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2011 Vacation Pictures

I finally uploaded the pictures from our vacation earlier in the month. The details about our vacation were already described in a previous post. The pictures have been uploaded into 7 albums grouped in their own category.


Western US Vacation

Yesterday, we arrived home from vacation in the western United States. It was interesting to see a variety of different landscapes and visit some amazing national parks and cities. Our itinerary involved 10 states, 4,527 miles flown, 1,973 miles driven and who knows how many miles walked at the destinations. And for the most part the plan was executed without a hitch. Here is review of our experience (along with a corresponding map):

09/30: We flew from Nashville to Chicago to Seattle to Las Vegas. When we arrived in Vegas, we found out that they didn’t have any cars available in the class I reserved (I thought that was the whole point of making a reservation, but whatever), so they upgraded us to the next class. We ended up with a Jeep. The satellite radio and heated leather seats were very useful and even though I think we could have gotten away without using the four wheel drive, it was nice to have as an option. Lastly, we went to visit Freemont Street, which was incredible.

10/01: We started by going to the top of the Stratosphere to get an overview of Las Vegas. We then went to the Bellagio fountains (which weren’t on at the time) and walked the strip to down near the New York Hotel & Casino. We finished up in Las Vegas by visiting the famous Las Vegas sign. Next, we drove to and visited Hoover Dam. And then we drove to our hotel next to the Grand Canyon.

10/02: We spent the entire morning on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It was an excellent day as the temperatures were in the high 60’s (as compared the 90’s in Vegas). In the afternoon, we drove to Monument Valley, which was also an amazing landscape. Then we made our way to our hotel near Mesa Verde.

10/03: We spent the morning at Mesa Verde. We went on an hour long ranger guided tour of the Cliff Palace, which is the largest cliff dwelling in the park. The tour was really cool and a must if you ever visit Mesa Verde. Then we went to Four Corners, where 6 governing bodies have jurisdictional boundaries: the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah as well as the tribal governments of the Navajo and Ute Nations. We then made our way to our hotel near Arches. On the way, we had intended on visiting Natural Bridges National Monument or Canyonlands National Park, but there wasn’t quite enough time.

10/04: We spent the first half of the day in Arches National Park. It rained that morning and the clouds persisted with windy conditions, but at least the rain had stopped while we were out and about. We drove through all of the paved roads in the park. Some arches you can see from the roads, but to see others you need to hike in. We hiked a little to see a small number of the arches, but I imagine you could spend quite a few days on that task alone. That afternoon we drove to Salt Lake City and that night we had dinner with Uncle Sully’s family. It was good to see them as it had been a while.

10/05: We spent the whole day in Salt Lake on and around Temple Square. The weather was a little more rainy than the previous day, but it still allowed us to have a look around town. Interestingly, we ran into people from home a couple of times during the day. We ate lunch at the Lion House Pantry, which was wonderful. Later while we were in the Tabernacle, we were lucky to see one of the tabernacle organists giving a personal tour to some people during which she played Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. At the end of the day, we went to the Family History Library, where Kara did some genealogical work on one of her lines. She found out a couple new things, but not quite as much as we had hoped for.

10/06: Before leaving Salt Lake, we stopped off at This is the Place Monument. We then left to go to the Grand Teton National Park. It was raining that morning and as we climbed in elevation it turned to snow. Unfortunately, the Tetons were mostly blocked by clouds when we arrived, but it was still enjoyable driving around the park. Though, we think we saw the top of Grand Teton above the clouds after we took off from Bozeman.

10/07: When we were at the Grand Teton visitor center the previous day we noticed that the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park was closed due to weather-caused road conditions. When I called the road condition number early in the morning, all roads in the park were closed. After breakfast, the conditions had improved and the west entrance was open (but still not the south entrance). We decided to drive around the park and enter from the west, which required driving over Teton Pass west of Jackson, WY to go through Idaho to get to West Yellowstone, MT. The pass was a little icy, but activation of the four-wheel drive mode and a very slow pace solved that problem. Otherwise, in Idaho we saw moderate to heavy snow, but we didn’t lose too much time from the detour as the road conditions were good. In fact, we only missed out on the West Thumb Geyser Basin and were able to see everything else we wanted to see. We started with Old Faithful and the surrounding Upper Geyser Basin, then saw the Midway Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Artist Paintpots, and Gibbon Falls. We then drove back to West Yellowstone for the night.

10/08: On our second day in Yellowstone, we started with the Norris Geyser Basin then went to the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We then made our way to the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Caldron. On the way there we saw a herd of 30-50 bison crossing the road very slowly with quite a few cars mixed in. Being boxed in, there really wasn’t anywhere to go, so we nervously waited as a hole opened up to pass the herd. After lunch, we went to the north side of the park to see the Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way there, we came up to a stopped car. After we stopped, it became apparent that they were observing a bear. The bear was lazily making its way towards the road, but the car in front of us erroneously thought this was a good time to follow the bear. At one point, the bear was in front of their car and was almost hit by another car attempting to pass everyone. This caused the bear to jump backwards and eventually make its way back into the forest, after which we passed the car in front of us. Anyway, we went to the Mammoth Hot Springs and finished Yellowstone by exiting through the Roosevelt Arch and driving on to Bozeman, MT.

10/09: We returned our rental car at Bozeman airport and flew from Bozeman to Denver to Nashville.



(View Larger Map)

I’ll post again when the pictures are ready and available for viewing.

Vacation Pictures

I just finished uploading and describing the pictures from our vacation in October. The details about our vacation were already described in a post a week and a half ago. The pictures were uploaded into 6 albums grouped in their own category.


Vacation

Kara and I just returned from vacation today after having spent some time in Washington, D.C. and Clarksburg, West Virginia. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed being away for a while. Here’s a summary of where all we went:

10/15: In the evening, we drove out to Kara’s mother’s house.

10/16: We spent the entire day driving from Kara’s mother’s house to D.C.

10/17: We visited Arlington National Cemetery, Old Post Office tower, Lafayette Square Park, White House (didn’t tour inside), WWII Memorial, Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, FDR Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. That works out to about 8 miles of walking.

10/18: We went up in the Washington Monument, to the National Holocaust Museum, National Archives, and the National Air & Space Museum. In the National Archives we saw the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, and Emancipation Proclamation. Also, we were lucky enough to be there for the last day that they were displaying the Nuremberg Laws.

10/19: We toured the Capitol Building, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court building. Lastly, we went to the Museum of American History, where we saw the original Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Baltimore which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to our national anthem.

10/20: We drove from D.C. to Clarksburg. On the way, we made a small detour in order to visit Gettysburg and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

10/21: We spent the day in Clarksburg visiting a genealogy library where Kara tried to make some progress on one of her family lines. After that, we drove around some of the areas where her ancestors might have lived.

10/22: We went to Cumberland, Maryland to ride a steam locomotive train through the Allegheny mountains. After that we explored Cumberland for a while.

10/23: We spent the day driving from Clarksburg back to Kara’s mom’s house.

10/24: And finally, we made the short drive back from Kara’s mother’s house.

According to our car’s trip computer, we drove a total of 1,980.8 miles lasting 37 hours and 31 minutes (including non-moving time). Not surprisingly, the GPS showed different figures: a total of 2,012.5 miles lasting 37 hours and 22 minutes, of which 33 hours and 34 minutes were actually in motion (which means that 3 hours and 48 minutes were spent going nowhere). Included below is a map of our trip. Eventually, the pictures will be uploaded to the gallery.



(View Larger Map)

Shibboleet

Today’s xkcd is especially clever and humorous. The main character becomes aggravated whilst arguing with someone on tech support and asks to be forwarded to someone who can actually help. The engineer helps him with his problem almost immediately and states that he can use a password, Shibboleet, whenever he needs help in the future. Shibboleet is a portmanteau of Shibboleth and Leet. The word shibboleth “originates from the Hebrew word ’shibbóleth’ (שִׁבֹּלֶת), which literally means the part of a plant containing grains. It derives from an account in [Judges], in which pronunciation of this word was used to distinguish Ephraimites, whose dialect lacked a ["sh" sound], from Gileadites whose dialect did include such a sound.” It was also a subject of an episode of The West Wing.

The author of xkcd has been known in the past to create similar word plays in order to make a joke. My personal favorite is Malamanteau, which is simultaneously a portmanteau and a Malapropism. It was created to make fun of Wikipedia.


xkcd #806 10/15/2010

Migrating from Haloscan and Blogger to Wordpress

Earlier this year, I was informed that Haloscan would be shutting down.  When I created my blog in 2004, Blogger didn’t support comments.  So I set up my blog to use Haloscan’s comment functionality.  Strangely enough, four days later I received an email announcing that Blogger would be shutting down the functionality to publish blogs via FTP, which is the method that I used.  They say that this method only represents about 0.5% of Blogger users, but as one of those one half percent I am annoyed by their decision.  The alternatives were to change to a Blogspot blog or use what they call a Custom Domain, where the blog is hosted on Google’s servers to which you point your domain.  I liked neither of those options because I have my own domain and hosting.  Therefore, due to Haloscan’s closing and Blogger’s changes I decided to install a blog application on my own hosting account.

I looked at a number of blogging applications on opensourceCMS.  They have demos set up where you can use a live system, which makes comparing applications easier.  I decided to go with Wordpress.  I was also looking at Movable Type as it supported static page creation, which is the model that Blogger used.  I heard that Wordpress was a lot easier to work with than Movable Type.  Plus, there is a plug-in for Wordpress (WP Super Cache) that will handle static generation of pages for increased performance if I want (not that I expect that much load on my site).  Installing Wordpress was simple enough: unzip wordpress into a directory, create a database, point the config file to the database, and load the index page.  On the other hand, migrating from Haloscan and Blogger to Wordpress was not as effortless.

Even though both Blogger and Haloscan have an export functionality creating an XML file, neither of these files is supported for import into Wordpress.  There is support in Wordpress for importing Blogger data via the Blogger API, but it didn’t work at first and there still wasn’t a way to get the Haloscan comments into either Blogger or Wordpress.  So it became apparent that I would have to improvise to achieve a solution.  Thanks for nothing, Haloscan and Blogger.  In order to illustrate how ridiculous this process became and perhaps to help anyone facing the same problem, I have included the steps I had to take to migrate from both Haloscan and Blogger to Wordpress.

  1. Install Wordpress:  This is the easy part of the process and no further elaboration is needed.
  2. Temporarily convert to Blogspot:  Wordpress supports importing Blogger data, but it is not able to import blogs that use FTP publishing, which is what mine used.  This doesn’t make any sense as the post data is in their database regardless of the method you use to publish the data.  So, in order to use the import feature, I had to convert the blog to a Blogspot blog so that the Blogger API could export the data to Wordpress.
  3. Import blog into Wordpress:  Once the previous step was taken, importing the post information into Wordpress can be done by clicking Import in the Tools menu and using the Blogger option.  It would have been nice if they had some documentation describing the requirements for using the import feature.
  4. Convert back to FTP mode:  Converting the Blogger blog back to using FTP publishing isn’t necessarily required, but I didn’t want to leave the old blog on Blogspot.
  5. Export Wordpress posts & import into Access:  At this point, I had all of the posts in Wordpress without any comments.  If I was using Blogger’s comment functionality or if I had been able to import Haloscan comments into Blogger, Wordpress’s import would have imported the comments also.  So, in order to know the post ID in the Wordpress database with which to associate the comments when I import them, using phpMyAdmin I exported the post table from the MySQL database to Excel.  I then imported this data in an Access database.
  6. Export Blogger & Haloscan to XML:  Haloscan used the Blogger post number to link a comment to a post.  So, not only did I need to export the Haloscan comments to an XML file, but I also needed to export the Blogger post data in order to know the Blogger post ID.
  7. Import Blogger & Haloscan into Access:  I used XMLFox to convert the exported XML files into Access databases.  After copying the tables from those databases into the database with the Wordpress post data, I finally had all the data in one place.
  8. Export comments from Access into Wordpress:  As already mentioned, the link between the Blogger data and the Haloscan data is the Blogger post ID.  It would have been nice if the Wordpress import feature had imported the Blogger ID as a custom field for each post, but maybe they figured that there was no reason to make things easy for me.  The only other option I saw was to use the post title to join the Blogger/Haloscan data to the Wordpress data.  This necessitated finding and eliminating any duplicate post titles before beginning the whole process.  Joining these tables together, I created a query to output the comment data in the structure of the comments table in Wordpress.  Before exporting the query results, I had to do some data sanitizing as the Haloscan XML file imported into Access had plenty of characters that needed to be escaped before an import into MySQL was possible.  After that was completed, I exported the comment data to a CSV file, which was subsequently imported into the Wordpress comments table.
  9. Update post count in Wordpress:  After all of the comment data was imported, the posts were still not showing the number of comments even though the comments were appearing when viewing the post permalink.  As opposed to being calculated when loading the blog, the comment count for a post is stored in the post table.  So, I created a query in Access to determine the comment count for each post and assemble a SQL statement to update the comment count for each relevant record in the post table in the Wordpress MySQL database.  After running those update queries in phpMyAdmin, the comment counts displayed correctly and the process is finally complete.

Oh, and did I mention that I had to do that for 3 blogs that needed to be migrated?  Yeah, not fun.  But after all of that was complete, the fun began in customizing Wordpress.  I downloaded a theme I liked, activated, and customized it all in the admin interface.  Since the theme is done in PHP, it is dynamic and allows you do a lot of different things, as opposed to Blogger templates which are in HTML only.  In fact, I am contemplating using an additional Wordpress installation in the root of our site as the content management system for those pages using Wordpress’s page functionality.

Snow!

It snowed and iced yesterday as everyone living near me already knows. Kara and I went out to play in the snow/ice this morning, and we enjoyed ourselves. I took some pictures, which I have uploaded into the gallery. You can browse them in the album named January 2010 Snow.

Europe

Kara and I returned from Europe this last Sunday. We were quite tired. I was busy with work this last week and have just now gotten all of the pictures posted. We had an incredible time. I think we were able to do and experience a lot. I felt that my mission in Germany gave me a small taste of Europe, but now I have experienced more of the variety that Europe has to offer. I was able to add to my coin collection. I have now 8 non-US currencies represented. It was wonderful to experience other cultures and we enjoyed meeting Kara’s relatives in Nuremberg. We were also glad to return back to our great nation as we were tired and wanted things to be back to normal (not to mention that living out of a suitcase gets old after a while).

Anyway, I uploaded the pictures into their own category in the gallery. Or if you like, here is a list of the individual albums:

Refer to my previous post and the map below for a summary of what all we did. Or you can read Kara’s blog posts that she posted while we were traveling (listed below).




(View larger map)

Itinerary

On Monday, I made the travel arrangements for my work trip to Europe in June. Originally, they said we would be there 4-6 weeks. But they later changed that to a week (although there is the possibility that I could go back later in the year if more time is required for the project). So, Kara and I figured that we would add another week on to that for vacation. During much of that time we will be staying with Kara’s cousin Rebecca in Nuremberg, Germany. Anyway, I figured I would share our planned itinerary (we may add or subtract from this, but this is what it looks like right now).

6/18 – 6/19: Flying from Nashville to Manchester, England via Atlanta arriving just before 9am on 6/19

6/19: At work in Manchester

6/20 – 6/21: The latest info is that we won’t be working on the weekend, so we might take a train down to London on 6/20, we’ll see

6/22 – 6/25: At work in Manchester

6/26: First day of vacation; we will spend the day in Manchester

6/27: Taking an early train up to Edinburgh, Scotland for the day (returning in the evening)

6/28: Flying from Manchester to Nuremberg, Germany via Zurich, Switzerland

6/29: Visit Neuschwanstein Castle (and since we’ll be so close to the border we were thinking of crossing into Austria just because)

6/30 – 7/1: Spend two days showing Kara around Berlin, Germany

7/2: Visit Prague, Czech Republic (while I was in Germany, a number of people there insisted that I should visit Prague sometime)

7/3: So far, I am leaving this day open; since we’ll be in Nuremberg, maybe Rebecca will want to show us around Nuremberg or maybe we’ll do nothing, who knows

7/4: In the evening, flying from Nuremberg to Zurich; then 11.5 hour overnight layover till flight next day (there was no other option that didn’t cost way too much)

7/5: Busy day flying Zurich to Manchester, Manchester to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Nashville

Re-routed

Today I traveled to Dallas, TX for work, but an interesting thing happened. As mentioned in my facebook status, I booked flights from “Nashville to O’Hare & O’Hare to Dallas/Fort Worth. I normally fly American Airlines direct to Dallas, but I had to use credit from an unused trip on United Airlines.” While I was waiting for the first flight, an agent at the gate desk called a couple names and mine was one of them. She explained that the flight was overweight. She offered to put me on a direct flight from another carrier(i.e. the American flight I would have taken) and give me a flight voucher. Who would say no to this (and was I selected randomly or do they think I am particularly heavy)? On other occasions I have experienced, when they have overbooked or are overweight the airline would want you to take their next flight that day, or in the case of my return from San Francisco in April, they offered to put you up in a hotel and take their first flight the next day (I was tempted to take that deal, but Kara wouldn’t have been happy with that decision). This one, however, was great in that it was all positive. My itinerary changed from having a layover to a direct flight, I got there 3.5 hours earlier, and I didn’t have to fly on a regional jet. Plus, there’s the free flight voucher. For my troubles, they bribed me with a voucher for free round-trip airfare anywhere in the contiguous 48 (well, anywhere that United flies). So, now I have the fun task of deciding how to use this voucher (which has to be used by 5/17/2010). Too bad I can’t use it for Kara’s airfare on our trip to Europe in June. I did have the idea that I could use it to fly somewhere interesting and add some states to my states visited list. That would be fun (perhaps not to Kara). Anyone have suggestions as to where to go?