Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Photograph And Contest Submission: Pulling Into Petersburg

For my March submission to the Boston.com photo contest whose theme this month was nighttime, I selected a picture I took on our 2002 ferry trip up the Alaskan Maritime Highway.  This picture was taken as we pulled into port in Petersburg, Alaska on the fourth of July.

"Pulling Into Petersburg"
by Bruce H.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Nebraska Geopicting Contest

I've submitted the picture I posted yesterday to a local Nebraska photography contest.  If you think it's a good picture and you have some time on your hands, stop by the Nebraska Geopicting Contest and vote for my picture.


I think the contest ends on April 1 but, if I understand the rules right, my picture(s) will be automatically entered into each of the quarterly contests.  Thanks!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Photograph: Sunset Reflections Over Fort Kearney State Refuge

I would have missed this if the Wife hadn't pointed it out. I turned the car around and got the awesome picture of the sunset reflecting the trees on the pond. These are the original colors.

I will post about the crane watching weekend later this week.

"Sunset Reflections Over Fort Kearney State Refuge"
by Bruce H.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Craning We Shall Go

If you're into birdwatching, especially waterfowl, the Nebraska's Platte River Valley is one of the best places to observe their migration. While our previous tries last fall to observe Snow Geese were less than successful, we are hoping that this weekend's excursion to see the annual Sandhill Crane migration will be more satisfying.

We've been planning this short trip for a few weeks. The weather forecasts earlier this week looked bad - snow, rain, and cold - but, as they often do, the forecasts have changed, this time to the better. The snow and rain are out of the forecast and the temperature has risen a little.

The Wife's niece RN will be house/Homer sitting while the Wife and I head west to the Kearney - Grand Island area in search of Sandhill Cranes. It's about a three hour drive but, since the birds are best observed at sunset and sunrise over the Platte River, we will be staying in the area to maximize our chances.

I will have my camera of course and I hope to get some good pictures. If I get some good ones, I will post them.

Even if I don't get any good pictures, just getting out of town will do us a world of good. Even a Holiday Inn in Grand Island with a pool and hot tub sounds like paradise. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book: Patrick Rothfuss' "The Name of the Wind"

Lately my reading has either been science fiction or nonfiction. For my latest read I decided to dip my toe back into the Fantasy genre. In college I use to read an even Sci Fi - Fantasy mix. My favorite fantasy author used to be David Eddings. I remember reading his first series in the during dead week when I should have been studying for finals. The five book series, The Belgariad, nearly cost me my grades. Unfortunately his last few books were disappointing and I was turned off from the sword & sorcery scene for several years.

I decided to re-enter the genre with my third book of 2009 - Peter Rothfuss' "The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Day One)". From the title you probably can deduce that it's the first book of a series. In this case, a trilogy.

This is Rothfuss' debut book and it's a good one. Rothfuss has a smooth, colloquial writing style that is very comfortable to read and I was immediately drawn into the story.

"The Name of the Wind" introduces the main character, Kvothe. We follow him as a youth in a traveling acting troupe, as an orphaned street urchin, and finally as a student of the arcane arts at the university. He learns the skills he will need to find the evil forces that killed his parents. The book sets up an almost scientific background for the book's system of magic, known as sympathy. In 722 pages the basic foundation of a very rich world is built.

This book is obviously an introduction. Unlike most fantasy novels, very little epic adventures take place in this first volume but a large chunk of background and character development takes place. In some books that long of an introduction would be a bad thing but Rothfuss' comforting writing style and the well written narrative flies by and keeps your interest. I never felt bored as I read about Kvothe.

The book is very good but not perfect. Sometimes Kvothe seems too perfect. Other times he's too naive. The swings can be a little jarring but in the end the character was believable as a very young, very bright, streetwise kid.

Anyone who has read fantasy will recognize the story. There is often very little differences between fantasy novels. The key is in the details and nuances. How magic is handled. If it is a solo quest or a group quest. But basically it's the hero is wronged; the hero gains the skills and the allies needed; the hero hunts down and defeats the evil. The story line is often not the reason I read fantasy - it is the humor (I snickered several time while reading the book) and interesting characters that interest me.

The next books won't be coming out until April 2010. I can't wait for the next chapter of Kvothe's growth and adventure. While it is too early to recommend the entire series, it's a very good start. Highly recommended ... so far.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

They Were A Blur!

Last night we went to the Roller Derby with some friends.  The Wife and I are relieved that our friends had as much fun as we did - we were wondering if we were weird, white trashy, or both.  It's nice to know that we aren't alone.  The Wife won a coozy and our friend won a free t-shirt.  I think it helped that we were in the front row and the women were acting all crazy (we men were rather quiet compared to the women).

As always it was fun and all but, once again, I failed to get any good pictures.  I think the combination of fast moving roller babes and subdued roller rink mood lighting are conspiring against me.  My camera just can't handle the conditions.  (No, it's not a photographer problem, no sir-ee bob!)  This is what my typical pictures looked like:


They're all a big blur and turn out a little grainy.  Actually, this is one of the better pictures.  I tried to use the sports mode of my camera but it couldn't handle the poor lighting.  Maybe I should look at my camera book to see if I'm missing anything.  (I didn't use the flash because of the distance and I'm sure they would frown upon me blinding the derby girls.)

By the way, I think the picture is of Ima Firestarter, one of the Omaha Roller Girls (ORG) best jammers.  She has some mad roller derby skills.  The Sioux Falls Roller Dollz best was probably Queen Elizabitch.  Heh, love those game names.

The ORG lost again.  I'm starting to wonder if my curse has shifted from College Football to Roller Derby.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Almost-Spring

I hope your Saint Patty's day is treating you well.  Mine is treating me well.

I started this day with breakfast, watching Battlestar Galactica's "Last Fracking Special".  It's a nice way to start the day except it reminded me that there is only one more episode - two more hours - of Galactica left.  It will be missed.

I suited up (a green shirt, of course) and headed out on the bike.  It was early in the day and there was nary a breeze.  I headed south on the Keystone Trail before turning west on the West Papio Trail.

On the West Papio the breeze started to pick up.  I was a little surprised that the breeze was from the north-west as I'd expected it from the south.  This boded ill for my return trip.  The West Papio passes fields that are bare this time of year (but hints of green are starting to appear!), passes just south of the attractive Papillion downtown, and eventually "Ts" at 96th street allowing you to ride either north or south.  I chose to do neither and turned around to head back.

When I arrived at the Keystone trail and turned north the real hurting started.  The breeze felt like a hurricane and I struggled a bit.  It sucks enough when the youngins pass you up but, when the old guy zips by you, it really hurts.

I reached home, the GPS said 21.70 miles (a new personal best),  and, on wobbly legs, headed for the showers.  Clean, I opened the sliders and windows to let in the fresh, almost-spring air, I loaded up a podcast, and tried to recuperate on the sofa.    It would have been perfect except my thighs started to scream bloody murder.

When the podcast was over about an hour later the screaming had become unbearable - my pain tolerance is pretty wimpy.  I took some Tylenol and had some lunch.  I watched the end of the Daily Show while I waited for the pills to kick in.

The pain finally faded into the background so I grabbed my book (a good one, by the way), went out on the deck, and sat down in one of our new teak rockers.  The rockers are pretty comfortable but they are a little hard on my boney butt - a cushion may be in order.  The breeze was a little chilly but the sun fixed that right quick.  It's in the low 70s today.  I read for a little over an hour and a half.

I paused after awhile, looked at the almost-spring blue sky, listened to the almost-spring birds singing, felt the almost-spring breeze and the almost-spring sunshine, felt how content I was, and thought:  "What a beautiful day."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Photograph: Alaska 2002-064

I wonder if sleeping on a boat, listening to the calving of the glacier, is like falling to sleep to the sound of thunder?

"Alaska 2002-024"
by Bruce H.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mary Down!

In an attempt to get the Wife her dream job and win the powerball, Mary strains herself and is knocked unconscious.


Friday, March 13, 2009

A Stadium Too Far

Warning:  This post contains hazardous levels of Rant.  Readers who have bad reactions to Rant should avoid contact with this post.

I have never been very fond of sports.  We went to an Omaha Royals game last summer and I was underwhelmed by both the game play and the empty bleachers.  I don't mind other people partaking in sporting activities but I do mind them doing it on my nickel.  Before I go on, perhaps some history is needed.

One of the bright spots of Omaha's tourism draw is Rosenblatt Stadium. This 23,145 seat stadium is currently the home of the College World Series (played two weeks every June) and the Omaha Royals (the local farm team for the Kansas City Royals).  The College World Series is pretty good to Omaha - the hotels fill up for those two weeks and a lot of good revenue comes in.  The Omaha Royals attendance has been in a slow decline.

Unfortunately, as with all good things, age takes it toll.  Rosenblatt turns sixty-one this year. So, Omaha, in it's infinite wisdom, is building a new, larger, shiny stadium downtown across from the Qwest Center.  Venerable Rosenblatt will be leveled and will become a new parking lot for the neighboring Henry Doorly Zoo.

This doesn't bother me much as technically I don't live in Omaha.  I live in La Vista in a totally different county (Sarpy county) as Omaha.  If Omaha wants to waste spend money on a new 24,000 seat stadium in the middle of the worst recession since the early 80s, more power to 'em.  Actually, a new stadium near downtown could bring some good money in to revitalize parts of the north downtown area.  I have no major complaints.

Can it get better?  Well, the new stadium would raise the fees the Omaha Royals would have to pay to use the stadium.  The Royals said, nope, we won't pay those fees, oh and by the way, the stadium is too big for us.  Omaha is taking a 'build it and they will come' attitude.  They think (are gambling hoping) that another team can be persuaded to move in.  Uh Huh.  A new stadium for a two week event and maybe some local college teams.  Good luck to 'em.

Can it get worse?  Oh yeah.  When the Royals balked on the higher rent, what did Sarpy county do?  They offered to build the Omaha Royals a new stadium ... yes, another stadium ... in La Vista.  Wha?!?  Are you serious.  $26 Million.  That could be the cost but I wouldn't bet on it being that low.  A 6,000 seat stadium for a AAA ball team who actually said they could draw bigger crowds with a smaller stadium.  Wha?!?  What a load of hooey.  They say they won't raise our taxes.  Yeah ... right.  Load. Of. Crap.  AARRGGHH!!!

So we Nebraskans, who already shoulder one of the nations highest tax burdens, are now building two stadiums.  One for a AAA team with declining attendance, another to house a two week long event.

I think I'm going to be sick.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Photograph: New York 2005-057

I'm terrible when it comes to second guessing myself.  I should have submitted this Lady Liberty Under The Skirt picture instead of the Crib picture.  Oh Well.

"New York 2005-027"
by Bruce H.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 09, 2009

SoFoBoMo Bippity Boppity Boop

Some of you may have read about NaNoWriMo, which asks wannabe writers to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  You may have heard of NaBloPoMo , which asks bloggers to post everyday for 30 days (I did this last November).  Some of the more musically inclined may have heard of NaSoAlMo, which asks you to write and record a solo music album ... in 30 days.  Now there is another wacky acronym: SoFoBoMo.

SoFoBoMo is for the amateur photographer who thinks that putting together a book of their photography is too difficult.  The challenge is to put together a solo photo book of at least 35 pictures in 31 days.  All pictures, editing, layout, and accompanying text must be done in a 31 day window sometime between 1 May and 30 June 2009.  Some of last years submissions are pretty impressive.

A couple of my occasional readers would be perfect for SoFoBloMo: GeekHiker and Dobegil.  They both take great pictures.

I learned of SoFoBoMo from the Best Man (who may have heard of it from the GodSon ...  not sure of that).  The idea is intriguing.  I am considering doing it.  The hard part is to find a good theme and then take 35+ pictures that go with the theme.  Of course, a theme is not mandatory but I would think it would make the book more coherent.  I do have a theme in mind but I am not sure I could find 35 interesting examples of these items to fill the pages.  I'm also uncertain about why I should do it.  This isn't a contest.  It's free to participate.  What you get from doing it is some free publicity (the book, in PDF form, is linked to their site) and, of course, the satisfaction of putting  book together in 31 days.

On a related photography note, my February contest submission did not make the first cut.  Bummer. The GodSon, who did not take my advise and submitted the wrong picture (IMHO), also didn't make the cut.  Oh well, onward to the March contest whose theme is Night Time.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Tai Chi Wrap Up

Saturday was our last Tai Chi class.  If you read Homer's travels you may recall I had mixed feelings after the first session.  Now, after all six sessions, I have to say that I'm sold on Tai Chi.

I went into this class to improve my balance and reduce my stress.  How did it go?  Well, after a rocky start I managed to get in the groove and found myself coming out of the sessions more relaxed and energized.  The slow movements involved in Tai Chi can be challenging as it is harder to move slowly than to move fast but the controlled breathing that goes with the movements helped me relax.

As for my balance, the exercises helped me sense my balance better and I became much more sensitive to how my weight was distributed on the souls of my feet.  I think my balance has improved and will only get better with further practice.

This brings me to the subject of stick-to-it-tiveness.  I've never been very good at sticking to things - the whole push up failure is typical.  Will I stick to it?  I'm going to try.  I'll have to look for a DVD or something to continue my training and to refresh me on the moves.  I think it will do me good.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Wonderful Sunday With Family, Food, and History

Sunday was one of the best days I've had in awhile.  It's taken me a few days to get a handle on it (or I'm just really slow about my posting).

We started with sleeping in.  Always a good thing.  We (we being the Best Man (BM), Matron of Honor (MoH), the Wife, and I) took in a late Mass.

After Mass we took our guests to Louis M's Burger Lust so we could finally try the burgers.  Wow.  I am speechless. Best. Burgers. Ever.  The BM had a plain burger, the MoH and the Wife had a guacamole-bacon burger, and I had a triple cheese burger (cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan).  We were all amazed at how delicious they were.  I had the fries which, to my surprised, rivaled In-N-Out's.  The Wife had onion rings and pronounced them very good.  The BM had a chocolate shake topped with homemade whipped cream (not can or tub stuff).  While the BM doesn't like whipped cream, the MoH and the Wife fixed that real quick and cleaned it all off.  The Wife and I shared a piece of chocolate cake (my third piece for the week).  It wasn't as good as the Piccolo Pete's chocolate cake but it was good enough.

After that awesome meal we headed to the Durham Museum.  The current temporary exhibit is called Chocolate - perfect!  The museum itself is in an art deco building that was the Union Train Station in it's past life.  The building is gorgeous.  The main entry is fully restored and there are statues depicting past train passengers.  As you approach the statues, motion detectors turn on recordings and the statues explain their situation and why they are at the station.  Very well done.  In the lower levels you can walk through old train cars -  they even smell old.

We walked through the permanent exhibits depicting local Omaha history.  Omaha has a colorful history as it was often the last civilization encountered before the pioneers headed across the plains.  It is also the place you fell back to when you failed at the whole pioneer thing.  Some pictures of the museum can be found here.

The temporary exhibit, called Chocolate, covered the long and interesting history my favorite emotional pick-me-up.  Every weekend a different local chocolatier is there giving out free samples.  This weekend it was a spoon full of some very smooth, very chocolate mousse.  I could have eaten several more spoon bowl fulls.

At this point we were all full and ready to settle down so we headed back home and started our tradition of the multi-hour discussion/argument.  This is frankly one of my favorite parts of the BM/MoH visits.  One of the main topics that night was the evils and benefits of the labor unions.  It got a little heated at times with the BM suggesting the unions could do us a great service if they rounded up a dozen or so CEOs and shoot them.  Frankly I couldn't argue against that in this economic environment.


The discussions rambled around a bit, the BM and MoH downed a surprising number of bags of chips, I downed quite a few chocolate chip cookies (Thanks guys for bringing those - they're yummy),  and the evening ended at a relatively early 1:30 AM before we all headed for bed.

The Wife and I were sorry to see our guests leave on Monday.  It's our turn now.  I can't wait to drive up to Minneapolis to pick out a list of CEOs.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ironic News

On the day after Dr. Seuss' birthday, Omaha celebrates by posting this article:

Monday, March 02, 2009

Food: Piccolo Pete's

On Saturday, accompanied by the Best Man, Matron of Honor (MoH), TE and his wife, JA, we checked out Piccolo Pete's, a seventy-six year old Italian steak house with a whole lot of history.

Piccolo Pete's, named after a piccolo player named Pete and the founder of the establishment, Tony Piccolo, is one of Warren Buffet's favorite places and the entrance has a picture of Warren with his pal Bill Gates.  The place is a pretty big place and, at 6:00 PM in the evening, it was pretty crowded.  We had a reservation and were seated immediately.

The main dining room is dominated by a sunken area over which a large mirrored ball slowly spins.  While it reminded me of something out of Saturday Night Fever, the ball actually predates the disco era by almost three decades as the place had a dance floor from the end of World War II to the 1960s.

The Wife and the MoH started with a very mid-western appetizer - Gizzards.  This was followed by lots of beef (I was the odd man out with Chicken Parmesan).  The reviews all around were a big thumbs up.  The meal was finished off with Chocolate cake, Chocolate Ice Cream, and a couple of orders of Turtle Cheesecake - all as good as the main courses.

The wife and I don't got out to eat in the evening very often.  When we do go out we are usually out of the restaurant before 6:00 PM and usually beat the evening rush.  I expected the crowd would peak at the place around 8:30 PM but to my surprise by 8:30 PM the place had pretty much emptied out.  Heck, back in California you would be just arriving at 8:30 PM.  I guess the Omaha dinner crowd are early birds.

The food was good and the prices were reasonable.  It is a little noisy but that's because it is a popular place and was fully packed.  Highly recommended ... provided you have a reservation.

Piccolo Pete's

2202 S. 20th St, Omaha, Nebraska