Tag Archives: personal

End of an Era

8.5 years ago, I was about to graduate from Wesleyan University with my bachelors degrees in physics. I was starting at IBM a month later, and it was now finally time to get a car. As I had never owned a car before, I asked my big brother (who worked at TI) for opinions. Toyota and Honda we top of his list. After doing a bunch of research on the internet, I decided that a new, 1998 Honda Civic LX Sedan was the most car I could afford, and the best investment for the money. It was the end of the model year for Honda, and they were running a special financing deal for new college graduates, so it turned out to be a pretty reasonable deal. 4 years ago I stopped having car payments, and used that money to pay off student loans, then save up for a down payment on the house.

I am still driving that car today, though today will be the last day I do drive it. While I know I shouldn’t be all that sentimental for something like a 9 yr old Civic, the fact that it’s given me 109,000 miles over 8.5 years, has driven all over new england, and the mid atlantic states, and required very little investment in it in the mean time (exhaust, tires, and just recently a ball joint), has made me a little nostalgic for the car already. That nostalgia is tempered by the fact that there is a little whine in the wheel base from time to time, and the engine is not nearly as smooth as it once was (especially in the cold). And that, after 8.5 years, I’m starting to actually have to spend some money on it for repairs.

Tonight at 5pm I’m picking up my new car…. a new 2007 Honda Civic EX Sedan with Nav System. It is probably the most boring car upgrade in the history of upgrades, but in 2006 Honda redesigned the Civic completely, gave it a new interior and exterior look, and a bigger engine. It’s still a good small commuting car (getting 30 / 40 mpg city / highway), with a better use of interior space, and lots of fun gadgets (like an AUX jack for the stereo, a Factory CD player that plays mp3s, and a slot behind the nav system to take CF cards full of mp3s.) At 40 mpg, my Civic will be doing nearly as well as Susan’s Prius (which gets highway of mid 40s after the new tires on it) for long trips, like those to Vermont and Delaware that we do a few times a year to visit family.

I’m not sure that I’ll keep this new car for 9 years or not, but it is exciting to finally be getting a new car after all these years.

Calendars for Christmas

Earlier this week I ordered 25 calendars, and that, minus gifts for my wife, constitutes my Christmas shopping for the year. The calendars come from Shuttterfly, and are a series of pretty spectacular (if I do say so myself) nature shots I’ve taken with my canon digital cameras over the past 4 years. The idea came from my friend Mike, who upon looking at our honeymoon pictures, said “man, a bunch of these are really good, you should make a calendar”. A month later I realized he had a really good idea.

I haven’t yet broken down and gotten a really nice digital camera, instead deciding that pocket size is a good thing, as I almost always have my camera with me. With the exception of low light, and distance wildlife shots, opportunity often means more than equipment. If I had a nice big camera, I’d only take it with me when I knew I was going to take pictures. With my Canon SD500, I just stick the thing in my front pocket just about every time I got out for a walk or hike. Granted, opportunity gets easier with the fact that Susan and I take a vacation every year to somewhere new. πŸ™‚

It’s also good that Susan and I have now convinced both of our families to pretty much give up presents at Christmas. Instead everyone picks a charity or cause they want to support, and donate to that. Beyond shedding the materialism of the season, it also saves a lot of stress of fighting with Mall traffic / shoppers, and panicking when you can’t figure out what to get for people. The holidays become more about the memories, and less about the stuff, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Random acts of usefulness

By now, just about everyone has heard of Google’s Code Search. After seeing Bruce Scheier’s blog post, I decided it would be amusing to search for my name on it, just to see if there was anything surprising.

While most of it was stuff I would have expected (though I was amused by the high percentage of links to gentoo repositories for the actually code, vs. upstream sources), I did come across 1 gem:

2002-01-04  Christian Queinnec  

	* All: Packaged all the previous perl files composing the
	enquete.pl suite. Put under CVS (with RCS old files). Written
	tests according to the "Building Perl projects with MakeMaker" by
	Sean Dague (highly recommended reading, I did not know any of
	these features of Perl before: shame on me!).

It’s always nice to know that you’ve done something useful. πŸ™‚

Image tagging marathon…

ExifTagger has been doing reasonably well for me. I’m now about 40% through the honeymoon pictures (finally made it to yellowstone about 10 minutes ago). A couple usability things I’ve realized I should add:

  • Jump 10 (or 20 or something). Given that I’m on about image 300 of 714, starting over from the beginning and going through all these isn’t going to be fun. bins-edit-gui has it, which is another reason to add it.
  • Specify what photo number you are on. I current show the filename, however having an actually (300 of 714) would be nice
  • ctrl-s, ctrl-n, ctrl-l is such a common key combo I really need a single “save-next-load tags” button / key accelerator
  • Figure out which tag I’m going to use for “include in album”. I’m thinking about the Rating tag, saying that rating 10 means you are in the album. There are some other tags I could abuse, but I think that makes the most sense.
  • Backup files before modification. While I haven’t been burned on this yet, Mike is going to start using the tool soon. My screwing up my images is one thing, screwing up someone elses is another. I think I’m going to just backup everything to .backup/%mtime-imagename every time I change one. That should make it easy to rollback.
  • Put a border on the image, to make it more visible
  • Use the status bar for things like “File … saved”

Code should be ready to go out this weekend, just in time for LUG talk next Monday πŸ™‚

The Honeymoon Log (part 2)

(check out part 1 first)

Day 6 (Sun)
Got up reasonably early and started our trek from Butte to Yellowstone. 75 mph interstate highways make that trek a lot less than it could have been. The last 60 miles to yellowstone is on MT 2 lane highway, which is only marked at 70 mph. πŸ™‚ Our only truly wrong turn of the trip happened here. For whatever reason, we didn’t really think about the fact that we were supposed to turn under the Rosevelt Arch at the North end of the park, and instead followed the road that ran past it, well beyond where it stopped being so much a road, and started being a bronco ride of washboards.

Once we realized our mistake, we back tracked the 15 minutes, and made it to the village of Mammoth. Many Elk had already migrated into the town for the fall, so I got a few really nice pictures of them. We ate a quick lunch, then walked around the Mammoth Hot Springs for the afternoon.

The Mammoth Hot Springs are probably the biggest area of purely hot springs inside of Yellowstone. A hot spring is basically just a geyser without a nozel, so instead of bursting water coming out from time to time, you get a constant overflow of near boiling water out of the ground (remembering that water boils at 199 F at this altitude). This water is full of silica, so creates brilliant white waterfalls, as the silica builds up over time and looks like limestone. The near constant temperature above 160 F coming out of the springs makes it the host to Thermophiles, heat loving algae, that are distinctive colors depending on the temperature of the spring. If you are looking a brilliant blues and greens… that’s damn hot. If you see orange, that water is probably only 145 or so. Once is gets to bath water temperature because it’s run 100 feet over other rocks, you’ll get dark green plant growth that you might see anywhere else. Mammoth is almost entirely board walks, because stepping on the ground there is risky at best, and 3rd degree burns at worst. Like everything else in Yellowstone, it is constantly changing due to shifting heat in the ground, earthquakes, and the like. There were sections of trails closed due hot spring overflows, boiling over and through board walks at times. The folks at Yellowstone react when they can, and often just change the trails accordingly.

The afternoon involved a 2+ hour drive from Mammoth to the Lake, where our cabins were. The cabins were quite nice and clean. We ended up all the way in the back, which meant we had more quiet, and more wilderness behind us. The first night we had dinner in the Cafeteria at Lake Lodge. It turns out that getting dinner reservations at the Lake Hotel, and Old Faithful should be done well ahead of your trip to Yellowstone. We ended up with Monday night at 9:45 at Lake (which we canceled the next morning), 5:15 at Old Faithful (Tue), and 9:15 at Lake (Wed) for Susan’s birthday.

Day 7 (Mon)
We woke with the goal of checking on the Canyon / Tower area of Yellowstone. Susan suggested wisely that we start by going up to Tower Falls, and working our way back, otherwise we probably would never make it that far. All of 5 minutes up the road, we saw a dog like thing on the left, so swerved into the next pull off. It was a coyote hunting in the very distinctive “hop-hop-hop-hop-hop-pounce”. He got a couple of tasty snacks in the 10 minutes we were watching him. We started driving north again, when we started encountering Bear Jams.

When driving in Yellowstone, if you see a whole bunch of people pulled off at a turn off, you should do the same, as there is probably some kind of wildlife that they are all looking at. The more crazed and random the cars are parked, the more interesting the animal will be. If people have fully abandoned running cars in the middle of the road, you are clearly talking about a bear of some sort.

Our first Bear Jam was by Mt Washburn, where we also pulled over, and watched a black bear scramble along the mountain. While we were hanging out, we heard someone talk about wolves in another valley. Having never seen wolves in the wild, that got us pretty excited. We headed south, as we had passed by a jam earlier, and not thought twice about it. That, of course, was another black bear, which had wandered off on the way there.

So we headed north again. After a bit we passed a group pulled off with sighting scopes, which clearly needed investigation. We ditched the car at the next pull off, wandered up with our binoculars, and started chatting with the folks there. There was a wolf pack right at the tree line (500 yrds or so away), and after a minute we had the lead wolf (a gray) in our sights, as it was sitting in the sun. The others were black and hiding at the tree line, so we only got glimpses of them from time to time. Even though it was at 500 yrds, it was still really amazing to see Wolves in the wild. The reintroduction of the wolves in the 60s has let the Yellowstone ecosystem come back into balance (prior to which the Elk population was running completely rampant).

After 30 minutes of watching wolves, we headed out again, still trying to make it to Tower by lunch, which we did, though the final portion of the trail to the falls was closed due to land slide.

Working back south, we stopped at Wolf central again, and now the wolves were up and moving. Unfortunately most of that movement was still behind scrub and brush, and still at 500 yrds. We did get some more good reasonable views of the wolves, and now we knew they were findable, so looking for wolves became our constant theme for the trip.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a spectacular geologic feature. It’s a couple thousand feet across, and nearly a thousand feet deep, and due to the unique geology of Yellowstone has splashes of red, orange, yellow, and bright white all along the sides. There is a trail which runs on the west side, that we hiked from Inspiration Point, to the Lower Falls, the bigger of the 2 falls at the top of the canyon, which has a 300+ foot waterfall. We managed to find nesting Osprey on the hike, as well as started to realize how much at elevation we actually were, as hiking back up from the Lower Falls overlook really had us winded.

Dinner in Canyon Village at their dining room, which didn’t require a reservation, just a 25 minute wait. Here Susan had her favorite meal of the trip, a spinach ravioli in cream sauce, that was really really good. Let me say, she was quite happy that she wasn’t ordering grilled cheese the entire trip.

Day 8 (Tue) – Upper Geyser Basin
Our feet were just about ready for another long hike, but our lungs weren’t. With our dinner reservation at Old Faithful Inn, it made sense to spend the whole day at the Upper Geyser Basin, so we headed off after a quick bite, arriving just about 10 am.

Yellowstone has an incredibly unique geology, which is why it has hot springs, why it never was homesteaded, and thus why it is still a park. Throughout the earth there are hot spots, areas where the crust is thinner, and magma gets reasonable close to the surface over a large area. Almost every single one of these is under the ocean, and when there are, they create things like Hawaii. The only one under a continent is Yellowstone, and due to that the entire area has risen a few thousand feet over the last 65 thousand years. Base elevation of most of Yellowstone is 6 – 7 thousand feet (vs. our base elevation of 4,500 at Many Glacier). The hot spot creates the thermal features, hot springs, geysers, mud pods, and steam vents, all pushing up silica in their water and steam all the time. This means all the “dirt” in Yellowstone is sand… at 7 thousand feet… with only 70 frost free days a year. This means exactly 1 species of tree can grow there, the lodge pole pine. The pine is very bendy, and only good for constructing things like log cabins. It is just too flexible for real lumber. The utter worthlessness of this land for commercial ventures, and the fact that it’s got these totally out of this world thermal features, made it a park in the 1870s, signed into law by President Grant. The jazziest one of these thermal features is of course geysers. No where else in the world will you be able to wander around for an afternoon on what looks like a martian land scape, and constantly be distracted by 20 – 150 foot streams of water bursting out near by, or in a distance. It is a truly unreal, and incredibly unique experience. It took 3 expeditions from Washington, the last including a photographer and a painter, before congress would believe any of the crazy stories about hell spilling over they kept being told.

There are 6 “big attraction” geysers that you can hit from the upper geyser basin (though one is further north by a few miles). The criteria for “big attraction” is > 50 foot streams of water, and a regular schedule which makes it go off at least once a day. These Geysers are: Old Faithful, Castle, Grand, Daisy, Riverside, Great Fountain. When we arrived there were approximate (often a 3 hour window) times for Old Faithful, Grand, Daisy, Riverside. Castle had gone off schedule due to a mini eruption, so was an unknown, and no information for Great Fountain. Old Faithful goes off every 90 minutes or so, with the next one in 30, so we wandered a little before that. Daisy was about 2, and Riverside and Grand were pushing our 5 pm dinner reservation, so we figured we’d just have to wait and see.

One of the first things you learn in the first 30 minutes on the geyser plain is to figure out what the wind is doing. When 100 ft of 199 degree water come bursting out of the ground into the 65 degree air, you get steam. You get a lot of steam. So much steam, you often can’t see anything if you are down wind of the geyser. The optimal position is directly perpendicular to the wind direction, so you get pretty pictures of geyser leaning slightly, and a steam cloud coming off of it. For out first view of Old Faithful, we hadn’t quite figured that out yet, so only moderately cool pictures were had.

We trekked up the geyser plain towards daisy next, looking at stuff along the way slowly. Some of the pools along the way were truly dramatic, with colors you don’t often find in nature. Once we finally got to Daisy geyser, we were doing the geyser wait. After about 30 minutes there was a huge fountain of water off in the distance, which turned out to be oblong geyser. I got a little itchy and started to head closer to that one, which was just the trigger to set off Daisy.

Once Daisy was over, we decided to wander along the path, and got to see Groto Geyser going off for 30 minutes before moving on past that. It goes off every couple of days, with 1.5 – 10 hours of eruption when it goes off. Although it isn’t one of the big 6, it was really fantastic to see. As we continued to roam around we managed to see Sawmill for 30 minutes of it’s eruption (sawmill goes off for 30 – 90 minutes with about the same amount of quiet time in between), and timed Lion Geyser perfectly which was great.

We ended the geyser wandering going out to see Riverside, which was nice, and went off 15 minutes early, just so we wouldn’t be late for our dinner. Riverside gets nice rainbows because of it’s arc. On the way back we noticed something going on at Castle, and it turns out that it had broken it’s irregular cycle with a truly impressive 45 minute display.

Dinner that night was really good, and the Old Faithful Lodge is quite something to be seen. The architecture is pure 1880s frontier, and has been kept at that standard ever since. We got to see some tourists nearly get creamed by a rampaging herd of bison they got way too close to, as well as watch our 4th Old Faithful eruption of the day right after a ranger talk on the geology of Yellowstone just as dusk was settling.

Compared to the last time I was there, this was such a better experience, and we got to see so much more. In order to truly see the geyser basin, you need to spend the time, and not really need to be anywhere else. Once you get on geyser time, and just relax into the area, you find you see and appreciate the whole area a lot more. It also helps when it is 70 and sunny, instead of 50 and raining. πŸ™‚

Given the length of this post, there will be a part 3, and it will hopefully be out soon. If anyone managed to actually read through the whole thing, please let me know. πŸ™‚

Sunday Morning, catching up, mostly back to normal

Sunday mornings always tend to be reasonably productive hacking time, as I tend to wake up early, and Susan likes to sleep in. I’ve gotten quite a bit of my exif tagging program put together now, using perl gtk2, and glade-2. The program is basically just an image viewer, with some comment fields, that saves the comments to exif i n the image. Every other image viewer just creates some random new xml file, which means moving between systems is a pain, as all your comments are stuck in the old one. My goal for the end of the year is to have gone back and exif tagged my entire photo library, so I don’t have to worry about forgetting what/where the photos were taken, and I can automatically generate reasonable galleries online with them.

Glade is a really nice system, and I’m sort of depressed it has taken me this long to really understand how it works. Basically you use the glade-2 (for gtk 2.6), or glade-3 (for gtk-2.8) gui builder to generate an XML file. This file defines widget nesting, and relationships, as well as what signals are active, and what callbacks they call. Then you just create a program that reads the XML, calls glade builder, and write all the callbacks manually. Not having to have oodles of layout code totally confusing useful code is so nice.

While hacking on this over the last couple of days, I’ve also been catching up on missed TV over the last month. For the first time in a while, I’m picking up a few new shows this year. A quick review of stuff caught up on the Tivo runs as follows.

  • Eureka – basically a scifi northern exposure. While not as good as northern exposure, it has a lot of charm, and is plenty of fun. I’m hoping scifi keeps it going. The sub characters are what makes this show really fun, which is exactly how northern exposure became such a favorite.
  • Studio 60 – the new Aaron Sorkin show. Given that Aaron Sorkin made it, I’m sure I’m going to like it. The Pilot was really good, and setup a large number of really good characters. Unfortunately I think it might end up being more West Wing than Sports Night, so while it will be funny, it won’t quite fill the hole from Sports Night’s evisceration off of ABC. I did like that the guest star on the first ep was not from an NBC show, which shows a bit of integrity in making it, instead of just being a big cross promotion engine.
  • Stargate SG-1 – man this show got so much better after the Farscape infusion. Sort of a shame they are going to shut it down when it is working again, and really interesting.
  • Atlantis – still remains weak, though I’m about 4 weeks back still. I’d basically given up on the show, but Susan still sort of likes it.
  • House – still remains awesome. Hugh Laurie is just incredible.
  • How I Met Your Mother – a bit of a slow start, but with the cliff hanger like they left it, and only a 30 minute slot, there wasn’t much more they could do.

Beyond that, life is starting to be back to normal here. Work is basically caught up, Grad School is nearly caught up (exam on Tuesday, so today is going to require plenty of studying), and the house is in decent shape. My biggest free time task right now is updating the wedding picture album, which sees about daily updates. Got to get back to hacking now, and hopefully the honeymoon part 2 write up later.

The Honeymoon Log (part 1)

This is probably coming in 2 parts, though we’ll see how the rest of the writing goes. I hope it’s complete enough to get a flavor of, and once I get pictures up I’ll link them in as well.

Day 1 (Tues)

Never went to sleep. Driver picked us up at 2 am so we could be at Newark Airport for our 6 am flight to Kalispell, MT. We of course get to the airport before the Northwest counter had opened. Due to our brainy new TSA rules about no juice on planes, they confiscate all beverage caps when they sell you anything in the Newark airport. TSA… why are you so retarded… sigh.

4 hours after landing, in a daze of driving and noticing signs every quarter mile for some new concoction with huckleberries in them (yes, Montanans love their huckleberries!) we got to our hotel at Many Glacier. Susan and I went for a quick walk around the lake to stretch our legs. When we returned, we noticed that many folks were out on the deck looking at something on the mountain side.

A Grizzly! Wait, 2 Grizzlies!

The trusty binoculars found us the 2 Grizzlies roaming around and eating berries on the mountainside. After about 30 minutes, we wandered in for dinner, feeling pretty satisfied with seeing grizzlies on our first night there.

Day 2 (Wed)

Yummy breakfast buffet at the hotel…. πŸ™‚

After a brief raiding of the snack shop (and Susan purchasing a 2nd nalgene bottle), we were ready and loaded for our first big hike to Grinnell Glacier. 5.2 miles each way, 2600 verticle feet. Given this was the first long hike we did it was good we brought plenty of mole skin, as our feet weren’t really used to this yet. We got to the Glacier right before 2pm, and ate our lunch on the hill before the glacial lake. Due to actually wanting to make it back in time for the boat (which would cut out the last 2 miles of our hike), we didn’t go over to the glacier proper, but instead hung out at the lake and stuck our feet in it. It turns out we probably didn’t need to rush, as the boat was running uber late that night, but our feet liked us a bit better for not adding another 2 miles to the trek. We saw bighorn sheep close up during the hike, and mountain goats in crazy precarious spots on the mountain once we got to the boat launch.

We got good advice from both the hikers we kept leap frogging with, and the park ranger we met at the boat launch, to do the Ptarmigan Tunnel hike, and specifically to make sure to go an extra 150 ft past the tunnel opening, as you had a better view.

A giant bull moose in the lake, and bears on the mountain again when we got back. Everyone thought they were grizzlies at first, but the ranger talk the next day made us realize they were probably black bears instead.

Dinner consisted of Huckleberry Margaritas, Fondue, and a Cheese and Fruit plate at the Hotel (which is a Swiss Chalet)…. pure awesome.

Day 3 (Thurs)

Feet need a break, maybe today is a good day to try to find kayaks? We drove around the park to the south to get to Lake McDonald a bit faster than the Going to the Sun Road. This provided an opportunity to see the Marias pass (the only reason the Great Northern Railroad could be built), and the very recent aftermath of a forest fire from August (that was still burning in some places). Unfortunately, even though we were seeing 80 degree sunny days every day we were in Montana, it often snows that time of year, so all the kayaking people shut up shop on Labor Day. Good to know for next time.

This gave us the perfect excuse to do a whole series of small hikes along the Going to the Sun Road, including the Hidden Lake Overlook. Very nice hikes, and more sheep to be seen on them. Hiking up to Hidden Lake was sort of unreal, as there were truly ridiculous vistas to be seen the entire way up until you crossed the continental divide. The way the terrain went for ever in very prehistoric ways reminded me of scenes from the book Ringworld. Wrapping your head around that kind of scale is something that I think has been bread out of us since we left the plains tens of thousands of years ago. It is an experience everyone should have at some point.

That afternoon brought one of our only times of precipitation. The clouds rolling in brought thunder, lighting, and hail. Fortunately we were back in the car by then, so the storm was quite fun. We found a troll bridge, and a waterfall that we hiked to once the hail was done and it was just regular old rain.

We went to a ranger talk that night showing off and explaining all the major animals in glacier. A bunch of interesting facts, like the Red Fox is the most widespread animal in north america (and it may be a non native species), and how to tell a grizzly from a black bear. Revising the bear count in the black bear favor.

Day 4 (Fri)

As this is our last full day in the park, Ptarmigan Tunnel is our destination. Of course, this means going through very serious bear country. The trail had been posted due to so much bear activity (the same bears we’ve seen on the hill every night). So the night before I broke down and bought bear spray, which is an 8 oz can of pepper spray that shoots 30 feet. A last resort, but something that all the rangers are carrying, so seemed like a good idea. I also bought a walking stick with a bear bell on it.

The hike is 5.3 miles each way, 2400 vertical feet. The last half mile is a switch back cut into the side of a mountain face that goes up 700 feet until you go through a steel reinforced tunnel in the side of the mountain that dumps out onto a stone ledge trail that runs down on the other side. That entire stretch is out of Indian Jones, and we were clearly searching for the lost ark.

While we didn’t see any bears on the way up, we did see a few near the bottom on the way back down. 3 black bears scampering in the woods about 150 yards off.

Feet good and sore, a burger and a beer make everything great.

Day 5 (Sat)

On the way out of glacier park we pulled over to see a couple more black bears running along the mountain side. Eventually rangers showed up and asked us to leave, as they don’t want the bears getting used to people, otherwise they are less likely to run away when they see you in the woods. Good call rangers!

Leaving glacier was sad, but we clearly will be coming back again at some time in the future.

Guaranteed Unique Bear count so far: 2 Grizzlies, 5 Black Bears (though it may have been as many as 10)

Butte was our midway destination, as it took 6 hours of driving from Glacier, and Yellowstone would have been another 4 or 5. Also, the first time I looked at the map I hadn’t considered that we’d come straight east out of glacier, which actually saved us a lot of time. We stopped in Great Falls for diner food, and got to our hotel by 5pm. Enough time to do laundry, start to sync up pictures taken so far to the home system, make a quick blog post, and roam out to find food.

Butte was nothing special, especially after being in Glacier, but we did find a pretty nice local place to eat that specialized in kababs. Steak on a stick, and a glass of beer, yummy!

Well, getting late enough now to call it a night. I’ll post some more later this week with the Yellowstone portion of the trip.