Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

16 April 2006

WDW: Day Five

Easter Sunday had finally arrived! We woke early and I made a big breakfast of pancakes and bacon while Tandy and the girls got ready. We had settled on the 8:00am Easter Mass being held at the Contemporary, since we figured it would be less crowded than the 10:15am Mass. We also planned to leave quite early, as our last Mass on Disney property was in far too small a space for the number of people. On the way to Mass, we stopped to take pictures at the Mickey sculpture at the Contemporary, and I kid you not there was a duck genuflecting to the Mickey sculpture. Strange enough to take a picture of it. The Mass was presided over by a priest from Belfast who made it a wonderful experience. The cantor was assisted by a woman on piano and her two sons on trumpet and trombone. They did a fabulous job in front of several thousand people!

Right after Mass, we took our youngest to her first program of the day: the Junior Fishing Excursion. She was a little nervous about it, but when she met Kevin and Jeff and saw the boat she was excited all over again. We two have gone fishing on many mornings fishing at the local pond in South Portland, but following in my footsteps she has never caught a fish. I figured this was her chance. She fished for about an hour all around Bay Lake and then finally landed a smallish bass near the Contemporary dock, nice work! Like a true fisherman, the size of the fish, demonstrated by outspread arms, has grown with each telling. It moved from about four inches to now around eighteen inches or so.

We wanted a down day amidst the hustle and bustle of Disney, while the grandparents went off to Typhoon Lagoon we stayed around Wilderness Lodge. We rented Mouseboats and zoomed around Bay Lake, went swimming, had lunch, went swimming, took a nap and then got ready for a nice dinner out at Narcosees in the Grand Floridian. The food was just wonderful and they treated the girls like little princesses. Maeve feel asleep on the way back to the lodge, where we soon all joined her.

WDW: Day Four

Finally, the day had arrived for our first visit to one of the parks. We selected the Magic Kingdom as our starting point. The crowds were expected to be fierce today, so we took the "early magic hour" option and went to the park during the hour before general admission. We were able to hit all of the rides we really wanted to in the first hour: Dumbo (twice), It's a Small World (twice), and Peter Pan (thrice). I took my oldest to Haunted Mansion, which she was very excited to try. We barely made it through the front entrace when she started asking for the "chicken exit." As we walked back toward the group the lines were starting to get serious. Peter Pan had gone from five to ten minutes to at least thirty minutes. My oldest went with her grandparents to Mickey's Philharmagic while we took my youngest to Haunted Mansion. Not surprisingly, she just loved it. We swapped kids with the grandparents and then took Maeve on a second trip through Haunted Mansion, and then the Barnstormer coaster, while we took my oldest, the history buff, to the Hall of Presidents.

On the way back to Toontown to meeting the grandparents and youngest, Tandy and my oldest stopped at the Teacup Ride (ick!), where they had a great time. The girls then played for quite a while at Toontown in the play areas. My goodness it was hot! Before long it was time for lunch at my favorite in-park restaurant: Pooh's Crystal Palace. The food is very good and the characters come right to your table for pictures and autographs. We all had a great time enjoying not just the good, but also the respite from the heat and crowds.

When lunch ended, we split into two groups again with the grandparents going back to Adventureland and we made for the lodge to go swimming in the DVC pool and the larger lodge pool. While we swam Jim had his hair cut at the Magic Kingdom complete with fairy dust. After a nice cooldown, we went back to the Magic Kingdom to have dinner at Cosmic Rays. I thought was awful, but everyone else loved it. The four of us went on to the Race Track, something both girls had been begging for. It turned out to be just a bit too loud for them up close, but we had fun.

Right after leaving the race cars we made for Space Mountain. Tandy is a freak for this coaster so she was even more excited to finally be sharing the experience with the girls. I can take it or leave it, after all being thrown around in the dark is not all that great. Our youngest is in Tandy's camp and our oldest is more or less in my camp, but wants to feel brave. After a short wait in line, we boarded the "launch vehicle" and headed off into the twists and turns of the coaster. Behind me, our oldest squealed in abject horror the entire time. Well, sometimes squealing and other times just screaming. Somewhere up front Tandy and our youngest were laughing and raising their arms in the air. Even after leaving the coaster our oldest was shaken up, then suddenly she announced, "I loved it. Can we go again?" Weird...

A quick stop at the carousel for the horse fanatic and we were off to the lodge for bed time. It took only seconds to get the girls to bed and then Tandy and I sat on the balcony to watch the lighted boat parade go by...and so to bed.

WDW: Day Three

Today we finally set foot in the wonderful world of Disney. Early in the morning Tandy and my mother drove down to the Grand Floridian Spa to have a two hour spa treatment. They each had a manicure and pedicure, then Tandy took a "milk bath" (ugh) and my mother had a massage. Back at the Embassy Suites in Orlando, Jim and I checked out and took the girls to play mini-golf at "Winter Summerland" at Disney. The min-golf was reasonably priced and a lot of fun for the girls. The picture here is my youngest giving me "The Look" as I tell her to stop climbing on things. Before long it was time to meet the ladies at our home away from home: Wilderness Lodge!

I am a born pessimist and I do realize that Disney is an avaricious company, but there is something about Disney World that I just cannot help loving. The lobby is absolutely huge with a fabulous Pacific Northwest lodge design. The theming is simply excellent, etched into every nook and cranny. The huge carved "logs" with animals carved into the ends on the large scale to the hidden Mickeys in blankets and pillowcases. I particularly love the huge iron-fronted fireplaces and large leather rockers. I hope to spend hours reading in them someday, when the girls are off on their own. Today, however, the girls sat off in the little darkened corner where Disney cartoons play constantly, and Jim relaxed in one of the many comfortable chairs. Before long Tandy showed up and got us all checked in and set. Then we made for Downtown Disney.

The girls were scheduled for a "princess makeover" at Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. This is a program for little girls, where they have their hair done up and select princess dresses, shoes and crowns. The "Fairy Godmother's In Training" do everything they can to give girls the hairstyle they want. My oldest has really short hair, and desparately wanted a bun. They worked on her hair forever and managed to create a pretty convincing updo for her. My oldest wanted to enjoy herself, but people playing in her hair is essentially torture for her. My youngest just loves going to the beauty salon even if it is for a wash and blowdry.

Beautiful though they may have been at the end of the experience, they are still my girls. They found a paved area where jets of water shot up and soon made a game of standing over the jets. So much for the fancy dresses and hairdos, which were now dripping wet. It was a sight to see, that is for sure. While they played under Tandy's watchful eye, I went and bought her a surprise. She just loves Mickey ears, so I had Tandy stitched into a pair of gold 50th anniversary ears and a pair of tye-died ears. The ears will appear in many different pictures, including my favorite one (my new desktop), which will be in tomorrow's post.

After our trip to the boutique, we returned to the Wilderness Lodge to go up to our Villa, which was ready. The room was a dedicated double, so it was the layout we had hoped. The balcony had a view of some of Bay Lake, another bonus. After a brief rest, we went to a high tea at the Grand Floridian. The tea their is quite good, and I brought home a can of "Ceylon Indian" tea, which is a blend of Ceylon and Assam teas. Upon returning to Wilderness Lodge, we settled the girls down to bed, my mother and Jim ordered room service, and Tandy and I went grocery shopping at Super Target.

WDW: Day Two

Our first stop in Orlando has been for many years the Mary Queen of the Universe Shrine. It is a stunning Catholic Mission Church, as opposed to a Parish Church with region over which it has authority, built by and for tourists. The Shrine is simply beautiful and puts you in a tranquil frame of mind after a hectic travel schedule. We normally light candles for the souls of relatives in Purgatory and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. The trip is simply not complete without a stop at each of the stained glass windows. My personal favorite is the depiction of the major Church Councils. This year we also walked the rosary garden, which was beautiful in so many ways. No trip is complete without a visit to the gift shop which has a large collection of wonderful books. I purchased only three this year one on the Mass, another on the development of the Mass from ancient times and finally a new text on Freemasonry and Catholicism by William Whalen. I was going to read "Representing the Republic: Mapping the United States, 1600-1900" by John Rennie Short, but now I suspect I wil be reading the book on the ancient Mass.

After spending a few hours at the Shrine, we went to a nice little outdoor mall to pick up things we had forgotten and hit the discount Disney Store. The girls ran into a few nice things and I picked up a great "Wilderness Lodge Bass Derby" t-shirt for the trip. We had a quick lunch and then went back to Embassy Suites to meet my mother and stepfather, who had just arrived a bit earlier.

Our big plan for this evening was to go to the dinner show: Arabian Nights. My youngest is a total horse fanatic and the show was a little bit of a surprise for her. We bought VIP passes for the whole bunch of us so she could attend the meet-and-greet with the horses. We had seats in the 3rd row, which was just the right distance and height for a kid to really see the show. The food was so-so, which was better than I expected. The show was just incredible. The girls were absolutely entranced the whole time, and I must say that I enjoyed it as well. I would strongly recommend this dinner show to anyone with a horse lover in the family.

WDW: Day One

Owing to the traditionally terrible Spring weather in Maine, we decided to get out as early as possible in the day to enjoy the most of our vacation. This lead to my dragging butt out of bed at 3:30am to get ready to face the day. Thank goodness I had shaved the day before otherwise I might have cut my nose off! The flight from Portland to Dulles was a lot of fun for the girls, who worked on their vacation journals (learning never stops) and generally liked the experience of flying. We had a two or three hour layover at Dulles, which came just in time for a real breakfast. It is no joke that the Dulles airport is quite possibly the worst I have ever seen lacking in good repair and good accommodations. Ick!

We arrived to the grand insanity in Orlando and made quickly for bags and car. We had managed to upgrade, through various "secret codes" and such that Tandy found, to a midsized SUV. My oldest is quite excited about Jeep's so we selected a little white Jeep. It has been a lot of fun to drive. I bought my last car after renting the model in Florida, so I may be in trouble here. We made for the Embassy Suites in Orlando proper and settled in for a relaxing afternoon of room service, swimming and chilling out. I just love the design of this style of Embassy Suites. The rooms facing a common court gives such a sense of space.

The pool at the Embassy Suites made me think about software development right away. Perhaps a sign of my diseased mental state...? The hotel is clearly oriented around business travelers, everywhere you looked there were men and women in business casual attire. I would have expected a straight-forward pool for swimming short laps to cool off after a workout. That seems to be the classic business traveler swimming pool. Instead, the pool was a weird little square with at least one step on all four sides and a depth of no more than three feet. There were no laps happening in that pool. What about this reminded me of software? Well, the hotel was built for business travelers, since the tourist traffic is focused twenty minutes to the south at Disney or on International Drive. There customers were well known in advance, and the common practices and expectations of their customers are equally well known. So why did the make the pool intentionally hard to use for the very people they knew would use it? This sounds like the canonical off-the-mark software development discussion. I guess everyone does it...

09 April 2006

Movies on my iPod

This year I am planning to bring movies on my iPod rather than drag around a bunch of DVDs. I bought the "DVD to iPod Converter" package from Cucusoft for about $30. I already ripped Howl's Moving Castle from DVD to the iPod and it works like a charm. I am planning to rip Office Space and The Last Temptation of Christ for me. Tandy is picking one movie and the girls are going to pick four. I already own the AV cable for the iPod, so we can play the movies on the TV from the iPod.

Have I mentioned that the iPod video totally rocks?

Taking your own advice...

It is a hard thing to take your own advice. I regularly caution developers who work on my projects to do two things:
  1. Always be thorough in your work, as you rarely get either a cleanup opportunity or a second chance altgoether. There a reason for the old adage among software developers, "Code is like children; a few moments of pleasure for a lifetime of maintainence." As much as I love my children and my code, there is a deep truth to that statement. (As a side note, though I think code should be engineered, I like the divine randomness of genetics.)
  2. Working long hours decreases quality, increases churn and only serves to burn you out. There are plenty of studies which bear this out (Intl Game Developers Assoc, Google Scholar citations) and one need only have been in the industry a short time to see the principle at work. Even though I have high expectations of developers on my projects, keeping reasonable hours is still critically important because quality is always better than quantity in software.
So, like a fool, I am leading by example in the worst way. I, along with another senior developer on the project, am killing myself with long hours in the run up to the GITA Conference in Tampa. Though the project is still in its early stages of productization, two years of development behind the scenes and five months so far making it ready for external use, we are excited to show existing and potential customers what we have cooking. The moment I realized that I was falling prey the very behavior I counsel against was when I finished another two hours trying to solve a five minute problem.

In one case, I could not figure out why attributed COM was rejecting our custom GUID system in one class, but accepting it in another class in the same project (missing header file). In the other case, I typed "__uudiof(" rather than "__uuidof(" which triggered an error hundreds of lines distant in the same file. In tip-top shape I would have knocked those off in a few moments with a little "whoops!" (or "yowsa!" as our UI Lead says). Instead, worn thin by long hours and little sleep I ran in circles trying nearly every other solution except the obvious one.

Time to take my own advice and watch the first Lord of the Rings movie with my two munchkins.

02 April 2006

Time Shifting, The Weather and a DVR

So, I just had the weirdest experience. I am sitting here watching Numb3rs, the TV show, from my DVR. Part of the experience of watching shows from a DVR is that hazy that sense of when the show was actually on. How long ago was that news bulletin? Did something really happen at the State House today? Was it last week? The feeling was even more pronounced when I saw the weather forecast come on. The brief soundbite was, "It looks like the sun is not going to last long this weekend." The question was then, when was this forecast for...? Was it for this weekend, which found a beautiful Sunday and a moderate to rainy Saturday? Was it a weekend a few weeks ago?

I have no idea, but I do recognize this feeling. I have frequently experienced this sensation since acquiring the DVR. Welcome to the world of time shifted TV.

01 April 2006

Fishing Season Opens

Hiking Fishergirl
Originally uploaded by cratliff.
The girls and I had been planning to go our on opening day for some time now. Bright and early on Saturday morning (read: 5:30am) they jostled me awake and dragged me off to fish. I probably should have gone to bed earlier the night before, but a players party is a players party, right? Reinvigorated with a large cup of CTC Assam, tea snobs know what I am talking about here, I was ready to face the day by 5:45am!

Since we had not planned to pick up Grampy (aka Tom Atwell, The Maine Gardener) until 7am, we made for the Spurwink River and the Rachel Carson Conservation area. This beautiful tidal river is right off of Route 77 on the Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough line (where is ECA, when I need it?). It is open to fishing and a great place to wander around looking at the natural beauty of Maine. My youngest fished a bit while my oldest went hiking around the area looking at birds and plants and just having a great time.

Soon enough, 7am rolled around and we went back to get Grampy and obtain doughnuts and more caffeine at Dunkin Donuts. Then we went to Hinkley Pond to their U16 fishing area. There was one interested fish, but my youngest had converted to hiking by this point. She and her sister and Grampy played "Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea," bushwhacking through the still denuded woods. I fished in the Upper Pond, open to all ages, but had no luck either. After a bit of playing, the girls were ready to head for home.

It was a great time and a perfect first day of fishing. A little time on the water and a little time wandering through the woods. At the end of the day, that is what it is about. Teaching kids to enjoy nature.

As a side note, my youngest is firmly convinced that there is a "Big Fat Fish" which nibbles the bait off of her hook and teases her. It is far to smart to get caught. Not too suprisingly, that is the image most people who fish have of their aquatic opponent.

Scottish Rite: Prince of Jerusalem

Originally uploaded by cratliff.
Last night I participated in my second Scottish Rite Degree. This was the 16th degree called "Prince of Jerusalem." In it, I play Zerubabbel, a character from the Old Testament. The degree was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed myself. If you click on the picture it will take you to other actors from the drama (flickr: Scottish Rite).

The backstory to the drama is given in the 15th degree. Zerubabbel is tested by Kind Cyrus to see if he is strong enough to lead the Hebrews from Babylon back to Jerusalem, this is the period known as the Babylonian Captivity. Zerbabbel passes the test and he and his people are freed to return to Jerusalem to, as King Cyrus says, "..rebuild the walls of their city and the Temple of their God...".

The 16th degree, where I "acted," picks up some years later in Jerusalem. The Jews cannot make any progress on the Temple owing to their being blocked by their neighbor nations and the order of King Cambyses, successor to Cyrus from the previous degree. Once King Darius succeeds Cambyses, Zerubabbel, at the prodding of Joshua, goes to see Darius and plead their case.

At the court of King Darius, Zerubabbel and his companions are greeted warmly by the King. The King has posed a question to his courtiers: what is the strongest and holds the most powerful sway over people. Three courtiers answer with wine (Araspes), the King (Artaban) and women (Bartacus). These answers enrage Zerubabbel, who interrupts with an impassioned speech that Truth, as an attribute of God, is by far the most powerful. The King recognizes the rightness of Zerubabbel's answer, despite how intensely and possibly rudely the answer is given. At one point, Zerubabbel exclaims:
"Wine is wicked! The King is wicked! Women are wicked! All the children of men are wicked! Their works are sinful! Unless there is Truth in them, they will perish."
Not precisely gentle persuasion. I hardly bears saying, that I could totally relate. M.W. Bro. Chuck Ridlon and R.W. Bro. Jeff Simonton had enticed me to joining the Scottish Rite with "a role [I] was born to play". They were right. I have really enjoyed the Scottish Rite and look forward to more degrees in the future.

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