Saturday, April 22, 2006

Sea World

Sea World is currently running a great deal: the Fun Pass (good for admission for the rest of the year with no blackout dates) costs the same as daily admission. I decided to take advantage of this deal. Even better, my friend Sarah (from the running group) works at Sea World as an animal trainer and offered to give any of us a backstage tour.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
This is how you can tell you are in Florida.

I arrived at the park and bought my Fun Pass, and then made my way to the Sea Lion and Otter stadium, and caught the last half of a show. After wandering around a bit, Sarah got in touch just as another show started and said she'd meet me after the show and bring me back. So I watched another one. The plot involves a shipwreck on an island, a stolen treasure map, and eventual rescue, but it really is all about watching sea lions, sea otters, and walruses do tricks. :)

Sea Lion and Otter Show
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Sir Winston found the treasure!

Once backstage, Sarah showed me the refrigerated fish room, where all the meals are prepared. It looks like a normal industrial kitchen, except instead of plates there are metal cans with colored rings, which are packed with ice and fish for the animal performers. Every morning the trainers prepare all the food needed for the day's shows and put them on trays and carts for ready access.

Sea Otter Home
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Luxury accomodations for the otters.

The animal section is divided into three areas: sea otters, sea lions, and walruses. Each area has a swinging gate so it can be partitioned off from the other areas, allowing the trainers to bring out the animals individually if needed. Apparently some don't play well with the others. I can see this, the poor sea otters are tiny compared to the walruses!

Sea World currently has 9 sea otters, but two are "retired" from performing. They each have a roommate, and have a swimming area, ramp, and various toys to play with. There is a misting system for keeping them cool in the summer too.

Rudy the Sea Otter
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Resting up between shows.

Sarah then brought me over to the walrus area, where Slowpoke and Bruiser share a much larger space. They are 3000 pound animals so they need the larger room. Slowpoke understands the word "kiss" and makes a very realistic smooching sound when she hears that. So I held out my hand and Slowpoke kissed me twice. :) When Sarah said "water" she turned around and waddled back to the pool.

Walrus Closeup
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Do you want a kiss?

Finally Sarah repartitioned the area and brought out Jay, a Sea Lion who behaves well around strangers. Jay let me pet him behind the head, and shake his hand (flipper), and was extra excited when I threw him a few fish to eat.

Jay the Sea Lion
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Jay says he is smarter and better looking than the otters and walruses.

I also saw Squeak, a very active one year old Sea Lion. He likes to jump in and out of the pool and slide up to the door to stare at you for a few seconds before doing it again. I'll upload the movie and link to it - it is quite funny.

I found out a few things about the show that were interesting. First, all the performers are actually animal trainers - there is not a separate crew of entertainers. Sarah recently switched to Sea Lions/Otters from Dolphins so she is also learning the lines to play the Pirate. Second, and this seems obvious in retrospect, they switch off animals constantly backstage - the sea lion that greets the crowd, the one that dives off the ship, the one that slides down the ramp, are probably all different ones. All the animals have their own names, but in the show they use stage names and the trainers can switch off their mic if they need to call the animal by the name the animal recognizes more.

This was a really cool glimpse at the work behind a show! Sarah had to get back to work since there was one more early evening show, so I wandered off to ride the Kraken, Sea World's roller coaster. This was a fantastic coaster - loops, horizontal rolls, below-ground dips including a dark area, plus no floor in the car so you can look down to the ground. Oh yeah!! I'll make use of my Fun Pass this year.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Corporate Challenge 5K

Orlando has a Corporate Challenge 5K where hundreds of companies form teams and compete. I ran, but not on behalf of my company... that's because I only found out today at 12:45 pm that we had a team! My company registered late and wasn't listed as a corporate participant on the official website. There was an email thread going around, but since I didn't do it last year, I wasn't on that list. And due to a policy of not mass-emailing non-related requests around, I just flat out didn't hear about our team until I happened to talk to a running worker who asked what time I was leaving for the event. Oops!

I wound up running as a guest of Amy's employer, but since I am not a full-time employee there, my time couldn't be counted towards their team standings.

Anyway, my employer Symantec did pretty well in the Communications/Electronics/Computers division. The standings show the women's team finished 1st place in division, and the men's team placed 7th. Nice job ladies! I am so bummed because I ran a 22:14, so my time could have replaced the 38:26 on the men's team, which would have dropped our cumulative 2:23:01 down 16:12 to a 2:06:49 where we would have finished in 2nd place in division! Oh well.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Airboat Ride

My favorite "Florida" thing to do with visitors is an air boat ride. It's fun, low hassle, and on a warm day you can easily spot plenty of alligators. Krisanne and I drove out to Lake Harney, where we took a 30 minute airboat ride.

One location had half a dozen or more up on the bank, eyeing us.


I tried to get a pic of a flock of birds flying in front of the airboat, but I wasn't fast enough. Instead there is this small sandy area where a few birds are standing.

Sandy Spot

Airport Codes

Krisanne told me of a fun website (World Airport Codes) where you can look to see if your initials are assigned to an airport. As it turns out, KLB is the airport in Kalabo, Zambia, near the border with Angola. I'm not sure if I'll ever make it to visit "my" airport. ;)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Busy Week at Work

It has been crunch time at work, where we are trying to hit some dates for the beta of our next project. In software this is usually scheduled by bug counts: by a certain date, the team should have less than X "major" bugs. So management has ordered lunch in for us all week long, and we've been busier than average.

Crunch time is a familiar concept to nearly any software company. Mine is pretty good about realistic scheduling, because this is only the 2nd or 3rd time in the four years I've worked here where we've had a crunch week. Contrast to my previous employer which was in crunch mode for... years. Yes that is correct, years. Week after week and let me tell you, that really grinds you down when it goes that long.

Normally I try to get away to swim once or twice a week, during lunch. But it wasn't possible this week. However, today things wound down a little early - it helped that many people took today off since this weekend is Easter - so I left a little early to get a late afternoon swim in. Which felt great even though it was only 1000 yards.

I was back in time to welcome Krisanne, visiting this weekend and finishing up her skydiving class at Skydive Deland. Last time she visited I went on a tandem jump. I decided to pass on that this time around. ;) We had a very filling meal at Uno's Pizza, and then called it an early night: I wanted to get up early to ride my bike, and she had to get up early to make her class.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Mission: Space Woes

I read in today's paper that another person died after riding Mission: Space at Epcot. That is so sad...

I rode it with Francesca and Joe in January, and wrote that it made me pretty queasy. The ride simulates a launch from earth, ride through space, and landing on Mars. Four people ride together as a group, and I think six or maybe four groups go at once. Each group of four specializes in one area during the ride: pilot, navigator, engineer, and something else I forget. What that comes down to is each person gets to push a button at some point during the ride.

The effect is created through spinning, and it is powerful and realistic. Each person watches a TV screen right in front of them which shows a first person perspective view of a launch, flying through space, and of a rough landing on Mars. I was OK through the launch, but the lurching around in space (dodging meteorites as I recall) started to affect me... by the time we were flying through the Martian atmosphere trying to land, I was fully concentrating on holding nausea at bay. After our crash landing I was pretty woozy and it took a while before I felt better. Francesca and Joe handled it a lot better!

During lunch I was joking that the control room for the ride probably had a dial setting that went from "wimpy" to "barf-o-matic", allowing the operators to crank up the spinning effect. I like roller coasters and can usually handle motion in the direction I'm looking, but any side-to-side motion really hits me hard. This ride was my threshhold of tolerance for that. I'm not sure I'd go on it again!

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I thought I did so well preparing my tax return early this year. I calculated a refund of $532, so I was kicking myself for not doing it earlier. I already electronically filed and was eagerly awaiting my refund.

But sometimes procrastination pays off. I received an ominous envelope from my company that said "important year end tax information" on the outside. I opened it up and found the important information was an amended W-2 form. Yes, my company miscalculated my income.

How did this happen? The error was in the sale of ESPP (employee stock purchase plan) shares. My company lets employees buy a quota of stock at a 15% discount - a common benefit. However, my new employer bought my previous employer last year, and the merger completed after two ESPP sales from the previous company. Thus I think the new stock people simply overlooked us.

Argh. So for the first time I have to file a 1040X. I filled out the form and this time I owe $458. Not too bad - clearly not as good as receiving $532 but at least the amount involved isn't too large.

So I'll send this off soon, and hope my previous refund doesn't hit before I file my paperwork. Because then I'll wind up owing that refund as well, which is more hassle than I want to deal with.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

La Nouba and Jiko

Today was a busy one! In the morning I met Amy and her coworker Karen for the Orlando AIDS walk around Lake Eola. I wasn't able to park very close and I just made it to the event as it started. I met Amy and Karen as they were walking and we continued on for 3 laps. It isn't far, Lake Eola is less than a mile around.

Later that evening I took Amy to Cirque du Soliel's show at Downtown Disney: La Nouba. She said she'd been interested in seeing this show for a long time and was excited when I said it would be my birthday present to her. :) We had really good seats and had a great time. My favorite acts were the Chinese girls who did a routine with ropes and tops, and the trampoline group. Actually they had two guys doing bike tricks that were also great.

Afterwards my plan was to eat at the Animal Kingdom lodge at Boma, an African-themed cafe. However the wait was enormous - more than one hour - so we went to an adjacent restaurant also in the lodge, Jiko. We were able to grab seats at the bar and have a great meal in less time than it would have taken to be a table at Boma.

If we go back I'll remember to make a reservation, since there is the large mostly captive audience of guests at the lodge that wind up eating on the premises.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

TriAmerica Clermont Oly

This morning was the TriAmerica Clermont International Distance race - the kick-off of the tri season for me. I was a little tired from helping move and the one hour shift because of daylight savings time, but I was still excited standing on the beach awaiting my wave start. It felt odd racing so early in the year, because the season in Seattle starts in early June with Blue Lake.

This race was JAMMED with college teams. Of course Florida and Miama showed up with teams of at least 25 students each, but also very well represented were Penn State, Virginia Tech, and the Naval Academy. I thought about this on the bike ride and decided that maybe it was spring break for these schools, and they were kicking off their vacation with a season opening tri before moving on to the traditional Florida spring break locales.

Unfortunately, my times don't appear in the results. This also happened at the Florida Challenge, but I hung around and talked to the race director who was happy to sift through the results to locate me. The problem back then, which is likely the issue now, was that I have my own Champion Chip. For whatever reason, I wasn't scored along with others, although my times were recorded. I think that happened here as well so I filled out a support request and I'm sure my times will be recovered. I supplied my chip serial number when I registered for the series, so I think somewhere along they way somebody forgot to enter that into their event database.

In the meantime, there is my memory of my times. I finished around 3:03, which is OK considering I've been slacking on the swim and bike. My swim was about 0:35, what I was expecting, and I'm sure T1 was about 4 minutes because we had to run a long way and enter the far end of the transition zone. The bike course was rolling hills and uneventful except for a brief moment I thought I was going to collide with three other athletes. The sprint course had a turnaround at one spot just on the other side of the crest of a hill. Three people that missed their turnaround decided to do a U-turn from the right of the lane, right when I was picking up speed on the descent. I yelled out and swerved through them all... but it was a scary experience. Bike time was around 1:30. T2 was probably around 4 minutes as well, what can I say, I just move methodically through so I don't forget something. My run should be around 0:50, which is good for me at a 10K in a tri. I felt strong and passed a ton of people on the course. I didn't push to the edge because I just wanted to finish feeling good.

I saw several race photographers out there so I'll buy any shots that turned out well. ;)