Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow Commute

Frequent readers of this blog (hey you!) will know that I frequently commute to work by bicycle, do not like letting bad weather stop me, and love playing in the snow. 

So you will likely not be surprised to read that when I woke up to see an inch of snow on the ground, and a temperature of 14F, on a weekday, that I immediately saw it as an opportunity to try something new:  biking to work in the snow.

I've never biked in snow before so I didn't know what to expect, but one never knows unless one tries, so I figured "what they hey", and hit the bike shed.  I grabbed my mountain bike, as the thicker, knobby tires would afford more grip.  Despite technically being on pavement the entire way, I figured it would feel more like off-roading.  So armed with an off-road ride, extra gloves, and a heightened sense of adventure, I headed out the door and down the road.

I brought along my camera to document the experience.  

I took a video of my normal commute in decent weather last year(-ish) so if you want to see what its normally like, click here.

My first stop was along the bridge in the middle of the Greenway.  It seemed like a scenic place to take a break and enjoy the crisp wintery air.

The roads were covered in snow, but the cold temps ensured the ice wasn't that slippery (pro tip:  ice only gets slippery closer to freezing, and gets less slippery as the temperature drops).  The snow was crunchy so my tires got a surprisingly good grip.  I only spun my tires a couple times.  I never felt like I was about to slip out of control.
This was the condition of the roads for the majority of my commute.
Stopping for a mug shot to prove it was me on the ride.
As I was cresting the large hill on Pennton Ave, I noticed that a (perhaps 'the') snow plow was behind me (I wasn't sure this town actually had a snow plow, not sure it has more than one).

The plow was not laying down any salt or sand, so all it was really doing was clearing off the crunchy loose snow and making things more slick.   I was probably better off staying in front of it the whole way, but after getting back to the bottom of the hill I stopped to let it pass.
Finally arriving at the entrance to the place where I work, I raised my hands in victory.  I still actually have another half mile of riding after this point, but its more of the same - I'm not allowed to take pictures on site anyway, so this is the end of my ride for blog purposes.
So that was my commute this morning.  Surprisingly it only took 25 minutes longer than normal, and thats with many stops to take pictures along the way. I also managed to keep the rubber side down the entire way.

I am really glad I did this.  It is the most fun I've had in quite some time (and that's saying something). Since I live in the south, and this snow, all of one inch, has closed schools for two days, cancelled many church programs, social gatherings, and half the city, it was kinda cool to bike where many feared to drive.

I received some nice comments from co-workers when I finally got to the office, including "congrats on maintaining the honour of your native land", and "you win at winter". The best comment came from a response to the pictures I posted on the Bike Commuting community on Google Plus.  It was originally in Polish, but it translates as: "A vicious biker with you does not forgive the winter".

I am not sure exactly what that means, but I am pretty sure thats the most bad-ass thing anyone has ever said about me.

Snow Day!

The south has fallen under "wintery weather".  An inch of snow on the ground, 10f temps.  The city is shut down, schools cancelled, dogs and cats sleeping together, mass hysteria.

And all I am thinking is:  Seems like a great day for a walk.

Happy snow day, my southern friends. Stay frosty.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Geocaching Adventures: Abandoned Roads

The mountains of NC are full of old abandoned roads.  Today, with some geocaching friends, I explored one of them.

The cache description said a 4x4 vehicle was required to get to the parking spot. Since we had regular "mere mortal" cars, we parked at the end of the road and walked the entire way in (and up - it added a mile, and 400ft elevation to our journey).

The road is now part of the Buffalo Cove Game Land so the place is essentially a park (but with wildlife you can shoot in certain seasons).

As we walked it started to snow, so we got to hike in flurries - flurries are the best precipitation.

Once we finally got up the hill to where we would have parked if we had 4x4s, we were faced with the beginning of an old road:
Being at the base of the mountains means the views are beautiful.
This is most of the gang. Left to right its Yours Truly, FailedApparatus, HoosierSunshine, SockMonkey235.  NinjaChipmunk was behind the camera.
Once we walked the mile or so to ground zero we quickly set about the task of finding the cache, signing the log, and logging it online.
Successful in our mission we walked back down the trail to our "mere mortal" mobiles.
One last look at the mountains.
... and we're done.

Another excellent adventure in the books.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

hrm...


... also, "these are not the droids your looking for". Just sayin'

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winding Stairs Mountain

Today, January 20th, despite being the middle of winter, it was 65f and sunny.  It was way to nice to spend inside - really the most perfect geocaching weather money can buy.

So you would think, naturally, that I spent the day geocaching... but there is a catch.  I am on call for work, which means I need to stay near a good cell signal so I can log in to the office should things break.  Problem is all of the good geocaching areas around here are in the mountains where cell signal is more of a theoretical concept than an actual fact.

The up side is that my on-call shift ended at 3pm, so I just had to wait out the clock.  So I filled my morning by taking the Geovan of Destiny to the mechanics (new brakes!), cleaning my shop, cleaning up my garden from last years harvest, and other annoyingly productive things... waiting for 3pm to roll around.

At the magic hour I turned off the pager and headed out the door with my trusty geo-dog, Bailey.  My destination was up in the nearby mountains.   I  ended up at Winding Stairs Mountain to do a multi cache.

The first stage was in the parking lot.  The second was up the mountain.  So after getting the coords for the final stage, I headed down the trail.
















Rather up the trail.  The trail was only about 3/4 of a mile long, but there is a 600ft elevation gain along the way.  It was a bit grueling at times, but eventually (with the help of raw determination, a sense of adventure, and gatorade), we made it to the top.
Just a hop skip and a jump over a log and we made it to some wonderful views.
The trees were thick so the views were looking through trunks.  I am glad I made this hike in the winter as the leaves of the summer would make this view basically a green wall.
Once at the top we sniffed out the cache then headed back down the trails to the Geovan of Destiny.
So I had 2 hours of awesome weather enjoyment while engaging in concealed aboreal tupperware location activities so it ended up being a decent day (not to mention I have a clean shop, functional van, etc.).  Not bad for a winters day in January.


Hockey Night In Carolina: Checkers Edition

The closest hockey team to us that I am aware of is in Charlotte NC, an American Hockey League team (for my Canadian friends, think OHL, but with more guns).  

We were invited to join a group of folks from our church to go on an outing to see a game, so last night we took the family to see the Charlotte Checkers (red and white) take on the Norfolk Admirals (blue and orange).

AHL games are a lot like NHL games, except the crowds are smaller(easier to get good seats), the seats are cheaper (more money for nachos), and there is little chance you'll be seen on national TV (15 minutes of fame will be obtained elsewhere, perhaps by setting a world record in nacho consumption at a hockey game). However the game is basically the same, so it is a great way to get your hockey on.

This was also the first time either of my kids (4 and 1.5 years old) have been to a proper full length regulation hockey game.  We were not sure if they would make it through (3 hours is a long time for a toddler), but both of them loved it. I only heard one "I wanna go home" from Zeke, and that was easily assuaged by a juice box (and not until the 3rd period).  After the initial shock of "where the heck am I, and why are there so many people here?", both of the kids got into the cheering and chair dancing. 

Zeke also got to see a zamboni, which was all he talked about when I mentioned going to the game.  It is my theory that it is every Canadian kids dream to drive a zamboni, so he got one step closer to that goal (by actually seeing one in person).

It was an action packed game with only one big fight.  The final score was 4 to 3 for the Checkers in a nail biting shoot-out.

Here are some more pics from the game:
Keep your stick on the ice!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

100,000

My blog has hit a bit of a milestone.  Today I hit 100,000 page views, which I think is pretty awesome considering this blog is basically just a personal diary I started because my wife (then fiancĂ©) told me to.

I don't do any marketing, aside from posting things to my G+ account, so all of these page views are from folks who have stumbled across my path.

So this means that stuff I wrote has been read 100,000 times by... people (I suspect 99,990 of these page views are from my wife, and 9 from my mother-in-law.  If the other one is you - thanks!). On the other hand, they say on the Internet no one can tell if you are a dog, so if you are a dog and are reading this... squirrel!

So to all you fine folks who have faithfully visited this blog in the past, and especially those who have commented, thanks for reading! I do appreciate it (tho it does beg the question: what the heck is wrong with you? :)

Cheers!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Nexus 7 Based Geocaching Kit

Update:  Since writing this, Chrome has become much more usable, so you can use Chrome for up/downloads if you wish.

From time to time I am asked by, literally no one, about what gear I use when I go on extended geocaching trips.  In response I am listing a new setup I have for handling my geocaching road trip tech needs.  Note that this post assumes a certain level of technical knowledge, so if the phrase "USB host port" makes your eyes gloss over, you may want to skip this post.

Everyones preferred caching tech differs. Some are happy using cell phones; as for me and my house, I use a GPSr (Garmin eTrex 30) for my main caching.  I often bring along a laptop (MacBook Air) to do cache trip planning.  Normally the laptop stays in the van but occasionally it comes with me into the field (especially when in areas where car break-ins are common).  Although this gives me everything I need in the field for pretty much any geocaching related tech need, it has some drawbacks (heavy, short battery life on the laptop, and not super field rugged, not to mention very expensive).

I have finally come up with a good solution for my geocaching tech needs using a Nexus 7 tablet, and some handy apps. This allows me to leave the heavy laptop and home and bring the much smaller and cheaper tablet into the field (not to mention the battery life is 4x that of the laptop, and it has a GPS built in).

My needs for my in-field computer are as follows:  Generate PQs from geocaching.com, download PQs to the GPSr, upload field notes from the GPSr to geocaching.com, and display PQs and offline maps in an app that doesn't make me go all stabby.  The Nexus 7 running Android 4.4 (KitKat) has certain design and use-case assumptions that are (not to be overly harsh) idiotic.  As a result it supports almost none of the features I require out of the box.  However with the right applications, and a special USB cable, I was able to make it all work.

Here is the low-down on my new geocaching kit:

Accessing Pocket Queries

My preferred Android browser is the stock Chrome browser that comes with the device. It works great for accessing geocaching.com, but completely drops the ball when it comes to the ability to upload or download files (it can download files, but it puts them in a random spot on the drive, which makes it hard to access later - not exactly helpful).  So I use Firefox for downloading PQs, and ES File Explorer for unzipping those files and saving them to a known folder on the local device.

Copying Files To/From GPSr

The Nexus 7 cannot access USB drives natively, and it doesn't have a USB host port.  I work around this by using an OTG cable to connect my GPSr to the tablet.  I use the Nexus Media Importer app to copy files to/from the GPSr to the tablets local filesystem. This works very well, and doesn't require rooting the Nexus 7, like some other options require.  This setup allows me to copy GPX files to the GPSr, and copy the field notes file from the GPSr to the local filesystem.

Uploading Field Notes:

Another design decision employed by Android is the lack of a native file manager (more raving lunacy!), which seems to cause Chrome to utterly fail at uploading files to websites.  Firefox, however, has its own file manager built in (brilliant!), so it can upload files with ease.  So I use this to upload field notes from the Nexus 7 filesystem to geocaching.com.

Geocaching App

I was using Cache Sense for an app.  It works well, except its management of offline maps is poor - it can take days to download larger sets of maps, and once it does, one has zero control over them.  I tried some other apps which all had issues of one kind or another.  Then I discovered Locus Pro, and its geocaching plugin, geocaching4locus and my world became a brighter, happier place (truth me told, this app was actually the thing that prompted me to think that a tablet may actually work as an Android based geocaching device that wasn't full of fail and hate - turns out I was right).

Locus Pro is, hands down, the best geocaching app I have ever used, probably because its primary purpose is not geocaching, but rather a feature filled map app.  All the geocaching stuff was added in later.  It has all the expected features of a geocaching app (displays cache descriptions, loads PQs, uses the geocaching.com API for live queries and logging etc.). It also has an amazing offline maps management system. It takes a fraction of the time other apps took to download maps, and once downloaded you have complete control over the files. You can load and unload maps at will, and the response is blazing fast (for a tablet).  This is easily the best money I ever spent on an app ($10 may seem expensive, but its the same price as the Groundspeak official app, but 100x better). There is also a free version, but I don't know if it does everything.  I paid the cash to support the developer).  It is the unheralded king of geocaching apps.

So that is my new kit.  It has worked for me for several trips in the field so far.  It has all the advantages of the old laptop based setup (plus some extras) with none of the downsides, and it fits easily in my pack (or pocket, or hand).  I did have to drop a few bucks for the apps, but it is well worth it, and it was still less than a years membership at geocaching.com. Well worth it for a rig that should keep me geocaching in style for years to come.

Bring on the arboreal occluded tupperware!

Note: if anyone has any questions about how to set up their own rig like this one, drop me a line and I'll do my best to help out.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Appearances Are Not Deceiving

Yes it is true, your eyes do not deceive you (at least not in this case).

After a few years of the same old appearance, I have just given this blog a astonishing astounding breathtaking fantastic incredible marvelous outrageous phenomenal remarkable spectacular superb terrific unbelievable A-OK cool doozie extravagant first-class great groovy immense inconceivable legendary mind-blowing out-of-sight out-of-this-world peachy prodigious radical striking stupendous super unreal stunning fresh hip cool awesome amazing styling trend-setting eyesore horrible superb fabulous new look. 

Why?  I could wax on and on about keeping up with latest trends, or the importance of shaking things up, or even artistic temperaments being fickle. However the real reason is that my wifey told me that she found the old style (light text on dark background) hard to read. So I changed it for her (note: sometimes it pays to snuggle up to those in power; it also pays to keep those who can kill you in your sleep on your good side. Love you, honey!). 

So now the blog features a lighter look with wifey approved dark text on light background.  I call this look: A Happy Wifey Is A Happy Dave.

So what do you think of the new look?  Drop a note below and let me know.

Note: For those who haven't seen the old look, it was this:

It's A Small World After All

Sometimes the world is a very small place.

Case in point:  Yesterday morning I went to Charlotte North Carolina to attend a CITO event in Idlewild Park.  As I rolled up I saw another geocacher in the parking lot (not that unusual, given the circumstances).

I introduced myself, and after a bit of conversation it was apparent he was not from the area. He was passing thru and decided to attend the event as a break from the road. I asked him where he was from.

"Canada".

Me too!  I asked which part.

"Niagara".

Me too!  I then asked if he happened to attend the First Light 2014 event near Niagara Falls that I had attended.  He had.  He had also attended the Dr. House's 7th Annual New Years Cachin' Eve event.  To top it off, he actually owns some of the geocaches we did that day.  He even has pictures of Yours Truly holding the geocaching quilt my wife made.

So, to sum up: by random chance, two weeks ago, I attended a couple events in southern Ontario with people I had not met before, and we found some caches together.  Yesterday, 12 days later, also by random chance, I attended an event 600 miles away in a different country, and ran into the exact same person at an event, and we found some caches together.

That, my friends, is the definition of a small world (also see definition of "coincidence").

So the CITO event was pretty cool too.  We spent some time walking the park and picking up trash, finding a few caches along the way.
I brought my dog, Bailey, with me.  She had a great time... for a while.
It has rained a fair bit the night before so there was a lot of standing water.  We had to slosh through many muddy paths and marshy areas.  It should be noted that Bailey dislikes water a lot, but even she was getting into the fun... mostly.
I say mostly because at one stage the rain returned and we got soaked in a matter of minutes. Bailey didn't take too kindly to the deluge of water falling on her.
We were at a cache at the far end of the park when the rain hit.  We immediately started heading towards the cars, but it was still a long bushwhack to get there.  Along the way Bailey got into the whole "walking in the rain" bit, and she started to enjoy herself.
Once we got back to the cars we headed off to a pizza joint for lunch, and a much needed dry-out.

All in all, a very interesting day with a great group of geocachers.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Crazy Canuck


You don't have to be crazy to be Canadian, but it helps, eh?

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Very Junior Hockey

It is hard to imagine Canada without hockey - and there is a reason for it.  It is everywhere. Even kids play it, including one of my wife's youngest cousin.

When I was back in Canada a few weeks ago we attended a hockey game in which the young fellow played.  These kids are 9(ish) years old.

It was played in the brand new Dunnville rink (there are two things that are true about Canada: everything smells of maple, and every town has at least one local ice rink).

The following are a few pics of the kids in action.  Enjoy 'em, eh?