Sunday, February 28, 2010

Taxes Done

Another year, another tax return done. TurboTax Online was as helpful as usual, but my tax situation keeps getting more complicated, as I barely made it through some of the random, occasionally seemingly crazy questions TurboTax had for me.

Overall, the experience was about as pleasant as it can be given we are talking about doing your taxes here...

Friday, February 26, 2010

It's raining hard

I think on TV they call this a "winter storm". It's raining. Quite a bit. And that's good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Power outage in San Francisco

There's a power outage in San Francisco. Why would I care?

My DSL circuit is provisioned on an AT&T line, but my Internet service is provided by Sonic's aggregation for the Bay Area is in San Francisco, and the colocation facility had a power outage, which took out the upstream equipment of my connectivity. It's amazing how often data center generator facilities and UPS systems have problems coming online when the mains power goes down, given that's one of the main points for being in a co-location facility in the first place (cooling being the other, and yes, that also goes down more often than one would think).

But again, why would I care about this today? Isn't it great if I forced to do something else than staring at a computer screen?

Well, yes, but I'm oncall this weekend, and Internet connectivity is crucial to do my job. Fortunately, the problem was fixed relatively quickly and I didn't get paged in the meantime.

Sonic has more information on their systems blog. BTW, not many ISPs these days are this open about the small and big problems and outages that do occur regularly in large complex systems.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hiking in West Maui

After late breakfast we started the day with a short visit to Iao Valley which was quite disappointing to me, as I remembered it a lot less touristy. However, once we were there it all came back to me, and yes it had looked like this when I was there the last time 10 years or so ago. Tour buses, and lots of ... errm ... seniors. We bailed quickly and drove further north to the Waihee Ridge trail head.

This is a real hike up to the mountain, pretty steep in the beginning, but otherwise not too bad. It's roughly 2.5 miles to the summit. After about 1.5 miles we started to get into the clouds, and I had quite a bit of trouble with condensation on my glasses for the last half mile or so to the summit . My glasses completely fogged up, and I could see better where I was going without glasses..

This was a fun hike, though the definition of fun depended on who you asked.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snorkeling at Kapalua Beach

After breakfast we went snorkeling at Kapalua Beach. The weather was slightly overcast, so light conditions and visibility weren't as good as at Black Rock yesterday, but when the sun was out the colors were spectacular. No sun unfortunately also meant that the water was much cooler, too, (or at least it felt that way). After about 30 minutes in the water I went back to the beach to warm up. Trying to snorkel while your teeth are doing a frost dance in your mouth isn't fun.

After everybody was back out of the water we drove further north to Honolua Bay and watched the surfers. The swell was quite good, surfers were doing their tricks, and the water looked gorgeous from the highway. I might suggest we come back here for snorkeling tomorrow depending on weather and wind.

In the channel between Maui and Molokai there were lots of humpback whales. Some got pretty close to the coast line, so you could see them breathe a couple hundred meters off shore. So overall we got to see quite some action.

Whale Watching and Snorkeling

This morning we went whale watching. It was a nice little trip and we saw a LOT of humpback whales.
They sang. They flapped with their fluke on the water. They breached. During the first half of the trip we got very lucky and the whales came pretty close to the boat. At one time there were about a dozen whales in proximity of the boat. "Blow at 12 o'clock, another at 2, of and there are two more at 8 and 10 o'lock." ... "Woah, did you see that whale breaching at 9 o'clock? Nice!" ... (naturalist on the PA system). I took a bunch of photos and videos, but the photo quality is very so-so, and I don't have the proper means here to make something halfway interesting from the videos. I might post something when I'm back on the mainland.

After a very good cheeseburger Island Style at Cheeseburgers in Paradise, we went Snorkeling at Black Rock in Kaanapali, a few miles north of Lahaina. That was fun. I haven't done this for a few years, so it needed some effort to convince myself it's ok to continue to breathe with the face in the water.
Visibility was not so great, but I saw plenty of tropical fish, and even a big sea turtle. Using a mask with prescription glasses helped a lot.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Lahaina, Maui

The flight via LAX to Maui was very long. The service and the entertainment program on United worse than expected. Well, I expected the worse and was pleasantly surprised when one of the stewardesses actually smiled. Since the flight wasn't full I managed to switch to an exit row seat after take-off. I brought food and a good book, time passed, and eventally touched down at the really short runway at Kahului.

I got picked up from the airport and we drove to our hotel in Lahaina. Nice hotel. Nice rooms. Small apartments, really.

Later in the afternoon we went on a walk along Front Street, saw a giant cruise ship, and a nice sunset.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Why you should not leave your truck on railroad tracks

A semi-truck got stuck on a grade crossing in Acworth, GA this morning. Unfortunately, a CSX train was approaching the crossing, and a guy recorded the accident on his cell phone. What I find interesting is how fast the train is still going at the beginning of the video, even though it appears the brakes are already fully engaged, and how long it takes a heavy freight train like this to stop. It finally came to a stop about 300 ft or so behind the crossing.

There's a follow-up video on the same site that shows the front of the train after it pulled back a bit. Looks like mostly minor damage to the locomotive. There were no injuries. The truck driver got out in time, and the sheer mass of the train makes the impact not nearly as bad for the engineer as one might think.

This Youtube video has the dashboard view from the police car seen racing down the street in the first video.

High-speed rail in the US?

A reality? Maybe? Finally?

3 hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles. 130+mph service between Boston and Washington. Less than 2 hours from Seattle to Portland.

After the administrations's announcement last week to spend a ton of money on high-speed rail improvements, suddenly this is no longer a dead topic. Of course, vested interests will fight this tooth and nails, and I have low hope that any of this will actually become truly usable in our lifetimes.

Too bad.