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News, Updates, & Rants...
And now I'm back in NYC :-)
During the trip, had lunch at Oklahoma Joe's, the original gas station one. Best BBQ I've ever had.
On airplane had a very interesting conversation with another traveler, who happend to be a farmer from Kansas, farming corn, beans, etc., and raising cattle. I was surprised by how much the guy knew about futures markets, specifically futures on corn, etc. He manages a 5k acre farm, so we talked about how much these things cost to own, rent, operate, etc., (he rents the land, but some farmers own, rent varies from $40 to $200 per acre, usually rent is proportional to yields), the yields per acre, etc., machinery speed (how many acres per hour can the combine go through). I also learned what crop rotation really means, as well what it means to have 3 harvests per year (apparently, it's 3 harvests from 3 *different* fields---you don't plant 3 things on the same land in 1 year). It's something that never occured to me. It maximizes your work---while you work one field, the other fields grow, etc. And it would've never occured to me that you need 2 acres of feed per cow... they're not cheap to buy, and then account for 2 acres of rents for a year, etc., they're not cheap to raise. It's an amazing business---but apparently with very low margins. I figure you make at most few hundred dollars per acre per year, and that does not extend to all 5k acres (and that's not including labor/machinery/administrative costs). One thing that's interesting is that there are service places that handle financial matters for farmers (such as managing the day-to-day maintenance of futures contracts, and they get paid a rate by bushel in the futures contract (e.g. 13 cents per bushel, just to manage the futures contracts on corn). There's also insurance, which is not an insignificant factor (~$20-$40 per acre)---and if you operate without insurance, and a freak storm wipes out your harvest, and you're unable to buy out your futures contract, you're screwed financially. The trick to making a living farming is apparently to do things on a large scale. You make a pittance per acre, cow, whatever, so you gotta have a LOT of them so the tiny margin adds up (I doubt you'd make any decent living farming 100 acres or so). Anyways, a very interesting and very educational conversation.
- Alex; Sat Mar 8 18:48:12 EST 2014
March 8th at wikipedia...
Flying out to Kansas :-)
- Alex; Wed Mar 5 08:10:24 EST 2014
More videos from my friend: Hawaii Videos. I was in the back of the truck in the green sand video---so that's kind of participation; fun fact, the gopro camera fell off the truck on the way back, and didn't break.
- Alex; Sat Feb 22 18:48:36 EST 2014
Facebook buys WhatsApp for $19 billion. The deal is only $4 billion in cash, and the rest is in Facebook shares (eh!). This is why it's happening: FB P/E: 111.39. When your shares are flying *this* high, you'd be stupid not to buy stuff with them, but still... at least FB has earnings. WhatsApp? ``even if every single one of its active users becomes a paying customer, WhatsApp would generate just $450 million in total revenue'' [ref]. This isn't profit. This is revenue. FB is not getting much leverage out of their sky-high P/E if they're buying a company with a similar sky-high P/E. Smart thing would've been to buy 19B worth of GE, or PG... (you know, use high P/E shares to buy up low P/E shares, etc.).
- Alex; Thu Feb 20 09:20:05 EST 2014
Still recovering. After last Tuesday night, could barely walk most of last week (walking around with trekking poles at home). Being immobilized like that certainly feels debilitating---major effort and pain just to get to the rest room and back---can't do anything except sit and use a computer or watch tv. Frostbite is now my #1 serious injury---I certainly didn't give it enough credit before---but it sure hurts a lot with a pain that doesn't go away much with pain killers. Hopefully the worst is behind me though. It still hurts, but at least I can stand without holding onto something. Will attempt to go back to wr0k this week; the swelling is mostly going down, the dark spots on toes haven't expanded, and with enough pain killers, perhaps it will be fine. We'll see :-)
In other news, I wasted a 3-day-weekend sitting at home! :-/
Friend uploaded his hawaii video: [Doors Off Flying in Helicopter].
- Alex; Tue Feb 18 01:16:57 EST 2014
Uneventful weekend. Mostly still recovering from Mauna Loa adventure; specifically the frostbite. Apparently that doesn't hurt for a while (like a week), and then it hurts like hell (like now). Not the most pleasant experience---as nerves are waking up, like nails pounded into my toes :-/
Update: Went to doc, who circled the dark toes with a marker and told me to watch'em if the darkness grows. If grows, it will need to be handled surgically. Keeping my fingers crossed for ``everything will likely go away by itself, but will take time'' alternative. Did other general things, like blood tests, etc. No pain killers except Advil.
- Alex; Mon Feb 10 08:35:01 EST 2014
Hawaii Trip Log
Day 1 (Saturday, 20140125)
Arrived in Honolulu, transfered flights and got to Kona by around 9am.
Neat trick: Hawaiian airlines generally charges for checked luggage---but first leg of journey was with Jetblue, so I checked in with Jetblue (free), and then the luggage just got to the destination---withou any paying.
Rented Ford Focus for the week.
Visited Kona walmart to stock up on supplies.
Drove to Volcano National Park; visited the backcountry office and got a permit for the Mauna Loa hike.
Drove to black sand beach by Kalapana. Wow that place is deserted when no lava is flowing. Didn't even get the Kalapana smoothie :-/
Drove to Mauna Kea visitor's center for stargazing. Saw the M82 supernova---it's amazing that the star exploded so long ago just so that I could see it (quantum mechanics and all that).
Drove back to Volcano National Park; spent the night by Jagger Museum looking at Kilauea.
Day 2, Adventure day 1 (Sunday, 20140126)
Drove up Mauna Loa Access Road (about 14 miles off the main highway), parked car, got supplies ready, and headed up the mountain pretty early.
I've been asked this dozens of times this week, so I might as well list my gear/pack: synthetic underwear, microwool chest, heavy fleece jacket, fleece pants, goretex wind/rain-shell pants and jacket. 800-fill down jacket. winter hat, gloves, winter mittens, facemask. 2 sets of hand warmers, 1 set of foot warmers. sun goggles. extra set of socks/liners. Alcohol stove, with 1.5L of fuel, 3 candles (3 nights planned), 3 camp heaters (candle like thing). 20-degree synthetic sleeping bag. 0.5L of RUM (always a good idea to have a strong alcoholic drink; in emergency can burn, and warm up). 8-Soup, 8-oatmeal packs, 8-granola bars, beef jerky, 12-donuts, 8oz-creme cheeze, meat, tea, coffee, electrolite mix, etc. about 5L of water with 1L of electrolite stuffs. Headlamp, 2-flashlghts, spare batteries for above. Camping knife. Everything I'd need to survive in the next 3 days, no matter what.
Got to Red Hill cabin by around 3pm, took a nap for a few hours before making dinner around 7-8pm. Major headache. Must be the altitude.
Day 3, Adventure day 2 (Monday, 20140127)
Started day early; got to Mauna Loa Cabin by nightfall. That "2 miles" marker from Jagger cave to cabin is a lie... it certaily doens't feel like 2 miles.
Found `egg-bacon-cheeze' mix in the cabin, at 360 calories per seving, yey, decided to make that (at this point, more calories = better). Mixed up the 8oz batch, and poured it into my water-boling container. And bam, it rose, and boiled over the whole table. As it was boiling over, I accidentally knockied the stove over, and that alcohol-egg-bacon-cheeze mix went all over the table, flaming!
I can't believe I nearly burned down the cabin!
I had to dowse it down with water, and cleaing up that whole mix of...amm...whatever it ended up being was a major pain in the neck. All smelling like burning eggs. Why did I ever think that was a good idea?
From what point onwards, all my boiled water had a hint of egg-bacon-cheeze in it.
Day 4, Adventure day 3 (Tuesday, 20140128)
This is the day I hike to the summit, and get back to Red Hill for the night.
Major headache in the morning. Took an aspirin (altitude).
Saw a bit of a fog in the moring. The crater was all fogged up. Then it was sunny, then it was fogged up again.
Made the 2 mile trip to Jagger's Cave (the intersection of a bunch of trails). Decided to leave the heavy pack in the `cave' (hole in the ground), and light-hike 2.5 miles to the summit and back.
Wearing microwool chest, fleece jacket, freece pants, and goretex windbreaker jacket and pants, gloves, facemask, goggles, hat headed up the summit. Took 2 granola bars, and 1L of water (nalgene bottle I got at grand cayon).
Notable things I did not take: flashflight (nor GPS, I didn't bring it on this trip).
That was all around 11am-ish. From Jagger's Cave, 2.5 miles to submit should be no longer than 2 hours (and much shorter down). That's how long it took me last year.
The weather was lightly drizzling snow. Nothing accumulated, just flakes here and there.
The hike to the summit took much longer than I thought. By the time I got there, the gloves were all wet/frozen, and I was freezing. ("weatherproof gloves"... those sux!). All I could do was take a few pictures and turn back asap.
Hiking down without gloves was a bit of a pain (hiding hands under the jacket arms, etc.). It is also when snow started to actually accumulate.
It went from nothing to like 2-3 feet almost instantly. First it was a bit hard to walk, then it was very very hard to walk. And everytime you step, you could be stepping into a 4-5 foot drift or a crack in lava.
And the goal didn't seem to get closer.
By 6pm, I got to the "2 mile mark" (meaning there's 0.5 miles left to Jagger's Cave). The sun went down, and it ALL became gray: no matter which way you look, it's all gray.
Can't see trail markers, sky, stars, etc., only snow.
And this is when I got lost. I lost the trail. The markers were there, and then they just weren't. I tried backtracking, but didn't find it.
This was bad. I know the backpack-with-stuff is close by (0.5 within range), but don't know which way to go.
It's cold. Very very cold. To preserve hands (gloves are frozen solid), I put on the freece jacket as a straight jacket (with arms close to the body), and goretex windbreaker as a tarp (it wouldn't close). Losing a bit of body heat to keep the hands warm-er.
It's 9pm. It's dark. Visibility is just about 10 feet or so, and everything beyond is gray. There's no moon. Have no idea where to go, and no supplies to setup camp. And supplies are just 0.5 miles away!!!
I can't believe that stupid 0.5 miles might kill me!
Walking around in circles for a long while. Lost my bottle of now-frozen water, and found it again after about 30 minutes. It's surprising how happy I was at that. I realy like that bottle.
Eventually I just settled on sitting in snow and shivering. Some fluid was never leaving my lungs, hurting everytime I need to swallow or caugh--so it was caughing and shivering, all night long.
I won't tell you my sanity never left me. I think anyone in that kind of situation would have a bit of sanity gone. Just as on Mnt.Whitney, my brain started to play tricks on me. When you log onto a website, you're "there" (on the website) and "here". Well, my brain was telling me to login to websites such as "resque helecopher", and when you're "there" (on the website), you're no longer "here" (needing resque).
And everytime these mind tricks came back to the same thing---no matter how elaborate "there" was, I was still back "here" shivering and caughing sitting in snow. I had to verbally tell that to myself outloud. I'm still here damn it!
It's as if the brain was telling me to let-go of my real life---for a fake life where I'm alright and not shivering in snow.
That lasted for hours---waking up and regaining sanity (I'm still here! shivering in snow!) every 20 minutes or so.
Over that night, I had some very bad falls in skow. Once fell with my back on a sharp rock---remember thinking that must've broke my back, but didn't feel a thing afterwards. My knee should've been broken a bunch of times too, but then it wasn't.
Day 5, Adventure day 4 (Wednesday, 20140129)
Woke up sitting in snow. It was semi-light outside, 6am. Before sunrise (which was ~7:30am). Nothing but snow all around. No trail markers. Nothing at all.
Tried calling out for help. Nobody answered. I knew I was not far from the trail, but it was just a field of snow now. Followed my steps back for a while. I certainly made some circles during the night.
Found the trail marker. Aha. Finally! But can't see 2nd trail market from this one I just found!
After walking for a bit in the probable direction, located 2nd trail marker, and from there, followed the trail right back to Jagger's Cave. Found my backpack burried under perhaps 2-3 feet of snow.
Using alcohol stove, melted a kettle full of snow for water. Apparently it didn't make much---only a few gulps of water from the whole thing of snow. Not very fuel efficient. Luckily I had half of 1.5L full of fuel.
The backpack had winter mittens, hand warmers, 800-fill down jacket, etc. So I was set. Bundled up, I was ready for this cold. From there, followed the trail down the mountain. Down to Red Hill cabin.
With very high snow drifts, and frequent sinking deep into that mess, I didn't make much progress at all. I'm guessing whole days effort must've been a mile or two. Got down to 13k feet. By night fall, I was perhaps at 12.5k feet.
With good headlamp, I thought I was unstoppable. I can just keep on walking until Red Hill (10k feet) cabin throoughout the night. I've done it before (walk at night, that is). I can do it again. I got the supplies to live through this.
Then night fell (6pm), and what I thorugh were trail markers turned out to be just big rocks, and I lost the trail again. Problem is that trail markers are spaced around every 100 yeards or so, and headlamp doens't throw nearly enough light far eough to matter under those conditions.
Then brain tricks came again. I'm walking on the trail, and I see a campsite, with other campers, etc. Then I blink, and there's nothing but snow again. Then it repeats, except with a shop. etc., I also somehow ended up walking into a "theater"----I need a trail not a theater damn it!
It all sounds funny in retrospect, but it all seemed damn real at the moment.
Note, this has been nearly a day since I last drank any water, so I'm guessing dehydration and exhaustion played a large part in the hallucinations.
This went on for a while, until I decided to just pack some snow with my boots and unroll the sleeping bag. This is literally 5 feet away from the ``trail''.
Tried to take off the boots, but the laces were frozen solid. This was a concern---since I couldn't feel my toes, at all.
So in my boots, and in all my clothing, I zipped myself up into a sleeping bag.
This is when I started contemplating. This situation may be beyond me. Perhaps I should call for help. It really didn't occur to me until then that I *could* call for help.
There's that emergency phone number on backcountry permit thing. Perhaps I should call it.
It's not giving up, it's just asking for help, in this situation I artificially created for myself.
So around midnight, I made up my mind to "ask for help". I took out my cellphone, took out the backcounry permit (with emergency number), and... dialed the number. And nothing. Tried again, and still nothing. No signal.
Then I dialed 911. Phone went into this "emergency number" mode, but still, nothing.
I can't believe it took me this long to decide to ask for help, and I can't even ask for help! Nobody is coming! They won't even start looking for me :-/
This is when I lost just about all hope in external help. Unless I got myself out of there, I wasn't going anywhere.
The night went slightly better than the `first' (e.g last night). Still shivering and caughing all night long, but definitely better than before. The 800-fill down jacket, mittens, and sleeping bag made quite a difference.
Reporters ask this ``why didn't you just give up'' question. How the heck could anyone give up? What's the alternative? You can't give up. I will not roll over and die!
Day 6, Adventure day 5 (Thursday, 20140130)
Woke up at sunlight. Actually, woke up every 30 minutes. Saw the stars, but they didn't LOOK like our stars. There were stars but no constelations. I'm generally pretty good at finding'em, but couldn't find any.
Anyway, at sunlight, started to move. The sleeping bag warmth semi-warmed up the shoelases, so removed boots, and tried to replace the socks. Old ones were frozen solid.
Discovered that replacement "socks" was actually just 1-sock. How could I be that stupid as to bring only 1 replacement sock? Anyway, attached the foot warmers, semi-defrosted the 1 used sock, and re-used it.
I was at about 12.5k feet, and I figured the snow line can't be much lower than 11.5k feet, so I can make it down past that in 1 day.
Started the trek. Even enjoyed parts of the walk (made a snowman!). The snow perfect for snowman!
Still didn't make much progress---it's very hard to walk in deep snow with cracks in the ground covering up deep holes. (one step can get you burried chest deep---sometimes snow just about *almost* supports your weight---but then it doesn't).
Tried sliding on my behind. That trick worked on Mnt.Washington. Doesn't work too well on fresh unpacked snow tough.
A few hours into the trek, I hear a helicopter. Then I see a helicopter. My first thought: let me dig up my signaling mirror, but before doing anything, it's heading right at me.
Could it be? Safety? The helicoper circled once and landed a few yards off the side of the trail!!!
Some dude (John Broward) stepped out, and using his boots, packed the snow between the heli and myself. I asked ``is this search and resque?'', and he said yes. I literaly hugged him!
He helped me up the door-less helicoper, put my bag in too. Gave me the latch to strap myself in, and a headphones/mic for helicopter communication. I couldn't make any of those work (so I just hang on without being strapped in, and just waved my thumbs "ok" whenever they turned around to ask me anything).
This was the best moment of my life. After the last few days, I was finally safe!
Apparently they noticed other tracks (besides mine) up Muana Loa, so we circled the whole area a few times to look for anyone else who might be there. Didn't find anyone else (perhaps those tracks were mine?).
Anyways, we flew all the way back to Volcano National Park, and landed there. There was an ambulence waiting, and even a fire truck showed up (!).
Dehydrated, I drank a TON of water. I might've seened off (is this all for real or just another ellaborate hallucination?), but nobody said anything.
The exposed areas of my face were apparently "burned" by wind/sun. Hurts a lot. Like huge fresh wounds on the face.
They asked me if I'd mind speaking to the park PR person (Jessica Ferracane), and I didn't mind. Then it turned out there was a TV crew already in the park for something---they asked if they wanted to interview me.
One of the park rangers (Tyler Paul) gave me a ride back to my car.
And that's how within minutes of being resqued, I was giving a video interview on what would end up being `national television'. Apparently everyone picked up the story once it was out (hiker from nyc getting stuck in snow in hawaii? that's crazy!).
The park rangers gave me an autographed "grats on surviving" quarter dollar coin.
It's amazing: you do something stupid to get yourself stuck in some place, get resqued, and then you're treated like you did something great.
At the moment, I felt great. I just beat the odds. I was ready for the next adventure. There is a very interesting hike "Halepe"; from chain of craters road to a beach-oasis like place. Only about 10 miles or so. I got a permit to start that one Friday morning (it's a 2 day hike; Frida and Saturday).
Went with friends to Green Sand Beach---not walking. There's a dude by the trailhead who drives you out on a 4wd car that can climb rough terrain like nothing I've ever seen. Like almost vertical 6 foot hills.
Spent the rest of the day relaxing (some of it in a hot spa).
Went to visit Walmart to stock up on supplies for next trip: got a huge towel (I'm headed to the beach!), new socks, etc.
Day 7 (Friday, 20140131)
Set out for the chain of craters road. By the time I got to the trailhead, my feet are ~2x normal size. Something made them swell up, a lot. They were fine yesterday. I sure hope it's not frostbite! They're still kinda numb. But they were numb before that---they're just more numb this time.
Unable to walk, hang out around Volcano National Park for most of the day. Fielded a buncha phone interviews (apparently news agencies just call you by the dozens!). Did another video interview (also in the park). I didn't see any reports yet, but apparently the story went "national tv" the previous morning.
Did mostly driving around things, and less walking-around things all day long.
Returned the Halepe backcountry permit. No way I can walk with swolen feet.
Visited Mauna Kea visitor's center (that supernova should still be there), but the whole place was overcast (no stargazing that night).
Ended the day eating a steak and drinking gin and tonics while watching Manta rays (hotel restaurant).
Day 8 (Saturday, 20140201)
Pretty much the same start as on Friday. Nothing to do but drive around. Decided to checkout a restaurant `hawaiian style cafe' (someone suggested it as being a pretty neat place to eat). Drove all the way there, only to find an empty field. So much for Tom-Tom GPS points of interest database.
Ended up eating a steak at some no-name place in Waimea.
Learned what the folks do with snow from Mauna Kea. When you're there during snow days, you see pickup trucks full of snow go down the mountain. I always wondered why. Apparently (at lest the truck I saw), they bring the snow to some town center (Waimea in this case), and a buncha kids build a snowman! That's right, a snowman in hawaii! Saw most of the process from start to finish---I'm sure that snowman wouldn't last long, but it was amazing to watch it go up.
Towards evening made my way to Mauna Kea visitor's center. I really want to see that supernova---as I was lying freezing in snow, I was thinking about it---knowing that it was getting brighter and brighter as I was freezing there.
Anyway, that turned out to be a very clear night. I hang out there until they closed (around 10pm), and saw the M82 supernova, andromeda galaxy, orion's nebula, etc., all the goodies. The universe is damn amazing.
Day 9 (Sunday, 20140202)
This is the day I go home. Yey! Visited coffee farm to stock up on Kona coffee, got a bigger bag at walmart, etc.
This is the first time I'm flying first class. Everyone is so artificially friendly. I'm actually pre-screened. Somehow.
I misplaced my mid-size camping knife (the one I carried on my adventure). Thought I lost it. Found it in my carryon luggage... after I was already in the airplane. So much for security :-/
Day 10 (Monday, 20140203)
And I'm back in NYC.
The sensitivity to my fingers and toes has yet to return. My feet are still swolen. Face still has wounds from wind. I'm glad I'm alive. Certainly beats the alternative.
Would like to thank the Hawaii park rangers...without them, there's a pretty good chance I wouldn't be here today. I'd like to think I'd still be alive though, but who knows. They really showed up at a very good time---though a day earlier would've been even nicer :-)
The official (and gold-source; without hallucinations) of my adventure is in the NPS press release: http://www.nps.gov/havo/parknews/sverdlov.htm
The less offical dozens of websites can be found via google, by searching for "sverdlov hawaii" (so far, google thinks there are ~80k results).
- Alex; 20140203
Yey, back in NYC! Got back pretty early; with blizzard on the way, made it in just in time before most airlines tarted canceling flights a few hours later :-)
Anyways, during the hike, was contemplating stuff (I generally think up mental experiments when I walk). So here's a crazy rant regarding a seeming inconsistency in general relativity: There's no absolute motion, so for example, when "A" moves towards "B", it's equivalent to "B" moving towards "A", etc. Each viewpoint is equally valid.
So for example, when I'm walking towards a mountain (I'm moving towards a mountain), it is equally valid to claim that it is the mountain that is moving towards me. Silly, but true. For all we know, the entire universe could be revolving around "you" (with "you" being the only true stationally point---but there's no such thing as absolute motion or absolute no motion, so that makes no sense).
Anyways, what I'm trying to get to is that just about everyone *observing* would agree that when I'm walking towards the mountain, it is me moving towards the mountain, and not the other way around. So if we say conducted a vote, just about everyone observing this experiment would claim that the mountain is stationary and that I'm moving towards it. And yet there's no absolute motion!
Lets move in a slightly crazier direction: When I take a step towards the mountain, a pure relativist must accept that the *mountain* is moving towards me, and that me deciding to take a few steps, *causes* the mountain to move towards me. For example, if there's nothing else in the entire universe except a mountain and myself, then when I decide to move towards the mountain, both viewpoints that: I'm moving towards the mountain, and mountain is moving towards me are equally valid. But I can decide to step back, and have the mountain move away. I'm literally causing the mountain to accelerate and decelerate at the same rate that I myself accelerate and decelerate! Suddenly, because both view points are valid, I'm in control of what the *mountain* is doing! This seems silly.
Now consider another galaxy. You take a step forward, and you're moving towards a distant galaxy. You take a step back, and you're moving away (relatively) from the said galaxy. YOU are influencing the motion of the entire galaxy! There's no absolute motion/rest, so the viewpoint that the galaxy decides to move towards you just when you decide to take a step towards is it equally valid! Yet you obviously don't have enough energy to move the galaxy... and no observer would agree with the idea that YOU are causing the entire galaxy to move towards you. You don't have that much influence.
So where's the problem?
- Alex; Tue Jan 21 23:49:22 EST 2014
Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim, Day 3:
Woke up due to water dripping on my face. `Must be raining' I'm thinking. Then the inside of my tent is all wet... urgh. I knew I forgot to attach the tarp to the tent (I didn't even tie it down---was so exhausted). Anyway, long story short, my water blader learked. Good thing I bought a water bottle at the gift shop!
Made a more successful attempt at heating the MRE, and half of the patty was more lukewarm than freezing (at night, temperatures drop and everything freezes; except river outside, and stuff inside tent). Anyway, as before, just ate the whole thing cold---also the famous drink that pretty much mixes all powery stuffs from the MRE into a water bottle.
Decided to use the Bright Angel trail to get out of the canyon. It's longer than South Kaibab, but it has water midway, and I could only carry 1 litter, so that mattered. Also, even though it's longer, it's ``simpler'' (not as steep).
What I didn't count on was that it was also MUCH colder than the South Kaibab trail. There's literally ice for miles on the Bright Angel trail! It took me almost exactly 6 hours to go from Phantom to Bright Angel trailhead (I'm surprised I managed to make it at all... my feet got really badly ruined the previous day---can barely walk). For most of the trail had to wear warm hat and mittens, since it was pretty damn cold (the South Kaibab descent was much much warmer; so Bright Angel is a *bad* idea in Winter, unless you really need the water).
Once out of the canyon, took the bus (a 30 minute bus ride on the blue line!) back to the car. Changed clothing, washed up, etc., and decided to do the touristy thing, and walk around and just take pictures. Did that for the remainder of the day. Visited the geology museum, and all the scenic points, etc.
And then off to Phoenix airport...
- Alex; 20140120
Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim, Day 2:
Woke up, `warmed up' an MRE (the not-exactly successful heating). Ate the whole thing cold again. Same famous new drink as before, except now with a 5-hour energy mixed in as well. Thing is, I didn't bring anything substatial besides the MREs. You can't survive on trailmix for 3 days running around these places in these temperatures. So gotta just gulp down stuff to absorb those 1300 calories that the MRE claims to have.
For 2nd day, left the campsite, and all belongings in the tent. Only took a small backpack with a water blader. Headed up North Rim.
The previous night another hiker scared me that there was 1.5 feet of snow up there (I asked rangers before hike, and they said "hardly any snow"), but 1.5 feet of snow seems to be quite substantial. Anyways, what the other hiker failed to mention is that in most places, there's no snow, and in places where there *is* snow, it is packed snow that can easily suppport your weight. The trail had some ice on it, but nothing too terrible.
On the North Rim, it's like a ghost town. All the buildings are there, etc., but not a single human (at least I didn't see anyone).
I did see a mountain lion about 100 yards away. Kept a knife in the pocket (and made loud noises) for the rest of the day after that. My guess is wildlife moves in as humans leave the area for the season.
Spent almost an hour relaxing on the Bright Angel Point (North Rim scenic observation point). It was sunny and amazingly nice. No wind, etc. Apparently half the hikers turn back at the North Kaibab trailhead, which has absolutely no view at all.
The hike ruined my feet, so on the way back, barely made it back to Cottonwood---at just about dusk. Packed up tent (did a timelapse video of that) and headed to Phantom.
Another hiker (who also overpacked on the wrong things [like no proper food, etc.] and decided to turn back after Cottonwood) joined for the walk to Phantom. So had some philosophical discussins on the way, as we walked for 8-something miles in complete darkness.
Got to Phantom just after 9pm (a bit to late for dinner there). The other hiker (I'm terrible with names; but if you're reading this, hope you made it out safe!) asked the Phantom ranch folks if they had any food left from the dinner, and aha, they did! Apparently they had 1 extra serving of stew; we ended up sharing it, and they didn't charge us anything.
So that's how we ended up eating dinner at Phantom Ranch for free without a reservation. Don't think it could've worked out any better. The warm food was amazing after two days of nothing but cold...amm...resemblence of food.
For a while I stared at the star-filled sky before getting into tent. It wasn't as cold that night. Saw 3 shooting stars that night.
- Alex; 20140119
Grand Canyon Rim-To-Rim-To-Rim, Day 1
Arrived at Phoenix, rented a Ford Focus, and headed to Flagstaf AZ (the idea is to stock up on supplies at the Walmart there). But, apparently the walmart in Fragstaf doesn't have any camping fuel except propaine. Which sux, since I took a solid fuel stove with me, and TSA threw out the fuel :-/ Got some candles and fire starter at walmart instead.
Got to Grand Canyon and started the descent down South Kaibab around 9am. By about noonish got to Phantom ranch. Tried out their beer (``grand canyon beer''); pretty good!
Tried to reserve a dinner at Phantom ranch---but apparently you need to check in at 6am the day of the reservation (so they didn't reserve anything, and it's $48 for the steak).
The walk to Cottonwood (from Phantom) was a pain in the neck. It should be a very easy walk---very little elevation gain, and easy path, etc., but my backpack... urgh. That's a major pain in the neck, back, and legs. Due to backpack, took me nearly the whole day to traverse the 8 something miles---something that normally shouldn't take more than 3 hours.
In the backpack: tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, winter clothing, water, water filter, food, snacks, emergency gear (batteries, flashlights, etc.).
At cottonwood (campsite) met two girls, one of whom hurt her knee. They were planning to do the same hike I set out on, but they decided to go back that night. So after a round of painkillers, spent the evening chatting with them while eating M.R.E.s.
Had to filter water from the river, since next (and ONLY!) water source was 2 miles away.
Regarding M.R.E. thingies... those Meals.Ready.to.Eat... Urgh. A friend recommended them as being a compact source of food, so I bought the amazon sampler of 10 different menus. ``Military style'' apparently. Anyways, the first MRE was ruined since I put a bit too much water in it (didn't read instructions). So day 1, ended up eating cold food. Day 2 M.R.E got similarly ruined, but half of one patty got slightly lukewarm feel to it. Day 3 MRE... half the food was lukewarm. I'd imagine there's a way to heat the whole thing, but I haven't figured out how yet.
In any case, won't be taking MREs with me on hikes anymore. They're a pain in the neck. You end up eating mostly-cold food, and the trash produced is about the same as the pre-food packaging.
Anyways, back to the hike. The Cottonwood campsite went from a comfy 50-60F degrees to perhaps 20F in literally like 20 minutes. Once the sun went down, the cold air just moved in and stayed. The entire night was very cold---I've never fully zipped up my sleeping bag before, but this night, even in a double-layer 4-season tent, I fully zipped up sleeping bag (and sleeping in warm clothing), and was still very cold all night long. I didn't expect it to get that cold.
Oh, before the sleeping thing, did the experiment of trying to boil water with a candle... and... nop. Didn't work. Maybe with enough patience, it might work (after all, it's a flame!), but I think the candle just doesn't give off enough heat to boil a kettle.
Also, I invented a `new' drink (can't make tea, so had to think up something): take water (river, filtered), powered chocolate, 1 packet of instant coffee, 1 packet of electrolite fruit punch, 2 packets of sugar, 1 packet of salt, 1 packet of pepper (all ingridients from MRE). Mix it all very well (cold, obviously), and just gulp it down. Heck of a lot better than nothing at all; especially when yuu feel your body needs some extra energy.
- Alex; 20140118
Finished reading Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software by Eric Evans. This is definitely a patterns book, but unlike others, it has more to do with how to do architecture and modeling. How to organize projects around the idea of evolving and cultivating good/simple models, etc. Definitely worthy reading---it does get a bit too wordy towards the end though. The same content could've been presented in perhaps 100 pages---but this book is ~500 :-/
In other news, flying out to Phoenix, AZ tonight.
- Alex; Fri Jan 17 01:28:01 EST 2014
A word of caution for investors: Don't be a slave to history. So they're saying that in an environment when the Fed is screaming that they won't stop printing presses until inflation picks up, that bonds are a good investment? Locking in the current low rate for a few years is perhaps the worst thing anyone can do. If you're just flipping the bonds or trying to time the equities (OMG, the crash is coming!) then... sure, bonds will provide that safety, but investing in bonds for the long term "today" is still pretty damn bad.
That being said, from the market efficiency standpoint, long term horizon, bonds shouldn't lag too far behind equities...whatever each of these does "next year" is anyones guess.
- Alex; Wed Jan 15 07:01:58 EST 2014
Took the weekend to read XBRL For Dummies by Charles Hoffman and Liv Watson. Not a terrible book; a bit too wordy, and not too technical (despite what the amazon reviewers say). I'd say not-technical-enough: should've had more examples of actual xml.
I've looked into xbrl on a few occasions (mostly regarding SEC EDGAR), but besides using regex to extract some tags, never understood all the relationships... still don't! XBRL is damn complicated, but at least I can parse it now.
The gist of XBRL is: you get a list of values. Each of those values has a context (identity to which value belongs [company identifier], time [quarter, instant, range, etc.], etc.), units (shares, dollars, etc.), and a concept (what the heck does the value represent). The concepts form a graph and are extensible (concepts are things like SalesRevenueNet, and are potentially linked to other concepts in various ways [e.g. are they an aggregate of other concepts, etc.]). There are a bunch of concepts that are very commonly used, such as US GAAP.
Most of this is not important if you're just interested in reading XBRL---if you just want to know the company revenue during last quarter, all you got to do is find the values identified for that company for "last quarter" context, and "SalesRevenueNet" concept :-)
- Alex; 20140112
Neat stuff: DirectEdge Order Type Guide.
Sworn-in de Blasio pledges to take on 'tale of two cities' in NYC... So far, every democrat who has promised to bridge the wealth gap has only made it wider. So... I guess we'll see.
In other news, got campsite reservation for Grand Canyon trip. Will spend a night at Cottonwood, and a night at Bright Angel (by Phantom). Apparently there's very little snow on the North Rim right now---if that doesn't change in the next two weeks, I won't even need snowshoes; less stuff to carry :-)
- Alex; Thu Jan 2 01:43:52 EST 2014
Happy New Year!
- Alex; Wed Jan 1 02:34:50 EST 2014
Finished reading Into the Storm by Taylor Anderson. Surprisingly good book! The ending is kinda ``to be continued''... Like in that Hobbit movie, characters get together, and then win a minor skirmish and movie ends with story to be continued. Well, in this book, the they win a battle, but leave you hanging whether they'll win the war (well, good guys always win?). Anyways, ordered 2nd book in the series, so will find out :-)
continuing WTF: RSA comes out swinging, denies taking NSA's $10m to backdoor its crypto. Somehow, lately, I'd trust the tinfoil hat folks more than the other guys. Just because you're paranoid, does not mean they're not after you :-)
In other unrelated news, got around to fixing the [humor section]. Apparently when I moved hosts, I didn't copy the humor data folder :-/
- Alex; Mon Dec 23 07:17:56 EST 2013
Florida Road Trip, Day 2:
After having overslept Orlando trip, and nothing else interesting to do, headed back to Everglades. Might as well visit it during the day :-)
The ``north'' entrance is closed (it says ``welcome to everglades national park''; and then the gate is actually closed with a warming, etc.). Saw a buncha snakes (they're sunbathing right on the deserted country road). Drove to the other everglades, again.
Went for a few short hikes (after talking to visitor center folks about best places to see aligators and crocodiles). Apparently they're two separate species: aligators are fresh water, and live mostly in the north part of everglades. Crocodiles (the Florida ones) are salt water ones, and live in the south everglades (right at the tip of Florida where it touches the ocean).
Anyway, both the aligators and crocodiles were in exactly the places park rangers suggested to look! It's like they know where they like to hang out! Also saw turtles, a wide variety of fish (you can see through water), and a ton of birds of all varieties, including some rare ones apparently.
Back to airport. Returned car, and decided to spend the $30 I found, mostly on alkihole drinks. Apparently at $14/drink, that didn't go very far at the airpot bar :-/
And then the AA airplane had to b0rk. First there was the waiting and no boarding, then it was more waiting, and then they told us the plane is b0rken, and isn't going anywhere. Then there was more waiting. Then they changed gate (supposedly giving us a different airplane). And then it was delayed again! Then they announced that it will take a few hours to get airplane prepped and out of the hanger to the gate, and then there was more waiting. And then when the airplane was ready, they had to look for the flight crew (since apparently they ran off somewhere?).
Anyways, many hours late, arrived in NYC. No snow... and someone claimed there was a blizzard?
Highlights from trip: Florida is MUCH hotter and much more humid than I was expecting. Highways are not tourist friendly: the shortest routes are TOLL roads without actual cash (you must have that EZ-pass like tag in your car). I don't mind toll roads... but I do mind it when I'm on a highway my GPS is telling me to go on, and I have no way to pay the toll :-/ Mosquitos suck big time. Airport bars are way overpriced. Never-ever flying without noise canceling headphones again. They make a huge difference. All in all, a great trip :-)
- Alex; 20131215
Florida Road Trip, Day 1:
Wow, JFK sure is deserted at 3am!
Got to Miami around 9am, rented car (Ford Fiesta), and started off to Key West. On the way, stopped by National Deer preservation thingie, and saw a buncha deers. Who knew they were a driving hazard even on remote islands in Florida... they must've swam there!
At Key West, parked right across street from the most southern point in the continental US. Pretty lucky that, as that whole place was packed with tourists---no parking anywhere---and then bam, at the center of the commotion, a free spot waiting for me :-)
Then walked and took a tour of Hemingway house, as well as the lighthouse across the street. Saw a bunch of cats with 6 toes (I gather Hemingway was like that crazy cat lady... since there are probably dozens of them all over the house and all surrounding areas).
Walked to the ``end of route 1'' sign. Had to ask directions a few times to find it (route 1 isn't as straight as one would think it is; and different streets got renamed into route 1). Anyways, all major attractions on Key West are all within about 20-30 minute walk of each other.
On way back to car, found $30 dollars ($20 and $10). If you're the unfortunate tourist who lost'em... sorry, but if I didn't pick it up, someone else would've. I promise to put'em to good use :-)
Went for a walk on the beach to wet my feet (didn't get attacked by a shark---something I was seriously concerned about... as all those ``shark attacks in florida'' stuffs you don't hear about).
Drove to Everglades (the ``south'' one). Was too dark, but moonlight you can still see the landscapes. Thoght it was too dangerous to actually go search for aligators at night all by myself :-)
The only thing I observed was the ferocity of mosquitoes. No wonder crocodiles dwell underwater, it is to get away from the real alpha menace in the area: the mosquito! Like a million of them attacked me all at once! Their buzzing literally drouned out the car music!
With nothing to do, decided to visit Univesal Studios in Orlando, so set out to drive there (it's `only' about 4 hours away). I figured I'd get there by 4-6am, enjoy important bits until about noon-ish, and then head back to Miami (which is ~4 hour drive).
About an hour from Orlando, got a bit to tired, and took a nap at the rest stop. Missed alarm, and woke up a bit to late to visit Universal Studios and get back on time to the airport :-/
- Alex; 20131214
So... thinking it's been a while since I did a crazy hike, yesterday (or rather, Friday), decided to go to Mnt.Washington. Did a similar winter-hike of that mountain last year, around this time of year, and it was great.
Weather outlook this time showed mostly sunny skies, some wind, and (something I ignored) chilly temperatures. Really, how chilly can they get? So anyways, set out Friday night, and got to Mnt.Washington by around 8am. It really is sunny! And very pleasant. The folks at visitors center said I didn't need snowshoes (as expected), crampons, etc.. Said wind gusts will be ~80mph, with whinchill 20f to 30f below. But...I've done that before (it was worse on Mnt.Marcy last year when my toe nails fell off). Put on gear, and headed up. Below tree line, it was great. Chilly, but generally pleasant. Very icy.
Above tree line... urgh. Very windy. Very cold. And it just didn't stop. So I put on my gears (facemask, ski goggles, mittens, etc.). Didn't feel a thing. I was prepared, and was expecting this kind of wether. Headed up. It was actually fun, leaning into the wind, and pushing through. You hear it, you see it (it snowed, a LOT,.. but none of it was sticking due to wind), but none of it gets at you...
About a mile from the summit (the last summit bulge), wind picked up. Knocked me down to the ground twice (!). Standing up became difficult, and gusts just knock you over. Literally holding rocks as you walk crotched down. And it got much much colder. So much so that my perspiration *under* my jacket froze! After a bit of "OMG, so close!!! I can't turn back *now*!"... I just gave up, and went back. This is the first time weather at Mnt.Washington got the better of me---and frankly, in retrospect, I should've turned back much sooner (like right after the tree line).
I think that's how folks end up dead. Gear lets them get way too close to the danger, and when something happens, it's just so much worse 'cause you're up there. Without gear, you give up early, before you're in any real danger.
By the time I got back to the car, the `hot' water in my thermos was frozen :-/
Anyways, now I'm back in NYC, with all toes (and toe nails) accounted for...
- Alex; Sun Dec 8 23:23:04 EST 2013
Illinois OKs pension cuts in landmark reform. Eh! Perhaps they should read The Irreversible Nature of Pension Promises by Warren Buffett.
In other news, my whole ``buy a ton of small items for black friday'' idea failed completely. It seems everyone only has uninteresting crap on sale. e.g. there are only so many USB drives you can get... So mostly ended up buying books (but I usually don't wait for black friday to buy those). So eh!
- Alex; Wed Dec 4 06:47:06 EST 2013
Ah, December! ...ammm....December 2nd? What happened to 1st?
- Alex; Mon Dec 2 07:09:51 EST 2013
Amm... No tech bubble here. If they have to ask (or answer), then yes, the tech bubble is here.
- Alex; Wed Nov 27 07:14:31 EST 2013
Hmm... 8 things you can buy with bitcoins right now. Yey?
Imagine I start a gold mine, and over say 10 years of hard-work of gold mining, manage to accumulate say 10000oz of pure gold. After letting the world know I have that gold, I take that gold and burry it in my secret deep-underground vault. Suddenly I can borrow against it, and essentially live the life of luxury just 'cause it's burried in MY backyard as opposed to in some mountain somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
Technology moves foward, and someone figures out a way to cheaply extract gold out of say... sea mud, or something. So lets say it's suddenly 2x cheaper to extract gold out of the ground. Suddenly, MY stash is worth much much less. Not just one half... but much less (that 2x cheaper process is cumulative; my underground stash is constant).
So the downside of gold... is bad. How about the upside?
Imagine gold mining has exhausted all the easy-to-get-to-gold, and mining more is simply not practical (there really is a limited amount of the stuff on the planet). Also, everyone on the planet gets paid in gold. Your salary is in gold, everything is bought/sold in gold, etc.
Then out out of the blue, population grows 20% in 20 years. Does it mean everyone's salary drops by 20%? Perhaps it does... BUT, it also creates more (20% more!) demand for goods, so prices are up! Suddenly everoyne's worried about lower salaries and starts saving more---guess what, that in itself causes a drop in gold supply (more burried in people's backyards for a rainy day).
Note for the above, population doesn't "have" to increase to have end up in that crappy cycle. Any economic bump would do. Speculators notice prices going up and down, hedge against that, and you got a problem.
And...the savers argument. ``I can save gold (burried in my backyard), and it will still be gold in 20 years.'' That dollar isn't worth the same today as it did 20 years ago, but an oz of gold from 20 years ago, is still an oz of gold today (and aha, look at that, it's actually worth a LOT today!).
But... NOBODY should be "saving" dollars, just like nobody should be saving oz of gold. It's a horrible savings medium. Invest! (and no, gold is NOT an investment, same way keeping dollar bills in your mattress is not an investment).
And back to bitcoins...
What problem exactly are bitcoins solving? Are they solving the limited supply problem (same as gold?). No, in fact, bitcoins have a much harder supply problem. But aha, you can partition them indefinitely... but (as with gold) that doesn't solve the actual problem. The upside is also not solved.
However you look at it, bitcoins as a currency *will* collapse. It has all the bad aspects of gold, and none of the good aspects of actually having something shiny in your pocket.
...and the whole aspect of *wasting* electricity to create something that worthless... wow! This borders in usefulness to all those gold miners spending their entire life to unburry the gold from somewhere and reburry it in a bank vault. Seriously, am I the only one missing the whole benefit to society here?
- Alex; Tue Nov 26 07:26:10 EST 2013
Finished reading How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil. It's a very enthusiastic book with very little actually new content. If you've read other Kurzweil's books, my guess a good 3/4th of this one is just a paraphrased version of those. All in all, was an interesting thing to read.
- Alex; Sat Nov 23 16:41:36 EST 2013
Wow, time sure flies.
- Alex; Wed Nov 20 02:03:36 EST 2013
Finished reading Summa Technologiae by Stanislaw Lem. It's kinda hard to describe this book. It's not fiction. It's not scifi. It's like a braindump of cool brainy stuff. Not sure if this is now my favorite book, but it's definitely way up there; highly recommend!
- Alex; Mon Nov 11 00:44:09 EST 2013
How To Better Verify Scientific Research. There are a couple of problems with this, major one being stats presented. It is extremely difficult to get to 95% confidence, much less 99%---yet just about every paper is pretty damn confident...
- Alex; Mon Oct 28 08:57:57 EDT 2013
Hiking Mnt.Washington (in NH) on Saturday and Mnt.Marcy (in NY) on Sunday.
- Alex; 20131019
Finished reading: His Master's Voice by Stanislaw Lem. Wow---wasn't expecting this kinda book. This is my first Lem book, and certainly not the last (already started on the next).
Sometime last Spring, I bought a National Parks annual pass... with intention that I'd actually be going to national parks every month or so... now, due to this gov shutdown, I haven't actually planned any trips in a few weeks. Will they refund me 1 month of my annual pass? :-/
- Alex; Tue Oct 15 02:25:39 EDT 2013
Finished reading: The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us Hardcover by Noson S. Yanofsky. Pretty good book. I read a draft of it a few years ago, and must say that the final version came together very nicely. Highly recommend! While large chunks of it are interesting, I particularly liked the non-scientific (more philosophical) topics found towards the end, like in chapter 8. Discussion of problems of inference could've been a bit longer... that's like the core of our knowledge limitations---we learn by inference, means most things we learn (knowledge outside of deduction) is potentially iffy. That's the limitation on scientific method itself! One would think that `science' (if done right) leads us towards truth of some sort---but that's not guaranteed! For all we know, there may not even be a `truth' to move towards. While I should've enjoyed the computer science bits, it seems those ideas have hit my brain too many times over the years; there's only so much halting or np-completeness that my brain can take.
In other news, apparently I'll be teaching Advanced Database Systems this Spring. Yey.
- Alex; Mon Oct 14 01:08:41 EDT 2013
Boehner vows no deal on budget or debt limit without spending talks with Obama. Do these clowns realize what kind of fire they're playing with? If US defaults on its debt, that would be *BAD*. Everything that cares about stability (e.g. bank accounts, insurance corporations, retirement funds, etc.,) is more or less required by law to use US gov bonds. Imagine if that weren't as stable as everyone believes...
- Alex; Mon Oct 7 07:14:21 EDT 2013
Apparently I'm a year younger today! So here's how this wonderful fountain of youth works: Last year, I miscalculated my age (probaby counting from 0 as opposed to a 1), and for the entire year, I thought I was 1-year older... So today, perhaps with youghful senility, recalculated my age again... and bam, now I'm younger than I was last year!... or rather, I'm same age as I was last year, again.
- Alex; 20131005
Apparently the latest Apache Hive has more or less full support for analytical functions! It's pretty amazing---you can do more in Hive than you can do in Amazon Redshift! (range queries, etc.).
Still no common table expressions though (at least I haven't been able to get'em to work).
- Alex; Fri Oct 4 16:57:29 EDT 2013
U.S. government shuts down as Congress can't agree on spending bill. ...and nobody cared, except folks who want to visit national parks, or renew their passports.
Closing national parks is such a cheap shot... as if the few rangers really impact the budget all that much, or as if they're not collecting a ton of money from visitors. I also can't imagine how they'd shut down places like Death Valley or Grand Canyon... (do they put up a fense around the whole thing?).
- Alex; Tue Oct 1 01:16:04 EDT 2013
Ran up Mnt.Mansfield. Visited the local brewry ("the Crop" restaurant/brewry), and apparently with new owners, the beer has turned to crap. All 6 different kinds! What's the point of brewing your own if the generic store bought stuff is way better?
- Alex; 20130928
In Seattle, the flight to NYC was delayed by like 2 hours :-/ So my crazy plan of getting back to NY at 7am and running off to work didn't pan out. So wr0ked from home :-)
All in all, a great trip. Not as much fun as I would've liked---not enough hiking---a bit too much sitting on my behind in some form of transportation (e.g. total of ~20 hours of flight time, perhaps 9 hours of boat time, maybe 9 hours of bus time... and the rest is mostly car-driving time... in a 3-day weekend).
- Alex; 20130903
On way to Tok, saw the Alaskan pipeline (or at lesat something that looks like a big pipe).
Got to Tok around 4am, refilled gas tank, and onto Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
On the way there, two moose (big mom-moose and smaller baby-moose) were walking on the road... Me approaching them at 65-ish/mph... good thing I had high-beams on, so slammed on break, and corolla stopped surprisingly quickly (almost on a dime). Maybe 10-20 feet in front of the moose. If I was driving a bigger car (even my 4runner), it wouldn't have managed to stop in time (I slammed on break in my 4runner a few times, and it never stops so definitely as that corrola stopped). So horay for corolla!, probably saved my life.
Turned into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and decided to drive the whole 42-mile road into the park. However, after mile 10, the paved road became dirt road, and by mile 15, a crappy potted mess of a road. Being in a corolla, I decided it's best to just turn back---getting stuck there would mean missing the flight back.
The road to Anchorage is very scenic. The first part of it is kinda lame, but the last 4th or so (form Tok) is pretty nice---like driving through a park. Glaciers on various sides, mountany curvy roads, etc. Really nice drive.
Saw another pair of moose on the road (also crossed the road in front of me---just not as close, and I wasn't going 65... so took a buncha pictures this time).
Drove to Safeway in Anchorage---to get Starbucks coffee. Was looking for a gas station, and noticed a "starbucks" sign across the street, which turned out to be a safeway :-)
And then back to the airport... on the way to Seattle.
- Alex; 20130902
Got to Denali around 5am... Went to visitor's center, and it's closed. After a bit of reading around, realized that I need to get a bus ticker for something---at the outdoor something or other center. So drove there.
That place was surprisingly open. But the ticket sales don't open until 7am. There are busses leaving much sooner than that though. Took me a while to figure out what I need and where... The place is packed with people---everyone has reservations, etc. (wish I researched this a bit more... could've reserved a ticket, etc.).
Around 6:40am, the dude who sells tickets showed up, and luckily enough, sold me a ticket. Unluckily enough, the 92-mile and 85-mile tickets were sold out (the 85-mile ones were sold out until 9:30am---I figured that if I took that one, and it's 5.5 hour drive one way, I'd only manage to get there, and then would have to take the same bus back a few minutes shortly after arriving).
So got the 66-mile green bus ticket for 9am. It's a 4-hour drive, so I figured I'll have an hour or two at the destination before having to take return bus.
Denali is a funny place to visit; unless you've done it before, it's kinda hard to figure out what's where and where you're supposed to go or do. So here's a short summary: There's like 1 road in the whole park. Private cars can go upto mile 15 on that road. There's not much to see there. To go beyond mile 15 (and yes, there's a park ranger guarding the road), you need to be on a bus. There are different kinds of busses with different fares. The "green" bus is what most folks use... you buy outbound ticket and take the bus out. On return, you can take any bus. You can also get off/on at any point on any green bus (if it has space). They also got camper buses (those suposedly go to camp sites), and tour busses (those narrate the whole trip about nature, or something). If you want to get anywhere early, you gotta reserve the early bus.
The bus was *cold*. I even put on gloves, 2nd jacket, that hand-warmer pack, and was contemplating taking off my boots and inserting those feet warmers. So there was 4 hours of that.
In a crowded bus, someone screams "STOP! Moose on the left!" and everyone runs to the left of the bus and fights for window room. And then 10 minutes later, it repeats again, except with some bird, or squerrel, or more rarely, a bear, or goat, or something. There really are a lot of animals there.
Got to destination... signed up for a "difficult" 2-hour ranger led hike, (about 900 feet elevation gain and about 1-mile long) thinking it would be something special... Scenery wise, it was great. Difficulty wise... eh. The ranger stopped every 2 minutes for a breather---so this 2-hour hike could've been done in like 10-20 minutes. On the way down, I just ran down, and made it in 8-minutes (e.g. 1-mile jog). I think I needed to burn some energy---was nicely warm for the rest of the day afterwards :-)
From Denali, drove to Fairbanks (I wonder if it has fair banks?). My gps `center of town' feature guided me towards the middle of an army base. Good thing I noticed the armed guards and a gate :-)
Fairbanks is a surprisingly large city. I was thinking it would be tiny, but it wasn't tiny. It was enough to get lost in. It's strange, but it had adults biking around on kid-bikes all over the city.
And now, onto Tok!
- Alex; 20130901
Landed in salt lake city... During the landing, saw a glory via airplane shaddow. Was the smoothest landing I've ever experienced---the airplane just came to a stop on the ground---without actually any feeling of `landing' on the ground.
And then onto Anchorage. Got there around midnight. Funny that all car rental corps had a HUGE line, except Hertz, which had no line at all... and my reservation was with Hertz. They were nice enough to confuse me (I had two reservations with them) by offering me either a big Ford SUV or a Toyota Corolla... so ended up with a corolla.
Decided to drive straight to Seward [plan is: day1 seward, day2 denali, day3 loop road]. On way to Seward, stop by tunnel to Wittier :-)
Stopped at gas station to get food/water stuffs. Noticed a power cord dangling from under the hood... Perhaps I ran over an extension cord? Nah, it's stuck in there good... Perhaps Hertz gave me plugin hybrid of some sort? Hmm... Much later, I learned that it's a power cord to keep engine warm during winters... ah. Alaska sure is funneh! (eh, plugin hybrid indeed!).
Got to Wittier tunnel around 2am...and it was closed :-/ Apparently the hours of operation are from 5am till 11pm. So... later.
Got to Seward around 5am. That's the town with Kenai tour companies. Walked around a bit, visited the local hardware store, got breakfast (pancakes & icecream), and just waited until tour companies started to open around 8am. Booked a 9-hour boat trip to Northwestern glacier. Then waited some more, etc.
The big boat was surprisingly quick... The weather was surprisingly cold, wet and windy. But, eh, good thing I had my winter gear with me.
During the boat trip, saw a buncha animals, birds, etc. Just about everything that's in the area (killer whales, humpback whales, bald eagles, differnet kinds of seals, all sorts of birds, jellyfish, etc.).
The Northwestern glacier was pretty nice and relaxing. Nothing amazingly nice, but, eh, it's a glacier, what's more to expect?
After the boat trip, decided to drive directly to the Wittier tunnel, since someone on the boat told me it closes at 10pm (e.g. I'd have to get there by 9, so I'll have enough time to drive there and back---so that's cutting it a little close).
Got to tunnel, and bam, it closes at 11... so I gots a whole hour to spend at Wittier. It's a surprisingly tiny town. The whole thing is just 1 road, and a parking lot next to the peer. At least that's the part I saw.
Went to restaurant to get local grilled salmon. They sure prepared it well, but it seems they don't do such things often, as the fillet had bones in it... :-/
...and onto the long drive to Danali :-)
- Alex; 20130831
OMG, how could they... half-life 2 episode two! They just...amm...left it. Such a dramatic ending, and that's it. It's like TO BE CONTINUED...and it's not continuing. URGH. Did they hire Neal Stephenson to do their stories-without-endings?
- Alex; Thu Aug 29 02:54:44 EDT 2013
`Finished' half-life 2 episode one. Pretty damn amazing. This is a game in itself. Now, I couldn't do it without Buddha mode and around middle of game, impulse 101 (all weapons). For some reason, they just starve you for ammunition. Half-life2 game itself, if you collect ammunition, you hardly ever run out (except rockets). In episode one, you get nutn... you get a shotgun sometime later in the game, but then there are never enough bullets; it's wave after wave of mobs, and you got nutn to shoot'em with...
In any case, looking forward to episode two :-)
In other news, CNN: Missile strikes on Syria likely response to chemical attack. What the hell? Doesn't this chemical attack at least *appear* like a false flag operation to anyone?
- Alex; Tue Aug 27 01:41:10 EDT 2013
Spent the weekend mostly playing Half Life 2 (well, besides hiking, bbq, etc.). For an old game, it still rocks.
In other news, got myself a new toy today: Asus X200CA. For a $350 laptop/netbook, it's pretty nice. First thing I did was wipe out Win8 and install Linux Mint 15. Everything works beautifully. The keyboard is pretty comfortable for a netbook; it's small, but everything seems to be in the right places when I type. The touchpad is a bit annoying (my hand tends to rest on it when I'm typing), but I could always disable that.
Win8 still sux. A lot. Even with touchscreen :-/
Saw secure boot for first time in this laptop: just go into bios, and disable it, and everything works great (boots from usb stick and installs linux without issues). There's a way to manage boot keys in the bios, but I didn't bother with that.
- Alex; Mon Aug 26 01:50:28 EDT 2013
Microsoft says CEO Steve Ballmer will retire within 12 months. No successor named. Stock surges. Yah, investors really liked that guy. NOT. Must've been the tablets and the whole Windows 8 thing.
- Alex; Fri Aug 23 09:11:19 EDT 2013
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