Archive for the ‘fun’ Category

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The Holidays Approacheth…

December 19, 2008

…along with all the busy-ness and (occasional) stress that entails.

The semester is over, along with my undergraduate education. I will post more thoroughly on this semester’s endeavors once my final grades are in. It was an enjoyable semester, though.

A few random bits of info and pictures to fill in the gaping void of my postings:

Korean War Memorial Soldier at night

Korean War Memorial Soldier at night

I mentioned last time the photo class I took on October 10th with the Washington Photo Safari and dropped in a picture of the Lincoln Memorial. Here is another image from that evening, a haunting photo of a soldier displayed at the Korean War Memorial. I converted it to gray scale to add to the starkness, although some of the color pictures are not bad, especially one with the white balance set to make the sky look blood-red, boosting the war imaging.

We held the girls’ birthday party at the new Pump-it-Up in Leesburg in October. After arriving, I realized I had left my camera at home. Drop off various humans and party devices, turn around and drive all the way home to pick it up. I missed half the party, but did get a few decent pictures near the end. Most will not make it onto the web (I don’t publish childrens’ pictures, thank you), but I did finesse a nice one of Joe apparently descending into hell.

For their science class, Alpha & Beta needed to track the phases of the moon for a month. They missed a night due to cloud cover (and many more due to forgetfulness), but it cleared up perfectly after bedtime, so I decided to see what I could pull off with my camera and the long lens. I was impressed with the quality I got, especially hand-held.

December 8th Moon

December 8th Moon

During the Thanksgiving feastage at my parents’ house, I snapped a lot of pictures, including one I promised Kim would make it on to Facebook. (Yes, Kim, it is there now.) Finally, for now, we got fully into the Christmas spirit a little later than usual thanks to a few delays, but still in plenty of time. The outside is not yet decorated because it has been unreasonably cold (with no snow!) and/or rainy. I still have almost a week left to do something useful outside!

Here is our tree, before Maestro dismantled most of the lower layers (I never saw a cat – kitten or otherwise – dive into a tree before).

Christmas Tree 2008

Christmas Tree 2008

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Dusting Things Off

November 23, 2008

I need to get my butt in gear and post here at least once a week – if I go longer than that, it is all too tempting to let it slide just a little bit longer, and so on.

The semester continues apace, with some small modifications. I had abandoned the Quantum Mechanics class I was auditing. I hadn’t been keeping up with the reading and she finally passed beyond my ability to comprehend anything. (Although apparently it has regressed somewhat into more intelligible terminology.) The fact that it was such a late class helped in the decision – it’s nice to get home before 7 pm. E&M (also auditing) is only rarely attended – I usually find something better to do at that time (like eat). She is still teaching pretty much straight from the old notes I already have, so I am not missing much.

That leaves me still auditing Astrobiology (always cool) and taking my normal two classes, Sr. Physics Lab and Intro to Astrophysics. I’m working on the last of the four lab projects now (trying to get ringing to happen in optical pumping of Rubidium). After a quiz tomorrow, all that is left in that class is to hand in the final paper sometime before December 10th. Astrophysics has another homework assignment left and the final exam.

The photography class I took with Washington Photo Safari (night shoot at the monuments) was pretty cool. Sometime after the semester ends, I hope to do some tweaking of the pics and get them posted. In the meantime, here is one of my favorites.

Lincoln Memorial after sunset, shot across the reflection pool.

Lincoln Memorial after sunset, shot across the reflection pool.

Maestro, still very sick

Maestro, still very sick

In other news, we adopted a new kitten relatively recently. He was found in a feral colony by an LRR worker. She got him some to her vet for some medical treatment and then we adopted him, naming him Maestro (looks like he’s in a tux) and substantially more medical work (mites, an ugly case of worms, very serious upper respiratory infection, very low body weight and a few other issues).

Happily, he is in much better shape now (I was very worried for a bit, especially when he was sneezing blood) and has more than doubled his weight from a paltry 1.8 lbs to 4 lbs since we got him. Of course, that means he is well enough and old enough for neutering, but it beats starving to death in a feral colony.

Maestro ... not the brightest star in the sky?

Not the brightest star in the sky?

Of course, now I have to wonder if he has all his marbles. This was not an action shot. He had his tongue out like this for about 5 minutes.

Maestro gets along very well with the youngest of our other cats, Nikki, and plays, chases and roughhouses with her regularly. He is tolerated by the old man, Ziggy (who occasionally starts to play before he remembers his dignity). The old lady, Stardust, won’t have any of it, though and goes into serious hissy fits whenever he gets too close. However, since she is a total coward, I am not worried about any major catfights happening anytime soon.

Finally, I will leave you with a little bit of nature. After a particularly violent late-afternoon drenching, I spotted a truly brilliant rainbow lighting up the eastern sky. Even the deep purple side of it was very clear. Unfortunately, cameras do much less well with rainbows than eyes do (especially in the hands of inexperienced photographers like myself), but I did the best I could on this one.

Rainbow over Great Falls

Rainbow over Great Falls

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Gilbert and Sullivan meet the Boojums

September 21, 2008

Jim Easter has done a wonderful adaptation of a great song. (h/t to Tom Levenson)

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Song of the Elements

September 4, 2008

George Hrab from Geologic Records (and frontman for the Philadelphia Funk Authority) also puts out a weekly podcast. He is also an excellent skeptic and freethinker. His music and references are frequently beyond me (I guess I am within the “hopelessly behind the times” part of life now), but I still find much of it enjoyable.

In any case, his July 3rd podcast #72 was awesome. For some time he had been writing little ditties about various elements but finally took the time to finish the entire periodic table. It’s a very humorous listen and some of the songs are very well done! (Others are just plain silly.)

I have only listened through it a single time so far (more times will happen), so I don’t have a favorite yet, although zinc’s response to an earlier song was funny as were the tunes for silicon and uranium. Generally SFW, although a couple cuss words here and there. Would be great for children if not for those!

Update: As Mike reminded me, Tom Lehrer did a single Elements song, going through all the elemental names within a single, somewhat known tune. Much fun as well!

Speaking of NSFW, below is his video for “Out of My Mind” off his Interrobang album. The song is very good and the video is… technically very interesting. Get over any hangups you have and watch the whole thing.

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Mickey at Sea

August 25, 2008

Note: I was saving this post for when I finished processing some more pictures. However, my laptop drive crashed and, at the moment, every damned picture I took this summer is unaccessable (hopefully only temporarily). So you get it sans images.

After the icebox trip to the port, we were all grumpy (and still soggy). A Disney cruise tradition (and possibly for all cruise ships) is a two-part entry ceremony. First, you get your family’s picture taken in front of some appropriate backdrop. Then you are announced onto the ship with applause by nearby staff (which has to be genuinely mind-numbing for those poor folks).

Having passed by the fairly long check-in lines thanks to a resort-end check-in, we found ourselves stalled in the photography line. Being grumpy and soggy (and still freezing), none of us were in any mood to be shanghaied into getting our pictures taken, so I unhooked a nearby lane strap and passed my family into the center of the aisle, bypassing the entire event. When we looked back, we saw a goodly percentage of the folks behind us opting to do the same thing. Nice to be a trendsetter. Unfortunately, we could not avoid the silly announcement process, but at least that was quick.

Our stateroom (deck 8) was nothing special (typical family room – queen bed with pop-out bunk beds for the kids, separate shower and toilet rooms, nice-sized veranda for watching the sunset). Our stateroom hostess was very nice, however, and took good care of us for the whole trip.

For those who have never experienced a Disney cruise, I must say that they do a wonderful job at providing for the entire family. A lot is kid-oriented, of course, but there is a significant amount of teen-only and adult-only entertainment both on-board and at Castaway Cay.

The main deck (9) has three swimming pools – one for kids only, which includes a long, spiral waterslide, one for the whole family which has two hot tubs in the corner and a massive viewing screen above the one end on which are played various Disney movies pretty much continuously throughout the trip, and a third for the 18 and up crowd only (also with hot tubs, I believe).

The very top deck (10) has a sports bar (adults) and the Loft, a teen-only (13-17, I think) club.

Deeper in the ship are the Oceaneers’ Club and Oceaneers’ Lab – the former for the 3-7 crowd, the latter for the 8-13 (or so) crowd. There is also a nursery of some sort for the very young.

Down on Deck 3 are a variety of adult-oriented clubs – one like a sports/gentlemen’s lounge, one a nightclub, and one a piano lounge. The nightclub has most of the evening events in it (karaoke, etc.) along with a variety of dance music.

There is also a regular movie theater which shows a variety of movies, including first runs and even an occasional world premier movie (since Disney owns most of the movies, it isn’t hard for them to get the rights for these things!). Finally, there is a show theater where they give a different Broadway-style musical each night of the cruise.

Every night, you eat in a different themed restaurant (we like best the food in the French-themed Triton’s and the show in the Animator’s Palette). The cool thing is that your wait staff follows you to each restaurant, so you can build up a rapport with the people who handle your dining needs.

The first night, we headed out to sea and got unpacked (once all our luggage finally caught up with us). After eating a yummy meal at Triton’s (and meeting our most-excellent servers, Radu and Monika), I registered the girls for the Oceaneers’ Club, then took them down to see the first night’s show, The Golden Mickeys.

After the excellent show (my favorite of the three), the girls demanded a swim. What the hell – it’s vacation, right? Swimming at 10pm it is!

The next day we docked at Nassau, which Sue and I consider kind of a dump. (Exception: The relatively-new Atlantis Casino, which is not a dump but which is seriously expensive to experience.) We stayed on-board the whole day, most of which we spent by the kids’ pool, where the girls tried to see how much water they could absorb in a single day. (They beat it the next day anyway.) That night we ate at the awesome Animator’s Palette, which starts out all black-and-white and slowly morphs the walls, pictures and, by the end, even the wait staff into full color. The show of the evening was Toy Story, the Musical. This was my least favorite show overall. Supposedly they pulled the best of their music writers together to create the songs…but I think they got ripped off. They were merely “okay” for the most part (some terrible). One exception: Sid (the destructo-kid) had a wonderful, hard-rock song (“Make a Little Noise”) which was a blast! I wish I could find a video of it. The cool thing, however, was seeing how they portrayed the toy-sized world from the movie. The costumes were incredible – it looked exactly like the movie – huge Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, everything. Two thumbs up for excellent costume and set design!

After the show, everyone crashed but me. After changing and relaxing a bit, I headed down to WaveBands (the nightclub) and sat through my first-ever karaoke session. It wasn’t as painful as I expected (although the first song I heard, a guy singing Bon Jovi, was the best of the evening). No, I did not go sing. Around 1am, I headed back up to our stateroom for snoozes.

The next day, I woke up very early (pre-7 am) to see us slowly moving towards the dock at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. CC has it all (well, if you like tropical islands) – beaches, parasailing, snorkling, jetskis, bars(!), quiet kid-free cabanas and adult-only beach, and even some hiking trails. Events folks even started the day with a 5K run! (I skipped, thanks.) The girls entered the water as soon as we found an open chair under an umbrella and rarely came out before dinnertime. They checked briefly into the equivalent of the Oceaneer’s Club, but decided that was too hot and abandoned it after lunch to spend the next 5 hours or so never leaving the water. Amazing. I spent most of the day running here and there – back to the ship for something forgotten (long, long trip there and back again!), off for food, in the water with the kids for a while, retrieving some alcohol, and occasionally even sitting on my butt reading a book. Sue, much wiser, stayed in the shade (except, it is to be well-noted, not noticing the sun moved from behind the umbrella to illuminate her nice, white, unsunblocked legs for several hours) and made sure the girls didn’t drown.

That evening, we dined at the Caribbean-themed Parrot Cay restaurant onboard. My (American-style) food was great – Sue’s was much less than great. The girls had fun. Our servers, as always, were a hoot. The final show was Disney Dreams…An Enchanted Classic. It was a charming little show which showcased the favorite songs and characters from a bunch of Disney movies. Apparently, it is the favorite of most people who go, and it really was very enjoyable. I still liked the Golden Mickeys better (possibly because it had villains as well as heroes… and a giant Ursula appearance, complete with huge tentacles that could reach to the audience!).

After that show was a major deck party based on Pirates of the Caribbean. Lots of character appearances and line dancing and way too crowded. I had to take turns putting the girls on my shoulders just to see (and I was only about 5 people from the stage). The awesome part – besides Mickey zip-lining down the length of the midship! – was a pretty cool fireworks display at the conclusion of the show. Apparently Disney is the only cruise line in the world permitted to do a fireworks display at sea.

After the fireworks, we dumped the kids at the Oceaneer’s Club for an hour and a half (it’s open till midnight!) in order for me to drag Sue down to the nightclub for a bit, where I think she was fairly unimpressed overall. However, she was surprised to see the Disney dance crew performing a sexy dance to the somewhat un-Disneylike song, “Save a Horse [Ride a Cowboy]”!

In the morning, we woke up already docked at Port Canaveral. We actually had to put out our luggage the night before in order to take advantage of Disney’s transport services (it was picked up by 11pm). We grabbed our backpacks and headed to our scheduled 6:15(!) breakfast at the Parrot Cay, served as always by our wonderful hosts. We snapped some pictures of the kids with them (also temporarily lost) and headed off the ship and onto a (cold) bus for the ride to Orlando airport.

At the airport, we grabbed a rental car and drove off to Tampa for part C of the vacation, a (fairly) restful week at a friend’s house. More later!

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Hiking with the Buzzards

August 10, 2008

Even though I arrived at home at 10 PM last night from a 2-week (fairly tiring) vacation with the family (more on that later), I headed out at 9:30 this morning with Pat and Ben to hike up to Buzzard Rock in Shenandoah Valley near Front Royal.

This hike was supposed to be fairly innocuous, but I found it nearly as difficult (without the rock scramble) as Old Rag. According to the web site, we gained about 2500 feet in elevation (same as Old Rag) and you actually dip down a bunch into a pass and then climb up a second time, just to increase the “enjoyment” of it. The climbs were exhausting. (N.B. I am in far worse shape now than I was when we did Old Rag and I was doing kung fu three times a week!)

On the positive side, the surroundings were peaceful, the couple views we had awesome (sorry, no pictures) and we only saw one other group of people (taking a break near the first peak) the entire 4-ish hour trip.

On the negative side, the distant storm we saw decided to come our way after we passed the second peak and were exploring a trail on the far side. It caught us near the top on the hurried way back. After a very near – and frightening – lightning strike (lightning and thunder were simultaneous), we decided that speed and shortcuts were the better part of valor and abandoned the trail entirely, heading straight down the side of the mountain.

How we avoid major injuries (although I will probably not walk well this entire week), I have no idea. Slipping, sliding and half-running when we could down the wild side of a mountain through a torrential downpour which probably added at least 20 lbs to our load, we eventually got down into the valley. After some minutes of minor worry about finding the trail (and my not-unreasonable worry that we had gone down the wrong side of the trail and were on the opposide side of the mountain from the car), we located our original trail and hiked the relatively-short distance, now in sunshine, back to the car for a soggy ride home.

I took no pictures on the hike because I had (intentionally) left my backpack in the car, thinking it was going to be a short, 2-hour hike. I forgot that it had the camera in it as well as my inhaler, both which might have come in handy. On the other hand, the backpack is not waterproof, and I’m not sure the camera would have survived the soaking, so it may have been better this way.

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TAM6 – Day 1

June 27, 2008

Since registration for the event did not open until around noon, I decided to wander over to Caesar’s Palace. Mistake! It was then that I found out that my miles(?) of walking the day before had wreaked some havoc on a variety of motion-related body parts (damage which is just now starting to abate, 8 days later). Caesar’s got a lot bigger since the last time I was there (17 years ago) – apparently they added a whole new tower and a new “wing” to the shopping hallways. I remember thinking how cool it was the first time I saw it. Now it was just “oh, that’s nice.” I guess tastes change.

Around 11:30 I headed towards registration to find that it was already up and running full steam. I checked in and got a surprise – I remember thinking that the Banachek and Mathemagic workshops might be interesting when I registered, but I did not sign up for them because there was additional costs involved. However, I had tickets for each show in my registration packet. Bonus! (Or my subconscious checked off the items during registration – some day I’ll check the bill.)

So at 2:30, I sat down to Banachek’s 2-hour workshop with a couple hundred other folks. This was a very interesting workshop on how to aid your memory using a variety of techniques. During it, we memorized the a “grocery” list of items (by memory: chicken, melon, scrubbing pads, shredded wheat, milk, baked beans, shampoo, tangerine, hamburger meat, car polish, evening newspaper, bread, Earl Gray tea bags, soap, eggs) through word linking. He also talked about a variety of other memorization methods such as acronyms, peg system, and the phonetic alphabet. All in all, very enlightening and worth every dollar (if I actually spent any).

After Banachek, I headed to my room to get ready for the reception, which lasted from 6pm until… I dunno when (I left for another show). At the very nice reception, I finally met up with a facebook friend (who lives about 20 miles from me – had to travel 2000 miles to meet him!) and we wandered around together for a bit. I got to meet up with Phil Plait, PZ Meyers, George Hrab and some of the SGU folks. A women picked a fine time to pass out and immediately had 9 MDs (including a neurologist), 2 nurses and a few EMTs at her side – probably better service than she would have received at a hospital!

Next, at 9pm I headed off to Art Benjamin’s Mathemagic workshop. This was an intriguing show where Dr. Benjamin stunned us all by calculating squares of 2-digit, 3-digit, 4-digit and even (43779^2=1,916,600,841) attendees with calculators (geeks!) could perform. The 4- and 5-digit responses were somewhat slowed, but still dead-on accurate. He explained the trick to doing those as well as creating magic boxes (4×4 grids where the numbers add up the same horizontally, vertically, diagonally and a variety of other ways). I was impressed enough to pick up a copy of his book the next day.

After Mathemagic, I spent an hour or so finally eating dinner and doing some brief socializing in the main bar of the Flamingo before collapsing in bed.