run and the results will open directly in the iTunes App Store for either iPad or iPhone apps.

For example, iPad Apps related to the word foobar, or iPhone apps about hopping frogs.

You can further customize the URL to find anything you want—not just apps, and using additional criteria—within any of the various areas of the App Store. Read on for the details on how to do that.

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Watch It: Edward Scissorhands

Edward ScissorhandsEdward Scissorhands (1990) is a different take on the classic Frankenstein story line. In this variation, an inventor creates a being (Edward), complete and ready to function, with the exception of a pair of hands. As a temporary measure (I’m not sure ‘why’ is ever revealed), the inventor attached multiple scissor-like blades to each arm of his creation. Unfortunately, the inventor died before he could finish the hands, leaving Edward with blades where his fingers should be.

Edward lives alone in an old mansion on the hill, until an Avon saleswoman (Peg) comes calling. He is then brought into 1960/70s suburbia, as Peg takes pity on his situation and basically adopts him. Edward becomes immensely popular due to his ability to sculpt hedges and bushes, and for his incredible skill at cutting hair. He’s also attracted to Peg’s daughter Kim, who seems capable of seeing the person behind the blades.

But trouble lurks with Kim’s boyfriend Jim, who dislikes Edward. Eventually, Edward winds up accompanying Jim, Kim, and others in a robbery, and winds up arrested. More troubles follow, and, well, you should watch the movie to see what happens.

You’ll recognize many stars among the cast, starting with Johnny Depp in one of his earliest big-screen appearances; his range of facial expressions is astonishing and really helps convey the complexity of Edward. Dianne Wiest plays Peg, the career-oriented Avon sales woman, and Winona Ryder plays her daughter Kim. Alan Arkin, Anthony Michael Hall, and Vincent Price as the inventor (in his final big-screen appearance) also have key roles.

While the basic story line is familiar, Tim Burton’s direction and the amazing 1960s/70s pastel colored set and costumes give this movie an entirely different feel. Watch it, and you’ll have a whole new appreciation not just for your fingers, but for the relative nothingness of the nicks you give yourself while shaving.

iTunes Store
Buy or rent
Amazon
Blu-ray | Online
The Movie DB
Details
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [91%]

Watch It: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai…

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth DimensionThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984) has perhaps the longest name of any movie I’ve seen—so long, in fact, that I had to truncate it for use in the title.

Anyway, the titular character, played by a very young Peter Weller (Robocop was still three years away), is a Japanese/American race car driver…and a neurosurgeon…and a rock star…and a comic book hero. He also dabbles in scientific invention, and has created an oscillation overthruster that allows him to travel into and out of the eighth dimension. Confused yet? Try watching the trailer. It actually won’t help your confusion any, but it gives you a good taste of what the movie is like.

The movie waivers between a satire of sci-fi movies and a rollicking good sci-fi adventure movie. You may have to watch the movie a couple times to begin to have an understanding of what you’ve just seen. But that’s not a bad thing, because the cast here is full of great actors, many in their early- or even pre-fame days. You’ll see Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, and a few other faces that may be familiar, even if the names are not. (Keep an eye out for Vincent Schiavelli, the ghost from Ghost, for instance.)

The story is convoluted, some (ok, most) of the special effects are cheesy and cheap looking, and you’re never sure whether to take the movie seriously or not. But it all moves at a good pace, and there are numerous funny bits to keep you wondering what’s going to happen next. And hey, you’ll probably never see another movie whose lead character is a neurosurgeon, race car driver, and a rock star, right?

iTunes Store
HD – Buy | HD – Rent
Amazon
DVD | Online
The Movie DB
Details
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [71%]

The strangest business meeting of my career

Back in mid-1993, I was working as a Financial Analyst for Apple in Cupertino; I’d been there for a few years, and had recently taken on a new role with a group called Software Dispatch. Software Dispatch was a new business, launched in those halcyon pre-Internet days, to distribute software on CD-ROM. And not just Apple software, but software from many different developers—there were over 80 signed up for the inaugural CD-ROM. (The official press release is an interesting read.)

On the CD-ROM, users would find encrypted versions of each app, along with a demo version they could use to try before they bought (see, Apple, you can sell software with trial versions!). If the user liked what they saw, they’d call a 1-800 number, pay with a credit card, and be given a decryption key to unlock their software.

But what made the business really unique for Apple in 1993 was that Software Dispatch was planned for Windows machines, too. I still remember how odd it was to see Windows machines on developers’ desks when I walked through our area—there just weren’t many visible Windows machines on the Apple campus at that time. While Apple had little trouble signing up Mac software vendors for the CD-ROM venture, it was different on the Windows side. And that’s what led to the strangest business meeting of my career…

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