July 24, 2010

New Zealand’s South Island: Queenstown and Milford Sound

Filed under: General,Places — Cory @ 12:00 pm

(I wrote most of this back in March while we were traveling in NZ.)

We arrived in Queenstown and parked the Britz (this is how we refered to the RV) at the Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park “Creeksyde”, which turned out to be a really nice place with good facilities. The parking spots were a little small, but I was able to maneuver the RV into place. We got settled and then walked a few minutes over into town. Queenstown was bustling on this summertime Saturday night. After walking around for a bit we discovered a little yakitori restaurant called Daruma Japanese Sake Bar (which doesn’t appear to have a website), and it turned out to be excellent. After dinner Jason spotted a skydive company, and suggested that we should do it. My response: absolutely not.

While we were out we found Internet access at a Starbucks and decided to see if there was a camper park at Milford Sound. As it turns out there is only one, the Milford Lodge. We decided to reserve a spot for the next night. This was the most advanced planning that we did for pretty much the entire trip.

The next morning we packed up the Britz and set out for Milford Sound. Milford Sound is considered to be the #1 attraction in New Zealand, so we figured we had to see it. We had heard about people flying there, and taking boats, but we decided that since we already had an RV that we might as well drive there. The drive out there takes about 3.5-4 hours because you have to drive out of the way to get to Milford Sound. The drive is beautiful though, and you end up passing through some really gorgeous mountains. The winds along the way were out of control, and it was tough just keeping the RV on the road. We stopped several times to take pictures, including one place beside this giant snow cave.

We finally arrived at Milford Sound around 5pm on Sunday evening (March 14). We checked into the camper park (which was now full and had zero vacancy, good thing we pre-booked!), and walked down to the Sound. On the way we stopped by the Milford Helicopters office and asked about getting a tour over the fiords. The guy there told that there were no more flights that day, but to come back in the morning. We arrived at the Sound just in time for sunset, and it was just as beautiful as it is on all of the post cards. We spent some time on the Sound, took a bunch of pictures and chilled for a while, then walked up to the only restaurant near the sound, the Blue Duck.

On the walk back to the Britz we decided that this place was way too awesome to only spend one night and day, so we walked back into the camper park office and booked a second night. We went to sleep relatively early so that we could get up early to see the sun rise down at the Sound. The next morning we headed down there, caught the sunrise, and got some great pictures. It was a Monday morning and at this point there was no one there except us. It was awesome.

After seeing the sunrise and hanging out in the Sound for about an hour we decided to walk back to the RV campsite and get some breakfast. Along the way we stopped by Milford Helicopters again and asked about a tour. We met Snowsie, one of the helicopter pilots, and he told us that they only make trips with three or more people, so unless we wanted to cover the cost of a third person that we’d have to wait until someone else showed up and wanted a tour. It was about 9am at this point, so he told us to check back at noon and if anyone showed up that he’s schedule us with them. We started walking back to the camper park, and about 5 minutes down the road an old truck rushes up next to us and it’s Snowsie. He tells us that a guy just rode up on his motorcycle and wanted a helicopter tour, and wanted to know if we were ready for the tour. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity and rode back down to the helicopter site with him. Perfect!

The helicopter tour ended up being one of the highlights of the entire trip. We briefly landed on top of one of the fiords and were able to get a few pictures. Jason stepped over to the edge of the drop-off, but I have a tiny fear of heights so I stayed away. All total the trip lasted about 30 minutes. Here’s a video I put together using footage Jason shot during the flight.

Milford Sound Helicopter Tour from Cory Wright on Vimeo.

Afterwards we walked back to the camper for lunch and then walked around trying to find somewhere to rent kayaks. We finally gave up and decided to take one of the boat tours through the Sound and out towards the Tasman Sea. It was nice too, but after the helicopter tour nothing else really could compare.

We had dinner again at the Blue Duck and then went back out on to the Sound to hang out until sunset. It was incredibly relaxing to sit out on the Sound and pluck on my ukulele. Jason took the opportunity to get some really nice photographs of the Sound.

The next morning we got up, had some breakfast at the lodge, then packed up and headed back to Queenstown. Several times along the 4 hour drive back Jason brought up skydiving. I never gave him much of a serious response, because it wasn’t a serious question for me. But I had plenty of time to think it over on the drive back, and I eventually convinced myself that I could do it if I didn’t think about it.

When we got back to Queenstown I told Jason that I’d go sky diving with him. We walked into town and over to the skydiving shop, and as soon as I walked in and saw the pictures on the walls of people jumping out of planes I immediately reneged. No way. Jason sort of laughed and suggested we forget about it for the time being and grab dinner, after all, the shop would still be open for another 3-4 hours. We found dinner at Hell Pizza and then wandered over to Starbucks for a little Internet time.

While at Starbucks I spent some time thinking about skydiving and why it terrified me so much. I have a horrible fear of heights and I feel sick at my stomach whenever I stand near an edge and look over, even inside a tall building. (the glass might pop out?) I tried to figure out what part of this experience caused me to feel ill. Eventually I realized that what I’m really afraid of is falling, not heights. Looking out of a window on an airplane doesn’t bother me at all, probably because there is no chance I’ll fall out. Once I understood this I decided that skydiving shouldn’t be trouble because I would be intentionally falling in a controlled way.

I knew Jason was waiting on my decision so I told him to go ahead and go back to the skydive shop and book two dives for the following morning. I also told him that I didn’t want to talk or even think about the dive any more until it was time to show up for it the next morning. I didn’t want to talk myself out of it again.

That night I barely slept at all, despite keeping my mind busy with other things. Anything except jumping out of airplanes. We got up at 6am the next morning, moved the Britz out to the street, and walked into town to be at the the skydive shop by 7am. We were scheduled to dive at 8:30, but we had to watch some training materials and go over the basics first. Finally we loaded up in a van and headed outside of town to where their airstrip is located.

I got selected to be in the first group of 3 to go up, and got split from Jason in the process, which annoyed me since I was already a bit on edge. I protested at first, but then they told me that if they didn’t split us then they’d have to split a father and his young daughter, or a split a pair of special needs teenagers. It bugged me, but not so much that I wanted to be a jerk about it. So, I was the first person loaded into the first airplane of the day, with the two teenagers filing in after me.

It took 5 or 10 minutes for us to get up to 12,000 feet, and the whole time I kept my mind busy by looking out the window at the beautiful mountains. Occasionally the photographers would ask us to pose for the camera, but other than that I remained focused on looking out the window. The other two guys were so excited, but in the video you can see that I clearly am not.

Skydiving near Queenstown, New Zealand from Cory Wright on Vimeo.

Finally we reached 12,000 feet and people started jumping out of the plane, in reverse order. Finally it was my turn and I slid to the door, put my legs over the rail on the edge of the plane, and temporarily drifted into some other world. There is about 10 second gap in my memory at this point. When I came to I was tipping over out of an airplane, and then suddenly things were really fun. It wasn’t scary at all, but rather pure joy, and I remember for a split second thinking how sad it was that this would only last for 45 seconds.

After falling for 45 seconds and 7000 feet the master diver opened our parachute just as we entered the clouds. As we drifted back to the ground for the next 5 minutes I remembered that I had expected the parachute descent to be the best part, but now it seemed so boring compared to what had just happened.

Once back to the ground I went out to watch for Jason (he was on the next plane after me), and then we waited for a bit until the shuttle took us back to town.

We got back, took one final picture of us with the Britz, and then drove it to the Queenstown airport to drop it off and catch our flight to Cairns, Australia. We had seen everything we hoped to see in New Zealand (and more, really), and driven the Britz over 1500 miles in 10 days. Success!

• • •

May 30, 2010

New Zealand’s Sound Island: Murchison, Franz Josef Glacier, Blue Pools

Filed under: General,Places — Cory @ 12:42 pm

(I wrote most of this back in March while we were traveling in NZ.)

After arriving in Picton via the ferry to the South Island we drove 2.5 hours through some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever witnessed. We were told by several Kiwi’s on the North Island that “there are no people down there” on the South Island, and they seem to be right. There was a period of about 45 minutes while we were driving that we only saw two cars pass us, and not a single house or person along the way.

We finally arrived at Murchison and parked the RV at the Kiwi Holiday Park, which was really nice. After getting settled in we walked down the street to grab a lamb chop and beer for dinner.

The next morning we headed out to Franz Josef Glacier, where we had a 2:15pm helicopter hike scheduled with the Franz Josef Glacier Guides. We got to the Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park around noon, cleaned up, and went to the office to wait to be picked up for the hike. A lady finally showed up and told us that all hikes that day had been canceled due to the weather. We asked her to reschedule us for a heli-hike the next day. Everything was booked completely full except for the 2:15pm hike, so we took that.

We now had our first bit of downtime on the trip, so we took advantage of it to do laundry, clean up, and rest a little bit. (this is also when I finally had a chance to write the previous blog post). We found Internet access in the strangest place, “The Red Bus – Cyber CafĂ©”. It’s quite literally an old red bus, lined with computers that was run by this cross of a redneck and hippie. Jason said the bus smelled, but I didn’t notice anything. When we were paying him afterwards he mentioned that he kept his Internet fast by using Linux to cache everything. I couldn’t believe what I just heard, considering it looked like this guy barely knew was a computer was. (He mentions using Linux on the bottom of this page). The whole thing was a little strange, but he was a nice guy, and hey, we finally had Internet access.

The next day we were up early and waiting to see how the hikes were going. One by one, each of the scheduled heli-hikes for the day were canceled due to weather. We walked over to the guide’s office every hour or so to check in and they kept saying that it didn’t look good. Even at 2pm they said they weren’t sure. Finally, at 2:10 they told everyone that the weather had just improved enough on the glacier and that the 2:15 trip was on. As you can imagine, we were very excited about this.

After we geared up, got our boots and crampons, and were briefed on entering and exiting a helicopter, we headed over to the landing pad. Neither of us had ever been on a helicopter before, so this was pretty exciting, in addition to the glacier hike. Franz Josef Glacier is one of three glaciers in the world that lead down to a rain forest, so once we were in the air we were able to look down on all of this. Our guide was named Bruce, and he was a rather chill guy who had relocated from the UK on a whim. Since we were the first trip to go out in 2 days and the glacier shifts and moves on a daily basis, Bruce jumped out in front of us to find paths to us take through the glacier. Often he would use his pickaxe to cut steps into the side of slopes to allow people to climb them. We found a cave that went deep under the glacier (25-30 feet) and we went through that as well. There were little streams of water flowing everywhere through the glacier, all with intensely blue water. The weather ended up being perfect while we were up there. After hiking up and down the glacier for three hours the helicopter returned to take us back down to the town.

Within minutes of landing and getting out of the helicopter we were back in the RV and on our way to Haast Beach. We got there just before sunset and stayed at the Haast Beach Holiday Park, which is quite remote. Jason didn’t have a cell phone signal for a couple hours on each side of it. After waking up here on Saturday morning we headed down to Haast Pass to check out the Blue Pools. There were a couple of really neat wooden walking bridges (including a swing one), and the water really is incredibly blue there. After the pools we continued on to Queenstown, stopping only for gas (and a smoothie) in Wanaka.

Pictures are available in my “New Zealand – Australia” gallery. We took a ton of photos, so I’ve just uploaded a few of the more interesting ones. Some of these are Jason’s photos too.

Driving 3-5 hours every day can get pretty boring, and you run out of things to talk about. On the trip from Haast Beach to Queenstown Jason came up with the idea of filming us while we were driving. Yes, this is how bored we were. After he set up the tripod and had everything configured we started filming and played funny music. It was hard to keep from laughing while the camera was rolling. :)

Here’s the full playlist of our driving videos. Other funny ones are Country A Go-Go and the dry-run practice take.

• • •

Delayed Gratification Blogging

Filed under: General — Cory @ 10:26 am

I’ve gotten really behind on blogging.

While Jason and I we were traveling in New Zealand and Australia we had a bit of a difficult time finding any WiFi, and forget about it being free. Also, unlike our previous Europe trip where there were 3-4 hours of train rides between cities, in New Zealand I was driving 3-5 hours a day and there just wasn’t as much time to write. Anyway, enough excuses.

The posts are coming today, although at this point these posts are mostly for my own archival purposes.

• • •

June 29, 2009

The Gift of Flight

Filed under: Events,General — Cory @ 12:00 pm

This weekend Sandy and I celebrated our third year together. Over those three years she’s managed to surprise me with some really cool gifts, but this weekend in NYC I think she topped everything she’s done so far.

Around 3:30 on Saturday afternoon she took me to Penn Station, bought two round trip train tickets to the Ronkonkoma train station on Long Island, and hopped on a train with me. I had no idea where we were going or what we were going to be doing. An hour and twenty minutes later we arrived at the Ronkonkoma train station and someone came to pick us up. You know when you put a dog in a car and the dog doesn’t know where its going (to the vet? to the park?) the dog is all wound up and hyperactive? Yea, that’s what I was like. Suddenly I see a Southwest jet so I figure we are at the Islip airport. Then the car we were in pulled into a little driveway, and that’s when I saw the sign for the Heritage Flight Academy. It was like when the dog realizes he isn’t going to the vet, but to the park!

I guess I’d mentioned to her a few times over the past three years that I might one day like to take flying lessons. She found the Heritage Flight Academy flight school out at Long Island Macarthur Airport, and they have a special intro course where they let you fly the airplane.

We met the instructor, who was a really cool guy, and then he showed us a map of the area where we would be flying. Specifically, we were flying from Macarthur Airport over Fire Island, over the Atlantic Ocean, and then back inland. He also showed us two big thunderstorms that had formed to the north and that were heading towards us. After chatting about this stuff for about 5 minutes we headed out to the airplane that we would be flying, a Cessna 172.

After checking the plane over we finally hopped in and started taxiing out to the runway. On our way we had to wait for a Southwest Airlines jet to land, which I thought was pretty funny since we were going to take off on the same runway. I asked if there were any flocks of geese nearby, and he told me that there were not, but that the prop on the Cessna would chop them up if we hit one. Sweet!

As we moved into place the instructor went over a few last things and communicated with the tower, and then we revved up the engine and took off down the runway. The instructor told me to pull back, I did, and to my surprise the plane lifted off the ground in what seemed like 5 seconds! Sandy was recording everything from the back seat with my camera, so here’s what it looked like from back there:

After we leveled off it got really fun and I was able to look down and see what was below. Here’s another video Sandy took from the air:

We flew around for 30-40 minutes before it was finally time to return to the airport. Of course, the instructor handled the landing for us which was awesome because I didn’t want to have any part of that. It was smooth as could be, contrary to the way it looks in the video.

All the videos Sandy took are in this YouTube playlist. There are videos of taxiing to the runway, taking off, in flight 1, in flight 2, in flight 3, in flight 4, and landing. All the pictures from the day are in my gallery.

This was such an awesome surprise! The only problem now is that I think I’m hooked. :)

• • •

November 20, 2008

$6.69 Trillion

Filed under: General — Cory @ 12:48 am

The S&P 500 has dropped 48% in the last 13 months. That is $6.69 trillion in value, gone.

• • •

October 26, 2008

Eloquent Surfer

Filed under: General — Cory @ 11:01 pm

Monica posted this to Twitter and it has to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Whapow!

• • •

August 31, 2008

Pray For Rain, or, Why Religion and Politics Shouldn’t Mix

Filed under: General — Cory @ 6:33 pm

I could talk for hours about why I think religion should stay out of politics (my coworkers can attest to this). The guy below asked people to pray for rain during the Democratic National Convention. I guess he thinks God favors one political party over the other.

In fact, the weather was pretty much perfect for the DNC.

Maybe all those prayers were delayed, or maybe it’s punishment for all the jerks who felt it was a worthy thing to pray for. Either way, it was funny to learn that the first day of the Republican National Convention has been delayed due to really bad weather, Hurricane Gustav that is. Maybe they should start praying for lower gas prices, instead.

Republican Party, please stop making it hard for me to like you. I want to support you, really. Please sever that evangelical arm and focus on what the party is actually supposed to be about. You know, things like limited government, conservative spending, etc.

I could almost like McCain if he were younger (click that) and not so war-hungry. But his VP pick, Sarah Palin, really bugs me, and here’s why:

  • She does not accept evolutionary theory (maybe she also rejects the theory of gravity?)
  • She opposes funding stem cell research
  • She supports teaching Creationism in public schools as an alternative theory to evolution
  • She opposes birth control pills and condoms even among married couples
  • She opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest

She takes all of these stances in the name of religious extremism. Contrary to what many believe, the United States was not founded as a Christian nation. In fact, quite the opposite. The only mention of religion in the constitution by the founding fathers is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” The founding fathers were wise men. They knew how things play out when there is an official state religion. Religion and politics do not mix well.

For example, after pressure from evangelical groups, Bush has proposed to change the definition of abortion to include birth control. Birth control is abortion? Apparently, if you support evangelical politics. This is what we get when religious ideology guides our politicians.

Religion is fine and dandy, but imposing your beliefs on others is not. Religion should be a personal matter. People seem to think it is fine for a Christian politician to make Christian laws. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, including the U.S. There are now two Muslim congressmen, and there will be more, which is fine since everyone should be represented. But I wonder, how will evangelicals react to faith-based legislation when it’s introduced by a Muslim politician?

McCain is 72 and already has a history of health problems. His father and grandfather were both dead by 72. If he goes, Palin takes over. Honestly, I think it would be great for a woman to be president because she’d be less likely to be in a good-ole-boys club and would probably have a better chance of making the big changes that need to happen in Washington. But Palin just is too much. I give it to her, she’s committed to her stances, it’s just that I strongly disagree with much of what she supports.

Ugh, don’t get me started… :)

• • •

August 23, 2008

Writing is Fun!

Filed under: General — Cory @ 4:41 pm

I wasn’t all that great of a student in college. Actually, I wasn’t a great student in high school, either. I really like learning things (across many subjects), but I guess I just didn’t like having to prove that I actually learned it. Of course, that’s how you earn good grades.

Probably the one thing that got me through college was being able to write. Math and science majors have to prove their answers and back them up with facts. We History and English majors just had to write and be able to B.S. enough to get by. Worked for me!

But lately I’ve been writing about something I find far more interesting than History, namely Linux and DNS. I know that most of the world disagrees with me, but I find it a lot more fun to write about DNS internals than about the Storming of the Bastille.

Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to write for the premier Open Source magazine, Linux Journal. My first article is published in this month’s issue (September 2008) and is titled “djbdns: More Than Just a Mouthful of Consonants.” It is amazing how much fun writing can be when it’s about something you are really into (djbdns is my favorite piece of software). So far I’ve received email from several readers saying that they liked the article and decided to switch to djbdns after reading what I wrote. Sweet!

I’ve also been contributing stories to the Linux Journal website. It’s especially cool to see my stories get posted to Digg and Reddit and become popular. :) Here’s what I’ve written so far:

My buddy, Will, also wrote an article in the September issue, titled Nginx: the High-Performance Web Server and Reverse Proxy.

And there’s more on the way, both on the web and in print. I’m currently working on article for the December issue of Linux Journal, so be sure to check it out!

• • •

August 18, 2008

What Would You Do With An Extra $1,000,000,000?

Filed under: General — Cory @ 12:04 am

About a year ago I watched “The Rockefellers“, a PBS documentary about the famous “rags-to-royal” American family. The documentary was fascinating, but something that stuck with me was what John D. Rockefeller Sr. did with all the money he accumulated.

In the late 1880′s if you had a lot of money and wanted to “give back” then you would support soup kitchens or homeless shelters, or give to churches. This is how charity worked back then. But when Rockefeller decided to begin giving back he had a small problem: how was he to give away hundreds of millions of dollars?

You may remember Brewster’s Millions, the movie where Richard Pryor plays Montgomery “Monty” Brewster and is tasked with spending $30 million in 30 days in order to test his value of money. Rockefeller had a similar task (although he certainly knew the value of his hard earned bucks). It’s like going into a dollar store and being told you have to spend $10,000 before you can leave. It would be a lot harder than you think.

Rockefeller, like Andrew Carnegie, disliked the idea of funding soup kitchens primarily because he saw it as a sort of band-aid approach to giving. Giving to those less fortunate was indeed a noble thing to do, but he felt that it did nothing to move humanity forward. Instead, Rockefeller took a page from Carnegie’s essay “The Gospel of Wealth” and formed The Rockefeller Foundation with his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Together they gave large sums of money to support education, particularly to help start colleges for African Americans in the southern states, as well as to fund medical research. They gave $35 million to help jump start the University of Chicago. They restored Colonial Williamsburg and Versailles (yes, that Versailles). They donated tens of thousands of acres of land to create several national parks. They supported science, and built churches. To date their foundation has given away over $14 billion dollars, and still has around $4 billion in assets today.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett both had the same problem as John D. Rockefeller Sr. After much research, Gates decided to model the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation after the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Buffett followed his lead and nearly doubled the size of the foundation when he pledged to donate $30 billion dollars worth of Berkshire Hathaway stock over the next few years, bringing the total endowment to nearly $70 billion.

Like Brewster, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a deadline. The foundation has to give away its last penny within 50 years of the death of the last living trustee. The foundation has three trustees: Bill Gates (currently 52 years old), Melinda Gates (44), and Warren Buffett (77).

The primary goals of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are to improve health care and decrease extreme poverty around the globe, and to open up more opportunities for education in the U.S., especially with respect to technology.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. once wrote:

“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty”

It sounds almost like a quote out of Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth” essay. Andrew Carnegie was convinced that successful wealthy entrepreneurs had a duty to dispense their wealth back into the public, preferably through calculated giving to worthy organizations. He felt that there was a responsibility to do good things with ones wealth, and that future generations who would inherit the wealth were prone to squandering it in less than noble ways. Soup kitchens did not qualify for Carnegie’s charity, nor those who couldn’t be bothered to help themselves. Carnegie funded more than 1,700 public libraries across the United States because he felt it could give less fortunate individuals a way to get ahead if they just were willing to put in the effort.

It is an interesting problem, to say the least. These men all used their creative abilities to amass enormous amounts of wealth, more than they could ever spend in a lifetime. (Andrew Carnegie tried to spend it all, and when he realized it was impossible he created the first philanthropic trust in the United States, the Carnegie Corporation so that it would be able to continue spending after his death.)

It got me to thinking about what I would want to focus on if I had the resources of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. It seems that most of these efforts are focused on third world countries, which no doubt need the most help. But I think I would invest in science and education in the United States. It’s pretty clear that the U.S. has fallen behind in our science programs (stem cell research, anyone?). And the state of our public education system is a also serious problem, not just for the students, but also for the rest of us. After all, we have to live with the citizens those schools are producing (they will be our neighbors, our coworkers, and most importantly, they will be voters). It’s quite scary, really. I’m not sure the problem with the U.S. public education system can be completely solved, but I am sure it’s something that can be improved. I also believe it’s a problem where money can help a lot (almost certainly more than $1 billion though).

What issues would you focus on if you could start a foundation with $1 billion?

• • •

June 29, 2008

The New Value of Mathematics

Filed under: General — Cory @ 2:07 am

I have a degree in History, although I spent my first two years of college as an Economics major. Sometimes I wish I had have stuck with it (I bailed when I had to start doing serious math). Other times I wish I had pursued physics, or something in electronics, or sociology. Lately though I’ve been thinking more about mathematics, and this article really makes me wish I understood it better.

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