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.