Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Lobby

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

3:00 am.




gunh.. wha huh?



Oh crap. Did Kate break the building?

Four years ago when we stayed at the Disney Grand Californian, the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night and a couple minutes later they told us that everything was ok and we could go back to sleep. Not this time. We got slightly more dressed and headed out the door and down the exit steps. Sniff Sniff. Smells a bit smoky. As we got to the first floor and looked up, there were plumes of smoke against the mostly clear but very dark sky. Whoa. This must be the real thing.

We walked out to the front of the building and it looked like the smoke was coming from the main lobby area of the hotel. Lots of fire trucks were already there and Disney security folks were moving us back from the hotel. One of the people near us said that the giant Christmas tree in the lobby had caught fire. He had seen it in flames as he left his room. It was a big tree reaching probably 30 feet up into the open lobby and covered in lights, ornaments and ribbons.

The hotel staff and security folks started to pass out blankets to people waiting outside and after a few minutes we were all allowed to go into the conference center which was warmer and had better places to sit down. Over the next couple of hours, the staff did an amazingly good job of keeping us informed as to what was going on, passing out diapers to parents with babies, providing water, then pastries and then coffee as everyone else did their best to get some sleep on the floor of the conference center. The guests were pretty impressive themselves, taking the trays of pastries and walking them to the different conference rooms to pass them out to make sure everyone had a good chance to get something to eat.

My biggest concern at that point was that we had a 9:00 am flight and were supposed to try to get a cab around 6:30 to get there. Around 5:30 they announced that they would start moving people back up to their rooms floor by floor, starting with the second floor. I let one of the security people know about our flight and he told us we could go up with the first group so we gathered our stuff and headed towards the lobby. The security folks were practically falling over themselves to be helpful. They escorted us to our room so we could pack up our stuff, then escorted us back down to the lobby.

This was the first time we had a chance to look at the scene of the fire. The tree was gone and they were cleaning the carpet where it had been. The ceiling six stories above was covered in a grey soot and the wood cross beam showed some charring but otherwise the lobby looked almost normal. They suggested we go out the side exit to avoid all of the fire equipment and as we walked down the sidewalk we saw little piles of blackened debris. This was the route they had taken the remnants of the tree. The debris got a litle thicker and included several intact but blackened ornaments around the back of a Budget rental truck where the rest of the tree had clearly been stuffed.

We headed over towards the Paradise Pier hotel to try to get a cab to the airport and noticed at least five TV news trucks parked across the street. While Zach was getting ready to make his Southern California TV news debut and we were counseling him to say nothing, the security folks at the gate said they would get us a cab so we wouldn't have to run the news gauntlet. I'm sure this was partly to keep us from saying anything to the press but we appreciated them again going out of their way to help us. The drove us towards the Disneyland Hotel where they had secured a cab for us, transferred our luggage and we were on our way to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

There were so many opportunities for Disney to fall down here -- for them to get snippy, or to make us wait like everyone else while they took care of the hundreds of people who were camping out in the conference center. Instead, the service felt just as personalized as if we were the only people there enjoying just another of the many perks of being at the premier family resort. The security people followed up with us, got us where we needed to be safely and as conveniently as possible. Remarkably similar to how they responded when Kate and Zach were stuck on the roller coaster.

This was certainly a dramatic end to our Christmas trip but even more I think it is an amazing story of grace under pressure. Well done Disney!

Update: The LA Times has a story on the fire, including video from KTLA here.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

We Broke Disneyland

We are down at Disneyland for the Christmas holiday. We came down in for Christmas 2001 and it was not terribly crowded (people stayed away from big public places like this that year for some reason…) but this year the place is packed. Throngs of people flowing through the streets and extending attraction lines to over an hour in some places, but everyone is in pretty high spirits and enjoying the parks.

This morning, Kate, Zach and I decided to venture into Disneyland Park early, as it opened at 8:00 am. Rather than get stuck in the lines at the main entrance, we figured we would take the monorail in and start in the middle of Tomorrowland, so instead of turning right out of the Grand Californian hotel, we turned left and headed against the flow of early morning Disney revelers towards the monorail. When we got there the line looked really short. Too short. In fact, there was no line at all because the monorail was “temporarily unavailable due to technical difficulties.” It was broken. Oh well. We jumped into the people current and floated on down towards main entrance waiting in the bag check line (this wasn’t here in 2001…) and then the line to get in to the park.

Once we got into the park we headed straight for the Indiana Jones ride and we got in line. The line was moving pretty well until we heard an announcement that the ride was experiencing more technical difficulties and would be delayed for at least 15 minutes. When that delay turned into an “indefinite” delay, they cleared out the line and we headed off to look for a different thrill.

We went to the Matterhorn and got in the very long line, but decided it would be a good idea to try to get a FastPass for Space Mountain, so Kate headed off to grab those. A few minutes later, she called saying that Space Mountain was broken so she got us FastPasses to the new Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride. We started teasing her that she kept breaking the rides. When she got back to the Matterhorn, um… it broke. The car stopped going and we started to wonder what happened to all of the cars that were rolling around inside the giant paper maché mountain when it had technical difficulties but after about 15 minutes, it started working again as we actually got to go on a ride.

When we got out, we headed over to Buzz Lightyear to use our FastPasses but we were early so we tried to get a snack. After being turned away from 2 pizza places because they were not open (probably broken) we came back to Buzz’s ride to see a long line at the Fast Pass entry. Why? Well campers, you’ve probably guessed it already, but they were in the process of rebooting the ride. In case you’re trying to keep score, that’s four attractions, one transportation mechanism and two Italian eateries that were all unexpectedly out of service and it isn’t even 10:30 yet.

Buzz booted, though, and we did ride. Around this time, Leslie showed up and the rides were better behaved that afternoon. After dinner we went to California Adventure so Kate, Zach and I could ride California Screamin’ the zippy, twisty and loopy roller coaster. The line was short and before you know it, we were rolling and screaming. It is actually a very smooth ride given its gyrations and when we finished, Kate and Zach wanted to ride again so off they went. We watched them as they were launched up the first hill and a minute or so later we heard the telltale PA system announcing that California Screamin’ was experiencing “technical difficulties” and would be closed for a little while. Looks like Kate had broken another ride.

Kate and Zach, though, had not emerged from the ride yet and were, in fact, stuck in the roller coaster near the top of the highest hill. I asked the person turning would-be riders away from the turnstiles what was going on and she said that it happens all the time (why am I not surprised) and that this time it was probably just due to a problem with a chip in the station and there was nothing wrong with the cars or the track. In fact, she said that they were probably over cautious in how they set up the rides to stop working when just about any sensor indicates a potential problem and she mentioned that Thunder Mountain Railroad would break if a sparrow flew through the ride in just the right way. In the meantime, cast members would be climbing up to the train and walking the passengers down. I briefly imagined Peter Pan flitting up to the stuck cars and removing the safety harnesses but alas it was the maintenance crew who did the only flitting. Soon afterwards, I received a call from Zach’s cell phone. When I answered he yelled out “WE’RE ALIVE!!” and sure enough they came running up to us a minute or so later excited to tell us the story of their not-so-harrowing escape.

I guess now we know what happens when the roller coasters break down.

I don’t know whether the issue is that the now 50 year old theme park is showing its age and is just less reliable than it once was, or if the addition of all of the computer technology and associated complexity is the cause of so many failures. I’m sure at least part of the issue is that they are so concerned about making sure the ride is safe that they are willing to stop it for any indication, including mostly false positive indications, that there may be a problem. This is certainly the safest path through it has the same effect of making people wonder about the overall safety of the park that constantly releasing security patches does to people’s trust in computer software.

We will be back tomorrow, though and hopefully the rides will be in better shape.

The next morning...
Indiana Jones is still busted, but everything else seems to be working.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Goofy Lyrics from the '70s

When I wrote my last entry about pirate lyrics, it got me thinking about other songs with goofy lyrics. There is no shortage of songs containing trite phrases, epic tales of battles with the gods, melodramatic angst-rants, or stream of consciousness babble about a bathroom. And those are just ones that my bands wrote...

Sometimes, though, they go above and beyond and must be recognized so this is the second part of a series of posts about goofy lyrics.

Today's topic: Tolkien-esque Fantasy
Every teenage boy goes through a Rush phase. OK, perhaps it's every white teenage boy goes through a Rush phase. Maybe it's every middle class, midwestern, white, teenage-boy-who-is-coming-off-of-a-metal-phase goes through a Rush phase. No matter. There are many of us. If you go back far enough in your Rush collection, though, you will find the period between Neal Peart joining the band around 1975 and the time that they hit the mainstream around 1980 there was a distinct interest in grand tales of mythology and Tolkien-esque fantasy. The best known is probably 2112 but Rush had so many examples. The two part Cygnus X-1 trip through a black hole that spanned two albums is another classic. Some of the best examples of the "cult of j.r.r." were in their earlier work. Perhaps my favorite is By-Tor and the Snow Dog.

Tobes of Hades, lit by flickering torchlight
The netherworld is gathered in the glare
Prince By-Tor takes the cavern to the north light
The sign of Eth is rising in the air

Spoiler Alert: Snow Dog is victorious.

Or how about The Necromancer from Caress of Steel -- a song in 3 parts titled
I. Into the Darkness II.
II. Under the Shadow
III. Return of the Prince

Guess what? By-Tor returns! This time he is redeemed.

Prince By-Tor appears to battle for freedom from chains of long years
The spell has been broken...the Dark Lands are bright.
The Wraith of the Necromancer soars
away in the night.'

Stealthily attacking
By-Tor slays his foe
The men are free to run now
From labyrinths below

Here's something you didn't know. I read that Peter Jackson's next movie will be about By-Tor. Another blockbuster for Jackson I suspect.

Of course, Rush was not the only band with Tolkien tendencies. Led Zeppelin may have started the rock-n-roll epic tales genre with songs like The Battle of Evermore and, of course, the classic Ramble On

Mine's a tale that can't be told, my freedom I hold dear.
How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air.
T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her....yeah.


Zeppelin had another song with white shining ladies, May queens, pipers and some sort of a stairway but I don't think it ever really caught on.

There are, of course, many more out there. Feel free to add more examples of Tolkien-esqe Fantasy lyrics in your comments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The World Needs More Songs About Pirates

When I was young, I was a big Styx fan. Phew. I feel better getting that off my chest already. Yes, it was back in the 70s so it was before the Mr. Roboto days but I actually had all of their records up through Cornerstone and that includes the four pre-TS albums. In the early 80's, though, I discovered Rush and never went back.

Last weekend, I found a CD that had all four of the Wooden Nickel albums so I bought it just to relive my carefree youth. This morning I was listening to "The Serpent Is Rising" and was amazed at how much I could remember of those songs. I couldn't have told you anything about those songs yesterday but as they started it all came back to me. It's amazing how those things stick in your head over such a long time.

The songs are sooooo 1970s. Classic chord progressions, real synthesizers from the days when there were no presets, screaming high vocals and the lyrics -- oh man those 1970's lyrics.

Krakatoa you've changed your ways
from evil days.
Oh I know a once violent isle
and gentle smile.
When the dust and lava cooled
you were sterile as the rock from which the earth was tooled.

Wow. That's powerful stuff. As I rolled up to the office today, though, the song Jonas Psalter came on. A touching tale of pirate greed that perhaps went too far. Was it Ann Bonnie who done him in or was it his own remorse of having achieved all that one pirate could in life? We may never know. But you know... it made me wonder why bands just don't write songs about volcanos or pirates anymore.

Those were the days.

BTW - here are some things I learned today about Styx that I didn't know before.
1) Tommy Shaw's birthday is September 11. It seemed like a regular day back then.
2) Styx did an album with REO Speedwagon. Kind of sounds like one of those Scooby Doo meets Superfriends cartoons, doesn't it?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Oh. That's not a good smell...

Zach's video card had decided to go all retro on us and only display 4bit color in 640x480. It still new about its driver and all but it was clearly not happy so I opened up the machine to put in a new nVidia card. The operations went fine. The card was safely in, I attached the Zalman CPU fan above the heat sink, closed the case, attached the power and turned it on.

Then came the smell.

The sickening, smoky smell of electronics failure. "Oh," I said, "That's not good."

The Zalman fan was not spinning and while the drives would spin up, nothing else was going on. Sad really. That little CPU had given so much to us all.

Monday, November 14, 2005

iPod Video

How many iPods does it take to be complete? Ask Steve and he would probably say one more than you have right now. Bill would probably say one fewer. Yet they keep popping up like flowers in springtime or zits on prom night. A new version that is bigger, smaller, more colorful, less complicated, blacker or whiter than any previous model. And this time it comes with video.

So Steve Jobs gets up and says that the new wunderdevice will play your favorite TV show (as long as it is Lost or Desperate Housewives -- what no Alias?), music video (U2 preferred), or home movies (does anyone really do that?). I said, "pffft". I don't need that. I just want to listen to music and podcasts on my iPod while I'm in my car (hence my 20GB clickwheel). And maybe listed to some tunes while exercising (hence my iPod shuffle) but why would I want video? FEH!

Then I tried Rick's. Um... Crap. This thing is cool. Rationalization kicks in. I could watch The Daily Show at the Pro Club. I could convert movies and watch them on the plane. I could finally start toting around some of my pictures and living the 100% pure digital lifestyle. And it comes in BLACK!

So back to the original question. At least 3.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Unintentionally Racy Links

Tony had this on his blog and I nearly wet myself from laughing. It reminds me of when we were coming up with names for Windows XP and one of the thoughts was Windows EX. That probably wouldn't have worked though. Apparently that domain is taken.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Jedi Commute

It's Halloween and today I was a Jedi Knight wearing an elaborate outfit created by Kate and Zach and a sweet lightsaber (green - for I was a somewhat younger Qui-Gon).

Now while the fall and rise of the Jedi has been detailed in the Star Wars movies, little is known about the day to day life. What did they do when they were not out on missions or negotiating with the Trade Federation? Today I got a glimpse into that life and I made the following observations.

1) Even when you're a Jedi, you can get caught in traffic. The lightsaber did not help here. I did take some evasive maneuvers to avoid some of the tie-ups and had played out a number of scenarios in my head about getting pulled over today:

Imperial Cop: Show me your identification
Jedi Me: <wave> You don't need to see my identification
Imperial Cop: Sir, step out of the car...

Fortunately, none of this came to pass and coming home I could use the diamond lane.

2) Cloaks are cool! It's cool to walk down the hall quickly and feel the cloak flowing behind you. I was seriously thinking of adopting the cloak look on a regular basis until I realized --

3) Cloaks suck! They get caught up on the wheels on your office chair and the flowing sleeves make it hard to dip chips in salsa. There's something they never showed in the films.

4) It is a little hard to be taken seriously when you are sitting in a meeting dressed as a Jedi. But it may be even harder if you are dressed like Willy Wonka. Though if my lightsaber could cut through steel blast doors like a hot knife through butter it would be much easier.

5) Jedis need backup. This kid was dressed as Darth Vader and he decided to get all Death Star on me so we started battling with our lightsabers. Kate, who was also dressed as a Jedi just sat and watched, eating her chips and sleeves and salsa while I did all the work. It wasn't until I actually said, "A little help here?" that she finally fired up her lightsaber and distracted him enough for me to cut Darth down. She seemed upset. He was like her brother. He was supposed to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness. Sad.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Tromping through leaves

I was walking to a different building at work today and there was one section of sidewalk that was completely covered in fallen leaves. As I walked through them it made that delightful crunchy rustling sound that I remember after raking big piles of leaves when I was growing up. Crunch Crunch Crunch Crunch. And the smell was so evocative -- it took me back to rolling through piles of leaves, burying myself completely and then popping out. Throwing the leaves into the air and watching them fall back onto the grass and then raking them up again.

Crunch Crunch Crunch

Then it was on to my next meeting, but a little more relaxed.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Alexis 2 - Electric Boogaloo

For the past 4 years, I've been driving a Lexus RX 300 with the navigation system. The nav system has a feature where it will talk to you telling you which way to turn, how far to go, when you've reached your destination, etc. It spoke in a soothing woman's voice and since my car was talking to me, it was only reasonable that she have a name so of course I named her Alexis (I mean really -- what else would you call her?)

Alexis was a great car but as her lease was coming to an end I needed to do something. I could either pay off the lease or update to newer technology. The latest version of the RX 300 is the hybrid RX 400h though there were lots of other cars to look at. Now I really like the idea of a hybrid car. With gas prices well over $3.00 a gallon and my love for geeky gadgets hybrid looked like the way to go. I needed enough space for me, and 4WD or AWD for driving up to Whistler so that pretty much pushed me to one of the hybrid SUVs and really limited it to 3 choices. The Lexus RX 400h, the Toyota Highlander hybrid and the Ford Escape hybrid.

I started with driving the Lexus and liked it from the moment I turned the key and heard --- nothing. You know that sound when the battery on your car is dead and you turn the key but nothing happens? That is what happens when you turn the key on the 400h. The only difference is that the car is actually on. Slide it into drive and start off slowly and you're just running on batteries in a totally luxe ninja car. Step on the gas and it takes off fast! The hybrid synergy engine (the same one that's in the Toyota Highlander) uses the electric engine to give you instant power and the gas engine follows instantly with the power needed to keep rolling along. The performance difference between the RX 300 and the RX 400h is really remarkable, all the more so when you realize you get nearly 70% better fuel economy at the same time. Lexus has also updated all of the extras in the past 4 years as well. Updated navigation system (same Alexis voice though), bluetooth phone support, backup camera, adaptive headlights that turn as the car is turning, even a drink holder in front of the air conditioning vent to keep the drink cool in the summer (um... really).

But I'm not gonna just buy the first car I drive so I went to look at the Toyota version. The Toyota dealership is only a mile from the Lexus one, but they are owned by different people and apparently they don't like each other - or so says the Toyota sales guy. They didn't have a new Highlander in stock but they did have a slightly used demo version with 6000 miles on it. Worth looking it until I found out they were still charging an $8000 premium over the MSRP for the USED one. WTF?! This put it within $1000 of the brand new Lexus car and while the Toyota had the same engine, the Lexus had a ton more really nice features and trying to get that much extra for the Toyota seemed insane. I asked the sales guy and he said that Lexus charges a premium as well on the RX 400h though I knew for a fact they weren't. When I told him this, he said "Oh. We don't like them". I suspect I know why.

With the Toyota off the list, I had only one other option. The Ford Escape hybrid is still a full hybrid but at something like $17,000 cheaper, it was totally worth a look. I went a drove it and do you know what? It got me from here to there. It's nav system was totally lame and it felt like driving a truck instead of a car, but it was still hybrid and the price difference was huge. So I spent several week doing my geek side proud by building weighted and prioritized lists of features and comparisons between the two cars. I was careful to not look at the results so that the weighting would not be swayed by some subconscious preference one way or another. After a full day of tweaking the list I finally looked at the results. Lexus 89, Ford 88. Well within whatever margin of error there might be. Crap. A tie. So much for math saving me.

I went back and drove both of them again. First the Lexus, then on to Ford. When I got to the Ford dealership I figured I was ready to go with the Escape. Leslie was with me for these drives and I started the Escape to show her how it starts off on the battery, only it didn't. Apparently it needed to charge so we drove for a bit but it never really kicked in to electric mode. Hmmm.... Then I really started noticing things from my RX 300 that were not there. Not the big luxury things like the smoothness of the seat adjustments or the nice wood but little things that honestly every car made today should do since they are so simple and basic. Chief among them is that when I turn off the car, after some delay, the headlights should turn themselves off. It's a switch - maybe on a timer. Can't cost more than a quarter. Nope - not on the Escape hybrid. Auto dimming mirrors? Nope - gotta flip it up. I can deal with not having all of the cool new things like bluetooth support, adaptive headlights or air conditioned drink holders but it would grate on me every time I turned the car off if I had to flip that switch. A lot. Huh. Attention to detail and elegance are really big things for me and worth a fair amount of money, it turns out.

So last Monday, I picked up my Lexus RX 400h and I've been ninja driving ever since. Better watch out behind you cuz you won't hear Alexis 2, me and my well cooled drink coming.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Mass Ascension

Wow. I mean WOW!

It has been cloudy here at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta since we got here and I've been hoping for a clear day. The balloons are beautiful but they just don't look as good without a blue sky behind them. Leslie, Zach and I got up bright and early (again) this morning to be at the launch site before sunrise. The stars were out when we got there so it promised to be a clear morning. I was psyched.

The dawn patrol took off again but this time it was 8 balloons instead of yesterdays 4. Then as the sun came up, they started inflating and launching the balloons. Not just some, though -- lots of balloons. They started taking off around 7 am and kept taking off until almost 8:30. Hundreds of them filling the sky and flying off to the north (the opposite directions from our flight yesterday). Bright colors, all shapes and sizes, floating against a beautiful blue sky. It was awesome!

Leslie got the idea for us to go to the Balloon Fiesta from the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die. They are absolutely right. Whether you are a ballooning fan, photographer or just want to see something breathtaking you need to make a trip to see 700+ balloons all taking off into a clear blue sky in Albuquerque.


To see just a few of the pictures, click the link below.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Ride

This morning we woke up really early - like 4am early - so we could beat the traffic and make it to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta early enough for our balloon ride. We got there around 5:30 and checked in with Rainbow Ryders. After a quick trip to buy gloves for Kate and Leslie (it gets pretty cold in the desert before sunrise) we headed off with our group to the balloon launch site. It was overcast with a thick layer of clouds at about 2000 feet and the winds were from the north at around 8 MPH.

Before the tour balloons go up, the Dawn Patrol takes off. That is a number of balloons that take off before sunrise and, among other things, give the balloon pilots an idea of what the winds are doing. They look like giant lightening bugs -- glowing occasionally and hovering over the desert, watching as the other balloon start to inflate.

I had read about how hot air balloons get filled up but it was fun to watch. First they lay out the envelope (the balloon part) on the ground with the gondola at the small end. Then they hook up the envelope to the gondola and tip the gondola on its side. They use large fans to start to fill the envelope up with air and once it gets pretty full, they start firing the propane burners to heat the air inside the envelope. At this point, it starts to rise and the gondola stands upright again. The passengers climb in and once the pilot is given the go by the launch coordinators (or zebras as they're called since they are wearing football referee shirts) the ground crew releases the ropes and off they go into the sky.

We were in the second hop so we got to watch our balloon take off and then we jumped into a chase van and started to follow. When it isn't cloudy, balloons in Albuquerque can take advantage of what is known as the Albuquerque Box - winds close to the ground are from the north but as you get higher, they change directions so you can start a ride to the south, then climb up higher and head back to where you started. With the cloud cover, though, there was no safe way to get high enough to head back north so the balloons just went south.

The van chased the balloon for about 40 minutes, expecting it to come in near a quarry but the winds pushed it farther east so we were off again to try to find a landing spot. We stopped at a vacant lot near a hotel and all ran to greet the balloon - greet is a friendly term, really we ran to try to grab it as it skidded and bounced long the ground in relatively high winds. We all held on to the gondola while the passengers from the first hop climbed out and we climbed in (there were 10 passengers in each hop, plus the pilot). After a near miss by another balloon skidding in for a landing, we were off on our own flight.

I've heard that riding in a balloon is totally different from other types of flying but I didn't really understand this until we took off. There was no vibration and no engine noise (except for the occasional blasts from the burners). We just floated up and away flying between 100 and 1000 feet above the ground. We could hear people on the ground as they yelled to us and we heard a LOT of dogs who were totally freaked out by this thing flying overhead. We rode south across I40, over the University of New Mexico and were headed towards the airport.

Now the tricky thing about flying in a balloon is that while you have control of the up/down thing, you have no control of that whole horizontal axis. The last thing you want to do is fly by the airport with planes coming in for a landing unless you can get high enough to be out of the way and that is at about 3000 feet. With the clouds at 2000 feet today, it was pretty important we find a place to land before we get to the airport. Eventually we saw a field at an elementary school that looked like it would work and the pilot radioed to the chase van to meet us there. We came in just over the fence and the guys on the ground grabbed a line that the pilot tossed to them and we came down, skipped along the ground a bit and came to a stop.

Now, when a hot air balloon lands at your school and you are about six years old, you're going to go running to see what's going on and sure enough about 10 six year olds came running up as we climbed out and the balloon started to deflate. They helped us pack the envelope into a big bag and we loaded the envelope and the gondola into the trailer and we were out of there in about 15 minutes.

It was a really great trip. If you ever get a chance to do it, you should take that opportunity to fly like the birds do. While it would have been even better to have clear skies the hope is that the clouds will break for tomorrow's mass ascension - 700 balloons all taking off from the same field. Now that is a photo op.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

What a dream

I had the weirdest dream. We were riding on Segways through a forest of balloons at night and they were lighting up all around. The balloons were in all shapes and sizes -- cows and bees, cactuses and Pepsi cans... I think I saw a flying pink elephant. We would zig and zag through the balloons and the people who were watching them. I had my camera with me and I was taking pictures while balancing on the Segway. It seemed so real.

Then this morning I woke up and discovered that I actually had the pictures from it. This ain't no dream.

It was really cool.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Wednesday night is language night. Kate and I are both taking classes at BCC, she is taking Japanese for teenagers and I am taking German I. Class started last week but I was in Tokyo so tonight was my first class. We're going through a hodgepodge of stuff right now but we ended up with numbers. All the way home, I kept saying zweiundzwanzig. It just sounds soooo German. It's fun to say.

It means 22.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Friday, September 23, 2005


I just got back from a week in Tokyo. Mostly work, but we had a couple of days to wander around, see a few sights and take a few pictures.

Tokyo is an amazing place. At once it is so remarkably similar to any big city in America and yet so completely different. Many of the stores are the same, the electronics goods sold in the impossibly large and bustling Akihabara neighborhood are the exact same ones I can get at home for more or less (usually more) the same price. Many of the signs have English on them as well so it is reasonably easy to get around the city either on foot or using the trains.

Then the differences jump out and smack me on the head. We sit down to lunch at a restaurant with no English menu and play "Let's guess the entree". The cars come at us from the wrong direction and we're expected to walk on the sidewalk on the left side, not the right. Walking down the halls of the hotel, the cleaning staff bows to me and says something. What is the right thing to do in response? Do I bow too? Am I supposed to say something in response? There are more vending machines in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world. They are everywhere and sell just about anything you can imagine. While we’re on the topic, what the hell is in Pocari Sweat – besides several ounces of yucky?

The city is immaculately clean, which is even more amazing given that there are no garbage cans anywhere to throw anything away. I imagine that the locals arrive home each night and immediately empty their pockets of the garbage they have accumulated that day. I know I do. Someone told me that they were all removed after the Sarin gas attacks in 1995 but since those all happened on the trains and not in garbage cans, I am dubious.

The most amazing part is the absolute vastness of the city. Not too surprising given that it has over 12 million citizens, but it seems to run smoothly even given this heavy load. The subway network is huge but well designed and assuming you can get past the occasional language barriers (in some stations, the maps are all Japanese) it is easy to get around the city pretty quickly. We had dinner on the 52nd floor of a building across the street from ours and in every direction, as far as we can see, is more city. Buildings and lights and cars and streets. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building right outside my hotel window is so big it could easily hold the entire population of several New England towns. It is also a very impressive complex and very cool to photograph at night.

We visited the Shinjuku-gyoen garden which has some gorgeous areas. Calm and serene but with huge buildings often towering in the distance over the trees (see?). It was a lot like Central Park in that way. There is a green house in the park which was a great place to take pictures of flowers. This would have been a good time to have my macro lens, if I owned one.

The food was wonderful. We’ve had a variety of Japanese cuisine, including teppanyaki, sushi and tempura. Phil wanted to go to a roboyaki restaurant but since I was reasonably convinced that roboyaki was just teriyaki made by robots, we chose sushi instead. The highlight has been a place called Gonpachi in Roppongi. Gonpachi is said to have inspired the restaurant set in Kill Bill. The sushi and Kobe beef are outstanding, as is the sake. Even though Josh didn’t get our waitresses phone number (long story) we went back a second time just to savor the beef. Yum!

So now I am nearly finshed with my 41 hour Friday - flying back across the International Date Line is always interesting. Some pictures are posted, more are on their way.

There are some pictures at the link below.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bumbershoot 2005

Leslie and I went to Bumbershoot on Saturday morning. For those that are unfamiliar, Bumbershoot is Seattle's annual hippie outdoor music and arts festival. While there is a ton to do there, we actually mainly went to see the John Butler Trio perform. I found them on the iTunes Music Store back in May and I've really been into them since then. They're what I call Australian Swamp Rock though that doesn't really do them justice -- it misses out on the jam band, reggae and acoustic street music influences. Great music, strong environmental message, lots of energy.

I was actually worried that I wouldn't be able to take pictures of the band when I saw the sign heading into the stadium that said "No Cameras, recording equipment, video cameras...". My first concern was that I didn't want to have to go all the way out to the parking lot to drop off my camera bag. One of the security folks said it was probably ok as long as I didn't take the camera out of the bag so in we went. Once we were in, I saw one woman right by the stage snapping pictures with her Nikon 35mm camera, another guy taking pictures with his point & shoot digital. Hmm... maybe I could get away with it, but wouldn't my zoom lens be a bit conspicuous? Then another guy set up a big video camera on a tripod about 20 feet to my right. The security folks said nothing so I figured the no cameras thing was not going to be enforced. I was right.

We got to see them up close and I was able to take pictures with my 70-200mm lens so I got even closer. At one point, the bass player saw me taking a picture of him and started snickering at my big ol' lens. Good thing I didn't have the 600mm lens I used at the Blue Angels or he might have just fallen over laughing.

Afterwards we wandered around a bit more. I took more pictures of the Space Needle, taffy making and Leslie's henna tattoo. Fun day!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

5 Idiosyncrasies

The gauntlet having been laid down, I will respond with my list of 5 idiosyncrasies in no particular order.

1. I'm an E. In the parlance of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an ENTP. The E part means that I'm an extravert but it manifests itself in that I think out loud. I can sit down quietly and think through tough problems, but I will do a much better job if I can bounce ideas off of people. This also means that I sometimes say things that I don't mean just to see if they sound right when they are said out loud. Boy can that throw some people off.

2. I can be repetitive when making a point. I'll often find several ways to say the same thing just to make sure I've made my point. Sometimes I'll use analogies, sometimes I'll rephrase, sometimes I'll summarize. If I can find a different way to say it that is more precise, or more graceful I'll say try that too. Redundancy can be a virtue.

3. I can't remember shit. It's not just names (which I'm really bad with but have great coping skills). If I don't write stuff down, I'll forget it -- but if I do, I'll forget where I wrote it, or forget to go back and read it later.

4. I can't ignore music. This is why I can't listen to it when I'm working. Music is at a higher interrupt than thinking and it encompasses all of my thinking.

5. I want to do too much. I have way too many projects to work on. Photography, golf, travel, recording music, playing guitar and bass, hanging out with family and friends, writing cool software apps, blogging. How will I ever find time to get fluent in French, German and Italian, learn piano, become a great drummer, teach, start another band, write a book or even get really good at the things I'm already doing...

6. Rules are guidelines. When someone gives me a hard and fast rule, my first inclination is to look for exceptions or ways around it. Why only 5 idiosyncrasies? It's not that I'm an anarchist or don't believe in authority. If there is a good reason for it, I am totally supportive of rules, but I need to believe it is a good rule before I stick to it. I would suck in the military.

Who's next?

Macro M&Ms

M&Ms are pretty. And macro lenses are fun :)

Abstract blurry M&Ms

Click the link for more photos

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lake Placid

After New York City, we drove up to Lake Placid to visit my parents, brother and grandmother. We used to go to Lake Placid pretty regularly when I was growing up. I think one of the things I like so much about going to Whistler is that it reminds me of our trips to Lake Placid. My grandmother would rent a house that was big enough for her three children and all of the grand children. 14 in all. I vividly remember running around the Lake Placid Club resort with my cousins, spending the day down at the pool, stopping by the gift shop to buy candy and everyone dressing up for dinner and traipsing off to the big dining room at the resort each night. It was the first place I went skiing. It was where Kate said her first words and took her first steps.

In the years since, the resort went steadily down hill. Some time after the Olympics were there in 1980, it closed down and the big hotel had a series of suspicious fires. The last time we were there, there was only a small part of the once grand building left standing and this time it was all gone. Another big hole in the sky though really this is more of a hole along the shore of Mirror Lake. Leslie and I walked through the vacant lot that was once the Lake Placid Club Resort and found a bunch of remnants of the past. It was really sad to see something that was such a memorable part of my childhood completely gone.

The good news, though, is that the rest of Lake Placid is doing just fine. The downtown area (which we call "over town" since it is just across Mirror Lake) is in many ways exactly like it was back in the '70s. Some of the same shops are still there and it is just as inviting as it ever was.

Lake Placid hosted the Olympics in 1932 and 1980 - one of the few towns to ever host it twice. 1980 was one of the last times that the Olympics could be held in such a small place as well. The opening ceremonies were at the local fairgrounds (the torch is still standing there) not in some gigantic stadium. The speed skating competition was held on the High School track which was frozen over for the event. The bobsled and luge runs were left over from the 1932 event but still served their purpose well. My dad, brother and were in Lake Placid for the 1978 bobsled world championships and that was when I was really bitten by the Olympic fever. It was so much fun to hear the sleds roaring by, listening to the announcer describe their descent over the PA ("They're taking a big curve at shady.... sliding in to the zig-zag turns... they're zigging..... zagging..."). I started collecting Olympic pins that winter when there were probably 25 different pins for the whole event, not the thousands that are available today.

Lake Placid is still a big Olympic town. Many of the US Olympic teams train there year round and other events like the Ironman triathlon have adopted Lake Placid as their new home. On Wednesday, we had our own Olympic day which started at the bobsled track when we all got to ride in a bobsled for the last 1/2 of the same track I watched the championships on back in 1978. We zigged and zagged our way down and took a big turn at the end. It was very cool. Then we headed over to the Intervale ski jumping complex which is still quite active even in the summer. Freestyle ski jumpers from around the world practice there by jumping into a giant pool and they have rigged the 90m jump to allow them to practice on the big hill even in the summer. Both of these were happening on Wednesday (wet and wild Wednesdays, they call it) so we watched both of these events. I took a ton of pictures of both venues though once again, the cloudy skies made for less than ideal shooting conditions.

Perhaps he most impressive thing was one of the ski jumpers we saw on the 90m hill. She was just 11 years old but was jumping like a pro. I'm certainly not an expert but she looked great leaping off the ramp and flying down the hill, then landing and sliding out to a finish. ELEVEN YEARS OLD and jumping off the 90m hill. Dang!

We did a bunch of other fun things in Lake Placid as well, kayaking, golf, watching luge training, runs around the lake, shopping and just hanging out with family. It was a blast. Oh, and I got a few more Olympic pins for my collection :)

Remnants of the Lake Placid Club

Taking a curve


More freestyle

The 90m and 120m ski jumps


Click the link for more photos

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hole in the Sky

Day 2 in the Big Apple. We started the day by taking a cab to the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge and then walking back to Manhattan. I am reading David McCullough's book "The Great Bridge" which is about building the Brooklyn Bridge and I just read 1776 which also has something to do with sneaking the Revolutionary Army across the East River from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan in the middle of the night. That would have been much easier if this bridge had already been there. The bridge is a remarkablestructure, particularly for its time and the views of the city it provides are equally impressive.

As we got off the bridge, we walked down towards ground zero, aka the World Trade Center site. I had never really been there before September 11 so I didn't really have a sense of how tall the World Trade Center towers were but it is really remarkable when you get there how huge the hole their absense creates. As you walk about Manhattan, you just get used to having tall buildings everywhere but when you walk into the plaza today there is this vast gray sky and nothing to fill it. I was awestruck not just by the enormity of what had happened there almost four years ago but also by the impact this open space has today. I'm sure that once they build the new tower and memorials it will start to get back to normal but for now, it is a powerful place to visit.

After ground zero, we headed back to the hotel where Kate and Zach caught up on some sleep while Leslie and I went to the United Nations. I was psyched to try to get cool pictures of 191 flags all in a row. Boy, was I disappointed when I got there and the only flag that was flying was the UN flag itself and all of the rest of them were locked up in the boxes at the base of the flagpoles. Wah!

We did go on the tour of the facility, getting some good pictures of the General Assembly hall and Security Council chambers. The most interesting thing to me was that they let us take pictures just about anywhere in there. When we visited Washington last year, they were very picky about where we could and couldn't take pictures and even at the NBC tour, cameras were not allowed but here at the UN it was allowed -- even welcomed. Nice.

Funny side note. Leslie was wearing a shirt that says "I'm Glib" on it. A reference to Tom Cruise's national nutty on the Today show. As we walked around today, a lot of people asked what glib was. At the UN, though, people actually knew what it meant.

The hole in the sky

The Brooklyn Bridge

The Statue of Liberty from the Brooklyn Bridge

Click the link for more photos

Friday, August 19, 2005


Ah the joys of summer vacation. We flew to NYC on Thursday and arrived around 10:00 pm. Given that it was still around 7:00 in our heads, we went for a walk over to Times Square just to see what was going on. The answer is, as usual, a lot. This was Kate and Zach's first time in Manhattan (though they had been there many times in the Spiderman video game) so they were familiar with a lot of the landmarks, just not in person -- or from the ground level.

This morning, we were scheduled for a studio tour at NBC so we got up and headed over to Rockefeller Center. We walked by the Today show studio around 10:00, Kate and Zach had their picture taken with Katie Couric who was standing outside. The studio tour was pretty cool. All of the studios are smaller than you would expect, in particular Studio 8H - where they do Saturday Night Live was really crowded and even more so since they are on summer hiatus and all sorts of extra junk is stored there while they convert their studios to Hi Def. We saw the studio where Brian Williams does NBC Nightly News. Again, smaller than you think but the funny part was the "control room" behind him which is really a 1 minute video loop of the MSNBC control room shot late at night. Next time you're watching, check out the guy on the left in the orange shirt. Someone walks over to him to talk to him every minute on the minute. The magic of television :)

After the tour, we had lunch at the Carnegie Deli. This place makes Claim Jumper look downright stingy. Leslie and I split a pastrami sandwich and it was still way too big for us. It was stacked about 8 inches high with pastrami and cheese. Just nutty.

After lunch we split up. Zach and I walked around Central Park and then to the Central Park zoo. Kate and Leslie went shopping. I took a bunch of pictures at the zoo including the penguins and an extraordinarily huge... but lazy polar bear. Unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy all day so the light wasn't great, but I got a couple of good shots.

We had tickets to see The Lion King on Broadway at 8:00. Fantastic show! We used to watch the Lion King on video all the time when Kate and Zach were little. The costumes and and sets were amazing, particularly scenes like the wildebeast stampede. It was kind of like 'O' in Las Vegas where the stage is as much a part of the performance as the actors.

Here's my one complaint about New York. For a "city that never sleeps", restaurants in any place other than Times Square sure do close early. We were looking for a bite to eat after the show but we didn't want to go to the generic places right by the theater so we started walking back to our hotel at 37th and Lexington. Everything was closed. A couple of years ago, we tried to find a place to eat around midnight in the village and had the same problem. What's up with that? Where do all of these people eat when they're not sleeping?

Oh well. More tomorrow.

The lazy bear

Central Park Penguin

The view from our hotel roof

Click the link for more photos

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The full album is here.

If you look closely in the full sized version, you can read the pilot's name and see that he is looking my way. It turns out that Lcdr Craig Olson is a local, from Kirkland.

This was with the 600mm. It really captures the speed and was very crisp.

Fat Albert returning home from a jog around Lake Washington.

Blue Angels 2005

This weekend is my annual test of my camera gear. For the past 5 years, I have used the Blue Angels show at Seafair in Seattle as the true test of whether my camera and lenses are fast enough to be able to get good pictures of F/A 18 Hornets zipping by both near and far. For the first time ever, my equipment passed the test with (pardon the pun) flying colors.

You can see some of my favorite photos in this photo album but I'm sure you really want to know all of the detail, so here goes:

After last year, I bought the Canon 20D which has much more buffer space and significantly more shots per second than the Digital Rebel I had before. Then I needed a lens that was crisp enough to be able to take sharp photos even with a fast target but also long enough to be able to take pictures of the pilot's helmets as they zipped past. The Canon 100-400 f/4.0-5.6L IS USM lens did the trick. On Friday, a bunch of us went out on David's boat (er... ship) and took pictures during their practice session. Even with the motion of the boat I was able to get some really nice shots of the planes right over head.

On Saturday, I was able to borrow an absolutely insane lens. The Canon 600mm f/4L IS USM lens is a monster. It weighs nearly 12 pounds and needs one heck of a beefy tripod to be able to swivel around to follow the action. Peyman, Dan and his wife helped Zachary and me tote the equipment to the I90 bridge where we got some great shots as they came in low across the bridge. It was a lot harder to handle than the 100-400 (duh) but the pictures were amazingly sharp. Well, not all of them, but when it wasn't it was usually my fault. It is really tough to line up a lens that big and long with planes coming in at 300+ MPH but I only had about 2 shots of empty blue sky out of over 500 shots.

Finally, today I took the trusty 100-400 down to Boeing Field to watch the pre-show arrangements, take-off and landing. The sucky part is that the planes are behind a chain link fence and there is a barrier about 10 feet in front of the fence so I had to shoot through it from a distance. The nice thing is that at 400mm, you can shoot through the fence pretty reasonably. You can still tell that it is through a fence but it is pretty good. The first and sixth shots in the album are through the fence so you can see for yourself.

My biggest battle was with dust on my sensor. On Friday it was filthy and I had to remove about 6-8 spots from each picture I wanted to keep. I cleaned it on Saturday morning and there were only about 2 spots after that. Clearly, I need to do a better job of cleaning it but I am being very cautious about that. I've ordered some special brushes from Visible Dust to clean it up before my next trip.

Over the three days, I took over 1500 pictures. It is so easy to just let that shutter go and get 5-10 shots in a pass. After a significant amount of pruning and editing I am down to about 120 that I'm keeping. Digital Image Suite 2006 made it so easy to triage and then fix up the ones I liked. Those guys are great!! :)

So I think I am done with this test now. I have about all of the Blue Angels pictures I could want after 6 years of taking pictures there. Next year, I might go to Seattle and take pictures of other parts of town as they fly over. A good shot of the Space Needle or Qwest Field with a blue hornet over it would be pretty sweet.

Unless, of course, I have another lens I need to try out....

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Up, Up and Away!

Leslie told me what my birthday present is for this year. We are all going to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October! This looks like an amazing trip where we will not only get to watch more than 700 hot air balloons take off at about the same time in a mass ascention but also get to go up in one ourselves and see the sites from above as well.

At night, they have Balloon Glows (or Glowdeos) where they keep the balloons tethered to the ground but fire their burners to light them up. This is followed by fireworks (good thing they're still tethered down...).

Over 700 balloons in all shapes and sizes spread out against a crystal clear desert sky. This should be a great trip with some amazing pictures to show for it.

Woo hoo!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Wow!! Plateau Club Member/Guest Final Day

"Let me 'splain..... No, there is too much. Let me sum up" - Inigo Montoya

There are so many amazing stories from the final day of the Member/Guest at the Plateau Club but here are the key bits so you can get back to your Raisin Bran:
1) We won our flight with 30 points. A full 1/2 point ahead of the next group.
2) We got to play in the Championship Horse Race during which an epic battle took place
3) We came in second place in the overall tournament and got a very pretty trophy

Now to some details:

The Matches
We had two more 9 hole matches on Saturday which would determine who would win the flights. We were leading by 2 points going into our 4th match which started out just great when Paul and I both put our tee shots in the fairway and the other guys hit theirs into yucky bad places. We then hit out second shots onto the green and they hit theirs out of bounds. They conceded before we even got to the green and we moved on. I hit my tee shot on the second hole with my 3 wood and as I bent to pick up the tee, I heard my club go "crack". The head had come loose from the shaft and that was pretty much it for my 3 wood. Crap! I need that thing. When we got to 11, Caleb (one of the golf pros at the club) came by and I told him about my 3 wood. He looked up the rules and they said that I could replace the club with another one as long as no one had been using it in the competition. I remembered that Rick had a Nike Ignite 3 wood at the range and that he wasn't going to play it today so it must be in his car. Caleb took off to find Rick, got his keys, went to his car and then brought me Rick's 3 wood and took mine back to the clubhouse. Totally above and beyond and I really appreciated that. As it turns out, I don't hit it that well, but that's a different story.

Many holes of golf ensued. We were not as "on" as we were the day before but we did manage to get our fourth win and 6.5 points out of the match. At this point we were up by 2.5 points and going against the last place team on the front 9 which is Paul's favorite. Things were looking good.

Our final match was really tough. The guys we were playing against ran hot and cold but hit some amazing shots sticking it close to the pin a couple of times and getting birdies. Paul played to just +1 on the whole 9 and I had a couple of good recoveries for par that won or halved the hole but in the end we only won 4 points and lost the match. The question was, would four points be enough?

The answer was yes. The second place group had won their final match 6-4 but even if they had gotten 6.5 points we still would have won the flight since we beat them. Amazing! We actually won our flight. Now we waited for Rick and Rick to come in to see how they did. They said they were playing absolutely terribly in one of the matches but managed wins in both of them so both groups would actually be in the championship horse race. Very cool!

The Horse Race
I'll start by explaining how the horse race works. There were 8 flight winning teams so sixteen players on the first hole. Each player hits their tee shot and plays through the hole. Yes -- that's sixteen people all playing the same hole at the same time. At the end of the first hole, three teams would be eliminated based on the highest team score (best ball). In each subsequent hole, one team would be eliminated until the last hole where the winner of the hole would be the winner of the tournament. In the case of ties on the first 4 holes, there would be a chip-off to see who could chip closest to the hole. If there was a tie on the last hole, they would play it as a par 3 over and over until someone won.

Now if it was just the 16 people playing watching, it would be considerably more pressure than the typical match play round. But on top of that, most of the people who had not won their flights (and a fair number of their spouses) were watching as well -- whizzing around from point to point in a parade of golf carts being constantly resupplied by the small fleet of beer carts. I imagine that Desert Storm would look just like this if it had taken place on a golf course and in golf carts.

Leslie and Becky made it and were following us around as well. Leslie had her camera so there may be some pictures to share later. I was really glad that they made it to watch the epic battle that ensued.

We started on hole 18 where we had started in the morning with our early concession. Usually I would use my 3 wood but it was in two pieces somewhere and I didn't trust Rick's one so I hit my 5 wood. Did I mention that a ton of people were watching? Well. I nailed it. A great shot to the middle of the fairway that plugged as it hit. Plugged. At the end of July. Fortunately, I get free relief for that. Paul hit a fantastic 2 iron and we were both in the fairway. Now the amazing part was that all 16 players were in play after the tee shot. No one sliced it or hooked it into the woods. that line both sides of this dogleg left hole. I hit a great second shot that ended up in the green side bunker and Paul hit on to the green for his second. I got out of the bunker with no problems and 2 putted for a net par. Paul had an actual par. We were set. Except for all of the other people who had pars. The Ricks were in with birdie so they were guaranteed to move on. Paul had a great chip in the chip-off and we moved on to the second hole in the horse race and a guaranteed 5th place or better finish.

The next hole was number 1. Paul had a monumental drive down the fairway. I was right in the rough but punched back on to the fairway and decided to try Rick's 3 wood to get over the junk. Hmph. I topped it into the junk about 125 yards down the fairway. Rick 2 also put his 3rd shot into the junk while Rick 1 was well right of the green, but in pretty good place after 3 shots. I hit my 5 wood with a perfect fade over the junk and to the back of the green. Paul played a 5 iron over the junk and hit a wedge up to the back of the green. We knew that par would save win the hole at this point. I didn't get it done, but Paul did sink his putt to get the birdie and we were ready to move on. The Ricks were in with a bogey and had to do the chip off. Rick hit a great chip and I figured he was through, but the other team hit one just a little closer so the Ricks were eliminated. We were on to 4th place or better.

The next two holes were identical. I sucked. Paul nailed it. We were in the chip off on number 2 and Paul put the ball about 12 inches away. On number 8, he stuck his second shot about 3 feet away and made the birdie putt. If I hadn't hit my first shot OB on 8, I would have made a par (net birdie) as well - though I did, so I didn't.

So now we come to the ninth hole. There are just two teams left. Us and the top ranked team in the low handicap group. The crowed has swelled to what seems like thousands but it was probably more like about 70 people. The other guys hit tee shots that are good but right of the fairway. I do the same thing because why not? Paul nails one to the middle of the fairway. I hit my second shot (a 5 wood this time - thank you very much) and hit a perfect shot to about 120 yards away. Paul is at about 110. I am ready to redeem myself from the previous couple of holes when I push my iron way right and it bounces off the hill, hits a cart path and is well right of the hole but still in play. Paul hits his a little long. So do the other guys. I think. It starts to get blurry here. For me to hit my shot, we need to move lots of carts, the beer cart. Heck I even thought of moving a tent. I get a good line but I don't have a good distance so I hit it over the hill but it doesn't roll down to the green. I hit on to the green but I'm pretty much out of it. We end up tying the hole thanks to Paul's short game and we move on to a tie breaker.

The Tie Breaker(s)
So now we go back to the fairway and play the same hole as a par 3. Paul and Ryan - the low handicappers - play it from 150. John and I - the higher handicappers - play it from the 125. It is very uphill to a 3 tiered green with the flag on the top tier. Ryan is right of the green on the hill. Paul is long in the bunker. John is left in the heavy rough. I take the same 7 iron from about the same distance as my crappy shot of only a few minutes ago and hit the green in the middle tier. Yay!

Ryan's shot to the green is too fast and it rolls down the green so he is out of it. John hits onto the green and 2 putts for a 4. Paul takes 2 shots to get out of the bunker so he also has a 4. I putt my first putt to about 4 feet, below the hole. I now have one putt to win the championship. Four feet. Up hill. Breaks from right to left about 3 inches or so. I take the putter back and let it go. It rolls towards the hole breaking just like it is supposed to. It comes to the left side of the cup and starts to fall down into the hole. Paul yells out "YEAH!!" The ball gets scared and speeds up and comes back up out of the hole and stops 4 inches from it. 70 people say "OH!!!". I tap it in and we head back down to do the par 3 thing all over again.

So now we are 3 hours and 45 minutes into the horse race and we're playing the second tie breaker. It looks a lot like the first one with John on the hill long, Ryan in the bunker this time and Paul just right of the green in the rough and me on the green on the second tier. This time, John sends his chip rolling down the green, Paul hits his a little long on the top tier. I leave my put shorter than the first time so I'm at about 8 feet and Ryan hits the bunker shot of his life to about 2.5 feet and proceeds to fall back into the bunker and make a sand angel as the crowd (which overwhelmingly has money on them to win) goes crazy. I miss my putt and am looking at a 4. Paul also is looking at a 4. Ryan sinks his putt to win the hole, the horse race and the tournament. We come in second.

It is one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The crowd. The pressure. The putt that almost was. Being on the green with so many others watching and wishing they had my putt, or Paul's chip or whatever.

We both got beautiful crystal trophies and we made a couple of people a lot of money but the experience was the best part of it.

OK, gotta go. Need to work on that putting.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Tournament 2: The Plateau Club Member/Guest

Today was the first full day of the Plateau Club Member/Guest tournament. OK, actually, yesterday was because there was a practice round and the kickoff horse race. Paul and I are playing together this year and Rick is playing with the other Rick. Yesterday, I was playing much like I've played for the past couple of months. Some great holes and some terrible ones. I did end up with 4 pars, 8 bogies and one birdie (on 7) but I also had 3 doubles and 2 triples so inconsistency was the name of the game. Since the format for the actual tournament is team best ball match play, though that is not bad. If Paul can play well on the holes where I fall apart, we would be in good shape. We win one point for each hole we win, 1/2 point for each hole we split and the winner of the match gets one extra point for a total of 10 possible points per 9 hole round.

So this morning around 9 am, Paul and I teed off. We are the top seed in the second flight, thanks to Paul's 5 course handicap. Mine would be around 17 or so but since the max differential is 10, I am playing to a 15. Since we are the top seed and Paul has the lowest handicap in our flight of 6 teams, everyone's handicap will be relative to Paul's which means that I always get 5 strokes per 9 hole round. This is great to know from a consistency point of view. Getting a stroke on the first hole ended up helping a lot as I finished with a net par to win that first hole. Paul then won the second hole with a natural birdie (his first of 5 today!). I had a natural birdie (net eagle) on 3, then Paul won 4 with another birdie. After I won 5 with a par, we were looking sweet. We had already won the first match swapping winning holes (I liked the idea that I would win the odd holes and he would win the even ones). It didn't keep up like that -- which is good because I think people would want to kill us.

The amazing thing was that we ended up winning all three matches we played today. 7.5 points on the first round and 6 points each for the second and third rounds so at the end of day one, we are leading our flight by 2 points. A lot can happen tomorrow and who knows if we will be hitting the ball as well tomorrow as we did today but it is really amazing to be leading at the end of day one.

Paul and I finished our 3rd round and as we came in, the head pro, Chris, came over to us. "Hey," he said, "did you hear about Rick's hole in one?"


Yep, Rick had a hole in one on 15. His third hole in one in 3 years. In fact, all three of them have been in the month of July. When Paul and I were playing 15 today, about an hour before Rick hit his shot, we were telling the guys we were playing against that Rick had hit one in July for each of the last 2 years and was due. We actually said that we figured he would hit one during the tournament and sure enough, he did. DAMN! I figure that we set up the mojo by letting the 15th hole to be on the lookout for him. In return, we got a couple of free drinks in the bar after the round (along with everyone else in the tournament). Congrats Rick!

So the final rounds are tomorrow, two more 9 hole matches. Then the winner of each flight plays in a Championship Horse Race. I would LOVE to do that, but I am not worrying about that at all at this point. There is a lot of golf to play and it was just so great today to play as well as we did. Lots of fun.

More tomorrow :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Discovery - YEAH!

The space shuttle Discovery launched this morning for the first flight since the Columbia broke up nearly 2.5 years ago. There is something about shuttle launches that really gets me going. I have watched lots of launches on TV, but this one was even cooler. They've added about 100 cameras to the shuttle and it's external tank to check for damage during launch but the coolest one was the live view of the shuttle from the external tank up to and including the separation. It was a view that no one had ever seen before and with the exception of a few glitches, it was remarkably clear.

I love knowing that there are people orbiting in the shuttle right now. Very cool.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Airtunes Take 2

Almost a year ago, I tried out the Apple Airport Express with AirTunes. It didn't go so well. I figured it was time to try it again and this time it actually works. First, they changed the device so it doesn't have to be a wireless base station. I already have one of those so there is no need to deal with making them work together. This is a big part of where it fell down last time. So now it is only a remote pair of speakers across our home network. Now any copy of iTunes can start streaming it's audio to the AirTunes speakers. I am going to hook it up to my home audio system that can then route the music to any pair of speakers in the house (the house is wired with about 8 or 9 pairs of speakers in different rooms). The really cool thing is that I can then get another one and have multiple playlists going on in different rooms in the house.

This should be cool :)

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Bear Creek Invitational - Day 3

We didn't win.

Now that I've got that out of the way. We were actually doing pretty well for the first 14 holes or so. Today it was Dave's turn to hit it close on number 9 -- he had it to about 2 feet. We both sank birdie putts for two net eagles. That was sweet. Near the end though, it went sour. With 4 holes to go, the wheels fell off when we were both sitting 135 yards out after 2 shots on a par 5 and somehow both walked away with 8s. Couldn't even blame it on penalty strokes. If those last 4 holes had gone better, we could have been in contention but you can't do many one or zero point holes as end up near the top.

We did finish somewhere in the middle though, and it was a lot of fun. Now it is time to start preparing for the Plateau Club Member/Guest in less than two week.

Oh boy!

Friday, July 15, 2005

Bear Creek Invitational - Days 1 and 2

I still haven't hit a hole in one, but I've come close twice in 24 hours.

During the par 3 tournament yesterday, one of the guys on a different team hits his shot to the number 12 green and it rolls to 8 inches from the hole. I then hit mine and it lands to the right of the hole and starts rolling left. It rolls between his ball and the hole, missing it by about 2 inches as it slowly rolled past. Dang!!

Then today we are playing in the main tournament. There are 4 par 3 holes on the course and every one of them has a hole in one contest. Three cars and one motorcycle. On number 9 - a 210 yard long par 3 over water that I've never even hit the green on - I pull my 3 wood and hit a high draw that lands on the green to the left of the hole and starts rolling right towards it. Closer. Closer...... then it stops. 4 feet from the hole. Soooo close. And then I missed the putt. Grrr....

The high point was a birdie following a pretty bad tee shot on 14. Finally, a putt longer than three feet dropped. My driver has been terrible. My irons were bad yesterday, but a swing adjustment had them rocking today. My putting has been completely without feel for a while now. I even got a new putter which may or may not be helping.

Even with my somewhat weak play over the past couple of days it is still fun. Even when you hit a bad tee shot, there is often a chance to recover (like my birdie on 14) so that helps. Plus, the stableford scoring system used in the member guest is less confrontational than the match play tournament the Plateau uses at their M/G.

Tomorrow is the last round. 8:00 am tee time. Must get sleep.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tournament 1: Bear Creek Member/Guest

I'm playing in the Bear Creek Country Club Member/Guest tournament this weekend - the first of two M/Gs this month. It starts tomorrow with the practice round. Last year, I practiced a bunch in the weeks leading up to the tournament and was pretty bad. This year, I didn't. I haven't played since last week in Vegas, but I'll be out early tomorrow warming up.

Of course, Leslie returns from China tomorrow as well so I hope the round goes pretty fast :)

Should be fun.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Seattle Summer Music Games

Taking the geek in Duffergeek to an entirely new level. Insert: Band Geek.

When I was in high school, I was in marching band. Now we weren't your typical high school marching band featuring the full spectrum of band instruments. We were small, but we wanted to sound big, so we were more like a small drum corps than a marching band. We used to go to DCI drum corps shows all the time around Ohio and we worked hard at emulating their style and discipline. And this one time... and band camp...

No wait -- jump to modern times.

So this Saturday is the Seattle Summer Music Games. It is the only real drum corps show in the Northwest (that I know of) and it usually features a couple of the top west coast corps. The Seattle Cascades are always there and last year, the Santa Clara Vanguard performed as well. The Blue Devils from Concord CA have been there before and this year their B corps will be there.

This year is going to be much cooler for me. I sent mail to the folks at the Northwest Youth Music Association and asked for permission to get field access to take pictures of the event. They said yes! DCI events can be some of the most interesting things to take pictures of. Lots of action, bright, bold colors and kids working their butts off to nail their routines. For me, the most amazing thing is the synchronization needed to pull off a great show. 10 snare drummers all playing at blistering speed in perfect unison so that it sounds like a single drum is one thing. Throw in having to keep moving the entire time, a horn line that can peel paint off the stadium and intersperse a color guard that is spinning and throwing flags, rifles and sabres all over the place and it is really something to behold. Then -- spread it out over 100 yards and try to synchronize THAT. When done well, it is an awesome experience.

Any way about it, it will make for a great set of pictures. If anyone is interested, the show is Saturday July 9 at 6:30 at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

Remind me to tell you about the time I ran over a judge with my tuba...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Wynn Las Vegas - Recap

Here's something I didn't expect. Las Vegas doesn't really put on a show for the 4th of July. Huh. Imagine that! A holiday specifically designed for being loud and flashy at night and Las Vegas passes it by. Whodathunkit?!?

It turns out there are plenty of other things to do in Vegas though, so I was not bored. It was a little strange to go there alone. Usually I am there with a group of friends, or with a bunch of folks from work for a trade show but this time, it was just me. I stayed at the new Wynn resort where they upgraded me to the Tower Suites. I ended up with a great room overlooking the golf course (no doubt taunting me for my previous post).

I played a round of golf at Bali Hai. A nice course just south of the Mandalay Bay resort (where I usually stay in Vegas). Unfortunately the greens had just been punched about 4 days earlier so they were very sandy and bumpy which really affected the round. Lots of 3 putts as the ball bounced all over the place. I did have a nice birdie on the second hole, a long par 5 where I hit a good drive a weak second shot and an amazing 200 yard 5 wood that stopped 4 feet from the hole. I was even after 2 holes but that was pretty much it for highlights. Did I mention that it was hot? About 105&deg; which makes the ball go far, but it also makes the grips so hot that they start to burn your hands after a while. It was a fun round though and I have yet another logo ball for the case.

After that, it was pretty much a bunch of eating and gambling. I had dinner at Okana where the master chef was my own private sushi chef for the evening. OMG, it was fantastic! He made an exquisite nigiri of toro tuna with crushed pepper, then torched it to sear it and added some fresh lemon juice. It melted in my mouth -- simply amazing. There were other great delights there as well but that one was outstanding.

After dinner, a great round of blackjack with some friendly folks from Texas. Great because I was up $400 at the end of it (don't worry -- it all went away later). On the second night, I went to the poker room and signed up for a $4/$8 table after getting lots of tips from a blackjack dealer at the Venetian. I was a bit nervous since I would be playing against other players, not just the house but it ended up being a great time. I started out with $100, won some, lost some, went all in once and won, then went back to being up $60.00 before I eventually withered to nothing but it took 3.5 hours and was a lot of fun. $100 for 3.5 hours was cheaper than the golf in a pure dollars to fun time ratio. :)

It ended up being pretty nice being there alone. I was able to relax, hang out by the pool, go shoot pictures, read, and gamble on my own schedule. I think next time I'll go with friends though -- much more fun at the tables with people you know.

Here are some pictures from the trip.

The Hilton did have a fireworks display and I was able to watch it from my hotel room. It's pretty cool when you zoom in.

This is a statue in the near the waterfall. The hair looks amazing considering it's metal.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Lessons learned

I like to summarize. Sometimes at the end of a conversation or at the end of a trip, or maybe at the end of some period in my life, I'll try to come up with the pithy statement that ties it all together so I can put that moment on the shelf with a nice tag.

Sometimes the summaries are vague, like Bob Barrenger said after flipping a station wagon in State and Main -- "So... that happened." Other times the lessons are much more specific -- "Lighting a campfire inside the tent is a bad idea."

Here are some other ones I remember.

  • Don't try to charge $5.00 for a bottle of water to 300,000 people fenced in at a concert. They will burn shit.
  • Lists are good, but if you never look at them, they're not as good.
  • Cows are always funny
  • Phantom stock is a bad idea. The work "phantom" should have been a clue.
  • You always have to have someone to talk to.
  • Remember to send in your tax forms. Otherwise, bad things happen.
  • Sometimes, a peaceful solution is the wrong solution.
  • Things usually happen for a reason, you just might not see that reason for a while.
  • If you go into the interview with an attitude, even McDonald's will give you a no hire.
  • If you're really good at rationalizing, you can fool yourself.
  • Sometimes you need to dig in, sometimes you need to move on. It is tough to know the difference.
  • It's interesting the things people will give you in Las Vegas.
  • I care about elegance and elegance is all about the details.
  • I'm not a details guy, though I often wish I was.
  • Palm Springs in late May is extraordinarily hot.
  • There are two ways to have a long term consistent golf swing. Quit or die.
  • I need goals.
  • Pictures are amazing evocative.
  • So is music.
  • Video is less so.
  • Some rules are just guidelines. It's good to know which are which.
  • You have to know when to hit "Post"

Friday, July 01, 2005

Distributed Friends

It must be that travelin' time of year. Everyone is out of town. Leslie is on her way to China. Eric is in Mexico. Lara is in France. David's heading to Hawaii. Katie is in New Zealand. Angie is leaving for Washington, DC. Looks like I gotta get out of town :)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

iTunes moment - Old Man

Treat Yo Mama and Old Man from the album "Sunrise Over Sea" by John Butler Trio

Awesome -- Slammin' -- Swamp Rock

Enjoy your last...
Last taste of freedom

A semi-round at the Plateau

Thousands of adoring fans of Duffergeek have been writing asking me to talk more about my golf rounds. Well, I'm not going to give into that kind of peer pressure. I mean I would be so weak to just go back to talking about this shot or that shot or...

OK, just a little bit...

Paul and I played at the Plateau Club today. SLOWLY. It took us nearly 3 hours to play 9 holes. The interesting thing, though, was that in general, I was hitting the ball extremely well. Totally relaxed. Taking nice and smooth swings at it and in general connecting solidly. I hit GIRs on #11 and #16 which has never happened before (at least not in one round). I even had a par on 16. WTF!?!

The Plateau still had its way with me though. Sticking branches out just enough to knock down an otherwise perfect 6 iron on 14. Sticking a bunker in a stupid place to mess up an otherwise fine tee shot on 15 (fried egg on the uphill ledge -- no less). Adding a rim accelerator to the cup on 11 turning an otherwise dandy par into a 3 putt bogey. Pfeh!

The slow play took it's toll though and I bailed after 9. It is a great feeling when everything just sorta works in a zen kinda way. I certainly won't count on that happening again in any of the upcoming tournaments.

ecto - part II

Apparently it does. SWEET! And at only $17.95 it's a bargain. Time to support software authors!!


Playing around with blogging tools. ecto is pretty cool. I like being able to publish from anywhere via the website, but I really prefer cool client apps. I hope this one works :)

Friday, June 24, 2005

What the huh??

I'm headed to Las Vegas for a few days pretty soon. I'll be staying at the Wynn Hotel which sounded ideal to me because it has its own golf course. I called last night to get a tee time and the conversation went something like this.

Wynn Guy: Concierge, can I help you?
Duffergeek: I'd like to make a tee time.
Wynn Guy: Will you be staying at the Wynn Hotel?
Duffergeek: Yep!
Wynn Guy: OK. Has anyone told you how much it costs?

Right here I start getting nervous. kind of a strage question to ask at this point...

Duffergeek: Um.. nope.
Wynn Guy: OK. It is $500.00 per round, that includes nearly everything - except balls. It covers your cart, greens fee, and maybe a caddie.


What the huh? That's a lot of money for one round of golf.
Wynn Guy: Some people just hang up on my when I tell them that.
Duffergeek: Why is it so expensive?
Wynn Guy: Well, it is one of the best golf courses in the world.
Duffergeek: But I've played at Pebble Beach -- arguably THE best golf course in the world -- and it only costs $350.
Wynn Guy: Um, yeah. I've heard of that one. I don't really know. I could read you some of the stuff from the web site. I.. don't... um... play golf...
Duffergeek: OK. I'm gonna need to ponder that. Thanks. Bye.
Wynn Guy: Bye

That is a crazy amount for one round. Even in Vegas (unless, of course, the caddies are very, very special caddies -- but I didn't ask about that).

Perhaps I'll wait until I get there and win a crapload of money. Then it might not seem so bad.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Time Machines are Probably Just Dumb.

I realized that we do time travel all the time (and no, I'm not talking about the standard passage of time). Ever sat in a meeting that seemed to drag on forever? That is a form of time travel. To everyone outside of that meeting, it was just an hour, but to you, it was an eternity. You were traveling through time more slowly than those other people. On Monday, I stayed home to play around with writing some code. I started coding around 11:00 am and the next thing I knew, it was 6:00pm. Where did the time go? Clearly, I was in some sort of a time warp. Most other people had 7 hours of meetings and commuting. That time flew by in what seemed like about 2 hours to me. From this, I can determine two things.

1) Conference rooms are time machines that slow down time.
2) Computers can be a time machine that speeds up time around me when I am doing things like writing code or playing World of Warcraft.

But what about more interesting uses of time machines? We had a discussion at lunch today about teleportation. I said that teleportation would be easy if you could just control time. You could stop time, travel somewhere and when you got there you could start time again and it would look to everyone else just like you had teleported to that place. In fact, that is probably how teleportation works. Here's the downside. Like sitting in a conference room for a boring meeting, it feels just as slow as regular travel to the person who is teleporting and since time has stopped, you probably can't use your MP3 player very well since the tempo in music would be totally screwed up so it is a really boring trip. I then extrapolated that people had probably already invented time machines for the purpose of teleportation, but then realized that they were really rather dumb and just decided to not tell anyone about it.

So. There ya go.