Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mars Rover: Lego Edition

I have always been a huge fan of Lego.  I am also a huge fan of space exploration.  So when I was looking for things to keep me busy during the New Years break from work, what better than building a Lego Mars Rover?  So today that is exactly what I did.

For those not familiar with the rovers, there are two rovers currently active on the surface of mars - Spirit and Opportunity.  The rovers are identical, and are essentially autonomous robots who receive orders from earth and decide for themselves how best to accomplish them.  They landed on opposite sides of the planet in early summer 2003, and had a 90 day mission to explore the surface of Mars.  Now they are over  6 years past the end of their original mission they are still going strong.  Spirit is currently stuck in the sand and acting as a stationary platform, but Opportunity is still mobile and active. I think NASA got their moneys worth out of these guys.

I bought the Lego kit off of ebay just before Christmas.  The kit itself is quite extensive with over 850 parts, most of them really small (even for lego), and is one of the most complex Lego models I have seen.  The model is also fairly interactive: each of the wheels steer in unison,  the top mast moves swivels and leans back for easy storage, the solar panels retract, the dish antennae rotate, and the instrumentation arm moves, all using gears, elastics, and spring loaded assemblies.  The build took me just over 4 hours to complete.

The model itself is no longer made so it is a rare model now.  Given that it holds interest to me on many levels, I am glad I bought it, and had a great time building it.  It will enjoy many years of life adorning my office, assuming I can keep Zeke away from it :)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Google Mandala

This is a video of some Tibetan monks making a Google themed sand mandala (definition of mandala here:  It took 5 days to complete, which is an amazing amount of work and concentration, and the results are amazing.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas

When we moved to the south we pretty much gave up on the idea of having a white Christmas at our house.  Turns out we were wrong.  We've gotten 3 inches so far today, and the white stuff is still falling.  I went out twice to go for a trudge in the snow (if you've never done a snow trudge, I highly recommend it - very good for the soul)... the second time I brought a camera.

I'm mainly posting this for my wife who didn't get a chance to go out for a walk with me.  The first time she was cooking a mighty tasty turkey.  The second she was busy with her family.  So here ya go: the winter wonderland that is Lenoir.

Seasons Greetings

To my Christian Friends:
Merry Christmas!

To my Jewish friends:
Happy Chanukkah!

To my atheist friends:
Good Luck!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Internet Classics - Christmas Eve Edition: Santa Claus - CIA Agent?

Santa Claus Is Tapping Your Phones
To The Tune of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"

You'd better watch out,
You'd better not cry,
You'd better not pout;
I'm telling you why.
Santa Claus is tapping
Your phone.

He's bugging your room,
He's reading your mail,
He's keeping a file
And running a tail.
Santa Claus is tapping
Your phone.

He hears you in the bedroom,
Surveils you out of doors,
And if that doesn't get the goods,
Then he'll use provocateurs.

So, you mustn't assume
That you are secure.
On Christmas Eve
He'll kick in your door.
Santa Claus is tapping
Your phone.

Supposedly written for and sung at a U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Christmas party during the Carter Administration. -- Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Festivus For The Rest Of Us

Festivus was invented by Dan O'Keefe and made popular on Seinfeld.  It is a holiday alternative to Christmas that is celebrated on December 23rd.  Some of the traditions of Festivus are:

  • Festivus Pole – a simple, undecorated aluminum pole valued for its high strength-to-weight ratio.  No tinsel - tinsel is way to distracting.
  • Airing of Grievances – After dinner you tell others how they have disappointed you or how you have been let down over the course of the previous year.
  • Feats of Strength – The head of the household picks a guest and challenges them to a wrestling match.  If the guest loses he is banished from the party.  This continues until the head of the household is pinned.
  • Festivus Miracles - declared when something unusual but otherwise mundane happens.  When I watched A Knights Tale, and my inlaws coincidently watched A Knights Tale at the same time at their house: that is a festivus miracle.  My blog entry on my evil cat being indexed (relatively) highly on Google?  yep, Festivus Miracle.

Recently Festivus was used by a prisoner to get better meals:  The full story.  This has made Festivus a recognized holiday in the eyes of the law.  Awesome.

So come along kids and let us sit around the pole and let me tell you all how you have disappointed me this year, then I'll pin you to the ground.

Happy Festivus!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Blackberry Is Not Working

Is this how my parents view technology? :)

(note:  Stolen from my co-workers who shared it at work)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Roof

Removing the Christmas Lights

We knew that when we bought the house we'd have to replace the roof in a few years. A few weeks ago while I was in California my wife let me know that we had a leak in the kitchen... crap.  Time for a new roof!

After calling around various roofers in the area we settled on a local contractor called Superior Design Construction.  Over the past two days they have been putting on a new roof.

Naked Roof
They seemed to do a fantastic job of it, from what I can tell as a construction novice.  They started by carefully removing our Christmas lights, then stripping the old shingles off of the roof, checking the wood underneath for damage (replacing a couple boards in the process), securing our gutters which were starting to fall off, install an new ridge vent and flashing around everything that needed flashing, and then reshingle the entire roof.  Once done they rehung our Christmas lights and did an awesome job cleaning the yard.

When they left you couldn't tell that they had been there, aside from the new shingles and the rehung gutters.   The house is looking pretty good now - at least from the gutters on up :)

For more pics check out my wifes blog here.
Job Complete.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Escape From Hibriten Mountain

For anyone who has been to Lenoir you will most likely have noticed the highest peak in the area to the east of town.  It has an array of cell towers visible on it during the day, and an illuminated star at night during Christmas, or a cross during Easter.  That peak is called Hibriten Mountain.  Today I climbed up the mountain and returned to tell the tale.

Hibriten Mountain is 1000ft higher than the surrounding terrain.  To get to the top one can hike along a private gravel road that is 2.5 miles long.  It is essentially a long up hill climb the entire way - the upside being its a downward walk the entire way back.  The reward (besides being able to say I climbed a mountain today) are some absolutely amazing views of Lenoir and the surrounding area. 
 Just before I started back down I ran into a hiking club that came up the mountain to see the sunset.  I talked with them for a bit, posed for some pictures, and hiked down with the group.  It was an interesting experience that I didn't expect - meeting 15 people, some of who recognized me from about town, on the top of a mountain.  It was kinda cool :)

If you have been reading my blog you may have guessed that there is a geocache at the top of the mountain, and you would be correct in assuming that was part of my motivation for doing this hike.  Unfortunately I didn't find it, but in my defense I only had 10 minutes of daylight once I hit the summit.  This was a fun hike, and very close to home so I plan on returning many times more to walk the dogs, and to find that freakin' cache! 


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Keep Your Goals To Yourself

Planning on making New Years Resolutions this year?  Planning on telling anyone about it?  You may want to rethink that last part.

Derek Silvers gave a very short  (approx. 3 minutes) TED talk about how it may be better to keep your goals secret otherwise you may trade motivation for premature praise.  Check it out here before you announce that resolution to the world:

Surviving The World

One of my new favourite blogs is called Surviving The World.  It is a simple concept, dude writes sayings on chalkboard, takes picture, posts.  

Below are a few examples of his work:

If you are interested, check out the rest of his blog here:

Note:  I am not affiliated with Surviving The World, or have any involvement with it in any way aside from just being a fan and wanting to share the gems of the blogosphere* with my reading audience (all three of you!)

*  I will do penance for using the phrase 'blogosphere' later.

Reminder: Chrome For A Cause

Yesterday at work I opened 47 new tabs in my Chrome web browser.  How do I know this?   Because I am counting my open tabs for charity.

Yep, this is a reminder that the Google Chrome team is donating money to charity (up to 1 million bucks) for every chrome tab that is opened from Dec 15-19. That means you have 2 days left to track your tabs and help out the less fortunate in the world. Check out this post for more details: Chrome For A Cause

Those 47 tabs are good for almost 5 books, 5 trees planted, 2 vaccinations, or clean water for a person for 3 months.  That was just at work.  With my home usage I have opened over 600 tabs so far - that is a lot of books, trees and vaccinations.  So what are you waiting for?  Install Chrome, Install the extension, and go!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

British Animal Voiceovers

This is funny.  Watch.  Laugh. Trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong? (answer: probably, but its not polite to point it out in public).

Seriously... watch...

Note: replaced with a different video.

Printer In A Bag

 Last weekend our printer died so we bought a new one.  Today I opened up the box to install it and I discovered HPs latest packaging scheme: packing the printer in a tote bag.  Yes your eyes have not deceived you.  I said a tote bag.  The accessories (ink cartridges, power cord) was also in a zippered canvas bag.  The label on the bag is "HP Ecosolutions", so this seems like an attempt by HP to be more environmentally friendly (read: engage in marketing hype)

So the normal paradigm for packaging stuff like this is (from outer to inner): cardboard box, styrofoam padding, plastic bag, then tape, plastic and cardboard strategically attached directly to the printer to protect its shiny and/or moving bits.

The new paradigm from HP is: cardboard box, styrofoam padding, canvas tote bag, then tape, plastic and cardboard attached directly to the printer (a great deal of it I might add) to protect its shiny and/or moving bits.

I had always thought the plastic bag was to function as a barrier so moisture could not get to the product.  Substituting the plastic for the canvas tote bag blows this theory out of the water as the tote bag isn't exactly waterproof (nor was it sealed in any way).

It occurs to me that the more environmentally friendly thing to do is to skip the bag altogether and simply place the printer directly inside the styrofoam (or pull a page from Apples playbook and replace the foam with cardboard forms).  So now instead of a plastic bag I could simply toss in the recycle bin, or having no bag at all that requires no cleanup of any kind. I now have a canvas bag that will pollute my environment and hang around my house making me angry every time I see it.

So thanks HP for sucking on the environmentalist spigot of idiocy and coming up with a completely useless solution to an already solved problem.

This is why enviro-hippies should not be put in charge of anything.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chrome For A Cause

Are you using Chrome to browse the web?  If you are not, why not? :)

If you are, the Google Chrome team is donating money to charity every time you open up a new tab in Chrome between Dec 15 - 19.  They are donating up to a million dollars.  Here is what your tabs can do:

  • 10 tabs = 1 tree planted
  • 10 tabs = 1 book published and donated
  • 25 tabs = 1 vaccination treatment provided
  • 100 tabs = 1 square foot of shelter built
  • 200 tabs = 1 person's clean water for a year

See this blog for details: Browse For A Good Cause

Then install the Chrome extension: Chrome For A Cause , then start browsing!  At the end of each day you can select one of 5 charities to donate money too.  Not to shabby, and an easy way to be a good samaritan.

Note: If you are not running Chrome, you can download it here: Chrome Web Browser .  It is fast, secure, and free, and it runs on almost every OS you are probably using.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How To Annoy A Nerd

(shamelessly stolen from a co-worker)
This image will instantly annoy all nerds everywhere.  Can you guess why? :)

(original image:

Kudos to the first person to come up with the reasons. Submit via the comment section.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Todo list: Buy Milk And Bread.

Last night we got snow!  This is the first significant snow fall I've seen this year (although apparently it snowed a little bit when I travelling last week)

We got about an inch, with some more falling as I type this. Yeah, yeah, its nothing compared to other places (My sisters house was covered in 102cm of snow last week), but  for Lenoir this is quite a bit of snow, and I predict, if things are true to form, there will be a run on milk and bread today (yeah, I don't know why either, but it happens here - southerners get goofy when the snowpocalypse comes).

The following are some pics of our back yard:

So let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.  But first go buy some milk!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Adventures in SIlicon Valley: Part 0x04: Geeky Fanboy Edition

I am currently hurtling across North America heading eastwards at 32,000 feet, so it seems like a good time to wrap up this series of posts and tell you all about my last few days in Silicon Valley.

On Sunday I spent the morning driving around the valley checking out the offices of various high tech companies, such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, Apple, (makers of FireFox) and Lockheed Martin.  One thing I learned: high tech companies that look impressive online or in stores look very bland in person.

I then headed to San Francisco to check out Golden Gate Park (a target rich geocaching location), stopping by at the Cheesecake Factory in Palo Alto, where I had the most delicious burger I have ever eaten (the Smokehouse BBQ burger).  If you ever get the chance to much on one of these I highly recommend it.

    When I got down to Golden Gate Park it started to rain heavily.  I walked around for a bit, but after 45 minutes I admitted defeat and retreated back to my car like a sad little wet puppy.  My afternoons plans scuttled I decided to drive south on Highway 1 and check out the amazing views that road offers of the Pacific Ocean.

On Tuesday our operations group served us egg nog. The awesomeness of the nog has already been documented so I will spare you the details, except to say that the addition of brandy is brilliant.

On Wednesday my team and I headed down to the San Francisco engineering office and spent the day working in the city.  It is always interesting to check out how other Google offices are decorated - it never disappoints.  That evening a bunch of us headed out on the town for some drinks on the 39th floor of the Marriot hotel. Unfortunately there was a lot of fog so the views were unspectacular, however I was assured that sans clouds the view of the sunset would have been amazing.  (warning: canadian reference ahead: non-canucks are advised to consult,  Since I have been trained by Polka Dot Door to use my imagination (thanks Polkaroo!) I was able to imagine the view and was suitable amazed, especially the blimps and flying manatees (my imagination may be a little out of control)

After drinks we all headed over to a restaurant called The Stinking Rose, which serves all things garlic. Seriously, even the ice cream has garlic.  The garlic crusted prime rib was tres yum.  After supper we headed back to the apartments, and early this morning headed to the airport.

This wraps up my adventures in Silicon Valley.  The following picture gallery is all of the pics suitable for publication that I took on this trip.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Adventures in Silicon Valley: Part 0x03 - Hiking The Open Spaces

To the west of Silicon Valley are a series of undeveloped land called open space preserves.   On Saturday I went for a hike at two of these spaces: Monte Bello and Los Trancos.

View Silicon Valley Open Spaces in a larger map

Since I drove between the two preserves this was technically two hikes back to back. However the parking lots were less than a 10th of a mile apart, so it was more of a "break in motion".  Collectively these two hikes are the longest I have done, at 6.16 miles.

Both preserves had roughly the same terrain, being a mix of meadows and forests.  The trails criss cross over the San Andreas fault.  Nothing is flat or level, and both hikes had significant elevation differences. I spent both hikes going down for half the trail, then climbing back up, which makes them more exhausting than I would have thought.  Both trails did provide awesome views at the end of Silicon Valley and San Francisco, which worked as an awesome ending to a great hike.

  I also spent some time geocaching on the trails, grabbing 11 of them (12 for the day, including my 300th find).

  The trails themselves were wide and well marked.  The landscape is a lot less rugged than that of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I have done most of my hiking.  As a result it is not nearly as important to have hiking boots when tackling these trails, tho a good tread is required.

The Spirit Of The Season

(Shamelessly stolen from theWAREHOUSE. Originally found here)

Adventures in Silicon Valley: Part 0x02: Geeks That Rock

Google Christmas parties for the larger offices are famous for being absolutely amazing, and over the top fun.  My entire career I have worked from smaller offices, and whileI have been to some awesome Christmas parties, due to economies of scale they have never been able to compete with the reputation of the larger office parties. Friday night I attended the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Christmas Party that was held a the Computer History Museum and it was legen.. (wait for it)... dary!

This was the most over the top Christmas party I have ever been too.  They really took advantage of the location to step up the affair to a high level of geekdom.

When we first arrived we wandered into a room where we were given Christmas Carol song sheets, and we sang carols while an old computer called a PDP1 played the music. The PDP1 is from the early 60s and each song was fed into the computer via paper tape.

We were also given a demonstration of the Charles Babbage Difference Engine, one of the worlds first designs for a mechanical calculating machine and a precursor to modern computers.

 Some of the other awesome features of the party were:

  • Free food and drinks including a sushi bar
  • A skating rink (fake ice, real ice skates)
  • Several open bars, all of which were made of ice
  • Fake snow machine at the entrances
  • Ice sculptures
  • Awesome desert bar
  • Hula girls
The highlight of the party for me was the musical entertainment - the Spazmatics.  They are an 80s cover rock band with a nerdy flair.  I caught a couple of their sets, and they were amazingly good.  Hit after hit of the best tunes the 70s and 80s had to offer: They had your Clashes, your AC/DCs, your Bons and your Jovis.  They even mocked Celine.  Who could ask for more?  I boogied.  Boogieing is good (well, good for me, not necessarily good for those watching me).

The Spazmatics -  Geeks Who Rock
We also were told what our party swag was going to be, but since they are still making them I am going to keep it a surprise for now.  Watch this blog for updates.  It will be enlightening.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Adventures in Silicon Valley: Part 0x01

 From time to time my job requires me to do some travelling.  I am currently on such a work trip with my entire operations team. I have headed to Mountain View California to spend a week or so at Google headquarters.

  Monday night I packed my suitcase with the essentials - clothes, toothbrush, iPod and Zeke.  Zeke was all for the trip until he realized that he was flying coach, at which time he decided to stay home.  On Tuesday I flew out to SFO, and the past two days I have been rocking the awesomeness that is Google HQ.

I have spent the past two days absorbing the incredibly creative energy that seems to resonate through the Google campus.  Magic happens in these walls, and it is an energizing experience to hang out, and around, the people that pulls the strings behind the scenes and makes the magic happen.  I've also been absorbing the fantastic food in the Google Cafe's.  Its goodness can be summed up in two words: Pasta Bar.

Sunrise over Moffat Field.  The building is huge, and
designed to house zeppelins.
One of the local engineers recommended that I check out the park across the street from the office as it affords views of the city and the bay.  This morning I woke up early (jet lag is troublesome), so I decided to check out the park and do some geocaching.  It was 6:30 in the morning and still dark outside, but I grabbed a taxi and headed over to the park.  I climbed the big hill in the park called Vista Slope, arriving just in time to catch the most spectacular sunrise.  I paused to enjoy the amazing view as the sun slowly appeared over Moffat Field.

After the sun rise I hiked some of the trails, and did some geocaching in the surrounding park, and ended up at the office just in time for breakfast (omelet bars are awesome too).  I then walked around HQ and took some pictures.  I have been here several times before, but I wanted to show off the place for my wife, and for you good folks in blogger land.

Google HQ contains some really interesting items: A sculpture garden, a skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a replica of the first commercial space craft to break the atmosphere: Space Ship One.   They also have scluptures to celebrate each of the major Android versions, which are named after desserts: Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, and Gingerbread.

I spent the rest of the day working and toiling.  After work we played laser tag, and then went out to Palo Alto to check out a co workers plane that he is building in his garage.

Tomorrow is the Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) Christmas Party at the Computer History Museum, which promises to be a rockin good time, so I am going to sign off and get some rest so I can rock out old school.   I'll blog some more as my trip unfolds.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Surfing the Internet at 30,000 ft

So I am currently on a cross continent flight and using in-flight wifi to post this blog.  This is the first time I have used in-flight wifi so I thought I'd post some thoughts about this new service.  I am currently crammed into boxcar class so I blame any typos on my current cattle like status.

  Just as a reference, I am on a US Airways Airbus 321 using GoGo as a provider.

  • The cost is $12.95, which gives access for the entire flight, but only the one flight.  The cost is steep and doesn't seem worth it, except to test it.  Prices for mobile devices are $7.95 for this flight.  Once assumes that the cost varies on the length of the flight.  
  • You can use multiple laptops on the same flight for the same GoGo account, but only one at a time.  You can also use multiple mobile devices on the same flight, but again only one at a time.  The mobile and laptop plans are separate so you cannot use the laptop account on a mobile device. 
  • I seem to have full web access, and can SSH into machines on the Internet.  Gmail chat  via the web interface doesn't work, but it is not clear if that is blocked by the network or a technical glitch.  
  • Bandwidth tests show the connections is 500 to 600 Kbps down, and 130Kbps up.  Not bad considering I am 30,000ft in the air and moving at 600MPH.
  • Ping tests show that network latency varies from 400ms to 800ms.  For the non-geeks reading this that means it can take almost a second to send a request from my computer to other machines on the internet (in this case, and get a response.  As a comparison my home network latency to is 60ms on average, so latency is about 10x slower in-flight.   
  • Youtube works, but videos tend to lag (not a surprise given the network situation described above).
Thats it for now.  I'll update this blog should I have any more thoughts to pass along about in-flight wifi.


Give Like Santa, Save Like Scrooge

There are 25 shopping days until Christmas.  Any Canadian out there will tell you that one of the things that marks the coming Christmas season are the Santa and Scrooge Canadian Tire commericals.   Since I can't get those commericals in the US, here is an old commercial from 1984 to get any Canadian expats in the Christmas spirit:

Note:  For the non Canadians in my reading audience, Canadian Tire is an automotive/hardware store.  Its the first place many Canadians go to get automotive parts and service, tools & other hardware bits, gardening supplies, sports equipment, and other related items.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Batman Quilt

My wife started quilting last year and so far has made quite the collection of quilts for people.  When she asked me what I wanted in a quilt there was only one answer:  Batman!  So she got some Batman fabric and quilted me up a very nice quilt that is currently hanging in my cube at work, and like the real Batman, provides a vital and important service to the citizens of Gotham my work space.

You see, my cube backs onto the games area in our office space (every office has a games area, right?) and between the games area and my desk is a glass wall.

The glass wall has, from time to time, protected me from flying ping pong balls, but it does nothing in the way of providing privacy.  As it turns out, and completely unplanned, the Batman quilt fits the glass wall perfectly, and now I have Batman protecting me from the evils of flying plastic balls and providing a comforting sense of privacy.  Once again, Batman saves the day!

The quilt is awesome :)  It has gotten several gushing compliments from my co-workers, and I proudly attribute the work to my crafty wife. Thanks honey!

For more information on the making of the quilt, see my wifes entry in her blog here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Football Fake Out

I am not a football fan by any stretch of the imagination, but this move from Driscoll Middle School football team is begging for some mad props.  Awesome fake out boys!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Lights and Date Night

Today I started putting up some Christmas decorations.  For those who are interested in such things and cannot be around to see them, I am posting a few pics so you can see the start of the Christmasification of the house:

Debbie put some window stickers in the carport door.
Today I noticed the awesome projections onto the wall as the sun shone through the window.

I installed some Christmas lights on the front of the house.

Our house in the dark - all shiny and festive, just the way debbie likes it.
 This evening after Zeke went to bed we had a date night.  We ordered in some chinese food and played the Wii for a few hours.  This picture sums up the evening:

Dave wins because he gets to spend time with Debbie, whereas Debbie is
stuck with Dave.  Also Dave rocks at Wii Play.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It is Thanksgiving in America today.  Proving once again that Canada is ahead of the US (we celebrated ours last month, y'all).  In the spirit of the holiday these are some of the things I am thankful for, in no particular order:

  • Zeke... my cute little offspring.  He's awesome, especially for being a micro me.
  • My wife Debbie - she is the best thing that happened to me - I include in that list my hackintosh, and cake.
  • Cake!  Even though its a lie, it is a delicious lie.
  • That my wife and I was able to attend the Great Big Sea concert in Charlotte NC this year- getting to see Canadian music up close and personal again was a real treat for this expat.
  • Seeing Petra live - a childhood dream come true.
  • Cows, and the ability to cook them.
  • Being able to live near the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Life is  always better when you are near mountains.
  • Working for Google.  An amazing company that may actually care about the people that use its services more than it does about making money.  Plus we have a car that drives itself, and you don't, so neener neener.
  • Tilley hats
  • Leathermans
  • Bailey the wonder puppy
  • Battery powered sawz-alls
  • Billion dollar military satellites and the ability to use them to find tupperware in the woods.
  • The opportunity to have travelled to 13 countries so far, many of them with my wonderful wife.
  • That my wife has found new friends, and new hobbies, in our new home, and isn't hating me for dragging her to another country and away from her family.
  • Yo-yos.  They are still fun.
  • Eggnog... cause eggnog is awesome.
  • Turkey in bacon form.
  • Turkey not in bacon form.
  • bacon

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One Day Till Turkey Day

It is just one day away from Thanksgiving: American Edition, or as I like to call it: "Yanksgiving".  In anticipation of the festive day of turkey consumption, here are a couple scenes from The West Wing to delight and amuse you:

First, President Bartlett pardons a turkey:

... And a (badly edited but still amusing) scene in which President Bartlett calls the Butterball hotline.

Happy Thanksgiving, and please enjoy turkey responsibly.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Two Days In Nashville

This weekend we packed up the car and spent two whirlwind days in Nashville Tennessee.  I went to attend a Petra reunion concert, my wife went for the adventure.  Zeke went because he had no choice.  The dogs stayed home. The details of the concert are covered elsewhere.  This post is about the adventure.

Is this a Parthenon I see before me?
We wanted to maximize our free time in Nashville so we woke up at 5am on Saturday morning, and was on the road 20 minutes later.  It is a 6 hour drive from my house to Nashville, so with a long breakfast stop to give Zeke time to stretch his little legs, we arrived at noon... er... 11?  It turns out Nashville is in the Central time zone, so when we arrived we discovered we had an extra hour to explore the city... which was awesome.

We started our Nashville experience by checking out Centennial Park.  The park contains the only full size replica of the greek Parthenon.  We spent a couple hours  exploring the rather huge structure, and the surrounding park.  Zeke loved playing in the leaves, and found the fountain to be a rather interesting spectacle.

After the park we headed downtown to check out the Country Music Hall Of Fame. When we arrived I pulled out my GPS to mark my parking spot and it was then that I realized that I was practically standing on a geocache, so we took a few moments to grab it.

After that we took a stroll down Broadway St. to find another cache at a Baptist church.  Zeke came in handy here as I used him as a distraction to grab the cache without being seen.  Zeke has a million house hold uses. I highly recommend picking one up for yourself.

Broadway St. had a lot of bars and music themed stores, and is exactly what I expected to see when I think of Nashville and its rich musical heritage.  We walked around the area for a couple more hours until it was time to head 20 miles east of town to Hendersonville to check into our hotel.  It was there that I left my wife and kid in the hotel room to catch the concert (note: a good time to mention that my wife is completely and totally awesome for letting me go to the concert by myself)

The next morning we headed out to do some more caching (I found 7 caches in total this trip), and we eventually made our way over to the Grand Ole Opry House.

We then stopped at a park to let Zeke get some more play time, and then we got in the car and headed back across the North Carolina line and arrived home just before 7pm on Sunday night.

Nashville is an interesting city.  I wish I could have spent some more time there and absorb some of the rich musical history and culture that the city seems to ooze from its core.   It is definitely a city I would be willing to visit again.

Before I finish this post and let you take a look at the rest of my Nashville photos, let me say that Zeke, being all of 13 months old, traveled amazingly well.  He spent most of the car ride sleeping or playing with his toys, and when we were walking around the city we barely heard from him.  He was an awesome travel companion.  Love that little guy I do.

OK enough gushing over the offspring.  As promised, the rest of the photos:

For another perspective on our trip (and much better photos) check out my wifes blog entry.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Petra - The Rock Cries Out

On Saturday I experienced one of my childhood dreams:  seeing Petra live.  It did not disappoint.

For anyone in my blog audience that is my age and grew up in a Christian home Petra needs no introduction.  For those of you who haven't, let me provide some background.

Petra is a Christian rock band that started in 1972, and played together for 33 years.  They were a ground breaking band, being one of the first true Christian rock bands. The have released 20 albums, won 7 Grammys and are the first Christian band to be inducted into the Hard Rock Cafe Hall Of Fame.  They have toured the globe, sold out arenas, and caused many a parent and pastor in the 70s and 80s grey hair as they tried to figure out if this rock music stuff had anything to do with Christianity (it does, thank you very much).

Petra was my favourite band while I was growing up, and I still listen to them frequently to this day.  I have dreamed of seeing them in concert ever since I knew rock concerts existed. The problem is that they retired before I got a chance to see them live, and I had come to terms that my collection of their songs (now on MP3) would be all I would get to experience of the band.  That all changed on Monday night when my wife informed me that Petra has regrouped, and is putting on a concert in Nashville on Saturday.  To put icing on the cake, the concert was free.  Despite being a 6 hour drive, and only 5 days away, I decided then and there that I was going to attend the concert. I couldn't let an opportunity like this pass me by.  It is too important.

You see, as a quasi "Preachers Kid", I was not allowed to listen to a lot of secular music when I was a kid.  Most of my parents music, and for that matter our church's worship style, bored me to tears (still does).   Don't get me wrong: my parents have a strong faith and they live it out daily, and I have nothing but respect for them - it is just that their preferred method of worship falls on the mind numbingly boring side of the scale.   When I was in grade 5 my parents started managing a Christian kids camp.  One of the counsellors left a Petra tape lying around the camp kitchen.  I popped it into my stereo and out came this awesome 80's style rock music.  Since it was Christian I was allowed to keep listening to it, and to my parents credit they bought me many Petra albums (as well as other Christian artists) as I grew up.

As I grew up and matured, and started to grow in my own faith, listening to Petra helped me realize that I could approach Christianity in my own way, and I didn't have to force myself into the boring mold that my parents modelled for me (again, nothing wrong with that mold, just didn't fit me that well).  I give Petra, in a large degree, credit for the strong faith I have now that fits me like a glove, doesn't compromise the Christian truth, and serves as a strong guidepost for my life.  So you can see how it would be important for me to go see these guys in person.

Really the only question was if my wife was going with me or not.  We didn't have a babysitter so she wasn't going to be able to see the concert, and she had a busy schedule on Saturday.  Luckily she was able to re-arrange her schedule so she was able to come with me, so at 5am on Saturday we loaded up the Zekester into the car and drove the 6 hours to Nashville Tennessee.  I'll blog about Nashville in a bit, and needless to say my wife is awesome for being willing to be left in a hotel near Nashville alone with a kid while I attended a rock concert (She's awesome!), but lets concentrate on the concert for now.

The concert was a taping of a live performance of their latest album.  The concert will be broadcast on TBN in 23 countries on New Years Day.  I had never been to a video recording session before, but it was pretty much as I expected.  Lots of cameras and cameramen,  some shuffling around of the crowd to ensure no empty seats in camera range, and then the band performed and everything was recorded.  There were some technical difficulties so they played the last 3 songs over again to ensure everything came off looking and sounding good.  From the perspective of a recording session it was an interesting experience.

The concert itself was fantastic.  The stage decorations was the exact same setup they used for their 1985 world tour.  The band sounded phenomenal - almost like the studio produced album does.  They definitely mugged for the camera at times, which is to be expected.  You could definitely tell that these guys knew what they were doing, believed in their ministry, and loved what they do.   It was an awesome performance, and everything I expected and dreamed of as a kid growing up.

 After the concert the members of Petra had an autograph session. I was able to shake the hands of every member of the band and thank them personally for their influence in my life.

 During this session they showed some of the footage they just filmed, and I am definitely in some of the crowd shots. Just as the cheering after the final song started to die down, I looked over to find one of the crowd cameras pointing point blank at my face - it was on a boom, and no more than 12 inches from me, so maybe I'll be world famous soon :)

I also got them to dedicate a copy of their latest album to Zeke.  I will give it to him when he is older in hopes that it will show him that he can approach his faith in his own way, just like Petra helped show me, and secretly, that he will become a rocker like his dad.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Downtown Christmas Tree Lights

"What is up with this chubby clown? 
He is WAY to jolly for my tastes.
Seriously, is this guy for real?"
"I'm getting coal!?!"
  This afternoon the kids in the area got together to decorate Christmas trees in downtown Lenoir.   Each group of kids had one tree to dress up, and they used themes from their various clubs and organizations.  For example, one theme was renewable energy, another was kids dreams, and one was technology.

The trees were, for the most part, fairly creative and interesting.  The town also booked Santa Claus to take pictures with the kids, and they provided free hot chocolate.

We took Zeke on a field trip to check out the scene, and to get a surprise visit with Santa.  This is the first time Zeke has had a chance to meet the jolly fat man from the far north, and I don't think he made a friend.  Maybe he will change his mind when he sees what is under the tree on the 25th.  It is never to early to buy a kids love.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Awesome Book

I don't want to ruin the surprise, but I just ordered my 1 year old son, Zeke, "An Awesome Book" for Christmas.  The message inside was just to important to pass up.  As long as you promise not to tell Zeke,  you can read the book for yourself:

Never stop dreaming.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

'Tis The Season For Nog

I saw the most beautiful thing today.  It was my wife... standing next to a case of eggnog in the grocery store.  A sure sign that the holiday season is rapidly descending upon us, kinda like that feeling you get when you know that you are about to get a bad head cold and the inevitable sniffles and body aches are just around the corner.

One of the few bright spots of the pending holidays is the sweet elixir known as eggnog (another being short bread cookies)

So what is 'nog' anyway?  There are a couple theories on that.  Some believe that eggnog came over from Europe to America, but when it did they started using rum instead of wine.  As a result the name was egg'n'grog, which got shortened over the years to eggnog.   Another theory is that the nog is short form for noggin, which is a drink cup made from wood used in the old days to serve beverages during a meal.

Another interesting bit of trivia is that the french for eggnog is 'lait de poule', which directly translates into english as 'milk of the hen', or chicken milk.

Whatever the derivation, all I can be sure of is that I am looking forward to a couple months of enjoying the  sweet noggy elixir... with rum.  And that is a Good Thing(tm).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hiking the Boone Fork Trail

Back in July I was at a Sunday School picnic at Julian Price Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains when a friend told me about this awesome loop trail that started at the park.  Feeling adventurous, we went off to hike a small portion of this trail.  We didn't have time to do the whole thing, but the experienced served as a catalyst that sparked my interest in hiking.  I promised myself I would be back to hike the entire length of this trail.

Since this trail is fairly rugged and I had not hiked anything before, I decided to tackle some smaller trails in the area first, starting with the Price Lake Trail, and then the Green Knob Loop.  These trails proved to be good training for today's adventure.

Since winter is soon going to hit the mountains which would make hiking much more difficult, and I had an extra vacation day saved up, I decided it was about time I tackled this trail.  So I took the day off work, headed up into the mountains, and conquered the Boone Fork Trail.

View Boone Fork Trail in a larger map

Boone Fork Trail is by far the longest trail I've hiked, and the most rugged.  At 4.9 miles, it is 2x longer than the longest hike I have attempted so far.  This trail is also the most interesting trail I have been on, and seems to have a bit of everything that one expects from being in the Blue Ridge Mountains: close rhododendron forests, wide mountain meadows, creeks with waterfalls, rocky formations, and rugged, wild deciduous forests.

Starting at Julian Price Park, the first part of the trail is a dried up lake bed, which quickly leads to Boone Fork Creek. For the next mile or so it follows the creek, leading through rhododendron forests and arriving at an amazing ravine with small waterfalls.  This is where I ate lunch.  

The trail then heads up the ravine wall and starts to crisscross over Bee Tree Creek at least a dozen times.  Eventually this gives way to a beautiful high mountain meadow with a nice view of the back side of Grandfather Mountain.  After this it heads down hill into a camp ground area, and finally arrives back at Julian Price Park to complete the loop.  

I would highly recommend this trail to anyone who is looking to experience the Blue Ridge Mountains, but be warned it is not for the light hearted.  According to my GPS I spent 3:03 hours hiking the trail, including stops for pictures and lunch.  My moving time was 2:02, which means it takes about 2 hours to finish the trail without any stops.  I would highly recommend taking your time to enjoy the views - they are worth it.  

Lest We Forget

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
      While serving with the Canadian Armed Forces during WWI

Today Americans observe Veterans Day, a day to remember those that served and sacrificed in the U.S Armed Forces in defence of this great nation.

Today Canadians observe Remembrance Day to honour those that have served and died in the Canadian Armed Forces.  We do so by wearing poppies, and at 11AM observing a moment of silence for all who have sacrificed to keep our country the great and free nation that it is.

For all who have served in defence of both nations armed forces:  Thank you.  We shall never forget.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Thinner Nerd

Three or so years ago I bought a t-shirt with a panel from the web comic XKCD. I ordered their largest size, a 3XL, but when I got it home, it was too small.  So for the last three years it has been lying in wait in my closet.  Today I was rummaging around and this t-shirt fell out onto the floor.  I decided to try it on, and low and behold, it fit!  Just some nice confirmation that all the walking, biking, and geocaching I have been doing are having a positive effect.

In case you are wondering, the t-shirt in question has this semi-obscure Unix joke on it...

... if you are a Unix geek you should get this right away (and have probably seen it many times before).

If you are not a Unix geek you are most likely thinking "I don't get it".  In that case it would be helpful to know that the command sudo is used to give a normal user elevated privileges.  It basically says "I may not look like it, but I really do have the rights to do this, so do it already!".  In all likelihood at this point your thoughts have now changed from "I don't get it" to "what a nerd!".

True! but a thinner nerd.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Rules Of The Road: A Plea for Sanity on North Carolina Roadways

Greetings fair North Carolinians.

  I have had the pleasure of living in western North Carolina for the past 25 months, and for the most part I have had a great time.  The landscape is beautiful, the culture has a lot of character, and the people are fantastically nice.  You are also, however, some of the worst drivers I have ever shared a road with.  Seriously, no joke, y'all are horrible behind the wheel.  This is coming from someone who has driven in Taiwan and Honduras.  You are not as crazy as Chinese and Honduran drivers, but you are more dangerous.  The difference?  In Taiwan you expect chaos and sudden changes from fellow drivers sharing the roads, and you learn to adapt.  In North America you expect order, that rules will be followed, and one should not expect chaos at every turn.  In North Carolina you get the worst of both these worlds.

  Don't fret, my North Carolinian friends! This post is a small refresher course that will help you remember some of the contents of the North Carolina New Drivers Handbook, and some friendly advice that will help correct some of the major (understatement) mistakes I've seen (frequently) while driving on your very fine roads.  Worry not! Sane driving can be a label used to describe you once again!

So, lets begin:

  • Signalling.  You may not be aware of this, but in your car there are little blinking lights at the front and back on both sides of the vehicle.  These are usually controlled by a little stick protruding from the left side of the steering column.  Go ahead, try it.  Move it up and down. Get used to the blinking sound.  Thrill at the shiny lights coming from the corners of your car.

    You will notice that if you move the stick up, the lights on the right side of the car will start to blink.  If you move it down, the left side will blink.  Those blinking lights are called turn signals. It is OK to use these signals.  Using them does not hurt them.  It does not cost extra money to use them.  They are not there for decoration. They are useful. Using them is good.  Good is, well, good.  Be good, for goodness sake.

    According to your state drivers license handbook you are required to use your turn signals every time you switch lanes.  Yep thats right! Every. Single. Time.  Turning left at the intersection?  Put on your left turn signal.  Turning right into Bojangles?  Use the right turn signal.  Merging into another lane? Signal! Heading onto an off-ramp? Signal!  Turning into a driveway? Signal.

    I think you get the point, but just to underline the general concept here, let me be clear:  Signalling IS A GOOD THING.  Do it!.
  • Speaking of merging into lanes, it is a grand idea to check your blind spots, as well as signalling, BEFORE you start the merge, and if there is a car already in the lane, STAY IN YOUR LANE!  I cannot stress this enough.  Physics states that two solid bodies cannot share the same physical space without a lot of crunching and screaming going on.  To be clear, crunching and screaming is bad.  Don't be bad.

    To underline the problem here, I have been driving for a while now, and on some of the busiest highways in the world.  The only time someone has tried to merge into my car was once outside Cincinnati Ohio, and 3 times on 321 going from Lenoir to Hickory.  This is not a good ratio for y'all.
  • When you are turning you should always turn into the closest lane and then move over to other lanes as required (see the next point).  Yep, one should not switch lanes in the middle of the intersection.  That often leads to the violations of physical space mentioned above, and that violation is still bad.
  • Lastly, and this is indeed a plea for sanity, when you are driving down multi lane highways you may see signs that say "Slow traffic keep right".  What this should indicate to you is that slow traffic should keep right.  I know its a stretch, but if you read it a few times you can get the general gist of the signs message.  This means that if you are not actually passing another car, you should be in the right lane.  If you are in the left lane and someone comes up behind you, flashing his lights, and swearing loudly at you, you are in the wrong lane.  This is your queue to signal and merge into the next closest lane to the right (and repeat if there are three or more lanes).  To be clear, it is NOT ok to go 10 mph below the speed limit and camp out in the left lane.  No one likes a slow camper. 
Please remember that I love you, North Carolina.  You are some of the most fantastic people I have ever met.  You just have some issues when it comes to operating motor vehicles in a sane manner, bless your hearts.  Hopefully you will read this post and see it as a gently reminder to obey those rules of the road and become a safer driver.  Also hopefully you are not driving when you read this :)

Just to show there are no hard feelings, here is a funny picture of a cat for your amusement:

Be safe out there!