Glamping, Take Two

Trying this whole “glamping” thing again – in the summer this time!

Last year, for my 40th birthday, my wife organized a camping trip for the two of us down in Tennessee, just outside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Specifically, this was a “glamping” trip, where we’d have a big canvas safari-style tent with a king-size bed, a toilet, running water, a shower, and a fireplace. Camping, but with style!

Unfortunately, my birthday is on November 17th, which means we made this trip in the later-half of November – just about 2 weeks before the camp site closed for the winter. And we also had the bad luck to arrive just as a cold snap moved through the area, so even though we were a bit further south, it wasn’t far enough south and the temperatures dropped down to just about freezing. (It actually started sleeting as we arrived!)

So we found ourselves in a canvas tent in 33°F (0.5°C) temperatures, with a dinky little wood stove that burned through the 2 or 3 pieces of wood you could fit into it very quickly. Suffice it to say, we did not have the best time at night – having to get up every few hours to stoke the fire and add more wood. (My wife did most of this fire-tending, bless her, which meant she didn’t get much sleep.) Mornings weren’t any better – although there was hot water for the shower, the air inside the tent was still quite cold, as it took a long time to get the fireplace going enough to really warm things up.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago, when my wife stumbled across another “glamping” site, this time up in the Hudson Valley of New York. We both agreed it looked like a very nice site, and somewhat on a whim, we decided to make another attempt at this “glamping” thing and booked ourselves in for a weekend. We figured that we’d have a much nicer time camping in the summer than in the late fall!

So we’re heading up to the Hudson Valley soon, to try our luck with this “glamping” thing again and see if we can have a nicer experience – and also to try again at unplugging from the outside world for a few days to relax. During our last glamping trip, my wife was unable to really relax, as circumstances at her job required her to attend to things and even do some work while we were there. Hopefully this time we can both turn off our phones (or at least stop checking our work email) and really enjoy the experience for a while. (Fingers crossed!)

Regardless, I will post an update here once we’re back and let you know how it all went!

A Lonely Social Media Vacation Report

Being off social media for a while was good, but it started to get lonely, so… I’m back!

Over a month ago I decided to take a break from social media for a while – a social media vacation, if you will. Ultimately, I’m glad I took a break – my social media was starting to consume me instead of the other way around – but at the same time, I’m also glad to be back again. This is because, and I know this might sound kind of silly, but being off social media was… lonely?

It’s strange how loneliness is still kind of a shunned topic these days. Although we’ve become much more open to talking about depression, and how it’s not your fault and so forth, when it comes to loneliness, the common perception is still that the root cause of it is something you’ve done to yourself. “Get out more,” “join a club,” or “make some friends” are things that people might say or think.

Easier said than done.

In my case, I work from home full-time, so all my interactions with co-workers are done online. Outside of work, I have no close friends nearby, and so all my social interactions have to be done either online or else very infrequently. Given this, taking a vacation from social media effectively meant taking a vacation from almost everyone I knew.

“But Keith,” I might hear some of you say, “aren’t you an introvert? Don’t you like being alone?” Ah yes, a classic misunderstanding. There is a big difference between “being alone” and “being lonely.” Also, being an introvert doesn’t mean wanting to be alone all the time – instead it means more needing to be alone, sometimes.

As for the “alone” vs “lonely” thing, these are obviously not the same thing. I can be alone (no one around) while not being lonely (because I just spoke to someone, or because I’m interacting with people remotely). Likewise, I can be among a huge group of people (not alone) but be very lonely (not feeling a connection to any of them).

And this circles back to my social media vacation experience: because I am often alone (sometimes weeks go by where the only other human being I see in person is my wife), cutting off my social media experience cut me off from my major way of interacting/connecting with people – which naturally left me feeling a bit lonely after a while. (Luckily I did allow myself other communication methods during my self-imposed social media vacation, such as private chats and email, which helped keep me from feeling totally isolated.)

So while I’m glad I took a break to sort of re-calibrate myself, I’m also glad to be back and using social media again (though I plan to be a bit more strict with it, lest I end up in the same place again). It was good to use this blog as an outlet rather than tweeting everything, and I plan to continue to use it – in case it’s not obvious, I do actually really enjoy writing!

So that’s my report on my experience with a little more than a month away from social media. If you find yourself feeling consumed by social media in a similar way, you might try taking a break from it as well. It’ll be hard at first – goodness knows it was for me as well – but I do think it’s worth doing every now and again.

2019 Summer Road Trip

Who plans a summer road trip just to see a bridge? We do!

So, this past Memorial Day weekend my wife and I embarked on one of the longest road trips we’ve ever done – driving down the east coast to Cape May, NJ, and then along the shore to the Chesapeake Bay, over the bay and back up north via Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore MD, and of course a large portion of the NJ Turnpike.

The idea for this road trip stretches back years and years – when my wife first heard of the “Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel” and decided she’d like to see it someday. So back in January of this year we decided that it was time to finally make this trip, and we started planning and booking hotels.

Eventually we settled on the long weekend of Memorial Day, plus an extra day for traveling (Friday – Monday). We’d drive down to Cape May NJ and explore the town a bit before catching the ferry over to Delaware, where we’d spent the night in Ocean City in Maryland before heading down a bit further to Chincoteauge in Virginia, and then finally onwards to the bridge/tunnel – with a final overnight in Richmond, Virginia, before the long drive back home.

The trip started a little bit late on Friday morning, mainly due to the fact that my wife had been in Ottowa, Canada, during the week and due to severe thunderstorms had been delayed there overnight Thursday – meaning I was picking her up at the airport very early that Friday morning, instead of early the prior Thursday evening as originally planned.

However, we got on the road and made good time down the Garden State Parkway to Cape May, where we stopped at a brewery (Cape May Brewing) for lunch & some very nice beer (with a suitable wait before heading out again).

Cape May ferry
A beautiful day for a ferry ride

Then it was the roughly 90 minute journey across the Delaware Bay via the Cape May ferry to, uh, well, Delaware! But we didn’t dwell long in Delaware, setting our sights on Ocean City Maryland, where our hotel awaited us.

Ocean City was a bit of a shock for the both of us – we’d never been anywhere like this, and we’re not used to this sort of tourist-focused area. “It’s like another world,” we kept saying to each other as we drove down the main road, past hotels, mini-golf courses, and other curiosities.

Nevertheless, we had a good nights sleep there and set out again the next morning to explore the barrier islands via the parks on Assateauge Island: Assateauge State Park and the Chincoteauge National Wildlife Refuge.

These islands were beautiful to explore – though I wish there weren’t so many people there (and that I’d had the right equipment on hand to qualify for driving on the beach) and we had a few very nice walks (and one not-so-nice walk that took us through the woods that were filled with mosquitoes after we’d mistakenly decided to forego bug spray). We even saw the famous wild horses (or ponies) of the island – though I didn’t stop to take their photos, as there were too many other people around.

Sunset over the bay
Sunset over the bay

One stop we did make along the way was at Wallops Island – because I, as a huge space nerd, couldn’t help but stop at the NASA installations on Wallops Island.

We spent the night at Chincoteauge before pushing on to the main event: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel.

It was at this point along the road trip that my car, the Keithombile-E, really hit its stride as far as fuel efficiency was concerned, topping out at 41 MPG – a remarkable feat for an angular SUV that weighs nearly 4,500 pounds! That little 2.1 liter twin-turbo diesel can really sip fuel when on flat roads with almost no stopping. (In case you can’t tell, I was very proud of this achievement!)

We only got a photo while it was at 40.6; it hit 41 MPG shortly after.

Finally though, at long last, we approached our goal: the bridge. We’d known that it was going to be big, but we were not quite prepared for just how big it was. We had already decided we’d cross the bridge 3 times: once going up, then back, and then across one last time. The first crossing was done almost entirely in silence as we took in the experience: over the first span, then on to the artificial island in the middle of the enormous Chesapeake Bay, the into the tunnel, then back onto the bridge again, then another artificial island and tunnel combo, and then the final span.

Selfie just before the start of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel

What a marvel of engineering! It’s a shame that the islands are closed at the moment (they are adding a second tunnel in each direction) – because apparently there was a restaurant you could stop at on them, and I wish we could’ve done that – it would’ve been very cool!

After our first round-trip over the bridge we stopped off at Cape Charles to visit another brewery (and completing the “cape-to-cape” portion of our trip).

Cape Charles Brewing Co. Beer
This brewery had some very good beers!
Oversized cans of beer from Cape Charles brewing
The beer was so good that we bought a few cans to take home with us. And did I mention the cans are HUGE?

We filmed our final crossing (my wife did all the picture-taking and filming since I was driving), and then it was onwards to Richmond for our final stay of the trip.

Although the hotel we stayed at in Richmond had a fancy roof-top bar, we didn’t make much use of it – we were both very tired by the end of the day and so we went to bed rather early.

We got up early the next day and started out on the long push for home – roughly 5 hours straight from Richmond, VA up to Morristown, NJ. With the holiday weekend ending we didn’t want to delay for too long lest we encounter bad traffic – which we had thus far mercifully avoided.

Once again, my faithful Keithmobile performed admirably, making the trip home an easy one. We only had to stop once – and that was for me, not for the car! We arrived home safe & sound (and relatively early in the day – about 12:45pm), and that was the end of our epic roadtrip!

Final MPG: 38.1
Final MPG for the second half of the trip: 38.1 MPG. Not too shabby!

All in all it was a great trip – we hit very little in the way of traffic, we got to see a lot of neat places, and we were comfortable the entire way. We were glad to be home, but we were just as glad we did this trip. Now given the success of this trip, who knows… maybe another road trip will be in our future? We’ll see!

A Bit of Scary Weather

Tornado warnings? Take shelter now? Oh my!

So last night a line of severe thunderstorms rolled through our area – which is nothing unusual – but then both my wife and I looked down at our phones and saw something that nobody wants to see: a tornado warning urging us to seek shelter immediately.

Emergency Alert: Tornado Warning, Take shelter now
Well, shit.

Now, tornados are not a normal occurrence here in New Jersey – they do happen, but it’s rare. Still, this was my first time seeing an actual tornado warning as opposed to a watch – and checking the details showed that this alert was based on radar-indicated rotation, not an actual sighting. Still, we decided that it would probably be best to take shelter anyway – just in case. (I was born in the midwest and lived my first 7 years there, so I have a healthy respect for tornado warnings.)

So we quickly grabbed our pet carrier and shoved two very confused & grouchy bunnies into it (they were in the middle of their dinner) and headed down into our basement.

I wasn’t terribly worried – tornadoes in this part of the country tend not to last very long due to the terrain, so the odds were in our favor in that regard. Plus, even if there was a tornado, it might not have touched down, and it probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful as the ones you get in more open areas. Still, with the heavy rain soaking the ground and strong winds, there is always the possibility of a tree coming down on the house. We trim and maintain our trees pretty well for this reason, but you never know.

So that’s how we found ourselves sitting in the basement with the bunnies for about a half hour while we waited out the storm. Our house was built on a 2-3 inch concrete slab on top of steel I-beams, so the basement is a very safe place.

Bunnies in their pet carrier
The buns did not appreciate having their dinner interrupted.

In the end, the worst of the storm ended up passing just to the north of us, so we didn’t get much more than some very heavy rain.

So, that was our sort-of close call with severe weather – our first real bad scary weather incident in our house. Thankfully nothing really came from it (at least for us; others in parts of the state were not so lucky).

The buns got back to their dinner and everything returned to normal.

New Year, Another New Computer

It’s been 7 years since my last new computer, and so I decided it was time to finally bite the bullet and not only upgrade, but build a new computer myself.

The last two of my computers were pre-built PCs, bought mainly because in both cases I didn’t have the time to invest in selecting parts and building my own machine. But this time I had the time to spare, so I started picking up parts bit by bit until I finally had everything I needed.

These are the parts I selected for my new computer:

  • Intel Core i7-6700 (Skylake) 3.4 GHz CPU
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO CPU cooler
  • Asus Z170M-PLUS motherboard
  • 16 GB of DDR4-2400 RAM
  • Intel 256 GB 600p M.2 SSD
  • Fractal Design Core 1500 MicroATX tower case
  • Corsair 430W power supply
  • Sabrent USB 3.0 media card reader

I’d also be re-using the same video card (an NVIDIA GForce GTX 750) from my old computer, along with an extra USB 3.0 expansion card (I have a lot of USB devices), as well as my old SATA SSD and the 1 TB &  3 TB hard drives.

The main goal of this new PC was to build something that would both last me a long time and also vastly improve performance in the one place I really needed it – disk speed. My old PC was actually holding up quite well for its age – especially since I had an SSD for the boot drive – but my old PC’s motherboard only supported the older, slower SATA interface, which prevented me from taking full advantage of that SSD.

The new PC would have one of those new SSDs that used both the M.2 connector and the PCI Express (PCIe) interface, which should allow me to take full advantage of the speed of a modern SSD. This, combined with the faster RAM (double the amount my old PC could handle) and the slightly faster CPU, would give me a machine with impressive performance for everything I needed it to do. Additionally, I should be able to upgrade this computer to keep it going for many years to come.

Now, keep in mind it’s been something like 15 years since I last put a computer together myself – I’m a little out of practice. But then again, there’s nothing fundamentally difficult about building a computer from parts, so I wasn’t too worried.

Probably the hardest part was figuring out how to mount the absolutely massive CPU cooler I’d bought – it used a fairly complex bracket mounting that I’d never seen before (remember again how long it’s been since I’ve done anything like this). But after staring at the directions for a bit it finally “clicked” and I got it attached without much fuss.

The rest of the computer was pretty much just plugging things together and trying to keep all the wires neat & tidy. But the moment of truth was when I finally switched it on for the first time – and it booted!

After that, I installed Windows 10 and all my programs (and boy howdy was it a long list of things to reinstall – I use a lot of programs on a day-to day basis since this is both my work and personal computer) and transferred my settings over with a program meant for that purpose.

Since I was re-using my existing drives, I didn’t really need to move much in the way of files – I even re-mounted the drive volumes to the same drive letters as I had on my old computer, so all the paths and shortcuts I’d set up would work just the same as before.

Once my programs and settings were installed, I could finally start to get a feel for the new computer I’d built – and I was immediately impressed with how fast it was! Even with all the programs that run at startup, it booted (POST to desktop) in about 14 seconds, which was much faster than my old machine.

Additionally, all my programs now opened almost immediately and everything was just faster and smoother. Adobe Lightroom – which was one of the programs that lagged quite a bit on my old machine – now opens very quickly and the complex UI renders on screen without any delay. I can switch between photos without waiting for the screen to draw and all my edits and adjustments are applied quickly and smoothly.

Another thing that saw a big gain for me on this new machine is my virtual machines – I run a number of VMs for compatibility testing and so forth, but using them was often a bit of a pain because they were so slow. Now though, they run much better, and once I’m satisfied that I don’t need anything from my old SSD, I’ll wipe it and move my virtual machines to that drive for even more speed (disk speed is a huge factor in virtual machine performance).

Aside from the usual new PC headaches (mainly of the “now I have to put everything back the way I like it” type), the new computer has been a rousing success – I’m exceptionally pleased with it. It runs fast, and it also runs quite cool – at idle the CPU temperature is not much above room temperature. The new motherboard has a ton of high-speed USB 3.0 ports, which makes writing to my external backup drive go much faster, as well as downloading RAW photo files from my camera’s memory card.

All in all, I’m very happy with how my new PC build has gone, and I think I’ll be happy with it for just as many years as (if not more than) the last one!