Monday, August 21, 2006

Orlando The Ride!

This past weekend I went to Orlando to spend time with my girlfriend while she was there for a class she was teaching. We had the chance to go to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Wet ‘n Wild for cheap thanks to a friend who got a job there about a year ago.

My friend went above and beyond the call of duty for the weekend. In addition to getting us the discounted tickets, he drove us around, took us to a great restaurant, and guided us through the parks. It was certainly nice having an expert there to navigate the rides and hit all the best ones, maximizing our time.

For me, this trip was a dream come true. As you know, I’m a huge Back to the Future fan and ever since the ride opened in 1991 I’ve wanted to ride “Back to the Future The Ride.” One of the highlights of the ride was seeing one of the time travel modified DeLoreans. As a BTTF freak, I plan to purchase one soon, the plan is to do so in the next 3 years. When my search gears up you will no doubt hear more about it. I believe the one at Universal was actually used in the films (although most of the add on pieces are no longer the originals), but who knows for sure. They have built a few since then for promotional purposes.

The BTTF ride was amazing. Despite being one of the oldest rides in the park, there was a significant line, forcing us to wait for nearly 30 min (a substantial amount of time for a ride in the off season). If you are unfamiliar with the ride, the premise is that you are on a tour of the “Institute of Future Technology”, a research facility run by Doc Brown, in which your group is to travel 1 day forward in time for the fun of it. This all goes horribly wrong when the 1955 Biff is found to have stowed away on one of the research time vehicles and ultimately steals one after locking Doc Brown in his lab. As the only ones able to get to a time machine, you must track down Biff and save the universe from a time paradox. This is one of those rides where the motion matches the projection, in this case a huge omni screen theater.

While in line, you listen to music from all three soundtracks, watch videos introducing the Institute of Future Technology, and even see props from the movies. Some of the props which were present included Einstein’s (Doc’s dog) bed, Marty’s guitar, several of the clocks from the opening scene, a hoverboard, and the alternate 1985 newspaper archive.

The coolest part of the ride is that you get to ride in a (fake) 8 passenger DeLorean, like the one shown below. While the interior wasn’t true to the original time machine design, it did have a small dashboard mounted flux capacitor and time circuit unit. The dash also contained a speedometer and gauges matching that of a real DeLorean and a small monitor which tracked Biffs status and allowed him to communicate with us. You can see the movie we saw here.

I had seen all the videos, pictures, and reviews associated with the ride over the 15 years that I had waited for this moment, so there was little surprise when I was actually there, however there was something unexplainably different about experiencing the sites, sounds, and feel in person. Although I can’t honestly say it was the best ride of the weekend, it was without question the best experience. The wait was worth it, it lived up to all my expectations!

Today I found out a sad piece of news about the ride from my Universal friend, it will be closing in less than a month. I suppose this could either be seen as good news or bad news how you look at it. It is good that I was able to see it before the end, bad that it is going away forever. If you want to see the ride, book your tickets now! More info can be found here.

The water park was also a blast. I can’t even remember the last time I went to one, but it had been far too long. The best slide was Disco H20, probably the strangest water slide I’ve ever been on. Up to 4 riders get on a raft and are sent through traditional twists and turns, arriving in a large bowl like structure where a 70’s disco party is taking place. The music is blasting, multicolored lights are flashing, and the disco ball is hanging from the ceiling. The momentum keeps the raft spinning around the room for couple times, then falls into the exit tunnel. I’d never been to a disco party in my swim suit before, I guess there is a first time for everything.

Our first night in Orlando we went to City Walk, Universal’s night life central. The place was full of neon lights, spot lights, live outdoor music, and of course more than a few places to eat & drink. Here is a picture of it during the day (right), but you get the idea.

It had been six weeks since I’d last seen my girlfriend, and in case there was any doubt, that is a LONG time. As great and exciting as all my trips to NYC, Chicago, Orlando, San Francisco, and Des Moines ;-) may sound, I’d much rather have a local relationship. But as I’ve said before, she is more than worth it! We will see each other again in just under 2 weeks, and thankfully won’t have to go 6 weeks again before her move back. Thank goodness!

Here are some other photos from the trip:

Hype In A Theater

Thursday night I went to the opening showing of “Snakes on a Plane.” If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I’d recommend you don’t waste your time. That said, it was probably one of the best movie going experiences I’ve ever had. While the movie was laughably predictable, had no character development, and severely lacking is meaningful plot, the audience made it all worth while.

If you are computer savvy enough to read this, then you have no doubt seen the fan based internet hype that lead up to the release of the film. The audience was filled with people who participated in that hype, some bringing rubber snakes, one even wearing a snake costume.

At every poor attempt made to have a snake “creatively” kill someone the audience burst into either laughter or applause. Any time Samuel L. Jackson busted out a cheesy line (nearly every 2 min), the audience would cheer. I had never been in a crowd with so much mock enthusiasm. It made the movie for me.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The B Word

Rather than boring you with the mundane details of my life as is so often the case here, I figured I'd bore you a little with something I've been thinking about a bit lately. Budgeting. Yeah, I know, it doesn't seem like a very exciting or interesting thing to think about. To many this is the B word they keep out of their vocabulary.

First let me say that I've never liked the concept. To me it has always seemed like setting up a budget for myself was not giving myself the extra spending flexibility for when I needed it, or conversely forcing me into a pattern of spending when it isn't warranted. In short, I've always thought of a budget as an inflexible tool designed for people who couldn't trust themselves to make the right decision at the right time.

Not that I'm there yet, but after taking a finance course this semester, I'm starting to warm up to the idea a bit more. Finance is all about understanding your cash flows, and making decisions based on those cash flows such that you can work towards your goals. Part of this process is capital budgeting. In capital budgeting decisions are made where to spend the money, and in what amounts in order to reach a predefined required return on investment.

This process loosely relates to personal finances I think to some extent. We all have financial goals, stated or unstated. Maybe it is maintaining a certain standard of living (eating out, concerts, hobbies, ect.), maybe it is saving up for a big purchase (car, house), or maybe it is building up your nest egg. Many of these goals are conflicting. For example, it is difficult to both maintain a hobby of piloting airplanes while saving for retirement. Budgeting in an amount to spend on each of these can help ensure you can do both without worrying if one will affect your ability to reach your goals in the other.

In my own life, what I have found is that I have large swings without a budget. I will put nearly everything towards savings or everything towards the next toy. While some may call that flip flopping balance, to me it seems like it carries more risk, as neither side of the pendulum is controlled. Uncontrolled cash flows, whether they be directed towards savings or spending, can be harmful. Controlling where cash flows are directed helps in reaching stated goals and gives you a better overall picture of where you are and where you are going to be within a designated time frame, thus reducing the amount of stress and worry associated with those goals.

So am I starting myself up on a budget? I'm still thinking hard about it. Most of my savings is already budgeted and school & utility bills/mortgage/food are pretty much cleaning out the rest so I'm not sure what I have left to budget. But all in all I've begun to warm up to the idea.

Are any of you operating on a budget? How has it worked out?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Fun with Foam

I apologize that it has been so long since my last update. I know many of you have become frustrated with my lack up postings. I still plan to post, but it isn't easy. I'll give you one word: school. I do a lot of studying. This weekend I'll be studying a minimum of 20 hours Fri-Sunday. I don't want this to sound like I'm the busiest person in the world, because I'm not, so I'll just leave it at that.

Last weekend I went out with a few friends to try out foam dancing. If you are unfamiliar with foam dancing, it involves a fenced off outdoor area in which detergent is mixed with water above you and suds spill onto the ground and fill up the fenced in area. The foam gets to be shoulder high in places, and near the source can stand 6-7 feet high.

Dancing in foam has several advantages over your typical run of the mill dance floor.

  • No one can see your cheesy white boy dance. This is unquestionably the greatest feature of the foam. You don't need to know how to dance, you just have to be able to move around. No one can tell if you stink.
  • Everyone can do a perfect "worm". You know that annoying guy at every wedding dance that has to do that weird thing where he lays face down on the floor and bends his back up and down such that he squirms like a worm? In the foam, you can be that guy. Simply drop below the foam, then come up and claim your accomplishment.
  • Showering that day is optional. Sure, I suppose you could lather up in the shower before heading into shoulder high detergent, but why? You can dance as hard as you want all night, and you never have to worry about embarrassing underarm odor.
    1. If you ever decide to give this a try, there are a few things to keep in mind:

      1. Chafing - This may sound strange, but after 3 hours in soap, skin becomes irritated and dry. Anything you don't want chafed, salve up or put a bandage over. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I'll let you figure it out from there.
      2. Extra Clothing - You get wet, really wet, like you have been dunked in a pool. Bring a towel and extra cloths to change in the car or you are going to have a wet, soapy ride home.
      3. Bad DJs - Let's face it, when was the last time you were at a club with good music? Odds are you will be treated to the likes of Yung Joc, Cherish, or Shakira. It isn't that there isn't good pop music made anymore, it just isn't played.

      So there you have it. The world of foam dancing. It isn't for everyone, in fact I don't think its even for me, but you should get out and try it once, it is an experience you won't soon forget.