March 2012 Archives

Introducing Odie

I think perhaps as punishment for being gone so long, Anne rescued this little bundle of joy from a family who could no longer care for him. His name is Odie.


He was advertized as a 7-month old Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terrier mix. We now believe he is a 4-month old Chihuahua and some other kind of Terrier mix.

He's pretty shy and easily frightened by strange sounds, such as the pheasants in the back yard.

Colin was allowed to choose his name, and being way into Garfield comics these days, the choice was obvious. I also consider this my punishment for being away on a business trip. But he's a good boy and so far working out just fine!

A short trip to Paris

The second part of my trip to Europe was to Paris. We took the "Chunnel" from London to Paris, which was quite a lot of fun. I think the locals were upset because we were acting like loud Americans. At one point the purser asked us to please speak more quietly.

My total time in Paris was about 40 hours. After a late lunch on Saturday, we decided to walk 30 minutes to the main attraction: the Eiffel Tower. The picture below is from the spot where we first could see the whole thing.

Here's a close-up as we approached the base:

For some reason, I was not expecting so many people around the tower. There were huge lines waiting to take the elevators up. In the far distance, you can see a lot of people up on the edge of a plaza taking pictures. That is where I went the second night. On this night, we waited on the fenced-off grass.

This next picture was taken the next night from that plaza. It's a little nicer because of the reflecting pool and the higher up perspective. At the top of every hour they turn on the sparkling lights for five minutes. If I'd had a tripod, they would've made a great animated image. The searchlight at the top spins around sort of slowly.

I like the next picture, showing silhouettes of the other tourists. This was a 30-second exposure, and I got lucky most of them stood more-or-less still for that long.

The only other "sight" I saw was the Arc de Triomphe, an enormous monument to French wars. It sits at the center of a great roundabout. You have to walk under the street to get there. I'm pretty sure you're supposed to pay to visit it. However, I unintentionally snuck by going up the exit stairs.

We had nothing but good food in Paris. Lunch on Saturday was at a very nice Italian place with a friendly waiter. That night we took advantage of the hotel's dessert bar, which cost 11 Euro. The shocker, however, was learning that a small bottle of Coke costs 8 Euro at the hotel. That like $12 in American.

After meetings on Sunday, I had to wake up at 4AM to get to my 6:30AM flight from the Charles de Gaulle airport.

A Visit to Bletchley Park

My second meeting in London was at the U.K. National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. Thanks to a display in the lobby, I learned that Alan Turing worked there!

Turing is considered by many as the father of Computer Science. He invented the concepts of a stored program computer in the mid-1930's. He is also famous for playing a key role at Bletchley Park during WWII in breaking the codes used by the German military. I read his biography in my high school years.

Since this meeting wrapped up early, we had some free time on Friday. I found that Bletchley Park was not too far away (65 miles). We debated if we could get there and still have time to look around. By train would take 2 hours and was more expensive than expected. In a stroke of bravado, Matt decided he could handle driving on the wrong side of the road so we rented a car for the day.

Entrance to the museum where most exhibits are.

The Bletchley Park mansion. The estate was owned by a wealthy family before it was acquired by the U.K. government to house the code breakers. It is a mish-mash of architectural styles due to the tastes of its previous owner.

The story of code breaking at Bletchley Park focuses almost entirely on the Enigma machine. This machine, looking somewhat like a typewriter in a box, was used to encrypt and decrypt messages that would be transmitted via radio. It was invented in the 1930's and originally marketed to businesses, such as banks. It wasn't adopted much by business, but the German military purchased some 70,000 units.

An Enigma machine has a keyboard where the message is typed, a "plugboard" (covered by the front of the box, a number of "rotors," and a set of lamps arranged much like the keyboard. When a key is depressed it causes one of the lamps to light up and one of the rotors to turn. The encryption happens because the electric signals between the keyboard and lamps are scrambled by the plugboard and the rotors.

There are wires inside each rotor that accomplish the scrambling. In order to break the code, they had to figure out how they were wired inside, without being able to take it apart or even see one. Sometimes Enigma boxes were recovered from captured submarines, so that certainly helped.

Some Enigma's had 3 rotors and some had 4. When encoding (and decoding) a message, the operator set the rotors to a specific starting position. The starting position changed each day. So in order to break the codes they also had to determine these starting positions. When the code was broken they could then read all the messages for that day.

This pictures shows two reconstructed bombe machines, which Turing was instrumental in developing. The originals were destroyed after the war out of fear. One side of the bombe has an array of color-coded discs and the other side consists of long red cables (corresponding to the Engima's plugboard). This photo was taken in Hut 11, which at the time, housed 6 bombe machines. The walls and ceiling are two feet of concrete, designed to be bomb-proof. There were no windows then, and the hut became very hot and probably smelled like oil.

The bombes were designed to crank through potential rotor settings until they found one that might decode the message. Note that the Enigmas generally didn't have numbers on their keyboards, only letters. This fact was useful in breaking the codes because numbers were spelled out, and therefore often repeated and easier to identify.

The code breakers gave different color names to different codes used by the Germans. These may have been different Enigma machines or different protocols and settings. I'm not sure if these colored bombe rotors correspond to those different codes or not. In the reconstructed bombe machines, all rows have the same color.

The Germans also used an even more sophisticated encryption machine named Lorenz. In order to crack this, the code breakers built a semi-programmable computer, known as Colossus. The original Colossus was also destroyed, but has been reconstructed at Bletchley Park. This picture shows the paper punch tapes containing encrypted messages being processed by Colossus.

Above is Alan Turning's office in Hut 8. Given the state of decay of most things at Bletchley Park it is unlikely any of these items were actually used by Turing.

Above is a recreation of a "Y" station where German radio transmissions were intercepted and recorded. These were not located at Bletchley Park. For some time the encrypted messages were written on paper and couriered to Bletchley. Later they installed teleprinters between the sites.

This statue of Alan Turing with an Enigma machine (by Stephen Kettle) sits in the basement of the Block B museum and seems to be made of numerous flat stones.

Free Time in London

Work took me to London (and later Paris) this week for three different workshops and meetings. It was a 10-hour flight from San Francisco. After checking in, I had a few hours to kill before dinner, so I took the train and underground to Waterloo and then wandered around the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The weather was great so the picture taking was pretty good.


Afterwards it was back to the fancy hotel for a very overpriced dinner. Yay!

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve


I took many more pictures of the dunes that I like. Please view them on flickr.

Years ago I was passing through Denver International Airport. They have a walkway between the terminal and concourse A. Along that walkway they have art exhibits and that was the first time I learned about The Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. Ever since then I've wanted to go. My wish finally came true this spring break. We came to Colorado and drove to the dunes with our pal Scott and his son Cameron.

The dunes cover about 30 square miles and were created by wind blowing over the soil of the San Luis Valley. The sand is deposited at the base of the Sangre De Cristo mountains, as they block the wind. The tallest dune is about 750 feet above the level of the creek. The one they call "High Dune" is 650 feet high. The dunes are, apparently, quite stable. Stable enough to give names at least. Due to the wind patterns, they sort of shift back and forth, rather than advance in a single direction.

I wanted to get some good pictures early in the morning. I left our Alamosa hotel about 6:00 AM, arrived at the Dunes around 6:45, with just a hint of dawn breaking. I sat in the car for a while, not quite sure when I should start. It was a little chilly that early in the morning. Setting out, I picked out what I believed to be High Dune and decided to see if I could make it up there in a reasonable amount of time.

I had my 7D, 17-55 and 55-250 lenses, and a light travel tripod. Many of the pictures with the telephoto lens were disappointing. I mostly blame the flimsy tripod (which also doubled as a walking stick) and the occasional wind. And I really should've used the remote shutter release. Changing lenses out there on the sand was a bit terrifying.

It was a beautiful day and time for a hike. Very peaceful. I only saw two other people that morning. I managed to reach the top of High Dune around 8:30, which was a good time to be there. There were some thin clouds blocking the sun this day. Had it been clearer, 8:00 might have been a better time to be at the top.

I hurried down and drove back to Alamosa to pick up the rest of the group. We returned to the park at about 11:00 and were advised to hike 20 minutes "upstream" to see Medano Creek. It was more like an hour hike for us (with kids) and became quite windy. The hike back—into the wind—was difficult and uncomfortable. The kids had sort of a tough time. Being low to the ground and wearing shorts didn't help.

I even returned a third time to try some sunset pictures. They were so-so, but I did get a nice picture of a one-horned white-tailed deer.

For anyone considering a trip (with kids), early spring is probably not the best time to go. Although the sand will be hotter later in the year, it should be less windy and the creek should be more accessible.

Even though I had a great time, I still feel like we saw just a small, small amount of what the park offers. There are mountains and lakes and waterfalls and I'm sure many other interesting things to explore, not to mention other areas of the dune field.

Perry Eats His Breakfast

Friday was the last day of school before spring break. Colin's class earned a pajama party. He decided to wear his Perry costume, left over from Halloween.


Conquering the Snowhaven T-Bar

Today we joined the Perryman family for a trip to Snowhaven in Grangeville. It was a really great day. The only thing that could've made it perfect was some fluffier snow. But it is March....


Colin took a 1-hour private lesson. They started out on the rope-tow, and then (to my surprise) switched to the T-bar. I managed to fall while going up the T-bar. I scooched to the side and got this picture of Colin with his instructor going up the second time:


We were worried that the T-bar would be too difficult, especially without the ski instructor. Colin and I tried to go up together, but it didn't work. The bar was in the middle of his back and so we aborted that attempt. Next time, he and Mick went up together and made it all the way to the top. We were thrilled!

He and Mick made a few more attempts, but never made it to the top together again. Colin didn't give up. (Well, actually he did give up once and walked down the hill leaving me to carry his skis down the hill). But he was determined to conquer the T-bar. After lunch he and I went on it a few times. He went by himself and I by myself. We made it to the top four more times I think, with two attempts resulting in a midway crash.


Colin oscillated between the rope-tow and the T-bar. But that may have been just to get enough momentum to make it over to the T-bar queue. The rope was really heavy and wore a deep rut toward the end of the day that made it difficult to use.


Initially we thought that the boys would ski for half the day and tube for the other half. They did tube a little, but skiing was the favorite. We were so proud of our boys for sticking with it and having a great time skiiing!