Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


GPS Reviews

Just before Christmas, we cashed in "reward points" on a credit card we were about to cancel. Among the items ordered were two Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation units.

Not knowing any better, nor investing any significant amount of time on comparative analysis before placing the order, I decided to get one TomTom (the XL 340-S) and one Garmin (the nüvi 255). Though the TomTom retails for nearly $100 more than the Garmin, both were roughly the same amount of "reward points". Had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten two TomToms -- it's a far superior unit in nearly every way.

The Good:

Both the TomTom and the Garmin offer 2D (top-down map) and 3D (rolling terrain) views. Both units have similar mounting equipment, and both have the same USB interface as the Motorola Blackberry (i.e., we have lots of cables and power cords to accommodate these units). Both have "Favorites" options along with user-selected icons for common destinations, a top-menu selection when going "Home" (but, curiously, not one for going to work), and both offer voice prompts for upcoming maneuvers -- though the TomTom has a greater variety of voices to choose from.

For the economically-minded-to-the-last-cent, the Garmin has a "Trip Total" feature that tracks total mileage, time stopped, and fuel cost based on user-entered data such as average price per gallon and fuel economy of your car. I suspect the fee-based monthly update service also includes a "cheap gas finder" feature, but we did not invest in any such recurring costs.

The TomTom, due to its wider 4.3" screen, shows much more data on the basic display -- including ETA to destination, slack time (if you entered a desired arrival time), as well as a countdown timer showing time remaining to destination. It also has a much stronger antenna, quickly picking up signal indoors where the Garmin won't.

The TomTom provides advance notice of upcoming maneuvers, including the turn after the next if there is less than a quarter-mile between turns. It also gives lane-specific information when driving on Interstates, showing which lanes will continue to your destination, and which will divert you to Abilene.

The Bad:

Both provide a digital (on-screen) keyboard for data entry, but the Garmin's is awkwardly given in alphabetical order -- while the TomTom gives a QWERTY keyboard-style interface.

Also, the Garmin will go into a reboot cycle when the source power is turned on (e.g., when starting your car) -- regardless of whether or not the system was powered up. The TomTom, when off, stays off if you turn on your car. When using a different power cable (e.g., my Blackberry's USB cable plugged into a USB-to-12V-cigarette-lighter-adapter), the Garmin enters a 55-second long boot cycle -- a major inconvenience if power is interrupted in any way while in transit.

The TomTom comes with a basic map pre-loaded, but without many "Points of Interest" available. The full map update is a 2GB (yes, GIGAbyte -- or 2,000 Megabyte) download -- so be sure you have high-speed Internet and a couple hours to let it churn. The Garmin also has a 2GB download required for its map update, but the basic load out of the box is ready for navigation.

The Ugly:

Nothing "ugly" observed so far on the TomTom. But the Garmin (even with a map update) is still lacking many local destinations -- even some more than a year old. (Case in point: entering "Buffalo Wild Wings" on my Garmin showed the nearest destination more than 40 miles away in Denver, even though there is one just five miles from our house.)

That's where the TomTom really trumps the Garmin. The TomTom menu screens (of which there are just two, thanks to the larger screen, compared to three for the Garmin) include a "Map Corrections" option -- and the ability to download map corrections made by others. Given the fees charged by these companies for map updates (you get one bundled when you purchase, and the TomTom offers unlimited downloads during the first 60 days), this feature alone is worth choosing the TomTom over the Garmin.

The Verdict:

Hands down, the TomTom is a far superior device. My theory is that Garmin, the first name in GPS units, has taken the same lackadaisical tact that Palm did in the smart-phone market: resting on its laurels, content with its massive market share, it has been overtaken by the upstart Dutch company that went public in 2005 and whose revenues have grown more than 200-fold since 2002.

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Christmas 2009

Merry Christmas! We have truly enjoyed our first Christmas in the Mile-and-a-Quarter-High City. One of the most enjoyable Santa experiences ever is on the Manitou Springs Cog Railway's "Santa Claus Special", where the ASPEN Car of the Cog Railway was decorated in the holiday spirit for a trip to one of Santa's villages.

Joined by the Elf King and Queen, as well as many of Santa's Elf helpers, we rode the railway up the snowy slopes of Pikes Peak to the Four Mile Siding -- where a North Pole village was set up, replete with hot chocolate and cookies.

For the ride back down to Manitou Springs, Santa read "The Night Before Christmas" and his helpers led us in Christmas carols. Truly an exceptional way to spend quality time with Santa!

Shelby has continued to dance, this year performing as a Russian Tea Cake in the Colorado Classical Youth Ballet's production of The Nutcracker.

Prof. Lawrence Jackson from the Univ. of Wyoming starred as The Russian, dazzling all with his presto tempo Trepak.

For Christmas Eve, we drove north to Renee's aunt Helen's house. Sophie wore her favorite polka-dot dress.

Cousins Lee & Michelle brought Baby Christine from Las Vegas. Since grown-ups don't know when to go to bed, it's a good thing Mom packed some warm PJs.

Reindeer hoofprints on the deck, remnants of carrots outside with cookie crumbs and an empty milk mug in the house could only mean that Santa had paid a visit to our new home. Sophie loves her Chloe doll and (once Dad gets some "D"-sized batteries) her ball popper.

Renee is truly a Rebel®...

... while Jarrett will be spending the next several weeks assembling the 5,922-piece LEGO Taj Mahal. We expect to see him about the time of the spring thaw.

And Shelby looks glamorous in her new Snuggie! (Oh, and she got a netbook too.)

Best wishes to you all for a joyous 2010, with many opportunities for fun, family and frivolity!

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Home Office Tourney

Blogfriend (and occasional co-imbiber of fine fermented beverages) Zenpundit has tagged me in his "Tournament of Home Offices". Though we only moved in to our present home two-and-a-half weeks ago, I am more than happy to oblige....

First, there is the Library (which CINCHOUSE continues to urge me to "downsize" -- as if I'd never find a need for my "Elements of Classical Dynamics" text from college, or my hardcopy notes from Joint Maritime Ops at the Naval War College circa 1992!):

Then there is the fightin' hole:

The clocks show all the important time zones in the world: Hawaii Standard Time, Tehran, Greenwich Mean Time and (of course) local time of the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in lovely Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The bike is my Mercier Aero II (hoisted on a Minoura Rim Drive Action System for those blustery snowy days, or just about any time between Labor Day and Memorial Day).

The pen holder is a re-linked chain of .50-cal casings from a long-ago Science Advisor developmental test of a remote fire control system. The book next to the monitor is none other than Michael Tanji's edited work Threats in the Age of Obama.

And the beer is an Easy Street Wheat from Odell Brewing Company of Fort Collins, Colorado. There are a lot of benefits from living in the epicenter of U.S. microbreweries....

Of course, what Zen fails to mention about the esteemed Thomas P.M. Barnett office is the map painted on the walls/ceilings:

Hands down, Tom has the rockin'est home office.

I tag Sean Meade of interact, General of the Hordes Subadei, and Prof. Sam Liles of selil (who has the most impressive C2 / Info War library I've seen) to join the fray.

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Tagged: Christmas Meme

Local friend Citizen Netmom has been tagged by LissaKay to provide a "Christmas Meme" profile, so I'm following her lead. Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share Christmas facts about yourself.
3. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Welcome to the Christmas edition of "Getting to Know Your Friends."

1. Wrapping or gift bags?
Gift bags - the ultimate convenience in gift-giving!

2. Real or artificial tree?
Artificial pre-lit. (See comment on "convenience" in 1. above.)

3. When do you put up the tree?
Me? Never. My bride? Usually just after Thanksgiving.

4. When do you take the tree down?
After our annual Epiphany Party in early January.

5. Do you like egg nog?
Not as much as what you can put *in* the eggnog.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
A BMX bike when I was 12 years old.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes (a small porcelain one).

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
At an office "gag gift exchange", I ended up with a plastic hand pedestal that was supposed to be a remote control holder. We kept it in the closet until the follow year's gift exchange.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Despite my comments on "convenience" above, this is one area where we go all out -- mail is the only way for us. Our family photo is planned months in advance (this year's card was from a February trip to Mexico, complete with Santa hats in the luggage), cards are ordered shortly after Halloween, and labels printed the week before Thanksgiving. We have made a habit (perhaps bordering on Obsessive-Compulsive :-) of mailing them the day before Thanksgiving -- sort of a green flag for friends and family of the start of the holiday season.

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Black Friday. My lovely bride, however, starts the day *after* Christmas for the next year.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My bride's crockpot turkey (never dry!). And my Grandmother's & Aunt Peggy's Secret Toffee.

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?

14. Favorite Christmas song(s)?
Sarajevo 12/24 by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We usually travel -- we have family and friends scattered throughout the country.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Yes (though it might take me a while). Don't forget Olive! (As in "Olive, the other reindeer..." :-)

17. Angel on the tree top or a star?

18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
One selected gift on Christmas Eve, the rest on Christmas morning.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Some people let themselves get too stressed out -- so courtesy seems to be too rare this time of year, ESPECIALLY on the roads and parking lots.

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
Classic white lights, gold trimmed ribbon, with lots of sentimental-value ornaments.

21. What do you leave for Santa?
Milk and cookies, of course. And some carrots on the lawn for his reindeer.

22. Least favorite holiday song?
Anything with "singing" animals.

23. Favorite ornament?
Our Macy's-New York City "Curious George" ornament (showing George climbing the Empire State Building in a clear glass globe) from their 75th Anniversary Parade.

24. Family tradition?
Besides what's already been described here (decorations, cards, gifts), we have an emerging tradition of performances. Both kids play in holiday piano recitals, and Renee always performs with the church choir in their Christmas performances. Also, Shelby has performed in The Nutcracker three of the past four years now -- and Jarrett has said he wants to be a "party boy / mouse soldier" in next year's Nutcracker.

25. Ever been to Midnight Mass or late-night Christmas Eve services?
Yes, a couple times (once in San Diego, when my mother-in-law visited us there; and another time in Minnesota at her church).

I will be passing this "tag" on to the following blogfriends (updated to link to their replies):

Sean Meade

Can't wait to see what they post... Merry Christmas to all!

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New toy

After running my Treo 600 into the ground for more than 2-1/2 years (after buying it used on eBay, no less), I have finally upgraded to a new-in-box, copper colored Treo 680 (Palm OS).

Since the old 600's camera started to get grainy, the screen started showing lines, the shift and "0" keys began sticking and the stylus digitizer began to drift, it was time.... Now my wife will inherit the hand-me-down so she can play Klondike solitaire in color.

As someone who has used the Palm OS since the 1990s (Graffiti and all), I have no intention of crossing over to Windows Mobile. Unfortunately PalmOne's decision last year to start offering Windows Mobile on its PDAs may mean this is the last Palm OS device I'll be able to buy new.

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