Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Almost time to start rowing

Next week I get to start heading over to the Jordanelle Reservoir twice a week for Masters Rowing.  I have never rowed or sculled (one oar per person or two).  Today I decided to try and set a new PR for the 500m row on my borrowed (stolen?) indoor rowing machine.

My previous record was 1:41.7.  Today I crushed that with 1:37.3.   Dropping 4.4 seconds might not seem like that much, but I am now 19 seconds off the indoor rowing world record for my 50-59 age group. I can't imagine getting to it, but I feel like I could drop under 1:30 this year with some hard work.

It will be interesting to see if I can manage to exert the same kind of effort in a real boat.  God I hope they tend to go straight!

My first visit to Newport, RI

We have sworn off hanging around Park City for Memorial Day.  It is just a drag to watch it snow over the holiday weekend.  This year we got tricked.  We headed for Newport, Rhode Island to enjoy some sunny weather at the ocean.  Instead, while Park City was sunny and 70, Newport was in the 50's and drizzly.  Betting on the weather is always just a random roll of the dice.
We were staying with Jim and Kathy Covaleski, who live just outside DC and have a place in Park City.  They arranged for a little B&B using VRBO.  If you haven't tried VRBO yet, I highly recommend it.  It stands for Vacation Rental By Owner and we have used it frequently.

Here we have Rob (our innkeeper) and Jim.
The Austin House Inn only has two guest rooms and a living room.  Since we were renting both rooms, we got full run of the living room. While I can't guarantee it, chances are that Julie and Kathy are playing Candy Crush on their iPads.  Kathy got us all hooked.
OK.  We actually had to share the living room.  Every once in a while, Rob's dog would lay claim to a piece.
When the weather is a bit bleak, you can always fall back on drinking wine.  So we did.  A woman walking past thought we looked so happy and content, that she offered to take our picture.
If you like the Newport area, you can always do a bit of house shopping.  I had always heard about all the Newport mansions, but hadn't ever had a chance to tour through them.  We walked past a lot of them and toured inside two.  All I can say is "Damn!".
Even though we were in our storm gear, Jim was intent on wearing his shorts.  This was the only day for that though.
This photo is proof that having money does not mean you have taste.  Outside a very large, very pretty mansion, two huge trees had fallen.  Rather than cutting them away and grinding the stump, they cut them off at about 20 feet and then let someone carve the top few feet.  The one closest is a monkey, holding a pool cue, sitting in a recliner.  Even I wouldn't have that in my yard, and I used to have a pink flamingo, Spanish moss, and a stuffed dead cat in my office at IBM.
I was surprised to see a large cruise ship in the harbor.  Newport is touristy, but I just didn't expect this.  It's all depth perception, but it sure looks like that ship won't fit under that bridge. There was a sailboat (yacht)  in the marina with a 200' mast, so I think the cruise ship was safe.
Newport has a lot of history and they are very active at protecting the look and feel of town.  There are a lot of restrictions about what you can and can't do to any historic building. They seem to be a lot more restrictive than Park City, but perhaps that is because most historical Park City buildings are tiny, flimsy miner's shacks.
I didn't get a chance to see or photograph much wildlife, but I have to agree with this seagull, the seafood is excellent.
Even with the damp, chilly weather it was a great trip and a wonderful opportunity to see new things with friends.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mom, dad and the colt. Sandhill Cranes

First, a huge THANKS to my photography friend TJ, for letting me know that our local baby crane had hatched.  There is a very narrow window of photo opportunity when the colt (a baby crane) goes from hanging around inside an egg, to wandering off into the tall grass, rarely to be spotted again.

Sandhill Cranes are common in our area and we are extremely lucky to have one pair that nests every year fairly close to a road.  When they nest out in the middle of a wetland, you can see them but they are too far off for decent photos.
They dig through water, grass and dirt looking for food.  Dad seemed to be finding a feast but I don't care much for his hygiene.
When the colts are born, they waste no time at all leaving the nest.  They can swim almost immediately and can stand, although with a bit of a wobble.  Either mom, dad or both are always right there watching.
Jasper was in the truck, acting fairly disinterested until both parents decided to celebrate the moment with some very loud honking.
You just don't get a more careful escort than this.
The colt wasn't that efficient as a paddler, but he got around.  Not bad for being a few hours old.
Sometimes you just have to find a place to stand and rest for 30 seconds.  I'm sure this wasn't comfortable but it was the halfway point.
I didn't get a good shot of it, but there are quite a few Red Winged Blackbirds nesting in the same area.  They nest on the ground, and occasionally a feeding Crane would get too close.  The Blackbirds would start dive bombing the Crane until it moved on.
We are leaving for Newport soon, so I'm not sure I will get much of a chance to grab more baby colt shots, but who knows?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Memorial Day snow, a week early

Julie and I complain that it seems that every Memorial Day, we get snow in Park City.  To combat that, we leave town.  Last year we went to D.C. to visit Jim and Kathy Covaleski.  This year we are meeting them in Newport, RI.

However, Mother Nature is not so easily dismissed.  She snuck one in a week early, to make sure she caught us in town.
Fortunately it wasn't that much and it seems to be melting off fairly quickly.  There's a good chance that it's not that last one for this spring.  Still hoping to play a round of golf tomorrow.  We moved the tee time from 8:30 to noon because the morning forecast low is 31.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Antelope Island - An Owl bust

I decided to do a spring trip out to Antelope Island and see if I could snag some pictures of those cute little Burrowing Owls.  No such luck.  I didn't see a single one.  However, you can't go out to the island without seeing a lot of things to photograph.

My favorite bird along the causeway is the Avocet.  They are pretty standing around and gorgeous when they fly.
The color contrast and the long, curved bills make them so interesting.
I was watching a pair of them exhibit a very odd behavior.  Their heads are normally fairly high above the water with that long neck.  They appear to have a built in mechanism for getting a close look.  They flip their neck around so it is pointed down instead of up, but then their head would be upside down.  No worries, it turns a 180 on the neck, almost like an owls. Now you have a closeup view with the head still right side up.
This is the Chukar, an old hunting transplant to the island.  Sometimes you have to hunt for hours to get a good view of one.
Other times it seems a bit simpler, as long as you are looking where you are driving.
It wouldn't be Antelope Island without an antelope, although technically I think it is just called a Pronghorn, and not a Pronghorn Antelope.
I continue to be amazed that anyone would keep a boat in a body of water so shallow, and with three times the salinity of the ocean.  Perhaps you just throw it out at the end of every summer.
Antelope Island is famous for its Bison.  They are always around, but this is a great time to see them.  Most of the herd, other than a few rogue bulls, are all gathered together.
And in May, the herd includes a lot of little Bison calves.  By little, I mean a lot bigger than Jasper. I thought that it might be good exercise for both Jasper and the calves if I let him out of the car for a chase.
However, here is how most of the calves were protected.  That would be a calf laying down, with mom and dad about 6 feet away.  Needless to say, Jasper stayed in the car.
And we end with a little Killdeer I saw on the way home.  He kept looking up at the sky.  I finally guessed that he was watching a plane that was flying buy.  There was nothing else up there.
No owls. No coyotes.  Other cool stuff.  You have to like Antelope Island.

Hardwood Floors Refinished, A Cautionary Tale

We just had our floors in Park City sanded and finished.  This is very soon to be doing that in a house only five years old.  Our first lesson is:  "Oak is hard.  Hickory is hard. Mahogany, as pretty as it is, is not hard."  We have had hardwood floors in all our houses and condos, but it was always harder woods, which makes them a lot less susceptible to damage.

This leads us to our second lesson, which was already fairly well ingrained:  "Pets are hard on wood floors."   You know a 60 pounds dog trying to make a fast, sliding turn can dig in and makes some scratches.  Did you know a 12 pound cat can do the same thing?

An now for the third lesson, which I offer to anyone in the Park City or Salt Lake City area:  "If you are going to have your floors refinished, find someone other than Wood Floors Inc. to do them."  We got a recommendation to use them from a highly respected local builder.  In all fairness, we got a decent price and the floors now look beautiful.  So why not use them?  We had the floors finished while we were down in Moab for a little over a week.  When the floors were done, we asked our neighbor to go over and check on the house.  Seems that in their hurry to leave, the nice workers from Wood Floors Inc left our front door unlocked.  Not cool since we were gone another four days.

When we got home, here is what we found:

  • Two half-consumed Coke cans sitting out
  • Two half-eaten bags of snacks laying around
  • Candy wrappers scattered 
  • My 16' aluminum ladder was set up on our stairs (in the house, on the carpet)
  • On the carpet below the ladder was a bunch of scrapings of some form, waiting to be ground into the rug.
  • The wood HVAC vent covers were restained, but stuck to a piece of cardboard sitting in the entryway. I had to cut them all off the cardboard and then scrape the crap off the back of each one.
  • My office windows were wide open, and it had rained a bit.
  • Lights were on all over the house.  It was bad enough that a neighbor called while we were in Moab to make sure we were OK.
  • One of our kitchen pullouts was sealed to the floor and I had to cut it loose.
  • They used one of our kitchen towels as a dust rag and then folded it neatly so we wouldn't notice.
  • They apparently did the job with our master bedroom door wide open, so instead of being dust free as promised, everything was coated, including things like bed spreads and blankets.
  • They dumped all their sanding trash in our recycling bin.
When all was said and done, they were very apologetic, but at some point, who cares?  It cost us hours of extra cleaning and headaches.  For being so experienced, they sure did an incredibly unprofessional job.

I would never hire Wood Floors Inc of Salt Lake City again.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The last day in Moab

You have to want it bad.  After a wonderful dinner over at Joan and Richard's condo, we came home and I crashed.  Then I got up at 3:30, grabbed my canine photography assistant, and headed into Arches National Park for some more star photography.  The good news is that the park isn't terribly busy at that time of day.
I had two goals for the morning.  The first was to try and capture the Milky Way, which I had missed on my earlier attempts.  Not perfect, but pretty good.
My second goal was to get a long exposure star trail.  This is a 20 minute exposure looking back at Balanced Rock.  One of the tricks is being able to tell where the stars are going to move.   In this case, I aimed the camera north.  The center of the circles is the North Star.  I have a long way to go on making interesting star trails, but this was an ok first try.
My problem was the sky starting to brighten.  Yet another important component in my education.  I knew sunrise was at 6:10 am.  I figured that twilight would start messing up my lighting about 5:45.  Guess again!  There are three named twilight starts:  Civil, Navigation and Astronomical.  The bottom line is that the astronomical twilight starts a lot earlier.  By 5:00 the sky was starting to wash out the fainter stars.
I gave up on the stars and hung around for sunrise.
Driving home I had to grab a quick silhouette. If you run the f/stop up to 16 or 22, you get a pretty star where the sun is.
Jasper and I drove back to the condo, repacked, and went out with Julie for a hike.  The Fisher Towers hike is one of our favorites, but it was a bit more of a challenge with the dog.  There is one point where you climb down a metal ladder into a little canyon.  Instead, Jasper and I had to climb around and then travel down the canyon.
There were a number of rock climbers up on these spires (tiny specs).  You may have seen the leftmost one on a recent American Express commercial.  A young lady climbs the spire and stands up on top to survey the world.
A great last day in Moab.  Thanks to my loving wife for being so tolerant of my photography habit and to both Julie and Jasper for being such good companions on trips like this.

Cosette is actually better than the dog on this trip, but she stays at the condo and doesn't demand to be exercised.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dining in a spectacular restaurant

Yesterday Julie, Jasper and I started with a hike at Negro Bill Canyon.  It's a four mile hike along (and across) a nice little stream. The weather has warmed up a lot in the last day or two and we realized this was probably Jasper's last midday hike and we definitely couldn't leave him in the car in the bright sunshine.  Bummer for our spoiled dog.
The highlight of the day was our dinner out with friends.  From left to right, we have Julie, Joan and Richard from Park City, and Deb and Mark from Salt Lake. Joan and Richard have a condo here in Moab. Dinner was a collection of appetizers, wine and beer, all served in Arches National Park.
Julie and I, as the sun ducked behind the cliffs.
The La Sal mountains were looking spectacular.  The rain we had over the past few days put fresh snow on the tops of the mountains.  A week ago, it looked like end of season snow, a bit sparse and dirty.  Now it has a fresh white coating.  We never heard how much it snowed up there but it must have been substantial.  These mountains peak right around 13,000 feet.  For reference, the top of the Deer Valley ski area is less than 9,500.
Our last view from our dinner stop was gorgeous.  The sun found a slot in the cliffs to spread its last glows.
After dinner, we drove further into the park for a "Star Party".  The head of the Salt Lake Planetarium was out with a number of park rangers.  They had quite a few very serious telescopes set up and were explaining a lot about what we could see.  My two highlights were:

  • A fantastic look at Saturn and its rings.
  • A view of Jupiter with four of its moons, all lined up in a row.  The third one out was Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system and the namesake for Ganymede Software, the company we started back in 1995.
I would have taken some star pictures, but there was a scattering of clouds.  You could easily see the stars between them, but they would have messed up any photo.  I may give star photography a shot on Sunday morning.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Canyonslands National Park

We have still been getting rain and heavy clouds every day here in Moab.  We decided that as long as it was no worse than showers, it would be a good day to drive the 40 minutes into Canyonlands.  We got some short hikes in and the rain held off, but the pictures were a challenge.

Canyonlands is the Green River's version of the Grand Canyon.  It is astounding to see how much rock and dirt a river can erode if you give it a few million years.
The patterns and shapes are on such a massive scale that it is hard to capture them effectively.
Sometimes, when the weather is cloudy and dark, the most interesting pictures come from looking down.  This plant hadn't started to leaf out yet, so this is its winter appearance.  The little branches were incredibly intricate.
As the day wore on, more and more blue sky started showing up.  Here we have Julie without Jasper because the national parks are spiteful and don't let dogs on the trails.  At least it was a cool day and he was able to hang out in the car.
Sandstone "dunes" are everywhere in the park and they made a nice contrast with the clouds.
As I was processing the pictures, I started getting bored with all the grey clouds.  I cranked this one up in more of an HDR style photo of Julie at the top of Whale Rock.
I'm typing this blog on Friday morning and there isn't a cloud in the sky. The high pressure system has taken over and the rain is gone.