Two good things about this time of year come to mind:
I'm going to out myself. I watch too much TV. Way too much TV. Even worse, I've got a long queue of "to start watching." How much TV is too much? Let's stack rank the shows this past year...
Battlestar Galactica: dystopian to a degree that even Rick Deckard hugs his Voight-Kampff machine for comfort. All over now and I'm still meditating on it. Like a big tale from The Bible.
Lost: wow, it really turned it around this year. Well, really with the season finale last year. I totally grooved with the time-travel story and how lots of threads started coming together. And the Jacob episode was great. With every answer there seems to be two more questions. Coming back one more season.
Fringe: I didn't expect to like this after the first few episodes. I was accumulating shows to watch one day when - with what should have been the end of the Snow of 2008 - I went out to continue shoveling a path for Bella when it started snowing hard and accumulating fast. I swore with great elegance and sat down in a huff and decided to start watching Fringe one after the other and really warmed up to the show. No time travel, but it does have alternative universes colliding. Gotta love that. It's coming back, too.
Terminator: some of these episodes are really poetic, and a complex back story with the renegade T-1000 was bringing something complex together with the future war colliding back in time (more time travel!). Somewhere, it got more relationship-bleak and strained. The bond the characters had in the first season fragmented. Seems as though Fox had to choose between The Dollhouse and Terminator and chose The Dollhouse. See you in the movies.
Dr. Who: I don't know about this new Dr. coming soon. Meanwhile, what a fun show. It always manages a complex back story. Back in small doses over the coming year.
24: redemption, truly, this year to make up for last year's stinker year. Wait, not last year, it was canned last year 'cause of the writer's strike. The year's before last stinker year. A whole bunch of twists as only 24 can do it, though Jack is sort of becoming a caricature of himself (e.g., his dialogue could be spat out by a Bauer-bot). Back next year, if the lead actor stays out of jail.
Torchwood: aka, the naughty Dr. Who. I like Jack. A lot. I think it's coming back as a sort of mini-series.
The Middleman: just a damn fun show. Smart and full of pop-references that zing by me faster than I can catch. Spy-fi funtastic. And cancelled. Boo.
Eureka: another fun show descended from Northern Exposure. But as the outsider becomes integrated, well, not as fun.
Reaper: I think I only watch this for Ray Wise. Plus the fact that I'm a Christian mythology geek. Probably not returning so I'm enjoying the last few episodes as much as I can.
Smallville: my dirty indulgence. I have no idea why I've stuck with this series for so long. It had some early episodes that reached the elegant production values of a high-end stage production (the one where Lex Luthor remembers his infant sibling's death was magic). And it has had it's share of stinker cheese. This year it turned it around somehow and turned interesting. And, if you follow the mythology, I think Clark is about to go on his world-wide walk-about to grow into a man. A Superman. Well, maybe not with Zod appearing at the end.
Heroes: last and on the edge of getting bumped. How badly can you screw up a series? Somehow, all the characters got beat by the Dumb Stick and turned into fumbling idiots. How can you have a show called Heroes where you don't respect any of the heroic characters? Well, Pushing Daisies' cancellation brought back a key Heroes producer, so it might have hope... but it's on the edge of becoming one of my "kitchen" shows to play while doing dishes.
...so, some of those have hit the road. That's a couple hours back in my week. Except for the fact that I still have a lot in the queue to watch... The Dollhouse, True Blood, and Supernatural. Sorry books.
Saying goodbye to such a loving, sweet being as Bella is hard beyond words. We all go through painful times like this and it's a testament to how much we're willing to love and be loved so unconditionally. (And yes, that classic sappy Rainbow Bridge poem is a comfort, no matter how much it makes me choked up.)
I became a guardian for Bella twelve years ago. She's been part of my life for over a quarter of my lifetime. Her absence now is very much a big hole in who I am. Let's start filling that hole with a few good memories.
Bella's registered name is Glynnfarm La Belle Finie. She was born on March 28th, 1995, in Wisconsin. Her name represents the end of the line for her breeder. Her sire was Glynnfarm Archangel Raphael and her dam was Glynnfarm Freckles O'Neil. She ended up in Olympia, WA, at Linda Weisser's kennel. Linda is who we got Beau from. I remember visiting Linda's and Bella was standing up on the fencing of her kennel, barking for attention. Demanding attention. I also think she wanted out and to be in a loving home. Soon afterwards, Bella came to our home in Aloha, OR, and Susan started showing Bella.
Bella loved Susan, but wasn't too sure about me. If I stopped to look at Bella and smile at her, she panicked and immediately wanted to be elsewhere. Over the months, she grew to trust me.
Of course, drying her off with the air blower didn't help with the whole trust thing. She was a wild bucking bronco when time came to dry her long fur with a loud blower. I couldn't hold my ground while Susan did her best to dance around both of us, attempting to shoot her arm in momentarily to dry a little fur. Eventually, with the help of a doorknob to hold her leash firmly, she gave in and got dry.
One of our first expeditions with Bella was to Long Beach, WA. A logistical error on my part at Leadbetter Point State Park resulted in us taking the long, hot, exhausting way to get to the beach. Bella came across a patch of cool, wet, shady mud and immediately plopped down. "Feels good!" she seemed to say looking at our shocked faces, "come on, there's plenty for you, too!"
Beau and Bella played a lot. Unfortunately for Beau, he learned to play from me, which was a razz-ma-jazz float-like-a-butterfly scooting around style of chase play. Bella was much more a direct point-A to point-B kind of player, where point-B was Beau knocked down on the ground. Overtime in Graham Bella loosened up and started to scoot around, too.
In 1997, as we were moving from Oregon to Washington, Bella had her first and only litter of twelve puppies. Twelve! Susan visited Bella and Linda's quite often. I eventually managed a trip, too, to find Bella constantly being followed by hungry puppies that would wait for her to pause so that they could stand under her and find a nipple.
Two of her puppies, Bianca and Bijou, joined us for a while in Graham. They eventually found very loving homes that were especially big hearted when it came to helping the daughters make it through the initial onset bone cancer they both contracted. Eventually, Sarah - Bella's grand-pup - joined us for a while, too, and learned from Beau and Bella to wait in the corner of the field for neighbor Lawrence to visit with cookies.
Some where along the way, Bella broke one of her toes on her left rear paw. We got a cast for her and she got by just fine for a while as peg-legged Bella. She didn't let the peg leg slow her down at all.
Bella consistently demonstrated that she was the sweetest, most loving, gentle being I have ever known. But she did demonstrate one case of being not-so-sweet with Beau: destroying Beau's Spider toy. Beau had this multi-color dog toy that was a spider. When he held it in his mouth, the spider legs poking out looked like colorful sausages hanging out of his muzzle. One day, walking the acreage before mowing, I discovered Spider's squeaker. Not a good sign. Then I discovered leg after ripped up leg. I knew Bella would steal Spider on occasion and get rough with it. Spider: Rest in Pieces.
When Susan was in UWMC's rehab unit, Bella visited once and was convinced to jump up into the hospital bed with Susan to give Susan some one-on-one Pyrenees therapy. Seeing Bella with Susan in that bed is a pretty precious memory.
Bella demonstrated to my family an inspired strategic skill to get Beau's food. I'd feed them both at the same time, side by side. Bella would wolf her food down and suddenly startle as if she heard something. She'd take off, huffing that something was up. Beau - a slow eater - would ponderously raise his head. Bella would run into the adjacent field and begin barking as if attackers were flowing over the five-foot-no-climb fence. Beau would spring into action to back her up and run over to her full-throttle. She'd circle back around while he was charging out into the field and head straight for his food. Score!
During the time I was alone in Graham I found a lot of comfort in having Beau and Bella to come home to. On the weekend evenings I'd be downstairs in the basement, either watching a DVD or playing Halo or Buffy on the Xbox, after a long day playing farming catch-up on five acres. If I turned on the Xbox, Bella would make a bee-line for the couch and jump up. I'd be wedged in all the way over to the right and Bella settled down to claim the rest for herself and fall dead asleep. And there we'd be, late into the night, my hand reaching over occasionally to rub her and she letting out a contented groan.
During that time, I broke one of the golden rules of Pyr / dog ownership: I let Bella up on the bed with me. She was thrilled beyond words to have such a wonderful privilege ("Neener-neener, Beauregard!"). This habit had to be broken eventually via a couple of laundry baskets that stole all of her space.
Bella loved snow. She'd come in from the snow with little snow balls dangling from her legs. When she went out in it, she'd find a nice clear patch of snow and plop down into it, rolling back and forth. We laughed about her creating Bella-angels.
Elisa came to Graham at the end of 2002 and came to love Bella as much as I did. While I was away for a conference in New Orleans, Elisa, Beau, and Bella went for a big walk in the abandoned Christmas Tree farm across our property. And shortly discovered a patch of bees living in the ground. Thank goodness for thick fur.
With bone cancer taking over, Beau had to leave us in April 2004 and Bella became our sole Pyrenees. Right at that time, too, she suffered from pyrametria and had to go into surgery. She recovered fine and became healthy and strong (thanks to a lot of cheese and ice cream). Only, because of the changes in her body, her coat changed from a wonderful rough, working coat to which no dirt could cling to a fluffy, matt-happy coat. D'oh.
Our little Graham farm was fine for Bella and she got in a lot of running around. It was flat and wide open. Our Redmond Tree House is the exact opposite of Graham: on a hill, surrounded by tall firs and maples.
You can see the Sammamish River Trial from our house, making out the occasional flash of color as a bicyclist goes by. One day Elisa and I were walking on the trail, trying to look back in the mess of trees on the hill and figure out where our house might be when we heard a deep strong, distant, "Woof!" I looked at Elisa. We then heard, "Woof woof woof woof!" We laughed. It was Bella, filling the Sammamish Valley with her bark. She was The Pyrenees of the Valley.
She also brought with her a high pitched, small howl she'd let loose anytime the emergency vehicles ran their sirens along the highway. She looked so cute, with her head back, howling away.
Elisa and I would take Bella out on the river trail, usually parking at the junior baseball field and heading north. There's a small bridge that we call The Bella Bridge because that was the wise point at which to turn back with Bella so that she wouldn't be totally exhausted by the time we got back to the van.
One time on the trail we ran into another Pyrenees owner, right near the Tolt Pipeline trail. She had recently rescued her Pyrenees and we chatted for a while about Bella, and we mentioned how she used to have a companion named Beau. The lady stopped and asked, "She's that Bella? Of Beau and Bella?" Yep! Long ago in the adolescent days of the web I had put up a Beau and Bella website on Teleport to share some of the photos of Beau and Bella. Well, first it was just Beau (he was featured in a book "Dogs on the Web") then Bella joined him. I haven't updated it much so it looks about the same as it has for twelve years: http://www.ericri.com/pyrs/ .
A big daily highlight was letting Bella come inside. I would brush out the fir needles in her coat (what I could find) and then she'd bound inside, flop down on her side, and start rubbing and growling and groaning in extreme pleasure to be inside. She'd kick her feet up in the air and be puppy-silly. It filled my heart with love. Here's a short video of one such celebration:
Old age catches up with all of us, even Bellar-Smellars. Jumping into the dog crate in the van was the first to go. Then stairs in the house and on the deck. She went from sleeping with us upstairs on the third floor to being by herself in the basement at night. Her rear became weaker and weaker from the nerve under pressure at the base of her tail. Eventually, she couldn't walk down the hill anymore as part of our morning paper ritual. Then just walking out to our pole barn became a chore for her. We got some advice to modify and blend her food so that she wouldn't suffer from choke, but she became less and less interested in food. During all of this time, Elisa coordinated a regimen of massage, acupuncture, and chiropracticy to give Bella every opportunity to remain healthy and strong.
While we changed up her food (best food that she loves: Dynamite Ultimate Diet - thank you, Renee; 2nd to that: Redmond Paw's Cafe beef stew [ground up]). She'd eat a little. The RedWood Animal Hospital (always so comforting to us) discovered signs of probable cancer in Bella's body. At that point, we transitioned to caring for her in a way to help her enjoy every moment left.
Of course, one big memory she leaves is Santa-Bella. For the last few Christmas she's had to endure many many photos of a Santa cap on her head. Best Christmas present ever. Well, for us. Bella was a good sport.
Bella Richards - Glynnfarm La Belle Finie - 3/28/1995 to 4/30/2009 aka Belle Bear, Bellar-Smellar, Bellar-G-Smellar My flickr Pyrenees set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericri/sets/72157602473235568/
P.S. For friends and family, if you have digital photos of Bella, it would be a big gift to have the original sized image. Feel free to email directly to me, or Elisa, or put up on a file sharing place like Windows Live SkyDrive for me to retrieve later. Thank you.
From Advertising Age:
TOP MOST-LIKED SPOT
Yeah, we know -- something about kids and puppies make commercials. In Microsoft's latest iteration of its "I'm a PC" campaign, 4-and-a-half-year-old Kylie shows the rest of us how easy it is to upload, retouch (!) and send photos using Microsoft's software. Kids these days...
A new ad from Microsoft that features Windows Live Photo Gallery: Windows Live Photo Gallery Photo Sharing - Kylie - The Rookies. Rumor is that it's supposed to show up during this weekend's Grammys show.
Very nice â€“ of course I wish they could show more of the product, but it's nice that they showed an entire acquire / fix / share flow using the product.
Man, I've been using some of the competition products this past week and I am *delighted* with the design we have in Photo Gallery. We can of course always improve and I'm no doubt biased by using WLPG so much day in and day out, but still: nice. Understandable. Simple.
Get it done. Even for the four & a half year-old Kylies of the world.
From the outset, McGoohan constructed The Prisoner as an escape vehicle designed to tease brains and incite response. Its main character, Number Six, was, like John Drake, an intelligence agent, but one tired of the grind and looking to retire, much like McGoohan when he dreamed up the character after expressing a desire to leave Danger Man. He conceived the series nearly on his own, and wrote and directed several episodes, including some of the finest: "Many Happy Returns" and the last two episodes "Once Upon a Time" and "Fall Out." When he first thought up the influential series, McGoohan wrote a 50-page Prisoner bible that explained everything actors, producers and other principals needed to know.
You've got to visit this page to see some wonderful photo shots of Mt. Rainier and my favorite cloud phenomena:
Mt. Rainier puts on a show!
I guess we've reached the stage where zombies - even a city of full zombies - just aren't scary enough to carry a whole movie anymore. Ah well, it was a good blow-em'up as long as you were happy with video-game like plot-points - e.g., motorcycles flying through church stained glass windows. Which I was.
What it does have is a collection of 40 songs, all of which are master tracks with lyrics included. Those from the MTV era onward also include a music video, which you can set as the background while you belt your heart out. The $70 Lips bundle also comes with two beautifully designed wireless microphones that possess the uncanny ability to elicit gasps of delight from both 13-year-old girls and 30-year-old men alike.
It's pretty easy to dive in and start singing and understand what you need to do with the lyrics and pitch and such. I have zero karaoke experience. Trust me. So that's good.
My first song pick to sing: "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash. I listened to that song over, and over, and over again as a kid. I did okay, but I made the mistake of letting a random video play in the background since no Johnny Cash video was available and I got pretty distracted by dinosaurs licking on some kind of huge dripping vanilla ice cream cone.
The first benefit I always love about this or a game like Rock Band is, well, learning the full correct lyrics to songs. I'm pretty embarrassed I didn't realize that "mountain mamma" was in "Take Me Home Country Roads" by John Denver. What did I think it was... sigh... I thought it was "Mount Mahamma" and figured it was a peak or something in West Virginia. It's not. Oh, and "ABC" by The Jackson Five: wow, there's a lot more to that song than I remembered... which was pretty much just the chorus.
Strangely, the song I did the best on via the game's scoring mechanism was a-ha's "Take on Me" which has some pretty high notes to sing. Bella remained sleeping on the floor, though she would have been totally justified in biting me good and hard during that performance, sensitive superior hearing and all.
Importing music tracks from the network is not fun. I'm sure there's a way to quickly move through 3,500 tracks but it's not obvious. And while I have ratings for my songs, they didn't appear to come up. I'm not sure if it's using the WMP server or the Zune server. Also, there was no highlight, say in the song or artist view, which album a track was coming from, and given that I have some songs that appear multiple times (original CD and best-of CD or different versions) I very much want to know which album Lips is getting the track from.
The device filter UI is totally too subtle and should be reworked. I had no idea what I was doing with the filter UI until I sorted the song list by device source. All I wanted to do is find out what songs were available for download from Live. I finally - finally - figured out there was a on/off state for each device glyph: CD, Music Player, Live, and Network. There should be some sort of bright, labeled pop-up UI to manage device filters in a circular fashion, like choosing a plasmid from BioShock, for instance.
Imported tracks come along with an icon for the genre but no album art. That makes it clear what tracks are imported when selecting a song, but makes everything look really, really boring. They should have come with album art and some sort of framed gleam or such for genre to help distinguish them. The bitmap is there, right?
The biggest weakness is the lack of lyrics when you import a track. I understand lyrics are a touchy legal thing and thank goodness Microsoft has a legion of Intellectual Property lawyers. I think there's a big opportunity for Microsoft here to do something like give you free pitch-tagged lyrics for songs you buy from Zune. The lyrics can work in Lips and then even display when you're playing the same media via the Xbox music player or Media Center. Or, ooo, also on your Zune. That would be a huge end-to-end music differentiation for Microsoft. And something groovy like making the lyric files well documented could allow a community effort to spring up.
Once I managed to figure out the UI, I discovered there are only a few $2 tracks available for download right now, with a few more lighting up 11/28/2008. That's awfully unfortunate and very disappointing. The biggest weakness of Lips is it comes with just 40 songs: you figure 1/3 people know well, 1/3 people kind of know and will sing to, and 1/3 it's doubtful people will ever play. It would have been better to have 140 songs vs. 40.
It should also be the case that if I download a song for Lips, I should then be able to download the same song for free from the Zune marketplace. That seems like something really easy to wire up now for people who have associated their LiveID with a Zune sign-in account. Not only are people into smart end-to-end experiences right now, they are also into being thrifty. There's a lot of emotional connection to music, and the more you can surprise and delight people the more benefits Lips / LIve / Microsoft / Zune can reap.
The fact that people love the included microphones gives Lips the advantage that people will certainly buy the game to play but also to get the microphones with the hopes that Rock Band etc will support the wireless mics soon. Microsoft Games Studio should do everything possible to help make that happen. If they could have a joint announcement this next week around this then Lips has a high chance of being a popular 2008 Christmas gift.
If the content and expansion options start fast and furious, a lot of good things can happen here for Lips and Microsoft. But if the number of available songs doesn't crack 100 before Christmas -and keep going upwards and upwards - Lips risks fading quickly. Which would be a shame, because I'm having a great time murdering these songs I love!
My Sweetie is out of town until Tuesday so I'm baching-it this weekend. My Bill-the-Cat Cold of 2008 is still running its course. I tried getting off of cold drugs but that wasn't a good idea so I'm back on them. The term productive-cough is fine in the abstract, a little gross in practice.
I've got a pizza in the oven and a zombie movie from NetFlix. Excellent.
I'm taking a break from playing Fable II. I have to think how my generation is one of the first raised on video games, Pong onwards. I have to think of that first to justify a 40-something year old man playing a video game late into the night.
The Fable II visuals are outstanding and the play is pretty good. I only had to resort to online help once (I didn't realize, when doing the first archeologist quest, that you actually need to leave Fairfax Gardens). Other than that I've been able to muddle through the ending (Theresa's last word spoken to the game's hero character changes everything) and then play on some of the additional quests.
I decided to be the most pure, good character possible. I've got a little halo floating over my hero character's head to prove it! I don't know what it says about me, but when I wander into town, I want to see all those little hearts floating above the villager's heads and have them all gather around to admire me. Maybe one day I'll fire it up again and play a bad dude. Or bad dudette.
But I've got to take a break. I'm up to 43 out of 50 gargoyles and wasted a lot of time getting those last few. I took a walk near the woods near The Tree House today and I kept thinking about bandits, balverines, and hobbes jumping out of the trees.
Time out. Eh, I've got a stack of business books to get around to reading. I'll get there.
Right after the zombies.
We put faith in the weather report and headed out for a quick afternoon trip to La Conner, even though it was still gray and cloudy. It's not a far drive and by the time we got there the blue skies were spreading far and wide.
We had lunch at Palmer's, which was much nicer on the inside than I thought it would be. We sat in a spot by the window so that we could watch the various boats tooting along the channel.
Embarrassingly enough, this was the first time I'd really used my wide angle lens for much. It is way wider than anything else I have (10-22, though of course I have a 1.6 effect with my Canon 400D/XTi body).
We headed to the local La Conner Shirts store stock full of "Life is Good" ware (just about every design they make); they really need a "Life is Good" with Jake taking some photos. I then did a longingly slow walk through the nearby wood works store and then headed to A Class Act Gallery to enjoy Tim Wistrom's paintings, a lot of which show a post-human Seattle (like the ocean having risen to the brim of the Space Needle, with palm trees growing on the top and dolphins swimming around bottom).
On our way out of town, we stopped by the Snow Goose Produce market. I was just going to hang near the Subaru until I got a whiff of the waffle cones. An evil, seductive whiff. I plunked down $5.25 in no time for a Lopez Island Pecan and Pralines cone with one scoop. One, big huge scoop that seemed as big as a single Ben & Jerry's container. I sat with my Sweetie and her Mum and watched Mt. Baker slowly emerge from the clouds.
My Sweetie and I went to Butchart Gardens and what do you know, we both ended up taking a bunch of photos of flowers: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericri/tags/butchartgardens/ - I really like my Sweetie's close-ups that she was able to get with the Elph in macro mode.
For all the books and flyers you read as a tourist in Victoria, the one thing that I guess all the locals know and no one thinks of to share ad-hoc is that during the summer (at least this summer), Butchart puts on a large fireworks show at the end of day every Saturday.
We discovered this chatting with our charter bus driver after we already arrived, talking about taking a later bus back to Victoria. He went through the afternoon options, and then asked if we were staying really late, for the fireworks show. Fireworks? He said the show, according to some folks from the USA, is better than most 4th of July shows.
Unfortunately, we learned this at 2pm and the show didn't start until 9pm. Butchart's a great place to hang out, but not for eight hours during a quick holiday weekend. Anyway, something to remember for next time.
So my Sweetie and I enjoyed a two night stay in Victoria, B.C., this past weekend. It was a wonderful get-away. We roamed the streets quite a bit at night given that we walked and walked and walked everywhere as much as possible.
Since the drinking age is 19 and since there seems to be a lot of young folks working the tourist season in Victoria, the bars are crammed full of the young and beautiful at night, with lots of lines spilling onto the streets.
Ah, spilling onto the streets. Remember that.
So we're walking along and come along Bastion Square and it seems like a pretty popular, well-lit alley and we walk along it, down towards the harbor. We pass a museum's outside exhibit of a lighthouse bulb (big). Then we pass by another outside contraption that I could not quite figure out. Was it art? It was far taller than me, chained to a nearby post, and looked to have four outcropping - like receptacles - at various heights.
We talked momentarily, and my Sweetie said what it was.
"No!" That couldn't be.
"Look at the 'Men' symbol on the side."
"So you mean..." Yes. It was a stand-alone outside urinal in the free and open air. A classier name being: pissoire. See, that makes it seem elegant.
We walked back to our hotel and came across another one near the multi-bar complex The Sticky Wicket. Given the sound coming out of the dark alley nearby, it was not in a preferred location.
The next night we again found ourselves walking down Bastion Square. Armed with my camera, I was ready to take a dark, shaky late night picture. We walked pass the lighthouse bulb and I looked around and around.
No pissoire. Was it a dream? A really icky, awkward dream?
We stumbled across Camille's at that point and walked in to check it out. Truly, you should ask to be seated in their second dining further back. Very romantic.
We walked back out and a government utility truck was making its way along the square. And what was tucked in the back but pissoire #3! I was going to get my picture!
The guys quickly had it out and chained up to the neighboring post and I walked around the corner to set up the shot and - what the heck! They hadn't even left and it was already being put to use!
I waited. The truck left. During a spare, lonely moment for the pissore I snapped a shaky picture. I later learned that the bigger plan is to have under-ground pissoire's that rise up at night. For now, they get trucked away during the day and then come back at night, as all the young party goers are spilling out onto the streets. Keeping the streets dry.
An older article: Victoria goes for pop-up urinals
I uploaded some of the pictures I've taken this year of the hot air balloons passing by. I'll continue uploading them under this tag query on flickr as time goes by (though balloon season is just about over): http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericri/tags/balloons/ .
At the end of this post is a flickr slideshow. But first, my balloon story, because I'm not sure I've told it before.
We moved into our Tree House back on Halloween 2004. Late that next spring, I was outside getting ready to fire up the leaf blower and blow fir needles off of our driveway when a huge, furious sound erupted, seemingly from the open garage.
I stopped and stared intently at the garage. What in the world could have made such a loud, rushing, furious sound? I stared and decided that, ehm, nothing could have made that sound so, ergo, I didn't hear anything. Back to laying out electrical cable for the leaf blower.
Of course, as soon as I convinced myself I didn't hear anything, another loud rushing furious burst of sound ripped through the air. It's times like those you wished you had a picture of your own face.
Then I heard voices.
Above my head.
Way above my head.
I took a peep upwards, and not too far above our tallest fir tree floated a eye-poppingly colorful hot air balloon, practically filling the sky. It was silent, except for the conversation of those in the basket and the occasional loud and furious burst of flame required to keep the hot part of the hot air balloon going.
Since then, not only have we enjoyed the balloons passing over many times, we've even taken a ride (unfortunately not passing over our own house). There's one time I wish I had taken a photo when the balloon was traveling so low that I swore I was looking down on it from our deck halfway up the hill.
We did a quick hike this past Saturday to Twin Falls State Park, right off exit #34 on I-90. We started at 10am and had did our there-and-back by 1pm. It's a pretty busy hike - not too crowded, but by the time we got back to the Subaru, the cars that came after us stretched onwards for about three blocks.
This map track from my Garmin shows our hike (to the East) and then some: http://maps.live.com/?v=2&encType=1&cid=E02E2868380A574B!599.
The "then some" comes from me leaving the Garmin on and it picking up our misadventure after the hike to go to Gordy's BBQ right south of exit #32 (no longer there), and then through downtown North Bend (no more Mar-T diner from Twin Peaks, but its replacement is there [with a mural of a slice of cherry pie and some damn fine coffee]) and then to the Safeway to regroup and determine a lunch spot.
I learned something about the Garmin Rhino: once it has a lock on the satellites, it does okay under the tree canopy, so get a lock while you're in the parking lot before you head into the trees. We hiked for over 20 minutes before it got a satellite lock, so that part of the trip was lost.
Afterwards, I uploaded some pictures to flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericri). Before I did that, I did some tagging in Windows Live Photo Gallery (of course) and used the new Pro Photo Tools to load up the GPX track and geo-tag the photos. On flickr, you can go to the photos and see where it was taken, according to the matching GPS at the time. I've found that the street maps of the area are pretty off, but if you add the satellite / overhead picture, it looks right.
Go here to see photos I've tagged, location wise: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericri/map/ - iterate through them using the left / right arrows to load up new sets of photos.
I had my hiking monopod with me (well, maybe it's a 2.5-pod - it has three little legs you can fold-out for some support). The lighting wasn't great: probably a wonderful sunset spot for pictures. I ran into a photographer with the same sort of tripod gear I'm thinking about getting: Gitzo tripod with a Manfrotto ball-head. Anyway, a couple of snaps from flickr:
Yeah, waterfalls are great for that silky-flow result.
I was cooling it inside Saturday after our Twin Falls State Park hike when my Sweetie let me know that the owls were making a ruckus outside. It was going on 8pm (we have daylight until well after 9pm). Earth, Wind and Fire were playing at Chateau and filling the valley with bass and applause from the audience. We wandered outside, and heard birds making a ruckus.
Ends up that birds don't like owls in the least. And they have good reason, having witnessed a out-of-the-nest chick get swooped up and carried away by an owl a weekend ago. So we walked along our road and above the stream we eventually saw the Barred Owl that the birds were going crazy over.
I took a few shots with the camera, but it was too dark and too far away. I decided I'd go grab my big zoom lens and was heading back to the house when that owl silently passed over my head to a large maple in our back yard. I walked over there and saw not just that owl, but also a smaller buddy:
Since we live on a hill with a decent angle, I was able to stand uphill and pretty much look at the two owls eye to eye. I took a load of pictures and uploaded them to my flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericri/ .
I did get my zoom lens and thank goodness it has an image stabilizer. The light wasn't great and it had to work overtime with my shaky hands and shaky body dealing with standing on a slopped hill (I should have grabbed my monopod, too). As a result, the pictures are not sharp, but they're okay.
Eventually a third owl showed up in a nearby tree:
They all hung-out, waiting for dusk.
Now Iâ€™ve met some of the locals who hang out in our woods, letting loose with the occasional "Who cooks for you?" hoot.
Back in March, I visited the Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah early in the morning. It was my first time there. I knew that they had cougars, but they also have two Bengal tigers, reindeer, and birds - lots of cranes and macaws.
Some photos are in my Puget Sound flickr feed: Around Puget Sound - a set on Flickr .
I was quite proud of how the day started, which meant I was destined to screw up. Ah, pride.
After the Woodland Park Zoo incident (not checking my white-balance before taking photos), I made a mental checklist to go over the camera settings before I started shooting. Auto-white balance? Check. Aperture? Looks good. ISO? 100. Alright, the basics are good, let's go.
Some how, my magic fingers managed to change the ISO to 1600 shortly after I started taking some shots. Before I got to the crowned cranes I realized my goof with great horror and suppressed swearing. By then I had already taken shots of the tigers and cougars playing and it had warmed up enough that play time was over and the day-long naps had begun (get there at opening to see active felines).
So in what could have been some nice shots, I've got lots of noise. Like if you look into the mouth of one of the tigers, you see color dots all over the place. Bummer. You can fix white balance in a jiff with RAW, not so much an ISO screw-up.
Cougar Mountain is nice for being up close with the animals, but to do that they put some pretty heavy duty bars up between you and the predator, making getting good shots kind of arduous(shooting between the bars with a significant zoom). The staff is very friendly and ready to give you plenty of background on the animals.
Oh, and I discovered while the cougars and tigers would play all cool and disinterested with me while I was standing there taking photos, one screaming happy child running around would get their attention in a flash. Very handy.
First, read the story, second, you must watch the included video: Flying penguins found by BBC programme - Telegraph .
This is almost as good as the bumper Swiss spaghetti harvest. Kudos.
Wow, this is too bad: Netflix, Citing a Clear Signal From the Industry, Will Carry High-Def DVDs Only in Blu-ray Format - Feb 11, 2008. While I own a few HD-DVDs, I mainly have been watching them via NetFlix.
(Another sick-day for me, so time to catch up on some mindless blogging; hopefully what comes out from my fingertips is reasonable English.)
I didn't go feet first with HD-DVD: I just bought the HD-DVD extender for the Xbox 360. And I've watched more than a few movies on it, but I can tell you that I've had more problems playing back HD-DVDs than I'd like (most recently, the climax for The Bourne Ultimatum - I thought that if I wanted HD-DVD to fail, I'd certainly rent HD-DVD disks and corrupt the climax to a movie...).
So now... Blu-Ray? Maybe. I'd much rather just download the movies and burn them to a data disk or play them off the network. The nice thing about the HD-DVD plugged into the Xbox is that I didn't have to go and find another way to wire HD video and surround sound into my stuffed system. Here's hoping that one day I can download my NetFlix rentals directly onto my Xbox hard disk, maybe unlocking the next video in the queue after I delete what I just watched (and initiate the next download).
Oh, no, what's up with the Redmond Brown Bag Cafe?
My Sweetie and I wanted to get out of the house today (we're both sick with a cold + cough and under the weather) and decided at the Brown Bag Cafe in Redmond would be good (good soup for my Sweetie, bad country-fried steak for Eric). We got there and my first impression was: "Wow, look at all this parking! Yeah! Score!"
Next: "For sale sign?"
Next: "'Open' sign not lit."
Looks like The Brown Bag Cafe is shut down. I had just called a little earlier to check on how long the wait might be but got their standard answering machine greeting. There were too many confused cars making their way in and out of the parking lot to get out and see if there was a note about what was going on. I might have to park nearby and see if I can find out the story.
In the meantime: bummers.
(Oh, I did a quick blog search: one fellow mentioned he read the note and went to the Kirkland Brown Bag to ask what was up, not getting much of an answer other than the owner had decided to close the Redmond location. Hmmph.)
Last weekend, my Sweetie and I enjoyed our first trip together to Leavenworth, Washington to be there for their Festival of Lights.
I put up some photos:
Just for grins, I also uploaded the pictures to flickr, too (since I work on one of the most awesome Photo teams in the World, and yes, we publish to flickr in addition to Windows Live Spaces):
One thing that's cool about flickr is that I've allowed it map any pictures that I've geotagged. While I need to go through and geotag my Vancouver pictures (still), I uploaded one from my AT&T Tilt that was taken through locr, adding the latitude and longitude of the picture downtown. You can go to my flickr map to see that:
(as more show up, more pictures should be available).
The trip was fun. We arrived Friday and had the town pretty much to ourselves. We really liked hanging out at Uli's between adventures. We had dinner at Mozart's in the middle of a nice snow - I think about four-inches fell Friday night and Saturday started out with sunshine and was absolutely beautiful.
By the time we took the shuttle to the Icicle Creek sleigh ride it was lightly snowing again, which was grand. Our driver, Aaron, was just as interesting to me as the sleigh ride itself.
We got back in time for the big lighting festival, followed by a townwide Chicken Dance. Yes, I did the Chicken Dance and I believe I did it quite well.
Sunday we got a quick walk in along the river park. I didn't realize that the park was so big, and goes to a little island. It's certainly worth putting time aside to escape the crowds and go enjoy the park.
The one really, really smart thing we did thanks to my Sweetie was to take a bus. It was scheduled via Greyhound and we picked it up in nearby Monroe. On the way there, we passed one bad wreck (semi-truck with its cab on the side and one very crushed red pickup) and on the way back almost got crashed into (kid coming out of the ski slope floored his Explorer - gee, who knew you weren't supposed to floor the gas on ice patches?). Being without a car made enjoying Leavenworth easy, too.
Oooh, and I typed on this long enough for MSN Soapbox to finish processing my short two-minute point-and-shoot video I uploaded of the beginning of our sleigh ride (again, uploaded via the very swanky Windows Live Photo Gallery):
This is the Veronica as an FBI agent Season Four preview that was pitched but didn't make it: 'Veronica Mars': The fourth season lives! (On the Internet, anyway) | Popwatch | Blog | Movies | Music | TV: Entertainment Weekly .
It's a small bit of closure.
Just a small bit.