Subscribe

Receive updates via email:

 Updates via RSS

Tag Cloud

Blog Archive

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Normandy Beaches – Our Day Trip from Paris to Visit Omaha Beach

Today we are on our way out to the Normandy region in northern France to see the beaches where D-Day took place. changing the face of the war in Europe during World War II. For me, this visit is 12 years in the making -- on my previous visit to Paris in 1996, one of my biggest regrets was that I did not take the opportunity to visit any of the beaches in Normandy near Caen and Bayeux and specifically Omaha Beach.

Ken & Ashley at Omaha Beach in Normandy while on vacation in France
Before I get into too much detail, this is definitely a visit that you can make on a day trip. While not preferred due to the vast size of the beaches near Caen and Bayeux (55 miles long), you can visit several sites if you are limited on time like we were. The best way is to take a train (two hours, direct without transfers) and sign up for a local tour.

Here is how we did it:
- SCNF direct train departing from Paris St Lazare at 10:43am arriving in Bayeux at 12:53pm. Cost of our round trip fare was €128 or about $196.
- Tour departs from Bayeux station at 1:00 (they will pick you up from the track) at $65/person for a 5-hour tour of the area. (We booked on Viator.com using a 10% off coupon found through Google searching for "Viator Coupon")
- Take the train back from Bayeux at 7:31pm arriving in Paris St. Lazare at 9:43pm. You could make the 6:20pm train, but then it could be tight and you would not have any time to explore the central strip in Bayeux.

Now, let us get back to the experience that Ashley and I had visiting the D-Day beaches. We all certain images of what we think Omaha Beach looks like. I am guessing the younger generations – those in generation X, generation y – picture the beaches looking similar to the images we have in our mind from Saving Private Ryan. While the movie was based on an actual story, it was filmed in Ireland. I had additional pictures on what I thought things might look like from many of the World War II era games I have played like the “Tour of Duty” and “Medal of Honor” series. Many of which are WWII period games.

While we discussed this on our train ride to Bayeux, my mind shifted to the countryside as we moved closer to our destination. I tried to picturing tanks and infantrymen roaming the rolling hills and farmlands we were passing through. I struggled to picture combat and fighting from farm to farm and town to town as the Allied forces drove the German army towards Paris during the liberation of France. So much history, but little evidence was left behind in the countryside, which interestingly – was very similar to what I had imagined.

Upon arriving in Bayeux, it was time to find our tour guide. It was easier than I expected – as we came up the steps, a placard with our names on it was there and that is where we met Olivier. Olivier was the son of a local butcher who grew up in a fishing village just north of Bayeux. He is one of three full-time guides during the winter, before it increases significantly in the summers.

To our surprise, today we ended up with a private tour with just Ashley and I because no one else signed up. That was a welcomed surprise, especially when you pay for a group tour! That meant immediately we could take advantage of it, and Olivier stopped at a Panini shop in the middle of Bayeux so we could grab a quick lunch to go.

After we got into the van, Olivier was off towards our first stop – the German Cemetery – and we were impressed by the knowledge and detail that he was able to give us as a background. I think the most surprising fact for me was that the D-Day beaches were in fact spread out over a total of 55 miles. Since I had not brushed up on my detailed history from World War II before the trip, I was thinking it was much smaller – no more than 20 miles in total. It puts the whole event in slightly different detail to understand that.

We quickly arrived at the German Cemetery which previously had been a makeshift cemetery for both the Americans and the Germans. What really stood out to us was that for its size (much smaller than American Military Cemetery), yet there were twice as many soldiers (~20k) in the cemetery.

Entrance of German Cemetery Normandy near Bayeux, France
An interesting fact that Olivier mentioned here was that with increasing frequency, he was getting a good number of German visitors from the younger generation visiting the cemetery. That is a recent development, especially based on what we have experienced during our visits and studies in Germany. Good to see.

After finishing up at the German Cemetery, we drove to Pointe du Hoc, via Sainte Marie du Mont. This is where the infamous German gun position threatened the Allied ships up and down the beaches too both Utah and Omaha. The site was attacked by the elite 2nd U.S. Rangers, commanded by LT. Col James Rudder, who had to scale the cliffs to get there.

This area proved to be the most like what we expected to see in Normandy as it has been preserved as a park with much of the historical pieces left intact. Upon arriving, we walked past the minefields that separated the cliffs from the land.

Minefield area from Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France
From there, we walked through a number of positions, bunkers, and armories – most that were blown up by bombs. The landscape was littered with big depressions from the bombings that took place.

Here are a couple of additional pictures from Pointe du Hoc.

A former armory that was exploded by a bomb scattering concrete in Ponte du HocAn armory that was exploded by a bomb scattering concrete in Ponte du Hoc

The landscape at Pointe du Hoc showing the depressions from bombs and former entrenchmentsThe landscape at Pointe du Hoc showing the depressions from bombs and former entrenchments

Ashley in front of on of the fortifications for the 110mm guns that the Rangers were charged with disabling at Pointe du HocAshley in front of on of the fortifications for the 110mm guns that the Rangers were charged with disabling at Pointe du Hoc

After Pointe du Hoc, it was on to Omaha Beach right at the point of the National Guard Memorial at Omaha Beach where the American soldiers made their way onto the beach to clear a path in the Atlantic Wall for tanks and other heavy machinery.

Ashley and Kenny pose in front of the National Guard Memorial at Omaha Beach.Ashley and Kenny pose in front of the National Guard Memorial at Omaha Beach.

Omaha Beach today as it stands is again a coastal vacation community with vacation homes and beach houses lining the beach – it was a vacation community before World War II even. I have to say that this was the most unexpected experience of the day; I expected it to still be pretty deserted with most of the history left intact. However, as Olivier quickly explained and we realized – that was what the soldiers fought for, that one day life would return to as it was there.

After Omaha Beach we headed up to the American Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach. As we arrived into the parking lot, Olivier welcomed us to the United States, as the United States owns the property for this site. No passports were stamped. :-)


Ashley signs the guestbook at the American Military Cemetery at Omaha BeachAshley signs the guest book at the American Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach

It was a great experience – one that I will not describe in detail, but similar to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii if you have been there. The difference here is the presence of the graves, all aligned in perfect rows. The gloomy weather with light rain was just right for the experience. We even had the fortune to catch the flag retreat ceremony at Omaha Beach – quite an experience.
Flag retreat ceremony at the American Military Cemetery.Flag retreat ceremony at the American Military Cemetery.

Our last stop of the day was at the Musée Omaha in Saint Laurent sur Mer, where you get free admission on this tour. The museum was a great collection of memorabilia including a landing craft, a tank, and a ton of weapons, uniforms, and other military equipment. Probably the most spectacular part about the museum is that most of the material, especially in recent addition has been found locally during construction or washing up on shore. Amazing that almost 64 years later, artifacts are still being found.

After we finished up at the museum, we headed back to town. We had Olivier drop us off at the center of the small town so we could explore a little before heading back to the train.
The best view in Bayeux, France according to Olivier.The best view in Bayeux, France according to Olivier.

We then caught our train on the way back – which experienced an hour delay once on board due to engine difficulties. Soon enough though, we made it back to Paris in just over 3 hours rather than the two we expected.

If you happen to visit Paris and want to go out to the D-Day beaches of Normandy, I highly recommend this tour from Viator.com (http://www.viator.com/tours/Normandy/Normandy-Battlefields-Tour-American-World-War-II-Beaches/d183-3193NSTB). They also offer other and longer tours should you want to spend more than 6 hours touring as we did. I am very glad that we took the time to see this powerful piece of American history on our trip to France! Reality definitely did not relect the expectations I have -- now I have a more realistic view of D-Day and how the region has transformed itself since that time.

Read more of this post!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Eurostar London to Paris - 20:05 is 8:05pm, not 10:05pm

In case you ever wonder, 20:05 on the military clock is really 8:05pm and not 10:05pm. Ashley and I learned that the hard way last night when we were planning to take the Eurostar train from London (Saint Pancras) to Paris (Paris Nord). Our mistake happened to be an expensive one, luckily in the end we only lose a couple of hours of time in Paris.

Here is what happened…

When I booked our Eurostar tickets last week, the only option available was the last train of the night for Tuesday. That train departed at 20:05 from the Saint Pancras station in London and arrived at 23:20 in the Paris Nord station in Paris.

Fast forward to last night...

We planned our entire day around what we thought was the 10:05pm departure time. Calculating everything else out, we figured we would be safe if we hailed a taxi from our hotel at 8:30pm, plenty of time for the few kilometer trip over to the Saint Pancras station. After our adventures throughout the day, we arrived back at our hotel to wait for what we thought was the 10:05pm train by grabbing a coffee and drinks in the bar of our hotel. I decided to double-check out reservations and my heart sunk.

I realized the departure time was really 8:05pm not 10:05pm – and it was 7:40pm. There was no possibly way to get to the train before it made its departure at 8:05pm. We stuck in London for the night without a room?

How did we get here?

1. We did not check our reservations or paper tickets we had with us. This is probably the goofiest mistake of them all. All day long I meant to double check, but Ashley and I had so thoroughly discussed and planned for the departure time of 10:05pm – could it possibly have been anything else?
2. Our assumption of the 10:05pm departure was validated by Paris, France being one hour ahead of London, England. The only problem? We calculated it as one hour behind – making the time difference and the train schedule perfectly in sync.
3. We planned our entire day around the 10:05pm departure time. Since we had discussed it so much, how could it be anything different?

Now we had a little bit of a mess on our hands. After checking with the concierge at our hotel, there were no more outbound trains available this evening on the Eurostar to Paris. No flights to Paris that we could still take. No hotel. Useless tickets since they were restricted, non-refundable, and non-transferrable. Seriously a big OOPS!

Needless to say, we were pretty frustrated – but really could only laugh at this point, getting upset would have only made matters worse. So, I had a great laugh for a couple of minutes and then proceeded to get things worked out.

Truly, everything worked at – although it was at considerable cost from what we had planned on. The irony of it is that I have a post in draft format in which I cover how dramatically inexpensive this trip really was for us based on the luxuries we have been able to enjoy. The trip will still be relatively inexpensive – just a little more than I thought.

Here is how everything worked out.

The first order was to find out if there was a place to stay the night. Luckily, the Trafalgar Hilton had a few rooms left – plus being Diamond with Hilton HHonors, the only tickle -- ₤385, yes $770 US for a single room. Do not even wonder about the great room we had previously, that was well over $1000 US. Fortunately, I still had plenty of HHonors points to convert the stay into a free night – a great, yet unexpected use of 40,000 points.

Getting to Paris provided us with a couple of different options. One, we could take a very early flight to Paris and minimize our lost time. Two, we could take the first Eurostar train out in the morning.

At first glance, it looked as if the flight from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle was going to be the best option at a total of ₤164 for both of us. The flight left at 6:20am and arrived in Paris shortly before 9:00am. We figured that without delay, we could be at our hotel by 11:00am. But that was the price per person and with an additional ₤50 for a taxi ride to Heathrow, the earlier check in time, and the risk of flight delays and other issues out of Heathrow – it did not seem like the best option at ₤400, roughly $800 US.

The Eurostar website showed the first train out at 7:30am, and only fully flexible fares available eat ₤309 for both of us. That train put us in Paris before 11:00am and we figured we could be at the hotel before 11:30am. Plus the trip was simpler, we could get some extra sleep, and there was little risk of delay. We booked those on short order and headed off to bed for our early 5:30am wake-up call.

This morning has moved very smoothly, although there were two trains with earlier departure times (6:30am, 6:55am) that did not appear on the website. Given that the trains were pretty empty – we wished we could have jumped on one of those. We boarded our 7:30am train and just passed under the English Channel. It looks like we will have an early arrival into Paris right now.

Still the damage was not insignificant – an extra $600 plus another 40,000 HHonors points spent unexpectedly. We do realize it could have been much worse though – given the time of year for our travels, the bookings were pretty easy and I was able to defer costs for points. Luckily we are only losing a couple of usable hours of daylight in Paris after this misfortune. It could have been much worse.

Lesson learned? Not really much, we already know we should have been more vigilant in checking our itinerary. We will make sure we review our flight out of Paris on Sunday a few more times this week just to be sure.

Read more of this post!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Paddington Bears only in Paddington Station for Purchase

This is one of those articles that you write simply because previous searches on the Internet did not yield any sites of notable value. When you’re wandering London trying to find a Paddington Bear – it should be easier to find. And that brings us to the content for this post, how we found Ashley a Paddington Bear in London, England.

Ashley with her Paddington Bear at Paddington station in London, England
Many people know the story of Paddington Bear, a children’s story that was first written in 1958 and has sold some 30 million copies of the book series since that time. Who knows how many millions of bears have been purchased from the United Kingdom.

Here’s a short version of the story:

Please look after this bear thank you.

‘Mr and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. In fact that was how he came to have such an unusual name for a bear, for Paddington was the name of the station.’ Thus began the first of the Paddington books, ‘A Bear Called Paddington’, by Michael Bond.

‘A Bear Called Paddington’ was first published in England in 1958 and quickly became a best selling children’s book and today, over 40 years later, it has achieved classic status. Over 70 Paddington books have been published, selling in excess of 25 million copies in over 20 languages, and Paddington has appeared in a number of animated television programmes and specials. Millions of children and adults around the world have shared in Paddington’s misadventures.


Ashley usually picks one item – sometime large, sometimes small that she wants to bring home from each trip or vacation that we take. The usual minimum includes some sort of Christmas ornament, if available. From London, she wanted a real Paddington Bear to bring back.

We did some basic searching, and really did not find much – in gift shops, in stores, and in department stores. No Paddington bears. We then asked our concierge at the Trafalgar and over a couple of minutes learned the following.

Unless it is mail order, telephone order, or Internet order – the only place where you can get an authentic Paddington Bear is the Paddington Underground / Paddington Train Station in the United Kingdom. If you want a real Paddington bear (other than the 3” miniature bears) then you need to plan some time out of your day to visit that station specifically. There you can get your choice of bear sizes, books, clothing, and more.

We planned an hour out of our schedule to make the underground trip on the Hammersmith & City line (also available on the Circle line) Ashley was able to get her Paddington bear. It took us just about an hour from the Tower Bridge area, and that was during the 5:00pm rush.

What if you cannot make it to the Paddington Underground station on your trip? Your choices are limited, but you can do one of the following:
1. Visit some souvenir stands in the Westminster or other popular tourist areas. A few of them have the very tiny mini Paddington Bears that you can grab quickly. They are more expensive than the ones from the Paddington Station, but it is hard to beat the convenience.
2. Internet, Telephone, or Mail order. Those are the other ways to get your hands on a ‘real’ Paddington Bear, it just will not be hand picked from the Paddington Station where the bear was “born.”

All of this begs the commentary on why Paddington bears are only sold at the Paddington Train Station. While one cannot be sure, you can guess that it is most fitting place to buy the bear given the fact that Paddington was originally found there.

Good luck finding your Paddington bear – please let me know if this article helped you with a comment below.

Read more of this post!

London Eye - Try it - Even if you are afraid of heights!

Visually stunning, the London Eye has become a center piece for the skyline of central London. Originally built for the year 2000 celebration – and subsequently scheduled for demolition after 5 year, it has become the only profitable attraction that was built for the celebratory Millennium event. Appropriately, it was originally named the Millennium Wheel.

London Eye - Approaching the Ferris Wheel
Taking the 30 minute ride on the London Eye was one of the things that I really wanted to do on our trip. Ashley on the other hand is neither a fan of heights or Ferris wheels, so it took a little convincing to have her agree to go. After our visit, she was glad that she went on it – or at least she wants me to think that. Our timing for the week was very good as it was a relatively clear and sunny day in London that made viewing spectacular.

There was about a 15 minute wait to get our $31 USD (each) tickets for the ride. In retrospect, we could have purchased the online. But, my difficulties in getting reliable Internet connections combined with our careful weather watching for the best view possible made it less practical. Since the line was relatively short with comparable summer waits, we simply proceeded to the line for the London Eye and boarded within 5 minutes.

Boarding our capsulized pod for the London Eye
The pods or capsules can hold up to 25 people, however in ours there were only approximately 10 visitors. We had plenty of space and I was able to take pretty much any picture that I desired to around the 360 degree view.

London Eye - A look up to where we will be going
As we started to move, I was immediately shocked by how smooth the ride was. There was not jerking, swaying, swinging or any other types of movement that you associate with your typical Ferris wheel. It felt like we were simply floating through the sky as we rose towards the sky over London and took in the view. In all, it took about 30 minutes to make the revolution and complete the experience.

Ashley takes a photo of Ken looking out over the skyline with Big Ben
This is definitely an attraction the caliber – perhaps not with the historical significance yet – of other major cities such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris – which we get to see in a couple of days. The ability to rise 135 meters (about 500 feet) above and soak in the skyline of London is well worth the price of admission, even if it is a little pricey.

London Eye - Photo of Millenium bridge from our capsule
The biggest story here is that if you are afraid of heights, or have a tendency to experience motion sickness on your typical carnival Ferris wheel – no need to worry. The rotation of the London Eye is so slow and the experience is so smooth. Ashley can tell can definitely tell you this from her experience as she typically never will step foot on such a contraption. However, she felt quite comfortable throughout the ride -- do not be afraid to try it!

Read more of this post!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Getting Connected in London to WiFi

Part of the lack of frequent, daily posting this week – in addition to being on vacation is the fact that I have found it absolutely unreasonable to get any sort of Internet connection here in the United Kingdom.

Why do I say unreasonable?

Simply the charges for one to get connected to the Internet. Everywhere I am with my laptop – mainly Trafalgar Square – the fee to connect to any sort of Wifi service is about ₤15, or about $30 USD for a 24 hours connection. Even in the Hilton Hotel in Trafalgar Square. This was not even the highest price, I saw one of the hotspots for wifi internet connectivity at ₤18 for the 1 day period. Outrageous.

A British Telecom (BT) service did have it as cheap as ₤5 for 500 minutes of service, however that required a 12-month commitment. A little longer than what I required for this trip.

What perhaps makes this even more frustrating is that during one of the soccer matches we saw on a television – broadband Internet services was being advertised for as low as ₤8.95/month for the service. Somebody is making some real money on these 24-hour connections.

The only brief respite that I had is that over the weekend the restaurant across from the Trafalgar Hilton Hotel, the “Albannach’ – an upscale Scottish Bar & Eatery was offering free Internet access that I could connect to from our hotel room. Probably anyone in Trafalgar Square could connect for free.

It was great to get some reservations in order and send out a couple of emails to let family know that we had arrived safely in London, England. As I mentioned above, the relief was only brief because when attempting to connect on Monday morning – I was then prompted for a username / password to connect to the Albannach restaurant’s WiFi system.

Apparently their system was not meant to be quite as open as I found it over the weekend. While I am not sure if you will receive the username / password if you join, or if the username / password is intentional – if you’re ever in the Trafalgar Square area, you may want to try the Albannach to see if they really do offer free Internet service.

Otherwise, you are going to pay through the nose if you do not have a wireless broadband service and need to connect briefly to a WiFi service. I am hoping that the experience will be a little different in Paris.

Read more of this post!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

London – Now that we’re here

Just like that and we are here in London. It is really hard to imagine that it is real. We left work behind just 14 hours ago and now here we are on the ground in London, England. While I time here will prove short – just four days including our arrival day – we are sure that we will make the most of it.

Our arrival at the Trafalgar Square Hilton
Upon arrival, we were waking up from our nice “naps” on a Boeing Triple 7 (777) as United Airlines calls them. It was nice to fly International Business class, but it actually fell below my expectations. Oh well, you get what you pay for and in this case it was free due to a couple of system-wide upgrades.

Our particular plane, although a long haul – had not been updated with the newer line of United’s Premium service – which makes it feel a lot more like Economy Plus than International Business class. Especially when compared to the service that other airlines like Lufthansa offer. Other than the additional legroom, some food and additional degrees on the recline – it feels a lot like Economy Plus. You are on the same cinema and entertainment selection as the rest of aircraft. Here’s hoping that all the flights will be updated by the time we leave for Italy in July.

The best part about the upgrade is that when we arrive we are able to go through the fast track queue which is reserved for premium passengers, but invitation only. It is sure to save us quite a bit. I change some money at Change de Cambio (also American Express is available) which is the ever present rip-off (If you have a Bank of America ATM card, the cheapest way to get money is through a Barclay’s bank ATM. Bank of America has partnered with Barclays to provide no ATM, international, or other fees – only the exchange rate), but we need to in order to get to the hotel – so I change it out. Once we gather our belongings and clear customs, it is time to find our driver.

At first, I was not able to locate our driver and was a little concerned about the booking I made with Exclusive Airports for our transfer from Heathrow (LHR) to our hotel just a couple of days before. But after a little bit more searching, I located our driver with my name on it and we headed to the car. Our driver was quite friendly, chatty, and was definitely a money saver over taking a standard cab. Later we learned that the Heathrow Express was a bit cheaper way to get to London, but then most likely we would have needed a taxi from Paddington Station (link here) which was quite a bit from our hotel.

On the radio on the way to the hotel, there was a “police incident” near Trafalgar square where our hotel, “The Trafalgar” a Hilton hotel (review here) was located. In this case, the incident had to do with a stabbing occurring at a club the previous evening. Our driver makes a comment about how little the police have done in London to get the youth under control with their drinking and other activities. We shrug and continue.

Once we reach the hotel area, we notice that the cab cannot pull in front of our hotel as it is in an area that is blocked off. Fortunately, the incident is not at our hotel, rather a few blocks away – but the driver needs to drop us off about a block from the hotel. We needed to stretch our legs anyways.

After checking into our hotel around 1:30pm, we realize how hungry we are and we set out to explore. Since it is Saturday and most London shows are blocked out on Saturday – it was imperative for us to try and find tickets to just about anything that was playing. That made our direction towards Leicester Square where the TKTS ticket office is located. Walking across Trafalgar Square we head up towards looking for food and theater tickets.

Our first stop is TKTS ticket booth what a different experience it is from either TKTS booth in New York City. Rather than having a snaking line that it takes you 30 minutes in which you fight for a spot at the window, the scene in London is calm. In fact at 2:00pm on a Saturday there are no lines to get a ticket for any show. Perhaps that is because tickets started to be sold at 10:00am, still it was unexpected for us. After debating for a few minutes (because all of Ashley’s preferred shows were gone), we decide to see “Blood Brothers” a story about a set of twin boys separated at birth only to meet later in life with tragic consequences. We do not know much about it, so we look forward to that.

The TKTS Booth in Leicester Square in London, England
After wandering the various cafés in the Leicester Square, we are amazed at how popular Italian food is in terms of the ever-presence of the restaurants in the square. We counted 7 in a one-square block area. We actually settle on Café Fiore which while Italian sounding, mixes a number of various food types ranging from sandwiches and kebabs to pizza and more traditional fare. Ashley decides on a tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwich while I choose a lamb kebab.

This is the first point where we re-realize what we knew from previous visits:
1. London is pretty expensive, as we expected. With where the dollar trades right now – it looks like the starting point for a meal is in the $40 range. $40 for two sandwiches and two drinks.
2. A lot of restaurants build in the service charge to their meals, double check before leaving a tip. That way you do not go overboard.
3. A difference between eat-in and takeaway prices. If the service charge is built-in and you do not eat in, the price ends up being 15% less – which is great, especially when the weather is cooperating.

After finish lunch we took the main walk along Whitehall street towards Big Ben and Parliament. Fortunately for us, it was time for inspection of the Guard. The crowd was gathering to see the 10 soldiers and 2 horses have their uniforms inspected. It was a nice classic London experience to see and a good chance to start snapping photos.

Before heading back, we made sure to take quick glimpses of the Prime Minister’s home, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey before walking back through St. James Park. Amazing for February, the daffodils were blooming in the park, which was both very pretty and surprising for how early in the year it was.

A couple of Londoners mentioned to us that the weather had been quite warm, we hoped that the weather would continue it’s trend during our stay.

We took a quick nap to rest up to avoid as much jet lag as possible. After a couple of hours, we headed to the Phoenix Theatre where the Blood Brothers is playing to catch the musical production. While not as impressive as some of the other shows we have seen (Les Miserables, Wicked), it was an entertaining production that was well worth our half price tickets.

Inside the Phoenix Theater in London, England
On the way home we decided to stop at one of the many Italian restaurants in the area (fish an chips coming up tomorrow) and grab some Gelato. Tired and a little worn out from the travel, we got some sleep.

Read more of this post!

Friday, February 22, 2008

No Food in the Red Carpet Club!

We made it to the airport without a hitch – sailed through airport security and, and ended up at the United Red Carpet Club while we were waiting for a 4:49pm flight to London from Los Angeles. But, there was no food in United’s Red Carpet Club and truth be told -- I really was not surprised, as I had read the reviews on the Flyer Talk forums. I kind of knew what to expect.

Well, there was a couple of snacks, some chips, the airplane pretzel, and a little bit of fruit. But, nothing of substance that could tie you over for three hours like I had found in the Lufthansa lounges previously. Not even any food that you could order.

Since Ashley and I were a little hungry, I ran down to the McDonalds here in Terminal 7 to grab a snack and went back into the club. I walked back down, entered and took a seat. While Ashley and I were eating our McDonald’s snack, an agent came up to us and stated “no outside food in the Red Carpet Club”. I responded with, are you serious – there is no food here. My response was – one more bite and then you need to go outside.

So Ashley and I traded off really quickly eating outside and coming back into the club.

Wow. I just did not get it. I completely understand if there was a food offering inside the Red Carpet Club and we could order meals. Outside food would take away from any income that they might have. But since there was no food at all inside the club, it puzzled me why the agent was so adamant about the fact that no outside food was allow.

Can anyone help me explain this?

Craziness. Leave it to LAX and United to have a policy that makes absolutely no sense. I have never had this issue with Lufthansa or in any other airline lounges -- they either offer actual food or allow outside food in.

Note: Even if you are not a member of the Red Carpet Club, you can visit anytime you have a business or first class flight on United Airlines that travels internationally.

Read more of this post!

Outlook Issue: Could not perform this operation because the default mail client is not properly installed

I have had quite a spat of Microsoft Outlook issues recently. The issues have been so bad with the organizer and email client that I even upgraded to Microsoft Outlook 2007, experienced more issues, and then downgraded again.
Outlook:Could not perform this operation because the default mail client is not properly installed.
In the case of this post, the email error that I kept getting the message via a pop-up window that "Could not perform this operation because the default mail client is not properly installed." whenever I clicked on a link in an email. What in the world was that?

Apparently the symptom that I experienced was a mis-nomer (surprise, surprise) for the real issue that was taking place. Somehow, between the installation of the upgrade to Microoft Office 2007 and then the subesquent downgrade to Microsoft Office 2003, Internet Explorer lost the default settings for the E-Mail program.

How did I fix it? All it took was a couple of easy steps:

1. Exit Microsoft Outlook.

2. Open up Internet Explorer and select Tools --> Internet Options. Then select the Programs tab from your optoins and change the E-mail default program to Outlook Express from Microsoft Outlook. Click on 'ok' to apply and exit.

3. Repeat the same step as above, however change the the program setting back to the Microsoft Office Outlook settings. Click on ok and exit Internet Explorer.

Now e-mail links in your Microsoft Outlook inbox should function normally when you click on them. No more "Could not perform this operation because the default mail client is not properly installed." error from Microsoft Outlook!

Read more of this post!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What is this house really worth?

Good question. I was reading this month’s (March, 2008) copy of Money Magazine and came across their monthly home renovation article entitle Stoop Conquered (no link yet, but here is the main page) by Kate Ashford. In the article, it showed a house that was purchased a couple of years ago in Evanston, city just north of Chicago by the Sheikh’s for a total of $956,000. After the family moved in, they spent $200,000 upgrading the home in several different areas, redoing the front yards, adding a porch and upgrading areas of the interior including the bathrooms. The article now “valued” the home at a whopping $1.2M.

Something about the appraisal of $1.2M just did not sit right with me, especially in 2008. Yes, the family derived a lot of personal value out of the upgrade and has a much more livable space to call home. But the emphasis in the article was the increased value of the home, not the increased value in the family’s home life. Had the article been written in 2006, my response would have been – par for the course. But in today’s house market, that valuation – while it may feel good for the family – seemed preposterous.

My curiosity took a hold of me, I had to investigate.

Given that both the full name of the couple and their specific Chicago suburb were provided, I took a quick spin on Yahoo’s people search to see if their address would come up with the basic information in the articl. To my surprise, their information returned with unexpected accuracy. I had all the information needed to take the new step.

I turned to the trusty Zillow website, what has become a standard for a lot of people in terms of a gut feel on the valuation of the home. Their formula is based on a number of factors including recent comparable sales (comps), upgrades, and other assessed information on your home. In reality their estimates are usually surprisingly accurate.

After popping in the address information obtained from Yahoo’s people search, the Sheikh’s house showed up on Zillow. After checking out the bird's eye view from Microsoft Virtual Earth, I was able to confirm that the house in the picture was the same as the home featured in the Money Magazine article. Looking at the particulars and comparable sales – it seemed to be inline with the features added, and the local area.

However, what was the Zestimate or the estimated value of the home? Shocked, it was only $964,000 – about $250,000k lower than what the article stated the market value of the home as of "today". This confirmed my suspicions that the Money Magazine article was way off in their presentation of the facts on this story. Not to mention, the Zestimate suggests that the property topped out at a total of $1.09M – not the $1.2M that Money Magazine suggests.

A few lessons learned here:
1. You cannot trust everything that you read in magazines. This is a case of an author not cross-checking their facts. I am speculating that this article was produced some time ago and the facts were not re-checked – or they were never researched completely.
2. Just because you spend $200,000 on upgrading you house, that does not necessarily mean that amount will be added to the value of your home. Many times, it is not – especially if you overpaid for your house in the first place.
3. When you volunteer to take place in any sort of article, there should be very little expectation of privacy. It was amazing with just a couple of simple facts provided in the article how quickly I was able to locate the details and physical address of the home presented.

In the end, does it really matter? Not if the Sheikh’s are happy with the home they live in and can afford it. The other side is that if you are enhancing your home simply to increase the value of it –- then you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

Finally, to Money Magazine – please check your facts before you publish articles that are so inaccurate and misleading.

Read more of this post!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Converting AdWords to use my Google Account

Today when I logged in to check on my AdWords traffic from the past few days, I was prompted with a welcomed surprise. Finally, I could use my Google Account now with the Google AdWords service. This was something I had been waiting to use for almost a year instead of having two separate Google passwords.

I went through the process, but it was not perfect!
Logging into AdWords with your Google Account instead of your AdWords account
I have had my AdSense account since before the integration was started, in effect creating two separate logins wiht different passwords and different password requirements. Honestly, a big pain until now.

First, upon logging in -- I was prompted for the opportunity to convert my current Google AdWords login to a Google Accounts login. I jumped at the chance and walked through the wizard. One of the options, which was important to me is that I am not the only person using my AdWords account. Therefore it would allow me to setup multiple Google acocunts with the appropriate permissions. I walked through the rest of the wizard and effectively assigned my AdWords account to my Google Acocunt which hosts my other services like GMAIL, Picasa, Blogger, Google Analytics, and more.

Just as promised, I was taken to the login screen and I was able to login using my Google Account instead of my AdSense account -- great news. The only problem? I was never prompted or allowed to give other accounts access to my AdWords account -- a big problem. After a little investigation, I could not find anything under account access or any other configurations for Google AdWords. It appears to be missing from the options.

For most people it is probably not a big deal. However, where I had previously been willing to have a shared account for Google AdWords with one login, I am not for my entire Google Account. This presents a little predicament until it gets resolved.

Google AdWords, how about it? Have you had a better or different experience that is working for you? Has Google already fixed it? Let me know with a comment.

Read more of this post!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Landscape Photos - Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens Test

Here is another set of photos taken from my newish Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto lens that are part of my upcoming review on the lens. These particular shots are similar to the fully automatic digital photos I posted on Sunday, however are in the landscape automatic function on the Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D. These photos are meant to show the Canon F 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto lens' basic performance in ideal daylight conditions.

Here are some additional details from the shoot:

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains, near Dos Vientos Ranch
  • Equipment: Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D with the EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens, UV filter, no lens hood.
  • Focal Length: 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm
  • Setup: Handheld
  • Shots: Landscape Automatic, all photos use automatic focus.
  • Quality: L (10.1 Megapixels / 3.8MB) - not RAW
  • Processing / Touch-up: None. Only internal Rebel XTi JPG processing.

The house that was picked at random, mainly because of some defining elements around the roof and windows that help with clarity. Full images are included below of the 55mm and the 200mm photos for comparison, reduced to 1600x1067 by Picasa. The rest of the pictures are cropped to 800x600 so you can see the detail of the pictures at 100%. To view the full images, click on the photo and it will open for you in a new window.

1. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 55mm focal length / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.86 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second / Metering mode Pattern
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 55mm focal length / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.86 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second / Metering mode Pattern

2. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Automatic 200mm focal length / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 4.25 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/9 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Automatic 200mm focal length / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 4.25 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/9 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern

3. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 55mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.86 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second / Metering mode Pattern
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 55mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.86 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second / Metering mode Pattern

4. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 70mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 70mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.80 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/13 / Exposure time 1/400 second / Metering mode Pattern
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 70mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 70mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.80 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/13 / Exposure time 1/400 second / Metering mode Pattern

5. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 100mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 100mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.99 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 100mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 100mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.99 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern

6. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 135mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 135mm / 3888 x 2592 / 4.02 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/10 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Autotmatic 135mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 135mm / 3888 x 2592 / 4.02 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/10 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern

7. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Automatic 200mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 4.25 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/9 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Landscape Automatic 200mm focal length cropped to 800 x 600 / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 4.25 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/9 / Exposure time 1/500 second / Metering mode Pattern

Thoughts or opinions on the performance of the Canon camera lens or the pictures? Let me know with a comment below.

Read more of this post!

Pepperdine University Homecoming 2008

This past weekend was homecoming for Pepperdine University, where both Ashley (SC ’98) and I (SC ’97) graduated from. What you say, how in the world is homecoming in February with the college football season being over since January? Well, when you do not have a football team, the next best thing is the basketball team – so at Pepperdine University, homecoming happens every February and this year it was February 15-17, 2008.

Pepperdine University Homecoming 2008 - Ashley and I wearing our Pepperdine orange at the men's Volleyball game against UCSDAshley and I wearing our Pepperdine orange at the men's volleyball game against UCSD.

Last year, Ashley and I did not make it out – I believe we were in Hawaii – but with a theme like “Catch a Wave”, how could we miss this year’s event? Not to mention, we only live 25 miles from the campus and are still largely involved in life around Malibu. We made plans to attend, catch up with a few friends and professors, and catch a couple of sporting events.

With most of the festivities starting around noon, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at John’s Garden and headed up to campus. It was a beautifully sunny day in Malibu and the event this year was being organized mainly at Alumni Park, that green sprawling lawn that you can see from Pacific Coast Highway.

Here are some of the pictures and events from the day, in chronological order:
Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - The entrance to the Homecoming 2008 area in Alumni ParkThe entrance to the Homecoming 2008 area in Alumni Park.

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - The Heidelberg Reunion tentThe Heidelberg Reunion tent, a place for those of us that studied in and visited Heidelberg to get together.

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - The men's water polo team playing against the alumni.  Some nice trash talking in this one.The men's water polo team playing against the alumni. Some nice trash talking in this one.

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - The men's baseball team playing against the alumni.The men's baseball team playing against the alumni, I was hoping for a Randy Wolf sighting.

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - The men's volleyball team hitting for a kill during their match against UCSDThe men's volleyball team hitting for a kill during their match against UCSD. It was a sweep for #7 Pepperdine, 3-0.

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - You cannot have an event at Pepperdine without In-N-Out!Free In-N-Out, does it get any better than this? You cannot have an event at Pepperdine without In-N-Out!

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - The Pepperdine University Step team joins in the fun after the Cheerleaders and the Dance team.The Pepperdine University Step team joins in the fun after the Cheerleaders and the Dance team.

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - Another beautiful sunset in Malibu with the sun setting behind Point Dume.  Great way to end the day.Another beautiful sunset in Malibu with the sun setting behind Point Dume. Great way to end the day.

Pepperdine Homecoming 2008 - The Lip Sync competition for the students as part of the spirit cup.The Lip Sync competition for the students as part of the spirit cup.
In the end, although we bought a couple of tickets for the basketball game – we skipped it. After the student Lip Sync competition, there was a two-hour lull between that and the start of the basketball game with no further activities. Being out in Malibu for the day, rather than sticking it out in the evening that turned cold quickly – we headed back home and watched the All-Star Slam Dunk competition. Hopefully next year, this part of the schedule will be tightened up some.
Personally, we liked the location better at Alumni Park, provided the weather cooperates rather than being spread out across campus. It’s nice to have all of the events centrally located – the only concern would be the scheduling as it seemed pretty drawn out.

On another note, it seemed that student participation was much lower that I had experienced in the past. In chatting with a few students, they agreed – sounds like some of the normal competition, parades, and those types of things have really fallen off in recent years. You could sense a little bit of disappointment in their voices. Hopefully the student life will pick that up over the next couple of years, as that would make the event that much better.

However, we still had a great time catching up with a few people and checking out the latest happenings on campus. Overall, it was a good event that can definitely be built upon. Next year, Ashley and I will need to catch the “sweet hearts” brunch which is for couples that met while in school.

Read more of this post!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens Test Photos - Fully Automatic

Everyone needs a telephoto lens for their digital SLR camera, right? I felt like I needed one to compliment the standard lens that shipped with my camera, the Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D. So, a couple of weeks ago I picked up a "new" telephoto lens for my digital camera, the Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens.

More on the deal I got on the lens and some other details in an upcoming post reviewing the lens. This post will be a little different -- as it will just cover some of the first photos I took with the lens on the fully automatic mode at the preset metering of 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, and 200mm.

Here are some additional details from the shoot:

  • Location: Santa Monica Mountains, near Dos Vientos Ranch
  • Equipment: Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D with the EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens, UV filter, no lens hood.
  • Focal Length: 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm
  • Setup: Handheld
  • Shots: Full Automatic, all photos use automatic focus.
  • Quality: L (10.1 Megapixels / 3.8MB) - not RAW
  • Processing / Touch-up: None. Only internal Rebel XTi JPG processing.

The house that was picked at random, mainly because of some defining elements around the roof and windows that help with clarity. Full images are included below of the 55mm and the 200mm photos for comparison, reduced to 1600x1067 by Picasa. The rest of the pictures are cropped to 800x600 so you can see the detail of the pictures at 100%. To view the full images, click on the photo and it will open for you in a new window.

1. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 55mm focal length / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.88 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 55mm focal length / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.88 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second

2. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 200mm focal length / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.95 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/8 / Exposure time 1/400 second
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 200mm focal length / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.95 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/8 / Exposure time 1/400 second

3. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 55mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.88 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 55mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 55mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.88 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second

4. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 70mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 70mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.93 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 70mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 70mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.93 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/11 / Exposure time 1/400 second

5. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 100mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 100mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.38 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/10 / Exposure time 1/400 second
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 100mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 100mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.38 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/10 / Exposure time 1/400 second

6. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 135mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 135mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.24 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/9 / Exposure time 1/400 second
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 135mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 135mm / 3888 x 2592 / 5.24 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/9 / Exposure time 1/400 second

7. Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 200mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.95 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/8 / Exposure time 1/400 second
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens @ Full Automatic 200mm focal length cropped to 800x600 / 200mm / 3888 x 2592 / 3.95 MB / ISO-400 / F-stop f/8 / Exposure time 1/400 second

What are you thoughts on the photos? The lens, under the sunny conditions performed well. In fact, better than I had anticipated based on some of the reviews of the lens. A good first test of the EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Lens on my Canon EOS Rebel XTi 400D.

Read more of this post!

How to create ringtones with iTunes for your Motorola RAZR

Almost a year ago I posted an article on how you can create ringtones from any audio file that you have for your Motorola RAZR phone. While it was great to do that, let's face it -- most people use iTunes these days to keep track of their music. Not all of us, but a lot of us. Wouldn't it be easier if I created ringtones for my Motorola RAZR (and subsequently for Ashley's iPhone) with iTunes?

The short answer is that it is not only easier, but it is a great way to store and track them centrally. Plus, with dual use for multiple phones, using iTunes to create, clip, store, and transfer ringtones is really easy. With that, here is the way that I was able to quickly take short sounds clips of songs, reduce their size so they are compatible with the Motorola RAZR, and then transfer them as ringtones.

All you need for this guide is a current version of iTunes, I used version 7.6 -- although almost any versions will work as the functionality used here has been available for a couple of years.

Here is the step-by-step tutorial on how to create ringtones on iTunes for your Motorola RAZR:

1. Create a new playlist in your iTunes software by clicking on File --> New Playlist or by hitting Control+N and name it. We will be adding your MP3 files to this playlist in order to create the files for your RAZR V3 ringtones.

2. Drag and drop any music that you want to convert to a ringtone to your playlist.
Create Ringtones for Motorola RAZR with iTunes - Build Playlist
3. Open the new playlist by double-clicking with your mouse.

4. We now need to clip or shrink the song down to a reasonable size (less than 30 seconds) for your ringtone. In order to do this, select the song to be clipped or cut, right-click and select "Get Info".

5. Now select the "Options" tab and select the appropriate start and stop time for this song. In this case, the start time is at one minute, seven and a half seconds and the end time is at one minute, twenty-four seconds. Click on 'ok' to modify the setting and test out the time in iTunes. Adjust if necessary to get your desired cut.
Create Ringtones for Motorola RAZR with iTunes - Clip Song
6. You now need to change the settings for your MP3 encoder, so make sure to first keep track of where it is currently set. Now, go to iTunes, select Edit --> Preferences, then the Advanced Tab, then the Importing tab, and from the settings drop-down choose Custom. Change the settings to a Stereo Bit rate of 64kbps, no VBR, a sample rate of 22.050 kHz, and Channels set to Mono. Click on 'Ok' twice to save.
Create Ringtones for Motorola RAZR with iTunes - Change Burning settings
7. Now we can convert your cut clip into a MP3 file for a ringtone. To do this, right-click on the song, select Convert Selection to MP3 and the new ringtone MP3 is created. There is now a second copy of the song in your music library with only the clipped content.
Create Ringtones for Motorola RAZR with iTunes - Convert to MP3
8. Find the file that was created, mine was in "C:\My Music\AC_DC\AC_DC Live (Disc 2)\2-10 T.N.T. 1.mp3", and transfer to your phone via Bluetooth -- if available, or via file. If you need to know how to do it via a file, there is a how-to guide on transferring ringtones to your RAZR here: How to transfer audio and ringtones to your Motorola RAZR

9. Make sure and change back both your song settings as well as the MP3 encoding settings and now you can use your new RAZR ringtone!

Did this work for you? If so, please let me know with a comment.

Build Ringtones with iTunes, Convert Ringtones with iTunes, Make Ringtones with iTunes, Create Ringtones with iTunes
Build Ring tones with iTunes, Convert Ring tones with iTunes, Make Ring tones with iTunes, Create Ring tones with iTunes
Build Ring-tones with iTunes, Convert Ring-tones with iTunes, Make Ring-tones with iTunes, Create Ring-tones with iTunes

Read more of this post!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hidden Mickey: Disneyland: Tomorrowland: Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

On our trip to Disneyland last week, we found a new Hidden Mickey that we had not seen before. This Hidden Mickey was found at one of my favorite rides, the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in Tomorrowland. The interesting thing is that we had been told there were several Hidden Mickeys inside the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride, but we had not been able to find any.

Hidden Mickey at Disneyland's Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters in Tomorrow land on the glass display inside the room with Buzz Lightyear

Where did we find this Hidden Mickey?

Ashley gets credit for finding it, but we were rushing through after we got our FastPass for Buzz Lightyear. As you walk through the 2nd room that has Buzz Lightyear inside of it, there is a glass pane with some etching on it as you exit the room. If you look at the etching (which says "Green Planet" next to it) you see a spaceship.

Look very closely at the ship and if you are facing it on the right side there are three swirls inside the spaceship that form a Hidden Mickey Mouse. You can also see this Hidden Mickey from the backside of the glass by looking at the left side of the picture.

This is one of the harder to find Hidden Mickeys. Have you seen it before? Let me know with a comment!

Read more of this post!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster Tips & 100,000 Point Target

Sunday was the last day that our season passes for the Disneyland Resorts were valid. Of course that meant we had to spend the day at the park, since we usually only get passes every other year. Not to mention some of the price hikes that Disneyland season passes and blackout passes have seen.

Get a million points and on the high score board for Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland
In terms of favorite rides, one that has to be up there for me is the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride. Probably because it is part video game, part lazer tag -- it really appeals to me. I always make sure I get on the ride at least twice, where my goal is to end up in the top 10 on the scoreboard for the day.

While I have gotten some high scores before -- the highest being above at 1.6 million -- I did not know that there is a secret target that is worth 100,000 points ever time you hit it. However, while in line to get into the park in the morning -- we overheard someone discussing the ride and giving a couple of tips.

To our surprise, we learned that there is a hidden target that is worth 100,000 points every time you hit it. That's a great way to get on the scoreboard and get in that elusive million point range.

Where is that target? Well, the secret target is on Zurg's chest. (see the picture below) There is a little black circle in the middle of his chest where the arrow is pointing. If your Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster shoots into that hole, you will get 100,000 points -- and you can hit it many times in a row. Note, that unlike other targets there is no "Z" around it, thus making it hidden.
Zurg's chest with the hidden 100,000 point target on Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters
What happened on my first try? Well, not a very good game for me compared with my 1.6M point race -- but I did hit the secret target on Zurg's chest twice while in quick passing for 200,000 points. The rest of the game was not so great -- although I did end up on the scoreboard! I found out that the tip for the hidden 100,000 point target really worked!
My first time hitting the 100,000 point target on Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters
Interested in how the scoring works on the ride?
Regular Targets (Multiple Hits Allowed)
============
Circle - 100
Square - 1,000
Diamond - 5,000
Triangle - 10,000

Also, you very often have to hit a circle target to get a higher value target to "pop-up".

Lighted targets (The first person to hit gets bonus points, after that goes back to regular scoring)
============
Circle - 500
Square - 5,000
Diamond - 10,000
Triangle 100,000

The bottom line and other tips and straties? You should target only Triangles and you will come out with the highest possible score. Do not waste you time on the circles or squares! Also, not that if you hit a million points, your score will set itself to 999,999. While it will not show additional hits, you are still accumulating points. Good luck and make that scoreboard!

Do you know of any other hidden target or Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster tips that I missed? Let me know.

Read more of this post!