Disneyland Pics

The main attraction in the LA area was, of course, Disneyland. We waiting to tell the kids about it until the night before we left on our trip so we wouldn’t have to hear about it for weeks. Katrina was real excited because some kids at school had told her about it. Aly was real excited because Katrina was.

It wasn’t until about a day before we left I remembered hearing horror stories about people waiting in line all day and only going on 3 rides and I started to panic. Did some quick research and found we were going during the busiest two week period of the year. I didn’t have time to really plan things out like I’ve heard you should, but I did download a few iPhone apps that were suppose to help.

The only tip I knew was to go left when you first enter the park and go clockwise to avoid the crowds, which makes a surprisingly big difference. We’ve been doing this everywhere for years. I guess people are genetically mispositioned to go right. Otherwise we had no plan other than being opportunist and going with whatever wasn’t busy at the time. It worked out well, we did pretty much everything in both parks and with one exception didn’t really have to wait long. I think if we had a plan we would have felt obligated to stick to it and wouldn’t have worked out as well. I’m sure it would have also sucked all the fun out of it.

We all had a really good time and the girls got to meet all their favorite characters. The weather was real nice too. Much better than Disney World I’m sure.

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Videos

Los Angeles Vacation Pics

We spent 3 1/2 days in the L.A. area, two of those at Disneyland and took a ton of pics so I’m going to separate out the Disneyland stuff in another post. We arrived in LA mid-afternoon on Saturday, checked into our hotel and headed down to the beach. I left the camera behind so it didn’t get stolen or sand in it, so no pics. It was mid 60’s outside and cloudy which made kind of cold to swim plus the waves were way to big for the girls so we didn’t do much besides wade out a few times and build sand castles. The girls were happy though.

That night we headed down to Santa Monica to check out the pier and 3rd street promenade. It was pretty and made for some good people watching. We didn’t stay out too late because we wanted to make it to Disney first thing in the morning.

On Monday we went to Hollywood. Ate lunch at a place called uWink where you order and pay on computer kiosks at the table rather than dealing with a waiter (totally my idea from 5 years ago, though I’m told Ma Bell’s was similar but with phones). It was fun and the food was quite good. We played trivia games with all the other people at the restaurant while we waited. Afterward we checked out the Kodak and Chinese theaters and the walk of fame then cheesed it up at the wax museum.

Next we went to the Griffith Observatory which took way longer than it should have to get to. TomTom insisted it was at the top of a nearby hilltop neighborhood. After driving around an extremely tight twisting road for 20 minutes we finally asked a guy walking his dog who pointed us the right way. He said we were the 3rd car to ask him on this walk. It was a nice view from up there, but unfortunately the observatory itself is closed on Mondays so we didn’t get to go in. We could barely make out the Hollywood sign from there through the smog. We headed over to the Universal Citywalk for dinner which was a great place to end the night.

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San Diego Vacation Pics

After Phoenix we headed to San Diego. There wasn’t much to see along the way other than the occasional dust tornado. We had to stop at two border patrol check points along the way even though we never crossed the border. I could have sworn the 4th amendment specifically prohibits the government from detaining me (even momentarily) or searching my vehicle without cause, but thankfully they seem to be using the honor system here. “Is everyone in the car a US citizen?” “Yeah..” “OK, carry on.”

We arrived around dinner time, and after scoring some free Sea World passes for the kids ($140 off) at McDonald’s we decided to go swimming, which turned out to be a bad idea considering it was 66° and the sun was setting.

The next day we went to Sea World which was AWESOME! The weather was perfect, the shows were great, the crowds weren’t too bad, they had souvenir cups that you could get $1 refills with all day and we had time to see everything. Definitely one of the better parts of the trip. The only down side is the spray on sunscreen we had didn’t work at all so we all got burned pretty bad. We bought some lotion the next day.

The last day in San Diego we went to the zoo which is overhyped IMO. It was big and they had panda bears, but otherwise just your average zoo but with more hills and five times the price. After the awesome shows the Albuquerque zoo put on we decided to check out the cat acrobats show here, which turned out to be two guys and two girls jumping on a trampoline in cat suites rather than tigers doing some tricks. It was quite disturbing. The rest of the shows were similar. At one point they took a wolf by me on a walk through the zoo. They yelled at me “Sir, we’re coming through with our Alaskan wolf.” to which I replied “Ok.. So should I take a picture with it or run for my life?”. Turns out they just wanted me to take a few steps out of the way.

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Phoenix Vacation Pics

It was 109° when we visited Phoenix and it felt like it, so don’t give me that dry heat nonsense. :-) We visited the science center and Chase Field while we were there which were across the street from each other downtown. We figured parking would be an issue as well as traffic after the game, so we parked near our hotel and road the commuter train in to town. Worked great for the trip in, but the ride back felt like a NYC subway at rush hour.

The science center itself was pretty neat, but there seemed to be one adult for every 6-10 kids and they tended to shove themselves in front of us at every exhibit which really sucked the fun out of it. The baseball game was great! I found a tip on foursquare that if you stand by the organ during the 7th inning stretch they’ll put you on the jumbotron. Sure enough it worked, Katrina and I made it on there, but unfortunately we didn’t get any pics of it.

Here are the pics and videos. Sorry about the blurry/shaky videos, I’m still getting the hang of using the zoom and focus rings at the same time while holding the camera steady.

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Albuquerque Vacation Pics

We had a great time on our trip.  We took nearly 2,000 pictures, so I figured I would do a couple of posts showing some of the highlights of each location rather than posting them all at once.

The first leg of our trip was Albuquerque, NM.  We only stayed one day there and visited the zoo, aquarium, botanical garden and Sandia Peak.  Dinner on top of the peak was the girls Father’s Day present to me. Here are the photos and videos from that day.  There are two pages of photos so click next. Double click the videos to watch full screen.

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A Zongker Year in Review

Well, 2009 was a busy one, for us, here! Lots of great things happened & although I tend to get a bit “long-winded” when I write, I thought I would attempt a post in a “photo-style-with-captions” way, so that it keeps things a little “shorter & sweeter”, this time around…

january-2009This photo was taken a year ago, today. Last January, we were still living in our 1-story, 3-bedroom home in south Broken Arrow, OK. A lot of our color scheme in our new home is the same (shades of gray), although the furniture in our living room is new. Alyssa was a little too young to stay up & ring in the New Year with us then, but Jeremy, Katrina & I played with the Bendaroos she got for Christmas last year, making a nice “mural” on the top of the Disney Princess tent the girls had also received as a Christmas gift, to pass the time before the ball drop on TV.

february-2009This was the only non-“house-related” photo I could find for the month of February. It shows how big Aly was getting — growing out of her crib. Jeremy turned the big “3-0″ & we also celebrated our 10th Valentine’s Day together — the anniversary of the date he proposed to me!

march-2009In March, Kat took after her Mom, in talents/hobbies by graduating from a 6-week course in clog-dancing. She, her Nana Annette & I still dance together, performing in shows in our locale. Pretty soon, she will be celebrating her 1-year anniversary of clogging!

april-2009April brought about 2 Birthdays, mine & Katrina’s. She had a TinkerBell-themed party to celebrate her 7th Birthday at our local Pump it Up inflatable playground & even Alyssa had a great time! A couple weeks prior to that, she had her first 2 baby teeth removed. Long story, but basically, they wouldn’t come out on their own & the adult ones were not coming in correctly, so we had to go through the oral surgeon route. She was a trooper, though & enjoyed a nice banana split breakfast & some great presents from the Tooth Fairy, after all was said & done.

may-2009In May, Aly got to experience a new first — getting her hair cut! She was surprisingly still & quiet & seemed to enjoy looking at herself in the mirror. This was her reaction to the whole thing! We were really proud of her. I think it helped that “Mommy” & “Big Sis” got theirs cut at the same time… ;)

june-2009June came & our new home was getting closer to completion by the week. This photo shows the paint color that Kat had picked out for all 3 upstairs bedrooms (our master is downstairs & matches the gray in the rest of the house). Needless to say, we were all getting excited… Katrina also went with her Nana & I that month to her very first clogging workshop in Grove, OK. The adults had even competed & won the gold in our division, for our categories! All of us had a great time!

july-2009The hot, Oklahoma summer was actually rather rainy this July. We went to watch the Tulsa fireworks display at the Arkansas river & it was cut short, we originally thought that was due to impending storms, but found out later, something had failed to go off, so they were unable to continue… No one was injured, just a fluke happenstance. In the middle of July, Kat & her Dad were able to pull her first baby tooth that came out on its own! This was a big deal, especially since those first 2 gave her so much trouble, she had to have them removed under anesthetic just a couple months before. Then, on July 30, Jeremy & I signed the closing documents & began moving in to our new home. It was raining cats & dogs that morning, when we picked up the U-Haul, to load it, but by the afternoon, once we got our keys, all was clear & sunny again, thankfully.

august-2009August meant a new school & a new grade for Katrina. She was more than excited, to say the least. We had found out that our new home was only 2 houses down from the bus stop! Our previous home was only 2 blocks away from her last school, so riding the bus was never an option. This made things so much cooler (not to mention, easier on Jeremy & I, transportation-wise). She continues to enjoy being a bus-rider & a big, 2nd grade student, with lots of new friends in her class & a great teacher this year!

september-2009In September, Jeremy & I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. While Grandma Linda watched the girls, he & I went on a long weekend vacation to Branson, MO. I had wanted to ride on the Branson Belle riverboat since I’d first seen it, as a kid, when I had a clogging competition in Branson. So, we got tickets & had a nice dinner & show cruise, as the sun set.

october-2009October brought about many of the “Fall Happenings” I mentioned in the previous post. This was the only picture I could find that was from a different event, not mentioned before — a trip to Woolaroc, a local museum & wildlife refuge, that we took the girls on, one weekend when the weather was cooperative. Gotta love a nice, sunny, dry, Oklahoma fall day! Just to recap, also during the month, Alyssa turned 3 & had a Curious George-themed Birthday party at our new house & the girls both dressed up as “candy corn witches”, when we went trick-or-treating with their cousins & other family members on Halloween. We took a trip to the pumpkin patch & Aly got to help create her first ever Jack-o-Lantern (see pics in previous post).

november-2009Our family Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by us this year, at our new home, as well. This was the first turkey I’d had the privilege of baking on my own & I have to admit, it was not bad, if I do say so, myself! ;) We enjoyed having the company of those who came & are grateful for all our relatives, even those who were away, and/or live in areas to far from here to be able to join us on such an occasion. We’ve had a lot of blessings to be thankful for this year, as you can see…

december-2009And, the month of December will not be forgotten, of course! So many things happened, it’s been the “icing on the cake”, so to speak! Each of the girls had a special performance; first, Kat got to play “Frosty the Snowman” in a clogging performance with her Nana & I, out at Woolaroc, the place I mentioned above. Then, Alyssa was in the Preschool Christmas musical, “Don’t Be Scared” at our church. Her little group (all the 2 & 3 year olds) sang about 5 songs, which she participated so well in! We took the girls to see Santa & this year was the first one that Aly didn’t get upset — she even asked him for a specific toy for Christmas! The girls & I made Christmas cookies — 10 plates worth — & shared with family, when we went to visit each side. We’re hoping to finish the last of them off sometime this evening, before the ball drops on TV. Christmas is a true time to remember our Saviour & be grateful for the many ways God has so graciously given to us, out of His abounding love. We pray that all of you had a wonderful Christmas & like us, are anticipating the New Year with peace, love & joy in your hearts!

Fall Happenings

Well, lots of things have been going on & keeping us busy in daily life, as they tend to do. I don’t want to write a novel, here, but just share some highlights of things that we’ve done in the past month or so. Below you’ll find pictures of these events. They are from Alyssa’s 3rd Birthday party, from our trip to the Pumpkin Patch, creating “Jack 2″, Aly’s first ever Jack-o-Lantern (Katrina’s first ever was named “Jack”, so hence this one’s namesake, for a little history, there) & from Halloween this year. We hope everyone is enjoying the cool, crispness of the season & staying warm & healthy, too! :)

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New Computer Time – Solving Hard Drive Problems

Jeanette’s computer is pretty old now and we decided in the summer we’d end up getting her a new one once Windows 7 came out.  About 3 weeks ago her hard drive died, but fortunately I was able to get it working again for now by turning it upside down and shaking it (this has actually fixed quite a few hard drives for me).   I don’t trust it to last much longer though so it’s time to get her a new machine.

There are two big problems that have plagued me with every computer I’ve had for the past 7 years or so.  One is that hard drives keep going out.   They never use to, but I’ve had probably 5 failures in the past 7 years.   It feels like overkill but I want a RAID setup this time to avoid that headache.    The other is there have been so many times that I’ve been waiting on the computer to do something, yet neither CPU, RAM or Disk Usage have been spiked so I never knew what it was I was waiting on.  I finally discovered a few weeks ago that it has been disk seeks all along and I was just missing it by looking at the read/writes.  I’ve never put much thought into hard drive speed before, but now want that bottleneck to go away.  So I’ve been looking into the best way to get better hard drive performance and have redundancy.  There are a lot of options now days, but I *think* I found a good solution.  Here’s what I looked at.

Flash Drives

Since seeks are my main problem the first thing I looked at was a solid state drive since those use flash memory and have virtually no access time at all.  They are quite pricey though and the one down side is they are slightly slower at reading large blocks of data and much slower writing.  They also wear out much quicker.   There are ways to get better performance out of traditional hard drives for a lot less money.

The second option I looked at was taking a normal USB flash drive and just storing the page file on it.  This is do-able, but the slowness of reading large chuncks outweighs the benefits of no seek time.

The third option is something new in Vista/Windows 7 called ReadyBoost.  It lets you use a flash drive just for page file operations it Windows determines it would be faster for.  Sounds ideal, but all the benchmarks I could find show it making no significant difference unless you’re critically low on ram.  For $10, I think I’ll do it anyways though.  The other benefit is it’ll use that space to cache program files, so the second time you open Firefox for example it’ll read from the flash drive and be much quicker.

Lowering Access Time

The next option is to buy a 15k rpm drive instead of the typical 7200 rpm.  There are 2 components that make up access time, the seek time which is how long it takes the needle to move towards in the inside or outside of the disk on average and there’s rotational latency which is how long on average it takes to spin the disk around to the data you need.  You add those two together to get the total access time.  All 7200 rpm drives have a latency of of 4.17 ms.  The seek time varies by drive, but the ones I’m looking at have a 4.33 ms seek time for a total of 8.5ms access time.  By going with a 15k rpm drive you can cut the latency down to 2 ms, which would lower the total access time to 6.33 ms (25% faster).

These drives are pricey in the larger sizes though.  It turns out there’s an option call “Short Stroking” (yes, that really is the name, here is an explanation) that will let you get better performance from the much cheaper 7200 rpm drive.  The way it works is by reducing the seek time instead of the latency.  Instead of buying a 250GB drive at 15k rpm, you buy a 1TB drive at 7200rm instead (which is cheaper).  You then create a partition using only 1/4th the drive leaving you with the same 250GB.  Since you’re only using 1/4th of the drive for the partition, the needle only ever has to travel 1/4th the distance and average seek times drop to 1/4th of what they use to be.  This leaves you with the 4.17ms latency + 1.08 ms seek time for 5.25 ms total access time.  Better than the 15k rpm drive and cheaper PLUS you can still use the extra 750gb on another partition where you’re not as concerned about performance.

The downside is when it comes to reading large chunks, the 7200rpm drive is spinning slower than the 15k rpm so it would be slower.  But wait..  The whole disk spins at the same 7200 RPM, but the outer rings of the disk contain much more data than the inner rings, so in a single rotation the drive can read much faster on the outer edges.  For example 1/2″ from the center of the disk one rotation covers 1.57″ of surface space, but 3.5″ from the center, it covers 11″ of surface.  So reading on the outer edges is 7x faster than the inner edges.  We’re only using the outer 1/4″ of the disk which significantly increases the AVERAGE read/write speed.  I couldn’t find the exact numbers online, but I believe it’s 1.875x faster than using the whole disk which would be 90% of the the average read time of using an entire 15k rpm disk.  Still an overall gain I think.

RAID

The final factor was setting up the RAID to have redundancy.  I was planning on just doing a mirrored drive at first, but remembered that a RAID 5 setup (3 drives, using 1/3 the storage for parity bits) lets you cut the load to each drive in half, allowing you to essentially double the hard drive performance.  I saw something new of RAID 10 or 1+0 when looking into this again though.  It’s basically using 4 drives to create 2 mirrors and then striping across them.  It essentially has the same performance as RAID 5, but a little more redundancy.  You have to buy an extra hard drive, but sadly that’s cheaper than getting a controller that can handle RAID 5, so that’s the route I’m going with.

Conclusion

In the end I’m going with 4, 500GB drives at $59 each for a total of $240 to get 1TB of usable HD space that’s mirrored.   There is a way to squeeze a little more performance out of it though. For the page file and other temp data, there’s no reason to mirror it, it can be stripped across all 4 drives instead so the partitions I plan to set up are:

E: Temp drive, 32GB – This will be on the outer most edge for best performance.  Since it’s not mirrored it’ll only take up 16GB of the usable space and performance will be twice as fast as the other drives since it can spread the load across all 4.

C: System Drive, 250GB – This will be the next outer most section, but mirrored.

D: Data Drive, 734GB – This will be the inner most section and have the poorest performance.

Here’s where I think the numbers should end up vs buying a single 1TB 7200 RPM drive.

Drive Access Time (% Improved) Read Rate (% Improved)
C: 2.63ms (223%) 324MBps (224%)
D: 3.71ms (129%) 173MBps (100%)
E: 1.31ms (548%) 648MBps (548%)

The numbers seem too good to be true, but I’ve checked several times and they seem to be right.  Plus you have to consider there are 4 drives doing the work now.  Let me know if I messed up somewhere, otherwise I guess we’ll see.

Katrina Lost a Tooth at School

Katrina came home yesterday and told us she had really exciting news.  Her bottom tooth came out at lunch in a piece of bread she was eating.  We didn’t even know that one was loose, but sure enough it was out.  Apparently she was unable to find it so she wrote this note for the tooth fairy.toothfairy

A Day in the Woods

I decided a few weeks ago that once we got a nice day I wanted to go on a hike and take some pictures so that’s what I did today. I got up a seven this morning and was able to watch the sunrise from our backyard and then headed out to Sequoyah State Park for a couple of hours first. I saw quite a few deer out there, but unfortunately they saw me too and wasn’t quick enough to get any pics.

Next I drove to the J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve which is just off the Illinois River by Tahlequah (right by all the float trip places). It was my first time out there and it’s basically just 26 square miles of land that has never been developed apart from a road through it and some hiking trails. It’s partially hills, partially plains with a few springs and streams. I spent most of the day out there. Below are some pics.

Unfortunately on the way home I had a tire blow out on the highway. It pretty much shredded it before I could come to a stop and I think it may have bent them rim. Other than that it was a great day out though.

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