Thursday, January 27, 2011

Milestone: Biking for Charity

My employer runs program called Self Powered Commuting in which they donate money to charity every time an employee bikes or walks to work.  So every time I bike to work I claim a stamp, and once a year I donate the value of those stamps to a charity of my choice.  Today I finally collected enough stamps to donate the equivalent of the purchase price of my bike to charity. This, to me, means the bike was a wise investment - despite the exercise and weight loss.

So, some of my commuting bike stats to date:
  • First time I biked to work:  April 27, 2009
  • Round trips to work: 95
  • Distance travelled during commutes: 532 miles
  • Money raised to date: $642.73
  • Number of times biked to work in > 100f weather:  2
  • Number of times biked to work in < 32f (freezing): 3
  • Number of times biked to work when school was cancelled due to weather: 1
  • Number of times hit by car:  0
  • Number of times blogged about hitting bike milestones: 2
  • Amount of roadkill directly caused by me: 0
  • Number of groundhogs non-fatally hit by cars due to my bike: 1
  • Amount of weight lost:  I dunno, I don't measure that.  Stop bugging me! I'm beautiful on the inside...
  • Number of times my readers rolled their eyes and wished I'd "shut up already!" about my biking to work stats: 42 (approximate guess)

Not bad for a lazy fat guy if I do say so myself., so... yay me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Groupon: Worth Unsubscribing For

Last week I subscribed to Groupon to see what all the fuss is about. It looks like a useful service but its really not geared towards me. Today I unsubscribed from the service, and came across the best unsubscribe message I have ever seen...

You are unsubscribed
We're sorry to see you go!

How sorry?

Well, we want to introduce you to Derrick - he's the guy that thought you'd enjoy receiving the Daily Groupon email.

Way to go Groupon - you may not have won me as a customer, but you gained my appreciation for having a sense of humour.

How to install a home security system

1. Go to a second-hand store and buy a pair of men's size 14-16 work boots.

2. Place them on your front porch, along with a few copies of Guns And Ammo magazine.

3. Put a few giant dog dishes next to the boots and magazines.

4. Leave a note on your door that reads:

Bubba, Bertha, Duke, Slim and me went for more beer and ammo, be back in
an hour. Don't mess with the pit bulls, they attacked the mailman this
morning and messed him up pretty bad. I don't think killer took part, but
it was hard to tell with all the blood. Anyway I locked all four of 'em in
the house, better wait outside, be right back.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rick Mercer Visits Algonquin Park

Rick Mercer is a Canadian comedian from Newfoundland that specializes in political humour (not unlike Jon Stewart).  One day Rick travelled to Algonquin Park to help change tracking collars on hibernating bears - kinda like an episode of Dirty Jobs but with a newfie accent, eh?  - and recorded the trip.  Not the job I'd want to do, but I've seen worse :)

First a glossary of Canadian terms for my non-Canadian friends:

  • Group Of Seven:  A group of 7 painters who focused on Canadian landscapes in the 1920s.
  • Farley Mowat:  Canadian author who wrote, among other things, the novel Never Cry Wolf
  • Stephen Harper:  Canada's current Prime Minister
  • Jim Flaherty:  Canada's Finance Minister
  • Canadian Tire:  An auto/hardware/sports store.  It is a Canadians first stop for automotive or home improvement projects.
  • Algonquin Park:  One of the original and largest Provincial Parks (equivilent to a State Park in the US).

And now, on with the show:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Day

We have been snowed in for the last couple of days.  Today I took a break from working at home to go sledding with the family.  They neighbours have a steep hill in their back yard that we used.  We don't have a sled, so we used a small plastic wading pool. It worked pretty well.  Here are some pics:

Zeke's first run.

Zeke's second run.

I decided to give it a go.

Zeke playing in the snow after a long day of sledding.

Akins Laws Of Spacecraft Design

1. Engineering is done with numbers. Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.
2. To design a spacecraft right takes an infinite amount of effort. This is why it's a good idea to design them to operate when some things are wrong .
3. Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time.
4. Your best design efforts will inevitably wind up being useless in the final design. Learn to live with the disappointment.
5. (Miller's Law) Three points determine a curve.
6. (Mar's Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.
7. At the start of any design effort, the person who most wants to be team leader is least likely to be capable of it.
8. In nature, the optimum is almost always in the middle somewhere. Distrust assertions that the optimum is at an extreme point.
9. Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.
10. When in doubt, estimate. In an emergency, guess. But be sure to go back and clean up the mess when the real numbers come along.
11. Sometimes, the fastest way to get to the end is to throw everything out and start over.
12. There is never a single right solution. There are always multiple wrong ones, though.
13. Design is based on requirements. There's no justification for designing something one bit "better" than the requirements dictate.
14. (Edison's Law) "Better" is the enemy of "good".
15. (Shea's Law) The ability to improve a design occurs primarily at the interfaces. This is also the prime location for screwing it up.
16. The previous people who did a similar analysis did not have a direct pipeline to the wisdom of the ages. There is therefore no reason to believe their analysis over yours. There is especially no reason to present their analysis asyours.
17. The fact that an analysis appears in print has no relationship to the likelihood of its being correct.
18. Past experience is excellent for providing a reality check. Too much reality can doom an otherwise worthwhile design, though.
19. The odds are greatly against you being immensely smarter than everyone else in the field. If your analysis says your terminal velocity is twice the speed of light, you may have invented warp drive, but the chances are a lot better that you've screwed up.
20. A bad design with a good presentation is doomed eventually. A good design with a bad presentation is doomed immediately.
21. (Larrabee's Law) Half of everything you hear in a classroom is crap. Education is figuring out which half is which.
22. When in doubt, document. (Documentation requirements will reach a maximum shortly after the termination of a program.)
23. The schedule you develop will seem like a complete work of fiction up until the time your customer fires you for not meeting it.
24. It's called a "Work Breakdown Structure" because the Work remaining will grow until you have a Breakdown, unless you enforce some Structure on it.
25. (Bowden's Law) Following a testing failure, it's always possible to refine the analysis to show that you really had negative margins all along.
26. (Montemerlo's Law) Don't do nuthin' dumb.
27. (Varsi's Law) Schedules only move in one direction.
28. (Ranger's Law) There ain't no such thing as a free launch.
29. (von Tiesenhausen's Law of Program Management) To get an accurate estimate of final program requirements, multiply the initial time estimates by pi, and slide the decimal point on the cost estimates one place to the right.
30. (von Tiesenhausen's Law of Engineering Design) If you want to have a maximum effect on the design of a new engineering system, learn to draw. Engineers always wind up designing the vehicle to look like the initial artist's concept.
31. (Mo's Law of Evolutionary Development) You can't get to the moon by climbing successively taller trees.
32. (Atkin's Law of Demonstrations) When the hardware is working perfectly, the really important visitors don't show up.
33. (Patton's Law of Program Planning) A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.
34. (Roosevelt's Law of Task Planning) Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.
35. (de Saint-Exupery's Law of Design) A designer knows that he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
36. Any run-of-the-mill engineer can design something which is elegant. A good engineer designs systems to be efficient. Agreat engineer designs them to be effective.
37. (Henshaw's Law) One key to success in a mission is establishing clear lines of blame.
38. Capabilities drive requirements, regardless of what the systems engineering textbooks say.
39. The three keys to keeping a new manned space program affordable and on schedule:
       1)  No new launch vehicles.
       2)  No new launch vehicles.
       3)  Whatever you do, don't decide to develop any new launch vehicles.
40. Space is a completely unforgiving environment. If you screw up the engineering, somebody dies (and there's no partial credit because most of the analysis was right...)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Hiking Riverbend Park

Riverbend Park is located in Catawba County just west of Hickory NC.  It is the largest non state or federal park in North Carolina.  It also contains 5 geocaches.  Today I hiked the park for the first time.  I tried hiking this park just before Christmas, however despite the hours posted on the website, which says they are closed Wednesdays and Christmas Day, they were closed for the entire Christmas break.  The park is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays.

The park has several trails for mountain biking, horseback riding, and walking. The red trail is for the exclusive use of hikers, and it contains all of the caches.  The route looks like this:

View riverbend_park.kmz in a larger map

All 3.9 miles of the red trail is wide and well groomed.  I wouldn't have many problems pushing a baby stroller across most of it.  There are a few steeper hills which would make a stroller tricky, but they are easily tackled on foot.  Most of the trail is relatively flat.   The trail winds through several types of terrain: deep woods, along river banks, beside meadows, and close to a pond.  

The trails are an easy stroll for a lazy afternoon, however if one has the time there are much nicer views to be had a half hour up into the mountains.

As for the caches, I managed to grab all 5.  Icing on the cake for what turned out to be a pleasant stroll in near freezing weather.

Have A Cuppa Tea

The latest Great Big Sea album has a cover of the Kinks song "Have A Cuppa Tea". Every time I hear it I think of my in-laws, especially this verse:

Tea in the morning, tea in the evening, tea at supper time,
You get tea when it’s raining, tea when it’s snowing.
Tea when the weather’s fine,
You get tea as a mid-day stimulant
You get tea with your afternoon tea
For any old ailment or disease
For christ sake have a cuppa tea.

The last time they were visiting my mother-in-law asked me if I wanted tea approximately, no exaggeration, a million times (ok, ok it was only three to four times a day).  They have tea time every day twice a day so for them it make sense.  For me tea twice a day would double my lifetime consumption of tea in about 3 days.

Here is a link of the Kinks playing Have A Cuppa Tea. (Embedding was disabled for this video hence the link).  The look of pure bliss on the piano players face is priceless.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bouncin' Kids

This one is for the grandparents...

Today Zeke attended a neighbors childs birthday party.  Part of the party was held at Bouncin' Kids in Morganton NC.  Bouncin' Kids is essenstially a room full of those bouncy castles you see at fairs and rich kids birthday parties.  It took a while for Zeke to get the hang of things, but once he got the general concept  - i.e. bouncing is fun - he enjoyed himself.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Seriously, why?

(note: shamelessly stolen from xkcd)

This is my favourite comic.  I often think of it when I see someone take themselves or life to seriously (or take myself to seriously).  Sure there are serious things to deal with in this world, but odds are you are not one of them.  Let your hair down and get silly once and a while.  Life is too short to take yourself seriously all the time.  

Also see this comic for some more life wisdom that highly resonates with me.  Note that I linked to it instead of embedding it into my blog to protect my more conservative readers from reading a "bad word".  Click if you don't mind the F word once and a while (or just ignore the last line):

Monday, January 03, 2011

Dodge Grand Caravan

I love my PT Cruiser.  It had everything I ever wanted in a car, as well as a unique look.  However with the kid, and plans for more (no not announcing anything), the dogs, and a desire to take road trips, we have  outgrown the capacity of the PT Cruiser, so today we traded it for a mini van - a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan.

Why a Grand Caravan?  First cost.  We got an amazing deal on this van since it was repo'd from its original owner.  We basically got a brand new van at used van prices.  Second is that living in a small town in rural North Carolina we'll be able to find more mechanics (and parts) to do any repairs we may need. We have a full warrantee, but plan on keeping the van for a long time so repairs will eventually become inevitable.  Third is that my father owns one, so he's been giving it a year long test drive in the harshest Canada can throw at a vehicle, so I have every confidence that it can handle anything North Carolina can dish out.

Why did I trade in the PT?  Its simple - we rarely need two cars.  I live 2.8 miles from work so most of the time I bike/walk to work.  The cost of keeping two cars on the road is within our budget, but not worth the expense.  I can find better things to do with my money (*cough* new iMac *cough*).  Plus not having a second car is great encouragement for me to bike to work, which is proving to be a Good Thing(tm).

I have already added a personal touch to the car in the form of how I mount my car GPS.  As you are probably aware most GPS mounts for cars use suction cups to attach to the car.  You are also probably aware that the suction cups work about as well as George W Bush's foreign policy.  The Grand Caravan has a small cubby hole in the dash which seems to have no purpose and is the perfect size for the suction cup on the GPS mount.  I added some velcro to the bottom of the suction cup and the cubby, and now I have a removable GPS mount that will stay when I want it to, and doesn't affect my view when driving.

The mini van has a stigma of being for soccer moms, and for guys signals the end of freedom and the onset of domestication.  For me it is the exact opposite. This van will allow me to travel America with my wife, kid, and dogs without worrying about space.  It is freedom, baby!

Time to hit the highways and do some exploring!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Winter Wonderland

My wife was looking through old pics and came across this one of Yours Truly 4 years ago.  Makes me miss winter.  Come on North Carolina: make a Canadian expat happy and bring me some more snow!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year And Such


Congratulations!  You made if through another year.  May the next one be as tolerable as the last one was.