Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Drive a REAL Train

Have you ever wanted to drive a real train? That's what I did while volunteering on the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA) trolley line in Dallas, Texas.

MATA trolley cars are operated by full-time and volunteer motormen and women and offers free rides in Dallas' Uptown. They run several cars from the early 1900s. Two of my favorites are the huge Australian "Matilda" and "The Green Dragon", pictured here. "Rosie" and "Winnie" are the other trolleys running on the line. There is even a little speeder, "Miss Daisy", that is used when track inspection and repair is needed.

I found out about the motorman opportunity in a model railroading magazine. The ad said something like "mine is bigger than yours". Instead of just operating a model train, you could be a part of a real railroad.

I filled out a volunteer application at MATA's Website (http://www.mata.org/volunteer.shtml) and their training coordinator contacted me with training details. He coordinated the times that were good for me with who was available to be my on-the-job instructor. I took the video training and it was absolutely awesome when my instructor let me take over the trolley controls - totally supervised in case I messed up.

ZenFone 2 Great Features at Great Price

My iPhone 4 was getting a bit long in the tooth, so I started looking at an upgrade. All the ads for the iPhone 6 had me heading that direction, but I just couldn't justify almost $800 with a two-year contract for the 64 GB version, and the cheaper 16 GB like my old 4S just doesn't have enough storage for all my music, videos, photos, and apps. 

But then I saw the Asus ZenFone. I've liked the Asus products ever since I used their motherboards for modding computers years ago. My wife swears by her Asus tablets, unlike her Samsung tablet which she swears at.

The ZenFone 2 had the right price and features. At $299 for an unlocked phone without a contract and with 64 GB internal storage, a fast graphics processor and an Intel chip, they knew how to get my interest. Plus you can add a 64 GB microSD card to really boost your storage.

It is Android-based, so no porting of my hundreds of iPhone apps. But they did have Android versions in the Google PlayStore of most of the apps I use on a regular basis. It also came with the latest version of the operating system, which you couldn't say about most of the other Android phones. And like the new Apple campaign says, if it's not an iPhone, it's not an iPhone. (Somewhat less than stellar creativity in an ad campaign.) 

But on the plus side, it wasn't an iPhone. I have grown weary of the glitches introduced by several of the iOS updates. Find my iPhone stopped working because an update stopped the GPS from working properly. This also wreaked havoc with some other location based apps including navigation and searches. And don't forget about Apple booting Google Maps off and replacing it with their own fiasco of a map app. They received plenty of free press for that one. 

The inefficiency of our local Apple Store helped drive the final nail in the new iPhone coffin for me as well. I was told that no one could see me today about the problems on my iPhone and iPad, and the earliest they could make an appointment for me was in two weeks. No working you in for a couple of minutes. Sheesh.

A great price on the Android-based Moto360 smartwatch at $150, as opposed to the iWatch Sport's ugly rubber look at $400, the ZenFone 2 was a Go.