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.

UVA Stadium Pergola

UVA Stadium Pergola 1
UVA Sta­di­um Per­go­la 1 by Jason Cole­man — I was at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia yes­ter­day for a work meet­ing, and thought I’d walk around for a few min­utes after­wards to take a few pho­tos. I’ve had far worse days at work than spend­ing the last day of sum­mer walk­ing around a col­lege cam­pus on a beau­ti­ful day.

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.