Non-Tech Fun: Vacationing in the Mid-Atlantic Area

It’s that time of year when vacations are starting and you are looking for great places to take your family and relax and have some fun.  And, what better places to take them than to the amusement parks, right?  Well, sure, but there are new types of amusement parks that do not involve rollercoasters or ferris wheels.  First, though, I am going to talk about rollercoasters.  BIG ONES, at that.

Overview of Carowinds entranceThe tallest giga-coaster on the East Coast, and one of the tallest in the country, is called Fury 325 and is located in the very nice Carowinds theme park located near Charlotte, North Carolina.  This thing is 325 feet tall, has an 85 degree first drop and is over 6600 feet long. It towers over the park.  Now, Carowinds isn’t a one trick wonder. No, it also has another tall coaster: the Intimidator. Named after the late, great Dale Earnhardt, this out and back coaster features a first drop of over 200 feet and, prior to Fury 325, was the south easts tallest and fastest roller coaster.  Rounding out Carowinds collect are Nighthawk, a coaster where you lay down and Flightdeck, a hanging rollercoaster that is very fast and features many inversions.  Carowinds is a delightful place to take your family and won’t break the bank.Overview of Carowinds entrance

Charlotte is also home to an NFL team and, of course, NASCAR.  The NASCAR Hall of Fame is located in downtown Charlotte, just minutes from the theme park.

Travelling north, to Virginia, you will find not one, but two world class theme parks, lots of museums, and history, a ton of history from the revolutionary war era, to the Civil War and both World Wars. 

Griffon, at Busch Gardens WilliamsburgStarting in Williamsburg, you have Busch Gardens, a true world class park.  It’s theming, food, service and, of course, its rides, all make it THE best theme park to visit, period.  For its rides, you have Alpengeist, a daring hanging coaster that was the tallest of its type for many years.  The Loch Ness Monster, which, when it opened, was the tallest and fastest coaster in the country. Then, there is the Griffon. Griffon takes you up 205 feet, dangles you over the edge and then lets you drop down an almost 90 degree drop.  It’s a real heart stopper.  Apollo’s Chariot is hypercoaster that will never cease to thrill.  Busch Gardens has terrific food as well.  Oktoberfest lets you sample German cuisine while Festa Italia gives you a taste of Italy.  Down the road from the park you will find Water Country, USA, a huge water park.

Also in Williamsburg, you will find Colonial Williamsburg for a sampling of life in the 1700’s.  There’s also shopping, fine dining and more touristy things to do like the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium. Finally, there’s mini-golf, go kart parks and the famous Williamsburg Pottery Outlets.

Oh, yeah, I’d me remiss if I neglected to mention Great Wolf Lodge.  This nice resort features a good sized indoor waterpark, included in the price of your room. 

And, don’t forget, to the east is Virginia Beach, about a forty minute drive. And Norfolk, which contains even more things to do, including an aquarium and battleship.  Virginia Beach also features an even better aquarium that also has zip lines and a rope course.

Loch Ness Monster, BGWJust north and west of Williamsburg is Richmond.  Richmond is rich in history, culture, fine arts and food. Lots of restaurants with everything from soul food, to country food to anything European, Korean, Japanese or Chinese.  There’s also a tremendous amount of Thai food restaurants.  You name, you can likely find it in Richmond.  In addition to shopping and food, you’ll find many art museums, history museums and the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.

There’s minor league Baseball, NASCAR twice a year (in April and September) and several short tracks for that weekly dose of speed.  There’s adrenaline junky places like Jumpology, a trampoline fun house.  Coming soon to the area is an indoor park featuring an American Gladiators type course, several zip lines and rope courses. 

A few minutes north of Richmond takes you to Virginia’s second world class theme park, Kings Dominion.  Kings Dominion is a sister park to Carowinds and, as such, contains many of the same types of rides and attractions.  It includes a nice collection of Dominator Rollercoaster, KDrollercoasters, including what was the tallest and fastest giga coaster on the east: Intimidator 305.  This 305 foot tall beast, also named for Dale Earnhardt, gives you the feeling of the high banked turns of Talledega and Daytona.  The first drop takes you into a sharp right turn that may cause a momentary ‘grey out’ in which you lose vision for a fraction of a second. This is normal and is not harmful, just weird. It is caused by blood flow and is harmless. 

Edgar Allen Poe MuseumThe park also features many ‘launch’ style coasters, where, instead of the train being pulled up a hill and released, linear induction motors propel the train forward at tremendous speed.  One of them, the Volcano, shoots you out of the station, around the base of a volcano mountain and then up and through the Volcano itself.  Quite thrilling and was my favorite coaster until I rode Fury 325.

Kings Dominion also features a nice but small collection of wooden rollercoasters, including the Rebel Yell, which is featured in the motion picture ‘Rollercoaster’. 

In addition to nice collection of rollercoasters, the park also features shows and a good collection of flat rides including a Ferris Wheel, a Carousel from the 1920’s and a smaller replica of the Eiffel Tower (this one is one third size at 300 feet.)  For thrills, there is the 300 foot tall Drop Zone tower and the 305 foot tall Windseeker, a swing that takes you up nearly 300 feet.

Richmond, VA - richmondcitybook.comRichmond is nicely located with Washington DC to the north, the beautiful Skyline Drive to the north and west and, of course Williamsburg and Virginia Beach to the east.  All of these destinations are within a two hour drive.  The Outer Banks of North Carolina are just three hours from Richmond.  But, there’s certainly plenty to do in the city and one could spend a week here doing it all.

The East Coast from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina all the way up to Ocean City, Maryland (two of my favorite vacation spots as well) offer up a tremendous opportunity for a fun filled vacation pretty much any time of the year (the amusement parks are seasonal, however) and none of it will break the bank either.


Stock car racing, Windows 8 and Surface Pro…together…this is not your dad’s Windows

surface_WebLast week, the Great American Race-the Daytona 500-ran. Danica Patrick was the first woman to take the pole position and she finished 8th. Quite an achievement for any rookie and new team, regardless of who or what they are. It also signaled the start of the 2013 NASCAR racing season. Every year, teams try to eek out every bit of power, gain some kind of aero advantage (all but impossible with the ‘Gen 6’ race car) or, at least, gain as much information about how well a car performs on track.  This year, Toyota Racing Development contracted with Microsoft to develop a mobile, touch enabled application that will allow them to gather and analyze all types of data on car performance-data that can easily be updated by the driver with out the need for them to get out of the car (during testing or practice) as well as other team members.

Microsoft’s solution involves Microsoft Surface Pro tablets and a custom developed application running in the RT environment.

The Trackside app, as it is called, along with the Surface Pro tablet allows the team to capture performance data, via the touchscreen, and share it with the crew in real time.  Techs can then make more efficient use of time and fine-tune the car for better on track performance.

The Surface Pro was chosen mainly for its construction: its casing is durable and the Pro provides enough processing power to handle what ever is thrown at it.

This is a pretty good use for the tablet and Windows 8.  The ease of use that the RT side provides, along with the Surface Pro’s form factor, combine for a very powerful solution. It is nice to see this product being used in a real world (albeit an unusual one) situation and one in which most of the users are not computer people, but car people-racers.

Go here to read more about this and watch a short video about the application.

2008 Olympics…how good were they, technically?


The 2008 Olympics are done.  Politics aside, they were the best that I can remember. (Side note:  In my humble opinion, politics should stay out of the games.  The athletes should not suffer or be slighted in any way due to the host country’s politics.)  Technically, the games were the best covered games in history.  From high definition television to the Internet to mobile phones, you could get your Olympics coverage just about anywhere at any time.  Here in America, they were covered by NBC television.  NBC did a terrific job in the coverage.  Yes, they were a bit commercial, but I did not mind too much since I did not have to pay a dime to watch them.  I was able to watch them on television, over the internet via Silverlight—which, for me, was spot on perfect, but I did not take full advantage of the internet.  I could have swiped my wife’s Palm Centro and watched them, but, sadly, on my Moto Q, it was a bit more challenging.  I could even get coverage on my Zune, how damned cool is that? 

Silverlight, which many questioned the wisdom of it’s use, did a great job.  Video was smooth and, while home on my broadband connection, it never skipped a beat.  Don’t try if you are on dial up though.  NBC’s Olympic website, while busy, was very handy.  I had little trouble finding things (the complaints from some blogger’s and podcasters is puzzling) and the all important medal count was super easy to find.

The Chinese wizardry was simply amazing.  From the architecture of some of the venues, to the use of the gee-whiz technology, they certainly presented the most modern games in history.  Again, politics aside, the Chinese are a wonderfully rich people, culturally and technologically, though the contrast is stark at times.

While the technology involved was amazing, the participants were simply incredible.  It does not matter if they won medals or not, they did something that most of us will never do and they did in front of the whole planet.