Sunday, June 17, 2018

Pride Parade 2018

Let's take a brief break from landscape photography for pretty much the exact, polar opposite - people wearing rainbow colors and sometimes not much else!

I went to Pride Parade again this year. I support the message and cause. It's basically just "be nice to people," which I find hard to oppose. But to be completely honest I mostly go because it's fun taking pictures of all the crazy people. I had previously gone in 2016 and had a good time. I actually thought I went in 2017, but apparently I didn't - go figure. 

I took a lot of photos today... 814 to be exact. Yeesh. I'm not going to post all of them here, but they will all be on Smugmug... whenever my internet connection finally catches up.

Let's start off with the visual/graphical opposite of the rest of the photos - Captain America!
Not only is this an impressively well-done cosplay, the guy is super friendly and nice, and is apparently doing this for charity. He's got a website with all his social media type stuff, so go check him out. 

Next up is Mythica! I've run into Mythica a few times now - at Pride Parade 2016, and doing some of my favorite chalk art. She's always really friendly as well, not to mention a colorful character - haha! ha... hey, it's my blog, I'll make terribly obvious jokes if I want to. Anyway, here she is again!

So that's enough of people I know, on to random people that I happened to get good photos of.
One of the things I like about Pride Parade is most people are delighted to be there. It's just a very positive experience.

Even better, a lot of them actually pose for the camera. It's almost like people that put on rainbow colors and makeup, grab balloons, and march in a parade want to have their photo taken! Weird...

Alright, some are a bit shy about it, but still. 

And if there's a doggo, you know I have to get picture of it. But PSA, I was talking to a parade marshal and they're actually against the rules. Partially because they tend to get dehydrated or heat exhaustion from walking on the hot pavement - thankfully not a problem today because it was cloudy. Also because they can get underfoot and get themselves or others into trouble. 

So that's great and all, but it's not a Pride Parade until you see...
Yep, gay sailors in a speedo. And when there are sailors around, you definitely need...

A giant walking condom. Naturally!

How about a pretty good cosplay of Hawkeye from the Avengers?

Good use of a pedalhopper! 

And again!

Oh hi ladies!

Yes, I even take photos of grump dogs.

Sneak: -100

Needs moar colors!

Carnival style!

And again...

Just a neat photo



Gaydar reading: inconclusive.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Old Faithful

We were fortunate to walk up right before Old Faithful put on a show. We were unfortunate in that the wind didn't blow the mist away, so we didn't get a very good view of the water from the geyser. Oh well - some days you get the geyser, some days the geyser gets you. (That's how that saying goes, right?)

Also saw a group of tourists re-enact the Abbey Road cover...

And see a number of smaller geysers in the area (more of these later...)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trees in the Mist

We headed into Yellowstone relatively early in the morning. Near the entrance some thermal features threw up a cloud of mist that was backlit by the rising sun. It makes for a dramatic view.

In fact it was so dramatic that Wendy wrenched the car into a turnout, throwing around everything inside the car and narrowly missing the median. She then became so entranced with the view that she let the car roll into the curb instead of stopping it. Not exactly an auspicious beginning for a trip that turned out to involve some interesting driving.

A few more from that spot here. I'm too lazy to link them individually, so larger versions are here.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Grand Teton

We just got back from a trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park. It was our most "All  American" vacation to date. We visited the first national park, saw bison, bears, cowboys, tall mountains and beautiful lakes.

But by far the most 'Merican thing was visiting Grand Tetons National Park. Because "t├ęton" means "breast" in French, and what could be more 'Merican than going to Big Titties National Park?

Anyway, without further classy banter, some photos...

This is my favorite photos of the Tetons that I've gotten to so far. This was taken from the Oxbow Bend turnout, a very nice place for sunrise. There was a photo workshop there at the same time, so probably 20 photographers in total running around. Thankfully it's a large enough area that we weren't much in each other's way. I do wish we could've gotten a better sky, but this one wasn't so bad.

My second pick from the same morning...

They're both pretty good in my opinion. I like the geese in the second one, but the full mountain range in the first one. Probably tomorrow I'll decide I like the second one better. :)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Frozen Margaritas... and Science!

Limeade Frozen Margs ala Ben's Uncle
  • 1 can frozen limeade
  • Tequila
  • Triple Sec
  • Ice
Pour/squeeze limeade into a blender. Refill can with tequila and pour in. Refill halfway with Triple Sec and add. Add ice to taste, about 2-3 cans worth. Add a pinch of salt if desired. Blend and drink. I've been told that you should use Minute Maid limeade because the generic stuff will give you green torpedoes, but I have not observed this myself.
I've been a fan of frozen margaritas for years - ever since my college buddy Ben's Texan uncle showed us how to make them from limeade and ice. It's really a great summer drink in so many ways, and combines well with a lack of air conditioning. But I've always been annoyed that the frozen margs at some restaurants (notably Benny's) are much better than my home made margs. So one of my little projects this summer has been trying to create a better margarita.

The biggest difference is the texture. Restaurants margs have a smooth, thick, almost creamy texture. The ones I was making were more icy and granular, like a boozy snow-cone. I looked at buying a restaurant-style continuous mixer, but they're pretty expensive and I'd have to do a lot of drinking to justify it. Which isn't that much of a burden, but I don't want to become an alcoholic solely to amortize capital costs.

Better Frozen Margs
  • 1 can Bacardi frozen margarita mix
  • Tequila
  • Triple Sec
  • Ice
Pour/squeeze limeade into a blender. Refill can with tequila and pour in. Refill halfway with Triple Sec and add. Refill with water and add. Freeze for 4-8 hours, stirring/blending when you can. Add another can of water, freeze again and blend when possible.
Somewhere along the way I read that some of the commercial mixers took all liquid ingredients, rather than a bunch of ice and booze. So I figured I'd give that a try. And it turns out that's the secret! You just replace the ice with liquid water, freeze the whole thing, and you get a much better texture. The problem is that if you mix it all up at once, it'll separate in the freezer. Then you end up with a lake of concentrated booze and sugar, topped by a glacier that'll take 15 minutes and a pickaxe to pierce. So it's better to add some water and blend, freeze that, then add some more water and blend again. It ends up taking a day or two to make a pitcher of margs, but that's probably for the best anyway. Along the way I also tried out a Bacardi margarita mixer that I like a lot better than limeade, which was also an improvement.

Eventually I sobered up a bit and became curious about why the texture was different. I could probably ask a food scientist or a physicist, but I'm lazy and the internet is right there. So I did some Googling, read some stuff about formation of ice crystals, and made some completely unfounded conjectures which I will now present as "knowledge." Basically I think when you start with ice cubes you have relatively large crystals, which get chopped into smaller ones in the blender but are never very small. But when you start from a mixture of water, sugar, alcohol, salt, etc the water freezes into much smaller crystals because of the freeze concentration. Basically as the water freezes into pure ice, the remaining liquid has a higher concentration of solutes, which makes it even harder for the remaining water to freeze thus preventing larger crystals from forming. I think. Anyway, here are some really fascinating pages on the formation of crystals in ice cream, which seems like mostly the same thing.

So there you have it - better drinking through physics. My next task is trying to make better frozen margs from scratch. I've had one promising batch, but I haven't worked out a repeatable recipe yet. It looks like it'll be roughly the same as above, but replacing the premix with 3/4 cup of lime juice and 3/2 cup of simple syrup, give or take. I might also try extra-strength simple syrup. Anyway, I'll let you know when I figure it out, if I'm still capable of typing by then.

Update - here's my best stab at a good recipe before I call it quits for the season.

  • 8 oz tequila
  • 4 oz triple sec
  • 6 oz lime juice
  • 10 oz simple syrup
  • 20 oz water
Mix together everything but the water in a large blender. If you're not sure of the recipe, you may want to go easy on the lime juice and simple syrup - you can always add more later. Add 8oz of water. Freeze for 6-8 hours, stirring a couple times if possible. Take out of freezer. Taste and adjust lime/syrup ratio if needed. Add remaining water and blend. Refreeze, stirring a couple more times if possible. Blend again before serving. 

All amounts are easily modified if you like it stronger/weaker, more/less limey, more/less sweet. But if you add too much water it will be more difficult to blend after freezing. 

Use a long serving spoon to mix while blending. Before serving it should be liquid enough to maintain a smooth flow in the blender without assistance. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Memorial Day Canyons pt 3

One more from Fry Canyon last Memorial Day. Think I'll get through those before Labor Day? Eh, probably not, but oh well.

Anyway, I like this one because it's a somewhat narrow section, but still manages to show the scale of things. It's hard to get all of those at once - usually the narrow sections don't supply good overlooks like this. Plus the light is nice and soft with no hotspots, another rarity.

This is from later in the same canyon - definitely a different feel. Obviously I didn't take one, since that's me impersonating a corpse in the pool. It was just a nice place for a rest, one of the first warm spots after a lot of cold water. Also our fourth canyon in three days (more for some of the others) so we were getting a little tired.

I think I'll probably quit going on about this trip after this post, but if you just can't get enough there are 125 photos here.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Memorial Day Canyons pt. 2

The advantage of only posting once a month (or quarter... or year...) is that I can make photos from one vacation last a really long time! See, there's a method to my sloth madness!

This isn't really a great photo, but I heard some comments about canyons being claustrophobic. Which is definitely true some of the time, but not all of the time. Although that log solidly wedged 30 feet up might cause one to consider what this looks like during a flash flood.

Since I'm already posting photos of questionable quality, here's a canyon selfie. I know you're all jealous of my high-class canyon duds!
Although now that I think about it, that wetsuit might be the second or third most expensive item of clothing that I own. Does that make it high-class? Either way, I consider that to be a true victory in life. The shirt, on the other hand, was two dollars at Goodwill - which is why it's being used to protect the aforementioned high-class undergarment.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Building a Computer

Years ago I modified computers on a regular basis, swapping pieces around and buying new components. When I was in middle school one of my birthday presents was a new motherboard - except my parents didn't know which one to get, so they used a chunk of 2x4 with "The Mother of All Boards" markered onto it as a stand-in. I pretty much quit messing with hardware after I got my first laptop. It's not practical to modify mobile hardware much, and I had switched to consoles for gaming needs.

The rise of Steam, with it's massive expansion of the games catalog and unmatched yearly sales, convinced me I should get back into PC gaming. But I still have some unusual constraints, in particular that I want to fly my PC back to Wisconsin every year. Since airlines are charging through the nose for checked bags, I wanted to be able to fit it in a carry-on.

It turns out that there are almost no pre-made PCs that are physically small enough to carry-on, yet have a full-strength graphics card. Cyberpower's Syber line, and OriginPC's Chronos seem to be the best options, but there are a few others around. Naturally you end up paying a premium to have someone else build them for you, so I elected to build my own.

Since case size seemed to be the biggest constraint, I started there. There are a number of crowdfunded options including the NCase M1, Sentry, and DAN A4-SFX, but they tend to be quite expensive. From established manufacturers there are the Silverstone RVZ line and the Fractal Design Node 202. I went with the Node 202 because it's the smallest, and I don't like all the styling and LEDs on the Silverstone cases.

One can argue endlessly about what to put inside that case. In fact I did that until Luke and Glenn were sick of it. I also read about other builds using the case to figure out what fans and coolers would fit. The upshot is this parts list. Most of it can be modified freely - the key points are to save space by using an m2 hard drive, memory chips with no heat spreaders, and a low-profile CPU cooler.

Getting Started

Eventually I got past my analysis-paralysis phase and actually ordered all the parts. Since I spent so long choosing a case, the first thing I did was check how big it is in real life, rather than just measurements. 
It turns out that it does fit in a carry-on - but only just barely. There's maybe an inch of space to spare total, and our smaller carry-on wouldn't fit it at all. 

Here's a comparison to an an XBox One (original, not the S version) and a 15.6" Lenovo Y510p laptop. They're all lined up on the left and back edges for this photo. The Node 202 is definitely bigger than the other two, but not by a huge margin

The Build

Case gawking completed, I got started on building the machine. Which I proceeded to screw up in nearly every possible way. The short list of things I would do differently is:
  1. Assemble all the components outside of the case and get them to the POST screen before putting anything in the case. It's much easier to do when you're not working inside that cramped case. 
  2. The m.2 hard drive slot on that motherboard is on the bottom.
  3. When putting the motherboard into the case, it's much easier if you take out the graphics card riser assembly first, despite what the directions say. That gives you easier access to the screws. 
  4. The case directions neglect to mention one of the screws holding the graphics assembly in - I'll show it later. 
  5. Be really organized about keeping track of which screws go where, especially the 4 different kinds of tiny black screws in the case. I did pretty well with this until the very end. 

Ignoring my own advice from above, I started out by opening up the case. Again, I recommend wiring up all the components outside of the case first to make sure they work. You should put the motherboard on something non-conductive, like the box or anti-static bag that it came in.

 Here's what it looks like fully disassembled. Getting the bottom off is a bit of a trick, because all the plastic tabs want to grab back on as soon as you release them. I found the best method is to stand the case on edge and use a flat-head screwdriver to push them open.

Following along with the case instructions, but not taking photos, I installed the power supply and motherboard. The motherboard mounting screws in the center of the case are really hard to access - in hindsight I suggest removing the graphics card riser before installing the motherboard. 

Which brings me to my next point - the instructions say that there are 3 screws securing the graphics card assembly. In fact there are four, with the last being on the back of the case just below the slots. The screwdriver is pointing at it in the photo. I almost bent the whole thing trying to get it out, before realizing there was a secret screw. 

Here's the machine reassembled. It's already getting pretty cramped, and I don't even have the power cables in yet. If we had a 2.5" drive it would go in the cage towards the front of the case (farthest from the camera) on the center strut, which would be really hard to deal with. You can see I put the case fan towards the front of the case, which may or may not be a good idea. I believe it would fit directly under the card, but I didn't try. This placement does make routing the front-panel cables a bit annoying, but it's doable. 

You can also see that the power cable runs awkwardly over the fan. I ended up snipping one of the cable ties so that it could lie flat along the bottom of the case instead. But as shown, that cable points out the fact that the only space to route wires between the two halves of the case is a small window in the center strut, right where you see that cable going. Consequently that section of the case, and the bit between the memory and the PSU, tend to be very full of cabling. 

Also, it's not visible in this photo but the graphics card supporter sits between the case fan and the graphics card. The GTX 1050 Ti is just barely too short to reach it, so the card is unsupported. But it seems to be small and light enough that it's not a problem. 

It was at about this point that I realized that the m.2 connector is on the bottom of the motherboard. I proceeded to remove almost all of this from the case to access that slot, shown below. 
Having done that, I put all the components back into the case again, which takes a little while. Then I flipped the case over to check something...

Yeah, there's a cutout in the case that provides access to the m.2 slot right there. So I did all that work for nothing. Doh! But while we're looking at the bottom of the case, you can see the dust screens. They're attached with magnets, which makes them easy to move by accident while you're handling the case. 

Anyway, after getting the whole thing reassembled, I went to plug in the power cables. Attaching the power cables to the power supply while it's in the case it really difficult - they all go in the small space between the PSU and the center strut. This is another reason to wire everything up outside of the case beforehand. 

After doing that, I went to attach the front-panel connectors. Mostly this is easy, but the cables for the power indicator LED and the power switch are tiny, and they connect to this pin block. The pins are really hard to access. You can see that the memory goes right above them in this photo - I removed the actual chips. The motherboard main power connector is next to it, and the PSU is right below. Bottom line, you probably want to do these before all the other stuff. 

Also, the indicator LED connects to the green pins, and the switch to the red pins. Or was it the other way around? If you get it backwards the LED will come on, but the power switch won't do anything. Ask me how I know that... or why I disassembled everything, right down to removing the CPU cooler, again. Yeah, good times. Don't get those two confused. 

Once I finally got the whole thing put together correctly it worked fine. The only BIOS tweak needed was setting the memory to use XMP Profile 1, which upped the memory clock to use the full potential of the DDR4-2400. 

I haven't run any formal benchmarks, but I did run Doom on Ultra settings for a couple of hours in a hot room (29-30 deg. C). The temps inside the case stayed very reasonable - the GPU was the biggest hotspot, but it topped out at ~70 deg C. So the whole thing seems to be running well. 

Overall it was a good experience, despite my many roadblocks. Hopefully I'm still saying that after the first plane trip with it. 

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Detour into some Canyons

It's been a busy couple of months (not entirely due to getting somewhat hooked on Factorio), so I didn't get around to posting. And now I'm just back from a Memorial Day trip into the slot canyons again, so I'm going to post a few photos from there.

This trip was a near-twin of the 2013 Memorial Day trip. Both trips took me to Cedar Mesa, and I did three of the same canyons: Cheesebox, Black Hole and Fry. This time the group was a bit faster, so we finished Black Hole early in the day. Also, camp was overrun by clouds of biting Cedar Gnats, which made hanging around the rest of the day an unappealing option. Instead we ducked into Duckett, so I got four descents in three days.

This photo is from Cheesebox Canyon, which we did first. We did a longer version of the canyon than the 2013 trip - the full west fork, instead of partial approach. I rather liked it, though it does make for a long day.

The photo is fairly typical of Colorado Plateau canyons - lots of banded sandstone and smooth curves. But I always like the subtle light, and sense of depth you can get from these kinds of photos. I also like the little reflection of sky in the water. It's usually tough to make this kind of shot work out due to the extreme variation in brightness, so it's nice when it does. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hohenschwangau Entryway

The previous post was the last long, article-style one for the Europe trip. They're kind of exhausting to write, which is part of why it took me so long to publish them, and I kind of wonder if anybody actually wants to read anything that long. I'm not sure I even want to read it! So henceforth I'll be going back to shorter "picture and a paragraph" style posts.

With that, a random photo of a lantern! I don't think there's any particular significance to this lantern. It's on the back side of Schloss Hohenschwangau, where the road enters the castle. Really I just liked the repeated lines of the ceiling and the light.
Full size in SmugMug

It's actually a very cool little part of the castle, down where the construct meets the underlying rock.