The Need For Good Data Is All Around Us

 Hi.  I’m Tim.  We may have met here before but it’s been a while.  Sorry about that.

I needed a life.  For a day. 

You see, I’m finally in the last stages of writing my first and only book.  I toss in my sleep with Dynamic Management View-based queries in my head.  I hear the voice of my editor pop into my left ear every so often.  I can’t get away from it.  Couple that with preparing for and producing SQL Cruise and it compounds matters.  Oh, and all that takes place in my free time – I still have a day job that gets another 50 hours a week. 

So, some things have to suffer – this blog has been one of them.  My apologies. 

Now you understand why I needed to escape from the blank, all-seeing gaze of my laptop for at least one day this week.  In the States we call that Independence day.  I may not be a whiz in history, but Americans this day to commemerate the day in 1976 when George Jefferson (or was it George Washington Carver?) told Larry King we were going to secede from the union.  We then fought the Battle of Gettysburg (though we called it the Battle of the Bulge because at the end of the battle they ate a lot of hot dogs at some place called Nathan’s.)  We celebrate this glorious day by drinking great quanities of cheap nasty beer, cooking ourselves on beaches across our glorious country, and blowing shit up.  Pretty ballsy for a country without universal healthcare, I know.  What is it with people getting drunk and blowing things up?  We made up a holiday just for that purpose!  They didn’t do that at Woodstock – they all just sat around getting high and macraméd bongs out of hippie hair.  But I digress as usual. 

So, I took the day off to head to Lake Michigan with my family.  I grabbed my Droid phone, a paperback book and a towel and off we went to Warren Dunes.  An hour drive and we were in line to get in with what appeared to be the entire city of Chicago.  Not being one for queueing, I turned us around and remembered we passed by Grand Mere State Park only a few miles back up the expressway.  I pulled up directions on my phone (who I lovingly refer to as R2FU) and headed back up I-94 to the exit for the park.  R2FU gave me directions to the town of Stevensville though and failed to give me directions to the state park so I had to pull over to the shoulder of the road (texing was illegal in the state of Michigan for 3 days by this time) and did another search and another and another.  Data failure temporarily due to lack of 3G coverage.  At that point I took the old fashioned 1990’s approach to finding something while travelling:  I pounded on the steering wheel and drove until I found the sign for the park, which was only 1/10 of a mile behind where we had pulled-off.  I had by then pulled up information on the park from the Internet via R2FU.  Two positive reviews stated that it was an undeveloped park with a 1 mile stretch of sandy beach among other things.  Perfect. 

We paid our $6 admission for a day pass to Michigan State Parks and pulled into the lot, unloaded our umbrellas, chairs, cooler bag, sand toys, etc. and set off down the only path from the lot to the beach.  The path was beautiful and just as the reviews said – undeveloped.  About 3/4 of a mile into the hike (yes, you read that right) the paved path through the trees hit dunes.  We were getting close.  I figured that I’d take off my shoes and run up to the top of the dunes to see how much further we had.  I made it up halfway to the top of the dune where I soon realize that the sand was burning my feet.  Even digging into the sand was not helping things.  I turned around and ran back down; doing what any self-resepecting father would do.  Sent my youngest son up with his shoes on to scout things out.  

The map was not this good.

While Trevor was doing that I pulled up the park website on my phone and downloaded a park map, the relevant areas, minus my notations is shown to the right:  

The map, as rendered on my phone showed no text.  I had understanding of what the various trails meant or even if they were trails.  I only could discern the parking lot and the lakes.  I also didn’t know that we would be hiking around a swamp wetlands area.  Oh, and it was 94° out.  And it’s Michigan – in July.  We did accomplish one thing by the time we hit our limit eventually and turned around – we fed the wildlife, namely the state bird of Michigan: the mosquito.  Trevor reported back with slightly better data:  he could see water but not the beach.  Mind you Lake Michigan is 22,000+ square miles in surface area.  He was bound to see it.  However the data was unreliable.  Being stallworth and hardy folk we decided to set off though and keep following the trail.  It had to lead to Lake Michigan soon and my feet hurt more when I put my flip flops on and tried to walk through the sand so over the dune was not an option.  As it was I walked barefoot through the remainder of the hike.  By now the beach chair on my back had done a good job of pasting it, and the shirt between it and I to my skin.  My feet were screaming at me, and I could feel the daggers shooting at the back of my head from my oldest son who didn’t want to leave the house to begin with.  I’d not eaten anything other than a bite of my wife’s Subway sandwich in the last 24 hours and only had 1 cup of coffee.  So far I was not seeing the relaxation I was expecting.  However, we were having a family adventure!  

You know what is not encouraging?  Heading down a path to a beach and never encountering anyone that actually made it to the beach.  We saw quite a few families that appeared to come from that direction; wet and carrying all types of beach gear.  However it was only perspiration that soaked them to the skin.  We continued to trudge on down this poor execution plan even though we heard phrases like “good luck”, “we never made it to the beach”, “we gave up”.  Still we continued on around a bend and after finally swatting what appeared to be a mating set of mosquitos from my nose I called it.  We were done.  Timeout. 

We turned around and became one of those “lazy people we chastized in our heads earlier for giving up and turning around.  Assuredly these were people who never got any exercise and only saw the outdoors one day a year except for when they were going out to the car they parked on cinder blocks in front of their trailer home they used as a storage shed in order to get more corn for their pet pot-bellied pig.  Nope.  They just lacked the same amount of data we did to get from point A to point 2.  The funny thing is that on the way back we passed other individuals and families that were obviously refugees from the same line we were in earlier.  We were, I admit, better prepared for a hike than they were.  These people with their Chicago Cubs charcoal travel grills and wheeled coolers as well as (yes) a Saint Bernard lashed down with beach mats. Were in for a journey with their 8 (not kidding) kids.  They did not take our query hint to turn back either.  Probably they figured we were just a foursome of lazy gringos who are used to sitting around playing XBox and drinking Red Bull and watching Wayne Brady like every other caucasian in America.  It was as though we were doing some strange recursive relationship our whole way back to the parking lot – joining back to an earlier version of ourselves who were shaking their heads at the future versions of themselves (only they had yet to figure it out.) 

The story ends well though.  We made our way back to the car and headed to more-familiar beaches in St. Joseph, MI.  We were able to swim, surf, make sand castles and see a car ignite a grass fire.  All those summer activities I remember as a child growing up in West Michigan.  Of course my oldest sat under an umbrella and listened to a book from his iPod the entire time, but at least I could see him so that qualifies as family time right?  Now, if you’d excuse me I see some things that need to be updated out on the Wiki for the Fourth of July.  They mention something about 1776, Britain, and George Bush Washington.  I need to fix those inconsistencies.  British colonies?  Really?  I don’t think so – their data can’t be right!