Anousheh Ansari Space Blog

Anousheh Ansari is blogging, which might not be that big of a deal, except for she’s doing it from the International Space Station (and it’s a WordPress blog, no less). She also has a Flickr photostream as well as a del.icio.us linkblog. Anyway, her blog over at the X Prize Foundation is a good read and I get the impression she is not only having fun being up there but that she is genuinely doing all this for the love of space travel and to give us a better feeling of being there with her. Thanks, Anoush.

Surprise Birthday Party

Upon returning to Richmond after the VA Beach Half-marathon, we were pretty much in the mood to take it easy. We spent most of the time here around the house, all being pretty tired. Monday morning was labor day, and Jason J. treated the house to a big stack of waffles. Now, I hear that some folks down in Cookeville take their waffles pretty seriously, and Jason seems to know what he’s doing (although, I’d put Angela’s baking up against anybodies — have I mentioned what a lucky husband I am?). He even made sure we had some maple syrup to top off those square grids of deliciousness. Having had a rather large breakfast at around 11:00 am, none of us felt much need for lunch. Jason, Matt, and I stayed home with me hanging up some photo frames while Angela and Stacie went shoe shopping.

On The Lee Pedestrian Bridge

Me, Angela, Jason J., Stacie, and Matt all pose for a photo on the Lee Pedestrian Bridge in Richmond, VA.

That afternoon, we drove around Richmond for a little while since Matt had never been here before. We stopped at Tredegar Iron Works and walked over the Lee Pedestrian Bridge. I had hopes of taking some photographs of the bridge for wall art, but as it turned out, Angela had some secret plans which required getting back home. In my blissful ignorance, I drove us back home. Jason, Matt, and I went off on something of a fool’s errand while Angela and Stacie stayed behind (Jason claimed he wanted to buy a memory card reader). We hurried and then waited while Jason was receiving radio commands from the mothership as to when we were to arrive back home. I remained unaware that I was the central pawn in much larger events than electronics or grocery shopping. Upon returning home, the only strange tip-off I might have gotten was that there seemed to be a lot of traffic on our block. I muttered to myself that the neighbors must have company over. As I opened the front door to our house:

Surprise!

More Party GoersParty Goers

Lot’s of smiling faces; perhaps because they’d never seen me so speechless before.

…a living room full of all our friends! Angela had thrown together a surprise party for my 30th birthday. I had been completely fooled. I mean, who expects a surprise birthday party ten days after their birthday, particularly when their wife’s birthday is in two more days? I was completely at a loss for words for the next fifteen minutes, which is unlike me around our friends and family. I distinctly remember asking my friend Travis when his 30th birthday was coming around and he kindly reminded me it had been months earlier, and I had been at his surprise party (although he apparently had figured out what was going on before hand, unlike me).

Well, Angela had gotten us ten Bottom’s Up pizzas and a large assortment of cupcakes for food. Instead of just having everybody bring me presents, we had a White Elephant party (called a Dirty Santa party in my family at Christmas). That proved to be great fun, and far better than just watching the birthday boy open up a bunch of cards. You can see some of the best photos from the party on Flickr. We had all the people who had birthday’s in the months of August and September get together for the singing of Happy Birthday, which proved to be about a third of the party.

I’d said all along that I felt great being 30, and that party really only made me feel even better. I have a lot of great friends, and it was really wonderful to get to see so many of them all over having such a great time. I really want to say thanks to everyone who came and to Angela and the TN friends who schemed on this thing with her. It really meant a lot to me.

VA Beach Rock n Roll Half Marathon

Last year, I ran a local half-marathon event which was relatively small (300+ runners). Angela, having work conflicts, didn’t run any formal event, but did run 13.1 miles with me on what was dubbed the First Annual Angela Dyer Birthday Half-Marathon, which actually took place last Labor Day (e.g. – not her birthday). This year, we thought we’d give a much larger race a try. In fact, this would be the largest event any of us had ever run in: The Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon.

We weren’t going to be running this one alone, though. Stacie Johnson and Matt Thomas were running as well, and they’d be joined on the trip to Virginia by Stacie’s husband, Jason for both moral support and logistics. This race has around 20,000 participants, and so logistics were going to be very important, as it would turn out. We all met up at the hotel the evening before1, after going to pick up race packets (including bib numbers and time chips) at the nearly complete VA Beach Convention Center. After getting some recommendations from a local friend of mine, Scott, we all went out to dinner at a little mom & pop Italian restaurant for some proper pre-race dining. Since all of us take photos to at least some degree, that along with exercise, was the topic of discussion for most of the evening. After Matt had treated us all to our hearts content of pasta, Scott treated us to some ice cream at a local drive up joint. We did our best to turn in early and said our good-nights to Scott.

The next morning was a quick get-ready for the race, where Jason dumped us off just in time to make it to the start line. Just in time to stand around and wait, that is. Races this large start in waves, and ours were all back in the middle at best. Some 20 minutes after the first start gun fired, Matt and I were off. He wisely observed the crowds were way too dense on the course to have any hope of running the race together, so we each did our own thing, bobbing and weaving around the course for several miles (truth be told, all the way to the finish line).

The course, being all at sea level is about as flat as race courses get. The only hill is the bridge over the marina, and that isn’t even exactly very steep or challenging; and this coming from a guy who trains in Richmond, VA. There is enough variation on the course to make it go by relatively quickly, at least, until the end. The last two miles (give or take) are along the boardwalk. This is explained in the brochures as some sort of romantic selling point for the race. In truth, as Jason J. described it, the boardwalk is much more accurately described by slab-walk as this was two miles over hard concrete under the baking sun. You’re about as East as East gets in VA, short of running along the wet sand, so to say the least: there’s no shade. Running through the many misters (pipes that spray water mist, not actually male humans) provides some relief, but the only real relief came in the form of ice cubes handed out at the end of the race, placed inside of the wet hand-towel also doled out there.

I had a time I could be fairly happy with (2:06) and wasn’t throwing up anything (probably because there was nothing in me…), so I felt pretty good. I found Matt not too long after the race. We got some more ice and got in line for our free beer. While it was an effective way to get some quick carbs, after two hours of strenuous exercise, it doesn’t take too much alcohol to push me over (though, as things turned out, I had some time before I would need to drive anywhere). Jason found us standing near the agreed meeting spot (the names-beginning-with-X,Y,-or-Z sign; it seemed like such a good idea the night before). Angela and the Stacie came along very shortly there-after. We began our walk to the bus pick-up to get a ride back to Jason’s car, which he had smartly parked within a block of one of the bus stops. After walking about 12 blocks and then waiting in a line that wrapped another block-and-a-half, we packed onto a bus. Too bad this bus was heading the wrong way: out to the VA Beach amphitheater. You may not know (we certainly didn’t): that’s no where near downtown VA Beach, where Jason had parked. Well after a long, but eventually restful bus ride back to our car (no thanks to a rude bus driver who only brought us back after being told to do so by her superior).

We managed to get back to the hotel and eek out some quick showers before finding a nice restaurant nearby to celebrate. We did so in style, with good food and some good microbrews (as well as a waitress who was really, really friendlychatty). Afterwards, we grabbed some coffee for the drive to Richmond, where our two-car caravan headed for to enjoy a couple more evenings of rest and friends.

  1. Angela and I were held up in traffic on the way over to the Beach and ended up taking the long way there. []

Flickr’s Most Wanted (or Used, Anyway)

When I mentioned that I had gotten a Nikon D50 for my birthday, Trey stated it was the most popular camera on Flickr. Well, it turns out that he was close; it’s the second most popular (I had assumed it’d be way behind pocket cameras and I was wrong). The most popular camera on Flickr? – Kevin’s Canon Digital Rebel XT, which is by the way, also a great camera.

So Now He Thinks He’s A Photographer

Angela wanted me to get something nice for my birthday and after having hung out with Kevin O’Mara a couple of weekend’s previous, in addition to looking at his photographs over the past few months, she decided a digital SLR camera would make a great gift. She would leave it up to me to pick which one, since Kevin’s Canon XT was really the only one she was familiar with.

The Saturday after my birthday, I went over to the Ritz Camera just down the street (seriously, it’s like five blocks from here) to see what they had and talk to a photographer about cameras1. I had been in the same shop a couple of years ago and thought the guy was kind of a prick for just brushing me off as someone who had no business owning a dSLR. Of course, he was more-or-less right, but it still kind of bothered me. Well, I suppose maybe I’d learned a thing or two since, because he seemed to think that I was at the perfect level to consider getting into more advanced equipment.

My first question was that I was equally impressed with the entry level Canons and Nikons and wanted to know what benefits each had. My take on his response: they are both really impressive cameras for the money and will produce great shots in the hands of someone who is willing to learn how to use them. However, the Nikon is much easier to learn for beginners, plus it is a couple of Benjamins less than the Canon. Okay, so if the D50 is the way to go, why does it take better photos than a high-end point & shoot? Well, it’s not so simple as that, but any dSLR is going to have much more versatility than any P&S… all right, you’re getting bored and this went on for over an hour. The short of it is; I got a Nikon D50 kit and every since have been trying to figure out how to use it.

Right out of the box and on full-auto mode, it takes some really impressive pictures (at least compared to many of my other just-messing-around-the-house photos). I’ve started to get more comfortable with using the viewfinder for every photo (I used it a lot anyway) as well as rotating the lens barrel for zooming. I’ve also begun to make use of the sort-of semi-manual modes, which allow for user controlled shutter speed or aperture, but the camera controls most of the rest of the variables.

I’m a long way from really being able to create anything impressive with this camera, but I’ve got a 2GB SD card for it (which was on sale for $30 at Amazon) and one month to figure it out. Angela and I are going to Alaska in the middle of October and we want to be able to really get some great photographs of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denali, and everything in between. I’m not making any promises, but I won’t be using the camera as my excuse for sure.

  1. …as opposed to a person in a blue or red polo at a big box store, who may or may not even own a digital camera, let alone a dSLR. If you’ve got questions, it’s a really good idea to talk to someone who actually knows how to use the product you’re interested in and worth the small premium in price you might have to pay (in this case, about 5%). []

Thrity Something, Something Wordy

Nearly two weeks ago now, I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. However, you can save your old jokes for someone else. I just don’t feel old. In fact, I feel like I’ve finally reached the point I’ve been working towards all my life up until this point. It’s actually a great feeling. Of course, a big part of that is because I have a wonderful wife to spend my days with, not too mention good friends and a loving family. Those things will make anyone feel great, no matter how old they are.

Angela got me an appointment for a massage at one of the fancy spas in Carytown. It’s not something I do a lot, but man is it relaxing. My back and legs felt great after-wards, which was nice after all the moving the prior weekend.

Next, Angela and I went out to a really nice dinner to celebrate all three decades of me. She too me to Bookbinders in the Bottom. It was a really fun evening and she let me just geek out over cameras (more on that in a moment) during dinner. While he didn’t exactly come over to wish me a happy birthday, the Mayor was over at the next table chuckling with a guest. Angela and I shared a nice bottle of d’Arenberg Grenache Shiraz with our dinner. We had a seared tuna appetizer, served with soy and wasabi. I had the special of fillet and New Orleans grilled shrimp served in garlic sauce, while Angela had the fillet with crab meat. We shared some of the mashed red potatoes with our meal. For desert I had the black chocolate cake ala mode and Angela had The whole meal was wonderful and while I may not be back there too often, it will be something well worth the wait.

Other random things that happened on (or right around) my birthday that are of interest to me and felt like gifts:

I’ve got lot’s more to tell about my birthday and what all has been going on over the past couple of weeks, but I wanted to go ahead and get started and start from the beginning.