Notes on Using A TRENDNet IP Camera

22 August 2014

I bought a TRENDNet TV-IP551W camera back in January from Newegg.  I was looking for something else, and the camera came up as a special for (IIRC) $14, with free shipping.  I have wanted to play with one for a while, so I bought it.  When it got here, configuring it was trivial.  I had a picture coming out of it in about three minutes flat.  I attached the camera to the outside of the house near an outlet that is tied to the outside lights; I use it to power holiday lights.  The camera only came on after dark, but it wasn’t being used operationally, so I didn’t sweat it.  Every once in a while I would connect to it remotely and see what was going on with the driveway.

The only issue here has to do with motion.  Any device (including my Android tablet and phone) could see a still picture grab, and refresh it manually.  BUT, you need either ActiveX support or Java to see motion video.  ActiveX means Windows.  I think I tried to get Java on my tablet, but gave up after a try because it didn’t matter at the time.

The camera has been hanging outside since, and worked.

Last weekend I decided to put it to operational use.  I moved it to a better location, and set it up to perform motion capture.

The first thing was the motion capture.  I tried using my Windows 7 laptop to define exactly where on the screen the motion capture areas were.  I pointed my W7 IE browser at the camera, selected Administration, then Configuration, and finally Motion Detection.  The camera wanted to download an ActiveX control.  No problem, but every time I tried, Windows would block installation of the control.  I set security essentially to off, still wouldn’t.  For the heck of it, I used Raegans computer (which is XP), it worked fine with the camera.  Hmph.  I left the motion sensitivity at the default of 90 (scale 1 to 100).

With motion capture set up, I went after email.  The camera will send you an email when it detects motion.The camera wants to know an SMTP server, so I pointed it at our upstream Cox SMTP server.  A test message went out just fine.   So far so good.

When the camera detects motion, it will capture the motion and upload the imagery.  Sounds cool.  It wants to upload the data to an FTP server.  Most people don’t have one of those, but I have several!  So I fired up Filezilla on Raegans computer, created a user name and password for the camera, and a folder to store the video.  Then I went back to the camera and plugged the information in, and send Ian out to trigger the camera.  I almost immediately saw activity on the ftp server, but no files uploaded.  Hmmm….

Much experimentation ensued.  I should have installed Ethereal (Wireshark) to her computer, but I played with settings fruitlessly for a while.  Finally, I did the user creation on the St. John’s server, then pointed the camera there.  Then I did a remote desktop to St. J, fired up Wireshark, and watched the packets flow in.

I had set the camera up to dump stuff to /home/drivewaycam.  On Wireshark, I could see the username and password (FTP sends in the clear), and then a CWD drivewaycam.   OK, now we were OK.  I stopped the camera, then created a subdirectory called drivewaycam (making tree /home/drivewaycam/drivewaycam), did a chown on the directory (chown drivewaycam:drivewaycam drivewaycam; type that fast!), and restarted the camera.

Wireshark now showed file transfer, and a check of the new directory showed jpgs.  So it was working.  I went off and did some other stuff for a while.

Right before I went to bed, I got my phone, and… there were well over 1,000 NEW messages from the camera!  To make the story short, it turns out the camera doesn’t send an email every time it decides to do a motion capture.  It also doesn’t upload a video.  It uploads 1-second images to the server, and sends an email message every time it does it!

I quickly went in a turned off the email feature.  I also turned the sensitivity down to 50%, which should reduce false triggers.

But… the camera has captured the mail and package delivery people, and Erin coming home from school.  So it is working.

I would like to get an email when motion is detected, and have sent off a feature request to TRENDNet.  I use the Unix/Linux standard ImageMagick convert tool to batchconvert each set of jpgs to an mpeg video; I will likely set that to be done in a cron job at some point.

I wonder if the camera could output IP video in H.264 or as an mpeg stream.  That could be read directly from Windows Media, VLC, or most any other open source tool.

Regardless, the IP camera is pretty darn cool.  I am going to get another one at some point, and I will likely make it a “see in the dark” camera.

Too Much of America is Still Racist, as in Anti-Black

22 August 2014

The entire situation stemming from the killing of the black man in Ferguson, MO, is another in a long line of incidents that illustrate that we are still far from full equality for people of color.

There is much in the reactions to this incident that follow a common pattern.

First, outrage in part of the community, in particular the black community.  Understandable in every way. 

Next, the overwhelming police response.  Largely peaceful protests met with automatic rifles and snipers.  This is disproportionate response, and is un-American.

Conservatives immediately started counter-memes.  I find this pathetic.  It is an attempt to justify that the killing is not relevant.  I’m sure it’s not, to them.

A typical meme is to post a reference to some white person who was killed by a black, and why doesn’t that have the media attention.  Or perhaps they reference killings in Chicago, typically because in some way the Chicago situation is Obamas fault.  Or they post… jokes related to the killing. 

One thing I noted on Facebook related to Ferguson was a reference to the “Black Panthers” leading a protest.  I started looking for information related to this, and found that references were generally in two groups.  Sites like Huffington Post, CBS News, the NY Daily News, and several other news outlets typically referred to one guy affiliated with (sometimes to “members of”) the New Black Panther Party being at the protests, and trying to calm things.  Sites like Right Wing News, Gateway Pundit, and the like claimed that the New Black Panthers (and some referred to “Communists”) were leading the protests.  The conservative sites, frankly, don’t have much credibility.

While a number of liberals and news people have suggested that President Obama should go to Ferguson personally (whether this is a good idea or not is up for debate), conservatives have found reasons to bitch brainlessly about the President.  I’ve personally seen comments about how much Obama is on vacation (in spite of this stupid canard of Obama taking huge amounts of vacation being debunked by thinking people).

Some observations:

At my dental appointment this week, the hygienist had Fox News on.  She made numerous comments that she stated as fact:  “He was stealing, he got what he deserved”.  “He was a thug”.  “Those people riot and steal for any reason”.  I asked her who reported he was stealing, and she replied “the news”, gesturing towards Fox News. 

Conservatives, in general, don’t give a shit about blacks.  The long history of slavery, legalized discrimination, suppression of voting, and limited opportunities for blacks in education and work has resulted in everything from ghettos and blighted neighborhoods, to the persistent poverty that drives higher crime.  Conservatives like to sniff that the shooting of a black person by the cops is somehow made less horrifying if protestors loot.  We get that looting is wrong, guys.  Why don’t you try not hiding behind that sort of crap, and help fix the situation caused by the white majority over DECADES?

It has been reported that the governance of the city of Ferguson is overwhelmingly white, while the population is largely black.  It has also been reported (but I’ve not verified) that the voter turnout in the past election was 15%.  If you don’t vote, the other side does not need to worry about voter suppression.  The people of Ferguson got the government that was elected by those that bothered to vote.  If they want it to change, get to the polling places.

A major point that is missed by conservatives (whether deliberately, or through cluelessness), is that the shooting of a black, unarmed man by a white officer is different from civilians shooting each other in Chicago (mandatory statement:  it’s still not acceptable).  The defining difference is that the killing was done by a police officer.  In most cases in this country, the police are the ones with the weapons.  100% of cops have guns, and probably less than 1% of citizens.  How this supposed street encounter between an unarmed man and a cop in a car escalated to the unarmed man being killed certainly bears some investigation.

A Bit Farther On The Dehumanization Path

17 August 2014

I read a post on The New York Times this past week that I found deeply disturbing. The subject was the difficult time that a woman was having juggling child care, commuting, work, and personal time.

Aside from her personal situation, a major issue for her was her job at Starbucks. The company (and I don’t know if it was just her location, or region, or the whole company) was using software that kept track of rush times, and would schedule workers around those times, sometimes for only a couple hours, instead of people working a defined shift from say, 0800 to 1700, the software might have a person come in at 1000 and leave at 1300. This was in the name of maximizing profits. WalMart apparently also uses this software.

This, to me, is another step on the road of people being just work objects for companies. I think that ethical behavior requires supervisors/owners to recognize that without the workers, there would be no company. That means, among other things, treating those people with respect. Scheduling with a 100% eye to profit is not treating people with respect.

Since some ignorant people would misread the above, I will state it plainly. I’ve never been against companies making money. There is little reason to be in business otherwise. I do not believe it is ethical to subordinate people and their well being to maximum profit.

I think that in a perverse way, this is about government working. But, working for business (via lobbyists and paid-for Congresspeople) instead of people.

Why aren’t people (mainly, conservatives) worried about the tyranny of business?

Another Fake Media “Issue”

17 August 2014

There has been a lot of discussion (in fact, it’s a topic on “Meet The Press” right now) on the “controversy” about statements made by Hilary Clinton that supposedly undercut President Obama.

I think it’s really healthy instead of some flip-flop. There is almost always a variety of opinions on how to implement a particular piece of policy. If she had her input when she was SecState, and her boss the President did something different, that’s OK because he is in charge. Now she is a private citizen, and she has her opinions, and that’s OK also.

With all the real problems that need solving, focusing on a person expressing her personal opinion is a waste of bandwidth.

A Tent Pole Win

13 August 2014

I camp and backpack in a No Limits Kings Peak two-person tent. I think it is a very good design; it has enough room to easily sit upright in. The tent is wider at the shoulders and narrower at the feet (less fabric, less weight), and while I have had two people in it quite comfortably many times, it’s exceptionally roomy as a one-Bill tent. It weighs 5.1 lbs and packs down very nicely, has never leaked, and I’ve only had condensation issues a couple times.

So I was unhappy when one of the tent pole segments broke during our HAT Cossatot backpacking trip. I think hail hit the pole and literally shattered the aluminum section right at the end.I tried a couple Q&D patches (duct tape is our friend), but knew I needed it fixed.

My first stop was to customer service at Academy, where I bought the tent. I called and told them the name and part number of the tent. The bright-voiced young lady on the other end of the phone said yes, they had replacement poles; the first one was 8 FEET LONG, 1 INCH in DIAMETER. No, I said, that’s not right. They also had a fiberglass tent pole repair kit, which was the wrong length and diameter for the aluminum pole. I pressed a bit to find out who made the tent for Academy, hoping to go to the actual manufacturer, but supposedly they didn’t know. Right.

I went looking online for tubes and parts. What I found was the pole had a fairly standard outside diameter, but the inside diameter was significantly less than available tubes. For those who do not know, tent poles are sectioned and hollow, with a stretchy cord running through them. The cord holds the whole thing together (both broken down and assembled), and the end of each section has a hollow insert that fits into the next section. The inserts that were available that I could easily find didn’t match the inside diameter of the pole sections.

While I was doing all this research, I went on several camps with the kludged fixes to the pole. I wasn’t happy with any of them.

I read that REIs did tent pole repairs. I visited several, and at one, they let me root around through all the tent pole pieces they had collected over several years. No luck on one the correct size.

Then I ran across Tent Pole Technologies (http://tentpoletechnologies.com/). I had a couple email exchanges with them, and then measured the existing pole and essentially sent them an engineering drawing of the pole, with a couple stitched-together photos of the whole thing, and got back a quote of $35 for a complete replacement. I paid them electronically, and in a week, got the replacement pole in the mail.

For one thing, it’s 1 oz less than the previous pole. When backpacking, every ounce counts!

The important thing, that pole was a perfect copy of the existing pole, except the broken piece. I took it camping this past weekend and it was perfect.

So this was a pretty cool experience. There is a lot of life left in that tent, and the new pole will help me get that life out of the tent.

This is a good example of the power of online. A company I would have been unlikely to find easily, communications that were fast and high confidence, a secure payment, yielded a super fast turnaround and a quality product.

A couple words about Academy: I expected better support. I know they don’t make their own stuff, but I would expect them to at least have a line on who makes it for them, and to have customer service people who would know that a tent pole for a backpacking tent is not the same thing as the center pole for a beach tarp.

An Edubuntu Installation for St. John’s

6 August 2014

This was really way too easy…

The school computer lab (and also the rest of the student computers in the classrooms, and to a lesser extent our faculty machines) is being impacted by the end of life for Windows XP. Most of the machines are XP Pro, some XP Home. There are a couple of W7 machines as well. The machines are all pretty old (most are 2004 vintage), and are increasingly having issues of one kind or the other. I installed W7 on one of them, and it craaaaaaawwwwled, even after I dumped an extra couple GB of memory in it. I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time keeping the things updated, and even with the remote access tools I have been deploying the past couple years, I’d still have to go around to 30 or 40 machines for some things.

The machines also got “lab rash” from kids playing with settings they were able to, and would occasionally jack a machine up by inverting the display or whatever, so I would end up going by to fix it. And that’s even with Raegan being very swift on fixing stuff.

So I started looking at alternatives, and decided that Edubuntu was the best candidate. It had all of the existing software that we currently use, and a lot more. It has thin-client capability, so that would end kids jacking with the machines.

Edubuntu needs a fairly beefy server. I had a donated machine from an oil company that sported a 3.8 GHz Xeon and no less than four 146GB SCSIs moving along at 320MB/s (with space in there for a second processor if I can find one cheap). It has dual power supplies and enough fans to build a drone, and *two* GB Ethernets. It is, BTW, also fairly old, having been introduced in 2004. That explains why it has two USBs, *and* PS/2 connectors. The machine came with the six memory slots filled with 1GB DDR2 ECC memory sticks. I happily filled the six slots with 2GB DDR-2 memory, and the poor machine squawked at me until I turned it off. Turns out it ONLY wants ECC memory, and the memory I had was non-ECC. Oh well.

For 20 machines, Edubuntu recommended 20GB of disk (not a problem there) and 4GB of memory for every 20 clients. So 6GB is comfortable (especially since I am planning on running the browsers locally). I will probably haunt eBay and get at least a couple more sticks of ECC memory also.

I drew up a couple iterations of how I would deploy the thing on the school network, decided it would work, and started the process. I have a couple weeks until school starts. I knew the good news was, since I was deploying thin client network-boot clients, that I wouldn’t have to change the lab workstations at all, except to enable net booting, and so I could fall back to the XP workstations at any time.

So I download the latest Edubuntu, popped the DVD into the machine, and started the installation process. All was smooth until I got to the part where you identify the disk to install Edubuntu on.

Now, when the server was donated, I had wiped it for the company that donated it, and then dropped Fedora 16 on to it to play with. That all worked fine.

So when Edubuntu got to the Installation Type page, it asked if I wanted to use /dev/sda, and that there was Fedora on it, and if I used the whole disk then the Fedora would be wiped. That didn’t bother me, so I selected it, and the Use LVM option, and told it to Continue. I got the Erase Disk and Install Edubuntu page, verified that /dev/sda would be used, and clicked Install Now. The Install button greyed out (only one shade of grey), the page title changed to Installation Type after about 10 seconds, and the Install Now came active again. Hmmm… Clicking Install Now again takes you back to the actual Installation Type page (with use entire disk and use LVM). This cycle repeated (eight times I tried it).

So off I went to research. The existing Fedora would still boot. I installed Edubuntu on another computer to show the media was OK. I posted a query to the Ubuntu Forums. I kept coming back to the existing Fedora installation. I’ve done a lot of installs of a lot of OSs, and most of them would happily overwrite an existing OS, so I was skeptical that was the problem. In fact, Edubuntu happily overwrote a Linux installation that was on the workstation I used to show the media was OK. But the existing Fedora on the server was LVM, which is a technology not fully supported by some Linux tools (like gparted). I hadn’t any suggestions from the Ubuntu Forum (which surprised me).

So I decided to zorch the Fedora LVM installation. It wasn’t entirely straightforward; LVM is not as well documented as it could be, there is a wealth of similar-looking beta, with some slightly contradictory. Here is what I ended up doing:

  • I booted the server using a Fedora Live CD (it was the Security Spin for Fedora 15).
  • Used lvdiskscan to identify the LVM. It had four PVs, and three what I would have called mount points: root, home, and swap.
  • Used lvremove for the root and home partitions. When I tried to remove swap, it complained that swap was active (!). This is probably what confused the Edubuntu installer. I used swap off -v to turn off the swap mount point, then was able to use lvremove to remove it.
  • Used vgremove to take out the volume group.
  • Used pvremove for the four PVs.

I rebooted the machine and replaced the Fedora CD with the Edubuntu DVD. Installed without a hitch.

The key to the LVM removal was to take out the mount points first.

So clearly there is a buglet in the Edubuntu installer that does not like existing LVMs, or perhaps does not like swap partitions in particular.

Once the server rebooted, I connected a switch to the LTSP port, and then a Dell workstation to the switch, started it, and switched it to network boot in the BIOS. It still booted from the disk. I restarted it, went back into BIOS to disable the disk, and on reboot it came up over the network, and I had my thin client running.

One more glitch: the Fedora I installed to play with automagically added all four disks (PVs) to the LV with no prompting from me, so instead of installing to a 146GB disk, I had a 550GB+ logical disk. The Edubuntu install put LVM on, but only with the single disk. I will manually add those using pvcreate and then lvextend this evening or tomorrow, but it is one more thing to do.

I’ve a long list of stuff to do. I need to add a student user, add some software, enable local access to USBs, add access to our St. John’s shared disk, and get the remote management tools working. I will get a graduate level course in rebuilding the client image as this goes along.

I’m also interested in hauling the server to school and plugging it into the lab network, and watching all those machines boot up simultaneously.

But the really amazing this is how slick it was with the Edubuntu DVD. There is a heck of a lot of capability there.

06 August 2014, 2200 Update:

I added two of the three other disks to the LVM installation, using a set of excellent instructions at http://www.rootusers.com/how-to-increase-the-size-of-a-linux-lvm-by-adding-a-new-disk/. So now I have a 410GB space to play in. I didn’t put the fourth disk in as the SMART disk function was reporting a future failure.

17 August 2014, 1239 Update:

I’m building a second server for the school to host a student management system, a local storage cloud, and WordPress for the teachers.  It’s also Ubuntu based, also 14.04, and had a disk in it with a Fedora 10 LVM instantiation.  This installation went right over the Fedora 10 with no comment. 

BTW, Unity on this one is sloooooooow.  I installed FXCE, which I am used to from a number of Live CDs I use, and it runs darn fast.

Good Riddance to Eric Cantor

1 August 2014

He gave his farewell address to the House today. I find it absolutely delicious that he got zapped by a Tea Partier, when he and the Republicans stoked Tea Party nutjobs for so long, taking advantage of their anger, while at the same time not doing a damn thing except obstruct.

When you feed an unintelligent monster, don’t be surprised when it turns on you. I hope the Tea Party rocks on, feeding on more Republicans, and splitting the field three ways soon.

That’s the only way Tea Partiers can doing anything useful for the United States.

Marco’s Pizza, Edmond, OK (East)

26 July 2014

Marco's Pizza on Urbanspoon

In the inevitable comparison to Hideaway, Marco’s holds their own. It’s good!

We wanted pizza last evening, and decided to hit Marco’s. I checked the website for the location, and it said dine-in, so off we went.

Dine-in, BTW, means *one* four-top table.

We got two pizzas. Raegan had a small with ham, mushrooms, and green olives. Erin and I split a medium; hers was chicken, mine pepperoni, hamburger, and sausage. Both were thin crust. These pizzas were VERY good. Erin and I finished our pizzas, and Raegan brought part of hers home for lunch today.

We also got 10 BBQ wings. Also very good, and completely consumed.

They don’t have a traditional soda fountain, so we scored two bottles of water, and a 2-liter DP, from the cooler.

Service was super friendly. The pies took about 20 minutes to cook (not unreasonable). Our check was $39.23. Very good pizza at a decent price. Marco’s is legit.

An Interesting Galaxy S4 Feature

24 July 2014

Hmmm, something kind of cool and frightening at the same time. I just dialed into a telecon that was in the calendar of my Galaxy S4. The calendar detected the phone number of the teleconference, and I only had to tap it to dial it. That’s pretty standard, my Blackberry would do that five year ago. But the message had this text:

Telecom: 888-283-xxxx
Password: 7958649

After the dialing was in progress, the S4 popped up a dialog with “Do you want to send 7958649 as tones?”. It startled me enough that I pressed No, then after a couple seconds, went back to the message, and it repeated, at which point I pressed Yes, and it sent the tones and got me into the telecon. The only thing it didn’t do was send the trailing “#” that is the end-of-numbers token. I did that manually.

That’s pretty darn smart of the software to realize that most meet-me numbers require an access code, find those in the message, and offer to send them. As I do with many of these, I had jumped back to the message to get the access code, and I spoke the code to help me remember it when I jumped back to the phone page. Maybe the spoken numbers were the key. Regardless, I’m going to play with that (when I get some time). It’s a very cool feature; I wonder what else the darn thing does. Raegan already thinks the phones are smarter than us.

Gary Glenns BBQ, Oklahoma City, OK

24 July 2014

Gary Glenn's BBQ on Urbanspoon

I had lunch here with a couple friends after a meeting at a nearby Large Defense Contractor facility. It was a pretty darn good lunch. I had the brisket plate with baked beans and mac and cheese. The brisket was tender and had good smoke flavor. The mac and cheese was pretty good also.

Service was very friendly and the iced tea was great! My check was $10.56. I would go back.

China House, Edmond, OK (2nd St)

24 July 2014

China House on Urbanspoon

OK, so occasionally we take a while to learn. We had dinner at Great Wall in OKC back in April, and ended up with waaaaay too much rice. It was even so last night. We decided to get some sweet and sour chicken from China House in Edmond, as I had liked the China House in MWC.

We got three orders of sweet and sour chicken and a chicken fried rice. The S&S came with a plate of white rice, so we ended up with FOUR plates of rice. On top of that, since our order was over $35, we got a free chicken fried rice, so we had one more plate of rice, which I asked for to go.

Reality check: we could easily have split two of the S&S chicken plates between the three of us, and I should have asked if we could sub the fried rice for the plain rice.

Now, all of this was pretty darn good. We couldn’t eat half of it, so a hell of a lot of food came home with us. Service was fast. The check was $35.13. That included two bottles of water and a can of Dr. Pepper; that’s pretty much it for drinks.

At H&R House this evening, we popped the S&S chicken in the oven to heat it up, and Erin chopped up some of the chicken and some napa cabbage, combined the white and fried rice, and fried it up some more. It was pretty darn good.

And we still have a LOT of rice and chicken left. Lunch for me tomorrow. So that’s three meals for three people for $35. Not bad value, and the food was pretty good also.

The Burger, Dumas, TX

24 July 2014

The Burger on Urbanspoon

We were cruising through Dumas latish last Sunday on the way home. I wanted some KFC, but their dining room closed at 2100. The Burger was right next door, and their dining room was open until 2200, so there we went.

This place was popular; there were five parties (including us) while we were there. Erin and Raegan got a grilled cheese, and Raegan got a corn dog as well. I got a double cheeseburger. We got some fries, and I got chili cheese tater tots. All of this was great! My burger was perfect, with great flavor and texture.

The iced tea was wonderful and service was very friendly. Our check was $21.69, a great value. I’d eat here again anytime.

Subway, Colorado Springs, CO (S. Academy)

24 July 2014

Subway on Urbanspoon

In the second part of our two-part lunch last Sunday, we jetted the half mile up Academy from George’s to this Subway. Raegan got a 6″ Turkey and Ham sub meal. The only glitch happened when she asked for some oil and vinegar, but got vinagrette. The rest of the sandwich was done right and was completely consumed.

The check was $9.47; service was fast and friendly. Good stuff.

George’s Gyros and Burgers, Colorado Springs, CO

24 July 2014

George's Gyros & Burgers on Urbanspoon

After visiting the USAFA last Sunday, we hit George’s for the first part of a two-part lunch. It was pretty good.

Erin and I got burgers, she a bacon cheeseburger and me a double cheeseburger. We both liked those burgers a lot. They were smallish (1/6 lb, probably) and just a touch overcooked, but had good flavor. We both really liked the fries as well, they seemed to be battered.

The iced tea was not the best, but I got Dr. Pepper and it was OK. Our check was $19.28. Good stuff.

Great American Grill, Colorado Springs, CO

20 July 2014

Great American Grill (Hilton Garden Inn Briargate) on Urbanspoon

This Grill is inside the Hilton Garden Inn outside the Air Force Academy in north Colorado Springs. We had breakfast here a week ago today, and again today. In both cases, the food a service were very good. Last week, I had pancakes and enjoyed them greatly. Today I had a ham and cheese omelet, same result. Erin stuck with cold stuff. Raegan had some fried eggs and some of the good fruit selection. We all had some bacon and sausage.

The service model is one of the odd Great American Grill models. If you want anything other than cooked to order, you grab it yourself. If you want stuff cooked to order, you tell the cook, and a server brings it out to you. The GAGs (such a horrible acronym!) have a couple variations on this no matter where you visit. Regardless, the food here was very good, and the service was fast. Last week, it was packed, today not.

You could do far worse for breakfast in the north Springs.

Bird Dog BBQ, Colorado Springs, CO (Briargate)

20 July 2014

Bird Dog BBQ on Urbanspoon

We had dinner here this evening, as it has been a week without BBQ for Bill. It helped that the place was across the street from our hotel in Colorado Springs.

It was a bit of a disappointment. Raegan and Erin both got turkey sandwiches. I thought the turkey was very good (in fact, the best part of the meal). I got a three-meat with brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. I was not impressed by the ribs; they had a flavor that I can’t identify, I wonder if it is some odd smoke flavor. Regardless, the ribs were not very meaty, and were not tender. The brisket was OK, pretty tender. The pulled pork had little flavor and was not tender.

The sides (okra, corn on the cob, baked beans, and slaw) were pretty good. The iced tea was also. The staff was friendly and service fast. Our check was $35.64.

So it was a mixed bag. If I went back, I would get turkey and maybe the brisket. The ribs, not.

Backpacking RMNP, 14-16 July 2014

19 July 2014

Trip Summary

32 miles of hiking in the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) over three days, with 3,800+ feet of altitude gain.

I’ve posted the photos from this trip to my Google+ site. They are pretty amazing.

Getting Ready

Last Fall, our first RMNP backpacking trip was washed out by severe monsoonal rain and storms (the blog post is here). I put together this trip to enable completing the “loop” I wanted to do last time.

I got the permit 01 March after settling in on the couch with my phone earpiece in, and started a sequence of dial-busy-hang up-repeat when the backcountry office opened at 0800 Mountain. It took 245 calls (I just went back to my Facebook post to verify) and 1.5 hours to get through and get the permit.

After my last RMNP hike up Flattop, where my breath was always short, I started some running exercises to prepare. This time, there were no issues. My permit was for seven total; we ended up hiking with five after a couple people dropped out for work or family issues.

We drove from OKC Saturday, leaving around noon and getting to Colorado Springs around 2100. We took a leisurely drive to Grand Lake on Sunday, getting to town around 1600 and going directly to the Backcountry Office for our permit.

Day 1

The crew got up Monday morning and had a fine breakfast in town, loaded up the backpacks in Lance’s car, and he hauled them up to the trailhead at the north end of town while the rest of us walked the 0.6 mile up there. We took a group picture and headed out.

Temperatures were perfect. We headed north towards Big Meadow, stopping for lunch on the north edge of the Meadows. About halfway along, we spotted a bull moose! Once we walked out a bit into the meadow, there were seven of his friends! Four of them were bulls! Very cool. We watched them for a while; how often are you able to do that?

We kept walking after a while, and on the northwest corner of the meadow, we got out first rain and hail. It was small hail, just chips, but it got our attention. We had stopped for a short break, and had noticed a cow moose and her little mooselet about 50 yards out into the meadow, and we had to watch for a bit.

At this point, we swung around to the east and started a gradual climb up to Granite Falls. There are campsites at Lower Granite Falls, and we were past the Falls at Granite Falls. Pick the campsite farthest to the east; it looks out onto a beautiful meadow.

We saw a number of backpackers along this trail; about four groups.

Camp had a couple huge logs split and made into tables (or benches) that were fine cooking and eating surfaces. We finished dinner, talked for a while while watching the meadow in the fading light, and crashed.

My dinner was Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Chicken with Rice; I’ve had this meal a number of times, and enjoy it. Forgive the image, but for some reason this dinner tore my guts up chemically. Not in a painful way, but noxious at 0200. As my former E-4B friend Ray once said, “it’s really bad if you offend yourself”. I did. I hope it was just that particular package of food.

Day 1 ended up as a 9 mile hike, with 1540 ft of altitude gain.

Day 2

This day started fine for Lance. He was up early, and a moose walked right past him and right through camp. Very cool.

We got up the next morning at 0730 and had breakfast. I think it had rained a bit overnight, as all the tents were damp. We hung up the flys to dry stuff out, and took a side hike back down to Granite Falls. They were amazing!

We headed back up to camp, packed up, and left around 0930. It was a steady climb to Haynach camp, our days target. We passed through a burned area, and a couple pretty meadows. We passed two groups of backpackers, both out for dayhikes. Eventually we got to the Haynach turnoff, and headed north. This was pretty hard; it was steep. But we made good time, and got to camp around noon. We rested a couple minutes, and then got the tents put up, just as a storm rolled through. It rained and hailed repeatedly until around 1630. We stayed in our tents, had lunch, napped, or worked a couple Sudokus (in my case).

Camp had a lot of snowdrifts! I think that all of the tent sites were clear (although many were dampish). Several of the snowdrifts were 3+ ft high, and 20-40 ft long. A guy the next camp over had stuck his bear canister in a drift.

The rain finished around 1630, so we side hiked up to Haynach Lakes. These got us up to around 11000 ft, and were stunning! If we hadn’t had the rain, I would have liked trying to peakbag one of the peaks surrounding the Lakes. Next time. There were HUGE snowdrifts all over the place up there.

We had a nice dinner and talked for a while, then went to bed. My dinner was Backpackers Pantry beef stroganoff, it was a bit on the bland side but good.

It stormed on and off pretty much all night. No one had issues with tents or gear.

Day 2 ended up as a 2.8 mile hike, with an immediate loss of 165 feet (to the Falls), which we immediately got back, followed by 1000 ft more of altitude gain to get to our campsite. The side hike to Haynach Lakes was 2.3 miles roundtrip with a gain of 350 ft.

Day 3

This was going to be our hard day, we knew way in advance. Two people were killed by lightning the previous week in RMNP, and this day was going to be about 70% above tree line. We had seen storms every day since we arrived in the Front Range area Saturday. Our Rangers had warned us as well. So we were paranoid, and our plan was to be up early and try to make the Flattop Mountain trail junction before noon. It was also going to be a 10-mile day, with a lot of altitude gain early on.

We got up around sunrise and tried our best to dry off very wet and dirty tents and flys, get packed, and have some breakfast. None of our gear was dirty; the vestibules each of our tents have worked well. It was a bit chilly but not too cold. We headed out around 0730, losing the altitude we gained coming up the day before.

The the Climb started. We headed on east on Tonahutu trail, gaining altitude steadily. I don’t think there was a truly flat place on the trail. It was relentlessly UP. Some places the trail was cut with stairs, some places it was sloped, but it was always up.

We got above treeline about halfway up. Lots of snow, but none on the trail. We saw an elk herd on the tundra to the west of Ptarmigan Pass, it was about 50 strong. We weren’t too close.

Right before we passed a 12250 point to our south, we could see Spirit Lake far to the southwest. We pulled out our phones, and amazingly enough, had signal, so we all called our spouses to check in. Raegan hadn’t been feeling 100% when we left Monday, and now she was full-blown sick, and seriously dehydrated to the point she didn’t feel she could drive, but needed to go to the hospital. I immediately decided I had to be down there. We were headed that general direction anyway. I gave the guys options of staying on the original itinerary, or maybe just staying in our camp for that evening and hiking out the next day. Beer in Grand Lake was mentioned, I think. The crew made the decision to hike out. It would mean a long day, but we were already done with 95% of the uphill, the rest was contouring and downhill.

We got to the top of Tourmaline Gorge around 1115 and were just stunned by the depth and relief of that beautiful area. We were starting to see convection to the south, and that motivated us to keep moving. We ate candy and snacks on the move, and didn’t stop for lunch. We go to the Flattop junction at 1130, barely paused, and moved out on North Inlet trail. We were flat to down here, and really moved. I checked the GPS later, and found several points we were making 5.5 mph, darn near a jog.

We found a large snowfield a bit past the Flattop junction. It was several hundred yards long, and probably two feet deep. We post-holed our way through it, but didn’t accumulate much snow in our boots.

We saw numerous marmots and several pikas (and heard many more), in the rock areas. We passed several other snowfields, but none on the trail. Several of these were in ravines and had significant streams flowing out of them. Water, BTW, was not an issue this July day. There were numerous places to pump.

At one point, while we were on the “big switchbacks”, we smelled first, and then saw, four bull elk that were about 50 ft upslope from us. They were magnificent!

There isn’t a lot to say about most of the hike down. It was tough, not because of slope, but just length. We had planned on 10 miles already, and the additional mileage to town was almost 8 more.

We were below Cascade Falls when a series of rain showers and thunderstorms started rolling through. Here my rain gear was a bit too much; it was warm, and I had a fleece-lined rain jacket that made me sweat almost as much as the rain would make me wet.

We got to the Grand Lake trailhead at 1630, and were exhausted. The last couple miles were tough. I took a shower and took Raegan to the ER in Granby, where they rehydrated her. I was glad I had come back early.

Day 3 ended up as a 17.5 mile hike, with a starting loss of 368 feet, followed by 1850 ft of altitude gain, and an immediate loss of 2750 ft back to Grand Lake.

Things That Went Well

The Rangers in the Backcountry Office at RMNP rock. I got outstanding beta on our campsites when checking in, and in return, I went back and gave them back beta on trail conditions up high.

Critters! We saw moose, elk, deer, fox, pika, and marmot.

Food was well done.

Things That Could Be Improved

I carried too much colder weather gear. Normal temps in the mountains are in the range of 40s for lows to 70s for highs. Forecasts had been for lows in the upper 20s and highs in the 40s. Actuals were lows in the high 40s and highs in the mid-60s.

This meant that I carried a heavier 0F bag instead of my 20F bag. I carried a fleece-lined rain jacket, much heavier than my Frogg Toggs rain jacket, a base layer, a hoodie, a long-sleeve mock turtleneck, and some other stuff that probably added at least 3-4 lbs extra. All I really needed was my hoodie, or maybe the mock turtleneck, and my Frogg Toggs.

I carried something new for me, a 5×7 ft lightweight tarp. We didn’t really need it, but I put it up the first night anyway to experiment with it, and I think it is too small. I might find another one, or get a second 5×7 and tie them together to make a 10×7.

I tried to tone down the hike this time after several rounds of feedback, but I think this was still too tough. I should have had us enter at the Green Mountain trailhead off US34, then the Granite Falls target would have been more appropriate. Staying at Renegade, and side hiking Haynach, would probably have been smarter, and saved us a long climb with packs. I don’t know that I could do much with the big hike up to Flattop junction, except maybe stay at July instead of down at North Inlet Junction.

I think this would have been a better itinerary:

Day 1: Green Mountain around Big Meadow to Granite Falls camp. 5.3 miles and 1127 elevation gain.

Day 2: Renegade or Timeberline camp. Maybe layover here, then dayhike Haynach.

Day 3: Up and over Flattop to July. This would cut several miles off the day.

Day 4: July to Lake Solitude Cross-Country Area.

Day 5: Up and over Ptarmigan and Andrews and exit East Inlet, or dayhike Nanita and exit North Inlet.

This would have made a lot more sense in balancing out the effort needed.

Another alternative would be a three-day trip, say, up North Inlet to North Inlet Falls a couple nights, and dayhike up to Nanita; or North Inlet Falls to the cross-country area, and then up and over Ptarmigan/Andrews and down to Verna, then hike out East Inlet.

A three-day trip would allow a couple days of dayhiking, and doing that before the backpacking trip allows a little more acclimation.

Summary

I’m a little disappointed in having a second bust at RMNP. I did the right thing by heading back down early, but I know it was disappointing to the rest of the crew.

I’m glad we were able to complete most of the loop we missed due to the flooding last September. As I told Raegan later, the views were almost overwhelming, constantly changing, and even different perspectives within a couple hundred yards along the trail. There were lots of critters to marvel at. My hiking companions couldn’t have been better.

This Park, although relatively small, still has a huge untapped hiking potential. I will be back.

Rudi’s Deli, Winter Park, CO

19 July 2014

Rudi's Deli on Urbanspoon

We drove up to check out Winter Park and have lunch this afternoon. We wanted sandwiches and chose Rudi’s based on good Urbanspoon reviews.

We all got sandwiches; Raegan and I had varieties of turkey sandwiches (hers came with pasta salad, I got chips), and Erin had chicken. The sandwiches were pretty good. We also got a brownie and a carmalita, which is a supercharged caramel brownie. Raegan said the pasta salad was vinegar based, which wasn’t completely to her liking; she also said the pasta salad needed more blasted olives, although she thinks about olives like I think about brisket.

Service was fast and friendly. The iced tea was great. Our check was $30.72. We would gladly have another lunch here.

EG’s Grill, Grand Lake, CO

19 July 2014

EG's Grill on Urbanspoon

First off, this is printed right on the menu:

“Substitutions politely declined. While modifications and substitutions may seem easy to accommodate, these requests compromise the unique characteristics of our food and the efficiency of our service”.

I’m going to throw the BS flag here. This statement is possibly the most arrogant thing I’ve seen in a restaurant. I could (possibly) understand this sort of mentality in a mass production or time-critical environment, like a lunch truck. Not, however, from a general restaurant, and especially given the pedestrian nature of your offerings, and the service I experienced tonight.

All that being said, the restaurant has some decent food.

We had dinner at EGs this evening. Service was, I will say up front, slow and irregular. Given that we didn’t ask for any substitutions, perhaps the management should be working on THAT instead of being arrogant about keeping up your “efficiency”.

Raegan ordered a dinner salad and chicken lasagne, and Erin a caesar salad. I ordered iced tea, and for my meal the fried chicken (without much in the way of confidence that this southern staple would be any good). The meal came with soup or salad (I chose a soup of the day, beer cheese and bacon), and the potato of the day, and slaw.

I asked our server before ordering what the chicken pieces were. He didn’t know. Maybe some training, instead of arrogant statements? For the record, it was a breast and a leg.

The general workflow was: time passed, then a lot of stuff came out, then time passed again. It took a good 10 min to get our drinks out. And we didn’t ask for modifications. Food came out in a wave. Even though we were seated after another family, and several other tables trickled in over the next 20 minutes, all of the tables were served in about a five-minute timeframe. Very odd.

Raegan and Erin had their meals out a couple minutes before my meal came out. My meal came as my soup course (not prior to the main course), and a plate with my two pieces of chicken. No potato or slaw. The family another table over had the same chicken situation. I asked our server where my potato and slaw were; he didn’t know (training needed, instead of an arrogant statement?), he went to ask, and he came back about 5 minutes later with some potato au gratin, a small rectangle about 1.5″x3″. Still no slaw. Hmmm, more training needed, instead of an arrogant statement? I never got the slaw, BTW.

For the record, the food was pretty good. The chicken was fried nice and crispy, and not at all greasy. The Potato Of The Day was bland at best. I cannot report on the slaw. The soup was pretty good. Raegan and Erin liked their food.

The iced tea was pretty good, and served in a large mason jar. I never got a refill; not even an offer. Maybe that’s a MODIFICATION?

Service was inconsistent. Our check was $43.60. Not a good value, given the arrogant attitude of restaurant management, the service, and the simple nature of the food.

There are better places in Grand Lake to eat. And they don’t mind working with customers.

Fracking Ad in Colorado

19 July 2014

We are in Colorado now, and have seen an ad run quite a few times.

It’s a masterpiece of propaganda. Two sets of Colorado polits, one walking to camera right, the other walking to camera left, both talk about how Coloradans need to come together to make sure that fracking goes on, but in a responsible manner. The ad is paid for by an oil and gas PAC. It talks about what the ad calls all the positive benefits of fracking, and just assumes that fracking is only logical and happening. Nothing, of course, about environmental impact.

This is another example of monied corporate interests trying to influence public discourse, to their benefit.

Hiking East Inlet Trail, RMNP, CO

18 July 2014

Yesterday Erin and I hiked almost 3 miles out-and-back on the East Inlet trail in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

I posted photos to my Google+ account here.

It was a straightforward hike; we wanted to see Adams Falls, and did, and we hoped to see moose in East Meadow. No luck there, but we saw a pretty doe.

There were two highlights, I thought. There is a stunning area that would be a perfect campsite or picnic area at the base area of the Falls. We also saw a pretty doe curled up in tall grass off the trail. East Meadow is beautiful.

Here is the hike path on a topo, annotated with where we went.

One thing to note: the trail as represented by the Garmin Mapsource program is quite a bit north of the actual path as shown by the GPS.

Here is an altitude plot.

There is a nice 80 foot climb to the Falls, and then we climbed back down to the base area. The scramble on the rocks was a lot of fun.

Now, there are a number of things on the plot above I don’t believe. Most of the walk was quite smooth. Notice the spikes of 20, 40, or 60 ft? No way. There’s a big drop of 50 ft right before a spike of 20 feet. Didn’t happen. At the end of the hike, we ended up back at the car, so the altitude should have been the same we started at. Not so much. I promise we didn’t step off a 60 foot bluff to get back.

I’m going to see if there is a software update for my GPS Map 60 that might address this. The GPS clearly has altitude issues.

This Might Be A Good Time To Kick Russia In The Ass

18 July 2014

We are keeping tabs on the shootdown of the Malaysia airliner. The US has already asserted that the shootdown occurred from territory held by Ukrainian rebels. Russia has reportedly tried to suggest that the Ukrainian government launched the missile.

I’m pretty sure that we have had all sorts of intelligence assets watching what is going on over there. I know that there is a tendency to keep intelligence information classified.

But I wonder if it would make sense to release the actual intelligence we’ve gathered that allow us to make the statements about where the missile was launched from, and any related stuff.

And then issue a statement saying Putin is full of crap. This situation does not look bad, it is bad. Heaping direct abuse on the rebels and on their Russian supporters might help de-escalate the situation.

The Hub, Grand Lake, CO

18 July 2014

The Hub Coffee & Cones on Urbanspoon

This is a limited review. The Hub is across the street from our hotel here in Grand Lake, and we dropped in this morning to have a very good blueberry muffin, and a couple excellent cinnamon rolls. For about $10, it fed the three of us just fine. We got the muffin right away, and the rolls took a little longer. You could do far worse for a quick and yummy breakfast in Grand Lake.

An update: this morning Raegan and Erin scored bagels with egg, bacon, and cheese from the Hub, and both liked them.

Grand Pizza, Grand Lake, CO

18 July 2014

Grand Pizza on Urbanspoon

Erin had dinner here last Monday, and she and I had dinner here this evening.

We started with sweet tea. Didn’t realize that it was sweet fruity tea. I switched to the regular stuff, which was pretty good. We also had some buffalo wings. They were great, just the right amount of spice. We left a denuded pile of bonelets.

She and I shared a 12″ thin crust. Hers was chicken and roast garlic, mine was meat lovers, which was pepperoni, sausage, hamburger, and bacon. She liked her half, and took part back to the hotel for Raegan. My half was pretty good. The only thing I would count down is that the pizza builder left a pile of bacon and stuff in one place, and it was pretty charred (see the photo I put on Urbanspoon). That being said, I ate my half.

We also got a takeaway salad for Raegan, with ranch dressing.

Service was very good. Our check was $41.97.

I heard some talk around the restaurant that left me a bit cold. Someone in back was kind of obnoxious and used profanity a couple times. When I ordered Raegans salad, I passed along her request for some grated cheese. Our server asked what kind, I said American, and whoever our server talked to at the back said quite loudly that if it wasn’t on the menu, then it’s not available, what was the matter with the guy? Our server, to her credit, pointed out shredded cheddar, which also worked, but I think that the guy in back was very rude. They also shut down 15 minutes early, and four guys who came in at 2050 for dinner were turned away (they were clearly disappointed but not rude, to their credit). In a similar vein, our server warned us that the kitchen might shut down and I wouldn’t be able to get her salad (this was at 2040). I don’t know that management of the place gives much of a damn about customers.

SO, would I go back? Probably not. There are nice restaurants in Grand Lake, and a couple of them do pizza, and I would probably try them first. They are also quite expensive; the 12 in meat lovers clocks in at $21.75, and it wasn’t *that* good.

Dairy King, Grand Lake, CO

17 July 2014

Grand Lake Dairy King on Urbanspoon

This place was right down the street from our hotel, but it wasn’t even listed on Urbanspoon (which oversight has since been corrected).

Erin and I stopped here for lunch on the way to a hike to Adams Falls. It was great! I got a double cheeseburger, she got a single. We both got fries. All of this was excellent. The burgers were fine beef and cooked just right, not too greasy. I really liked the fries, even though I couldn’t eat all of them.

The iced tea was very good, and service was friendly and fast. The place has both indoor and outdoor seating. Being a dairy place, there are milkshakes, soft serve, and hand dipped ice cream. Our check was $20.77. Highly recommended, enough that we went a second time to score a burger for Raegan, and a second burger for Erin.

Maverick’s Grille, Granby, CO

17 July 2014

Maverick's Grille on Urbanspoon

While visiting Granby last evening, I needed some dinner. This place was perfect.

I started with a cup of pork chili verde soup. Excellent. The spice level was perfect, and the mix of chili verde was darn fine. My main course was a half pound cheeseburger. I was asked how I wanted it cooked (a nice touch); I specified medium well. Here is my only gripelet: it came medium rare. Being the risk taker that I am, I ate it anyway. It was a great burger, with good texture, and great beef flavor. The fries were pretty good as well.

Service was right on the money, and the iced tea was great. My check was $18.09. I’d eat here again any time.

Johnny Macs, Littleton, CO

14 July 2014

Johnny Mac's Cafe on Urbanspoon

This place was great! We stopped here on our trip to Grand Lake, CO, to grab some very tasty food.

Erin and I got cheeseburgers. Wonderful. Great flavor, good texture, a burger done right. Raegan got a BLT and her only complaint was it was too larger (I tried it, really good!). The onion rings were perfect, and I really enjoyed the fries also. The place has fry sauce, yummy.

The iced tea was excellent. The milkshake Erin got, and the malt Raegan got, were reported as excellent. Service was fast and very friendly. This place is great! Our check was $28.96.

Driving the Eastern Texas Panhandle

13 July 2014

We came to Colorado Springs yesterday with a slightly different path. Coming west on I-40, we hopped off on OK 6 at Elk City.

As we drove along towards Texas, I was amazed at the number of fracking facilities; it was comparable to what we saw in NW Oklahoma a couple weeks ago.

After we got into Texas, it changed. The number of fracking facilities increased dramatically. Instead of seeing them every half mile or so, there were five or six visible ALL THE TIME. The number of big trucks on the road was huge. The number of VERY large drilling rigs visible from the road was amazing (we would sort of like to see one of those “portable” rigs being trucked along).

We got to Wheeler, and then Pampa, and were amazed. This was not the flat terrain of most of the rest of the Texas panhandle; it was increasing crenelated. Especially in the Pampa area, there was significant relief.

We also were amazed at the number of refineries along the route. We counted seven, and most of those were very large.

There were also a number of wind farms.

I was glad we took this slightly different route across the Texas Panhandle, it opened our eyes to something we had no idea was there.

Sands Restaurant, Raton, NM

13 July 2014

Sands Restaurant on Urbanspoon

We stopped here for dinner last evening on the way to Colorado Springs. Not bad.

I had the burrito colorado, which was basically beef chunks in enchilada sauce. It wasn’t bad. Raegan had chicken and cheese chili verde enchiladas. She liked it, but it was on the edge of spiciness for her. Erin and a pair of chicken soft tacos that she liked OK. The meal came with some decent salsa and chips.

The iced tea was pretty good. Service was uneven as the meal went on, but they were getting busier. Our check was $43.44. It wasn’t bad at all.

City Bites, Oklahoma City (Western)

10 July 2014

City Bites Subs on Urbanspoon

Raegan and Erin and I had dinner here last night after a meeting at the Girl Scout office. Raegan got a baked potato with ham, bacon and cheese; it was good, but huge, so she took half of it home for lunch today. Erin got a mesquite chicken sandwich, pizza bites, and ate all of both. I got something new for me, a beefeater on wheat, subbing the sour cream for a bit of ranch dressing; it was pretty darn good. I liked the fried potatoes in the sandwich, and the beef was tender and tasty.

We got the usual assortment of chips and the always-excellent City Bites cookies. The iced tea was brewed and pretty darn good. Our check was $36.47. Good meal, fast.

Another Anniversary: 30 Years Of Service

9 July 2014

This is kind of a cool day for me. I joined TRW 30 years ago today, and started working with, and in, the E-4B Program Office at Tinker AFB.

I got here in kind of a roundabout way. I was hired in Feb 84 while still at OSU by a company in OKC that was going to develop new ways for automatic reading of checks for payee and amount (that’s common today, then it was way out there). The company was bought in April by a Dallas area firm that shut down all the research projects by the company; I found out the day before graduation that I was out of a job! My boss there was kind enough to call people he knew, and one of them worked for TRW, and knew the company was looking for “computer programmer types”.

When TRW called the first time, the answering machine got it. All I knew about TRW was that TRW Reda Pump in Bartlesville was constantly in the news for laying people off. I had just lost a job and so thought that sounded kind of sketchy. They called back a couple days later, we talked, and I found out about how TRW was a “conglomerate”. I interviewed a week or so later, got my first very high level view of the E-4B and EC-135 aircraft, and was hooked.

My first day of work, my new co-worker (and later and until very recently, my boss) and I stayed in the office until 2200 building a demo (on a 64K IBM PC-1 with CGA; no hard drive) for an automated aircraft scheduling system, that was to be demo’d the *next* day to the Program Office Colonel.

My job has evolved over the years from building Office Automation programs, to direct support of modifications, to IT/IA, to system architecture. Travel for the job has taken me to 22 states and DC, including a full year in Waco, TX, of which no more needs to be said.

I’ve some very interesting work that will be going on in the next couple years that I hope to be my legacy on this weapon system. I’m a very small part of a large team that is scattered around the country, and every one of them deserves a huge THANKS for making the past 30 years an incredibly interesting and mostly fun run.

Smokin’ Okies BBQ, Food Truck, Oklahoma City

8 July 2014

Smokin' Okies Mobile BBQ Smokehouse Food Truck on Urbanspoon

This truck came to my company location today for lunch. They were a little late.

They have brisket sandwiches and rib dinners. I really wanted a brisket dinner, and asked for that, and instead what I got was a brisket sandwich without the bread. Oh well.

The brisket, however, was very good. It could have been just a touch more moist, and there wasn’t much sauce, but I ate every scrap of it. For the side, I got some mac and cheese that we pretty darn good as well.

Service was pretty fast once I got through the line, and the meal was only $8 (no drink; those are extra). I would go here again with no issues.

Braum’s, Enid, OK (downtown)

30 June 2014

Braum's Ice Cream & Dairy on Urbanspoon

Erin, Christi, and I hit this Braum’s coming back from our Girl Scout adventure this weekend. We were a little hungry mid-afternoon.

Erin and I split a small cheeseburger, both of us had milkshakes. The shakes were the highlight of the food. The fries were a bit on the not-so-hot side, but OK. The burger was bland, boring, and tasteless.

Braum’s has just gone downhill burger-wise. Sad.

Golden Chick, Enid, OK (Van Buren)

29 June 2014

Golden Chick on Urbanspoon

As it was getting close to 2200 last night, I was distinctly a bit hungry, so I decided to grab a two-piece chicken from the Golden Chick in front of the hotel. I asked for a two-piece both breasts, but they had just had a large to-go order and they only had one breast, so I ended up with one breast and two legs, which was OK. The meal was out in less than a minute. While the fries were very good and the mashers OK, that chicken was excellent. Hot, crispy, and just the right amount of juicy. Great stuff, and just the right amount for a snack.

Service was fast and super friendly. My check was $7.03. Golden Chick may not be the very best chicken around, but it’s pretty darn good.

Marco’s Pizza, Enid, OK

29 June 2014

Marco's Pizza & Deli on Urbanspoon

I liked my first Marco’s Pizza, in OKC. This evening, our Girl Scout High Adventure Team (HAT) was spending the night in Enid after caving at Alabaster Caverns State Park, and we decided to get pizza for dinner for the group.

We ordered seven pizzas of different toppings from Marco’s; they were done in less than 20 min. We had a supreme, pepperoni, cheese, and a couple others. The pieces I had were great!

So the pizza was inexpensive and the group ate every slice. The check for seven pies was about $110; not bad at all. Marco’s is a great option for fast and simple.

Boom-A-Rang, Enid, OK

28 June 2014

Boom-a-Rang on Urbanspoon

Erin and I stopped here yesterday for a quick snack. We were walking through the very nice downtown Enid. She had a single (1/4 lb) ad I had a double (1/2 lb) cheeseburger, with fries. Simply put, an excellent burger, cooked perfectly, with very good beef. The fries were great also.

Service was fast and friendly, the iced tea was yummy. Our check was $17.73. Great burgers, I would eat another any time.

Fracking Again, NW Oklahoma This Time

28 June 2014

We are in northwest Oklahoma, near Alva, on a Girl Scout outing.

As we drove in, I was amazed by the prevalence of operational fracking installations around. At most any location along US412, there would be at least five fracking places visible. From Alabaster Caverns State Park, on the overlook, I counted six (and that doesn’t include the gypsum mine to the northeast, which was built to provide gravel to pave roads to fracking installations).

There have to be thousands of them scattered over this part of the state.

Oh, and pretty much everywhere we go, cell coverage is 4G.

Giuseppe’s, Marlow, OK

28 June 2014

Giuseppe's Italian Dining on Urbanspoon

We’ve been trying to eat at Giuseppe’s for years, and finally go the opportunity to have dinner Thursday evening while on the pick up Erin from nearby Camp Ekowah. It was great!

We ordered some garlic bread. Right after that our server brought out a HUGE load of wonderful bread. Between the bread, and the salad, and the meat sauce and al fredo we had to dip in, we were already filling up before the entrees arrived.

Raegan got chicken fettuccine al fredo. That stuff was wonderful. Perfect noodles, the sauce was outstanding. Rich but not overwhelming.

I got chicken parmesan. My first bites were disappointing; I was on an edge that was way too crispy, and the chicken was vastly overcooked. It got better on the way in. I ate about half if it (we had too much bread), and it was decent at that point. I also had a meatball, since you could buy them al carte. That was one of the best meatballs I’ve had; great flavor and not too much filler. A brace of those would be great with spaghetti.

So our visit was a bit of a mixed bag, but still positive. Service was perfect. The iced tea was great! Our check was $36.74. I would gladly go back and try the parm again.

Congress and Productivity and Recess Appointments

27 June 2014

The SCOTUS today ruled in a very literal way, but also in a remarkably tuneless way.

The root problem is that Congress (the Senate) didn’t want to confirm many of President Obama’s appointees, mainly out of pique (they are pissed he was elected). Republicans had a plan for the country: To Do Nothing. Especially if any action might be viewed as “handing a victory to Obama”. That included filibustering Presidential nominees. So the root problem is that they weren’t doing their job.

The President wanted his people in place. So he used short Senate adjournments to make recess appointments.

Congress got peeved and arranged for the President to be sued. SCOTUS ruled that the short adjournments (over the weekend, for example) were not valid for recess appointments.

One interesting thing: recess appointments have been made mid-session by Presidents for many years. There is some discussion in the thinking media (i.e. not conservative media) that perhaps the SCOTUS engaged in a bit of judicial activism in re-interpreting longstanding process.

So the way I see it is: Congressional Republicans, is not accomplishing their job, sort of left the President to do what he needed to do. He didn’t lie or obfuscate about it (like, for example, Bush/Cheney and the Iraq War), and there was no harm to the country (why haven’t Bush and Cheney been held accountable for thousands of American deaths?), but he was trying to get the business of the Executive Branch done. Republicans made it harder by engaging in fakery with respect to recesses. You can’t blame the guy for trying.

Congressional Republicans aren’t even trying.

Fracking Expansion in SW Oklahoma

27 June 2014

This evening, Raegan and I drove down to the Girl Scout camp near Marlow to pick up Erin for another Girl Scout high adventure weekend adventure.

One thing I noticed: the cell service in camp has gone from a bar or so of EDGE to solid 4G. As we drove out of camp, I counted FOUR new cell towers to the west and north of the camp location.

Another thing I noticed: no less than five big (I mean, HUGE) drilling rigs in evidence.

As we drove out to the highway, and then east and north to Lindsay, I noted dozens of new facilities involved in oil/gas extraction.

This leads me to wonder if cell service follows oil and gas activities. I’ve noted much more complete cell coverage in northwest Oklahoma, where again there was a lot of fracking, then in other rural parts of the state where there is less exploration.

And Yet Another Step For Equality!

25 June 2014

Breaking news in that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the marriage equality ban in Utah.

Unfortunately, even after declaring the Utah ban un-Constitutional, the court didn’t complete the follow-through, and stayed their ruling, giving the state time to appeal. They should have kept the pressure on by allowing marriages to start.

But the rising tide of judges following the Constitution, and not bowing to fear and control, is a good thing for the country.

Another Victory for Personal Privacy

25 June 2014

I was glad to see the SCOTUS bar searches of cell phones by police. I was amazed that it was a 9-0 vote.

The police/NSA/FBI surveillance programs are antithetical to our freedom in this country. Our jurisprudence is based on the concept of innocent until proven guilty, and the burden of that proof of guilty is on the state, not the individual.

There are too many instances of a traffic stop resulting in the wide ranging search of an individuals possessions (you see this on the highway constantly), with little accountability for the police doing the searching. For every cited case of a drug dealer being found this way, I would guess that there are many, many more cases where nothing is found. That would be information the police would not want to have publicly known.

I do understand that the police would need to check to make sure that they are safe during these stops (although in the vast majority of stops, the cops are the ONLY ONES with guns), but rooting around in a persons wallet or their phone does nothing to advance that safety argument.

The police need to do their jobs the way they were intended to: if someone is suspicious, start an investigation, get warrants, and find evidence.

This is related to another story yesterday about a SWAT team raiding a house (IIRC, the major crime being looked at was a nephew of the house occupants was suspected of having what the story described as a small amount of drugs). The SWAT team came in with automatic weapons, and a flash-bang grenade ended up in a crib, critically injuring an infant. The nephew was not even there. Overwhelming deadly force, and completely no intelligence (and I use this for both the cops knowing where the nephew was, and their general brains), were a terrible mix here. The injury to the baby was far out of proportion to the supposed crime here. The increasing militarization of the police just feeds on the worst fears of government, and will increase the reaction of those who already fear some sort of police state.

The No-Fly List Finally Gets Challenged

25 June 2014

I saw a news report that a judge in Portland, OR ruled that the US Government no-fly list has no valid way for travelers to challenge their placement on the list.

The list, one of the craven actions in the post-9/11 time, is one of the egregious violations of liberty with very little “protective” return.

The list is an un-Constitutional example of prior restraint. Travel is a fundamental right, and the secret list, with no way to challenge a persons reason for being on it, and secret criteria for the Government putting people on it, is inherently anti-American.

The Government claims that it can’t tell people they are on the list because people might figure out ways to keep of the list. How about this: if you have been convicted of a travel-related crime, you can go on the list. Otherwise you should not be on the list.

Most claims of Government secrecy that are outside of the defense realm ought to be held to a very high standard before being implemented, and should be justified to an independent review not associated with the agency in question (hmmm, Congress, why don’t you do your job?). Keeping citizens from traveling, using a secret list of people, with secret criteria, and no review, fails that test on many levels.

Almost Through The Primary Season

24 June 2014

Today is the day for voting in the primaries in Oklahoma. As an Independent, there aren’t a lot of choices on the primary ballot this time around.

We are already heartily sick of the current crop of ads here. Most of the ads are for or against Republican candidates. I think it’s about an equal mix of ads by candidates, and ads by advocacy groups.

There are a couple trends here worth noting. First, the race for the Oklahoma State School Superintendent. The current occupant of that office, a dentist with no teaching qualifications, has been working to impose a conservative vision on the State Department of Education. She has a primary opponent. Both sides call the other side “liberal”. Both sides run ads against the other with pictures of President Obama (and in keeping with classic propaganda, his photo is always dour or angry looking). One side says the other likes Obamas Common Core. The other side says their opponent is breaking the law by using public money in their campaign, citing “secret emails”. There are so many lies here that it would take a blog post to enumerate them. The funniest ad is one of the candidates intoning “I will place the needs of our children above the liberal agenda”.

There is a similar battle for the Republican nominee for a US Senate post. There’s a lot of PAC ads here. Both sides are trying to out-conservative each other. I actively dislike both major candidates, but in one case I sympathize with the guy because the accusation against him is that he voted for ObamaCare. Now, there’s no way that he would have done that; if you record the ad, and freeze-frame it to get the supposed reference, you see that he voted for an admendment to a budget bill that tried to strip part of ObamaCare. The bill itself went forward and was eventually passed. But to stretch that the guy voted for ObamaCare based on a single non-related Yes vote is more than simply a stretch; it’s a lie.

I guess this isn’t too surprising. I’ve noted before that the vast majority of out-and-out liars are conservative/Republican. And don’t forget it was a conservative organization that argued before the SCOTUS they had a right to LIE. And Mitt and his “we’re not going to let fact checkers drive this campaign”. But I digress.

The overall tone in this set of ads is that none of the ads I have heard tell us anything about the policies the candidates intend to enact. We get a lot of what they are going to repeal/reject (think ObamaCare). We get a lot of breast-beating about how they are going to fight for Americans (the actual record of Congressional obstruction tells me that is BS). We get a lot of outside groups saying other candidates suck. But a lot like the current Republicans at the national and state levels, they seem to want to do a bait and switch and start buggering the nation after they get elected.

I’ve noted before that the Republican Party is on the way out. The main issue now is how to prevent them from doing too much damage on the way out.

Walmart and Camp Stove Fuel

22 June 2014

A couple months ago, we bought a couple stoves for Troop 15 that are powered by a canister of alcohol that is pressurized.  I tried to buy a couple of the fuel canisters as well, but that WM didn’t have any.

I had another errand near school, going there I passed another WM; I stopped but that one didn’t have the canisters either (both stores had a label on the shelf for the fuel canister).

So I went to a nearby Academy,  they had one canister.

So at least in OKC, there seemed to be a shortage of the alcohol fuel canisters.

That was in early May.  Since then I have been in roughly 10 different WMs; in each case, the store had a label on the shelf for the fuel canisters.

We needed a couple of them for summer camp in mid June,  but I still didn’t find any, even when I looked at a WM in Colorado Springs.

We found the fuel at a Big 5 in the Springs.  That store had more than 10, in different suzes.

So this leads me to wonder why WM carries the stoves,  but doesn’t have the fuel.  They clearly intend to have the fuel.

I looked at the local Bass Pro Shop last evening;  they had eight canisters.  Very odd.

Backpacking (part of) Lost Creek Wilderness, CO, 11-12 June 2014

16 June 2014

Summary: 2,800 ft of altitude gain, and 16.5 miles of backpacking through aspen and rocks.

I posted the photos to my Google+ site here.

A group of four Troop 15 friends took a short backpacking trip to the south end of the Lost Creek Wilderness in Colorado, 11-12 June. We got out of camp around 1030 and arrived at the trailhead at Spruce Grove around 1100.

I had no idea the Lost Creek Wilderness even existed, until it was suggested to me by the Camp Alexander camp director. I scored a map of the area and started looking a trails a month or so back.

We didn’t really know where we were going until the evening before we left camp, and then we changed it mid-hike.

When you get to Spruce Grove campsite, note that the gates can be closed for the night at some point, and more to the point, all of the parking is for campers in the Spruce Grove campsite. Backpackers and day hikers are supposed to park next to the road, outside the gate. It is a short walk to the trailhead from there. The camp host was very nice. His dog came over to wag at us and get some petting; that was nice.

We had one detour right away; Tarryall Creek was running high and was on the start of the trail, so we found a way around some rocks about 100 ft upstream. We had no issues after that.

The first part of the hike is a longish approach on Lizard Rock Trail, AKA Forest Service trail 658. 658 ends at the actual boundary of the Wilderness Area. There are self-serve permits there; all of them were used when we were there, so we called the local Ranger District and let them know. We dropped our packs at the boundary and headed NW to a neat overlook of the valley, and then a bit farther to (I presume) Lizard Rock for an amazing view of the Tarryall Creek drainage, and the area over by Lake George.

We had thought we would take trail 607, camp around the junction with 639, and then loop up to Lake Park on 639 and come back. We decided that since it was already about 1400, there were clouds around, and we needed to be back at Camp Alexander by Thursday after, we would shorten the hike a bit.

We headed east on trail 630 and got to Hankins Pass around 1600. The only water we saw this entire time was a stream out of the Pass (it’s annotated on the topo), and some runoff that was across the trail a couple hundred yards below the pass. You really can’t see the stream, but we heard it.

We found an interesting corral-looking structure at the pass, a hundred+ feet east of the trail junction. We quickly set up camp and got water going for dinner. I had Chili Mac. Yum as usual!

After dinner, we got a bear bag hung, and then took a recon hike up the trail to Lake Park. There was an amazing view back to the west that we sat at for awhile and talked.

The days hiking was five miles; this included the approach, the side hikes, and the arrival at Hankins Pass. Camp was at 10000 ft.

We had a decent storm late that night that dumped hail (very small) that we saw a couple places along the trail the next morning.

After our usual breakfast the next morning (we all slept in until 0800), we got daypack stuff and headed up trail 639 to Lake Park. The trail topped out at 11000 feet before dropping into the bowl of Lake Park. It’s a beautiful area that would be fine to camp in.

After lunch, we headed back down to Hankins Pass, packed up our stuff, and walked back down. We got down around 1530, were back in camp by 1600, and already missing the mountains.

Good Info To Know

The one-way length of Forest Service trail 658 (Lizard Rock) is 2.4 miles.

Water: It’s not available on 658. We didn’t see any until near Hankins Pass.

This was a nice (but short) trip that barely scratched the surface of the Lost Creek Wilderness. I would enjoy going back and finishing the loop we wanted to try in the first place.

Summer Camp At BSA Camp Alexander, CO

16 June 2014

BSA Troop 15 had summer camp the past week at Camp Alexander, part of the Pikes Peak Council of Colorado Springs.

I put the photos from camp on my Google+ page.

We drove out of OKC in two vans, a truck with a troop trailer, and a minivan last Saturday at 0930. Pretty good for moving 30 people and about a ton of equipment! We managed to pick up a nail in the van I was driving, and so we stopped in El Reno for a quick fix.

We got to our overnight stop at the National Guard facility in Springer, NM.

I have to rave about those guys. When we got there, the main building was locked, so I walked up to the vehicle maintenance shed and found a couple guys working on one of the Hummers. After I told them who I was and what we were doing, these two guys called or POC (who was there in less than five minutes), and then they gave every one of our Scouts an outstanding orientation to the Hummer, and then a ride on the test course in back of the Guard facility! Above and beyond! Our Scouts were so excited they talked about it for days. Our nighttime quarters were the gym of the Guard facility. We had access to the kitchen, the workout facility (there was a lot of iron pumped that evening), and the front yard, where one of our leaders cooked some great chicken and beef fajitas. We cooked breakfast out there the next morning, and were able to give breakfast to some of the Guard members. The entire unit was so friendly. We made sure we cleaned up completely, and headed out.

We got to Colorado Springs, and were having lunch in a local park when we notices a tornado warning due west of us, over Lake George, where camp was. The storm tore up a mobile home park there, but no one was hurt. It dissipated before we met up with it.

Camp was a very nice place. It’s at 8200 ft, so it was quite a bit cooler than down on the plains. There was quite a bit of paperwork to get us checked in, but we made it in time for dinner, which was a piece of chicken breast, with some BBQ sauce smeared on top. It was OK, and typical of the meals in camp. I don’t know that the food was adequate for an older boy. I know I just ate everything they gave us, got seconds every once in a while, and ate a LOT of salad.

Our day was morning flag ceremony and breakfast. The boys would go off to merit badge classes until lunch, then repeat for the afternoon classes. Each evening was closing flag ceremony and dinner.

The staff did announcements at each ceremony, which was nice.

The staff: simply put, outstanding. Every one was outgoing, enthusiastic, and informed. One of the best groups of staff I’ve seen.

Midway through camp, four of us were able to take a two day backpacking trip to the nearby Lost Creek Wilderness.

It was chilly there! Our first couple days, when it was mid-June, had highs in the 60s and lows in the 20s. It was one of those funny things where if you were sitting in the sun, it was too warm, but if you were in the shade, and it was breezy, it was too cool. One mistake I made was not bringing a fleece to camp, or my base layer. I bought a waterproof fleece jacket for $14 when we stopped to buy some butane stove fuel at a Big Five in the Springs, and that jacket was wonderful! I had brought my Tyvek Frogg Toggs, but the layer of fleece in the new jacket was great.

One food note: they didn’t have iced tea to drink for the meals. I think they should have.

Our camp was Sioux. Each camp has a number of canvas platform tents, that were plenty roomy for a couple or three adults, or four to six Scouts (they generally don’t mind packing in). Camp also had a couple flys over picnic tables; that’s where we gathered each evening.

There were opening and closing campfires, which were nice. The OA also had a campfire Wednesday evening.

I was impressed with how each unit mixed early and often. The kids played football and Frisbee, mixed at the meals, and walked to activities together.

We had a couple scrapes, and one boy who fell while playing football and needed five stitches in his leg (he’ll be OK).

The lake in camp was under repair, but is supposed to be open by next season.

The camp has wifi hotspots at at least three locations, but it seemed to be a Mbps or less, and got saturated often. I needed to do some email comms with work, and occasionally OWA (which isn’t a paragon of stability) would lose its mind. I also had W7 start a 40MB update at some point. Did you know there is no way to manually stop an update download once it has started and is saturating the low-bandwidth link? Well, a bit of Task Manager and killing the process is a less-than-acceptable way of doing it.

Camp Alexander has a lot going for it. But for me, the best part is the fact that it’s in the mountains. I will take the chilly temps over Oklahoma with 90+F/humidity anytime.

Ten Pin Grill, USAFA, Colorado Springs, CO

15 June 2014

Ten Pin Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday afternoon, we left Boy Scout Camp Alexander to take Troop 15 on a tour of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). We decided to eat on base, and Rob found the menu for the Ten Pin Grill, which is in the base bowling alley, so off we went.

We showed up with our 30 people at 1300. The manager and staff welcomed us in a most friendly way (30 somewhat dirty-from-a-week-of-camp Scouts showing up might have put off some people!). They quickly worked with us to get the boys a burger or hot dog meal with fries and a drink. The boys played some video games, but mainly just say (in the air conditioning) and talked.

I got a double-meat cheeseburger with chili cheese fries and a Coke (I tried the Gold Peak but it wasn’t very good). That was a fine burger. Good beef, cooked with a nice crust on it, and tasty. I think the bun was whole wheat, a treat, and it was grilled. Some mayo and pickles on the burger. The chili cheese fries were also very good. My check was $9.10

The boys and adults and those burgers and dogs… I don’t think a scrap was left.

The manager and staff were great. We were in and out in 45 minutes. Our Scouts were Courteous as well. If I was on the Academy grounds, I would be glad to get another burger at the Grill.

Red Dirt Burrito Company, Del City, OK

8 June 2014

Red Dirt Burrito Company on Urbanspoon

I had lunch here Friday, it was pretty darn good.

I had the burrito bowl with carnitas. The combo was with chips and a drink. The pork was tender and had decent flavor, but little spice. I got the hot salsa, it was pretty good. I had the white queso with my chips; I liked it, but it thickened to concrete very quickly.

It’s counter order and service. The iced tea is pretty good. My check was $9.27. Not bad. I will go back and try other stuff.

Some New Camp Stuff at WalMart

8 June 2014

I was at the Edmond (I-35) WalMart a couple days ago, and I saw these two things on the shelf:

Primus Stove

Sawyer Squeeze

I was kind of surprised to see these at the WalMart. The Primus Stove is an alcohol-based (butane, I think) stove that is typically a backpacker item.

Curiously, that WalMart (and another one I checked at Belle Isle) didn’t have any fuel canisters for the stove (although both had places on the shelves for them).

The other is a Sawyer squeeze water filtration system. This is a relatively new system that works well (it’s my favorite water purification system). Again, it’s a backpacker item that would seem to have little in common with the mass market stuff WalMart focuses on.

One impact: the Sawyer sells at places like Cabelas for $50; it competes with pump filters costing $70. WalMart sells it for $30!

The alcohol stove is also very competitively priced at $20. I bought a couple, and they work well.


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