Captain’s Log Daze 3 & 4

Captain’s Log, Day 3

Next day we take a lazy breakfast and then decide to visit the Biosphere with Grandpa.  We head out to Nessie and observe the new tire is looking mighty flat.  Humm….  we hook up the air pump… and it’s at 80 psi, spot-on the normal max pressure.  Looking further: the inside tire is flat.  CRAP.  But wait!  It really WAS fine in Casa Grande, I checked it before we drove off.  And pretty quickly it’s clear that the rubber value stem is leaking, probably
banged too hard during the change and now it’s going flat overnight.  We call up Ed.  He agrees to change it under warranty… but he doesn’t want to drive out to meet us.  But he Does The Right Thing, and calls GCR Tire, a Tucson local who WILL come out to Grandpa’s.  Ed’s covering the whole cost.  So now we’re basically stuck at Grandpa’s waiting on GCR Tire (who’s promised to get there “in an hour” and it’s already 10am).

Meanwhile something triggered in Shelley’s brain about tires aging, so I go read up on them.  I learned something new today: all tires age.  After 6 years you should replace them, completely independent of tire wear.  Pretty much no tire is expected to last 10 years except under “ideal” circumstances.  And tire manufacturers have to stamp the date of manufacture on the tire, so you can tell how old your tires are.  (read up on it, but it’s the week & year of manufacture as a 4-digit number in an oval after the “DOT” stamp).  So we go look at our tires (mostly meaning Shelley crawling under the RV in the 110-heat to read between the dualies).  Sure enough, the youngest tire is 8 years, and the oldest is 12 years old.  Good tread, but expected to blow at any moment.

Crap, crap, crap.  Another round of planning & family voting.  We decide to limp over to Big-O tires to replace the remaining 5 tires, never mind fixing the old one.  GCR Tire shows up for the repair while I’m finishing negotiations with Big-O (and yes I asked GCR and no they did not have the tires we need in stock).  So the GCR guy politely fills our inside tire (it’ll last maybe an hour) and we roll over to Big-O.  We drop everybody off at Costco, where we do some shopping and eat a delicious Costco lunch (which is actually pretty dang cheap and a decent enough hot dog), and wait 2 hours for me to blow another $900 on tires.  After a while we’re back at Grandpa’s house with 6 brand-spanking new tires, waiting for a thunderstorm to pass before we go swimming.  It’s too late for the Biosphere, that will have to wait for another visit.

The thunderstorm takes too long to pass and we miss swimming also.  We have some more family over for a nice dinner, then we hit the road again for more night driving.  This time we’re heading for Carlsbad Caverns.  It’s a long haul out of Tucson but utterly uneventful.  We even give Luke (19 yrs old!) a turn at the wheel.  He’s a natural driver and handles this big rig fine.  We make a long drive of it but Carlsbad is just too far to make in one day.  We end up in the backside parking lot of a Walmart somewhere just inside the Texas border (Walmart mostly has a “RV friendly” policy).  It turns out that while our GPS has many useful features, finding RV campsites is not one of them.  Also when we turn off I-10 and head into the countryside we lose all cell phone service and can’t call ahead.

Captain’s Log, Day 4

It’s a 3hr early-morning drive or so to the Caverns.  We get there just before the heat starts getting oppressive again.  This time we decide to leave the generator on and the AC running while we spend the hot part of the day underground.  I used to see this all the time and wonder about it: RV’s with the generator going constantly.  Now I get it – Nessie will be in tolerable shape when we return to her, but without the AC Nessie would heat up like a tin
box in the hot sun.

Several of my kids are really nervous about entering the Caverns; they’ve had some scary cave experiences in the past.  We have to gently encourage several down the switchbacks into Carlsbad, but they master their fears and soldier on down into the cool cave air.  Carlsbad does not fail to deliver.  The Caverns are immense on a scale that’s hard to imagine; all of downtown San Jose could comfortably fit in them.  The trails wander on for miles in there (the sections closed to the public are probably 100x larger than the miles of public sections).  There’s a section where the roof soars over 300ft overhead and single rooms covering many acres with lines-of-sight of perhaps a quarter-mile underground.  And it’s all a fairyland of cave growths and little pools, with eerie lighting everywhere; flowing stone sculptures with names like “Temple of the Sun” or “Doll Theater”.  For the younger generation: it’s the largest Minecraft cave you’ll ever see.  🙂

We ride the 800ft (!) elevator lift back to the surface and decide to stay for the evening bat swarm (it’s still to hot to drive).  Every evening at dusk between 250 thousand and a few million bats leave to go eat mega-tons of insects up and down the local rivers (the numbers fluctuate so much because the bats migrate frequently).  We hang out in the local gift shop & cafe for a few hours (always a bad plan when on a budget), then try to watch a movie in Nessie (AC keeps it tolerable in there, but it’s still pretty warm), and finally evening rolls around.  We settle in to listen to the rangers and then finally the main show: 250 thousand bats fly out of the cave like smoke on the wind.  There’s a faint odor of bats in the air, and an endless murmuring of chirping bats and the little winged creatures are flitting everywhere overhead before flying off the escarpment edge and off into the darkness.

We do another (not so long) night of driving, stopping at midnight in Fort Stockton, TX.  We get a longer nights’ sleep tonight, even if the location isn’t as glorious.



Captain’s Log Days 1 & 2

Captain’s Log, Day 1

Today’s the day for the start of our epic 3-week 7000-mile cross-country RV trip of doom!  I’m up (fairly) early as I need to pick up all my kids – and their extra clothes, toiletries, games, meds, etc – by 9am.  Then I take them back to my house to begin packing in earnest, except for Josh who I need to take to the eye doctor’s to replace his glasses (broke under warranty) and Laura – who left her drawing pad behind.  I also need to drop my ex-Sprint AirWave back at the UPS store, and go by the pharmacy for a month’s worth of meds, and get fresh fruit for the RV, and… and … and … you get the picture.

Meanwhile Shelley is busy doing last-minute packing of Nessie, our 7-ton 31′ Class C RV – all the fruits & veggies & cold-stuff go in in the last minute.  While I’m running around frantically driving kids all over creation, Matt figures out he’s got a total of 3 pairs of underwear at my place, so Shelley is out driving him to get some undies (and other stuff we need) while I’m running my errands.  Despite all the crazy start and hasty lunches we actually hit the road as planned right at noon.

So on this trip we have: Me & Shelley (a red-head), my eldest daughter Karen, Luke (another red-head), my son Josh, my 2nd daughter Laura (also a red-head but no relation to Shelley) and my youngest Matt.  We’re off to see the country and all my scattered relations.  I’ve got my Dad (& Jane) living in Tucson AZ the kids’ other grandpa Zade in Luling TX (outside of San Antonio TX), my sister (Aunt Ruth) and mom (Pat Ireland) in Katy TX (outside of Houston), my brother in Atlanta GA, and my Uncle Bill and his 4 daughters (all my age) and their 15 kids (all my kids’ ages) in eastern Connecticut.

We’re starting out of San Jose, heading over Pacheco Pass to I-5, then south towards LA – but we badly do NOT want to hit LA right at rush hour, so we eventually cut over to Bakersfield and then follow some long long slow farm road across the central valley to Barstow… and up to Calico, a ghost town.

Now when Shelley was a kid, her mom would drive this very road (to visit her grandparents in Vegas) and they would stop by Calico once a year or so.  She has some fond memories from her childhood so visiting Calico is somewhat of a pilgrimage to her.  We arrive there right at dusk and can’t find anybody manning the entrance booth, so we sheepishly drive (our 31′ RV) quietly into the town – and promptly find the RV campground.  It’s basically deserted (there’s 1 other camper there, and space for maybe 100 vehicles), has power hookups and bathrooms with showers and running water… and it’s free, at least for people
arriving as late as we did.  We got out, stretched our legs and enjoyed the beautiful pink sunset over the red red hills, made sloppy joes on Nessie’s stove and ate on the picnic tables in picture-perfect weather.  Laura got the neighborhood dogs to howl back at her, Karen & Luke made videos of the epically blowing Laura’s hair, Matt climbed the hills and Josh & I ninja-sparred.

It was a picture-perfect ending to the 1st day.

Captain’s Log, Day 2

We walk though Calico the next morning.  It’s cool desert morning air, with some wonderful history.  The town’s been cleaned up a fair amount since Shelley was last there but remains a really nice tourist trap.  Mission accomplished, we head out for the long hot desert drive to Tucson to visit my Dad (Grandpa).  It’s a *long* boring drive down I-40.  Shelley is an awesome long-haul truck-and-horse-trailer driver, so driving this RV thing is a piece of cake.  (and while I’m up getting Shelley a nectarine, Laura types in my blog: “Moo” and “He has yet to notice.”)  Karen is talking about whale sperm shampoo (*not* sperm whale shampoo)… and the generator cuts out – it’s overheated.  That means the main compartment AC cuts out.  Oh – did I mention that on the long uphill grades the cab also AC cuts out?  (I assume because the engine is working too hard?).  So we pressed on in the 110-degree heat, across I-40, down “highway” 95 (looks like asphalt thinly spread over desert dirt, there’s a whole lotta “dips in road”).  Back on I-8 and heading west, and 2hrs out of Tucson and we’re all baking on-and-off (as the cab AC cuts in and out, and the cabin is slowly climbing above 90degrees)… when we blow a tire.

Yup, 20 miles from Nowhere, AZ, down that long & lonely road… we suddenly pick up a shake & shimmy… and a list.  We hove Nessie over to port and off the side of the road.  I tremulously step out to survey the damage.  Outside right rear tire has blown big, completely come apart.  It’s 1 of a dually, and the other is squashed under the load but holding.  Time for some quick thinking; we are baking and a long way from anywhere… and lame.  We check the phones: we have cell service; Thank You T-Mobile.  We call AAA.  They don’t do RV tires but they do give us the number of RV Medic in Casa Grande… which isn’t open after hours.  We get the answering machine & another number to call… also no answer.  So now we’re calling all about (at least 3 phones making active calls at this time, plus Google map’s are in hot action).  We decide to limp into Casa Grande.  We dump the tanks (not the black!) and push the kids over to the “good” side to lighten the load.  We also batten down the hatches, as Shelley points out that if the remaining tire blows we’ll “drop hard”.  Casa Grande is about 20miles down the road, and we decide that 40 mph is probably a good max-speed so we start off.

Then the dust-storm hits.  NO I AM NOT KIDDING.  We’re lamely limping along when the wall of dust hits, obliterating the “Blinding Dust Storms” road sign.  So now we’re limping blindly along getting buffeted by 40mph winds and dust (and tumbleweeds ARE blowing by, queue lonely wild-west music please) when the rain hits.  Yes: thick dust on our windshield AND ITS RAINING NOW WITH THE BLOWING DUST.  Nessie soldiers on.  20min later we pull off I-8 and out of the storm and head down some lonely farm road… but with the lights of Casa Grande clearly in the distance.  We pull into the first big lot we see (Big Tires empty lot) step out and see a rainbow.  Back around to calling RV Medic we get a human, we tells me to call Ed W’s who DOES do after-hours work.  $200 minimum charge.  Ed (who also requires 3 or 4 phone calls to reach) promises he can work on us, but can we get to town?  No problem.

While we wait at Ed’s shop for an hour (his mobile guy is on another call), Grandpa & Grandma drive up from Tucson and take the 3 younger kids back to their place and feed them all manner of treats.  We (4 remaining) older kids mosey over to a nearby restaurant and get dinner and some heat relief.  Another hour later and I’m $400 poorer and sporting a brand-new tire.  We pile in and make it to Grandpa’s.  Much sighs of relief, and a good nights sleep was had by all.



Progress + Vacation

It’s been a freak’n month since I last blogged!  Where’s the time gone???

Mostly I’ve been furiously coding.  ‘wc *java’ of our ‘src’ directory now reports 31500 lines.  We’ve cleaned up and CSS’s the web interface.  We added LevelDB to handle zillions of small K/V pairs (larger ones go to the local file system directly, and of course we still handle S3 and HDFS natively (either using an existing hadoop install, or directly *being* a distributed hadoop)).  We’re still 100% peer-to-peer, even for the direct HDFS stuff.  Last week I hacked a concurrent Patricia Trie (leaving the making of a *distributed* concurrent Trie for later, but now I know how to do it…). Then we ran all 36Gig of Wikipedia data through WordCount, using that Trie – it took less than an hour on 1 node.

This week it’s about running a Linear Regression *distributed*, using distributed Fork/Join as the programming paradigm.  Also, integrating a HashMap-in-a-Value (so we can pass about & maintain the Map interface in the Value piece of our K/V store – think: distributed JS objects), plus the final bits of VectorClocks (all behind the scenes; the VCs will let us do atomic update and strong coherence of Keys but they’re a horrible API to expose).  We’re building a toolkit approach to solving the problem of building a reasonable database over the Cloud.  Either (distributed) Patricia Tries or (distributed) Concurrent Skip Lists for range queries, plus JS-like objects in Values, plus atomic (transactional) update of individual JS objects using a Compare-And-Swap like approach (instead of locking: CAS is much faster under load, as threads can optimistically make progress).

More on all of the above later this week – as we have a hard deadline to finally *open* our Open Source project.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve been hassled plenty about calling ourselves Open Source and not (yet) having any open source… we’ve been trying to get the basics done first… but the real news:  I’m finally going on Vacation!!!

Yes, Nessie, the 31′ 7-ton Class C RV of Doom is being prepared for our 7000 mile Epic Cross-Country Journey.  I’ve been wanting to do this for a decade now: take the entire clan (7 of us!) across country, touring all the junk tourist traps we can and visiting our scattered family as we go.  We got family in Tucson AZ, San Antonio TX (well, Luling really), Houston, Atlanta, DC area, and Connecticut.  I’m giving an invited lecture at UIUC on our way back, and have been assured I can use that lecture as a reason to declare this a “business trip”, and deduct all the gas and mileage costs – I figure about $3500 in gas alone.  We stopping at Stone Mountain in GA over the 4th of July, visiting my brother and camping at the lakeside facing the mountain where we’ll watch the fireworks and lazer show from the RV roof.  We’re going to visit Carlsbad Caverns.  We’ll pass through DC and maybe attempt the Smithsonian (not sure about that one; depends on the schedule and how badly I want to fight the RV through DC traffic).  We’re visiting my Uncle’s classic family farm in Connecticut where my 4 cousins live – all my age, all married with 3 to 4 kids each… all about the same age as my 4 kids.  We’re talking now about 15 to 20 neices and nephews, plus Aunts & Uncles galore, and of course pigs and chickens and horses.  It’ll be a regular zoo.

So if you see a large white whale heading east on I10 with a frazzled Shelley or my excited 19yr-old at the helm, honk, wave Hi and give us a wide berth…



Quote(s) of the Month from Kevin Normoyle (Sun/Sparc & Azul L2 Cache Designer Extraordinaire, Cache Coherence Advisor to 0xdata):

Reminds me of CS101, on one of my first programs.  The grader wrote in big red letters over my big comment block:
“Don’t document your bugs, Fix them”

So I asked Kevin if I could quote him, and I got this response back:

ah that’s fine…I spout “Advice” left and right to everyone… Many dismiss it as “Rant”.  There’s always that fine line between being a Prophet, and just another crazy guy standing on the corner yelling.  One could argue that everyone who every posts to Twitter is an “Advisor” of some sort, to the world.

Sound advice, from a (reluctant) adviser to the world.