Week vacation in southern Utah, part 2

It has only being a couple week, but man do I miss being in vacation… Walking for hours on end in the desert may not seem exciting for some but compared to sitting in an office for hours on end, I know what I rather be doing. So I ended my last post at the end of the second day of hiking, so let us pick up where we left and start day three of our hiking expedition.

Day three, or Tuesday June the 6th was the last day we planned in Bryce canyon. The trail was the Riggs spring trail that started at the furthest point in the park, called Rainbow point. It’s not the most breath taking view point in the park but it does offer some nice view of Escalante, the Grand Staircase. The Riggs Spring trail area is quite different from the main part of the park. Where as the “amphitheater” is dry and dusty, the Riggs Spring is far more lush and foresty. It actually reminded me of Yellowstone national park.

We did the loop counter clockwise, starting with the steeper parts of the trail, and end with a shallow climb for the last 3 miles of the loop. That sounded like a good idea, but more on that later. The most impressive thing on this trail, in my opinion anyways, is the evidence of the destructive force of flash floods. A couple time through out the trail, you get to cross streams. The stream themselves are not all that impressive but the river bed they sit in is enormous. There was one dried river bed that was a good forty yards wide, trees were leaning sides ways, probably being uprooted by the force of the current. I would not want to be there during a storm but golly that would quite a sight to behold.

So remember I mentioned that the trek was suppose to end in a slow climb back to the start of the trail? Well the thing is that Rainbow point is bit higher than the other observation points of the park. While Sunrise Sunset points are at just over 8000 feet, Rainbow Point is actually another 1000 feet higher. One might even say it was OVER 9000!!! Dragon balls Z jokes aside, that extra 1000 feet made a quite a difference. Even my parents that are marathon runners had trouble with the altitude. That last mile just took for ever! I would look at my GPS watch and see that there was maybe only 0.8 of a mile left, walk for what felt like a good 30 minutes, look back at the watch and it was only 5 minute and 0.12 mile later! Every time we would round a corner, there was this collective hope that the parking lot would suddenly come into view and fill us up with hope and determination, but every time our hope were crushed… Maybe it was not so melodramatic but you get the gist of it.

This was the least crowded trail we did all week. The Navajo loop is full of ill equipped tourist and the fairyland loop had quite a few groups doing it as well. Riggs spring? We only ever saw three other people on the trail. We met up with one of them after the hike and confirmed that no one else were behind us either. So if you are looking for a lonely but tenuous hike this is it. Though Ironically, while no one was on the trail, Rainbow point was the most crowded scenic view point I had ever seen in the park. Cars were circling around like vultures, waiting for a spot to free up. I would recommend getting there early to avoid having trouble parking.

After stopping by the hotel room we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon by going to Canyonville and checking the visitor center for the Grand Staircase monument. We knew that there were some cool hike we could do on Saturday, including slot canyons. Unfortunately, when we got to the visitor center, we discovered that it was closed Mondays and Tuesdays! Also it closed around 4:30, which meant we would have missed it anyways. A bit disappointing, but now we knew, and we ended up just driving along the very scenic roads for a while.

As the fourth day of hiking dawned upon us, it was time for a change of pace and of scenery. This would our first day in the National park of Zion, which was an hour and a half drive away. We had a hasty breakfast that we had bought the day before and jumped in the car.

Zion is very different from Bryce canyon. Bryce is very open and the ground is mostly sandstone, where as Zion is actually deeper layers of stones. It is not as brittle as the sandstone of the Bryce canyon layer, creating sheer cliff and less hoodoos. If you come from the east entrance of the park,  there a really nice 10 or so minute drive to the visitor center and main parking lot. The sheer scale of of some of these cliff were truly breath taking. there several spots where you are allowed to park and take the sights in, a good idea if you are not in a hurry.

One thing that sets Zion apart from the other national parks I have visited is that you do not to drive around inside the park, instead there is a free shuttle system that will drive people up and down the valley. This can be a bit annoying since a lot of the people that visit the park when we were there are only interrested in the hike that starts at the very top of the valley meaning that if you stopped somewhere in the middle and tried to get back on the shuttle, there are probably going to be fairly packed.

Also one important thing to note: there no general store inside the park. The lodge has a counter service restaurant that sells sandwiches but the trick is that there is a good general store just outside the park in Springsdale. Just south of the visitor center, there is a foot bridge that will lead straight to a commercial area with a gear rental store, a restaurant/pub and the general store. Make sure to take the park entrance receipt with you to be allowed back into the park.

The First Hike of the day was Angel’s landing. This looked like a really cool trail on paper but we arrived a bit later than we anticipated, meaning a good chunk of the trail was in the sun. The other thing is that Zion is very crowded and there was a constant flow of people coming down and passing us. This is not a big issue but I feel that it takes away from the experience of hiking. The view are gorgeous, If you have what it took to get to the vantage point. Trail is partly carved directly into a cliff and is no more than five feet wide. I overheard a group of hikers saying that someone further down the trail had a panic from vertigo and refused to move.

We stopped at Scout’s point rather than going all the way to Angel’s Landing. The last part of the trail is a bit traitorous and was very crowded that day.

The second shorter hike was the Emerald pools, which again looked great on paper, But it too was just filled with people. The guides talked about how the park rangers had worked to restore the pools and all that but because it an easily accessible, short trail, it was full of tourist. The are chains that says “dangerous cliff, slipery when wet” and people just went willy nilly to the edge to take pictures, people would go a basically bath in the pool… disgraceful.

Finally, we took the shuttle all the way to the top of the valley and go for the most popular attraction of the park: the Narrows. What is more fun than walking up river? Well, a lot of things but just play along. It was really refreshing to be knee deep in water after a long day in the sun, plus as the name implies, it is narrow and there is plenty of shade. It was in fact in this river that I dropped my phone! How did I manage this? Simple: I figured that I would likely get waist deep in the river at some point and figured that my phone would be safe in my breast pocket. It wasn’t. I lost my balance, lean forward and the phone slipped and fell in the water. The panic was really, especially since there were dark rocks that had the same color and shape as my phone! Thankfully, I was able to fish it out, and somewhat surprisingly it still worked! The cool thing was that it was so dry that my phone pretty much dried completely before the end of the day. No rice needed! There was some humidity left in the camera lens but that went away after another day.

That about those it for this second part of this story telling thing and tune in next time where we’ll talk about more hiking! And ravines! And giant 2000 feet tall cliff! Yeah!

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Week vacation in southern Utah, part 1

Ahhh, back in Nebraska after a much needed break from the old daily routine! Considering that I seat on chair for hours on end at the office, I don’t think there is anything more diametrically opposite than going on a week long hiking trip and walk between 6 to 8 miles a day! My parents are big hikers and they planned this big trip to southern Utah to do three national parks: Bryce canyon, Zion and the Grand Canyon. Lots to do and lots to see!

It did not take long for things to be a bit interesting. Obviously, I live in Nebraska and, as you may remember, my parents and sister live in Manhattan. Coordinating two flights should not be all that hard right? Turns out it was, because the best we could do was me arriving 4 hours before they did. That was better than the original plan that had me arrive another 2 hours earlier. There was not much I could do so I ended up finding a nice bench in a corner of the baggage claim area and read for a while. I brought the first Jack Reacher novel called Killing floor for the trip, pretty good good I have to say though a lot of easy foreshadowing to pick up on. I actually read through maybe a third of that book before my parents and sister finally arrived. They had quick launch, and then it was time for the road!

The trip took the better part of maybe four and a half hours. Nothing crazy to report, though I noticed something strange. Utah is fairly desertic and as far as I know, which is not much I admit, there isn’t any big lake or river, but we kept seeing people with boats on trailers! You’re in the desert! Why do you have a boat? Maybe someone from Utah will read this and let me know because I am really confused.

We stayed at the Bryce Canyon lodge inside of Bryce Canyon park and it was a very nice place. The main lodge building had the restaurant for breakfast/diner, the reception and a gift store. The guest rooms were split between two buildings and individual lodges. Our building had WiFi but you had to be really lucky to get it to work. It flat out refused to connect with my Surface tablet. I could see it in the settings page and put the password, but it always returned with a message saying “connected, no internet”… My phone worked better, but depending on how many people were in the lodge it varied from OK to barely usable. Anecdotally, I tried to write a blog post there but the internet was so bad, WordPress could not even automatically save a draft and I ended up losing what I started writing… Cell reception was not any better, though I did manage to receive a phone call in one of the reception spot, unfortunately it was a scam about credit debt.

The first day was a warm up day, to see how we would react to the altitude. Going on a hike that has 700 feet of elevation is not all that hard, doing that hike at an altitude over 7000 feet can be. Thankfully we were all well prepared and had relatively little problem. We started at Sunset point by going down a path called Wall Street, which is a very impressive and narrow canyon (Pictures below), and finished the loop by walking toward Queen Garden ( which is called that because there is a rock that looks like a statue of queen Victoria) and back up to Sunrise point. A nice and short walk. This was one of the more crowded trail we did but there were some nice sights to see.

 

We ended up deciding that we were more in shape than we thought and drive to Red canyon for a second hike. We wanted to do a Loop of on the Butch Cassidy trail and the Rich trail, but we stop at the wrong parking lot and ended walking half a mile up a dried river bed. Oops! It did not take long for us to realize our mistake (I did have to use Google maps to verify where we were…) and did find the actual trail just a 100 yards or so down the road. It was a nice trail but it was very warm, and we had a small moment of panic when we discovered that my mother reacted badly with Gatorade. Overall a good day of hiking.

The second day was bit more ambitious, and we went for a longer loop called Fairyland loop and that was truly spectacular. If you do the tourist thing of only seeing the points of view from on top of the canyon rim, you are missing a lot. The views you get from down below are far prettier. It was bit more strenuous than the day before but as the idiom goes, slow and steady wins the race. When hiking in arid and warm climate it is important to stop and drink often, plus at 7000 feet you need to catch your breath more often. There is sneaky way to do this hike because the parking spot for the Fairyland scenic view point is actually outside the park, you don’t have to paid to get in to start this hike. We met several groups that were doing the hike the other way around and we suspect that it was because they had not paid the entrance into the park.

 

We wanted to finish the day with another small hike from Red Canyon and found a hike in the guide that was advertised as having 14 arches in less than a mile and a half of trail. That sounded very nice but ended up being very disappointing because we found none! Due to the fact that the rock formation are made of sandstone, it is likely that the arches simply eroded away between when the guide was updated and when we went.

And that is it for part one of this big trip installment. Next time I tell the story of the longest mile in the universe and how I dropped my phone in a river…

 

Change control chaos…

Nothing like a good work related story to inspire a good blog post…

So, when dealing with any sort of programming project that is either distributed or client facing, you need some form of release version control. These tools allow multiple person to work on a single program or code, pull defective code from circulation, prevent unauthorized changes to be put in. Most people are probably familiar with Github, and we have similar tools to control what version of the code is used in our processing or available to our clients. One of the tools we use is a scheduling tool to time what code needs to do be compiled and when. This tool has apparently been discontinued and out of support for a while now and management has decided to develop an in-house solution. Why bother pay IBM for an old and outdated tool when we could make our tool?

They started working on this new tool sometime last year and in October, they showed us a preliminary version of the web based tool and it had promise. Some of the page layout were a bit rough and misnamed but we were assured that most things were subject to change as they were getting feedback from the different programming teams. There was no set release date for the tool, and all seemed well.

A couple months passes and it is now sometime in February. As part of the development cycle, the dev team started weekly training session to test and get people familiarize with the tool. I went to one of session and found that little to no changes had occurred since the early demo. That was slightly worrying but it is hard to judge how much work was done under the surface. I played around with it and reported a couple bug that I have found. Minor wrinkles but that is to be expected for a project on the scale of that one.

Another month goes by and still, it appears that little progress has been made on the new tool. More worryingly, a release date was set. Not only that but the implementation plan stated that there would no parallel deploy period when both tool would be active. The old tool would be used until a specific date, at which point it would be turned off and and the new one activated. This lack of overlap in tools means that if the new tool is not 100% functional on day one, we would be left with nothing to control our code release. As far as I am aware there is not plan to move scheduled  code changes from one tool to the next, meaning that we cannot schedule anything on the old tool for dates after the release of the new tool, and the new tool cannot be used until after its release to schedule code move! There is a planned 3 day window where no code changes will be possible. This is, for a lack of a better word, rather “unwise”. No one seem particularly enthused by this. Even my manager expressed his opinion that this new tool is the pet project of someone from upper management and that is being pushed to look good on paper.

As weeks went on, functionality were slowly being added to the new tool but were not reliable. A functionality of the current tool is to create a list of necessary code recompiles when a copybook is changed. This process is usually very quick and never takes more than a couple minutes, but with the new tool, that process took several hours. Sometime, that process does not even kick off properly and may requires several tries. The save functionality, an evidently important function, also did not work properly. This project started to look like a train wreck.

An official “pre-released” period started a couple weeks ago, and some of the teams were instructed to use the new tool. Word around the water cooler is that they are not using the tool. Several major bugs have still not being fixed either Continuing that train wreck from earlier, the train is now hurling out of control into a tight corner.

And today, a rather important announcement has been made. Due to compounding issues and defect in the new tool, the current release date has become “unreachable”, but more importantly: the lead developer has resigned! We are now completely off the rails! Everything is tumbling out of control! I can only imagine that this how the development team feels like right now… They are supposedly trying to find a new target release date but I doubt that it will be this year. I have a suspicion that the lead developper was facing a lot of pressure to get the project rolling but perceived the timeline unfeasible and bail out before it was too late.

This project seemed doom from the start and it appears to have run into the ditch that everyone saw coming. What a surprise…