In addition to playing some traditional organ pieces, like Mendelssohn's 3rd Organ Sonata in A Major, he played some organ pieces that blended the organ voices with the organ's MIDI capabilities. Some of the MIDI really shines when it's used as contrast to the traditional organ pieces, especially when the intention was a synthesized sound (like synth strings) - and there were some glorious moments. There were other moments, though, where the MIDI was surprisingly lacking. One example - I wasn't impressed with the harpsichord. Instead I recall a very impressive demonstration of a set of harpsichord sounds on a Yamaha Clavinova digital piano. The guitar patch on the organ was interesting - I was amazed when I heard sounds of hands sliding over the strings inserted between the notes as they were picked - it added a sense of realism to the guitar sound that I've never heard before. But as it progressed, the fact that they were randomly inserted between random notes started to bother me. This sort of MIDI voice should definitely be used in moderation. I'll end with a comment on how I have yet to hear a wavetable that holds an acceptable sound for the timpani, or most other percussion instruments, for that matter.
Saturday, 29th of October, 2005
Friday, 28th of October, 2005
Thursday, 27th of October, 2005
Friday, 21st of October, 2005
Thursday, 20th of October, 2005
Wednesday, 19th of October, 2005
When I started the car I felt something I hadn't really experience before. The transverse-mounted 2.4L inline-4-cylinder engine produced a distinctive, transverse rotational motion. It was just interesting to feel the difference after being used to the longitudial shift that Subarus make when you fire them up.
The first thing I notice when I start driving it is the cab forward design prevents me from seeing the hood. Driving it around parking garages, I constantly feel like I'm about the smack the corner into something. This brings me to another point - I hadn't really paid attention to how big the mid-sized Stratus has gotten in the second generation. It's more than 6 inches longer than my Subaru Legacy wagon. Add to that the fact that I don't know where the back bumper of a sedan should be because I've driven wagons all my life, and the result is a car that feels pretty big to me.
The Stratus' automatic transmission is slow to respond, as most slushboxes are. I suppose I can't expect all of them to respond as well as the Chevy Malibu's. The transimission also doesn't downshift to use the powerband above 3300 rpm unless you push the pedal past the 90% mark. It may not matter too much, because although there's only 150 hp on tap, the torque band seems to be pretty consistent across the engine's operating range. It's a good thing, because with the throttle wide open it's barely good enough for highway merging. It may leave you a bit more to be desired with more people in the car and the A/C on, though.
When I got a chance to see how the car handled, I was pleasantly surprised. It's a good thing, because up til now I was starting to think that driving a 4-cylinder car around with a slushbox was going to be a bore for these 2 days. Even though it's front-wheel-drive and has 3200 pounds to haul around, a Stratus wearing the Goodyear Eagle tires ended up handling just as well as many other cars I respect highly with their stock tires (as well as some Subarus). Once I discovered this trait, the driving experience was pretty fun for the rest of the time I had the car. This car blows away all those FWD GM cars that I drove last week at their Autoshow in Motion, handling wise. The suspension and tires were pretty stiff for an American car, and gave lots of good feedback. Quite frankly, the handling dynamics remind me of the star FWD performer, the Acura TL.
Anyway, I had quite a lot of fun driving the Stratus. I always overlook the bells and whistles in a car for the driving dynamics anyway. I can imagine that the R/T with the 200 hp, a V6, and a manual transmission could be a very fun car.
When I parked the Stratus, I discovered another problem - the roof pillars sit much lower than what I'm used to in cars, and so every time I turn my head around to look where I'm going when backing up, I wack my head on the pillar. At least it doesn't hurt, as it is well cushioned. Passengers who aren't used this will probably wack their head getting in or out of the car - regardless of how tall they are.
I ended up getting 20 mpg, which is about right for the way I drove the 3200-pound car. While I could never figure out where the rear bumper of the Subaru WRX sedan is, regardless of how much time I've spent with it, at the end of this 24 hours I had gotten really good at backing the Stratus into parking spots and putting the rear bumper right on the line. Lines of sight around the rear of the car are really good enough to figure out what's going on, which was a surprise to me considering the rounded nature of the body and pillars, and how bad lines of sight in the Ford Taurus are. I suppose I got used to the cab forward in the front, too - I got real comfortable and never hit anything.
As for Minneapolis driving, I was fairly impressed - the quality is above average. Baseline road behaviour, like using turn signals, looking before merging, stopping at stop signs, and stopping at red lights at intersections were well exhibited. We can add to that impressive behaviours, like drivers consistently merging into highways at the proper speed. People even mostly drove under the speed limit! It was definitely a very stress-free driving experience. It was a good thing, cause the horn on the Stratus sounded awful... it couldn't have helped avoid an accident.
An interesting road design element that I haven't seen before are extended onramps for cloverleaf intersections. Instead of only giving the traffic merging into the highway from a cloverleaf the short distance between the onramp and the next offramp, Minnesota cloverleaf onramps do not end at the next offramp, but continue past the cloverleaf until before the next onramp comes on the highway. This usually provides drivers with double the space with which to merge onto the highway than a normal cloverleaf. It's really quite simple - one has to wonder why nobody else does it this way.
On the way back to the airport in Minneapolis I was planning on getting lunch, but I spotted a Land's End "Inlet" store off the highway. I drove past the exit, but then thought about whether that would be more interesting than eating lunch, and decided to turn around and take a look. I ended up walking out of the store spending more on clothing than I ever have by myself, I think.
There are a few things that are so great about the store over the catalog. First of all, I've been hesitant to order a lot of things from the catalog because I didn't know how it might look and fit in real life. In the store, I discovered that Land's End makes a shirt size that a lot of department stores don't care - Medium/Tall. It's quite nice - I've always had to get Large shirts because the sleeves aren't long enough on Mediums, but Talls do look really baggy on me. Fortunately, I was able to pick up a bunch of these M/T shirts in the "Overstock" section, so they were half off of the catalog price. But now that I know about such a shirt size, I'll pretty much be getting shirts from the Land's End catalog from now on.
While the Overstock section seems to be the "mid-range" priced items in the store, there's also a "low-range" section - the "Not Quite Perfect" section. This section is filled with a variety of shirts, pants, shoes, coats, and a lot of other things that Land's End has received as returned mail-order merchandise. A tag on the item tells you what's wrong with it - it will either indicate it's been returned, the item is being discontinued, or indicate some sort of defect that has prevented it from being shipped away at regular prices. Instead, you get great deals like Khaki pants for $5.50, when the only thing "wrong" with it is that it's being discontinued.
Tuesday, 18th of October, 2005
I flew up to Bloomington, MN today on a business trip - it's a suburb of sorts of Minneapolis.
Picture - In the evening, I took some free time to go to the Mall of America, because I remember it being relatively interesting when I was there back in 1999. It has changed a little from what I remember - my general impression is that the quality of stores has gone down, though they have tried to purge the mall of some of the chains that have opened multiple (like 4!) of the same store in the mall. So with the extra retail space, people are getting creative - like churches renting out a storefront.
Picture - Of course, the big Lego store is still there, as well as Camp Snoopy, the indoor amusement part complete with roller coasters.
Picture - The mall had multiple atriums, all of which had very different ways of showing off the four floors of mall space. I suppose that way it's not as easy to get lost!
Picture - What you do find at this mall is that they do pay attention to details, because it matters. The most impressive one was at Sketchers, where they implemeted some cool lighting behind their shoes on display.
Picture - Down the regular mall walkways, bridges criss-cross the air space above to make the place look really busy.
After walking through most of the Mall of America, I got to meet Haley's aunt, who lives in Bloomington. I delivered to her some Peach and Blackberry preserves that Haley made and we had a nice dinner at a local sandwich/coffee/pastry place.
Saturday, 15th of October, 2005
Thursday, 13th of October, 2005
Picture - Cadillac is really trying to appeal to the younger market, and following the other leaders in the market by allowing people to customize their vehicles. Getting a carbon fiber engine cover for an SUV is a bit extreme though.
Picture - Conversion vans haven't completely been done away with by luxury SUVs, and it's hard to tell that this one is a little longer than the standard full size van.
Picture - They put the extra length to good use - four rows of seats, but the last one being a reclining sofa bed, of course.
I like to take advantage of GM having competitors' cars at the autoshow - so the first one I drive is the new VW Jetta. There's nothing really worth talking about here, other than now it actually has a functional rear seat and they took the cab forward design a bit too far - you can't see the hood while driving anymore.
Picture - Of course, like last year, anyone can try out the C6 Corvette, manual or automatic. Except this year, you don't have to be 21 years old - you can be 18 and drive one. It wasn't quite as fun as it was last year, I think the novelty has worn off for me.
Since I don't own an off-road vehicle or go off-roading, I've always found the Hummer challenge courses to be lots of fun too at this event. This year, you can drive the H3 on the same course that the already-proven H2 goes on. Even though the H3 is supposed to be a bit more of a mid-sized SUV, it still felt like a very large vehicle to drive around. The rear seats do suffer from the typical mid-sized SUV syndrome of being uncomfortable for more than a short city commute. But off-road, it was very capable, and the smaller size and price may make it the most desirable Hummer for off-roading.
Picture - People complained about the Impala SS not having a V8, so the new Impala has enough room for one. I was pretty shocked to see it stuffed in there.
Picture - Course, the Impala SS is still front wheel drive, and with the V8 and the transmission stuffed in there, I can't imagine there being much room left for the headers. The exhaust cross-pipe that carries away exhaust from the 4 cylinders near the front of the car ends up getting bent up and over the transmission.
There are more sporty stick-shifts cars in the show this year. The obvious boy-racer car to drive here is the Cobalt SS. This supercharged 4-cylinder rice-competitor had a pretty typical boy racer exhaust note that many people took the liberty to try out, but there was serious lack of grip from the front-wheel-drive drivetrain, so the physical demonstration was a bit of a disappointment. Handling, though, was suprisingly good for an American compact car - the 18" wheels with low profile tires weren't able to fix the fact that it's wrong-wheel-drive, but they held their own when you turned really hard.
Of course, driving the GTO after the Cobalt makes me take back anything I ever said about the Cobalt having good handling - this overweight beast was faster around the autocross course. There's a lot to say about having rear-wheel-drive versus wrong-wheel-drive. I'm also a big fan of the GTO's low-throw-shifter - it's comfortable and familiar to me.
Picture - The new Pontiac G6 was another surprise. They are serious about this being a young person's car, and they stuffed a 3.9L V6 w/ a 6-speed into the GTP trim level, and made it available for us to do burnouts in. The traction control button is right next to the e-brake and the shifter, so you can't miss it when you hop in for the first time. One of my friends later on, upon seeing that "TC" button in a Cadillac next to the center console storage, pushed it thinking it would grant her access to the "Trash Can" in the Cadillac. Apparently the cross-section of a tire could be mistaken for a trash bin too.
So the traction control went off and I pulled into line to take the car through a small autocross course. While waiting, I did remember than the audio head unit displayed a digital message showing of "Monsoon" when I started the car, so I turned it on to see what the fuss was all about. Conveniently, there was an activated XM radio subscription on this car, and flipping the volume up revealed a sweet thumping of a subwoofer of magnitudes you'd usually find in an aftermarket system. Cool. As far as the way the G6 handled performance wise, it's got all the same problems as the Cobalt SS - wrong-wheel-drive, no traction, and even heavier than the Cobalt.
Picture - Speaking of Cadillac, they know how to make someone feel warm and fuzzy about paying the $20,000 premium to have an Escalade ESV over a regular Chevy Suburban. They'll change the gauges, but the steering wheel is still off center.
Picture - You also get an analog clock. Fortunately, GM didn't reach into the Pontiac parts bin for the traction control button here, so there's no confusion about what it does.
Tuesday, 4th of October, 2005
The more hazardous consequences of having a cold were revealed to me when I got home. I'm sitting there reading snail mail when I get just a slight smell of some sort of electrical insulation burning. Now, seeing as I had only turned 3 things on in the room - the light, the monitor, and the computer, I figure this wasn't too hard to pinpoint. Cramming my nose onto each device didn't help, though - I couldn't replicate the smell. After about a minute of puzzled searching around the room I finally noticed the PSU fan on my computer wasn't moving! Good going... the computer has been on for a good 20 minutes by now and probably filled the room with a burning smell and smoke that I can't perceive. Oy...
Picture - A Volvo limousine in Auckland.
Picture - Boat parking in Auckland, with Rangitoto Island in the back. This 260-metre tall volcano is one of 48 in the Auckland region.
Picture - It had rained a lot this week, and the Ford Transit tour van got stuck in the mud. We were towed out by my grandparents' helpful landlord's AWD Toyota minivan.
Picture - Now in Los Angeles, the gate bridge broke for our flight to St. Louis, so we had to enter the MD Super-80 from the outside.
Picture - The American Airlines gates in Los Angeles International Airport.
Picture - A view of the Grand Canyon from the airplane.
Monday, 3rd of October, 2005
Sunday, 2nd of October, 2005