Thursday, May 29, 2008

Caching After Work

I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and long day to do some geocaching after work. I had been holding on to a travel bug for three months, which is about two-and-half months longer than is polite. So I decided to head out to a cache I had my eye on near Lake Artemesia, an artificial lake a couple of miles from home. I walked partway around the lake, then veered off on a trail towards the cache. Unfortunately, it was the wrong trail, and I soon found myself about 300 feet away from the cache, on the wrong side of a river. You can see my false start on this screen capture from Google Earth -- I now figured out how to put my GPS tracks in that, which I think is much cooler than the mapping program I had been using.

I backtracked (it would have been helpful to use Google Earth before caching) and headed up the correct trail, but it was getting dark. I realize the following details (and accompanying picture) represent a geocaching spoiler, but I don't think any of my reader will actually be looking for this cache. I wanted to give people an idea of what's involved in hunting these things. The clue said "hollow tree", and sure enough, I found a hollow tree about 30 or so feet from where the cache was supposed to be. Between the inaccuracy in my GPS readings and the inaccuracy in the readings of whoever placed the cache, the tree seemed a likely candidate. But I looked inside the hollow and saw nothing cache-like, so I went on. My GPS receiver, however, told me I was getting farther away. So I went back to the tree. This time I used the light on the keychain Christina gave me. Sure enough, there was a stick-like thing in the hollow that looked un-natural. I poked it first to make sure it wasn't something weird. When it didn't respond, I pulled out the camouflaged tube (pictured) that represented the cache. I thought this was a fairly tricky find...and this only rated '2' out of '5' on the difficulty scale. I can see why I may have missed some caches in the past. This did not look like the Tupperware container I was expecting to find. I suppose now I'll have a better idea of what to look for in future cache finds. I was barely able to get the travel bug (a shell with an tag attached) inside the tube, and I made it back to my car about a minute after sundown. According to the GPS receiver, almost exactly and hour and 2.4 miles of walking. Not bad.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A True Washington Monument

Christina, her cousin and I went into DC on Sunday. We saw many monuments, but none was as appropriate for the city we were visiting as this one, a monument to a 1990s reorganization at the USDA. I have seen executives proud of their reorganizations, but never before one worthy of a monument.
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

<15 seconds of fame

Although I enjoy Tony Kornheiser's radio show, he has been driving me crazy with his speculations about the Democratic primaries. "If Hillary keeps winning states, why doesn't she have a shot?"

On Tuesday, while listening to him wonder what Hillary would get for all of the delegates she has accumulated, and knowing that Tony is a fan of Glenngarry Glen Ross, I thought of a way to put it in terms he might appreciate.

Have a listen.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Earthcaching Banff

Since Christina and I had previously visited Banff, I figured I was under no pressure to "see the sights" yesterday on my free afternoon. So I decided to do some geocaching, which led me to sights I would not have ordinarily seen.

I actually found one geocache on Sunday -- about 50 feet from the conference site. After failing to release Free State Mover #3 in Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Singapore, England and Turkey, I finally set it free. It should have an easier task of getting back to Maryland than its European predecessors.
In a previous post, I claimed that "virtual" caches had been eliminated. That's not entirely true -- there is a special type remaining: the Earthcache. Unlike the old virtual caches, which could be of anything the submitter found interesting, Earthcaches have to teach something about geoscience, and it has to be approved by the Geological Society of America. This approach seems like a good compromise -- it allows caches in sensitive areas where you can't put a physical cache, but it limits their proliferation to educational sites.

The first cache I visited yesterday was, in fact, an Earthcache. It was the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Christina and I had visited there, so I didn't feel a need to bathe in the springs this time. Good thing -- paramedics were treating a woman, and the line of people waiting to get in the pool was backing up.
My second cache was another Earthcache and another set of hot springs. As it turns out, this set of hot springs is no longer open for bathing, but it is an important place in Canadian history. When trying to figure out what to do with the springs, the Canadian government decided that they should be publicly owned. This decision eventual led to the establishment of Canada's first national park.
Looking for another cache, I was led to my third Earthcache of the day, Limestone Hoodoos in Banff. A hoodoo is a particular geological formation (pictured) created by uneven erosion of sediment. After taking some pictures, I headed out down the Hoodoo Trail. A sign said that walk was 1 km and about half an hour. I turned around when I reached 1.55 km (as the crow flies) -- I'm not sure what the 1 km represented.
I decided the day of geocaching wouldn't be complete without finding a physical cache, so I headed to Jumpin' Johnson Lake. The cache was about one-quarter of the way around the lake, but I continued to walk the whole way around. While walking, I was listening to a geocaching podcast where they had a call from a listener who had reached 500 caches about two months of caching. Given that yesterday's haul of 4 matched my all-time high, I am clearly in a different category from people like that. (I'm at 49 total after 14 months.) But I'd rather use geocaching as a jumping off point -- I wouldn't have come to Johnson Lake without it. As a result, I got some nice scenery and some much-needed exercise.

I almost got more exercise than I bargained for. As I had almost completed my circumnavigation of the lake, the trail dead-ended at the lake. I was afraid I was going to have to go all the way back around. First, however, I tried doubling back and seeing if I had taken the wrong fork. As I got on a more promising path, I noticed a rushing steam that would block a walk around the lake. Fortunately, a few minutes later, I saw the bridge that would allow me to complete my hike.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hockey Night in Canada

Even though the meals here are included with my room rate, I haven't been able to bring myself to hit the dining hall for dinner. Last night, I walked into town with the goal of watching Canadians watch hockey, as well as grabbing a buffalo burger. Less than a block after reaching Banff's main drag, I found a bar that was showing the game (in fact, showing the Red Wing's first goal) and advertising a special on buffalo burger. On the other hand...there were no customers in the bar. I kept going.
  Bruno's looked more likely. There were a handful of people in there watching the game. After a check of the menu determined the availability of buffalo burger, I headed inside. As it turned out, there was one vocal Red Wings fan inside; the rest of the patrons had the grim air of people watching a bunch of foreign teams contest the championship of their national sport. At one point, the Red Wings fan started yelling at the TV when Wayne Gretzky appeared -- though I doubted his claim that he was now better than Gretzky at hockey. Other than that, the highlight was when the drunk French Canadian a couple of barstools down from me tipped over and smashed into the floor. After the manager determined there was no need for an ambulance, he told the guy's buddy they had to leave.

By the end of the 2nd period, the Red Wings were up 4-0, a microphone stand had appeared in the bar, and even the Red Wings fan had decamped for the sushi place next door. It was time to leave, so I walked to an ice cream shop that was foolish enough to accept the US dollar at par, and then headed back to my room.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Deer Prudence

Last night I headed out from my room to the "general store" at the Banff Centre. I had a less than thrilling day -- most recently, I had discovered that the phone in my room reeked of beer.

When I opened the door to the building, I saw two deer grazing not fifteen feet away. Suddenly my mood improved. I continued on to the store. I figured that the deer would be gone by the time I got back. Instead, there were now three deer. I rushed back to my room, dropped off my purchases, and grabbed my camera. When I came out, there was an employee talking to someone. I walked past him to take a picture of the deer (there were now two). The employee then advised me that it was safer to take the pictures behind glass.

He said that the deer ordinarily would just run away, but when they were in an enclosed space, they might just try to run through you. He said they knew what [pretends to aim gun] meant, and it was pretty similar to [pretends to aim camera].

As I headed inside to take the second picture below, I heard him say to the other guy, "Of course, back in the Yukon, we get a deer this close, it's dinner time."


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Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Have a Canadian Stamp in My Passport, Part Two

Six years ago (to the day!), I posted about finally getting a Canadian stamp in my passport after years of disappointment. I assumed that the stamping had something to do with Quebecois particularism. But last night, when I arrived in Calgary, they stamped my passport (without my having to ask). I changed passports 5 years ago, so I now have a stamp in my new passport. This new passport has been neglected by Calgary (2003) and Vancouver (2006) as well, so I have no idea why it got stamped. Either the Canadians have tightened things up, or it was at the whim of the guy with the stamp.

About two-and-a-half years ago, I sent my passport in for additional pages. They tripled the size of my passport. There is not always a clear reason for where officials choose to stamp, but they have uniformly avoided the third section. As the passport has gotten more crowded, the officials are more likely to stamp on the first "available" page, although each official has a different definition of "available".

Pages 8-12 have been completely filled up (1-7 are not for stamps). Then we switch to letters (the way they added the new pages is a little strange). A-C were full, and now the guy in Calgary finished off D. There's one space in E -- we'll see if that's the next one to go -- two on F, then it's pretty full until we get to L (though I bet the Brits would be willing to squeeze a stamp or two in). I despair whether there'll be a chance to finish it up through X and move on to the other new section before 2013.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Reap What You Sow

"For the second time in three days, Sen. Hillary Clinton told reporters that the pledged delegates awarded based on vote totals in their state are not bound to abide by election results."
-- CNN, March 26.

"Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democratic convention delegate pledged to support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said yesterday...that he now plans to support Obama at the August convention."
-- Washington Post, May 13.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Free State Mover #1: Back to England

Despite my fears, the Free State Mover #1 geocoin I dropped off in Bristol last September was not lost in Wales. After a three month stay in a cache there, it moved across the border to a cache in England. Still no progress towards Maryland, but it's better than being lost.

By coincidence, Christina and I were about 10 miles away in 2006, so I have some idea what the area's like.

At least this time Bush isn't exploiting 9/11 for political purposes...

"Even the 9/11 angel memorial on Crawford’s Main road is dressed up for the wedding party. The Steel cut-out has a wedding veil on top and a bouquet of flowers."

Christina and I independently saw coverage of this on CNN and were amazed both at the tastelessness of this, and how it was presented as part of a, "gosh, aren't the wedding preparations cute?" What, there was no Holocaust memorial handy to put a tux on?

Clearly, no one in the Bush family was directly responsible for this decoration. Just as clearly, no one had the decency or respect for the dead to get it taken down.

Friday, May 09, 2008

An Open Letter to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend

I tried sending the following to the e-mail address listed on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's web site, but it got bounced back. So I'm posting it here as an open letter.

Dear Ms. Townsend:

I'm not usually in the habit of taking advice from Peggy Noonan columns. But according to her column today, a Democratic superdelegate said that you are one of the few people who can convince Senator Clinton that the primary race needs to come to a close.

In yesterday's USA Today, Senator Clinton referred to "working, hard-working Americans, white Americans". Whether intentionally or not, this statement is the ugliest playing of the race card I've seen at the national level in years. To give you an idea of how ugly things have gotten, google "white, hard-working". The first three hits are references to her comments. The fourth is a petition for the "National Socialist American Workers Party".

As a recently selected superdelegate, you have the power to begin to help heal these ugly divisions. As a fellow Marylander and someone who has voted for you multiple times, I urge you to endorse Senator Obama.

Jon Grantham
University Park, MD

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Shanghai and Barcelona

Shanghai and Barcelona -- places I went in December 2006 and May 2007, respectively. Places my geocoin Free State Generic #2 went last month. When I last updated you, it had headed from Virginia to Beijing. From Beijing, it went to Shanghai. From there, it took an unexpected trip to Barcelona. It looks like the person who transported it logged it into a cache there just to record its travel, since he immediately logged it out again. It'll be interesting to see where this one ends up next.