Here’s To The Next 15

Our cats Scout and Templeton in the picture window of the dining room of our house in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland, Oregon on August 12, 2007. Original: _MG_3623.cr2

Happy Birthday to Templeton! He turns 15 today.

I tried to get a nice picture of him but he wouldn’t pose for me, so I settled for a picture of both him and Scout sitting in our smaller picture window. I’ll try for a better picture later. He’s been hanging out in my office a lot lately, this weekend we’ve spent a lot of time cuddled up and purring. Well one of us was purring, the other was wishing he could.

Austen Powers

I’ve read two books by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (which I loved) and Emma (which I liked). I’m currently reading Sense and Sensibility — and it’s been a strange ride.

On the first page, of the first chapter, I wasn’t sure, but was fairly convinced, that, in all probability, Ms. Austen wrote with a lot, by which I mean an exceedingly large number, of commas. In fact, to be honest, while sitting there, on the train, on the way to Beaverton, I began to wonder, in my heart of hearts, if I could possibly, in any way, finish even the first few pages.

I decided to persevere in memory of Liz and Darcy.

I’m not sure if I got used to it, or if a severe comma shortage hit Britain and she was forced to conserve for the rest of the book, but thankfully I quickly found the rest of the book to be an easier read. But I still found the first half or so of the book to be a struggle — the plot just seemed like P&P and Emma all over again, and I almost stopped reading.

But something happened after the middle of the book and I really started to enjoy the book. In fact, on the way home on MAX on Friday night, I read the book even when I could have worked on my laptop (a sure sign that I’m enjoying a book). I laughed out loud at a number of points and was just really enjoying myself when the train finally pulled into Lloyd Center.

I’m not sure how much of that feeling I owe to the powers of Jane Austen’s writing, but I struggle enough with less happy feelings that I treasure those beautiful little moments on the mountain top.

Published
Categorized as Books

The Fruit of My Labors

When we moved here a few years ago, the backyard was ringed by grape vines. Underneath those grape vines, as tall as I am, were a jungle of weeds. That’s not an exaggeration, it was a mess. As I spent the summer(s) pulling up the weeds, I came across a few small strawberry plants on one side of the yard, either escapees or a mostly forgotten remnant of a previous garden. I decided to save the strawberry plants and they offered up the occasional berry, although the bugs and birds and slugs got most of them. When I removed the grapes, though, the strawberries came into their own. They got bigger and produced more fruit last year, and this year they’ve propagated quite a few new plants (several times what we had a couple of years ago), and the older plants are producing some absolutely delicious berries.

The coneflower bloomed like crazy although they’re drying out, so I’ve started watering them on occasion. I suppose I’ll have to divide one of them before next year as it’s just gone insane with several dozen big blossoms. It’s my favorite flower so I’m happy to see them thriving after they were moved to the backyard. I cut back some of the daisies, they were overrun with aphids in the early summer and didn’t look too good, but hopefully the new batch will fare better now that the invasion is past. Some of the roses are doing great and some are on death’s door, we’ll see how they do.

A hummingbird has visited the back each of the past two evenings, so I suppose I should put up the feeder. I need to get an ant guard for it but for now I’ll put it up without one as I’d like to attract the ferocious little birds. The hummer certainly got the attention of the cats right away, even more than the neighborhood squirrels.

And now it’s getting dark enough back here that it’s hard to see Templeton as he moves about the yard, so it’s time to head inside. Scout has enough white that she sticks out like a sore thumb, but Templeton can really disappear in the dim light when he wants to.

A Little White Wonder

It’s been over a month now since I went down to the Mac Store and traded in my beloved 15″ PowerBook for a 13.3″ MacBook. I had gone back and forth on whether to get a MacBook or MacBook Pro, eventually deciding to try out the MacBook and possibly upgrade to a Pro later on.

The Bad Things
For the most part, the things I don’t like and the things I like are what I expected.

The biggest negative (and one which caught me offguard) is that it takes a long time to recharge the battery if you’re actively using the laptop — especially if it’s something intensive like charging your iPod. I picked up the laptop shortly before a trip across the country, and as I sat there in the airport with the battery charging much more slowly than I was used to, at first I thought there was something wrong.

I don’t know if the issue is the lower power rating on the MacBook’s power supply (compared to the Pro charger), but it’s definitely something to watch for on long trips when you’re recharging in the middle of the airport.

Apart from that, though, the negatives have been what I expected. I definitely miss the nice metal feel of the PowerBook, and I miss the larger screen. The MacBook has the same horizontal resolution as the PowerBook with a little less vertical resolution, but I knew I’d prefer the higher res of the 15″ MacBook Pro.

The integrated graphics can’t play a modern game, but I was surprised to see in a quick trial that it seemed to play one of my old games just fine — and it was running in emulation under Rosetta! Granted it’s not much of a graphics challenge compared to a modern game, but it was much better than I was expecting.

So far, that’s it, not much to complain about.

The Things Almost Too Good To Be True
One of the reasons I went with the MacBook was to try out the glossy screen. I’ve heard photographers go on and on about the matte versus the glossy screens, but so far I think the glossy screen is fantastic. I was afraid reflections would be a problem, but I haven’t found that to be the case. It doesn’t calibrate as well as I’d like with software calibration, there’s some shades of orange or red that come out too intense, but my PowerBook wasn’t perfect in that department either.

What I really love about this screen is that you can use it outdoors, even on a bright sunny day. During the warmer months, I use my laptop outdoors more than I use it indoors, either riding the train to work or sitting out on the back porch. This was a real struggle with the PowerBook, but it’s a breeze with the screen on the MacBook — even with the screen not at full brightness.

If the sun is shining on the screen (unavoidable sometimes on the train), you can still read the screen just fine, which I was certainly not expecting. At one point the entire screen was covered in sunlight, and I could actually turn the backlight all the way off and still use the screen.

I can’t speak to how the modern matte screens of the MacBook Pros would do in a similar situation, but I’ve been amazed at how nice it is to use the little MacBook outdoors.

Another pleasant surprise is the wireless reception. My PowerBook really struggled to get a signal on our porch, you had to sit in just the right spot with the laptop at the right height and angle to even get a slow connection. The MacBook gets a nice strong signal out here, and it’s almost comical riding the train to work and seeing how many hotspots I can see now.

I’ve had problems in hotels before where the Powerbook could barely get a signal — at one hotel only the bathroom got even a weak signal, at another I had to sit in the corner by the bed. Sometimes you have to go into the hall or to the lobby, so the good reception of the MacBook is a welcome change.

Finally, there’s the speed.

Oh my goodness, the speed.

The PowerBook ran OS X just fine, but it really struggled to convert RAW images. I haven’t done exact timings but the MacBook is probably an order of magnitude faster. I haven’t seen this much of a speed jump in a couple of decades, it reminds me of my first PC when I upgraded from an Intel 8086 to a 386 and sat there with my jaw wide open at the difference in speed.

I use Adobe’s Camera Raw converter for most of my images, and the funny thing is it converts images so quickly that it has completely thrown off my timing. With the PowerBook, I’d batch up a few images and then switch to reading email or browsing the web. With the MacBook, it’s done right away so I don’t have an excuse for goofing off on the internet.

More Good Things
Based on the first versions of the MacBooks and MacBook Pros, I was worried about heat. My PowerBook already got hotter than I liked, especially during the summer months (we don’t have air conditioning), since I often use my laptop on my lap. So far, the MacBook seems to run a lot cooler than my PowerBook, at least in terms of the external temperature. We’ve had some really hot days this July so Apple, my thighs and I thank you.

I like the latchless lid, it’s not significant enough to impact the buying decision but it is a nice touch. More important is how easy it is to swap out the hard drive, the 120GB drive is fine for now, but the same 120GB wasn’t going to be enough on the MacBook Pro since I’d want to install a Windows partition and some games — and swapping the hard drive there is complicated enough that I’d pay someone to do it.

Another nice touch is the trackpad, I love the two fingered scrolling and right click — a couple of features that have been standard for a while on Apple’s laptops but which weren’t available on my PowerBook. Scrolling in particular is something I instantly fell in love with (once I realized it worked better with my middle finger and ring finger), and now I’m wondering how I ever got along without it.

I was a little worried about the keyboard on the Macbook but it hasn’t been an issue, I probably don’t like it quite as much as the old PowerBook keyboard but I like it just fine. What I do miss is the backlighting on the PowerBook, that was a nice touch.

Battery life is also a welcome improvement over the PowerBook (although the current 15″ Pros have the same battery life thanks to their LED backlights and Santa Rosa chipset — these will make the MacBook even better when Apple updates the MacBook down the road).

Finally, there’s the price. I don’t think Apple has ever had a laptop that is as good a value as the little MacBook. It might not sound like it from this post, but the PowerBook was by far my favorite computer I’ve ever had in over twenty years of using computers. It was my daily companion for over three years, and I would have kept it another three if it hadn’t been for the lack of speed.

The MacBook has big shoes to fill, but so far the honeymoon period hasn’t worn off like I would have expected. Back when I had my 12″ PowerBook, what I really wanted was a widescreen version, and the MacBook comes pretty close to that.

Now if it only came in an aluminum shell and with a dedicated graphics card …

Published
Categorized as Mac

The New Picasso

A drawing on my whiteboard at work announcing my trip to Wyoming in the fall of 2006

The art world is abuzz over the discovery of what many are calling This Generation’s Picasso.

I drew this on my whiteboard at work last fall to inform my group I was leaving for Yellowstone and the Tetons.

It’s OK to weep.

Finally

Our gray tuxedo cat Templeton sitting in the backyard

I’ve been spending money like a drunken sailor the past few days. The biggest purchases were a normal zoom for my camera (to replace the one that got smashed) and a laptop to replace my beloved but aging Powerbook.

The worst part has been deciding what to buy as my decisions changed on an almost daily (if not hourly) basis. I finally settled on Canon’s 17-55mm EF-S lens to replace the smashed 24-85mm lens and Apple’s 15″ MacBook Pro to replace my 15″ Powerbook. I went down last weekend to get the MacBook Pro but the store was out and didn’t get their shipment from Apple during the week. In the meantime I changed my mind and decided to get the regular MacBook instead of the Pro. If you’re reading this post faster than normal, it’s because it’s being written on my zoomy new white laptop instead of the old slower silver one.

And the lens? I changed my mind at the last minute on that one too and ordered Canon’s 24-105 L lens. That should be here on Tuesday (along with a circular polarizer, an 8 GB CF card, a remote release, an extension tube set, a card reader, a 2GB stick of memory for the MacBook, and a partridge in a pear tree).

Blame the drunken sailor.

And in case you’re wondering, the picture has nothing to do with this post, it’s just a picture of Templeton from last year that I finally got around to editing. He’s zonked out beside me at the moment but I’m sure he’d approve.

Call of The Gambeler

A Gambel's quail calls out at sunrise at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

My alarm clock rang at 4:00am and I was on the road a half hour later, heading south out of Albuquerque and towards Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, best known for the spectacular fly-ins and fly-outs of snow geese and sandhill cranes during the winter months. It was late spring and those birds were long gone, but it was my first visit to New Mexico and I wanted to at least get a feel for the refuge. Even if it wasn’t the prime time to visit, I hoped for a few surprises.

The dark sky lightened as the minutes and miles passed, with the sun threatening to rise as I pulled into the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center. There were no other cars in the lot and I knew the center would be closed, but I hoped to find some trail maps and refuge information. When I opened the car door, I was greeted by a primal call coming from up the hill. Another call came, and then another. I didn’t recognize the call, so I grabbed the camera with the big telephoto lens attached and headed up the steps and towards the calls.

I moved slowly but anxiously until I saw a wooden pole with signs pointing in various directions. In the dim light I could see its top was crowned with a carved bird in the shape of a quail. I was a little disappointed when I guessed the calls were just a recording and no more real than the carving, something to give visitors a taste of the birds of the refuge. I decided to return to the car and head out onto the refuge proper. Before I could take a step the supposedly carved quail raised its head and gave a loud call.

I continued into the little desert arboretum as other quail were calling around me. It was a delightful little moment, to go from not sure if I’d see much of anything that day to being surrounded and serenaded by these birds on their high perches. The sun peeked above the horizon and I found this male in a nice location and angle to the sun, and only had to wait for the sun’s rays to reach him and for him to make his call.

I didn’t have to wait long.

A later look at my bird book showed them to be Gambel’s quail, a species I had never seen before. But names didn’t matter for now. I stood alone and watched and listened, mesmerized by my welcome to Bosque.

Our Most Beautiful Protector

A male Williamson's sapsucker drills into a tree at the trailhead of the Cerro Grande Trail in Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos, New Mexico in May 2007. Original: _MG_7695.cr2

On our first trip to New Mexico, my wife and I spent our first day at Bandelier National Monument. Most of the day we wandered about the cliff dwellings built by the ancestral Pueblo, even putting aside our fear of heights to climb the wooden ladders to a kiva high in the cliffs.

We still had enough time at the end of the day to wander up to the western edge of the park and do a little hiking on the Cerro Grande trail. At the trailhead parking lot, this sapsucker flew up into a tree right next to the wooden fence. The tree was obviously a favorite as it had drilled a bunch of irregular holes on this side of the tree and a regular patchwork of squares on the other side.

It was my first time to ever see this sapsucker, a beautiful little jewel, and I was thrilled to be only a few feet away and watch it work the tree for sap. While we were watching, we heard a loud crashing sound a short ways away in the forest. As we looked up, a tree came crashing down across the trail ahead of us, unusual given the lack of wind. If we hadn’t stopped to watch the sapsucker we might have been on the trail when the tree came down, so this little bird became not only one of my favorite wildlife encounters from the trip but perhaps our most beautiful protector.

Feelings

Do you know that wonderful feeling when you wake up and realize it’s Saturday and you have the day to yourself? Do you know that miserable feeling when you realize it isn’t Saturday, it’s Friday, and you have to get up and go to work?

At least Scout climbed on top of me this morning when I woke up and tried to soften the blow.

Published
Categorized as General Tagged

Birthday Girl

A close-up of our cat Scout on her birthday in 2007

Happy Birthday to Miss Scout, who turns six years old today. I took this picture of the birthday girl this afternoon in our dining room.