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Sugar Mountain

Linville FallsCallum and I are in Sugar Mountain, North Carolina. We’re staying at a condo my parents have rented for the summer up in the mountains. It is a beautiful area! And the weather is beautiful – quite a change from the heat and humidity of Central Florida this time of year.

Today we went to Linville Falls, where Callum and I hiked up to the top of the mountain to check out the overlooks. Afterward we went to the Linn Cove Viaduct, an impressive feat of engineering built into the mountainside of Grandfather Mountain. There was a short walk up to the viaduct along the Tanawha Trail that we did that included some fun boulders to climb, and an overlook nearby that we also stopped at to take a few pictures.

Tomorrow we are doing to head to either Blowing Rock or Banner Elk, two places I’ve not yet visited. I’m looking forward to checking them out.

Callum and I at Linville Falls

Callum and I at Linville Falls.

Sugar Mountain

The view from the condo at Sugar Mountain.

Lookout near Linville Falls

A lookout near Linville Falls.

Along the Tanawha Trail

Along the Tanawha Trail near the Linn Cove Viaduct.

Mountains near the Linn Cove Viaduct

The view from the overlook near the Linn Cove Viaduct.

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24. Jul, 2017
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A rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center

Last week I took a trip with some former co-workers to Merritt Island, Florida, home of the Kennedy Space Center. We visited the park, learned about rockets, watched an IMAX movie, and checked out the Atlantis exhibit.

When we got to the park we learned that that afternoon there was to be a rocket launch as part of the SpaceX Falcon 9 program. My friends work out of one of IBM’s United Kingdom offices, and as such had never seen a rocket launch. I live here in Central Florida, and so… well, actually, I’d never gotten myself to a rocket launch either! So we decided we’d spend the $20 to get a shuttle to a nearby (but not too nearby) viewing area to see the rocket launch.

One of the potential downsides to going to see a rocket launch is that if the launch doesn’t go through as planned for whatever reason, you’re out the money you spent to get to the viewing area. Fortunately for us the launch went mostly according to plan (it was one minute behind schedule – I can deal with that).

It was pretty amazing to see the launch. You could initially see the fire beneath the rocket and the cloud of smoke billowing out from below. Then the rocket slowly ascends into the sky. Then, some time later, you suddenly hear the incredible booming of the rocket launch, which sounds like it’s right there in front of you (though of course it’s not). The rocket climbs further into the sky and reaches its Max Q, which is the point at which the atmospheric pressure on the rocket is highest. Finally it breaks through the atmosphere, tilts in a direction (in this case east), and heads out of sight.

Taking the shuttle back to the Kennedy Space Center took a while – we sat around and had a few drinks and some snacks while we waited for the massive line to diminish. But it was definitely worth taking a trip to the viewing area to see the rocket launch, and I hope to visit the Kennedy Space Center again someday soon. It’s probably gonna happen. I got an annual pass.

Falcon 9 rocket launch

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29. May, 2017
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Colorful thoughts

Everyone went all freaky-nuts when they said Pluto wasn’t a planet, but when they started telling us indigo wasn’t a color of the rainbow, who complained? Nobody, that’s who. Well, whatever. I still love you, you crazy, mysterious non-color.

Me and the rainbow

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13. Feb, 2017
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At least now we’ll know where she is

Lilou is unsure about her present from Switzerland. 🐶 🐮 🔔

Dog cowbell

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05. Jan, 2017
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Only toddlers ride tricycles

Catrike 700 rear quarter viewYesterday I went and got myself a tricycle.

Truth be told, I haven’t ridden tricycles since I was a toddler. And more truth be told, I was never really into tricycles anyway. I preferred those little plastic cars you straddle and push along with both feet. But I definitely used to be into cycling when I was younger. I had (have) a classic Bianchi Campione d’Italia, currently stashed away somewhere up in a garage in Canada, that I used to love to ride around Toronto.

The thing about riding bikes, however, is that they never really get comfortable. I went on a few century rides (100 miles), and even after riding bikes for many years and getting accustomed to the way that you sit on and pedal a bicycle, after a few dozen miles on a bike you start to hurt, especially at those points that contact the bicycle – your lower back, your wrists on the handlebars, and yes, your tush (even with a gel seat).

It is for this reason that this time around I decided to get a recumbent bicycle – to be more precise, a recumbent tricycle. Recumbents operate like regular bicycles, but place the rider in a laid-back reclining position to ride. This helps to evenly distribute a rider’s weight along the seat, minimizing contact point stresses. During the past several months I visited a few dealers to try out a few trikes, and found them quite comfortable. In fact, other recumbent trike riders have confessed that they often feel like falling asleep in their trikes when they’re not on the move. Not only that, while riding on a traditional diamond frame (DF) bicycle often hurts the lower back, most sources I have researched indicate that riding a recumbent bicycle can help strengthen your lower back, and is very good for general back health. How cool is that?

I researched several different trike brands while deciding which trike to purchase. The three main contenders were ICE Trikes out of the United Kingdom, HP Velotechnik out of Germany, and Catrike, located right here in Florida. In the end I chose a lava red Catrike 700, a surprisingly comfortable trike with a mesh seat that was built primarily for speed. There were several reasons I chose this trike in particular. One, it is very light, and reputably very fast – I want a trike that I can keep up with other riders on traditional bikes with, as I plan to join rides with cycling clubs here in Central Florida. Another reason is that I managed to get a brand new 2016 model at a very low price. I bought the Catrike in the same community where my parents live, which is targeted toward retired folks. The people there simply don’t choose to ride speed trikes; they would prefer a trike that is easy to get in and out of and more focused on comfort over performance, like the Catrike 559, Catrike Dumont, or Catrike Villager. So the trike has been sitting on the rack in the store for some time, and they wanted to get it out of the shop so that they could replace it with something more likely to appeal to their clientele. I am not a retired person (quite yet), so I was happy to jump on the deal.

Today I went on my first official ride around my neighborhood on the Catrike 700, and it made me very happy. It has been so long since I’ve ridden a bicycle, and it was great to feel the wind in my hair (or helmet), the fresh air in my lungs, and that burn you get in your calves after a good bike workout.

Will I be back out there tomorrow? Heck yeah…

Lava red Catrike 700

2016 Lava red Catrike 700 outside our garage.

Catrike 700 top view

The view of the Catrike 700 just before you are about to trip over it.

Catrike 700 wheel reflector

The Catrike came with reflectors on its wheels, which I am definitely going to remove, but don’t worry – I will replace them with something equally safe.

Catrike 700 safety flag

I almost forgot to put the safety flag on the trike before riding. Trikes are low to the ground, so flags are very important in order to make the trike visible for car drivers.

Wearing a bicycle helmet

I had to borrow one of my kids’ bike helmets. Don’t worry, I did up the strap before riding, though I hate that feeling of something constricting your heck or chin.

Alien Workshop skateboard

My friend Pete and I also went out on a whim and got ourselves skateboards. But that’s another story…

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18. Dec, 2016
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That one summer in Quebec

I’m thankful for many things, and since November is a popular month to recognize those things we’re thankful for, I thought I’d… wait, it’s December already? Oh.

At any rate, I visited my parents over Thanksgiving, and while I was there I found some old photo albums from back in the day. One of them was the photo album from the six weeks I spent at a French language school in Quebec City, at Cégep de Sainte-Foy, during the summer before my final year of high school. I went to Quebec with my friend Peter, who has been one of my best friends since we met in the fourth grade, but we met a lot of new friends from all over Canada (and even one from Atlanta) while we were staying there.

One reason why I am thankful is that the program was sponsored by the Canadian government. The trip to Quebec City, the room and board, and the daily French lessons were paid for as part of a French language bursary program. The program still exists, it seems – it is now called Explore, and it lasts for five weeks. It doesn’t seem like the current program is comprehensively covered as it was when I was in high school, but I still think it is pretty cool that the Government of Canada will sponsor English-speaking Canadian citizens to learn the French language, and vice versa. It shows the emphasis that the Canadian government places on being a multilingual country.

I learned a lot of French in Quebec, of course, but I learned a lot of other things as well – a lot about independence, and friendship, and Quebecois culture. It’s an experience that I will always remember, and it’s something that I hope my own children will be able to experience one summer once they themselves reach high school.

Here’s a picture I scanned of Peter and I at Toronto Pearson International Airport, getting ready to fly to Quebec City for the program.

peter-brian-toronto-airport

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Thoughts about future technology

stuff-on-a-tableCallum and I often have long discussions about future technology. Callum is surprisingly prescient for someone just starting out, especially where computers, computer hardware, and mobile devices (iPhones, iPods, iPads, and the like) are concerned.

Two of the things we discussed the other day:

The future of MP3 players

Like David Pumpkins, MP3 players used to be “their own thing”. Now many people simply use their mobile phones as MP3 players, and don’t carry around a separate MP3 player device. Callum and I talked about what form MP3 players eventually might take as technology progresses. As electronic devices become smaller and smaller, MP3 players (or players of whatever format comes next) will be able to be located pretty much anywhere.

One possible location would be in a person’s watch – for those people who wear a watch. While most of my family members (especially my father, my son, and myself) are pretty big fans of Apple laptops and devices, none of us was motivated to get an Apple Watch. While an Apple Watch has a lot of functionality for such a small device, most of the functionality it has can be better served by using something else. While the Apple Watch makes for a good fitness watch, it doesn’t make for a great fitness watch. It’s good for mobile communication, but you need to have your phone on you to use that functionality anyway. With an MP3 player and Bluetooth earphones, an Apple Watch would be useful as an MP3 player. It would also serve as a good mobile phone itself by using those same Bluetooth headphones, with all of the communications functions built right into the phone. Then you would no longer have to carry around a phone or a tablet, and if it was strapped securely to your wrist, it would be much more difficult to lose or to have stolen. It boggles me when I see teenagers walking around with their mobile phones halfway out of their back pockets.

Of course, in the future, MP3 players and mobile phones could also be placed directly into the earphones themselves. As technology gets smaller, earphones could house full computers that could connect to other devices via Bluetooth, cellular, or Internet. It seems that in the future, Internet will completely replace cellular and Bluetooth technologies – it will simply be everywhere, and all devices will be able to use Internet as a medium, so cellular and Bluetooth will no longer be needed. And in the even further future, we likely won’t even need earphones. We’ll be able to get sound piped directly into our minds.

Self-driving car races

Race cars can move pretty quickly, but one of the things holding cars back from increasing speed is the fact that you have to stick a human driver in one. That means that a car has to at least be a certain size, and take up a certain amount of volume in a certain shape. With self-driving cars, those limitations are relieved. Self-driving cars can be any size, and of any shape.

In the future, as self-driving technology becomes ubiquitous, I’m guessing we will eventually see self-driving car races as a sport. Artificially intelligent cars will be able to use their knowledge of a racecourse and their self-driving software to maneuver around a racecourse, avoiding other cars, at incredible speeds. It would make for an interesting sport, and could bring prestige to automobile companies and to the creators of self-driving vehicle computer software. I’d certainly watch that.

Drones as entertainment

Meanwhile, here in the Orlando area, Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) has introduced a new nighttime experience for the Christmas season – a holiday light show featuring 300 drones. These drones are programmed to create aerial formations and activate a variety of colored lights to create a light show in the sky over the Disney Springs marketplace. We haven’t checked it out yet, but we certainly plan to.

Update: we checked it out:

Disney Springs drone show

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19. Nov, 2016
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“News” on Facebook

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of “news” on Facebook that displays a great deal of bias. In one memorable bit of news, a website claimed that Michelle Obama is actually a man. The interesting thing is, people seem take these news articles very seriously when they pop up in their news feeds. They are frequently (maybe almost always) shared with friends or networks without proper due diligence being performed to determine whether or not the news in question is true or false.

In most cases, news being shared in this manner comes from an obviously fake or biased source. For example, “Spinzon” was the site that shared the news about Michelle Obama being a man. If a news source is called “The Conservative News Agenda”, you can probably guess what their bias is going to be. If it’s “The Liberal Daily Digest”, same thing.

If you’re going to share news on Facebook, be sure you know what the bias of the news is, if any, and if it looks suspect, do your research before sharing the news to your Facebook page. Sharing interesting, relevant news about politics is helpful, but sharing fake, heavily biased news is not helping anyone.

To help propagate this idea I created this meme. And as an added bonus, I now know what fonts Facebook uses in its news feed!

Facebook news

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01. Nov, 2016
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News from the kitchen

I’m going to wax poetic about our kitchen faucet.

Our old faucet failed a week ago (FYI, when faucets fail, they tend to fail in epic fashion). So we needed a new one. While investigating different faucets, we found several that you can touch to turn on and off. They were a little more expensive than the other ones, so at first we glossed over them, but then we realized – we are constantly turning on and off the kitchen faucet with food-covered hands. Like, every single day. So we ended up buying one. And I have to admit, I am really digging it – you can tap the faucet with your forearm or the back of your hand to activate it, and not have to worry about getting food all over the handle.

So, anyway, yeah. I’m excited about my kitchen faucet. That must be a grown-up thing.

A touch-to-activate kitchen faucet

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18. Oct, 2016
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The Main Street Electrical Parade

Over the weekend we visited the Magic Kingdom as a family. After riding Splash Mountain, Callum and I were walking toward Liberty Square when we noticed that the Main Street Electrical Parade was about to start. Apparently, this particular parade is going to be closing at Disney World on October 9th of this year, with the various floats and costumes being moved to Anaheim so that they can feature the parade at Disneyland, which is where the parade originally took place. Since it’s about to become a part of history here in Orlando, I figured we may as well watch it one last time.

Considering we decided to watch the parade right before it started, we managed to find a really good spot. There are walkways across Main Street that are blocked off during the parade. The Disney cast members don’t let you hang around behind the rope on these walkways – you can’t block the path, as it is used throughout the parade to allow people to cross. But Callum and I found a spot outside of Splash Mountain in front of some garbage cans, still behind the white line but right up close to the roped off area. So basically we were front row. However, as we were a little further back from the street than normal, I managed to get some decent photographs of the various Electrical Parade floats – my camera (in this case, my iPhone) was able to take in a bit more of the floats than you normally would be able to if you were up close to the parade.

These phone-taken pictures aren’t professional by any means, but I was glad to be able to take a few photos while I was still able to do so, before the parade leaves Disney World and makes its way over to Disneyland.

Tinker Bell's balloon

Tinker Bell’s balloon

Alice on the mushroom

Alice on the mushroom

The caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland on his mushroom

The caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland on his mushroom

Captain Hook's pirate ship

Captain Hook’s pirate ship

Pinocchio

Pinocchio

Pete's Dragon

Pete’s Dragon

The America float, the final float in the parade

The America float, the final float in the parade

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