Lady Antebellum Christmas Album

A Christmas album by Lady Antebellum.
I like Lady Antebellum. Their music is country-pop, but the vocals work, the material is decent, and the recordings are generally good. So, they are on my playlist every now and again.

While walking The Girl Saturday, I wanted some Christmas music. In browsing through my library, I noticed this recording. So, I queued it up to play and listened while walking and playing with The Girl.

I recall that the album was generally panned by the critics when it was released. For whatever reason, they didn’t like it. As I listened to the tracks, I thought “this is a fairly standard approach to the songs,” yet there was nothing bad about them. Some of the arrangements were the usual fare; a few were quite different. The recording was well done and I did not hear any obvious errors either in the material or in the capture.

I thought “there is nothing wrong with a group assembling some holiday songs, recording them, and then selling the work. It isn’t always just about the money, but about participating in the season through the work.”

I do not know if they were being mercenary in trying to produce and sell product for the season. I do not know if they just wanted to do a holiday album to be part of the season. Perhaps none of that matters. It seemed to me that the result was a reasonable celebration of the Christmas season. Everything was workmanlike and musical. Therefore, I do not understand why the critics did not like the work. It seems just fine to me and I enjoyed having them along on my walk.

It’s Cold and Gray

I so enjoy the fall colors. The air is turning brisk in the morning and the sun is dropping in the sky as we head toward the winter solstice. I love the fall season.

Only a few short weeks ago, I was walking in shirtsleeves along the Carson River in the midst of the fall season. Not long after this image was captured, the weather turned blustery and cool, a sure sign that winter was coming. And, not to disappoint, the windy days were followed by a distinct cooling and we moved into a late dry, cold fall. The temperatures fell into the ‘teens and the leaves quickly shed their remaining leaves, falling into their winter clothes.

It was not long before the first rains came. We do not have a lot of rain here on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. But, we have some. Soon, the rains were mixed with and then replaced by snow.

I do not mind the snow. Neither does The Girl. She is heavily muscled and the cold does not bother her so long as we are moving. I can layer up and the cold does not bother me (so long as we are moving).

Therefore, in the cold we move. I still love to walk along the Carson River. On some days the raptors are particularly active (gotta have food to generate heat) and they are beautiful in the colder light. They soar and call and sometimes I see them cup their wings on the hunt. I will always be amazed at those sights.

The Girl pulls me along, always searching the sage for something to chase. She also plays in the snow and sometimes will go into a zoomie, running like crazy with her legs splayed out and spinning about me. The snow often makes her playful and we play.

And then I will see an image like this one in my collection. There is a certain longing for the warmer days and the beautiful colors that have now gone as cold as the air. But it is alright — I know the season will turn yet again and bring warmer days and colors back to the land. I feel a certain rhythm to the change and it is something that resonates with the internal changes I experience with the seasons. It is good. Life is good.

I remain thankful.

Mars Insight Landing

I watched the final few minutes of the Insight landing. It was successful.

Decades ago I often rose early to watch launches of probes from Cape Canaveral. I recall watching video from the Apollo missions to the moon. I ate these events up, being fascinated by science and astronomy since I was very young.

I never imagined that I would watch the scientists and engineers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on the landing of a geophysical probe on Mars — on my computer over the Internet. Yet, today at noon, I did just that. I watched the control room at JPL as they monitored the probe's entry of the Mars atmosphere and touchdown on the surface.

I am still a little astounded by this. I never expected it.

The probe is important. If the science is successful, it will gather data about the interior of Mars. It will be our first look at the interior of another planet.

I have lived through an incredible series of events. I do not remember it, but Sputnik flew when I was young. I watched the Mercury missions, then the Gemini missions, then the Apollo missions, and the Shuttle missions. I have stepped out my back door and watched the International Space Station fly overhead, a bright, fast-moving star.

These are incredible things. I am so grateful to have been a witness to these events. I am fascinated by all of God's creation, but space is the most fascinating of it all. The vastness of it boggles and expands the mind. Sometimes I think I have just a little insight into infinity. Sometimes…

WP-34s Pocket Reference

A couple of months ago I ordered a Whiskey Papa 34 sierra from the HP Users’ Group. The calculator is a repurposed Hotel Papa 30 bravo (HP-30b) financial calculator into which is flashed an user-developed ROM that converts the financial calculator (yawn) into a significantly powerful scientific calculator (yay).

A friend introduced me to the unit last summer. I was immediately intrigued and decided I had to have one.

The 30b is one of the newer HP designs — light, inexpensive, and with marginal keys. It does not compare well at all with the classic HP designs. Even my HP-48GX has much better keys and a much better heft to it, although I do not particularly care for the larger form factor. The 48 is a big calculator, not a pocket calculator at all, and that is required because of that large screen for display of graphics.

But I digress. I can (and probably will) write about calculators at some length. I think that I mentioned that I purchased one of my long-past objects of lust, the Hotel Papa 41 Charlie Xray (HP-41CX), some time ago. Of all the calculators I have used over my long career, I still think that is one of the best, if not the best handheld.

The 34s is not nearly as expensive, it is small and light, and will likely serve as a carry calculator to go into my kit. The unit conversions built into the software are very useful. The 30b has a decent display that is legible even with old eyes. I think this will be a useful machine.

In my search for beginner’s reference material, I came across a pocket reference guide in PDF format (here). So I downloaded the files and set about creating a pocket reference for myself.

The instructions recommend hand stapling the booklet once printed and the first cut is completed. That means drilling holes for the staples and manually folding them. (This can be avoided if one has access to a saddle-stapler.)

I thought this was less than elegant, so I drilled my first instance of the manual and stitched the binding. The end result is not perfect. I expected this because such projects usually require an iteration or two to iron out any wrinkles. Therefore, I think I will make another sometime over the next few weeks and do a little better job on the stitching. I will also take the cover to the print shop and have it printed on card stock in color. I think a little more attention to the fold (probably need to score the pages at the fold before assembly) and a bit of bookbinder’s tape on the spine will produce a nicer finished product.

The end result fits into the calculator slipcase behind the calculator nicely.

Gratitude 2018

I have just a short post for today, Thanksgiving Day 2018.

My friend and housekeeper, Hilda, came by this morning early to clean my house. She’s been cleaning my house for nearly two years. Over that time we have become good friends. I usually leave the house while she's working so I don't bother her. Sometimes I stay here, in part because the fellowship is good and in part because it is pleasant to hear someone moving about the house.

Most days my house is very quiet. Only my dog and I are active. I spent the better part of 60 years with someone else in the house — before I left home there was my nuclear family; after there was Wife (and then kids) in the house. My normal experience is to have at least one other person moving about in the house.

Now it is very quiet. Most of the time I do not mind that because I am a quiet person. But there are times when I miss the hubbub of family. Holidays tend to be those times.

So, it was pleasant to hear Hilda working in the background as I first finished my breakfast and then puttered on the computer.

In the end, I am thankful for my friend Hilda. I am thankful that I had a houseful of people all those years. I am thankful for my little house here in Carson City. I am thankful that I hear from my children now and again. I am thankful for the constant persistence of The Girl to be engaged and active.

Most of all, I am thankful for the grace of God, who gave all these gifts.

Soul’s Core Revival

Cover art from Soul’s Core Revival.
I have been tracking the crowd-funded revisitation of Shawn Mullins' first widely-received recording, Soul’s Core. I do not recall when or how I came across the announcement, but I immediately put up my funds so that the project would be funded.

It took a few weeks for the required funds to be raised, but they were. Then came the waiting game. I followed the project updates, but only peripherally. Once I put up my funds, I knew that the project would either be completed or not. Regardless of the outcome, the funds were a sunk cost and there was no reason to fret about them. I hoped that the project would be completed and looked forward to the work.

Updates were not frequent. The interim Christmas EP released to sponsors was a perk and I enjoyed it. However, little seemed to be happening to the project. I know, of course, that there are other things to do (such as making a living).

Yesterday I received an email that the digital release would be available for download at midnight this morning, Eastern Time. However, I was so tired last night that I could not stay awake to download the files.

I woke early this morning, made some coffee, and then downloaded the files (as FLACs). It was easy to convert them to ALAC format (Apple's lossless file format — for some reason, Apple refuses to support FLAC… go figure) and import them into iTunes.

The acoustic versions of the files are sweet and intimate. They will be nice for those times when I want lighter musical fare.

The electric (full band) versions are similar to the originals but differ at least subtly. Of course, Mullins is a lot more experienced now and has had decades to interpret his work. This experience is reflected in the results and I think the arrangements, instrumentation, choice of tempo (some are slightly different than the originals), and Mullins’ vocals are wonderful.

I will spend time on these recordings over the next few days. Mullins' other works have been my friends for many years. I have most of his catalog in my library. Some of the early recordings are not as good, either technically or aesthetically (of course). But there are some real gems in the early, independent works. The later recordings show more polish (of course) and his development as a songwriter. It is a considerable body of work for a popular musician and one that I think is worth exploring.

In the end, the results of this project — to revisit the earlier instance of Soul’s Core — are worth the wait. My first listen to them is quite positive and I am not disappointed at all. The original is one of my favorite singer-songwriter records. This one benefits from a couple-three decades of experience and development as an artist. I like it. I will transfer it to my iPhone this morning and will spend some of my time listening to it.

If you like singer-songwriters, you probably know of Shawn Mullins. If you do not know Mullins' work, then you should.

Baski-Robo

The fall colors are fading fast. So, I’m collecting what frames I can so I’ll have stock for the next few weeks.

Fall progresses. The colors are fading quickly. I am capturing every frame I can. I should have material to keep me busy for a few weeks. But I feel the change coming as the landscape dons its winter colors.

A couple of years ago I read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. There were many scenes in the book that captured my attention. One of them came to mind yesterday afternoon.

The Girl and I left the house around 1600h for an evening outing. Now that we are back on standard time, the light begins to fall about 1700h. Therefore, I will adjust our evening schedule so we are not walking in the dark (at least, not often).

I had a late lunch/early supper and she was fed, so there was no rush for supper. We took our time walking around the park, playing, loving, enjoying the cool evening air, and watching the light fade as the sun worked off to the west.

She did the squirrely pit bull thing, wriggling around on her back in the grass, snorting and coughing. I knelt beside her and played a little, then started a tummy rub. I have a smiling dog when she is pleased and I saw the corners of her mouth turn up into that little smile when she is happy and content. We played our little games as we made our way back to the rig.

I offered the ball, but she was not very interested. Well, sometimes she is interested and other times not. So we packed it in and headed away from the park. I decided I wanted a treat, so we drove down the Baskin-Robbins.

I no longer keep ice cream in the house. I like it too much and do not need to eat it every day. So, if I want ice cream, we drive over to the shop and pick it up.

Yes, I said we… wait for it.

I parked the rig and walked into the store. “Do you have black walnut ice cream,” I asked.

The first young woman said “Ummm…” The other, working the register and the drive-up window answered “Yes!”

“I’d like a scoop of Rocky Road and a scoop of Black Walnut in a cup, please.” The first young woman busied herself with my order while I paid the other working the register.

The first returned with my order and handed to me. “Could I have a second spoon, please?” I got a flash of a puzzled look, me being by myself, but she complied.

I walked out to the rig, sampling the Rocky Road as I walked. The Girl was waiting in the back of the rig, watching for me. As I opened the door, she stretched way out “sniff, sniff, sni-sni-sniff” as her nose worked, wondering what wonderful delight I might have returned with.

“Are you going to eat that?” she asked.

We sat there in the lot, me nibbling at the Rocky Road and watching the light change as the sun traveled further west. In between bites, I paused, loaded the second spoon with a little Black Walnut, and offered it to the Girl.

The first bite was funny. She s-n-i-f-f-e-d tentatively, then tried a light lick. Then it was GAME ON and she worked the spoon clean. I placed her spoon on the console and took a bite of Rocky Road for myself.

I took my time, enjoying each bite. I remembered the scene from Peaceful Warrior in which Socrates savors each bite of his food while Asshole just shovels his food in, never noticing anything about it. After each of my bites, I loaded The Girl’s spoon with some Black Walnut and held the spoon for her while she enjoyed her share. Then I would get one for myself while she watched me carefully.

“You are going to share that with me, aren’t you.” It was not a question, but a statement. It is one I hear often. Heh…

We continued working through the treat with me sharing the Black Walnut after the Rocky Road was depleted. It seemed the scoops were much smaller than I recall. I suppose that is just progress.

I was also reminded of a favorite musician, Warren Zevon, gone now for too many years. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he admonished those around him to “Enjoy every sandwich.” It is the same lesson Socrates was teaching Asshole in Peaceful Warrior. Life is short. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. There is wisdom in practicing gratitude, in reflecting on the moment, and on savoring each and every bite. Each is a gift from God.

Last night I was paying attention. The Girl cleaned up the cup after we finished. Then we drove back home. I gave her the last bit of her rawhide chew as I began to settle down for the night.

I am grateful.

Dead Reckoning

I still carry this old (30-years plus) glove-box atlas in my rig. I have navigated between destinations using it and it alone until I got to my destination. I then used my smartphone to find a place to stay or eat and only then used GPS to navigate.

A few days ago a new (to me) book arrived, Dead Reckoning by Ron Doerfler. The book is yet to be read (other than a quick scan), but the title reminded me of the method of navigation by the same name.

Dead Reckoning navigation is the art of estimating one’s position based on the last known position, elapsed time and velocity (or estimated distance) and heading. In other words, given a known position and an estimate of bearing and distance, the current position coordinates can be estimated (or calculated).

In the context of the book, Dead Reckoning refers to methods of calculation (or estimation) of mathematical problems without the use of calculating tools other than one’s brain. It is going to be a fine read and something that will add to my personal toolkit.

But the term reminded me of my wanderings a couple of years ago. As I traveled around the country, I had only a general idea of where I was going. Given that there was no specific destination and no specific schedule, I would stop along the way, retrieve my ancient glovebox atlas, and estimate my location on the very small maps. Using that information I would set a course and make a decision about where I might stay for a night or a few days.

Once near that location, I would open Google maps on my iPhone and look for a place to stay. After identifying a few possible candidates, the reviews would inform whether the place was acceptable. I would then either just drive in or phone ahead for a reservation.

I thought of this as an automotive form of dead reckoning. Given I had no specific destination, I had little need for the precision of GPS and the inherent maps. I just needed a general direction and an estimate of distance so I could decide where to stay for a night or a week.

I was also reminded of how we navigated when I was a young man. There was no GPS system. There were paper maps of various scales. I loved those maps and still have quite a few of them. I would plan a trip with a map and a notepad and I was able to estimate travel times and ETAs without a lot of effort. Sometimes navigation needed a telephone call (from a pay phone) to get to the destination. Often there were signs that provided directions once one was sufficiently close to the target.

There is something deeply satisfying about just using a simple map and about not having a specific itinerary to deal with. There is something satisfying about just going and then being there in that place for a bit.

I think this experience is coming for me again. There is a need in me to just wander for a bit and enjoy the journey. With journal, pen, and camera I can be very happy enjoying the world I live in.

The Hunt

This photograph was posted to my “Instagram account, but is worth a revisit.

I see this heron many times when walking the Carson River. He is always a welcome sight, the beauty and majesty of this bird are significant. But catching a photograph of him is difficult.

Earlier this year my Fujinon 100-400mm lens arrived. This lens is a beast, literally and figuratively. It is one of the heaviest lenses I own. It is also one of the best lenses I own.

I carry it often when walking along the river. It has the ability to bring me photographs I cannot capture without it. It is not a general purpose lens, but one very well suited for wildlife photography. I love to capture wildlife with the camera. Results like this one make the expense and effort worthwhile.

Key|Smart

I have carried this Key|Smart for several years. The anodizing is wearing from high-friction areas, but it is holding up well and is one of my better purchases.

A couple-three years ago I carried my keys on a ring a-jumble in my left front pocket. They were on the opposite side from my front-pocket wallet. They were forever bouncing around the bottom of the pocket and I cannot recall the number of times they poked my leg, sometimes painfully.

They also subjected my pocket to a lot of wear. I have had more than one pair of jeans lose the pocket to my keys and need repair.

About that time I became aware of the EDC “thing” and the community that grew up around it. I did not that Every-Day-Carry was a “thing” — but it is quite a thing. Keys and wallets are two significant components of EDC, along with knives and other tools. I could write several articles about this and I might.

In any event, I came across the Key|Smart. It is a small device designed to hold several keys in a compact, secure holder that is easily clipped to a lanyard or other retaining device. I bought one and it was delivered a few days after my purchase.

I read a few horror stories about users who had their Key|Smart loosen and floor sort all of their keys, some of them lost. These were individuals who carried their keys outside the pocket. If the device loosened, then there could be a loss of keys. However, for the life of me, I cannot understand why one would not hear them drop to the ground.

So I assembled the set of carry-keys (I have another non-carry keyring that holds the remainder), organized them in a fashion I thought would be optimal, and started carrying them in my KeySmart.

After a few days, I build a lanyard from some paracord that permits my keys to ride in my left-front pocket but they hang from my belt and do not lie on the bottom of my pocket. This works for me. I use an S-biner to clip to the lanyard (a loop-lanyard) so I can one-handed release the upper portion of the S-biner, retrieve my keys, and flip open the housekey without needing both hands.

This works for me.

I have reorganized the keys as the number of keys changes with time. I also have the most-used keys away from the clip end of the KeySmart.

Yesterday, I removed an unused key (probably an old Post Office key) and rearranged the spacers to put one between each key. This means the keys no longer ride against each other and they are a little easier to roll out with one hand.

Besides not having a jumble of keys rattling around in the bottom of my left front pocket, the Key|Smart is nearly silent. I rarely hear it unless it bounces against the Bestech Kendo that I currently carry clipped to my left front pocket. The silence is a boon.

I can readily recommend this handily little device.