Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rental Car Retard

Last week, I wrote about the value of being nice to people. I'd like to extend that message to this weeks activity.

The Avis staff at Washington Reagan have elevated me to a higher level and as a result, I seem to always get upgrades.

I usually order intermediate sized cars so I can get cruise control. The latest contract has me located at Antrax Central, Fort Detrick, MD. This is a one hundred mile round trip per day so I am not happy if I get a big car or SUV.

This week, Avis gave me a pretty large KIA SUV. I went in and asked for something else. They gave me a Pontiac G6. When I went to find the G6, it wasn't in the space indicated and the space had another SUV.

I went back and Avis gave me a PT Cruiser with Cruise control. I loaded everything up and started to drive out and the steering column made a really strange noise. So, I returned it and asked for another car (yes, my fourth trip back.)

The entire time, I was very polite and courteous. (So unlike me, eh?)

I saw a very small car (turned out to be a compact car). It was a Hyundai Accent. So, Avis gave me this car and reminded me to leave the keys for the PT Cruiser in the PT Cruiser.

I opened the trunk of the Hyundai to move my bags from the PT Cruiser. Then, I put the keys in the PT Cruiser and closed the door. That's when the doors locked automatically in the PT Cruiser with my luggage inside.

So, I'm sitting at the rental location with a new car and the old car has my luggage hostage. I go back to the counter for the fifth time and tell them the story and tell them to laugh. That's all we can do.

Well, the counter lady said that they may be able to cut a key on the spot. So, they called around on the radio and someone came by but said we couldn't cut a key and I would have to wait. Then, this other guy came with a long piece of Aluminum and in about five minutes, had broken into the car and opened it up.

I moved my luggage to the Hyundai and took off. My flight arrived at 8pm. My luggage took 45 minutes to get from the plane to baggage retrieval. It took me about 90 minutes to get my car.

But, at least I was able to get a good car.

I used this car to go to work in. I also used it to get some materials for my condo project. I was able to pick up sinks, six foot counter tops, and 7-1/2 foot plenum strips. It's amazing just how much room this car has.

Until next time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rental Car Treasures from Washington DC

I'm sure that I will change the tune of this blog one day. But for now, I guess we all have put up with my ramblings.

This time, I want to expound on just how important it is to be polite and be nice to everyone, no matter how grumpy, tired, or fed up you are.

In this case, I had just arrived in from Orlando. The previous evening, I had landed in Orlando at midnight and met my family in a nearby hotel for a quick five hours of sleep before I headed up to Washington DC. So to be clear, I arrived at midnight and then returned to the airport to catch my flight about 6-1/2 hours later.

So, 2-1/2 hours after I land and I'm freezing to death at Washington National Airport and I arrive at Avis to find my name on the board and that all is well. Boy, was I glad, because the line for the "preferred" rental counter was about 25 deep and I was in no mood for lines.

So, I went out to get into my intermediate car. Instead of a car, I found a Jeep Wrangler four-door with a hardtop. I'm thinking, COOL!! I haven't driven a jeep since my Army days. But the problem occurred once I opened the door and tried to find my registration card. There was NO card! Now what do I do??

I decided to track down one of those guys that run around at the speed of light that park the cars and then run back to get another. He directed me to this lady who later turned out to be the manager. I very politely explained my predicament and told her I was absolutely freezing. She told me to follow her and she would take care of everything. Turns out that they had given away my car not once, but twice (hey I got there on time, so what gives??)

Well, true to her word, she gave me a top of the line Cadillac CTS with the high-output 3.6 v6. This car had absolutely every option known to mankind including a super duper GPS unit that rises out of the dash, sunroof (good for these frosty days), headlights that follow the way you turn the wheel (to see around corners), satellite radio, and rear folding seats.

About those rear folding seats. As many of you know, I am preparing a major move for my family up to this area and to that extent, we have purchased a property and are in the final stages of a refurb of the property. The kitchen was very neglected and we decided to remove the entire kitchen, fix all of the walls, make the doorway bigger, tile and put in new cabinets and appliances.

If you have seen me the last two months or so, you would think that I am a zombie. Well, I am and it is because of my traveling, taking care of my home in Orlando, trying to manage and help with the refurb effort up North here, and oh yeah, I'm working. I started a new project to boot that is very demanding. Funny how things happen when you are on vacation. I joined the project an advisory role, worked about 2 weeks before Christmas, then I took vacation for a few weeks. When I returned, I found out that I had been appointed tech lead with a ton of responsibilities.

When I was home for Christmas, my wife and I went all over looking at cabinets. We settled for IKEA cabinets because of the price point, immediate availability, quality and durability.

This week, I had to pick up the cabinets in Woodbridge and drive them back to my new home. Since IKEA sells all of their products flat, I was able to pickup all of the cabinets, load them in the CADILLAC and then take them back to my new house for assembly and installation. I was so amazed that it all fit. Those folding rear seats were key. Maybe I'll buy another Caddy some day.

So remember, being nice does not cost you a thing and more often than not, you will reap benefits beyond your wildest dreams. If I had received the Hyundai Elantra that I ordered there is no way I could have picked up my cabinets.

Next, I get to buy my first-ever set of matching appliances.

Consumer Electronic Show (CES 2010)

It's been quite some time since I updated this blog. I have been off from work since December 24, 2009 and I have returned back from Florida to Washington DC to continue my work.

For the first time ever, I took a vacation to Las Vegas to visit the Consumer Electronic Show or CES for short.

The show was really great in that there was so much new technology out there and so many great people to talk to and so many gadgets to play with.

The main key note speakers were Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, and Alan Mullaley, CEO of Ford. I owned a bunch of Ford stock but sold it about $3 ago so I guess I should have held it a little longer.

Microsoft displayed some of their new tablet technology, the new Winblows 7, and their Microsoft mobile embedded technology that powers Ford, KIA and some of the other car makers goodie bags in the car.

Alan's presentation for Ford was very indepth and well presented. They had many cars at the show that you could sit in and play with all of the controls without anyone telling you to go away.

And of course they had gadgets. The North Hall that connects to the Hilton was basically all Chinese. There was so many cool little gadgets to look at my head was spinning after the first hour. Just when you thought you had seen it all, something else new and shiny caught my eye.

There was a plethora of phones, iPhone lookalike gadgets from China and other PDAs, DVD players and electronic books.

There were two areas that really caught my eye:

1. Home automation
2. Spy gear

Under home automation, there are two distinct groups: Those that leverage Zigbee and those who leverage Zwave. These two technologies use RF to communicate between the control head and all of the peripherals.

I'm sure I am speaking geek here, so allow me to simplify while I elaborate. If you have seen those really cool homes on HGTV where the lights automatically turn on at night or when you have on your surround sound movie system, the lights dim, this is usually through some kind of controlled source. It is called a control module. A company called Control4 has a very affordable module for about $399.00 that you can use that will fully automate your house. What does this mean?

1. Control your climate system. Program your A/C or heat to come on or off at certain times.
2. Control security and access to your propery.
3. Control your listening system
4. Control your surround sound system.
5. Monitor your home from a remote location using your iPhone, computer or other device.

I saw so many cool things around this technology, like for instance, let's say you open your garage door, go outside and get the paper and then go back inside your home without closing the garage door. You can set up your system to scan your home and let you know that you have left the garage door open (perhaps after 15-20 minutes.) If you are not home and you have simply forgot to close the door, you can shut the garage door remotely even though you are not at home.

I can't think of anything that you couldn't do. And what's amazing is that this technology uses a pretty good fail-safe and secure system (Google ZWave and Zigbee.)

If you recall, the other area was spy gadgets or spy gear. From China, I saw spy cams built into every conceivable object. One of the neatest ones was a concave mirror that you mount up in a corner so people don't knock into each other. Naturally, we all look into those to prevent crashes.

I also saw inexpensive GPS units that you could buy and surreptitious mount on a vehicle for tracking purposes. I saw many of these, so many in fact, they all started looking the same.

Other notable technology included a new GPS unit by Delorme that comes with Satellite Texting service for $17.99 a month that you can take with you to remote locations and still have basic communication channels. Delorme GPS with Satellite Link.

Other than that, I gambled too much but I only had one beer the entire trip (Sierra Nevada of course.) I rented a car and coincidently, my mom was in Vegas on vacation so we were able to spend some nice time together.