Monday, November 19, 2012

Wonderful Family and Friends

As the Facebook updates poured in last night and today I was reminded of the wonderful family and friends who are a part of my life.  Friends that go all the way back to when we were growing up in Tulare, to more recent and far-flung friends in Taiwan and Turkey; from eagle scouts and paratroopers to college roommates and supper clubbers.  And dearest of all, my family, both in California and in Colorado, made me feel very loved.

Erin started it off this past weekend, actually, by joining me out for dinner at the 9th Door - a Spanish tapas restaurant we both enjoy.  We then went out for vodka at the Red Square before making our way home.

Then on Sunday night Erin's parents made me dinner at their place with steak, mushrooms, carrots and mashed potatoes with an apple pie to finish it off.

Then there were the cards and gifts from both my parents and Erin's parents.

What's more is that I have a weekend up in the mountains that Erin is planning for me this Winter once there gets to be more snow.

For all of you that read this blog and are a part of my life I want to say, "Thank you."  It is a very happy birthday because of you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween diversions

Erin and I have been celebrating the season over the past few weeks starting with pumpkin carving at our friend's (Pete and Leah) house.  We tend to put a fair amount of effort into our pumpkin carving and this year was no exception as we carved out a cat.  It was also fun to just hang out with friends and enjoy some snacks.

For Halloween night itself we didn't actually do the traditional dressing up or handing out candy.  Instead we went to a restaurant called "Jing" which serves Asian Fusion cuisine.  The food was okay, but for the price it could have been better.

After dinner we were near a theater showing a movie Erin and I had wanted to see called, "7 Psychopaths".  From the ads it looked like it would be a comical dog-napping story.  Unfortunately for Erin it proved to be more about psychopaths and less about the cute dog.  I (and the rest of the men in the audience apparently) enjoyed the humor, but it was a bit too gruesome for Erin.

Last night we finished off the spooky diversions by going out to see a reading of Edgar Allan Poe's works.  We started the night at Cuba Cuba for dinner and drinks with our friends Cameron and Rachel.  The food was good and the mojitos were tasty.  We then walked to the reading at the Byers-Evans house near the Denver Art Museum.  There was an ensemble of 6 or 7 actors reading poems and plays from Edgar Allan Poe.  Some were better than others.  Sometimes the actors helped place us in the scene.  Other times they detracted from the scene or made them hard to understand.  All in all though we had a good time and an interesting evening.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall Foliage Train Ride

A few weeks ago the trees in the mountains were well on their way to changing their colors.  In anticipation of this Erin and I had booked tickets on a train ride in Leadville to see the trees.  We drove up on Saturday after a week with some of the first heavy storms in Colorado.  The leaves on the trees we saw on our way up to Leadville were beautiful; with mountainsides covered in yellow aspens.  We stopped briefly at Silverthorne for some brunch before making our way in to Leadville for our afternoon train ride.

The train was a standard gauge railroad with many open and closed seating cars.  We found seats in the open section and were soon on our way.  Unfortunately, after the previous week's storm many of the leaves had fallen off.  Still, it was nice to hear about the history of Leadville and enjoy the ride on a beautifully sunny day.  The train went from the town up towards the mine and back again in about three hours.  After the ride we hung out in Leadville a little longer to get some pictures of the aspens before heading back down to Denver.

That night, we met up with our friends, Brian and Cassie, who were in town for two weeks.  Brian is stationed in South Korea and has been living there with Cassie for the past year, so it was really good to see them.  I had also seen Brian earlier in the week for a guys-night-out which was also nice.  When we saw the two of them on Saturday night we went out to the Rodizio Grill which is a Brazilian steakhouse.  I enjoyed the wide variety of meat that the servers were bringing around to our table (including tri-tip which I had previously only been able to get back in Tulare).  After dinner we all went up to the Peaks Lounge in the Hyatt Regency.  It was nice to sit around, enjoy some drinks, and catch up with our friends.

By now there are still a few trees with Fall colors down here in Denver, but they are mostly bare.  We already had a little bit of snow a few weeks ago.  Fortunately Erin and I were able to take a ride out on the motorcycle yesterday as we went for lunch in Golden.  However, I feel it may be the last time this we ride this year.  At least there's snowboarding season to look forward to in a few months.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wedding in Chicago

In September Erin and I got go out to Chicago last month to take part in her brother's wedding.  We flew out Thursday night meeting up at the airport since we were coming from work.  After a quick bite to eat we were on our uneventful flight to Midway Airport.  Once there we found a cab and made our way to the hotel in Peoria.  We got in pretty late, but the hotel staff were nice and had our room ready.

The next day we got up and had breakfast before meeting up with Erin's parents.  Since no one else was in yet we took a walk around some woods not too far from where we were staying.  After that things got busy.  First Erin's sister and brother-in-law showed up with their baby, Nora.  Then we went out to lunch at a Pita Inn, Erin's favorite restaurant in the area.  We met up with the engaged couple.  They were busy with some last minute details, but we got to catch up a little before heading out to help with the preparations.

Our next stop was at the church for the rehearsal.  The wedding was to be held in the church on the Northwest University campus since Andrew and Sara (the betrothed) both went there.  It was also where Erin had gone to school.  The rehearsal went smoothly with everyone working out when and where to speak and stand.

Before long we were heading out again to help with more details (getting last-minute items at Walmart, making sure the rehearsal dinner place was ready, etc.).

That night we all went out to a nice Italian restaurant for the rehearsal dinner.  It was nice to meet all the family members.  Erin and I talked mainly with the relatives on her and Andrew's side of the family.  As was true with most of the weekend, most of the attention was aimed at baby Nora who is now walking.  Erin appreciated how Nora would walk from the table her Mom was sitting at and walk over to the table we were sitting at to be with Erin and Nora's grandmother, Susie.  Erin and I finished the night talking back at the bar of the hotel before going to bed.

On Saturday there was more frantic preparations as people were coming and going.  We made it out to the church all dressed up for pictures.  It was soon time for the ceremony and with a little help from everyone it went beautifully.  After the ceremony we went out with the bridal party to take some more pictures around the Northwestern campus.  Fortunately the rain from the previous day had passed and we were treated to sunny skies.  However, it was still on the cool side and the two of us were realizing how accustomed we had become to Taiwan's heat.

After pictures we made our way to the reception a short drive away.  Along with the usual reception staples of dinner and drinks we were treated to a candy buffet and a photo booth.  Erin and I went through the photo booth several times with a variety of funny hats and other costume pieces.  As the night danced on we began to get tired and took our leave as we returned to the hotel.

The next day we got to spend a little bit more time with the newlyweds as they joined us for lunch near where they live.  At a Korean fried chicken place we recounted the events of the weekend and talked about their plans for their honeymoon in Hawaii.  They were then very nice to give us a ride back to the airport for our flight back to Colorado.  It was a very nice weekend and we are very happy for the two of them.  We look forward to hearing all about their trip when they get back.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Car From a Broker

For the last two weeks I've been riding my motorcycle to work every day. After searching for the best route I settled on a scenic drive by the foothills that takes about an hour. It's better than the more direct route that has enough traffic to make my commute even longer. Riding for two hours each day though has been tiring. Now as the mornings have grown colder and the winds have picked up I decided it was time to get a car. I had researched cars before starting work, but I ran out of time to actually get one.

Then Erin showed me the car broker she and her parents had used in the past. I called up Phil Martin at H.M. Motors on Tuesday afternoon and told him what I was looking for and my price range. A few hours later he called back with a car that fit what I was looking for: a 2009 Suburu Impreza. I took a day to look over the details and called him back on Wednesday. By Thursday we had arranged a test drive after work and I thought it felt and sounded good. So on Saturday Erin drove me over so I could fill out the paper work, pay the down payment, and drive home with the car.

I was very impressed at the ease and efficiency Phil gave me through the experience. I might have been able to get a better deal if I had negotiated with dealers or private owners, but it would have taken far longer. I would recommend anyone looking for a car to contact Phil.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

New Apartment, New Jobs

Moving is rough. There's so much that goes into it. It started the week after we got back to the US when Erin and I started looking for places to live. We weren't exactly sure what we wanted or where we wanted to be. There were so many uncertainties. I didn't have a job yet and we wanted to get a dog at some point in the future. As we saw different places we started to narrow in on what we were looking for. After two weeks of looking around Erin had a class up in Fort Collins which would keep her out of the search for a week. Before she left though she wrote down a place that sounded promising.

After looking at it on my own I decided it would be good. It was in a central location, had a lot of space, and nice amenities. I put down an initial payment and contacted Erin to talk about it. There were several things that turned us off from completing the process though including a sales person that was inexperienced, the loss of an included washer and dryer, and an unexpected deposit. We finally decided that we were ready to stop looking and move in before Erin started work though, so we signed the papers and moved forward.

We arranged for movers to move our stuff out of storage in Castle Rock along with some furniture from my generous aunt and uncle out of their Littleton storage. We had decided on movers since the place we got is a fourth floor apartment without elevators. I'm glad we did, but the day was still difficult as I was meeting up with the movers on my motorcycle while Erin was at the apartment cleaning. Unfortunately that turned out to be a day with heavy rain and even hail as I was riding my motorcycle.

Over the next week we unpacked and arranged our stuff. It was an exhausting process. Fortunately everything fits and looks great. The only thing that wasn't working was our bed which wobbled and swayed incredibly anytime one of us moved. My aunt and uncle came to the rescue again with a bigger bed that they weren't using. The final piece of moving was getting some friends to help my uncle and I move the king size mattress up all the stairs. It was worth it though as Erin and I are getting much better sleep now.

It seemed to be just in time as Erin started work at Highlands Ranch High School the following week. This past week has been her first full week with students. Teaching around 180 students spread between 5 different classes makes this one of the hardest years she's ever had to do. It includes a combined Journalism/Newspaper class which she is teaching for the first time.

As for me, I've accepted an offer to be a Project Manager at Markit on Demand, a web development company focusing on financial companies around the world. I'm excited as the position combines my interests in software development and financial management. I'm not as excited about the 45 minute commute, but I'm stocking up on audiobooks and voice apps for my phone to help the time go by. I start work a week from Monday.

Moving is never fun, but like pulling off a bandaid we seem to have completed it in as short of an amount of time as we could. It's still going to take us some time to get used to our new lives, but a rhythm is starting to develop and I think it will be a good year.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Back in the USA

It has been busy the last two weeks for Erin and I as we've returned to Colorado.  We celebrated a subdued 4th of July without fireworks due to the recent fires.  We were able to pull the motorcycle out of storage and take it up to the mountains for a ride and a hike.  We've also enjoyed spending time with friends and family

Most of our time has been spent looking for a new place to live.  It has been difficult as we want something that's centrally located, has a washer and dryer, and allows dogs.  I think we may have finally found something and we've filled out our applications.

I've also been looking for a job.  The scanning, applying, and interviewing is not fun, but I'm optimistic that I'll find something that will be good.  This week Erin is preparing to teach Journalism/Newspaper next year with a week-long class on the subjects up at Fort Collins.

It's nice to be back, but we are experiencing some reverse culture shock.  The food and food options are awesome, but traffic and gridlock are something we're still getting used to.  Things are a lot easier to accomplish as I noticed when I picked up our household goods from a warehouse.  Being able to speak and understand the local language is something we tend to take for granted.

We'll probably struggle as we continue to adapt to life back in the US, but it makes us appreciate the different styles of life that are possible here and around the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The last three days of our trip were a blur as we tried to take in as much of Croatia as we could.  Our night in the castle at Motovun had been nice, but not what I had expected.  From the outside it looked like a typical castle, but the inside looked like a typical motel.  I was expecting stone steps and walls.  Well, at least it was comfortable.

We next drove out to the town of Rovinj on the coast.  It was nice to wander through the tiny pedestrian streets gazing at the different artists shop on our way up to the main church.  Once there we walked up the bell tower on incredibly tiny, potentially dangerous stairs.  The view of the area from the top was worth the climb as the clear blue day showed the calm Adriatic sea and surrounding islands.  Later, as the sun was setting we found a nice seafood place with tables out by the harbor.  The church with lights provided a beautiful backdrop to our meal.

The next day we drove down the coast to Pula, an large city on the tip of the Istrian Peninsula.  It is also the site of one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters.  After looking around marble columns, stairs, and underground rooms we made our way to the old part of town.  There were plenty of historical sites and local vendors, but it was also getting hot.  We found a cool place to get lunch before heading back to the car and moving on.

We had a long drive ahead of us as we went away from the coast to the Plitvice Lakes.  Our drive was made longer as I blindly followed the GPS leading us through a road that started okay, but narrowed down to a twisty, one lane trail through the woods.  We finally found the guesthouse we were staying at and then took some more time to find one of very few restaurants in the area for dinner.

For our last day in Croatia we got up and joined the crowds of tourists at the lakes.  The geology and nature of the area helps the water form several small, clear lakes.  The area was very beautiful with several paths and wooden walkways.  Unfortunately there were also alot of people.  It was often difficult to get a picture without others in it and walking along the narrow trails was frustrating at times.  By lunch we had seen all we wanted to see and were back on the road driving to Slovenia.

We're glad we saw Croatia, but we wished that we had taken a slower pace.  By the end we were getting tired of traveling and ready to be home.  It didn't help that the following day we had to return the car, get on a train to the border, take a taxi over to Trieste, take another train to Venice, get on our plane to Paris, and finally catch a shuttle late at night for our hotel.  We were rewarded the next day though as we somehow got upgraded to first class on our flights back to Denver on Icelandair.

Altogether it had been a wonderful trip and I'm glad Erin and I could share the excitement and adventure of Europe together.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Julian Alps and the Karst

After spending three great days around Lake Bled, it was time for Erin and I to move on. Taking advice from Rick Steves we got in our rental car and left for a drive through the Julian Alps.  Named after Julius Caesar who founded the region at the base of the mountains they' form beautiful vistas with their limestone peaks.  After driving up twisting switchbacks we stopped at the top of a pass inhabited by sheep. 

We then took many more switchbacks down the other side stopping to view turquoise waters and old suspension bridges.  The end of our drive led us to Hisa Franko in Kobarid where we would have dinner and stay the night.  The fancy meal with vegetables and herbs from their own garden paired deliciously with locally made organic wine.  It was a great place to celebrate our third anniversary.

The next day was our caves and castles day.  We started by driving down to the Postojna Cave.  While the area was very touristy it was hard to get over how cool it was to ride a train through the cave.  It was like a ride at Disneyland but longer and without the ups and downs.  Then, after riding the train there was still so much cave to walk and explore.  After walking through the cave and learning about it.for about an hour we got back on the train and went back to the surface.  See video from the train ride here and imagine 15-20 minutes of this.

After the cave we took a short drive up the rode to Predjama Castle.  Built into the face of a cliff it is an impressive structure.  We did not go inside though as we had more to see.  After an hour drive South we came to another cave system.  The Skocjan Caves are less touristy then our previous caves, but also incredibly impressive.  While there was no train, there was an underground river and a much more comprehensive guide.  With a slew of bats and other creatures we were not allowed to take photos.  After a long hike we came to the end of the cave and were soon back on the road.

After a brief stop for immigration we drove down in to Croatia and our final castle for the day.  Perched high on a hill was the castle and town of Motovun, Croatia.  We had made arrangements to spend the night in the castle...we just had to get up there.  After a long day of driving and cave walking the steep drive up the narrow cobblestone lane was a final test.  With pedestrians and cars coming down the ancient lane we successfully made it up without hitting anything.  It had been an exciting and very tiring day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lake Bled

It's hard to exaggerate the beauty of Lake Bled in Slovenia.  Nestled at the base of the Julian Alps it was a wonderful place to stay for three days.  We had made reservations at a popular penzione and soon found the reason for the popularity.  After our bus ride from Ljubljana and a short walk the proprietor greeted us with cookies and a clean room.  Since it was just minutes from the lake we had a chance to look around a little before coming back for dinner at the attached restaurant.  As we enjoyed the delicious food and drinks we saw the waiter greet regulars who obviously returned here regularly.

After breakfast the next day we started off on a walk around the lake.  We soon found a traditional row boat (no gas motors are allowed on the lake) to take us out to a church on an island in the middle of the lake.  The ride gave great views of the castle overlooking the lake.  After our ride we continued to make our way on foot around the lake to a place along the shore for lunch.  It was fun watching the people walk by and trying to determine if they were tourists or locals.

We next made the steep climb up to Castle Bled.  Perched on rocky ledges it seemed to be very well defended and was very well preserved.  The castle included a traditional printing press, a traditional wine bottling room, iron works, and local tour guides in costume to help explain them.  The most fun was when a "monk" walked us through the bottling of our own wine.

On our next day we rented a car and took it out to see some of the local features.  This started with the Vintgar Gorge a short drive from the lake.  There, a wooden path clung to the edge of a serpentine gorge feet from the beautiful turquoise-green waters.  The path was longer than we expected leading to beautiful views around every turn.  As the amount of people on the trail grew though we decided to take the long way back around to where we were parked.

After lunch back in town we drove out to another, larger lake not to far away.  We got wonderful views of this lake as we took a cable car up steep cliffs to a ski area overlooking the valley.  Some more hiking around the area gave us plenty of exercise and we were ready to call it a day as we headed back to our room.

The next day we packed up the car and headed out.  It was a little sad to go, but I can definitely see us coming back to this area in the future.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Our first stop in Slovenia was the capital, Ljubljana (pronounced: lyoo-BLYAH-nah).  Unfortunately, trains were not running between Italy and Slovenia so we had to get a taxi to take us over the border to a train station in the city of Sezana, Slovenia.  From there we took a pair of trains to the capital and found our hotel.
Ljubljana is a beautiful city and we were surprised at the lack of people out on the Saturday night we arrived.  We took a walk around the old town before finding a nice place to eat with tables out on one of the old streets. 

The next day we went back to the old town for a tour around.  A knowledgeable and nice art history professor walked our group around explaining the various architecture and sights.  Slovenia has an interesting history at the crossroads of Western and Eastern Europe.  We saw evidence of it's different memberships including the Roman empire, the Hapsburgs Monarchy, and Yugoslavia.

After the tour we walked up to the city's castle overlooking the city.  There was a place to get lunch there after which we strolled around the ramparts.

It was very nice to see Ljubljana.  It seemed like a clean city with friendly people.  It didn't seem to have much life to it though.  Maybe because we were wandering around on a Sunday we didn't see as many people, or maybe we've gotten used to the density of people in Asian cities.  In any case, after 24 hours we were ready to move on to our next place: Lake Bled.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Trieste, Italy

When we look back, we tend to forget the difficulties of travel and only remember the good parts.  Last week we had a long day as we traveled from Paris to Trieste.  The trip involved a shuttle to the airport, a flight to Venice, a bus ride to the train station, a train ride to Trieste, and finally another packed bus ride to the apartment we were staying.  Part of what made this so difficult was that our bags are very heavy since we didn't know when our household goods would arrive from Taiwan.  Though we had to lift those bags up four flights of stairs, we we're glad when we finally arrived at our destination.

It felt really good to be back in Italy.  On our first full day there we took a bus down to a nearby fishing village for a wonderful seafood lunch.  After walking around town for a while we were able to catch the ferry back to Trieste.  We then took a bus out to Castella Miramare passing by the throngs of Italian sun bathers.

For our next day we took in the surrounding countryside with it's distinctive karst rock formations.  On a hike along a road Napoleon had started we got wonderful views of the city and the sea.  After lunch we made our way to the world's largest tourist cave.  Called the Grotta Gigante it was so large and the temperature stayed so stable that they have place large pendulums to measure the movement of the Earth's crust.  That night we walked around town seeing the outside of the city's Roman castle and ruins, churches, and many twisting little streets.

On our last day in Trieste we went for drinks at the same cafe visited many times by James Joyce.  It was sad that we were going.  Partly because it meant we had to carry our heavy suitcases around again!  We had covered a lot of ground in and around Trieste, but I feel like we just scratched the surface.  Our schedule didn't provide us time to take a sailing course or eat locally-grown food at a family-run osmizza in the countryside.  We'll just have to save those for next time we're there.  We were on our way to Slovenia.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Taipei to Paris

I've come to accept over the years that travel and life away from home requires flexibility.  For instance, we had planned to stay an extra week in Kaohsiung to make sure we had plenty of time to pack, see friends, and relax.  Unfortunately, after much back and forth, the shipping company informed us that we had to have our boxes mostly packed by Monday and ready to be picked up on Wednesday.  That left us until Saturday when we left without our household goods.  An unusually wet week in Taiwan also meant that we spent much of that time inside.  At least we got to have a few more outings with friends.

It was great to finally get on the train and go to Taipei to start our trip.  On Sunday, with the rain finally letting up, we went out to Guandu to see a magnificent temple built on the side of a cliff.  It gave some great views of the city.  Even though the sun made it much hotter we went for a bike ride along the river as well.  We finished the day with a dinner of soup dumplings at Ding Tai Fung.  On Monday we made our way out to airport where we again had to be flexible.  Our bags were overweight at the counter so we had to move some stuff into our carry-on bags to meet the requirements.  Cramped in an airline seat for 12 hours required a different kind of flexibility.

Finally in Paris things started going smoothly again.  Arriving at 6:30 in the morning we were able to find the shuttle bus to our hotel and they let us check in without a problem.  After a delicious (though expensive) breakfast and a little nap we were ready to see Paris.  Having both been to Paris before we decided to get lunch at a cafe for some people watching and then take a walk along the river.  It was much cooler out than we were used to, and the diversity of people was fun to see.  After walking around for several hours and drinks at a bar for more people watching we decided to get some food at the store for dinner and breakfast the next day.  It was a long ride on the train back to our hotel as our fatigue caught up to us.  We waited in the wrong place for our shuttle bus forcing us to wait longer.  Then back at our hotel we had to deal with an urgent matter with our household goods shipment and also extra charges for our luggage on the next leg of our trip.

Tomorrow: Paris to Trieste - The difficulties of travel

Sunday, June 10, 2012

End of School Year

It has been a very busy past month as we've come to the end of the school year at KAS.  Erin has been doing a lot of grading and I have been preparing the IT office for next year's coordinator.  There have also been several heart-felt goodbyes and last moments.  These have included a birthday party at a place that specialized in shrimp, a strange commemoration for a teacher who has been teaching at KAS for 20 years, and breakfast and bowling today. 

It's certainly sad saying goodbye to many people.  We have worked with some exceptional people over the past two years and we will miss them.  At the same time we hope that we will see some of them again in the future.

For the next week we'll be packing and preparing to leave.  Moving is rarely fun, but we're going to try to experience a bit more of Taiwan this week as well.  We'll then spend two weeks in Europe before heading back to Colorado.  Expect to see more here soon.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wii, Hot Spring, and Monkey Tattoo

This past weekend Erin and I had a fun getaway to Taipei. Riding the high speed rail on Saturday was a good way to start to unwind after a stressful week of job interviews over Skype. When we got in, the first thing we did was get some lunch at Sumi Sushi which has delicious rolls. Though it was raining, we then went to find a tattoo parlor that had been recommended. Fortunately the girl there spoke English so I was able to show her the monkey design I had made and discuss where it would go. We made an appointment for the following day and went to find our hotel.

For this trip we were staying in Beitou, north of Taipei. We had been to Beitou before and had found a place where we could have our own hot spring bath in our room. We were also excited that we could check out a Wii for our stay. With a variety of games to play we were thoroughly entertained for the rest of the afternoon. That night we went out to a great Mexican food place called the Mayan for dinner. While they forgot our dessert order it was still a good meal.

On Sunday we got up and took a walk around Beitou. The thermal valley was especially interesting as the open spring was sending plumes of steam into the air. Nicknamed "Hell Valley" it had a stench of sulfer and we could feel the heat from the water. After a soak in our hot tub we checked out and headed back downtown. After lunch at a grilled cheese place we headed over to get my tattoo.

It was just as painful as always, but I'm happy with the results. I chose a monkey to symbolize our time in Taiwan and also due to my love of climbing. Though I didn't get to climb as much in Taiwan as I had hoped we did get to see lots of monkeys during our stay here. While we've had our ups and downs here I'm glad we came to Taiwan and I'm sure we'll miss it when we leave.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Venturing into Cloud Development

Over the past few months I've taken up development on Amazon's Web Services (AWS) platform.  Looking at the integration of development and IT operations in devops my foray has started with the AWS Cloudformation service which allows the programmatic creation of other web services such as computing (EC2) and storage (S3).  I like the ability to upload a JSON template, specify some parameters, and soon have a brand new system up and running.  What's more, using Canonical's cloud-init scripts I'm able to use the Cloudformation template as a base to further service configuration with Puppet.

Puppet is a configuration management tool that provides the ability to define the packages, users, and services (among other things) that a particular server should be running.  It allows me to get away from manually setting up a server each time it comes online.  Instead I simply have the Cloudformation template download my puppet modules from GitHub and apply them using the cloud-init script.

My plan for this infrastructure is the ability to quickly and easily create an environment for Java development.  While there are currently other services that provide similar environments, rolling my own on AWS has given me an opportunity to customize it to my liking and learn to use some of these new tools.  This means that I can install the latest development tools such as Gitolite for private Git repositories, Eclipse Orion for online code editing, Gradle for builds, Sonar for testing, Jenkins for continuous integration, and Artifactory to store the completed products.

Check out some of the resources that enable my setup on my GitHub page:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring Break, Part 2 (Ticks and Taiwanese Motels)

Waking up in Taroko Gorge Wednesday morning was a treat as we exited our cabin and saw the verdant sides of the gorge surrounding us. After breakfast we set off for a variety of small hikes in the gorge. After a variety of hikes through the beautiful scenery we went back to Hualien for lunch.

It was then that I noticed a tick embedded in my leg. We tried several ways that Erin and I had thought were right (burnt out match and hot metal on the tick) and visited a pharmacy for their recommendation (some cream that I was instructed to leave on for 24 hours). After driving up the beautiful North-East Coast of Taiwan we finally got to our motel on the outskirts of Taipei which had an Internet connection.  It was only then when we were corrected of our misconception as the widely-held advice was to gently remove the tick with tweezers; the one thing we thought you absolutely shouldn't do!

Internet: +1, Old Wives' Tales: 0, Taiwan Pharmacies: 0.

Before I go on, I feel I should explain taiwanese motels. With big families and limited space, homes can often be very crowded; sometimes containing three or even four generations of a family. Recognizing that this makes privacy for couples difficult, taiwanese motels provide private, secluded, romantic rooms with hourly rates.  Understanding this, we were intrigued by a colleague's recommendation for a motel on the outskirts of Taipei and reserved three nights at their nightly rate.

The first thing we notice on arrival is that there is no lobby. Instead there's a drive-up booth and a gate. After finding our reservation and getting payment, they waved us through to our garage.  The only way to access the room is through the one-car garage (which also happens to have a small vending machine filled with things you would find in a sex shop). Going through the door in the back of the garage to our room and putting in the key card activated the soft, multicolored lights and smooth music.  Playing with one of the three remote controllers that controlled everything we were able to get regular lighting and change the music. Most of the room seemed relatively clean and after we got over the overt sexual tones (e.g. complimentary condom by the bed) we were able to settle in.

The next day it was raining in Taipei and we were a little tired from all of the travel, so we decided to head into the city.  We had lunch at a wonderful sushi place called Sumi Sushi then we found a Starbucks to have a drink and relax at. As the afternoon wore on we made our way to the Museum of Contemporary Art which had some very innovative and interesting pieces. We finished the night with dinner at The Mayan: the best Mexican Restaurant we've been to in Taiwan.

Friday was our last day in Taipei, and even though it was still a bit wet out we decided to got to Pingxi for the day.  Driving from the Taipei Zoo on route 106 for about 45 minutes took us to Jingtong station. The last station on an old coal-mining railroad that has been renovated for tourism. We grabbed some prime seats at the front of the train giving us a wonderful view as we rode out to Sandiaoling.  Following the directions of our Lonely Planet guidebook we got off for a hike up to some beautiful waterfalls.

Seeing how beautiful the falls were and having the afternoon free we decided to take the authors advice and continue on the trail walking back to the previous train station.Though there were some warnings in the book we were not fully prepared for how harrowing the hike became. There were many times when local dogs were barking and snarling at us. We climbed down old trails with trees covering the way and slick wet stones.  There was even a long tunnel we had to pass through without a flashlight.  Even so, it turned out to be an exciting adventure.  We finished the day at Pingxi where we got more paper lanterns that our families had enjoyed so much over Christmas.

Saturday was the last day of our trip so we spent most of it driving back down to Kaohsiung.  On our way we stopped at a nice ceramics museum and a temple with an outdoor market nearby.  By the time we got back to Kaohsiung we were pretty tired though.  It had been a great trip and we were glad we went. It was very nice to see a little more of Taiwan before we leave this summer.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spring Break, Part 1

Last Saturday morning was the start of Spring Break for Erin and me. We had decided to rent a car and drive around Taiwan. Having gone out to see "Hunger Games" in the theater the night before and trying to decide what to do with newly found mold on our stuff we had a late start.  But then, after picking up the car and making a stop at Costco for supplies we were on our way.

First stop was the Taitung Sea Art Hostel near Dulan. The couple there has created a beautiful home in the woods. While somewhat difficult to find it turned out to be a very peaceful stay. They had recommended a good Vietnamese place nearby for dinner. Before heading back to bed we stopped by the Dulan Sugar Factory which has been transformed into an artistic community.

The next day we started at a local attraction where the water appeared to be flowing upward. We then found a trail that the hostel owners had recommended. It was a very technical trail with many slippery rocks and need for ropes, but the views were beautiful. We then drove to our next stop, The Wisdom Garden Guest House at Yuli. The owners were very nice and offered to take us and several of the other guests out to dinner. We were very fortunate to taste the local food with the host and guests from Germany, France, and New Zealand.

The next day we left out early with one of the other guests to hike the nearby Walami trail. Part of a Japanese-era cross-island trail it featured several suspension bridges and beautiful views. Our new friend helped push us a bit further than we would have normally gone so after the 10 mile hike we were exhausted. It ended up being an early night back at the guest house.

On Tuesday we drove up the Eastern Rift Valley of Taiwan. It is very pretty countryside. We stopped at the Hualien Sugar Factory for some ice cream and then at Liyu Lake for a bike ride. In Hualien we found a nice brunch place serving Western food for lunch. We then made our way to Taroko Gorge. After battling the traffic on the narrow winding roads we stopped for a short hike. Finally we made our way to the Leader Village where we had a cabin room for the night. After a delicious dinner of grilled meats and vegetables we were ready for bed, looking forward to the hikes we would do the next day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hsiao Liuchiu Island

This past weekend Erin and I took a trip out of Kaohsiung to Taiwan's only coral island, Hsiao Liuchiu.  Located just south of Kaohsiung it is made entirely of coral and provided a wonderful getaway.

We asked one of the school office staff, Ellen, to help us make arrangements earlier in the week.  She was able to get us an all-inclusive deal which included one night's stay, dinner, breakfast the next day, 24-hour scooter rental, and round-trip ferry tickets.  This made things much easier then trying to figure all of it out on our own.

However, there was still some difficulty getting to the island.  We started by taking the MRT subway down to the airport, from there we hoped to catch a taxi down to the ferry.  Unfortunately the driver didn't understand what we meant and we had to call Ellen to have her explain.  Finally we made it to the dock and after waiting awhile got on the ferry for the 30 minute trip to the island.  On arrival we were happy to find someone waiting for us who got us a scooter and led us to our hotel.

We were soon cruising around the island on our scooter enjoying the warm sea breeze.  Before long we found a nice harbor with a beach to enjoy our packed lunch.  It was really nice to just sit back and relax while listening to the waves lap at the shore.  After lunch we were back on the scooter down to the "Black Devil Cave".  The ominously named cave had many people backing out after getting halfway in and realizing they needed a flashlight to see (us included).  Crawling through the dark, narrow confines was exciting, but certainly wouldn't be for everyone.  After the cave we took to cruising around the island some more and checking out the local scenery.  We quickly passed by fishing ports, interesting rock/coral formations, and even a stage with a live play on the side of the road.

Back at our hotel we found a bench overlooking the ocean where we sat and relaxed for several hours.  It was nice to just look out over the sea while the sun slowly set.  For dinner one of the hotel staff led us into town at what must have been a sister establishment.  The food was good with plenty of variety.  Being downtown we went to check out a bar we had seen earlier.  Though not much more than a shack, the Deep Soul Bar had a nice outdoor area decorated with driftwood, some good mellow music, and tasty drinks.

On Sunday we found a path to hike partway around the island.  There weren't many people allowing us to leisurely enjoy the jungle and caves that we found.  Afterwards we spent some time on the beach so Erin could look for more shells.  We were soon back in town enjoying fried rice and smoothies for lunch.  It was getting time to head back home though so we took one more ride around the island before grabbing our stuff and going back to the ferry dock.

With subway, taxi, and ferry it ended up taking us about two hours to get back home.  While this was somewhat exhausting and often confusing when dealing with the taxi drivers, I'm very glad we went.  The island was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and the food turned out to be really good.  What more can one ask for in a weekend getaway?