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

They Don’t Even Taste The Same

I would just like to pub­licly apol­o­gize to every­one whom I’ve ever told that Chick­en Marsala and Chick­en Masala are the same dish. Angela final­ly admon­ished me upon fur­ther spread­ing such lies. I feel I’ve let you all down. For now on, I’ll con­sult with experts pri­or to spread­ing such culi­nary false­hoods.

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. []