Monday, November 28, 2005

Giving Thanks for A Great Weekend!

The rest of the weekend was quite nice. Rachel, after having some trouble on Thursday, was absolutely great almost the entire rest of the weekend. Saturday, we went for a hike in the morning up the North Trail in Russian Gulch State Park. The weather was pretty good, if a touch chilly. Rachel did, in fact, hike some, but she wound up being carried a lot, with piggy-back rides from Dawn and shoulder rides from my father & me. At some point, she actually fell asleep on Dawn's back, so I started carrying her in my arms. This is not going to work next time (in 2 or 3 years), as we all talked about (including Rachel) after the hike.

I took a lot of pictures, but I'm not really as happy with them. I think the more interesting things to me this time were of the trees against the sky, and I was having a lot of trouble getting decent exposures. I also got a lot of shots of mushrooms, which is what my parents were after, but I am not as interested in them as they are. I have a really fantastic picture of a mushroom from my trip to Yosemite in 2004, and in two days of photographing tons of mushrooms, I don't think I got a single picture even close to as good as that one.

After Rachel's nap and some lunch, we went back into town to get her some play time at the park there and walked around Mendocino some, including having hot chocolate at the Mendocino Bakery & Cafe again. We ran into Roderick, a former long-term boyfriend of my cousin's. It was nice to see him, and too bad my parents and brother weren't around at the time. I took some more panoramas, but haven't really had a chance to try stitching them. I got a bunch of shots of the sunset over the headlands, and am curious to see how they turned out when I get them on the monitor at home, which seems to be better than the laptop screen (even though the laptop screen is both newer and larger). I'm especially interested in the bright reflection off the window of the last house before the headlands...

Sunday was moving day and we got up and packed and out of the house by 9:30, including having my father's cottage cheese pancakes (with Rachel's help). First, Dawn, Rachel & my brother, and I went to ride the Skunk Train from Fort Bragg to Northspur, a middle of nowhere stop on the tracks between Fort Bragg and Willits. The ride was interesting (but COLD). The conductor pointed out the largest, oldest tree in the area, which was never logged because it had already been hit by lightning too many times and would have shattered when it hit the ground. It's pretty bedraggled & has about 40 ft missing from the top. He also pointed out where we passed the end of commercial power & telephone service, a 'spring board', I think he called it, which is a board they would put into a slat cut in a tree about 10-15' up in the air so that they could cut it down. Cutting down a tree with a 10' diameter took them days and the lumber jacks would be up there for 10 hours a day until the tree came down. At Northspur, some guy on the ride stood waiting for them to turn the locomotive around while listening to some football game on a Sirius radio.

After the train ride was over, we headed into Mendocino again to play in the park, look around a little more, and have ice cream (for those of us whose name was Rachel and didn't want something HOT to drink!). Just as we were getting ready to get in the car to head home, parked almost directly across from the volunteer fire department, the siren for the FD went off... it's unbelievably loud. Rachel did really great, though, and didn't freak out. I'm sure it helped that we all piled quickly into the car to reduce the noise, but it was fairly loud in there; we could actually feel the vibration. The two responders we saw showed up quickly and took off in one of the vehicles.

From Mendocino to 128 @ Cloverdale seemed faster coming back than it had going out on Wednesday. I think it's because we hadn't been in the car as long before starting on 128, but who knows. Perhaps it was just the anticipation of dinner at the World Famous Hamburger Ranch & Pasta Farm, which is where we'd stopped to use the restrooms on the way up. The food was reasonably good; not as good as Barney's or Christopher's, but good. We made it all the way back home without ever having stopped for gas, but I did go get gas before packing it in for the night. 10.5 gallons, 418mi = just 39.8 mpg.

Totals for the trip:

Really nice dinners: 3 (Wed, Thu, Fri)
Hikes: 2
Walks in Mendocino: 3
Chances to follow birds around bushes: 3
Great Sunsets: 4
Category 3+ Meltdowns (by Rachel): 1
Gallons of gas: 10.5
Tanks of gas: less than 1
Pictures in the new SLR: about 900

Friday, November 25, 2005

Fabulous Dinners & Lots of Pictures

Well, here we are in Mendocino. As I mentioned yesterday, we're staying at a place called 'Blue Heron', which is a house rented out through Shoreline Vacation Rentals. It's a pretty nice house, although the coffee maker doesn't work and they only had enough toilet paper in one of the bathrooms to get us through one night! Their 'encyclopedia' says that we can get more at one of various drug or grocery stores in Mendocino or Fort Bragg. I think that's ridiculous. My parents are renting this place for probably at least $300 a night, they ought to be supplying things like toilet paper. It is, however, probably the nicest house we've ever stayed in up here, with a gorgeous master suite (including a bathroom that's like something out of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition), good, consistent heat, and circulated hot water. The views of the ocean aren't great, but we've seen lots of birds from the house (California quail, eagles, ravens, and others we haven't identified) and there's a path to the bluff overlooking the ocean a couple of houses away.

So, here we are. We came up Wednesday afternoon, by way of Navarro Vineyards, where we stopped for wine tasting and lunch. We had my brother, Aaron, in the Prius with us, while my parents and family friend Charles were in my parents' car. Between our needing to stop to get something in Richmond and how fast my mother most likely drove, they were at Navarro for almost an hour before we got there. Apparently, there had been lots of birds around before we got there. The sun was out and it was fairly warm and pretty. We had pumpkin cider bread with cream cheese, and grapes, for lunch. Aaron ditched us to ride the rest of the way up with them; I don't really know why but I assume it was because we don't drive fast enough.

We stayed to do some wine tasting, including Rachel who asked for wine. The person behind the counter was with it enough not to point out to her that it wasn't actually wine, just gave her (and me too) tastes of their wonderful grape juices. I took a few pictures; I wasn't paying enough attention at first and managed to take several pictures in macro mode even though I was about 30 feet from the main subject. Oh well. If they look terrible I'll delete them and if they don't, they'll just sit in our photo archives until... whenever we do something with them.

There were long segments of the ride that were just great for the Prius... long winding downhill stretches with lots of coasting and little active acceleration. Of course, there were plenty of uphill bits to get us in position for those, but that's the way it goes. At this point, I think we're doing about 48mpg since I filled the tank last, which I certainly won't complain about.

My parents picked up the keys in Fort Bragg (a few feet south of the entrance to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens); I dropped Dawn & Rachel off at the park in Mendocino to play for a little while and the met up to find the house and drop off all our stuff. The house turns out to be just a few houses further down the private road from the last place we stayed last time: Crane Dance. That house was pretty nice, maybe even better in some ways (much better ocean views, and the bedrooms split with 2 on one side of the living/dining/kitchen area), but just not overall as nice as this one.

There was some minor drama around Wednesday night's dinner; it was late and there were a lot of onions to prepare, and we needed to get olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as well as the broccoli Dawn and I were planning to make, so Charles and I went into Mendocino, found out where Dawn and Rachel had holed up when the fog rolled in, and shopped at Mendosa's. While we were on the way back with the goods (& my girls), we met my mother on the way into town to get cilantro, because she'd left it at home. Then the drama actually came up... it was getting a bit late & we had to get my mother to calm down a little and just make the thing she was making. Dinner was quite good, though - especially the pissaladiere my mother made (not my mother's recipe), about which the only problem anyone could find was that it was gone! I barely remember what else we had, and only remember the broccoli because that was my contribution.

Thursday morning, preparations for dinner started pretty early, and were punctuated by a nice walk we took. First, we went to the bluff over looking a reef where there were several seals (or sea lions?); I noticed on the way back to the house tonight that the house next to the access path is called 'Seal Reef'. I think they're seals, but I'm not completely sure. Sea Lions seem to be pretty closely related, though. We also saw several oystercatchers, which have very distinctive long, bright red beaks. From the bluff, we came back up to the road and walked all the way back out to the main road, looking at flowers and birds and mushrooms along the way. There were a lot of mushroom, of several varieties. I took a number of pictures.

We talked briefly with a woman who must live around here, or at least spend a lot of time here, who mentioned that the weather's been cloudy/foggy a lot through the summer and into fall, and in spite of not getting a heck of a lot of rain, there have been incredible numbers of mushrooms. She took the trouble to point out that many wild mushrooms are extremely poisonous to humans (and dogs, though we didn't have one with us), but we were certainly not planning on eating any, and had even talked to Rachel about it some.

On the way back, we spotted a heron on the bluff, but couldn't really get close enough for a decent picture before it flew away. Throughout the walk, Dawn and Rachel (and my mother occasionally) picked up pine cones, leaves, and twigs. I think the plan was to make a center-piece for the table and/or a fire, but neither has happened yet.

It was tough to go back and forth between my two lenses a lot, so I'm wondering if I made the right choices with the lenses. The two main things I've been photographing are at opposite ends of the spectrum. On the one hand have been the mushrooms and flowers, which tend to be around 40-80mm and up close. On the other have been the seals and birds, which tend to be as close as I can get but at 300mm. The two primary subjects are diametrically opposed... I have with me 17-85 and 70-300mm lenses. At home, I still have the 28-135mm I got from butterflyphoto but am planning to return in favor of the battery grip. All three lenses are image stabilized, which is really cool, but I wonder whether I ought not really be using the 28-135 as my main lens with a higher-end IS zoom? I think I'm going to stick with these for now, but add a second battery to the mix. Hmm.. I like the sound of this 100-400mm IS, but it's a $1300 lens (after a short search online). There's one on eBay for about $850 US. I wonder how the IS does at 400mm? I'll have to see if Looking Glass has one in stock sometime.

Anyway, Rachel had a pretty good time on the walk. She looked at a lot of things and was quite interested, though she was already starting to be a bit of a pill. I don't think she's been eating enough, and then she runs out of energy and gets whiny/demanding/etc. She tried to use the binoculars at one point, but insisted on looking through the wrong side, so I don't imagine she was able to see anything. Oh well. She had more trouble in the evening until she finally went to be right about 8.

Dinner was very good, except that Rachel wasn't very good company, and Dawn had to take her off to the bedroom to try to settle her down. We had the turkey, done Julia Childs' way of cutting the legs off and baking them in a separate dish. Charles made the stuffing (and gave me the recipe), including chopping, sauteeing, and mixing in the turkey liver (sounds gross, and I normally wouldn't want to eat the liver, but the stuffing was damn good!) and then spreading it on the bottom of the pan that the main turkey was baking in. This way, the stuffing soaked up a lot of drippings without actually being inside the turkey. That was probably part of what made it particularly good. The gravy was made mainly with the drippings from the legs, and was also very good. Besides the turkey/stuffing/gravy, we also had an apple chutney Charles made, pear-cranberry relish I made, butternut squash with shallots, and green beans with garlic and almonds.

The best part was the stuffing, and like the pissaladiere, the only thing wrong with it was that there wasn't more. The best part of the dinner, that is... my father made two desserts this time: a persimmon pudding that was more of a wet cake and a divine chocolate cake. I had more of each, and would have had still more if I hadn't been so full already. Not to mention that my weight is coming back a little bit at the moment and I want to avoid having that get too far out of hand. Rachel managed to calm down and make it back to the table, but still didn't really eat all that much. She had some dessert, and wanted more chocolate and then more again, which she didn't get.

As we were cleaning up, I had a bit of a fun moment with Rachel. She was being a bit of a pain in the neck, reaching for things on the counter, and I kept moving things, particularly the desserts, but left the turkey dish where she could reach it. She complained that I kept moving things and I said that it was because I didn't want her to eat any more of them, so she got her determined "I'm going to push Daddy's buttons now" look on her face and proceeded to eat a piece of turkey. And then several more. This was, of course, just fine with me. Of course, she then proceeded to get up at 5 this morning.

Today was much better, as far as Rachel's company was concerned. She ate more, for one thing, and only started whining a couple of times. Around mid-morning, we went up to Fort Bragg to look around, as none of us had ever been there, beyond the Safeway and Rite-Aid the last time we were up here (11/03). Oh, and the movie theater, where Dawn and I went to see Star Wars 1, which must have been May '99? There wasn't really a whole lot to see; it's a small town, but larger, busier and less interesting (at least to us) than Mendocino.

We went into a couple of stores & galleries (I got a couple of lens cap keepers), including one that had some fantastic prints. This guy (Jon Klein) had a couple of pictures he took of raindrops on vines or rose branches in which the raindrops are acting as lenses and you can see things in them... one was a vine with several raindrops on it, each with very clear images of rose bushes in it. It was fantastic, especially given his statement that the entire image originated from a space smaller than his thumbnail! They didn't have either of those pictures in the Jon Klein pages, but that link goes to the gallery we were in.

Before lunch, we headed down to Mendocino, where we were going to have lunch and then walk around for a while. Dawn and I wanted to find the little cafe we've had fantastic tuna sandwiches from the last time we've been here, but couldn't seem to find it. At least, not before we were so hungry we just settled for something. In this case, we wound up at a market/deli across the street from the post office, where Dawn got what she describes as the best BBQ chicken sandwich she's ever had. Later, we found the one we were looking for: Cultured Affair Cafe, which is apparently for sale.

Dawn and I were planning that Rachel would have a nap, even if we had to drive around for a while to arrange it. This didn't really wind up happening, but (not to give away anything) it turned out OK. After lunch, we headed over to the William Zimmer Gallery. We thought initially that this was a new gallery, but it turns out that they just moved from another location since we were last here. Right near the entrance, they have an absolutely gorgeous table with a glass top and a wooden base that looks like a set of four Cs joined together and twisted into a bit of a spiral. My description undoubtedly doesn't do it even the least bit of justice, but there it is. This place may be even more expensive than our favorite gallery in Mendocino, the Highlight Gallery. We stopped by there later.

While Dawn and Rachel were finishing Dawn's sandwich outside William Zimmer, I took a few pictures. I say a few, because I wasn't really expecting to do much. But then a hummingbird showed up at the sage bush behind Dawn and I started taking pictures of it. I was following it back and forth around the bush, which may actually have been somewhat comical. A number of the pictures turned out extremely well, and I think I might have to make a triptych. At some point, I switched from P to Tv, but I didn't have a hat and the sun was too bright, so I couldn't actually see the read-out inside the viewfinder. I took 6 pictures that way, trying for high shutter speeds (I wanted to get past 1/2000, but all of those were badly under-exposed).

While inside William Zimmer, where the gorgeous table I mentioned was $12,000, we also saw a really ugly, very narrow (1' diameter?), but quite high table that looked as if it was supposed to look like a metal jelly fish with a wooden head. This ugly table was horrifically overpriced at just $500 less than the gorgeous one. I joked that maybe we ought to buy the wood & glass one, since it was obviously on sale, even if only accidentally. From there, we walked over to the Highlight gallery, where I only took the time (so far; I hope we'll have time to go back this weekend) to get the business card of a guy who makes front doors (they have at least one on display at Highlight). Dawn and I were considering having him make us a new door after our last visit, but weren't ready to commit (it's not cheap). We might be more interested now, so I need to get in touch with him again.

Anyway, on the way to Highlight, we met a really handsome dog named Blazer, a burmese (I think) mountain dog with a ton of fur. He was very well groomed (because he's a priss, according to the owner's 16-year-old-ish daughter, who didn't look like the toughest girl ever herself) and extremely gentle. He wanted lots of attention, but Rachel didn't seem to want to pet him unless one of us was. I don't know why she does that sometimes... it's kind of funny.

After Highlight, we went out onto the headlands a bit. While waiting for Dawn & Rachel to come back from the restroom, I figured out how to set up AE lock, exposure bracketing, and reminded myself how to do continuous shooting mode. As they were on their way back, I was trying to take some close ups of some kind of bird on the blackberry bushes (which are everywhere on the headlands), but it took off before I could change lenses, maybe because Rachel was coming. I was able to wait a little bit and another came by, so I got some pretty good shots of that one. I haven't figure out what kind or sex it was yet. I also got a couple of great pictures of Dawn and Rachel hiding behind a slat fence (two horizontal slats that could barely hide a gnat!) and jumping up to surprise my father, including a great shot with a "surprised" expression on his face.

Someone plugged Rachel in along the way, because all of a sudden she was having a great time and walked all over the headlands by herself, wanting to be in front the whole way. We only had to caution her a few times about getting to close to the edge; luckily, most of the trails we happened to pick were not really all that close to it anyway. I showed Rachel some pictures a few days ago that I took of Dawn on one of our previous visits, making faces like a couple of the huge faces carved into some old wooden pillars along the trails. She thought these were great and was actually willing to take some pictures doing the same thing with her mother. I haven't looked closely at those yet; I'm hoping they came out well.

I also took a lot of pictures for possible panoramas, mostly using Duane's suggestion to take them in portrait to get more vertical height out of the finished product. I put two sets through Panorama Factory; the first wasn't all that impressive because I only took 4 because of running into the sun's reflection on the water, while the second got badly mishandled for some reason. I'm not sure why yet...

Rachel was very interested in a couple of the large holes that open to the water & get tide currents. I took some good shots of her and Dawn looking into one of them. After our hike, we took a few minutes to go to Mendocino Jams & Preserves, and the Chocolate Haus. The former to let Rachel do some jam tasting (she'd done some with Dawn in Ft. Bragg and loved it), the later to give her a spontaneous reward for having been such great company and our all having had such a nice day so far. We shared a dark chocolate rocky road, then went back to the car and drove back to the house.

After a while, we went back out to go to dinner at Cafe Beaujolais, which is definitely one of the, if not the, best restaurants in the area. I think I have been there twice in each of the last 3 or 4 trips up here. They're always fantastic. When Dawn and I were here in 1999, we went one night and then tried to go to 955 Ukiah after seeing Star Wars 1. Since 955's wait was over an hour, we decided to see what Cafe Beau's story was, seeing that they are a whole 40' down the road, if that. We have a table available right now; would you like it? Umm... yes! I had the mixed garden greens salad and Niman Ranch top sirloin (this seems to be their current menu, at least until they change it), while Dawn had pumpkin soup & a vegetarian main course and Rachel nibbled at the tortilla appetizer and then the prawn appetizer (actually, she ate quite a bit of this, including all 4 of the prawns along with one of my father's which is what made her want to order it).

Rachel had been warned a couple of times that dessert is only for people who are good company and eat a good amount of dinner. I went out to let them know (in the bathroom) that our dinners had been delivered, and waited to carry Rachel back because I wanted to remind her about the desserts. I told her that she was being very good company and eating well, so if she ate a bit more of her dinner she could definitely have dessert, including either the apple crisp (which probably didn't interest her much) or the chocolate cake, which I told her would surely be really good. This definitely piqued her interest and reminded her that there were good things in store for people who don't make dinner hard.

We wound up with a chocolate cake (for me, but with raspberry sorbet instead of coffee creme anglaise), huckleberry pie with vanilla ice cream (for Dawn), and chocolate sherbet (for Rachel, who ate about half of it after graciously agreeing to let Dawn have a taste, and me two, and even stopped before it was gone because she'd had enough!). All of the food was excellent, and I heartily recommend Cafe Beau for dinner, or two. On the way back to the house at some point, I said "wow, that was a really great dinner", and Rachel, otherwise unprompted, said "I like that restaurant, we should go there again!" We tried to get her to tell my parents, but she got shy and didn't want to (so we did). We have plenty of left-overs, including desserts, so we most likely won't go back this time. More's the pity, though it's marginally better for our waist-lines not to.

Since they're undoubtedly going to change the menu online eventually, here are the things we had:
  • Mixed garden greens salad with baked marinated goat cheese and Niman Ranch bacon
  • Brandied pumpkin soup with tomato, onion, Gruyere cheese, minced prosciutto & rye croutons
  • House made tortilla topped with shredded beef cuitlacoche (corn truffle), served with salsa asado and salsa fresca
  • Niman Ranch top sirloin, broiled, sliced & served with Pt. Reyes blue cheese sauce, sautéed baby potatoes and summer squash with fresh herbs
  • House-made tortillas with greens and wild mushrooms served with salsa asado, spicy tomato sauce, cuitlacoche (corn truffle), coconut rice & black beans
  • Sautéed prawns, served with roasted tomato-chipotle sauce, fresh corncakes, creme fraiche and cilantro
  • Flourless chocolate cake with whipped créme anglaise & whipped cream
  • House-made fruit sorbets or chocolate sherbet with toasted almond butter cookies
  • the special dessert, which was Huckleberry pie with vanilla ice cream
Rachel got to see the stars with us tonight, because it was very clear when we left the restaurant and when we got back to the house (all 10 minutes of travel time, if that). She was very impressed with how many there were, and even commented that she'd never seen so many before in her whole life (her phrase). On the way to the restaurant, actually, while talking about Venus, which we'd seen getting into the car, she asked if it had North America there, and said something about this land. When I said, "is this land made for you?" or something, she started singing This Land is Your Land, so we had to get out the iPod and queue it up.

This lead to the annoying discovery/reminder, that the iPod and my home desktop are not completely sync'ed up, as I tried to find the two copies of Imagine (John Lennon's & Joan Baez's) that we have to play for her (this is another story altogether, though I don't think I've told it). Oh well... still need to figure out the right way to make sure they stay in synch, other than to rip & buy music only on that machine... I have Anapod Explorer, about which I have only one complain so far, when it comes to copying music out of the iPod - it doesn't handle compilations!! I suppose it's possible that if I use Anapod Explorer to copy all the music off the iPod onto my extra disk and then have iTunes move it all into the iTune library, it might recategorize things that are part of compilations... or it might not! Argh.

But I've digressed again. All in all, family stress points aside (and mostly only briefly mentioned for that matter), it's been a good weekend so far. Dawn & Rachel and I are going to try to get a chance to ride the Skunk Train (a four-hour round-trip out of Ft. Bragg), but we also want to go hiking with the rest of the crew... When Rachel was going to be tonight, we discussed sleeping late so she'll have plenty of energy to go hiking & look for mushrooms, which she seems very interested in. I sure hope she doesn't get up at 5am again!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Confirmed Bird Sightings

Dawn described us today as pre-amateur bird watchers... When we were in Point Reyes for our anniversary, we saw and got pictures of some. I think we also saw a Cooper's Hawk, but didn't get a picture of it.

It took some work to figure this one out, but it is a Western Scrub-Jay. The National Geographic Birds of California book we have doesn't have the greatest pictures of these, and this one really looks more like the Island Scrub-Jay, which is claimed to live only in the Channel Islands off southern California.

These seem to be House Finches. The 'Purple' Finch has a lot more read than these do. They were very cute, but disappeared abruptly when the Northern Harrier arrived.

We also saw several turkey vultures and ravens, both below. I got what could have been a really great picture of one raven, looking down on it as it flew by; the lighting was great and it was set off well by the ocean below, but it was too far out of focus.

We're spending this weekend up in Mendocino with my family at a nice place called 'Blue Heron'. It's about 4 houses further down the road from the 'Crane Dance' house where we stayed for Thanksgiving in 2002. We've seen several Oystercatchers, with their bright red beaks, and some sort of Heron, but didn't get terribly good pictures of either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Where The Hell Is It?

As I mentioned last night, I had to jump-start the Prius today. Once I got the Pathfinder in position to be able to connect it to the Prius' battery, I got the hood opened and started looking for the battery. Hmmm. Strange. I would have thought it would be rather obvious. Where the hell's the damned battery?? Let me get the manual.

OK, no biggie. The 12V battery's in the trunk. Reposition the truck. Open the trunk. Umm... trunk's locked and doesn't have a lock. Maybe I need to open it from the inside. Great, there's no release there. Back to the manual.

Ah, so. The trunk locks automatically before the 12V battery dies and can't be opened without that battery. OK, so let's see what they say... ahhh... they have a whole procedure (14 steps or something) for boosting the car. Please note that boosting in this context means starting from another car's battery, not stealing! It is this procedure that discusses the existence of a special boosting connector in the fuse box in the front engine compartment!

Let's just reposition the truck again and open said fuse box. That took some work. The front-most clip on the box cover is not really well positioned for someone with large hands, but I managed to get it off after a minute or so. Now we just have to hook up the jumper cables. Not so fast! The clips on the jumper cable are TOO BIG to clip onto the nut & bolt!! Dammit. Hmm... let's see... this little piece of metal with a plastic back looks as if it might actually be touching the bolt?

Turns out that it is. The diagram in the manual doesn't make it all that obvious, but it is, and the alligator clip can actually grab it. I have to pull the cables apart a little bit to get the ground to reach the designated attachment point, but that's OK. Now, the hybrid system will start without even starting the truck (it's got a much bigger battery than the Prius), but it won't put it into gear... OK, fine. The manual wants me to charge for five minutes revving the truck to 2000 rpms.

Rachel's been pretty patient. She's climbing around the base of the tree. When she wants help because she thinks she's about to fall off, I tell her I'm still trying to "fix" the car and if I help her get down she can't climb until I'm finished. She wants down. OK.

I turn it on and leave it running while I put Rachel's car seat in. Don't know if that's five minutes. Probably not.

At this point, everything was fine. Dawn actually followed our route most of the way to her office just in case, but I was pretty sure it was going to be OK. If worse came to worst, I'd just have Lee (the director of Rachel's school) help me jump it again. It is a little odd, though... In a non-hybrid, you just have to get the thing started and either rev it or drive it for a few minutes to charge it up enough to be able to start it again... It's a little wierd that the hybrid system can't start off it's own battery if the 12V is dead.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Some Random Links

I really like everything Randy Cassingham does, pretty much... In addition to This is True and The True Stella Awards, as well as HeroicStories, which he started, he has a site called Bonzer Web Sites of the Week. Each week in This is True, he publishes a new site, suggested by premium True readers. I actually just realized, as I put Bonzer into my list of favorite links, that all of the links that are there so far are Randy's...

Soon, I'm going to be checking out this recent entry: Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools. I'm interested already in a photography book he discusses. The Border's Books near my office didn't have it...

Now, it's not as if I'm going to try to do something really like Bonzer Sites, but I do think I'll have to at least start putting up things I find amusing or cool or... well, whatever. Maybe I'll even categorize them if I do it enough.

For tonight, I'm rather darkly amused by Whack Your Boss.

Since I'm trying to get back into serious photography, I may start looking at Photo Workshop.

And, since Dan and I are considering finding someone to scan all our old negatives and slides (and Duane is interested, and I might try to get my parents and my brother to join in), we were checking out Digital Pickle. Hell, I might pay to do my parents' myself if I have to... lots of cool family photos there... I don't think it will be cheap, but if we all go in together, we should get a decent volume discount. We're thinking of doing the 'regular' scan at medium resolution (2500 pixels per inch) in general. If there are some that we really want the high quality (4000 ppi) or special ('true color' or 'clean') scans, we can do those individually. For high res with both true color & clean scans, it's $1.97 per 35mm without volume discounts. The regular scan by itself is only $0.69...

The medium format stuff from our wedding is a harder decision... I don't believe we should need the extra processing, but the high res alone is 5.99 per vs 2.99 per for the medium res (which is only 2000 ppi for medium format). I don't remember how many there are... maybe I'll sort through them and do some at high and some at medium. Hmm...

Another site does negative & slide scanning at $0.39 per for 3000 ppi and $0.49 per for 4000 ppi. Actually, that might be more in line with the economy scans by Digital Pickle, which are .55 and .75 for 2500 & 4000 ppi. With PhotoShop correction, this place wants .69 and .89 vs Digital Pickle's .69 and .99. My Special Photos offers 4 scans free, so maybe I'll do that and see how they come out and then pay Digital Pickle to do the same ones and compare them.

And there's another site that wants .65 and .79 per for negatives or slides if you do 1001 or more, which we'll easily do if we get together. Dan has at least 4000 just from his two big trips (Europe and Africa). Duane and I don't even get close to that. Of course, 1000 pictures at .65 is still $650. Well, there are a bunch of sites that do it; of the four I've looked at, though, only Digital Pickle will a) do medium format and b) pick them up from me and drop them off again.

Another Tank of Gas

Finally had to fill up the tank in the Prius again on the 19th. Put in 9.358 gallons this time at "only" 2.239 a gallon. At 391 miles, that means we saved another 23.225 gallons, or $52, by not driving the truck. I got a good lesson in the temperature effect on the bladder in the gas tank: the car claimed just shy of 45 mpg since the last fill-up. This is presumably based on actual gas delivered to the engine, though I can't be sure. Anyway, the 9.358 gallons I put in for 391 miles actually comes to about 41.7 mpg.

According to the Prius, however, the 384 miles to the first fill-up were at 43.8 mpg, the 391 to the second at 44.5. Hmm... let's see... that means 8.767 and 8.787 actual usage, respectively. That comes to 44.15 mpg so far. I do like that number better than the 42.5 combined based on the amount of gas I've actually put in the tank.

That said, we're thinking seriously about keeping the truck. The Accord is a V6, and it's mileage is only 18mpg as compared to the truck's 12. As long as we make the Prius our primary vehicle, which it is already, I think keeping the truck for it's greater utility is fine for now. Eventually, I hope that they'll come out with an SUV that gets better mileage than the ones out now.

I'm interested in the rumored Isuzu diesel/electic pickup. Don't see anything about it on their web site, though... That would be really cool - imagine running a diesel/electric hybrid on waste vegetable oil.

And then there's the Mazda Senku: a hybrid rotary sports car with solar panels in the roof and sliding electric doors. That would be very cool. No good for kids, since the back seats are only there to keep the insurance costs down. They make no apologies for having given priority to the front passengers.

Anyway, getting back to reality, we managed to kill the battery in the Prius yesterday. On the way back from some errands, Rachel fell asleep. Dawn was going to sit on the front steps and read while I did some things, so I left the accessories on to keep the fan going. Neglected to tell Dawn. Also to remember after Rachel woke up.

This lead to some hurried carseat juggling this morning and I took Rachel to school in the truck. I'll have to jump the Prius in the morning... we'll see how that goes.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Butterball? No... Fire Ball

Tuesday we had the last major insulation project done. It's really the last one we can do: blowing insulation into the walls from the outside. We hired a company called McHale Insulation to do it, as they were substantially cheaper than the guy who's done the rest of our insulation work. They had wanted substantially more to do the floors than Shel, so we had Shel do that...

This insulation is a very messy prospect, it turns out. Also noisy, for those of us trying to work at home while it is being done. What they do is drill a small hole (about the size of a quarter) through the exterior wall (stucco, chicken wire, tar paper, and wood) into the joist bay and then blow particulate cellulose (recycled paper treated with various pest-, mold- & fire-resistant chemicals) into the void space inside the wall. Once it's full, they fill the hole with stucco and prime it with spray paint. Since there are normally fire blocks about half-way up the wall, they actually drill two holes in each joist space.

And I do mean EACH joist space, every 16 inches apart. For now our house is being called the polka-dot house or the chicken pox house, depending on whom you hear it from.

The best part was when they were working outside the kitchen. I'm sitting in the study and just starting to wonder why it got quiet, when I hear one of the workers come into the kitchen and start looking around. I go in, and he says they hit an electric wire and he's checking to see what might be out. Initially, we thought it was just the outlet above the dishwasher, where the new under-cabinet clock radio is plugged in.

I was fairly pleased when Tom McHale, the owner (or one of), called me within a few minutes to say that they would send an electrician out. The electrician's office called later and the best we could do was Friday morning. The rest of the week was uneventful, though we did find ourselves wishing that it weren't so warm, just so we could see how the insulation changes the feel of the house. It does seem quieter, in fact. Most of the people I've talked to about wall insulation haven't commented on the possible effect on noise, but Shel did at some point.

Thursday morning came we ran the dishwasher. Hm... not working. That's strange. OK, it must be affected, except that the garbage disposal, which is in the same set of four outlets, is working fine. I tried moving the disposal to the other side of the four-some, but it didn't start (I would have expected it to as soon as I plugged it in, since there's no switch for that). Then I tried moving the dishwasher to the outlet the disposal was in, but it didn't work there either. That was especially strange. I called McHale just to make sure they knew we'd found a wider effect than we first thought.

Later in the day, Xin came over to take care of Rachel while we went to a meeting. As I was explaining to him all the steps I'd been through trying to figure out what was going on, he pointed out the one thing I'd overlooked. The switch! Dammit! I even thought about the switch when I moved the disposal to the other outlet - it should have gone on just by being plugged in. Of course, that means that plugging the dishwasher into that outlet will require turning the switch on to let it run! Duhh...

Well, at least now we know we can run the thing. With our Friends Thanksgiving party coming up on Saturday, I was a little nervous about having to spend a lot of time cleaning dishes by hand. Of course, we were certainly going to use plenty of things that couldn't go in the dishwasher, but still...

On Friday, the electrician came. He was a funny guy. We amused ourselves with discussing the fact that a) if you don't push too hard as you go through the wall, you won't hit wires on the other side and b) if you check the other side of the wall for electrical plugs and switches, you might be able to miss them altogether by shifting your drill a few inches. He was able to get it fixed within a couple of hours, although he did wind up having to put in a junction box, which means a plate on the outside wall.

I am not crazy about this. For one thing, it doesn't look great. For another, I'm a little concerned about whether it will be water tight. They did a fairly good job patching it later that day, and the electrician left a rubber gasket, but I think I might have to put some caulk just inside the edges to make sure.

Anyway, Saturday was our Friends Thanksgiving party. The third, I think. Last year was the first time we put it on the bbq, and it went pretty well, so I decided I'd do it again. Unfortunately, this time I got it into my head that I should take the drip pan away a little early so that we could start making gravy. This lead directly to the turkey catching fire. Luckily, all it did was burn the skin (completely). I was generally disatisfied with the turkey this time. The meat was pretty good, but we had a lot of trouble getting it to finish cooking, and when we thought it was finished, we wound up finding more that wasn't cooked well enough. We had almost nothing left over. I think the reason we had so much trouble cooking it was that we were trying to cook it at a lower temperature and it was just taking too long, even after we turned it up toward the end.

At one point, Elisabeth was looking out the window when I was looking at the crispy turkey on the BBQ and said it looked like a fireball. I said "as opposed to a butter ball?" Mostly we had a really good time; besides Elisabeth and the three of us, John & Louise were there, along with Karolyn & her relatively new boyfriend, John, and our friend Mike (Tani's brother). John is really cool. He lives on a boat in Sausalito & is the service manager for Sonnen Porsche and is very personable and funny. We get along great.

By the end of the evening, we had eaten a lot, laughed a lot, and were well ready for bed. I do wish that Tani and Duane had been able to make it. She was working, he at the Big Game (which Cal won for the third or fourth time in a row). We had a really good time, though. Next year, I just won't take the drip pan out early...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

5 Years, And Counting!

This was another great weekend for us. We've kind of had a run of them, knock on wood. Next weekend will be our Friends Thanksgiving party; a few friends over for dinner, pot luck. We're keeping it a little small - only about 11 people, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Friday, we spent a lot of the day at home with Rachel, working on packing things up for her and trying to pack for ourselves without her really cluing in that we were going away as well. I had to run a couple of errands, but other than that we were home all day. Rachel was very cute. She was very excited about going to Monterey with her grandparents. I talked to her at some point about star fish, which she owned up to not knowing about. She seemed very interested in getting to touch them; I made a point of mentioning that to my parents.

While they were still getting her ready, and I was out doing errands, Carmen came over to see if Rachel could play. I guess she said she had to get ready, but then after a few minutes she wanted to go to Carmen's. Dawn said Rachel just couldn't decide whether she wanted to keep getting ready or go play. I had gotten a lot of the clothes Rachel would need together, and at some point, Dawn was going to help her get it packed. Dawn opened the bag and suggested to Rachel that they could start packing. Rachel immediately scooped up all the clothes in one big armload and dropped them right in the bag! Hysterical.

One of the things I was out doing was picking up maps; I got a couple for Mendocino, since we're going there in a couple of weeks for Thanksgiving, one for Point Reyes, and two for Monterey to give to Rachel. She was very excited when I brought them home from AAA. We saw her off with my parents at about 4:30 and started getting ready in earnest.

Dinner at the Lark Creek was excellent. The dinner menu was almost the same, but the special was different. We made it very complicated by each having the same salad (arugula and endive with fuyu persimmons, pomegranate, pistachios, and prosciutto with a bit of a creamy dressing) and sharing the 2-person special, which was grilled beef ribs cut off the bone after cooking with roasted fingerling potatos and steamed greens. Their breads are very good; we've always loved the rolls and eat several every time.

Last week, the chocolate dessert was a chocolate bread pudding. It turned out to be fairly good, according to Elisabeth, though I wasn't all that impressed. Speaking of Elisabeth, we actually bumped into her on the way into the Lark Creek lot! Neither of us knew she was going to be there, and if we'd been on time we wouldn't have seen her. She and a friend were going to a concert given by one of her workers, and they just happened to be searching for the place. We pulled into the lot and both thought "wait... is that Elisabeth!?" at the same time.

Anyway, this time, the chocolate dessert was a molten chocolate cake with cherry chip ice cream. I wanted to have it with vanilla, not being that crazy about cherry, but they either didn't hear me or forgot. The ice cream was just so-so, but the cake was excellent!! It actually rivaled the chocolate souffle cake from Mangia Mangia in Albany, among the best chocolate desserts I've ever had.

The staff were very nice; they brought us an extra plate of the amuse bouche, which was deviled eggs with a bit of horseradish in it and some smoked salmon caviar on top. Perhaps the first time I've ever actually liked caviar. Of course, they brought lots of the rolls, which are very popular, and at the end they brought us a special plate with Happy Anniversary written in chocolate and two chocolate chip cookies and two small blondie squares, along with a promise that if we were too full they'd pack them for us to take with us.

From there, after calling Elisabeth to tell her that the chocolate dessert was a real chocolate dessert this time, we drove out to The Ark, the cottage where we spent the weekend. This was our third time staying at one of their cottages; we stayed at the Ark last year as well, but we stayed at The Fir Tree with my parents in January of 2000 for Dawn's birthday weekend.

The cottages are very nice; secluded, quiet, comfortable. For the breakfast part of 'bed & breakfast', they will provide breakfast makings. We told them we only wanted breakfast for one day, but that meant 10 eggs (from their own chickens), 17 organic Valencia juicing oranges, a jug of granola, a quart of organic cream-top whole milk, a large loaf of Acme-style bread, two croissants, and some fruit.

We didn't get to sleep until after midnight and didn't get up until almost 10am. Dawn said she was awake aroung 6:30, and I think I might have woken up around then too, the first time. I definitely got back to sleep for a while, though. We made breakfast from what they provided; it was all delicious - fresh juice (I forgot how great freshly squeezed juice can be...), scrambled eggs with rosemary, and the two croissants. After a while, without cleaning up from breakfast, we picked a hike to do and headed out. I think we left the house about 12:30 and drove into the park to go to the Tomales Point trailhead near McClure's Beach.

We didn't start on the hike until right about 1:30pm, and since it's a 4.7 mile hike each way out to the point, we didn't plan to go all the way to the end. I took a LOT of pictures along the way. I'm very lucky that Dawn not only likes to hike, she doesn't mind waiting for me to take pictures. We picked this hike in particular because it is close to the water; there were a couple of others that we thought about, but it didn't look as if they'd have views of the ocean. This was even better because the trail has Tomales Bay on one side and the Pacific on the other. There were several points along the way from which we could see both.

The image stabilization on the zoom lenses is extremely cool. It's still sort of funny that I can hear it adjusting the optics, but it does a really good job. You can literally see the shake before you hit the shutter, and then when you push the shutter button half-way to focus it, it also kicks in the stabilizer and suddenly the shake vanishes! I got some great long distance pictures of birds and elk, and some nice shots of some flowers. Other than some crows and turkey vultures, we couldn't completely identify all the birds we saw. I think there were at least two kinds of hawks.

At about 3:15, we ran into someone who told us that we only had another 45 minutes to go, so we decided to go for the end even though we hadn't planned to originally. Considering how much we were stopping to take pictures, and to have lunch, I couldn't imagine that we were anywhere near the end. We didn't, in fact, make it to the end. We turned back just after 4, because it really looked as if it was still a while longer to get to the point. We'd been keeping an eye on the sun for a while, and wanted to make sure that we got back to the wider trail before it got dark. The trail further out is narrower and harder to follow. The sunset was gorgeous; I think I got some good shots, but I haven't looked at them closely yet.

We made it back to the parking lot at Upper Pierce Ranch at about 5:30; 2.5 hours out, 1.5 hours back. We were movin' on the way back. I do think we got pretty close to the end; probably at least 8 miles. Interestingly, we did find something in the cabin that talked about the average hiking speed being 2 miles an hour, so that kinda fits given that we were going much faster on the way back than the way out. The sun set about 5:10 and it didn't get dark too fast; I was actually able to see the car as we came around the last curve. Just near the end, one pack of the Tule Elk were pretty close to the trail as we went by, and it really seemed as if they were staring at us. Why are you still here, they seemed to be wondering.

We went back to the cottage to change and then went to dinner at The Station House Cafe. It was pretty good; I had clam chowder and a sirloin steak. The chowder was very good, but I think I'm going to have to start asking for my meats cooked medium instead of medium rare - it's starting to be too common that the meat comes more rare than I prefer. They also had pop-overs, which were very good when they were warm. The first couple we got were practically cold, and turned out to be very disappointing once we got warm ones. Dawn skipped an appetizer but had baby back ribs and really liked them; even managed to eat them all!

Didn't manage to sleep as well last night, but still didn't get up until almost 9. Ah, lazy mornings. We made a second breakfast out of the food they gave us, along with some Saag's British Bangers we picked up at the Inverness store, and still wound up taking home some of the bread, part of a blueberry scone, and a whole bunch of granola. Check-out is at noon, and that's really unfortunately early. We'll have to ask for a later check-out, even if we have to pay extra; especially considering that we didn't arrive until well after 9 Friday night.

We were able to go for a short hike towards Tomales Bay from just north of Point Reyes Station on Highway 1. The description of the trail was a little odd, and we wound up sort of wandering around a cow pasture for a while, but we didn't have a lot of time anyway. We had to walk a bit slowly in one part to make sure the cows would get out of the way (they did) without putting us between any of the babies and their mothers. It was funny to be so close to them. They, like the elk on the way back to the car yesterday, stopped eating to watch us.

So far, the Western Scrub Jay below has been my favorite picture of the weekend (and the new Canon DSLR):

I really love the way it came out. I took this at 300mm (480 equivalent) with Image Stabilization, at probably about 30 feet, so it's cropped pretty significantly. The focus is very good, and I'm quite happy with the color. There have been some points when I looked at some of the images when I thought that the color wasn't very good, but this is pretty great. I think there might be another couple of bird pictures that are good, but this is the best so far.

The ride back was generally uneventful. It's only about 39 miles home from the trailhead, and we made good time except for the part where someone had hit a fire hydrant in San Anselmo; we started to try to figure out the detour feature on the Prius navigation system, but didn't do it soon enough. No big deal.

Speaking of the Prius, I think I'm going to have to take it in this week. First of all, the gas engine has been shuddering when it shuts off a lot of the time, and I want to know why, but more importantly it's really been lugging lately. It had a lot of trouble getting up the hill to the cabin the first night, and hasn't been too happy with accelerating from a stop or getting up hills since. We smelled something (oil, I think) burning when we got out that first time. None of the engine lights ever came on, or anything, so I'm taking it for granted that it's nothing too bad, but I'm going to have them look at it.

Rachel was just on when we got to my parents' place. She told us all about her trip. She says that her favorite part was the whale boat ride, for which they have rain checks because they didn't see any whales. It'll still be too early for that when we're in Mendocino, but we can talk about them anyway. She definitely seemed to enjoy herself and didn't express any distress at having been away from us for two whole days. A real relief, to be sure.

Oh, and as you can see, I've figured out how to use Hello to upload pictures to the blog. Not that it was hard, by any stretch of the imagination. I think it took all of 3 minutes, including downloading and installing the software. The way it works is that you tell it your id and send an instant message to BloggerBot, which creates a post. I don't know that I'll ever want a post that's just a picture, so I'll probably wind up doing the post to get the picture uploaded and then pull the URLs from there to put into a regular post, like the picture above.

Here's one more picture, a lone poppy, very out of place in November. The California Poppy happens to be one of my favorite flowers, but I certainly didn't expect to see one on this trip!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

How's That for Timing?

It's interesting that I took my resume down last weekend. Not as much because I've still gotten a couple of contacts through the boards I hide it from, but because when I got into the office on Monday I found out that my company's been sold! How do you like them apples?

Top level management's been saying for a while that such a thing could happen, but I'm a little surprised that it happened so quickly. The deal's for about a billion dollars, so it's not really all that much, I suppose. Amusingly, there was actually an email from John in my box asking whether it was us before I even knew about it. I did, in fact, learn from a co-worker before I read it, but as soon as she said something, I realized what the subject of his email meant: is this you guys?

Yes, it is... second time in just under 3 years. Last time there was probably more uncertainty, at least in my mind. Also more worry. I'm really not worried at all. Our business is profitable, and the company that's bought us seems to have some decent track record of managing companies, so there's no reason to think they'd make major changes, at least up to my boss' or his boss' level. Since we'll be private now, we drop a significant amount of expense related to SOX compliance, so our profitability actually goes up. Further, we have work coming out our ears.

Besides, if they drop our business, all the customers get copies of the source code and the non-compete, which may or may not be enforceable against me, becomes irrelevant. I could make a lot more money contracting for M or J, or both, than I do now.

At any rate, it appears that the top level management (CEO, Chairman, and board) will probably all be out. A number of people have said that is a good thing. Much of the legal, accounting, and other general & administrative staff in Atlanta will apparently be serving those same functions in the new company. There are a number of ways in which I am not sure that's a good thing, but I suppose at least I can expect the benefits package not to get any worse. It's not bad now, but it would really be nice if the vision coverage were better and the employee contributions weren't so high.

One thing I heard that's really nice is that they're forward vesting options. I'm a little surprised by this, because I wouldn't expect upper management (those who negotiated the deal) to a) have un-vested options or b) care about any peons who do. Never the less, it is nice that they did that, for the few people it will actually benefit. They're also looking into whether they can execute the ESPP buy early for those of us, including me, who are in that program. That is definitely nice for me. That looks as if it's worth a couple of thousand dollars to me, before taxes, if they can (and do). The VP of personnel told me they're looking into whether the plan allows it. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, busy busy. I've been pushing off M because we don't have much budget left on the existing service orders. Also because it's triffling stuff that I think customer support should be handling; truthfully, Tom is trying valiantly, but it's complicated crap. For instance, he seems to have discovered that an email that's not going to one person, or maybe is going to him when it shouldn't (that's how much attention I've been paying), isn't (or maybe is) because of he has the Out of Office tag set to no (rather than just not set). Out of Office is completely irrelevant to M and the guy had no business touching it! But that's a pretty typical defect in our software - just plain stupid.

Not to change lanes too abruptly, but tomorrow is our 5th anniversary. Well, technically, it's now today, since it's after midnight on the 11th. Happy Veteran's Day, if you're in the US. Or Armistice Day if you're not. Rachel is going away with my parents to Monterey, where they'll stay in a hotel near the Aquarium. I tried to suggest that they stay in a place with suites, but they preferred to be walking distance to the Aquarium. I'm sure they'll have a wonderful time.

We, meanwhile, will be having dinner back at the Lark Creek, and then going to Inverness for the weekend. It's going to be wonderful, and the weather's supposed to be gorgeous. Among many other things, I'm really looking forward to getting some time to play with our new cameras.

The Pentax Optio 555, which is a fairly nice camera (reasonably small, 5x optical zoom, and 5 megapixels), just really wasn't working for either of us. For Dawn, it's too big, too slow, and too fragile (the lens cover doesn't work very well, and actually doesn't open all the way, so blocks a small portion of one corner of the picture), with too small an LCD screen that's too scratched up by a piece of plastic on the neck strap. For me, it's too small, too bad at macro photography, and too unlike an SLR, with too little zoom. We gave it to Dawn's dad, who's been wanting a digital camera for a while. It'll certainly serve him well, because he won't mind being very careful of the lens cover (as Dawn does), won't care about how slow it is to start up, and will undoubtedly love the 5x zoom.

In it's place, I've gotten two cameras. First was the Casio Exilim 7.2 megapixel, which is primarily for Dawn. This camera is slightly narrower and shorter than the Optio, but it is about half as thick, and in addition to being much smaller and lighter, it has an enormous LCD screen. It is extremely fast to start up, being ready to take a picture, at least without the flash, in less than a second. It only has a 3x zoom, but the 7.2 mp can cover that a little bit, and 3x is more than enough for snapshots, which is what we do the most with it anyway. I suppose I'll probably still want to take it to Yosemite with me, if we go next year, but we'll see.

Second, I now have, and am very excited to start using for real, the Canon EOS 20D with 17-85 and 70-300 zoom lenses, both of which are image stabilized. The IS clearly doesn't apply as much with the smaller lens, but I like the range on it much better than the 18-55 that comes with the Rebel XT. I was very amused to hear the IS happening while playing with the 300 a little while ago. The Image Stabilizer actually moves the optics within the lens to account for a certain amount of camera shake. I only have a 1G compact flash card for it at this point, but I certainly won't need more this weekend. I need to see about returning the 28-135 IS lens I bought from, but they do seem to have a return policy; that's a whole other story that I may or may not ever tell. Perhaps I'll get the 10-22 wide zoom in it's place. Then I'll be pretty much set from 16mm to 480 (because of the 1.6 multiplier caused by the small size of the CMOS).

When they came home today, after a trip to the library, I asked Rachel to take her library books up to her room. After she said she didn't want to and asked me to, before I could say that they were her library books and she should take care of them, she said "you know where my room is, Daddy." I couldn't help laughing. I told her she had to give me a hug, so she did.

Saw a very funny, if a bit sad, t-shirt this evening. Showed three or four Native American Indians, dressed in appropriate garb for the late 1400s. Headline said "Homeland Security", caption: "Fighting Terrorism Since 1492".

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Fifth Anniversary Dinner Party (and more)

What a great weekend! Saturday, we split up for the morning and early afternoon - I took Rachel to Tessa's house, went to the City to get the transponder for the Prius, and then came back to get a haircut and a couple of wing bolts before going back to get Rachel; meanwhile, Dawn, Dick, Darryl & Molly went into the City to the farmer's and art markets.

While picking up Rachel, I talked to Dana for a while. We talked about a bunch of things. At some point, the conversation helped me realize that since we're hoping we'll be able to get more solar up in a few years, we probably don't want to replace the furnace(s) or water heater, even with new gas ones. I figure that in several years, when it is time to replace the main shingle roof on our house it will be possible to use solar shingles; they seem to be about a hundred dollars each right now, which would probably be ridiculously expensive.

Dana's brother-in-law told me about an FM transmitter he got for his iPod and says works really well. It is a large white module that plugs directly into the cigarette lighter and has a slot to hold the iPod. He said that it is far better than the one he tried before that was more like my Belkin. I'm going to have to hunt for it a little; so far, it looks as if it might be by Griffin. He said that he drove all the way to Santa Cruz and didn't have to change it off 88.1 until he got there.

I also told Dana about Rachel hitting her head on the arm of the futon on Monday when she was sick. She hit her head pretty hard; at first, I didn't think she was going to cry, but then she started to. I said, "wow, that was a pretty good thunk!" I was just trying to see if she'd talk rather than cry, so I was a little surprised when she started laughing, hard. I said 'thunk' a few more times to help this along, and it was all over, no crying necessary.

Shortly after I told the story, Rachel banged her head on the coffee table when we were putting on her socks and shoes, but good. She started crying almost immediately this time, but I said "thunk" several times and she went straight from crying to laughing hysterically. Dana, standing near the door said "it's magic!"

On the way home, I started talking to Rachel about having time with Yeni in the evening; when she asked why, I didn't really want to explain that we were all going out to dinner because she might feel left out. I told her it was so they could spend some time together and that maybe they could go to dinner. She loved that idea! When we got home, Rachel and I fixed her coat rack, with the wing bolts - the plastic anchors I used originally were coming out of the wall.

We had Yeni come over a little early and let her take Rachel to the chinese restaurant around the corner. That made leaving really easy - we didn't have to worry about her getting upset about seeing all of us leave. She came up to our room where we were getting ready, to say goodbye. Very sweet.

While we were getting ready, I gave Dawn the bracelet, which I mentioned in the just unclassified post I wrote a few days ago. It's really very pretty. It has 22 ruby beads interspersed more or less randomly across the 5 strands of Keshi pearls. The clasp is made of platinum, has five very small ruby gems set into it, 3 on one side of one half, 1 on the other side of that half, and 1 more on the other half. It has a really cool way to link, where the two halves have to be perpendicular to each other to let the two channels pass each other. She loves it!

Eventually, we got to the Lark Creek; Dick went with Elisabeth while Dawn and I took Darryl and Molly with us in the Prius. When we got there, almost everyone was standing outside talking. As we went inside, wondering where Elisabeth and Dick were, there were a number of observations of how many people in the group have names starting with the letter D: Dylan, Dawn, Don, Dan, Dick, Darryl. Six of 15. Turns out Elisabeth and Dick had gone straight in instead of standing around in the cold!

We started with a champagne toast. Dawn said a few words and asked everyone to sign the wedding book we put out at the wedding. The staff was very good; they managed to put 15 dishes on the table in very close proximity twice! We did run them out of the special main course of beef tenderloin on forest mushrooms in a wine sauce with foie gras. Sounded really great until those last two words. Ick. Dawn had pork "in the bag" - cooked in a foil bag... it looks like Jiffy Pop. Or Jiffy Pork as Mike called it. I had a culotte steak that was pretty good, although slightly more rare than I would normally like. All in all a wonderful evening; 4 hours of food, drink, talk and pictures. Dawn's right, though... we should have called the woman who made our wedding cakes and had her make some for us to have with the crowd; the desserts were a little hit-or-miss.

Since Dan and Karyn were up we really wanted to get together with them for a while longer. We'd been planning on breakfast, but we couldn't quite finagle a chance to see them by ourselves since they were staying with John for the weekend, and pretty soon we wound up doing breakfast for 10 at our place. It was quite nice, but I really want to get a chance to spend some real time with Dan and Karyn. I think we're going to try to go visit them after Christmas instead of going to Hawaii. We'll go there soon too, but this seems much nicer to me right now.

Friday will be our actual anniversary; at the moment, we are scheduled to have dinner at the Lark Creek again. I think we still will, since it is on the way to Pt. Reyes, where we'll be staying for the weekend.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Throw-Ups

It's been quite a week. Rachel and I had a little trouble on Sunday, probably a combination of each of us being a bit tired, possibly and her missing Dawn. We managed to sort it out after a little while, though, and it seemed as if everything would be fine... until Rachel started throwing up Monday morning. Oh, what a delight. One minute she's using the toilet, the next, while wiping, there's vomit on the floor.

I didn't go in to work. Per my boss' request, I just told me co-workers I was home sick & would check email when I could. Rachel actually did quite well; she rested a lot and I was actually able to do a little bit of work. Somehow we managed not to make a total mess, particularly of her hair. By the end of the day, she was able to have a bit of tortilla and go trick-or-treating, though not to Tessa's Halloween party. We had a lengthy discussion of why we would not go to Tessa's party that basically consisted of getting her to agree that this was no fun and we wouldn't want to give it to Tessa, her family, or any of her other friends.

Trick-or-treating was very cute. She was dressed as Belle, as was her friend, next-door Louise. Carmen & her sister Lila were frogs in home-made costumes; Deepa & Kavi were Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion (and their father was the Wizard, but for some reason their mother was a cat rather than one of the various witches); Anjali, who is both a friend of Deepa & Kavi and a school friend of Rachel's, was a clown. I was able to get Rachel to wear real shoes for the walk, rather than the very cute but too big and clunky Princess shoes Dawn got her. We went to a bunch of houses over the two blocks below our house, including a few on the cross streets, and then came back.

They had a grand time. There was a lot of hand-holding, some of which was Rachel being protective/nurturing of Anjali, who is younger. There were a few times when one of them nearly pulled the other down the stairs, which was funny at first and a bit nerve wracking later. There were a lot of great pumpkin carvings, and I'm sorry we didn't have time to get another pumpkin (having already had one for a few days before Halloween, but it was collapsing so we tossed it). A couple of houses had fake cob-webs everywhere. We often had to tell the kids to stop knocking... they have a tendency to go up and start knocking and keep knocking until someone comes to the door.

Rachel came away with about 70 pieces of candy, and we sat with Dan and sorted them by type and pulled out the ones that I said she just couldn't have. This included some hard candies and a few other things I just decided were too bad. Also the undefinable blob that must have been home made; aside from the fact that it didn't really look edible, there was no way I was going to risk it. She didn't argue about not getting to have all the candy, or about not getting to eat any on Monday. We just talked about it and it was fine; I explained that some of the things were things we just weren't going to eat and that we would throw them out but we could keep the rest. The rest was about 60 pieces, though she counted to 39 and then went back through the 30s twice.

I got to see reverse psychology work on her for the first time. Dan wanted to read a book to her at bed time, and she refused, so he said "that's OK, I didn't really want to anyway." She immediately piped up "I do!!" It was very funny - she has enough ego and self-awareness now to want to be able to make choices herself when she can that she didn't want him to make it for her (even though his supposed choice was the same as hers), but she doesn't understand about manipulation (or being conned). He read one of the books he gave her, Harry, the Dirty Dog.

Unsurprisingly, I was up at 2:45 Tuesday morning, taking my turn throwing up. I don't think I threw up again, but boy was it an unpleasant day. It was a bit funny when I woke up, actually. I'd been having some strange dream in which I was really stressed out, and feeling it as heat and tension in my chest, about trying to do some kind of solar conversion on the Prius. Later, I realized that the heat & tension in my chest was actually the pressure and acid of the illness.

Anyway, at some point in the morning while I was lying on the sofa reading and Rachel, having had (plenty of) plain tortilla for breakfast, was watching something, all of a sudden there's a little hand on my forehead. "You feel a little hot, Daddy." I'm not sure which was cuter, that, or later in the day when she gave me a hug and said "I'm sorry I gave you the throw-ups, Daddy." We packed a lunch and went over to our park so she could play. I sat. She can climb into the little swings and pump entirely by herself now, though she did want me to help her get out.

Wednesday, Dawn came home. I had thought for a while that there would be no element of relief or traces of 'finally' associated with that statement, despite a lot of expectations among friends and family that I'd be dying for her to come rescue me. In fact, there probably wouldn't have been if we hadn't gotten sick, but that really took a lot out of me, even more than being up really late two nights between the car break-in and my evening out with friends. As it was, however, I really was a little relieved. None of this is to say, of course, that I was not looking forward to her coming back, we just had been doing so well, even having to sort out a bit of trouble on Sunday, that I really only missed her, not her share of taking care of Rachel.

Dan's fiancee, Karyn, arrived Thursday afternoon; we all went to dinner and they stayed with us that night. Karyn's great and I was really glad that they stayed with us that night, rather than going to John's the whole time she's here. She told a story about accidentally knocking someone's water over while trying to get past his table in a restaurant while in NY the night before. The water hit the wine glass, spilling red wine all over him and his camelhair shirt/jacket/whatever. He was apparently absolutely incensed and wouldn't accept her extensive, repeated apologies, or her offer to pay for the dry cleaning, or her offer to pay for his entire meal. Even the somewhat younger woman he was with couldn't muster the sense to help him back down. Karyn even went so far as to try to insist that the maitre d' charge the meal to her credit card, and he did take an imprint, but then he came back and said that the guy didn't deserve it and he simply wasn't going to do that. He further refused to give the guy $50 for her. Karyn is definitely much too nice. She absolutely shouldn't have taken his berating and, I think anything more than apologizing and offering to take care of the cleaning bill (including standing for his berating) was far more than necessary. The thing that got to me the most, though, was the way she kept saying that she was "in the wrong"... she wasn't wrong, she didn't do it on purpose... I said that to her a few times.

When we called to tell Tessa's family we wouldn't be able to make it to her party, we discussed that we'd get together later. Dawn's family arrived yesterday, so after I got home from work we were sitting around talking when the phone rang. Here's how the conversation started:

Dylan: "Hello?"
very little voice, quietly: "Hi"
Dylan: "Hello?"
very little voice, louder: "This is Tessa!"
Dylan: "Hi, Tessa! How are you?"
Tessa: "Good. May I speak to Rachel, please?"
Dylan: "Of course you may."

Wow... my four-year-old is getting phone calls from her friends, as opposed to one of her parents calling and then our putting them on together... she's growing up so fast! Karyn the other night was commenting on how big Rachel's gotten and, teasing us, said something about someone coming to pick her up for a date and how that was only going to be another 10 years or so. I said 20. No, 40. Anyway, don't get ahead of us! So, they discussed getting together, and then put me back on the phone with Tessa's mother and we'll go over there for Rachel to be dropped off at about 9:30.

We were thinking of all going into the City, probably on BART since we can't all fit in one car this time, but now I think that Dawn will go some place with her family and I'll go do some errands... need to get a hair cut and pick up a FasTrack transponder for the Prius. Evidently they have special transponders for them... perhaps so they can tell it's a hybrid without having to check the transponder number in the database. Not that I'll keep the transponder where they can read it - they don't charge extra for going through without the transponder as long as the plate number is registered to it. I've always had only one transponder registered to the truck that I kept in the Honda; now that I've got the Honda's plate associated with it as well, I don't even need to have it in there, so I'll probably just bring them in the house once we get our plate.

Today is our 5th anniversary dinner. There will be 15 of us. Since we will be at the long table in the middle of the restaurant, there have been a couple of jokes about changing the seating arrangement a time or two during the meal... maybe after each course! That would be funny. I'd probably be doing it almost as much to have fun with the restaurant staff as to be able to talk to more people. Well, OK, not really. It's going to be a lot of fun.

In work news, Dawn's last day is 11/15. This is excellent. I'm really glad she's leaving this job. It's just been so hard on her and the place is a complete CF, except for her area. There's some concern, probably not unfounded, that the Feds will make the board fire the management team - this would presumably be across the board, even though they have no complaints whatever with Dawn's area - and there's no reason for Dawn to stay for that to happen. I assume that she will start doing some sort of contracting at some point, but for now she can just take a break and get away from how bad this place has been.

I on the other hand, have actually taken my resume off (hidden it from searches) the three jobs sites where I have it posted. I continue to have some background level of frustration and bitterness about the company and certain things about my history there, such as that I've never had what I would call a 'real' raise, including when I got promoted. I have had three primary reasons for wanting to find a new job: dissatisfaction with the company itself, the fact that I've been doing the same basic work for 5 years, and not getting to do anything new (meaning working with newer technologies). The second has changed a little lately, as I've been getting to more full-scale consulting (rather than just handling a few things per customer). The third has changed a little and is going to change a lot - the current version of our product uses newer things, like JSF, Struts, and My Faces, and I'll be doing a lot of work on that from now on.

Then there are the various intangibles of this job and how long I've been there: it's 15 minutes from my house, less from Rachel's school; I can work at home when I want to; I don't have to travel terribly often; I have a very good working relationship with my boss' boss (who used to be mine) and expect to have a similar relationship with my new boss, whom I've worked with to various degress the last 5 years; I come and go when I want as long as I'm making my meetings and getting my work done.

Now consider the fact that the bonus program was much better last fiscal year and is rumored to be better still this year, although we still don't officially have our bonus plan for this fiscal year even though this is now the 7th month of it; yes, that's one of my many frustrations with the company. Finally, take the fact that there's still not seeming to be much out there that would have either the kind of salary I get now or a high enough hourly rate to make going back to contracting safe.

Add all of that stuff together, and any time a recruiter calls me they ask, after I explain my situation, "so, why are you looking for a job again?" Dan asked why I explain it all rather than just going through the process. I don't want to waste everyone's time, particularly my own. If the job is in Mountain View or is going to require 40% travel, I'm just not going to be interested unless they're going to pay me substantially more in base salary than I gross now with bonus. Of course, that's going to put the salary high enough that no one's going to want to pay it in this market...

Eventually, I will leave this company. I might even quit to go back to contracting, possibly without having a contract lined up in advance. I can't do either, though, until there's good reason to think that I'm going to be able to make enough money to make it reasonable to give up what I have.

Anyway, the customer I got to upgrade, J, finally signed the services agreement... something on the order of 200 days worth of work (that's 40 business weeks for a single person, though we'll have multiple people taking part to some degree). The customer I've been spending most of my time on the last year and a bit, M, is about to get a new Service Order for upgrading them and converting them to the HTML client; a little bit more time. And those are just the two I'll be doing the most work for...

Friday, November 04, 2005

First Prius Fill-up

Bought gas for the first time for the Prius today; 8.898 gallons (US), which means there were about 3 gallons left even though it beeped and started flashing the last square on the fuel gauge. 384 miles on the odometer, although it's not entirely clear how many of the first 14 were on gas already in there, so I suppose the 43.2 mpg isn't perfectly accurate. Close enough, although removing those 14 miles drops it to 41.6 mpg. Whatever.

One thing that's interesting about the Prius is that the tank has a flexible bladder in it, so the capacity can change depending on the outside temperature... I assume it doesn't fluctuate much between 50 and 70 degrees, which is where we spend most of our time here in the Bay Area.

At 2.399 (prices are down) per gallon, I spent $21.35 for 8.898 gallons of gas, or 5.56 cents per mile. Assuming 12 miles per gallon, which is what I was getting in the Pathfinder, I'd have needed 32 gallons to go the same distance. 32 gallons would have cost $76.77, or $55.42 more.

The greenhybrid link for our car is: