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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Two Good Tuesdays

After a couple of Tuesdays without a dedicated Good News Tuesday, it is about time for another edition.

I ran across the first one today, but the story is from last week. It is a story of how people from all over the world heard about a family in need of financial help to keep their house. They needed $10,000 (US Dollars) in 2 weeks to keep their house from foreclosure. That was their financial situation after mechanical problems, health problems, job loss and an unexpected pregnancy. A friend posted an entry on her blog about the families situation and word spread. Read the story for a great tale of Christmas spirit.

I read another story about some folks that anonymously paid off layaway items for some Sears customers before Christmas. I think this another great story because the donors are not doing this for publicity, but just to help some people have a little better Christmas. They chose to payoff necessities like children's clothes, shoes and even some toys. Read the story here.

Like I've said before, there is enough negative news going around. Let's take a few minutes to remind ourselves that there is still some good left in the world and try and think of ways we can add to the good to make the bad a little less bad.

Please leave your comments with any good news stories you have heard or seen. Also, mention any suggestions for what you think people could do to make the world a better place.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

TILT (Things I like Thursday) - Christmas edition!

OK, I saw this on someone else's blog so I thought I would use it once in a while. Except she said things she loves whereas I am setting the bar a bit lower. They only need to be things I like to be included in my TILT.

Rainy Days Living in a desert, we don't get a lot of them, so we tend to enjoy them more when we do get them. One of the things I like about them is when you get a rainbow the rain.
rainbow

Since this is Christmas Day (Thursday), I would be remiss if I did not wish you a Merry Christmas. That does not mean that you need to be a Christian (much of a typical modern Christmas celebration has nothing to do with church, religion or Christ) and I wish you an equally Merry Christmas if you are Jewish, agnostic or a follower of any other religion. We can discuss the merits and flaws of different religions another time. For today, lets keep Peace on Earth and Goodwill on the Internet.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Typealyzer

OK, you can blame Nettie for this, but of course, she will pass the blame on to someone else. As long as we don't need to take accountability for our own actions, then everything is ok. Right?

Typealyzer analyzes your personality based on your writing. Here's what it said about me after it looked at my blog. Seems pretty accurate to me, especially the part about starting something new and not following through. The brain picture really is almost identical to one I got after taking a much more complete personality test. Maybe even stranger is that after listening to a few songs by the "Artist you might enjoy", I actually think it does sound like something I could get into.

ESTP - The Doers

The active and play-ful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Perfection

I just read this blog post about perfection and really liked it. No, I usually do not beat myself up over perfection in most areas of my life. The bed does not need to be perfect when I make it in the morning (and if I'm in a hurry and it does not get made, I don't spend the day worrying about it). The Sunday newspaper can be on the couch next to my seat past Wednesday without giving me an ulcer. I can write an email and not worry that the grammar police are issuing a warrant for my arrest. When I do my work, it is important for me to do what is needed to keep my employer in business. That does not always mean the best database design or the most efficient SQL, and I have to be ok with that.

When I work on my photography though, I tend to put a lot more effort into making things look the way that I feel is professional. Sometimes that means I delete a picture that is 95% great. Other times that means that I spend way too many hours getting it from 95% great to 99% great. There will always be something I think I need to do to "finish" one of my better photographs and I have to allow myself to accept that sometimes that is what makes my pictures special.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Gun Show

I spent Saturday with my oldest son, my Dad and a long-time friend of my Dad's. We started off the day by going to the gun show. It had been a few years since we had been to a gun show, so we headed out to the State Fairgrounds to see what there was.

More photos at Flowing Desert Photography

There was a lot of people with the same idea.
More photos at Flowing Desert Photography


There has been some speculation that a Democrat in the White House would be likely to try and make changes to restrict gun freedoms. I think Obama winning the election has spurred a lot of people to hedge their bets and consider buying a gun (or another one) as well as some extra ammunition. This is probably a good idea within limits as firearms have typically been a good value holder, and if gun laws get tightened much, some types of weapons might see a tremendous price jump.

We weren't looking for any new guns, just wishful thinking. Window shopping was all my budget could handle. There was a lot to see and a lot of people that wanted to see it. There were some very neat guns, including antiques, some with price tags as high as $65,000. As far as the guns for ordinary people, I didn't see anything with a price that would have tempted me. In talking with other people, the general consensus was that since the election, prices have gone up on guns and this gun show was reflective of that.

After a few hours of walking around, we started to get hungry. Fortunately, my Dad was prepared so we headed out to his truck. He had hamburger patties and a gas grill which we fired up in the truck bed. Pretty much everyone that walked by was jealous, but we enjoyed it.

Afterwords, we decided we had had enough of the gun show for the day and decided to head over to the range and fire a few rounds. Unfortunately, the first range we went to was already closed. The second one we went to had a line of people. They said the wait was about 40 minutes, but it ended up being over an hour and a half. My Dad's friend couldn't wait any longer so my Dad dropped him off while my son and I started shooting.

We had fun shooting several of our guns, but when the guy in the next lane started shooting an HK MP5 in Full Auto mode, my sons eyes got huge. He noticed and offered to let my son shoot it. He had the Range Safety Officer show him how to use it. My son shot a couple rounds in single shot mode and then switched it to full auto and emptied the remaining shots with a few trigger pulls. He also let us shoot a high end handgun he had with him that was very nice.

All-in-all, it was a great day. Stay tuned for the photography blog on this day coming soon.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Holiday Meme

Copied this from some friends blogs. If you play along, mention it in a comment here.

1 Wrapping paper or gift bags? I prefer wrapping paper unless I need to wrap it.
2 Real tree or Artificial? Fake
3 When do you put up the tree? Usually a day or two after Thanksgiving.
4 When do you take the tree down? New Years Day usually.
5 Do you like eggnog? Yup. Sometimes with a bit of Rum if I'm not driving.
6 Favorite gift received as a child? I got so many great gifts, it is hard to pick. Probably the Atari video game system the year we got that.
7 Hardest person to buy for? My oldest son.
8 Easiest person to buy for? My sister.
9 Do you have a nativity scene? A nice wooden one we got when the boys were little and they could play with it.
10 Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail. (I don't read ANY email cards unless I am expecting them and they are attachments I can download and scan. I can't stand getting eCard links and that will earn you a spot on my naughty list.
11 Worst Christmas gift you ever received? More than one, but the thought behind them all are what is important.
12 Favorite Christmas Movie? Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer
13 When do you start shopping for Christmas? the 24th? Sometimes I do it early (the 23rd) Fortunately, my wonderful wife usually handles most of this job.
14 Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? ReGifted? I think so.
15 Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? frosted sugar cutout cookies
16 Lights on the tree? yes, but not too many
17 Favorite Christmas song? religious- Silent Night, Holy Night (esp at a candle light service), secular- I want a hippopotamus for Christmas (or Chipmunks, or the Adam Sandler one)
18 Travel at Christmas or stay home? usually in town (any relatives outside of town live in cold places)
19 Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer? Nope, pretty much only Rudolph.
20 Angel on the tree top or a star? Angel
21 Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Usually 1 on Christmas Eve, the rest Christmas morning.
22 Most annoying thing about this time of the year? crowds at stores
23 Favorite ornament theme or color? nope.
24 Favorite for Christmas dinner? Honeybaked ham, sweet potatoes
25 What do you want for Christmas this year? health in my family

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Internet Development Skills

Many, many years ago, soon after Al Gore finished creating the first release of the internet, I made a few web pages. Nothing fancy, just some text and pictures to prove I could do it.

About a year later, I was in a new job and was responsible for our corporate network. As a result, I learned about configuring routers and understanding more about the technologies to access the internet from a corporate network.

At my next job a few years later, part of my job was taking care of the servers that maintained my employer's DNS information. That put me in close contact with some of the core operations of the internet.

Other than those periods of time, my experience with the internet has been mostly as an end-user. I surf, I email, I game. From time-to-time, I would also dabble in looking up information with a "whois lookup" to find out who was behind a web site, but usually I have been away from the infrastructure of the internet for about 8 years.

Having recently registered a domain for my budding photography business (Flowing Desert Photography, feel free to stop by and say "hi") I wanted to have a bit more flexibility and control over what I used on my domain. The answer I decided to go with is to move my picture galleries to a subdomain (photos.FlowingDesert.com) and use the main domain (FlowingDesert.com) as a main home page for my photography business. I also decided to start a dedicated Photo Blog using another subdomain (blog.FlowingDesert.com) that would be accessible from the main home page.

Once I had the action plan of what I wanted it to look like, I then needed to figure out what I needed to do to implement it. Setting up the subdomains was pretty easy once I had figured out that was the way I should go. Pointing the subdomains to the right places -- the blog subdomain to blogger and the photos subdomain to smugmug -- was a bit trickier. With some help from my hosting tech support and a few online searches along with a little patience (it is not an instant change) I finally got things all pointed in the right direction this past weekend.

I am satisfied with the first release, but have a list of things that I want to do to enhance the design and content. Feel free to take a look at FlowingDesert.com and either leave comments on the blog over there or on this blog (I still plan on keeping this blog alive with non-photo stuff) or shoot me an email with any comments. Graphic design is NOT my strong suit so this will be a slow process as I try to figure out how to add an image to the background of the page and make other elements transparent in addition to updating with interesting content on a regular basis to hopefully keep your interest.

Thanks for stopping by. If you like what you see, be sure and tell a friend or a comment. Better yet, do both!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Now that is good photography

Ironman is a hard event. Ironman requires intense training in multiple disciplines including biking.



Look closer and you will see that this guy is multi-tasking. While biking, he is also spitting?



Of course. Every serious biker knows that you need a way to clear your nose and/or throat from time to time without losing speed.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

More Arizona Ironman Pictures

Grant Baird has a great website about triathlon. He has pieces of information on many of the racers and races. He either takes the pictures himself or finds other photographers willing to share some shots. He has featured a bunch of shots from several different photographers for Ironman Arizona last weekend including about 5 of mine. Take a look at his IMAZ November page and see some great shots.

It is always fun to watch the professionals, especially when you see the leaders really moving by. At this point, Joanna Zeiger was only about 13 minutes behind the lead men by my watch.

zeiger, joanna, 67, ironman, imaz, arizona, tempe

Feel free to drop by Flowing Desert Photography and see more of my pictures. If you like what you see, please feel free to rate your favorite pictures (at least a quick thumbs up is appreciated) and tell your friends about it.

Thanks.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thoughts on Life and Running

I am a runner. That is not the only thing or even the most important thing about me, but I fall into the runner category rather than the non-runner category. Or at least I do now. 4 years ago, I was most definitely NOT a runner. Since I am pretty new to running, sometimes I make discoveries that seem profound. Like one evening some time ago.

My schedule called for a 6 mile run. That was not a particularly long run given my fitness level at the time, but it is more challenging than a 30 minute "easy" run. I always try to stick to my schedule, since I have created the schedule with a goal in mind and each training event is a step closer to that goal. When I miss a goal, that can make the next step that much harder and easier to fall completely off the schedule.

This night, after about 20 minutes or so, my stomach started to give me trouble. Not just the usual "I might have eaten a bit too much at lunch" kind of rumble I get from time to time, but more of a "I think I might lose my lunch, breakfast and anything else I even thought about eating" kind of upset. The last time my stomach was that upset was when I tried out a new flavor sports drink for the first time during a marathon. Owww!

I kept my pace a bit easier than I had planned and kept going. As I got closer to home, I realized I was approaching a crossroads. I could turn right and be home in about 5 minutes, but that would leave me about a mile short of my goal. In terms of my overall schedule, that would not be a major setback and would probably not hurt my training in any measurable way. But mentally, I felt that I needed to push myself at least a little more so I turned left.

Every step I took was 1 step away from home, but I said "just to the first streetlight, that's not too far". When I reached that light I said, "just to that park a block away, then you can turn around and go home". Each time I pushed myself to go just a little further, I felt a victory and that lead me to push further.

When I had gone 1/2 mile past the crossroads, I turned around and headed for home. Then I realized that every step I had taken away from home was actually 2 steps closer to my goal! I finished my run that night having met 100% of my distance goal, but perhaps more importantly, I had accomplished more mental training than I had set out to accomplish.

The more I thought about that run, the more I realized that in many ways, running is like living a Christian life. Sometimes, doing what Christ calls us to do is a bit uncomfortable. But every time we do something that moves us toward out Heavenly Father, even though we feel like we are going away from home, we are making progress towards out eternal reward. So the next time you are faced with the choice to just shrug off an off-color joke, or pass along some juicy gossip, or anything else the world sees as normal, consider whether the discomfort from appearing different is in fact training you for a bigger goal.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

2008 IMAZ November Edition

Well, April of last year I volunteered at IMAZ. I rode my motorcycle on the course in front of the lead male rider. It was a tiring day and I didn't have to pedal.

When April 2008 rolled around, it was my turn. I had done my training, established realistic goals and was ready. I had a tiring, but fun and successful day. I was proud to have finished my first Ironman, especially given the very hot conditions that resulted is one of the highest DNF rates of any Ironman in North America.

The organizers of the race decided to move it to November to try for better weather conditions. This weekend was the first of the new "Fall Edition" of IMAZ and I decided to head out with my camera to see Ironman from a new perspective.

Some of the highlights included seeing the lead bikes racing out of transition and getting a picture of the guy who finished the swim in first place and the bike in second place:
Ironman photography KIERAN DOE bike

Watching these athletes fly by on their bikes was both humbling and motivating.

imaz; nov; november;

While I will never compete with the pro's, I know that I could complete an Ironman faster than I did in my first one. It would require training. I would like to dedicate that much time and effort to making another run at IM and chopping some time off of my PR, but this is just not a great time for me.

Actually, there is never a great time for taking up a hobby that will require 20 hours a week and an endless store of support and patience from your loved ones, it is just something that you need to prioritize in order to do it. And right now, I am just not willing to prioritize IM above other things I enjoy (photography being a big one) and the other jobs that I have (dad, husband, etc) again. It was a great experience and I had the full support of my family, but I am not ready to make the commitment again (yet).

I will be continuing to work on pictures from this race and will be updating them on the Flowing Desert Photography site in the IMAZ 2008 November Gallery. Feel free to drop by and let me know which pictures you like with a "thumbs-up" or a comment. I am adding race numbers when they are legible, so if you know someone that did this race, try using the search field at the top of any page for their race number.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Pictures

I set out very early this morning to get some shooting done. I had heard about a place where I had a good chance to see some wild horses around sunrise. I left the house around 5:30 in the morning and drove out by the river.

It was starting to get a bit light by the time I got there and started to walk down to the river. I saw lots of evidence of horses like this on the road:

More pictures at Flowing Desert Photography


That one belongs in the "not my job" category.

Down at the river, I watched the sun rise over Red Mountain.

Red Mountain, river, sunrise, dawn

I also got some neat cactii pictures, but I haven't finished cleaning them up yet so I'll show them off another day. I've got a busy day planned for tomorrow. I'm going to go shoot another triathlon. Ironman Arizona is in town for a second time this year. Last year, I volunteered. This spring, I raced. Now I will photograph it. I guess that makes me a well rounded Ironman. I will try to get those pictures up by Tuesday, at least the first batch of them.

TV makes you sad

I just read that Unhappy People Watch More TV.

Cause and Effect.

Is this because happier people find other things to do than watch tv or because people that watch tv get depressed from all the negative garbage that can be found there? Or maybe a combination. I wonder if someone only watched positive and upbeat shows if they would still be less happy than someone that watched less tv?

The thoughts of other armchair shrinks is welcome in the comments.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Running Rules

I first heard about the rules of running when my oldest son and I started training for our first HM with Team Diabetes. The ones that stand out most for me are:

1. The 10% rule. Don't increase distance of your longest run or total weekly mileage by more than 10% a week.

2. Change your shoes when needed (300-500 miles or new soreness).

shoes running triathlon run race

3. Stretch and warm-up before running, especially before speedwork.

4. Stepback or recovery weeks are necessary for improvement.

There were more and I'm sure if Coach Dave sees this he'll remind me, but following these rules took me successfully to my first half marathon, then to my first marathon, then to my first Half-Ironman and finally to my first full Ironman. By successful, I mean that I completed those distances on my first try and without any significant injury. Learning what soreness to look out for almost stopped my first marathon attempt, but new shoes and a few days of rest and ice kept me in the game. I did all that in about 3 years while losing over 60 pounds. These rules work.

I just found out about some other commandments. These seem to me to be a great compliment to the above 4 rules. The 4 rules are mainly intended to keep runners from getting hurt and joining the "I used to run" club. The commandments appear to be as much about promoting social harmony (#'s 1, 4 and 7) as motivational (#2, 5 and 11) as well as practical (#8, 33 and 34).

Interested in the commandments? Head over to Frayed Laces and check them out.

For the record, I think #10 and 25 are my favorites. What are yours? Leave a comment with your favorites or any others you thing should be included.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Half Full or Half Empty?

Half Full:

100% of the votes in last weeks poll about making regular "good news" post every week said YES!

Half Empty:
There were only 2 votes.

So am I an optimist (half full) or a pessimist (half empty) kind of guy? Well, I like to think of myself as an optimist, but in this case, I am going to choose a middle ground. I will not commit to posting a dedicated blog every week about a positive story, but I will post a dedicated blog about positive stories every time I find one. I know there are positive stories all around. With just a little searching, I found this one:

Woman buys foreclosed home for stranger.

And talking about this next one always chokes me up a bit. You see, my youngest son was born with a cleft lip and pallet and while we are blessed to have had good insurance and were led to a great surgeon, many people do not have that chance. Operation Smile goes around the world donating the medical care needed to provide many kids with the surgery they need to have a normal smile. We realized that there is a bigger plan when we found out our son's surgeon had been to Ecuador several times with them. (for those that don't read here regularly, I was raised in Ecuador)

So when you hear someone talking about the economic troubles, the housing market collapse or any other negative news, tell them there are positive stories out there. Suggest they drop by here and then find somewhere they can help to make something good happen. There are needs all around, from radios for firefighters to christmas cookies for soldiers, to simply buying someone in need a breakfast sandwich or some groceries.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Backyard Discovery

Last night, my wife told me the dog was acting strange when she went out to say hi to him. I went out to check on him and brought a flashlight to see if there was anything amiss in the yard. Dog was fine but here is what I saw:

backyard

Do you see it? Almost dead center in the picture, in the rocks, you might see a little critter. Here is a better shot of him:

burrowing owl night animal AZ Arizona

He was amazingly slow to react to my presence and the dog was strangely either unaware of him or uninterested in him. That was out of character since the dog is part Border Collie and Labrador Retriever and typically does not allow any winged creature to land in his yard and will usually chase birds (and planes sometimes) just flying by.

After a few pictures as I got closer and closer, the owl flew to the fence and then the dog finally decided to bark at him and he left for the night.

After a bit of research, I think he was a burrowing owl, but I would be happy to hear any other ideas as I am not an exterienced bird watcher.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Sedona and Crown King Pics

Here are a few more of the shots that I took this past weekend. Hope you like them.

They call this mountain King Kong. Do you see why?

King Kong Sedona Arizona mountain

The pillars just make you wonder why they are still standing when the rest of the valley eroded over time.

pillars Sedona Arizona mountain

Visit my photography site for more pictures from this trip and others.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two Good Tuesdays

The news is all too often negative and it sometimes seems like there is not a whole lot of good left in the world. The only purpose for today's entry is only to point out a few of the good people out there trying to make a difference. The neat thing is that I consider both of these people friends as we are fellow members of a close-knit online running community called the 30-something's. Lucky for me they don't enforce the 30's part of the group.

Case Number 1
Larry is a volunteer firefighter. That makes him an example of good people right there by being willing to take personal risks to save others. That is not all. Larry is raising money to support his volunteer fire department department. That's right, he not only does NOT get paid to be a firefighter, but he is raising money to meet a need his department has. They do not currently have enough radios for each firefighter and that can pose a safety risk if all firefighters do not get a message in time or are not able to radio for help. Larry is running 4 marathons in 4 months to support this cause. Here is a clip about him from the news:



Case Number 2
Maureen is another friend that is running for a cause. Later this month she is running the Philadelphia Half Marathon. The cause she is running for is a great one. Back on My Feet is an organization that helps the homeless learn important life skills and self sufficiency through running, as well as working with partner organizations for job training, educational opportunities and housing expenses.

So if are sick of all the negative news stories you are hearing these days, here is your chance to help some folks that are a positive influence in their communities and help spread some good news. You can spread these good stories to you friends and if you can help these folks out, feel free to do so. Even a $5 or $10 donation will make a difference:

Larry's fund raising page.

Maureen's fund raising page.

I know there are more positive stories out there. Please share yours in the comments here so other people can be encouraged by good things happening in the world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Day Trippers

The family decided this past Saturday was a good day for a road trip. We packed a lunch and when everyone was ready, grabbed our cameras, jumped in the car and took aim on Sedona.

Partway up there, we decided to take a detour and head to Crown King. The last time I was there was several years ago and we had taken the back way up. That is a 4-wheel drive only way, so we took the "road" in. It was a bit slow going at times, with progress hindered by the road (bad in some places and only one car wide in others) as well as my willingness to stop anytime I saw something I wanted to get a picture of, even if it was just an old stone house.

More photos at Flowing Desert Photography

There were a few places where I really wished we still had the Durango so we could have gone to Sedona the rest of the way instead of back-tracking after our stop in Crown King to get some fudge.

As we got to Sedona, we stopped for the mandatory pictures at all of the scenic overlooks. Bell Rock was the first
More photos at Flowing Desert Photography


Several members of my family were willing to pose for a few shots. Including my wonderful wife:
More photos at Flowing Desert Photography


And my youngest also was willing to strike a pose:


After getting some shopping in, we drove around a bit more and found some nice views of the rocks light up with a great sunset, so I spent some more time with the camera out. (still doing some processing work on them) Then we stopped for a bite to eat. On the way home, we made a few more stops for some additional pictures. The starts were so bright up there that it was hard not to stay for a few more hours of shooting, but we had a bit of a drive to get home and a somewhat early morning to get to church, so I made this one of my last pictures:



Here is the recipe for a great trip:

Perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky.
Good traveling vehicle. We had the top down for a nice chunk of time.
Beautiful sunset.
Great family time with minimal squabbling.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Freedom is not free

More photos Flowing Desert


Freedom takes work. The work of our men and women in the armed forces is certainly one part of the equation. Another vital component is everyday citizens that pay attention to what changes are proposed and speak out loudly (but in a civil manner) and engage others in debate and dialogue.

Xavier posted an entry. I think the following excerpt from that is a key thought that everyone needs to be aware of:

Gun rights are about self protection, not hunting. ... We are not just hunters. We must stand up and say who we are. We are mothers and fathers. We are Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents. We are black and white, yellow and brown. We are gay, straight, bisexual and asexual. We are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, and we live in every state in the Union. ... We have one common goal. ... the preservation of our right to self defense.

As a bumper sticker I saw said:

"God, Guns and Guts created this country. Let's keep all three."

Friday, November 7, 2008

School is Cool!

I probably never would have said that in middle or high school. I know I never said that about most of my college classes. I have finally found a school that is cool.

Digital Photography School is a great forum for photographers of all experience levels. I discovered it this past summer as I was considering getting a newer, better camera. It is a great place with a lot of areas. One of my favorite areas is the forums critique section. People post their pictures along with some information about what settings they used to take it and ask one or more questions. Then, other people provide feedback.

Generally speaking, this feedback is of a positive, supportive nature. Sometimes, that feedback means saying "I don't like it" but even so, that is done with a positive spin. Usually, someone providing that feedback will suggest something the photographer could do to improve the shot.

Usually though, the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Not artificially so, but in a genuine and supportive manner. Even if you do not submit your own pictures, you can learn a lot about making good portraits or taking good action shots by reviewing other peoples submissions and the feedback they receive.

I think that the things I have learned from here have improved my pictures, but I'll let you be the judge. Stop on over to Flowing Desert Photography and take a look. One of my most recent favorites is a new picture of a local landmark, Red Mountain. I just love the colors and the shape of this mountain. I also love how it looks different depending on the season and time of day. The light when I took this picture was really good and I think really makes Red Mountain just come alive.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What is Beyond Beta?

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was lucky enough to know someone who had a pre-release copy of a new version of an operating system that was planning on taking over the personal computing world. This was something called Windows and the release they showed me was 3.1 which promised huge improvements in usability and stability over 3.0. It was a rarity in those days, to get a glimpse into software that was "not-quite-finished" but was close enough to get a feeling about it. It was also fun to be on the inside of cutting edge technology. They called it Beta, indicating that is was not yet ready for sale, but was more advanced than Alpha. Beta was usually limited to the employees of the company producing the software and a select group of others.

Fast foreword and the Beta versions of more programs started getting wider distribution and the exclusivity started to wear off in some cases. The wider distribution provided the developers more free testers to identify more bugs and hopefully fix them earlier in the process and reduce the support burden for the company and in increase customer satisfaction. I think the jury is still out on whether the quality of software has gone up as a result of larger scale Beta releases.

Then one day, about a decade ago, Google started a new web-based email application they called GMail. It was strictly an invitation-only program. By accepting an invitation, you acknowledged that this was a Beta program and you may experience crashes, downtime, missing mail and could do nothing about it other than report the error to the Google team and hope they fixed it quickly.

As Google started expanding their Beta program, existing users were given a finite amount of invitations that could be emailed to people so they could give GMail a try. These invitations were extremely sought after to the point that some people were even seen listing them for sale at online auction sites.

Eventually, GMail became accepted as a mainstream provider of free webmail, but the word Beta still remained on the site. Downtime is minimal and I have yet to notice a missed message sending or receiving (but how would I know if I missed an incoming message?).

They have applied their formidable search power to the GMail interface and allow you to keep an astronomical amount of email (over 7 GB for my account) which you can search nearly instantly. Some of the features that GMail uses are revolutionary and were a bit challenging to get used to. The concept of using labels instead of folders was a paradigm shift, but once you accept it, you can become very productive with it.

So where are we now? The label Beta is still attached to GMail, but there are a huge number of people using GMail on a regular basis. Now, Google has introduced "Labs". Labs are what used to be called Beta features. Some are really useful and eventually make their way into the mail configuration as a regular (albeit Beta) feature. Others will remain in Labs indefinitely and maybe some will be dropped altogether.

So first there was Beta. Now Beta is the standard for some apps and in the case of GMail, beyond Beta is "Labs". What is next? Will companies expect users to put together the design specifications for a new product, find programmers to start writing it and then "allow" people to use it as a Beta release?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Visitors from the internet

I think that the statistics for the past 30 days for my little blog are pretty interesting. I have had visitors from 10 countries:

Australia
Canada
Czech Republic
France
Israel
Latvia
Mexico
New Zealand
United Kingdom
United States

A while back I had noticed that I had a visitor from Finland. I have no idea who it was, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence since my Mom is full-blooded Finn.

In the USA, I have had visitors from at least 33 states. I say "at least" because there are several that are listed as "not set". Maybe this can be my first "50-state club" and I can get people to visit from the missing states. The western-most states that I am missing are Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico. If you know anyone in those states, see if they will drop by once and represent their state.
I'll update the tally soon and see if this might work. Next time I'll list all the missing states and see if any of my loyal readers can help me fill in the blank areas of my readership map.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Daily News

Well, I voted this morning, so that was a good start to the day.

I went to a Microsoft Road Show. Those of you that know me might be surprised, but my job also requires that I support SQL*Server in addition to Oracle so I went to try and learn a bit about upcoming versions. I learned that there are some new features that will make things easier to manage, but usually only if you use the more expensive "Enterprise Edition".

Took care of some stuff at the office and then hit the gym with DS#1. It was our first night on the weight machines. We gave the legs a good workout. The gym was busy, but not over-crowded.

Watched election returns and heading off to bed to dream about buying some new guns before they are banned.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Photography lessons

I found this video showing a neat camera holding technique video. It is a bit hard to use at first, but it makes sense and is a good idea to keep the camera more stable and help get sharper pictures, without a tripod. A tripod is always a good idea, but there are times where it is just not practical to use a tripod (busy areas or fast-paced action) and this is a good way to get the best shooting stability possible.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

ASU vs Ducks

I got a text last week with an invitation from my awesome buddy Frankie to go to Saturday night's ASU Sun Devil game against the Oregon Ducks. After checking my schedule, I said "YES!!!" and we made plans to meet for a bite to eat before the game.

I had a super busy day (another post for another day) and was only home for a few minutes before I headed out to make a stop on my way to meet Frankie. We found each other right on schedule and went to grab a burger.


After that, it was getting close to game time so we headed over to the stadium.


The seats were amazing. What we couldn't see clearly on the field, we could watch on the jumbotron in living color. We were close enough that even with my camera, I could get close enough to see the smiles on the cheerleaders faces

and even some halfway decent shots of the players on the field when they were on our end of the field.



We saw some real and fake... tattoos (what were YOU thinking I was going to say?)

and some fans for both sides that really got into the spirit of things.




The game was fun too, but I am sure glad that I am not a die-hard Devils fan. They shoot off fireworks for any score, but there were very few of these:


Anyway, I had a great time and was very glad that Frankie gave me a shout to join him.

You can check out some more pics on my Picasa album from the game if you want.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

SOMA Triathlon Pictures

I went out to the SOMA triathlon this past Sunday to take some pictures. I managed to take some pictures (about 400 before I reviewed them and deleted the worst of the missed shots). I wanted to practice my Sports Photography and give some of my fellow triathletes some photographic alternatives.

Besides my own club, ESCKTC (East Side Cool Kids Tri Club), some of the people I caught decent shots of included members of Tri Club of San Diego (TCSD), Team In Training, AZ Tri Club, Banas, Tribe and Freak Factor in their pink uniforms. If you know people from these clubs, please have them check out my site. I will keep the SOMA pics up for a month. BTW, the SOMA pictures are basically "at cost", my profit is under a dollar per shot, which when you factor my time (over 6 hours not counting travel time) means I am really giving these away for my love of triathlon. It is all worth it when I get a shot that I love like this one:



If you were in the race, if you know someone that was in the race, or if you just enjoy looking at triathlon pictures, click on over to Flowing Desert Photography and take a look. Feel free to rate any pictures you like with a "thumbs up".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Photography Must Haves

Jeff over at PhotoWalk Pro recently did an article on Must Have Accessories for your Photography

The short version is here along with how I feel I am doing in each category:

1. Filters -- A+, UV/skylight filter on every lens for protection and a polarizing filter moved to different lenses as needed.

2. Flash -- F, but that is not really my fault since it is on my list as soon as I can afford another accessory.

3. Tripod -- A, I have a great tripod and an older more compact tripod. If I start doing more serious portrait work, I'll probably need another to hold off camera lighting.

4. Camera Bags -- B, The bag that came with my camera just does not work for me. The backpack I bought is pretty good, but it is a pain to get things in and out without putting the pack on the ground and unzipping the whole thing.

5. Cleaning Supplies -- B-, I have a lens cloth, but still need to get a blower of some kind and probably one of the other items mentioned in the comments to the article.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How do you find a name?

I'm not talking about finding out the name of that cute guy/girl at the other end of the bar, that's easy (just ask your server/bartender to find out for you). I'm talking about the name of a flower, insect, bird or other animal or plant. For example, I have a picture of a flower and have tried to google flowers to find one that looks like this to be able to name it:



This is kind of important to me, because I want to label my photos with what they are rather than yellow/orange flower or flying bird, but unless I join a flower club and bird watching club, I don't know how I can do this.

Any tips? And answering for the above flower would be appreciated :)

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Winner is ...

Last week, I asked for opinions on which picture I should donate for a church auction. The voting on the survey was fast and furious and it was a ton of fun for me to read all the positive comments from people. I closed the survey and printed the winning photo. The race was close with several photos taking the lead and only a few votes separating the top contenders at the end. The winner was Waterfall:



Hopefully the picture brings in some money for the auction.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

New Adventures Are Scary

You may know by now that I enjoy photography. Always have, ever since I was given a little 126 camera when I was in 6th grade. I still have photo albums from those pictures.

Not too long after that, my dad started teaching me how to use a 35mm SLR camera and I started learning about ISO and F/stops and shutter speed. It was not a cheap hobby and we didn't have a lot of spare money laying around, so I took very few risks and stuck to trying to make good exposures. The right amount of light and a good focus point were my goals and my main subjects were friends and family.

By the time I graduated from high school, I decided to continue my photography and I used graduation gift money to buy a new Minolta SLR. Over time, I added lenses and accessories and spent a fair amount of money and time taking snapshots. I also started trying to take photographs. A snapshot is simply a nice picture, usually appreciated most by people who know the subjects. A photograph usually will have a wider appeal and in some cases be considered art. I even did some volunteer work taking pictures for my school.

Well, with a new family, time and money limited my photography to general snapshots of kids and holidays. Most of the time, I started using disposable cameras for convenience.

Having rediscovered my love for photography and the convenience that digital photography provides, I have been enjoying taking and working with pictures. I have gotten compliments from people on my pictures and I have thought about starting a side business with my photography. This brings me to the title of this post -- maybe article is a better word as this has gotten too long for a blog -- I have decided to start a business. This is a big step and a new adventure, but a fortune cookie I got last week said "Big journeys begin with a single step." The single step that I have taken is to create the online presence for my photography, so I am proud to introduce Flowing Desert Photography, with photo galleries available at FlowingDesert.com.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

BEEF Anyone?

If you are a vegetarian, I love you dearly for helping to control the population of wild broccoli and things like that so we are not overrun with them, but please skip the rest of this post.

So now we should be down to the few meat-eating folks. While browsing around the internets, I discovered this blog with a contest for free beef. Really. What does it hurt to try? I like beef as much as the rest of you and grass-fed is better for you than the over-chemicaled stuff you buy at most supermarkets.

Any vegetarians out there still? If so, I hope the promotion of eating meat didn't bother you too much and as a thank you for reading this far, I will list off some of my favorite non-meat food items: sweet potatoes, peas, carrots, corn, pears, peaches, bananas. Is that enough that we can still be friends? I sure hope so.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Old friends

Well, I was reading a friends post the other day and they commented on seeing old friends from high school. My wife has been getting in touch with some friends from high school. I guess I must be an exception in that there is no one from the school I graduated from that I would cross the parking lot to say "hi" to. Well, maybe 1 or 2, but I wouldn't even Google them to look them up, much less join one of those find all your old friends sites and get spammed by anyone that graduated the same year and state as I did asking "do you know so-and-so?".

Maybe some background is in order here. You might have noticed that I said "the school I graduated from". That is because I spent most of my high school years in one school in Ecuador and then only one year at the school I graduated from back here in the states ("the states" is what we called USA when we lived elsewhere). As a result, my senior year was not the most memorable in terms of friends and such since I had left all my friends when we moved and high school being the clickish place it is, a newcomer is not usually welcomed into most of the clicks. As a result, I did not go to a senior prom (I was able to pick up more hours at my job that weekend) and about the only date I had that year was with a foreign exchange student from Ecuador that was staying with a classmate from school.

Is this a bad thing? Am I complaining about changing schools for my senior year? Am I complaining about the clickish kids in high school? No. Not at all. Just explaining --to myself mostly-- why my senior year and high school graduation does not evoke the same feelings in me as it seems to in so many others.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Survey - Photos for donation

Our church is having a silent auction and I thought I would donate a picture. I am thinking 8x10 in a plain black wood frame. Please take a look at the candidates and let me know what you think with the survey to the right. Also, feel free to add comments as well if you think a different size or framing choice would be better.













BTW, please pass this link on to others so I can get as many votes as possible for this survey. Thanks!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Strength training at the gym was canceled tonight since the instructors are all involved in the big fight tournament this weekend and have stuff going on with that. I was thinking about giving the Tae Kwan Do class a shot, but after an early wake-up call and spending the day with my wife at the Mayo clinic (more tests and Dr visits) I would rather sit on the couch and relax.

I did make it to the gym 4 times this week. Although Wed was not logged 'cause it was a Personal Defense class and really wasn't that hard from a calorie/exercise standpoint. In spite of personal defense being a bit less strenuous, it was very informative and educational. Also, several of those nights were Strength Training and Boxing for a double day.

Well, I'm going to sit down and work on getting some pictures processed and posted. Thanks for dropping by and good seeing ya.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Personal Self Defense

So I finally made it to the Personal Self Defense class offered at our gym. I was the only student, so it was very solid learning experience. We kept it to 45 min instead of 1 hour since only having one student allowed a better learning experience.

It was a great class and I got a chance to learn some things that could be very useful if I needed to get out of a jam. I think a lot of people would benefit from this type of a class.

Monday, October 6, 2008

More Boxing

Went to strength training tonight. We worked our arms to death. Ouch. We also did some jump rope and I seem to be getting better at it. My cardio still seems to be in pretty good shape, and with the core work I've been doing the past couple weeks, 2 minutes of jumping seems to be getting easier.

After strength, we started right in on boxing class. They worked in some kicks as well which is natural since most of the coaches are MMA guys and they also have MMA classes here (MMA combines boxing, grappling and kickboxing). It was a very fun class and kept us moving most of the time with some great feedback from the coaches so we were practicing the moves the right way.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What to title this?

Well, last week I finished the week off with a couple days of strength training (arms are still sore) and another boxing class. Really had fun with it. Part of it is my oldest son is doing it with me, so we get to hit each other. Not hard, but hitting each others hands as targets as we practice jabs, cross and hooks. Working on form more than power for now.

Both boys helped out a lot in the yard yesterday as we needed to scalp the lawn in preparation for over seeding for the winter. We also made good progress on getting rid of the weeds.

Hopefully some of the tests scheduled for my wife this week will start to yield some clues that let us make progress into her health issues.

So what would I title this post? Misc? Stuff? Life? Weekend wrap up report?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Organization and coordination

My wife had an appointment at the Mayo clinic yesterday. Her migraines have been coming back and she has fainted a few times. Her regular doctors have been chasing this for awhile and are not making any progress so based on the recommendation from friends, she called and got this appointment.

It was a long day but we think it was well worth it. They did a very complete exam and ordered additional tests and specialist consultations. Their scheduling group already had an itinerary for the rest of the day. I don't think we waited more than 5 or 10 minutes for any of the remaining steps.

At the end of the day, they had several more appointments added to our updated itinerary. They gave us clear instructions for next steps and contact information in case we have any questions before the next appointment.

I think that this could be the start of finding the root cause of her health problems. One reason is that everyone is on the same page and has access to the same information. It seems clear to me that the systems that support these doctors are top of the line and allow for information sharing that should help them in identifying the issues.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wrap up

No, I'm not closing up shop or anything, this is just a weekend recap/summary.

I went for a Bike ride Saturday. I rode about 27 miles to an activity at church and then another 27 to get home about an hour later. I had estimated it would be about 25 miles and planned on leaving 90 min before I needed to be there and was shooting for an easy 15-16 mph pace. I was a few minutes late getting started and it was a few miles longer so I ended up with about an 18 mph avg speed in order to try and avoid being too late. By the time I headed home, it was about 90* F out, so I did take it easy and averaged about 15.5 mph for the ride home.

Yard work, church, groceries and laundry were all done on Sunday with some help from the guys -- it just doesn't sound right to call them boys when they are getting so big and acting so darn responsible. Then we played a little Aerosmith Guitar Hero to finish the day.

Well, gonna try running in the morning and then planning on Functional Strength Training in the evening.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Boxing

Well, tonight was my 5th Functional Strength Training class. After that, I stayed for Boxing class. That was my first ever introduction to any sort of fighting. It was fun. I learned (and others practiced) jab, cross and hook punches. It was certainly a learning experience for me.

I am looking foreword to the next boxing class and will also be trying out some of the other classes they have. The plan at this gym is for the first month you can take any class they offer but subsequent months, each additional class costs extra. It seems a bit steep pricewise, but the instructors are all really good. Most of them are MMA fighters and will be competing in a tournament next month. Sometime in the next 30 days I will need to decide what I want to work on the next month.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can you make a difference?

Google announced an initiative called Project 10 to the 100th. The project web page says May Those Who Help Most Win. Their goal is to put people with ideas to improve communities, the environment, health or education together with money to help implement those ideas.

It seems like a great idea. It will be interesting to see what ideas are submitted. Maybe the end result of this project will be to stir up some ideas that get the Google funding and some ideas that get enough interest to get other people interested in helping to make a difference in their own communities.

Stop by their web page and see if you can come up with any ideas or if any of the ideas spark a chord with you.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

300

I was looking over my Analytics report for my blog today and this proves how smalltime this little blog of mine is. I've had 300 visits in the past 3 months (Jun-Aug). To be fair to myself, I have not been very active in keeping things updated and active and I've posted less than 10 entries each month. I hope to break that this month, but won't go all Twitter-like and blog that I'm having lunch or sitting in a meeting waiting to escape or anything like that in order to get my post count up. You can be sure that if I post something, it is important or interesting or funny to me. Hopefully, some of these will also strike a chord with you.

On the flip side, during the same 3 month window I did have a visitor from Latvia and so far in September, I've had visits from Finland and Australia. I know who the Latvian and Australian folks are but have not figured out who dropped by from Finland. Pretty interesting though since my mother is full-blooded Finn.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Photography Practice

When we were in MN last month, my oldest son allowed me to take some pictures of him. This was one of my favorites. I think it has a senior picture feel to it.
While I don't like his hair (it was a windy day) I decided to play with this a bit more. I found a tutorial on how to selectively colorize part and change the rest to black & white and thought this would be a good one to try it out with. Here is the result:
I will definitely be doing more of this kind of thing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Functional Strength Training

OK, so I was wondering if anyone has ever offered a class on NONFunctional Strength Training. "We build up muscles that you will NEVER need to use."

So I went to my first Functional Strength Training. Let me tell you that the word FUN does NOT need to be part of the word functional. After a few warm up laps of running, skipping, sideways sliding we did some crunches, pushups, jumping jacks and leg raises. At that point I was ready to phone it in the rest of the night. I didn't.

Next we did belly crawls (using only our arms to pull us, toes were ok if we needed a bit of extra help). This left me with some very nice mat burns on my elbows. Then a few more drills that reminded me of HS gym class (which I hated) and then we got into the station drills.

They set out 10 stations that we would do for 2 minutes each and then with a short rest move to the next one. Weighted lunges, wall squats with light weights in your hands and keep your arms moving, hindu squats (what they called them), bicep and tricep stations with rubber bands. Jump rope, grip twist, step up, one-arm chest press on a ball, crunches on a half ball and "figure 8's".

I was wiped we we finished and am really surprised I am not more sore this morning. It was a very good workout and my oldest son is doing it with me. We are going back tonight and probably next week will start doing some of the other classes (boxing, thai kickboxing, and others) to decide which one we want to focus on after our first month is done.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rock on!

Well, they have gone and done it now. I have a few games that I like to play on my GameCube and on DS#2's Wii, but for the most part I rarely play.

While we were on vacation last month, I was talked into trying GuitarHero and Rock Band.

We now own Guitar Hero Aerosmith. DS#2 and I split it and that is the most I've spent on a video game in a long time (the kids save their $$ when they want something).

Now I have another excuse to skip running.

Rock on people!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kid Quotes

While reading a friends post about something his daughter said, I remembered something (on a lighter note) that my youngest recently said. We were driving and we enjoy spotting things when on the road and he saw a tire on the side of the road, pointed at it and said "dead tire". I said "RIP. You know Rest In Peace". He laughed and said, "more like Rest In Pieces". He has a great sense of humor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lightning

Well, I have been trying to get good pictures of lightning since I got my new Nikon back in June. There are a few problems with trying to photograph lightning. You never know when or where the next strike will be. It is frequently raining. It is dangerous due to the possibility of getting electrocuted.

Tonight, things lined up for me. It was stormy, but not right on top of me. The lightning was striking pretty regularly in a few places, so I went up to our balcony, picked a spot and locked my tripod in that direction. After a few shots to get my settings lined up, the game was on. Trying to time lightning is a game of chance. As with any game of chance, if you play often enough, you stand a pretty good chance of at least a small win. After a few hundred exposures tonight, I ended up with a few shots that I think turned out pretty good:



Friday, September 5, 2008

Home Again

Well, it was a whirlwind trip, over 4000 miles in 10 days. A lot of driving, but a great time with family and a great wedding for my sister. In spite of the great time, it was really nice to see this sign:













I have a lot of stuff from this trip, but I need to do some work with a lot of the pictures first, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why did the worm cross the road?

Because everyone else was doing it.



Last week I mentioned that I saw a coyote on my way to work. Today I saw the great worm migration of 2008. There were thousands of these guys making their way from one side of the road to the other. It seemed like most of them did not make it from the yellow tint across the road. I stopped to get a closer look and was really surprised at how unique they look.



I am always interested to take pictures of animals or places or things that are different from what I usually see.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bad Ideas in Database Partitioning (Episode #1)

Warning, the following is a technical post that may make your eyes glaze over...

OK, if you are still here, this is a short one about something I recently saw in an Oracle database.

First of all, a bit about partitioning. In some databases, you can partition a table in a variety of ways depending on why you want to partition your data. For example, you may want to partition it based on date ranges if you will be deleting older data or if you will generally be accessing data from the same time periods. This way, the database "knows" that it can safely ignore the other partitions outside of the date range you are looking for. This can result in the remaining data being searched much faster than if the whole table needed to be examined.

Another way you can partition a table in Oracle is called hash partitioning. In this type of partitioning, the field in question is "hashed" or calculated into a new value that may not uniquely identify that value. For example, a hash for state abbreviations could calculate the numeric value for each letter (a=1, b=2, etc) and add them together. MN would be 27 (13 +14) as would AZ (1+26). If the hash calculation was to use the last digit, the values for AZ and MN would be stored in the same partition (7) whereas the data for CO (3+15=18) would be in partition #8. If there were 10 partitions (0-9), this would be a good strategy.

Hopefully, that makes a little sense. The key is that the partitioning criteria should look at the data and why it is being partitioned and devise a plan accordingly.

The case I am calling Episode #1 (order of blog entry, not of the importance or frequency) deals with this little fact: if you have no values for a given partition, it will be empty and thus not beneficial to the database. If you had 51 partitions and planned to use one for the invoices for each state, but only did business with customers in a few states, the rest of the partitions would remain empty. This would be ok if you were on the verge of a huge advertising campaign and your company was expecting to grow across the country. But if you were a local service business with customers in only 1 state, this would be a waste.

In summary, when planning a partitioning strategy, make sure you will be using most (if not all) of the partitions you will be creating. If you have inherited your systems, take a look around to see if you have a bunch of empty partitions and if so, you can start discussions to better understand the data and how it is used so you can recommend a new partitioning strategy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On my way to work

today, I saw this guy crossing the road. He wasn't moving too fast. He crossed a few cars infront of me and I had time to pull over, grab my camera and get a few shots of him. I thought that for being a city-dweller, I have a pretty cool commute. I will see a coyote from time-to-time, but usually they are pretty scrawny. This guy looks pretty well fed.