Monday, August 30, 2010

Kelly goes to college

Our niece, Kelly Smale, has moved in and is now a freshman at Gonzaga. Go Kelly!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why we have fire sprinklers

One of the odd things about building a house in Park City is that you have to include fire sprinklers. Not just a fire extinguisher. You have to have the serious, commercial fire sprinklers you are probably used to seeing in a public building. Why? Because it is dry and windy, and we have a lot of scrubby, half dead trees.

This past week, we were reminded why. Along a trail about a half mile from our house, a fire started. Kids? A cigarette? Who knows? The fire spread and it was on a steep hill with a lot of scrub, so the fire fighters were having a hard time getting water to where it was burning.

The fire grew to about 15 acres and came within about 100 yards of a house. As the ground forces were getting the fire under control, a helicopter with a water bucket joined the fight and knocked the fire out. Here is the result.

It hurts me not to have been taking tons of pictures while all this was going on, but here is one from the Park Record. I was about 10 miles outside of Park City at a Friends of Animals meeting. Between the local radio station and neighbors, we kept up to date with any call for evacuation.

This definitely gives you a little wake up call. We definitely live in fire country and even though we have five fire stations within five miles of our house, that doesn't mean we are safe. Always helps to have a plan on what you would do if you had to evacuate.

If you want to see some more pictures, go here. They normally leave them up for a few weeks.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flowers from the yard

This time of year there are still lots of flowers blooming. We get such a late start with summer. One interesting thing is how the colors transition. Back in June and July, most of the flowers seemed patriotic: red, white or blue. As fall comes around, almost all the flowers are the fall colors, like yellows, oranges and reds. Interesting. I wandered out with the camera to capture some of the interesting ones on our front hill (which is all wildflowers).

Because it wasn't a fall color, this one stood out. It's actually very small.

We have these by the hundreds. They seem to be on the border between attractive flower and spreading weed.

A little more color. Wish I had more of these.

And the rabbit bush is gorgeous this time of year. Lots of big yellow, spikey blooms. Is spikey a word?

A close-up of one of the flower heads.

Nothing spectacular, but lots of pretty things to look at. I'm glad my wildflower hillside is really beginning to take. It is a fight to "let it grow" but to keep most of the noxious weeds out. With our nasty soil and tough weather, Mother Nature and Evolution have combined to make some incredibly fast spreading, deep rooted weeds.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wink Self-Timer

Canon has a number of new cameras with a feature called the "Wink Self-Timer". I was curious so I did a quick Google. You set the camera up to take a group picture, either on a tripod or sitting somewhere sturdy. Push the button half way and then wander around to get in the picture. When someone winks, the camera notices, and two seconds later will take a picture.

The computers in pocket cameras are becoming self aware. Soon the robots will take control. Until then, we will get better pictures, easier. Of course, I would be happier with a camera sensor that can capture a much wider dynamic range.

Park City season pass prices

What a difference a year makes. About this time each year, the ski resorts all announce what their ticket prices will be, including season passes and specials for locals. I don't remember the exact numbers from last year, but a Deer Valley season pass was around $1600 and a Park City pass was about $1300. So, in bad economic times, how do they adjust?

This year, the normal Deer Valley season pass is over $1900. Locals can buy early, but it still costs you $1630. Park City is trying a very different approach. You can get an adult season pass for $700. They have some add-on's that can make it more expensive, like underground parking and night skiing, but DV doesn't offer any of these.

I think we are going to see a BIG shift in locals this year. I love skiing DV, but this is ridiculous. If you price a year of skiing for a family of four locals, two adults, a 12 year old and a 6 year old, Park City costs locals $1525. Deer Valley would be $3770.

Deer Valley is mighty proud of a mountain that got almost no capital improvements this year. Park City did over $4M and The Canyons did $10M. I guess they are just banking on being able to sell to the well-to-do's that will stay at the St Regis and the Montage.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tour of Utah bike race

The Tour of Utah is a pretty impressive stage race for the US. I won't describe the whole thing, but you can click on the link to get all the details.

This year, the next to the last stage was held as a criterium in Park City. The rode about 90 minutes around a loop that went up Main Street and back down Swede Ave, with one extra set of turns thrown in onto Park Ave.

This years race included some pretty big Tour de France names, including Levi Leipheimer, George Hincappie and Francisco Mancebo Perez.

Levi won the whole tour, but Jeff Louder from team BMC won the criterium. It was fun to watch and a bugger to photograph well. There were a lot of places where the sun was setting behind the buildings, leaving the riders in the shade and the buildings behind them in the brilliant sunshine.

Radio Shack had the best looking outfits.

I thought it was ironic that his bike says "FOCUS" in clear letters. That was one of my challenges was focusing on things moving that quickly, so close to you.

This turn had a bump in the pavement. A couple of the racers started peddling out of the turn too soon and caught a peddle on the pavement. Fortunately, they got startled, but not thrown down. Some were very close though.

That's Levi in the yellow jersey.

The only racer I saw wearing one of those breath-right strips on his nose. Sorry, that just won't help much with the adjustment to 7000 feet.

Hard work pushing it up Main Street.

Can you feel his pain? This was right near the end.

Not a great photo of him, but the guy on the right in the red was the stage winner. He actually pulled ahead by one minute, eventually winning by about 30 seconds. That's unusual in a criterium.

This is the pack trying to catch back up to the leader at the end. Too little, too late.

I think everyone did a great job including the racers, the race organizers, all the police and traffic control, and the many thousands of fans. Nice event. I am sure it will be back to Park City again soon.

Next time I will be just a hair smarter about photographing bike races.

Fall? Really?

Come on! It's still August!

This little maple at the end of our driveway seems to have decided to get a jump on things. Pretty, but not a welcome sight yet.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Weather rampage

One difference between living in NC and Utah becomes apparent when you listen to the daily weather. It isn't unusual in Raleigh to have a series of summer storms drop 3 or 4 inches of rain in a day. Salt Lake doesn't get but about 2 inches all summer long. Life in a desert.

Yesterday Salt Lake City got 1.3" of rain in about an hour. Most of that came down in 15 minutes. Imagine getting over a month's worth of rain in 15 minutes. No, the drainage systems can't handle it.

The scariest thing is that it actually snowed at the highest elevations, in August. Yes, it melts off very quickly, but August? On our side of the Wasatch mountain chain, we didn't see any snow, so no pictures. Hoping I won't be able to get any for a few more months.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bonneville Speed Week

One week every summer, racers come from all over the US to the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah to try setting land speed records. They drive everything from little, historic motorcycles to creations that look like missiles on wheels. I've read about it and seen it on TV. Now that I live 160 miles away, a road trip was overdue.

The first thing you notice is the salt. It's everywhere. During the spring, the rains flood the flats. As the summer cooks out all the moisture, you are left with a nice, smooth, flat race surface.

The bad news is that salt is a powdery, sticky mess that attaches to everything. I need to vacuum my car today.

You can watch people in the pits beating the salt off the cars and tires.

This really sums it up. I saw a few people wearing this t-shirt. I only went for a day, but I have to guess that anyone who stays for the full week could have easily created this shirt.

When you go to a road race, like NASCAR, you are off sitting in the stands. Only the rich or well-connected get to visit the pits or chat with the drivers. Bonneville is incredible. While they keep you a good distance from the vehicles on their speed runs, you can walk through the pits, meet everyone, and even stand right at the start line. Bored in one spot? Just hop in your car and drive somewhere else.

Check out the wide variety of cars.

Most pits had large tarps spread to try to minimize the salt in their work area.

This is one of the rolling missiles I mentioned.

This looked like a dragster, with a bit of tweaking. Notice that this race team's name matches the t-shirt we just saw.

They can't all look fast. This was a wee small 1972 Honda. I guess they have a race class for everyone.

Back to the fast ones again.

My favorites were the older ones.

... and this one in particular. It was gorgeous. It was definitely a show car and wasn't being raced. Even though there were interesting cars everywhere you looked, this one had people stopping to take pictures almost constantly.

Who would want to get into one of these things and drive along at 200 mph? Tuxedo man! Actually, it was just his racer's fire suit, but it looked very formal.

When the driver gets in the missile, his pit crew straps him in. When I did my race class in Atlanta, I got used to putting on a five-point harness. This is much worse. The drivers legs and hands are strapped in. It seemed absurd until a crew member explained that they can't afford to have a limb outside the car, at all, in the event of a crash. If anything is outside the protective frame of the car, you probably lose it.

Self confidence too high? Sit in a missile about 18 inches off the ground. Steer with something that looks like an 8 inch long stick. The streamliners (missiles) go well over 300 mph. That should put life into perspective.

One problem with loading up the drivers was the heat. They all wear fire suits and helmets. Then they get into vehicles with giant engines. The fancier solutions had portable cooler-sized boxes that pumped chilling fluid through the racer's suit. The would disconnect it right before the start. Others just went with pit crews holding umbrellas and using little $2 portable fans.

The cars are geared for very high speeds. This means that some of them can't actually get started on their own. Normally they have a pickup truck shove them from behind for the first 200 yards or so. The timing doesn't start until the get to second mile, so it's not cheating.

This guy had an antique truck with a matching paint color. Styling.

These guys had something called "The Mothership". Perhaps a little larger than really needed.

Or you can try the poor man's approach. This one started, then the engine died. These guys pushed it down the track a few hundred yards before it finally caught and took off on its own. The crowd was loving it because for a while, it looked like they were going to run along with it for the entire 5 mile course.

Who the hell thought of doing this in August instead of something nice, like October? It is a desert after all. The salt reflects the sun back up, just like snow. It makes it easier to get sun burned, but the salt surface stays at a reasonable temperature.

This thermometer shows how it feels standing out in the sun.

This one picture tells you almost everything about the Bonneville fan base. Almost 100% male. Almost 100% aged 50+. Almost 100% wearing straw hats. I'm surprised they let this guy with the baseball hat stand around.

If you ever go, just remember: you can't bring too much water, sunscreen or shade.

Hot car. Looks fast.

But then you go look inside. It looks stark and uncomfortable.

But then you look at the door. It looks like someone's fridge. I do wonder why the cat got a bigger picture than the kids. No spouse?

I tried to shoot the cars as they did their speed runs. There was very white sand, no plants, no background, and a hazy sky.

You have to stay a long ways off the runs, but I managed to do OK by using a long lens and once again, pretending to have a press pass. My invisible press pass has been great at a number of recent events. Just keep telling yourself "I belong here".

Every car had a parachute to slow it down. I think they also keep the car pointed the right direction as they brake.

I threw on an ND filter and tried doing some longer exposures. It is tough to keep the car crisp and sharp in the picture as it passes at 200 mph. Note to self: keep practicing your panning.

Just as I started to get the hang of it, this thing came by. I could barely get it in the frame, much less keep it sharp. I talked to the timers and found it had come by at 417 mph. I'm not even going to feel bad about that one.

Forget it. I'll just stick with things that move slow enough to track and focus on.

I have a bad habit. When I go see something exciting and different like this, I frequently get and urge to get involved somehow and give it a try. Not this time. Aside from having to be a bit crazy to drive the vehicles, you have to love, love, love tearing apart cars and slowly putting them back together. As I walked the pits, almost every car was in some state of tear-down. When you are trying to break a speed record, you don't get credit for reliability (like a 500 mile lap race). Here, you push it to the very limits, and then some. This is traumatic for the cars and they failed frequently.

The two highlights for me were the incredible variety of vehicles being raced and the unequaled access spectators get to the cars, the racers and the crews.