Category Archives: Friends & Family

Thursday trivia #73

  • All that cotton you see when flying into the Huntsville airport? That’s money.
  • MacObserver did a comparison test of battery life on various versions of OS X. They document what I’d noticed anecdotally: significantly lower battery life in 10.8.
  • Great summary of a student pilot’s first solo… in Cyprus.. at age 69.
  • Hmmm. iPhone 5, or Lumia 920? I am trying to decide simultaneously whether to upgrade and/or bite the bullet and move over to Verizon. I am unhappy with AT&T’s coverage both in the Bay Area and in Huntsville; I barely get signal in my house, which is no more than 2mi from an actual AT&T store. This decision is complicated by the fact that the boys’ phones are additional lines on my family plan, and they couldn’t use their existing phones if I move to VZW– plus I’d have to eat cancellation fees on some of the lines. Verizon’s shared data plan for 3 smartphones + 1 dumb phone is $240/month; compared to the $220 I pay now for the same 4 devices (5GB for me, 2GB for Tom, unlimited for David) this is not a compelling deal.  StraightTalkis an option, except that they apparently cap data at 2GB/line/month. I might just move Dave and Tom to StraightTalk, then keep Matt’s feature phone and my existing AT&T line. Or not!
  • Single guys, watch out: there are women out there who will pull off your prosthetic leg and then beat you with it.
  • I mentioned in a meeting today that VMware’s new vSphere client is based on Flash. That mention was greeted with much incredulity, but it is, in fact, true.
  • The other day I saw a tweet that put it very succinctly: if Obama wins the election it will be because of his campaign and in spite of the economy; if Romney wins, it will be in spite of his campaign and because of the economy.
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Returning to Huntsville, sort of

This was my first weekend in Huntsville without the boys.

A quick review: my sons moved back to Alabama with their mother last summer. Since then, I have been commuting about every other weekend to see them. This has been an expensive hassle, but it’s been worth it to spend time with them. Recently I started investigating rental houses, on the theory that renting a house might be in the same cost ballpark as renting hotel rooms and buying restaurant food. After some digging, I found that Zillow has a fairly comprehensive set of tools for searching rental properties, and that led me to Trish Hagin, a REALTOR in Huntsville. (Side note: REALTOR is always supposed to be capitalized. I only know this since my grandfather was one, but that’s no reason not to inflict my trivia knowledge on you.) Trish and her husband Jeff were prompt, personable, and effective; they helped me find a great place in a fairly new development in Madison. It’s about a mile from Matt’s elementary school, and within easy distance of David and Tom’s respective high schools. 

Last week, Tom helped me pack up two ABF ReloCubes. These are  6′ x 7′ x 8′ containers. ABF drops off the empties; you pack them with your stuff, then ABF comes to fetch them and deliver them where and when you tell them to. The first cube was around $2600; adding a second cube only added $900 or so. Compared to the cost of renting a truck, fueling it on a cross-country drive, paying for hotels, and taking time off work, the cubes were a much better deal, and ABF both picked up and delivered where and when they promised.

We stuffed the cubes full of all the stuff that had been in my mini-storage unit, and ABF had the cubes spotted in my driveway about 10:15 Friday morning. I’d arrived on the redeye about 30 minutes before that, met the leasing agent to get the keys, and welcomed a 3-man crew from the Huntsville “Two Men and a Truck” franchise. The movers did a superb job; I’ll be calling them back next time I need to move in metro Huntsville. Anyway, within a couple of hours, everything was out of the pods and in the house. I spent the entire rest of the weekend unpacking boxes, assembling furniture, buying supplies (you know, important stuff like diet Coke, peaches, and an HDMI cable). By the time I left, both bathrooms, the kitchen, and the laundry room were all functional, and I’d slept in my own bed (with clean sheets), watched some Olympics on the wall-mount TV that came with the house, and fired Comcast as a potential ISP because they took my installation order without bothering to tell me that they don’t serve my neighborhood. Speaking of neighborhood: my house is the one with the red rectangle. From my back porch, I can see a huge yard/pasture that has a couple of resident horses, a nice-looking pond, and a semi-rustic green sheet-metal barn. The street name has a large number of anagrams, but the best one is “Madcap Male Rest”, an eponym so good that I’m thinking of having a sign made.

Aerial

Anyway, the house is just about ready for the boys; I need beds for Dave and Tom, and we need a sofa of some kind, plus a vacuum cleaner. The boys will be coming out for a visit in a week or two, and we’ll go back a couple of days early to get the rest squared away. I should note that at present I’ll be commuting to the house to stay with the boys; I am not, at present, moving permanently to Huntsville, although I’ve made no secret to my boss of the fact that my goal is to do exactly that.

It was very odd to be driving around Huntsville and Madison without the boys; I’ve gotten more used to being without them in California. Luckily I’ll be seeing them soon.

A few bonus observations:

  • The Huntsville Times Sunday sports section had no mention of the Olympics. And they wonder why people don’t read the printed paper.
  • We had a great thunderstorm Saturday afternoon, with huge raindrops and plenty of dazzle and boom. I miss storms like that. With the front and back storm doors open, I got a nice breeze through the house, too.
  • AT&T’s cell service in my neighborhood ranges from “not great” to “no service.” This is not encouraging. 
  • Everywhere I went– Costco, Best Buy, restaurants, grocery stores, the U-Haul place, the airport– I was reminded how friendly and open the majority of folks in Huntsville are. Not just the staff, either; the customers as well. This is a lovely contrast to some other places I’ve lived.
  • Fish tacos? Nope. Not a Huntsville thing.

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Thursday trivia #56

  • If you’re at all interested in computer forensics (and, really, who isn’t?), this piece from the Boston Phoenix makes for great reading; it describes how cops found the “Craigslist Killer.”
  • Microsoft is changing their professional certifications again, reintroducing the MCSE (this time branded as “Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.”) It’s not completely clear to me what this means for people who hold the MCITP certification; there will be an upgrade path of some kind from Microsoft Certified Master to the new MCSM credential. I’ll write more about this when I understand it better.
  • “Deaths from traffic accidents around April 15, traditionally the last day to file individual income taxes in the U.S., rose 6 percent on average on each of the last 30 years of tax filing days compared with a day during the week prior and a week later.” Think about that for a second. (Note to self: file electronically and then stay home on April 17th.)
  • It’s nice to see this well-known principle getting better coverage: people make poor monitors for computers. Humans stink at repetitive monitoring of things that rarely change.
  • Turns out that Australia has a simple process for getting a “certificate of validation,” which allows you to fly about the country with a US pilot’s license. Hmmmm…

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Thursday trivia #55

  • The Marines have landed in Darwin, Australia, and the situation is well in hand. I had an interesting discussion with a coworker about whether this was a provocation of the Chinese or a necessary move to register our continued interest in the Pacific Rim. I lean towards the latter, but not everyone agrees.
  • I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones after having read all of the books. So far I’m delighted, in particular by the characterizations. Barristan Selmy, Syrio Forel, and a host of other characters are very much as I imagined them, and the set design is superb. (However, I did wonder why all the characters have British accents. The BBC has one possible answer.)
  • Why’d I take the plunge? U-Verse had a promotion: 3 months of free HBO. I signed up and immediately fired up the HBO Go app on my Xbox. It works superbly, including Kinect integration for voice control. The HBO Go app also works well on my Mac, so I connected it to the hotel-room TV here in San Diego and watched Game of Thrones on it too. WELCOME TO THE FUTURE.
  • I really like the new Trending app for iOS. It combines stock data with news about the companies in your portfolio. Since it’s free, go get it.
  • Fascinating story on ferries in Alaska. There’s more to it than you might have suspected.
  • Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation: fun, quick read. Recommended.
  • Today’s fun cloud computing game: anyone can play.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday I went running at Shoreline Park in San Diego. It was beautiful: sunshine, sailboats, a few SH-60s. Here’s a panorama I took with Photosynth:

http://photosynth.net/embed.aspx?cid=d26f798e-29b5-428c-b7de-daa1632a21f1&delayLoad=true&slideShowPlaying=false

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Thursday trivia #53

  • I note with sadness the passing of CAPT Carroll LeFon, USN (ret). He was a fighter pilot until the end, a stalwart patriot, and a great American, and I say this with no trace whatsoever of irony.
  • Fascinating BBC article on recycling of medical implants: hips, knees, etc. get turned into turbine blades and other artifacts.
  • Since I’ve been in Pensacola, I’ve gotten to rent a number of different vehicles. So far, the Chrysler 300 I’m currently driving is my favorite. Comfortable, powerful, quiet, and stylish. The interior is well-assembled, and the avionics (or whatever you call them in cars) work very well, with none of the Bluetooth bugs I’ve gotten accustomed to working around in other vehicles. Plus, as Tom says, Eminem drives one, so what’s not to like?
  • Brilliant news: LodgeNet (you know, the hotel-TV folks) have produced an app that turns your device into a TV remote for your hotel TV. I love this because, quite frankly, those remotes are swimming in germs.
  • I’ve long been a nuclear-weapons nerd, so Restricted Data is like catnip.
  • Speaking of which: Perimeter.
  • I’m taking my FAA written exam this week. So far I’ve accumulated about 70 hours of flight time, and I only need a few more specific things before i can take my check ride. However, the weather here in Pensacola is worsening, so I doubt I’ll be able to finish up before I leave.
  • This collection of LEGO science models gives me a strong urge to break out the LEGOs. Like I needed a reason…

 

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Happy Mardi Gras

The boys and I are just back from a wonderful trip to South Louisiana for a mini-family reunion. Missie started the ball rolling a few months ago, so I made precautionary hotel reservations just in case. Things worked out beautifully– the boys had Friday and Monday off, so I picked them up in Montgomery Thursday night, and we stayed overnight in Mobile. Friday morning, we got up and drove to Houma; along the way we stopped at the National World War II Museum. I’d been there before, but the boys hadn’t, and they were pretty much wide-eyed throughout the entire tour. A stop in Luling for a shrimp poboy, and poof! we were in Houma.

That night we went to the Krewe of Aphrodite parade. In case you hadn’t guessed, this krewe’s court is all-female, and all the floats were crewed by women. I’m not sure if that was a factor in the boys’ massive haul of beads, but it could have been. We all had a grand time; we then joined Doug, Shawn, Missie, Jody, and the girls for Mexican.

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the boys ended up heavily laden with beads, plus all sorts of other random paraphernalia.

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sadly, Piranha Rentals doesn’t actually rent piranhas.

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not actual size

Saturday drove around to check out Houma, which has grown quite a bit since my last visit– to say nothing of how much it’s grown since I lived there. Terrebonne Parish as a whole had about 94,000 people in 1980, shortly before I moved away. The 2010 census says it now has around 112,000 people, but that seems low based on the size and bustle of what used to be a fairly quiet small town. We were supposed to marshal at Mr. Poboy (which I highly recommend), but we had some time to kill. I decided to drive out towards the airport, and what a good decision that turned out to be!

As we were driving, I saw what looked like a DC-3… then another one… then some other large propellor transport, all parked behind a hangar labeled “AIRBORNE SUPPORT.” We drove over to their hangar, and after a little poking around a gentleman (whose name, sadly, I didn’t write down) came out and offered us a tour of their operations. At first, he asked if we were with the media; I later learned that various media organizations were using shotgun mikes, pole-mounted cameras, and other surveillance devices to eavesdrop on their operations during cleanup of the BP Macondo oil spill. Once he was satisfied that we weren’t part of any sinister plots, he could not have been more helpful and friendly. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Airborne Support is a contractor that provides aerial spraying services to Clean Gulf Associates, an oil-industry-funded non-profit that maintains emergency response equipment and staff for spill cleanup. I’ll have to read up more on both of them when I have time.

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The aircraft shown above is one of the DC-3s we saw (its web page is here.). More properly, it’s actually a C-47A, the military variant of the DC-3. This one was built in 1944 and is still flying! That’s not uncommon, as aircraft have a much longer life than most people realize. It’s fitted with a large tank that holds chemical dispersant; the spray plane flies at low altitude (30-50 feet above the water) and sprays in a pattern determined by a spotter plane flying at a higher altitude. The interior is bare-bones: there’s a big tank for the dispersant and that’s it. The cockpit below is mostly original, too, with the addition of a Garmin 530, some 1970s-vintage radios, and an overhead-mounted agricultural specialty GPS. The seats, yokes, and so on are all original, though.

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my sons have the rare distinction of having been both in the cockpit of an operational DC-3 and the captain’s chair of a Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier


After the tour, we joined the family at Mr. Poboy for an excellent meal. I had the fried shrimp poboy, which was served with excellent soft French bread. The shrimp were apparently fried in Zatarain’s, which is my go-to seasoning, and were plentiful and of good texture. (I wasn’t sold on the fries, though; our Luling gas station fries were better). Then we went over to Ricky’s house, where Ricky and Carey cooked up two huge pots of food: seafood gumbo and pastalaya respectively. Both were superb, as was the lemon icebox pie that someone made (I’m not sure who, but it was certainly good).

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Carey’s pastalaya pot is almost, but not quite, big enough to cook a small child in. Sadly you can’t see Ricky’s epic two-burner cooking stand but it was busy too.

One of the things I love about visiting my family is that it’s a given that all the men can cook well. I am by far the worst male cook in my family, but I’m working on it!

We stayed at Ricky’s until well after dark; the steady, heavy rain didn’t dampen our spirits, although it did force cancellation of the scheduled parades. We were too full to care, however. Sunday morning we had breakfast en masse at Waffle House, conveniently located next to our hotel, then went in search of another parade– this one the Krewe of Terraneans. We stayed for the first four or five floats, then headed west for A Cajun Man’s Swamp Tour, run by Black Guidry. I’d taken the boys on it before several years ago, and I don’t think Black’s jokes have changed much since then, but we got some great looks at wildlife, including turtles, young alligators, and nutria. The weather had cleared by the time we left the dock and it was clear, sunny, and very pleasant out on the water.

DSC 0699Capt. Guidry playing his Cajun accordion

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A third turtle decamped the log just as I was pressing the shutter button.

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He looks pretty comfortable, doesn’t he?

Sunday night we had dinner at Boudreau & Thibodeaux’s in Houma. The food was excellent, and the wait staff did their best to feed all 30 of us in a reasonable amount of time. I had some delicious grilled catfish and a small number of Tom’s two pounds of crawfish. He certainly did them justice, as you can see in the before-and-after pictures below.

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Monday all we did was drive back: Houma to Montgomery for me to drop the boys off, then back to Pensacola: just under 500 statute miles all told. Great trip, and we’re all looking forward to doing it again next year!

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Thursday trivia #52

  • Remarkably enough, there are people who don’t know about Atomic Fireballs. Herewith some educational materials in case you are one such.
  • Apple released a beta of the new Mac OS Messages app, which is supposed to let you exchange iMessages with iOS users. So far it doesn’t seem to work consistently; I have messages on my phone that didn’t show up on the computer and vice versa. It’s a neat idea, though, so I’m looking forward to them getting all the bugs out.
  • The BBC reboot of Sherlock Holmes (cleverly titled Sherlock) is fantastic. I recommend it highly. It’s on Netflix.
  • Ever heard of the Heavy Press Program? No? Then read this article and marvel at the wonders of American industry. Seriously.

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