End of June, I was out in Minnesota for a day. I don’t remember much about that trip aside from the fact that I got three days worth of work done in one day and high-tailed it back to Connecticut. I’d just recently purchased a mountain bike (see previous post), and I was jonesing for a ride. Side note: WordPress does not recognize “jonesing” as a word, and the dictionary wants to correct it to “ingression”.
When I got back from Minnesota, I went for a ride at Wadsworth State Park and went down the creek path for the first time. The creek path is, so far, my favorite mile and a half stretch of biking in the area. It starts with a downhill on a dried creek bed, and as such is completely covered in rocks. Not gravel; these are baseball-to-cantaloupe sized rocks for a good two hundred yards. At the bottom of the rocky hill is a sharp, left, uphill turn. In order to even stand a chance at making the turn and getting up the hill, you’ve got to come into it with some speed – which is challenging, given the rocks. The single-track path continues along for another hundred yards before coming to a mini-laguna-seca-corkscrew. If you’re not familiar with the (in)famous cork, it’s basically a left-hand turn over a hill leading into a right hand downhill turn. Anyway, the mini-cork on the creek path leads immediately into a two-foot wide bridge and another steep, snaking climb, which, again, requires some momentum to get up, and momentum is difficult to build over the cork and the bridge, because I’m not quite good enough to take the terrain with speed yet. The path continues over some roots, down another right-to-left snake-drop through roots into an uphill, and at the top of the uphill is a foot-high log. Staying on the current theme of having momentum at the correct time, the log requires a bit of speed to hop. I’ve yet to get over it smoothly. Towards the end of the creek path is a two foot drop in to an awesomely fun, wider, twisting downhill section. The rest of the ride is mostly doubletrack in order to get back to the start of the creek path.
After Minnesota and my ride, I got right back to work on Friday June 29, flying to the UK to help a law firm install their company-wide video system to watch the Olympics. The idea here was that the customer knew their employees were going to tune into live video streams on the internet to watch the games hosted in their fair city, and wanted to try to mitigate the impact that five-hundred video streams would have on their internet bandwidth. The system I would be integrating would allow the customer to bring in video over their cable tv system, encoder it into network packets and distribute it to the employee’s desktops in a manner that they could manage, while blocking live streaming to the internet. In this way, the customer would simultaneously relieve the internet bandwidth issue, and control the video content available. Win for the IT guys, win for the employees in that they would have a much higher quality video available than if they were all fighting for limited pipe. Anyway, with the Olympics quickly approaching, we had to start working on Saturday. The project chugged along until we hit a major snag on Monday afternoon, which basically resulted in a standstill for the next three days. With support in the US not coming online until 2pm UTC, I was on my own for most of the time I was on-site. I think I read more KB articles over those three days than I have in the past three months. Making matters worse, one of the days we were stuck happened to be July the 4th, where we had no support at all. Compounding the frustration caused by the lack of progress was the fact that I had sprained my ankle on Sunday whilst walking about town, so I couldn’t even blow off the added stress of failure with a run. I had to leave the site on the following Friday with the system not completely operational. Luckily, the support and engineering teams were able to resolve the one outstanding issue that was open when I left – it happened to be a Microsoft certificate problem. There are people whose sole job is to sort out Microsoft certificates, so I don’t feel too badly that I wasn’t able to figure it out with no previous experience in the area.
Upon arriving back in the United States, I kicked into vacation mode, with a week in New Hampshire with the family and friends to look forward to. The vacation was… unfortunate, to say the least, but I tried my very best to stay upbeat and positive. I finally lost control snapped midway through the trip, which didn’t help things. I tried to make the most of the last few days – I got in an epic kayak ride and a hike up Red Hill in ninty-degree heat with my brother, and I got a mini, out-of-order triathlon in with Danielle. We went mountain biking first, then for a short run, then swimming to cool off.
Right. Snapped out of vacation-mode straight away, I was off to the rust belt for an installation at a school district. Education installations are always a crapshoot, some schools have extremely sharp IT teams, and some have a closet with a two post server rack, hundreds of thousands of dollars of core switch gear purchased with e-rate money and a hot water return pipe above it all. This particular school had an audio-video guy on the lead, who did not understand networking beyond “the internet plug goes here”, which made for a challenging installation. It was draining, having to explain the same thing over three or four times in different ways while not losing my patience. (Thanks for all the practice, mom). The reseller was capable enough, but I soon discovered that all of the prerequisites I had so carefully laid out were not complete. Set back to almost square one, I helped the reseller and the customer make sense of what they purchased, the best way to deploy it, and got the system installed and running to the customer’s satisfaction. Along the way, the most severe electrical storm I’ve ever seen rolled through town, knocking power out for a few hours – making working on servers and video appliances an impossible proposition. Even though I finished the job, the challenges weren’t over. Southwest had sold out of flights for the day I was coming back, so I (stupidly) bought a direct flight back to Hartford on US Airways. I got to the airport early for my 6:30am flight, got a bagel and settled in at the gate. I chatted with a girl who was on her way to Hartford. She’d left Phoenix the previous day; the summer storms had her routed all over the country. She’d been through North Carolina, Dulles, Chicago and finally here at this airport. She’d had four flights cancelled, and boarded one plane only to have that flight cancel on her. I told her I’d wake her up when we were ready to get underway.
The plane showed up late, but we still managed to get on board. Then we waited. The pilot kept fiddling with one of the ailerons on the left wing. Then a mechanic with a ladder and a flashlight came out, and started poking around. And we waited some more. The mechanic came on board and spoke with the captain. After some time had passed, the captain let us all know that there was a hydraulic leak in the aileron control system, and we’d all have to get off the plane as they waited for a part to be flown in from St. Louis. We’d be getting underway as soon as they got the part replaced, an hour or two. Three hours later and no updates, US Airways cancelled the flight, but didn’t bother to update the departures boards or tell the gate agents. The next departing US Airways flight to Hartford was filling up fast as everyone on our plane scrambled to get a seat, and with one seat left, I made sure that poor girl from Phoenix got mine so she wouldn’t have to spend another night at an airport. I ran over to a different terminal, to my old standby, Southwest, and got a standby ticket to Baltimore and then to Hartford. I got on the flight to Baltimore with no problem, but as we were boarding, yet another massive summer storm blew in. We sat on the plane at the gate for an hour before they were allowed to let us take off, and we got to BWI around 5pm. There were three flights from BWI to Hartford, all full. I put myself on the standby list for all three and started stalking around the gate of the earliest one. The standby list for the early flight must have had ninty people on it, and I had no chance. The storm that held up my departure to Baltimore had made its way east, and ended up ravaging BWI, further delaying the remaining two Hartford-bound flights. With a departure time now approaching midnight, I settled into a corner at terminal B and got comfy. Flight finally took off around 12:30, and I got to my apartment around 2am.
That weekend, I slept in.
Saturday afternoon I went to my first full-field 11 on 11 soccer game since high school. I found a bunch of people who play pick up soccer (thanks, internet!) and decided to go check it out. The teams ended up being picked so that one team was loaded on offensive talent, and one was loaded up on defensive talent. As a result, the game was probably one of the most lopsided I’ve ever played in; it was like two seperate games: one which was played between a bad offense and a bad defense in one half of the field, and one epic battle on the other end of the field. I played for the team with the good defense, on the left. We played an aggressive offside trap, so whenever we had the ball, we were pushed up to midfield. This took a lot of the pressure off the goalie and prevented the other team from cherry-picking long clears. Whenever the other team managed to get a long lead pass into our half of the field, it was a dead sprint between us and their strikers to get to the ball first and prevent the shot. It amounted to two hours of suicide sprints, but was a blast.
Sunday morning I went down to Tyler Mill, a different state park in Connecticut, to mountain bike with a bunch of people in the woods. I found a bunch of people with bikes on their cars and followed them to the park. Turned out that two of the guys weren’t privy to the group meetup, but one guy was. The other two thought it was cool we wanted to ride, so the four of us set off to tackle the most aggressive single-track trail I’ve ever been on. Lots of narrow tracks, narrow bridges and technical terrain mingled in with steep climbs and a two-foot drop in. We split after a little more than an hour, and I went back to my apartment. The rest of the group had gone to a different parking lot, and one of the riders in that group broke a leg and had to be carted out on an ambulance. Kinda glad I didn’t end up with them, that would have been such a downer on such a beautiful morning.
In other news, car tires are expensive. My car is about to hit 50,000 miles and the folks over at the shop recommended new treads.
Last weekend already seems like forever ago, and all the stuff up there is ancient history. I had a chance to hang out with a friend I made more than a year and a half ago at Tahoe on a shortish ski vacation, three of her friends and Amanda. We ran the New England Color run together, and it was a blast. The tagline for the race is “the world’s happiest 5k”, and for us, at least, it probably was. Along the course, at every kilometer, they have a color station set up, where volunteers basically just throw paint at you. It’s mostly cornstarch with some dye in it, but it sticks to sweaty white shirts and skin pretty well. Because our friend lives in the area, we were able to walk to the start of the race and back to her apartment after – which allowed us to bypass the cluster that the shuttle transportation became as an accident on 495 routed traffic onto town streets. Lots of unhappy people couldn’t get to their cars, but we carried on in blissful ignorance. I didn’t even know there was a problem until I got the apology email from the race organizers the next day.
Now I’m back where this post started (in Minnesota) and I’m pretty sure Americanized Chinese food is poisonous. I went to a restaurant specializing in the bastardized cuisine in with the customer I’m working for, at their suggestion. They all spoke highly of the restaurant, so I went along for the ride. I should have known better when we walked in and there was a subway-style layout with bins of variously-sauced, breaded chicken, some ride and noodles. I ended up getting the “spiciest” chicken they had, and noodles, and man did I end up regretting it. Immediately. Greasy noodles and uber-sweet fried chicken bits caused a headache and that gross, fever-like feeling that lasted for a few hours. I couldn’t drink enough water to get the sticky-sweet feeling out of my mouth. I think I’d be okay with not having Chinese take-out again.