archive for June, 2006

Back From Zion

Jes and I are back from our vacation. I started writing this post and then accidentally typed some Windows shortcut to shutdown the computer. This has started happening a lot since I upgraded to XP. If anyone knows what I’m doing or how to prevent it, please let me know. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled post (which is likely to be shorter this time around).

We started our vacation on Saturday in Vegas. We stayed at the Wynn which was surprisingly nice and provided an extremely comfortable room — a great way to kick start the relaxation. We saw the Blue Man Group after a quick nap. The show was excellent. Not only was the music cool, but the visuals were equally amazing. It was funny, and interactive. I was asked to help out by holding a giant Toblerone box that one of the blue men took from me part way through the show. He gave it to a guy a few rows back who then threw pieces of chocolate in the blue man’s mouth. I should add that being me, when I was first asked if I wanted to help out, I said that I wasn’t. After the lady explained what I would have to do, I finally agreed. It was pretty fun and got to have some up close contact with the blue man.

After Las Vegas, we headed on up to Zion National Park, possibly my favorite national park. It is close enough to L.A. to be in driving distance, it’s beautiful, and for some reason isn’t very crowded. We stayed at the Red Rock Inn B&B in Springdale, right outside of the park. While the rooms aren’t as luxurious as at the Wynn, the hospitality and service are excellent. It’s also very homey and comfortable which makes it easy to kick back and relax.

On our first afternoon in Zion, we didn’t do any real hiking. We walked around town, bought our entrance pass, and planned our hikes for the next day. Dinner at the Spotted Dog Cafe was good, but pricey.

Monday morning we got up and got ready for a day of hiking. Our breakfast was brought to our room in a huge basket. There was a nice slice of quiche for each of us, coffee, hot chocolate, apple juice, fruit, yogurt, and muffins — a perfect way to start the day. After finishing that off, we rode the Springdale shuttles to the park entrance and from there walked to the visitor center. Our first hike was the Watchman trail. At this time of the summer, it would have been better to start a couple hours earlier, but we still made it to the top and back. After a quick break, we hiked the Grotto trail to the lower emerald pool, and from there back to the lodge.

Before going on another hike, we headed back to our room for lunch and a quick rest. There was a fire burning just outside of town that was threatening the power supply.  We decided that it would be a good idea to pick up some more snacks in case the power went out and the restaurants had to be closed.  Our innkeeper said that she’d leave us an old blanket that we could use if we wanted to sleep outside (not much point in sleeping inside if there’s no A/C).

After getting all of our planning for the night taken care of, we rode the shuttles to the Riverside trail which leads to the narrows.  We’d hiked part of the narrows before, but this time we went farther up stream than we had before — far enough that we had to wade through water that came up to our ribs.  Here are some tips for anyone wanting to try this (and for the next time I go): 1. Wear clothes that dry quickly.  2.  Don’t take any unnecessary gear.  3. Keys may be waterproof, but remote door openers found on a keychain are not. 4. Choose a good walking stick (usually you can find a nice selection at the bottom of the narrows).

That was all of the hiking that we did, but based on how sore we are, it was enough.  The power was still on when we got back to town, so we had dinner at the Zion Pizza & Noodle Co.  The food was good, but maybe too good.  We walked out of there stuffed to the gills with a Combo Man pizza.  After dinner, we retired to our room.  We were watching TV when the power went out, so we just went to sleep.  Unfortunately, that meant that we were jolted awake at 3:30 in the morning, when the power came on.

This morning, we got up and had another nice breakfast before heading home.  It’s a long drive, but we took turns and made it without any headaches.  If you’d like to see a few of the pictures, be sure to check out the set on Flickr.

Too Long

It’s been quite a while since I last posted, so I feel like I should force myself to post something tonight. I have no plan for this post, so I apologize if it’s a total mess.

First, what have I been up to lately? We’ll for several weeks, we were pretty busy at work. On Monday we launched a project for PSE&G, an East Coast utility company. They needed some help with construction service applications. In the past, the application was a PDF that needed to be printed, filled out, and faxed back to PSE&G. The big problem was that people typically didn’t fill out the application completely or correctly. Even if the application was filled out completely, it wasn’t detailed enough to capture all of the necessary data. From what I understand, virtually all of these applications required long phone calls to fill in the gaps.

We worked for several months to convert a few fax forms into very detailed and complete web forms, and expanded the forms several fold in the process. Not only do we collect a lot more information for PSE&G, but we also are able to provide both automated and live help to the user as they’re filling out the form. For example, if you don’t know who to list as “additional contacts”, then you can just ask our system. More complicated questions that aren’t in our database, your question will be sent directly to a customer service representative who should be able to answer right away.

Okay, I know that from the outside it sounds pretty boring — after all, any web designer worth their salt can build a web form. Well, as far as web applications go, there’s a huge difference between completely frustrating and a breeze. Hopefully, our application is much closer to the “breeze” end of the scale.

So, enough about work. Fun and games: I’ve been playing the New Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo DS. It’s pretty fun, but also a bit frustrating. The developers did a good job of capturing the feel of the first three Super Mario Brothers games. The sound is beautiful, and may be my favorite aspect of the game.

I feel a little bit cheated by having the ability to save my progress. Unlike the original Super Mario Brothers, where you had to replay level 1-1 every time you started, this new game really only requires that you play it once. The old style forced you to develop a deep memory of each level, and you really got to feel that you knew the game in detail. The problem with that model is that you can’t create very large games because then people wouldn’t be able to finish them in a reasonable amount of time. Games that let you save your progress (and this includes first person shooters and other genres) can be much larger, requiring hours upon hours of game play to complete.

Last weekend I picked up Sonic Mega Jam for the ol’ GameCube. It’s a collection of seven classic Sonic the Hedgehog games. I never owned a Sega Genesis, and only played a couple of these games a few times growing up. Now’s my chance to find out what I’ve been missing. I’ve only started on the first Sonic game, but so far, it has been well balanced and fun. The graphics and sound are what you would expect from 1991 (the staticy sound really gets on my nerves), but it also serves as a good reminder of how far we’ve come in the last 15 years.

Jesse and I went out to dinner at Claim Jumper last night. It was what you’d expect — huge portions of food fit to satisfy every craving. For dessert, I opted for the sourdough bread pudding. I could only eat a few bites before giving up, but it was delicious. I brought it home and made a meal out of it for dinner tonight.

Changing the subject again, here’s what I’m reading these days:

  • The Mythical Man-Month – a book on software engineering. I’ve read parts of it before online, but one of my bosses really loves it and insisted that we all read (or reread) it. On the whole, it’s surprisingly non-dated.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves – a book on punctuation. Jesse wanted this for herself, but somehow I got to it first. The first few chapters are quite entertaining and informative. The last chapter I read, on the colon and semicolon, got a little fuzzier and seemed to focus too much on antiquated uses of the marks. Hopefully it’ll pick back up with the dash.
  • The Year’s Best Science Fiction (20th) – a collection of sci-fi stories. I’ve been reading this off an on for a while now and haven’t quite finished it yet. When I do, I’ll be sure to post some sort of review with links to my favorite stories.
  • Age of Reason – a book on religion by Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers. I was listening to the radio today and heard a piece about the founding fathers. I realized that I didn’t know much about them and decided to find out more, starting with Paine. I can’t say that I agree with everything that I’ve read, but he sure is thoughtful.

Looking to the future: Jesse and I are looking forward to a short vacation in Las Vegas and Zion National Park. We won’t be gone long, but it should definitely be a welcome break from the routine. Be sure to watch my Flickr account for updates.

It looks like the title of this post has changed in meaning since I wrote it. I’d better sign off. I promise to post more frequently in the future.

My Take on Truth

I just saw An Inconvenient Truth, a movie based on Al Gore’s slide show presentation. Trust me. It’s not as boring as it sounds. Not even close. It’s actually a very interesting and engaging. I highly recommend it.

If you’re planning on seeing the movie and don’t want to read any spoilers, then stop reading right here.

All clear? Okay, on with the spoilers!

Global climate change is real. Global warming is real, and we are causing it. This is not something debated by the scientific community. The facts are in. Carbon dioxide levels have skyrocketed in the last 100 or so years. Yes, there are fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature, but nothing like what we are seeing these days — not in the short term (decades), or in the long term (hundreds of millions of years). If these changes continue and are not reversed, the forecast is bad. Very bad. Thankfully, there is something that we can do about it — after all, if we are creating the problem, then we can create the solution.

Of course, there’s the political stigma of Gore and the environment that can’t be ignored. You may think that only environmentalist nut jobs that care more about mice than people would be interested in this movie. You may think that only loyal Democrats and Gore voters would be interested in this movie. You’d be wrong on both counts. While the movie is every “environmentalist”, it has a strong “Save the Humans” thread too. Face it, it doesn’t matter how rich fossil fuels make us if we don’t have anywhere to live. The movie does touch on Gore’s personal life, but there’s nothing particularly Democratic about it. You have no excuse not to see this movie.