Fourth Anniversary Getaway

We Don't Know How To Ski

Angela and I enjoyed the most snow we’d seen all Winter during the first weekend of Spring.

Angela and I celebrated our fourth anniversary a week late this year since she had to leave for a conference out in San Francisco on the day of. It’s more important that we did something rather than get hung up on the fact that national organizations don’t schedule their events around us.

We decided on doing something a little different this time and drove up to the Wintergreen Ski Resort here in Virginia (just south of Charlottesville). Angela had never tried skiing before and I had only been once myself, about eight years ago. Since we were going so late in the season (the last skiing weekend for this resort, anyway), we weren’t even sure if we’d get to see any snow, let alone enough to ski on. I know that they make snow as much as possible, but with temperatures in the 70’s the previous week, I had my doubts.

Well, there wasn’t a whole lot on the ground when we arrived late Friday night for check-in. However, much to our surprise and delight, it snowed about 4-5 inches overnight. For having so much snow, the place wasn’t too crowded. We were able to rent our equipment and get out for the free beginner’s lesson with no trouble (that is, after a most delicious breakfast… mmm, chocolate chip pancakes). That’s one of the really cool things about Wintergreen; they have staff on the beginner’s slope (the Potato Patch, as opposed to the common ‘Bunny Slope’) all day long to offer lessons and help beginners in trouble. Although she didn’t seem to think so, Angela got the hang of it quickly. She needed to work on her turning some more, but she had great balance and was able to get herself stopped without too much trouble (much more than I can say for my attempt at snowboarding about ten years ago; that was not pretty). After a less-than successful first run at the green circle slope (the ‘Dobie‘), she kept to the beginner slope for a couple of more tries before we headed off to lunch.

After lunch, Angela had some spa time scheduled, so she took the truck up the hill to the resort’s really nice spa facility. I, on the other hand, was determined to get better at turning and generally staying upright on a pair of skis. So, for the next two-and-a-half hours, I went down the green circle slope just as much as I could stand to. Somewhere during that time, we got a little more snow; and by ‘a little’, I mean it was a complete white-out. My sunglasses (or make-shift goggles for a non-skier such as myself) were completely iced over and I was essentially just sliding down hill attempting to avoid the dark blobs ahead of me. I’ve never had so much fun while cold, sweaty, and blind. Just before the slopes closed for the evening, the sun came back out for my very last run. It was an insane change in the weather (although perfectly common for this side of the Blue Ridge Mountains) and I could not have asked for a better last run. I really felt like I had gotten a lot better in that day of skiing.

Later than night, Angela and I went out to dinner and were treated with an amazing sunset view. Afterwards, we chilled out with a massage (not something I do a lot, but I can see the attraction). We didn’t do any skiing on the second day, but rather just chilled out all morning before heading home. On the way back to Richmond, we stopped off at Veritas Winery for some samples. We were pretty impressed, not just with the wine selection, but also with the beautiful scenery.

All together, it was a great weekend and I couldn’t have asked for better company to spend it with.

Wintergreen Panorama

Seed Magazine’s Site Is Out of Beta

Seed Magazine’s site is out of Beta today. That took less time than pretty much anything from Google and it looks loads better. One of the most interesting things is that their site is actually built on top of Movable Type (although WordPress would have been even cooler). Of course, doesn’t it make perfect sense for a news periodical to use something like blog software, as blogs are just the personal equivelant of a news site?

How To Destroy An Airplane – Part II

Several months ago, I wrote a post about the use of cell phones on airplanes. I (rather smugly) concluded that there was no chance a cell phone would be able to interfere with the navigation systems on airplanes and therefore the FAA was just being a bunch of worry-warts.

Well, it turns out I was very wrong. In the past week, I listened to a Scientific American podcast (episode 5) interview with computer engineer M. Granger Morgan about an article in this month’s IEEE Spectrum concerning some research into cell phones on planes (Unsafe at Any Airspeed). The conclusion: not only can cell phones interfere with flight communication and navigation systems, all sorts of electronics from DVD players to mp3 players can as well!

This week’s episode of Mythbusters (episode 49) also tried to tackle the idea of cell phones on planes. Their results weren’t conclusive, to say the least, but did also indicate that cell phones have the potential for interference.

Apparently, it isn’t a common phenomenon, but the FAA has a number of logs of interference. What was the final recommendation of the authors of the Spectrum article? The FCC and the FAA need to talk a little bit more about how to ensure that future devices won’t cause problems or that any potential problems from current devices can be brought to safe levels.

I still say planes aren’t going to be dropping out of the sky anytime soon. However, you may get a nasty message from the Captain that his instruments aren’t making any sense and to get off of the damn phone.

What My Lens Has Taught Me

This is sort of a response to a post at Kevin’s blog about photography and digital manipulation. I figured my activity on my own site has been a trickle lately, so I’d just post here instead of just leaving him a lengthy response. If you aren’t already reading Kevin and Katie’s blog, you should be.

When I close my eyes and think about the people I know, I don’t see any blemishes on their faces or that they probably shouldn’t be wearing that t-shirt in public. When I picture my home in my head, I don’t think about the fact that the brick needs some re-pointing or that the yard looks like crap right now1. If I recall some of the amazing things I’ve seen on some of our travels, I don’t think about the sun glare that was in my eyes on Oahu’s beaches or the grime on a window I was looking out at the top of the Eiffel Tower. There are memories that that will be with me forever because of how important they are and how happy they make me.

I also have the photographs to prove that my mind deletes quite a bit out of the pictures. My hair looks like I’m in a tornado in every photo I’d actually like to hang up on the wall. There are ugly road signs all over Hawai’i. I can never get close enough to something to keep the detail while actually being able to frame a shot that I’d like. The list of stuff my brain deletes in a memory is even longer than the list of my shortcomings as a photographer.

I understand Kevin’s feeling of shame and guilt over digital manipulation of photos. To that point, I have a unmanipulated copy of everything I’ve ever changed, just in case someone ever asks for proof that I didn’t fabricate the entire scene with miniatures in my basement and Photoshop. In my job as a structural engineer, I take photos to document construction all the time. There is little art in them as they represent the bare facts of observation. They are pure, clunky statements of fact with no visual prose or embellishments.

However, I really enjoy (at least the attempt at) taking more artistic and expressive photos. There’s something so constricting about a still photo that makes it more than just a visual record. Our mind focuses on the item and fills in blanks while deleting extra data. Photography doesn’t do that for us. To capture the feeling of what you see requires so much more than just pointing and shooting, I have learned. The human eye, when viewing something first hand, is a dynamic device that has the ability to rapidly change focus and aperture to craft together a memory that is so much more than a static photo. To capture that in a photo, one has to put a great deal of thought into the shot.

However, sometimes, that’s just not enough. Sometimes the best angle still has some obstruction, poor lighting, or such variable light as to make the raw photo less than ideal. That’s where some digital manipulation can add to the photo. The final image for posterity can be more than just the poorly exposed bits of data we first see. We can bring into it more contrast, edit out extraneous obstructions, or crop it to change the subject focus all together. The ability to do this isn’t something that should be used all the time, but can make for us both art as well as a more accurate portrayal of the memory rather than the stark image captured on a digital sensor. It exposes the soul of the view as something more than just a still photo.

  1. Actually, that was true when I started this article, but just today I mowed the lawn and had a friend over to work on some masonry repairs. It actually looks picture perfect, in my opinion. []