Brian's Journal January-March, 2010

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01/01/2010 Showers w/ occ brief sunbreaks, high 40's
Started the year and the decade off right with a long run with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs at Adrian Call's First Call Marathon, a double out-and-back on the paved Sammammish River trail. I'd intended to run only the marathon distancebut overnight someone stole the cones Adrian had placed on the trail at the marathon turnaround point so we all ran another 1 1/2 miles to the 50K turnaround. I could have cut the second leg short but having already run half a 50K on the first leg I went ahead and did the full distance, my first 50K since Gray Rock back in July 2008. Heading out on the second leg I started getting a little stiff and sore so I took off my shoes at the turnaround and ran most of the way back barefoot. At 50F on the wet pavement and grass my feet weren't quite warm enough for comfort but with wind pants on they didn't quite go numb either.
I developed some stiffness in my lower left shin tendon during the race and it was a bit tender and swollen afterwards. Apparently that problem isn't yet resolved.
Though my time wasn't spectacular - I averaged 11:00/mile - the birding was pretty good. I counted 34 species which is respectable for a winter race.
01/04/2010 Rain (2.1" year to date), high 40's
We sent Daniel off to Spain for the second semester of his Junior year this morning at 7AM. Getting out of the house was a little hectic, as usual. Although he laid everything out on the living room floor yesterday, he didn't actually pack his backpack until this morning. He'd assumed that it would qualify as carry-on luggage but once he had everything packed, we discovered that it was too large and would have to be checked so he had to unpack again and we had to search for a smaller pack in which he could carry his camera, computer and papers. Mission accomplished at the cost of a 10 minute delay in our departure. Fortunately the airport wasn't crowded and he had no difficulty making his plane.
After that it was a slow day because none of us had much sleep last night.
01/05/2010 More rain, mid 40's
A good day to curl up in front of the computer, so I did.
01/06/2010 Yardbirds Mostly cloudy, low-mid 40's
One of the pleasures of a new year is starting a new annual yard bird list. I went out birding on the second and managed to find 26 species including 3 raptors - a sharpie, kestrel and redtail - and 6 sparrows, including one of the white-throated sparrows. Since then we've picked up another 7 species of which the highlight was a merlin flyover this morning. Both merlin and kestrel are tough to get here in the yard so we're off to a good start.
The weather was dry for a change, giving David and me an opportunity to get outside with our cameras. I've been itching to photograph some birds but on rainy days this time of year there just isn't enough light, or at least so I've been thinking.
01/07/2010 Increasing clouds, rain late, 50
Spectacular sunrise this morning, one of the few mornings recently that I've been up in time to see the sun rise though even this morning I was a little late for the best color.

In the past I've been reluctant to push the ISO above 500 but I'm finding that if I can get close to a bird, I can up the ISO to 1250 and even 1600 without much loss of quality as long as the images are sharp. That allows me to use sufficiently high shutter speeds to get away with hand- holding the 300 f4 even on dark days. In darker conditions I can drop the shutter speed as low as 1/60 and still get a few good shots by bracing the camera. Though the D300 produces quite a bit of noise at 1250 and above NeatImg cleans it up pretty well. The images at the top of this page were all shot at ISO 1250. The Towhee and Song Sparrow above under 1/5/2010 were shot at ISO 1250 as
Great Blue Heron
well. For the Downy Woodpecker I used 1/250 at f6.3, ISO 800, but I would have been much better off using ISO 1250 and opening the aperature up to f5 in order to use 1/500, since that shot (and the other half dozen I took of the same subject) all suffered from some degree of motion blur.
This afternoon Susan, David and I drove into Bellevue for lunch at a new (to us) Indian restaurant and a visit to the company store then Susan dropped us off at the Union Bay Natural Area while she returned some items at University Village. I'd hoped to find some birds to photograph but under a heavy overcast it was already beginning to get dark by the time we got out there. Then walking along the trail by the lake I spotted a rather tame heron and I got a shot to make the outing worthwhile. Susan liked this image, taken handheld at 1/400 f4.0, ISO 1600 with the 300 f4 lens. I accidentally had the exposure compensation set at -1.0 which increased the noise somewhat but no doubt increased my yield of usable images. This one is sharpened with noise reduction in NeatImg.
01/08/2010 Showers, mid 40's
House Finch
Purple Finch
Another gray day. Sometime around mid-morning Susan asked for help identifying some red birds at the feeder, so I went downstairs to check them out. I expected House Finches since we have a small flock around the house but to my surprise there were two Purple Finches under the feeder. Usually they're not around this time of year though I heard one overhead a few days ago and thought I saw a female at the feeder. At first I thought they might be Cassin's finches but I checked with Sibley and confirmed the id. I tried for photos but of course they flew off and didn't return until after I came back inside. Later though, I tried again and this time got a few shots from my blanket-blind. Very dark there behind the house, so both the House Finch and Purple Finch were shot at ISO 1600, f4.0 using my 300mm f4 lens at 1/200 and 1/80 respectively, so there's a bit of motion blur. On both I cleaned up some of the noise and did some sharpening with NeatImg. Viewing the photos, I finally realized that I can tell these two apart fairly easily by the reddish wash on the wings. The Purple Finch has it; the House Finch does not. In side by side photos the differences are readily apparent but when you see just one by itself outdoors it's not always as easy to tell them apart.
01/09/2010 Sabbath PC-high clouds, around 50. (1.9" rain in the guage)
Due to rain yesterday and last night the bottom of the driveway is flooded but by mid-morning the sun came out and the rest of the day was very nice, quiet and warm with quite a bit of sunshine. David and Nick went biking down in O'Grady in the afternoon and I got out for a late afternoon run, 6 miles of which I did 5 barefoot leaving the bottoms of my feet a little tender. My L AT tendon does not seem to be recovering well from the 50K; it was already a little tight within the first mile but didn't get any worse. Running barefoot doesn't seem to bother it much.
As we were getting ready to get ready to go to church, David succeeded in setting up a Skype connection with Daniel so we spent the next hour talking with him. He's settled in with his host family, a single mother and her daughter, and is loving Granada. He talked at length about the social life there. Apparently the Spanish spend alot of time out socializing with each other, often in tapas (sounded like "topless") bars where you order a beer and it comes with such a large quantity of appetizers (the tapas) that nobody gets drunk because they get too full first. He and his roommate Peter have been spending quite a bit of time just walking around the city, where they're able to pass as locals by speaking quietly in Spanish. Tourists, particularly the Americans, can be recognized because they speak with loud voices in languages other than Spanish.
Daniel himself has been speaking mostly in Spanish and is getting to the point where he doesn't need to mentally translate everything from English. He even found it somewhat difficult at first to speak English with us, and asked that we not talk together too frequently because it interrupts his immersion in Spanish. It was great to be able to see him as well as hear him. He looked pretty tired but that may have been due partly to the low-resolution connection.
David began building his new computer after lunch then finished it up in the evening after Cody, who just finished building his own system, came over to help him figure out where to plug in all the cables. His components (ASUS P7P55D-e Pro, i5-750, 2x2Gb GSkill Eco DDR3 1333, Sapphire Vapor-x 5770, Samsung Spinpoint F3 500Gb, Lian-li Lancool PC-K7) arrived yesterday and all worked the first time, or at least once David and Cody figured out how to plug them in.
Tail-less Northern Shrike
Golden-crowned Sparrow
01/10/2010 Dry, high 40's, increasing clouds late
Later in the afternoon David and I rode bikes over to 212th near 400th where a few days earlier I'd noticed that someone had printed "Zombie" on the blue flood escape route sign above where it says "Evacuation Route". David wanted to photograph the sign and I was hoping we might come across a hawk sitting on the telephone wires somewhere. No hawks but on our way home on 180th we flushed a tail-less Northern Shrike. Although I saw one back in December by 212th and 180th, browner than today's bird I think, and in posession of a full tail, they aren't common around here; if I've seen any others in the past few years I didn't record the sighting. The photo was taken with my D300 at ISO 1250 using a 300 f4 lens with 1.4x teleconverter, 1/640 at f5.6. I subsequently cropped it to 40% of original dimensions, reduced noise w/ Neatimg, increased contrast in Picasa and sharpened just the bird w/ Elements. The Golden-crowned Sparrow photo on the right was taken this morning in our back yard, 1/125 f4 with the 300f4 lens w/o teleconverter, ISO 1250 with noise reduction in Neatimg and a little sharpening of the bird's face in Elements.
01/11/2010 Wet, 0.7" rain in the guage
01/14/2010 Snowshoeing Wet, mild
A brief break in the weather was forecast for today but it arrived 8 hours early so by the time we set out for Crystal to go snowshoeing, light rain had already begun again. It's been consistently warm and wet recently and the usually snow-packed Crystal Mountain parking lot had just a half inch of new wet snow on top of bare gravel. We started up on snowpack consisting of a foot or two of granular snow saturated with water right down to the ground. The snow half way up to the ridge, though twice as deep and capped with a couple inches of sticky powder, was the same consistency. About that point the wind picked up and it began to snow so we tucked in under a dense fir tree and sat on bare ground to eat our lunch before continuing up the open slope. The wind was gusting to maybe 30mph sweeping clouds of mixed powder and granular snow into our faces as we labored up the hill. On all the hillsides around us the firs were still snow-covered; only on the slope we were climbing were the trees were bare and dark, their snow having been scoured off by the wind. Towards the crest of the ridge the powder was quite a bit deeper and the wind gusts more insistent so we worked our way into partial tree cover for some shelter. Attaining the ridge we were repeatedly enveloped in blowing snow but we lingered to knock off a few cornices and even managed to set off a couple small avalanches on the lee side. It would have been fun telemarking over there had I brought skis. We started down with less than a half hour to go until sunset, picking a route through the trees to avoid the wind. As we dropped into the valley just downwind of the big open slope we met three skiers. Like wild animals they emerged silently from a gray grove of snowy firs, looked us over briefly then fled down the slope, their turns far more graceful than our buttsliding descent. We regained the trail on the bend of the slope below the corniced ridge and followed it back to the parking lot at dusk.
Ascending after lunch
Near the ridge
On the ridge
Kicking cornices
The end of a slide
01/15/2010 Guacamole Wet and windy, 50F,
When we were at University Village last week I bought a molocajete at William's and Sonoma. A few years ago I picked one up at a Mexican store in Federal Way as a Chrismas present for Susan but it was apparently made of cement and we never used it. This one is the real article, a heavy bowl on three short legs, squat and rotund like a Pre-columbian figurine, ground out of somewhat porous gray volcanic stone dotted with small white feldspar crystals and accompanied by a stout fist-sized pestle enlarged at both ends like a basalt dumbell.
When we got home I prepped the molocajete according to Diane Kennedy's instructions in her book From My Mexican Kitchen, by grinding a handful of rice to powder, washing out the bowl and repeating until the rice no longer turned gray from basalt dust. After about three iterations both pestle and bowl were noticeably smoother.
Since then I've prepared two batches of guacamole in it. Using the molocajete lends a stone-age feel to an otherwise somewhat tedious food-prep task. As Diane Kennedy promised, grinding the ingredients in a molocajete gives the guacamole a superior flavor, and I have yet to encounter any sand in it. Nick joined us for a late lunch of chips, refried beans (with cumin and a touch of cinnamon added) and the guacamole. He pronounced it delicious and he's from San Antonio, so may be somewhat of an authority. On the other hand, he's David's age and is always hungry so would probably like guacamole however I prepared it.
01/18/2010 David back to school Sun w/ some high clouds, mid-50's; 1.1" rain in the guage
For the past week or so the weather pattern seems to have been gray rainy days with clearing at night, frustrating my plans to get out and photograph yardbirds. Last night was typical - overcast all day with rain in the afternoon, then after dark the clouds breaking up to reveal a deep black sky with bright stars - another beautiful sunny night. Today however broke the pattern and we had sunshine with mild temperatures most of the day.
I thought I might run in the morning before we took David back to school so I fixed breakfast, granola and soymilk with a pear, as soon as I got up then since the sky was bright, I grabbed the camera and headed out to enjoy breakfast in the blind by the bird feeder in hopes that the White-throated Sparrow would show up again. It didn't but I spent much of the morning in the blind anyhow and got a few decent photos, close up but nothing special. After awhile I got tired of the blind and just stood out by the feeder with the camera on a sandbag on top of the tripod. The juncos and purple finches were OK with that arrangement and soon flocked back to the ground under the feeder less than 6' from me. The white-flecked junco showed up too, the first time I've seen it in over a month.
Since I never made it out for a run I took my gym bag and hit the college track while David and Susan went out to lunch. I had a good workout, ran four 880's at 3:33-3:19 w/ 1 easy lap in between, then took off my shoes and ran two more fast ones with a slow lap in between. I ran the second barefoot 880 in 3:08, one of my fastest ever. Two years ago I ran a 3:07, and two years before that, a 6:18 mile which probably included a sub-3:08 half. I'm thinking that with some training I might even be able to break 3 minutes barefoot, and possibly even approach a 6 minute mile.
Speaking of fast, we saw a Peregrine Falcon stoop on a pigeon along the Tacoma waterfront between the grain elevators and Old Town as we were driving David back to school. It dove down behind an overpass where the pigeons were flying about but missed its target and sliced back up into the sunshine, its pale gray back and contrasting black and white head and face leaving no doubt about the id.
Pine Siskin under the feeder
01/20/2010 Dry, breezy, low 50's
After taking a few bird photos in the morning I drove over to Landsberg to remeasure the course for the Cedar River Yours Truly 50K this coming Sunday. I've cycled it and measured it using gmap-pedometer but I wanted to double-check it with my GPS. Both the revised gmap-pedometer measurement and the GPS placed the turnaround 50 yards or more beyond my former turnaround. Because in the past a few people thought the course was long I decided not to extend it and used the old turnaround again.
Lots of birds along Lake Wilderness, not very many along the Cedar River. Here's my bird list.
01/22/2010 Sun w/ some high clouds, mid-50's
Adult White-throated Sparrow
Juvenile White-throated Sparrow
I finally succeeded in getting photos of both of the White-throated Sparrows today. Although I've seen one or the other from time to time, they're a little more secretive than the juncos and Golden-crowns so I haven't been able to get decent photos. I also haven't seen them together so haven't been sure that both were still around. Studying the photos it's not hard to tell them apart. The one on the left is the adult, with black crown stripes, bright white eyestripe with a fat yellow patch in front of and over the eye and clear gray breast. The first-winter bird on the
Varied Thrush
right has brown mixed with black in the crown stripes, a dull white eyestripe with a narrow yellow wedge in front of the eye and more mottled gray on the breast with an indistinct central spot.
While I waiting in the feeder blind to get a good view of the White-throated Sparrow, a bright male Varied Thrush, the only one around this winter, came by. He is quite wary so I was fortunate to get a few shots without spooking him. He approached the feeder a couple more times while I was still in the blind but I wasn't able to get any more photos.
01/23/2010 Ovc, occ rain, mid 40's
I ran 50K today at Pigtail's Lake Youngs race. Lots of Maniac friends there, including Leslie whom I haven't seen in a while. We ran the last 20 miles together and I got caught up on how she's doing. She's excited about her work in a medical research lab and happy with her running.
Were it not for some stiffness and tenderness in my shin towards the end I'd have been able to run another hour or so. It was cold though; my gloves quickly became wet through so my hands were chilled for most of the race. Holding them in front of Van's propane heater during aid station stops really helped. I probably would have been more comfortable had I kept my rain pants on but having once taken them off, I didn't want to put them back on again.
Betsy and Marie finishing
Marie and Betsy warming up in the Element
01/24/2010 Cedar River Yours Truly 50K
Ovc, increasing rain, low 40's
I really enjoyed putting on the race today even though I didn't run. I didn't really start preparing yesterday afternoon until after sunset, mostly because I fell asleep for a couple hours after getting home from Pigtails' race. Getting everything ready and packing up the car took about 4 hours with the help of my packing list from last year. Were it not for making the chili, I could even have been in bed by 10PM. Susan and I worked together on the chili and finished it around midnight.
The race was to begin at 8AM and I was on time for a change. Except for a few early starters I sent everyone off at a few minutes after 8 under a thin overcast with hints of blue sky showing through. Then I packed up again and drove to the trail junction to mark it with flour and set up two 5-gallon jugs on a folding aluminum table for the aid station. Did the same at the turnaround except used a milk crate instead of the table, and left a package of Reese's mini peanut butter hearts that one of the runners had brought. They were a big hit so I'll have to do that again next time.
By late morning when the last few runners came in from the first lap the overcast had thickened considerably and soon after the last runner left, light rain began to fall. Pamela Wuest, who stopped at 25K and stayed around for some chili, helped me set up the canopy. I enjoyed her company but she began to get too cold and had to leave. Figuring I'd have an hour or so to myself I gave Dave Nichol a call but soon afterwards the first 50K runners began to show up and from then on I was busy serving chili and hot chocolate and visiting with the finishers. I appreciated the company, especially considering how cold and wet most of the runners were when they came in. Matt Hagen stayed the longest since he was waiting for Betsy to finish. Both of them ran 50K yesterday too.
Matt holding down the fort
Matt was a big help. He grabbed the canopy when a sudden gust of wind threatened to carry it away, then backed his Honda Element up to the tent to give us a dry place to sit and some shelter from the wind-blown rain. Even after Betsy and Marie came in they lingered another hour, the two women swaddled in blankets in the back of the Element. Not 10 minutes after they left Mel Preedy finished with a time of 7:51, depriving Monte of LPA (Last Place Again) honors by less than a minute. The stove kept going out towards the end but I managed to fire it up long enough to warm up the hot chocolate for Mel, who finished it along with a cup of still-warm chili. Monte helped me pack up and I was home by 5PM, in time for a long nap before supper.
01/30/2010 Ovc, occ light rain, high 40's
I was anxious and restless last night and didn't sleep well. Those are conditions condusive to remembering dreams and I did remember an interesting one.
I was driving along a freeway late in the afternoon and spotted an older green VW bug, not unlike the one I used to have during and after college, pulled over on the right shoulder so I pulled up behind it, as did another driver. Not expecting to be long I left the car running and the doors open while I walked up to the VW to investigate. Inside were two young men. One was somewhat threatening, possibly dangerous; the other seemed more neutral or at least less volatile. They wanted us to get into the VW with them but they weren't clear why. I thought maybe they meant to kidnap us but the other man, who'd stopped with me, had already climbed into the back seat of the VW and thought I should go along with them. He was friendly and seemed reasonable so I did as he suggested though I still thought it likely that the two men in the VW intended to harm us. They drove us a ways, maybe 10 miles, and we pulled up at a ramshackle old house surrounded by tall grass on a hilltop. It was getting dark but still light enough to see the green of the grass. I was still concerned about the intentions of the men in the VW but it turned out they were going to just leave us at the house. Concerned about our cars left back along the freeway, still running, I urged them to at least give us a ride back but they drove off and left us there. I considered running back to my car but it wasn't really feasible. I don't recall what happened after that.
I suspect the dream has something to do with a couple of interviews Jeff set up for me regarding a
2010 Yardbird #42 - Mourning Dove
fairly challenging SQL developer position he has open. It would be 6-12 months of full-time work - a big change from the past 6 months. The prospect of the interviews is intimidating but the position sounded like a good fit so I'm going for it.
A Mourning Dove that Susan spotted in the driveway late this afternoon was yardbird 42 for 2010, roughly half of the total number of species I'll see here by the end of the year. Its left wing was drooping and it had a streak of missing feathers across its shoulder, both possibly the result of a gunshot wound. I misjudged how tame it was and ended up flushing it while trying for photographs. It flew, apparently without any difficulty, across the street to the far edge of the neighbor's field.
01/31/2010 Snowshoeing at Crystal again Light rain early then partial clearing, around 50
Not much snow up at Crystal, perhaps even less than two weeks ago. On the drive up to the ski area the snow doesn't even begin until close to 4000' - no problem to park in the little pullout at the Norse Peak trailhead, though we continued on up to Lot C at the foot of the old ski slope. Monica came too, her first time on snowshoes and she did very well, following David and me up some steep terrain and sliding down an equally intimidating slope without hesitation. We followed Silver Creek (I think) up from the top of the Gold Hills chair, climbed up a very steep little gorge to attain a hanging valley then turned left up an indistinct but more or less open gully towards the ridge which runs S from Bullion Basin. We ran out of time after lunch so didn't quite reach the ridge and sunshine, traversing left instead and descending another gully which opened up into a narrow avalanched bowl which in turn dropped us back down to Silver Creek below the gorge. Based on the data from my HR monitor my total exertion for the four hour hike was comparable to running 18 miles.
I'm back at work at Microsoft this week. Though I'm not wild about the commute it's nice to feel productive again. Nick has accumulated a list of a half dozen enhancements to the application. We walked through them yesterday and they look pretty straightforward, probably about three weeks of work including testing and documentation. The application is working well for them as designed so they don't need major changes at this point.
I left early today to do the interviews that Jeff set up. The first interview, with a SQL developer named Neil, put me at ease and got me warmed up for the second interview with Tony. Neil and I chatted awhile then he asked me to diagram the model for the project I'm currently working on. We discussed some of the modeling issues I encountered on that relatively simple project and spent some time on the supertype/subtype modeling question. Overall we spent the bulk of the interview discussing data modeling. I think Neil probably should have asked me at least one tough SQL query question as well as some more specific questions about T-SQL coding; I recall conducting interviews like that in the past, and the difficulty of writing up feedback with insufficient information. The interview with Tony was almost all data modeling. He asked some very good questions well designed to evaluate the depth of my data modeling experience and level of familiarity with both physical and logical models. We also spent quite a bit of time on the variations of the supertype/subtype theme. Towards the end he seemed to relax and we discussed our general data modeling peeves and preferences. I was only expecting two interviews but Tony asked if I would meet briefly with Karl after we were done. I took that as a good sign. The interview with Karl was brief and to the point; he mostly asked whether I had experience with specific aspects of high-volume OLTP database design, programming and optimization and I mostly told him that I did not, but could learn. Although I think I'm probably in the running I expect they'll see candidates with deeper SQL development experience in the areas they're looking for. I drove home feeling satisfied that I did respectably well, whether or not I get chosen.
02/05/2010 Partly cloudy, brief shower, 37-54
Did a 28 mile bike ride this afternoon and a 16 mile run (5 barefoot) yesterday morning. I feel like I'm ready for another marathon but I'm only running a half this Sunday. The next marathon is on President's Day, a week from Monday after a half marathon next Saturday. I'd rather run than go to church but am keeping at least half my Saturdays open for church, even though we often don't make it.
This evening I attended the Friend's of St Thomas discussion group for the first time in several months. Interesting dynamic with mildly skeptical old men on one side of the room and on the other side, an young man, perhaps not yet 20, full of zeal for the truth and a care-worn woman with a warm faith in Jesus. The Pastor did a good job of moderating the discussion, drawing out our points of view while keeping the conversation both somewhat practical and more or less on our topic, whatever that was. Though I enjoyed the conversation, afterwards on the drive home I became discouraged again. Maybe it would be best to drop church entirely for a few years; after a break perhaps I could take up Adventism again with a fresh start.
02/07/2010 Geoduck Gallop, Nisqually Overcast, mid-40's
Peregrine high in cottonwood
Young Bald Eagles
Ring-necked Ducks
Male Hooded Merganser
Canada Geese
I ran the Geoduck Gallop Half Marathon in Olympia today, then on the way home we stopped at Nisqually NWR to try for some bird photos. David and his friend Val came along too. While I ran they ate breakfast at Sage's then found some ducks, including a beautiful male Wood Duck (is there any other kind of male Wood Duck?) at a lake near the Capitol. David borrowed my 300mm with the 1.4 converter and couldn't quite fit all of the Wood Duck in the frame. Though I didn't intend to, I ran the race fairly hard, 8:00/mile overall, despite not having brought any gels with me. I slowed down a bit for a few miles in the middle and ran with a woman named Elizabeth who's doing Boston for the first time this coming April, then rejuvenated, ran the next few at about 7:40 before having to slow down a bit for the last couple miles. My right arch has been a bit sore the last few days so I thought I might have trouble with it but everything felt fine during the race.
At Nisqually not much was happening in the woods but things picked up once we got out on the dike near the old barn. Several photographers with huge lenses on tripods were watching the action as Bald Eagles harassed each other out on the flats. The first guy we came up to pointed out a peregrine sitting high up in a cottonwood. He had an old Nikon 600mm f4 which he said wasn't very sharp, not as good as the 500 f4 in his opinion. He was waiting for a Kestrel which had been perched on top of the nearest snag to return to its perch. After chatting with him for a while I
Common Goldeneye, Tacoma waterfront
stopped to visit with another photographer, this one with the 500 f4 on a tripod. He was using it to photograph distant eagles on perches, and also carrying a D700 with the 300 f4 and 1.4 TC for birds in flight. His tripod was a Gitzo Series 3 w/ Wimberly 2 head. Nice to see this stuff in action. We both took photos of the same eagle because I wanted to compare my D300 with his D700 - his shots were considerably sharper; I'm not sure why. On the way back we got some good close-up views of a pair of Hooded Mergansers and several male Ring-necked Ducks. Turns out the latter actually have a brown ring around their neck; I've never been close enough to notice it before. The duck photos made the day for me.
As I was driving along the Tacoma waterfront after dropping David and Val off, the sun finally burned through the overcast and lit up the paper mill across the bay. It was a striking scene - white columns of steam rising into the steel gray sky with a bright rainbow arching over it all. I
turned off down to the waterfront, parked the car, switched lenses and ran back up the bridge but unfortunately the rainbow had nearly faded away, and I overexposed the shots anyhow. But some gulls
were eating starfish on the rocks below a little park down there, so I switched lenses again and photographed the gulls. That was fun, especially when a couple showed up with bread for the birds. In a few minutes I had all the gulls I could wish for, flying, perching, squabbling. It was fun.
02/08/2010 Sunny, near 50
Jeff called to tell me I didn't get the job; they found someone with more specific ERP and CRM experience. I wasn't particularly disappointed; though I would like another month or two of work, ten to twelve months might be too much of a good thing. Meanwhile I had a productive day at Microsoft - designed the tables for the binary-source mapping and wrote several procedures for listing excluded files by name or subdirectory. Writing good code is very satisfying.
02/11/2010 Ovc w/ rain later, 57-47
It's been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster the past couple of days with the job offer. Jeff called yesterday afternoon to tell me that their first candidate had fallen through and I was effectively second in line. I'd been comfortable with not getting the job in the first place but it was gratifying to hear that I was chosen for the position after all and I began to get excited about the prospect of digging into a challenging assignment. And nervous about it again too. The job would mean missing out on the Southwest w/ David during spring break and Europe with the family this summer; though Susan would still go with David she was particularly disappointed about not returning together on the QM2. On the other hand, the income would enable us to get started on the major remodel Susan has been thinking about for some time in addition to paying for some toys for me.
So today I went in to meet with the data modeler with whom I'd be working closely for the next several months and to have lunch w/ Jeff to discuss details of time off and such. The meeting with Lisa went reasonably well; she explained portions of the conceptual model and we discussed some of the issues she's still researching; though alot was new to me it didn't seem like anything I couldn't get a handle on. As it turned out though, she was looking for someone who could bring the perspective of having done something similar for another organization, which I can't provide. Jeff called this afternoon to tell me that they've decided to look for someone else. Though I did expect to get the job I'm not too surprised; that was the same concern they had before and nothing has changed. Jeff was pretty apologetic for how the whole thing had gone, and I'd probably feel the same way in his position but I tried to reassure him that I was neither surprised nor particularly disappointed, given the sacrifices I'd have to make to take the position. On the way home I actually felt strangely energized by this whole situation, inspired to take advantage of the unexpected gift of the year I might have spent working for Jeff to do some things I've been just getting started on - painting, fixing up the house, learning .NET, getting deeper into SQL Server. Now too I can move ahead with the Maniacs work, a couple of months of redevelopment of the website which perhaps I'll tackle in .NET the way I should have when I first did it a couple of years ago.
Took another passport picture of Susan this afternoon. This wasn't the one we ended up using (her eyes aren't horizontal) but I thought it was a nice photo of her nonetheless. The daffodils and hyacinths are blooming already along the front walk, relatively early I think.
It looks as though David and I really are going to go on our trip to Arizona for his spring break. I've reserved a spot for us to tour Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park on Sunday morning, to dayhike Coyote Buttes South on Monday and to backpack into Pariah Canyon on Tuesday. I've spent hours developing multiple itineraries for the trip which vary according to if/when we are able to obtain a permit for Coyote Buttes North via the morning lottery at the Pariah Ranger Station. I'd like to do Coyote Buttes North, lower Antelope Canyon, Water Holes Canyon and the overnight backpack in Pariah Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, all between Tuesday morning and Friday noon when we have to head home in time to get to the CWA auction on Saturday evening. The trick will be getting the CBN permit, and if we don't get it on Monday morning, arranging to be at the BLM ranger station at 8:30AM on subsequent mornings to try again.
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Fox Sparrow
Piebald Junco
Young House Finch
The photo gear I ordered for the trip has all arrived as well. I took it out for a spin in the back yard today. The tripod with the ballhead really makes a difference with the 300 f4; even at a 500th of a second the shots from the tripod are detectably sharper than resting the camera/lens on a sandbag as I was doing before. I'm using the Kirk bracket on the lens and the L-bracket for the camera. They snap instantly in and out of the ballhead; I'm very glad now that I paid the extra $20 for the quick release version. The ballhead not only holds the camera steady but also seems to dampen vibration from the shutter release. My only concern is that the tripod-ballhead combination is a bit large to fit in my pack and seems a little heavy to carry around all day, but I won't know for sure until I spend a day in the field with it, perhaps in Buckskin Gulch. Regarding the bird photos, I sharpened all but the house finch in Elements to compensate for the blurring caused by shrinking the originals. Might have overdone it a bit behind the Nuthatch's eye. The junco is the second leukistic one we've had around the feeder this winter. The house finch, a young male from last summer, has a bad left eye and a few feathers stuck in his left foot, perhaps from scratching the eye.
Waxed and ready to go
Waxed the Subaru today in preparation for our trip. The New Subaru that is. Three days ago I took the old one into the shop because it's been running a little warm, and found out that it has a leaking head gasket. No telling how many miles before it blows out completely, but it will take 3-5 days in the shop to get it fixed, and we didn't have 3-5 days before we were to leave on our trip. Susan has been urging me to buy a new car this spring while prices are relatively low, and so we can hand the old one down to the boys to use at school. I was figuring on running the old one for another year but rather than cancel our trip, we bought a new car. We did consider taking the van but I didn't want to risk Susan getting stranded in the Subaru, and we'll probably need all-wheel drive to get to at least one of the trailheads on our trip. Matt's Honda Element impressed me at the YT50K back in January so we went that evening and tried out an Element. Not a bad car - I liked that the cargo area was big enough for me to sleep in, and it does have AWD. The finish seemed a little spare, and I wanted to at least take a look at the current model Forester and maybe the CRV or RAV4 as well. The next afternoon I test drove a 2010 Forester. It's a little bigger than mine and lo and behold, I would be able to sleep in it with the back seats down. I liked the ground clearance too, an inch more than either my old Forester or the Element. Mileage comparable to the Element, better than my old Forester or the Toyota SUV's, and price alot lower than the hybrid Highlander that we looked at a couple months ago. So Wednesday evening Susan and I set out to buy a Subaru. I looked at prices on the Internet and followed up with two dealers, Mike Scarff Subaru in Auburn and Bruce Titus Tacoma Subaru, who both had the model and color I wanted. Both were offering the same price too, just over 24K. We had already pulled into the parking lot at the Auburn dealership when I called Titus to let them know we had decided on Auburn. Over the phone the Titus salesman took another $300 off the price so we turned around and drove to Tacoma instead. I tried paying with a credit card but neither dealer would do that but they settled for a post-dated check and we drove home (via a celebratory dinner at Stanley and Seaforts) with a new red Subaru. An unwaxed Subaru as it turned out, so I did that myself today for considerably less than $300.

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