Thursday, September 3, 2009

Stories from the Road -- West on 84

I will be out of town Friday through Monday. My next post will be on Tuesday.

They are called "Chad-cations".

I am becoming notorious for cramming a lot into vacations. During my "formative" traveling years, my goal is exploration. See as much as I can, and jot down the places that I want to devote more time to in future trips. The best way to do that, in my mind, is to take road trips. Road trips, as I see them, are as much about the land you pass by as the land (or water) you are driving toward. You know, the old cliche of it being about the journey and not the destination. Many times, the places I jot down are the places I didn't even expect to look out the window for.

My first graduate school road trip was to Minnesota in May and June of 2006. The first day was spent driving on I-35 from Norman to Duluth. I drove all night, riding through a strong thunderstorm near Albert Lea, MN, and then seeing perpetual twilight north of Minneapolis. By the time I reached northeast Minnesota, my steering wheel couldn't breathe because of my white-knuckled grip. Exhaustion was reached.

I perked right up, however, when I reached Lake Superior. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Duluth to be such a great place. Nature decided to foreshadow this by gleaming its first yellows and oranges above the city on the banks of Lake Superior. It was a spectacular sight, and driving to see the actual sunrise over Lake Superior in Two Harbors, MN, is one of the highlights of all of my road trips. I wish I had my digital camera at that point, because the scene was sublime. The purpose of the trip was to visit the Boundary Waters, itself a wonderful location. But I will visit the area again, focusing on the North Shore's hikes, waterfalls, lighthouses, and rustic towns.

Similarly, Mom and I went to the Pacific Northwest last year to visit Seattle, Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, North Cascades National Park, Puget Sound, and the Oregon Coast. The day before we reached the region, in "Chad-cation" speak, was a "driving day". Not many stops were planned on the way from Pocatello, ID, to The Dalles, OR. The drive was long, and we figured that we already had enough planned for the following days that we should not get caught up in any excursions the day before. Despite the laborious driving task ahead, I considered it a "down day" of the trip.

This was a mistake. A big mistake. The drive on I-84 in Idaho and Oregon is absolutely beautiful, requiring frequent 70-mph snapshots. If there is one thing about road trips that everyone should remember, it is that the best days are the unexpected ones.

The main stop of the day was Twin Falls, which is located along the Snake River in south-central Idaho. The Snake River forms a canyon in this area (appropriately called the Snake River Canyon), and the views along the Perrine Bridge just north of the city are sensational. The bridge itself is a masterpiece, allowing a major highway artery (US 93) to cross the formidable landscape. Mom and I spent at least an hour at the Perrine Bridge, and it was one of the big successes of a very successful trip.

The point in visiting Twin Falls was to see Shoshone Falls. All I knew about the waterfall was that it was called the "Niagara Falls of the West". Having visited Niagara Falls in 2006, this was automatically reason enough to make a stop. Although certainly not as beautiful as Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls was still a gem. (We visited in the late spring, when the stream flow was highest.) The overlooks of the waterfall were spectacular, and we lost another hour of the day drooling at the magnificent sight.

We next stopped in Boise to eat. After the meal, we noticed a strong thunderstorm had developed to the north of the city and was plunging south rather quickly. My head was locked to my right for the next couple of hours as we continued westward on I-84. Even if the terrain didn't interest me that much, the atmosphere stepped up.

However, the highlight of the day for me was eastern Oregon. The beautiful dry hills northwest of Ontario and southeast of Baker City, near and west of the Snake River, were stunningly beautiful. This section of interstate is one of my favorites in the nation, and any roadster would be remiss to skip this section of the country. I jotted down "Hells Canyon" in a notebook I brought with me.

At one point, a train was visible on the tracks that wind their way through the hills. It was a classic "West scene". I wish my photographs had turned out better here, but I just could not get the blur out of 70 mph that day. No matter. My memory of the sight is vivid. Have you seen a movie or television show that slows down a scene to emphasize the beauty of a moment, such as a leaf falling or water glistening in a river? Well, that's what happened here. The train rolled on the tracks slowly, with the grass slowly whisking by. The horn of the train could be heard above the din of interstate traffic, and the air smelled of recent rain. Magical.

Before dark, we hit the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton, OR. The views were infinite near the pass, with relatively flat land endlessly stretching to the west up to and through Pendleton. Why I didn't take any pictures here, I will never know. I jotted the location down, though. Unfortunately, as "Chad-cations" usually go, we missed much of the scenery east of The Dalles and west of Pendleton. Too dark. Oh, those unexpected road trip diversions! I didn't care. The day exceeded every expectation beyond my wildest imagination.

On trips like these, it is always important to look out the window. The rewards in traveling America are endless and unforgettable.
The Snake River north of Twin Falls.
The Snake River Canyon.
The Perrine Bridge.
Shoshone Falls.
A developing storm north of Boise.
Another storm about a half hour east of the Oregon border on I-84.
The Snake River, beautiful hills, and a threatening sky.
Trains and eastern Oregon terrain.
A late spring shower near Baker City.
The Columbia River alongside I-84.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pictures from the Road -- Travel Gnome?

My weekly weekend "Pictures from the Road" post is appearing today, since I will not be able to write entries from Friday through Monday. So, enjoy this special edition of "Pictures from the Road". Tomorrow, my weekly "Stories from the Road" will appear as usual.


Lake Tahoe.
Tioga Pass.
New Orleans, LA.
Tybee Island Lighthouse.
Roaring River Falls.
Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park.
Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park.
Artist Point, Yellowstone National Park.
Big Sur.
Sawmill Geyser, Yellowstone National Park.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA.
Multnomah Falls.
Alberta Falls.
The Oregon Coast.
Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Devil's Tower National Monument.
Diablo Lake.
Mount Rushmore National Monument.
Maroon Bells.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Your Dream Is Over

You know how they say in times of questioning a decision, you should write down the pros and cons? Well, in my decision to describe to you my day, it would go something like this.


1. Pad Thai


1. Everything else

Yep, one of those days, which means it's rant time. But what do I have to rant about when there's "everything else" to choose from?

I could write another political blog, in which people start to peruse only to go, "Yeah, yeah, Chad, we get it. You're liberal. Moving on!" I could write a civil engineering blog complaining about Norman street lights, but that's in the "preaching to the choir" column. I could write the usual "week 2, fun's over" semester blog, but I've written those since 2000. I could rant about every single Facebook friend writing a status message about Sooner football, but that's going to be somewhat hypocritical, I imagine, by this weekend. I could write about work issues, but this is not really the venue for that. I could write about Oklahoma summers, but it's meteorological fall now.

All of this, I guess, means that I'm just in a bitchy mood. I guess they happen every once in a while. I'm not sure why. I don't have that much to complain about. I'm a pretty lucky guy, in fact, in seemingly innumerable ways. Isn't it a little petty to feel this way?

But enough about me. This is a blog, after all. Oh, right...

It is petty to feel this way, and I feel guilty every time I'm in a bad mood. I feel guilty right now, actually. Some days, things get to me that 99% of the time would not scathe me in the least. Today is one of those 1% days, sadly. Frankly, it makes me wonder how people who live with a lot more than these 1% of days function. For me, a bad mood is crippling. It makes me avoid people, avoid problems, avoid any stresses. It removes any motivation I may have for any topic I may have vested interest in otherwise. In short, bad moods are like a personal shutdown. The process is a positive feedback until sleep tends to wipe it away.

Normally, I feel fine the next day, and the bad day is a distant, somewhat troubling, memory. Even this past weekend, when a nasty computer virus completely wasted two days of my life, I retained a sense of humor. My friend Somer and I were headed to Edmond for our weekly Friday night restaurant tour. We were planning to go to Cheeseburgers in Paradise, which, upon our arrival after a 30+-minute drive, we realized was closed down. Instead of being completely irritated by it, Somer and I just laughed it off as the "perfect day" for which something like that to happen. Today, I would not have laughed.

Bad moods, for me, are unpredictable. I don't understand why I get them, and I don't understand how they go away. All I know is that they make the good days seem really nice. And I'm looking forward to "really nice" really soon. In the meantime, I will be guilt-ridden in my trivially ungrateful attitude toward everything that was today. Except Pad Thai.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Growing Up: Eye of the Tiger

Flipping through a high school yearbook is not a pleasant experience for me. I wore that in high school? My hair looked like it could puncture skin. My glasses would make Paterno jealous. And those pesky Tekamah-Herman jerseys...

Our school mascot was the tiger. Colors were purple and gold ... and the unabashed color of white. White pretty much dominated the jerseys of football and basketball. And our jerseys were stuck in the 1980s fashions, too. "Who wears short shorts?" Apparently, varsity basketball players do, and junior varsity players certainly had to.

It's hard to admit, but the teams we had during my high school tenure were pretty terrible, except for wrestling and volleyball. I am certain this had to do with my presence either as a supporter or a participant. Sports events in rural communities are a big deal, especially in this part of America. They were a major means of social interaction for the parents and a primary way of showing what little sports skill our classes had. The lackluster pep bands and marching bands that are small-school Nebraska were in full swing at THS, with trumpets blaring and woodwinds piercing and saxophones...well, being saxophones, I guess. The marching band was done after the football halftime show, done even before the basketball game started. It was precedent, I guess, but lame precedent in my mind.

Then again, sometimes the sporting events were so painful to watch that abridged duties as a band member were almost blessings. The parents were more interested in town gossip during the second half (football or basketball) than their sons or daughters making a good play. Actually, not true, but the crowd's first half tension often became second half leisure. The outcome of the games were mostly certain, and it was fun to just watch and enjoy the children play something they liked playing.

Sporting events for me were unusual in many ways. During my senior year, I participated in none of them but was commonly at all of them. Either for marching band or pep band, or during breaks from Academic Decathlon study sessions or play rehearsals. The stage for our plays was just across the hall from our gymnasium, so cheering fans commonly interrupted the drama onstage and offstage. You can't call something "drama" without high school teenaged angst controlling every aspect of it, right?

I remember fondly rehearsing for a play in which I had maybe six lines but required perfectly calculating my movements, since the very same scene was repeated again during the last act of the play. I was "the waiter" in the play, which meant that the person who would be most noticed for not perfectly imitating the previous scene was me. So, I went through the scene (first scene of the play), then went to perform pep band songs before the varsity basketball game, then came back to do the scene again for the last act of the play. Let's just say those high notes during "Livin' on a Prayer" were not appreciated during the second part of the rehearsal. What a night.

I make fun of the high school teams, but I did root for them. I genuinely hoped they would win each and every time. More importantly, I hoped they had fun trying. It's no accident that one of my favorite "guilty pleasure" songs is "Eye of the Tiger". Even if we played it a hundred damn times.

Pictures from the Road -- Talimena Scenic Byway

Pictures during a road trip in May 2009 with friend Derrick to Talimena Scenic Byway. Cloudy conditions from the remnants of a mesoscale convective system gave the pictures a wonderfully gloomy look.


Cedar Lake.
Beautiful Cedar Lake near sunset.

The Symptoms of This Virus Include...

On Friday, my computer was attacked by the Cryptor virus. Well, technically, it was attacked long before in months before Friday. The Cryptor virus is probably one of the most malicious on the interwebs today. Cryptor is a slow-burn blitzkrieg.

How? Well, it attacks the computer in multiple ways. It invades your computer without being detected from various antivirus and antispyware software (AVG, Malwarebytes, SpywareBlaster, and Spybot did not detect it until Friday). However, slowly the virus takes hold in multiple ways. Without getting too technical, Cryptor is known as a rootkit virus, and that basically means it is impossible to get rid of without very specialized software, outside of the realm of AVG and Malwarebytes, e.g. In fact, the virus goes on the offensive...slowly but very effectively.

Remember me complaining about AVG slowly killing my computer about a month or so ago? Well, it turns out that it was the Cryptor virus attacking it. Yeah, that's right, this virus actually attacks antivirus software. In my case, it would not allow AVG to run at startup, resulting instead in the blessed "Blue Screen of Death". A complete removal of AVG was the only solution (SafeMode), and I installed AVIRA instead. Well, same story. Running AVIRA resulted in a BSD.

Of course, this got me a little concerned. Soon, some software would not work because of memory allocation errors. By this point, I knew I was in trouble, but I had no idea what I had. No remaining software could detect what I had, so I was left with a compromised machine without any knowledge of how to fight it. (The above transpired over about a month's time.)

Finally, on Friday, things came to a head, as my machine was restarted during the night. Nothing could be used, and bogus antivirus software was telling me that I had a virus. (Microsoft does not own something called "Microsoft Antivirus Pro".) This was virus #2, a trojan that essentially enabled itself by freezing my machine. The only thing working (mysteriously) on my laptop was a web browser, and through frenzied Google searches, I learned that by manually killing the bogus software and running Malwarebytes, I could halt virus #2. Unfortunately, either virus #1 or virus #2 appeared to have obtained my credit card information in the meantime. (More on that below.) However, Malwarebytes successfully removed virus #2. By this point, re-installing and running AVG as well as Malwarebytes finally alerted me to the presence of Cryptor, which I quickly learned was the vicious plague affecting my machine. And it is vicious. It uses up a ton of memory, essentially stealing it from other software. It attacks antivirus software. And it's impossible to remove by any remaining antivirus software. (Any restart, by the way, rendered AVG useless once again.)

So, some research indicated my only hope was something called ComboFix, software designed specifically to remove rootkit malware. Unfortunately, its use is risky, potentially permanently damaging the machine. This meant, of course, that I had to copy everything of importance offline immediately. Friday night and Saturday morning were devoted to this.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, ComboFix was installed and run, and by the magic of the antivirus gods, Cryptor was removed. Or at least, appeared to be removed, since checks from Malwarebytes and AVG thereafter showed clean slates.

The damage, however, was permanent in two ways. For one, it has rendered some data useless, though it appears nothing important. Removal of the virus opened up 4+ GB of space, indicating it was also a storage hog. Nice. More importantly, a mysterious deduction from my debit card was found when virus #2 attacked my machine. Thus, I spent Friday afternoon canceling my first debit card and re-ordering a new one. Money loss: $53. Could have been worse, though as it turns out, the amount is usually low to prevent red flags from credit card companies. Obviously, this virus must collect from many victims. (Lesson here: Best not to pay online when you suspect a virus is on your machine. Fortunately, I never type my SSN online, so I'm relatively convinced that I'm free from identity theft. I will be checking periodically, however.)

So, besides checking daily my bank account with nervous wonder and doggedly checking my machine for any questionable behavior for the past 48 hours, the story ends with some loss, much hardship, and hardened experience.

It was a long battle, but the good side prevailed. Unfortunately, like present-day conflict, it's hard to tell if the war is still going on.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dangerously Dumb People in the World

I'll have two posts tomorrow to make up for my absence yesterday. Good news is the computer seems to have recovered from a stubborn virus that rendered the machine useless for much of the past 36 hours.

For now, this week's "Dangerously Dumb People in the World".


Number 3: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), for being "terrified" of Obama. Yes, seriously.

The ironic part about this is I was one of the few Members of Congress that was willing, if I could come up with a way to prove that Barack Obama was not born in this country, I was willing to go into a lawsuit. I don’t know of any other Member of Congress who was willing to do that, because I wanted to make sure that we were protecting both the Constitution and, quite frankly, I was terrified of this guy. But I wanted to do it in a way that comported with the honest evidence that I have in front of me. And so we did all kinds of research. We found all kinds of conflicting research. And we had to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to divorce myself from politics and I’m going to look at the evidence for what it is, and see what we come up with.’ And one of the things that happened, about three days before we were going to launch a lawsuit, is that we found several different newspapers that had shown that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii two years after it became a state. Now, there was no way to have forged that… I just don’t have evidence that shows me that he was not born here. Now, I know that everybody says that they’ve got it, but I’ve never seen it.

Well, at least the guy came to the realization that it's extremely unlikely to forge newspapers reporting his birth. But, why was he "terrified" of Obama? Is he terrified of foreigners in general? And do people honestly believe that someone running for President, after weeks/months of being in the news, would not have been exposed for being born outside of this country? Really, how stupid do you have to be? Apparently, three days from being REALLY stupid. As the author of the linked article mentions, "Even a frivolous lawsuit, if filed by a member of Congress, could have become a national story."

2nd: Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), most incompetent and proudly uninformed member of Congress. According to the Chickasha Express-Star website:

I don't have to read it, or know what's in it. I'm going to oppose it anyways.

Well, I guess that explains why you know nothing about climate change. Or Supreme Court justices. Or anything, really. You know, there are a lot of things to hate about the proposed health care reform, but at least inform yourself about these things before representing thousands upon thousands of people who care a great deal about health care. And way to expose yourself for being entirely political on a subject that cannot afford such pathetic partisan bravado.

And then there's this:

People are not buying these concepts that are completely foreign to America. We're almost reaching a revolution in this country.

Nice way to associate the word "foreign" with Obama policies. It didn't take long for a citizen to read between the lines:

"No more compromise," Chickasha resident Ed Hicks said. "We're losing our country."

To whom?

1st: Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA), for downright lying about his sarcasm regarding his response to a constituent's declaration that he is a "proud right-wing terrorist". His response being "Amen, God bless you. There is a great American."

Sarcasm, huh? The video appears to indicate otherwise.

And even if it was sarcasm, which is a pretty big leap given the video, just why would you be sarcastic in the given circumstances? Do you think some people who hear the words "proud right-wing terrorist" to applause and cheering may get the opposite impression from such a quote?

Obviously, it doesn't matter, since you have clarified your statement by supporting the man.

Congressman Herger stands by his statement in support of his constituent. Mr. Bert Stead is a taxpayer and veteran, who, like so many others, is rightfully fed up with being called 'un-American', or 'extremist' or a 'political terrorist' by liberals in Washington, for simply exercising his First Amendment rights. Mr. Stead served his country and therefore he is a great American. The Congressman doesn't at all regret commending him for standing up, exercising his free speech rights, and expressing his strong concerns with the direction liberals in Washington are taking our country.

He's a great American for declaring himself a "proud right-wing terrorist"? Mr. Stead may have served his country in the past, but that does not make him a great American now. On the contrary, his comments indicate he's a dangerous one. And your response makes you a dangerous one, as well. Rep. Herger, your lack of discriminating "great" from "dangerous" makes you a stupid politician, a man encouraging the flames of right-wing extremism, and this week's dangerously dumb person in the world.