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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fluffy Mayhem

I set my camera up for a time-lapse of the blizzard. Since last week was the 'Snownami' and 'Snowmageddon' this storm seemed to get christened 'The Blizzard of Oz.' Though we got nothing from what I heard compared to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles from the same storm. I heard on NPR last night they actually pulled in the plows because it wasn't safe for them to be out on the road. That's a bad blizzard.

I've been having a lot of fun with the interval thing on my D7000, shot a couple of time lapses from the last snowpocalypse (another nom de guerre you hear in Kansas City, a place which gets snow so rarely that even a dusting inspires people to think of the End Times). I charged the battery up and had a couple of false starts setting up the deal. Nothing was happening, the snow that was supposed to hit at three in the afternoon was then supposed to hit at seven was then supposed to hit at eleven and I don't know. It was around midnight when I gave up and just let the camera do its thing.

My phone rang at 7:30, my boss telling me there was no power at the shop so don't bother coming in.

He needn't have worried, I'd already decided that if the storm did anything like what was projected, I was sitting this one out. I got my desk extra caught up before I left yesterday and it's not like there's a lot of walk-in traffic for a print shop on a day such as this.

If I was going to make an attempt, it would either be by bicycle or bus I'd decided. No point getting my little xB stuck in the path of a snow plow and towed off.

I'd figured I'd go back to bed and sleep in but the snow was too exciting, I had to go play in it. But first, of course, I had to go check on the time lapse photography project. The one I stayed up late to start. And I found a camera on a tripod utterly unresponsive. The battery had died after 275 frames, way before the neighbor's tree across the street shed a limb and before the road got deep with it. Damn. I guess I need a second battery after all: I've shot hundreds of shots in a day and marveled at the lifespan of my battery but of course I turn the camera on and off a lot on a day like that. Leaving it on all night seems to be a bit different. I guess I'd need to have that second battery and set an alarm to get up and swap it out. Maybe swap an SD card while I'm at it since even 8GB cards fill up fast when you shoot hundreds of RAWs.

Oh, and if you watch the video, that reference to Ozzy... Yeah. Since this was supposed to be the 'Blizzard of Oz' I created my video with the opening track from the album 'Blizzard of Ozz.' Yes, I knew I was violating Ozzy's sacred copyright, I just hoped I was violating it on such a small scale that it wouldn't matter, but apparently Google/YouTube's attorneys and code monkeys have conspired to make that impossible. I love that album, Randy Rhoads is in my top two or three all time rock & roll guitarists and I bought that sucker legit on vinyl (dropping the needle on that record on my Dad's hi-fi was one of my formative experiences, true story) and CD so I guess I feel entitled to use 90 seconds of it for a half-baked time lapse video without being called out for it. But I guess not, so I let YouTube sub some generica garbage soundtrack on there rather than let the snow fall in the all-too-realistic-silence.

The bike did so-so going downhill on my street but uphill was pointless. I literally couldn't make the thing roll forward pedaling, I got zero traction.

So I gave up on the bike in favor of hiking to take photos. Then I remembered Corinna asking me to walk Sheba, something she knew I wouldn't do—not the way she meant. When she walks Sheba, she olds the leash in one hand while riding her bike. Sheba is a big, spastic freak and there's no way I'm up for that. Even on dry pavement, she'd put me on the pavement every block or two and I don't have the same peace about falling down that Corinna has.

But walking to take pictures, that's doable. Sheba still almost pulled me over a few times looking to check out bunny holes in the snow or wanting to go meet other dogs. But she was so happy to be out in the neighborhood.

To give us a destination besides photographing the spectacularly wet, sticky snowstorm aftermath, I figured we'd go vote. The polling place where I voted in the general election last fall is only about three quarters of a mile from the house, perfect walk for a dog, right?

We got there and there's no sign of life whatsoever. Not even a footprint in the snow in front of the place.

But while we were out walking I'd noticed that once we got off our own street, the main roads were pretty well plowed and treated. And even a lot of the neighborhood had good deep ruts in it from pickups and such driving through the deep snow. So when we got back, I found out where they'd consolidated the voting to (five places in the whole county) and decided to ride there.

As I started off down my street a woman shoveling snow hollered to me to 'be careful!' Yeah yeah yeah. You hear that a lot when you cycle for transportation. My wife even has a poem about it.

But like I say, I'm not into falling so after a few slipsydoodles I walked it down to State Avenue and rode from there. Which was super easy riding, just wet pavement and hardly any traffic.

When I got to the election office, though, I stepped in a deep, cold puddle and the plans I'd been hatching for riding out on a wider adventure kind of got curtailed. Wool socks and chemical toe warmers will extend running shoes as acceptable footwear down to maybe 20ºF, but that's if you can keep them dry. I have boots, good waterproof boots that are normally what I wear for this kind of weather but they Bermuda Triangulated after the Joplin trip and several extensive efforts to locate them have failed. It's to the point where I might buy a new pair, they weren't particularly expensive as I recall.

I'm sure I'd have gotten more traction on the snow on a fat bike like my friend Joel has. His is a Pugsley, a model made by Surly that's quite popular in places like Alaska and cities that get regular lake-effect snows all winter long. They have a version now called the Moonlander with even fatter tires, almost five inches, and it would have been fun to have that much float and grip today but that's a lot of cash to tie up in a snow bike for Kansas City. It's the bicycle equivalent of keeping a Humvee just for those days every couple of years where it's handy—nothing wrong with that, but even if I could cashflow it, I'm not sure where I'd store a fleet of bikes.

But I did get to vote at least—and I figure my vote counts like two or three when the weather keeps so many people home from the poles, providing a multiplier to the already hefty weight of a vote in a strictly local primary election.

The walk did give me a renewed appreciation of my hip neighborhood. I'm not sure anyone else has defined it as such, but it fits my criteria. I live in a modest, three bedroom bungalow type thing with what a Realtor would call a one car garage but really it's an eight bike garage and we park our cars outside by the trash boats. Four doors down and three up and you're at the Senator Darby mansion which has fireplaces in all five bedrooms if I recall from the homes tour and a basement garage made for an uninterrupted presidential motorcade. Prairie school, neocolonial, plain old ranch house, our neighborhood has it all.

I passed one neighbor who was digging out a truly long driveway, to a garage way back behind the house. I was flooded with gratitude that I had less than teen feet to shovel to get my xB to the street.

As much fun as I had today, riding my bike in extremes and shooting pictures of snow with postcard qualities, I think I'm ready for spring. I could go for another foot or two of snow as far as easing the drought. Our foundation would benefit from it, not to mention our fruit trees and the garden I'm keen to get planting—in a week or two.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Egg Drop Soup

I've been pretty hooked on Chinese takeout soup lately, especially egg drop and hot sour.

I decided to try making my own even though at least one Chinese place near my work must lose money on their soup (about two bucks a quart).

I didn't have white pepper but substituted some Szechuan peppercorns which might have been a mistake. Coupled with the tiny bit of ginger, I think it makes the egg drop soup taste funky, at least the bites that have a piece of the peppercorn.

It was pretty good, though, with some mushrooms and chopped green onion tops for garnish. I'll have to do some research into how to make it more like the takeout stuff (besides adding about a pound of MSG).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Snowpeople Gone Bad

A couple years ago, last time we had snow like this, I couldn't get the girls to help me build a snowman. It broke my heart a little bit, we'd built a few over the years, but you don't get that many snows deep enough that get melty enough on a weekend day to make it happen often.

One of my fondest memories living in my old neighborhood in Gardner was a day in 2007 when the whole neighborhood went berzerk building snowmen.

The next year, we built Crusty the Snowman.

Our snowmen haven't always been male, we made a snowwoman the year of the snowman festival in Gardner Manor.

Somewhere in between there, I raced to my Mom's house to build the Rocket Snowman after church one Sunday when the snow was melting fast. That was the first time I ran into real resistance from the girls. Something about hitting their teens made building a snowman with Dad seem dumb.

When I tried to get them to do one two years ago, Em said something to the effect that we could build a snowman anytime, though a review of my blog reveals that at best we had the chance every two years or so.

To my delight, today they didn't fight it. Mo didn't stay at it for very long, and I might have bribed her with junk food just a little bit, but that was a well-spent sleeve of chocolate donuts.

Em surprised me by actually get out and getting into it before me and Mo had gloves on. She made a tiny snowman on the porch and asked if that counted. Then she went and made a snowgirl with a bikini top while I was still trying to set up the tripod to shoot the video up top here.

I said we needed to make her a boyfriend, and she said, no, the girl doesn't have a boyfriend, she's on spring break and looking at most to hook up.

This is not the narrative you get when you build snowmen with little kids.

But okay, we made a beach bum to go with her, and then for good measure another girl. They're all getting drunk on cheap beer (really cheap bear actually).

We got in an argument over the headwear. I have the St. Patrick's hat, of course, but then I thought of a retired helmet I have (I cracked it in a bike accident and had to replace it). The helmet still had the mohawk, and Em didn't think it was funny to picture her Dad trying to pick up drunken snowbimbos on spring break in Alaska.

By the time I got home from handing the girls off to the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster, the beer had taken full effect and our snowpeeps were falling down drunk. Especially the dude, from the way he's tilting, he's not even going to remember meeting these two snowhotties.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Killing Time, Unkilling 'Puters

Em returned to her room last night to find her laptop passed out in a pool of its own blood, completely unresponsive.

We did everything we knew to revive the computer, which mainly meant we poked the power button and wondered why.

Today after I dropped Em off at rehearsal (with four hours to kill either staying in Gardner or driving to and fro), I called a friend I don't call enough. Randy has a lot of expertise with computers, but he's also been a great friend going back a ways. How far back? I can remember sitting at a bar with him when the first President Bush announced that we were about to 'liberate' Kuwait (I'm pretty sure no regular folks in Kuwait felt genuinely liberated before or since that day).

His first diagnosis was a thermal issue, leave a laptop on a bed and it'll shut down or melt down. But way before all this drama, just a few months after I got her this laptop for Christmas before last, she picked it up by its lid and broke the hinge. She didn't share this info with me, thinking (rightly) that I'd have been livid. What happened, the screws that hold the bottom half of the hinge to the case stripped out of their plastic holders. On the side where the power comes in, they've almost worn through the insulation on the wiring, and a few day sor months from now, they'll cause a short and fry the sucker.

At Randy's advice, I picked up a 500GB external hard drive at Wal-Mart so Em could back up her current drive after Randy got the thing to at least wake back up. If she uses that external drive, when the laptop does finally go tits up, she can plug that external into any of a dozen computers and retrieve/edit/finish her work. Then maybe a seventeen year old needs to find a summer job to buy her own next laptop.

While we were waiting for Em to get out of rehearsal I shot some pictures through the trees into the sun. I couldn't really look through the viewfinder very well to do this, but I figured out that I could hold my finger on the shutter release and look at my forearm for when there was so much light entering the lens that it would project onto me and then squeeze off the shot.

I'd done a check to see what my shutter count was up to (found a website that you can upload a pic to to find out). The site wanted a low res JPEG, so while I normally shoot everything RAW, I switched the camera to take the test. Just shy of 20,000 shots, well under a year in. On a pace to do at least 30,000 per year, which makes me a little nervous since the D7000 is only rated for 150,000, and that means five years and I'll burn this puppy up.

Then I realized after taking these shots, to my horror, that I had forgotten to set the camera back to shooting RAW. So my sun shots and the shot I took of some bucket snowmen on 18th Street near Central, all low res JPEGs. Good thing I didn't want to print any of those as posters.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snow Day

Today reminded me a lot of a day two years ago, when a heavy snow storm inspired me to skip work.

Except this time I was snowed in with my kids and Corinna was out of town.

I have to say, my kids aren't as much fun as they once were. Zero interest in making snow angels, building a snowman, even going out in the white stuff.

Of course, they're sixteen and seventeen years old, so I guess that's normal.

I played with my camera a bit, trying to cope with the glare of the snow. I made this video with shots made with the interval timer on my D7000 set to take a shot every fifteen seconds. I'd shoveled out to the car earlier to get my tripod and in hopes that my boots were there.

My boots Bermuda Triangulated some time since my Joplin attempt, the last time I had occasion to wear them.

I didn't really want another self-portrait but since the girls wouldn't come out to play, I experimented with dragging the shutter on myself. Without the flash, my sweater was a black blotch and my face was heavily shadowed. I set the exposure to be under by a stop or two and then fired the flash.

I'm not much looking forward to tomorrow morning. The school district cancelled Friday but being a one-man department I can't probably extend this into a four day weekend. I know my desk was pretty caught up when I left Wednesday, I made sure it was because I knew Thursday was maybe going to be like this.

I'm not sure when or if the city will blade my street, but at least it's downhill to get out to the main roads. Those should be well salted and bladed clean by morning.

Coming home tomorrow night, maybe I'll have to do like a couple of my neighbors did today and park around the corner and hike in.


From what I can tell, Kansas City, Missouri still has a policy that snow removal on side streets will be done by June. I lived in the Old Northeast for five years, and the one time I got angry that they hadn't plowed Elmwood days after a storm and called the city I was told to be serious, Elmwood wasn't a major artery. A customer in the shop said his homeowners association contracts for private snow removal in his neighborhood since the city won't do it, and charges him accordingly in dues. That really bothers me, because snow removal from public roads is about as basic and fundamental as city services get. When I was growing up, even the side streets got cleaned off pretty quickly in Overland Park (I think they still do), but the sales tax back then was about half what it is today in KCMO. Not having grown up on the Missouri side, I don't know what it was like there circa 1977, but I know that today the sales tax in KCMO is roughly 10% (it's under 9% officially, but they tack on 2% with 'restaurant meals' and I think they sneaky-pete some other bumps in there for special districts and so on), yet anyone who wants to be able to drive to and from their own house has to pay for snow removal out of pocket.

Sure, things cost more today, but sales tax is naturally indexed—it's a percentage based on what stuff costs. The worst part is, I know KCMO could do it if they wanted to because they did two years ago when Mark Funkhauser was running for re-election and we had a storm almost identical to this. I met the guy once, and he's not Mr. Personality, but he struck me as a very smart and honest guy—I really can't imagine such a character getting elected mayor in a major city, in fact. I suspect he really believed delivering city services would get him reelected, and now that this theory has been filed alongside his way dumber theory, that it was a good idea to pick a fight about bringing his wife to work, no future Kansas City mayor will make the mistake of squandering resources on passable roads.

I worried that KCK, where I now reside, maybe approached snow removal the same half-assed way. I didn't remember them ignoring the streets after the blizzard two years ago but we didn't have winter last year, so I thought maybe I'd forgotten. I was prepared upon arriving in the vicinity of home to find a parking lot on a major street and hike in (my Scion xB gets the worst traction of any car I've ever owned when it comes to winter weather—the only real knock I have against an otherwise stellar vehicle). To my delight, I was able to drive right up to my driveway and after blasting through a little snow berm made by the plows, park in the driveway.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Snow on the Rocket

As I was getting ready to ride in to the Bier Meisters competition Saturday morning, I was struck by the way Thor's Candycane looked with snow. Used to be one of my favorite models to fly, long since retired to a life as yard art.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sunday Afternoon Tag Safari

I was going to rack cider and beer this afternoon, part of my whole Bachelor Weekend Master Plan.

Bachelor Weekend was a term I coined for weekends when I didn't have my kids after the divorce. I angled for as much parenting time as I could get at the time of my divorce, so that meant there were only twelve such weekends a year, and of those, really only six counted since I generally have my big freelance gig on the other six, a project I've done since the mid-1990s.

I generally pack as much me-time activity as possible into those six. I'm likely to do things like brew a batch of beer, go bike touring, plant 30 tomato plants, that sort of thing. I had the Bier Meisters competition the first half of this one, and kegging up cider and trippel for the other part. In addition to going to church this morning, probably by bike. Oh, and blogging a bit, and so on.

And it was even more bachelor-ish because the Poet Laureate of Lobster Land, my wife, is travelling.

Then, Sunday morning, Jello came into my bed and pinned me. I don't think you can appreciate the awesome power of a ten pound cat to subdue a grown man. It was nearly noon before I managed to wrestle my way out from under him. A few hours later, when I was finally ready to get down to business, I felt how warm it was outside and all bets were off, I had to go for a bike ride.

There was a tag, Hoer!, on a hopper car in the West Bottoms I'd been seeing from afar for a few weeks. No telling when the railroad will hook up and drag it away, but the only way I knew to get close enough for a good photograph was to ride my bike to it. I might have been able to get there by car, but the railroads guard their turf pretty jealously and experience has taught me a car on railroad property gets a railroad bull's attention a lot faster than a bike.

Even on a bike, you have to be mindful of your Get-the-Fuck-Out-of-Here meter. Not just for railroad bulls, it's an important piece of equipment to have any time you stop to take pictures in the city. If you are getting the creeps, even if you don't know exactly why, it's time to get moving. You can figure out what was bothering you later rather than getting hit on the head by it right now.

I guess there is another way, maybe an 800mm lens, but being such glass would probably cost more than I paid for my car...

I'm not a fan of riding on gravel or in mud, but when properly motivated I can do it. I'm actually getting less phobic about it, the whole fear being that I hate falling.

I didn't realize how many of the other cars on the train had pretty cool tags as well until I was down there. There were some half-baked tags I didn't bother shooting, either the product of substandard taggers or a tag interrupted by one of those aforementioned bulls.

I got almost trapped trying to get out actually. There were trains parked across the tracks on both sides of 12th Street, and I ended up finding a route around the end of one through more sloppy roads.

From there I looped around to the Woodsweather bridge to pick up a couple other tags I'd noticed when I didn't have time to shoot them.

And stumbled on one under the Woodsweather bridge running down from Broadway that you can't see unless you get down in Eagle Packaging's lot. I'm not sure Eagle is still in business, it appears to be mainly a camp site for the area's rent-liberated citizens.

Not a long ride, only about twelve miles, and slow because of all the stopping and the slogging across gravel and mud, but fun. 57ºF slipping down to maybe 50ºF by the time I got home with my trophies.