The Shore – Ocean City in between

Unlike California, New Jersey beaches, or “the shore” as it’s called, have a  season.  If you go to a beach town in the off season, the shops next to the ocean, the ones on the boardwalk if your beach town has one, will usually be closed.   In the “season”, July and August mostly, also June, the weather is good, the ocean breezes provide some coolness, everything is open but it is very crowded.

I loved going to the ocean, as I called it in California, in fall, winter and spring.  It was beautiful.  The seasonal rains didn’t happen every day, and they turned the dry landscape green. The weather was mild.  The end of February and March were wonderful times to go.  I didn’t go much in the summer – I spent the summer swimming in my pool.

New Jersey is different.  Winter means snow, cold, ice, and bad weather for travel.  And many hotels are seasonal, open from the end of April to the first week in October.  So “shoulder season” is the time to go.

My sister and I stayed in Ocean City, New Jersey, in June and September.  June was a little crowded, but not too much, and everything was open.  September was not crowded at all.  Some places along the ocean (the boardwalk) were closed in September, though they were probably still open on the weekends.  Both times we went were magical.  I had a wonderful time.

The drive in over the Route 52 Causeway Bridge into Ocean City

Going over the Route 52 causeway to Ocean City, New Jersey, June 2011

Continuing over the causeway into Ocean City, June 2011

This was the place where my sister got our wonderful beach chairs.  The chairs she got have a canopy you can attach to the back of the chair — you can flip it back when you don’t need it.   You don’t have to mess with a sun umbrella.

The best place to buy beach chairs! Ocean City, New Jersey, June 2011

We stayed at the Ocean 7 Hotel.  Wonderful, 60’s pop retro charm, with contemporary comfort.  Our room had a little kitchen.

http://ocean7hotel.com/

Ocean 7 Hotel. The wave motif. June 2011


Ocean 7 Hotel. Exterior Mural. June 2011

Ocean 7 Hotel. Walkway to our room. June 2011

We were very close to the beach.

Ocean City, View from the front of our hotel room. June 2011

Ocean City (New Jersey) dates from the 1880s.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_City,_New_Jersey) It has a famous boardwalk, “a wooden walkway for pedestrians, often found along beaches” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boardwalk).

Ocean City is what is called a “family oriented” place.  Along the boardwalk there are rides for children, a ferris wheel, miniature golf, and shops with beachy type junk food – french fries, funnel cakes, frozen custard.  You can also eat pretty well.  It’s a “dry town”; the place does not sell alcohol, though you can certainly drink in your room.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I like to have a glass of wine with dinner, but it is wonderful to not run into drunks on the boardwalk or the beach.  There’s a lot of drinking in New Jersey beach towns.   Ocean City has shops, plenty of them, and if you look carefully, you can find good things to buy, particularly during the September sales.  The place is full of retro charm.

Ocean City boardwalk at night. I have no idea what venue this is. June 2011

Ocean City boardwalk at night. June 2011

Ocean City boardway in September. Some places are closed. September 2011

Ocean City. New Jersey. Boardwalk in September. Lovely overcast day. September 2011

In September we had pizza at Mack and Manco Pizza – wonderful thin crust pizza.  The place felt regional, local, in a good way, something you don’t always experience in a beach town.   And they don’t close in the off season – they are always open.

Mack & Manco Pizza. Spectacular pizza. September 2011

Wonderful Ocean City mural

Mural, Ocean City, New Jersey. September 2011

And the ocean, beautiful, timeless

Atlantic Ocean. Beach at Ocean City, New Jersey, June 2011

Atlantic Ocean. June 2011

Ocean City beach with local vegetation. September 2011

View from the Ocean City Music Pier. September 2011

The Music Pier and the Atlantic Ocean. September 2011

We go home.

Leaving Ocean City, going back over the causeway. September 2011.

Going home. Goodbye Ocean City. September 2011


Philadelphia, This Year

As big cities go, Philadelphia is quite nice, even nicer now that I go in on the train via the adorable Colmar station.  This is where I’ve been, this year.

Reading Terminal Market – http://www.readingterminalmarket.org

This is a farmer’s market in a permanent indoor space, in a lovely historic building next to the convention center.  The food is good.   The shops are good.  There is a local winery store, Blue Mountain Vineyards and Cellars, a local winery with excellent wines,   http://bluemountainwine.com/.  I almost wept when I stopped there.  Given Pennsylvania’s ridiculous liquor control laws (don’t get me started) and the local culture, I’ve mostly given up on the wine thing here.  Blue Mountain makes great wines, though it’s not easy to buy their wines, given that it’s a local winery and Pennsylvania’s liquor laws and the local liquor stores are so terrible.  I had the Chambourcin which was excellent, also interesting because I was not familiar with the grape.

Reading Terminal Market, fish sign, April 2011

Reading Terminal Market, Blue Mountain Vineyards and Cellars sign, April 2011

Philadelphia International Flower Show –http://theflowershow.com/home/index.html

“Springtime in Paris” was the theme for 2011.  The flower show is huge; it takes over the Philadelphia Convention Center.  The show consisted of a number of gardens with a Paris theme and a market where you could buy things.  I had a good time, though I learned why it is never a good idea to go on the weekend.  It was very crowded

Through Rose Colored Glasses, Philadelphia International Flower Show, March 2011

A Bed of Roses, Philadelphia International Flower Show, March 2011

Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts Street Fair – http://pifa.org/streetfair

Another Paris and French themed event.  It was not crowded in the morning, but more crowded as the day went on.  The food was good, the performers were good, the sights were good, some interesting arty things.

Butterfly Puppet, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts Street Fair, April 2011

Ferris Wheel, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts Street Fair, April 2011

La Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City), a Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts 2011 Collaboration

On the day I went to the street fair, I went inside the Kimmel Center, a performing arts space, a spectacular building with a hundred fifty foot barrel-vaulted glass roof (http://kimmelcenter.org/facilities/tour/).  There was a site installation, La Ville Radieuse, by Mimi Lien, an artist and set  designer.  http://pifa.org/journey/lavilleradieuse/2

The interior of the Kimmel Center was magical.  There was a replica of the Eiffel tower, all in lights.  Above me, moving on wires was a plane, trains, and a dirigible.  My photographs do not do it justice.

La Ville Radieuse, Kimmel Center, April 2011

La Ville Radieuse, Kimmel Center, April 2011

Art

This mini sculpture park is at the Marriott hotel, next to the Reading Terminal Market.  I had to do some research to figure out who made it. I like the work, and it was a great place to eat lunch when the Reading Terminal Market was very crowded, on the day I went to the flower show.

World Park, Cast concrete, fiberglass, stone and glass mosaic, landscape,15′ x 88′ x 96′, Philadelphia, PA. Commissioned by Marriott Hotel, 1995, Ned Smyth.

http://www.philart.net/artist.php?id=223   http://www.nedsmyth.com/information/resume

World Park, 1995, photograph taken March 2011

World Park, 1995, photograph taken March 2011

World Park, 1995, photograph taken March 2011

The Fabric Workshop and Museum – http://www.fabricworkshopandmuseum.org/

Contrary to the name, this is not a fabric workshop and museum; it is a contemporary arts gallery and museum, focusing on different types of materials.  I love it.  You can’t take photos inside, so I have no photos of their exhibits.   You can’t even walk around the exhibits yourself.  After you pay your admission fee, a nice person escorts you around the current exhibit, and you can stay as long as you like.  I think this is because the work is not protected and, while not fragile as in “you touch it, it breaks”, it would be easy to disturb the work.  I love the exhibits and hope to get there more often.

The Fabric Workshop and Museum, April 2011

How much does peace of mind cost, exactly?

Back in the fall of 2010, I went to my primary care doctor with a certain symptom, the specifics of which are not important for this story.  Based on my symptom and my medical history, my doctor sent me to a specialist who recommended that I get a certain test done, the specifics of which are also not important for this story.  This was to rule out a serious medical condition, which I didn’t think I had, but it was something that I could have had, if that makes sense.  I had the test done for peace of mind.

After the test was done and I got the results, I learned that I was perfectly fine; there was no serious problem.  But what was really interesting was the number.  Ordinarily “peace of mind” is an amorphous, unquantifiable thing.  Not in this case — I can tell you exactly how much “peace of mind” cost.

  • Doctor visit, primary care doctor, $20.00 , what insurance did not cover.
  • Doctor visit, specialist, $35.00, what insurance did not cover.
  • Hospital charge, test, $221.88, what insurance did not cover.
  • Specialist charge, test, $291.20, what insurance did not cover.

Peace of mind cost me exactly $568.08.

Here’s a photo of part of the hospital complex, where I had my test.  This photo is from 2009, looking out from a wing in the hospital.  I think these buildings are offices associated with the hospital, but I’m not sure.   The area is pretty.

View, hospital complex, from a wing in the hospital, October 2009

So if anyone asks you, you can tell them.  Peace of mind costs $568.08.

Lunch at the lifestyle center. Being pensive.

I don’t eat out much anymore.  Not working will do that to you.  (Yes, I am still looking for work, and I’m getting interviews, which is good.)

February after Valentine’s Day must be a slow month in restaurant land.  There are restaurant deals around.  There is a fancy mall near me that had what they call “restaurant week”.  From Sunday February 20th through Thursday February 24th, the restaurants at this mall had three course fixed price meals for lunch and dinner, for a very reasonable price.

Correction, this is not a mall, this is a “lifestyle center”.  See the entry in Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_center_%28retail%29.  Lifestyle centers have specialty shops, cafes, upscale restaurants, fancy grocery stores, movie theaters and other forms of entertainment.  Lifestyle centers consist of separate buildings in a mall like space.  They are open air.  They have landscaping.  Here’s a link from the populist USA Today, since, oddly enough lifestyle centers are populist places — http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/2007-01-31-anti-mall-usat_x.htm.

I went to Pacifico for lunch.  Here is the description of the restaurant, from open table:

“Extraordinary Latin-influenced cuisine by renowned chef, teacher and cookbook author Rafael Palomino is served in a whimsical atmosphere with seaside flair.”  http://www.opentable.com/pacifico-center-valley

I’m a big fan of designer Mexican restaurants (neighborhood Mexican eateries too), so I decided to try Pacifico.  Here is what I had, the exact description on the menu, because I thought it looked so yummy.

Appetizer: Chicken Tortilla Soup: chicken, avocado, crunchy tortilla, crème fraiche, queso fresco

Entrée:  Sautéed South African Red Snapper: plantain encrusted snapper, crabmeat & quinoa enchiladas with a mole verde sauce

Dessert: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake: vanilla & raspberry sauces

It was yummy!  I had a wonderful time.

Pacifico restaurant. Spot of color on a gloomy day. February 2011.

Pacifico, festive lunch. February 2011.

After lunch I wandered around the shops.  It was a weekday in February, before school let out, so there were only a few people walking around.  I noticed several things.  The place was nicely landscaped, the shops were pretty, and music was playing everywhere, not too loud, from speakers set unobtrusively on the ground.  The music was angst ridden poplar music, young rock musicians singly sadly and tunefully about relationships gone wrong.  If you think about it, although the music was melodic, is this the kind of music you’d play to encourage shopping?  Even L.L. Bean, a store that specializes in clothing and equipment for outdoor adventures, had their own version of pensive music playing in their store.  I guess we can be pensive as we hit the trail.

A view of the shops. February 2011.

L.L. Bean store. Colorful kayaks. February 2011.

The upscale grocery store (think Whole Foods, or Wegmans if you are in the northeast US) had classical music playing.  Perhaps you don’t buy food if you are listening to angst ridden songs about relationships.

The upscale grocery store. You have to go inside to see how fancy it is! February 2011.

I rarely buy things in stores, except for food.  I buy online.  When I do buy in stores, I find it interesting to buy something and take it home the same day – so immediately gratifying, a fun treat!

I have mixed feelings about the commercialism of these kinds of places.  I’m not an urban center purist, nor am I a fan of big cities.  I like convenient parking, well lit safe places, decent signage, cafes and landscaping.  I’m not moral about not spending money, about denying myself.  I’m reasonably materialist.  But, the sameness, that music, and the fact that it’s all about commerce – that sort of thing can wear you down, if you walk by yourself and take the time to really experience the place.  Maybe it can make you pensive, after all.

The landscape surrounding the shopping center, on a cloudy late winter day, February 2011. Ah, the pensive.

In the Land of the Cute, second in a series

The first entry in this series was published on my blog on November 25, 2009.

I go for walks in the small Pennsylvania town where I’m currently living.  On my walks I discovered little figures, lawn ornaments, nestled on people’s properties, on their lawns, on their gardens, on a step.   This is public art. The figures are positioned so you can see them from the street.

Last year I looked for things that photographed well. This year I included some works that didn’t always photograph well, because I liked them.  Several of the works are not exactly lawn ornaments — you’ll see.

What I found the most interesting is that the effect of these works is, often, not what I think was intended!

Follow me on my journey.

This winged creature is either resting in the sun, or perhaps that flower is really, really heavy. What could be in that flower? July 2010.

An assertively cute rabbit, only a little worse for wear. Again, the flower motif. July 2010.

I think this is an angel, hard to see, flickering in the summer sun. It works better for this figure, if you can't see it all that well. July 2010.

I like this rabbit, but the little creature is becoming more and more wraithlike. Is the rabbit crossing over to the other side? July 2010.

Look closely at the lower left and mid right of the picture. Then ask yourself, in what possible universe could these two disparate beings exist -- together? July 2010.

This huge balloon is an advertisement for a car wash. Driving by is a surreal experience. July 2010.

A frog family, hard to see -- the green of the frogs blends into the green of the plants, rather like frogs that breathe. The frog family is a little worse for wear, but bravely sticking together. July 2010.

This beautiful work is an actual sculpture, not a lawn ornament. It is on the grounds of a church, but it is in an awkward spot, next to the electric box. Perhaps the sorrowful angel would be a bit happier if she was in a better space. Thanks to my cousin for pointing this out. November 2010.

A charming decorative ladybug, a good fit for the garden. But, it's so hard to see. You have to wonder, why did they bother? July 2010.

I’ve tried to photograph this dragon several times, but it's always hard to see. Then I realized -- it's hard to see in "real life". An interesting piece, but way too much going on. July 2010.

Another unusual juxtaposition of creatures. As before, in what universe could these beings possibly exist -- together? September 2010.

This little pig is adorable, and it fits the space. I like it a lot. October 2010.

Like the white rabbit (image 4) these birds look like denizens of the afterlife. The rope is to secure the shades of the porch, but it also looks like the owner is trying to keep the birds from flying off. November 2010.

November 2010. This is wonderful piece, perfectly situated. Is this lion guarding the place or trying to get out? Hang on, I'll cut a hole in the fence and let you out, little lion. Then you'll be free.

Droid Love, it’s like Palm love all over again

In February 2010 I bought a Motorola Droid smartphone.  I’m way into Droid love, which is like tech love, but more specific.  The Motorola Droid is a wonderful thing.

Even more wonderful, all this Droid love takes me back to the old days of the Palm PDA (personal device assistant!).  I loved my Palm devices.  I had a number of them, starting with a Palm Pilot and ending with a Palm TX.  I remember the websites, the print reviews, and the endless talk about what to get for your Palm.  These devices are all about apps, about what you put on them.  Most of the apps I put on my Palms were either inexpensive or free, just like the Droid.

I was a member of a Palm user group.  We had monthly meetings at Palm company headquarters.  2001 to 2005 were especially good years.  There were refreshments — pizza, cookies, chips, soft drinks and water. There were demos of new apps using a projector, with magnification and special lighting.  New devices got passed around.  We exchanged tips on how to do things.  My Palm user group was in Silicon Valley (northern California) but there were Palm user groups all over the world.

I went to three Palm development conferences, which were extra fun because I had no business or work relationship with Palm.  I took notes, using the Palm I had at the time.  Memories.

PalmSource Expo 2002.  The general public could attend.  Here’s the press release I copied to my calendar: “The PalmSource Expo, which will open its doors to the general public on Wednesday and Thursday, showcases the hottest new Palm Powered™ devices, software, peripherals and accessories – all in one place. More than 100 exhibitors present everything from handhelds, smartphones, and other mobile devices, to some of the most innovative travel, personal information management, education, entertainment, health, lifestyle, hobby and game software available for any platform”.

Wow – takes me back.

PalmSource Developer Conference 2004.  I went for one day because I got an affordable one day pass on eBay.   I still have the notes from the conference, note I took on my Palm.  Reading my notes – interesting – there’s starting to be a focus on “wireless” – that too takes me back!  In the old days, you got data on your Palm by connecting it to a PC.  Wireless was a new thing.

PalmSource Mobile Summit & DevCon 2005.  I went for free because I spent part of the time doing volunteer work, counting the number of people in a conference room.   We got a mini flash drive for attending.  We got PDF files of the talks, and MP3 files of the Computer Outlook Radio talk show, the shows that were done at PalmSource.   There are 17 sessions of about 20 minutes each, all talk.  Maybe we had longer attention spans in 2005.  I’m listening to one now, the interview with Howard Tomlinson from Astraware. The speakers are clear, but I can hear the conference going on in the background.   Howard is talking about Bejeweled for the Palm.  I still play that game

It was a Palm thing, now it’s a Droid thing. The Droid makes me feel the same way, though I don’t belong to a user group where we meet every month, and I’ve never been to an Android conference.  For a look at Droid love, look at the droid forums on http://www.droidforums.net.  People talk about the Motorola Droid and about other Android OS phones, with the save loving and obsessive zeal that I’ve seen with the Palm.  And the OS is open source and you don’t have to go to one place for apps, though the Android market is quite nice.

Here’s a picture, not of my Droid, but of my Droid case, taken with the Droid.  This was supposed to be a temporary case.  I didn’t even save the name of the company that made it.  I like it so much now I’m going to keep using it.  It’s colorful, it protects my Droid and it’s made with recycled products, whatever they are.  I brought the plants and the pots they are in from California.

Droid Case with my California Plants, March 2010, Pennsylvania

I love my Droid.

Farmville – Fantasy Farming, a Spaceship, a Picture, Issues

Farmville — a fun casual simulation game, played in your browser via Facebook. The look of the game is a bit cartoony, but it’s pretty and appealing. Your goal is to build and manage a farm — couple of clicks, nothing hard. You grow crops and trees and keep animals. When you harvest the fruit trees, the crops, collect eggs (all with a click on the item) you get money to expand your farm.  “Farm” is loosely defined. My “farm” has a crashed alien spaceship, green cows (think spaceship radiation), a Ferris wheel, a variety of farm animals, some reindeer, nine small plots of land, a citrus orchard, and more. On the animals — you do collect eggs, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no animal killing.  When your pigs are ready to produce something, they give you truffles!

What makes Farmville manageable is that time progresses when you aren’t there, and what you do in the game is limited.  If a crop is ready to harvest in two days, it’s two calendar days.  Farmville is a nice complement to Facebook. The social aspect happens when your Facebook friends give you Farmville “gifts” (trees, sheep, etc), and when you go help out on your friends farms — simple clicking to get rid of weeds, all that. Advancement is based on two things, making money, and gaining XP, experience. As you progress in experience, you unlock more levels and can buy more stuff.

The trick in playing Farmville is to limit the amount of things you pay for, using real money.  The game is free to play, but there are some things that take a long time to acquire, and some things that can only be bought with real money. Zynga, the developer, is an expert at the microtransaction business — getting you to pay for stuff. You can have a perfectly great time without microtransactions, but it’s hard to resist, since the extras are very appealing. I have not completely resisted — I really had to buy that spaceship and the Ferris wheel! Farmville also has seasonal items, some of which you can buy with cash you earn in game, while some, as far as I can tell, requires spending a little “real” money.

Zynga, the developer, structures it so that, if you let it, you end up automatically posting your progress on Facebook, a lot.  That’s the whole point — it’s social and it’s also an advertisement for the game. The posting is optional. I tend to limit what I let Farmville post on Facebook. Unless your Facebook friends are only there to play Farmville, they will get tired of seeing all your Farmville posts, if you let Farmville post every one of your accomplishment.

Most of my Facebook friends do not play Farmville, but enough do so that I have Farmville “neighbors”. I like it. It’s also a fun way to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in years, people who would never play any other kind of video game.

As for the company itself, Zynga is the darling of the business world — their casual browser based games bring in money.  Unfortunately, Zynga does have questionable business practices. There are a several articles about their practices.  The Wikipedia article isn’t too bad. Techcrunch also has some good articles. Here’s an interesting article —

http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/10/31/scamville-the-social-gaming-ecosystem-of-hell/.

The issue isn’t paying for extra items — that’s all up front, nothing wrong about that. The issue is in getting your Farmville “cash” for things you need for Farmville, Mafia Wars, Fishville, or other games via lead generation practices. As long as you stay away from signing up for questionable services, Farmville is fun and safe to play.  To give he Facebook people credit, they’ve been responding to the issues.

Getting back to the fun of Farmville, here’s a picture of my farm.  I’m trying for the European villa look, but I got distracted by the Roswell specials, as well as the festival specials.  I like the look of my orchard, which rings the farm.  I like my big pond and my little pond.  I like the science fiction touch. It’s a fantasy farm, so all my animals roam freely, and there’s no mess and no predators.  Even the cats are nice to the other animals in my Farmville fantasy!

My Farmville Farm, December 1, 2009