Canadian Adventure, Day 3: Mud Puddle Mayhem

100_2879.jpgToday started with a long drive back from Jasper along the highway east of the mountains. Tonight was our first day in the Stampede, and it was raining. That meant we really didn’t do much exploring since every place with a roof was packed. I also managed to restrain myself from buying a molded plastic cowboy hat for $20. We did listen to an AC/DC cover band on one of the stages. Yes, the lead guitarist is wearing a cow suit. Yes, that was the only memorable feature of the band.

100_2889.jpgThe event for the evening was the chuck wagon races. This whole sport is one big mess. The key thing to understand is its not just four chuckwagons (with four hourses each) on the track, its four chuckwagons plus four outriders per wagon. When the race starts, the outriders have to load the camp stove and tent pegs in the back of the wagon, then jump on their horses as the chuck wagons race away. They need to catch up because if all four outriders aren’t at least 150 feet behind the chuckwagon when it finishes, there is a time penalty. So you usually have one or two wagons fighting for the lead, followed around the track by a gigantic mob of people and horses.

100_2902.jpgFor the math majors out there, that’s 32 horses and 20 humans racing in close proximity around the track. In the mud. One outrider actually got hit by a wagon and his horse had to be euthanized. Needless to say, everyone was covered in mud by the end of a race.

It’s a great concept for a sport, but it is really popular only in Western Canada. For an American audience, it would need more danger: spikes on the wheels, a second rider in each wagon firing flaming arrows at other wagons, outriders defending their wagon and trying to knock the other wagon out. Now that would be a sporting event.

Canadian Adventure, Day 2: Along the Icefields Parkway

waterfall.jpg Today is the scenic sightseeing day. We’re going to drive from Calgary west to Banff (Be Aware, Nothing For Free), then through the National Park to Jasper (Just Another Silly Place Extracting Revenue). The first thing we noticed when we stopped to walk along a canyon was that this place was CROWDED. Here we are, in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, and we’re having trouble finding a place to park. I guess this is their summer (even though it feels like Grants Pass’s winter).

lunch.jpgNext along the parkway was Lake Louise, the big tourist trap in the parks. On the advice of the Crazy Mother-In-Law, we hiked up to the Lake Agnes Teahouse on the side of the mountain. It was a 3.4km hike going up 400m, which one could consider moderate. I actually felt pretty good along the way, so I guess all that spinning and lower body lifting is actually doing some good. On the other hand, I think it almost killed the CrazyFather. We made it though, then had a bunch of tea and a light lunch for only $50 USD. When did the dollar turn into the equivalent of third world country courtesy? (The Canadians think this is hilarious and joke about it often).

glacier.jpgLast big stop of the day was the the Columbia Icefield, which is one of the most accessible icefields in the world. We actually took a tour and walked out on the Athabasca Glacier, which extends from the icefield. Because of all the rock sediment (called rock flour) in the otherwise clear water, all the ice has a very odd turquoise color. I was thinking it might be fun to come back for the three or six hour glacier hike, but from either the bitter cold wind blowing down the glacier, the icy rain we were in, or the day’s previous hiking exertion; the CrazyFather vetoed this idea.

Canadian Adventure, Day 1: Albertans and Maps

Um, how do I know this is Canada? Looks the same. Aren’t you all supposed to be wearing those hats with the ear flaps?

I linked up with the CrazyFather at the hotel. We didn’t have any tickets for events until Thursday, but we figured it might be a good idea to scout the route to the Stampede, especially since a famous cowboy restaurant Buzzard’s Restaurant and Bar was only a few blocks away. Our desk clerk helpfully suggested that we drive as far as the C-Train, Calgary’s light rail, and take that into the city since it stops right at the Stampede location. Parking at the C-Train station was free, and parking at the Stampede was wicked expensive (as pretty much everything in Canada is for us poor Americans).

It was at this point, I discovered what the CrazyFather had discovered when he was riding through Alberta: these people lack the ability to give directions. Street names and distances are simply not ingredients used in an Albertan direction recipe. Instead, they do their locational cooking with previously existing structures and street lights.

Moreover, I’m convinced that the kilometer has destroyed their concept of time and space. For example, “Turn right out of the parking lot, turn right at the first light, turn right again, then you’ll take a left onto Highway 1″ would seem like a fairly quick trip, would it not? Too bad it takes about 40km to cover those directions, much to our surprise.

This has become a source of tension due to the difference in the CrazyFather’s and the CrazyEngineer’s styles of troubleshooting poor directions.

I approach directions logically and love following a map. If I’m expecting to hit a cross-street on a map, I don’t panic until I reach a cross-street that is past my desired destination. At that point, I know I must have missed it and should either turn around or attempt to re-adjust my route. This has become handy since Canadian maps are not exactly drawn to scale, with 2km stretches of road taking up just as much map distance as 20km stretches.

However, the CrazyFather’s approach is to, at the first inkling of going the wrong way, ask the first person you can for directions. Perhaps in some cases this is a good strategy, but when you combine it with an Albertan’s inability to give good directions, it becomes a frustrating exercise in triangulation as we must constantly re-ask for directions as we get closer to our destination.

Having navigated Calgary’s mass transit system and glimpsing the Stampede Park, we decided instead to go driving off into the Canadian Rockies.

Canada Bound Edition

chuck-wagon-race_420.jpgWell, it’s that time of year again (and by ‘that time of year again’, I mean the same time as last year which was the first year we did this). It’s the CrazyEngineer and CrazyFather Travel adventure. He spends several days taking the scenic route to a destination on his Harley, and I fly out like a civilized person and meet him at a bizarre and unique event.

Last year we attended the 60th Anniversary of the Roswell UFO Crash in Roswell, New Mexico. Since we had met the aliens (or those who dressed like them) last year, we decided to meet the people aliens and UFOs usually visit: White T…er…Country Folk.

Tomorrow I fly out to Calgary in Alberta, Canada (America’s 51st State) for the annual Calgary Stampede They’ve got rodeos, chuckwagon races, casinos, music, and more weekend cowboys than thought possible. We have tickets to the two big headliner concerts: Sugarland on Friday night and Kid “Will Rock For Meth” Rock on Saturday night. One guess who wanted what.

Thanks to Stub Hub, we actually have good tickets for both (9th row center for Kid Rock). Anyone know what the slang for “tweaker” is in Canada?

We’re also going to head out to Jasper through Banff and Lake Louise. I’d love to do some hiking, I’m just worried that CrazyFather only has his motorcycle boots (which might be fine for Mt. Brighton but probably aren’t going to cut it on a glacier). There are some tea houses you can only reach by foot in the mountains above the lake, might be a nice place for a little meditation and to get my shit together.

Because for those of you keeping score at home, we’re at T-minus 4 weeks until Spawn #2 makes his/her debut. Which means I need to figure out a regime of of exercise, meditation, and work and implement it ASAP so I might actually have a chance of continuing these practices in sleep deprived fog that shall engulf me until Christmas.

And for those of you asking, Mrs. CrazyEngineer has had multiple opportunities to veto this trip, to which I would have easily compiled because I’m a little leery of not being home this close to the due date. But Izzy was past her due date (and really didn’t want to come out), I think we have a decent buffer. (Knock very loudly on wood)

Set Phasers to ‘Funky’!

So, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t see this movie earlier in my life, because I most definitely would have built it (and probably try to install it in my cave at CMU).These days, it would definitely need to have the lock on the button because it just wouldn’t do to have Isabel throwing raves whenever she felt like it. In fact, I should just build an emergency “In Case of Izzy Meltdown” button. It would start playing “Banana Phone”, play the Best of Dora the Explorer on a wall projector, drop life size talking Elmo and Zoe robots, and raise a platform of cookies from the middle of the counter.

Internet Addiction? Let me ask Twitter…

internet.jpgOne thing I’ve never really been able to get into is reading blog RSS feeds from a Reader. I used to think it was just because I wasn’t using the right Reader, but I think I’m just allergic to that format of incoming data. Which is why I subscribe to all my RSS feeds as daily emails so my pointless information comes in little bite-sized nuggets instead of as a never-ending stream from a fire hose.

This dubious article on Detecting and Solving Internet Addiction made it to my inbox the other day in one of these digests. What annoys me about these types of articles is that they are usually so broad that 90% of the population is included. For example: drinking to get drunk means you’re an alcoholic. Well, why the hell else would you drink?

For the attention-deficit enabled, the article lists 5 detection steps. (It also has 6 solution steps, but since I’m not addicted, I skipped those).

1. You spend more time with the computer than with people.

Isn’t there an implied belief in this statement that people are inherently better to spend time with than computers? Anyone been to a 7-11 at 3 in the morning? Are you honestly suggesting I should be hanging out with those people than reading about particle physics on Wikipedia? For that matter, I could be chatting with a particle physicist online at 3 in the morning.

Maybe my problem is I place the burden of proof on the person and not the computer. Prove to me that you’re worth my time, or it’s a digging I will go.

2. You can’t abide by your own boundaries.

Hey, life happens. How often have you been at lunch longer than you planned? Are you a lunch addict? Or what about staying late after work to make sure that report gets done? You have a problem, you’re a work addict. Boundaries for everything always get broken at times. So I stay on later because the guild is putting together a raid and needs people, that’s the price of being a member of a team.

3. Lying to others about your computer usage.

Well, if they’d stop pestering me about it, I’d stop lying to them.

4. Feeling unable to live without the computer/internet.

Have you tried being offline for a few hours? I mean really offline, not even a cellphone. It sucks! It’s boring. And I would argue it is actually anti-social. I can’t Twitter to let people know what I’m doing. I can’t blog to share my deep feelings and thoughts. Heck, I can’t even post a picture of that beautiful sunset to Flickr for everyone to marvel in. That sir, is not living.

5. Misguided spending on your computer.

This is really short-sighted thinking. If my computer dies, spending whatever it takes to get it back online, no matter what, is not misguided. I’d make back that money in no time. Don’t need cable tv, I can watch whatever I want online. Don’t need a phone line, I have skype, email, IM, etc. Business attire? Have you seen how much a decent suit costs these days?

You want to talk about misguided spending, lets talk about filling up that SUV for a five mile commute everyday. Telecommuting is the ultimate green transit policy.

A working computer and a fast internet connection is the cornerstone of any sound personal monetary policy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a podcast to listen to.

Father’s Day Agenda

Mmmm, donuts...When Mrs. CrazyEngineer first asked me last week what I wanted to do for Father’s Day, I had one answer: Sleep.

Perhaps some background is in order. Sometime during college, the CrazyEngineer switched to being a morning person.

A “Holy Crap why would anyone ever be up this early!” morning person.

I personally blame my two years as a Buggy Mechanic as the trigger mechanism for this switch. Being functional at 3:30AM every Saturday and Sunday for two years is going to mess you up. So, these days I wake up at 4 AM and am usually at work by 4:30 AM while the family sleeps. I start winding down around 9 PM and aim to be asleep by 10 PM. For those math majors reading this, that would six hours of sleep a night.

So, assuming a young bipedal hominid does not wake me up early, I can get four complete REM cycles and somewhat refreshed in the morning. I’ve been tempted to try switching to a biphasic sleeping schedule, but I just don’t function well on cognitive tasks after 10 PM, so an afternoon nap would just let me stay up longer and be unproductive.

I do actually love a long afternoon nap, which is why I try to work out of the home at a coffee shop since they usually get annoyed when people are lying around snoring. This means that naps on the weekend are great treasure and usually claimed as an excuse to help the CrazyBaby sleep. I still keep the same 10 PM to 4 AM cycle on the weekends so I don’t get out of whack the following week. But a whole day of no responsibilities and sleeping and reading all day would be most excellent.

However, for the same reason I can’t go on vacation without a bag of books and a notepad, I couldn’t just lie around doing nothing all day. I’d go crazy after a few hours. Plus, since it is Father’s Day, I figure I should probably get up and spend time being a father with the family.

Which led to me changing my agenda 180 degrees and instead of taking it easy, I want to get a pile of crap done that has been sitting in my active drawer and cluttering up Remember the Milk. It’s a weird mishmash of crap, from expense reports for Marked Man to some class action lawsuit involving Sears anti-tip brackets for ranges. Sending that pile to the “Done” bin would be an excellent karmic cleansing.

Speaking of karma, I’ve also been meaning to make myself a meditation bench, because as much as I enjoy sitting seiza, I enjoy the use of my legs even more. What’s a more fatherly activity than building something?

I also have that three inch tall stack of magazines I could catch up on, that would be nice. Or I could finish one of the few other books I have started. Or I could just start that third book of the Baroque Cycle that has been mocking me since Christmas. And I really should get to fixing the Media UnVault.

And like that, my one day of relaxation a year has become just as jam packed as any other day.

Sigh, damn you brain. Just chill for a little bit. We can watch some reality tv.

I wanted to get all my MP3′s labeled, BUT NOT LIKE THIS!

mp3s.jpgI’ve mentioned that I switched to using an HP Media Vault six months ago for my massive storage needs. It was working great, with 500 GB of RAID mirrored goodness. It was also allowing me to continue to amass music without any space limitations to encourage me to consolidate my music archives. But that’s not the point.

The point is that yesterday the product in question become less vault-like and more blackhole-like. All the shares on the device disappeared, and the handy web admin interface cheerfully reported that both drives had 500GB of free space and were ready to go.

Losing this data really isn’t an option. Forget the mp3s. While their loss would be painful, it would provide a clean slate to rebuild my media empire in an organized fashion. But the Media UnVault also had financial files and Mrs. CrazyEngineer’s digital storybooks and other large files she had to move off her laptop.

I do have multiple options for recovering the data, however none of them are particularly appealing.

I opted to start with the most comical option: Call Hewlett Packard Tech Support.

This is not going to be an “Anti-Outsourcing-To-India” tech support rant. I’ve called tech support before and received most satisfactory results from staff on the subcontinent. No, this is a “Did you even bother to train this guy” rant. Bad technical support is universal, it doesn’t know political boundaries.

While on hold, I did some research on the problem and tried to connect to the Media Vault from the several computers at home. Since I could ping the device and use the web admin to check the status (I even enabled telnet and actually shelled into the No-Media Vault), this was obviously not a network problem.

My guess is that there is a corrupt volume or other data storage structure error that is confusing the UnVault. Apparently the No-Media Vaults use ReiserFS for their file system. While amazing in many ways, ReiserFS is perceived as a little more voodoo than computer science (what do you expect when the code’s namesake murdered his wife).

Anyhow, the HP tech support representative just made me cringe. He’d ask a question, I’d give an answer, then he’d put me on hold for three minutes while he checked something, come back, and ask the logical followup to the previous question, then put me on hold again, etc. I think their troubleshooting system was running slow.

He seemed sure that it was a connection problem, even though I could ping the machine, get to the web interface, and telnet to the UnVault. When I tried to tell him these facts, he said he was just going through the process. Eventually, he admitted he was stumped, and said he would email me back with a followup. I gave him my email, and expected to begin working on option 2 tonight since I would never receive an email.

Guess what I found in my mailbox this morning.

Hello CrazyEngineer:

I am sending this email as per our conversation yesterday regarding your computer not being able to see the MediaVault.

After doing some research and from few similar cases I had, I realized that this is a connection issue. Please call us back and provide the case#, we will be able to walk you thru the steps on how to solve this issue.

If you require further information please let me or a member of my team know by calling 1-800-474-6836 (1-800 HP Invent) and at the voice prompt to reach our team please state “storage” and “A HP Media Smart Server”

Thank you,

HP Media Server Customer Care

So, +5 points for actually emailing me back, -1000 points for not understanding that if I can ping it, my computer can see it. I’m debating whether I should even call them. Might waste even more of my time getting nowhere. The best I can hope for from HP at this point is that they send me a new internal hard drive with the OS already installed on it to replace in the UnVault and then recover from the mirrored drive. This would save me the trouble of having to do some linux-fu to put the OS back on the primary drive myself. I think I’m going to go to option 2 and try to mount the mirror drive on my desktop in Linux and hope I can see the files. At least then I can recover all the files before I put the mirror back in the UnVault and call tech support back.


brainsurgeon.jpg Time to check in with our favorite wacky popsicle makers: Alcor Life Extension.

They’ve been busy these last few weeks with three cryo-preservations. I’ll let the curious read the after action reports, but here’s a great paragraph about patient A-1026 who suffered cardiac arrest in southern California:

Due to delays in obtaining the doctor’s signature on the death certificate, transporting the patient to Arizona was nearly delayed an extra day. Because he was a neuro patient,

Alcor’s storage facility is in Arizona. And neuro patient means he was a member of the Frozen Heads Only Club.

we chose instead to perform a cephalic isolation in California.

Cephalic Isolation = Chop his head off. But their term sounds so much more serious.

Doing this eliminated the immediate need for a transit permit, because the brain is considered a tissue sample and is not subject to the same regulations as human remains.

Anybody else really disturbed by the logic of the law here? I would think logically that the opposite would be true. The brain is the really important part, the rest is really just life support and an exo-skeleton for the brain.

It was a choice of last resort, and was only done because an additional 24 hours delay would prevent us from being able to cryoprotect the patient. The patient arrived at the lab at 00:25 on 1 May, almost exactly 18 hours after pronouncement.

I’m not exactly sure why an additional 24 hour delay would have prevented cryo-protection outright. By this point a team was present, they had already washed the patient out (no blood) so clotting shouldn’t have been a factor. The head temperature had been lowered significantly to slow decay. Sure an extra 24 hours would have impacted the preservation achieved, but not nearly as much as a typical delay (the body sitting in an un-cooperative morgue).

These three most recent patients bring the total patients in long-term storage up to 82. Wonder if #100 gets something special (maybe a storage dewar with a window)?

Fun side note, there’s a link on the top of the Alcor blog to a small blurb that the CrazyEngineers’ college newspaper just did a story on cryo-preservation and used some photos from Alcor. It also says:

Please note: They declined our offer to do fact-checking before publishing the article.

I find this immensely amusing since I know from my days at CMU that The Tartan never let facts get in the way of a good story. This also brought back fond memories of when I lit The Tartan up in the alternative student paper with an article on just how incompetent they were at actually running a newspaper ($30K plus in debt, which was getting paid off with student activity fees that should have been going to student organizations).

I like Buffy the Vampire Slayer too, but this is just…sad.

may063985u.jpgNotice, these are not JUST Buffy and Angel action figures. They are action figures of Buffy and Angel from the episode “The Prom” (3rd Season). I mean, words really fail me here. I can’t understand why anybody would buy these except as a gag gift.

To be fair, I found this site by clicking through an ad for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Tarot Card Deck. In my defense, it does look like the deck is fairly clever in linking the Buffy Verse Elements to the traditional Tarot Deck. For example, it looks like The Tower card actually has Buffy diving off it, in reference to the Season 5 finale.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m going to buy it. I have been meaning to buy the Season 8 comic books, but I really don’t have the time to read what books I already have. Also, I fear a Buffy comic book could be a gateway drug to comic/graphic novel reading in general, something I really don’t want to pass.

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