Archive for September, 2006

Flat Top Mountain

After dropping off Jere Bidwell on Flat Top Mountain, the dogs and I went to check out a nearby lookout that was marked on the Gazetteer.  It was a pretty easy trip– we just followed a gravel road up to a series of radio towers.  Just when I thought the radio towers were the only sites to be seen, we turned a corner and found a gentle slope down to a clearing.  Lo and behold–that clearing sported some rocks and a pretty decent view:

All my pictures from this brief but satisfying outing are available on my website.

September 30, 2006 at 9:57 pm 1 comment

Congratulations to Jere Bidwell!

This morning, I woke up early and dropped an out of town hiker off at the Appalachian Trail on Flat Top Mountain.  This is the same hiker I dropped off a few weeks ago (refer to Summoning the Strength to Wuss Out)– a man by the name of Jere Bidwell.  Jere serves as a hike leader for the Charlottesville Chapter of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and for years now, he has been doing day hikes all around the state.  He’s been working towards hiking all of the Appalachian Trail miles in Virginia.  And today was the final hike he needed to complete that goal! 

Jere at the beginning of today’s hike

Finishing Virginia isn’t a trivial feat.  Virginia hosts 550 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the most mileage of any state and over a quarter of the entire trail.  Combine that with all the driving, logistics and shuttling that would accompany the individual day hikes, Jere has shown a great amount of dedication, drive and patience to complete his goal.

With that, I humbly submit my congratulations to Jere!

September 30, 2006 at 9:01 pm Leave a comment

Project Runway and Team Building

Last Friday, in celebration of Zero Defects Day my work had a team building exercise.  Employees were split into small groups.  We were given some wooden pallets, two chairs and the ability to buy other supplies (like bubble wrap, paper, tape measure, cardboard, etc).  We were allowed to use anything we found outside of the building (including our cars… if we had our keys with us).  Our assignment was to make a hotel room within 30 minutes.   Our team ended up winning.  In this kind of exercise, I think it pays to have people with a lot of junk in their cars.  🙂


The activity was quite fun and reminded me very much of one of the Innovation Challenges on Project Runway:

  1. You had to use a lot of creativity to turn junk into hotel amenities.  For example, our team made a toilet out of a bucket, a spare tire and the dirty lid of a styrofoam cooler (The stains make it more authentic, right?).  We also made a toilet paper holder out of an empty CD-R container I had waiting for Clint in my car.  That CD-R container had 100% utilization– we used the lid to make a lampshade. 
  2. Like the Project Runway designers, we had a time limitation. 
  3. We also had to keep in mind the objectives of the challenge and what the judges may be looking for.  Since it was Zero Defects Day, and the theme of the event was Continuous Improvement, Customer Satisfaction and Quality– we made sure to include a survey in our room to show that our hotel was concerned about the perceptions of our guests and that we took improvement seriously.  🙂
  4. Finally, we had to sell and justify our work to our judges.  I think our “tour” was instrumental to our win.  We had a number of great comedic public speakers on our team, but settled on Jeff S. to do our presentation.  He had the entire company and the judges laughing up a storm.

Unfortunately, the only pictures we have of our work are from a cell phone.  I do have all three precious pictures up on my Flickr account with markups showing the different items, what we made them from and why in the world some of those items were still in my car.    Enjoy!

Pictures on Flickr

September 27, 2006 at 8:01 pm 1 comment

Crossword Coincidences

In the weeks proceeding the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, the Allies found themselves a bit concerned with the crosswords in the Daily Telegraph.  Five of their codewords– Overlord, Utah, Neptune, Omaha and Mulberry appeared as answers in puzzles that appeared between May 2, 1944 to June 2, 1944.  It worried the allies so much that a counterespionage team at Scotland Yard (M.I.5) investigated the author, Leonard Sidney Dawe, and even showed up at his house to interview him on June 4, 1944.  From Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day:

“Mr. Dawe,” said one of the men as the questioning began, “during the last month a number of highly confidential code words concerning a certain Allied operation have appeared in the Telegraph crossword puzzles.  Can you tell us what prompted you to use them– or where you got them?”

Before the surprised Dawe could answer, the M.I.5 man pulled a list out of his pocket and said, “We are particularly interested in finding out how you came to choose this word.”  He pointed to the list.  The prize competition crossword in the Telegraph for May 27 included the clue (11 across) “But some big-wig like this has stolen some at times.”  This mystifying clue through some strange alchemy made sense to Dawe’s devoted followers.  The answer, published two days before on June 2, was the code name for the entire Allied invasion plan– “Overlord”

Dawe did not know what Allied operation they were talking about, so he was not unduly startled or even indignant at these questions.  He could not explain, he told them, just how or why he had chosen that particular word.  It was quite a common word in history books, he pointed out.  “But how,” he protested, “can I tell what is being used as a code word and what isn’t?”

The two M.I.5 men were extremely courteous: They agreed that it was difficult.  But wasn’t it strange that all these code words should appear in the same month?

One by one they went over the list with the now slightly harassed bespectacled schoolmaster. 

Dawe had no explanation for the use of these words.  For all he knew, he said, the crosswords mentioned on the list could have been completed six months before.  Was there any explanation?  Dawe could suggest only one: fantastic coincidence.

An old co-worker of mine, Chris Martz, got me hooked on the Roanoke Times Crossword (done by Eugene Sheffer).  I’ll have a few periods here and there where I don’t work on them regularly, but when I do, it isn’t unusual to run across a series of coincidences in the clues and the answers. 

It happens so much that I’ve written about crossword coincidences in my past journals, but I don’t have to tap into those today–  I have a fresh example to share!  Yesterday at Larry’s, I printed out a fresh Eugene Sheffer crossword and worked on it throughout the day. 

  • Pea
    Early on, I ran across the clue, “Cause of royal insomnia”.  It was a reference to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea.  It was a story I had not heard a while, but it was still alive enough in my memory to know the answer.  Without saying a word, I filled in PEA. No more than ten minutes later, Larry Bowman starts mocking his daughter and her sleeping habits.  He ended his ridicule with asking her whether she had a pea under her mattress.
  • Hahn
    There was one trouble area in the upper right of the puzzle where I ended up being stuck.  When I had completed everything that I could, I decided to look up the answer to one clue I had little chance in knowing, “Physicist Otto”.  Four Letters and I knew _A_N.  It turns out it was Otto Hahn, a pioneer in radioactivity.  Once I had the two missing H’s filled in, the rest of the section was solved quickly. With the puzzle done, I moved on to another activity– reading Discover magazine.  The first article I started to read was called “20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Nobel Prizes”.  Number 13 and 14 both mentioned Otto Hahn– the very man I had just looked up.

It is occurences such as these that make me feel the Operation Overlord code words appearing in the Daily Telegraph was not that “fantastic” of a coincidence afterall. 

It seems to me that coincidences in crosswords are, in fact, commonplace.

September 24, 2006 at 1:41 pm 10 comments

Internet Legacies: Don’t Fire Al Groh

The last two seasons, my husband has been maintaining a site called DontFireAlGroh.Com, making fun of the inepitude of U.V.A.’s football coach. 

Well just like my cheerleader animated GIF from 1996, DontFireAlGroh.Com is popping up in unexpected places.  Yesterday at work, a co-worker said his sister had a link on her MySpace site.  He didn’t tell her about the site or how one of his best friends made it– it was independently circulating around the Virginia Tech Hokie club.  Then this morning, Sean was perusing his usual sports news websites and he found his site mentioned on Ben Maller’s Sports Rumours and News (10th article under College Rumors and News). 

Granted, it isn’t as exciting as turning on CNN one morning and seeing Sean’s Jackass Driver Registry featured (which happened to us in 1998), but the DontFireAlGroh coincidences are still pretty neat.

In a post last night, Stacy said “it sure can be a small world”.  Apparently the Internet falls under that scope!

September 21, 2006 at 9:05 am 6 comments

The Walls of Troy, Documentation and Log Files

Walls of Troy Lecture
This evening, I went to see Dr. Sarah Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles speak at Virginia Tech.  Her topic was “Apollo, Poseidon, and the Walls of Troy: Homer and Archaeology”.  She covered a large array of talking points– the excavation history of Troy/Ilium, the new technologies and practices that accompany modern archaeology, how the Trojan Horse may have stemmed from Greek memories of a seize machine, etc.

One note I found particularly interesting was her observation that Troy was the 24th city that was seized by the Greeks.  She mentioned there was even a city that was much bigger than Troy (sounded like “Pegalon”– but not sure of the spelling). 

So she asked, “Why Troy?  Why did this site become more important than the others?”

To answer that, Dr. Morris cited that there were six Epic Cycle poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey all written around Trojan War events/aftermath.  However, it seemed what she felt really solidified Troy’s importance was the continued prominence of the city/site afterwards.  She talked about pilgrims visiting it and she also shared a story about how a city cursed by Ajax the Lessor (aka Ajax of Locris) sent noble young women to Troy for years to serve as prietesses in the Temple of Athena.  Their gesture was an effort to redeem themselves from Ajax’s brutal rape of Temple of Athena priestess, Cassandra, during the war.

Granted, I’m just a layperson, but my biases from years of journal writing and work in document control have me feel without the documentation (even fictional accounts), the ongoing visits to Troy would not been enough alone to sustain its appeal.  In fact, common phrases throughout the lecture were “Homeric Troy” and “Homer’s Troy.”  We did not hear the phrase “Ajax the Lessor’s Troy.” 

Importance of Documentation – Monticello and Ashlawn Highland
I have a relatively contemporary example of the importance of documentation with historical sites– right from my home state of Virginia!  During the Fall of 2001, Sean and I visited the homes of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.  An excerpt of my November 18, 2001 journal entry:

The two homes were quite different. Jefferson’s had tall ceilings, unique architecture and filled with expansive book collections and interesting inventions. Monroe’s was a modest farmhouse, more functional and less showy.

The tours were a little different too. There was a lot of certainty regarding Monticello and its happenings. With Monroe there was a lot of speculation. A lot of “We don’t know [for sure]”s and “We think”s.

These two men lived in the same time, only 2 1/2 miles apart. They were friends. They died exactly five years apart.

So why the discrepancy in knowledge?

Jefferson wrote things down.

They gave an overwhelming statistic of just the letters he wrote. Perhaps 20,000 letters?

He documented daily life. He recorded his thoughts and opinions as well as the mundane.

We know so much because he wrote. We, 200 years later, still benefit.

The moral– write things down even little things about dry cleaning and toilets, even about the placement of nails. Write it down so the future won’t have doubt.

Back to Troy– remember those young ladies that were sent to be priestesses to redeem Ajax’s offense to Athena?  I’m told there was a lot of doubt and speculation about that transaction.  There were thoughts the ladies had to run a gauntlet when they first arrived at Troy and no one really knew how long they served as priestesses or how it worked.  The picture became more clear within the past few decades– when an inscription describing the legalities of the ladies was found in a completely different city.  The picture became more clear…. because of documentation.  🙂

Log Files
Maybe that is why I’m big in log files and audit trails in my software work.  I recently described the new QualTrax Error Handling, including our usage of low exceptions for logging purposes.  QualTrax has historically had a number of different log files that could be toggled on or off as needed.  Each service had its own log.  We had database connection logging, file access logging and of course, general error logging in the event log.  At the same time, every action to a document, workflow, user, group and test is recorded in an audit trail.  In my Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) work with QualLinc, the importance on logging persists.  The three features that have the most potential for problems (PDF Generation, Processing Incoming Emails and Attachments, Distributing Batch Emails with Attachments) are logged heavily– allowing the system to record each key step for traceability.

In both applications, the availability of this extra documentation proves to be an invaluable tool and is usually instrumental in diagnosing an issue.  And when one is troubleshooting an issue with a software application…. one is trying to answer the some of the exact same questions archaelogists are struggling with:

“What happened?”


“Who did it?”

“What went wrong?”


September 18, 2006 at 10:02 pm 3 comments

A Different Kind of Tailgate– Hawk Observatory Tower

Yesterday, we gathered as usual at Larry’s tailgate for Virginia Tech vs. Duke.  Even though the game started at noon, this was an all day event.  My husband woke up at 5:15 AM to start cooking the food.  Others arrived as early as 8 AM to begin the festivities and then after the game we ate and visited until well after dark.  We are far from the only ones celebrating. As we walk back and forth to the game, we always pass the fleet of RVs, trucks and cars with their own array of food, chairs, flags, signs and even satelitte TVs.

I woke up this morning and remembered that it was the peak season for the hawk migration at the Hanging Rock Observatory Tower on Peters Mountain in West Virginia (near Waiteville). 

(Look closely– Henry is on the rocks)

That reminded me of a different kind of tailgate!  Instead of bringing plenty of food and supplies and for an entire day of partying for football, these participants are there for the hawks.  And although they are much smaller in number, the participants are every bit as dedicated as the Hokie fans. 

Almost exactly two years ago (September 18, 2004), Alex Moskwa and I happened to visit the tower on a very good day and we met three of the die-hard fans.  My journal excerpt from September 20, 2004:

On Saturday we drove to WVA to the hawk observatory tower.  On the way there I said to Alex, “I hope we see a hawk.”

My goodness, did I feel silly once we got there.  Hawks were plentiful!  It turned out to be one of the best weekends to watch the migration!

There were so many hawks, in fact, that Jimmie took an interest in watching out the window:

There were three men already in the tower when Alex and I arrived.  Boy were they serious bird watchers!!!  They had extra binoculars with them, [food, drink, chairs] and they had been there since 9 AM!  One guy even had a click-counter like the one Grandma had at the Mill House Musuem [in Occoquan].

At 6 PM, one man had to drag himself home for dinner.  He said if he’s good tonight and went home for dinner then, “[He] could come back tomorrow.”

Here’s something cute.  The clock in the observatory tower was an hour behind.

“That’s hawk time,” an old man named George told me.

The hawks are from South America and they don’t change their clocks as they pass through time zones, so the observatory keeps their clocks in time with the hawks.

All three men were very friendly and informative.  I throughly enjoyed meeting them.

After we parted ways I got to redeem myself.  Alex and I found a geocache I failed miserably to find over a year ago. 

The three hawk watchers had been up there so much, they were familiar with “the treasure.”  It was cute they referred to it that way.

If you are in the Southwest Virginia/West Virginia area and have free time in the next week or so, I highly recommend a visit up to the Hawk Observatory Tower.  Now’s the time to go– yesterday alone, they counted 681 hawks!

September 17, 2006 at 3:56 pm 3 comments

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