Ask any computer science graduate about the first programmable computer and the answer you’ll likely receive would be the Difference Engine, a conceptual design by Charles Babbage. Whilst the design wasn’t entirely new (that honour goes to J. H. Müller who wrote about the idea some 36 earlier) he was the first to obtain funding to create such a device although he never managed to get it to work, despite blowing the equivalent of $350,000 in government money on trying to build it. Still modern day attempts at creating the engine with the tolerances of the time period have shown that such a device would have worked should have he created it.
But Babbage’s device wasn’t created in a vacuum, it built on the wealth of mechanical engineering knowledge from the decades that proceeded him. Whilst there was nothing quiet as elaborate as his Analytical Engine there were some marvellous pieces of automata, ones that are almost worthy of the title of programmable computer:
The fact that this was built over 240 years ago says a lot about the ingenuity that’s contained within it. Indeed the fact that you’re able to code your own message into The Writer, using the set of blocks at the back, is what elevates it above other machines of the time. Sure there were many other automata that were programmable in some fashion, usually by changing a drum, but this one allows configuration on a scale that they simply could not achieve. Probably the most impressive thing about it is that it still works today, something which many machines of today will not be able to claim in 240 years time.
Whilst a machine of this nature might not be able to lay claim to the title of first programmable computer you can definitely see the similarities between it and it’s more complex cousins that came decades later. If anything it’s a testament to the additive nature of technological developments, each one of them building upon the foundations of those that came before it.
Like most people who’ve made their career in IT I’ve spent a great deal of my spare time dabbling in things that (I hope) could potentially lead onto bigger things somewhere down the line. Nearly all of them start off with a burst of excitement as I dive into it, revelling in the challenge and marvelling at the things I can create if I just invest the time into them. After a while however that passion starts to fade into the background, slowly being replaced by the looming reality of the challenge I’ve set myself. In all but one cases this has eventually led to burn out, seeing the project shelved so that I can recoup and hopefully return to it. The only project to ever survive such a period was this blog, but even it came close to being shut down.
Shown above are the stats for this blog over the past couple years and each of the big changes tells a story. As you can see for a long while there was a steady increase in traffic, something which constantly drove me forward, to keep me writing even when I wondered why I was bothering. Then the slow decline started happening and I honestly couldn’t tell you why it was happening. Then I stumbled onto the fact that 20% of my visitors were disappearing between the search engine and my site, indicating that my blog was just loading far too slow for most people to bother waiting for it. Migrating the server to a new host saw an amazing spike in traffic, one that continue its upwards trend for a very long time.
Of course I eventually got curious as to why this was and found that that the majority of users weren’t visiting my site per se, they were just incidental visitors thanks to Google’s Image search. I had figured that this wouldn’t last, dreading the day when the hit came, and when it did the drop in traffic was significant and brutal. Indeed I had come so close to one of my personal goals (20K visits in a month) that losing it all was a big hit to my confidence as a blogger. Still the always upwards trend continued and motivation remained steady, that was until the start of this year when, inexplicably, I took yet another hit.
Try as I might to diagnose the issue the downward trend continued and, unfortunately, my motivation began to follow it. It all came to a head when my site got compromised and I inadvertently deleted my entire web folder, leaving me to wonder if it was worth even bothering to resurrect it. Of course I eventually came to my senses but I’d be lying if I said that my motivation for this wasn’t in some way linked to the number of page views I get at the end of each day.
I had mulled over writing this post for a long time, not to start a pity party or anything like that, more as a catharsis for my current situation. Honestly I had felt that there was something wrong with me as I should have been doing this for the love of it, not for the ego stroke reward that a page view is. However reading over Scott Adam’s (creator of Dilbert) treatise on how to be successful struck a cord with me, showing me that I’m not alone in being motivated by passions that ultimately get dashed by the lack of success. This blog then was the example that getting results is the way to keep yourself motivated and it should come as no surprise that it went away when the apparent success did as well.
For now I’m simply taking it day by day, continuing what I’ve always been doing and enjoying the act of writing more than the pageviews. It’s been helped somewhat by the fact that I’ve been able to make some changes that have directly resulted in little bumps in traffic, nothing crazy mind, but enough to show that I’m on the right track. It’s going to be a long time before I reach the dizzying heights that I was at just under a year ago but hopefully those numbers will be genuine, a real reflection of the effort I’ve put into this place since I began it almost 5 years ago.
I wrote a post just last month that laid out the reasons why the banks would probably not be dropping rates independently of the RBA, even though the current funding climate could allow them to do so. Indeed current interest rates are comparable to when we were in the depths of the Global Financial Crisis however our, and the vast majority of others worldwide, economy is no longer struggling. These are things you don’t usually see going hand in hand because when times are good people like to borrow and spend which usually leads to a healthy credit market. It seems that punters are still wary of another GFC-esque situation as whilst the economy has vastly improve the desire for credit hasn’t which is quite odd, but nothing to be concerned about in the grand scheme of things (unless you’re a lender, of course).
It was for those reasons that many did not expect a rate cut from the Reserve Bank yesterday as all the pressures that prompted past cuts (decline in demand for Australian products, Eurozone Crisis, etc.) have run their course. It came as something of a shock then that they decided to cut another 25 basis points off the current cast rate bringing it to a record low 2.75%, dipping below even the lowest rate available during the height of the GFC. The rate decision release makes for some interesting reading as the reasons behind the decision aren’t the ones I was expecting.
The RBA acknowledges that the funding climate has improved dramatically with many of our larger trading partners undergoing periods of expansion. The Eurozone is still in recession although its effect on us is muted, largely thanks to the limited amount of trade with do with them. They also expect investment in the resources sector to reach its peak this year and so part of this rate cut could be a proactive move to encourage people to start investing in other areas before the resources boom starts to tail off. Inflation has remained within their target range being at 2.5% for the past year. However the major factor in cutting rates seems to come from the desire to encourage more spending and moving their savings into more productive asset classes.
It’s true that rate cuts take a while to work their way through the economy and the last year or so of cuts is still having an effect. Primarily this is due to relieving mortgage pressure which doesn’t yield benefits quickly but sustained periods of low rates will eventually lead to more consumer spending (as the RBA notes). This rate cut then appears to be more of a shock tactic rather than a long play, hoping to encourage people to either spend more or entice people into taking out mortgages at rates that will likely not be repeated for quite some time, boosting the credit industry. Additionally rate cuts always put a downward pressure on the Australian dollar which will help boost exports.
The ideas are sound as historically moving the cash rate downward does all the things that they’re expecting this current rate cut to do. However I’m a little sceptical as to whether it will have the desired effect this time around due to the circumstances we find ourselves in. The numerous cuts over the past 18 months, which were largely in reaction to the deteriorating conditions in the Eurozone, haven’t had the large impacts that they did during the GFC. Primarily this is because of how well insulated we are from said crisis but it also appears that Australian’s have lost their appetite for credit. Whilst its easy to lay the blame at the GFC for this I can’t help but feel there’s something else at play here, something which moving the cash rate won’t do much to alleviate.
This whole situation is a result of the weird financial climate we find ourselves in currently. Whilst I might not think the RBA is on the right track with this decision I don’t have any good solutions to the issues at hand because, as far as I can tell, what we have is a crisis of consumer sentiment, not a problem with the funding environment. It’s quite possible that this last dip will be the hair trigger for a major ramp up but I’ll remain sceptical for now as the previous cuts failed to bring that same idea to fruition, even if they were done for different reasons.
One of the peeves I had with the official Twitter client on Windows Phone 7, something I didn’t mention in my review of the platform, was that among the other things that its sub-par at (it really is the poor bastard child of its iOS/Android cousins) it couldn’t display images in-line. In order to actually see any image you have to tap the tweet then the thumbnail in order to get a look at it, which usually loads the entire large image which isn’t required on smaller screens. The official apps on other platforms were quite capable of loading appropriate sized images in the feed which was a far better experience, especially considering it worked for pretty much all of the image sharing services.
Everyone knows there’s no love lost between Instagram and I but that doesn’t mean I don’t follow people who use it. As far back as I can remember their integration in the mobile apps has left something to be desired, especially if you want to view the full sized image which usually redirected you to their atrocious web view. Testing it for this post showed that they’ve vastly improved that experience which is great, especially considering I’m still on Windows Phone 7 which was never able to preview Instagram anyway, but it seems that this improvement may have come as part of a bigger play from Instagram trying to claw back their users from Twitter.
Reports are coming in far that Instagram has disabled their Twitter card integration which stops Twitter from being able to display the images directly in the feed like they have been doing since day 1. Whilst I don’t seem to be experiencing the issue that everyone is reporting (as you can see from the devastatingly cute picture above) there are many people complaining about this and Instagram has stated that disabling this integration is part of their larger strategy to provide a better experience through their platform. Part of that was improve the mobile web experience which I mentioned earlier.
It’s an interesting move because for those of us who’ve been following both Twitter and Instagram for a while the similarities are startling. Twitter has been around for some 6 years and it spent the vast majority of that being a company that was extraordinarily open with its platform, encouraging developers far and wide to come in and develop on their platform. Instagram, whilst not being as wide open as Twitter was, did similar things making their product integrate tightly with Twitter’s ecosystem whilst encouraging others to develop on it. Withdrawing from Twitter in favour of their own platform is akin to what Twitter did to potential client app developers, essentially signalling to everyone that it’s our way or the highway.
The cycle is eerily similar, both companies started out as small time players that had a pretty dedicated fan base (although Instagram grew like a weed in comparison to Twitter’s slow ride to the hockey stick) and then after getting big they start withdrawing all the things that made them great. Arguably much of Instagram’s growth came from its easy integration with Twitter where many of the early adopters already had large followings and without that I don’t believe they would’ve experienced the massive growth they did. Disabling this functionality seems like they’re shooting themselves in the foot with the intention of attempting some form of monetization eventually (that’s the only reason I can think of for trying to drive users back to the native platform) but I said the same thing about Twitter when they pulled that developer stunt, and they seem to be doing fine.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that this is what happens when start ups hit the big time because at that point they have to start thinking seriously about where they’re going. For giant sites like Instagram that are still yet to turn a profit from the service they provide it’s inevitable that they’d have to start fundamentally changing the way they do business and this is most likely just the first step in wider sweeping changes. I’m still wondering how Facebook is going to turn a profit from this investment as they’re $1 billion in the hole and there’s no signs of them making that back any time soon.
It was only 2 weeks ago today that the world was captivated by our latest endeavour in space exploration: the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars. No doubt it was a great achievement and the science data that the rover will bring back to us will undoubtedly further our understanding of our red celestial sister in ways that we can’t possibly fathom yet. Still Curiosity achievement was only possible due to the great amount of work that came before it in the form of dozens of other space problems, numerous landers and of course other roving space craft. There is one craft in particular that has had so much to do with space exploration (and that just crossed a major milestone) that I feel it bears mentioning.
That craft is Voyager 1.
On August 20, 1977 NASA launched the first of two craft in the Voyager program. At the time the alignment of all the planets in our solar system was quite favourable, allowing a probe to be able to visit all of the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) without having to use much propellant or having to spend a lot of time travelling between them thanks to the gravity assists it could get from each of the giants. Indeed the recently launched New Horizons craft that will be visiting Pluto sometime in 2015 will have a speed of roughly 15KM/s which is about 2KM/s slower than Voyager’s current speed showing you just how much those gravity assists helped.
Voyager 1′s primary mission was to study the planets of the outer solar system and it made quite a few interesting discoveries. On its approach to Jupiter Voyager 1 noticed that it actually had rings like Saturn’s although they were much to faint to see with any earth bound telescopes at the time. Voyager 1 also discovered that Io was volcanically active, something that the previous Pioneer probes and earth based observatories had failed to see. It’s encounter with Saturn provided some incredible insights into Titan however this precluded it from being able to visit any of the other planets in the grand tour due to it missing out on the potential gravitational boost and trajectory alignment that Saturn could have provided. Still this set it up for it’s ultimate mission: to study interstellar space.
Whilst Voyager’s list of scientific achievements is long and extremely admirable there are actually 2 non-scientific things that keep it stuck in my mind. The first is something that Voyager 1 (and its sister craft) carries on board with it: the Voyager Golden Record. Contained on the record that’s made from materials designed to withstand the harsh environment of space are recordings of various classical music, pictures of earth as well as pictograms that depict how the record should be used by anyone who finds it. Since Voyager 1 will be the first interstellar craft it is quite possible that one day another form of intelligent life will come across it and the record will serve as an introduction to the human species. It’s an absolutely beautiful idea and symbolizes the human desire to reach further and further beyond our limits, something that I believe is a driving force behind all of our space exploration.
The second was a picture and whilst I could go on about its significance I think there’s someone much better qualified than me to do so:
It’s sometimes hard to believe that we’ve managed to create something that’s lasted for 35 years in the harshest environment that we know of. The fact is though that we did, we designed it, built it and launched it into the great unknown and because of that we’ve been able to reap the rewards of undertaking such a challenging endeavour. I find projects like these incredibly inspiring; they show that through determination, hard work and good old fashioned science we can achieve things that we never thought possible. I am truly grateful to be alive in such times and I know that the future will only bring more like this.
Happy birthday Voyager 1.
There are some 250+ top level domains available for use on the Internet today and most of them can be had through your local friendly domain registrar. The list has grown steadily over the past couple decades as more and more countries look to cement their presence on the Internet with their very own TLD. The registry responsible for all this is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) who looks after all the domain names as well as handing out the IP blocks to ISPs and corporations that request them. Whilst it seemed that the TLD space was forever going to be the place of countries and specific industries ICANN recently decided that it would allow anyone who could pony up the requisite $200,000 could have their own TLD effectively opening the market up to custom domain suffixes.
For an individual such a price seems ludicrous so it’s unlikely you’ll see .johndoe type domain names popping up all over the place. For most companies though securing this new form of brand identity is worth far more than the asking price and so many have signed up to do so. ICANN has since released a list of all the requested gTLDs and having a look through it has lead me, and everyone else it seems, to make some interesting conclusions about the big players in this custom TLD space (I made an excel spreadsheet of it for easy sleuthing).
The biggest player, although it’s not terribly obvious unless you sort by applicant name, is the newly founded donuts.co registry which has snagged some 300+ new gTLDs in order to start up its business. Donuts has $100 million in seed capital with which to play with which about 60% will be tied up solely in these domain suffix acquisitions. They all seem like your run of the mill SEO-y type words, being a large grab bag of words that the general public is likely to be interested in but are of no value for specific companies. Every domain also has its own associated LLC which isn’t a requirement of the application process so I’m wondering why they’ve done it. Likely it’s for isolating losses in the less than successful domains but it seems like an awful lot of work to do when that could be done in other ways.
They’re not the only ones doing that either. A quick search of other companies who’ve bought multiple domains although none of them have bought the same number that Donuts has. There also seems to be a few companies that are handling the gTLD for other big name companies ostensibly because they have no interest in actually running the gTLD but are just doing it for their brand identity. The biggest player in this space seems to be CSC Global who strangely enough did all their applications from another domain under their control, CSCInfo. It’s probably nothing significant but for a company that apparently specializes in brand identity you’d wonder why they’d apply with a different domain than their own.
What’s really got everyone going though is the domains that Amazon and Google have gone after. Whilst their war chests of gTLDs aren’t anything compared to Donut’s they’re still quite sizable with Amazon grabbing about 80 and Google grabbing just over 100. Some are taking this as being indicative of their future plans as Amazon has put in for gTLDs like mobile but realistically I can just most of them being augments to their current services (got an app on AWS? Get your .mobile domain today!). There’s also a bit of overlap for most of the popular domains that both these companies have gone after as well and I’m not sure what the resolution process for that is going to be.
While the 2000 odd applications seems to show that there’s some interest in these top level domains the real question of their value, at least for us web oriented folks, is whether the search engines will like them as much as other TLDs. There’s been a lot of heavy investment in current sites that reside on the regular TLDs and apart from marketing campaigns and new websites that are looking for a good name (http://this.movie.sucks seems like it’ll be created in no time) I question how much value these TLDs will bring. Sure there will be the initial gold rush of people looking to secure all the domains they can on these new TLDs but after that will there really be anything in them? Will businesses actually migrate to these gTLDs as their primary or will they simply just redirect them to their current sites? I don’t have answers to these questions but I’m very interested to see how these gTLDs get used.
In the interests of full disclosure (and those who are new to the blog) it needs to be known that I’m a pretty big fan of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So much so it managed to take out my nomination for Game of the Year for 2011, a pretty amazing feat considering the competition it was up against. Still even though my fan boy-ness might be at levels to rival that of my other passions I still couldn’t bring myself to spend the $15 on the Missing Link DLC that was available shortly after. No it would take a heavy discount to $5 in a recent Steam sale to bring me over to the DLC bandwagon but suffice to say, I’m glad I did.
The Missing Link takes place during part of the game where the main character, Adam Jensen, goes off the grid for 3 days. During Human Revolution Pritchard’s enquiries into what happened in the intervening 3 days are brushed off by Jensen and it was very easy to miss this gap in the original game. Indeed the experience would seem to be something he’d want to forget after being taken captive, having all of his augmentations reset to nothing and then having to fight his way out again. It’s a good premise for DLC as the experience plays like a short episode in the bigger Deus Ex world without having to rely too heavily on the original game.
As to be expected all the core aspects of the game: the graphics, gameplay and so on are identical between Human Revolution and The Missing Link. This works well for The Missing Link as all of these things were done extremely well in the original leaving little much room for improvement. That being said that also means the few quirks of the game like the ones I mentioned in the original review are still there. None of them are game breaking but you still need to be aware of them either to avoid getting trapped by them or to use them to make your life easier.
The Missing Link starts you off as a fairly advanced character except that all your mod points are unspent (except for the default ones). What this means is that you can craft your character anew, avoiding some mistakes you might have made. I’m on the fence about this as whilst it makes sense in the story I remember my character being a lot further ahead than the one in The Missing Link was. The choices you then make heavily impact what your experience of The Missing Link will be like (I.E. if you want to hack everything you’re going to have to spend most of your initial points to do that). With the total number of additional praxis points being relatively low you’ve got to make your choices wisely as every single aug can be used within The Missing Link’s short play time.
However The Missing Link heavily encourages you to play a certain way: mostly stealth. Now for most Deus Ex players this will be second nature as it’s pretty much the default play style and indeed Human Revolution heavily favoured this way of playing as well so it really should come as no surprise. It’s slightly disappointing as I attempted to make a run and gun character but ended up having to stealth most sections anyway, rendering those points I spent useless. It’s not a terribly huge deal, but I feel like my time with it would have been a lot better had I opted to spend my points differently.
I need to point out here that The Missing Link’s level design seems to be somewhat lazy compared to that of Human Revolution. Whilst I can understand that the setting doesn’t lend itself well to a large sprawling environment the running back and forward between sections, with the seemingly way too long scanner sections depicted in the screenshot above, doesn’t make for great game play. Indeed you’ll spend much of your time clearing sections you had already cleared previously. It’s a dreadful form of asset reuse and not something I had come to expect from the guys who had made Human Revolution.
Thankfully though the story (and the developer’s humour, as you can see above) is what makes The Missing Link worth playing. Whilst I can’t go too deep into it without spoiling everything for you suffice to say that in the short time you’ll spend with The Missing Link you’ll still be gripped by the story, one that has all the trademark elements that we’ve come to expect from a Deus Ex plot. One criticism I’ll level at it though is the incorporation of what is seemingly an arbitrary decision at one point that only seems to affect some dialogue between Jensen and another character. Had The Missing Link been integrated into the main Human Revolution game this could have been alleviated somewhat, but I can see why this didn’t happen.
For someone who usually avoids DLC like the plague Human Revolution stands out as one that I’ll heartily recommend to anyone who’s played through Deus Ex: Human Revolution and wants to dive back into it. Whilst it may not stand up to the high standards that Human Revolution set for it The Missing Link is still a great story accompanied by intricate and nuanced game play, aspects that many games struggle to pull off individually. Thinking back on it now I still stand by decision to wait though as whilst $15 is fair value (going on a $/hour of game play perspective) I’d still probably hold off on this until there’s another sale just because The Missing Link isn’t exactly required playing unless you’re a completionist.
Deus Ex:Human Revolution The Missing Link DLC is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $15 (or equivalent points). Game was played entirely on the PC on hard difficult with around 5 hbours played and 30% of the achievements unlocked.
I believe I’m not alone when I think I’m mostly immune to the effects of marketing. For the most part my purchasing decisions are based off research and my own personal requirements, not so much by seeing marketing materials. Of course I realise that I’m not totally immune to the effects of marketing as there have been several times when I’ve found myself purchasing one product over another simply because “I saw it advertised somewhere”, although I’m never happy admitting that. There is one type of marketing that I’ve found myself getting hopelessly influenced by and that’s alternate reality games (ARG).
ARGs aren’t exactly a new phenomenon being able to trace their roots back almost 14 years. Up until the last couple years however I was mostly unaware of the concept having never really participated in any of them. However back in early 2010 I got wind of an ARG that was starting up for one of the games that I was intensely excited about, Heavy Rain. It started off as just a curiosity, with a couple YouTube videos and a flash game to give you a bit of insight into the background of Heavy Rain’s story. Of course not all of it was revealed on the first day and I found myself coming back just to find out what the latest was. The ARG took on a whole new level when they set up a Twitter account and started tweeting responses out to people’s questions from a character in the game. Suddenly I found myself staying up until the wee hours just to find out any information that I could.
I knew I was hooked.
Soon after Valve released an update to Portal that added in some new achievements. Of course the community thought it was rather odd that Valve would update a game so long after its release. As it turns out the achievements were just the lure into an incredibly in depth ARG that had fans working through the details for weeks after the initial update. Whilst I lacked the capability to help push the ARG forward in any way I did follow the events unfold very closely, loving every theory that people would develop and revelling in the excitement when someone made a new discovery. Both of these ARGs drew me into the games immensely and subsequently my time with the final products was much more memorable.
You can then imagine my excitement when I came across the following trailer for the upcoming game Deus Ex: Human Revolution:
Like the main corporation of the previous games (UNATCO) Sarif Industries has their own, rather flashy site. Upon entering it you’ll find everything is normal for a while until eventually it appears to be taken over by the rebels mentioned the trailer above. After fooling around for a while you’ll find yourself in the midst of a small hacking game which upon finishing gives you some insight into the upcoming game. I lost a good hour or two fooling around on the site and with the hacking games and if I hadn’t already pre-ordered the game I would’ve done so immediately afterwards.
ARGs are probably the only bit of marketing that doesn’t break my rule of avoiding the hype for unreleased games. Since the majority of an ARG is back story and doesn’t contain spoilers or over the top marketing speak it adds to the experience rather than detracting from it. I’ve all too often found critical pieces of games ruined by online commentary since, even without knowing it, reveal key pieces of information that sculpt my game play in a certain way. ARGs, since they have to operate as stand alone narratives in their own right, avoid doing this quite well although there is still the possibility to go too far.
I think the reason I get so hooked on these ARGs is that they increase my level of immersion with the end game significantly. Instead of going into the game without any background I’ve already got a decent investment in the story and you get a much better feeling for the characters and their motivations. Since my level of immersion plays a very big part in how much I will enjoy a game then it follows that ones marketed with an ARG aspect are far more likely for me to find enjoyable. Indeed my reviews of games with ARG marketing are above average and I definitely remember them more clearly than the multitude of other games that I have played.
I was awake long before the alarm went off, an annoying trait I picked up many years ago when I was tinkering with my body clock. It always seems that whenever I set an alarm I’ll be awake at least 10~20 minutes before hand but should I try to wake without an alarm I’ll more than likely oversleep. Still I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be and 30 minutes later I was ready to go and spending the last few moments in our hotel room watching the morning news whilst Rebecca got ready. We left the hotel 30 minutes later and caught a cab to JFK airport where we spent the next hour or so tracking down some breakfast before boarding our flight.
JFK to LA is one of the longest flights in the states and it was set to be about 5 hours to get to our destination. Thankfully this flight had Wifi and in a fit of forethought I had bought a monthly pass to the Delta in-flight system for only $7 more than the daily pass, granting me the ability to catch up on my tweets and Facebook posts. I didn’t use it much more than that though I was far too engrossed in the last 150 pages of Judas Unchained to care about much else, practically gulping down those last chapters without coming up for air. Knowing that I had 5 hours to kill and more than enough time to finish that book I had brought the sequel, Judas Unchained, along with me and started tucking into that immediately. I got about 100 pages into it before the call came on for us to land in LA. Our 5 hour flight had only lost us 3 hours putting the local time smack bang on midday.
After grabbing our luggage we made our way to the airport shuttle area to catch a bus to the hire car place. I had spent a lazy hour or so looking over the cars available the night before and settled on a Dodge Charger. Realistically it would be far too big for us, more suited to a small family, but I wanted something that would provide us a deal of comfort over some of the longer drives we were planning and the econoboxes weren’t really going to cut it. Arriving there we were told they were out of Chargers and the only one they had resembled a battered old Ford Falcon. A “mid sized” SUV was available for a similar price so we went ahead with that and got to pick our car. I picked a Jeep Grand Cherokee and got us on our way to the hotel with gusto.
After the initial excitement of seeing the city I realised that what I thought was clouds on the horizon was actually the thick blanket of smog. As we got closer it only got worse with the haze giving most of the buildings a particularly eery glow. Even in NYC the pollution wasn’t this bad as when we looked back at Manhattan from Liberty Island we could clearly see everything. From a similar distance in LA we were struggling to see the more distant buildings. Needless to say, I didn’t feel much like looking around town.
The hotel itself is in downtown LA, a fact I had failed to notice when booking it. Usually this wouldn’t be much of a concern but I knew this meant they’d be charging like a wounded bull for their parking. Indeed they were to the tune of $35 a night, as much as the car had cost to hire per day. Still the valets were nice and it meant we didn’t have to worry about parking but after the amount we paid for the hotel getting hit for extras feels a bit rich. I had the same feeling when I hooked up my laptop in the room only to be shown an sign-in page for internet access for $13 a day. I’d stayed in a $70/night hotel that gave me the fastest Internet connection I’ve had in the entire US for free so this was just the icing on the shit sandwich. Undeterred I started poking around to see if they were doing ARP poisoning like the DoubleTree was in NYC and found that they weren’t. 10 minutes of trying various MAC addresses later had me up and running with an Internet connection without having to shell out for something that I don’t believe should be a paid extra in a 4 star hotel.
We wanted to pick up some hotel room supplies so I tracked down the closet Walmart and punched the co-ordinates. About 10 minutes later we were passing through a pretty run down section of downtown LA. We past the supposed location twice and noticed that what was supposed to be a Walmart looked like a run down strip mall. Figuring that it was either a planned site (or more likely, one that was closed down) I found another and promptly got stuck in pre-rush hour traffic, seeing a 10 mile journey take almost 45 minutes. We got there though and secured out wants before heading back to the hotel for a workout before dinner. We hit a local pizza place that served amazing pizzas, leaving us both too full to finish and taking a box home to polish off later.
We’re hoping to hit up Disney World tomorrow as it’s something that Rebecca has really been looking forward to. After visiting Disney Land in Tokyo almost a decade ago and hating it (but then again I was an angsty little bastard) I’m keen to see if I’ll have a similar reaction the second time around. Plus it will hopefully get us away from the dreadful smog that seems to be unrelenting around here, making staying in the city very undesirable.