Zamzar – Free online file conversion

So, I received a bunch of files the other day that I had no application that could read them. Honestly, receiving these files took me back a good many years, and I began looking for clunky “viewers” that would let me open these files to read the content.

Then I came across Zamzar, which can convert all sorts of wacky file types to other more modern, readable file types.

You upload your files and plug in your email address, and when they’re done converting, they send you an email with a link to download the files individually, or as a zip. Fantastic.

Zamzar – Free online file conversion.

Disney World: Day 2

We took the kids to Disney World last weekend for NIcholas’ sixth birthday. If you have the opportunity to do a kid’s birthday in Disney World, I highly recommend it. Below is the second part in a series of each day of our adventure. You can also read Day 1.


Our first full day at Disney World started with a character breakfast. The Polynesian’s ‘Ohana restaurant hosts breakfast with Lilo & Stitch and other characters, so we made that part of our itinerary. Nicholas and I were the first ones awake due to the iHome alarm clock’s insanely bright light in our faces all night. Tommy was the next to wake up and when we told him we were having breakfast with Stitch, he exclaimed “Hey, I know… I love the Stitch!” So we dressed and made our way toward the Great Ceremonial House.

The Stitch
The Stitch!

After a brief wait, we headed in to our table that looked out over Seven Seas Lagoon toward the Magic Kingdom. ‘Ohana’s meals are all served family style, and breakfast was no exception. A huge bounty of eggs, bacon, sausages, biscuits and of course, mini Mickey waffles. The food was very good, but the main attraction was all of the characters that paraded their way by our table. Much to Tommy’s delight, first up was Stitch, followed of course by Lilo. To my surprise, Mickey was making the rounds. I don’t ever recall seeing Mickey in person at Disney World, so either we hit the jackpot, or he’s just making more facetime with his fans. Either way, the boys liked seeing him. When Tommy saw Pluto walking around, he said “and Big Puppy’s here too!” (Tommy has a stuffed dog he calls Big Puppy).

Once we were sufficiently stuffed on the all-you-can-eat bounty of food, we caught a bus to Animal Kingdom. Our awesome timing streak was still on fire because the Animal Kingdom bus appeared almost immediately after we got to the bus stop. It seemed we were the beneficiaries of some bus dispatching mishap because when people realized it was headed to the AK, there were lots of groans and even a perturbed “Again?!”. Whatever.. they’re not on my vacation, so I’ll let them be angry. We’re going to Animal Kingdom!

Our first order of business was to get a FastPass for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. Now, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Animal Kingdom. I’d heard that it’s just a big Bronx Zoo, but I’d also heard that the Safari is pretty solid. Nicholas had a thing for safaris at one point, and both of the kids love animals, so I figured this would be cool for them. We acquired our FastPass with a window starting about an hour later. We took some time to lather up with sunblock and then we checked out the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. This is a walking trail through an area next to the safari that lets visitors come across lots of exotic species. We saw several monkeys, lots of birds, and gorillas, among other things. This took us over an hour to complete, as there are plenty of places to stop along the way and check things out.

We finally made it back to the front of the safari ride and we got in the FastPass line. We had to wait a few minutes as the line wound its way in, but it was substantially shorter than the standby line. When we finally made it on, we got front-row seats in the truck. The whole theme of the ride is that you’re on a safari in Africa. There’s also a subplot about poachers and that we’ll need to keep an eye out for them. Well, the safari is really pretty solid. I was told later on by a cast member that the entire Magic Kingdom can fit inside of the area used for the safari with room to spare. We saw a ton of animals, including elephants, giraffes, white rhinos, cheetahs, and wildebeests. The only animals who weren’t out at the time were the lions, which we were all bummed about, but we saw a ton of stuff nonetheless.

Giraffes on the savannah

Now, if you ask Nicholas about the safari, he’ll tell you he loved it, but they need to close it down so the workmen can fix a broken bridge that we had to drive over. Said bridge is being “held together” with a little bit of extra cable, and as we drove over it, the whole thing rocked back and forth. Of course, we shouldn’t have been driving over the broken bridge, but the normal way through had been washed out by heavy rains. Either way, I highly doubt it’ll be fixed by the next time we ride it.

Up next for our adventurous crew is lunch. Yay! It was lunch time, and the offerings in the Africa area were less African and more American-themed with an African flair. They also all had huge lines, so we headed back toward the center of Animal Kingdom and found a nice air conditioned spot in Pizzafari (yes). After some pizza, mac & cheese, and an Italian sandwich, we got ourselves organized and headed over to the train that takes you up to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. The train ride was enjoyable for the kids, and it actually takes you around the back-side of the safari, so you can see some of the behind-the-scenes areas of the park.

Rafiki’s Planet Watch is an area for kids that’s geared toward environmental awareness. This is also where a lot of the vet facilities are at the park. Lots of bugs and reptiles to see, and even a hands-on moment with a python! Outside there’s a petting zoo (known in Disney parlance as an Affection Station). Interesting to note, they don’t have any feed dispensers here like regular petting zoos. What they do have are countless brushes that kids can use to brush the animals. Tommy made friends with a blind goat who was enjoying the warmth of the sun.

Tommy and the Blind Goat
Tommy befriends a blind goat

After killing some time up at Rafiki’s, we took the train back to Africa and then wandered over toward Asia to check out the Finding Nemo show. This is apparently a musical version of the entire movie. By the time we made it over there (after the obligatory bathroom and ice cream breaks), the next show still wouldn’t be for another 45 minutes. We were all pretty tired, so we opted to skip this and try to come back and catch it another day (I’ve been told that the first showings of both shows at Animal Kingdom have the shortest wait times). So, we ambled back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to the Magic Kingdom hotels. Naturally, the Polynesian/Contemporary bus was sitting right there at the stop waiting for us to board.

It seems the bus ride back to the hotel was just the right length for a power nap for the kids, since they rebounded with a ton of energy as soon as we got back to the hotel room. Unfortunately, neither Katie nor myself could move. After a fair amount of harassment by said children, we finally got up, suited up, and headed to the pool.

Tommy hassling Katie

The pool at the Polynesian is volcano themed and even has a water slide that winds its way through the volcano and into the pool. Nicholas tried riding it the day before, but chickened out when it was just about his turn. However, this time, he was feeling up to the challenge. I went down first so I could catch him at the end. My biggest fear was that I’d get down, and then he’d go and get stuck or something. But alas, after what seemed like an eternity, his excited laughter sounded from the end of the tunnel and then he appeared around the corner, and finally splashed into the pool. Like any kid who just rode a water slide and loved it, he wanted to go again. This time, Katie went up with him and I hung out in the pool with Tommy.

Lots of reviews of the Polynesian said the pool is just too small for the amount of use it gets, and I’d agree with that. It got very crowded, especially since the other pool was closed while we were there. It’s also fairly shallow, never getting deeper than around 3-1/2 feet. Busy or shallow, the kids didn’t care– they had a great time every time we went to the pool, even though they each injured themselves once.

Since it was Friday and it was Lent (I know.. bacon, sausage, Italian sandwiches. Hey, I sing in the church choir so I figure I’m covered a little bit), we wanted to hit the UK pavilion’s fish & chips cart for dinner. We got dried off and dressed and walked over to the Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC) which is conveniently close to the Polynesian for the monorail ride over to EPCOT. Our trip coincided with the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival which brings a ton of extra topiaries and other flower themed fun to the parks. All of the flower beds are re-done in even brighter colors, and the whole place is that much more colorful and crazy. We happened upon a huge Lightening McQueen made of flowers. I think even his tires were made of moss. Really cool stuff.

McQueen

We walked over to the UK pavilion and hit the line for Fish & Chips. The Yorkshire County Fish cart sells nothing but fish & chips, extra chips, shortbread cookies, Bass Ale and Harp Lager. That’s a menu I can live with. They do have tables outside of the UK pavilion, but the whole seating area was closed for a private party. While we were on line, the British Invasion (Beatles/Kinks/Stones cover band) show ended so the line exploded, but the park benches in front of the stage that were jammed were now empty, so we sat down and enjoyed our meal. The kids split an order of fish & chips and Katie and I each devoured our own (plus a little left over by the kids). And a tall cool Bass washed it down quite nicely. As a note, this is the same fish & chips you’d get inside the Rose & Crown pub (the sit down restaurant), but it’s a few bucks less from the cart outside.

The British Invasion

After we ate, the kids ran around the knot garden for a while with a bunch of other kids. Then, as it began to get dark, the area filled up again in anticipation of the final British Invasion set of the evening. So, we stayed on our front-row bench and rocked out to classics like Come Together, All Day and All of the NIght, Satisfaction, and Nicholas’ favorite, “Shakin’ the Baby” (aka Twist and Shout).

Now, at some point throughout the adventure, Nicholas saw a kid who had a pirate sword and decided he wanted a sword too. However, he’s not all that into pirates. He is, however, into knights and castles, so I told him at the hotel (where they had pirate swords in the shop), that we should hold off on the pirate sword, because there might be cooler medieval stuff found in England or France or Germany at EPCOT, or even near the castle in Magic Kingdom. Well, we hit the jackpot in the UK, and the boys both got these great sturdy foam swords and shields.

The fireworks were getting ready to begin, and the kids aren’t all that into fireworks, so we headed back toward the monorail station. We caught the Tronorail (a monorail wrapped to promote Tron) back to the TTC, and walked the quiet path back to our room for the night.

Hippie Motherlode!

Wow.. In looking for a downloadable copy of Today in Phish History (4/6/92, one of my favorite tapes of all time), I came across a link from Phish.net that I had never come across before: the Phish Downloads Spreadsheet.

Back in the olden days when I used to tape shows and trade tapes over listservs, I used to peruse people’s tape lists and see if they had some nugget I was looking for. Then things began going more and more digital, and then the band began selling their own shows on CD (and now digitally literally hours after the show has finished), and taping has sort of become a thing of the past. Listening, however, is still here and now, and now that I’ve found this ridiculous treasure trove of memories, I can dig in to some juicy tidbits that left when I gave away all my analog tapes in 2006.

Bosenberg & Co.

I had the privilege of working with Lisa Overton of Big Pink to build out a redesign for Bosenberg & Co. landscape architects. The previous Bosenberg site used lots of Flash and had a very fixed interface that limited the site’s usefulness and flexibility. The re-designed site focuses more on the content and the company’s portfolio. We’ve also added a user portfolio where potential customers can collect various project samples, save them for later, or email them.

Bosenberg & co.

Bosenberg & Co. homepage

Disney World: Day 1

We took the kids to Disney World last weekend for Nicholas’s sixth birthday. If you have the opportunity to do a kid’s birthday in Disney World, I highly recommend it. Below is the first part in a series of each day of our adventure.


The alarms sounded at 5:00 am, and Katie and I bounded out of bed, ready to start our adventure. The kids were still asleep, and a couple of inches of snow and ice had fallen to the ground overnight. I opened Nicholas’ window shade to help him wake up, and he sat right up in bed. Our adventure was beginning.

We got the remaining things packed and organized and slapped together a cup of instant coffee. After clearing off and moving the car, the bags came downstairs and I began loading them into the trunk. Katie got Tommy dressed and all were downstairs, raring to go. Given the lack of sleep and coffee, I’m surprised it went as smoothly as it did!

Since it snowed most of Wednesday and into Thursday, the roads weren’t as nice as I would have liked. Nevertheless, it was about 30° out and the main roads weren’t in too bad shape. By the time we got onto the Garden State Parkway by 6:15 or so, there was plenty of traffic heading to work to keep the road from getting too icy. Slow & steady in the right lane and we were on the way to Newark Airport.

We parked the car in economy parking and by the time we made it to the bus stop, the shuttle arrived to take us to the terminal. The fellow at curb-side check-in at Terminal C recognized our yellow Disney Magical Express tags, called out “Orlando, right this way”, and got us checked right in.

An almost uneventful trip through security ended up with yours truly setting off the metal detector for some unknown reason and then being put into “the box” while they called for a male check. The guard who appeared took me to “the machine” where he swabbed my hands for traces of contraband. The whole time, I’m thinking “crap, what if, for whatever reason, this thing comes up positive?!”. Fortunately for all involved, it was negative and we were sent on our way.

Unfortunately, that few minutes of detention made the difference between getting breakfast and not, as by the time we arrived at our gate and got the kids into the restroom one last time, it was time to board the plane. No coffee makes sad daddy.

Tommy napping on the plane

Nicholas and Tommy were champions on the plane. No complaints, no whining, no arguments… they hung out in their seats, shared the window, and Tommy even napped for a little bit! An uneventful 2.5 hours later, and we were on the ground in Orlando. After a quick bite and more bathroom breaks in the terminal, we headed for ground transportation.

We made our way toward the Magical Express checkin area. Since we had our voucher book with us, we were sent straight to the lineup for our bus. The whole ME experience reminded me of the end of Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep) where everyone gets funneled to their assigned trams to head into the afterlife. Somewhat surreal, but awesome at the same time.

We were told we made it just in time to catch a bus right before it left, so we had zero wait time in that respect. We popped the stroller underneath and climbed aboard. The only remaining group of 4 seats together was in the way back of the bus. We rode in comfort, looking out at the Florida countryside and enjoying some vintage Donald Duck cartoons. As the girl in front of us got carsick, we pulled into the parking lot for the Polynesian Resort, our home away from home. Talk about timing!

The guy handing out lays wasn’t there to hand out lays when we walked in, so we just headed to check-in. Since I had checked in online last week, I went to the shorter ‘online check-in’ queue. We got our welcome packet and our room keys / park tickets and headed of to the room.

Our room is in the Tokelau building, next to the “quiet” pool, which is noisier than usual since it’s full of workmen rehabbing it. We have a garden view room which grants us a sparse view of the Grand Floridian and something at the Magic Kingdom, although I can’t tell what.

Upon getting settled in the room a bit and changing from our Jersey spring snowstorm gear into our Florida hot-time clothes, we headed out in search of Adventure. And Fantasy. And Frontier and Tomorrow. We made our way to the monorail station at the hotel and boarded. As soon as the doors closed and we began moving, I realized I left the kids park tickets in the room. Your room key is your park ticket, and I figured what do I need the kids’ room keys for?

There’s nothing like a full loop on the monorail to get a good lay of the land for the kids’ first time to Disney World. A quick jaunt back to the room to grab the other two cards, and we were back on the monorail headed for the Magic Kingdom. Upon approaching the second time, Tommy exclaimed “hey, this is the Magic Kingdom.. it IS the Magic Kingdom!” So, we got off the monorail and headed on up to the park.

Our timing, once again, was pretty good, in that as soon as we got through the gate and into Main Street, USA, we walked headlong into a parade! Tommy was super excited to see Woody and Stitch (Tommy likes the Stitch)! Nicholas saw Mary Poppins and Burt, and I think the insanity of the parade was a great welcome to Disney World.

Nicholas taking a photo of the parade

After the parade finished, we wandered up Main Street USA, along the side of the parade. The boys wanted to go on the carousel, and we wanted to try and do Peter Pan’s flight and maybe a couple of other things. Unfortunately, we wound up on the wrong side of the parade and got funneled into Adventure Land, so we headed up Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. After that, we grabbed an ice cream and tried to find our way around to the carousel (which proved more difficult than I would have imagined.

A sign from the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse

We’d heard lots of cool things about Mickey’s Philharmagic, so we figured we’d check it out. While the boys and I waited on line for the carousel, Katie got FastPasses for it and with them came bonus FastPasses for Winnie the Pooh!

The boys finally got to ride the carousel after waiting not too long, and they loved it. It’s amazing how short the rides in Disney World are. I don’t know if they made them shorter over the years, or if being bigger makes you realize how quickly they go by, but most of the rides that go in circles are only about 90 seconds.

Nicholas and I Rocking the Carousel

It wasn’t too long before it was time to check out the Philharmagic, so we headed inside, grabbed our 3D glasses and took our seats. Now, the kids aren’t terribly keen on things that are too loud and, maybe it was our seats, or maybe it was just the show, but damn, it was a bit loud. Even I thought it was loud and I played in a shitty rock band! That said, the show was pretty cool and very well done. Nicholas enjoyed the 3D aspect of it, but they both hated the volume, so all they wanted was to get the hell out of Dodge.

Next we headed over to Winnie the Pooh which promised to be a lot better. We asked several cast members if it was scary, or loud, etc., and they all said that it would be fine for both of them. Okay, we’ll give it a shot. Nicholas loved it, but Tommy hated the portion where the Woozles and Wizzles are scaring Pooh in his dream. It was pretty surreal with bright colors and more noise, and probably a little intense for a 3-year-old.

With that, we figured it was time to head back to the hotel for some pool time. The Polynesian has a great pool with a volcano water slide and sloped entry to the pool so there are no steps at that end. After a while, it was getting close to time for dinner, so we got ourselves organized and headed into the Great Ceremonial House for dinner at Kona Cafe.

We traveled 1,100 miles to Florida and our waitress at dinner the first night was from Clifton, NJ. Dinner at Kona was good. To start, they had Dogfish Head IPA available, so that made things nice. I had crabcakes and the ribeye, which, as they were coming out to other tables looked enormous. Fortunately, mine wasn’t that big, but it was very good nonetheless. Katie enjoyed potstickers and the Kona salad, while Nicholas had sushi and Tommy had grilled fish.

By this point, we were all sufficiently exhausted, and all were in bed and asleep by 9:30, dreaming of our fun, magical adventures that lay ahead.

ExifTool

The fam and I took a ton of photos over the weekend (more on that forthcoming), but neither Katie’s nor Nicholas’ cameras had been adjusted for daylight savings time. Consequently, lots of photos turned up out of order, like when I was taking a picture of Nicholas taking a picture, his photo should have been in sequence with mine, but they were an hour apart in iPhoto.

Enter Phil Harvey’s ExifTool to the rescue. ExifTool is a PERL library with a command-line interface that lets you read EXIF data from photos and write EXIF data back to photos (among a ton of other things). What made it awesome here was the Date/Time Shift feature that allows you to update any aspect of the creation date (month/day/year, hour/minute/second) on a directory of images.

So, by copying the images to a new directory, and then running exiftool -AllDates+=1 ./ on that new directory, I had all 205 of those images updated in one fell swoop. That’s awesome.

Rubular: a Ruby regular expression editor and tester

This tool is indispensable when dealing with regex. Plug in a sample search string, and then start banging on the regex to match it. There are some differences I’ve found between regex in Ruby vs. Javascript, but even then it helps to get you most of the way there.

Rubular: a Ruby regular expression editor and tester.

H/T to Justin for pointing me in this direction some time ago.

Blog Post

Well, I’ve gone and done it.. I broke my site.

Well, not really, but it’s different. Really, the whole area is a bit of a mess right now (what isn’t?!), but I’ll deal with that at some point.

In reality, I’ve been looking to make this kind of switch for a long time, namely making this site a regular lifestream kind of site and eventually having the “professional” articles over on the other site. That way this can become the stuff that happens when I’m not working, and that becomes the stuff that happens when I am working. Simple enough, right?

Ha.

I decided last Spring, after I started working for myself to use Tumblr for my blogging. While that seemed easy enough, I didn’t like not having ownership of my content. And then when Tumblr kept going down for days at a time, it cemented the idea to bring the site back home. So, here it is. If it looks familiar, that’s because it IS my Tumblr theme that I designed for that site. I’ve also gone and removed categories. Sure, all of these changes are gonna suck for SEO for a little while, but Google’s pretty good at re-indexing things, so I’m not terribly concerned.

The type of content that winds up here will hopefully be a smattering of stuff from my travels in the real world and the Internets. Or, it’ll just be a collection of “I’m still alive and here’s a post to prove it” posts, but only time will tell.

Hey, what’s goin’ on on this side?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything up here, and that’s because I’ve been insanely busy. For the record, if you work alone and get three project requests in the same short span of time, I don’t recommend saying yes to all three of them. But of course, you don’t know if they’re actually all going to land, so you have to say yes!

Ow.

It’s been a little nuts around headquarters lately. Fortunately, one of those three has been completed, and another got put on hold by the client due to the fact that no one really knew what was going on, so that’s left me with full time to devote to the most difficult of the three.

Either way, looking to launch this one in a couple of weeks, and then back to pick up where I left off on the one that was put on hold (which is now back on track and back in progress).

Hoping that’s not the 5:45 out of Penn shining bright at the other end of the tunnel.