Missed It By That Much

Tomorrow is Halloween which makes tonight’s post a perfect fit.  Add to that the extra bonus of having the fourth phase of Project Auuuunoooold completed today taking a load of worry off leading to a relaxing night of watching the Cardinals… you have an ideal situation to get the last post of the month knocked out an entire day early (crowd goes wild, ticker tape flies, women tak…err better reel it in).  Just wanted to build up a little bit of excitement since this post actually has an element of disappointment to it.  Regulars to this site know that October usually brings the final running event of the year and this year was no different.  Last Friday the Screaming Pumpkin Marathon Relay took place and our team from last year – Zombies after Rhonda (link here) was in it to win it.  A quick summary for those that are not familiar with the particular nuances of this race.  It is a prediction race which means you have to determine the time it will take for each of your team’s four loops through the course.  That time is then subtracted from midnight to determine when you start the race.  Watches and other timing devices are not allowed while running and the first team finishing closest to midnight without going over is declared the winner.  Sounds simple right?  hope you responded with a resounding NO because that is the only acceptable answer to that question.

Most runners worry about their splits A LOT during a race…  and some like myself even fret about it during every training run.  There is one big advantage … we are usually wearing watches and/or other timing devices so if one split it slow or fast, you can immediately correct it on the next.  Without a watch you feel naked and vulnerable to bonks and over exertion.  Zombies after Rhonda is a three person team consisting of Rhonda, Ryan and Myself.  Thanks to the R’s, I get to close out my racing season with a half marathon to complete my now standard goal of two a year.  Did I mention it was a costume encouraged event?

Last year I went as a runner but Rhonda and Ryan went the extra mile and shamed me.  This year I “tried” to go in costume but had some difficulties at the start.  I did get my shirt made in time – I took the lead from Rhonda’s outfit “Zombies Don’t Like Fast Food” but added “Unless It’s Rhonda” to keep with our team’s theme.  Ryan showed up in a new costume this year – a head to toe skeleton which was just plain awesome!

This year we decided to start at 8:05pm based on the splits from Rhonda, Ryan and my plan to run a 56 minute loop followed by a 60 minute loop.  From the IVS Half Marathon Race earlier in the Season (link here), I knew there would be a drop off and based on the cold from last year assumed a about a 4 minute impact.  I added around a 3 minute pad due to the number of variables on the course (it is a tough hilly course and the actual surface is very choppy and potholed – difficult during light much less in the dead of night).

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR… just lost signal due to the rain on my satellite UNBELIEVABLE

Hit the jump to see how the race turns out

Continue reading Missed It By That Much

Operation: Something To Crow About

Ever have one of those days when you look back and wonder how you got everything done on the must do list?  How about two days in a row of that?  Three?  Well, I can honestly say the last FOUR days have been one for the ages.  It is fairly late on Sunday and about the first time I’ve been able to sit for a few minutes not to mention reliving my college years sleep cycle.  I’ll leave out the details for now since the last four days have been filled with upcoming blog topics, but for a short summary the real journey began after work on Thursday with hauling water and working on decorations.  Friday morning began with decorations and doing my best to get stuff ready for Saturday without tiring myself too much and avoiding injury at all cost.  Friday night was spent running a half marathon in a cemetery (until midnight)  followed by Saturday morning early rise to spend ALL day setting up the haunted trail for the cookout that night.  Up early again to haul everything back out of the woods during the day and then finding out Project Auuuunnold was going to go into a new phase tomorrow morning requiring me to spend all night prepping for that.  Of course, a big thanks goes to Linda as well otherwise this would have been pretty much a non-starter.  The good news is it’s done and there’s plenty of time for sleep and recovery!

Since Halloween is officially coming up later this week, figured I’d pay tribute to one of my favorite past times – that’s right, the annual pumpkin carving (and the images were already processed which helps out when trying to get a quick post out).  Thought you might be interested in the process I use for my pumpkin carvings.  I tried to take a number of pictures during the process to help show the different stages.  In fact, there are so many pictures in this post I’ll likely let them do the talking and go light on the text. … and we’re off..

The first step in the process is to figure out the theme.  Every once in awhile I have a subject already picked out, but more often it is usually a night spent parading through pages after pages of Google Images.  This process can get a little dark and be warned you might stumble upon some images that just might be emotionally scarring.  Search terms such as demon, haunted, warlock, devil, gothic, horror, vampire and … ummm yea, I’ve taken “terror” off my search list for obvious reasons.  Each one of those words will produce a very healthy (err. better word..  large) collection of images.  Your goal is to find one with a lot of contrast that works in a 3 color palette.  I usually download a number of images and then proceed to do test palette reductions to see which one works the best.

This year’s winner was…

I actually found it under the gothic category.  As a big fan of The Crow this seemed like a perfect fit.  Before going further, always heed any copyright issues.  The site AllBackgrounds.com listed these images as free but just in case, all rights to this images remain with the original owner – my use is personal only and no revenue is generated off the resultant pattern or carved pumpkin.  With that out of the way, the next phase is to convert the image down to a 3 color palette.  This takes a lot of trial and error and recommend only reducing the colors a little at a time to make sure the conversion thresholds work with the image you are trying to produce.  Paint Shop Pro is my go to tool due to the relatively simple menus (still using version 7 before they went off and tried to compete with Adobe).  Save often and be prepared to backtrack if you lose a feature.  The following shot was pretty far along in the reduction process.  Notice how crisp the lines ended up (thanks to  some quick zooming in and pixel correcting where necessary) which is perfect for the end pattern which maintains the desired effect.

At this point I start the more creative aspect of the project.  Basically you have to zoom in and hand correct any dithering that still remains and add any “pumpkin nuances” that are required.  These little features are needed to generate a pattern that can actually be carved and once cut will help extend the life of the end product.  I am absolutely fed up with all the sites on the internet offering up free patterns that DO NOT WORK!   These fakes are easily noticed once you know what to look for ..and/or if you’ve blown a few pumpkins like I have in the past.  Look for areas that are not cut out – if you see a cut that make their way all the way around it .. bad pattern!  Trust me, you will start noticing the fakes now – they are generally produced on a graphics program, converted to the proper colors and slapped up on the website as a freebie patter (really irks me).  Do you notice any of the features I added below….

Hit the Jump to see how the pattern turns out!

Continue reading Operation: Something To Crow About

Introducing Nihil and a Visit From an Old Friend

As I sit here in my forced ban on all things political for the moment I thought I’d crank out another post.  Actually I just finished another project which will soon be making its way to the blog (yeah) and it occurred to me that I had a quick one in the hopper that needed to be finished up.  Next week is going to be a whirlwind and don’t need to have the quota hanging over me to add any additional stress.  Ironically, nothing relieves stress like successfully dealing with a destructive pest.

Readers of this off ramp on the Information Super Highway should be very familiar with my absolute distaste for MOLES (shudder even typing it).  They are right up there with clowns on my top ten antagonist list but unlike clowns these fur demons regularly manage to make their way onto my property.  To normal creatures the homestead is a sanctuary of sorts.  Rarely does anything meet their fate by my hands when they mind their own business and refrain from too much visible damage.  This includes the deer that enjoy grazing through my landscape, raccoons that grow out of their cute stage and start taking liberties with the bird feeders, spiders that somehow find their way into the house and the mice that refuse to believe our propane tank is not their pleasure palace.  All of these incidents pass without harm.  That is all fine and dandy until I see that trail of dirt streaking across my lawn – blood boils, words are cursed and then I am pressed into action which means war (link here).  With all the Project Auuuuunnnoooold work this year I have not been as diligent as usual.  A few tails were seen at the edge of the yard but gave it the benefit that it mistakenly left the safety of the woods but would soon correct the error of its ways.  That was until a couple of weeks ago when a line showed up in MY FRONT YARD.  This is completely unacceptable.  If you recall from a very sad post sometime back (link here), I had lost a good friend.  I had not pulled out the new ones yet so opted to go with the old one.  It had been giving me some concern due to how tight the springs seemed to be lately.  All but the main line was stomped down and the trap set.  Soon there were would be snapping in the air.  Yet when I got home the next day, the trap was still set and all the side mounds were back up DAMMIT!  This must be an uber smart one.  Time to bring out Annihilation or Nihil for short.  Based on the difficulties setting it, Trigger (as in Hair Trigger) might have been a better name.  I’d set it, take a step and it would spring.. set, step, spring, set step spring – eesh.  Eventually it was worked enough to hold but still cautiously made my way out of the kill zone.

A quick check a few hours later brought a smile to my face…

Not even an uber-smart mole can defeat me.  Nihil comes through on its very first outing.  Problem solved!  Let’s all give a warm welcome to Nihil for he shall have a long and prosperous life (whatever you do, don’t mention the fate of Termi).   For those that like to keep track, the 2013 tally is now Brian 1 Hellspawn ZERO.  How about another joyful shot….

all it had to do was stay in the woods and it would still be grubbing it to the day it died of natural causes.. or the coyotes found it.. or it dared to even look at my neighbors manicured lawn.  …. but NOOOOOO it decided to play with fire.

Hit the jump to see an old friend!

Continue reading Introducing Nihil and a Visit From an Old Friend

A Juvi or a Bittern – Tough to Tell

Looks like today I can report the tale of two lists.  First off, thanks to confirmation from Ron I can now add two more check marks to my birding list.  This is definitely one of those very pleasing moments when I can make that mark next to another entry, but when you actually get to make two marks at once .. through the roof.  If you recall, a few posts ago (link here), I had made some speculation on some bird identifications that were stumping me.  Figured the suggested identifications were my best guesses, but looks like Ron was in agreement with both of them – SWEET!  That Yang and the Um thingy once again makes its presence known around here.  With the good of the bird checks comes the equally bad entry on The List.  Those who know me, know you never ever want to make it on that list since it signifies a personal lifetime ban.  Surprisingly, I was able to locate an old copy of it online (link here).  I have to admit that Best Buy made its way off the list thanks to Circuit City closing leaving no other competition in the area.  There are some other additions, but today’s add is Eddie Vedder and of coarse ANYTHING he is affiliated with.

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Ten

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Mother Love Bone and Soundgarden fan when I bought Temple of the Dog

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Vs

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Vitalogy

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Yield

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought Ten for Rockband

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Pearl Jam fan when I bought their guitar sheet music for Ten

I was a law abiding 2nd Amendment practicing Eddie Vedder fan when I wisely chose not to buy his craptastic solo album

… and now this fuck wishes bad things to happen to me (link here).  I wonder exactly what this asshole would think if someone went after his First Amendment rights?  It isn’t worth wasting anymore time on this topic – the money saved on not buying his latest album will nicely offset the cost of the ammunition spent while substituting those CDs for targets.  Welcome to The List.

Cleansing breadth … crap Kozma is sucking it up at the plate for the Cardinals tonight… cleansing breadth.

There, much better.  On to the real topic of this post.  The last plea for bird identification help worked out so well, figured it was worth trying it again.  Once again there’s another bird shot the second day of the Henderson Nevada Bird Viewing Preserve that has me in a quandary.  What seems to be the norm these days, the expectations going into the identification phase were high due to the key features this particular bird possesses.

Stocky frame, dark coloring palette and takes the standard Heron/Egret form in flight.  No problem right.. this has to be a Green Hero… uh, hmm uh.. let me look at those reference books again.  From the reference images, the Green Heron tends to have a rustier neck and a little more yellow on the bill.  They are also a lot more stockier than the specimen here.  Hold on, there should have been a post on one.  Yes, yes, here it is (link here).  Now it is coming back to me – that bird found at Jubilee Park looked a lot different than this one – mainly again due to the stockiness and the varying yet pronounced colors.  This next shot doesn’t show a whole lot more, but does provide some clues to the neck coloring.

Hit the jump to continue the quest to identify this bird

Continue reading A Juvi or a Bittern – Tough to Tell

Book Recollection: One Bullet Away

Stepping up my game a little here.  This will be my third Book Recollection in four months.  Definitely an approval over my last drought.  A trip to Vegas was a big help in getting through this offering – nothing like sitting by the pool in the Vegas sun reading a book and getting grapes delivered to you by the help.  Of course that is probably more of Linda’s doing than mine but got’s me sum tasty grapes anyway (rumor has it Vegas sun does something to your brain).  If you recall from the last recollection (link here) I alluded that a superior offering was forthcoming.  Without further delay I bring you One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine  Officer.  This particular work was everything that I had hoped for with American Sniper and then some.  From all the other reads this author (Nathaniel Fick) has come the closest to matching my pedestal on which sits Lone Survivor.   It has been so long now I am unable to remember what prompted me to put this on my reading list but somewhere, somehow this book caught my attention (likely due to being a New York Times Bestseller but it might have actually shown up as a recommended read in Entertainment Weekly).  It doesn’t really matter where – just go out and get this book if you want an informative and compelling read on what it takes to be a Marine officer.  Captain Fick was (or maybe “is” – not sure you lose your rank when you leave the militarily honorably) served as a Marine infantry officer and became a Captain in the elite First Reconnaissance Battalion.  New to me was that the Marines do not have a designated elite division electing not to participate in the special operations command – “there will be no special Marines.”  Frequent readers know a lot of this blogger’s time has been spent pouring over books on the Seals and Special Forces units – the Marines were a new branch to explore.  Turns out there is an unwritten elite within the Marine ranks and that (as you probably guessed) is the Recon Unit.  From this read, these soldiers truly live up to their motto Swift, Silent and Deadly.  They are the tip of the spear and thrive there through skill, determination and all the firepower they can muster into the field.  Based on Nathaniel’s accounts the Silent part often takes backseat to the Swift and Deadly as he recounts time after time driving their Humvees directly into the heart of the enemy and establishing superiority.  While on the subject of deadly, my mouth dropped open when I read that “Marksmen” are actually the LOWEST on the shooter qualification standard – “Sharpshooter” is above that and “Expert” beyond that.  As Nathaniel points out, you don’t want to introduce yourself to the men you are going to lead into battle as just a Marksmen.

Captain Fick puts you in the passenger seat as he takes the battle to Afghanistan and then on to the hot sun of Iraq.  Much like Lone Survivor, the author does an excellent job of painting the situation and recounting the actions taken.  More importantly, Fick takes you inside his thought process, laying out the options, correlating his training, taking you through the determined action and then assessing the results.  I can’t complement the author enough on his candidness admitting his mistakes and giving due credit to his team.  Absent was the sense of pure cockiness so evident in the American Sniper book.  Nathanial was trained to be the best and characterized his superior actions as just doing his job.  This is a must read if you want to understand what it takes to be a Marine officer, what you have to endure to be considered a Marine, the expectations superiors place on you when lead men into combat and what those soldiers rely on to make it out alive.  If you are like me, you always ask yourself “could I do that”, “could I make it through that experience”, “do I have the drive and determination to endure the hardships imposed on officer candidates and ultimately be effective in the field.  In this specific situation the answer is clearly NO (as the ego deflates).  I might be able to make it through the infantry training (with a hell of a lot of luck) but the Recon training would do me in – even if I could make it through some of it, the torture preparedness would  be my Uncle.  That chapter gave me nightmares for weeks.  Adding to that, Fick provided a side of war that is often glossed over in similar works – the theater of the gruesome.  The damage that today’s instruments of war can inflict on the human body is horrific at best and hammers home the difficulties soldiers must face as they assimilate back into society.  As a hint, they literally spend time in emergency rooms during their training to become desensitized to the scenes they will experience in action – not to mention an entire class on Killology to get them mentally prepared for the “shock”.  Let’s all be thankful there are individuals out there willing to put country first and body second.  To all those we owe a a great deal of respect and unlimited gratitude.  Well done Nathaniel, well done!

Hit the jump to read about the MANY takeaways from this read

Continue reading Book Recollection: One Bullet Away

To Check or Not to Check

I can’t believe it is October already!  Seems like this year is flying by way to fast – pretty soon it will be snowing in Denver.  What!?!  holy crap, it is snowing in Denver today.  Those Globull Warming dudes got some splaining to do.  I warned you on the last post we would once again be spending some time at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve  in the coming posts as I try to close out the second day of shooting there.  The good news is we are almost through that visit.. bad news is we had the opportunity to head back there a few months ago so we are far from over at that birding paradise.  To start the month off, I’m in need of some more help.  I am always amazed at how hard bird identification can be even with what I would consider unique features.  Two birds are featured here that gave me some troubles and thus not entirely sure if I have them right.  If I do, then there will be two new checks in the Bird List.  Always pleased when I can mark up the list and as you have seen in the past posts, this particular birding site was a goldmine of check marks.

First off I bring you this rather plain looking bird:

I suspect your first inclination is to ID it as an American Crow.  Pretty common bird around here so I have the advantage of seeing it just about every day.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time out in Yellowstone so I can definitely tell you how those compare to the mammoth Ravens out there.  But something just didn’t seem right about this one.  It was black (I can always get the easy ones) but the beak just didn’t seem to fit the large but blunter ones on the Crows around here.  The other part that was causing me some confusion was the tail.

It seemed to long and slender relative to the more stockier body frame of the Crow (and definitely smaller all around compared to those Ravens).  This concern sent me pouring over bird references looking for some other alternative.  Eventually I made my way to the Grackles.  Typically the Grackle is easy to distinguish due to the iridescent purple coloring when the light hits them right.  It is hard to tell in this picture due to having little sun at the moment this was taken but the shape is darn close from my perspective.  Post processing may have taken some slight shimmer out since I was thinking it was just a nicely posed Crow at the time.  The yellow eye definitely stands out which is a defining feature for the Grackle – the Crows and Ravens tend to have black on black eyes.  Now the hard part.. which Grackle.  The Common one is close but the images in the books definitely show more of a purple hue and/or more brownish than the full on black this one is sporting.  That left the Boat Tailed, but that is NO WHERE near where we were out in Nevada (more East Coast).  Could it be the Great Tailed Grackle?

To the web!

Take a gander at the set of images at AllAboutBirds.org (link here).  As mentioned, not positive, but it definitely looks similar to the Great Tailed Grackle shown there – and we can definitely dismiss the Common version. Would appreciate any help on this one.  I have no problem accepting that it is a Common Crow or possibly something I overlooked, but keep in mind that yellowish eye.  Definitely distinct.  Sorry I can’t give you any other angles, this was about the sum total of the shots.  With all the new birds there I likely didn’t spend much time on what I assumed at the time was a common bird.  Regardless of what the ID comes out as, the composition turned out nice especially with the first and this one.

The tail matched the twig angle and the head aligned with both the upper and lower branches giving a nice framing effect.  If you have time, take a stab at it and use the comments for any ideas.

Hit the jump for the second bird featured in this post!

Continue reading To Check or Not to Check