The strategic gap in the curtains I had left the night before had worked well and I was awake several hours earlier than I usually was, despite the fact I had been up to midnight watching a new series on Discovery (Brewmasters, check it out if you’re into beer). Still I rolled back over and went back to sleep as Rebecca had been struggling to get to sleep all night, wrestling with what seemed to be an infection of some kind. Three hours later I got us both out of bed and ready for the day ahead, one that would take us over a hundred miles south of where we were.
After the fun I had had at both Disneyland and Universal Studios I was keen to hit up yet another amusement park. This time around it would be Legoland which was about an hour and a half drive from the hotel, hence the reason for wanting to get out early. Still we managed to get out shortly after 10am so we arrived with plenty of daylight to spare. The park itself was no where near the scale of Disneyland or Universal studios but it still had a parking lot to rival the others. We found ourselves a spot and headed on in and that’s where I started to notice that things weren’t as they were at the other parks. Mostly it was average age of the other punters, most of them were below 10.
Legoland it seems is mostly aimed at the younger generation with the rides, attractions and live shows all geared towards them. There are of course some things for us oldies to enjoy like Miniland (where there’s Lego replicas of cities) but for the most part unless you’re a youngster or accompanying one you won’t be missing anything by not visiting this place. We wandered around the whole park in about 2 hours not really finding anything that really tickled our fancy and the swag to be had here could be found at any place you could get Lego anyway. Disappointed we decided that since we’d already made the majority of the trip to San Diego we’d go the last 30 miles and knock off another attraction, Seaworld.
We got there with a few hours before it closed and there were still a few shows on before it was going to close. We started wandering around, checking out the various animal enclosures. The various aquariums they had were pretty interesting with a wide variety of sea creatures that I hadn’t seen all in one place before. After an hour or so of seeing some of the sights we went to the dolphin live show which also had 2 whales and a host of birds. It was a pretty well done show and whilst I’ve seen all these animals before I can’t remember seeing any of them perform. Almost immediately afterwards it was time for the final show of the day with the famous Shamu the killer whale. Again the feats they’d managed to train these creatures to do on command was quite amazing and the show went for almost half an hour. Afterwards we did a quick run around of some of the other exhibits we missed, including the penguin enclosure that had a smell I won’t soon forget.
After being ejected from the park we decided that since we were 2 hours away from home we might as well find some grub here before hitting the road. I found a local place in one of the coast side hotels that had good reviews so we hit it up. The had an amazing beer selection so I ordered myself up a Belgian Triple, a slightly wheaty beer that had a really good taste to it. I also found out that “cheese steak” was code for a subway style sandwich rather than a steak with cheese on it. The food was however quite good and we left there fat and happy, ready to tackle the road home.
We have 2 full days ahead of us before we take the 14 hour plane ride home and at least one of them will be partly spent back at Disneyland for one last time, cleaning up the last few attractions we missed. It’s been an amazing month over here in the USA and with the end so close I’m starting to get all nostalgic for the good times I’ve had over here. Still as they say all good things must come to an end and soon it will be time for me to reintegrate back into society, however much I may dread that.
There was only a dim glow peeking through the curtains but it was lacking that distinct orange tint to it that I’d grown to expect. Throwing them back revealed a threatening looking sky with the overcast clouds merging into the smog in an eerily smooth gradient. It seems that the cross country flight had done some magic on our body clocks and we were up early again giving us some time to plan for the day ahead. We’d planned to go to Universal Studios today and decided to stick with that plan even with the foreboding weather. I also made a quick check to make sure that the server had come good after Danne kicked it over for me, thankful that it came around. I uploaded the 3 posts I had sitting in my queue before heading off, taking our laundry with us so we could get it done on the way home.
Dialling in the address into the GPS we drove the 10 miles to North Hollywood arriving into a strangely quiet strip of shops. We started walking around looking for somewhere to have breakfast and found a decent cafe about halfway down. The weather had was holding up and without my Internet connection on my phone working (again!) we decided to just go ahead and go into the park, figuring that it would could still visit most of the park even if it was pouring with rain.
There were a few people at the entrance to Universal Studios but it still felt almost deserted. It is the off season but that didn’t seem to have a damper on the numbers when we were at Dinseyland so we figured we had just gotten lucky. We made our way through one of the exhibits in the top lot before taking the multiple escalators to the bottom lot which was even more deserted than the top. That worked in our favour though with virtually no line for all the rides down there, letting us zip through the entire section in about half an hour. The rides were pretty good with their scale being extremely impressive. I can’t remember the last time I rode a rollercoaster that was entirely indoors (I think it might’ve been space mountain in Disneyworld in Tokyo where I hit my hand on a low flying pole).
After that we headed back up to the top lot to see some of the other shows they had going on. There were no less than 3 3D movies with all sorts of various augmentations. The most extravagant one was the Terminator with oodles of pyrotechnics and a cast of 3 people jumping in and out of various places all over the place. There were also a couple live shows that we saw the best of which was the Waterworld one. Now I’ll be honest here I was only going to go to it initially because there was a fated summer holiday where my brother and I watched that movie nearly every day. However the show itself was quite amazing with a smattering of watercraft, acrobatics and explosions all over the place. After we got out our last show at around 4:30pm everything was winding down so we headed out to find ourselves some early dinner before heading out to see a movie.
We found this amazing little Japanese place just up from where we had had lunch earlier. I ordered the tonkatsu with a Japanese beer I had never seen before: Echigo. We had just less than an hour so I was glad when our meal was served quickly and even happier still when it was quite good, especially for the price. Satisfied with our meal we went to see our movie for the night, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1. 2 and a half hours later we emerged from the movie, both happy with the experience. I’d recommend the movie to anyone who’s enjoyed the previous releases in this particular series, I won’t comment on those who’ve read the books however (I haven’t).
Afterwards I found us a coin operated laundry not too far from we were so we headed over there to get ourselves some clean clothes to wear. After loading up the machine we sat down to watch what they had on the TVs around the place, mostly bad reality TV shows and overdone mexican dramas. About an hour later we were done and out of there, driving back through the rain that had finally started to come down. We got back to the hotel safely and flopped down on our bed, weary from the long day we had had. I’m not sure what we’ll be doing tomorrow but it will either be a visit to Legoland or back to Disneyland but really I could easily spend a day off my feet to let them rest. I don’t think I’ve walked less than 8KMs per day over the past 2 weeks.
After working with enterprise level gear for a while you start to miss certain things when you’re working on your own kit at home. One of the biggest things for anyone is out of band management which is the ability to access a computer remotely as if you were sitting right in front of it. It’s really quite handy when you’re working in large environments with data centers that can be several hundred kilometers away or even just a 5 minute walk down the hallway, since us geeks aren’t known for our physical prowess. So when it comes time for us to access our kit when we’re not at home us geeks have traditionally turned to services like LogMeIn or programs based around the VNC protocol to get the job done, which aren’t technically out of band management solutions but get the job done more or less. However Microsoft recently released their Live Mesh beta to the wider world and it too can provide such remote access functionality. I decided to give it a test spin last week.
Mesh appears to be an organic evolution of some of the other cloud services that Microsoft began providing last year. If you had heard of their SkyDrive product you’ll understand why I’m saying this, since the sales pitch is basically the same. In essence it is marketed as an online folder that you can use to sync data across multiple devices, including mobile phones. They offer up 5GB of online storage for free which isn’t too bad for a completely free service. I haven’t really used this feature much myself but I can see it being useful for keeping critical files on hand, although I question the phone integration as being somewhat useless (my 3G coverage seems a tad patchy, and I’d hate for it to try and download anything over 1MB on GPRS). The fact that they’re looking to do this cross platform does show that they’re committed to this being a true cloud service, although time will tell how far they actually go with that.
The most attractive feature for me of Mesh was the remote desktop in a web browser feature. I’d been fooling around with several different VNC clients in order to get the same thing working but they always failed in one way or the other. I was always hesitant of similar services as I didn’t really want to provide them access to my machine. However I figured that if Microsoft wanted to remotely access my PC they could probably already do it, so I resigned myself to give it a try. After putting in my Live credentials I was greeted with a ring and an opportunity to add devices to my network. This is where things started to get interesting.
Mesh’s install process is blindly easy. All you have to do is login, click on Add device, select the appropriate operating system (the Vista client works fine on Windows 7), and click install. About 5 minutes later you’ll be asked to provide your Live credentials again but after that the Mesh client will sit quietly in your system tray and the device you added will become available in the Mesh ring. Clicking on the device will allow you to connect to it remotely, as if you were sitting right in front of it. This is where the Mesh client really starts to shine because all of this took about 10 minutes total to set up and use with nary a firewall port to forward or any other kind of trickery. The desktop will be shown to you in its native resolution scaled up or down to fit whatever monitor you may be using at the time. Whilst this did make my dual screen desktop look decidedly squished on my monitors at work it was still usable, and my single monitor media PC scaled down quite well. Even with my meager 100KB/s upload (shared with this web server) the interface was quite responsive, even with 2 sessions running. Everything seemed fairly easy up to this point and I could easily see non-tech savvy people using this service.
However the experience was not without its share of problems. The Mesh interface for the desktop connections is done through a dreaded ActiveX control, which means you’ll only be accessing it through Internet Explorer. Granted the last 2 incarnations of this browser have made great leaps in undoing the damage to Internet standards that all its predecessors did but I’m still a Firefox/Chrome man myself (mostly for the wide array of plugins). Additionally whilst running 2 sessions is possible you’ll have to open up 2 separate browser instances for it to work, otherwise one of the sessions will just plain not work. This is provided that you can actually get into your computers since the connection is initiated from Microsoft’s servers which managed to drop me out of my session on more than one occasion. I can understand this since its still in beta, but having the console report strange error codes with little explaining text (sending me into a Google flurry) didn’t garner any good will with me. There is definitely room for improvement here.
I really can’t fault Microsoft for trying here and the service overall is quite good. They still have some way to go before they’re up to the level of other services out there but for something that is free and that integrates so easily with any Windows operating system I can’t say that I would recommend anything else for those who need something simple to provide remote access to their PCs. I’ll be keeping a keen eye on it over the coming months and I’ll be hoping to see things like Outlook integration so I can sync my contacts and email on the fly without having to set up an exchange server to do so. But that could be wishful thinking on my part, but I’m sure it’s on Microsoft’s radar.