Friday, July 06, 2007

The Adventure Continues!

Man, did I sleep well last night. I think that may have been the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. I didn't even sleep that long and I woke up feeling completely rested. It turns out that there were in fact vacancies in the hotel I was staying at for anotehr night, so I cancelled with the Super 8 I had reservations for, and booked another night with this one, the Ramada in Black Hawk. I did have to change rooms, but it's all good. I recommend this place.

After getting in the swim I promised myself this morning, I set out for Mt. Rushmore in the middle of the Black Hills. There is some really pretty country in there, but it is really hard to get a good picture of it. Also, the air is fresh and clean and actually have a nice pine scent from all the trees.

Mount Rushmore is about what you would expect, which should be something awesome. I don't really know what to say about it that you wouldn't already know. I'm sure you've seen pictures (and if you haven't, look below). I spent a lot of time there, though. There is a trail that kind of goes into the woods closer to the monument, and museums, and all kinds of stuff around the site. It was also only $8 to get an annual pass to get in, which makes it a real bargain. I didn't feel it was overly crowded either. Definitely a highlight of this trip (which is good, because it's kind of reason I came out here).

After Rushmore, I made the short hop down to the Crazy Horse memorial. This one was started in 1948 and is still a work in progress. It was started when Lakota elders asked a man named Korczak, who had worked on Rushmore, to make a monument to the famous chief. He started working on it all by himself, and later with his sons. The size of the monument dwarfs Rushmore, but it is completely funded by private donation, as the artists (following Korczak's lead) will not except any kind of govenrment funding. It is slow going and no one knows when it will be done, but their goal is to only continue making progress for however long it takes.

It was getting late in theday by this point, but I still wanted to see Devil's Tower in Wyoming, about an hour and a half from Rapid City. My plan was to head directly north through the Hills from Crazy Horse, and pass through Deadwood and Sturgis, but somehow I made a wrong turn and ended up back in Rapis City. It was a setback, but I pressed on and made it to Devil's Tower about 7:30, just in time to see it at sunset. It's a pretty cool effect to see it at that time, but it did mean I didn't get to spend much time there. I really didn't want to be hanging around the park after dark. But I did get some pictures, which is what I really wanted.

Ok, seeing Devil's Tower at sunset: GOOD. Making your way back to I-90 after the sun has set: NOT SO GOOD. Well, it could have been better. See, Devil's Tower is a bit off the beaten track and about a 40 minute drive from I-90 through some winding roads through the hills. Really pretty stuff, even in twilight. But those roads can be a little nerve-racking, especially if you just want to get out of there before it gets completely dark. Strangely, on the way there and the way back, I hardly saw any other cars, so I was feeling kind of lonesome. Oh yeah, and when it gets harder to see the wildlife in the dark, that can be kind of harrowing. Two occassions on the way back I had deer trying to cross the road right in front of me. And I didn't know when another might jump out; maybe too close for me to stop in time. Not fun.

But I did make it back to my hotel in one piece, just in time for me to get in a swim of about 3 minutes before they closed the pool at 10:00. It felt good just to get a dip in though. I had dinner at the Sonic drive-in I passed on the way down to Rushmore. The food there is pretty good and there aren't too many drive-ins anymore. They either need to put on in Minnesota, or stop showing us their commercials. It looked like it was a hang out for all the teenager hot rodders in town, though. I saw quite a few muscle/sport cars around, including someone with a real classic-style hot rod (open engine, big tires in the back, you know what I'm talking about).

On the way back I took a moment to look at the sky. They have a lot more stars out here! I didn't even manage to find a particularly dark spot and could immediately see the Milky Way. Also, the moment I looked up I immediately saw a shooting star and a satellite making its way across the sky. That was special.

Tomorrow, I hit up Wall Drug and make a second pass at the Badlands. The I head home, probably getting in pretty late.

Anyway, this is getting long and I need to get to bed. Here are some pictures:

Mt. Rushmore:

Crazy Horse Memorial:

Devil's Tower:

Q. How can you tell a car is happy?
A. You can see the bugs in its grill.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Adventure in the Hills

The odometer says I drove 671.8 miles today. I guess it was kind of a spontaneous decision that put me here. I only made arrangements last night, though I had been kicking the idea around for a couple days. Nonetheless, here I am in Rapid City, South Dakota, gateway to the West.

I started out at about 8:30 AM this morning. That's important, because I found out that Rapid City is a really frickin' long way away from Minneapolis. I made good time though, stopping in Owatonna for breakfast, then in Blue Earth for gas. I intended to stop in Souix Falls for lunch, but somehow I missed the exit. You'd think the exits for a town like Soiux Falls would be more obvious, but you would be wrong (there was also road construction going on all over the place). Instead I got off at a small town called Salem, SD. The road side promised food, and it looked like a fairly large town (I've seen smaller towns with a Subway), but there were no grab-and-go type places anywhere to be found. I found a "Farmer's Market", which was really just a grocery store and managed to put together the implements to make some peanut butter sandwiches. The local car dealership did have a Shelby GT 500 sitting in its lot, though. No fast food, but some amazing fast cars. Strange town.

After eating my makeshift lunch at a nearby rest stop, I continued on to Mitchell. No trip out this way is complete without a visit to Mitchell's Corn Palace. Yes, they use real corn on the outside and it is redecorated every year.

It was a logn way yet to the Badlands. I pulled into the park at about 6:00 PM local time (Mountain Time) when the sun was just starting to get low. Now if you've never seen the Badlands, you really need to. Amazing landscapes. And they are even more amazing at dusk. The only problem is there is a lot to see, and that dusky sunlight does not last long. It took me almost 3 hours to get through and I still felt rushed. I will probably have to hit again on my way back.

I did make a quick stop in Wall Drug for dinner, just before they closed down the grill in their cafe. I had a buffalo hot dog and a side of some of the best fries I've ever tasted. I also had several cups of their famous ice water, which I desperately needed. It looked like they were shutting down though (it was about 9:30 at this point) and I was anxious to get to my hotel, so I didn't stay long. I will also have to hit that on my way back.

I am currently staying at a Ramada in Black Hawk, which is just outside Rapid City. All I wanted was to get to my hotel and go for a swim, but they close the pool at 10:00. I didn't get in until about 10:20. The scally wags. I guess I'll have to go in the morning. They do have sort of a casino/bar (read: small room with some video machines and they serve bottled beer), and that Budwesier Select tasted damn good!

That's pretty much sums up the day. It was a lot of driving and I'm kind of tired. Tomorrow: Mt. Rushmore, the Black Hills, and maybe Devil's Tower.

Here are some pictures from the day, though I don't know how to do captions on this (I have a lot more):

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Random Thought

Have you ever considered that Pokémon, Nintendo's hit franchise about kids who raise and train creatures to fight other creatures, rather endorses and glorifies the idea of sports such as cock fighting and dog fighting? Just an odd thought that struck me today while I was out watering my garden. That is all.

Carry on.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pining for 'Roos

It can be fun to surf around on Flickr. There are a lot of pictures out there and some very talented photographers. A lot fo times you can find the photos involving similar topics grouped together in what they call "pools".

I found there is a Wollongong pool. For those just tuning in, I did a semester of study abroad in Wollongong back in 2003. I also went back for a visit about a year and a half ago. God, I still miss it. It is just a wonderful place. Looking through the pictures in that pool there brought back a lot of great memories.

Damn, now I want to go back again. Anyone have a winning lottery ticket I can borrow?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Beyond Wayzata

I decided to go for a drive today (Monday...I'm not sure what timestamp is going to get put on here as it is after midnight). The weather outside was beautiful - perfect for a cruise with the top down in my convertible - and I had some things swimming around in my head that I needed to try and come to terms with, or at least forget about for a while, and I just didn't feel like sitting around inside anymore.

I started out heading south on Highway 100 then cut over westward on I-494. Then it occurred to me that I couldn't remember the last time I had been out on west on Highway 12 beyond Wayzata. So that's exactly what I did.

The Twin Cities are curiously designed in that they have suburbs stretching out for quite some ways to the south (Eagan, Burnsville, Apple Valley) and some distance to the north (Blaine, Champlin, Coon Rapids, etc.), but if you head just a little bit west of the freeway loop (that one formed by I-694 and I-494), they just stop. If you take Highway 12 out west, you will pass through Wayzata, which is only about 15 minutes from downtown, and then the city just stops. You are suddenly in the country passing by farms and seemingly untouched wilderness.

It's actually kind of cool. You don't have to go very far to get out of the city, if that's what you really want to do. All the towns along the way, even though you are still in Hennepin county, feel like small towns far away from the city even though it is literally just down the road. There are a lot of lakes out that way too, so there is some pretty scenery. I really should remember to bring a camera along when I make excursions like this.

I just followed 12 for a while; about 40 miles I think. It was peaceful and it felt great to just be driving along with the top down and not having to deal with the world for bit. I made it as far as Montrose before deciding it was time to turn around. I made a stop in Delano on the way back to have dinner at the local Dairy Queen. They've improved their burgers. The sign says Delano has a population of about 3800 people, but it is one heck of a bustling town. It could be all the traffic coming through on 12, but I'm not sure.

So that pretty much concluded my trek. Not one of my more adventurous excursions, but I wasn't really looking to get lost or anything (that can be fun sometimes though), just to get away for a very short while. And that's easy to do if you just head west.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

New Wheels!

I got some new wheels yesterday. Check it out:

Now I just gotta work up to being able to ride it any appreciable distance. Prior to this, I haven't ridden a bike since I was about 12, so I got some work to do. My god, I am out of shape. But I am going to work on it.

On a side note, yes, I realize it's been a month since I have made a post here. This is right after I said I wouldn't take a month for my next post. So much for promises (oh, wait, I specifically said I wouldn't make any promises. HA!). I have a few other things lined up to post about though, so hopefully it won't be that long for my next post.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Steven Lisberger Where Are You?

If you haven't seen it, Tron is a movie about a computer programmer who gets sucked into the inner world of computers where he meets some of the programs he created (yes, they are people)and teams up with them to take on the Master Control program (the main villain) in order to escape. Almost the entire world inside the computer is done in CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), and is pretty well-done. That may not sound impressive by today's standards, but this movie was made in 1982 and such a feat had never been done before. It wasn't a bad movie otherwise either.

I was talking to a friend tonight about various topics, including movies we had seen recently. He mentioned that he had watched Tron with another guy and had really liked it, so they decided to look at what other movies the director had done. Surely the director of such a ground-breaking movie would have quite a list of films on his resume. Here it is from IMDB:

Animalympics - 1980
Tron - 1982
Hot Pursuit - 1987
Slipstream - 1989

After that? Nothing. He disappears from the radar. Well, ok, he apparently came back to help Buena Vista make Tron 2.0, a computer game that came out in 2003. But otherwise, his film career drops off the map.

So we figured that Wikipedia, tireless font of knowledge that it is, would have a good comprehensive article on what happened to this man. Here it is. Here is another article on him from elsewhere on the 'Net. That's about the most we were able to find on him. If you can't be botehred to link the links, let me put it this way: We didn't find squat.

He just disappeared. He made a spectacular revolutionary film and then just disappeared. No one seems to know where he went. Did he retire from filmmaking and take a crappy desk job somewhere? Did he go on safari in the African Serengetti and stay there? Did he get abducted by aliens? Who knows? It's a mystery.

Steven Lisberger, if you are reading this, please let somebody know where you are. It's getting late and we're worried.

Monday, April 16, 2007


A coworker sent this to me the other day. I think it may be the most awesome thing I have ever seen.

This was actually posted by another blogger, who also explains a bit about where this picture comes from. As if Chuck Norris needed an explanation.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

An Update (Can you Believe It?)

I guess I have been neglecting this blog. It's been, what, a month since my last post? Sorry about that. I really don't even have a good excuse beyond my own damn laziness. I've been busy lately, or at least feel like I've been busy. I can't say I've been working excessively long hours at work, or have any major projects sucking up my time. I have just felt very lazy lately and haven't really done anything about it. Perhaps I should get more sleep?

Writing has never been very easy for me. The act of gathering together my many scattered thoughts and ideas and putting them together into an actual cogent sentence takes some amount of effort and inspiration. I guess I haven't really felt very inspired in the past month. This is not to say that I haven't had stuff to write about. I just didn't know how to write about it in a manner that would be interesting and/or entertaining for the reader (that's you), and there's really not much point in writing about something if I am just going to bore you to tears with it. Of course, I probably already have done that, but at least I bored you with effort!

A couple weeks ago I went back to my old college (University of Minnesota - Morris, in case you were wondering) and attended Jazz Fest 29. I think I wrote about Jazz Fest last year, but I will give an overview of what this event is to prevent you from having to search through the archives. Jazz Fest is an annual event at UMM and is the biggest event on campus. It lasts 3 days, over the course of which the school hosts a number of high school jazz bands who come and play and receive critique and advice from clinicians and the guest artists invited in, who are very accomplished jazz musicians themselves. This year we had Chris Vadala (saxophone) and Allen Vizzutti (trumpet). Then, in the evening the college's own jazz bands (there are 4, plus a large number of small combos) give a performance along with the guest artists. The highlight, for the UMM graduate jazzer like me anyway, is the Alumni Band that gets to play during the Saturday night performance. UMM has an awesome jazz program and I think it's a testiment to that that so many of us are drawn to come back every year to be a part of it again, even if for only a couple nights. It was an absolute blast. It is worth noting that this is the first Jazz Fest without Doc Carlson, the great director for the Morris music program. Doc started Jazz Fest 29 years ago and had been going without break ever since. This year is his first sabbatical. Much deserved, but it will be good to see him back next year (not to say that the bands didn't sound great without him; the interim director has done a spectacular job this year!).

I also got to hang out a bit with my college roommate, who moved back to Morris last summer to work for the ambulance service. He has kids now. It was good to see him, but very strange for me to see him as a father, since I have lived in perpetual bachelorhood since graduation (incidentally, I'm available).

I have been on call this weekend, which has kind of put a damper on my fun. For those not familar with this concept, it means I get to carry a pager for work and wait for it to go off so I can go fix someone's problem. It doesn't usually keep one really busy (the system my group supports has gotten a lot more stable than it used to be), but it does mean I am limited in my actions, as the pager can go off at any time. Case in point, a bunch of people went out to a comedy show last night, but I couldn't, as a theater is not really where you want to be if you have to answer a page (we try to maintain a 20 minute response time). Of course, the pager didn't go off all night, so I ended up missing it for nothing. The pager would have gone off if I had gone though. It only goes off when least convenient, like at 7:30 on Saturday morning (2 pages at 7:30 and another at 8:00 yeasterday, grrrr...) or when you are ready to eat dinner. You might say the pager and I have a rather tenuous relationship. The least it could do is buy me some flowers and say it's sorry.

I'm not really sure if there is anything else to write about at this point. I mean, sure, there is stuff that has happened, but nothing that I think would be terribly interesting, or could be made interesting. I've probably rambled on long enough though. I'll try and make sure it isn't another month before my next update, but I make no promises.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Magnicent Return of Sol

Today was a good day. One could actually go outside today and feel the sun coming down. Now, if you don't live in Minnesota or the cold reaches of the world, you may not be able to appreciate just how wonderful this feels. To go outside and actually be able to feel warmth. It is not something to take for granted. Especially when we were buried under 2 feet of snow just a week ago.

I realize that this past winter was actually milder than most we have had in the past, but for some reason it just hit me harder. We only had about a 2 week stretch where it was really and truly cold, below 0 degrees (on the Fahrenheit scale), but those 2 weeks seemed to last forever. It was miserable. An ever-present, permeating cold that you just could not get rid of.

Today the temperature reached into the 50s. Some might consider it sad that that temperature is considered warm, but I almost felt like I could go without a jacket today. I took a walk around the Arbor Lakes Mall in Maple Grove, an outdoor mall, and it was just terrific. I believe Spring is almost here and I welcome it with arms wide open.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Snow Storm!

It's supposed to be snowing hard for the next few days. It just started tonight. Nice, wet, sticky, heavy stuff. It's going to be fun shovelling out tomorrow morning. The wether report I just read is also listing "freezing fog" as a condition happening right now. I don't know what freezing fog, but it sounds Just took some pictures of the the snow coming down. Not sure how they will come out here, but it is worth a shot. Note, the little flecks in the picture aren't all artifacts from the low-light conditions.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Game Theory

I was over at looking through the the forums (the "goons" there often post some funny/interesting stuff) when I ran across an interesting problem someone posted there involving game theory. If you don't want to you don't want to click the above the link, here is a copy of the problem:

A priestess at Delphi has a record of .99 accuracy in her predictions of human behavior. On an altar before you are two boxes: an opaque one whose contents you cannot determine and a transparent one obviously containing a silver coin, which you judge to have the market value of $1000. She gives you two choices: (1) take only the opaque box or (2) take both boxes. As she correctly tells you, she has or has not previously placed inside the opaque box a large gold coin worth 1000 times the silver one, depending upon whether she expects you, as a rational agent, to take only the opaque box or both boxes. Should you take only the opaque box or both boxes, knowing that 99 out of 100 agents who took both found the opaque box empty? Or should you forego the silver coin and take only the opaque box, knowing that some- although only 1 out of 100- came up with nothing? Why?

The problem is more complex than it looks on the surface, and that becomes apparent if you read through the thread on that discussion. It is easy to say "take both boxes" (a guarenteed somehting is better than a chance at nothing) but then there are a few goons in the thread that show mathematically how it is better to take only the opaque box. Very interesting stuff.

Another game theory problem I remember is called the Prisoner's Dilemma. Basically, you and an adversary are competing for a prize. You have to make one of two choices: either cooperate with your adversary, or betray them. If you both choose to cooperate, you get to split the prize evenly, but if you choose to betray while your opponent chooses to cooperate, you get the whole thing (it works the other way as well). If you both betray each other, you get nothing. So what is your best option?

There was a game show based on this problem at one time called Friend or Foe. It wasn't a very good show, but I thought the premise they used for it was cool. I haven't studied much on game theory (will have to add it to my to-do list), but I dig what I have seen.

Addendum: It occurs to me now, though (after reading further), that if you can mathematically show that it is always better to take only the opaque box, wouldn't the "rational agent" always go for it? Therefore, wouldn't the oracle choose not to put the gold coin in that box 99% of the time? Therefore, the rational agent would be best off going for both boxes. But knowing that changes the way the rational agent should behave in the first place, and you end up right back at square one.

Apparently, this is a variation on Newcomb's Paradox, which is explained very nicely by Wikipedia (Wikipedia rocks!). Go ahead and read it.

I also just realized that certain readers (you know who you are) may find that I am sticking my foot in my mouth big time by posting this, or at least being inconsistent. I don't know how to reconcile that other than to say that if my college philosophy course had gone into game theory, I might have been able to take it more seriously.