Tuesday, September 16, 2008

North Texas at Ike+4

Today we set out to make lemonade.  

You know, from the lemons we got in the box that contained the power outages, school closings, difficulty retrieving work materials from a city over 300 miles away (well, using our decreased-traffic evacuation route, at any rate), cancelled jobs, lost earnings, and so on.

It turns out that the Houston Zoo has a reciprocity arrangement with the Dallas Aquarium, and L and I set out to check it out.  Funny thing, when you ask Google about the Dallas Aquarium, it tells you about an establishment called the Dallas World Aquarium which, though I'm sure it is very nice, is not the same place and doesn't have a reciprocity agreement and -- if you are sharp-eyed and have exact change and can get away with spending so little -- will require you to spend at least $2.50 trying to park during the week.  Granted, $2.50 is peanuts compared to downtown Houston, and certainly to anywhere space is genuinely precious, but it is irksome at any price to part with money, after fighting through all the places you might have change and end up overpaying just so you don't get towed, and then discover you're in the wrong place.

Let me tell you that the Dallas Aquarium has free parking.

The Mercedes E320CDI, which got us over 35 miles per gallon despite evacuation traffic and stops for food and traffic signals, is not to be trusted on how to find the Dallas Aquarium.  If you type in the street address and ask for directions, it'll surely lead you in the exact opposite direction from the Dallas World Aquarium and get you lost in Dallas, which is very easy to do. (Signs aren't marked here with the clarity of some places, and I've frequently gotten lost here on freeways though I'm virtually never lost in strange places unless I'm following the instructions of a navigator who's also lost.)  Google Maps, by contrast does a great job of identifying the spot.

This is a key reason Mercedes should ditch its lame navigation partner and provide an interface that can be driven by a docked iPhone.  Between Google Maps on iPhone and the impending TomTom application, people will be able to get maps with as much accuracy and recency as users care to obtain.  By contrast, I have pics I'll post on the performance of the built-in navigation system that will show you that it was full of BS the day it was delivered, and is only getting more inaccurate as time passes.  Bot more on that later.

The Dallas Aquarium isn't a big affair, but it's got some fun sights.  While we were there a Giant Pacific Octopus was fed a crab about a foot across.  You can tell the octopus is female because as it scrounges about looking for things, the third arm to the right of the mantle is as active as all the other arms, and isn't protecting this arm (which in males bears its reproductive organs) by holding it against its underside.

At least, you could tell this in the wild, supposedly, according to Sharon.  In the little enclosure the GPO had no trouble at all spotting its prey, and she darted to it, herded it against a wall, and put an end to the panicked flailing of its few visible appendages in virtually no time at all.  After a couple of moments, she took her kill to a spot against the wall of the tank near the top and started chomping away on the crab's exoskeleton to access all the edible little bots within, a process we learned would take over an hour.

The stone fish were fun to see.  When their eyes are closed, you have to be looking for a stone fish to see the fish.

The Dallas Aquarium has a couple of Giant Alligator Snapping Turtles, one of which is bigger than you are.  Eep!

The wierd exhibit occupant award has to go to a lobster whose leg-tips look like overgrown pipe cleaners, or baby-bottle brushes.  Highly colorful, it's got a shed (from molting) exoskeleton on exhibit in the breding lab window.  Huge dude.

The Dallas Aquarium also has air conditioning, by the way.  Did I mention the parking was free?

One thing the E-Class Mercedes' navigation system will reliably do is to give you directions back to a known-good destination from where you are located, provided the map it carries on a DVD includes the roads between the two destinations.  In Dallas, it seemed pretty good.  In Houston, construction has obsoleted lots of commonly-trafficked areas (say, I-610 anywhere near the Galleria).

If you drop in on the Texas State Fair -- the grounds of which house the Dallas Aquarium -- drop in and see the ginormous snapping turtle, the numerous stingrays, the pirhana, and the sea monkeys.  Yes, sea monkeys.  Did you know the sea monkeys advertised in the backs of those magazines aimed at kids are actually brine shrimp?  Now you know.

No comments: