Friday, May 2, 2008

Smell the Roses

One very warm weekend a bit ago heralded the blooming of the roses in our garden. Just wanted to share one of them.

Even when life is crazy, and it feels like we're doing nothing but trying to keep up, somehow there's always time to stop and admire the incredible beauty that is right by us.

The trick is remembering to look.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lost in the Details

It's easy to get lost in the details, especially when there's a whole lot of details and just one of you.

It's easy to follow that calendar from meeting to meeting, hack away at that inbox from urgent email to urgent email. Every day feels like it ought to be Friday already, except for Friday, when it feels like it's only Tuesday and where did the week go? Somehow, the wisps of leaves that I photographed in March are now grown into full loincloth-sized fig leaves -- where did the month go?

In the middle of it all, we look at someone else and, from our vantage point, see them mired in their own forest of details. It makes us wonder, how in the world can someone get that lost in details? And, at the same time, our vision is working furiously to not point out the fact that we, too, are buried in details, and our memory is doing overtime making sure we don't remember that we were lost in very similar details to those we now see someone else swamped in.

So here's a reminder to myself to get up and breathe, and to look at the present in the context of everything that I've done and everything that I aspire to accomplish.

Here's a reminder to myself to look beyond what's yelling for my attention and notice the important stuff that's perhaps quieter.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tesla: High Speed Four-wheeled Batteries

I love commuting by bike, it's hard to beat that for saving on fuel and getting exercise at the same time (other benefits may include reduced seasonal allergies, great parking spots, and a stylin' farmer's tan).

I'm also not a big fan of driving fast. (Actually, I'm more of a stickler for rules. I had no problems going fast when driving in a German autobahn when conditions allowed.)

However, as far as combining fuel efficiency with incredible speed and beautiful design, Tesla Motors really seems to have delivered. (And it's convertible, so you may also get that farmer's tan to boot.) With so many car companies decrying the impossibility of improving gas fuel efficiency by even a few percent, it's great to see a few companies coming up with uncompromising designs that ditch the aged internal combustion engine for something new. (Of course, with an electric car what really matters is the energy source, and with a lot of the US energy coming from coal-powered plants, even with electric cars we still have a lot of work ahead of us if we're hoping to avoid having to start colonies in Mars.)

I got to check out a Tesla roadster live this past weekend at Yuri's Night at Moffett Field. Sadly, no test-driving allowed, but we did get to check out the view from the driver's seat. It certainly looks and feels like a sleek and very, very fast car. If it keeps to its promise of 0-60mph in 3.9 seconds, it will certainly be leaving a whole lot of sporty-looking cars in the proverbial dust (now pollution free).

Monday, April 7, 2008

Beginners' Luck

Best Shot MondayWhenever I go out with my camera, I tend to come back with a story. It's not that something happens in the "you'll never guess what happened to me" way (I seldom seem to have my camera around for those times), but rather that I've noticed that the camera tends to record more than just what's in front of it.

Each photo has a story to it -- the place, the time, the weather, what I was thinking at the time, who was around, what happened to catch my eye, how much time I put into creating the shot. Together, a series of photos tells a story in a way that no journaling (or perhaps even video, though I seldom have someone follow me around with a video camera) has been able to capture.

This weekend I went with a friend on a photo hike to the beautiful Filoli Gardens. (A "photo hike" is usually much more about the "photo" than the "hike", and can only really be done with others who, like me, when in possession of a camera tend to walk in no particular direction, stop randomly and spend minutes getting into yoga-like positions to catch a particular angle on a scene.) I hadn't been there in a long time, though years ago I used to go there nearly every week to study and relax.

This week's photo happens to be the very first photo I took out of about a hundred that afternoon. Call it "beginners' luck", but out of the whole set my eye keeps getting drawn back to this one. There are some other shots that I'm very happy with in terms of detail and color and composition. They often also took a lot more consicous effort to produce. This one was pretty much the first shot that caught my eye as I walked into the garden and pulled my camera out of its bag.

It's possible that "beginners' luck" is less "luck" (we just tend to give that term to any positive, not fully explained event) and more "intuition-driving-before-my-slower-more-analytical-self-kicked-in". It always amazes me what people can accomplish when they aren't trying to do something consciously.

It's a bit like walking into a garden and, next thing I know, I have a photo on my camera, almost like it took itself. It also tells me a thing or two about what my eye is instictively drawn to.

What are your photos that just "happened"? What is your eye drawn to?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Art of Making Time

We've been devising ways to measure time, that most ephemeral of humanly perceivable dimensions, pretty much since our time began. We've used cycles of the sun, the moon, the ebb and flow of a river, the seasons (yes, even California has seasons), mechanical clocks, digital clocks and, of course, the cellphone (for which "clock" is now listed at least 20-30 features higher than "makes phone calls").

What I am curious about, however, is how long ago humans first realized that, beyond merely measuring, we also have the ability to make time.

It might have gone something like this:

Human A: Grunt. ["Hi! Mind if I share this nice, protected spot with you for a bit."]
Human B: Grunt. Grunt? ["Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Can't you see I'm busy?"]
Human A: Grunt... ["Pity, because I just hunted more food than I can eat before it goes bad..."]
Human B: Grunt! Grunt! ["Oh, I didn't even recognize you! I can always make time to see you, take a seat!"]

As technology and human knowledge march onward (if not always forward), we seem devise more ways to fill in every last moment of our conscious lives. Everything only takes a fraction of a second, so we jam multiple things into every second, aiming towards that ever-elusive instant gratification. So it's only to be expected that we are more and more often busy, and too often too busy to do something that, really, we'd love to do.

This can be a problem (we can get so caught up on being busy that we forget to do things that we like) as well as a crutch (being busy, while technically often true, is often used in place of "I'd already planned on doing other things during that time, and what I've planned is more interesting to me than whatever is being proposed").

The catch is, all the things that are keeping us busy are, for the most part, things we have chosen to do. That means we could also chose not to do those things, which implies that we can make time to do other things. Sadly, that's easily forgotten.

Whenever I realize that I'm telling someone that I'm busy, I'll try re-phrasing it (usually in my own head) as "I'm not willing to make the time to [whatever it is that the person is proposing]". If the gut reaction is that this just sounds wrong, then it's likely that I'm busy with the wrong things.

I make time for my family; for my friends; for photography; for drinking tea. And thinking about it, I want to make more time for getting in touch with friends I don't hear from as often; for meditating; for social dancing.

So, what do you make time for? And what would you like to make more time for?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Of Tulips and Droplets

Best Shot MondayI've talked before about how I love macro shots for their ability to reveal something that even I didn't notice while taking that very photo. (From a recent conversation sparked by Futurama -- it's like having better resolution that the real world.)

This weekend I went outside to take some photos of the beautiful tulips that are opening up in our backyard (apparently, it's the season for tulip photos). This particular photo caught a water bubble, which itself reflects the whole flower bed, upside down (close crop below).

I wonder whether someday we'll be able to take photos where a "close crop" of a water droplet could contain enough resolution for us to find another droplet on a nearby stem and see what image it reflects.

Now picture having enough resolution to find an image of the world that is a good dozen droplet-levels deep. Compare that to the "real world", and it might begin to give us an idea of the difference between any concept of "actual reality" and what any given individual actually perceives.

The fun question is, just what is the shape and substance of the droplets through which you perceive the world?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Attack of the Visible Dust

When I first got a digital SLR camera, it somehow prompted stern words of caution about the horrors of dust from a number of acquaintances. One friend took me aside, pointed at the button that releases the lens from the camera, and solemnly proclaimed, "once you press that button, it's all over, you have to worry about dust".

Quick aside for those who haven't spent much time listening to photographers go poetic about their gear... A digital SLR (dSLR) uses a fixed sensor to record images, and the design allows the user to change the lens among a wide range of wallet-busting choices. However, since the lens can be removed, that also means the inside of the camera (and, thus, the sensor) can be exposed to air and whatever else may be floating in your air of choice (dust, oil, hairspray, imprecations, water vapor, etc.). Back in the ancient, ancient world of 10 years ago when people used film (yea, people used film), it really didn't matter too much if dust got into the camera. At most, there would be a little bit of dust on one frame, but then the camera would move on to the next piece of the photographic film and (assuming you weren't procuring your film supplies from some shady person in a trenchcoat on the corner) that new frame wouldn't bring any dust with it. With digital, that changed -- the sensor is the same physical bit of electronic circuitry for every single photo the camera will ever take, so any bit of dust that lands there will stay there until something else disposes of it.

Ok, that wasn't as quick an aside as I thought. But, moving on.

After clocking over 17,500 photos on my camera without any visible dust appearing on any of my photos, one will hopefully forgive me for starting to wonder what the whole dust paranoia was all about (actually, I still do, but that's besides the point). After all, that's more photos in 15 months than I'd taken in the rest of my life put together. I even remarked as much in a recent conversation.

Of course, as soon as I got home after that conversation and went out to take some photos of the new figs our tree is working on, I noticed that there was a slight dark blob on the photos that didn't exist outside my camera.

A quick, highly scientific test (also known as the point-your-camera-at-a-patch-of-sky-and-take-photo test) confirmed that, indeed, I had some of that fearful dust on my sensor. (Red circle added later, for emphasis. Though it would be kinda cool if there just happened to be a big floating red circle on the sky right where that bit of dust appears. I wonder whether this is how some UFO photos come about?)

I opened up my camera and peeked at the sensor. Sure enough, there was a bit of fuzz in the equivalent spot on the sensor, of about that shape. There's a zillion products out there (I found out) to let one clean/swipe/swab/wash/brush the sensor. There's also, unsurprisingly, a zillion bad ideas on how to clean your sensor (my favorite for actually-sounding-like-it-might-work-until-you-think-better-about-it is the scotch tape method; just like cleaning lint off your jacket, except it's your digital camera sensor that you're de-linting; having worked with semiconductor manufacturing before, take my word for it: Bad. Idea.).

Going for simple-is-better, I got myself an air blower. Going for why-not-get-the-funny-one, I got one called Rocket Air Blower. (It actually has really good reviews.) That took care of it in about 10 seconds. Repeating my test from earlier confirmed a clean sensor (for the photo-geeks out there: yes, I was using a small aperture for the tests). With a bit of luck, it will stay that way for another 17,000 photos. (Or, I'll need to clean it again after writing this post. But at least now I already have something to clean it with, and it will make for a funny story to boot.)

Blue Skies, smiling at me...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Instant Gratification

Best Shot MondayOur fig tree is waking up from its winter slumber, and along with the first leaves also appear the first proto-figs, each smaller than my thumb. The tree will work on these for the nearly six months before they're ready to be eaten by us (or, on average, by the many birds that live nearby). We'll go from early Spring, right through Summer and out the other side to early Fall. These tiny fig leaves will grow large enough that they could actually be used for clothing in a pinch. And, in spite of the (relatively) long advance notice, the figs will most likely take us by surprise (again) when they're finally ripe.

In this age when everything is competing to be more 'instant' than everything else, it's refreshing to have something that's still connecting us to the actual cycles of nature and the seasons. And, if past experience is any predictor of future performance, the figs will be well worth the wait.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Where is your gaze at?

Best Shot MondayCats have an amazing ability to gaze out a window with apparent complete and utter focus. It's as if they can concentrate their entire being into a single point in space and time.

It's only when you, say, open a cupboard (on the other side of the house) that happens to contain some cat food in it that you realize that, somehow, cats manage to pay attention to absolutely everything around them at the same time as they're focusing on whatever bird/piece of string/dust particle/potential food source/potential source of amusement.

While it would be overwhelming for me to aim anywhere near that level of utter, focused zen, watching a cat do this is a great reminder.

As we cram more appointments into our calendars, more cores into our computer CPUs, more gadgets on our belts/pockets/purses, and seemingly more hours into our days, it's easy to start thinking that we, mere humans, can keep up with more and more multitasking. Tempting as it may be, it's unlikely that one can drive to work, have breakfast, talk on the cellphone, think about the day's appointments, and compose a blog entry at the same time. (Don't try it. I certainly didn't.)

So this week's post is a reminder to myself -- focus on one conversation, one task, one thought at a time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's a Small World

Best Shot TuesdayBest Shot Monday Tuesday

I've been on vacation in the south of Brazil for the past week, so in the time-honored tradition of doing everything on when-you-get-around-to-it time, this week's Best Shot Monday happens to land on a Tuesday.

Every time I travel somewhere, it's the differences that jump out vying for my attention (humans are wonderful at seeing differences; it's what's right under our nose all along that we have a hard time seeing).

It's the way people walk slower, or stand more relaxed. It's that uncanny, locally universal need to stand in lines for the apparent need to satisfy a curiosity as to what lies on the other end (the longer the line, the more interesting it must be, right?). It's the totally different vegetation, birds and bugs. The different sounds, smells, colors.

Yet, underneath all that, what also struck me this time around is just how connected things are becoming. I remember, growing up, that movies would often come out in the US a good 6 to 12 months before they would make it all the way to the southern hemisphere. A few years ago, not all that many people had cellphones, and public phones (called "big ears" here -- really, I swear that's what it translates to) where still (mostly) functional and all over the place. Now everyone has cellphones (there are more mobile phones than landlines here now), there's wi-fi everywhere (through which my own phone can connect back its network and make calls back in the Northern Hemisphere as if I was no further away than the cafe' down the street from where I live), and public phones are generally non-functional and (still) located optimally for slamming your head into when you're walking around looking at the scenery.

The world really is getting smaller from some vantage points.

And, of course, all this also means I can still post to my blog. Eventually. :)

So, on that note, this week's photo brings me back to my world of macros. Not the sharpest shot ever, but I love the colors on the plate where this little bug was stretching its wings along with the (appropriately) Brazilian colors of the bug itself.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Big Picture

I love macro shots. It's like a game, finding the "hidden" shots within the larger landscape. It's just fun to look at pictures on a bigger screen afterward and find that the camera captured some cool detail I hadn't even noticed at the time.

But, in the spirit of regularly trying things outside my comfort zone, I picked a wide angle, landscape shot for this week's photo. It's not what I would consider my overall best shot from this past week, but it helps me make a point. :)

This weekend I was up in the mountains. All of a sudden, the world back-pedaled from early Spring to middle-of-Winter, and got all full of snow to boot. Now, I'm not a snow person. I didn't even see snow until I was in high-school, and it wasn't until college that I saw enough of it in one place to allow for anything like, say, skiing. People say the best part of skiing is getting back to the cabin and hitting the hot tub after a day's worth of plummeting towards one's doom gliding down the mountain. Yes, I've taken downhill skiing lessons, and I've gone cross-country skiing. But really I prefer to skip the skiing bit and going straight for the hot tub along with a pot of tea. :)

Given that background, one might imagine how easy it is for me to end up grumbling about the cold, about how slippery the ground is, and how it was Spring 8 hours ago. And since I often end up doing some of that (hopefully more in my head than aloud), it's good to put things into perspective...

We spend so much of our lives in the details. The chilly wind, the left boot that doesn't quite fit, the snow that is now melting inside the right one, the water bottle that is now about half an hour's walk away in the car, the dirt on the glasses that the glare from the sun now makes obvious, and wouldn't it be nice if we'd brought along a map?

Yet, zoom out even just a bit in the grand scheme of things, and all of that disappears. We now have a sunny, snow-covered landscape with beautiful tall trees. Oh, yea, and a hiker, off to the side.

Looking past the at-the-time-annoying-but-really-insignificant details, I had a great time snow-shoeing with a bunch of fantastic friends among some amazing scenery. Although I can easily see myself remembering the afternoon as "time I could have spent in a hot tub drinking tea", the memory is, ironically, warm and happy. I guess I really ought to know from years of dancing that it's important to look up from your own feet. :)

Not to say that details aren't important. They often are crucial. But details without a frame of reference are mostly useless, and it's amazingly difficult to get caught up with the unimportant ones while completely ignoring the important ones.

So, what do you see, when you look at your own experiences from a distance?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blossoming Company

Remember that first plum blossom I posted about, oh, three days ago? Well, it most definitely has company now, and the garden is starting to look like Spring (just in time for March, I suppose!).

On Monday, Tali blogged about changes in her life, and asked her readers about their own experience. Well, can't say that I'm going through sweeping changes, but what I do see is what tends to follow the seasons. Much like the moods of a garden and the antics of wildlife, I feel my own rhythm tends to go through cycles. I think I'm not quite as awake as these plum blossoms yet, and still in "slow", home-centered, sleep-a-lot (yea, there's times I don't sleep as much!), introspective mode.

In general, I feel every moment is the moment to feel the way you're feeling in that moment

(Parse that out in 2 seconds or less... Actually, never mind -- take your time. :) )

What's often easy for me to forget, in this culture fueled by instant gratification and constant stimulation, is that feeling sluggish, introspective and sleepy are all natural and part of an annual cycle of recovery. And, that out of this recovery generally comes the renewal and energy and joy of Spring. As the garden starts to wake up outside, most likely so will I. Until then, it does make for some pretty photos. :)

Monday, February 25, 2008

One Moment in Time

A 1/640th-of-a-second-thin sliver from a beautiful, sunny February day.

The thing about photographing hummingbirds is that, besides being beautifully irridescent, small and cute, they generally move way faster than we can move a camera. And even when they are hovering in place, there's still a lot of uncertainty to each photo. Even if the shutter is fast enough to catch something more than the photographic equivalent of a probability curve of where the wings might be, there's no way to predict just how the hummingbird will be posing on the still photo.

Maybe that is one of the things that is so appealing about photography, though. In a world where time always seems to be moving, something as simple as a camera gives us the power to stop time, to essentially freeze for eternity a thin slice of our reality that we can then share with everyone around us.

Definitely not the best shot of a hummingbird, but certainly my best so far (and, as these things tend to go, captured when I really wasn't looking to photo birds at all, but just happened upon one at Huntington).

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Plum blossoms have arrived!

You know you're in California when it's still February but the plum blossoms are already, well, blossoming. There's always something reinvigorating about, one day, noticing that what has been bare wood in the backyard for the past several months suddenly went whoomp! and got all kinds of little green shoots on it. That was about a week ago over here, and today the first blooms appeared. So, of course, I ran out in between rain showers and snapped this photo to share.

I'll probably get better photos of the plum blossoms later, once we start getting blooms that don't require leaning out from a wet wooden bench and sticking my camera out at arm's length to get close enough for a photo. But we all seem to have a thing for firsts and, well, these were our first ones for the year. :)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Smuin Ballet: Winter Program

Just got back from Smuin Ballet's Winter Program performance. We've had season tickets to their performances for several years now and, as always, the company gave a great performance with a wide range of styles. (If you haven't gotten a chance to see Smuin, the company mixes classical ballet with jazz, tap, modern, showdance, samba, and whatever else seems fun. Smuin's choreographies tend to feature amazing lift-work, wonderful musicality and a great sense of humor.)

Their Winter Program started off with a premiere of Amy Seiwert's Objects of Curiosity (after Smuin's death in 2007, she's taken on artistic direction of the company). I cringed a bit when I noticed, looking at the program, that the piece was done to something by Philip Glass (if you don't know his music... well, when I was a kid, my parents had a big electronic keyboard/organ in the living room; although I never learned to play it, I was great at playing with it, and would often pretend that it was the flight deck of a spaceship, making full use of the wide range of buttons, knobs, dials, switches and, of course, the keyboard; the sound I produced in those games is, to me, very reminescent of Glass' music). Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the piece. Definitely some great use of lighting and shadows to give depth to the piece, and some strong lift work.

The next piece was about as close to classical ballet as Smuin gets, with a pas de deux and two solos. And a pink tutu. Koichi Kubo, although not the strongest at partnering, showed off some absolutely incredible jumps and spins during his solo.

Sabat Mater, the third piece, was a much more somber dance, done to music by Dvorak. Beautiful use of texture and flowing movement throughout the entire dance, and a strong performance by the lead couple (Robin Cornwell and Matthew Linzer).

The finale piece, Reinin' in the Hurricane, was actually done by a guest choreographer, Kirk Peterson. Although playful like many of Smuin's pieces, some of it was rather flat (often two or three couples doing the same moves in a single-file line, lacking the sense of flow or depth that many of Smuin's pieces use to great effect). Nevertheless, Courtney Hellebuyck's terawatt smile was, as always, fun to watch (even when she wasn't in the spotlight), and it was great to see Shannon Hurlburt moving more gracefully than at times in the past (he's the best tap dancer in the company, so he's my hero anyways).

By far the best duet in the whole night was by Vanessa Thiessen and Ikolo Griffin. She is probably the best at partnering in the company, and Ikolo is a fantastic dancer and partner (props to Ikolo for the skillful off-stage air guitar, executed to the opening riffs of the song right before he got on stage; extra props for remembering to put the air guitar down on its air stand before going on stage... I love having front-and-side seats :) ).

Overall, not the best I've seen from Smuin, but still a fun evening. They'll still perform it in Carmel in March. Otherwise, their third and final program for this season looks like it should be a whole lot of fun -- Dancin' with Gershwin.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

iZon: First Impressions on HD eyeglasses

Seems like everything is going for high-definition nowadays, and apparently eyeglasses are no exception. A company named Ophthonix came out with "high-definition" lenses. Then their marketing department went nut-so on it and the world got iZon®, which supposedly uses an iPrint(tm) of one's eye to give one WOW(tm) vision. (I was a bit disappointed when the glasses didn't come in an iCase with a WOWlenscleaningcloth. Ah, well, can't have everything.)

So, what is a high-definition eyeglass?
Marketing aside, the idea behind iZon® is really neat. As far as I understand, they use a scanner to measure the optical correction needed at several thousand points on each eye (I vaguely remember my doctor throwing the number 16,000 around), instead of the usual method (which is basically an average measurement of the correction needed and, much like physics problems in school, relies on the assumption that the eye lens and the retina are perfectly smooth in their imperfections).

The following is mostly my guess at how they do this... Having that map, they then create a lens that gives the average correction, but that contains a polymer film sandwiched in the middle of two halves. That film can be adjusted on a point by point basis to locally alter the optical properties of the lens and correct for the that particular person's eyes. The company's site offers a marketing version of how iZon® works.

The site claims great, wondrous feats of magic will happen if you get one of these high-definition lenses. Well, not really, but the visual marketing is quite amusing (check out the WOW-o-meter at the bottom of the linked page).

My very own high-definition eyeglasses
In any case, the marketing worked well enough that I went and got myself one of these made. I've now been wearing my very own high-definition eyeglasses since yesterday.

Am I seeing better than before?

Yes, definitely. Images are crisp, vivid, &c. But it's hard to tell how much of that is due to an updated prescription and wearing eyeglasses that haven't collected four years' worth of scratches. Now, they also gave me a plot of the local adjustments needed on my prescription and, it turns out, my eyes aren't that far from the ideal (if horribly near-sighted) eyes. Since there isn't that much variation, then my normal lenses probably weren't doing too badly by me.

Another benefit claimed by these lenses is that they may reduce flaring/glare/halo'ing around bright lights (especially on car headlights at night).
Of course, that means I've spent the past two evenings walking around staring at bright lights. (Yea, bright idea, haha. But oddly difficult to stop doing.) I haven't noticed a huge improvement, but that isn't to say that the image isn't great. I'm still trying to figure out a good way to do tests on this one (nothing useful yet, but I do now have a series of vaguely amusing photos taken through eyeglasses... it's kinda fun to see what I can get by focusing my camera lens really close, then shooting something far away through the eyeglasses... I suppose it's a good demonstration of just how incredibly near-sighted I am :) ).

Any disadvantages?
Well, although these lenses don't seem any heavier than my previous ones, they are thicker. From what I remember, the refractive index on these is 1.68, versus the current standard for high refractive index lenses at 1.74 (what I had before). [Aside: the higher the refractive index of the material, the thinner the lens can be for the same optical correction.]

I'm guessing that they went for the lower refractive index as an attempt to reduce chromatic aberration on these lenses (since so much of their selling point is visual clarity and crispness even in high-contrast scenarios), though it may also have something to do with the process of locally adjusting the prescription.

To sum it up -- your mileage may vary, but at the very least these lenses seem to provide good results. And, if normal lenses have been cheating you out of the optical correction you need, you may actually find some WOW(tm) in these. :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On dry socks

I bike to work nearly every day.

That means I'm often biking during the handful of days when it actually rains 'round these parts.

When I started commuting by bike, I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to make biking even more convenient than driving. Not that hard, given that my commute is less than 6 miles each way -- often faster than driving the same road during rush hour.

Things got a lot more fun when the rain really picked up. So I got myself some rain gear. Mountain bike jackets are about as waterproof as one could want (if I'm getting too sweaty on the way to work, I bike slower... similarly, when it's really cold, bike faster... :) ). Toss in some waterproof pants -- I think mine are fetchingly named "aqua-no". Oh, and at least slap a fender on the back of the bike (in spite of apparently vehement opinions against clip-on fenders, one of those seems to keep pretty much all the water from creating that characteristic water trail down my back and/or bag), though something fancier will likely keep your bike happier. A waterproof messenger bag has kept all my stuff, lappy included, quite dry through the few downpours I've ridden through. (You can find a lot more awesome information on gear for rain commuting on sites like Rain is no excuse for not starting to bike!)

What I really haven't totally solved yet is how to keep my feet dry while commuting. I've used "booties" for a while (they go over your shoes, and do get a few bonus points for neatly tucking my pants out of the way of the chain... plus they have that geek ninja look to them... which, come to think of it, may not be bonus points), but even those leak. And when that material is wet, it seems to stay wet for a while. Hiking boots keep everything dry, but make it impossible to pedal. Eventually, I've settled on just wearing sneakers. They seem to keep most of the water out, and dry reasonably fast. The real secret for me is to take along a pair of clean, dry socks.

I might be soaked, exhausted, full of mud and bruised from smacking my shin against the pedal, but somehow putting on some fresh dry socks makes the whole world better in an instant.

So maybe that's not the ultimate solution to commuting in the rain. But it seems to do the trick for me. And anything else can be solved by a hot cup of tea. :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Best Shot Monday: A splash of Huntington Color

So it's Tuesday, but still... Just heard about Best Shot Monday through Lara's Message in a Bottle, and figured I'd make my own (belated) contribution and share some of the amazing color that was all over the Huntington Gardens this weekend. The entire Chinese Garden had been decorated by two incredible ladies who came from Taiwan to create flower arrangements. The garden itself hasn't quite grown in yet, and the arrangements added a lot of color and beauty to the place.

However, my chosen photo is actually of a blossom that has actually grown right there, in the gardens. It is, as it were, an early herald of the abundance of color that will sweep through as Spring gradually makes her way through in the next months.

Happy Spring! :)

New Tea House at the Huntington Gardens

This weekend I got to preview the new Garden of Flowing Fragrance that will be open to the public on February 23rd at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. It's been under construction for many years, and I've gotten to watch a good portion of that construction in my various visits to the gardens there. I'm happy to report that the new gardens are absolutely beautiful and inspiring.

Perhaps even more exciting, though, is the fact that there is a new Tea House at the Chinese gardens. The old Rose Garden Tea Room with its traditional-English-tea-turned-buffet-style was already one of my favorite stops in the area, so I couldn't wait to try out the new Tea House.

As it turns out, neither could a lot of other people there that day, so there was a hefty line. But, no worries -- unlike the limited indoor seating of the Rose Garden, the new Tea House simply handed you your tea and left you free to find a seat among the many tables spread out on a large platform overlooking the gardens, so it actually moved fairly quickly.

For reference, I've included a photo of their current menu below.

Tea selection and serving - 3.5/5.0
Not many teas featured here, but some very good picks among them. (And quite an expansion from the usual 2-3 tea selection available at the Rose Garden.) Most of them are, fortunately, loose leaf, and are served by putting the leaves directly on a tea cup and adding hot water. The good news is that they provide hot water refills (it'd be a sin not to, with some of the loose leaf teas they're serving!). The less-good news is that you have to get up from whatever beautiful garden view you've found and walk back to the Tea House in order to get that refill. (And if you go through 5 or 6 cups, as one ought to with, say, their oolong, that makes for a lot of losing your seat. If anyone at Huntington is reading this -- how about some tea pots with hot water to go with the tea service? :) )

And, of course, the disadvantage of serving loose leaf tea directly on the cup is that, if you're not into super-strong/overbrewed tea, you'd better not be into contemplation or slow sipping, either.

We tried both the Jade Spiral Spring Tea (a green tea, with pale green, long thin leaves that made for two good infusions; a very clear taste, though not quite strong enough to punch through the snacks they served), and the Flowing Fragrance Oolong (large, deep green leaves with a strong and incredibly sweet and flowery taste; definitely my favorite of the two, and could easily have made it through more refill brewings than I had the determination to go back to the tea house for).

Overall, for $2.99, a pretty good value.

Food - 2.0/5.0
They pretty much had two options: very greasy, and very greasy vegetarian. Bonus points for having a vegetarian option (not often I find a vegetarian pork bun; looks like they used mushrooms, and actually made for a pretty decent bun), but the what-looked-like-a-dumpling and the what-was-probably-an-egg-roll tasted like they'd made buddies with a whole vat of oil, and while it is possible to brew tea strong enough to cut through anything, this really wasn't worth it. (Or, for that matter, worth $8.59 for the very small portion.)

However, this was their first day, so maybe they'll get the kinks in the recipes (or cooking method) worked out over time.

Atmosphere - 5.0/5.0
Can't beat sitting by a lake within a beautiful garden on a fresh, warm February day (gotta love California weather...).