Micah Henning

The Day of Surprises

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 9

Glacier Panoramic

I planned two surprises for Veronika for today. They didn't have to be surprises, but I like surprising, and she gets appropriately worried about what I have planned (for good reason!), which is particularly entertaining to me.

We left early in the morning and drove from Fairbanks south to Healy, which resides just north of world-famous Denali National Park. We had plenty of time to spare, but went straight to the airport seeing nothing else to do in the meantime. It was fun to watch Vee come to realize that we were about to take a small airplane ride over the Alaskan mountain range, and then land on a glacier. And that's exactly what we did. Even though it was overcast and rainy in Healy, the weather was beautiful on the south side of the park, and weather on the glacier was emaculate. In fact, it was warmer on the glacier than on the ground! We had quite a bit of turbulence on the way due to a moist, high-pressure airmass moving in from the north, but the experience was incredible nevertheless. Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure:

Snow on mountains Landslide on glacier Loads of snow View of Denali from Glacier Denali Glacial Crevasses Mountains above Boreal Shot from inside plane

After our flight, we hung around the shop and chatted with the pilot and receptionist before driving to Denali National Park. There's just a short portion of the road that splits the park that's actually driveable. It's a beautiful drive, for sure, but it was overcast and very frigid, so we refrained from beginning any hikes.

We drove right back out of the park and headed a few kilometers north to the touristy area to grab some fish and chips from Denali Park Salmon Bake while waiting for 7pm to come around. That's when surprise number two began.

We've Made It to Alaska!

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 8

Top of the World Highway

As though I didn't feel on top of the world already, having seen and done so many new and beautiful things on our roadtrip to Alaska, we were about to take the world- famous Top of the World Highway. From the campground on the other side of the Yukon River from Dawson City, we headed west on this poorly-maintained, mostly dirt road to the Yukon-Alaska border. It was two hours of beautiful vistas on winding roads, though for us overcast and frigid. Near the Canadian side of the border, we reached the pinnacle of the highway: the highest point. We got out of the car and hiked the short, but steep path to the top of the hill. We had a 360º view of the world beneath us--we truly were at the top of the world. The site is marked by a set of rock piles, the largest about a meter tall.

Vee and me in front of the Alaska welcome sign

The border itself was a breeze to get through. It's literally only open from 8am to 8pm (9am to 9pm Canadian time), and only during the summer months. There was just one border patrol officer. She asked us a couple questions about what we had with us, so Vee and I started talking to each other trying to figure out where we bought what vegetables, etc. The patrol lady just ushered us to move ahead. So that's what we did. We stopped a quarter mile ahead to snap a photo of ourselves in front of the Welcome to Alaska sign, then continued onward.

The road was very nice, paved even!, though for just twelve miles or so. Then it turned back to gravel. It was in much rougher shape than the Canadian side was. There were potholes everywhere, and the turns were very sharp. We saw one camper in the trees below the road on one of the turns, which must have slid off. Within a few miles, we made it to Chicken, Alaska where we stopped to get gas ($4.12/gallon!), used their Wi-Fi, bought some souvenirs, and ate breakfast at the little café across the lot.

Foot bridge in Chicken, AK

Chicken is an interesting town. There are about 12 permanent residents, year-round, and the entire town is completely off the grid. They have a single generator for the area and run exclusively on solar energy. The gift shop is the only place in Chicken with flush toilets. Nevertheless, the people were very friendly and welcoming. We decided that we had our fill, so-to-speak, of Chicken, so we turned down the offer to pan the creek for gold, and continued on our way to the Tok junction, where we proceeded west on the Alaska Highway.

Completion of Alaska Highway sign

We stopped in Delta Junction to commemorate the completion of the Alaskan Highway, even though we skipped a portion to do Top of the World Highway. We stopped at the gift shop to buy more shit and enjoy their free tea (they have free coffee too!) After chatting with the staff and looking at their museum display, we proceeded toward Fairbanks.

On the way, I managed to get pulled over for speeding. The officer purports that I was travelling 11 miles per hour over the speed limit, in a 65 mph zone. I'm still trying to figure out how that could be, given that I had my cruise control set to 70. I rounded a corner and saw him approaching me... in my lane. He quickly cut in front of the "law-abiding" citizen he was passing. Then, I postulate he slowed down to a stop in front of the individual he cut off, before cutting in front of all the cars behind me in order to pull me over. After all that, it was I who was an unsafe driver? I fully intend to contest this one.

Annoyed until we found beer, we eventually reached Fairbanks, which is a small, but bustling community of hipster culture with an outdoors vibe. I was reminded quite a bit of Portland, Oregon, and also a bit of Madison, WI, where I currently reside on a less nomadic basis. We stopped at Hoodoo Brewing Company, a must-see for anyone visiting Fairbanks! The beer was fantastic, and the feel of the place was very rustic. We shared their beer sampler, which comprised of four 4oz "flutes" containing their German Kölsch (ABV: 5.1% IBU: 25; 4 out of 5), "I'll Have Another" Rye Saison (ABV: 6.5% IBU: 42; 4.5 out of 5), American IPA (ABV: 7.2% IBU: 73; 5 out of 5), and Belgian Golden Strong Ale (ABV: 8.4% IBU: 30; 3.75 out of 5). I also learned that in Alaska, state law prohibits the sale of more than 32oz of beer, per person, per day.

Beer sampler at HooDoo

Now mildly buzzed with dusk approaching, we found a campground on the state fair grounds, which had all the amenities (showers, laundry, etc), but lacked that remote feeling we've had all the while on our trip. In fact, as we were preparing the campsite, we could hear the melodious bassline of a gangster rap song bumping from a car trunk nearby.

After setting up camp, we did a little grocery shopping at the nearby Fred Meyer since we were still out of water, did a little laundry, then eventually went to bed. Fun fact: It was still light out by the time we went to bed at 11pm Alaska time (+3 hours from Central Time).

The Yukon

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 7

Bird landing on my hand

We awoke at the Watson Lake campground in Yukon, made breakfast, and enjoyed the natural beauty that surrounded us. There were a few very friendly birds joining us for some grub. They were picking up our food droppings quickly and opportunistically. So I wondered just how friendly they really were. I left the last nibble of my english muffin on my hand and stuck it straight out. In just five seconds, one of the birds landed on my hand, pecked the morsel, and took off back to the tree. It was a pretty cool experience for me, though I know better and should not have fed the wildlife. As they say, "a fed bear is a dead bear." Well, this was a bird, and unless life turns into an Alfred Hitchcock movie, I think we'll be okay.

Cheese Heads on the Road

Veronika is making sure we represent!

We packed up camp and made our way westbound on the Alaska highway, now highly conscientious of the quality of the roads we would be using. We stopped in Teslin for gas. Right by the gas station/restaurant was the Northern Wildlife Museum, which is small but really cool. They show local wildlife in reconstructed habitats. All the wildlife were found dead, not hunted. The gift shop was very cool and featured handmade items created by the local Tlingit people, and were reasonably-priced. Needless to say, we bought lots of gifts at this shop.

We stopped again several hours down the road at a small truckstop for gas and a quick meal. This lady cooked food like my mother would, but in small quantities at gourmet prices. We had two grilled cheese sandwhiches and a bowl of pea soup. It was all quite tasty, but not nearly filling, especially for the $20 price tag. At least she had Wi-Fi, though limited bandwidth.

There is definitely a market for Internet to northern Canada. At least in Yukon, there is just one ISP. The physical medium is satellite, which is notoriously slow and unreliable due to eather weather patterns, interference, and this really common thing in the north called the Aurora Borealis. Calling all ambitious Canadian Entrepreneurs: Run fiber to Yukon. The tourists would appreciate it, and the safety for local residents would be further ensured. Money could probably be made by selling bandwidth to cell providers pushing data through their cell towers, in addition to standard subscriptions.

In any case, we moved on to Whitehorse, the capital city of Yukon. I really liked it. It's a small city of about 30-some thousand people. We stopped at a trendy restaurant called Klondike Rib & Salmon, which happens to be in one of the oldest-standing buildings in Whitehorse. I had the salmon burger with the Yukon Gold pale lager, and Vee had a spinach salad with raisons, craisins, cashews, almonds, feta cheese, green onion, and a really unique raspberry-yogurt type of dressing. She paired that with the Yukon Red ale. Both meals were extremely delicious and well worth the price. Apparently, this restaurant is known for its long wait times, but we had a seat straight away, and the food came to the table quickly. The waitress was vibrant and friendly, making jokes and sharing stories all the while. The beers were pretty good, too, which was a pleasant surprise to me, since all the beers I had had in Canada to-date left a lot to be desired.

Start of the Dempster Highway

As we travelled along the Klondike Highway, we reached the beginning of the Dempster Highway, which is famous for its beautiful vistas beyond the Arctic Circle, encompassing frozen tundra, arctic wildlife, fields of flowers, and untouched frontier. The road is composed of shale, which is very sharp and causes a lot of tire flats. People attempting the highway will often bring multiple tires with them. The Dempster Highway extends as far as the Arctic Ocean during winter time. One day, I'll do this roadtrip. ^-^

From Whitehorse, we took the Klondike Highway north to Dawson City, which took about four to five hours. The condition of the road was fairly good, but there were several long, dirt and gravel portions. It was dusk by the time we reached Dawson City, so we took the free ferry across the river and set up camp at the Yukon River campground. The campground was very nice, though not as "psychadellic" as the one from the night before. There were tent spots literally right on the bank of the swift and frigid current of the great Yukon River as it made its way to the Arctic Ocean.

Free Ferry at Dawson City

We set up camp, finished our leftovers from lunchtime (we couldn't make dinner because we ran out of water), and went to sleep.

Bears, Hotsprings, and the Yukon

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 6

Franziskaner beat us to the road, even though we awoke early. We packed up and stopped at the Triple G Hideway campsite's restaurant for breakfast. The restaurant has a very western, wilderness feel to it, and the food was pretty good. The seats at the bar were horse saddles on wooden stools, and there were taxidermy of local game that littered the walls.

We continued west on the Alaskan Highway toward the Liard Hotsprings on, what some people argue is, the most beautiful stretch of the highway, and I can understand why! Muncho Lake was a spectacular sight, as the road hugged cliff sides to the right, but fell into a gorgeous blue-green lake below on the left. Borreal Forest and mountains composed the rest of the landscape. We stopped at a service center at Muncho Lake for gas and for something to drink. The guy at the register, who was also the cook for the connected restaurant, mentioned how he lived in New Jersey for the better part of twenty years, but moved back to northern British Columbia because he missed it. I don't blame him--I'd live in Antarctica before I'd live in Jersey. No offense.

Water bison grazing on the side of the road

A herd of water bison were grazing on the side of the road near the Liard Hotsprings.

Vee is a little nervous about bears

We stopped at the Liard Hotsprings Provincial Park to bathe in 40º Celsius water. This is a locally-renowned, fun, relaxing, and thrilling spot. After paying the $5/person entry fee and parking just past the tent campsites, we walked the boardwalk through the lush and marshy forest to the hotsprings on the other end. The boardwalk was composed of planks of wood set side-by-side just centimeters above the water. Of course, there were plenty of warning signs along the way alerting us to the presence of bears. Several years ago, a woman was unprovokedly mauled by a bear in front of her son. They were moving from California to Alaska, and stopped on the way. This event prompted the park to permanently remove the boardwalk leading to the Alpha pool, leaving only the closer, Beta pool open to the public. However, ordinarily the hanging gardens are also open to the public, but were closed when we were there due to a problem bear in the area.

Hotsprings

The pool itself was extremely hot and smelled mildly of sulpher, an indicator of how natural the hotspring really is. The ground beneath the water was composed of small pebbles and most of the pool sides were dirt, with trees above shading the area from the bright sun. The boardwalk met a sort of patio with changing rooms and lockers. The patio stepped down into the pool, allowing people to safely descend in to the scalding water, railings and all. Though frequented by locals and tourists alike, this pool was very nice, and not at all overcrowded. It was a much nicer experience than the Upper Hotsprings in Banff National Park (tourist trap!), which cemented the sides of the pool and chlorinated the water. After about twenty minutes of relaxing in the hotspring, Vee and I made our way back to the car to continue our road trip.

Problem bear notice

Traversing the historic highway further, we made our way into Yukon at Watson Lake.

Vee and me standing in front of Yukon welcome sign

Watson Lake is apparently well-renowned for its sign-post forest. Apparently, there are over 70,000 signs posted here from people all over the world bringing with them a little piece of home.

Signpost Forest

After looking at a map, I realized that Highway 2 (The Campbell Highway) went straight to the Klondike Highway near Dawson City. It was a shortcut that cut off Whitehorse and a number of other little towns, since we'll be hitting those on the way back. Well, everything looked great for the first 75 km of the Campbell Highway. Then I hit construction. The chip-sealed highway turned to dirt. The construction sign indicated work for only 8 km, so I figured that it would turn to paved road again. Well, it didn't. Ten kilometers later, the fine, dirt road became quite ugly. The dirt became very muddy at one spot, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it though. The mud was directing the car into deep trenches, bottoming-out on mud and rocks, and nearly instantly bringing the car to a crawl. We made it through to somewhat better roads, though with numerous potholes, soft shoulders, and erratic bumps.

Nearly twenty kilometers later I realized that we weren't going to see paved road again anytime soon. We were about 400 kilometers from Dawson City, and only two towns lived on this road, both of which were well over 200 kilometers away. It was just us and the wilderness, no traffic, no towns for over 100 km, and no cell phone service. Vee urged me to continue since we've already come so far on that road, but then I saw a muddy portion ahead going up a turning hill, with deeper trenches than our first encounter. I had to turn around. If we got stuck, were pushed off the road, or blew a tire, we would be stranded with little food and water, and with no assurance that we would find any help. I turned around.

Car after mudding in the wilderness

By the time we made it back to Watson Lake, it was dusk. We stopped at the gas station, refueled, and bought a refill for our 3L water jug, as well as some bear spray. Then, we headed a few kilometers west to the Watson Lake campground, which was actually really great, except it had no showers. The campsite was littered with egregious varieties of mushrooms and moss. Because the ground was still wet from an earlier shower, we failed to start a fire. All Yukon campsites offer free firewood, but we coudn't easily use it because they were whole logs and we didn't bring an axe. So we gave up trying and just cooked dinner on the stove, then we went to bed.

Mushrooms Mushrooms Mushrooms

The Alaskan Highway

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 5

Surprise! We survived black bear infested Pocahontas. Although, I think I could hear them walking around last night... I didn't sleep all that well, and I clutched tightly onto my whistle the entire time.

We keep a clean campsite. All of our food is stored in proper containers and left inside the car at night. We wash dishes immediately after every meal, and we don't burn or bury food. We dispose of everything in proper bear-proof recepticles provided by the campsites. And we don't keep anything that has a smell or flavor (aside from ourselves!) inside the tent. These are all attractants for bears.

Tents get pushed over easily

That being said, if bears are there anyway, what will stop their curiosity regarding these soft-sided tent thingies? If a bear decides to push the tent or tear it open with its claws, how will it react if it fails to anticipate human beings inside them? I would hope it would just run away because there are people in numbers. However, bears can be seemingly unpredictable. So I carry with me a very loud whistle, which happens to be a great compass-thermometer-flashlight-mirror-magnifying-glass multi-tool.

I've been told that bears are very sensitive to loud sounds and do not hang around to keep hearing them. That's why park rangers recommend shouting and yelling at bears during unexpected encounters. Secondly, I carry a very sharp 5" knife on my belt. I use it all the time when camping, and it's the closest thing to a defensive weapon I can legally use or move through Canada, aside from a shotgun or rifle with special paperwork and permissions from the province of entry, but no firearms are permitted in Canadian National Parks anyway, and we've stayed in three. I did intend on getting bear spray, which is just a stronger dose of pepper spray, but I haven't found any yet, and it wouldn't work from my tent anyway, unless I wanted to dose ourselves with a proper mist of spicy pain and agony.

Allow me to segue back to the point of the post! =P

We made breakfast, packed up the camp, did dishes, et cetera, et cetera. We were on the road by 9am local time. First town out of Jasper National Park was Hinton, where we fueled and hopped on the "scenic route to Alaska." That road took us through Grande Cache to Grand Prairie, where we stopped for lunch at Cora, a fun, bright, and particularly busy breakfast/lunch joint. We had cream of leek soup, mushroom cheese crepe, salmon sandwich with cream cheese and capers, and a salad. All the food was very good, except for the salad which was a bit old and had a lot of flavors that didn't really work well together.

Breakfast/Lunch

We filled up our gas tank at 124 cents per litre. The further north we go, the higher gas prices become. For those from the US, that amounts to about $3.82 per gallon. When the trip is over I'll calculate the total costs, including gas prices. Data <3

Welcome to the Alaska Highway sign

After watching a bear and her cubs run across the road right after our car, we continued onward to Dawson Creek and spent a few minutes at the little park at Mile 0 that commemorates the US Army Corps of Engineers, who built the Alaska Highway and caused the town's economy to skyrocket. On the way, we had a very large rock projected toward our heads. The windshield took one for the team.

Vee and me in front of the British Columbia welcome sign. Yes, we need showers.

Oh yah, and now we're in British Columbia.

From Dawson Creek we travelled past Fort St. John through loads of forested wilderness to Fort Nelson. We traversed an area on this stretch devastated by a past forest fire. We've already seen several spots of past forest fires, but this was the largest so far. Once in town, we inquired room costs at several motels, but $89-99 for one night was too much, so we found this cute little campsite at the edge of town called Triple G Hideaway. As we setup camp we made a friend, whose name is something like Hans, Fonze, or Fran... I'm not sure. So I'll just call him Franziskaner, since it's a really good beer and he's a really good guy.

Franziskaner lives in southern British Columbia and was visiting his brother in Whitehorse, who was travelling up to the Dempster Highway to do some wildflower picking. He told us stories from his Canadian Army days, and of his encounters with bears. We enjoyed our campfire, which we conveniently used for corn-on-the-cob, had a couple of beers, and went to sleep.

Jasper

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 4

Beautiful Lake Louise

We awoke unscathed and groggy from our late night, washed ourselves with baby wipes since this campsite lacked showers, made breakfast, then departed toward Jasper National Park of Canada. On the way we stopped at Lake Louise, since it was "highly recommended" by every human imagineable. Well, everybody got the memo. There were more tourists here snapping photos of the lake than there are people tanning on Miami beach during Spring Break.

Our visit followed a brief gasoline fill-up nearby. After filling, I went inside to pay and Vee went to use the lavoratory. When we made our way back to the car, a nice lady on the back of a motorcycle felt obligated to impose herself upon us by sharing that she had been waiting to use the pump for ten minutes. I had no idea that she was in such a hurry to see a natural feature that has existed for hundreds of thousands of years. Had I known, I wouldn't have made her wait five minutes while simultaneously warping her perception of space-time by a factor of two.

In any case, back to Lake Louise. After a Nikkon-yielding psuedo photographer snapped several photos of us together in front of the majestic landscape, we did some auto-timed selfies since the only decipherable elements in the former were silhouettes. Afterward, we spent some time walking around the lake, filling our water bottles with fresh glacial spring water, and attempting to identify the strange, dark object in the snow on the mountain in the backdrop. At first, I thought it was a mountaineer and Vee thought it was a bear. Then, after some time and no movement, we decided that it was most certainly a rock. With fur.

Waterfall deep in boreal forest

We soon left Lake Louise eager to get to Jasper National Park. We exited onto the internationally-renowned Icefields Parkway, a several hundred-kilometer drive through a mountainous valley littered with bright blue lakes, more than fifty visible glaciers, and enough hiking trails to satisfy The Biggest Loser show for a hundred years. We decided to take one of these trails at Waterfowl Lakes. We spent more than two hours hiking about 10km through the beautiful, dense, and unadulterated forest to a waterfall, which we used to refill our water jugs. The water has a bit of a nutty flavor, but is incredibly refreshing. Afterward, we hiked back to our car and continued North.

Veronika by the river

We took a pit stop at the Parkway Pub at The Crossing. We ordered a vegetarian burger and were surprised that we had to cook it ourselves. Made me wonder why we paid $14 and tipped the waitress. In any case, I tried the Grasshopper Wheat Ale by Big Rock Brewery in Calgary, Albert, and it was a very good wheat ale, a nice exception to my assumption that all beer made in Canada sucks, based on the four or five I had already tried.

Athabasca Glacier

We continued further north to the Columbia Icefield. We went into the Brewster Attractions building across the street from the Athabasca Glacier. When we purchased tickets for the Gondola in Banff (serviced by the same company), we bought a package deal that included a "Glacier Adventure" and "Glacier Skywalk." The former is a trip onto the Athabasca Glacier, which you can otherwise not walk on due to the presence of dangerous crevasses, which a nine-year-old boy fell into in 2001, dying from hypothermia before the three- hour rescue attempt pulled him out. The latter is a museum/interpretation center that features an all-glass bridge over a valley with a brilliant shot of several mountains part of the Columbia Icefield. While these sound exciting, we weren't given arrival times when purchasing the tickets. By the time we made it onsite, we missed the last bus by five minutes. And even though the interpretation center was just a half kilometer down the road, they would not allow us to join because there is no parking and admission is by tour bus exclusively. This was our only day for these activities, so we were really bummed. As if that wasn't bad enough, they refused to refund us for the tickets because policy. Now that's a reason with which I can empathize. Their recommendation was to try selling them, or to come back before they expire in October. Well, we're not likely to come back any time soon, but even if we would we wouldn't be supporting Brewster. And it's not because we missed our opportunity. Yes, it would have been helpful to have been told a time, or at minimum the very last time available. After all, there were at least three hours of daylight after their last scheduled departure, so our assumptions weren't unreasonable. What upsets me is the no refund policy. In my eyes, if they don't refund my money, which amounts to about $140 CAD, they're committing theft because they failed to provide a product or service in exchange.

Upset and diminished, we walked over to the Athabasca Glacier ourselves to check out the scnerey, and to attempt to sell the tickets. Though we're not very successful salespeople, we enjoyed the glacier immensely. I learned that the glacier used to cover the road and the parking lot and building for Brewster. Over the last several decades it has receded by nearly half, which scientists who study it attribute to global climate change caused by humans.

We had only two hours before dark, so we continued on the Icefield Parkway to our campsite at Pocohontas, which turned out to be much further away than we thought. On the way, we had to dodge wild... wait for it... human beings, who temporarily subscribed to idiocracy by parking in the middle of the road, driving on the wrong side of the road, and getting out of their cars. Why? Because there was a moose eating grass.

We eventually made it to our campsite. While checking in, we were a little perturbed by a warning given to us by the warden. She warned that there are a number of black bears currently roaming the area. Next to the building was a bear trap, with a live bear inside. YOLO, amirite? We set up camp, made dinner, and even managed to kind of get a fire started. Then we looked up. The skies were completely clear. I've never seen so many stars before!

Will we survive the night? Stay tuned to find out...

P.S.: Anyone want tickets to do the Athabasca Glacier adventures by Brewster?

The Great Sandhills, Alberta, and Banff National Park

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 3

The Great Sandhills Panoramic

This morning we awoke early and made our way south to the Great Sandhills. What a bizarre sight! While much of the sand dunes (many of which were at least ten meters in height) were grass-stabilized, there were several very sandy regions that made me question whether I was truly in Canada. The photos we took could appear to be from the Sahara, at least as far as I would assume since I haven't been there...yet. ;-)

Sand Dune with Driftwood

After a nice morning hike through the Sandhills, we drove another forty or fifty kilometers on dirt road into Alberta and eventually to Medicine Hat. Because the dirt farm road we used is uncommon for most travellers (obviously), there was no Alberta sign. We'll have to snap one at the British Columbia border to match the last provinces.

Veronika and me in front of the Alberta welcome sign

From Medicine Hat we drove straight through to Calgary, jumped on the bypass, then drove through the gorgeous Canadian Rocky Mountains into Banff National Park. I was excited for Vee since she hasn't seen many mountain ranges before, and these were incredible!

View from the Gondola

When we arrived into the town of Banff, we made our way to the Banff Gondola off Mountain Road. The Gondola is a set of capsules (that happen to look a lot like the ones on the ferris wheel on the pier in Seattle) connected to a huge ski lift, essentially, that bring you to the top of a very steep mountain. At the top of the mountain is a round building with a gift shop, cafe, restaurant, and an amazing view of Banff. After taking in the view from their flooded observation deck, we took the footpath to the neighboring peak to check out the comsmic ray observation station, which was moderately interesting. Dusk was upon us, and we needed to setup camp. When we took the Gondola back down, I realized that there were hiking trails that worked their way up the mountain, so the gondola isn't necessary if you want to see the same view and save yourself about $40 CAD/person.

View from the top of the mountain

After reaching the ground safely, once again, Vee and I walked next door with our bathing gear to experience the natural hot springs. It's hard to think they were "natural," though. The signs say that the water is 100% natural spring water heated to between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius by geothermal activity, but they added chlorine, which makes sense given the probably 75 to 100 people there, but was disappointing to me anyway. It really was just a pool like any other public pool, with life guards, kids, tile, and no running. Perhaps we'll find a better hot spring later in the trip.

Since it was already dark by the time we finished the hot spring, we made our way into town and stopped at a local pub called Rose & Crown. The food was mediocre at best, the service wasn't great, and the beer I ordered, Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale by Oland Brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was not an IPA.

After dinner, we were exhausted. We drove to our campsite in Johnston Canyon in incredible pitch-black darkness. On the way we found several caribou grazing on the side of the road, who were completely unphased by our speedy vector. But why should they? They stood far taller than my car.

We eventually made it to the campsite, set up the tent, ensured our dental health, then crashed hard into our pillows.

My overall impression of Banff National Park: Overcrowded tourist trap.

Saskatchewan

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 2

Vee and me in front of the Saskatchewan welcome sign

We awoke in Riding Mountain National Park of Canada alive and unscathed by the 1000 bears that thrive in the park, (as we learned after we left.) We showered and got ready for the day in the park's extraordinarily nice facilities. The bathrooms were heated and the showers were hot. Vee used the potatoes she made the night before and made a breakfast skillet for the both of us, which we washed down with some Earl Gray. As she cooked I packed the tent, and we were eventually on our way.

There's really not much to be said about our commute into Saskatchewan. There was quite a bit of "big sky country" scenery, but it remained that way for hundreds of kilometers.

When we arrived in Regina, we stopped by a restaurant called Earl's, which I think is a Canadian chain restaurant. It was very nice inside and they had free wi-fi! We started off with the house pale ale, which was brewed in Saskatoon by the Earl's brewery, served in 1.5L glasses, which is massive! The ale tasted to me closer to a pale lager, and I couldn't finish it. Vee really liked it though, and finished hers and most of mine. Needless to say, it was I who drove the next few hours while she napped the buzz off. ;-)

Food from Earl's restaurant

In any case, Vee ordered the Kung Pao and I ordered the Bibimbap. The dishes were very delicious and moderately spicey. I'd recommend the food, most certainly, even for the higher-than-average price. After lunch, we refilled our water at the local Co-Op and went on our way westbound.

After a few missed turns and several construction corridors, we made it to Sceptre, Saskatchewan, the gateway to the Great Sandhills. Unsure of how to get to the sandhills, we simply found a campgroud, walked about the town (which consisted of perhaps 30 total buildings), and got ourselves ready for bed.

Tomorrow we will see the Great Sandhills before directing ourselves toward Manitoba and the world-renowned Banff National Park of Canada.

CCNA Security Easy Peasy

I recently obtained my CCNA Security certification after passing exam 640-554. I studied for about two months straight after earning the CCNA, so switching and routing concepts were still fresh in my mind, making it quite a bit easier to connect security concepts to networking components.

I found the exam to be orders of magnitude easier than the CCNA. I think that's because many of the concepts are not very technical. For example, understanding the theory of Virtual Private Networks is one of the most important components of the exam, but knowing how to set them up was less important. Any ASA-related tasks were done in the exam simulators using the ASDM. Most IOS-related tasks using CCP. And once you under- stand the theory, it's easy to fumble through GUIs (although I understanding including training for ASDM and CCP--they're terrible unintuitive applications!)

If you already have your CCENT, CCNA, or lots of networking experience, you should go for this certification. It's a simpler renewal option for your existing options, and you'll also get a letter of recognition from the NSA acknowledging you as a Security Professional who meets CNSS 4011 training standards.

I read the official Cisco study guide several times over, practiced with the Transcender practice exam, and practiced on live equipment. I have two Cisco 2600 series routers, an 1841 router, two 2950-T Catalyst switches, and a Catalyst 3560-48PS switch at home. To practice firewall tasks, I found an unused ASA 1120 at work.

Once I finish my Bachelor's degree I think I will continue my certification path with Cisco and pursue the CCNP Routing & Switching, then CCNP Security. I can see a CCIE in my future. ;-)

Manitoba

Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 1

Vee and me standing in front of the Manitoba Welcome sign

My girlfriend, Veronika, and I spent the night at my sister's house in Wausau, WI yesterday, which was just a short, two-hour trek north of our home in Madison. We arrived later than expected because we didn't anticipate how long being blessed for safe travels would take (her mother is just the wee bit nervous of our adventure.) Nevertheless, we made it and spent the rest of the evening listening to rap songs from the 90s and 2000s and watching the movie Hook. (RIP Robin Williams) I was very pleased to learn that while packing Veronika thought of practically everything. All that was missing was my tooth brush and deodorant. (But who needs that anyway. =P)

We awoke early this morning to get a head start, but ended up leaving about thirty minutes late. My concern throughout the day was that we wouldn't end up at our destination until after sunset, which would make setting up camp and cooking dinner quite a bit more difficult.

We swung by the nearby Starbucks before directing ourselves westbound toward Minnesota so I could fill my venti-sized Google thermos with Earl Gray. To my dismay (and to the dismay of my burned- off taste buds) the tea didn't actually cool to a drinkable point until nearly 1:30 in the afternoon! That's one effective thermos!

Our drive was mostly featureless, and I mean that in every imaginable way. Hardly any traffic, save for a brief spot in the St. Paul area, and absolutely nothing to look at all the way to our campsite in Manitoba. Actually, as we were nearing Riding Mountain National Park of Canada, I was a little skeptical that a National Park could exist here because it was flatter than Iowa and the terrain was virtually all plains and farms, as far as the eye can see.

We did run into a little border patrol trouble at Emerson. Apparently, there's some sort of bird flu thing going on? Yah, I thought it was over already, too. No, nobody told the Canadians yet. So, I had to sign a document acknowledging that I was giving up my dozen chicken eggs to the crown, and without any expectation of return or compensation. That was no problem, though. We simply bought another dozen in the nearest town for $4 CAD. Yes, we exchanged for Canadian Currency because we're good tourists. ;-)

We did end up making camp just as the sun was setting, so it wasn't much of a bother; however, we found ourselves dodging towering-cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds of variating shapes and colors on the way--oh! and we were purportedly in a tornado warning. Camp was a little wet, but the storms moved quickly southeast-bound and we didn't get rained on once after arrival.

I setup the tent and bedding while Vee prepared dinner. She made pan-fried zucchini and cut up some avocado with hot sauce. She also boiled some potatoes for breakfast. During cleanup, we deposited all of the garbage and food remnants in the bear-proof garbage canisters nearby and left all of our food, dried goods, dishes, and everything else that has a scent in the car. Afterward we discovered challenges with washing the dishes. Even though we had a ready water pump at the campsite, as it turns out, it's not a good replacement for a faucet... And it's awkward to clean dishes with. We agreed that next time we would boil a bunch of water and add it to our largest Tupperware container to use as a sink.

Tomorrow, we're Saskatchewan-bound!

Laser Tag Is Fun

As a belated birthday gift, Veronika took me out for dinner at this nice restaurant downtown Madison called Hamilton on the Square. They specialize in well-made drinks and specialty plates meant for sharing among multiple people, as opposed to the traditional entreé. Consequently, the portions were small, but were priced slightly above the average dinner with adequate portions. The food was good, however. I ordered the octopus and Vee ordered the cheese balls in garlic sauce (I can no longer remember the fancy name for them.)

After dinner, she directed me to my surprise: UltraZone Laser Tag in Middleton! I'm 26 years old and have never gone laser-tagging before, so I was ultra ecstatic. Our friends Ryan and Nikki joined us with their nephew Max. I couldn't help but notice, however, that we were by far the oldest crowd there. It's not a great feeling getting your ass kicked by a bunch of kids, but by the third match I felt like I was holding my own. We began teaming up to protect ourselves from the other colored teams as each of us would score a base. After all bases were secured, we would roam around searching for high-point spots that would occassionally light up on the walls, while tagging as many of the other teams' members as possible. I found that building alliances with some individuals from other teams who just camp out is very valuable.

Afterword, we went to Ryan and Nikki's place and spent the rest of the evening chatting and enjoing a few beers.

Overall, the experience was very fun. I got a bit sweaty and should probably have worn better attire, but it was a surprise after all! I would definitely do it again, especially for a more tactical variety.

Using New SD Cards in Old Cameras

In preparation for our Alaska trip, Veronika received three free 64 GiB SD memory cards for her camera from a very nice, local cameraman. There was a problem, though. Her Nikon D80 camera had some trouble using them. The camera would prompt to format the cards, which she obliged, but following the format the camera showed zero pictures remaining. I thought that was a little strange until I did some Google searching. I realized that her camera can't use a file system that has more than 32 GiB of storage.

Well, "that's easy," I thought. So I resized the partitions to just below 32 GiB, formatted them as FAT32, and tried again. It worked! Here's the process I used on my Mac:

$ sudo fdisk -e /dev/disk3
fdisk: could not open MBR file /usr/standalone/i386/boot0: No such file or directory
Enter 'help' for information
fdisk: 1> print
Disk: /dev/disk3    geometry: 7585/255/63 [121864192 sectors]
Offset: 0    Signature: 0xAA55
         Starting       Ending
 #: id  cyl  hd sec -  cyl  hd sec [     start -       size]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
 1: 0C  256   0   1 - 1023 254  63 [      8192 -  121856000] Win95 FAT32L
 2: 00    0   0   0 -    0   0   0 [         0 -          0] unused      
 3: 00    0   0   0 -    0   0   0 [         0 -          0] unused      
 4: 00    0   0   0 -    0   0   0 [         0 -          0] unused      
fdisk: 1> erase
fdisk:*1> edit 1
         Starting       Ending
 #: id  cyl  hd sec -  cyl  hd sec [     start -       size]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
 1: 00    0   0   0 -    0   0   0 [         0 -          0] unused      
Partition id ('0' to disable)  [0 - FF]: [0] (? for help) 0B
Do you wish to edit in CHS mode? [n] 
Partition offset [0 - 121864192]: [63] 
Partition size [1 - 121864129]: [121864129] 60932000
fdisk:*1> print   
Disk: /dev/disk3    geometry: 7585/255/63 [121864192 sectors]
Offset: 0    Signature: 0xAA55
         Starting       Ending
 #: id  cyl  hd sec -  cyl  hd sec [     start -       size]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
 1: 0B    0   1   1 - 1023 254  63 [        63 -   60932000] Win95 FAT-32
 2: 00    0   0   0 -    0   0   0 [         0 -          0] unused      
 3: 00    0   0   0 -    0   0   0 [         0 -          0] unused      
 4: 00    0   0   0 -    0   0   0 [         0 -          0] unused      
fdisk:*1> write
Writing MBR at offset 0.
fdisk: 1> quit

$ sudo diskutil eraseVolume ms-dos "ALASKA 1" /dev/disk3s1
Started erase on disk3s1
Unmounting disk
Erasing
newfs_msdos: /dev/rdisk3s1: newfs_exfat should be used for SDXC media
512 bytes per physical sector
/dev/rdisk3s1: 60902208 sectors in 1903194 FAT32 clusters (16384 bytes/cluster)
bps=512 spc=32 res=32 nft=2 mid=0xf8 spt=32 hds=255 hid=63 drv=0x80 bsec=60932000 bspf=14869 rdcl=2 infs=1 bkbs=6
Mounting disk
Finished erase on disk3s1 ALASKA 1

Of course, use the proper block device. You can easily find what it is by doing $ ls /dev/disk*, plugging in the device, and executing the same command again. The new device is the proper one to use.

This technique could be extended to other types of memory cards and devices. I have an 8 GiB CompactFlash card at home that I may try to hack to use in my Cisco devices as well.

If you try this for yourself and discover it doesn't work under some circumstances, please let me know. I'd be interested in knowing more details.

In Pursuit of the CCNA

Last week, after months of studying, I passed exam 200-101: Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 2 to earn my CCNA credential. It was a very tough exam, certainly, and more difficult than the fifteen other certifications I've earned combined. If you are preparing for the ICND1 or ICND2 exams, or if you are brave and experienced enough to attempt the combined 200-120 CCNA exam, make sure you know the material backwards and forwards, and then after that review it all again.

Studying for 200-101 ICND2 was difficult for me because I had already attempted and failed the previous version of this exam, 640-816, two years ago. I had earned my CCENT with exam 640-822 six months before that. However, with the new version of the exams many of the ICND2 topics were moved to ICND1, and many CCNP topics were moved to ICND2. I had a lot of catching up to do.

I would recommend being as strong as possible in basic IOS administration. Know how to configure switching, routing, RoaS, inter-VLAN routing, interface configuration, port security, ACLs, NAT, OSPF, and EIGRP by heart. Configure all of these things a million times until you don't have to think about it anymore. Then do it all with IPv6. When working with WAN protocols, place your emphasis in frame relay. I found the best way to understand frame relay was to set up the service provider side as well--it really solidifies understanding of DLCIs.

These are the materials I used for studying:

I found the Official Cert Guide to be the most helpful from a learning perspective. Though it's certainly not an entertaining read, it succinctly explains how all of the protocols work. GNS3 and my own equipment were the most effective means of practicing what I learned from the book. I bought two Cisco 2600 series routers, an 1841 router, two 2950-T Catalyst switches, and a Catalyst 3560-48PS switch and used them to replace my cheap Belkin router at home. I created separate VLANs for my Wi-Fi traffic, my management traffic, and my server traffic. I routed them with RoaS on a 2600 series router, but after easily maxing out the bandwidth I started using inter-VLAN routing with the Catalyst 3560. I found interface errors that I had to troubleshoot before determining (with the assistance of Charter) that the cabling in the apartment walls needs to be replaced. Real-life troubleshooting makes all the difference, especially for those like me who don't administer networks for their full-time job.

The Transcender practice exam was much harder than the actual exam, and I'm very thankful for that. I found the most beneficial way to use the exam was to run through every question in a given category, selecting the answer you think is right, then immediately grading it to learn why you got it right or wrong. It really helped to fill in any gaps I had between the book and using GNS3/my own equipment.

Jeremy Cioara is very good at holding attention in his videos, and perhaps they're great introductions to any given subject, but I found them to be otherwise useless for attaining the knowledge and experience necessary to pass the exam. To his credit, he does offer a lot of irrelevant, but very useful advice for certain topics, such as summarization for multi-area OSPF. And it's incredibly evident how passionate Jeremy is on the subject.

If you are attempting this credential, I wish you good luck! Take your time when studying -- you can't be ready enough.

Let There Be Beer

Three weeks ago my buddy Dave and I capped the final bottle of our first batch of Wheat beer--a total yield of 49 bottles. We used the Afternoon Deelite Wheat recipe from Madison's Wine and Hop Shop. Here's a list of the ingredients we used:

In the light of full disclosure, this was the third time I've made beer. I mention this because making a batch of beer was included in my Day Zero Project, even though I brewed twice before the project went live on the first of this year. I started making the project list last August, before I made my first batch. But seeing as I couldn't just cross off an item immediately when the list went live (and because brewing is fun!) I had to brew again.

My first brew was an oatmeal stout that turned out quite well by the six-month mark. I named it the Not-So-Scaredy Cat Oatmeal Stout because the original recipe was called Scaredy Cat and I wanted to illustrate that my first attempt wasn't so scary after all (though my friends and family were scared to try it!) My second brew was an Oktoberfest ale. Generally, Oktoberfests are lagered, but I don't own any lagering equipment. The recipe I used was called Oktoberfast since making ales is faster than lagers. I called my brew Aletoberfest in an attempt to be just as clever. It turned out quite well, though I think I distributed the bottles four weeks too soon.

In any case, back to our wheat: We were able to mill the dry malt grains at the Wine and Hop Shop when buying the kit, which really saved us time fiddling with my Nutri-Bullet, which probably wouldn't have done a very good job anyway. We filled two cheesecloths with the dry malts and soaked them in two-and-a-half gallons of filtered water at 155 degrees Fahrenheit in my 10-gallon brewing kettle. I think this process is known as mashing.

Malts in Cheesecloth

After about an hour, we took two gallons of hot water (not quite boiling) and slowly poured it over the cheesecloths as we pulled them out of the brewing kettle. After that we brought the wort to a boil before adding the pilsen dry malt extract and the package of Perle hop pellets. It was difficult to measure the temperature of the wort during this process because the thermometer welded into the side sits at about the five-gallon mark--higher than wort. Furthermore, I didn't have a floating thermometer that some home brewers use. I found, though, that keeping the cover on the brewing kettle helps to both give a more accurate temperature reading and mitigate evaporation.

We did experience a "hot break" within five minutes of bringing the wort back to a boil. When the malt extract is heated quickly, it expands quite a bit, causing sticky foam to seep out the top of the kettle. I was afraid of this happening because when I experienced this in my last brew, I spent weeks trying to clean it off my stove. In any case, reducing the heat a bit and then increasing it again curtailed the hot break.

Forty-five minutes into the boil we added the liquid malt extract. Ten minutes later we added the first package of Sorachi hop pellets, and then the second package five minutes after that. And that was it. We turned off the heat and let the wort sit for fifteen minutes before beginning the cooling process.

Cooling the wort is an interesting process. You can't just let the wort sit until it reaches room temperature--wort is the perfect substance for breeding bacteria very quickly, which would ruin the beer. Some people address this problem by using a wort chiller, usually in the form of a large, copper coil with two hose attachments for delivering cold water though the coil. I don't have any sophisticated liquid cooling technology, so I just used twenty pounds of ice I bought earlier that day. I filled the sink with a little ice and placed the brewing kettle on top. I surrounded the sides of the kettle with more ice and placed a bunch more on top of the kettle as well. The wort was down to about 100 degrees within fifteen minutes.

Brewing Kettle Spigot

We have a plastic food-grade bucket for use as our fermenter. Since I'm not a fan of siphoning the wort from the kettle to the bucket (too great of a chance of contamination, and there's the eww factor) I made sure that I bought a brewing kettle with a spigot. The spigot has a mesh attachment in the form of a cylinder, which helped to reduce the amount of hop and malt residue entering the fermenter. After filling the fermenter, we added the yeast and sealed the lid.

Krausen

Within 24 hours the krausen, or malty foam produced by rapid carbon dioxide development, seeped through air lock onto the lid, producing a frothy, malt waterfall onto the kitchen floor. I cleaned the mess and the air lock and faced no further issues after that.

After two weeks in the fermenter, the yeast worked through all the sugars and the brew was ready to bottle. We added a cup of corn sugar to the brew to reactivate the yeast and carbonate the beer. Thanks to a spigot on the fermenting bucket we again did not have to deal with siphoning. Just turn the spigot handle, fill the bottle, close the spigot, and cap the bottle. It was a bit of an assembly line process, though we had our share of troubles capping some bottles. A few slipped, but we're lucky that none broke.

In March I'll give the brew a taste and update this post with my thoughts. Until then...

Severe Network Degradation in Newer Intel Based NICs

At work we use Dell laptops with Intel I218-LM network interface cards. We have issues with severe network degradation in uplink traffic on the hosts, averaging between 300 to 400 Kbps. This degradation only occurs on one of our switches, though--a Cisco 3560 series. For the longest time, PC support has had to manually modify the adapter properties on each host to enable Legacy Switch Compatibility Mode, found under the advanced tab in the Ethernet adapter properties dialog box, in order to resolve the problem. This was a curious situation for me so I thought I'd try to determine the root cause while my Cisco knowledge was still fresh in my mind.

I noticed that we aren't big fans of Ethernet Auto-Negotiation. Every interface on the switch is set to speed 100, duplex full. Every host's adapter is configured to mirror these settings. With a quick Google search, I found a Customer Advisory on HP's website indicating that network connectivity could be lost when forcing speed and duplex settings:

"This anomaly can occur because newer Intel drivers now attempt to negotiate the link speed when the driver speed has been forced and this does not interoperate well with some switches."

Hence the need to enable Legacy Switch Compatibility Mode. Of course, there's nothing legacy about these switches. The Intel drivers just don't behave according to how they are configured.

To provide further information, without this mode enabled, the interface on the switch will show lots of input errors, generally indicating a problem with the host (or something in between.)

I mentioned earlier that we only had this problem when the hosts were connected to just one of our switches. That switch has only 10/100 interfaces for host connectivity. Comparatively, the other switches have 10/100/1000 interfaces, though they are also configured to use speed 100, duplex full. And of course, as stated earlier, all hosts are defined to use the same settings instead of auto-negotiation. Therefore, I suspect that the new Intel drivers, despite their settings, auto negotiate to their highest available speed first (1000 mbps), then, whether negotiation continues or not, use the defined setting of 100 Mbps. Because a 10/100 interface would fail to negotiate at 1 Gbps, the Intel drivers fail to complete their negotiation and for whatever reason never use the configured setting. Whether they continue to send at 1 Gbps or at the lowest (and safest) 10 Mbps is unknown to me, but assuredly they are sending at the wrong speed, therefore causing the interface input errors and nearly all traffic to drop upstream.

In any case, if auto negotiation can't be used and there are hosts with newer Intel drivers, just enable the Legacy Switch Compatibility mode setting on each host.

On the Film: The Birth of a Nation

Recently, Netflix added "The Birth of a Nation," a 1915 silent film about the Civil War and the dramatized reconstruction thereafter. The film is known for many innovative film techniques that undoubtedly inspired many producers for years to come.

However, that is about all the good I have to say regarding this film, for it is obscenely racist. Any black character not involved in a crowd or backdrop is represented by a white person in blackface, and the film sympathizes with the creation of the Ku Klux Klan as being necessary to restore order after freedmen apparently ran amok, raping and pillaging. As if any sympathy were owed to the Southern whites of the era, even if it were true that freedmen did pass a law requiring whites to salute them in the streets! I'm ashamed of this film and embarrassed that it was produced by my country.

Following the initial release, D. W. Griffith added the following "disclaimer," as it were, to the beginning:

A Plea for the Art of the Motion Picture

We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue--the same liberty that is conceded to the art of the written word--that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.

How unforgivable! The Birth of a Nation has been attributed to starting the second founding of the KKK! The effect the movie has had on American society is completely counter to Griffith's plea; if he sincerely did intend to "illuminate the bright side of virtue"--which assuredly he must not have, as I discerned from the interviews included in the film--he failed shamefully, having understood nothing about prejudice or injustice.

If you'd like to discover why the American Film Institute declared this film as one of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time (at least in their first list) watch the first half of the film. You'll be amused for parts, and discover interesting film techniques as well. But save your time and sanity and skip the second part--you won't miss a thing.

On the Book of Job

In the Harvard Classics reading list for the history of the world, there exists just one work categorized as belonging to the East in patriarchal times--that is, during times when men held predominant power over women. That work is the Hebrew parable of Job, which is found both in the Ketuvim of the Tanakh and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible.

Patriarchal assuredly it is, and arguably also dystopian, but poetic nonetheless. The story is of an extraordinarily wealthy man named Job (rhymes with robe) who suffers the injustice of an enigmatic God who nonchalantly permits his torment from Satan in order to prove a point, namely this: Satan seeing Job as a righteous and pious man, if he were to lose everything, surely he would at once renounce his faith in God and turn his back on him. So Satan, with the permission of God, causes Job his livestock to be stolen or destroyed, his servants to be slain, and all his children to be killed. But despite these things Job persists in his faith, (even though his wife attempted to dissuade him):

"Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah."

Satan, unsatisfied, wants to test further. So, with God having granted permission once again, Satan causes boils to appear all over Job's body. Now is where the bulk of the story occurs as dialogue between Job and three of his friends, of whom argue that surely he must not be righteous, for God only punishes the sinners. Job continually retorts that he is indeed righteous, and that what is happening to him is an injustice to which God is obligated to explain, an injustice so great that he denounces the day of his birth and prays to God to just let him die, for death is more satisfactory than his present state. The three friends having nothing more to say to Job, a young (and overbearingly respectful) man declares that God is far too marvelous and majestic to be understood.

To end the story, God speaks to the group (from a whirlwind, of course) declaring himself responsible for the ways of all living creatures and the cause of all weather, before denouncing the three friends and requiring them to each give Job a number of their livestock. Then God gives Job double what he originally had in assets, and seven new children.

I think the moral of the story is that we have no control over anything, that if the deity is Jehovah then those whose faith is greatest in him will suffer injustice on account of them being pawns in a chess game against a pseudo-deity (called as such because Satan requires permission from God, but still transcends man), but that good will eventually come to them afterward. Also, human lives are somehow replaceable.

The Book of Job is beautiful and poetic, but I am disappointed that it was chosen to represent the East in ancient times when it is most obviously a parable, therefore bearing no credibility regarding the ways and attitudes of the people therein, save for the author, who is, unfortunately, unknown.

On Ancient Egypt

I finished today the account of Herodotus, a Greek writer from the fifth century B.C.E., of the land and people of Egypt as he travelled about the ancient world in search of history and culture.

I found his account to be a delightful read because of his keen interest in how things come to be, not just politically and culturally, but also geologically and architecturally. This is evident immediately as he postulates that Egypt must have been largely or completely under water long ago, for the land at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea slopes upward toward the coast, and because seashells have been found on mountain tops far from any coast. Herodotus speaks more of the shape and size of Egypt before moving on to the way of its people, their stories, and eventually their history.

Did you know that the Egyptians were obsessed with cleanliness? They had proper rules surrounding the handling of pigs as dirty creatures, so severe that those members of the social class which handled swine were permitted to only marry within the same class, a rule which Herodotus did not mention applied to any other. Furthermore, any contact with swine warranted an immediate washing in the Nile river, all clothes left on. Swine aside, Egyptians washed often, and had special rules regarding attire when accessing their holy temples.

Herodotus further describes the ways of Egyptians as being opposite from the rest of the world at that time. For example, women went to the market to trade while the men stayed home and weaved. Women carried heavy things on their shoulders, and men on their heads. Apparently, circumcision was a standard practice as well, likely because it was deemed "cleaner."

Being both a skeptic and an honest man brings much credibility to Herodotus' account. He talks often of the stories of the gods, much of which are shared between the Greeks and the Egyptians. Through his evaluation of stories recorded by the Egyptians and the Greeks alike, he determined often that the Egyptians brought these gods to the Greeks, and not vice versa. When describing the beauty and marvelousness of the Great Pyramids and the Labyrinth, he easily remarks these as wonders greater in cost and extravagance than all the Greek wonders combined! Though there is plenty to be said about some of his less-than-rational remarks and approaches, he seems to me to be more "modern" in his method of record than any other accounts I've read of the ancient world. (At the same time, perhaps I haven't read enough!)

Speaking of the Labyrinth, I had never even heard of it until I read Herodotus' description of it. Upon further research, I learned that only very recently (in 2008) has the Labyrinth been reasonably proven to exist. Unfortunately, it is currently inaccessible underground, filled with salt water that is quickly eroding away all of its purported majesty. I hope that one day it is safely excavated so that I may see it with my own eyes. Herodotus described it as being larger and more spectacular than the pyramids, perhaps adding to the list an eighth wonder of the ancient world.

In any case, Herodotus also discusses the two Egyptians scripts, the rules and customs surrounding death and burial, and under what circumstances certain animals, such as crocodiles, are considered sacred. I would highly recommend reading his account.

On Race and Language

Recently, I read the first few articles in the Harvard Classics reading list. The first was a nice introduction to the history of the world by one Professor Robert Johnston, and the second a brief introduction to ancient history by Professor William Ferguson. They were well-written works that were reasonably easy to follow, despite them having been written more than one hundred years ago.

What I want to talk about, however, is the extraordinary article titled Race and Language by Oxford history professor Edward Freeman. I have not been able to determine the date in which he wrote this essay--quite possibly in 1879, if not a few years earlier. In this essay Freeman purports that language alone cannot be used to accurately determine a person's race. He goes on to say that there is no truly pure race, since families adopt, individuals naturalize, and through war cultures assimilate.

To me, the general premise of his essay is that the biological "pureness" of a race cannot be guaranteed, and the non-physical components used in assuming a person's race, such as language or religion, are presumed and learned, possibly for religious or political gain:

"The doctrine of race is essentially an artificial doctrine, a learned doctrine. It is an inference from facts which the mass of mankind could never have found out for themselves; facts which, without a distinctly learned teaching, could never be brought home to them in any intelligible shape."

Regarding those who use their fallacious definitions of race for religious or political gain:

"I must emphatically say that nothing can be more shallow, nothing more foolish, nothing more purely sentimental, than the talk of those who think that they can simply laugh down or shriek down any doctrine or sentiment which they themselves do not understand."

I would argue that since nothing can be reliably used to determine a person's race, inherently, there cannot be any definition for race. Even so, with or without a universal definition for race I would go on to argue that there cannot be any fruitful gain for establishing a race of people, for therein creates an arbitrary binary and therefore reason for one group of people to fight another. The concept of race-in-common has been the cause of both war and alliance throughout history, to no gain of anyone who ever lived.

It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly condemn any accusation of an honest person doing something on account of race, just as much as I condemn a person for actually doing something on account of race. All people should treat and be treated equally, as a general rule.

In the context of diversity, let me further argue that the aggregation of members from various races does not actually guarantee diversity; biological diversity is not the same as social diversity, or cultural diversity. Joining members of different cultures, who therein represent people from their cultural backgrounds, is what ensures the benefits of diversity in thoughts, actions, opinions, and the like.

I think to segue to education would strengthen the meaningfulness of this essay. If the primary focus of education were to eradicate ignorance, and therefore the making of decisions on account of that ignorance, then perhaps major catastrophes could have been avoided. For too long ignorant imperialists have destroyed mankind en masse, all on account of their concepts of race, as arbitrary and meaningless as they were. More than fifty years after the writing of this essay, Adolf Hitler would declare a so-called "perfect race" while exterminating another. Here in the United States around 75 years after the writing of this essay, a less emphatic equivalence commenced: the resistance to the Civil Rights movement. Perhaps a proper education could have averted these both.

That being said, I further enjoyed Freeman's definition of history:

History is the politics of the past, and politics are the history of the present.

Day Zero Was Yesterday

Today is the first day of 2015 and also happens to be when the tertiary iteration of my Day Zero Project begins. I've already made headway in one of my personal project goals: this website. I hated my old blog and sought to make one that I would enjoy using. This is it! But as to why I could love something so plain and simple is a post for another time.

For now, have a happy new year.

The Bgcolor Attribute Does Not Work in Internet Explorer

There is a bug that impacts all versions of Internet Explorer. These are the conditions that must exist in order for the problem to occur:

  1. An HTML element must be using the deprecated bgcolor attribute. This will likely be a table, tr, or td element.
  2. The color must be specified using the hexadecimal short notation, i.e. #123 instead of #112233.

Internet Explorer cannot read short-notation hexadecimal colors in this particular property. It will instead improvise by applying a background color of black.

The simple solution is to not use the bgcolor attribute, but if you have no control over the markup, use a full-length hexadecimal value instead. If you're working in an application where you have no control over the markup or the value of this property but can apply CSS with a style sheet, slap the developers in the face and try to target the elements to override the color. Don't try to use attribute selectors though (see here for more information).

Css Attribute Selectors and IE 7

If you've tried to use attribute selectors in IE 7 and found it to be quite spotty, you're not alone. Here's a brief illustration of just what I mean:

tr[height="50%"] { background: #fff; }

Though this bit of CSS will work in virtually any browser, it will not work in IE7. But these will:

div[height="50%"] { background: #fff; }
tr[height] { background: #fff; }

Aside: It's important to note that a DOCTYPE has to be specified in order for attribute selectors to work at all in IE7.

So what's the deal?

I created a test page to reproduce these issues and verified them in IE 7. Then, I opened the page in IE 9, opened the DOM inspector (F12), and changed the Browser and Document modes to IE 7. Voila, the attribute selector issues are reproducible there as well. I found that unchecking the selector in the CSS pane and checking it again actually caused the selector to work.

This is pure speculation, but I believe the cause of these inconsistencies is that IE 7 will complete the loading of a webpage before certain attribute selectors have had enough time to resolve against the DOM.

In any case, the elements can be targeted through a number of other, more effective means, and luckily for us, the user base for IE 7 is currently at just 1.53% (Source: StatCounter).

Mobsync Issues

After today's encounter with Mobsync and COM+, I am left scratching my head and looking about in disarray. This doesn't happen often, but I am sure glad when it does because it beats sitting in a lecture hall 'attempting' to learn about the intricacies of Windows communication subsystems.

It all started when I received a call yesterday from one of my clients. She couldn't access her network drives. Of course, the client doesn't actually say this; more commonly I hear much more detailed descriptions like, "Micah, the Internet is broken" or "my icon disappeared." So I set up an appointment for this morning.

From the way she described the issue, she couldn't access some network resources. She could still get her email from the Exchange server as well as access the Internet. Her mapped drives wouldn't open, however. She received this error message when trying to open them:

O:\ is not accessible. The parameter is incorrect.

When navigating in Windows Explorer through Entire Network -> Microsoft Windows Network -> Domain, I received the following message: (replace 'Network' with the domain name)

Network is not accessible. You might not have permission to use this network resource. Contact the administrator of this server to find out if you have access permissions. The parameter is incorrect.

Stranger yet, when trying to open the UNC path from the Run dialog box, the classic "The network path was not found" message appears.

This was the only user/PC on this subnet who experienced this issue. Just to rule out the network as a possible cause, I cleared the DNS cache (ipconfig/flushdns) and the ARP table (arp -d *). I pinged the file server by name and the server responded without issue. I checked the ARP and DNS tables and saw that the IP address and name resolved correctly. There aren't any extra entries in the hosts file and the DNS server is dynamically set via DHCP to the server--the same as every workstation in the network.

These are the errors seen in the Application event log:

Source: Userenv; Type: Error; Event ID: 1030; Description: Windows cannot query for the list of Group Policy objects. A message that describes the reason for this was previously logged by the policy engine.

Source: EventSystem; Type: Warning; Event ID: 4356; Description: The COM+ Event System failed to create an instance of the subscriber partition: {...}. CoGetObject returned HRESULT 8000401A.

Event ID 4356 seems to give the most details. The GUID {41E90F3E-56C1-4633-81C3-6E8BAC8BDD70} belongs to COM Event Subsystem. The second GUID {6295DF2D-35EE-11D1-8707-00C04FD93327} belongs to Mobsync, the Microsoft Synchronization Manager, a component of Internet Explorer used for offline file synchronization. HRESULT 8000401A means that there is not a domain controller to which a connection may be made.

I spent several hours exhausting many options in resolving this issue. I upgraded from XP SP2 to SP3, IE6 to IE8, and ran all the latest updates, thinking that mobsync would be updated along the way and the issue resolved. This wasn't the case, however. I even installed Hotfix KB885887, to no avail.

Recent Note: Nowadays I would take a more targeted approach to troubleshooting issues. I wasted a lot of time in this scenario "blindly guessing." But, this was five years ago and I was still new to IT.

In Component Services within Administrative Tools in the Control Panel, I drilled down to the Mobsync component and set the security settings in the properties dialog box to their defaults as well, but like all the rest of my attempts at saving the day, it failed.

After this, I thought that perhaps the COM+ catalog became corrupt. Per this article, I logged into safe mode and backed up the clbcatq.dll file in the System32 folder and removed the contents of the %windir%\Registration folder. Then I deleted the registry key HKLM\Software\Microsoft\COM3 and restarted the computer. After restarting, I removed the Registration folder altogether and opened the Add/Remove Windows Components setup program. Simply click Next caused COM+ to be reinstalled. While the network drives were accessible at this time, the problem came back as soon as I restarted the computer again.

Since I had already made it to four and a half hours at this point, I decided to follow the advice of this page and unregister mobsync.dll from the COM+ Event System by running regsvr32 "%systemroot%\system32\mobsync.dll" /u. While the network drives were accessible once again at this point, the issue wasn't truly resolved. After all, I heard that if this component is not available, data corruption may occur if the PC belongs to a domain (like this one.) Luckily, there are Shadow Copies and tape backups, just in case something does go awry.

If I am wrong in thinking that there is an issue with mobsync, then I may need to re-evaluate the network and check for any issues that may exist between the server and the PC by using a sniffer utility.

Update 4 June 2010

Despite mobsync being deregistered, the issue reoccurred. The only error messages found in the event log on the PC were related to Group Policy not being applied. I used the network sniffer application that comes with Windows Server 2003 and recorded all traffic going to and from the PC from the time the PC was turned on until the user had logged in and reached the desktop. Everything seemed to be just fine except for several error messages seen in the SMB frames from the server to the PC regarding invalid arguments.

All in all, the final solution was to blow away the user's profile and start fresh. The issue hasn't reoccurred since. Additionally, another recording of the network traffic going to and from that PC showed no SMB errors any longer. The root cause is profile-specific and likely resulted from a corrupt user registry hive.

Key Repeats in VMware

Lately, I've been working on a custom Linux system in VMWare ESXi. I have a somewhat uncommon setup, however. I use the Infrastructure Client within an RDP session to administer my virtual machines.

Many times, especially over connections with high latency, an issue occurs when typing that causes a single key strike to register an unpredictable amount of times (well, theoretically, it is predictable, but that is far out of the scope of this post.)

I solved this issue by performing the following steps (Please note that the virtual machine will need to be powered off to perform these steps):

  1. Open the vSphere Client and login to the VMWare server
  2. Go to the Inventory and expand the list of virtual machines
  3. Right-click the virtual machine you want to make the change to and select Edit Settings...
  4. Select the Options tab. Under Settings -> Advanced -> General, select Configuration Parameters...
  5. Select Add Row. In the Name column, type in keyboard.typematicMinDelay
  6. I used the value of 1000000. This creates a delay in registering key presses. Therefore, the higher the value, the longer you have to hold a key down for it to register more than once. (Think of it this way: k[pause]kkkkk)

Configuration Parameters Screenshot

Setting up DHCP over VPN on a Sonicwall

If you are using a Sonicwall Firewall, you may be interested in learning how to setup Virtual Private Network access to utilize network resources away from the workplace, assuming, of course, you've paid for the VPN licenses...

This post sprouts from an issue with Windows 7 64-bit and Sonicwall Global VPN Client 64-bit v4.2.6.0305 (the latest version as of the date of this post.) A client of mine had a strange issue where occasionally, the VPN connection would not work quite right. When connecting, he would see the following dialog box pop up:

Select PhoneBook Entry Popup

(Please note: IP addresses and connection names have been hidden in the images.)

When researching the problem on the Internet, I noticed that this dialog box may sporadically appear when one of the following conditions are met: 1) The user is not connected to the Internet. 2) Internet Explorer has been uninstalled.

I was using GoToAssist when I saw this message, so he was obviously connected to the Internet. Additionally, IE was installed, and I even uninstalled and reinstalled it again just to make sure there weren't any changes to IE that would have caused the incident. To no avail, I continued onward in quest of solving this curious predicament.

First, I changed the connection settings to use LAN only to get rid of the dialog box.

Connection Properties Dialog

After this, the connection was successfully established, but no data could pass through. I could not ping any host or access any service that resided on the remote network. I tried removing and reestablishing the connection, uninstalling and reinstalling the Global VPN Client, and even jumping up and down in frustration. None of these fixed the issue.

At first, I did not think there was any misconfiguration on the Sonicwall Firewall because four other people, one of which used Windows 7 32-bit, could successfully establish a connection and use network resources.

After contacting and working with the horrible Sonicwall technical support, I did finally come to a resolution. The virtual adapter settings for the VPN connection in the firewall were set to not lease any IP addresses via DHCP. Here is what we needed to have set up in order for the resolution to arise:

Sonicwall Configuration Page, Network > DHCP Server

While it is not necessary for the Sonicwall Firewall to host the DHCP server, a DHCP server is probably required for this fix to work. To set up DHCP in a Sonicwall Firewall, navigate to Network -> DHCP Server. Select both Enable DHCP Server and Enable Conflict Detection. After that, create a DHCP Lease Scope under the appropriate heading. Apply the settings.

Sonicwall Configuration Page, VPN > Settings

Next, under VPN -> Settings there should already be a GroupVPN policy. I believe this should be here by default. If it is not, you can use the VPN Policy Wizard to create a new one. Edit the GroupVPN policy by selecting the pencil and paper icon.

GroupVPN Policy Page, Client tab, Virtual Adapter settings

On the Client tab, under Client Connections, there is a drop down list for Virtual Adapter settings. Make sure DHCP Lease is selected. I had None selected at first, which Windows 7 64-bit doesn't cooperate with very well.

Sonicwall Configuration Page, VPN > DHCP over VPN

Next, go to VPN -> DHCP over VPN. You can view current leases from here. Go ahead and just select the Configure button.

DHCP Relay Configuration Page

A new window opens. If you are using the internal Sonicwall DHCP server, ensure both Use Internal DHCP Server and For Global VPN Client are selected. If you are using a different DHCP server, instead check Send DHCP requests to the server addresses listed below. Add the appropriate DHCP server IP address. Hit OK.

That's it. This solved my problem. The Sonicwall technical support representative has no idea why the "None" option for the virtual network adapter did not work correctly, but the only operating system that had issues was Windows 7 64-bit.