At the Hadrian Hotel

At the Hadrian Hotel

Monday, April 23, 2007

Arizona Day 4 - Biosphere 2 and the Trip to Mesa

Saturday morning we left the Westward Look and headed of toward Mesa, to visit with my Aunt and cousin for a few days. However, before we checked out we took a walk on the "Saguaro Nature Trail" on the resort grounds. We took a few pictures and set a geocache. It was really just a plastic food container with a small pad of paper for a log book, but it was our first one, so we didn't want to go overboard.

We then checked out of the Westward Look and headed off toward Mesa. Our plans for the day included a visit to Biosphere 2, which was very cool indeed.

It was a nice drive to Biosphere 2 and we arrived around 11:45, in plenty of time to make the noon tour which began with a short lecture about the history and current status of the facility. Then came the good stuff....

Our tour first took us to the ocean environment where they have a one million gallon simulated ocean, complete with gentle waves on the shoreline. From the ocean we moved into the desert environment where I managed to get a picture of a bird in flight.

After the desert came the "behind the scenes" part. We walked down a stairway from the desert section and through a hallway that doubled as ductwork for the ventilation system (it was a bit windy in there :-) ). The tour guide led us to a room beneath the desert that contained large water storage tanks and this sign. Now that's something you don't see every day. We followed the sign to the South Lung, passing down a long tunnel that ended in a triangular shaped connector tunnel.

The lung consisted of a large curved metal plate attached to what looked like a donut. When Biosphere 2 was a sealed environment, the South and West Lungs were used as air reservoirs. In the heat of the day, air inside the biosphere would expand, rush down the tunnels to the lungs, and lift the metal plates. If not for the expansion capability of the lungs, the glass panels would have been blown out by the increased pressure of the heated air inside.

We exited the lung and were shown a few more features of Biosphere 2 before our guide left us to roam about on our own. We looked about a little, going down to the ocean viewing room to see what we could see, and then headed off to my Aunt Betty's place.

My Aunt Betty lives in Mesa, Arizona, on the outskirts of Phoenix. It took us around two hours to get there from Biosphere 2, taking the various "86" roads instead of the Interstate. After we got settled in and caught up for a bit, we headed over to my cousin Jim's place, visited there for a bit and headed out to dinner at Caffé Portobello where a good time was had by all. We went back to Aunt Betty's place and crashed.

Friday, April 20, 2007


My son Mark told me the other day that my blog was nearing 12,345 hits. Well, not that anybody other than he and I really care, but it happened late (EDT) on Thursday. The lucky winner came from California State University, Northridge. The host was, which seems to have a DNS 'PTR' record but no 'A' record so I couldn't do a traceroute to it. Whomever you are, thanks for getting me to my next numeric milestone.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Nor' Easter

As you may know, New Jersey and a number of other eastern states are currently dealing with a Nor' Easter. There's a fair amount of flooding in Mercer County, where I live, and I've put up a small set of pictures on flickr showing some of what's out there.

UPDATE: More Nor' Easter pics available from jcrouthamel, woodcreeper and Cavalier92.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Arizona Day 3 - Sabino Canyon

Friday brought us to Sabino Canyon. When we arrived at the parking lot and paid our parking fee, we were given a bright green flyer warning us about mountain lions. "Maintain eye contact." "Do not run." "Make yourself big." "Pick up small children, but do not bend down." That certainly set our minds at ease.

We bought our tram tickets for the ride into the canyon. We were warned that the tram was only running to stop 4 (instead of 9) because the road beyond that was severely damaged by a 1000-year flood last July 31. We were told that the stream flowing through the canyon was the only running water in Tucson.

The tram ride was a 45 minute round trip to stop 4 and back, driving along the two-lane road punctuated by several one-lane bridges. These bridges all had pipes to allow water to flow beneath them, but many of the pipes were blocked (probably due to the flood) and the water flowed over the bridges like waterfalls.

So, we got off at stop 4 and walked further up the road. It was a beautiful day and we walked around for about an hour. We walked along the road and through the stream and took a bunch of pictures. There was quite a bit of mica in the sand in and along the stream, looking kind of like the "gold" we had panned for the day before at the Old Tucson Studios.

On the way back to the visitor's center, the tram driver told us a little bit about the flood and pointed out the debris line on a tree (which was about 6 feet high) and a picnic table that was buried in the sand. We got a five minute stop at the Sabino Canyon dam, which was built in the 1920s to create a lake for boaters. These days, there is no longer any boating in the canyon.

After visiting the canyon, we headed over to the University of Arizona, where Eric had a 2PM tour scheduled (along with about 80 other kids and parents). While Randee and Eric took the tour, Mark and I headed over to the Flandrau Science Center to see what they had to offer.

The Flandrau center has a number of exhibits. Mark and I took advantage of the hands-on physics exhibit where we examined (played around with) light and motion. We also took a quick look at the rocks and minerals exhibit in the basement, which had some interesting specimens. Unfortunately, we got kicked out when they closed at 3PM so we wandered around campus a bit until we met up with Randee and Eric at the end of their tour.

We went back to the hotel for a while and then had dinner at a restaurant around the corner. Then back to the hotel for a little TV before we crashed. Another fun vacation day in Arizona!

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Arizona Day 2 - The View from 6875 Feet

To start off our second day in Arizona we took a trip to the Kitt Peak National Observatory. You can probably tell how high above sea level the observatory is from the title of this entry.

We arrived shortly before the 10:00 AM tour of the Solar Telescope, which started in the visitor's center with a brief history of the observatory. The land on which the observatory sits is leased from the Tohono O'odham people. The conditions of the lease require that only astronomical research be done on the site, with no military or commercial ventures (such as a snack bar). The only exception is the gift shop, which is also an outlet for craft items produced by the Tohono O'odham.

The Solar Telescope is built into the top of the mountain at an angle of 32°, which is the latitude of the location. At night, the telescope points directly at the north star. During the day, there is a heliostat at the top of the telescope which tracks the sun and sends its light deep into the mountain where it is reflected by a pair of mirrors into the observation room. The body of the telescope is sheathed in copper with system of tubing filled with ethylene glycol and used to keep all of the air inside the telescope at the same temperature. This keeps the air from moving within the telescope which keeps the image from getting distorted.

Our tour guide told us that there are about 26 telescopes on the site. Among these are the 2.1m reflector pictured here and a 12m radio telescope dish. The guide only gave us an approximate number for the telescope count because different groups are always bringing in new instruments or taking out old ones.

On the way up to the observatory, we saw a man riding a bicycle up the long twisty road. As we were getting ready to leave we saw him and I asked him how long it took to do the climb. He told me that it took him 2:45, but that he used to be able to do it in 2:13. He left shortly before we did and we didn't see him until we were back on the highway. He must have gone down hill a bit faster than the 35 MPH speed limit.

After leaving Kitt Peak, we headed over to the Old Tucson Studios - the home of many American westerns including "Arizona," "Rio Bravo," "The Outlaw Josie Wales" and "Tombstone."

Randee's theory is that Old Tucson Studios used to be just a working studio site but that when the western became less popular the decision was made to turn it into a tourist attraction as well. Now, they seem to have the best of both worlds. It is still a working studio site and it is open daily for visitors. As an added bonus, if you happen to be there on a day that they're filming, you can watch the action or maybe even be pulled in as an extra.

We took a walking tour at the studios and our guide knew quite a bit about the history of the studios and the movies that were made there. He told us about which actor stood where and did what during what movie. Unfortunately, as I write this a few days have passed and I remember almost nothing of what he said. That's what I get for packing so much into a vacation that I have almost no time to write about it. :-)

After the tour, we took in the wild west shoot-out show (Eric took some video) and then roamed around for a few hours. It was a pretty neat place and even the boys had a good time. If you're in the are and have any interest at all in movies, you should check it out.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Arizona Vacation: Day 1

Wednesday started very early for us as we prepared to head to Arizona for a few days of vacation. The alarm went off at 3:00 AM and we all stumbled out of bed, more or less. Everyone got dressed and we packed our luggage into the van. The drive to Philadelphia was uneventful and we made it to the car dealer/off-site parking place in plenty of time. We were dropped off at the airport, got our luggage checked and headed off to the TSA screening line.

It was then that we realized we had contraband - four 6 oz. containers of yogurt! We knew that we'd have to eat it quickly and toss the evidence before we got to the x-ray machines. Of course when we got there there were no trash cans, and the lady running the machine was not pleased that we were handing her our trash. Oh well....

Our first flight left Philly at around 5:40 AM, headed for Houston. I watched the movie ("Dream Girls") while Randee and the boys slept. After that, I listened to some music on my Palm Tungsten E2 for a while. When they made the announcement that all electronic gear needed to be turned off, I put the Palm in my backpack and prepared for landing.

We had hit headwinds on the way to Houston, so our plane landed late, closer to 8:45 AM than our scheduled time of 8:07 AM. We hustled off the plane and headed for our next flight. Along the way we grabbed some food from one of the "restaurants" in the airport to eat on the plane. We got on the plane, settled into our seats and chowed down. While the plane was taxiing out to the runway, I reached into my backpack to get out my Palm. It wasn't there. It wasn't anywhere. Apparently, when I was putting it into the backpack, I missed and the Palm fell silently to the floor. Sigh....

Once I convinced myself that I shouldn't let this ruin my vacation, I asked Mark (who had the window seat) if he wanted to try tracking our flight with my Garmin eTrex GPS. He thought it would be neat, and once we got a fix he clipped the Garmin to the window shade, where it pretty much stayed until we got to the gate in Tucson. We took a few pictures along the way like the one on the left. We didn't start tracking until a little after take-off, and there were some drop-outs, but we managed to track most of the path from Houston to Tucson.

At the Tucson airport we picked up our baggage, got our rental car, and headed off to the Westward Look Resort. The Westward Look seems to be one of the few resorts in the area that doesn't have a golf course. However, it certainly does have a nice view to the west.

We relaxed by the pool for a bit, and then we decided to take a trek out to Mt. Lemmon, attempting some geocaching along the way. We didn't find the cache, but we did take in some nice scenic vistas on the way up the mountain. The road was very twisty, but nothing to worry about if you stayed at or below the posted speed limit (which was 35 MPH for most of the route). After driving up the mountain for about an hour (and hitting 9000 feet elevation) we decided to head back.

Randee and I had dinner at the resort's restaurant while Eric and Mark had cheesburgers in the room. This was about 9:00 PM local time, which was midnight for us. Quite a long day considering we started at 3:00 AM. Needless to say, the boys were a bit frazzled at this point and were quite happy to eat dinner while vegetating in front of the TV. We ended the day all watching "Whose Line is it Anyway" (the US version) and pretty much passed out by 10:30 PM. All-in-all, it was a pretty good day.

For anybody who likes to look at other people's vacations pictures, they are living over at flickr.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Firestorm is Over, Let the Forensics Begin

So, it looks like the firestorm over the threats received by Kathy Sierra may be over. I admit that I have not done extensive reading on this since looking at Kathy's first post, but her latest blog entry as well as the joint statement with Chris Locke seems to address a fair portion of the problem. Early on, I saw a post on the Doc Searls Weblog concerning Allen Herrell, who was also seemingly invloved in this whole sorry situation.

It seems that the root cause of the current situation may have been Internet Identity Theft. We all know about identity theft in the real world. What many people probably don't realize is that it can also happen in the virtual world of the Internet. Many bloggers out there have built a reputation for themselves as respected writers and thinkers. When one respected blogger appears to be making threats against another, it's a big deal in the blogosphere. That the identity of a well known blogger or two may have been hijacked is something that should not be completely unexpected, but should be thoroughly investigated. Destroying someone's credibility on the Internet can and does have real-world consequences. We all need to strive to keep our 'net identities intact and do what we can to help others do the same. Let the forensics begin!