Thoughts

A couple of suggestions for Waze

Waze

I’ve been using Waze for over a month and I love it. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. It’s surprisingly accurate, even in a country where you wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of users, like Romania.

The traffic updates can get a little overwhelming in large urban areas like Bucharest and sometimes it doesn’t find an address I need, but overall, it’s a wonderful app and the idea of a user-driven (and updated) map is awesome. Live traffic alerts and automatic calculation of the best route based on current traffic conditions are awesome options (these used to cost a pretty penny with GPS devices and weren’t very good nor up-to-date).

Here’s a way to make Waze better: use the accelerometer in our iPhones to automatically determine if the road is unsafe, based on braking, swerving, stopping and yes, even driving (or falling) through potholes. I love being able to report a road incident but when I’m swerving through potholes and recently dug up roads (like the one between Medias and Sighisoara), I don’t have the time nor the multitasking brain cycles to tap on my phone and report a hole in the road. So doing this automatically and reporting it to the users would be a wonderful new addition to Waze. I’d love to get an alert on my phone as I’m driving through fog or rain, when the visibility isn’t great, telling me there’s a pothole ahead. And by the way, Waze, have you thought about hooking up weather info to the traffic reports?

One thing that always annoyed me with GPS devices is the constant repetition of stuff like “take the 2nd exit” or “turn left”. The new version of Waze seems to be doing the same thing. I’d love an option in the settings where I could specify that I’d like to be reminded about such things a maximum of two times (not 3 or 4 times…)

A big thanks to the Waze team for the awesome work!

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Events

The day our MINI froze over

One winter day, as I finished work late in the evening, about eight o’clock, I went out to the parking lot and saw my MINI looking this:

I hadn’t expected that. It had rained earlier in the day, particularly during lunch and it had continued to drizzle through the afternoon. The evening had brought a freezing spell with it, and all that water had turned to ice, on the ground and in the sky.

What to do? I didn’t have an ice scraper with me, but I remembered someone had given me one of those mini-CDs and I’d put it in the car. After prying the door open, I grabbed it and started scraping off the ice from the windshield. Who knew that thing would do something useful someday? 🙂

It took about half an hour to get the windshield clean and another twenty minutes to warm up the car sufficiently so that it melted the rest of the ice from the windows. I loved every minute of it, in spite of the freezing cold. You know why? Because an unexpected adventure is a chance to experience something different, something extra-ordinary and it’s a welcome thing in my book.

What do you think I did after I got the car started? Did I take the highway and head home fast? No, I took the scenic route and enjoyed my MINI’s wonderful winter handling, with the aid of my winter tires, plodding through the freshly fallen snow and sliding over ice patches. I did a few donuts in the empty parking lot, slid the rear through corners, braked just so I could slide on the empty roads… I still smile when I think of that evening. Fun, fun, fun! 🙂

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Thoughts

I love Morgan Cars

Did I ever profess my love for Morgan Cars publicly? It’s time I did. I love them!

For years, I decried the ugly design of modern cars and I wondered where old design went. I looked at cars made in the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s and wondered when cars were going to get beautiful again. About a year ago, I found out there’s a car company that never abandoned the old design principles and has been making gorgeous cars by hand in their factory in Malvern, in the UK, since 1909.

Skilled craftsmen bend the sheet metal laboriously into its iconic shapes and carpenters carefully assemble the wood frame of the car by hand. (Yes, you read that right, the frame is wooden.)

Not only are the cars made by hand and bespoke, but they’re also affordable. Would you believe prices start at £32,000 for a car made to your desires? That’s awesome.

I just plain love the design. I can’t explain why. It simply appeals to me. It feels like it’s meant to be, it fits in with my soul and it fits in with the environment. It’s so seldom that a machine, an artificial construct, feels natural in the middle of nature, but in the case of a Morgan, it’s a match made in heaven.

I’m planning a trip to their factory. I plan to test drive a few models and see which one Ligia and I like best and then… we’ll see! 🙂

Photos used courtesy of Morgan Motor Company

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Places, Video Log

The winter road trip

After a cross-country trip through Romania to visit family for Christmas, our car’s on-board computer told us we logged 1,560 km (969.34 mi). I was already a big fan of our VW Jetta TDI, but now I like it even more. Our average fuel consumption was 6.1 l/100 km (38.6 mpg) while our average speed was 63 km/h, though we traveled around 90-100 km/h (62 mph) when the roads allowed it. Our total fuel cost was roughly 300 RON (about $100). Total driving time over a period of a week or so was 24 hours and 54 minutes. Although there were two trips whose time was around 9 hours and 30 minutes, somehow small trips here and there added an extra 6 hours to our driving time.

We left as a recent snowfall was melting and the weather had turned dreary, and we came back through fresh snow and clear, sunny skies. As we crossed the Carpathian mountains, we found ourselves in a winter wonderland. Trees and mountain slopes as far as the eye could see were decked in pure white snow, lit up by the most gorgeous morning hues of orange and purple light. I took photos, and also recorded a driving video. I hope you’ll enjoy them, they’re posted below.

If you plan to travel on A2 (Autostrada Soarelui), the Romanian highway between Bucharest and Constanta (which is still unfinished and only goes to Cernavoda,) be aware of two things. First, they’ve started charging 10 RON for the use of the highway, so it’s become a sort of a turnpike, although it’s the only highway in the region, so that’s not right, and two, it’s full of potholes. During our drive from Cernavoda to Bucharest, during the night, we not only had to deal with black ice, but with over 40 potholes, each over 20 cm in diameter and 5-10 cm deep. If we had been traveling at the posted speed limit of 130 km/h (81 mph), our suspension would have blown up long before we reached Bucharest. Instead, we drover 80-100 km/h, weaving in-between potholes while trying to guess which portions of the road had black ice. And yet the people who administer the road have the gall to charge money and ruin our car at the same time.

Still, we weren’t going to let a thing like that spoil our trip. The weather was truly beautiful on our return, and the snow made everything look gorgeous, particularly once we approached the Carpathian Mountains. We got close to them at daybreak, and by the time we were crossing them, the golden-pink hues of the dawn light made each snow-covered peak look magnificent. The mountain forests were glorious. Branches everywhere were laden with snow, and the crisp mountain air made each roadside stop memorable. You’ll see what I mean if you watch the video, which is about 10 minutes in length.

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Thoughts

A twist on telecommuting

Derek Thompson from The Atlantic picked up a post I wrote a couple of years ago, entitled “13 arguments for telecommuting“, in an article which proposes a twist on the idea: a 4-day workweek. The State of Utah switched to just such a program a year ago for its government employees, and the results are in: everyone loves it.

I wouldn’t have minded a 4-day workweek back when I did the 9 to 5 thing, but thankfully my boss let me shift my working hours. I’d come in at 11 am and leave at 7 pm, which meant I got to avoid most of the DC rush hour traffic.

Of course, it’s even better than all of this when you can telecommute entirely. That would truly save money for both employers and employees.

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Places

Videos from yesterday’s trip

I recorded a couple of videos during yesterday’s trip from Sibiu to Constanta. I forgot to included them in the write-up, but they make a good addition to it. Here they are.

The first was recorded as we were driving through the plateau before the city of Brasov, after I’d taken the last of the daybreak photos.

http://blip.tv/file/3130028
See this video on blip.tv or Vimeo

The second was recorded as we drove through the city of Predeal, which is a popular winter resort in Romania. It was early morning, and snow from a recent late-spring snowfall was still visible.

http://blip.tv/file/3130110
See this video on blip.tv or Vimeo

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Places

Driving from Sibiu to Constanta

This morning around 4 am, Ligia and I started a cross-country drive through Romania. We started in the county of Sibiu, Transilvania and finished in the county of Constanta, Dobrogea. I’ve driven the approximate route from start to finish several times, but I only drove this particular route once before. I wanted to take photos during that previous time, but weather conditions and other circumstances conspired against any sort of worthwhile photographs.

It was different now. The weather was with me. It was cold, bone-chillingly cold at higher altitudes, but the sky was relatively clear, and the sun came out as it should. Coupled with the advantage of starting very early in the morning thanks to a bout of insomnia, it meant conditions were right. I looked forward particularly to the dawn, which I wanted to photograph somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains, wherever it might be that it caught up with us.

The first traces of light began to paint the sky in lighter grays and blues as we began to ascend the mountains. I spied a clearing ahead, but I just didn’t have a good view of the horizon, so I moved on. The forest began to thicken once more, and I was afraid I might lose the daybreak and end up with nothing. Fortunately, trees gave way to bushes, then shrubs, and finally, a plateau opened up in front of us. I stopped the car and took this photo.

Daybreak

The dawn looked imminent, but 10 or 15 kilometers down the road, the sun was still not visible, thanks to a chain of distant mountains masking its ascent. A calm lake appeared on the side of the road, and the water reflected the increasing light beautifully. How could I resist that? I stopped the car once more.

The sun begins to rise

A little while down the road, the mountains gave way and the red winter sun, tired from its steep climb upward, rested on their shoulders for a bit — just enough for me to take this photo.

Sunrise

I think we were about 30-40 kilometers from the city of Brasov when I took that photo. We soon passed through it and were on our way to the winter resort of Predeal. We spent a weekend there this winter, and I took these photos. I should have a detailed article about Predeal published in the near future — illustrated with plenty of photos, too. This morning, I wanted to show what folks driving on the main (and only) road that takes you through those parts get to see when they drive through the town. Just FYI, there is always a police car waiting for visitors at the intersection in the lower left corner of the photo. Make sure you drive properly, otherwise you will get stopped.

Mountains near Predeal

The cities of Predeal and Brasov are part of the province of Transilvania. Soon after Predeal, we entered the province of Muntenia, where you can find more beautiful winter resorts: Azuga, Busteni and Sinaia. The king of Romania keeps a palace near Sinaia, so it must be a beautiful place, right? Well, it is, and I took photos there as well. I still need to develop them. Meanwhile, here’s what we saw this morning as we drove through Azuga and Busteni.

Peaks at Azuga

Peaks at Busteni

You can’t see the vista from Busteni shown above from the main road — you have to turn onto one of the side roads and climb higher till you find a nice clearing. Buildings and other things obstruct (somewhat) the view from the city, but of all the winter resorts (Predeal, Azuga, Busteni and Sinaia), Busteni has the best view of the mountains right from the main road. They’re literally right there in front of you. It’s quite amazing.

After this the light turned hazy and unclear. The sun hid behind a few clouds, and I put my camera away. Besides, the flatlands beneath the mountains are just that — flat — and they hold little interest to me unless there are crops coloring the landscape. It’s too soon for that yet. I turned to driving and focused on getting to Bucharest and then to Constanta, on the country’s main highway, A2. Little else occupied my mind other than driving until we pulled off the highway near the city of Constanta.

We decided then to turn to some country roads and see some sights. We wanted to visit Cheile Dobrogei, a natural gorge with rock walls up to 40 meters in height. On the way there, we stopped by some farmland.

Farmland in spring

Cheile Dobrogei is a beautiful region where the ground literally breaks up in front of you, revealing its stony skeleton underneath the tough flatland grass and thorn bushes. The walls are perforated with little caves, and below, the cavity lies flat, allowing the road to snake right through. I parked the car on a dirt road and bolted out, running up the slope, full of excitement. (I’d visited the place before, but couldn’t take photos because the weather was dreary.) I get a natural high when I’m climbing hills and mountains. I can’t explain it; I just love it. I ran from place to place on one of the peaks in the gorge, looking around for good photo ops. Here are a few of the scenes I captured.

Cheile Dobrogei II

Cheile Dobrogei I

Toughing it out

After a while, it was time to get to our destination. I drove the car carefully over the stones and uneven terrain in the gorge’s valley until I reached the road, then pressed forward through the countryside till we got to the place where we’re staying. The whole trip took about 9 hours, with breaks for various stops and for taking photos. Not a bad time for about 550 kilometers, and I obeyed the posted speed limits, too.

It’s evening now and the insomnia is catching up to me. Since I didn’t sleep a wink last night, this makes it about 36 hours without sleep. I had the hardest time editing these photos and writing this article. It’s time to get some rest, and I hope nothing interferes with that tonight.

On a side note, I don’t normally rush to edit photos and write about them right away, but that amazing daybreak this morning impressed me so much I wanted to share it with you as soon as I could.

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