Nasty Dallas High Five Surprise

The intersection of US 75 and I-635 in Dallas is a boondoggle of a bottleneck. Each road has 4 traffic lanes in each direction, but at the intersection I-635 squeezes down to 3 lanes, and US 75 squeezes down to 2. Besides horrible rush hour traffic jams, the old intersection’s layout is goofy, has dangerous left exits and entrances, and does not have access road connections across freeways.

The Dallas High Five project, a $261,000,000 project, replaces this interchange with a modern 5-level interchange.

To this point, all information I have reviewed, including Dallas Morning News articles and press releases, have advertised 4 through lanes in each direction for both highways.

Even the bottleneck section of the project overview page says that that “TxDOT will add . . . two lanes in each direction along U.S. 75.” Simple math suggests 4 lanes in each direction. (EDIT (4-24-05: I just discovered that TxDOT drastically revised this page. Go figure! Here is a link to the archived version of that page containing the original text.)

Not so!

Tony Hartzel, the Dallas Morning News transportation writer, inadvertently exposed this lie on his March 19, 2005 article (go to www.bugmenot.com if you need registration):

Central, also known as U.S. Highway 75, will have three through lanes in each direction and an additional lane for traffic merging to and from some of the ramps.

This means that this “fourth lane” will not be a through lane. Instead, it will only be an entrance/exit ramp.

Fantastic. The I-635 interchange on US 75 will continue to be a bottleneck.

Las Vegas

I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas.

We almost didn’t make it. A week before our Friday departure, we took our kid to the church nursery for Parents’ Night Out. He apparently caught the stomach virus. After church on Sunday, he was having diarrhea. On Tuesday, Jennifer’s appetite went way down. I had no appetite Tuesday evening, and 3:30 AM Wednesday morning, I puked my prior day’s lunch.

Fortunately, all three of us pulled through just in time. We were able to drop off Alec at the grandparents’ house on Thursday evening, and on the way home we shared a large order of McDonald’s fries. (This was a major recovery step for us!)

Friday morning we rose bright and early at 4:55 AM. We got to Las Vegas by 10:00 AM. On that day we walked from Mandalay Bay to the MGM Grand, took the monorail to the Fashion Show Mall, then walked all the way back to the MGM Grand. We didn’t return to the MGM Grand until after nine.

At the Mandalay Bay, we ate at Border Grill, a southwestern restaurant. After ordering, I realized that I had ordered a meal that had goat cheese. The goat cheese had a bleu cheese-like taste. Yuck. I am staying away from that junk.

A highlight of the day was the Imperial Palace Auto Collection. Technically all cars at this collection were for sale, and a guy was on duty ready to handle any sales. The net value of all these cars was probably well over $5,000,000.

After we got back to the hotel that night, I stuffed myself with McDonald’s food. That upset my stomach all over again, leaving me unable to eat anything all day Saturday. Despite this, we were still able to make it to a lot of fun destinations on Saturday, including the Stratosphere tower. This is a view from the Stratosphere, taken by my brother:

That tower spooked me. The roller coaster and other rides on top caused it to vibrate. Vibrations feel wrong at the top of a 1,149 foot tall building.

By the way, recognize this location?

Watch this video and you’ll remember: http://media.skoopy.com/vids/vid 00308.wmv (Warning: very explicit language.)

On Sunday we all drove to Death Valley. That was my favorite trip. I made a separate, extensive post about this.

On Monday we went to the Bellagio buffet for a late breakfast/early lunch. That was a pricey but fantastic brunch.

While at the Bellagio, we strolled to their botanical garden. This “garden” is actually a large room that they stuff full of containerized plants that are in bloom. If the plant isn’t in bloom, it isn’t in that room. So you get an insanely dense, extraordinarily fragrant carpet of flowers at all times.

Later that day I had to drop Jennifer off at the airport. (I stayed behind for a business conference. More details later.) After that Micah and I went to the Las Vegas Simpson’s House at 712 Red Bark Ln. in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb. This house was made up to look like the Simpson residence as depicted in the popular cartoon. Since then it has been converted back to a standard residence.

This:

Is now this:

The house now has touches like oil stains in the driveway, torn blinds, missing screens, and so on. The whole neighborhood seemed marginal.

I found a picture of one of the Simpsons creators marking a picture in the sidewalk in front of the house, but I totally forgot to see if that piece of sidewalk is still there. However, further analysis of a photo shows that one square of the sidewalk is colored differently than the rest:

Hmm, I wonder what’s there?

After that, we went to Hoover Dam. This is the generator room on the Nevada side:

Only four of the generators were running. The tour guide explained that electrical production is a byproduct of the dam. Since the Lake Mead reservoir is about 50 feet low, and since only enough water is released to support downstream water uses, the available water was only enough to power four generators on each side. The last time any water flowed over the Hoover Dam spillways was 1983.

My grandmother’s cousin says that my great great grandfather mentored someone who went on to be the head engineer for a major dam project in the western US. She is not sure, but it may have been Hoover Dam.

After Hoover Dam, I got a chance to see and drive a ’74 Nova with 13,900 original miles. That car had bone stock mechanicals. It almost drove like a new ’74 Nova, but driving it made me appreciate how amazingly well I had my own ’74 set up. I had worked out a ton of my ‘74’s “old car” drivability problems and really had a great driver. Too bad I lost it!

That evening we went downtown. I wanted to see the million dollar display at the Horseshoe casino, but this display was sold off a few years ago to a Kansas City collector. Apparently that display was about 30% of the $10,000 bills still in circulation.

After that evening, I had to attend the 2005 HEUG conference. The HEUG is a user group for PeopleSoft users in higher education, although it includes some government entities and nonprofits. Surprisingly, this year’s HEUG conference was the best attended one yet despite Oracle’s PeopleSoft buyout.

That’s about it for my trip.

Death Valley

The trip started with a stop at In-N-Out Burger. Man, that was good food! The potatoes for the fries were peeled and cut in the location, and the burger was excellent. I could see this chain doing well in the Dallas area. We don’t have realistic fast food alternatives to the usual suspects: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Whataburger, and Burger King.

The drive to Death Valley was fascinating for a Texas green grass flatlander like me. I saw scenery, mountains, hills, and terrain! Even more fascinating was the absolute lack of green grass anywhere! Even in Las Vegas, empty lots were mostly piles of rocks and dirt. In Texas, I am used to empty lots quickly becoming overrun with weeds. I am used to actual yards of Bermuda or St. Augustine grasses. People in Las Vegas have rock gardens for lawns!

Anyway, we first did US 95 from Las Vegas all the way to Beatty, NV. On this route my brother spotted a rock formation that looked like a monkey:

A little later I saw a strip mining operation:

I used to live near strip mine operations in east Texas, but because of the trees they were never visible.

More great scenery:

As we neared Death Valley, I noticed a basin that looked especially arid. At first I thought that this area was the Valley, but I was mistaken. It turns out that this area is in fact the Amargosa Desert. This is a picture of the desert basin on Nevada 374, the road between Beatty, NV and Death Valley National Park.

By the way, a metal building on NV 374 just west of US 95 in Beatty is the Yucca Mountain Information Center. Yucca Mountain is that controversial radioactive waste dump the federal government. After driving through the area, I could hardly imagine a more desolate site than Yucca Mountain.

Death Valley National Park starts just before the mountain range about 25 miles away. You can see them in the background of the above picture. The basin sits on the other side of the mountains.

After you enter the park, the road quality gets really bad, and the speed limit drops to 45 MPH:

By this point, we are ascending that mounting range.

Now we are over the mountain range and at the visitor kiosk on the northeast end of the park, near Daylight Pass. You get a great view of the Death Valley basin from this area:

The white stuff in the background is all the salt at the bottom of the basin. This picture is looking roughly to the south.

Right after the visitor kiosk, the main road is shut off, forcing you in on a side road. Flash floods in 2004 wiped out several roads in the park.

Super low speed limits as we descend into the valley:

Here is the main reason we went to Death Valley. It was in a rare heavy bloom due to unusually generous rains:

The whole area was fragrant. Keep in mind that this is a barren desert.

More flowers:

Notice the amazing yellow carpet of flowers, with the salt of the basin in the background:

When we California 190, we headed north a bit to the same sand dunes where part of Star Wars was filmed:

These are a few hundred feet in the distance. I wonder if these are also the same dunes where the Spaceballs guys “combed the desert”?
 

It’s hard to make out, but we are at sea level as we head back south on CA 190 to the Death Valley Visitor Center.

We took a little detour by a naturally-fed Salt Creek (yes, water in the basin of Death Valley!):

Little pupfish thrive in this creek:

We’re still on the way to the visitor’s center. This is a view looking west from CA 190 across the basin. Notice the flowers. I think the mountains in the distance start at about 15 miles away.

Gas is expensive at the visitor center!

After the visitor’s center, we stopped by the Devil’s Golf Course.

This is salt left over from evaporating water. Water in Death Valley basin has nowhere to go but evaporate. All minerals are left behind. Our travel guide warned us that this stuff is so hard that you can easily break bones if you trip.

Our final stop was Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level:

That’s my brother on the right being an idiot. He’s good at that.

Turn around from the sign and you see this:

Zoom in on that little sign in the middle of the rock wall to see this:

Would you believe that the basin of Death Valley had standing water?

Yup, that’s water. Not deep, and very salty, but water none the less! Mind you, this was late March. I doubt there will be any water here in August.

Remember that rock wall with the sea level sign? Step away about 1000 feet and you’ll see that it’s only the foothill of a far larger formation. You can barely make out the sea level sign about 1/4 of the way up this formation.

Death Valley was absolutely fascinating and stunning. I never imagined that it would be as beautiful.

One thing I realized is that I always imagined that Death Valley was the area on I-10 between Arizona and Los Angeles. That area is actually the Mojave Desert. The visitor center says that despite its name, Death Valley is not a particularly deadly place.

On the way back to Las Vegas, we passed through Shoshone, CA and saw this outrageously priced gas:

Microsoft InfoPath–promising but flawed

I just watched a demo of Microsoft InfoPath.

I am not impressed.

InfoPath is a data entry, manipulation, and reporting solution. It’s slightly more robust than web forms, and it softens the rigid development-compile-roll out-use cycles of a traditional application.

This product is fundamentally flawed. InfoPath forms users must have the InfoPath application. If you’re on the road somewhere without a laptop, you only have a lightweight client (e.g., PDA phone), or you aren’t running Windows, you’re screwed.

To make matters worse, the InfoPath application is $200 per user unless you buy an expensive Office 2003 bundle. There is no InfoPath “viewer.”

In a world moving towards thin clients, standards compliance, and platform independence, InfoPath smells of a dinosaur and vendor lock-in. Microsoft would win my vote if InfoPath created standards-compliant web forms that are just as robust as the client version.

UPDATE: Gee, whiz. One hour later, I find an article from 2003 at http://www.sdtimes.com/cols/winwatch_090.htm which almost totally agrees with me. The dearth of InfoPath information on the web suggests that InfoPath is a big dud.