Off season? What’s that?

Jim and I snuck out this afternoon for a paddle. It had been snowing pretty hard this morning, and I envied Dan and Stephen who were going skiing, but by the afternoon it had warmed up to the mid thirties and was raining off and on. I was nearly ready to knock off for the day when I got a text message from Jim inviting me to paddle. I can never say no to Jim, so I loaded up the Looksha and headed out to the river.

The river had dropped quite a bit – you could see a shelf of ice about a foot or more up from the current water levels. That made finding a place to put in a bit difficult. But at least the river wasn’t full of ice floes this time. It was still running fast, though. We paddled up stream using every trick to try to stay out of the main current, but barely managed about 4.4 mph the whole way up. Because I was in the Looksha, I could be a lot more daring in terms of cutting between debris in the river, both because the boat is stable and strong as a tank, and also because it has a kick-up rudder so a submerged trunk won’t knock the rudder off the boat or knock me out of the boat. Jim and I were able to experiment with a few tricks where we could see where sneaking in close to shore could gain you a couple of boat lengths on somebody taking a safer route out in the current.

Coming back was a different story – we hung out in the middle of the stream to get full advantage of it, and averaged about 7.4 mph or so. The big advantage of coming back is that because there is no advantage to getting in close to shore, we could paddle side by side and talk more.

One seemingly contradictory thing about this Looksha is that while it’s a big wide stable tank, it’s actually a tight squeeze getting in and out. The seat has side pieces that hold me in pretty tight when I’m wearing cold weather clothing, and the cockpit is much shorter front to back so I can’t draw my knees up. Getting out on a steep bank where I couldn’t use a paddle brace was pretty undignified looking, and I got kind of muddy, but at least I only got one foot soaked in freezing cold water.

Bottom line? Last year, my last paddle of the season was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. This year, I’m paddling the day before New Years. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Paddling among the ice floes

It was a brilliantly sunshiny day, and the temperature was around 37 degrees F, so Jim and I decided to go paddling in a part of the Genesee River near his place that was “open” (for some value of open). Our usual partner in crime, Stephen B, was busy with family stuff. When I arrived, the floes were pretty dense, very thick, and roaring down the river at about 1.5 miles per hour. I kind of wish I’d brought my Looksha instead of banging up my Thunderbolt. The Looksha is a stronger, heavier boat, plus if I’m going to damage a boat, I’d rather damage the one I’m not going to be racing. Jim paddles a big heavy downriver boat for just that reason.

Trying to get in on the slippery bank, I managed to soak both feet, which is not good. Then it was hard to get turned upstream without going out into the main flow of floes. But we were able to sneak up stream by staying tucked in close to the near bank. Then after a while the ice jammed in on our side of the river, but the other side was very clear of ice for over half the width of the river. We ferry over by turning perpendicular to the current and allowing ourselves to drift downstream as we pick our way across. We ended up repeating this process a few times as the river snaked back and forth. If you choose the right point to cross in a gap between floes, you don’t even lose much paddling time.

The banks are high, and so we’re enjoying the bright sunshine but are protected from whatever wind there might be. It didn’t take long for my feet to warm up, and with my PFD on I didn’t even bother with the anorak I’ve been wearing on the colder days. (I got a really nice paddling jacket for Christmas, but it was one size too small so I’ll have to wait before I get to paddle in it.)

With the river flowing so fast, we paddled up for about 55 minutes, and down for about 25 minutes. On the way down, my feet started to get cold again – Jim said that cold feet are often the deciding factor for how long you can paddle in the cold, and he recommended that I get some neoprene wet suit boots or something. But even cold feet couldn’t diminish my feeling of how great this was. Even a bad day paddling is better than a good day in the gym, and this was a good day paddling.

Impressions after a few days at work

My office
Woo hoo, I have a job!

A few short impressions from 2.5 days of work:

  • The drive sucks. It’s about an hour and forty minutes each way, and today it was snowing so it was a bit longer. I’m going through a tank full of gas every two days, which even with a Prius seems expensive. They told me in the interview I’ll be able to start working from home soon, so I’ve got to get that set up.
  • The construction trailer I work in sucks. I sit next to the door, and it’s cold and drafty, even when people remember to close it behind them. Right behind me is a meeting room with paper thin walls where everybody uses the speaker phone. Worse still, the heater outlet is there so most times when the meeting is on, people turn off the heater. If we’re lucky, they remember to turn it back on afterwards, but yesterday we didn’t discover that nobody had turned on the heater until my toes were about to drop off.
  • My computer has two screens. I had two big screens when I was at Kodak, and I’d forgotten how useful that is when you’re programming to be able to devote an entire screen to Eclipse while you used the other window for running the app, as well as other web browsing and the like. As soon as I have my first paycheck, I think I’m going to buy a cheap LCD panel for my home office.
  • The pace is hectic. My supervisor never has time to show me anything, but he’s expecting results immediately. That can be frustrating. On the other hand, it’s good to have something to do and a project where things actually happen.
  • They wrote their own web framework. As if the world doesn’t have enough Java web frameworks, they wrote their own. And it has its good points and bad points. Each page starts with an XML page description document and an XSLT document. But it’s not what you think – the XSLT document doesn’t process that page description document. Instead, the page description document specifies the Java beans that either produce or consume nodes in a different XML document, which the XSLT document then processes into an HTML page. The forward and back buttons on the browser don’t work on many of their pages, for reasons I don’t entirely understand yet. They use Javascript a lot. I’m going to come out of here with a lot of experience in XSLT and JQuery, I hope.
  • The company seems equally split between people who are friendly and helpful, and people who refuse to look up when you speak to them. Fortunately it appears I’m mostly going to be working with people in the first category.
  • I’m genuinely getting a good feeling about working here. It’s such a refreshing change from the place I worked last winter.

A tale of two government documents

Spoiler alert: I’ve got a new job. Woo hoo! I start on Monday.

When I got my citizenship, they took away my high security Permanent Resident Card (“green card”) and gave me this fancy paper “Certificate of Naturalization”. At the ceremony, they told us that we should apply for passports immediately because the “Certificate of Naturalization” isn’t good for travel, but you had to send in the “Certificate of Naturalization” with the passport application as proof of citizenship and identity. Well, I had to travel to Ottawa for a kayak race the very next day, and so I kept it. And it worked for a couple of trips to Canada. I was expecting to get a new job any day now, so I kept the document so I’d have proof of citizenship when the time came.

Well, it wasn’t “any day now”, but I eventually got a job, and I had to fill out the I-9, which is your proof of eligibility for employment in the US. And that’s when I discovered that the list of documents that you’re allowed to use for proof of citizenship and/or identity doesn’t include the “Certificate of Naturalization”. I even downloaded the M-274, which is the guide for employers for filling out the I-9, hoping to find they just omitted it for brevity on the I-9 itself. No dice. And searching the Citizenship and Immigration Services web site shows that in 2007 they purposely disqualified this document because it wasn’t secure enough. For some strange reason, older citizenship documents, that unlike mine don’t even include photos and look like they were banged out on a crappy typewriter, are still valid. The document also said that you can use your Social Security card as proof of eligibility, but mine dates back from when I was here on a TN-1 temporary non-resident visa, and so it’s stamped on the front “Not Valid For Work Without INS Authorization”, so I figured it was not valid, and so I thought I was screwed.

After worrying about it all night, I had a meeting with the HR person at the company that placed me, and she basically said that the Social Security card would be valid, because the condition on it was no longer in force. So we filled out the I-9 and she thinks everything will be fine. But just in case, I sent off my passport application the very same day so I’ll have that if any questions are raised.

But here’s the thing that I think is really stupid: the Certificate of Naturalization isn’t a valid document for proving your citizenship to work even in conjunction with other documents, but it is valid for proving your citizenship and identity to get a passport, and a passport is a valid document for proving your citizenship and identity to work. Hopefully the reason is that the passport people do some sort of verification or validation that the people who process I-9s do not or cannot. Otherwise it’s just stupid. Coupled with the fact that a fairly fancy document like the Certificate of Naturalization has been disqualified because it’s not secure enough, while primitive documents like the Social Security card and older citizenship cards are still accepted, smacks of “Security Theatre”.

Compare and contrast backup strategies

On the one hand, you have Jeff Atwood’s Coding Horror, a blog about programming read by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. And by the same guy, His backup strategy was to make copies of both blogs but leave them on his hosting site, and trust that when the ISP said they had it backed up, they really had it backed up. Of course, the ISP had some sort of hardware failure, and when they went to restore their backups, they found that they didn’t work. He’s now trying to reconstruct his articles (but of course not the comments, and some very few of the images that went along with them) from Google’s cache, the Wayback Machine, and the web caches of his readers.

On the other hand, you have this blog, which is about nothing in particular and read by probably 15 people tops. My backup strategy is this:

  1. Daily database dumps, copied to another file system on a different physical volume on the same box. That’s there mostly to quickly respond if I accidentally delete the database or an upgrade goes bad or something. If my blog got more traffic and more comments, I’d do those dumps more frequently.
  2. Another backup and a tar file just before I do an upgrade.
  3. Daily rsyncs back to my Linux server at home. I keep a week’s worth of those.
  4. Daily copies of that local copy to removable hard drives. I keep a month’s worth of those.
  5. Every week or so, I move one of those removable hard drives to a physically remote location.

And I did this when my blog was hosted on a VPS that the ISP claimed had some sort of backups and now when my blog is hosted on a 1u box that I bought on eBay and stuck in a local colo facility. As far as I’m concerned, you’re not backed up until the backup in your pocket.

Oh yeah, did I mention that some of those Coding Horror blog entries that went missing were about backups and how important they are?

I’m sorry, but the idiocy of this just leaves me shaking my head in wonder about why anybody ever believed anything he ever said about computers. On the other hand, it also makes me glad that I don’t have a huge audience hanging on my every word, because someday I might get something wrong (hey, I know, not likely, right?), and schadenfreude’s a bitch.