Born Geek

Visit to Washington Photos

November 18, 2016

To inaugurate the launch of my new photo album software, I’ve just posted my first photo album from our trip to the state of Washington back in September. This is the first of 9 albums from this trip, and I’m excited to post these albums because we saw lots of cool stuff. Stay tuned for more!

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Monkey Album 2.0

November 18, 2016

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been diligently working on rewriting the software that powers my photography site. Today, the new version has officially launched! This rewrite is mostly a bunch of back-end changes to make my life a lot easier, but it also includes some front-end changes as well. Here’s what’s new from a technical perspective:

  • The site is now served over SSL thanks to DreamHost and the Let’s Encrypt program. Security boost for the win!
  • Collections have been replaced with Tags. I’m in the process of tagging things more carefully than they were previously.
  • The site now uses HTML 5.
  • The site is now powered by Python instead of PHP. I’m using the Django framework, which I’ve really come to enjoy. As a result, the number of lines of code have been drastically reduced (the project is nearly 50% smaller!).

As is typical when I launch stuff like this, there are still a few known issues:

  • The site doesn’t yet render like I want it to on mobile devices
  • Swipe support for navigation isn’t yet in place
  • The RSS feed doesn’t work (I simply forgot to implement it) This has been fixed!

I’m sure there are probably bugs lurking here and there. Let me know if you encounter any.

The Best of North Carolina’s State Parks

November 12, 2016

Back in March of 2010, I mentioned that I had a goal of visiting and photographing every single state park in my home state of North Carolina. In May of that same year, I narrowed my definition slightly to be those parks that have public facilities and for which attendance records are taken. At the time, there were 40 such parks (another has since joined their ranks, for a total of 41 as of this writing).

On Saturday, October 29, after over six years of park visits, I finally completed my goal!

My final state park visit was at Hammocks Beach State Park, the only park with ferry-service to its primary land parcel, Bear Island. Photos from this visit are coming in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. Photos from all of my other state park visits can be seen here.

One question I’m often asked when sharing my love of state parks with others is: which park is your favorite? This is a really difficult question to answer, as every single park in our state has something unique to offer (which, incidentally, makes visiting them all so worthwhile). That said, I thought it would be fun to rank some of the state parks from the viewpoint of my favorite park pastime: hiking. In this post, I’ll provide a breakdown of my favorite parks to hike in for all three regions of our state: mountains, Piedmont, and coast. I’ll also post a list of my least favorite parks for hiking.

Best of the Mountains

North Carolina is blessed with terrific mountain state parks. Here are my favorite mountain state parks to hike:

  1. Gorges: The westernmost park in our state, Gorges is my favorite mountains park. It has a particularly beautiful visitor’s center, and though the hikes are very challenging, they offer some of the most beautiful scenery in the state as a reward.
  2. Stone Mountain: Hiking up the giant granite dome is one of the most enjoyable things to do at this fantastic park. Views from the top are great, especially on a clear day, and several waterfalls can’t be missed!
  3. Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock: These two parks are a tie for me. Both have challenging, but rewarding, hiking trails, fantastic views, and lots to do. Regardless of the season you visit, there’s always something fascinating to see.

Best of the Piedmont

The Piedmont area of North Carolina is typically very heavily forested, which makes for some great spots to walk in the woods. Here are my favorite Piedmont parks:

  1. Eno River: Easily my favorite Piedmont state park (probably because of its proximity to where I live), Eno River has the best network of diverse hiking trails. For an area that has so many people, this park offers a terrific slice of solitude.
  2. Raven Rock: A popular park with some great trails to interesting geological features. The staircase down the namesake cliff is quite lengthy, so come prepared for a climb!
  3. Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve: This small park is a hidden gem. The hiking trails here are very easy, winding through a very unique long-leaf pine forest. Underbrush in this forest is nearly non-existent, which means you can see a long ways through the stands of trees. Definitely a park not to be missed!

Best of the Coast

Some of the most unique state parks in North Carolina are located along the coast. Here are my favorites:

  1. Jockey’s Ridge: Walking up the tallest living sand-dune on the east coast of the United States is something everyone should do. Just be sure to have your shoes on in the summertime: the sand can get quite hot!
  2. Goose Creek: Tucked along the Pamlico River, this park has an impressive boardwalk system. Strolling these boardwalks makes for some terrific sightseeing, and provides a glimpse at what natural life is like in the swamp along a river. Another hidden gem!
  3. Carolina Beach: Have you ever hiked in a forest at the beach? You can do so at this state park, where you’ll also find carnivorous plants in their native habitats. Keep your eyes peeled for Venus fly-traps and pitcher plants!

Honorable Mention

Of all the state parks I’ve visited, I had more pure fun at Merchants Millpond than any other. Canoeing in the millpond there is a delight, especially on a comfortable day. You’ll see plenty of wildlife (including alligators!) and you won’t want the experience to end. This park has good hiking opportunities too, so it’s win-win.

My Least Favorites

Three state parks truly stand out in my mind for least impressive hiking opportunities:

  1. Pettigrew: With only one hiking trail (and a poorly maintained one at that, at least when I visited), this park isn’t for hikers. If you like boating, however, you’ll love the lake at this park, which happens to be North Carolina’s second largest natural one.
  2. Lake Waccamaw: Again, this is primarily a boater’s paradise. Hiking here is difficult (the trails aren’t very well maintained), and the hike isn’t very interesting.
  3. Singletary Lake: This park is only open to large groups, so hiking here is a challenge. The trails that are offered, like many lake-centered state parks, are fairly short.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this round-up of my visits to various North Carolina state parks. I encourage everyone to visit them all, as it’s a great way to see our beautiful state!

Carvers Creek State Park

October 31, 2016

Back in September, my wife and I visited the newest state park in North Carolina, Carvers Creek. Located near Fayetteville, this state park is still in its infancy. It was a very popular place to hike, however, as we found it fairly crowded the day we visited. I’ve posted some photos from our visit.

Green Chicken Soup

October 9, 2016

I grew up eating this soup, which also goes by the name chicken soup with herbs. My family, however, called it “green chicken soup” because the soup has a greenish hue to it. This is a favorite!

  • 2-3 cups diced, cooked chicken
  • 1 cup raw rice
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 cups milk (*)
  • 2 cups cream (*)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tsp. chives
  • 4 tsp. marjoram
  • 2 tsp. dill weed
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Green onions (optional)

(*) Can substitute 1 quart of half-and-half for these two ingredients

Start by cooking rice separately. We do this by combining 1 cup of rice, 2 cups water, and 1/2 Tbsp. salt in a Pyrex cooking dish, covered, microwaving for 18 minutes on 50% power.

While rice is cooking, and in a large saucepan, dutch oven, or boiling pot, melt butter and blend in the flour. Cook this roux for one minute. Add the milk and cream and, stirring constantly, cook until the mixture thickens. Add the chicken stock, cooked rice, chicken, chives, marjoram, dill, nutmeg, and turmeric. Green onions may also be added, if desired. Stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be garnished with chopped parsley and/or toasted sesame seeds. Pairs well with hearty breads.

This soup is very thick (more like a stew), so when reheating it, you may need to thin with milk or water (it thickens as it sits in the refrigerator).

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A New User’s Guide to Stack Overflow

September 26, 2016

Last week, while on vacation in the northwestern corner of the United States, I was notified by a few people that my article Stack Overflow Hates New Users had made it onto a news site I was previously unfamiliar with, hackernoon (actually, the article was a part of a longer piece entitled The decline of Stack Overflow). It’s rather amusing that an article I wrote over four years ago is still being cited by people, and I think that says a lot about the community surrounding the venerable question and answer site. I’ve been a user at said site for over four and a half years, and I have a few additional things I’d like to discuss.

Seeing as I have already written about things I learned using Stack Overflow, a list of my gripes with Stack Overflow, and a few suggested improvements for Stack Overflow, I won’t rehash those here. What I would like to talk about, however, is how I think new users should approach the Stack Overflow experience:

Search, Search, and Search Again

I cannot stress this point enough. Before you ask a question on the site, search it to see if a similar question has already been asked. Over 95% of the time, at least one person will have already asked a question that should point you in the right direction. Don’t use the built-in search, by the way; like many site search boxes, it’s pretty lousy. Search with Google using the site:stackoverflow.com operator, and include any relevant keywords that could narrow your search (searching is an art form and non-trivial!).

Ask Detailed Questions

This is probably the biggest mistake new users make: they don’t provide enough detail. Asking detailed questions takes some practice to master (I still haven’t mastered this). Before you click that “Ask Question” button, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my question clear, concise, and easy to read?
  2. Have I mentioned what I’ve tried in the question I’m about to post?
  3. Have I provided all relevant details about my question (any specific library versions, or specific database flavors, or the operating system in use, etc.)?
  4. Do I have an idea of the direction to head, or am I flying blind? Have I made it known in my question that I know (or don’t know) where to go?
  5. Where else have I looked for solutions? Did I mention these in my question?

Being short and to the point, yet detailed, is a difficult balance to achieve, but find that balance and you’ll reap the rewards.

Be Patient

It’s very difficult to get a lot of rep points in the beginning, so be patient; building trust takes time. Set mini-goals for yourself. I personally set a goal to get to 2000 rep points so I could edit other posts without having to have my edits approved. Once I reached that goal, I stopped worrying about points altogether (it’s not worth worrying about)! Also, be courteous to everyone, even the jerks on the site (of which there are a number). Know-it-alls tend to like to flaunt their intelligence, and Stack Overflow is an outlet through which they can scratch that itch.

Join a Sister Site

I’m a big fan of Arqade, a sister site to Stack Overflow focused on video games. The community there is much more friendly and welcoming, and if you earn enough reputation at a site like that (only 200 points), you’ll automatically get 100 bonus points on every other Stack Exchange site!

Stack Overflow is a great resource to use, but it’s one that I keep at arm’s length. These days, I tend to ask more questions than I answer, and I often find answers to questions I have through other people’s postings. It’s easy to get swept up in the competitiveness of the site at the beginning, but if you avoid doing that, you’ll have a much more pleasant experience.

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Merchants Millpond State Park Photos

July 11, 2016

Earlier this year, my wife and I spent some time in north-eastern North Carolina on vacation. While there, we visited Merchants Millpond state park, which I would rank among the most scenic in the state. The day we visited happened to be the centennial celebration for the park, so the crowd was larger than usual. That said, we had a fantastic time. We rented a canoe and explored the pond, making this outing among my favorite state park visits to date. Here’s the accompanying photo album.

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

July 10, 2016

Last December, on a particularly warm day, my wife and I visited Cliffs of the Neuse state park. Located just south of Goldsboro, North Carolina, this park has some very interesting geography. High cliffs tower 90 feet over the Neuse river, in an otherwise flat area of the state. As usual, we took along our cameras, and this album is the result.

I’m backlogged on photos, so expect more in the coming days and weeks (I have 10 more albums to post!).