Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hiking The Green Knob Loop

This afternoon I headed back up the mountains to hike the Green Knob Loop trail:

View Green Knob Loop in a larger map

As one would expect from its name, this trail loops around Green Knob, and actually has two trail heads at Sims Pond Overlook and Sims Creek Overlook. I started my journey at the Sims Creek Overlook. By my standards this was a fairly strenuous trail. My GPS receiver shows the trail being 2.23 miles, which is shorter than my last hike around Price Lake, however where that trail was mostly flat Green Knob Loop has a total elevation difference of over 500ft.

This trail also has a much wider variety of terrain as it switches from walking in the woods close to trees and large rhododendrons, walking up creek beds, and over pastures and open fields. It also provides a rather spectacular view of Grandfather Mountain.

If you are every in the area I highly recommend you check out this trail. If you are short on time you can catch the trail going north from the Sims Pond overlook (across the highway from the pond itself) and catch the views of Grandfather Mountain without too much effort.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reading Bedtime Stories WIth Style

Reading bed time stories can get tedious. I hope I can master reading them the way these guys have. It will certainly make Zekes childhood more memorable.

So I present to you my story time mentors...

The Three Little Pigs by Christopher Walken:

Green Eggs And Ham by Rev. Jesse Jackson.
[click here]==> YoTtube Link (for some reason this is not embedable so you'll have to go to the source).

I definitely need to work on my oratory stylings.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The surprising truth about what motivates us

Turns out money isn't everything...

I remember talking to my dad about 10 years ago and he said to me "Money is not a motivator, but not having enough money is a demotivator".  Seemed wise at the time - at the time I didn't know science would back it up - good parenting, dad!

Monday, August 23, 2010

My lunch project: Inukshuk Construction

The 2010 Winter Olympics logo
included an inukshuk
I frequently go for walks after lunch around our property at work.  Our location has a lot of land, much of it under developed construction leftovers and rock piles left over when they were building out our current space.  About a month ago I was walking by a rock pile and I was suddenly inspired to build an inukshuk....

I'm sorry, build a what?

An inukshuk is a stone marker placed by people in the far north of North America (Inuit etc.) and are used to indicate hunting grounds, act as way markers, or just to say "I was here".  Some inukshuks are just a single stone, others are more elaborate constructs, and some resemble humans.  A prominent example of one is included in the 2010 Winter Olympics logo.

Most people in Ontario Canada (where I am from) would think of the humanoid version when they think of an inukshuk, so that is what I tried to build.  I dug through the rock pile looking for the right combination of stones that would end up resembling my vision, and after 15 minutes I ended up with this guy:
My first inukshuk.

Today I went for a walk in the same area and I stopped to see if my inukshuk was still there. Turns out he was just as I left him.  I forgot my camera the first time, but this time I snapped a pic.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hiking Price Lake Trail with my shiny new hat.

  There is a lake along the Blue Ridge Parkway called Price Lake.  There are not a lot of lakes in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the last few times I've been passed that lake it has caught my attention.  I have recently caught the hiking bug and last Wednesday when I passed by the lake I decided that I would have to go on a hike around this lake and find out what is on the other side.  Today was the day, but I had to wait for it.

  My dear wife is the volunteer coordinator for Pet Partners, a pet adoption group, and she was on the job at an event today, so I was on baby guard duty.  While we are waiting on her to return so we can head up the mountain let me tell you about my new hat.

  As should be painfully obvious if you have ever seen pictures of me (and if you haven't I can only assume you haven't been paying attention *cough*profile pic*cough*) I like wearing hats.  The most comfortable hat I own is a white Tilley hat.  The Tilley hat is probably the finest travelling hat I've ever seen as it fits like a glove, is crushable, floats, is washable, has two types of straps to keep it on your head in high wind, and is guaranteed for life.  The problem is that I don't find white to be overly stylish and Tilleys used to come in only white, green, and grey.  The latest line of Tilley hats included a perfect brown colour that suits my style a lot better.  Style + the awesomeness of Tilley = Dave excitement.  Once I discovered that the new hat was for sale AND a store in Blowing Rock (next town up the mountain) sells them, I squealed with glee and said to myself "Self, you must get this hat!".  The wife agreed so when I went up the mountain today I stopped by and snagged me what promises to be the best hat I have ever owned: the Tilley Outback, but I am getting ahead of myself.

  My wife returned from the pet adoption at 3:30 (to find a sleeping Zekey no less - awesome parenting on my part if I do say so myself).  At 4pm I was in the car and heading up the mountain.  I stopped quickly in Blowing Rock to acquire previously mentioned new fancy headgear then I headed over to Price Lake to hike its trails.  The following pics are a quick summary of my adventure (and my new hat).

  This was the third serious hike I've done in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I learned a few things:

  • A walking stick is a very handy thing.  It helps maintain balance and keeps my balance, and keeps stress off the knees when stepping over things.
  • I am more nimble than I thought I was.  I need to learn to trust my abilities more.
  • Wearing two pairs of socks really helps cut down on blisters.
  • Hiking in the rain is not so bad.  I wouldn't want to hike in a torrential downpour but a nice light rain is actually fun to walk in.
  • My new hat rocks.
  When I was finished the hike I came across a sign showing some other trails in the area.  It looks like the next trail I am going to tackle is the Green Knob Loop trail, which loops around Sims Creek and Sims Pond.  Stay tuned for updates on this next adventure in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Saturday Morning Zen

This morning I found a way to make every one in my house hold happy all at once. Its something we've done a couple times now and is working out to be a nice Saturday morning tradition.

It requires the following ingredients:

  • Baby food
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pound bacon
  • 2 slices of cheese
  • maple syrup
  • 2 bowls of kibble
  • 1 bagel
  • 2 slices of toast
  • Gordon by Barenaked Ladies (in my opinion one of the best albums ever recorded)
First task is to put on the Barenaked Ladies album (because every guy will tell you the best things start with bare naked ladies...*rimshot*/*groan*).  Then have Wife start feeding the kid baby food. Next task is to tackle the remaining ingredients in the kitchen.

Start by frying up that pound of bacon, letting the pan fill up with that delicious bacon fat.  When done cook up 2 eggs scrambled in the bacon fat, make toast, and serve to Wife (note smile on that gorgeous wifey face).  Then cook up eggs with maple syrup in remaining bacon fat, add to toasted bagel with cheese, serve to myself (try to contain drool).  Take leftover bacon fat and pour over dog kibble (stand back or be consumed by indiscriminate hungry puppies).  

So that takes care of Wifey, puppies and I.  Baby gets the joy of eating food with mommy and daddy and watching them work - he loves "being part" of the family activities.  Afterwards is play time with daddy before taking a nap. 

So that was earlier today. As for right now, one puppy is asleep in her bed, Baby is down for a nap, Wife is out with other puppy volunteering at a pet adoption event, and I am surfing the Internets and listening to the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

The icing on the cake is the extra bacon sitting in the fridge waiting for our next meal.

That, my friends, is some seriously good Saturday Morning Zen.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Dave Who Went Up A Mountain And Came Down The Same Mountain Several Hours Later

This week we have had some visitors in our house. Friends of ours from Canada came by for a visit. Today we decided to take them up to Grandfather Mountain to show them some of the amazing views and vistas that make up the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We had to take two vehicles today as all of us do not fit into one car. There was room for 3 adults, and we had 4. I drew the short straw and drove up solo, so I took the opportunity to get in some geocaching and some extra hiking to Flat Rock. The following is a short series of photographs I took on my adventure into the mountains.

I am currently re-reading The Lord Of The Rings, and I kept thinking of scenes from the book as during my hiking. First off it has been raining a lot lately so there was a lot of mist in the air which reminded me strongly of the Misty Mountains from the book. The quote from Bilbo Baggins also keps jumping into my head: "It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to."

All in all it was a fun and interesting day of exploring. I hope to get back into these mountains as soon as I can. Adventure awaits!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lettuce Be

I have always wondered if people are vegetarians because they love animals or if they hate plants. This video has gone a long way towards cementing my views on the whole herbivore/carnivore debate (ignore the mullets - fashion was not kind to Canadian comedic folk singers in the 90's). So without further ado, I and the good people of YouTube present to you fine Internet based citizens an argument against vegetarianism (in song!)...

... so save those spuds and eat a cow instead. While we're at it, lets give mad props to our tasty bovine friends...

... and remember folks, it is not a meal unless a cow has died. (they like it, gives them purpose in life - I know, I have asked several of them. They all said "mah-ooo", which is cow-talk for "dude, you're gonna love this ribeye I got growin' up over here".)

Note: this post is what happens when my wife leaves me alone at night with an Internet connection and a fridge full of beer. Blame her... (love you, honey!)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A.J. Jacobs' year of living biblically

Fascinating TED talk about a guy who spent a year literally following all of the  rules of the Bible.  Fantastically awesome stuff.

Note: If the embedded video does not work for you, you can view it directly on the TED site here:  I'd skip reading the comments tho - lot of nut jobs commenting on this talk :)   As a side note it never ceases to amaze me the level of immature baseless debate goes on whenever the subject of the Bible comes up, especially in a situation like this talk where things are discussed almost clinically and without any judgement or mocking of any kind.   Now I am a person of faith and I take it very seriously, however if you cannot laugh at something like this and take it for the light hearted tone that it is, regardless of where you fall on the scale of atheist to Billy Graham, then you seriously need to start re-examining your life, but I digress.

Dad Life

Is this what I have to look forward to in the next few years?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gods Mechanics: The Religious Life of Techies

This is a very interesting talk from a Jesuit Brother who talks about religion from the perspective of a techie (i.e. engineers/scientists). It outlines very nicely how "religion" and technology are not contradictory, in fact they can dovetail very nicely. It also explains what technical minded folk look for in a religion.

Note: For those afraid of the God Stuff, there is no preaching in this so don't be alarmed :) It has a natural catholic bent, but it is not trying to convert to any one religion.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Cricket: My Adventure in Robotics.

In my spare time I have been working on building a robot. I call it Cricket. The idea of writing computer code that can be used to manipulate objects in the real world fascinates me. Working on the bot has played into this fascination and has provided a lot of fun and an outlet for my curiosity.

One of the problems I have had in the past with the idea of building robots is that my ability to make things out of raw materials sucks, and I don't have a good shop to build things in. Luckily the good folks at Lego Inc. has a robotics kit that is computer programmable, so I build Cricket out of Lego Mindstorms (leveraging my many many years building Lego models as a kid), and I am using Python to write software to control it (leveraging my many years writing python code. note: leveraging is good).

Cricket has 4 wheels, but the wheels on each side are connected via gears so it drives more like a tracked vehicle. This allowed me to build a four wheel drive bot with only 2 motors as my parts supplies are limited. The bot actually has excellent traction and can climb over fairly significant objects with relative ease. Currently Cricket has no sensors, but the lego kit comes with touch, sound and light sensors which I hope to employ in future iterations of the model.

My long term goal is to have Cricket that will find its way from point A to point B, avoiding obstacles autonomously. My immediate short term goal is to add touch sensor support so that it can detect when it bumps into an object.

I have the basic code to control movement of the bot. I can issue commands like 'go forward 10' which translates to move forward for 10 seconds. I can move it forward, backwards, and make left and right turns. I can also control how much power each motor use.s

I have decided my current interface for Cricket is not sufficient to support reacting to sensors appropriately, since now I send a command (turn left etc.) to the bot and it blocks while it executes. i.e. type command; wait for execution; type another command. To incorporate sensors I would have to make the commands aware of each sensor, which is sub0optimal at best.

My next task is to find a way to write a non-blocking execution engine for the bot. I am thinking of using a game engine model. Signals will come from various sources: user input, sensors etc, and the bot acts accordingly based on its internal view of the world. This way I could add functionality to have it abort or initiate movement if a sensor triggers. i.e. if it hits a object, or a light turns on etc.

It should prove to be very interesting to write this code. Stay tuned for more info.