China building islands in the South China Sea

BBC News has a very interesting story about the ongoing territory disputes China and its neighbors are involved in. Rupert Wingfield-Hayes travels to the disputed area on a Filipino fishing boat to get some of the first photos and videos of China’s ambitious plans:

Other countries that claim large chunks of the South China Sea – Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia – all control real islands.

But China came very late to this party and missed out on all the good real estate. Beijing only took control of Johnson South Reef in 1988 after a bloody battle with Vietnam that left 70 Vietnamese sailors dead. Hanoi has never forgiven Beijing. Since then China has shied away from direct military confrontation.

But now Beijing has decided it is time to move, to assert its claim and to back it up by creating new facts on the ground – a string of island bases and an unsinkable aircraft carrier, right in the middle of the South China Sea.

Interestingly they also link to published designs from China State Shipbuilding Corporation which show a man-made island on the Philippine-claimed Mabini (Johnson South) Reef in the South China Sea. This is more than just a simple patch of land:

The Ninth Design and Research Institute of the state-owned contractor bared three-dimensional design plans for reclamation project on disputed waters showing an artificial island consisting of military airport, a long airstrip and a boat harbor for law enforcement.

About 30 hectares or 74 acres of the reef are proposed to be reclaimed, purportedly for the China People’s Liberation Army to strengthen its posture in the contested maritime area, claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

San Diego from a Cessna

I was lucky to join in on a quick flight over San Diego county. We flew west to the ocean, roughly following HW 8, then north along the coast to Carlsbad before heading east to Escondido and then south to return to the airport. There was a bit of haze over the ocean, but the weather was generally good while I was snapping some photos:

North Bluff Preserve

Leucadia

Carlsbad suburbs

Escondido from the air

Silverdome

The Lost Coast, Humboldt, California

Looking north along the Lost Coast

Hikers on the Loast Coast Trail

Sandy dunes

Anna walking through wildflowers

Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Giant redwood

We have driven through Northern California on road trips before, but have never made the trek to what is known as the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is a remote area of Northern California which has stayed very remote and undeveloped due to the considerable expense to bring infrastructure into the area as well as the low population (and depopulation during the 30’s, see wikipedia for more). We had the opportunity to spend a few days in the Petrolia area due to the invitation by a friend to stay at their familly cabin.

I can understand why there is a certain romance about the Lost Coast – it is gorgeous, and a glimpse into the past of what California was like many years ago. It attracts a certain type of person to live there year round, and is one of the few places in California where you will find a lot of road signs which have been used as target practice or the smell of skunky weed gardens wafting over high fences.

We hiked the beach route to the remote (and long since decommissioned) Punta Gorda Lighthouse. We had gorgeous weather and enjoyed some beautiful scenery on our hike, which was one of the more picturesque hikes I’ve ever done. A word of warning, however, the distance listed for the hike is deceiving. This is because a good portion of the hike takes place on sandy ground or dunes, which takes a significant amount of energy to walk on compared to a regular path. Rest assured, the effort is worth it.

Photos from The Lost Coast, Humboldt, California Gallery link
Photos from The Lost Coast, Humboldt, California Flickr link

Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon – South West Road Trip

We hadn’t planned the timing of our visit to Monument Valley, but it turned out to be a perfect day. As the sun went down the valley turned a gentle pink and the full moon rose between the two mittens. The moon rise perfectly matched the sunset colors and we were treated to one of the best evening views imaginable.

Long shadows on the mittens Monument Valley sunset and moon rise between the West and East mittens

We relaxed, watched the stars, and then got up early to watch the sunrise. The sunrise was beautiful as well, and cast a different light on everything. After a quick breakfast we ventured out with a Navajo guide around the valley floor. Along the way we heard stories about the different areas, heard our guide play the flute, and saw unique sights like the Eye of the Sun petroglyph wall. I was worried it would all be a bit clich├ęd given the number of visitors, but it was genuine and memorable.

Sunrise over Monument Valley Cowboy photo op and Monument Valley's Three Sisters Monument Valley arch - Ear of the Wind

After exploring the valley some more we headed back to Page, AZ and signed up for one of the Antelope Canyon tours. The canyon is one of the most famous examples of a slot canyon and has been photographed countless times. The canyon is on Navajo land and as such we had a Navajo guide for our tour. The tour started with a back breaking ride through a dry creek bed to reach the entrance of the canyon, thankfully only a 15 minute drive or so. We were lucky to be the only group at that time in the canyon (it can be packed full of photographers) and were able to take our time to explore the beautiful bends and shapes.

Looking up through Antelope Canyon Antelope Canyon Horseshoe Bend

After exploring Antelope Canyon, we visited Horseshoe Bend and continued our way home via Sedona, AZ. The full photo albums for Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon can be found here:

Photos of Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon – chrisnelson.ca
Photos of Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon – flickr.com

As part of our road trip around the southwest we visited Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.

Home Automation: Using powerful logic with the PLEG Plugin for MiOS with MiCasaVerde Vera

I’ve been using Vera and Z-wave for a number of years as my home automation solution. As I previously posted, Home Automation: Motion sensors and lights with VERA scenes (micasaverde z-wave), sometimes the Vera system requires some workarounds with smart switches or timers in order to accomplish logic tasks for scenes. This can get quickly convoluted when you have complex logic involved or multiple schedules.

For Vera you typically need to learn to write Lua code for more complex actions, however there is a plugin which makes it easy to do in a mostly point and click operation – Program Logic Event Generator (PLEG) from RTS Services. This plugin is free for use up to 30 days, and a full license is a very reasonable $5.50.

InstallApps

The first step is to install the PLEG plugin in your Vera system. In this case there are actually two plugins which need to be installed, the Program Logic Event Generator Plugin and the Program Logic Core Plugin. After installing the plugins, refresh your browser window. By default, PLEG will install a new device named “Program Logic Event Generator”. Edit that device to start using an instance of the plugin (multiple instances can be added for different tasks).

Program logic event generator

PLEG first allows users to set the Inputs for a system. The inputs could be a trigger, schedule, or some element of device properties (e.g. dimmer level). One of the powerful things about PLEG is that it lets you configure a window of time for a scheduled, start and stop values. This sounds simple, but this functionality is not easily available in the default Vera interface. In my example, I have two triggers, one is a schedule from 11 PM until 30 minutes before sunrise, and the other is a tripped motion sensor which has been armed. One thing to note about names – Logic used in the next step uses the names previously saved for triggers, schedules, or properties in free text (no point and click), so it helps to use descriptive names.

PLEG triggers

PLEG schedules

After inputs come Conditions. Conditions are the logic lines which need to be followed for a specific action. Each line must evaluate to true in order to fire the Condition Name (also the Action). In my example, the LightsOn action will trigger only if ArmedSensorTripped and From2300toDawn are both true. For LightsOff, the action will fire when 20 minutes has passed since the LightsOn condition was fired. My example only has two different states, but several can be used here.

PLEG conditions

After Conditions have been defined, Actions can be associated to each. The UI behavoir here takes a little getting used to – when the Edit button is selected for a Condition, the PLEG interface will go away, and will be replaced with a devices list. After selecting the device actions (in my case turning two lights on or off) select the FINISHED button at the top of the screen to go back to the plugin.

PLEG action

PLEG actions

Once finished with Actions the new plugin logic is ready to go, after saving the settings in Vera. My example is quite simple, but there are many other ways to make use of this powerful plugin. There are some good examples on the RTS page here: PLEG Usage and a message board here with some examples & troubleshooting posts: MiCasaVerde Program Logic Plugins.