Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spring Break (With Kids)

Ah the heady times of Spring Break. The crazy roadtrips, going to Mexico, waking up face-down in some back alley or a in a place you don't remember going to. Those were the days.

It's kind of like that when you have kids out on Spring Break - only not.

My kids just turned 8 this week - and we wanted to take a couple of days off work and go to the beach with them. We would "normally" go and camp (yes, I did say CAMP) at Carpinteria, CA... but, to tell the truth, I'm sort of "over" camping.

As you can read from previous posts, camping has sort of lost its luster. I mean, I still enjoy it every once-in-awhile, but if I had my choice - I'd "camp" in a nice hotel with running hot water and room service.

So, this year, my wife Brenda, was paging through Sunset Magazine and came across a place called Crystal Cove, located in the upscale Newport Beach area just up the California coast. She read the story of the Crystal Cove Beach Cottages and explained to me that they were right on the beach and it was going to be "like camping" - only with 4 walls and a shower.

At last! "True" camping!

We were in unit 19A - and I checked the website... and well, it was a bit "rustic" for my taste - but I figured it beat the hell out of 4 people in a tent with leaky air mattresses. The only part that really didn't register at the time was the "State Park" portion of located in "Crystal Cove State Park."

So - we did the default - pack too many clothes we would never wear, pack up stuff we wouldn't get around to using - and then add about 40% more crap for good measure - and head out.

Armed with the latest Google/Reserve America directions - we got to the end our journey a short 2 hours later - no where NEAR Crystal Cove. Yep, wrong directions. Luckily, we came prepared with our trusty Thomas Guide, and after a short 5 mile detour, we found the Park.

Then, things got confusing.

It seems that the Park has all this land - but they chose to put the parking in such a way that you have to drive in, park, register, be taken by golf cart to the cottage, unload, golf cart back to the parking lot, then drive about a mile and cross the street to park.

I'm sure it sounded good in the planning meeting.

Anyway - the cottage was "interesting." The description on the website:

"Savor the spectacular views from one of four decks in this beachfront cottage dating to 1931.

Guests in this large unit overlooking the beach will enjoy a spacious living/dining room with high ceilings, a sofa bed, two sleeper ottomans and a door to the front porch, a tiled kitchen with ample storage space, a bedroom with two twin beds, and an ocean view bedroom with a full bed."

Although it's technically correct - was taking a few liberties. I would describe it as "quaint" and "rustic." It did have a tiled kitchen with a full-size refrigerator and a microwave (both new). However, there was no stove and no barbecue (you can bring your own propane one - but that's the ONLY thing we didn't bring). The "tiled kitchen" was done by a drunk, one eyed Greek, but the rooms were a decent size, the bedding was soft, and the view kicked some serious ass.

Think "quaint" and "rustic."

The location, though - WOW. Seriously, you can't get any better than RIGHT on the beach. The front and side porches were literally 3 feet from the sand, and we were up on the upper level with a simply stunning view.

Of course, the kids leaped out into the sand and I decided to go to the store for provisions. I hiked it back to the car, and found that there was a Trader Joe's only 1 mile down the road. Being as we were in Newport beach the Trader Joe's was next to a Williams Sonoma, Cartier Watch place, 4 fabulous restaurants, etc.

Ah, camping!

I packed some bread, cheese, meat, wine, chips into two very, very, very precisely packed bags (for the long haul back to the cottage) - and off I went. When I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before - a shuttle! For $1 it would take you all the way back down the hill (or UP the hill!) and drop you off 50 feet from the cottages. YES!

Once I made it back and we pried the kids away from the back and back to the cottage - it was dark. We hosed the kids off, and went to the only restaurant the Beachcomber - that was about 50 feet from our cottage. Bob's recommendation: skip it. Over-priced, crowded, boring food, slow service - PERFECT when you have tired, starving kids.

Let's just say we did pizza the next night. We literally just spent the day on the beach, the kids in the 58 degree water with their Boogie Boards. We took walks to the tidepools, played cards (there is no TV, no clocks), did crafts, read books, and just relaxed.

Of course, no stay in a State Park would be complete without some kind of bureaucratic hijinks. When I got the car on the way out - I also had an $88 parking ticket - even though I had carefully put my parking pass so that it was visible on the dashboard. At checkout I mentioned my dilemma - and was informed that "we don't have anything to do with that - it's the State." Turns out that the check-in person wrote the wrong date on my pass - and that I'll have to fight it out with Sacramento to get the ticket fixed... but that was the only hiccup in the trip.

I'm actually looking forward to "camping" again soon...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

iRoadmap 2.0

Unless you were under a rock - you know that last week Apple unveiled its roadmap for the iPhone. Steve and the crew talked about the new iPhone 2.0 software and its new "Enterprise" capability to synch with Exchange Server, ability to be wiped and secured remotely, etc.

Oh yeah, and something about a SDK for 3rd parties.

They trotted some Apple geeks out, as well as some non-Apple types that had never developed for the Apple platform and showed some really cool native games (no joysticks, just moving the phone interacted with the game!), a boring "integration" thingie, and another boring "Hello World" example.

Did I mention the cool games?

They also did a walk-through on how "easy" it will be to develop applications... in JUNE... when they ship the SDK that was promised for February. Oh yeah, and if you don't happen to have a Mac - "No soup for you!"

Yeah, their dev environment (and iPhone emulator) will only work on a Mac. OK, I get the fact that Steve wants to sell some more Macs, and I get the fact that the internal guys developed the iPhone software on PCs - I mean, Macs.

But no Windows emulator? No way for Linux geeks to get their hack on?

This is extremely short-sighted of them (again). Just when it looked like Apple had the opportunity to really become a force in anything but iPods, they slam the door shut and pull a Microsoft.

They started off so well. iTunes for Windows ("Hell Freezes Over"), going with Intel-based hardware, having the ability to synch to Exchange, coming up with the iPhone (although it needs some more "standard" features before I'll buy one)... now to pull back and make the SDK Mac-only - and have the programming language be Xcode?

Riiiiiiiight. Good move, Steve.

Oh don't worry, all those Android-based phones coming out in June? The ones based on Linux and the one that allow you to program in real languages? The ones that have a cool touch screen, camera, integrated software keyboard, expandable memory, a battery you can change, GPS, 3G out of the box?

Yeah, THOSE Android phones. I think they're going to be the phones "for the rest of us"...

Monday, March 03, 2008

The 5 Things I Learned From Snow

This weekend my baby brother, Eric, and his new bride invited my family up to Mammoth for the weekend - along with some of his new in-laws. The company he works for, DPR Construction, very generously allows some executives the use of a fabulous rental home at no charge. This was our third trip up there together - and we always have a total blast.

Because it's about 6 hours from home - when the kids were younger - we would drive about 2/3 of the way up and stay at an "upscale" hotel in the middle of BFE and then continue the final two hours the next morning. This trip was no different.

No head lice, free sugar-laden breakfast. So far, so good.

LESSON 1: Drive straight through.

As we passed through the last big outpost on the trek (Bishop) - we realized that it might, perhaps, be a good idea to stop by an establishment and see if they had more hardy, snow-repelling shoes for my son. Mind you - this is in addition to the new snow pants, shirts, socks, long underwear, hats and gloves that we purchased before leaving.

"Luckily" we found a HellMart just outside of town. After about 2 hours, 1 shopping cart full of crap, and a couple of hundred bucks - we are finally on our way again.

LESSON 2: Let the kids go barefoot and naked in the snow.

The weather was absolutely beautiful. It was warm, sunny, and the mountain just received 15 inches of new snow a few days before. It was really beautiful. Just before you get to the turn off for Mammoth, there is an old, famous place called "Tom's Place" where there is supposed to be some great sledding opportunities.

Since we had never been there - we decided to give it a whirl. I followed the signs for a "sno-park" - and after driving for 6 miles up a 1 lane road (the scenery was awesome!) - we arrived. At a sign that said "ROAD CLOSED". Being the ever intrepid explorers that we are, we decided to park and head out to the great outdoors. 20 minutes of changing into snow gear later - we grabbed the plastic dishes and headed up the snow-covered road.

After 200 yards - we were done. The 8,000 foot elevation had taken its toll - and then I had the "great" idea to just slide down the road. We did. It was a BLAST.

LESSON 3: Sometimes the best present IS an empty box.

We got our wet, tired butts back into the car - and headed back to Tom's Place. As we got there - we realized that the sledding place was actually right next to the road and we had inadvertently traveled into the State Park. Oh well, no harm, no foul.

We ate at this "rustic" Tom's Place Cafe (with attached bar). This place was... ummm... "charming." It had all the things you want in a kid-friendly environment - like a stuffed deer's ass above the kitchen, various "informative" signs touting friendly service slogans, provocative beer posters - but hey - FREE crayons and coloring books!

We arrived safe and sound at the "cabin" - a 5 bedroom, 3 bath, multi-story, multi-million dollar little hideaway about 1 block from the chair lift. Needless to say, the 2 plasma TV's, fireplaces, gourmet kitchen and wrap-around decks were, according to my kids "pretty cool."

Um, yeah. "Pretty cool!" Amidst all the creature comforts, Xbox, satellite TV, 46 board games, 12 puzzles and an entire library of books - my kids wanted to do only one thing: go outside on the driveway and play in the snow.

So we did. It was awesome!

LESSON 4: In a snowball fight - 8 year olds will win - every time.
LESSON 4a: Snow in the eye can hurt.

My new sister-in-law's family members were a real hoot! They are all gourmet cooks - and we took turns making meals and just hanging out. We stayed up late playing cards, drinking wine, playing Guitar hero ("little Joe" - you absolutely ROCK), drinking wine, playing Pictionary (my wife Brenda is still the best person EVER at this game), drinking wine, eating, drinking wine, etc.

On Saturday (the big ski day - and the day the kids were going to ski school) - Mother Nature really kicked some serious ass. It was about 28 degrees but with a 60 mile per hour wind. We were so determined to get the kids in ski school - that we braved the elements and went to the lift a block away.

When we got there - everyone (even the hard-core ski folks) were leaving. It was just too cold, and too windy to enjoy the day outside. So, we did what any self-respecting, cabin-bound group of frontier explorers who are caught a wintery storm would do: we played cards, drank beer, played games, drank beer, played Guitar Hero (MUCH more fun after beer!), had dinner, drank wine, talked, drank wine, played games, drank wine and hit the sack.

LESSON 5: Liquor before beer, never fear. Beer before liquor, never sicker.

Before we knew it - the weekend was over. So we re-packed the 450 boxes, bags and suitcases and headed back "down the mountain" home again. Our annual pilgrimage to the snow was a complete success.

And, I learned a few things along the way...
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