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Friday
Apr222011

EZ66 Guide For Travelers

Discovering Route 66

In May of 2007, Cathy and I were driving home in our Miata following a road trip to the midwest to visit family.  One of our overnight stops was a hotel in the little town of Grants, New Mexico.  That evening, tired of fast food on the road, we decided to look for a nice restaurant.   We headed away from the interstate and into the heart of Grants.  That put us on Santa Fe Avenue, which parallels I-40.  As we drove along, we noticed business after business that was either closed or looking like they were barely in business.  That's when we noticed our first Route 66 sign.  Having seen the movie Cars the year before, we suddenly realized we were driving through the center of the real-world equivalent of Radiator Springs.

Route 66 in Grants, NM (click image to expand)

At the west end of town, we found a Mexican restaurant (one of the few non-fast food businesses open) and sat down to eat.  But our minds weren't on the food.  All we talked about was that we were sitting in a business that had probably been dozens of different businesses over the years, and that it was located on Route 66.

Bitten by the Route 66 Bug

Back at the hotel, I used my trusty MacBook to search the web for more information about Route 66 in and around the area of Grants.  I found several Route 66 sites that featured turn-by-turn directions and explained how to drive as much of the original Route 66 as possible.  I looked at dozens of photos and read numerous stories about getting your kicks on Route 66.  I was at it for hours.  By the time I turned the MacBook off to get some sleep, I was hooked!  For the remainder of our drive back to Southern California, Cathy and I explored as much of the original Mother Road as we could, given our time constraints and lack of proper printed directions (if only the Apple iPhone had been released a couple of months earlier).  By the time we got home, we knew we'd be visiting Route 66 again, and soon.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers

Since May 2007, we've driven hundreds of miles of Route 66 between Oklahoma and California.  In a few weeks, we'll be joining with friends to drive every paved mile of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Navigating our way along those many miles of original Mother Road will be relatively easy, thanks to Jerry McClanahan's EZ66 Guide For Travelers.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, 2nd Edition

McClanahan's book is considered the "bible" for Route 66 travel and exploration.  He really put a lot of thought into the design of this guide.  His love for The Mother Road is evident on every page.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers is spiral bound for easy reference while on the road.  Obviously, it's best to have a navigator to read the directions as you drive along.  But even a solo driver could manage to follow the route with some careful stopping to refer to the route directions as needed (though, things could get tricky in some cities where one turn quickly follows another).

Logical Layout

The first part of EZ66 Guide For Travelers features an introduction from McClanahan.  He then goes on to explain how to use the book, including explanations of the various terms and abbreviations used in the guide.  Finally we get to the meat of the book, the actual route directions, which are broken down into chapters by state, starting with Illinois.  (Route 66 passes through eight states in all, including the full widths of Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California, plus the Texas panhandle and just 13 miles through the southeast corner of Kansas.)  Each state chapter is numbered independently in the book.  IL. page-10, MO. page-25, and so on.  Within each state chapter, there are numbered Section Maps that precede that section's driving directions and give you an overview of how you'll get from one city to the next.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Section Map (click image to expand)

On the maps, the boldest line represents the Official Tour Route.  This Official Tour Route is by no means the only route possible.  Route 66 had dozens of different alignments over the years.  McClanahan is simply recommending this Official Tour Route as the basic foundation on how to best drive The Mother Road from Chicago to L.A. (or vice versa).  In fact, McClanahan includes numerous optional routes throughout the book.  These optional routes are also marked on the maps with a slightly thinner line.  Each Section Map also includes a box showing city names relevant to that map, and the mileages between some of the cities.

Clever Formatting

McClanahan used clever formatting on the actual driving directions pages.  At the top of each directions page there is a box containing the westbound (WB) directions covered by that particular page.  The directions are easy to understand and follow.  Reading them in your easy chair at home may feel somewhat confusing, but once you actually start driving the route, or following along using a Google map of the area in question, the directions become abundantly clear.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Driving Directions (click image to expand)

At the bottom of each directions page there is a box containing the eastbound (EB) directions covered by that particular page.  This clever design allows the EZ66 Guide For Travelers to be used regardless of which direction you are traveling on Route 66.  The book is arranged from front to back starting with Chicago.  After all, as the song goes, "From Chicago to L.A."  If you're traveling eastbound, you simply start at the back of the book and follow the EB directions as you flip pages forward.

More Detail in the Middle

Between the westbound and eastbound direction on each page, McClanahan provides frequent Detail Maps that show a closer view of the appropriate route through cities.  Also included in this middle area of each directions page are details about points of interest, optional routes (different alignments), side trips, and other useful information.

EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Detail Map (click image to expand)

Website Updates

To his credit, McClanahan provides regular updates on his website, McJerry66.com.  This is an important plus for users of EZ66 Guide For Travelers because things like longterm road construction and bridge closures occur along the route.  McClanahan's thoughtful updates really help to ensure a smooth and enjoyable Route 66 adventure.

Map Series

I should also mention the Here it is! - Route 66 Map Series from Ghost Town Press.  Jerry McClanahan was co-author of the map set along with Jim Ross.  The Route 66 Map Series is an eight map set (one per state) and also includes turn-by-turn directions.  Each map folds out to approximately 22" x 17" in traditional map fashion.  They can be used alone to navigate The Mother Road (we've done it), but I feel the map set best serves as a companion to EZ66 Guide For Travelers.  If I were only buying one, I'd go with the book first, but it's not a bad idea to have both.

Where to Buy

Whether you've been thinking about exploring small sections of Route 66, or jumping head-first into driving the entire route, I highly recommend EZ66 Guide For Travelers.  It truly is the "bible" for Route 66 aficionados and, in my opinion, pretty much a must-have for the best Route 66 driving experience.  The book is available at your favorite bookstore, or at numerous online retailers such as Amazon.com.  If you found this review helpful, please consider showing your support for Mark's Hangout by clicking the link below to purchase the guide through Amazon.com.  Thank you!

 

Thursday
Apr212011

Apple's Cloud-Based Music Service?

Here's video shot during the construction phase of Apple's new $1 billion data center in North Carolina.

 

The data center is reportedly finished and was rumored to go online in the spring.  To date, Apple hasn't explained what the data center will be used for.  Speculation has revolved around a cloud-based music and/or video service.  That speculation seems more and more likely as time passes.

All Things Digital is reporting that Apple is close to finalizing agreements with the four big music labels regarding cloud-based music storage.

"And sources tell me that Apple has already procured deals from at least two of the big four labels (Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, Sony and EMI) within the last two months. One source tells me Apple content boss Eddy Cue will be in New York tomorrow to try to finalize remaining deals."

If true, Apple could have a significant advantage over rival Amazon's recently debuted cloud-based music service.  Reports indicate Amazon has yet to reach any agreements with the music labels.

Similar to Amazon's service, Apple's service will reportedly allow users to upload their existing music library to the cloud and then access that music on multiple devices.  This will likely include music that users have ripped from CDs.  The All Things Digital article reports that music executives are claiming Apple's service could be a more "robust service" with a better user interface thanks to proper licensing.

One thing we can expect:  A cloud-based music service from Apple will surely feature industry-leading design and excellent integration with iTunes, OS X, and iOS!  I'm betting that Steve Jobs and company will have a few surprises up their sleeve.  We might even see a nice "one more thing" moment.  Apple fans are due for one of those!

Thursday
Apr212011

iPhone 4 Tracking Brouhaha

Yesterday, a pair of security researchers (Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden) announced the discovery that the iPhone 4 and iPad 3G are regularly recording the position of the device to a hidden consolidated.db cache file.  Their "discovery" spawned a whirlwind of controversy, including this morning's news of a letter sent to Apple CEO Steve Jobs by Senator Al Franken (D-MN).

Today, network security and forensics expert Alex Levinson stepped forward to explain that the hidden consolidated.db cache file is neither new nor secret.  In fact, the existence of the file was mentioned in iOS Forensic Analysis: for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, a book to which Levinson was a contributor.  The book was released on December 5, 2010.

For me, it's much ado about nothing.  Anyone carrying any sort of mobile phone can be tracked by their mobile provider.  I guess if I was engaged in criminal activity or I was cheating on my spouse, I might have more reason to be concerned.  But the moment I started carrying a mobile device that relies on cellular towers or WiFi hotspots, and features a GPS chip to determine its position, it was pretty easy to figure out that my movements could be tracked.

By the way, Android OS device owners should take note that their devices are tracking position into a similar cache file.  Though, it appears the Android OS does not keep a very long record.

Wednesday
Apr202011

PureGear Shell and Holster for iPhone 4

I don't like to carry my iPhone 4 in my pocket.  I prefer to use a case or holster that clips to my belt.  Until recently, I was using a Marware CEO Sleeve.  Last week, while attaching the CEO Sleeve to my belt, the clip broke.  (Thankfully, the CEO Sleeve -with iPhone 4 in it- came off in my hand instead of hitting the floor.)  I contacted Marware and they were happy to replace the CEO Sleeve under warranty.  Only problem: they no longer offer it in black.  They sent me a 'vanilla' one instead.  Not my cup of tea.

Thus began the search to find a replacement gadget to carry and protect my iPhone 4.  During this search, a friend suggested a case and holster that another (mutual) friend had found at a Verizon store.  I visited a Verizon store the next day and ended up purchasing a PureGear Shell and Holster with Kickstand for iPhone 4 model number AIP4HOC.

The Holster and Shell

PureGear put some thought into this design.  There are two separate parts, the Holster and the Shell.

Holster & Shell, Front (click image to expand)

Holster & Shell, Back (click image to expand)

The Holster and Shell are constructed of rubberized plastic.  The material has a nice tactile feel and it is quite strong.  There are other cases/shells on the market that could offer more protection, but they all seem to be bulkier and, frankly, not nearly as attractive.

Nesting the Two Parts

The iPhone 4 slides into the Shell and then the Shell/iPhone combo slides (iPhone face first) into the Holster.

The Two Parts, Nested (click image to expand)

Clipped to my belt, the package is nice and compact.  There's no fumbling to remove the iPhone from the Holster, it slides right out.  Putting the iPhone back is just as easy.  It snicks into place and all seems very secure.

The Kickstand

The long rectangular section on the back of the Shell is the nifty Kickstand.  It slides open and locks in place behind a little tab.

Kickstand in Portrait Orientation (click image to expand)

I didn't think I'd use the Kickstand feature very often.  I have to admit, it's a nice feature to have.  It can also be used in landscape orientation.

Kickstand in Landscape Orientation (click image to expand)

The Kickstand is perfect for propping up the iPhone 4 while you browse the web or watch a movie.

Enjoy your Favorite Movie (click image to expand)

Adjustable Belt Clip

The Holster features a ratcheting belt clip with 12 positions over a 180-degree arc.  The belt clip will accommodate fairly thick belts and belts up to about 1.5-inches wide.

Ratcheting Belt Clip (click image to expand)

Generous Opening for Camera

PureGear also got it right with the opening in the Shell for the iPhone's camera and flash.  Some other cases are known to create glare in photos due to the flash reflecting off of the case's plastic edges.  PureGear made the opening a bit more generous and that eliminates the glare problem.

Opening for Camera (click image to expand)

If you look closely at the camera and flash opening, you'll notice a millimeter or so of air gap between the inside back of the Shell and the back of the iPhone 4.  This air gap should help prevent damage to the back of the iPhone 4 from small bits of sand or grit.

Fits Both Models

The PureGear Shell fits both the Verizon iPhone 4 and the AT&T iPhone 4 (AT&T model pictured).

Summary

PureGear has created a nice balance between protection, bulk, appearance and function.  The rubberized texture helps you avoid accidentally dropping your iPhone 4, and the Kickstand feature is a very nice bonus.  The PureGear Shell and Holster with Kickstand for iPhone 4 earns my highest recommendation.

Where to Buy

The PureGear AIP4HOC is available at Verizon stores for about $30.  However, the AIP4HOC is available through Amazon at a significant savings (link below).

Tuesday
Apr192011

Sports cars are supposed to be red!

A story that my buddy VBob related to me back in the early '90s:  He was at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races and it was the first year that Mazda was making a big push to populate the infield with a bunch of their new sports car, the Miata.  It had been prearranged that all of the Miata owners would meet outside the gates to Laguna Seca Raceway, and then all drive to the infield in parade style.  VBob was standing on a hill inside the track as this long line of over 300 Miatas snaked into the infield.  Standing near VBob, also watching the long procession of jellybean-colored cars, were a couple of MG owners.  VBob overheard a bit of their conversation.  As best I remember VBob's telling, the conversation went something like this:  MG owner #1 said, "They supposedly don't leak oil or have electrical problems.  So what do you think the owners talk about?"  To which MG owner #2 replied, "The color of their car?"

Bingo!  Miata owners have been debating car color since the car was introduced.

Really, though, there's nothing to debate.  Sports cars are supposed to be red.  Sure, I'll take a Miata in almost any color versus some lesser car in red.  The Miata is too much fun to drive to let car color stop me from enjoying the experience.  But sports cars are supposed to be red.  This is a known fact.  Even those that choose to drive a yellow one or blue one are doing it just to be different.  They're making a statement that they are an individual.  That they make their own decisions, instead of following the herd.  But deep down inside, even they know sports cars are supposed to be red.  If they won the lottery tomorrow and found themselves shopping for a Ferrari, they'd buy a red one.

When Mazda introduced the Miata in 1989, it was available in just three colors.  Classic Red, Crystal White, and Mariner Blue.  For the first several years, over 70% of the Miatas sold were red. Granted, that had a lot to do with Mazda's production numbers.  Mazda made more red ones because they knew... sports cars are supposed to be red.   But Mazda's decision was also influenced by the demand.  The Miata-hungry public wanted red ones.  The public knew.

Fortunately, Mazda picked the correct shade of red from the start.  Classic Red is the perfect red for a sports car.  Not too purple and not too orange.  A nice, deep, paint-is-two-inches-thick red.  Then, in 2004, Mazda got it right again with the Velocity Red on the Mazdaspeed Miata.  Velocity Red is, basically, an ever-so-slightly deeper Classic Red plus metal flake.  It's a gorgeous color for a sports car.  Both Classic Red and Velocity Red are true sports car colors.  Sadly, even Mazda eventually screwed up sports car red.

For 2006, when Mazda released the redesigned Miata, they replaced Classic Red with True Red.  True Red is a sad example of sports car red.  True Red is too orange.  Next to Classic Red or Velocity Red, a True Red Miata looks like a pumpkin.  The True Red models apparently don''t sell all that well, either.  I see very few of them on the road.  The much darker Copper Red is more popular.  You'd think Mazda would figure it out and bring back Classic Red.

There are many owners of early Miatas that might be swayed to upgrade to a newer model if Mazda was offering a proper shade of red for their uber-popular sports car.  Some of these older models are getting long in the tooth.  It seems to me that Mazda is missing out on some sales.  Yet, Mazda keeps going completely in the wrong direction by offering different shades of blue.  That's certainly not the answer.  As we all know, sports cars are supposed to be red!

Monday
Apr182011

Laziness is an acceptable excuse, right?

Well, here I am writing my very first blog post.  I don't know what took me so long.  It's not like I haven't had the time.  And it's not like I haven't received positive encouragement from friends.  "You're the most opinionated guy I know, you should start a blog!"  Hmm… not sure if that was a compliment or not.

Sheer laziness, I guess.  Let's face it, creating a blog is a bit of work.  I created this site using Squarespace.com, which includes easy-to-use templates and WYSIWYG editing.  But there's still a learning curve involved.  Hopefully, it will be easier from here on.

One thing is for certain, I do have opinions and I do like to share them.  At least now I'll have a (potentially) larger audience to share them with.  I'll probably piss off one or two people in the process.  On the other hand, maybe a post here or there might actually be helpful or entertaining to someone.  We'll see.

Some thank yous are in order.  To Rob-ART, Bet-TAY, and VBob, for their ongoing encouragement to start a blog.  To Rick, for (almost) always answering his phone when he knows I'm calling with technical questions.  And to my lovely wife Cathy, for her love and patience, which makes life all the more wonderful.  Thank you, all!

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