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September 29th, 2014

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News, Updates, & Rants...

     September 29th, 2014

...and back in NYC. Next weekend: adventures in Arizona :-)

- Alex; 20140929
September 29th at wikipedia...

     September 28th, 2014

Since I'm skipping Grand Tetons, I've decided to visit Shoshone Falls in Idaho. So drove there from Yellowstone---takes about 5 hours or so. The waterfall... eh, nothing spectacular. It's big, but I'd rate the grand canyon ribbon falls cooler.

With the whole day to go, decided to drive to Craters Of The Moon National Monument. I didn't know what to expect. It was the closest "national" anything in my GPS, so...

Apparently it's a huge lava field. Similar to the ones in Hawaii (and New Mexico---except bigger).

After running up Inferno Cone, decided to do a longer hike, the "broken top" loop. Go to trailhead, and started off the trail...

Little did I know that I wasn't on the "broken top loop" trail, but on the "tree molds trail" (the loop-less one). After a bit of walking, the trail got weirder and then even more weirder, until it was completely gone. Thinking that it's a "loop", I curved left (to meet up with the other side of the trail).

Needless to say that was when I got lost :-/

Anyway, over an hour (and over 2 miles) of bushwacking later, and a tumble down the mountain (got dirty, but not hurt...), I hit something that resembled footprints... It's very hard to tell on hard-rock if there are footprints---but once in a while there's an indentation in the dirt that resembles footprints.

Apprently the "mountain" I kept on the left was apparently three mountains (not the "broken top" one). What I hit was a wilderness trail that extends off the broken top loop trail.

So unknowingly, I made a HUGE loop trail. About 8 miles, me think. Broken-top loop should've been around 1.7 miles. In retrospect, I could've been walking there for MUCH longer---got pretty lucky there. If that mountain range was just a bit bigger... urgh, I would've still walked out of there (there's only so much land if you keep the mountain on the left---eventually you come out on the other side), but... would've missed my flight.

After this little adventure, drove to Salt Lake (the one by Salt Lake City), and walked a bit on the beach... never done that before (well, not in the salt lake...).

- Alex; 20140928

     September 27th, 2014

Apparently Budget car rental ran out of "everything" and gave me a minivan (it was a choice of a 15-passenger van or a minivan).

Got to Grand Teton National Park... asked about various hikes with plans to actually do them Sunday. The ranger said that there are plenty of bears in the area... and me being paranoid, decided to skip hiking there. Onto Yellowstone.

My primary thing in Yellowstone is to see the "lower falls" (or Artist's Point)... the rest is just extra stuff. So went directly to lower falls, then to Mammoth, then to Prismatic, then to Old Faithful. Apparently when times are busy, they require a reservation to have dinner in log cabin lodge... so made a reservation, waited for about an hour, and then had dinner there. Caught another Old Faithful eruption after dinner, and drove off...

All in all, I got to see what I came to see (lower falls)... the weather sucked all day long (rain, etc.) but, eh.

- Alex; 20140927

     September 26th, 2014

Flying out to Salt Lake City :-)

- Alex; 20140926

     September 21st, 2014

And back in NY... walked around a bit on Saturday, and spent most of the day Sunday driving back :-/

- Alex; 20140921

     September 18th, 2014

Going on a wr0k trip to Maryland, and taking this opportunity to road-trip around that area; hopefully backpacking through Shenandoah on saturday/sunday.

- Alex; 20140918

     September 17th, 2014

Apparently the police were celebrating the 3rd anniversary of OWS (occupy wall street) today... They were out and about just about everywhere downtown area, but not a single OWS protester showed up (at least I didn't see any).

- Alex; 20140917

     September 11th, 2014

It's that time of the year again. I've actually started walking through the 9/11 memorial site every afternoon (my lunch walk; talking to the water). I must say I'm a bit disappointed at the whole memorial construction and presentation. Waterfalls are "nice", but I can't help feeling they could've done a much better job. Pretty much anything else would've served as a better memorial :-/

Finished reading A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy by Daniel Clery. Yep, definitely recommend it. It gets pretty depressing towards the end---the author speculates that fusion power may never be practical or useful. Even if achieved, the fast neutrons would probably kill anyone near by unless very very heavily shielded, and even then, these are fast neutrons we're talking about... a mile of concrete would probably not block all of them.

- Alex; 20140911

     September 7th, 2014

Reading A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy by Daniel Clery. It's certainly eye opening. I admit that I was a HUGE skeptic regarding controlled fusion: my rationale, if Jupiter (the planet) cannot do fusion at its center, while achieving weird metallic hydrogen state that we on earth can't even dream of achieving (and no matter we know of could survive the descent into Jupiter) then how could we control something that even Jupiter cannot muster?

In other words, think of the Earth, think of all the pressure of a thousand miles of rock pressing on an atom, then think of a thousand MORE miles of rock pressing on top, and yet that doesn't even come close to fusion, how could scientists say they can create and control such pressures in a reactor that sits in some lab?

Anyways, this book is changing my perspective. I now firmly believe controlled fusion will happen, soon. Essentially EM forces are way more powerful than gravity, so it might take the entire gravity of the sun to squish atoms together, but it might also be feasible using magnets and/or lasers here on earth. The book explains quite a few experiments that already achieve fusion---just not sustained nor in high enough yields to actually be useful at power generation. So we (as in, the human race) are getting there... It might not be "20 years away", but it will certainly happen eventually.

In other news, apparently I'm going to Yellowstone in two weeks :-)

- Alex; 20140907

     September 4th, 2014

Uploaded pix from the weekend trip:
[Olympic National Park], [North Cascades National Park], [Mount Rainier National Park].

It's hard to believe it's all from this last weekend :-)

Eh, apparently the Rainier pix are quite similar to [my 2012 trip there] :-)

The rest of the albums are [here].

- Alex; 20140904

     September 1st, 2014

There aren't that many ``road-trip-only'' things near Seattle. I contemplated driving 8 hours (and 8 hours back) to Crater Lake... but that's just too crazy, even for me. Perhaps wondering the city? Visit the needle? First Starbucks store? Anyways, with nothing better to do, drove to Mount Rainier National Park. It's pretty close to the airport (~2 hour drive).

My original plan (when I was conteplating this trip) was to hike to Camp Muir. About 4500 feet elevation gain, in amazingly scenic terrain. Anyways, I'll sleep on it.

When I woke up at 7am, the sky was clear, amazing time for a hike. So re-re-bandaged the foot, filled up my water blader with gatorade, and started up the trail. About four hours later, I was at Camp Muir.

Unlike last time, this time I brought microspikes (mini-crampons) with me, and those helped a LOT.

Saw a pretty big rock slide (perhaps a mile away on the mountain) that created a few minutes worth of rumble on the mountain.

The gatorade drink might've kept me hidrated, and salts in my blood, but it really sux drinking gatorade all day long. Not doing that again---at least not as my only drink.

Walking on the glacier is FUN. On the way down, mostly ran, jumped, slid, tumbled down the mountain. Hopping over crevasses (they're well marked on the trail). Towards the end, even though my pants weren't up to the task, I was just sliding on my behind. Few things are as fun as sliding down the glacier on ones behind. I ended up wet all over, but, eh, it's all quick drying anyways.

...and back to the airport. Want to get a bit of sleep, so upgraded to "Even More Space" seat, right at the head of the airplane.

- Alex; 20140901

     August 31st, 2014

Next on my list: North Cascades National Park. Drove to the visitor's center, and asked about the best hike in the park, as well as the shortest hike in the park (foot still hurt).

Apparently the best hike is Cascade Pass trail, with Sahale Arm Trail. That's where the park's brochure pictures were taken. That trailhead is about 20 miles on a dirt-road from Marblemount (nearest town; this involves driving out of the park and entering via this dirt road from another side).

The shortest/easiest hike is by the visitor's center. About a mile something loop. Walked that one very carefully.

Then with nothing better to do (and since I coincidentally rented a semi-SUV, if it can be called that... eh, Chevy Captiva), decided to take the dirt road to the Cascade Pass trail. The road itself is pretty neat, and elevation alows to see what this park is all about.

Anyways, once there, I re-bandaged the foot, and decided to walk a bit. The map showed trailhead at 5700 feet, and Sahale summit about 8300 feet, so I figured a few hours walk to see the best scenery in the park. Perhaps it's worth it?

Without much planning, started walking the Cascade Pass trail, to Sahale summit. When I got to the "Cascade Pass", my GPS showed elevation 5700. Hmm... Apparently the trailhead was at 3700 or so. Hmm... that means the Sahale summit is... quite a bit higher than I was expecting (from the trailhead). Hmm... No problem, I'll just take it slow---I got the whole day :-)

Met a park ranger as he was descending Sohale. He mentioned ``The trail gets a bit hard to fllow, but there are cairns, something something...'' (I have short attention span). Anyways, what he actually meant to say (as I found out later) is that there are NO cairns past a certain point. Anyways, I proceeded up the mountain. At about 7500 feet elevation, the rain turned to hale and SNOW(!!!), and a bit higher, wind picked up. Visibility was crap, fogged all over... and I'm looking for cairns and not seeing any.

This is reminiscent of Hawaii. I'm 900 feet form the summit (according to GPS), no visibility, I can't find the trail (can't see any cairns), it's snowing, and I'm wearing pretty much the same clothing I wore during my Hawaii adventure... except I'm not on a volcano :-)

Anyways, at this point I decided to turn back (well, that and my hands and face were frozen).

On the way back, around "Cascade Pass", I met the park ranger again. Apparently he was concerned about me---the weather was pretty bad and I was the only one up that mountain---so he was waiting for me to come back down. He clarified what he meant (there are NO cairns leading to the summit).

After this mega-hike my foot got worse. Now I was looking for a road-trip-only plan for the following day.

- Alex; 20140831

     August 30th, 2014

During the flight from JFK to Seattle, noticed (via that LiveMap tv channel) that we were flying over Niagara Falls... and looking out of the window, saw the waterfall from 38k feet... clear skies most of the flight :-)

Got to Seattle, rented a Chevy Captiva, and got on driving to Olympic National Park. Doing the counter-clockwise loop hitting every attraction that the park ranger recommended.

First stop, Hurricane Ridge. Did the trail out to Hurricane Hill... an easy 3-something mile hike.

Then a short hike to a waterfall at Elwha, and then another waterfall at Sol Duc. Each takes about an hour or so, they're about a mile or so from the trailhead (and it takes a LONG time to drive between places).

Next stop is Hoh Rain Forest. Did the spruce trail... a bit over a mile, with access to the river, etc.

All this walking blistered one of my feet---no big deal. Happens all the time.

Finishing off the day by watching the sunset at La Push, the ``First Beach''. It's an amazing place... walked along the beach, etc., just beautiful.

Now for the unpleasant bits: Didn't realize that the blister on my foot somehow filled up with beach sand... and a few hours later, that started to hurt a lot, with various unpleasant fluids oozing out of the wound. Urgh. This had to be handled asap---it was already showing signs of being infected.

Found a supermarket that's open (it's 3am!), bought Neosporin. But how to get the sand out? I'm no doctor, but I can probably play one on TV. Using the snake-bite-kit scalpel, I cut off the whole blister, washed with soap (urgh, that hurt!), and bandaged it up with Neosporin---at least now it shouldn't be infected. It was surprising that the scalpel was either dull, or not very good at cutting skin (or maybe I got a tough skin, eh, eh). I think a plain shaving razor would've worked better---I think that's what I'll replace the scalpel with in the snake-bite-kit.

Guess that's it for hiking on this trip :-/

- Alex; 20140830

     August 29th, 2014

Flying out to Seattle...

- Alex; 20140829

     August 28th, 2014


- Alex; 20140828

     August 27th, 2014

Got one of these Bluetooth OBD2 scan tool, and it's damn amazing. Now I can generate graphs of RPMs during a road trip or something. Apparently I had 1 cylinder misfire once :-/

- Alex; 20140827

     August 25th, 2014

...and back in NYC :-)

Uploaded pix from trip: [Hot Springs NP], [Crater of Diamonds], [Cahokia Mounds], [St. Louis Arch].

- Alex; 20140825

     August 24th, 2014

On the flight to St. Louis, my co-passenger told me about Cahokia Mounds, and that being a pretty nice attraction near St. Louis. It's literally a 10 minute drive from the city! Anyways, that's the place I vited right in the morning, and it really is a very pleasant place to walk around. Very very hot though, but I'd imagine that whole area gets an unusual amount of heat. Take the worst humid summer day in New York City, and add 10 degrees to that.

After the Cahokia Mounds remembered about St. Louis Arch. I wasn't going to hang out in the city at all, but this seemed like a good exception. Took the elevator up :-) The elevators at the place are like little space pods, no windows, etc., and sit five(!) shoulder to shoulder.

Noticed a helicopter tours company right outside the Arch (based on a barge). So walked there and did the 20 minute flyover around the whole city. Apparently one of the key attractions on the city is the Budweiser Brewery :-)

Then off to the airport... which is in Ferguson, St. Louis.

- Alex; 20140824

     August 23rd, 2014

Arrived in St. Louis, and pretty much instantly drove out to Arkansas, to Hot Springs National Park. Go there around 8am, and went on a short hike around the summit of the North mountain (where the tower is). Once the tower opened at 9am, ran up to the top... and that's it for this park.

Then walked to the visitor's center, and apparently it's an old bathhouse that's been touristified. The visitor's center is also right next door to other functioning bathhouses---so having nothing to do for the WHOLE day, I went in, bought swimming trunks, and relaxed a bit in the four hot pools while sipping ice cold water. This part of the park is particularly pleasant :-)

After the "hot tubbing" went on a short hike around the base of the mountain... wet my toe in an actual hot spring that's coming out of the ground...and that water is damn hot. Scalding hot! It's kind of weird to see boiling hot water coming out of the ground...

Drove to the peak of West mountain (that's the other mountain in "the park"), walked around a bit there too. There's very little to see in this park---just historical bathhouses and the tower on North mountain. The rest could hardly be called a "national park" any sense.

Drove to Crater of Diamonds State Park... to dig for diamonds. It's just a dirt field that you buy tickets to. A TON of folks there digging in the dirt... some very serious (with shovels, and buckets, and all that). I just walked around with a digging stick, and in about two hours found three "stones" that looked unusual. They later turned out to be calcite (they got a stone identifier in the park, which is pretty neat).

Arkansas has a TON of state parks. I wouldn't be surprised if it has the most state parks of all the states (nope, just googled, it's Michigan). Drove around the whole area... drove the whole ``Boston Mountains Scenic Loop''... visiting parks whenever those showed up on the GPS or highway sign.

Towards the end of the day, stopped by Devil's Den State Park, and went on a hike to some overlook that was recommended at the visitor's center. It was supposed to be 1 mile there and 1 mile back, so I figured an hour total--and since it was about 7pm, I figured I had just enough sunlight left. Long story short, I confused the trails, and went on the wrong one leading into the woods---a while later (by the time I knew I should have walked that 1 mile), I turned back... It got dark in the forest pretty quickly, and I ended up walking for about 30 minutes in total darkness (good thing for headlamp :-).

- Alex; 20140823

     August 22nd, 2014

Flying out to St. Louis; gonna visit Hot Springs National Park.

- Alex; 20140822

     August 20th, 2014

Finished reading Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed Paperback by Ben R. Rich and Leo Janos. That is one great book. If you like airplanes, history, management, and spy craft books, then this book is for you. The writing is very good, clear, and witty. Highly recommend.

It's packed with great management, and absurd stories: e.g. SR-71 was actually named RS-71, until the President (of US) misread the name, the Pentagon then went through everything (like blueprints, etc.) to change the name everywhere from "RS-71" to "SR-71". Wikipedia claims that is only a rumor, but when the guy in charge of Skunk Works puts it in the book, I gotta go with the guy who saw it first hand.

There's also a story of Kelly Johnson having titanium shot glasses in his office---and you can find a set on amazon!. In fact, when you search for "titanium shot glass", on page 3 of results, this book shows up :-)

- Alex; Wed Aug 20 07:05:11 EDT 2014

     August 18th, 2014

Great Java8 outline: Java 8 - Collection enhancements leveraging Lambda Expressions - or: How Java emulates SQL

- Alex; Mon Aug 18 22:05:45 EDT 2014

     August 16th, 2014

Had a bit of a car accident, on FDR approach from Queensborough bridge. A girl in a shiny new Jeep Compass rolled into my left side, as I was waiting at a light. Not much damage, just paint scratched and the rear left bumper realigned... no-in-sewer-ants settlement of $100.

- Alex; Sat Aug 16 23:54:04 EDT 2014

     August 15th, 2014

We're all DOOOOMED: Humans Need Not Apply :-)

- Alex; Fri Aug 15 19:52:12 EDT 2014

     August 13th, 2014

Decided to look over A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram. It's been a while since I've read it, and having read some quantum mechanics stuff recently, I think this book deserves a fresh look. There's something about the game of life and locality that seems quite similar to quantum field theory.

- Alex; Wed Aug 13 02:32:53 EDT 2014

     August 8th, 2014

Built another release of SQLrunner. This release fixes a header display bug that showed up when using Hive.

- Alex; Fri Aug 8 01:09:19 EDT 2014

     August 7th, 2014

Finished reading The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces by Frank Wilczek. Another amazing Wilczek book! Below are some really neat quotes from the book:

``An ordinary truth is a statement whose opposite is a falsehood. A profound truth is a statement whose opposite is also a profound truth.'' --Frank Wilczek

``One cannot escape the feeling that these mathematical formulae have an independent existence and an intelligence of their own, that they are wiser than we are, wiser even than their discoverers, that we get more out of them than was originally put into them.'' --Heinrich Hertz, commenting on Maxwell's equations.

- Alex; Thu Aug 7 23:24:19 EDT 2014

     August 1st, 2014

Finished reading Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum by Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman. I got this book in February, and it took me 6 months, and three re-re-readings to claim to have "read it". I'll likely end up re-re-reading it again at some point in the future, but for the moment (for this year at least), I'm done with it.

The first "theoretical minimum" book (The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics) was very easy to read... it was tough, but you think stuff through, and it made sense. This Quantum Mechanics one... not so much. It's tough. Very tough. It reads VERY easy, but then you realize you're just reading words without actually undrestanding what's going on. It's very well written, in clear language, with occasional jokes. But the material is damn confusingly tough---and thinking stuff through just doesn't work. I didn't get a lightbulb in the end with `aha, so that's what it's all about!' thing.

The gist (the easy bits) is that quantum mechanics is just like classical physics in many ways, except there's a HUGE distinction regarding what you (or anyone) can measure. For example, in classical mechanics, you can say: this object is at x,y,z, and that's the end of it. In quantum mechanics you know the object has a state, but the measurement problem takes on a bigger role... and some measurements may screw up each other, for example, measuring the x may screw up y, so you won't measure object being at x,y,z. More on that in a second.

The state of the system (say an electron spin) is represented as a vector [of complex numbers], such as |state> That's usually a column vector. You can flip that to a row vector and change sign of complex numbers (conjugate) and get <state| vector.

Observables are represented as "operators", which are just square matrices, like M. You ``measure'' (observe) the state by applying the matrix, e.g. <state| M |state>. This results in a vector of probabilities---where the probability is... well, the probability of being in a certain state.

...but but but... how are the observables related to the probabilities of states? It turns out that observables are actually eigenvectors of matrix M, and probability vector essentially tells you which eigenvector is most probable.

The book goes through quite a bit of detail on setting up operators, and explaining how they work, etc., but even after reading through the chapters 3 times, I still can't remember how it all fit together---but apparently it does.

Anyways, here's a 30 second explanation of the key thing in quantum mechanics: measuring position AND momenum of the particle. Let's imagine that you somehow manage to measure position so precisely, that the position function is defined on exactly one very precise point. Now, to find momenum (or velocity), take the derivative of that function. You suddenly realize that the derivative is not defined on a function that is defined in only 1 spot. So according to calculus (forget quantum mechanics), you cannot know position and velocity at the same time.

A car analogy: you can take a very sharp photograph of a car on the highway. If your shutter is very fast, the car will appear to stand still in the picture... fast shutter made the car position very precise---but you have no idea how fast it's moving! So you slow down your shutter speed---you get a picture of a blurry car, but now you can figure out how fast it is moving... but you've lost the sharpness that tells you it's exact position.

To sum it up, as much as I enjoyed the first theoretical minimum book, I wouldn't recommend Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum, unless you enjoy that sort of thing... just keep in mind that it won't come easy. This is certainly not light reading.

- Alex; 20140801

     July 31st, 2014

Swapping T-Mobile for GoSmart mobile... quite a bit cheaper, for similar service (I do need "unlimited" data, but don't really care how fast it is... emails don't take much).

- Alex; 20140731

     July 30th, 2014

Got one of them GeekDesks. Took them almost a month to ship the thing, and a mixup at the warehouse resulted in me getting two of them... now they have to send me shipping labels to send the 2nd one back.

As for the desk itself, haven't had a chance to use it yet. Assembly wasn't bad, but it did take a bit of time (the top doesn't have any pre-drilled holes, so a bit of pain there, but the rest is pretty easy).

- Alex; 20140730

     July 26th, 2014

Drove out to Mnt.Marcy for a day trip. Did the loop from Loj to Marcy Dam, then to Lake Colden, then to Colden Dam, then to Marcy summit, from there back to Marcy Dam, and then back to parking lot.

Got to the trailhead a bit later than usual, around noon-ish, so was starting the hike as many folks were just leaving... which resulted in nobody on Mnt.Marcy summit by the time I got there---it was great... warm, relaxing, nobody around, etc.,

- Alex; 20140726

     July 19th, 2014

Haven't seen this in ages: Get Quaked 3! Ah, the warm and fuzzy nostalgia...

- Alex; Sat Jul 19 22:59:26 EDT 2014

     July 7th, 2014

And back in NYC...

- Alex; 20140707

     July 6th, 2014

Of the California National Parks, my favorite is Sequoia National Park---so having a free day, decided to walk among the big trees. Got there right at dawn, and...there's nobody in the park---the entire park is empty. I ran all over the place, etc., it's great to have that kind of park all to myself... :-)

- Alex; 20140706

     July 5th, 2014

Joshua Tree National Park was the "primary" park to visit during this trip. I've already been to the rest of the parks before, so to visit something "new", Joshua Tree was the primary destination. Anyways, got there in the morning, and phone beeped a flash-floor warning as soon as I got there---in the desert!!! Apparently previous day there was quite a storm, and some roads looked washed out (I didn't realize desert downpours produce flash floods like that). Luckily none of those hit while I was there.

After visiting the visitor's center, decided to do the usual loop road, and hike the primary mountain in the middle of the park. And stop by every turn out, etc.

I didn't even realize what this park is all about until I got there. One thing is obviously the Joshua trees---this park is full of them. Though there are places in death valley just as nice. What really amazed me about Joshua tree were the rocks... roundish boulders just there in the middle of this desert---very out of place. They're also easy to climb, etc.

In the middle of the park, walked up the Ryan Mountain (5.4k feet). Pretty easy hike---only struggle is the heat, not the elevation.

On driving out of the park noticed another turn out labeled ``Hidden Valley Nature Trail'', so decided to do that too. This turn out to be pretty neat. Very pleasant walk. I'd label this the key hike in the entire park.

- Alex; 20140705

     July 4th, 2014

Arrived in Lassen Volcanic National Park, asked for the best hikes in the park at the visitor's center, and proceeded with the "best" onwards. The best, according to park rangers, was to Brokeoff Mountain... it's the longest/steepest hike in the park. The parking lot for it was full, so had to park at the visitor center and then walk to the trailhead. The view from the summit is nice, but the trail itself is average-foresty-trail, nothing spectacular.

The second hike on the list is Bumpass Hell trail. Lassen apparently still some heat underneath it, (had a big eruption about 100 years ago or so). Anyways, there are geisers kinda like in Yellowstone in one particular area in Lassen---and they're at the ``end'' of the Bumpass Hell trail. The trail is short, and ends in a viewing area where you can see (and smell) earth breathing surfur, and bubbling pools of something.

The third hike is the Lassen Peak itself. Highest point in the park. By this time I was thoroughly tired, and barely made it to the summit. There's still snow up there apparently. Got back to the car just barely before sunset...

- Alex; 20140704

     July 3rd, 2014

Flying out to San Francisco :-)

- Alex; Thu Jul 3 15:16:24 EDT 2014

     July 2nd, 2014

Finished reading Fantastic Realities: 49 Mind Journeys And a Trip to Stockholm by Frank Wilczek. Wow, this is an amazing book. Highly highly recommend! Good chunks of this book went right over my head, but the chunks that didn't, were crystal clear. For example, Wilczek explains the reason for fields---it's the speed of light and locality. If you don't have instant communication, whatever interactions you have with anything is via fields---which leads to generalization of these fields---the reason all particles, electrons, protons, etc., all look the same is because they're not particles, but artifacts of the same field---there is no such thing as empty space, the same field extends everywhere, etc. Supersymetry is just a mathematical trick to combine the known fields into a ``single field''. Wilczek also mentions the F=ma equation---and that there's no such things in relativity---there are no forces! There's not even a concept like force... and yet it was so useful in Newton's time. I've heard this mentioned in other places, but it's amazing to have this concept just put out there like that---there's no spoon^H^H^H^H err... force... :-)

This book is just a brain dump of really neat mind craft stuff, definitely worth reading if you're into that sort of thing.

- Alex; Wed Jul 2 01:29:48 EDT 2014

     July 1st, 2014

Mauna Loa, 6 months later: Well, it's been 6 months since my Mauna Loa trip... kind of like in that panda cartoon, `yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, and today is a present...' It's good to be around :-)

The only residual problems left since the trip are numb toes---I don't think I step on the right part of the toe when I walk, so if walking an extended distance (say 10 miles or so), the toes start to hurt (besides that, they're pretty numb, so maybe hurting isn't bad?). There doesn't appear anything lasting... so, yey! It took a good few months of barely walking to recover from the frostbite---at the time I didn't think I'd actually be able to walk normally, at least not in the 6 months or so, but, eh, walking rocks. Also re-started jogging regularly, and going on long hikes... And might just do Mauna Loa next year (likely as a shorter "day hike" of running up and down in one day).

In other news, made another release of SQLRunner. This new release is compatible with Hive JDBC driver (HiveServer2). The unsupported methods that throw exceptions are ignored. Also fhead2ddl utility got updated to support Hive13 datatypes such as varchar, date, and timestamp---though I wouldn't personally use them just yet (the hive implementation is kind of dumb at the moment; it only recognizes YYYY-MM-DD timestamps without any option of changing the input format---in other words, if your data is anything other than this format, you won't be able to read dates as "DATE" datatype). Also added "nocreate" option to fhead2ddl utility---to make it easier to script stuff within create statements.

- Alex; Tue Jul 1 02:01:37 EDT 2014

     June 29th, 2014

Went to the beach---first time this season. There's a weird pipe exposed right on the beach, A Massive Rockaway Gas Pipeline Is Being Built Right Under Our Beaches. And that's just BAD. At the very least, they should've burried it under many many many feet of sand (not "right on the beach"). But it appears to be literally "right on the beach"; there are even artificial sand dunes for folks to climb over it to cross. They ruined that beach!

- Alex; 20140629

     June 24th, 2014

Stuff I'm remotely part of got into the news: Wall St watchdog moves to cloud, big data, to boost capabilities.

- Alex; Tue Jun 24 07:30:39 EDT 2014

     June 22nd, 2014

Blizzard is feeding my WoW addiction; they gave me 7 free days to play WoW... Mostly to do the Black Prince quest line... (I'm on 7th quest in the chain).

In other news, 18th minute of fame: CUNY Newswire; Brooklyn College adjunct professor who teaches computer science classes, became trapped in a snowstorm for two days in January near the top of a volcano in Hawaii. 19th minute of fame will apparently show up in Reader's Digest.

- Alex; Sun Jun 22 15:53:24 EDT 2014

     June 17th, 2014

Got one of those Synology 8-Bay Diskless NAS thing. This thing really has a bit too many features for casual users like myself. I just want to stick old harddrives into the thing and have it work, but... that's not as simple. Need to configure volumes, raids, etc., it's quite a bit more complicated than it needs to be. Also, mounting it on my LAN is just a pain---rsync doesn't work out of the box via ssh, you need to mount the thing as NFS then rsync to that NFS mount.

All in all, it's an amazing piece of hardware, I just with they had the "stupid mode" where you just stick in any number of drives, and it automatically replicates *files* on at least 3 disks (forget volumes, etc., don't get for those). And if 1 disk fails, it should just rebalance the under-3-copies to the other disks... etc., but it doesn't seem to do that, nor have the stupid mode. (raid does work, I've learned that some of my old disks really are "bad"---but recovering from a bad volume is not easy if you don't have a spare bigger disk---for example, I put in four 3T disks, two 2T disks, and two 1T disks, and then the one by one, the 2T disks failed... even though I had spare 1T disks, I couldn't use them... so ended up rebuilding the volume, etc., just a pain. Would've been nice for the thing to say "hey, you got like spare 9T of free space overall, let me just rebalance the files across the disks that are left, oh, and stick in that old 1T disk in there, we'll use it for file replication".

I'll probably end up getting another one of these though... but they really should've made it easier to use for home users.

- Alex; 20140617

     June 15th, 2014

Hiked Mnt.Washington in NH. The tuckerman ravine trail is still closed due to snow (yes, middle of June, and there's still snow there!). Did a loop going up via Boot spur trail, to lake of the clouds, to summit, and down via lion's head. Weather was mostly typical Mnt.Washington---partly clear and sunny, with upper-30s temperature rain on the other side of the mountain (so going from cool morning, into a freezing rain with high winds, then warmer, and then just plain hot descend).

- Alex; 20140615

     May 29th, 2014

Finished reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. For one, I really don't understand why this book is so damn popular and so criticized---my guess is that anyone who criticizes it hasn't really read it (certainly seems like the case from reading negative amazon reviews).

The book is NOT a rehash of Karl Marx, or an updated version of. It's a completely different book, that actually criticizes Marx at one point.

There are also news stories that some of the data is `wrong'. Well... who knows, but I highly doubt it. As the author himself says, the data is very hard to come by, and the assumptions are all explained in the text, and they do seem reasonable.

The main thing in the book: rate of return on capital is generally higher than growth rate of the economy, which leads to income inequality. That's it. That's what this whole book is about. There are other minor themes in the book, but I really don't see how anyone can argue with the main thing.

For example, lets say there are $100 in the whole world, and you own $20 of them, in say realestate. The whole economy grows by an amazing 3% a year, and your realestate value grew at 5% a year. The end result is that there are now $103 in the whole world, and you own $21 of them.

So before year started, you owned 20/100 or 1/5th of the money, and after the year is out you own 21/103 of the money. I'll turn that into decimals so it's clearer: before start of year you owned 20% of the moneh, after year: 20.388% of the moneh. Guess what happens after another year? It doesn't take a PhD to notice a trend that after a few years, you'll own everything.

Yes, there are limits, and as your share of ownership gets to those limits, your return on capital will equal growth rate of the economy--but that point is when you're owning just about the entire economy. (e.g. King's fortune grows at the same rate as his kingdom).

With GDP growing at extremely low rates (and projecting to be going at similarly crappy crates long into the future), and no investment portfolio even considering rates below 4% a year... you get the idea. The rich getting richer and poor getting poorer, in absolute sense. One can't argue with that.

What one can (and many do) argue with is whether anything should be done, and if yes, then what exactly should be done? That I don't know.

The author is proposing a tax on capital, similar to property taxes. For example, if you own realestate, you pay tax on it every year (irrelevant whether it generates money or not). If you own $X dollars or shares in a company, you don't pay any tax until you realize the gains. The author proposes to tax capital in the same way we currently tax land. So of you own shares of a company worth $X at the end of the year, even if you don't sell them, the gov would tax you on the value of those shares---so every year you're forced to generate a return higher than the tax. Obviously the tax rate would be progressive, etc.

Whether you agree with this approach or not is a different matter---if you have a better idea, publish a book on it! :-)

- Alex; Thu May 29 08:02:07 EDT 2014

     May 26th, 2014

Arrived at Death Valley National Park at 2am or so. Spend a few hours staring at the sky. The stars are amazing---with a moonless night, and the nice comfy 95-degrees outside during the night, it was very pleasant to just sit back and enjoy the skies.

At sunrise, did a short walk by Badwater (lowest/hottest point in the park). Stopped by a few sightseeing attractions, etc., then drove off to Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas, walked the whole length of the strip, from Luxor to the Eiffel tower and back... then drove off to Hoover Dam.

At Hoover dam, walked the whole length of the dam, from east to west and back... then drove off to Phoenix.

It was still way too early for the flight back, so on GPS found the closest state park near Phoenix, and apparently it's ``The Lost Dutchman''; so drove there to spend a few hours. In the park, spotted a ``Lost Treasure Loop'' trail, so... went on that.

As the sun was setting, I walked the 2.5 miles up the mountain and down the mountain in the Lost Dutchman...and it was great. That park is really nice, the trail is well marked, very scenic, especially with the setting sun making everything red. Just amazing.

Then drove to airport, and that's about it for the trip.

- Alex; 20140526

     May 25th, 2014

At the first sign of light (4am?), drove off from Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon National Park. I've been to Bryce twice, but never actually done any hikes inside the canyon---first time I didn't know any trails (and visitor's center was closed), and second time trails were closed due to ice. This time, they were all open---and I read that the best trail is `Queens Garden', so that's the one I went on.

The trail is a loop that goes along the canyon rim from `Sunset point' to `Sunrise point' and down (and up) through the canyon on the return leg. Pretty nice, and definitely feels like you're seeing the best parts of the canyon (when viewing the canyon from the rim, you're seeing the rock formations from top to bottom, and no way of getting closer... on the trail, you're walking right by those weird rocks).

After the Bryce, drove to Zion National Park. The plan was to attempt to do (first half of?) the `subway' hike. But after talking to folks at visitor's center, it turned out to be in a "wrong park" or "wrong side of the park" and in any case, need a permit and climbing equipment for it, etc., so that was out of the question. So with a few hours of daylight left, decided to run up Angel's Landing---the neat steep hike up a narrow mountain where you have to hold the chains while climbing.

About an hour or so later, I was at the summit, and fed the summit chipmunks some almonds. On the way down, the knee started to give me some trouble (must be the pain killers wearing off).

After the Zion NP, didn't really have any plans. That was the maximum I was planning for the trip, so the rest of the trip was... improvised.

- Alex; 20140525

     May 24th, 2014

Arrived in Phoenix, AZ. The car rental company ran out of "box on wheels" models and upgraded me to a 5L V8 Mustang. That car eats gas like crazy... Only ~200-something miles range (since I ended up driving about 2k miles, you can imagine how often I had to fill up :-/. It does have a rather pleasant engine sound though... low pitched rumble (sounds like driving a truck), and when slamming gas it does take off pretty quickly---but for someone like me who prefers to drive 5mph below speed limit... that's kind of useless.

After getting out of Phoenix airport, drove to Walmart in Flagstaff---got snacks, knife, etc., and onto the grand canyon.

Apparently many folks had the same bright idea of showing up at grand canyon very early... I got there a little after 4AM, and about 5AM something was on the bus to the trailhead... Definitely not the first to the trail---very hard to walk with all the "slow" walkers slowing everyone down (and not taking hints to get out of the way).

By about 8AM was at Phantom Ranch. Mostly ran through it, since it was already packed with other hikers.

At the `Ribbon Falls' junction, after talking to another hiker, decided to cut the trail a bit... (the Ribbon Falls have a side trail, except to see them you have to backtrack---there also rather steep mountain you have to climb). Anyway, it turns out the trick is to go in the *opposite* direction than what the trail arrow indicates at the ribbon falls junction. Trail arrow says "robbon falls" go right... and you should go left :-)

This alternate route requires walking (carefully) through the river, but gets you to the ribbon falls, AND lets you avoid the steep hill. So it's a win-win.

The ribbon falls are amazing. If I knew they were this nice, I would've visited them during my previous hikes (but I never wanted to backtrack just to see a waterfall, and didn't know about the trick of hopping through the river).

By about 11AM-ish, was at Cottonwood campground. Shortly afterwards the thunderstorm started... the thunder is...amm...VERY loud in the canyon. Feels like the whole thing is shaking all around you. Waited out the bulk of the storm at the ranger station (2 miles north of Cottonwood).

Then up up up... I think I hurt my knee while jumping from rock to rock on the south side descent. Was limping all the way up the north side.

The plan was to hang around the north rim, and then head back to the south rim (walk at night, look at stars, etc.,). Hiking at night has its rewards. But with the bad knee, that plan was not working out. I asked other hikers what arrangements can be made on the north rim---and apparenlty there's a shuttle that takes folks from south to north or vice versa, twice daily... one in morning (around 8am), and another at 2pm. The shuttle requires a reservation, etc., I learned all that at 2pm, roughly two hours away from the actual summit.

So with all hope mostly gone, got to the north rim, and decided to seek a taxi, or find other hikers who might be pooling into a car to get to south rim. If all fails, I was prepared to walk back, but... that would've been a major pain in the... knee.

At the north rim trailhead, someone pointed me at a van parked right by the trailhead. It was about to drive off... I literally chased after it waving my arms. Apparently that *is* the shuttle van to the south rim---the one that was supposed to leave at 2pm, but was still there at 4:30pm! (this is just plain dumb luck).

The shuttle was waiting for another party ("Millers, party of 6") to show up; since apparently they made the resevation, and nobody else... if Millers didn't show up, the van wouldn't have a reason to go :-/

So there we (me and the driver) waiting in the van for the Millers to show up. We drove from north rim to lodge a few times (sometimes shuttling hikers for tips). By 6-ish, the driver's boss called and said he's not to drive after dark... so of Millers didn't show up in the next 15 minutes or so, the driver should spend the night on the north rim, and 'sorry about the other guy, but he didn't make a resevation'. So there... with dumb luck of getting the van, the whole thing was unraveling...

The reason for not driving at night... Apparently the north rim is FILLED with deer. Like every 100 yards or so, there's a bunch of them standing by the road... ready to jump in front of the car. More deer than I've ever seen in my life.

At 6:30PM, half the Millers show up! Apparetly they were also doing the Rim-to-Rim, and half of them were a bit quicker on the way up. Yey! With Millers around, we were sure to make the trip (a 4.5 hour drive!). We waited a bit more, and when everyone showed up, drove to the south side. I think we got there by about 12-ish or so (it took a bit longer than 4.5 hours, since we stopped for gas, and a coffee break).

And that's how day one of the trip ended.

- Alex; 20140524

     May 23rd, 2014

Flying out to Arizona :-)

- Alex; 20140523

     May 21st, 2014

Finished reading Building Automated Trading Systems: With an Introduction to Visual C++.NET 2005 by Benjamin Van Vliet, and agree with the amazon reviewer who said it's a waste of paper.

About 99% of the book talks about elementary .NET C++, and has nothing to do with ``trading systems.'' In fact, there's nothing non-obvious that is discussed---the most complicated thing the author does is a moving average. If you're interested in learning how actual *trading* systems work (the ones that cross orders, clear trades, implement route strategies, etc., you'll have to look elsewhere). The rest of the book is just going over .NET C++ features and how they work in the language. For example, there's a chapter on classes, objects, references, threads, etc., the basics of the language.

Considering that I haven't seen .NET `managed' vs `non-managed' C++ before (e.g. using ^ as ``pointer'' in C++, etc.) this book isn't a total waste (I learned to stay away from .NET---not that I didn't know this before).

- Alex; 20140521

     May 18th, 2014

Played around with Postgres-XL, the ``Scalable Open Source PostgreSQL-based Database Cluster.'' Compiled the 9.2 release candidate from source (mostly painless on Ubuntu server---some libraries were missing, but mostly easy to figure out), and loaded a few moderate (about 10gig) tables onto a two node cluster.

Very disappointed so far. I was expecting an open source of greenplum or netezza, and this is FAR from it. The release candidate is buggy to the point of unusability. This bug [ERROR: Invalid Datanode number] pretty much makes it unusable... and I didn't do anything weird to get it (just follow the steps, load data, and query it)---they obviously didn't test this release (at least not with multiple datanodes; the single node version works fine---but then I could just use plain PostgreSQL for that!).

Assuming this bug is fixed, other things I was curious in were execution plans. If you distribute both tables on the same key, and then do a join on that key, one assumption is that the database will perform a normal join without redistributing the data. Well... this one doesn't---it does something way more stupid. I created two tables distributed on "keyA", and when you join the tables on just "keyA", the database does a local join. But then you join the tables on "keyA, keyB", the database stupidly redistributes the data(!).

In more complicated joins (3 way joins, two tables distributed on keyA, one table distributed on keyB), the database did even more crazy things---such as inner loop joins (something that would not complete until the sun burns out), redistributing things on "keyC" (some tests had join on "keyA,keyC" and "keyB,keyC")---and keyC had very low cardinality.

In other words, this distributed database is far far far from ready for prime time---at the moment, I'll label it downright unusable. For this test, all tables were hash distributed, and analyzed after the data load.

Going forward, they might have a bright future---if they fix the usability bugs, and tweak the optimizer quite a bit (it's not enough to just use postgres optimizer, distributed databases must have bulk data movement component to optimization---if you don't have to move data, don't move it).

- Alex; 20140518

     May 10th, 2014

After spending 4 hours in the airport... the flight was canceled. Instead of spending the night in a hotel (heh!) and cutting short the trip to literally 1 day (instead of a weekend), I canceled the whole reservation, and went back home. Will have to checkout Hot Springs NP some other time.

- Alex; Sat May 10 14:40:00 EDT 2014

     May 9th, 2014

Flying out to St Luis :-)

- Alex; Fri May 9 14:47:54 EDT 2014

     May 4th, 2014

Neat site: Dark Sky Finder!

- Alex; Sun May 4 02:07:00 EDT 2014

     May 1st, 2014

Happy May Day!

In other news, me in CUNY Matters :-)

- Alex; Thu May 1 21:25:55 EDT 2014

     April 27th, 2014

Got around to uploading pix from last trip: [Badlands NP] [Theodore Roosevelt NP] [Mount Rushmore].

Also uploaded pix from last December's trip to: [Key West and Everglades NP].

The rest of the albums are [here].

...goal is to visit all national parks...and I'm upto 39 (out of 59).

In related news, going to Hot Springs National Park in 2 weeks, and all over Arizona/Utah in 4 weeks :-)

- Alex; Sun Apr 27 05:44:41 EDT 2014

     April 25th, 2014

Setup 2nd Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK; one of my `desktops' this time. Think I'll wait before getting a 3rd (to replace my `dev box')---there doesn't appear to be an easy way to get that NUC model to work with dual HDMI (or dual DVI) monitors---and my monitors don't have a display port :-/

- Alex; 20140425

     April 23rd, 2014

Upgraded one of my `media' computers to an Intel NUC Kit D54250WYK. Essentially it's an i5 computer that you buy components for. I added Crucial M500 480GB mSATA SSD, and Crucial 16GB DDR3...and it flies. It's a tiny powerful computer! Plays HD video using only 6% of the clocked down CPU running at 800Mhz! This thing will save moneh on electricity. Already ordered another one. Plan to replace all my home desktops/servers with these tiny powerhouses in the next month or so.

- Alex; 20140423

     April 20th, 2014

Got to Voyageurs National Park (Ash River Visitor Center) just before dawn...and discovered to my surprise that all the lakes are frozen :-/

And the Ash River Visitor Center was closed---for the season :-/

Pretty much all one can do is run around on the ice a bit---the ice itself is closed to vehicles (apparently it's open in the winter for trucks/SUVs upto 7000lb). I didn't feel safe to run all the way out in the middle of the frozen lake, but near the shore, it felt pretty solid. Eh!

Saw a Bald Eagle eating roadkill on the side of the road.

After hanging around for a bit, headed back towards Minneapolis, with frequent stops along various places.

Headed back to airport, and... back in NYC in just about 2 hours :-)

- Alex; 20140420

     April 19th, 2014

Got to Badlands National Park right after dawn, and headed down each of those scenic viewpoints. This is also an amazing park---seriously contemplated going on a day long hike there, but ended up doing a few `short walks' instead. I had this crazy idea of doing more stuff on that day, so by noon-ish I was out of the park, and on my way to...Darwin.

The next stop is Biggest ball of twine in Darwin, Minnesota. Mostly since hearing Weird Al's "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" song, it's one of those things to visit in Minnesota. Here's a link to youtube video.

Stopped by the restaurant across the street from the ball-of-twine. Had a HUGE steak, two sides, and a beer...for $20 (I was impressed at how cheap it was).

Headed towards the next-big-thing: Voyageurs National Park.

- Alex; 20140419

     April 18th, 2014

Landed in Minneapolis, rented a Mazda box-on-wheels and started towards Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Got there by morning, and started on the 36-mile loop road. Saw prairie dogs, bison, feral horses, bighorn sheep, etc. Really didn't expect this park to be this nice. Wish I allocated more time to it for some hiking.

After a quick drive through Theodore Roosevelt NP, headed towards Wind Cave National Park. That is NOT a quick drive---this is definitely something I underestimated. Anyways, made it to Wind Cave NP by 3-ish... the GPS took me to the *wrong* side of the park, so ended up driving throug the entire thing without realizing I was actually *in* the park (there's a State Park that turns into a National Park). Got to visitor's center a bit late for the "cave tour" (and all tickets were sold out anyway). Hung around the place for a bit longer, then decided to go visit Mnt.Rushmore...something I was planning to do the following day.

On the drive to Mount Rushmore followed the signs towards the Crazy Horse Memorial, which turned out to be a private venture unrelated to any state/national park---and collets $10 just to get a closer look. I fully agree with all the criticism expressed in the wikipedia article---the whole experience and visitors center felt a bit of a scam to suck moneh out of visitors.

On the road to Mount Rushmore noticed a helicopter tour company---so stopped by and asked about a tour. And ``you can be doing the tour in 20 minutes'' really impressed me, so I paid to have a fly over Mount Rushmore, which is ~20 miles away from the helicopter place.

The flight to Mnt.Rushmore was over Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota. A very windy flight! First time I felt a helicopter go sideways due to wind and have those turbulence effects like falling. Neat experience! Saw some goats on the mountain as we flew over them. Mnt.Rushmore looks a bit small from the helicopter.

After helicopter flight, drove to Mount Rushmore Memorial; got there before the gift shops closed, and almost made it to the caffeteria... but they closed literally in the exact minute I walked in :-/

Since Mnt.Rushmore is apparently "lit" in the evening, decided to stick around until dark to see it at night.

A bit later, headed to nearest town, to visit a Walmart; got food, and then headed off to Badlands National Park.

- Alex; 20140418

     April 17th, 2014

NY Attorney General subpoenas HFT firms. ``HFT has come under scrutiny over the past several weeks following the release of the Michael Lewis book "Flash Boys".'' Eh!

In other news, flying out to Minnesota tonight.

- Alex; Thu Apr 17 00:35:29 EDT 2014

     April 15th, 2014

Went outside at 3am to observe the Blood Moon, and nothing. The sky was overcast, and the moon wasn't there where the Google Sky Map said it should be (guess it was there, eclipsed, and due to clouds, nothing). Eh. Oh, well.

And in other news, Happy Tax Day!

- Alex; Tue Apr 15 07:58:14 EDT 2014

     April 14th, 2014

Got around to uploading pix from last week's trip: [Guadalupe Mountains] [Carlsbad Caverns]. The rest of the pix are here.

- Alex; Mon Apr 14 02:14:42 EDT 2014

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