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Routing around failure

Thursday, January 31, 2008
One of the old mantras about "the internet" was that it "routes around failure". The idea, of course, was that traffic would flow and, given the web-like nature of connections, failure at any one point could be compensated for (automatically, if set up right) so that - overall - the traffic would flow. Of course, this doesn't work for everyone, but generally speaking it's true.

I've mentioned before the "attack of the Idaho backhoes" which is the annual or biennial attack on our nation's internet structure. What's even more interesting to watch is the classic "anchor" accident, where some ship drops an anchor right through the one fiber-optic cable connecting a huge area. This time it's hitting Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa as sources theorize that an anchor cut an undersea link.

To me, this stresses the importance of redundant links so that traffic CAN flow without interruption. A bit of delay is okay, but outages are becoming more and more damaging as we - as a human race - dump more and more of our communication and business on the awesome yet fragile backbone of the internet. Take note, everyone! This needs to be fixed. Traffic can route around failure, but we're at the point where the infrastructure can't handle the failure of a single link, and that's unacceptable.

Promotional Spot

Monday, January 28, 2008
I happened to be listening to NPR today and I heard the most fantastically funny faux radio promotion for tonight's State of the Union address. Presented by Brian Unger (of the Unger Report), this radio spot urges you to tune in to listen - for the last time - to the president who "made you laugh, made you cry, and made you want to move to France."

Check it out!

Portland Auto Show 2008

This weekend I again visited the Portland Auto Show, held annually at the Oregon Convention Center.

There were a few cars that I saw that I liked (that I haven't seen before):
  • Suzuki SX-4 - inexpensive, all-wheel drive, manual transmission, and decent fuel economy. Features I want my next car to have!

  • Saturn Astra - decent looking little car, I'd be willing to consider it.

There were also several cars that I liked that I have seen before:
  • Mini Cooper S Convertible - I could own one of these and be happy.

  • Saturn Sky- gorgeous car that feels right (though it's a pain to get in and out of!)

  • Cadillac CTS - didn't sit in it this year (the line was too long) but damn it's good looking!

  • Scion tc - Still a car that's "on my list".

Me in a Saturn Sky

And last, but not least, there were several cars that I wasn't impressed by at all. Two that stood out:
  • Chevy Cobalt - this car looked and felt cheap, despite costing more than cars that seemed better.

  • Ford Focus - I actually liked the previous generation more.

In summary, I had a great time. My girlfriend and I walked through and she put up with my demands to "give American cars a chance," I put up with her Toyota obsession, and we both made fun of the highly ostentatious Lexus exhibit. (Who brings a baby grand piano and has a pianist playing classical music at an auto show?) However, she happened to notice one highly awesome sign that we walked past. Notice anything wrong with it?

Acesssories?

God Bless Patrick Leahy

Friday, January 25, 2008
I've commented before that I have a lot of respect for the Senate Judiciary Committee, especially Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter. Well, that respect was just justified again in an article on the ongoing FISA reform debate.

Patrick Leahy is quoted as saying, "Lets not be so frightened out of our minds by terrorism.... We go back to the situation we had when I first got here in the Watergate era when the government was spying on people... we don't want to go back to that time."

Perhaps it's just me living safely on the left coast over here, but I really feel like Patrick Leahy "gets it." And by "gets it" I mean "is on the side of the American people." Both he and Arlen Specter (who is mentioned as also balking at giving phone companies immunity for being a little too proactive) once again earn my respect for being willing to temper national security concerns with the concept of "what are we really protecting, anyway?"

Now let's pray that we can keep reasonable minds like these in office.

Wildcat Mountain

Monday, January 21, 2008
So my adventure buddy and I went and decided to go snowshoeing this weekend on Wildcat Mountain, which is about 15 miles east of Sandy, OR. He and I finally have accumulated decent gear - including packs, hydration bladders, a GPS (his), an altimeter (mine), decent gloves, boots, snow pants, jackets, and underclothing. Further, we're in pretty decent shape so we decided to get off the main trails (like Trillium Lake) and adventure around.

He'd done a bit of research and found a road that goes up to a trailhead, which we planned to drive up to, then climb the trail to the peak of the mountain. He'd laid out a bunch of waypoints on his GPS and we'd gone over the topographic map for the area, planning where we'd park, noting the elevations, etc.

What we didn't count on was the road having a nice, official BLM gate across it, just off Highway 26 and many miles short of where we wanted to park.

a gate blocks our way

We therefore did what any two adventurous fellows did and we strapped our rented snowshoes onto our backs and decided to just hike up to the trailhead. We made it about 800 feet up the road and, after ducking under the fallen tree that would have stopped his truck anyway, my friend announced that hiking up this road wasn't much fun. Then he uttered those fateful words, "You know, we could just climb up that hill and meet up with the road again at the top. It's only about a mile as the crow flies..."

Now I couldn't very well disagree. I was game, of course, but looking up the hill I realized we'd have trouble even getting off the road, since it was so steep that the road had been cut into the side of the mountain, leaving an embankment we'd have to struggle over. We got lucky, however, and found a path that would lead us straight up (is lucky really the right word there?) - and up we went.

a gate blocks our way

It took us over an hour just to go the one mile up to the the road. It was steep and exhausting, but fun. Once we made it up, there was enough snow on the ground to justify snowshoes so we strapped them on our feet and continued up. It was quite beautiful up there - and pleasant. With no wind, we both started getting warm enough to justify removing layers, and I ended up removing my jacket and gloves, leaving me in two feet of snow and a short-sleeve shirt.

What looked - on the map -like a road that branched off to the trailhead was in fact little more than a wide path. Merrily we hiked along, enjoying the beauty of the snow-covered landscape. Eventually we reached the trailhead - where we had planned to start from - and ate lunch. We agreed on two things: 1) There was no way the truck could have gone much further than the gate, and 2) we were quite happy with our progress (having been moving for almost two and a half hours) and were content to call this our destination.

The beauty of carrying a GPS was twofold. First, we couldn't get lost (especially since my friend had waypoints for the road already plugged into it), and second, we could examine our trip closely afterward. What I found interesting was the slope of our path as we went up the first part of the hill. While we came down along the road (easier on our knees!) and our trip was essentially about 6.5 miles long, we cut out at least half a mile - if not more - through our "shortcut" and we had a net altitude gain of almost 1700 feet on the way up.

a gate blocks our way

Anyway, it was a fun adventure (especially going off-road) and I look forward to the next outing. Perhaps we'll go geocaching sometime!

Primaries

Thursday, January 17, 2008
Something that's frustrated me for the past several presidential elections is that, being a proud citizen of the great state of Oregon, my vote doesn't count in the presidential primary elections. If you look at the calendar, we aren't quite the last state have our primary elections - but we might as well be. We are followed by the highly populated and significant states of Idaho, Nebraska, Montana, and South Dakota. (Yes, that last bit was sarcasm.)

You see, by the time we get around to having our primaries, unless it's a very close race (unlikely), pretty much everyone but the front-running candidate has dropped out. So yes, we get to choose from a field of one, which just doesn't give me that warm fuzzy feeling that I usually get from democracy. So all this news and hoopla is interesting and it gives people something to watch on TV, but here in Oregon it really can only be of academic interest since the rest of the nation gets to tell us who the actual candidates are.

I'd like to see the system change. I'd like to see it switch so that everyone gets a chance to vote, so that there's no clear winner or loser until everyone has had a chance to vote - yet I can see that, for the primaries, having everyone vote on the same day might not be a great idea. Is that unrealistic? Perhaps. I doubt some of the more obscure candidates would make it past the first round of voting, but perhaps the few at the top could duke it out until the end.

But this is all an idle wish, at this point. I don't even know what the steps to change would be. I might be content with moving our primary to Super Tuesday as a first step in local change... perhaps I should figure out what I'd have to do...

Game Review: The Orange Box

Sunday, January 13, 2008
A bit of background: I finally got around to installing Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) on my laptop (a MacBook Pro.) I accomplished this by erasing my hard drive (yikes!), loading Leopard, then setting up Boot Camp for a Windows XP partition, installing Windows, then setting up Parallels to also access that partition so I could get at it from within Mac OS X. It's a beautiful thing to behold, though, now that it's all done.

Part of the reason I installed Windows XP was so that I could buy and play The Orange Box, which has in it Team Fortress 2 (I loved Team Fortress classic many years ago), Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and Portal. I played through the original Half-Life a couple months ago, anticipating this, and enjoyed it thoroughly (though it's a lot longer than I remember), so I was eager to start in on Half-Life 2 and its successors.

WARNING: I may spoil the game(s) for you if you keep reading.

First up was Half-Life 2. While I'd played it way back when it came out, I was determined to play through it again. I remembered the grim pleasure I took in clearing out Ravenholm, the excitement at taking down a strider, and, frankly, how hot Alyx Vance is. (If she were real...) I remember the AI seeming to work (which it still does), the graphics being incredible (they still are), and the game being fun (which it still is.)

Breezing through Half-Life 2 (and loving almost every minute of it) I eagerly started Half-Life 2: Episode One. I'm going to start out by saying that I absolutely hated it and will probably never play it again. While there are some upsides to the game (basically it's you and Alyx hitting the Citadel, then escaping from City 17), the downside of the game is that it's boring, tedious, and irritating. Maybe others disagree (and, on the internets, there's bound to be someone) but I don't want to play a game that irritates me. Here's an abbreviated list of my grievances:
  1. The Citadel has a nice black-on-black paint job, which makes finding the little hidden pathways that you're supposed to take extra-challenging.

  2. For the first third of the game, all you have is the extra-powerful gravity gun... which makes annoying buzzing noises and, when you grab something, you can't see what you're trying to shoot at. Thanks, guys, for that bit of fun.

  3. It's amazing that Gordon Freeman can single-handedly bring down the Combine when he can't even walk down the street without falling into a hole from which he must escape. ("Oh, Gordon... You've fallen down a hole! I'll just wait here while you figure out how to get out!") It really interrupted the gameplay, I'm going to say that.

  4. It feels like the Half-Life 2 series is becoming more and more about zombies and having them try to kill you than about the story, or about humanity's struggle with the Combine. I mean, seriously, how many humans can be left? Bodies are strewn everywhere throughout the game in a grisly environment!

  5. The game is dark. There's a level that should be fun - you're in the dark, standing in water, and zombies keep showing up and you have to kill them. But it's constantly dark, your flashlight keeps running out of power, and then you have to wait for it to charge so you can figure out which little pathway you're supposed to take out since you can never just run down the street to exit.

So that list isn't complete, but suffice to say that I didn't like the game at all. Not one little bit.

I'd heard a lot of good things about Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and, honestly, it's the only reason I trudged through Episode One. Had I not purchased it all in one bundle, I'd have probably quit the series right there. But Episode Two was different. It takes place outside (hey, parts of the world are still green!), you get to mix up your traveling companions a bit (Alyx takes a break from reminding you that you need to turn on the lights for her, or clear out the street ahead for her, or get power to an elevator for her) and run around with a Vortigaunt. Moving around is less tedious because you get a car for part of the game. While there are roadblocks and interruptions to contend with, it still feels good to cover some ground towards a goal - a goal that you actually reach at the end of the game. All in all, I enjoyed Episode Two - not as much as the original Half-Life 2, but it was still good. (One day I'd like the Combine to introduce a few new, less-powerful enemies. I'm tired of facing enemies that are increasingly difficult to kill. Valve, are you listening?)

With that out of the way, I turn my attention to the shining gem of The Orange Box: Portal. Many have sung its praises, so I shall only say that I haven't enjoyed a game so much in a very long time. The pacing of the game was perfect - I could take as long as I wanted to do almost every task in the game, and I could have fun. The idea is novel - just get through an obstacle course using a tool (I hesitate to use the word gun in this instance) that can create portals on walls, allowing you to enter one and immediately leave through the other. The writing is spectacular - between the narration of GLaDOS, the death of your friend - the Weighted Companion Cube, and the incessant chatter of the gun turrets, the game is funny in a delightfully dark and morbid way. I can't recommend it highly enough!

So I haven't played enough of TF2 to write about it yet, but I am going to mention that I found and single-player mod called Minerva: Metastasis for Half-Life 2 and it's also incredible. It takes place in the Half-Life 2 world - you're somebody who has a stolen HEV suit and you're infiltrating a Combine island fortress (does it count as infiltration if you shoot down everyone and everything in your path?) at the behest of a voiceless narrator who simply sends you text-only orders. The level design is fantastic, the gameplay keeps moving, and it really stands out as a lot of - wait for it - fun. Check it out! (Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One required.)

That's all I have to write, but I hope you all leave this and go out and get a copy of The Orange Box if you don't already have one. Trust me, it's worth it.

Half-Life 2 Logo

Jury Duty

Monday, January 07, 2008
Today, in the spirit of a strong legal system, I showed up to respond to a summons for jury duty. An astute reader might remember that I was summoned last July for grand jury duty, but tragically had to defer it. While I could have cheated the system and deferred until after I graduated (then "oh, sorry, I don't live in Marion County anymore"), I chose instead to defer to January, where I had even odds of being free. Lo and behold, the man caught me again and I was asked to show up today.

this way to the jury room!

I arrived at the jury room at the inhumanly early hour of 8:05 AM where, along with about 80 other people, I stood in line to check in. After an hour-long registration, we were shown an inspiring propaganda video on the merits of jury duty and what a good citizen I was for being there. After the video... we all waited.

Word on the street (or from the jury coordinator) was that there were potentially three trials for the day - all of which would be one or two day trials. Since I'd expected to spend the whole week there (my last stint as a juror was on a three week trial!) this was definitely good news. However, we had to wait until the judge and attorneys were good and ready to select a jury, and that (apparently) takes a bit of time.

At around 10:00, the first trial started the selection process. They called up 30 of us potential jurors (I was not included) and the selection process seemed to take about 30 minutes - or at least that's how long it was before the jurors not selected returned and were excused (having completed their duty.) It was at this point that I really wished that I'd brought a book.

It was around 11:00 when the second group of jurors were called - but this was for a felony hearing and the defendant had opted for a bench trial. Those jurors who would have had to report to that trial were then called up and excused, having completed their duty.

I believe it was 11:30 (having been at the Marion County Courthouse for three and a half hours with no book) when the remainder of us were called up for the last trial. I was somewhat bitter at being the absolute last name called, but such is life. We filed up to the fourth floor and into the courtroom, where the first twelve jurors of our group were put in the hot seats. I noticed that the first twelve were called into the jury box in the same order that we'd been called from the basement. Being the last person, I suspected that I might not get to serve.

And I was right.

After an ninety-minute long selection process for a misdemeanor stalking offense, the rest of us were told we weren't needed, and I got to go home. My jury duty service was completed after about five and a half hours in the courthouse, and I felt like a good citizen. I was bummed that I didn't get to lay down Burton-style justice on some poor defendant, but it seems that not every day can be perfect.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008
So now that 2008 is upon us, I shall once again wish my reader(s) a Happy New Year. 2007 ended in a fairly spectacular fashion for me, and I'm excited as to how 2008 is going to look.

In this upcoming year, I plan to graduate with my MBA, get a job up in Portland and move back there, and start to really maximize who I can be. Furthermore, I really am going to lose weight this year (almost hit my goal last year, but not quite) and try to be a more generous person, a happier person, and a better friend.

So let's all raise a glass to a new year filled with promise, a year we enter with hopes, dreams, and an abundance of presidential candidates.

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