Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rocky Mountain High...

Last weekend I was visiting Megan in beautiful Grand Lake, Colorado. She's out there serving as the Technical Director for the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater. In addition to seeing two of the three shows at RMRT (Guys and Dolls and Chess) we spent some time in Rocky Mountain National Park. For those unfamiliar with Colorado geography Grand Lake is the western entrance to the park. (I guess it would also be the western exit of the park.) When we went the full run of road between Grand Lake and Estes Park were treated to the sight of Elk and several junctures. On the way back over the mountain we stopped at a short trail called Rock Cut (elevation something close to 12,000 feet above sea level.) This is in the alpine tundra portion of the park, the portion above the tree line. I mention this because as we were walking the trail last Sunday there were ominous clouds and rumbles of thunder. If you're bigger than a yellow-bellied marmot there isn't much cover if it starts to pour. Speaking of marmots, prior to walk up that trail the only wildlife we had seen were the aforementioned elk. When I made the comment, on seeing a sign about big horn sheep, "I was promised big horn sheep and I haven't seen any." Megan replied, "No, you were promised elk. Moose and sheep were a possibility but they were not promised." Which was true. On the way back down the trail to car at Rock Cut we saw someone focusing his camera on what appeared to be an empty rock. Then we noticed in the dim light of the cloudy mountain top that there was a pika on the rock. After a about a minute (maybe less) the critter scurried away tired of waiting for its picture to be taken. A little further down we saw a pair of marmots chasing around. We ended with my first encounter on the west side of the park with what is I guess a common phenomenon, the elk jam. This was preceded by something I am familiar with from northern Minnesota, the moose jam. If you are unfamiliar with these terms they relate to cars, drivers and stopping when the large wildlife are in view.

That was Sunday, my flight for home was Monday evening so we decided to head to Denver early and find someplace to visit on the way. The place we found was The Colorado Railroad Museum. The museum is in Golden, Colorado more famous as the home of Coors Brewing Co. We've been to a lot of museums over the years and this ranks up there as one of the best. The museum features Colorado's history with narrow gauge railways and standard gauge railways as well. On the grounds of the museum are two excellent model railroad exhibits. The outdoor display by the Denver Garden Railroad Society was active with several generations of operators. Inside the Denver HO model railroad club maintains a large display that reminded me of the one here in St Paul at Bandanna Square. The highlight of the museum is all of the various rolling stock that they have, engines, freight cars, passenger cars, etc. There was a Coors labeled box car and a Coors painted switcher engine. The museum is rightly proud of the working roundhouse they have built for restoration projects. Of all the things we saw there the most interesting were the three Galloping Geese. (or maybe it should be Galloping Gooses. The link takes you to Wikipedia's entry on these interesting machines.) A Galloping Goose was a basically a car retooled to run on narrow gauge rails. This allowed the Rio Grande Southern railway to run small freight or passenger loads up the mountain at a lower cost. The idea of taking what amounted to a passenger car and running on rails was interesting. I like rail travel and would have preferred to take the train (The California Zephyr) to Colorado but our current passenger rail system would have required either a late night bus ride to Chicago and 7-8 hour wait at the station, or an overnight stay in Chicago between the Empire Builder and the Zephyr. (More on the unfortunate weaknesses in our rail system some other time.) So I picked up a Trains magazine to read on the plane coming home. If you find yourself in the Denver area this is well worth the price of admission.

Speaking of "modern" air travel in Post 9/11 America. I'm glad I don't do it much anymore. I have been scanned twice now. The first time I had my ID and boarding pass in my shirt pocket which the agent noticed before the scan. In Denver I forgot to take my wallet out of my back pocket which required some other finger wipe scan. I survived. I flew on Frontier Airlines who has "mascots" on the tail and wing tips of the plane. On the way out I got to fly with Fritz the Mountain Goat and on the way back with the polar bear cubs Klondike and Snow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Who Says Customer Service is Dead?

Long time no walk...
This year is the second in a row that Megan and I will be spending Thanksgiving at home in St Paul. This is due to her schedule down at UW-L. Last year we figured to get a turkey breast and that would be that. I was in Trader Joe's and found a turkey breast with a cranberry apple stuffing. It looked good, it was good. So this year we planned on that for Thanksgiving. Getting it was a little more difficult this year.

So last night, the Monday before Thanksgiving, I went to the local Trader Joe's looking for the stuffed turkey breast and some other things. No luck, there weren't any on the shelf. I found a helpful crew member and they checked whether there were any in the back. No luck but they were supposed to be on the truck, that wasn't there but was due "sometime tonight". Okay I told her I'll try back tomorrow. So this afternoon after work I came home by way of Trader Joe's and still no turkey breasts on the shelf. In fact the shelf that had been turkeys was now back to being other meat items. They were out of turkeys, and it appeared stuff turkey breasts. Enter Russ. I explained to him my discussion with one of his colleagues the night before. He checked on what was there. Well the truck was there, but they weren't scheduled to unload it until 7PM. He was willing to go out to the truck and see if he could find the turkey breasts and bring me one. I thanked him for doing that. When he returned, he apologized but the meat pallet was behind a dozen other pallets stacked 8 feet high with merchandise. He took my name and said he would have one set aside for me. Okay I could live with that. But that wasn't the end of it. Enter Laura. She was prepared to try and work her way back to the meat and find the turkey breasts. After some discussion we all agreed that it would be best if I stopped back later. I was headed to Lord of the Rings Online session with friends from work and stopping there on the way home wasn't a big hassle.

So at 8:30PM I was back at the Trader Joe's and I went to the desk. The gentleman behind the desk, "First Mate" Ignacio, called to the back looking for Russ and/or Laura. After a couple of tries Laura came out. Checked that I was looking for one of the stuffed turkey breasts and retreated to the cooler and returned with one for me, and two for other customers who had obviously been in earlier as well.

Hat's off to the Trader Joe's crew in St Paul. We've been led to believe that customer service is dead. I'm here to tell you that it's not. Well at least it's not at the corner of Lexington and Randolph in St Paul.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A new year, a new blog...

I've started another blog that promises to be more active than this one for the simple reason it has a focus. The blog is called Playing with Programming. The goal is to introduce people to software "toys" that are designed to help students learn to program, but can be fun on their own for non-students as well. There's a link on the left for the blog if you want to check it out.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What would Sam Adams think?

Something that has populated a few newscasts this week are stories about protesters or hecklers at various town hall meetings held by members of Congress. One story mentioned that many of the protesters had ties to the Tea Party Patriots movement. From what I can tell, and I haven't delved to deeply into these groups, they are tax protesters. One of there sites refers to "Tea Party 1776". Of course the tea party was in 1773 but who's counting. Also they must believe that the purpose of the Tea Party was to protest taxes, period. This is because they assume that the Bostonians that tossed the tea into the harbor were just like them, Americans. Well they weren't.

They were British subjects living in a remote colony, who felt ill treated by the government. So let's give them a scenario where they can be true "Tea Party Patriots". First off they have to move to Guam or one of the other U.S. Pacific island territories. Once their settled in there is some sort of trouble in that area and the U.S. Military has to expend time and resources to get it under control. The islanders provide personnel and supplies to assist in the operation. Now the Federal government is in a bind. It needs money to pay off the cost of the operation. So they decide to get the money from the islanders. A tax on beer sold to the island is put in place by Congress. The islanders protest to the Congress that the tax is unfair. They are only to be taxed by their local government. Congress replies, "Too bad, we need the money and you have it." Many of the islands send the beer back and don't pay the tax. The residents of Guam attempt to do the same thing but the Governor (local elected in this case but attempting to gain favor with Washington) refuses to allow this to happen. So our "Patriots" take to docks, find the ships with the beer and dump cases of Budweiser, Coors and Miller Light into the harbor. Then they would be like the Sons of Liberty who dumped the tea in the harbor.

I don't think Sam Adams or John Hancock would be members of the Tea Party Patriots. Just as I don't think the Tea Party patriots would not be members of the Sons of Liberty.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On the Money...

Sometimes you know you've made a good purchase. This week I had that feeling. We were at the Mall on Monday. Megan needed to go to Barnes and Noble for a few things. While we were there I went to the "Music and Video" department. I don't remember exactly what triggered the desire to get a Jim Croce collection but I went looking. In the rack I found Jim Croce:Bad Bad Leroy Brown-The Definitive Collection. The last couple of days have found me in the car a lot. With MPR doing "wall to wall" coverage of the Sotomayor hearings I've had a chance to check out the 2 CDs in the collection. I knew even before the first CD was finished that this was probably the best 15 bucks I'd spent on music in a long time.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

aRWTL's Guide to Random Walking

The title of this blog was chosen to represent the fact that I didn't really know where it was going when I started. The frequency of posts shows that I haven't figured it out yet. But today we provide for you a guide to taking a random walk.

Its summer in Minnesota and we are more High Plains than Upper Great Lakes this year. (Think great grass desert and you'll get the idea.) But the lack of rainfall makes it a good time to take a walk. Its my belief that planning a route often leads to going the same way all the time. The result, nothings ever different. You never see the things you don't know are there. To encourage exploration here is a guide to randomizing your walk. (Note: that I tested this concept this morning while walking around the Mall of America.)

1. Get a Randomizer
In order to take a random walk you need a randomizer. The easiest is a coin. Coins are very good for making random binary decisions. If you are in a location where coin tossing might attract too much attention, like a mall, two coins of the same type that can easily be identified on site but not on touch make a good "pocket" randomizer. When you need to make a decision pull one out of your pocket and proceed.

Here's a simple electronic randomizer.

Once you have a randomizer...

2. Set decision rules
If you have a binary randomizer (the simplest) every decision will be one or more yes/no questions. Here is an example. You're out for a walk and you reach an intersection. There are three possibly options: Go straight, turn left, turn right. If you only have two answers on your randomizer how do you decide. It's really very simple. This decision requires two answers. The questions are:
A. Do I turn? Yes or No
B. If Yes, Left or Right. (or If Yes, so I turn right?)

You also have to decide if every opportunity for a decision requires one. If you are trying to get some where then you'll need to make sure your decisions don't push you to far out of the way. So in some cases you'll opt not to randomize the decision.

That's pretty much it. So next time you walk around your neighborhood, mix it up a little. You might discover things you didn't know were there.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Notes: Corrupted Science

I don't remember if I said something or Megan told her brother and his family that "Books about science are always good." But this year I received a few books that are science related. One of these is a book entitled Corrupted Science by John Grant (2007 Facts Figures and Fun. The link will take you to the Sterling Publishing page for the book. They are the North American distributors.) The book is a follow-up to one entitled Discarded Science that was published in 2006. The focus of this book is how science has been misused and abused through out the years for a variety of purposes. There are basically three major sections to the book, corruption by scientists themselves, corruption for ideological reasons and corruption for political reasons. The last chapter is divided into three sub-chapters on specific political regimes that Grant views as having twisted science to their own ends. These are Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union and George W. Bush's America. While the first two of these would certainly be on any list of governments misusing science to promote a political agenda, the inclusion of the Bush Administration might be seen as a bit ham-handed considering they are still in office.

That said, I found the book to be engaging an informative. Grant provides a thorough investigation of many interesting cases in fraud, out right or by scientists "seeing what they want to see". While I was familiar with the "usual suspects" in these chapters I was surprised at some of the stories. It's obvious that in each of the areas treated Grant tends to focus on a particular branch of science and often on one area of study. Showing in each of these sections how fraud in one study might seep into other work in the subject area. In the ideology chapters he looks at military interference with certain areas of research. He also devotes one chapter to the battle between science and the literal interpretation of the bible.

That discussion has led me to want to learn a little more about the Creationist/Intelligent Design movement. In fact I'm now reading History of Modern Creationism by Henry Morris. More on that in a later post.

Finally the closing chapter on political influences is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand how science can be brought to serve a particular political ideology. I was of course interested in the Bush discussion, but I was also interested in the Nazi discussion since the Science Museum will play host to the exhibit Deadly Medicine from the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. The Stalin sub-chapter was disturbing if only because of some of the absurdity that passed for science during the period.

I've seen the book for sale in Barnes & Noble and it should be available from It's worth the read if you have an interest in this area.