Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hawk at Work

My office mate Ken, a knowledgeable nature enthusiast, made a strange gesture looking out the window the other day and said he thought he saw a big weird bird. It disappeared from his view, but then he saw it and said it was a hawk. I saw it too and went outside with tinycam to stalk it. When I got outside, I heard a very noisy squirrel overhead. Probably the intended prey of the swooping hawk. I sneaked up on the tree where the hawk was, keeping the trunk between me and it. On the right is the first picture showing its back side.

On the left is one showing the front side of it. This got it scared and it finally flew away, seen below. The closest I've ever been to a wild hawk.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Return to Geocoding

Above is my final project map with some red dots on it. Those are addresses I geocoded. It was back in the Spring semester when I did that last, but it came back to mind with just a little refresher. The problem is that the street data that I have is not the best quality, so when I go to geocode the addresses in my table, the address locator can't place all of them on the map. In fact, it was missing about 40% altogether, finding no place for them to go. Need better quality street data which will be hard to come by for some of the counties I want to include. Since I have little time left to wrap up this project, I think I will do a different classification based on zip codes for now, and return to geocoding and possible carrier route analysis next semester.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Where is Everybody?

Last week I came to class, but there was no class. I was confused because the community college where I work had class, but the community college where I study did not. It was so freeing to arrive here and find all the parking lots empty and buildings dark. I went home and was all geared up for an arduous class, and thought I would use all that energy to get all this stuff done at home instead. Then I sat down and my momentum spun down and I went to bed at 9:30, which was nice also.

This week we got our test back, which I though was so hard when I took it, but I got a good grade on it. Maybe I just didn't feel confident but actually knew the material. Pete did some interesting lecture on the use of type on maps. Now we are working on our final projects, which we only have 2 more classes to get them done. I'm doing an enrollment mapping project for my work that I'm pretty interested in. I'm already hitting trouble though, as the carrier route data is not available online from USPS like I thought it would be. I'm not too worried about that; I think I can find another source through our bitchin' PIO. I'm also now clipping some street data that is taking forever... Oh, it looks like it might be done now, after 40 minutes and 12 seconds! Glad I got that done tonight, so I can start fresh next week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pete kills us with test #2

Pete, what are you trying to do to us with that test? I hope there is a lot of partial credit on those answers.

Fortunately, we got to do Pete's evaluation *after* the killer test. {evil laughter}

Below is an image from the project we worked on in class after the test. It was the old fashioned hands on stuff we did last semester. It was kind of fun, and that lab work is a pretty informative way to learn.
The map above is from Africa and has the digital elevation model and hillshade combo that is so popular with the kids these days. Below is the whole poster thing that all this work contributed to. It is sized 44 inches wide, so it is severely shrunk in this image. Everything about Africa makes me think about the movie War/Dance which I saw last weekend at the Asheville Film Festival. I bought tickets for the winning documentary and student films not knowing what they would be. I wouldn't have picked War/Dance to go see based on it's description, but I'm so glad I did see it. It was a very well made doc about such a moving story. I see now it's about to make its theatrical debut and also won best doc at Sundance.

Monday, November 5, 2007

NC Map Project, Part 4

Above is the map as it is shaping up into an actual map document. Still a ways to go, but it is exciting to start visualizing what it will look like being on a page 40 inches wide. They have a big, sexy new plotter there at ABTech. Printing that large you really can get quite a bit of detail onto the page and still have it simple and meaningful. I want to have something to print out for GIS Day, which is this Friday, November 9th 2007, there at ABTech in Asheville, NC.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

NC Map Project, Part 3

Remember to save things to the flash drive earlier before the end of class comes. I'm still struggling with the issue of managing all these large files. I was working away and then it was 10 minutes before the end of class. So I went to save my files from the hard drive to my flash drive. and it says it's going to take 35 minutes, then 17 minutes, then 194 minutes. Pete wants to leave on time, and Haven is there, and she wants to leave too, because of the mouse situation at their house. She's all consumed with the mice as far as I can tell. As the minutes tick down, it's clear that I'm not going to get my files copied to the flash drive any time soon. Pete intervenes and puts my files on his portable hard drive. Why is the actual hard drive faster than the flash drive with no moving parts? Seems like the archaic whirling metal disk hard drive would be slower than completely motionless memory. I guess flash memory is just not that fast.

Below is the image I was working with tonight. The elevation data is in raster format. It's really quite beautiful. Raster data is something I'm pretty familiar with from working with digital photos. Where each pixel in a photo has qualities, like it's color and brightness, each cell in the elevation data has a quality. That quality is it's elevation. In the case of the image below, the elevation data for each cell is just converted to a shade of gray, with the highest being white. You can display it in many different colors, and process the data to simulate 3 dimensional views and stuff.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

WNC Map Project Expands

Tonight class started out with some recovery work. I had a pretty bad data disaster on my fancy new (cheap) 4 GB flash drive. I think it happened when I was working in ArcMap with some of that stupid giant 5 foot contour data, and things got all frozen up and it went shizzly bad. After that the flash drive was never the same. If I worked it too hard it just disappeared from the computer, like, *blink*, your drive could not be found. I ended up using a data recovery tool on it and I think I got most of the data back, but it was all over the place in folders with names like [29FF] instead of more meaningful names like "GIS Final Project". I ended up reformatting the flash drive, and it now seems to be working better.

I pretty much gave up on the data I recovered and decided to start anew on my project. I also decided to avoid the stupid giant contour data that has vexed me for several weeks. Pete sort of opened up what the project could include, so I also opened up my map to cover the whole state. It will still generally be a General Reference Map showing mostly major roads and municipalities and elevation data. I did figure out some cool stuff tonight. First I wanted to automatically label the roads based on data that is in the file. I decided to only show Interstates and US Highways so that the map would not be too busy. So I had to exclude all the other roads. Then I figured out how to automatically label the roads with the different little shields for Interstates and US Highways, and to put the appropriate route number in each little shield. After that I started working on doing something similar with Municipality Names. I want to not show the tiny town names, and show the larger ones with increasing font sizes based on their population. I'm well on my way to making that happen. Pete said he had never done that. I was surprised at that since he is uber GIS guru. Uber guru, that's fun to say. Please see above my map in its current state of development.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cartographic Frustrations

We're continuing our WNC map project tonight. More computer frustrations dealing with huge data and... don't put any spaces in your file name or path! I just ran into that problem which we learned really early in the first class. My super 4GB flash drive acting weird too. Suddenly disappearing when I try to make it work hard, like saving a big file to it. These computer frustrations are really affecting my project. I haven't made much progress at all during the last 2 classes. I wish they would stop.

While waiting for the computer to work properly (or not) I have put some thought into what I want my map to be like. I think I will basically do a general reference map, with primary roads and towns and so on. I'd like to use the fancy elevation data to show the contours of the mountains, and maybe add some population data so that the viewer can see some relationship between Elevation and Population Density.

In shocking news, Mary was apparently injured in a fall from a ladder and required surgery! Mary, get well soon! That really sucks.

In the memories news this week, I had a dream. In this dream I was talking to a gearhead friend about the axles on the front wheel drive VWs. About how the one on the drivers side was shorter and solid steel and the one on the passenger's side was longer and tubular. They did that cleverly so that they would be the same weight. That much is true. In the dream, I went on to say that in the newer cars, they redesigned the transaxle so that the drive flanges were exactly centered under the car. This meant that the axles could be exactly the same length and weight. I'm pretty sure that is not true at all. I even had a name for what they were trying to achieve by making that change, something like thrust-centralysis. I explained that term in the dream to refer to the absolute lack of pulling to one side or the other under all driving conditions. Interesting how my brain engineers things when it is idle. Maybe I should have been an engineer like my Dad.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cheerleader Photo

Here's a great photo from Jason (aka SweetAshvegas), taken for the latest installment of "A Day in the Life of Asheville" photo project. I participated in the one in April of this year, but sat this round out. I think Jason is a great photographer of the photojournalist ilk. In my youth I worked at a newspaper with some great photographers, and learned the power of the photo that captures something about a person or relationship. That was also the time when I was a teenager, and shot football games on Friday nights and umm, "admired" the cheerleaders.

So here's what I love about this photo. There is this pair of girls hugging and smiling huge for the camera, front and almost center in the frame. When I first saw the photo in smaller form I almost thought it was a mother/daughter pair. The girl on the right looks so young and girlish and the one on the left so much more mature. It feels to me like it's about the transition we go through in the high school years from child to adult. Right away I was grabbed by everything else that is going on in the frame. There are these 7 other girls clearly visible in the picture, and they all seem to be in compelling individual portraits at once. None of them seem to be relating to each other, which is such a contrast to the pair in the front. They all seem to have their own space in the photo, even though some are in front of or behind another girl. Most are looking or moving in different directions. All the girls seem to be white and about the same size (skinny) and have the same color and length of hair. And this similarity contrasts again with how they all seem to be in their own "worlds" in the photo. Finally, they are almost floating on this inky black surface that pops their white shoes out like light bulbs. If not for the white lines on the track, which further keeps my eye on the move, they might have actually floated out of the frame.

Great shot Jason. It's always exciting to see what you've been shooting.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

It's Jaime's Birthday

Today is Jaime's Birthday, a very important birthday.
If she lived in Australia, I'm sure it'd rival Perth Day.

She's not very old, she was born when Todd got married.
I hope she has a chill out day, and doesn't get too harried.

She works hard all day, kickin' ass at the helpdesk.
She sometimes likes to get on stage and dance a little burlesque.

She can't help she is a milktard, she just can't eat no dairy.
When I have a java chiller, I can dance 'round like a fairy.

Her work area's tidy due to her organizational ability.
She not really getting old, so has no trouble with senility.

Sometimes people see her name and think she's a male Latino.
Sam once had amazing gas and now we feed him beeno.

Each month we see her new calendars, her favorite one has Shih Tzus.
She's not so good at sewing things so the pants she makes won't fit yous.

Pepe is her long lost dog, he was the cutest little Pug.
Some said he was half Doberman and other half was bug.

Now she has a new best friend, his name is Willoughby Bobbin.
When Ken throws up at exercise, the sound is Blaaa, Blaaa-bin-bin-bin.

She gets breakfast from the Best Burger King in the world, lately it's a chicken biscuit.
When people call with techy problems, she always helps them fix it.

Her luck with men is not so good, some even say deplorable.
When her curls are fresh installed, they do look real adorable.

One guy she met had a cartoon where he set himself on fire.
Her super Mini needs no spare 'cause it comes with run-flat tire.

One ex boyfriend got in trouble for saying she was pretty when she was really sick.
He sounds sweet to me, but I guess she thought he was a prick.

Now I end this special birthday poem, 'cause I can't rhyme no more.
I hope this will be her best year yet, and just the first of many more.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007


We're starting on a new project that will span several weeks. We will each make a map of Western NC. There is certain data that we have to include and other data that we can adapt to our own preferences. I think it will be interesting to see what each of us comes up with.

I have done a you tube. I've done 2 actually. Dude, I totally you tubed. I did it with 2 different pretty young women. Not at the same time. (Remember this reference to most of my friends being pretty young women?) I diverge into the talk of you tubing because it is taking so long to copy files around. Files that I need to make my map. It's currently saying it's going to take another 4.5 hours to copy a few MB from the desktop to my flash drive. Stupid computer.

I'm working with some cool LIDAR data here. It's the digital elevation model for WNC, which is quite high resolution. It is basically contour data, like you would see on a topo map. Where most topo maps cover a fairly small area, being large scale maps, this covers many counties. It also shows a line for every 5 feet of elevation change where most topo maps are at 20 foot intervals. So we're talking about a lot of data. That's why we're running into trouble dealing with it. The digital elevation model files are about 1.5 GB.

Below is my map so far. It's not much to speak of. It shows the whole state and the national forests located in it are shown in a sexy hot pink. It's a darker hot pink, which is what makes it more sexy. I did collect data from various sources tonight and learned about dealing with massive data files.Mary is back tonight, and feeling better, and took the test the rest of us took last week. Maybe we'll get our scores next week. Pete was demonstrating something on the whiteboard and drew a crude outline of NC. He said that it was not an airplane, and Josh said he thought it was "The Iraq." This gave me a good laugh, which was good. See also the iRack from Apple.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Map Projections

Tonight we had out first test, talked about Mary, who wasn't in class, and learned about Map Projections. Actually, we didn't talk about Mary who was out sick and I hope she feels better so she can come back and take the test. The test seemed like a fair assessment of our progress through the first four chapters.

To prepare for the test, I spent a lot more time in the textbook, and am really beginning to appreciate it. I love good technical writing, and this book is pretty good. The older Bentley repair manuals for various VWs I've owned over the years were great reading. They had these really well written paragraphs describing the functioning of the fuel injection system or something else complex, which made it understandable. Nowadays there is so much complexity in the cars, which requires so much volume of information that they don't have space for such frivolity.

The Map Projections are pretty interesting. No matter what mathematical method you use to translate a sort of sherical shape (the Earth) onto a flat surface (a map), you are going to have some sort of distortion. The most disturbing distortion to me is distortion of shape. The most common projection we have seen since we were kids is the Mercator projection. It is really handy for sailing ships on the ocean because you can draw a straight line from your location to your destination and just sail on that compass heading. The Mercator really isn't so good for showing accurate relationships of the size of features at various latitudes though. It shows Alaska about the same size as Brazil, which is actually 5 times larger. Being a very visual thinker, I am now in crisis because the pictures I have in my head of the world may be all wrong. ALL WRONG! OMG.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eratosthenes and the Authalic Sphere

Tonight was some interesting material, and some of it was pretty dense. I'm going to need to spend some more time with our book. We're getting into the section of the book called "Earth-Map Relations" which I think is getting to the heart of what I like about maps. I'm thinking the core concept of representation might be what I'm attracted to. The Map represents a place on the Earth and as I said last week, it can help us understand and analyze complex data. I like things that represent other things in general, like Art in the broadest sense. Maybe it's things that not only (or necessarily) represent other things, but reveal something about them. Again, it's about the analysis. Strange then that most of my favorite Art is non-representational, or just about itself. Especially attractive to me about the maps is that they represent a place. For a long time I've had the experience of looking a road maps and having the locations or roads on the maps bring up memories of those roads or places. I also have gotten into looking at topo maps and trying to visualize what the area would look like if I was there.

We also did some interesting data importing tonight. We were looking at cellular phone radio transceiver tower information which we downloaded from the FCC. It was in a big 'ol data file that covered the whole country and was just in a delimited format. We imported it into excel and massaged it, which is also something I like to do. (I remember managing a mailing list for a non-profit entirely in WordPerfect 5.1. It was about 1500 people, and could pull out and print appropriate mailing labels based on criteria, on the tractor-feed dot-matrix printer.) Anyway, we had to eliminate the non-NC entries and then convert the Latitude and Longitude from Degrees, Minutes, Seconds notation to Decimal Degrees. That was kinda fun to automate the process, and doing it helped us learn how the two notations interact. Above is that map of NC with 818 cell towers, and we think that's not really all of them.

Back to Earth-Map Relations. I like the way that sounds. It partly reminds me of the Monica Lewinsky era, and I like the idea of the Relations among the Earth and its Maps. I better pull this political angle together with the title of this post now. I've been hearing for years that there are terrorists who "hate our freedoms." Like I also heard for such a long time way too many details about the Clinton-Lewinsky "relations." Tonight we learned about Eratosthenes, who in 250 BC came up with a way to estimate the size of the earth using a well and a post a few miles away. He got within about 4% of what we later calculated the circumference of the earth to be.
I think that was quite an accomplishment of conceptualizing and calculation. It makes me think of how the Arabic contributions to science and math are often overlooked in our Eurocentric
educations. Could that have led us to think they hate our freedoms?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pete is not a Narc.

Tonight I had a thought breakthrough involving the word "analysis." I have had trouble explaining what GIS is about to people. I tell them that GIS is about making maps and combining that process with computer databases. Tonight I thought that analysis is the word I need to add to my description of what GIS is about. The power of GIS is making maps that help us analyse complex information.

Our first exercise tonight was about a water contamination scenario. The "map" I made is to the right. I'm using that term loosely because it is pretty far from what most people would call a typical map. The pink and red areas represent contamination of an underground aquifer, with the darker red indicating higher levels of contamination. The blue lines are water wells. The top of the blue lines are the surface of the earth, you can see some are deeper than others, and reach into the contamination area. The sort of beige shapes laying flat on the top of the land surface are different facilities in the area. The brown shapes that extend upward are graphic representations of facilities that are at high risk. The risk is based on if wells for the facility extend into contaminated areas. The darker color shows greater risk for facilities whose wells reaches into an area of higher contamination.

We have an interesting group in class this time. Josh is providing interesting information about Forests and chemical compositions. Some types of food that taste good can penetrate all the way into the nucleus of our cells and mess with out DNA. Yikes! Mary and I continued to eat this good-tasting but dangerous food and shiver in the overly air conditioned classroom. Mary brought us a sweater this week, but insisted on wearing it the whole class period while my fingers became so cold I could barely drape my 2D data layers onto 3D models.

It's true about Pete not being a narc. Apparently some of the Asheville sk8 culture had this impression of him. I can confirm that he is far too busy with GIS work, and blogs, and finding new features on google, to do any policing.

Friday, August 31, 2007

I will pick up batteries

I will pick up batteries this morning & be In About 830.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Class Number 2

Did a lot of wheel spinning tonight trying to see if I could find GIS data for the area of the Virginia Creeper Trail, which I will visit this coming weekend. I had limited success, and eventually abandoned the idea of doing a map related to the trail. I found some more landslide data in Buncombe county to work with. And am now working on that. But it's time to go home.

Lecture from our book, first published in 1953 and latest edition in 1995, was interesting. I think it is a good book. It has a little bit of a retro feel to it. The design and layout looks like 1970's. Pete says it is more of an overview of Cartographic concepts and technique. That seems like a good idea at this point in our GIS education.

Watch this space for an update...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Night Bike Ride

The last 2 weeks at work have been very stressful. Very likely the worst ever. There was a management override of sensible priorities for preparing for the new semester. Yeah, it was bad. But we did the best we could, and continue to do so, and are making steady progress. Just a bunch of long frustrating days.

So I couldn't work my regular bike rides/exercise routine into the week. Finally it's Friday and traffic was ultra smooth on I-26 so I got home earlier than I'm used to. Nap time! Nice nap, but a little on the long side, so I groggied myself up and out for the bike ride. Pretty normal ride, but then I stopped to get a rock out of my sandal and noticed the gate was open to the old EDACO junkyard down by the river. It's all empty in there, as it is slated to become more parkland. I rode around inside the fence that I've seen for many years and never been inside of. It's a large space covered in cement that was dumped there by cement trucks with leftover loads to get rid of. The junkyard had an agreement with the cement company to accept the extra cement so that their ground was nice and covered and the cement company got rid of the excess. Apparently it is 15 feet thick in spots!

The other excitement was at the dog park, where I often stop to watch the dog antics. I stopped along the fence and noticed that someone had a Mountain Express newspaper and a library book lying there at the edge of the dog zone. I watched some dog action and then decided to get going because it was already getting dark. I got out my flashing light which I clip to my butt when I ride in the dark. As I was doing that a woman walked over, inside the fence and said, "hey, what's going on? You want to look at my Mountain Express?" I said, "no I just like to stop here and watch the dogs on my ride." What followed was about 10 minutes of very interesting conversation. It started with her pointing at what I thought were some trees along the river and saying, "you want to see something really cool?" Well, yes I did. "Look, if you look at this just right it's a perfectly formed baby frog." I'm looking at the trees for some form that looked like anything other than a tree. "NO! RIGHT HERE, ON THE FENCE!" Oh, OK, I see a tiny spider that appears to be dead hanging on the fence. And yes, it does indeed resemble a baby frog. She says, "I showed it to the girl over there and she told me, it does look like a frog but it's the SPIDER!" Several times she referred to it as *the* spider. She said she got right up to it and it didn't even budge. Yeah, I don't think it's budging at all anymore.

She then stuck some fingers through the fence and introduced herself as Christy. I made a greeting gesture by sort of holding and squeezing her fingers, since there was no possibility of shaking her hand. It was firmly wedged in the wire fence. I think it was about this time that she told me about the "little baby buzz" she had going from a beverage she was holding. It was wine, in a recycled package that was basically a juice box. Just 2 days ago, I told Jaime and/or Ken that they should put wine coolers in those juicebox containers. The conversation was one of those that is a bit of a challenge to keep up with as it bounces here and there in a totally unpredictable manner. I was trying to figure out how much of the erratic form and content of the conversation was caused by the wine-in-a-box-little-baby-buzz, and how much was just from a really outgoing and offbeat personality. I didn't really get too far on that analysis because I had to really hang on just to keep up with where the conversation was going.

Christy was a pretty woman with a sweet lilt in her southern accent. She was really friendly and seemed to be trying hard to keep the conversation going and develop it into something. My man-brain went on alert. It was thinking the situation was an opportunity. Man-brain has been on alert for opportunities for 3/4 of a year, but is in transition right now. I know why it's in transition. N is why. But knowing why doesn't change that it is still a rare and interesting experience to feel that change taking place.

I began trying to extricate myself from the conversation, I really did need to get going as the light was fading fast. I explained this to Christy after she offered to read my horoscope from the Mountain X. I told her that I needed to get going because it was getting dark, and gestured to the flashing light I had attached to my butt. She hung on and had to tell me a few things before I left. She told them with great energy and sincerity. First was the MOON, which was looking at least as fetching as Christy, about 90% full, and fuzzy and pink through the post-sunset haze. The moon she exclaimed, was 240,000 miles away, and took THREE DAYS to get to on a NASA rocket. Next, she pointed me to the North to some pretty PINK CLOUDS, and told me they were ALL in the troposphere. And that the milky way galaxy was 125 light years across, and there are billions of galaxies. And also that the earth was 15 billion years old. She pulled all these things together to say that we were small and had limited time on earth. Good points. When I first mentioned the flashing light and riding in the dark, she said something that sounded like she thought that if I was meant to be hit by a car the light wouldn't protect me. I decided not to engage her on the topic "the only fate is what we make."

She said I was neat, and I said she was neat too and finally rode off. She yelled to me that she could see my flashing light really good and I waved back. I laughed about Christy on and off for the rest of the ride. Several times out loud. It made me glad that I live where I do, so I can meet interesting people like her. Later in my ride I made my way down the relatively busy Friday night Haywood Road. Cars with loud stereos, and bikes passing me in the opposite direction. A bike passed me and I didn't get a good look at the rider. Then I started hearing, " Edward! Edward! Edward!" in increasing volume. I first thought the person on the bike was somebody I knew, but no. It was Christy driving up beside me, yelling out the car window about some other bikes with flashing lights and saying hi, and have a good night and so forth. I waved and laughed and said similar things back to her and tried to not get hit by her car. I laughed some more after that second encounter and made my way home.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Return to GIS Class!

Yes, I'm back in GIS class again, so beware that there will be new posts every week about GIS stuff rather than other stuff. It may be a good thing actually, since my blogging has slowed in recent weeks.

Pete is still the teacher, and that's good, because he loves the GIS and that makes it fun for us students. And Mary is in the class, which is also fun, because she has a good sense of humor and we need that on these long Wednesday nights. Mary totally whipped out her mad GIS skillz first thing tonight with all the pretty formatting and such on her map of the dangerous landslide site on Tunnel Rd.

I had lost significant GIS knowledge out of my brain since the last class ended in May. But it started coming back pretty well once I got into the program.

The map I made is above. If you want to see it bigger, you can click it. Showing the parcels that are located within 1/2 mile of the landslide site. I was shocked to see that my dentist office is within the danger zone. Oral hygiene is important though, so I will brave the area despite what I now know.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Bargains at the Goodwill

Yesterday I stopped at a church rummage sale and found something called the "Electric Chicken Bucket" made by the Wear Ever company. It is a pressure fryer. I couldn't resist it for $3. Apparently there is some market for these because they are no longer made. Apparently they are no longer made because people got hurt using them. 450 degree pressurized oil? I guess there would be some danger there. I don't intend to cook chicken in it, that's all I'm saying.

Today, I visited the Goodwill on my trip out of the house to avoid solitude delerium. It was also nice to get in the air conditioning for a little while. At the Goodwill I found another $3 treasure. It's the "Billie Jean King Serves You Right!" It is electric and hurls tennis balls at you for practicing. I don't play tennis, and that's all I'm saying about that.

As I carried the "Serves You Right" through the store a man asked me what it was, and I told him. He reminded me of the father in Big Fat Greek Wedding. He segued the discussion about the device, to the fact that I am young and I should have someone to play with, and then onto the topic of marriage. It ended with a few pearls of real wisdom. When choosing a wife or husband, you should not choose one that you will be scared of them leaving. You should choose one who is scared that you will leave. And since I am in my 40's, I may have a 15 year old child when I am 60, and they might resent me. I guess they would resent that I am so old?

Yeah, I think I'm skipping the kids altogether so there will be no possibility of resentment. And I kinda think it's possible to have a relationship where neither party is scared of the other leaving. I think that might work really well!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Bike Ride Route #1

GIS Class is returning to my weekly schedule soon and so I thought I would play with this junior mapping program to analyze my latest bike route. If you click those maps they will get bigger so you can see them. The elevation profile feature at the bottom is nice and shows the killer hill I go up toward the end. It's really steep. I get in the lowest gear and can't keep my usual cadence, and the front wheel makes little hops off the ground with each push on the pedals. I do stay on the seat. I'm trying to figure a ride that is longer and avoids that really steep part.

The map program says the route is about 9 miles, but my bike says it is more like 10.5. It takes me about an hour to ride it, but I usually stop at the dog park and watch the dogs for a while. Sometimes I also stop for other things, like: interesting things on the road that I need to pick up and take home, to corral a snake off the road so it doesn't get squished, to look at trains, etc. The profile says there is over 1300 feet of elevation change on the route. Half of that is going down though, and that part is easy and just plain fun.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"I just had to hug her."

Billiards and Games
Originally uploaded by shubener
It's the Haywood Rd. Ingles on Tuesday night, where I stopped to replace my sour milk and replenish my supply of noodles for workday lunches. I like that Ingles, though it does have its shortcomings. I love the wide variety of people I see there. I guess it is just the diversity of the neighborhood the Ingles and I live in. There's mostly White, Black, and Latino shoppers, with all ages and economic levels represented. Every visit seems to be a slightly different clientele. One visit, it was every-single-woman-was-some-variety-of-hot night. There were the skinny young upscale fashionistas with their tight fitted skirts, high heels, and groovy glasses. And the punk torn jeans tats and piercings, with similar boyfriend attached at hip women. And the case of beer toting, untorn jeans and t-shirt women of various persuasions. Above you can see this Ingles in the background of this nice nighttime photo by Asheville photographer Scott Lessing.

Tonight it was pretty quiet, maybe because I got there earlier than usual. I was making my usual path through the store, picking up the staples. I was behind a quite older woman with nice lime sherbert colored pants. She was severely hunched over, from orthopedic challenges I imagine. She was moving slowly and in the middle of the aisle, so I got mildly frustrated a couple times. I got around her and went on my way, but somehow was behind her again in the baking aisle, which was more crowded. She stopped with her cart in the middle of the aisle and was reaching over toward the shelves when a woman came with her cart from the other direction. I was thinking it was kind of like stopping your car in the middle of the road when you got to your friend's house, getting out, and going to visit for a while. When green pants lady saw the other woman coming, she backed up to make room. But the other woman, who was handsome and appeared to be maybe 50 years old; as she approached, she left her cart behind and came toward us. She looked emotional. Part happy, part sad, part excited. Her arms were up in an almost hug position. She stopped directly in front of the woman and looked at her. The woman looked back, and I thought I was seeing a one-way recognition of an old friend. I expected to hear, "I'm so-and-so, from blah-blah-blah." But no. The younger woman was tentatively moving toward hugging the older and then retreating. Finally she said, "can I hug you, you look so much like my grandma." I was stunned and didn't watch the hug. I wish I had. I saw the disengagement, and the younger woman was crying tears and had that same look of part happy, part sad, part excited. She said, "thank you so much," and something again about her grandma. Green pants lady was not as hunched over now as the younger woman made her way past me and responded, "that did me as much good as you." I was now starting to move past her and getting pretty emotional myself. The older woman was smiling and said, "wasn't that sweet?" I said it was sweet, and she completed the encounter with, "you meet such sweet people."

Well yes you do meet sweet people, and this was a good reminder to me of that fact. My head swirled with thoughts of what the lives of these two women were like. The older, obviously having some health challenges, yet so positive and open to this unexpected encounter in the Ingles. Good for her. The younger, missing her grandma and seizing a moment to revisit her in some way. Good for her. And me being collateral damage in this random moment of connection.

I ran into the younger woman again in the toilet paper aisle and she was still teary and talking to some people she was shopping with. "The woman down there, she looked so much like grandma. Did you see her? Yes, 2 aisles down." Her shopping partners seemed confused or embarrassed. "I just had to hug her," she said.

So I completed my shopping on autopilot with much eye blinking, throat clearing, and thoughts of my place in life. I'm just lucky this happened after the cereal aisle, where difficult decisions have to be made.

One of my favorite blogs to read, The Hangover Journals, also occasionally deals with this Ingles, and here are some of those posts.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Young Lovers Loving the Rothkos

I was enjoying the Rothkos when I saw this young couple at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I suppose I took it for granted when I lived an hour or so from there, but I now think the East Wing of the National Gallery is quite a special place with a significant collection of some of my favorite art.

Mark Rothko is a name that rolls off my tongue when I think of my all time favorite painters. And here I will ramble a bit about him. His paintings feel like atmospheres to me. Really, they just feel like feelings to me. I find their simplicity so powerful. I don't really think they are about feelings, though some would argue about that. I think they're about nothing and consider them non-representational where the arguers would call them abstract. I think he painted them about nothing, or just about themselves, and I project the idea of an atmosphere or a feeling onto them. And I think good art has a lot to do with that.

I was excited to find a show there at the National Gallery about some of his commissioned mural work. What I liked were some "studies" for the murals that showed a little insight into how he worked. The studies were sort of "sketches" testing out ideas for the murlas. These "sketches" were actually large paintings, bigger than the ones in this photo. But I don't really care for his mural work as much as his paintings meant to stand on their own. I made a pilgrimidge to the Rothko Chapel in Houston about 10 years ago, and was underwhelmed there too. It was nice to see the paintings so dominant in an environment designed for them, but the work itself just didn't inspire me. Maybe I should go back to Houston and look again.

The young lovers came through the nice room where I was relaxing and enjoying the Rothkos. They seemed to have a serious appreciation of the Rothkos that surprised me given their young age. I think they were puberty-cusp-riders.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Twelve Mile Road, the day after...

The day of Twelve Mile Road was a very exciting one in many respects. In addition to the "TMR" adventure, there was a bear, and a stand of virgin hemlocks, waterfalls, campfire cooking (interrupted by thunderstorm), intense rainbow, nice bike riding. All of that will come in future posts. Now we need to do a little follow up on the effects of the off road adventure on TMR.

The next day, I got up and took a nice shower and got going in the morning. First odd thing I notice while driving is that the shudder under braking had increased. I have mildly warped front brake rotors and that's the symptom. Brain goes into gear, what has changed that could cause that? A few miles later I hear a big bang like I ran over a stick and it hit the bottom of the van. I look in the rear view mirror to see if I can see a stick or a part that has fallen off the van. Nothing. Hmmm. More thinking. I implement a few mild test swerves. Hmmm. I decided to actually pull off and see if there is something serious wrong. Look at the right front wheel area and immediately notice the top of the shock absorber is missing. Yeah, that could cause a bang, and the increased shudder under braking. I grab one part that is still bouncing around in there and keep it for later. I grab and shake and kick the wheels to make sure nothing else is broken.

I drive on and confirm I have no shock absorbing on the right front wheel. I start taking turns to the left slower, since they load that wheel and I don't want to crash. I also started using a cruise speed of 55 instead of 60 because there was a vibration that started above 55. West Virginia has a lot of curves on its roads. Seriously. A LOT. They are labeled with signs advising how fast you can safely go around the curve. These signs are remarkably accurate and uniform. I developed a correction factor for how much you could safely add to the advisory speed. In the Vanagon, I came up with about +12mph, and this is assuming good sight lines. I hate coming around a curve to a surprise, and the van needs more room to deal with surprises, so I couldn't always add 12mph. I first discovered this phenomena back in the early 80's when I often drove across WV on US 50 to visit my GF Anne McQuary who was going to school in Ohio. That was in my '76 VW Scirocco, a much better handling car than the Vanagon. That car was +20mph, with less regard to sight lines.

Anyway, I stopped at a DIY car wash in Elkins and gave the underneath a good cleaning, and checked the suspension better to make sure there was no other damage. When I got home and started working on the shock absorber I was surprised to find it was completely intact and not even damaged. It appeared that the nut holding the top of it just came off. (Click the photo on the right to see the exploded view of the suspension if you want to follow along.) On further inspection, I found a few pieces missing. A metal spacer and a rubber bump stop. Both of these were in a place that they would have to slide off the top of the shaft of the shock, and it would have been hard for them to do that. The metal spacer is under compression when the missing nut was tightened. My theory is that during the bouncing and severe suspension travel on TMR, this spacer fell apart or got crushed. This took the tension off the nut and it just backed off and went bye-bye. Then the top of the shock fell down into the spring and sat there. I had spare parts from another van, swapped them in and now it's fine again.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Twelve Mile Road

One of the most exciting times of the Summer 2007 Vanagon trip was when I went down Twelve Mile Road. This proved to be an unwise choice. I love to drive on backroads as much as possible. I use a GPS navigation system to aid me in this preference. I tell it to find the shortest route and it does that, which almost always uses the smaller roads. Then it guides me so that I don't have to constantly look for the next turn, and read a map. I can enjoy the scenery and driving and know it will tell me when it's time to turn. It has a setting to avoid unpaved roads, and I usually leave that turned off because I don't mind unpaved roads. As long as they're actually roads.

I was toodling along enjoying the scenery, like you see above. It was a beautiful crisp summer day in northern West Virginia, with sun but not too hot. I continued from Snake Rd onto Twelve Mile Rd. at a place called Sell, and I think this photo is near that place. If you are that interested, you can click the little map below and see what it looks like. The road was quite good and smooth and level, with nice fresh looking gravel on it. One could actually go pretty fast on the open sections where there were no blind curves. Fast meaning about 30-35mph in the Vanagon on gravel. A few miles down the road, a few driveways turned off, with "Private" signs on them, and the nice fresh gravel disappeared as the road went into pretty deep woods.

There's kind of what it looked like in there. (This is about at point #1 on the map below.) The road was pretty straight, following a small stream, and descending with it through the woods. Also you see in this picture the first obstacle I came to: The Sippy Hole. At this point I figured, I was just going to turn around and get out of there. I got out to take this photo and got a stick and probed the big puddle, and found it to be very firm on the bottom and not very deep. So I figured what the heck and went on. No problem with the sippy hole, and the road continued descending. I made note of places where I could turn around as I passed them. The GPS showed it was not far to where this road started having other roads branch off of it. I knew that it would probably be in the worst condition where it was used the least, I would pass that point, then it would get better, and I'd be out the other side.

Then I made a few decisions about continuing that were not so smart. Stupid really. I went past some things I was pretty sure I would not be able to go back up. A steep rocky down hill section was one. At one point the little stream was basically running down the "road" I was driving on. Here's the story on the Vanagon's off road abilities from my experiences. They can be really bad to lose traction and get stuck. I've gotten stuck on wet grass several times on hills that weren't really very steep at all. The good things about taking the Vanagon off road are that they have quite a sturdy suspension capable of withstanding abuse. And they have good ground clearance and short ramp angles front and rear. This means they can go over tall things without those things hitting the bottom of the van and making it stop.

So that wet section with the stream running down the road seemed like I'd never be able to do that uphill. Here's another section where a small tree was down and I think just out of view in the foreground was the broken culvert pipe I drove over. I also got out here and moved a big branch off the "road" so that I could manoeuvre over that small tree in the easiest way possible. The thing that made me decide to keep going was that I had passed these obstacles I wouldn't be able to go back up or over, and the fact that I knew I was close to where the conditions would improve.

It got worse. There were stumps in the "road" soon. There were big holes and mounds where other vehicles had been stuck and dug out or spun their tires. The terrain got flatter, and soon it was just impossible to manoeuvre the van around the trees that were increasingly *in* the "road." There had been a fork in the road a ways back that I think was actually Twelve Mile Road, but involved a stream crossing that was really hairy looking.

I had been thinking about how I would get my stupid ass out of there. I had cell phone, I had my bike and could easily ride out a couple miles. I came to a stop and got out when it was clear I could go no further. I was quite anxious. Excess adrenaline pumping made me feel like I had drank a java chiller or 2. I walked ahead about 100 yards and found the place where the road was nice and level and gravel. I couldn't get to it though. I was at about point #2 on the map below.

So I took my anxiety and excess adrenaline and decided to at least try to get out of there. I scouted a place to turn around 20 yards back the way I came. It was difficult. I couldn't see where the rear wheels were and they would hit a rock or stump and stop moving. Trees were close on both sides which prevented easy jockeying to the sides to clear those rocks and stumps. The ground here was softer and more soil and vegetation. I got the spinning tires thing going a few times and had to use momentum to overcome the slick spots. A big branch threatened to rip off my newish side view mirror. But I got the thing turned around. Going forward is much better for traction in the van because the weight transfers rearward when you accelerate giving more traction and less spinning tires. I started back up the "road" thinking to stay calm and keep the momentum up. It turns out the "road" was pretty rocky, and it was a sandstone that had a lot of friction. Even the wet parts were not very slippery. That tree across the road presented a challenge though. The uphill approach to it made it a much larger "step" from the level of the road. First try, the right tire hopped over it, but the left one hit it and the whole van slid to the left as the tire slid along it. No trouble backing up off of it. I got out and built a little stairway of rocks for the left wheel to get over it. 2nd try and it was just up and over. The right wheel took quite a bounce there though {foreshadowing}. After that it was surprisingly easy. The steep part came and went with little trouble as the sandstone rocks provided a lot of grip for the tires. When I got to the Sippy Hole I couldn't believe it. I was out of there. I was really surprised that I made it.

I learned a lesson on Twelve Mile Road and got that lesson cheap compared to what it could have been. There I am kissing the beleaguered rear wheel, who so gallantly propelled me out of harm's way.

Here's the Map of Twelve Mile Road if you want to mark it off of your route.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Puffs are Here!

I planted this tree in front of my house a couple years ago. It's a Mimosa. They grow fast and are kind of weedy, and are actually an invasive species here in NC. I like them though, for several reasons. I like the form the branches have in the winter when there are no leaves. I like the tiny little leaves they have in the summer, and the way they open during the day and close at night. I like those tiny leaves again in the Fall when they need no collecting. They just dissolve into the soil and are gone. And the Mimosa tree has Puffs! Delicate Pink Puffs. This is the first year mine has had any. I though maybe I got a boy tree and only the girl trees have puffs, but no, the puffs are here this year!

The only problem I have with the Mimosa is that the branches tend to droop low in the summer when they are heavily laden with leaves and interfere with passersby. So I have tied some of the branches to each other across the middle of the tree with strong fishing line to hold them in toward the center of the tree. After a year, I will take the line off and the branches should hold the position they are now tied in.

(click the photos to see bigger versions)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Most Scenic Dairy Queen

Yes, it's the most scenic Dairy Queen in the world, located in Hinton, West Virginia. Above is a panoramic view of the dining room which overlooks the famous New River near it's confluence with the Bluestone River. If you click the picture you can see it in larger splendor. If you think there is a more scenic DQ, I want to hear about it.

Also notable at this DQ is table service. You order at the window, but they bring your food out to your table and call your number. The menu is somewhat expanded also. On a previous trip, I had the fried oysters. Why I thought that was a good idea in the middle of remote WV, I can't tell you now. The oysters were amazingly uniform in shape, parallelograms as a matter of fact. Oyster-llelograms is what they became known as. My advice is to stick with the staples that would normally be good at a DQ.

I visited on this trip on Friday night and it was nice scene of Summer. The sun was getting low and pretty after a beautiful warm day. One of those crisp West Virginia days with low humidity and long clear views driving on the beautiful back roads. Sliding right through little towns and people's front yards, catching fleeting glimpses of what's important to them, and what isn't. And there at the DQ were a variety of people ending their day and week with a little outing. There was a group of 10 or 20 people in one dining room ending a dinner of some significance with hugs and some people still lingering and talking. Well dressed white haired couples ask what kind of fish they serve, and cause confusion behind the counter while research on the fish is done. The young woman comes back and answers, "Cod?" in a question, as she apparently has never heard of a fish with that name. Older teens in rugged 4wd pickup trucks that look like they actually go off-road congregate and chat non-threateningly. A few bikers come and go with loud revving engines.

So I did a little audio recording while I was there, with my ISDV2+ and I'm going to try to edit it into something so you can get a flavor of the scene there at the most scenic DQ in the world on such a pleasant Summer Friday evening. One of the most interesting things I heard there was one of the young women behind the counter. In an effort to keep people flowing through the ordering process, she frequently said, "can I help someone?" Nothing too strange about that, but it was the way she said it. She had one of those naturally strong voices that carries way down the road. And her intonation had a pleading quality to it, like she REALLY, REALLY wanted to help someone. The other thing to listen for is the retro musak playing in the dining room, and the excited patron who lets out a YeeHaw when his order number is called. OK here it is, an mp3 file about a minute long.

I Didn't want to see that.

There are my friends Terry and Ellie. I've known them a long time, but had kind of forgotten about Ellie since I hadn't known her that well before the 22 or so years elapsed since the last time I saw her. I did remember her significant resemblance to Jessica Lange back in the 80's, and it's still there.

I was mentioning my use of to find eligible bachelorettes, and so we set to finding Ellie a possible date. She was lukewarm to the idea. I warned them about what they might see in the men seeking women ads, and to be especially careful of ads that say they have a picture. Well, one stray click, and we ended up seeing a 60-something guy in his underwear. Or was that a speedo? Does it matter? No.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Trip Blogging Preview

Just a teaser of what's to come, so get ready. I'm back from an exciting 8 day trip and hope to blog it to bits! Here's the kind of excitement you can expect:

  • Lost keys! First I lose the key to the gas cap of the van and can't put more gas into its empty tank. Yikes! How did I overcome that major obstacle? And now that I'm home, I can't find the key to remove my bike from the back of the van. Yes, my bike is stuck on the van!
  • Reunion Hijinks: the last time I saw her was 31 years ago, when we were 12, and now she's upset.
  • The most scenic Dairy Queen in the world.
  • Hot driving: it's in the high 90's in the van, and that's when I'm underway with the windows down.
  • Wind Farms.
  • Vanagon Tech-talk
  • Excitement boils over: climbing a steep grade is interrupted when a cloud of smoke and oil appear in the rear view mirror!
  • Off-road excursion: The GPS says it's a road, I think not! I was stupid, then lucky, and part of the lucky was that I was smart.
  • Limping home: with a compromised front suspension and transmission, I make it home.
  • Old friends: It was good to see them.
  • Lots of photos and maybe some video too!
  • BBQ.
  • Frozen drinks near and far.
  • Scenic Splendor.
  • Modern Art.
  • Urban Sprawl.
Watch this space.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Summer Trip Planning

Sometimes planning the trip can be as much fun as the trip itself. Currently have 13 stops planned over about 8 days. If you click the map you can see it in more detail. Any guesses as to what any of those those numbered stops are?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

What is that?

Behind the Patton Building?

Watch this space for future developments...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Summer Sunday Night

I had spent some time with my friend Sarah, one of my favorite xGFs. She had a foot problem, couldn't get around very well, so I brought her some dinner and we ate it in her yard as the day and weekend faded away.

I drove off in my Vanagon, and it was just dark enough that we should all use our headlights. Driving in the Vanagon always makes me feel sort of happy and relaxed, like I'm on a trip somewhere, travelling on a whim, without everyday cares. I turned on the radio and of course it was tuned to WPVM since it was Sunday night, and that is the time for River of Sound. River of Sound is my favorite radio program of late. A young woman named Amanda puts together this 2 hour program each week. It combines music, natural sound recordings, old movie soundtracks, and other mysterious content into a surprisingly cohesive experience. Sometimes I like it more than others, but even when it is not so much my style, I enjoy the challenge and stick with it to see where she is going with it.

I decided to take the long way home, and just fell in love with the moment. The temperature, the windows down and soft air blowing through, the music, the Vanagon feeling, the light fading and shifting from warm pink to cool blue. I drove along the river, who's banks were so fecund and lush with plants. Sweet honeysuckle wafted in and brought up all the sense memory that goes with that smell. I just continued along the river, up past the mulch pile with its own tangy decomposition smell. I turned around and headed back the way I just came since it had been so nice. The light was now getting very dim, and Amanda was wrapping up the River of Sound as I crossed the river (here) and turned toward home.

This is my favorite time of year as we aproach the solstice and all the plants have fresh full leaves and are adding growth like crazy. I like it so much that I get anxious in anticipation of its passing.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Big Bush

I like a big bush. This azalea managed to hold it's buds in until the big Easter weekend freeze passed, and now it is being rewarded for its reluctance, with rampant, no-holds-barred fertilization. See, sometimes being cautious, reluctant, tentative and so forth can be a benefit.

If anybody out there has a bigger blooming azalea bush, I want to see it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Final Project Finally Finished

It's done. To the right is the main map page that I completed. If you click it, you can see it bigger, or if you want to see the whole output of the final project with more charts and data and writing and stuff in PDF format, click Here.

I think it came out pretty well considering the amount of time spent on it. I did burn up some time deciding on what to do for my final project, and then seeking data from outside sources to do a different project. The data never materialized, so I sort of fell back to this project.

The GIS class was quite interesting. Lots of credit goes to Pete Kennedy our instructor who clearly loves the subject and puts a lot of himself into it. He is also very knowledgeable, and if he can't tell you the answer to a tough question right off the top of his head, he'll find it for you. I hope to take additional GIS classes in the future.

The last class came and went, and it was a bittersweet farewell to my friend Mary, who I met in the class. Smart, and a smart-ass, and friendly and funny, she added a some much needed energy to those brain-fried Wednesday nights. Maybe we will have the opportunity to entertain each other in a future GIS class. Or, get together over the summer for some social fun.

GIS class may be over for now, but stay tuned as the blog rolls on to cover new and exciting topics!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Final Project & Final Test

Tonight I worked on the final project. It was kind of fun. I did my usual intuitive playing around with the data to decide what to do. The map is on the right. I never got the data from the city for my original idea discussed in last week's blog post. So I started on a modified version of the class project Pete suggested. I decided to look at the watershed of my neighborhood and I guess I will total up the impervious surfaces and do some calculations. I ended up putting 2 watersheds together to cover a little more space, and then used some editing tools to remove the part of the watershed on the east side of the river, which I don't want to include. I still have a ways to go.

We had our final test tonight and it went pretty well. I totally drew a blank on what topology was. It was frustrating and funny to me for some reason. I tried to remember back to the time last night when I was sitting on the sofa, (non-leather) and studying for the test. Tried to visualize looking up the definition in the glossary. Tried to close my eyes and see the paper where I wrote it down. Wrote topology on the desk with my finger. Nothing. Finally I started writing some silly stuff on the test paper about topology, and the answer finally came to me. Funny how the brain works. I learn more and more tricks to try to get mine to work better as it gets cluttered up with stuff.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Starting the Final Project

We are starting our final projects for class tonight, and we will continue working on them for the next 2 classes. I can't upload the picture right now, but hopefully it will appear here later... OK, Blogger is no longer broken so there it is on the right. If you click it you can see it bigger. More about the map snippet in the next paragraph.

I am trying to do something interesting for my project. Maybe something to do with analysis of streets in some part of Asheville that would be good for riding my bicycle on. Various criteria could be used to assess them. Width, speed limit, traffic counts, etc. Maybe even incorporate slope data to highlight the really steep places. I had to download some streets data from Buncombe County and add that to my geodatabase. Then I wanted to see about the fancy new 5 foot contour data that Buncombe County has available. That is available for the whole county, but is broken up into smaller files, so that it is not enormous. To find the data for the area I'm interested in, I had to find the PIN for a parcel in the area, so I had to add the parcels layer and search it. It was quite an adventure. Back to the map shown above. That's my neighborhood, and I was sort of surprised by some of the contour data it shows. There's 15' of elevation change in my little 1/4 acre lot? I guess I can believe that. The 5' contour data was created using LIDAR , which I became briefly obsessed with, then I got over it.

Pete's wife Haven brought him dinner, and he embarrassed her by making her stick her head in the class and say Hi to all of us. I met Haven a few years ago at my job, and think she is very smart and cute-as-a-button. Possibly cuter. Also learned that Pete is afraid of spiders. Pete, you are much bigger than a spider, you can out run it or whack it with a long stick. Really, you can get hurt by the poisonous spiders we have around here. I remember a story from years ago about a whole family that was plagued by brown recluses. Several of them had been bitten when they put on work gloves that had the reclusive spiders in them. This story has changed forever the way I approach work gloves. Several family members had permanent damage from the spider bites and one of them had lost part of a hand to it.

Mary seemed down-in-the-dumps, and that just put a damper on the whole evening that even Haven's brief visit couldn't lift. Her green sweater was really accenting her green eyes though, which is appropriate, since she works with greens. Mary was not a good fit for a prospective employer, and now that employer is really missing out on an excellent opportunity. And just because she couldn't fill the size 18 uniform left over from the previous employee.

Robin was also suffering from post spring break syndrome. I think we all were looking at the ARC programs going, Uh, how do I work this again? I hope next week we all make some real progress on this final project and produce some really nice maps.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Farewell Lynn, Farewell Kurt.

Lynn was killed in a car accident this week. So it goes. She was my brother's ex-partner. Ex for a year or so, and partner for over 10 years. There's a picture of the two of them from 2005, the last time I saw Lynn. You can see in the photo they were already moving in different directions. Lynn was a beautiful woman with radiant skin. She was very creative and full of an energy that often seemed to be directed in a somewhat erratic manner. She was 56 and leaves 2 kids in their late teens and early 20s.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. also died this week. So it goes. Like many people, I read his novels while I was in college. I borrowed them from my brother, who I worked for at that time. Vonnegut was born the same year as my mom, in Indianapolis. My family also comes from the midwest and there was something that felt familiar about his writing. One book referenced a person named "Moon" Claycombe. My aunt and uncle have that same last name, and my uncle grew up in Indy. A little research and I found out that Moon was my uncle's father, and he had gone to HS with Vonnegut.

I liked the science fiction aspects of his books, and his seemingly free flowing writing style. I think Breakfast of Champions was the first I read, and it had the crude little pen drawings in it. I thought that was pretty neat. I should probably read him again now that I'm older and smarter and would probably get a lot more out of them. In one of the inevitable posthumous radio pieces I heard, it referred to him as a secular humanist, and then within a minute or two quoted him as saying that he felt music was proof there is a god. Curious. I guess secular humanists can have a god too. Vonnegut said something about us humans being animals whose brains just got too big for our own good, and I have to agree with that. So it goes.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Before and After: Spring Freeze

The freezing started April 6th 2007. Above is the Japanese Bamboo before and after. If you click the photo you can see it bigger. Below is the Daylily Destruction. There were a couple inches of snow in addition to the cold temperatures.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Pete surprised us tonight by ordering pizza for everybody. Wasn't that nice.

Then we did some more editing, this time following the exercise in the book. This exercise has 62 steps, and I got to exercise 40, and Mary did too. But I suspect she didn't hop over some of them like I did. In the photo to the right, we improved the alignment of the roads based on the info in the orthophoto data layer.

I'll say it again. This is powerful software. With that power comes a daunting depth and detail. It reminds me of Photoshop, but I think it is even more complex.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Custard Pie

I enjoyed very much seeing Custard Pie "unplugged" at Jack of the Wood last night. If you aren't aware, Custard Pie is a Led Zeppelin tribute band based in Asheville. The thought of that doesn't really sound all that interesting, but this group is really talented, and does a very nice interpretation of Zeppelin's material. I always think of music performance in terms of technical expertise and "feeling." I thought all 4 members scored really high in both areas. Lead guitar Woody doing really nice acoustic interpretations of electric guitar, David on bass seemed to never miss and put a lot of feeling into it. Really, all 4 members of the group were doing a great job last night. I think maybe the drums needed to be mic-ed a little better or something, but what do I know. I was staying close to the stage inside the direct blast of the PA speakers, where I like it. Despite being an "unplugged" show it was plenty loud, and has my tinnitus up a notch today.

Here's the paragraph about Rhett, the singer, who I fell a little bit in love with last night. I'll try to keep it to one paragraph. Rhett is a woman of course, compared to Robert Plant who is not. She often sounds very much like Plant when he gets into the higher ranges, or Plant with a little sweet southern (US) accent. Rhett certainly has the voice to handle the technical aspects of the vocals, but I think really excels at putting the emotion into it. Those two things come together in those long plaintive, sensual moans of lyrics that seem to always end in "baby" or "me." I found myself holding my breath, or moaning along and running out of breath long, long before Rhett did. I guess some might say she has quite a set of lungs. Which brings me to her comely countenance. A very pretty face that reminds of Kirsten Dunst, and a very realistic figure in a pretty sundress, which I'm always a sucker for. Rhett must be about Liz Phair size, still looking petite atop 5 inches or so of shoes. Sexy, yes, but I thought it was mostly from the inside, in attitude, and not overt. The confidence of performing so well, a catalog of music that feels like sex, even when the song is not explicitly about it. Rhett dances around a little, smiles demurely, and connects with the audience, which is always nice for us. OK, paragraph ends here.

Now to the Led Zeppelin memories. It was 1978 and I was a freshman in HS. Led Zep was quite popular among various circles at my school. There was an older, cooler, upperclassman in my math class, who frequently intoned, "Led Zep, man. Miss Tanner's a bitch." Miss Tanner was one of his teachers, and I have no idea how those 2 thoughts got linked, but anyway, he was cool. There was quite a bit of Stairway to Heaven on the rock stations back then. Too much probably. My serious appreciation for LZ didn't come until much later in life though.

Good Times, Bad Times came around last night and now that I'm a grown up man, I always think this when I hear that song:
In the days of my youth
I was told what it was to be a man,
Now Ive reached the age
I try not to do all those things.
So that no matter how I try,
I won't find my way into the same old jams.

Rose Bush Pruning

Before and After photos of the overgrown rosebush that I pruned.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Canton. I love it.

This editing exercise was frustrating. I couldn't get it to complete my sketch, and then it disappeared. Argh. I hope to learn more about this editing stuff. It wasn't so hard last week and everything seemed to work properly. Brain very fuzzy now.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Like the caption says, that is the magical and mysterious cooling system for the 86-91 VW Vanagon (except Syncro.) Today I replaced #24, which required taking off #23. I also replaced #14 and flushed the system. No major problems encountered. I was worried about taking off #23 since it is often a challenge to get bolts loose from the engine after 21+ years and many heat cycles. I was afraid of stripping things and then needing to make difficult repairs outside the scope of the repairs I was attempting today. Tomorrow I will flush the system again and then refill it with coolant. The refilling process is also magical and mysterious due to the complexity shown in the diagram above. It involves raising the front of the vehicle, and filling the system with coolant while the engine is running at 2000 rpm so that the water pump can force the coolant into all the nooks and crannies of the system.

And now, news from the irony front. I was helping my church set up a table at the peace rally. I overheard a couple conversations while I was there. One person made reference that it would be best to start completely over with a new government here in the US, and that the state of the union address would be a convenient time to do away with the current one. Another suggested that he could only kill someone in self defense, and that W was putting him in danger. Then I went back to my WasserCooling repairs.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thursday Night

What did I do tonight? I came home and did several things. I cleaned up a biodiesel accident in the area of the clothes dryer/biodiesel lab. Then went out for some satisfying rose bush pruning. I like that more than I ever thought I would. I generally like pruning plants, and think I am pretty good at it. I also have been known to enjoy plucking women's eyebrows. There is a similarity to those activities. I never pluck on the first date though. The rose bushes haven't been pruned since I have lived here, 10 years. I think they will really like the pruning, and grow better and look better. Or they may die...

While pruning, neighbor elizabeth came over and invited me for dinner. That was really nice, especially since she had some fresh bison burgers from her friend in Weaverville. It was delicious. elizabeth likes the e to not be capitalized. She was really hungry and I could tell. Then she had some of the delicious food and got a nice placid, smiling look. That was nice to see. After dinner I set something on fire. I like to do that, but don't do it all that often, which probably makes it even more special when I do it. I had a bunch of biodiesel soaked newspapers left over from cleaning up the above mentioned biodiesel spill. I had sort of just wadded them up and put them in the garden. So that's what I set on fire. It was nice and e and E watched it burn and noted the stars, and moon looking like a nice bowl directly above a bright bluish looking planet. e is a talented jewelry artist.

Then home for telephone calls including nice brief conversation with Tracy from the internet, who actually did sound quite nice, smart, and funny. And not like an internet psycho.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Editing and Rapid City Memories

Tonight we worked on Editing. We edited Points and Lines and Polygons. It was fun. I liked making the shapes and moving them around and stuff. It was also a little window into the world of what is some probably some pretty tedious GIS work. editing data and making all these fussy little changes to make the data more accurate. Pete made it sound like in the GIS job world you might have to do some fussy editing, especially when you are new in the field.

Above is some editing we did. This is GIS data from Rapid City, SD. The upper section with the green lines was already done, and then we did the lower section with the blue lines. The blue lines represent parcels. For the outermost edges, we used the pavement edge layer as a guide. We drew in the shapes of the houses based on what we could see in the orthophoto layer, which is totally raster data.

At one point Mary said that I needed to say something funny so that she could get through the arduous book exercise which had something like 60 steps to follow. I consider myself funny, but, can't really do it on demand, it's generally a sort of topical, situational humor. Fortunately I was able to pull out of my ass something about her belt-sander-blog, and that worked. I think I better have some material prepared for the next class though.

I remembered being in Rapid City, and Mary asked what I did there and I told her that I did my laundry. I hadn't really thought about Rapid City in a long time, even in reference to that picaresque. But that memory of doing the laundry there really brought some old stuff back. It was 1985 and I was 21, and my vw van was 14, and we took 2 months and 12,000 miles, and somehow only $1100, to travel the US and southern Canada. Most of that trip was by myself. It was a significant, formative time for me. I think it was before Rapid City, I think it was Custer State Park in the Black Hills were I was camping. I was sort of lonely and felt ungrounded but couldn't put a name like that on the feeling at the time. One evening the sun was setting and the temperature was cooling and the light was beautiful orange on the the rocks. I was out wandering and climbing on some of the beautiful rocks. I got into the climbing around and jumping from rock to rock and stuff like that. I was climbing too high to not be on a rope. At one point I jumped from one rock to another and started to fall off the far side of the second rock. I was doing that swinging-the-arms-attempt-to-catch-my-balance thing. It worked and I didn't fall off the rock. That was a little bit of a wake up experience.

After my laundry was done in Rapid City, I went to a hot spring outside of town. There was a developed hot spring in the town, with water slides, and stuff. But a local pointed me to the wild one. It was full of a group of teenagers of a church group from Kansas. And that's about all I remember about that.