Tuesday, December 8, 2015

To The Moon - Game Review - Humble Indie Bundle X

I picked up Humble Indie Bundle X last week.  After installing the games, I didn't know where to start.  I looked over the titles and their screenshots.  One in particular caught my eye.  The title was To The Moon.  I was intrigued by it's 90's sprite-ish overhead Japanease art style.  I like this style as it reminds me of many great games I have played like ChronoTrigger, Zelda, and Pokemon.  I also wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, and the concept of going back in your memory to live another life was very interesting.   I decided to give the game a try, and I was not disappointed.  While there are some game-play flaws, I think the story, theme, and heart put into the game by the developers trumps the downfalls enough to say this was a great play-though.

Visual Style

The visuals in the game are amazing.  The colors used blend well together.  I always enjoy games that have such great styling versus games that go for absolute realism.  I think the artists and director captured the settings they wanted perfectly.  The settings were nicely detailed.  Outdoors, there were flowers, animals, and beautiful scenery.  Indoors, the decor was excellently styled, and no detail was left out.  They were vibrant when they needed to be, and dark and mysterious when the situation was tense.   


The score of the game is simple, but catchy and enchanting. There are a few musical themes that run through the game that ties the Acts together nicely.  The audio is perfectly matched in all situations, and It never really had any noticeable flaws.  I also like how the developer chose to use high quality audio, and not 8 bit audio like a lot of games of this visual style tend to use.  This decision adds much more heart and feeling to the game, and you didn't feel like there was a barrier between yourself and the game world.


While the game as a whole works, the biggest part that didn't work for me was the actual game play.  The point-click navigation is kind of annoying, and I didn't realize until the last 10 minutes of the game that I could use the arrow keys to move.  The characters move a little to slow for my taste as well.  I really just wanted to move through the story, and the game play actually seemed to be slowing my progress down.  The biggest annoyance for me were the visual "flip the tile" puzzles.  These were really pointless,  they really had no explanation for why they existed.  Luckily the puzzles were very easy and took 30 seconds max to complete.  Secondly, finding the mementos became a pain by the end of the game.  There were a few times that finding the last memento was quite a pain.  On the other hand, I enjoyed when the doctors had to "squeeze" mementos out of Johnny to proceed.  My biggest gripe, and nearly game breaking bug, is the horse riding level.  This was a painful, painful, level to play through.  The level is way too big, and it is very unclear what you must do. Once you do complete what you are intended to do, you can't dismount the horse.  Only after 5 or so minutes of frustration, did I check Google.  Luckily many others had the same issue I had, and explained how to proceed.   


The story told in the game is very touching. I find myself liking these types of games lately.  I like being able to play a short 2-4 hour game, and be able to get a narrative out of it as well.  Some other examples of games I've liked along these lines are Braid, Dear Ester. and Limbo.  To The Moon is definitely science fiction, but the themes they touch on are very human.  The story is very intriguing, and mysterious.  It really did keep me guessing until the end.  The denouement gets a little boring, but it does nicely tie up the story.  


To The Moon is a beautifully crafted game experience.  A polished art style and excellently produced soundtrack hide some minor gameplay flaws.  These well done parts also make the not-so-fast paced gameplay a minor hindrance.  Overall I'd give this game a 8.5/10

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Extremely Fake Cheapskates! Season One Recap

If you've been browsing Netflix lately, you may have noticed a recent influx of trashy reality TV shows.  While I normally avoid these like the plague, there was one that recently piqued my interest.  I've been reading the Mr. Money Mustache blog lately so I just HAD to watch Extreme Cheapskates.   Have these extremists used any of MMM's penny pinching tactics? Maybe there would be some useful tricks I could impress my wife with! I was not disappointed.  This show was a gold mine of hilarity, but it was rather inconsistent.  On one hand there are characters such as Jeff, a man who may out stash Mr. Mustache himself.  On the other, we have people like Vickie, John, and Abdul, who's money saving methods seemed about as real as an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Lets meet the cast of characters that Extreme Cheapskates has lined up and see if we can filter out the real eagle squeezers.  I'll rate each one on a scale of 1 (Gucci hidden under the bed) to 10 (Ghandi would be proud).

To start off the season we meet Kate, a sad and lonely lady who lives in what appears to be Manhattan.  I honestly felt bad for her, and I think she may have some mild Asbergers and Anxiety issues.  She lives like a depression era begger, going so far to eat and serve to her 'friends' expired food from garbage cans.  I don't think she has spent a cent of money on anything besides her electric bill and rent.  Her "favorite t-shirt" is tattered, disgustingly yellow, and full of holes.  Her prized possession seems to be a pair of athletic shorts she's owned for 13 years.  These are now proudly held on by a binder clip that she probably took from work.

Kate picking out some appetizers for her dinner party.

Cheap O Meter: 10 - Sad and lonely, but cheap as hell.

Terence is a school teacher with some fat bank accounts.  You wouldn't guess it from outward appearances though.  His Cinder block home is furnished with sparse folding chairs, and card tables.  He's proud of his half functional desk in his office. Sorry, allow me to clarify.  It's not 'half functional', it's literally half of a desk. Terrence splurged on what appears to be about a 30'' flat panel TV.  The TV sits lonely on the floor in the corner of the living room. Once a year Terrence treats his family to a nice meal out.  I'm skeptical of how the events at this dinner unfold.  Terrence's wife just happens to invite his Aunt and Uncle along for the dinner, un-announced.  Terrence rebuttals by treating the family to a fine dining experience at a Chinese buffet.  He tries to save some coin by attempting to only buy 3 plates for 7 or so people.  He is then brash enough to pay for the entire meal in small change!   While Terrence's home has all the signs of a cheapskate the family's reaction to his shenanigans tell the true story, this one reeks of reality TV script writing.

Terrence gleefully presenting his family with three plates of Chinese food. They are less than impressed. 

Cheap O Meter: 6 - Started out strong, but this stinks of reality TV scripting.

Greg is a young guy who knows the value of a dollar... Or maybe not... I'm not sure Greg has ever had to spend a dollar of his own his entire life!  Greg lives for free in his Grandma's house, yet has two roommates who he charges rent.  Greg saves money on laundry by showering with his clothes on.  Greg grabs condiments from every restaurant he enters.  Greg drinks water out of old yogurt cups for no apparent reason.  I guess grandma took all her cups with her to Florida.  Greg flushes the toilet once a week.  Greg is the kind of guy who waits for you to order first at a restaurant, then will just eat half your shit.  Bottom line, Greg is not a cheapskate, he's just a freeloading asshole!

Greg, multitasking.

Cheap O Meter: 3 - Cheap is too kind of a label for Greg. Greg is just a freeloading asshole!

Victoria is the Queen of Cheap. If you're in her kingdom, you best be pinching pennies as well.  You better know exactly how much electricity it takes to heat up that dinner in the microwave, or you'll have hell to pay.  Victoria and Kate must have gone to culinary school together, because they both know where to find the finest ingredients, the dumpster!   Victoria's dirtiest cheapskate secret is her water saving tactics.  Why waste water like Greg and flush once a week when you can flush NEVER!  Yes folks, that ain't jars of lemonade next to the toilet.  Now that Victoria's boyfriend has moved in, she's upgraded to a his and hers jar set!

Victoria, probably pouring jars of pee onto her compost pile.

Cheap O Meter: 8 - Victoria's a seasoned cheapskate for sure, but there's always room for improvement.

Abdul - (Hot Dog guy)
Abdul is a Hot Dog Vendor.  The ladies love his wieners!  Abdul puts his cheapness to the test by throwing his wife an anniversary party... for $25 dollars.  While his haggling skills are to be admired, his wife's reaction leads me to believe that most of this cheapness was put on for show.

Cheap O Meter: 6  -  Hire this guy to throw you a party on your dime, literally, just a dime.

Jeff (The real deal!)
Jeff.  Oh Jeff, where do I start with this guy.  If you read Mr. Money Mustache's blog, then you will admire Jeff despite his quirks.  This guy is the definition of cheap.  He enjoys cushion diving: the act of entering a local restaurant and non-nonchalantly sitting in every booth to search for dropped change.  Whilst making the rounds, he shoves his hands into every booth crevasse, violating any dignity the seat cushion may have had.  Jeff could be the third member of The Sticky Bandits (Jeff does bear a striking resemblance to Marv).   On top of that ridiculousness, you won't believe what he did with the $7 he found.   Jeff was able to haggle down the butcher into selling him two lamb skulls for only $7, what a deal!  Boil these bad boys up, and baby, you got yourself a stew!

Jeff searching for change by an air pump.
Jeff preparing some lamb heads. Yummy!

Cheap O Meter: 10 -  This guy is the real deal, just don't attend any of his dinner parties.

Wow, who would have thought that personal finance could be so entertaining?  Watch the first season of Extreme Cheapskates, and let me know if I'm accurate in my ratings.   Until season 2, stay cheap my friends.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Java 8 - Using Parallel Streams

Java 8 is not slated to come out until Spring 2014, but the features are so enticing that I just had to download the snapshot, and give it a test run. After messing with python the past few weeks the Java 8 feature that I am most looking forward to is lambda support. The second feature I'm digging is the new Stream API.

Now these are both very useful APIs on their own, but I really like how Python uses them with the functions filter, map, and reduce. You can read about that here if you'd like. Java 8 provides the same functionality, but it is a bit more verbose. On the plus side, it gives you a few extra useful features that Python does not. (At least that I know of, I'm a Python n00b.)

Note: All example code can be found here.

My first test was just a few simple filters, and maps.

public void test1()
    List strings = Arrays.asList(
    List longerThanThree = strings
        .filter(s -> s.length() > 3)

    List uppers = strings
        .map(s -> s.toUpperCase())
    List beginsWithTBothCase = strings
        .filter(s -> s.startsWith("T"))
        .map(s -> s.toLowerCase() + s.toUpperCase())


The output:

[One, Two, Three, Four, Five]
[Three, Four, Five]
[twoTWO, threeTHREE]

The previous example is pretty basic. One of the more advanced features that Java has built into the new Stream API is the ability to easily split up streams and process their contents in parallel. This turns out to be incredibly easy to utilize, and the following example outlines a trivial program that processes a large list of String objects.

To get a large data file, I grabbed the file /usr/share/dict/linux.words file, which has about 500k unique words in it. The following method will return this as a list.

public static List getLinuxWords() throws Exception
    BufferedReader br = new BufferedReader(
        new FileReader(
            new File("linux.words")));
    List linuxWords = new ArrayList();
    String line = br.readLine();
    while(line != null)
        line = br.readLine();
    return linuxWords;

Next, I wrote a stream processing method. The map lambda doesn't do anything important, it just adds some work to keep the CPU busy.
public void processStream(Stream wordStream)
    throws Exception
    Long start = System.currentTimeMillis();

    List beginsWithTBothCase = wordStream
        .map(s -> {
            for(int i = 0; i < 100; i++)
                s = s.toLowerCase().toUpperCase();
            return s;

    long totalTime = System.currentTimeMillis() - start;
            "Task took %.3f seconds to execute.",

Now, I test the method. Twice with a normal stream, and twice with a parallel stream. One thing to note is that a Stream is like an Iterable object. It can only be traversed once. It is also not a normal List or Array, which is why it must be collected.

public static void main(String[] args) throws Exception
    System.out.println("Welcome to Java 8");
    JavaEightTests jet = new JavaEightTests();
    List words = JavaEightTests.getLinuxWords();
Task took 10.876 seconds to execute.
Task took 10.682 seconds to execute.
Task took 3.054 seconds to execute.
Task took 3.142 seconds to execute.

It is easy to see that the Stream API was able to split the stream up and process it in parallel resulting in a massive speed up. While this is a trivial example, I can see parallel streams being very useful in helping Java programmers make their applications more performant on multi-core systems.

If you'd like to run this example on your machine, install the Java 8 JDK snapshot, and check out my code which I've posted to GitHub.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Taming the GWT PopupPanel

I was working on a feature of a GWT application today, and decided to fix a problem that had been bugging me.  While the issue was not a server crashing bug, it was a usability nuisance.

Between the main content of the app, and the navigation bar, there was an Anchor.  When a user moused over the Anchor, a PopupPanel would be shown with some user data in it.  Everytime i moved my mouse up to the navigation bar, I'd mouse over the anchor, and have this annoying PopupPanel in my way.  To compund the issue, there was a RPC call each time the panel was popped up.

To combat this issue, I decided to use the GWT Timer class, along with the MouseOverEvent and MouseOutEvent.  This was incredibly simple after I moved the presenter and view to use the UiField, and UiHandler annotations along with the UiBinder.

The Code:

void showPopup(ClickEvent e)

private long mouseOverTime = 0;
private int loadPopupTime = 300;

void onMouseOut(MouseOutEvent e)
 mouseOverTime = 0;

void onMouseOver(MouseOverEvent e)
 mouseOverTime = System.currentTimeMillis();
 Timer t = new Timer() {
       public void run() {
         * this ensures that the popup
         * will not trigger if the mouse
         * merely went over the anchor. 
        if(mouseOverTime != 0)

private void showPopup()

How this works:

When the user mouses over the anchor, a MouseOverEvent is fired. The handler onMouseOver is run, which sets mouseOverTime to the current time in milliseconds.  A Timer is also created, and set to run in loadPopupTime milliseconds.  

Now one of two things can happen:

  1. The user can stay hovering on the Anchor.  The timer will run, and see that mouseOverTime is not equal to zero, and the popup will be shown.
  2. The user can move the mose off the Anchor, which triggers the MouseOutEvent.  This sets mouseOverTime equal to zero.  When the timer runs, it sees that mouseOverTime is equal to zero, and the popup will not be shown. 
I also added in a click handler for the users that can't wait 300ms. I'm in this group for sure.

Pretty simple eh!?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why NOT to Ditch Your Crappy Old Smart Phone

Like many people out there, I was pumped when I got my first flashy, sleek, touch-screen-having smartphone.  A Samsung Acclaim was my entry level purchase.  The "new phone" haze soon wore off as I realized this was a bulky, slow, laggy beast of a device.  The UI was so laggy, there were times I almost missed calls from not being able to swipe the answer button.  I pity the soul who would need to use this phone for an emergency call.  Imagine my glee when my cell phone carrier accidentaly put me in the system for a new phone 6 months early.

Rather than sell the old phone on ebay or craigslist, I put the battery vampire back in its little coffin-box where it could torture me no more. The only reason I let it lurk in storage was incase I took my shiny new phone for a swim, or accidently gave it a good cement bashing.  Usually the phone would sit there for a few years until I retired my current phone, then I'd throw it away.  This all changed a few weeks ago.

I was asked by my mother-in-law to fix up an old Dell.  She wanted a laptop for her new coffee shop to play Pandora.  After a few hours of messing with DSL, and trying to configure wireless drivers, I decided ressurecting the dinosaur of a laptop was just not worth the effort.  As I went to skip the song I was listening to on Pandora (on my shiny new phone), I was hit with a brilliant idea.  Why not let her use my the old Acclaim for a Pandora / Slacker Radio / Twitter device?  It has wifi capability, so no service plan needed!  I loaded up her account on the old phone.  The UI was even more slugishly painful to use now that I was used to my new phone.  After downloading Pandora, Slacker Radio, and Twitter, I was rocking away to "Alan Parsons Radio" in no time (take that Gotye).

Since I have two of these monsters (my wife had one too), I gave one to my mother-in-law, and decided to put the other to work for me.  Now I can listen to Pandora without being interupted by emails and phone calls, and  I don't use up bandwidth on my dataplan.  There also does not appear to be a "Yes I'm still listening." feature on the version of Pandora the old phone uses (bonus!). I could use the Roku, but then I'd have to go through my TV (I don't have a receiver.)

Here are some new devices your old phone can become:
-Awesome Internet Radio Device
-Good Roku Remote (Many free apps for this).
-Crappy Storage Device
-Crappy Camera (Transfering by bluetooth is nice though.)
-IPod Wannabe (Not as good, but it does the job.)

So, now I send you on a quest:
-Send me an email detailing your recycled uses for an old smart phone. (At least 1 pic needed.)
-I'll do a follow up post in 2 weeks with the best submissions!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead: The Most Genius Infomercial Ever Created

Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead: The Most Genius Infomercial Ever Created
By Andrew Glassman

A Brevielle Juicer
It's 3:30am, the late run of Die Hard has come to a conclusion, and John McClane comes out victor once again.  Next up on the schedule, "Paid Programming".  It's the crack-cocaine of late night television, the infomercial.  The testimonials are fake, the products are cheap, and when you wake up at noon the next day you wonder what you're doing with your life.  I was expecting more of the same when I flipped on 'Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead' from the Netfilx Documentary section (this section is a guilty pleasure of many). The premise of the film is to follow Joe Cross, a middle aged Australian, on a road trip across America. Along the way, he participates in a juice fast. He consumes no food, only naturally created juice for 60 days.  At the end, we see Joe 100 pounds lighter, and looking healthier than a vegan training for an Ironman. Oh by the way, he only uses a Breville juicer.  At the end of the flick, you feel motivated to be healthy, inspired, ready to make changes in your life... if only you knew where to start (Hint: You won't want to be jucing 3 meals a day by hand!).  You my friend, have just been mind ninja'd by Joe Cross, the producer, writer, and star of the most genius infomercial ever.  Let's break down how Joe and Breville have managed to sell you a juicer, without you even realizing you've just sat through a 76mim sales pitch.

1) Joe sells you on buying a juicer, by not ever pitching a juicer.  The main motive of a sales pitch is to get the target customer to think they have a need for the product. Joe does this not by pitching the product, but by showing how his health has improved over the time span of the movie.  By focusing on the juice, and not the juicer, you don't feel like Joe is anything but a genuine guy who wants to help you.  Joe's approach differs from normal infomercials such as a Bow Flex, or Gazelle Freestyle.  Those types of infomercials focus on the product, and throw in a few body builders who wouldn't be caught dead using them in their daily routine.  Showing someone’s genuine journey to success with the product ever-present in the background I think is a juicy recipe for success!

2) Another sneaky but effective tactic used is how Joe mentions the  "Reboot" plan a few times.  It is said in such a way that you aren't sure if he is referring to a process, or a product. Upon visiting the website "http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/"  you see a large image linking you to "http://www.jointhereboot.com/".  Visit the website and there is a large picture of Joe smiling and juicing away!  Also a large image with the text "Ready to start juicing? Get the Breville" is right there for easy clicking.  They even let you sign up to get free juice plans.  They sell juicers, and juicer accessories.  Using the "Reboot" terminology seemed to be a way for Joe to do some branding, without overtly stating Reboot was even a brand!

3) There are many shots in the movie of Joe juicing many assorted fruits and veggies.  At no point does he overtly tell you how he easy it is, but it is apparent that it is a breeze to juice anything.  There is no cheesy "It's as easy as 1,2,3!" to be found in this film. It is interesting how you never see him clean it.  I bought a juicer and it is a chore to clean, it’s messy, and takes up a lot of space.

3) There are also testimonials within the film, aside from Joe's main journey for health.  There is one where a trucker loses a massive amount of weight, probably a few hundred pounds.  You actually are rooting for the guy in the testimonial.  When he triumphs this really solidifies the idea in the audiences mind that a juice fast is some kind of miracle diet.  Meanwhile,  Joe’s brother does not follow the diet and has a heart attack.  While this is all real life, it makes you wonder if the heart attack could have been avoided if only he had started the juice fast.

So if I had to write an infomercial for a new product, here are the points I'd borrow from Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead
1) Don't pitch the product, pitch the story of how your product will help the customer.
2) Don't focus on the product. Again, sell the story, but make sure your product is ever present.  Make sure your product appears easy to use, and hide the messy parts.
3) Let people who will actually use your product sell it.  Don't hire paid actors, or use people who wouldn't use your product normally.  If you don't make the testimonials believable, viewers may think your product is fake, or a hoax.
4) Casually brand your product throughout the infomercial.  Don't make it obvious what you are doing.
5) IMPORTANT: Make it insanely easy to find your product online.  This is where you can start selling the actual product by its brand name that was casually used in the infomercial.

At its core, "Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead" is an infomercial with all the annoying parts stripped out and thrown up on a web site.  This is an amazing idea that few have executed this well.  The stories are so genuine and honest, yet it plays so well in directing viewers to channels to buy a Breville juicer or Reboot products.  Even if a person starts juicing and doesn't buy their products, they will point their friends to the film, and they may become a potential customer.  Bottom line is that “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” is the most genius and entertaining infomercial I’ve seen in a long time.  If "Paid Programming" learns anything from Joe I'll be in for some more long nights.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Honeymoon in Hawaii

Well, I'm back from my honeymoon in Hawaii.  This was the first vacation that Amanda and I have taken as just the two of us, so it was a lot of fun to get away from it all!

We left Wisconsin on Thrusday 10/27.  Waking up at 4am was definitely a treat, especially after the 2$ High Lifes that we had at Chuck's the previous night. (it's vacation, don't judge). Our flight out went relatively smooth considering we sat on the tarmac for 30 minutes and the flight data recorded refused to work.  After switching to a new plane, and getting rerouted directly to Honolulu rather than Salt Lake, we were on our way.  Loosing the hour due to plane issues was made up in our direct flight.  That being said, it is a LONG flight, around 8 hours.  Luckily there were some movies and shows to watch (Captain America and some HIMYM, not bad).  Of course, this was all going too smoothly for the airline's taste, so they decided to loose our luggage for a day.

Finally we arrived in Honolulu, HI.  It was a surreal arrival.  The weather was ideal, 75 and sunny.  How could I tell this from inside the airport?  Well oddly enough, the airports in Hawaii are half indoor and half outdoor.  This is ideal... well unless it is a severe downpour with frequent lightning strikes but we'll save that story for our return flight...

After a short flight from Honolulu to Kaliua Kona, we had arrived at our destination.  After picking up the Jeep Wrangler 4x4, we headed to Kona Coast resort.  We got our keys, checked into our room, and went to bed at 7pm (12+ hours of travel will turn you into a zombie, not to mention the 4 hour time difference!).  The next week was full of great sights and food.  I'll try to squeeze in the highlights!

Before I start, I'd like to thank Andrew Doughty, and Wizard Publications for publishing The Big Island Revealed.  We followed the book's recommendations for what to see, eat, and where to stay. At no point were we let down!

This was one of our first excursions of the trip.  This is a beautiful secluded beach just north of Kona.  It took us about 20 minutes to make it down the very rough 4x4 trail to the beach.  As Amanda put it, "It was like being in a car crash for 20 minutes!".  We did some snorkeling here, and saw some very colorful fish and coral.  The sand was white, soft, and abundant!  On our way onto the beach, we saw a big sea turtle sunning itself.  At the time we thought it was pretty big, until we saw the second giant one!  This thing had to be almost 2.5-3 feet in length and at least 2 feet across!  Amanda tried to get on the other side of it to be in a picture without getting too close.  The turtle evaluated the situation.  We must have looked hungry for turtle soup because it looked us both, then turned right around and back into the ocean.
This turtle relaxed here for a good 4 hours.
This one was about 5 times bigger than the one to the left.  We
couldn't get a person in the picture for reference because you
 aren't allowed to approach them because they are endangered.

Ultimate Burger:
This place had some killer burgers, all made from 100% grass fed beef from the island!  Great seasoned fries too!

We took a morning trip to Kealakekua Bay via the Fair Wind II ship.  It was a big catamaran with a "for show" sail.  The ride to the bay took about 45min-1hour, and they provided breakfast.  The views were amazing from the ship, and the weather was perfect and sunny.  We saw a few Spinner Dolphins.  They jump in front, and in the wake of the ship and do spins, very entertaining!  When we arrived at the bay, they gave us a quick rundown of the procedures, and we were off.  The reef was amazing, and visibility was over 80 feet.  The reef was full of colorful fish of all different types.  Some of the hilights were the Threadfin Butterfly, Moorish Idol, Rectangular Triggerfish, Red Parrot, Trumpet Fish, Moray Eel, and Slate-Pencil sea Urchin. Click here to see what they looked like.

Four Seasons Buffet:
We had a fancy buffet style dinner at the Four Seasons.  Could there be such a thing as a fancy buffet?  Yes, there is, and it is damn expensive too (18$ Mai Tais were the cheapest drinks).  We ate inhuman amounts of snow crab claws, lobster tails, new york strip steak, sushi, and any other fancy dish you can think of.  I think we may have almost gotten our money's worth =)  The dinner was delicious, and we were right on the lani, with a view of the sunset over the ocean.  After dark, they had a astronomer with a large telescope, and we were able to see Jupiter and 3 of its moons.  It was really something!

Black Sand Beach:
We took the Jeep to this hard to get to black sand beach in Kehaha Kai state park.

Saddle Road / Mauna Kea:
Halfway thourgh our trip, we took a two day excursion to the Hilo side of the the Big Island.  We braved the infamous Saddle Road, which really wasn't that bad at all.  The sights changed quickly, and drastically.  As soon as we hit higher elevations, no more palm trees and sunshine.  It was eerie and foggy grasslands with sparse and contorted old trees.  About halfway on the road, we turned to make the trip to the peak of Mauna Kea.  This was a steep climb all the way to 13,796ft.  The jeep made it easily, but I had to drive slow due to switchbacks and steep grade.  At the top it was 36 degrees and snowing quite a bit.  There was no good view at the peak due to snow, but the huge observatories and surreal moon like landscape were worth it.

In Hilo, we stayed at the Dolphin Bay Hotel.  It was very nice there, and the hosts were the nicest people we met on the island.  They were incredibly helpful in showing us where to visit in Volcano National Park, and were very knowledgeable on the current volcano activity and lava flow.  While in Hilo, we checked out Hilo Burger Joint.  They had some interesting and delicious burgers.  I got a Nacho Burger which consisted of nacho cheese, and jalapenos, and served upside down (Their signature move maybe?).  We also stopped at Rainbow Falls, which was flowing very heavily due to rain earlier in the day.  The cave behind the falls was huge, and it was really a cool place to see.  Another note on the Hilo side, it gets much more rainfall than the Kona side.  The vegetation is much more lush, and there are hundreds of different flowers, plants and trees.  The Banyan trees were quite a site!

Volcano National Park:
On our way back to Knoa, we stopped in Volcano National Park.  The hilight was definitely the hike we did across the Kilauea Iki.  It was huge, and hard to believe we were walking across what was once a cauldron of molten lava! (More details and pics to come on this, stay tuned for part 2).