Sunday, March 30, 2008


Well, we got in our first canoe outing of the year this weekend. We don't do any serious tripping or anything, but I love to get out on the water and forget about my high-tech job once in a while.

Speedboats on the lake disturb my reverie, but they're not nearly so bad as a cell phone that rings all the time.

Charlotte's not got the best selection of water for paddling---especially not in drought conditions---but we've been making the best of it, rather than whine about what we haven't got.

Moving to an apartment put a light cramp in my paddling plans: canoe storage space is just not a standard feature in apartments in Charlotte. But a friend generously agreed to store the canoe for a few months, so we didn't have to sell it. I'm driving around with a canoe on top of my truck right now, I want to try and get a few hours on the water before taking my canoe back to storage.

Anyhow, paddling always gets me fired up about paddling.

Last year I decided to carve myself a decent paddle, which has not gone very well. I haven't actually ruined my paddle yet, but progress is slow; and realistically, it'll be even slower now that I've not got a workshop, have gotten rid of almost all my tools, and don't have a dedicated space to work in.

The joys of urban living.

So until my home-made paddle is finished (i.e. for the foreseeable future), I've decided I'm going to buy a decent paddle. Or even better, I'm going to try and figure out a way to have someone else buy it for me.

Random thought: my birthday is next month.

So I've been more and more playing with the "Indian Stroke" when paddling, and I really like it. But I want to get a narrower blade to work with. The standard el cheapo paddles I've seen in the various outdoor stores have really wide blades. Worse, they don't offer higher-end paddles with narrow blades. If you want a cheap paddle, the blade is wide; if you want a more expensive paddle, you either get a bent shaft or some fancy composite construction, and the blade's still wide: there isn't the option of a narrow blade. It seems blade shape is not a configurable option in the various outdoor stores I've checked.

Now to be fair, this is North Carolina. Here "paddling" almost exclusively means "kayak." This is not exactly canoe country. There is much wider selection of kayak paddles than canoe paddles.

But I've spent some time looking online, and I've found a couple contenders for my new paddle. Here are a few I'd really like to try out, not in any real order:

  • Algonquin Guide by Turtle Paddle Works. It has a narrow blade (5.75") and a "Northwoods" grip. It's also got leather whipping for padding if you lever the paddle against the gunwale of the canoe, which I do frequently.

  • Ottertail, also by Turtle. This has a smaller blade than their "Guide", and a more traditional grip. It also costs quite a bit less.

  • Porter's Woodworking has a nice looking Ottertail, but I can't get a good look at it on the site, so I'm not sure it makes it to the finals, although it could be something really special. Still, the blade's a little wider than the 5" I'm looking for. Maybe I'll class this one a semi-finalist.

  • Racine by Shaw and Tenny. This paddle looks really very cool. It's a little cheaper than the Guide by Turtle, and it's got the shape I want: 5" blade and all.

I've seen a few other offerings, but these appear to be the closest to what I want. And best of all, they're all made by small shops. And here's where it gets cool: those paddles all cost less than $150. That doesn't sound impressive, except I was looking at paddles this weekend in the outdoor stores, and they go up to $290. $150 for a traditional canoe paddle is much less than I expected.

I'm leaning toward the Guide by Turtle as my #1 choice, and the Racine by Shaw and Tenny as my #2. Sadly, Turtle won't ship to the USA, so I may have to find a retailer (like Rutabaga) if I go with the Guide. Both of those shops are the sort of thing I like to support: small artisan businesses.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ox in demand?

So I recently updated my online resume in anticipation of relocating north and west. You'd think I was giving away free beer: my cell phone's been ringing madly, and I'm getting piles of email from headhunters and internal recruiters.

Apparently Unix gurus are in demand right now. Who knew?

That's kind of cool, I feel very flattered. Now if only they weren't all positions in the Southeast...

If anyone wants an updated resume of the Ox to hand out to wealthy employers looking to over-pay a computer guy, feel free to email or comment.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Train up a child

This morning, over steak and eggs; Ames asked my youngest daughter, "Do you know what people celebrate on Easter?"

My youngest daughter replied, "Well, it's just a legend, it didn't really happen, but a Goddess came out of an egg. And they named it 'Easter' after the Goddess."

I was so proud.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Like a bird on a wire

My daughter wanted to visit the Carolina Raptor Center, so we took the kids there yesterday. The center is bigger than it looks, hiding in woods in the Latta Plantation.

The gate is guarded by a metal raptor

The raptor center has miles of trail through the woods

And various mini-theaters for demonstrations and lectures

Then, interspersed in the trails are various aviaries, with their inhabitants

The aviaries are enclosed in pretty serious chain link or plastic fencing, which caused no small amount of frustration among people with cameras. I resorted to taking manual shots with a telephoto lens. Some of the shots turned out pretty well

Others had some interference

It was nice to hear eagles shriek again: there were eagles nesting across the street from our house when I was growing up, and they always woke me up with their early-morning shrieking.

So all in all, a good day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Pills and Peppermints

Granddad died when I was four. I don't have a lot of memories of him, but I have a few.

I remember once he was staying with us, and he had the small bedroom next to mine (we eventually ripped out the wall between them and merged them into a single room). I remember getting up early in the morning to go visit Granddad in his room (which I'm sure he appreciated). He would start the day with his pills: he'd open a pill bottle and take a handful of various tablets: I assume he put all his prescriptions in a single bottle for ease of travel. There were always peppermints in that handful, so he would take out "my pills" and give them to me, then take his own.

I was in my twenties before I realized he had to have put peppermints in his pill bottle beforehand so he could share them with us kids.

Granddad used to shave with me too: he would shave with his electric shaver, then I would.

I'm sure he had his warts, but from a four-year-old's perspective, Granddad was pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Random bumpings

This last week has been busy, but in a good way. A couple slight incidents bear relating:

We stopped at Arby's last Tuesday night. We were planning on taking a quick trip out to Costco to cash in our annual rebate cheque from our Costco AmEx card, so Ames and the girls picked me up from work and we headed out there. The road between work and Costco is pretty solidly packed that that time, so we tried to take an alternate route and ended up way out in the middle of suburban neighbourhoods I didn't recognize. Apparently navigation is something we need to work on...

At any rate, we finally found ourselves, but by that time we were pretty hungry. We were dead in front of an Arby's, so we pulled in there to eat.

We had the pleasure of receiving the worst service I've ever had anywhere. Even by the admittedly low standards of a fast-food chain, this service was terrible. Probably because the people there were apparently incapable of seeing the painfully obvious. At one point in the ordering process, we had this gem:

Server: What type of sauce would you like for your popcorn chicken?
Ames: What are my options?
Server: Barbecue, Honey Mustard...
Ames: I'll have Barbecue.
Server: For what?
Ames: For whatever it was you were asking about.

Or this little jewel:

Server: Did you order drinks?
Ox: Yes, three regular, two large.
Server: Did you get cups?
Ox: No.
Server: Did you want some?

I was speechless.

Then, a couple nights ago, we had dinner with some of Ames' relatives. I love this couple: they're constant fun. But I almost died when he said:
Eat up, Ox, we don't have a cat or nothin'

I still can't repeat that remark without bursting into laughter. I have no idea why that seemed so funny.

My youngest sure enjoyed spending time with her kin. They don't live far from us, but that's the first time we've ever seen them outside large family gatherings. We need to fix that: it won't be long until we're in the True North and those opportunities will be gone.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Saturday, March 1, 2008


So I just got a shipment of books from Amazon. I love books, and since I'm self-employed, I budget for several work-related books a year. It's a legitimate tax deduction, a genuine need for a programmer, and it's a fun way to spend some "business" budget. Everyone wins.

I'll end up writing a review of each of these eventually, but I thought I'd just share the titles:

  • The Little Schemer, The Seasoned Schemer (both by by Daniel P. Friedman and Matthias Felleisen), and The Reasoned Schemer (by Daniel P. Friedman, William E. Byrd, and Oleg Kiselyov). I've been wanting to buy the "Schemer" books for quite some time: they're probably the strangest and best books on programming available. They're an introduction to software programming in Scheme (a Lisp dialect) written almost entirely as Socratic dialogues. I bought A Little Java, A Few Patterns by Felleisen and Friedman last year, which is an attempt to do something similar with Java. These books are brilliant. I can hardly wait to get going on them. We don't use Scheme at work, but the whole point of these books is not the learn a language, but to learn how to think about programming. That's definitely worth the investment of time and effort.

  • Programming Erlang: Software for a Concurrent World by Joe Armstrong. Erlang is not a new language, but has been getting press and buzz in the last couple years. It's all about massive concurrency and distributed systems: it was developed by Ericsson to program telecom switches. I don't use Erlang in day-to-day work, but I wanted to get into some of the Erlang philosophy on concurrency, so I bought the book. Interestingly, Erlang seems to force you into doing what you're supposed to do in concurrent Java. I'm not expert on Java concurrency, but I'm above-average, concurrency being an interest of mine. Maybe I'll figure out a way to start using Erlang at work, but even if I can't, getting a glimpse at how Erlang does it is really helping me see how I ought to use Java in the context of concurrency.

  • Higher-Order Perl: Transforming Programs with Programs by Mark Jason Dominus. Wow. My Perl is good (even "very good" or "fluent"), but this is a whole new level. Admittedly, I've figured out a lot of his tricks on my own, but this is an incredible book describing how to use functional programming techniques in Perl. It's almost like "How to use Perl like it's Lisp." This is an amazing book. I've been wanting to buy this for several months, and it was worth the wait. I do use Perl day-to-day, and my Perl is really very good. But this book will really help me ratchet up the level of my daily Perl grind.

  • Expert Spring MVC and Web Flow by Seth Ladd, Darren Davison, Steven Devijver, and Colin Yates. I use Spring daily, and we've been slipping some Spring MVC in here and there at work. This book is supposedly the best on the subject, and I've been wanting to pick it up.

  • Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code by Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, John Brant, William Opdyke, and Don Roberts. I end up with a lot of refactoring assignments at work, I finally decided to buy the definitive book on the subject. This is one I intend to read cover-to-cover.

So I have a lot of fun reading to do.

By the way, if you like books and you haven't tried it, you might want to check out LibraryThing. It's a great online application to track and maintain a virtual catalogue of all your books. I love it.