Siesta Key and Busch Gardens

It is now our family tradition to head to the beach for Memorial Day long weekend.

Since the closest nice beaches are on the Gulf coast of Florida, we decided to go to Sarasota, FL. There we had a lot of fun at Siesta Key Beach, which had nice white sand.

On our way back, we spent a day at Busch Gardens in Tampa. While Michelle was too young for some of the great rollercoasters, we did enjoy quite a few rides.

And now we are planning another trip to Florida.

The Civil War

Recently, I have been reading about and listening to lectures on the US Civil War. So I decided to watch the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War. I have watched it off and on and in bits and pieces on TV before, but this time I was serious and borrowed the 5-DVD set from the library.

It’s a total of 11 hours. So it took me almost two weeks to watch it but it was worth it. The documentary makes the events of the Civil War alive in a way only a visual medium can.

I rate it 10/10 and recommend it to everyone interested in the United States or history.

Transpack Moving Scam

Last year when we visited Pakistan, we decided we wanted to move our furniture, books and other things that had been at my parents’ for so many years since we have a house now.

My Dad contacted Transpack and they estimated the total volume to be in the range of 5-6 cubic meters and their charges from Islamabad to Atlanta to be $225 per cubic meter.

On packing everything, it turned out to be about 7.2 cubic meters. Their packing was reasonable, though they did pack some heavy books inside the china cabinet which wasn’t a good idea and resulted in one leg of the china cabinet breaking during the move.

Transpack’s Tausif Alvi recommended that it would be expensive for them to ship it to our home and might be better if we arranged the local transport from the warehouse to our home.

Even though Transpack had said that our container would be shipped within a week or so, it took more than 6 weeks for it to reach Karachi and put on a ship. The time from Islamabad to Atlanta was more than 2 months.

Transpack assured us that their invoice covered all the charges and we won’t have to pay anything at the destination except for some minor customs clearance. However, when the container reached the port of New York, I got a bill of $318 covering IT charges, handling, AMS, CDF, port security, and shipping. I contacted Transpack and was told that these charges were my responsibility since these were destination charges. That was not correct since the destination was Atlanta. But Transpack assured us that there won’t be any charges at Atlanta and these were the only charges we would have to pay.

Since our things were now stuck in New York and the argument with Transpack wasn’t going anywhere, I paid the New York charges, even though I had my suspicions about further charges in Atlanta. Of course, in Atlanta, there was more money, $250, to pay to the warehouse.

Since Transpack had promised to pay or reimburse any more charges, we contacted them. They said they would “investigate.” Of course, their investigation showed that the consignee, i.e. me, needed to pay everything and they were not responsible.

In the end, I had to pay 33% more than the original invoice and had to go through a lot of hassle. I don’t know why such moving scams are so common.

Election Day 2009

Election Day is Tuesday (I support Why Tuesday? in changing it to a weekend or a holiday), November 3. Since this is an off year, there aren’t any big contests.

Here in the city of Milton in North Fulton county, we have some city council elections.

The current mayor, Joe Lockwood, is running unopposed. So we are left with three city council members. Interestingly, the council members are elected at large, i.e. by all of Milton, with the condition being that the candidates must reside in the district which they want to represent. The at-large election means that voters like me have to think strategically about the balance of power in the city council rather than just the suitability of individual candidates.

Two good resources for the election are the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Voter Guide, which provides information about all of the Atlanta metro area, and the Access Milton blog for local Milton news.

The main issue for the city council election is development and growth. This area of Fulton county used to be very rural in the recent past and even now there are big farms in most of Milton. However, there has been some development too, especially in the Crabapple area and on Highway 9. Lots of people here want to keep the “rural character” and oppose extension of sewer and “high density” development. I put high density in quotes because around here 1 acre lots count as high density. We come from much higher density of course. We lived in the AtlantaPiscataway, NJ (density: 2,688.6/sq mi). Milton’s density is about 556/sq mi.

I don’t mind growth. In fact, I like growth. And I don’t like the idea of local governments limiting growth and encumbering the free market. Of course, growth can be dumb or smart. And mindless growth at the time of a real estate boom can leave lots of ghost neighborhoods. But that is something that can be managed such that the city grows naturally and in a smart and sustainable way. I should probably also mention that I live on a quarter acre lot which is tiny by Milton standards. I don’t know why the people who like free markets and dislike the government, like they do here in North Fulton, are so big on using the municipal government to stop the evil developers.

Let’s look at the individual races for the Milton City Council.

In District 1, where I live, the contest is between the incumbent Karen Thurman. According to her detractors, Thurman is in the pocket of developers. Wolff wants to keep the rural character of the city. I was leaning towards Thurman but what pushed me over to her was the discovery that Wolff was part of the dishonest Swift Boat Sailors & POWs for Truth campaign against John Kerry in 2004.

In District 3, incumbent Bill Lusk is the only one on the ballot but Al Trevillyan is running as a write-in candidate. Al’s basically the anti-sewer candidate. I am not entirely sure about this one, especially since I can’t find much information about Lusk’s position on the issues. But I am leaning towards voting for Lusk.

In District 5, incumbent Tina D’Aversa is running against Joe Longoria. D’Aversa is supporting the challenges to Lusk and Thurman, so she’s on the anti-development side, though Milton’s local politics has been very acrimonious and personal, so there might be more to it than a difference of opinion on the issues. I must say I have found reading D’Aversa’s website, press releases and campaign literature difficult because of over-the-top self-praise. Also, D’Aversa has an ethics complaint filed against her for trying to bribe her opponent to withdraw. I agree with Longoria that Milton’s top challenge is raising enough revenue to provide good services and infrastructure. Thus, I am supporting Longoria.

Going over the candidates’ biographies, it’s interesting that I am supporting a Georgia Tech graduate (I am one too) and two engineers (Software and Civil Engineering) while I am an Electrical Engineer.

UPDATE (Nov 3 11:57am): Just voted at my local precinct. There was almost nobody there.

UPDATE (Nov 4 8:09am): The candidates I endorsed for the city council, Thurman, Lusk and Longoria, won. The turnout was 19.4%.

Amadeus

Amadeus is a movie about the rivalry between two composers, Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

It is a delightful movie with the period setting and costumes looking good. It also has an interesting satirical feel to it.

I liked it and rate it 7/10.

Flashcards for Kindergarten

I am a parent, a nerd and love gadgets. So of course I had to create flashcards on my iPhone for my daughter to learn reading.

My daughter is in Kindergarten right now and she’s learning to read. Her teacher sent us a list of 122 (Dolch) words that she will be learning to read by sight this year.

To help her, I printed flashcards. Then I thought that since she uses my iPhone to play, draw and learn, I should look for a flashcard app at the iTunes store. After trying several apps, I settled on Flashcard Deluxe (developer’s website).

I created a spreadsheet of the word list based on the Flashcard Deluxe format. The front of the flashcard shows the word and the back has the word along with a sound file pronouncing that word. That way, Michelle can use it independently.

For the word pronunciation, I downloaded the sound files from Wiktionary and converted them to MP3 using WinLAME.

You can access the final result here.

To download it to your iPhone/iPod using the Flashcards Deluxe app, start the app. Press the + button on the Decks screen. Then click on Private Deck and then Deck Code. Type the following in the text box:

http://www.zackvision.com/wp-content/uploads/kid/sight-words/sightwords.txt

Save it and then tap on Download Cards.

You can also download all the files together in a zip archive to your computer.

It’s been a success with Michelle who’s doing well ad enjoying the flashcards on the iPhone.

Now Watching Plugin

If you are wondering where I have been in the last three weeks, I have been busy. I had to transfer all the non-bloggy content of my website to WordPress.

Since I do book and movie reviews, I started using the Now Reading Reloaded plugin for book reviews and links to Amazon. However, I couldn’t find any similar plugin for movie reviews.

After getting permission from the developer, I forked Now Reading Reloaded 5.1.1.0 to make it work with movies and DVDs.

This plugin which I am calling Now Watching is now available on the WordPress plugin repository.

If you find any bugs or issues or have feature requests, please let me know.