Zip, Basin, Montreal!

We started our day, as planned, with an early departure from our lodge, and headed out for our big adventure of the day — “ziplining” at Alpine Adventures, but before that we did make a stop for breakfast at the White Mountain Bagel Co. We noticed that some of the tour guides from Alpine Adventures were also getting breakfast there, so we felt as though we had made a good choice. On the ZipLine tour, we were told to leave all our valuables in our car, so we didn’t actually take a camera with us. We also didn’t quite want to splurge on the GoPro camera rental to record our adventure for posterity. So you’ll have to take our word for it that it was fun, and not at all like the SouthPark episode.

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After our adventure, we drove back up I-93 to the Basin. The kids had a blast here; the fun rivaled that of ziplining in fact. As a parent, it was a little more nerve wracking watching them walk across the fast moving stream, on slippery rocks, etc. I tried to always remain downstream, just in case. An interesting contrast to the ziplining which might well have more inherent danger, but which is offset by the professional guides and abundant safety equipment. In any case, we all managed to survive yet again.

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After that, we got back on I-93N and finally, finally drove further north than our lodge. We’d managed to spend a lot of time driving south on I-93 from our lodging, then heading back north to it. This is what comes of a trip with planned lodging and spontaneous activities. Or one possible outcome, anyway. We had a good stretch of driving left to get to Montreal, so we planned to have lunch in St. Johnsbury, where I-93 and I-91 meet. We found a nondescript Chinese restaurant there, and had a mediocre lunch. We fueled up the car, confirmed our lodging, and headed up I-91 for the remainder of the U.S. portion of the driving. The border crossing couldn’t have been easier, and we made it to our rental apartment at about 5:30.

This was a bit of an experiment — we arranged some of our stays through Airbnb where we get to rent people’s apartments (or homes) for short term stays. So our accommodations in Montreal are cute — we’re in a small, garden level apartment a couple of blocks from Old Montreal (in Chinatown, I guess).

After getting settled, we walked a couple of blocks to the big IGA supermarket and bought some groceries so we could have a couple of breakfasts in the apartment, as well as one dinner. After that, we walked through the Place des Arts where there was some indigenous festival going on, with live music, and native arts being demonstrated, etc. From there we walked a bit more to find dinner at a local pizza restaurant, Il Focolaio. This was a lovely restaurant, and we got to eat at a table (actually, three adjacent tables that couldn’t be pushed together because they’re screwed to the flooring 🙂 ) outdoors, and it was a perfect night for it. An older, apparently Italian couple came and sat at the table next to us a bit later, and as if to demonstrate for us the cosmopolitan feel of the city, our waiter, whose parents were apparently from Italy, started chatting with them in Italian.

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Rock Hounds

While the highlight of the day could arguably have been breakfast at Munroe’s Family Restaurant, which was awesome, probably a stronger case could be made for our next stop, which was Ruggle’s Mine.

Visiting old mines and quarries is a favorite activity of ours on vacation, and Ruggles was a pretty good example. It had a nice gift shop, complete with two elderly (or at least exceedingly calm) German Shepherds. The mine was mostly out in the open, though there were nooks and crannies to explore.

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After that, we headed in the general direction of our lodge, and since it was late for lunch and early for dinner, we stopped for ice cream. While there, Emma happened upon a pamphlet about the 81st Annual League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair. We initially thought it was in the same general direction as the Lodge, but later discovered out error. After a half hour drive, we arrived as cars were streaming out at 4:45. Turned out they close down at 5:00. We checked things out briefly as the artists were packing up.

With a two hour drive ahead of us, we decided to break it up with dinner, and stopped at the Route 104 Diner Everyone enjoyed their meal, and we then finished our trek back to the lodge, arriving somewhat earlier than our first night.

Some frisbee on the front lawn was followed by showers for all, and packing up so we’ll be ready for an early exit in the morning.

NERT

We begin our NorthEast Road Trip with a couple of nights in New Hampshire. We left after a full day of work on Friday, hitting the road just before 5:00 to join the other crazy people in the mad rush North out of The City. Shortly after, we realized that 40% of us lacked sneakers, so we stopped in Concord for shoe shopping and dinner. The LL Bean Outlet looked potentially promising but didn’t pan out. EMS had a small and expensive collection, with nothing really kid appropriate. Fortunately we found a Payless nearby and all three kids found footwear they could live with.

We passed by a Boloco just off the highway, and we’re planning to eat there but getting to Payless took us a bit away, and we happened upon a cute burrito joint in downtown, Dos Amigos, and ate there. Great atmosphere and very good burritos. An auspicious beginning to the trip. We then drove the remaining hour and a quarter to our lodging at Carlson’s Lodge, and were greeted, even at our late arrival time of 10:00, by a friendly, 14 year old dog. We got settled quickly and went right to sleep.

Doing our share

This past week was a pretty big one at the Stewart household. Two “environmental” projects came to fruition this past week. First, and most important, is that our photovoltaic array went live, and we are now generating some of our own electricity. We have 28 250 Watt panels distributed among our main roof, dormers, and the garage roof, for a maximum hypothetical power rating of 7 KW. However, the DC-AC conversion isn’t 100% efficient, and by design the sun doesn’t shine on them all equally, so we won’t expect to see that number ever come up. But it is fun to see numbers, and to that end, here is a web site that is publicly accessible that shows some statistics about our power production: http://www.solrenview.com/SolrenView/mainFr.php?siteId=1910. Today we produced 35.1 kWh, and had a peak power output of 5.7 kW. Payback of our initial investment in the system is expected to take 5-6 years.

On another front, we also purchased a new vehicle today. Well, more accurately, a used vehicle. Partly because we understand that the best value to be had in cars is in ones that are 1-2 years old, but also because a friend reminded us that buying a new car implies the assumption of the environmental cost of producing a new car. I was enamored of hybrids for a time, but the same friend educated us about the environmental cost of sourcing all the rare earth materials for the batteries. So the conclusion we came to was to find an efficient gasoline powered car. But we couldn’t find one. Perhaps my standards are “too high” but I remember cars from back in the 80’s that would achieve 50 mpg. Many friends have heard me wonder aloud whether this technology was somehow lost.

It seems that there are a couple of big factors at play here. First, people expect their cars to be more powerful that those “econo-boxes” of the time. We expect to be able to get up to highway speed from a standstill in a matter of seconds. Another factor is that people have come to demand/expect many more accoutrements in their vehicles, like power windows, power locks, GPS Navigation, big, honkin’ sound systems with 12 speakers, power seats, etc. Do they still make cars without air conditioning?

I also remember reading an article a while back in an online car magazine (TopGear) about a project where a team was challenged to put together a car for less than $7000 that would get 70 mpg and be able to get from 0-60 in 7 seconds. I think I’m remembering all that correctly, it was a long time ago, and the article was taken offline quite a while ago, unfortunately. All that remains are posts that link to it, and archive.org failed to have a copy, unfortunately. Here’s one post that at least references the series, called “Project Sipster.” They took an old diesel VW Rabbit that they got for next to nothing, and put a lot of work into it, including a new engine, and new suspension. I don’t think the $7000 included the weeks of labor. Watch the video, though, and tell me you wouldn’t want to own this car:

In spite of my 13 year old truck running OK, and having no major problems, we didn’t think it would necessarily last through the next 10 years which will include paying for three college educations. And so, inspired somewhat by the above, we bought a 2011 VW Jetta Sportswagen TDI with only 18,000 miles on it. It’s fun to drive, and gets an EPA estimated 30/42, but you hear plenty of reports of people getting better. Really depends on how you drive it. Unfortunately, it is peppy, fun to drive, and encourages acceleration. Hopefully it will last through the kids’ college years. Isn’t it cute?

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Happy New Years!

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For Christmas, I received an awesome kit clock that I spent a good part of the following day putting together. We have a tradition where we spend New Year’s Eve with another family, and as one of the neat things about this clock is that the software it runs (I know, it’s a weird concept…) can be modified. So I spent parts of the next couple of days modifying the original software to include a countdown to New Year’s mode, which is what you see in the picture.

Catch-22

Bought a new printer today, to replace the Canon Pixma MP-500 that has been our main family printer for a few years. It started being all squeaky last week, and then it started completely missing horizontal bands. Tried all the head cleaning options, and finally tried removing the cartridges and the printhead and cleaning it by hand. A lot of ink went down the drain, but to no avail.

For a replacement, I wanted a multi-function printer (to be able to send the occasional fax and make copies and scan things), and also one which supports Apple’s AirPrint so our many iDevices can print. After a couple of hours browsing Amazon, and reading magazine articles, and other sources of online reviews, and then seeing what was available locally, I decided upon an HP PhotoSmart 7520, which I could pick up at Staples for $149, plus we had a $10 off coupon, so even with the tax it came in around $149.

Brought it home, and after the unpacking ordeal I connected it via USB to our AirPort (actually, TimeCapsule with built-in AirPort). On both Macs, the new printer came up right away when going into the System Preferences, Printers area. They both had to download and install software, but all that went smoothly, with no reboot or anything. Printing worked fine, and I was able to print a couple of sheets of business cards for Clara with no problems, on card stock, too!

Later on, I wanted to get the AirPrint going, so I went through the on-screen menus to setup the Wireless. I can’t tell you how many devices I’ve connected to our home network over the years, both wired and wireless. Many vintages of Mac, PC, Linux computers; many iDevices, many other small devices, too. I have 3 WiFi routers (2 configured as AP only) that all expose the same SSID, and this has worked fine for years. But not for this printer — it would not connect. One of the AP’s (the AirPort!) is right next to it, even. I begin to lookup whether there are firmware updates. Sure enough, some digging turns up how to update your printer’s firmware. And guess what? (Hint: this is where the title comes into play), the way you update firmware is via WiFi.

Huh?? I’d like to know what brilliant person came up with *that* scheme. The printer even has a memory card reader socket on the front. Why not allow firmware updates that way?

In any case here are some of the things I tried to work around the problem:

  • connect to our “open” wifi AP, in case the problem was with passphrase recognition
  • connect to a neighbor’s AP, in case the problem was connecting to our specific router.
  • use a portable router I keep in my laptop bag. It wouldn’t stay powered on, though.
  • setup ICS on my laptop, but kept getting an Access Denied error.

Finally, I turned WiFi on, on the old Fios router that’s there for our cable boxes to connect back home. Even that took some trial and error, but did get it working, and the printer did connect, and download firmware. After that, it connected to our network OK, but when I then moved the printer back downstairs, it no longer would. I finally changed the SSID on the Apple Airport (Time Capsule), and then it could connect to the original network. Maybe it doesn’t like Airports, or maybe the signal was too strong, but all of this just goes to show that WiFi can still be tricky, and building a product that can only get updates via WiFi is ill-advised. It works now, and AirPrint works, but it was quite an ordeal.

Logging back into my router, I realized how old the distro I’m running is — it’s a version of DD-WRT from May of 2008. I had another problem with it recently, where after a power outage, it wouldn’t connect back to the internet right away. Only after a couple of hours,  (and presumably, the expiry of the DHCP lease), was it able to. Might be time to update this thing, and I’m thinking of using OpenWRT instead this time, as DD-WRT doesn’t seeem to have been updated much (at least as far as official releases go) in the intervening 4 years. Any non-spambot comments?

Travelling Daze

Friday and today (Saturday) have been/will be travel days. Friday, we drove back to Centennial from Breckenridge. It was a nice trip along I-70, though we first went over the Dillon Dam road, which was beautiful, and had an awesome looking bike path along side. In fact, that was one of the most notable things about Breckenridge and many of the mountain towns out here — lots of bike trails. Of course, it’s easier to include them when there’s just so much open space, but regardless of why, it does make it very inviting to cyclists.

After arriving back at the Rowell Ranch, we had lunch, ran some errands, and tried to go swimming again, but there was thunder within earshot, so the pool remained closed for the duration of the afternoon. We had a lovely taco dinner together, thanks to Donna (and Emma), and then the Stewarts went off to visit Susan’s high school friend, Nina. We visited with her and her family for a bit, got to meet their dog, Ruby, and cat, Oreo, and play on their trampoline.

Today is an easy day of packing up, then a late afternoon flight through Chicago that gets us home (well, to Logan) after midnight. Then church awaits, bright and early Sunday morning!

Breckinridge, Day 3

This was our big celebration day, and we started off with a scenic gondola ride from town up the mountain to the small amusement park there. We got to hike up a short way to touch snow in July, then we took a chair lift up to the alpine slide and slid back down! Fun! We walked around town a bit more before heading back for lunch at the house. We spent a quiet afternoon there, then went out for dinner to celebrate Grammie’s birthday, then back for cake and games.

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Breckinridge, Day 2

We enjoyed a lively Independence Day in “Breck” today. We went into town to watch the beginning of a bike race, and had 800 bikers pass us by, after which the parade went by, which lasted nearly an hour and a half. Lots of fun entries but only one band. After the parade we walked around the town and visited many of the little shops, and had a quick lunch of hamburgers before heading back to our rental house.
Mid-afternoon, grampa took a group to see the railroad museum nearby, where there were a couple of snow clearing cars. I walked home after a brief excursion back into town.

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