Friday, May 7, 2010

Linode VPS

LinodeAfter over 10 years of having a dedicated server in one data center or another and paying the bill I decided to put those days behind me. And no, I’m not going to give up having an access to a Linux box on a high speed connection, nor am I planning giving up my root access to such a machine.

We’re simply moving to virtual hosting. Hosting has evolved considerably in the past several years and VPS business has matured to a point where it is a perfect solution for somebody like me. All the same benefits as having a dedicated server without the cost. My monthly bill is going to go down from $130 to $40. And that considering that $130 just came down to that number from $170 only a couple of months ago. Continue Reading
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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Joshua Tree and Death Valley

Badwater Road going throught Death Valley National Park.Where to begin? So many places, so many events, so many pictures. The vacation was great. Even thought we might have gotten a bit luckier with the weather it didn’t slow us down a single beat. In fact it probably made things more interesting. I guess I’ll start from the beginning.

Hollywood sign.We got to Los Angeles without any hick up, which is somewhat unusual. We got our car which ended up being the bare bones 300 and went in the direction of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I never thought much of Los Angeles area and it kind of fell in line with my expectations. Big flat city which felt dirty, uncozy, overcrowded and didn’t seem to have any kind of character.

Sly Stallone's star on the Walk of Fame.We took a short walk along the Walk of Fame, caught a glimpse of Hollywood sign, LA downtown skyscrapers and were ready to get out. But as I expected it wasn’t so easy. Every freeway, every turn we took we ended up getting stuck in traffic. It got really frustrating, and that’s coming from someone who makes a 70 mile commute to work each way several times a week in New York. But luckily for us “the worst” part of our vacation was behind us and a lot of amazing things were still to come.

Wind turbines near Desert Hot Springs.Our first overnight stop was in a small town called Yucca Valley which lays near Joshua Tree National Park, the first park on our way. We spent the night in a nice, quite Best Western and in the morning were ready to go and explore the park. One thing to mention is that on our way there we drove through huge areas of land occupied by hundreds or maybe thousands of wind turbines. I’ve seen batches of them here and there, but never so many at one place. And all of them were hard at work, generating as much power as a small nuclear plant would.

Rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park.Joshua tree looks-wise to me is something of a mix of a normal tree and a cactus, although that’s probably the most biologically incorrect definition. We saw some of them in our previous travels, but never in such quantity — the park had a real forest of these southern creatures. Besides the trees themselves the park had several nice overlooks and some interesting rock formations. I also managed to get my first sunburn right there and then. Luckily for me it wasn’t too bad and stopped hurting the day after.

Blooming Joshua Tree.Our next destination was Death Valley National Park, which incidentally turned out to be the hottest place of our trip. But there is nothing surprising about that — a lot of its land lies below the sea levels. This makes it the lowest place in the northern hemisphere and the second highest temperature ever was recorded here. It also is the driest place because of this, but a bit more on that later.

One of the more heavily populated areas along the way.The road to Death Valley goes through Mojave National Preserve, where we made several short stops. It basically is just a large desert which has it’s own beautify, but not a lot of stuff to see.

Toilet in the middle of nowhere.One funny thing that we stumbled upon there goes something like this — imaging going through a lonely desert road with no cars and nothing around it. Desert and sand. And then in the middle of one of those sand fields you see a rest room. It’s one of the stereotypes you keep hearing about this country and it is true. It’s like when you hear about people taking a hike into the wild wild forest only to find a sink or something in the middle of it.

Roy's -- the gas station in Amboy, CA. Nothing around.The thing that we had to be on constant lookout for was gas. Most areas around here are completely void of any signs of civilization (except for the random toilets) and when your tank starts running under a quarter full you will fill up anywhere. I generally avoid antique gas stations with mechanical pumps, but not here. One such gas station was located in a tiny town of Amboy along our route, which also seemed to be some kind of Mecca for bikers.

Badwater Basin. The salt is starting to dry out.What I was hoping for was to get to Badwater Basin before the sunset. Badwater Basin is the actual place with the lowest elevation, elevation of 282 feet below the sea level, and is located in the southern part of Death Valley. And we did manage to get there just in time.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley. Sunset.Usually during the summer this place is absolutely dry, filled with salt formed into different shapes by the sun. However on our hike through the salt fields you could still feel the presence of the water which was here not long ago. It felt more like walking on wet snow. And it looked like snow as well — white mass with visible crystals that looked like snow flakes. Sunset was the best time to take a hike at such a place. Not only it presented gorgeous views, but the temperature was also bearable. The next day the heat was at 100 degrees Fahrenheit and we just wouldn’t survive here for as long as we hiked for.

Our cabin at Furnace Creek Ranch.After the sunset we drove to our lodge in a town with a friendly name of Furnace Creek which is located about 20 miles north of Badwater. Furnace Creek Ranch turned out to be a nice, cozy place and reminded all of us our stay at Bryce Canyon. A bunch of one story cabins, several eateries and a lot of tired travelers.

Papa taking a photo of something in Death Valley in his new hat.The next morning we started with a breakfast and an acquisition of a pair of nice outdoor hats for my dad and myself. I wanted one for a long time to cover the face and the neck in the outdoor sun, but never could find something that felt comfortable and didn’t make me look like a complete idiot. I’m actually happy with the purchase, although I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to use it the next time.

Devil's Golf Course.We had several destination in Death Valley mapped out before we had to leave. First one was a place called Devil’s Gold Course — another friendly name. But it actually looked amazing. Hard to believe the work of nature. The earth was ravaged by heat for as long as the eye could see and then there are huge mountain peaks reaching all the way up to 11,000 feet on the edge of it.

Artist's Palette in Death Valley National Park.And then a short detour on a course called Artist’s Drive. The hills and mountains there are made up of so many colors that it in fact does look like an artist’s palette. A couple of stops near sand dunes, a drive through a point called Stovepipe Wells and we were on our way to our next destination — Sequoia National Park, but more about that later.

Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Death Valley and Joshua Trees

Road from Joshua Tree National Park to a town called Twentynine Palms.За 3 дня до отлёта в отпуск я заболела (скорее всего заразилась на работе). К счастью, температура была совсем небольшая — 37 C максимум — но зато нос забился совершенно и чувствовала я себя в целом плохо. По мудрому совету Дани на работу я эти 3 дня не ходила, и к субботе чувствовала себя немного лучше. Прогноз погоды на неделю отпуска тоже был не очень радужный (холод, снег, дождь), поэтому вечером перед отлётом настроение было среднее.

Blooming cactus.Вылетали мы из JFK на самолете авиокомпании Jet Blue. Мы стали стараться покупать билеты именно из этого аэропорта, потому что добираться до него гораздо быстрее и удобнее чем до LaGuardia или Newark.

One of many lemon or orange gardens along California roads.До Лос-Анджелеса мы долетели без преключений. С арендой машины была небольшая дилемма — автомобиля, который мы планировали взять, в компании на тот момент не оказалось, поэтому пришлось выбирать из того что было. Мы остановились на Chrysler 300 — более дешевой версии нашего с Даней железного друга. ) Машина досталась нам по хорошей цене и верно прослужила всю дорогу, хотя как только мы выехали за ворота Fox Car Rent компании, то поняли что машина попахивает мочой. Мне это на тот момент не мешало, ибо нюх отсутсвовал напрочь, но д. Боре и Дане было неприятно. Выход из положения они нашли следующий — на одной из заправок купили ароматизаторы для машины, которые забили неприятный запах. Через пару дней ароматизаторы перестали работать, но и запах мочи тоже пропал. На будущее мы решили, что перед тем как брать машину в аренду надо её не только хорошенько осмотреть, но еще и обнюхать.

Wind turbines near Desert Hot Springs.В Лос-Анджелесе мы с Даней были впервые. Мои представления об этом городе не были особо лестными — смог, пробки, перенеселённость — и после нашего краткого визита они не изменились. Аллея Славы, по которой мы прошлись туда-сюда, показалась мне неинтересной, на улицах не было “гламурно” выглядящих людей, а для того, чтобы увидеть знак Hollywood, пришлось изрядно покружить по разным дорогам. Выезжали мы из города в пробке (правда, не такой плохой), и как-то хотелось скорее вырваться из мегаполиса на природу.

Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park.По пути к месту нашей первой остановки на ночь — небольшому городку под названием Yucca Valley — нам встретилось несколько “плантаций” ветряков. Выглядели они очень футуристично; завораживал взгляд тот факт, что многие из них крутились в разных направлениях. Про Yucca Valley особо рассказывать нечего — маленькое, чистенькое местечко, где приятно остановиться на ночь, но жить, пожалуй, скучновато.

Joshua "Trees".В воскресенье мы отправились исследовать Joshua Tree National Park. Эти интересные деревья мы с Даней впервые увидели в 2003 году по дороге из Лас-Вегаса на Гранд Каньон (д. Боря как раз писал о них статью и попросил Даню сделать парочку фотографий). В Аризоне деревьев Джошуа нам встречалось совсем мало — там в основном мы видели юкки, являющиеся их более мелкими родственниками. В южной же части Калофорнии занятой пустыней Мохаве деревьев Джошуа много.

One of the overlooks in Joshua Tree National Park.Своим названием Joshua Trees обязаны Мормонам, которым это дервья раскидистыми лапами напомнили библейского Иисуса (но не Христоса), вознявшего в молитве руки к небу. Еще любопытен факт, что у деревьев Джошуа нет годовых колец. Это затрудняет точное определение их возраста (вообще при благоприятных условиях они могут жить сотни лет). Корневая система этих деревье очень большая — наверное, это одно из необходимых условий выживания в пустыне.

Cholla jungle.Вообще “лесом” скопище Joshua Trees назвать для человека, выросшего в Беларуси, сложно. Деревья растут на довольно приличном расстоянии друг от друга, и в целом лес в пустыне заметно отличцается от леса в других климатических зонах. Когда мы гуляли по Joshua Tree парку, то невольно вспоминались кактусовые “леса” Аризоны. Кактусов, кстати, там тоже хватало, и некоторые из них даже цвели. Из животных мы там видели только ящериц, хотя я уверена что живности там гораздо больше (но, скорее всего, более активны они по ночам).

Entering Death Valley National Park.Нагулявшись по Joshua Tree парку мы поехали в Долину Смерти — самую низкую точку Северной Америки. По пути мы проехали через Mojave National Preserve, где Даня и д. Боря получили печати в спецпаспорта.

Sign on the mountain indicating sea level.В Мёртвой Долине мы были поближе к вечеру. Первой остановкой для исследования местности и фотографий послужила Badwater Basin. Она расположена на 86 метров ниже уровня моря. Было жарко, но терпимо. Так как я очень боялась обезвоживания, то на прогулку вышла с литровой банкой воды, которую примерно за 1.5 часа всю и выпила.

Salt.Badwater представляет собой эдакий солевой бассейн — в некоторых местах стоят лужицы воды, но в основном землю покрывает слой слегка влажноватой соли, на первый взгляд очень похожей на снег. Я не удержалась и потрогав соль на текстуру, слизнула пару крупных белых кристалов, прилипших к пальцам. Что могу сказать — соль она и есть соль! )

Sunset at Badwater Basin.Мне очень понравилось что соль не лежала пластом как песок на пляже, а образовала своеобразные ромбовидные фигуры. Всё же не зря говорят, что природа стремится к порядку. После захода солнца температура заметно уменьшилась. Думаю, что если бы мы приехали на это место в полдень, то полтора часа мы бы не отгуляли. )

Sign at the visitor center.Ночевали мы в воскресенье в гостинице расположенной на территории парка — Furnace Creek Ranch — месте довольно приятном, хоть и не самом дешевом (мы снимали одну комнату на 4-х). В понедельник мы заехали еще в пару интересных точек Долины Смерти — Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Drive and Palette, Golden Canyon.

Papa and mama at Devil's Golf Course.Дьявольское поле было усыпано глыбами окаменевшей соли. Ходить по нему надо очень осторожно, ибо если упадёшь — мало не покажется. Солнышко, кстати, палило сильно, и мы стрались печься на нём интервалами не превышающими 10-15 минут. Даня и д. Боря прикупили себе прикольные солнцезащитные шляпы, которые пришлись как нельзя к месту.

Flowers in Death Valley.Стоит заметить, что несмотря на жару мы видели довольно много цветов. Конечно, они не были такими пышними как в более влажных районах, но была в них своя особая застенчивая прелесть.

All of us at Artist's Palette.Палитра художника представляет собой разноцветные скалы. Очень красиво!

"Climging" in Golden Canyon.По золотому каньону мы прошлись совсем немного — и тропа там каменистая, и солнце кусалось. Не хотела бы я там оказаться без машины и воды!

Flower field and a canyon near Death Valley.После Долины Смерти мы отправились в Sequoia National Park. Путь был неблизким, а Даня как раз простыл за день до этого (скорее всего я его заразила). Мы останавливались в некоторых особо живописных местах, но вообще стрались нигде долго не задерживаться чтобы добраться до парка затемно.

Getting closer to Sequoia National Park. Landscape is changing dramatically.Затемно, к сожалению, доехать не удалось, а последний кусок дороги приходился на горы и был таким извилистым (заняло час чтобы проехать 20 миль), что Даниной маме стало плохо. К счастью, на следующий день всем стало получше, и, одевшись потеплее, мы отправились исследовать новые терротории.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sequoia & Kings Canyon Parks

General Sherman tree is in the middle. There are people standing near it.Memories are starting to fade and yet we still have a lot of writing to do, which brings me to the second part of our trip. The major difference for us was that while the first several days were spent in brutal summer sun the following days we have seen very little of it.

Papa near a pine. Snow all around.The road was taking us back west. We were also moving north and what is probably more significant — up. We made a trip from the lowest point of -200 feet below sea level to over 6500 feet above it. The temperature drop and the surrounding flora and fauna change was dramatic. From over 100 degrees in Death Valley to water freezing temperatures in the mountains. Sand and desert to magnificent forests.

Sugar Pine cone.We arrived to Sequoia National Park after the dark and we could only see the silhouettes of the trees. The last 20 miles of the road that was supposed to take us to our lodge was so narrow and had so many twists and turns that in most places we couldn’t go above 10 miles per hour. A sleepless coyote greeted us for a few seconds before disappearing into the dark of ageless mountains and trees. We were getting closer to the kingdom of ancient giants with which Christ himself seems young in comparison.

Giant Sequoia. The fires are actually good for them.I for one heard of these trees long ago and couldn’t wait to see them in person. Then a sign appeared on the side of the road — Entering the Giant Forest. And we started seeing trees unlike the others — extremely thick trunks of reddish color lighted by the headlights of our car. Everyone General Grant.was pointing each new one out that we would come upon and wowing, except for my poor mom who was starting to feel really sick from the twisting road.

Soon after we arrived to Wucsachi Lodge where we had a pair of rooms reserved for the next 2 nights. They screwed up and set us up in the different parts of the lodge, but there was nothing we could do at that point. We were all tired, freezing and I was feeling very sick from all the sneezing and a running nose that was plaguing me starting from a day before. We just went to sleep.

Pretty much the first Sequoia we got close to.In the morning we put several layers of sweaters and jackets on and took on exploring this magic place. We were very happy to learn that pretty much all points of interest were actually withing 5 miles from our lodge and we wouldn’t have to do the crazy drive over and over again. In fact, we didn’t have to go down that route a single time, since there was another road leading out of the park that was much straighter and was leading north in the direction of Yosemite National Park, our next destination. But more on that later.

Over 2 meters of snow.The sky was gray, the sun was nowhere to be seen and we were surrounded by mountains of snow that were way over 6 feet tall, judging by a convenient measuring device called Alёna. P But since most of the sun would be blocked out by the forest either way we were determined not to let it ruin our day nor our photography, for I brought my trusty friend, the tripod. And if you combine the tripod with multi-exposure shots you end up with pretty decent photographs.

Giant Forest Museum.We started our tour with a stop at a Giant Forest Museum. It didn’t have much inside, but we did learn a couple of interesting pieces of information. For example the biggest cones that could be found in the forest come from Sugar Pines, and Sequoias in turn have one of the smaller cones. Also if you put Sequoia on its side it can go from one end of the football field to the other and can weight as much as 10 whales. It also turns out that fires are good for them, since they kill off the competition and Sequoias can take much more than all the little trees around.

The smaller cones on the right are Sequoia cones.One such tree was only a few miles away and is named after a civil war general — General Sherman Tree. The thing with Sequoias is that you absolutely can not tell the scale of it from the photograph. That’s why I tried to place people in all my Sequoia pictures — so you, dear reader, could gain at least the slightest level of appreciation for these giants.

Us near General Sherman Tree.General Sherman Tree is not the tallest (“only” 275 feet) nor it is the oldest (estimated to be “only” 2,300 to 2,700 years old), but it is considered to be the the largest tree in the world — such measurement is done by the volume of its trunk. It’s 11 meters in diameter and its circumference is 31 meter. Yes, just read that again, stand back and try to imagine that.

Needless to say we were nothing short of amazed by these trees. And touching it it’s hard to imagine how many things happened in the history of mankind, while this tree was alive and growing. If only they could talk.

One of the overlooks on the way down to Grant Grove.On the same day we drove down to Grant Grove and Kings Canyon National Parks. There were several overlooks on our way, but the day was so foggy that we couldn’t really see much. We did see General Grant tree and many other famous trees.

Rays of the morning sun filtering through clouds.The scary part for us was the fact that they were predicting snow fall during the night. Usually that results in road closures or a requirement of having chains on your tires. If the roads get closed, we get stuck up there in the mountains with nowhere to go and our trip was on tight schedule. In the morning thought we got lucky — nothing stuck and there were spots of blue sky visible even. However right after breakfast it all started to change rapidly, so we decided to load into the car and pretty much haul ass. After all, Yosemite was awaiting.

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