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2010 Portland Auto Show

Thursday, January 28, 2010
Tonight, my buddy and I went to the 2010 Portland Auto Show at the Convention Center. It was a fantastic opportunity to see what's out there, what the trends are, play with cars and push all the buttons.

Several brands at the auto show impressed me. Ford, of course, was there in force. They had the Fiesta on display (I wish I could have had a chance to play with it, but it was roped off.) The F-150, America's most popular truck, was also the nicest truck there - by far.

The 2011 Ford Fiesta

Another impressive brand was Hyundai. The new Tucson was very impressive, and very impressively priced. The Genesis Coupe didn't look half-bad either, and I mistook the new Sonata for something significantly higher up in the Hyundai lineup.

Other cars that were impressive:
Lincoln MKS: If they put it in a car, this car has it. It was good-looking, incredibly optioned, and comfortable. (Except for the back seat.)
Kia Forte Koup: This was the car that said, "best bang for the buck" of all the cars there. For the price range (the one at the auto show was about $21,000) it stood head and shoulders above the competition.
Buick LaCrosse: For the price it was at (the one there was $36,500-ish), it was better optioned and more comfortable - by far - than its contemporaries.
But while some brands showed up, other brands - in my opinion - embarrassed themselves. Honda, in particular, had a large space but only brought four vehicles. The area looked empty and seemed poorly attended. Lexus was there, but the HS250h reminds me of a Ford Fusion. Not that that's a bad thing, except I could buy a Fusion for significantly less.

The 2011 Ford Fiesta

GMC showed up with a bunch of big trucks and SUVs, which obviously we don't have enough of. Chevrolet was there with a couple nice Corvettes and Camaros, a bunch of big trucks and SUVs, and the most embarrassing batch of cars ever made. It seriously made them look bad with the selection of bland, boring, and cheap-looking sedans there.

There were some absences, as well. I'm disappointed that BMW and Mercedes didn't even bother showing up. Neither did Land Rover, Nissan, or Mitsubishi. Seriously? Oh well, if they can't be bothered to show up at the auto show, I guess it's better off for not having them there.

My overall opinion of the auto show is this: if you're searching for a car between $30,000 and $55,000, the show's got you covered. If you're looking to spend less than that, however, you'll find the selection to be pretty slim.

In all, I had a blast going. The crowds on a Thursday night were slim, so I didn't have to wait for anything, and my friend and I spent nearly three and a half hours playing with new cars. Good times, indeed.

Tramble Achieved

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
"Prepare to get wet!"

This was the phrase that launched tonight's ramble. Our goal? A ride down on the OHSU tram (since the ride down is free.) And, just to spoil it, in contrast to our last attempt, we made it on this one.

Our path was a direct one. Perhaps the torrential rains deterred any forays into the dark, often slippery staircases in that area. Whatever the reason, however, our path took us through downtown and over that direction quickly. We cruised up over the YMCA and entered the OHSU campus off Terwilliger, winding our way up there. Walking into OHSU (as one must do to find the tram) was fun; the collective squeaking of our soaked shoes on the tiles was quite conspicuous.

The tram

As always, the ride down afforded us a magnificent view of downtown Portland. The moisture, however, meant that the tram windows fogged up quite quickly and there was a little extra work involved in enjoying the view.

The walk back wasn't difficult, it was just fast. We went from the lower OHSU building on the south waterfront to Union Station, walking along the river. Walking quickly along the river. And it was only once we reached the train station, with maybe 15 minutes left in our ramble, that the rain subsided. We were all soaked. I could even feel my socks squishing in my "waterproof" boots. (Note: nothing is ever waterproof.)

At the end of the tramble, my hands were frozen, my clothes were drenched, and I was very happy to have gone. Even though it wasn't the challenge I was hoping for, it was still a lot of fun and definitely a path I'd repeat if given a chance.

Fallout 3

Monday, January 25, 2010
This story starts, for me, back in 1990, when my family got their first PC. (For the record, it was a Compaq Deskpro 286e.) Being the middle-schooler that I was at the time, I used it not just for homework but to play games as well. One of my favorites was a game called Wasteland, a "post-nuclear" role-playing game. I played the game for more hours than I can remember.

Fast forward to 2001 or so. I remember being at Fry's Electronics and someone there recommending that I check out this aging game that was in the bargain bin called Fallout. I loaded it up, stared playing it, and loved it. It was full of dark humor and contained many references to the game Wasteland. I can't say enough good things about the game. (I was really enjoying Fallout 2, which I purchased not long after completing the first one, until game-stopping glitches forced me to abandon the game. Despite finding a patch, my saved games were still broken and I never got around to re-playing it.)

Fast forward many years and imagine, then, my excitement at the release of Fallout 3 in 2008. This excitement was short-lived, however, as I lacked any sort of system on which to play the game. Fast forward to the very last days of 2009, though, and, with a PC that can play the game well, I made the decision to purchase the Fallout 3 Game of the Year edition (which included the original game plus five add-on packs.)

Fallout 3 poster

Fallout 3 is definitely a successor to the first two games but makes many dramatic changes from the delivery of the game. The biggest change, for me, was the move to a first-person (or third-person) three dimensional world, versus the two dimensional third-person isometric format of the prior games. The combat became mostly real-time, versus the prior turn-based format. And, while the tone of the game was darker and grittier, the picture of this future was largely the same and, indeed, carried a much larger sense of immersion, aided in part by the beautiful visual representation of a world in decay.

Fallout 3 Scenery

While prior games have focused on the west coast (moving eastward), this game takes place in the Capitol Wasteland that was once Washington, D.C. A couple centuries after the bombs fall, a young vault-dweller emerges into the radioactive expanse to find his (or her) father and embark on an adventure of radiation, pure water, shadow governments, and super-mutants. I'd be embarassed to admit as to how many hours I've spent, in the last month, playing this game and enjoying it!

The game, of course, is far from perfect. It crashed on me more times than I can count, and there were lots of things that broke that immersive feeling. For instance, despite the fact that I leveled up, became a stronger player, and gathered impressive equipment, none of this was acknowledged. I mean, look at the picture below and tell me if YOU would treat the two characters shown (one in a standard vault tunic, one in advanced power armor) the same way in a random encounter!

Can YOU spot the differences between the two characters?

Also, while the game did a great job of making me feel like I wasn't the sole character in the universe (for instance, occasionally I'd see other non-player characters get attacked by random wild creatures), there were things that didn't quite work. To pick an example, most of the random enemies I'd encounter would be scaled in difficulty so as to not overpower me at the beginning of the game but not simply fall down in front of me towards the end. While this is a normal tactic, the non-player characters did NOT scale in strength, so important characters could occasionally be kiiled when they shouldn't have been. It's all minor stuff, but worth mentioning.

Anyway, at the end of the day I've had fantastic fun playing this game, and highly recommend it to all. It certainly appealed to me, though my taste in fictional video games has always leaned more towards "gatling laser" than "magic fireball".

On credit scores and dead cats

I have become convinced that one's credit score is our modern-day Schrödinger's cat. That is, the health of the cat is directly affected by the observation of said cat and, likewise, one's credit score is (negatively) impacted by the checking of that credit score. I mean, to continue the slightly ridiculous comparison to quantum physics, your credit score is - to the outside world - completely unknown. By opening the box, the cat is killed and your credit score goes down. Does that make any sense?

I dislike that these institution have such power over our lives and that they lack transparency. Sure, I get my free credit report every year, but that's little more than a half-useless report with little actual meaning. One day I'd like to have the curtains pulled back and be able to see inside the little houses where the decisions impacting millions of people are made.

But that's just me, and I hate knowing that, by opening the box, I'm killing the cat.

Mahna Mahna

Friday, January 22, 2010
After reading this article over at NPR's Monkey See blog, I have the following stuck in my brain. I thought I'd share.

The "Mt. Adams" Ramble

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Tonight's ramble with the Mazamas group was advertised as being a 4.5 (on a difficulty scale of, generally speaking, 1 - 5) and mysteriously listed the destination as "Mt. Adams".

The ramble started, as so many do, heading south through downtown towards the south-west hills. In contrast to previous rambles, we didn't dally or try to add unnecessary length to our walk; we were in it for distance and speed tonight, and we got both. While conversing merrily with a fellow walker, I realized that I both recognized most of the streets we were on and felt that we were getting more than our fair share of elevation in for the evening.

the path we took

I could tell as we were reaching the halfway point (or 7 o'clock, halfway through our allotted time) that we were getting close to Council Crest; we'd headed in that direction and there's only so far "up" one can walk in Portland before either running out or reaching that park. That's when the mystery of "Mt. Adams" was revealed; we turned onto a small side street named, of all things "Mt. Adams".

The Mt. Adams street sign

I was a little disappointed that we didn't just go to the top of Council Crest, since we walked right next to the park. I realize, however, that we were rapidly running out of time (we ended up being 5 minutes late as it was) so it's not that big a deal. The walk back was fast and direct; we just went straight down Vista Ave to downtown. Even taking the quick route back we walked over 7.25 miles tonight!

Anyway, it was a fun trip, and the conversations with other Ramblers along the way just made it better.



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