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...).