Sunday, December 31, 2006

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A friend in the running club, Michele, had spare tickets to today's game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Seattle Seahawks, and offered one to me. I seized the opportunity! I figured this is an ideal game, if either team won it would be a success. Of course, I hoped the Seahawks would win since they have playoff chances, while the Buccaneers are dragging through a horrible season.

Raymond James Stadium
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

Team Entry
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

Michele actually has season tickets to the Bucs, and has had them since the very beginning - 31 years of holding season tickets! Wow. Her tickets are about 5 rows back from the field, near the goal line. While seats closer to midfield would be better, being in a corner does offer a few advantages...

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

The game was fun to watch, and the weather was fantastic. I can't really watch a game on TV without wandering away a few times, but somehow watching it live is far more engaging and the game didn't seem long at all.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

The Buccaneers didn't play very well, so the Seahawks cruised to an easy 23-7 victory. That's great actually, I hope the Seahawks get back to the SuperBowl and win it all!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Art Gallery

Years ago when I was in 5th or 6th grade, my parents signed me up for art lessons. I remember taking the class with another friend, the daughter of another family my parents knew. For a few months, once a week I would pack up a little suitcase of paints and brushes, and show up at an art store (I think the main business was framing and selling supplies) and gather with some other kids for the lessons. We would sit around a table with miniature easels, and the owner would pull our in-progress works out of storage and we would continue. We mostly worked with oil paints, so every week we would start by wiping linseed oil across the painting if it dried too much.

Eventually when we finished our paintings we'd take these masterpieces home and start on another. It has been a while but I remember each work was focused on some art technique: black-and-white pencil sketch, some sort of dabbing technique for painting trees and grass, the classic still-life, how to paint the ocean and especially a breaking wave, etc. It was fun, I remember really enjoying it. One thing I always had trouble with was drawing a human figure so all my paintings were still lifes: flower arrangement, trees, and so forth.

Anyway, three of my works are on display in a very exclusive gallery: the guest bedroom at my parent's house. I have a fourth one in Florida. I'm not sure but I believe two more are over at my aunt/grandmother's... I'll check later if I get the chance. If memory serves there should be a picture of a wave crashing over a rock, and maybe even another.

For the first time on display since 1980:

Flowers 1
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
The classic still-life of a flower arrangement.

Flowers 2
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
Another flower arrangement.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
This sketch won 2nd place in an art store contest.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Visiting my Parents

I flew out to Dallas to visit my parents, and soon after arriving at their house their dogs greeted me. The dogs are looking well-fed and happy, which is expected because they have trained my parents to give them a little treat nearly every time my parents go into the kitchen!

R2D2 loves to play catch so he does get some exercise.

Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

My mom's other dog isn't so good about playing catch. Kirin Kirin prefers to have his belly rubbed and run in circles.

Kirin Kirin
Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Lawn

The summer was dry and hot and my lawn suffered. It didn't help that a few of the sprinkler heads were broken, something I discovered and had fixed, and of course it didn't help I wasn't watering the lawn enough. Patches of it died, and when I removed the dead grass and spread some seeds hoping to revive my lawn, moss and clover and weeds grew instead.

So I decided to have the lawn resodded. My lawn service estimated the work to cost $900, including new sod and labor, which was reasonable. Heck I spent 25% more for similar work on Kirkland. The final cost came out to $980, and now I have a much better looking lawn.

It is supposed to rain a fair amount over the weekend, but just in case I programmed my sprinkler system to water the lawn for 30 mins every morning. Lake Mary limits how often you can water, but there are exceptions for new landscaping. I'll keep that up for a few weeks, until the sod takes root.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Driving Range

My workgroup's quarterly activity was lunch at Magnolia Plantation Golf Club, and then some time at the driving range where everyone got a bucket of golf balls to hit. I used to play every once in a while in Seattle, mostly the par-3 golf course hidden behind Crossroads Mall in Bellevue. Par-3 was perfect: cheap, quick, and no advanced planning as far as getting a reservation and so forth. A full game was fun but I am by no means a competent golfer - I am at least 2 strokes over on every hole so a typical game for me is 110+. Or higher.

But the driving range is less complicated, just tee up and whack each ball. It had been years since I golfed, and I expected to do really poorly, but I surprised myself by hitting reasonably well. I borrowed a 7-iron off a coworker and hit most balls straight and about 100 yards. Yeah 100 yards isn't too far with a 7-iron but I find the more power I put into the stroke, the less accurate I get. ;)

We switched up and I hit a few with a driver and a 5-wood and also had pretty good results. Who knew, play less golf and get better! Everyone else in the group not only played occasionally (except me), they owned their own clubs. I suppose I do as well, somewhere in my garage is an assortment of 6 or 8 clubs cobbled together from sales at various stores.

Everyone had a fun time, even Stephanie who had never tried before at all.

After a long lunch and extra time at the driving range, we made it back an hour before an informal party in the 2nd floor break room, with music, chips/snacks and beer. Yeah, today was a brutal one. :)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Health Screening

My company held a free "health screening" for employees, as part of some health awareness push. I skimmed over the announcement and wasn't too interested until I noticed the screening included a blood test! Now there is something I can't readily measure on my own so I signed up.

The screen was setup in the 3rd floor break room, which is large enough for a seperate kitchen area, pool table, and table tennis. All that stuff was pushed aside and several tables were brought in for the various stations. It was pretty crowded so participation was really high among the employees.

The first table was sign in and the usual disclaimers. The second station was blood pressure, and mine measure at 129/82, which is "pre-hypertension". Measured again it came out to 109/79, or normal. I'm not really sure the device was properly calibrated.

The second station was height/weight for the BMI calculation. I'm 5'5" and at 138 pounds my BMI came out to 23.0, which falls in the desired range (which is less than 25).

All this was fine but not really why I came. The third table was the blood test. The nurse took a dab of blood from my middle finger and put it into a machine, so I sat on the side until the results came back. After a few minutes someone called my name and I went to hear the results. They gave me a sheet with my numbers written in on the side, and some range data so I could see where I fell.

Glucose was 131, where <100 was normal (fasting) and <140 is normal (non-fasting). Since I ate breakfast in the morning my level was fine. LDL cholesterol was 49, where <100 is optimal. HDL cholesterol was 81, where >60 is optimal.

Triglycerides was <45, where <150 is optimal. So far so good!

But my total cholesterol was 210, where <200 is desirable and >240 is high. I fell into the "borderline" area.

Later that evening I saw my friend Francis at the Y running group and he said he had the same result - each subarea was fine but the total was in the borderline region.

Hm... this will be a project to look into, reducing cholesterol in my diet.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Reindeer Run

This is one of those runs wwere a third of the people show up in costume, from striped socks (red/green thick stripes) to elf vests to reindeer antler hats and so forth. For my part, I wore Holiday Greetings socks. :)

I picked up my friend Diana from the Y running club, and we carpooled. She likes to get to events super early, which is good because I wind up cutting it fairly close. We arrived about 50 minutes early which gave me a great parking spot, plenty of time to pick up the race packet, and warm up.

During the warm up I noticed my left foot was sore, whenever I landed on the ball of my foot. A nagging thing at the top of my arch. Hm... well it got better as I warmed up so I decided to run anyway. I did 22:40 which is a pretty good time for me at a 5K for not having done lots of speed work. This race is deceptive because you run through the start to the finish, and as you come back along the lake you can see the start banners and it looks like the finish line... which is really another 3/10ths of a mile around a corner.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christmas Parties

My work and various clubs all schedule Christmas (or "Holiday") Parties early, to avoid conflicts with travel, vacation, family gatherings, etc. The funny thing is that means all these events pile up on the same weekend anyway.

Yesterday was the Seminole Cyclist's holiday party, held at Jinja, one of my favorite area restaurants. About 30 or 35 of us jammed into a side room and enjoyed dinner, drinks, and a slideshow of the membership at various events throughout the year. It was fun and one of the few times I've seen most of them in normal clothes instead of bike shorts and jerseys.

This evening was the Orlando Runners Club party. It was a potluck event, and the instructions were to "bring something you enjoy eating" so I made vanilla ice cream. ;) The dessert went over well, but not well enough as I have about 1/3 of a container left!

OUC Half Marathon

Last year I set my half marathon PR at this event. I wasn't aiming so high this year, because I haven't been doing as much speedwork, plus I am recovering from a light ankle sprain. I decided anything under 2 hours would be good, 1:55 would be excellent, etc.

It was warm, in the mid 70's. I had on shorts and a short sleeve jersey and wished I had a sleeveless instead. The course was different than last year's course - from what I understand, certain neighborhoods complained about traffic disruption so they tried a new route. Although I've never lived on a street or in an area near an event course, so I've never been subject to road closures or delays at my house due to an athletic event, I am hugely unsympathetic to those people who are and complain about it. I mean geez, we're talking about what, 2 or 3 hours max (depending on where you live along the course) a few times a year, on weekend mornings? And if they live across the street from a public park, well that's too bad as well, get used to having events you can enjoy so conveniently located.

Anyway, I wound up finishing this year's OUC Half Marathon in 1:49, so that beat my expectations. Actually this is my 2nd fastest half mary, where last year's time (~1:42) at this event is my PR. So my 2 fastest half mary times have been set in Orlando... Florida has been good for my running and biking!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pressure Washer

I went into Home Depot looking for two 48 inch 34 watt flourescent bulbs. I got those - actually I got 40 watt bulbs because I decided I wanted brighter closet lighting - and also a new gizmo: a pressure washer.

I'm just a sucker for tools and gizmos. In my defense it was on sale for 50% off! Think of all the uses:

  • Cleaning under eaves (i.e. little insect nests, dirt)
  • Washing a car
  • Cleaning my pool filter
  • Spraying off the pool deck
  • Chasing off neighbor's pets

    Okay I'm just kidding about that last one. After I assemble it and figure out how to use it, I'll probably look all over for any excuse to blast something with water. :)
  • Wednesday, November 15, 2006

    Tailor of Panama

    This movie had been sitting around on my coffee table for weeks, and I finally decided to watch it. It is based on a book of the same, by John Le Carre.

    Pierce Brosnan plays Andrew Osnard, a disgraced MI-6 agent, sent to Panama as punishment for having an affair with an ambassador's mistress on his previous assignment. His job in Panama is to learn what the President intends to do with the Canal: keep it and operate it, sell it to another country, etc. He befriends Harry Pendel, a tailor played by Geoffrey Rush, partly because Mr. Pendel knows various wealthy people in the capital (he is a high-end tailor) and his wife Louisa, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, works for the President.

    This spy doesn't operate like James Bond; instead most of the spycraft is finding a weakness and exploiting it. Osnard finds out Pendel owes some money to a bank, so he dangles wads of cash in front of him, in exchange for introductions and information. Pendel is eager to please, so he exaggerates the role of friends of his, who in the past were active in opposing the Noriega government but have since mellowed, to concoct an anti-government movement. Osnard in turn embellishes this info to his bosses because he knows what they want to hear. He presses Pendel for more info and the cycle continues.

    By the end, the British and Americans are convinced enough to fund weapons for the fake opposition group, and stage a near-invasion of Panama! In many ways the movie is very cynical about how intelligence and foreign policy decisions are made.

    In the confusion at the end, we find out Osnard's real motive for everything: revenge on MI-6 for exiling him as punishment. His superiors deliver money to fund the opposition group, but Osnard steals it. After paying a bribe that allows him on a departing flight, he makes off with the cash! On the flight he meets Francesca, an embassy worker played by Catherine McCormack, who he had an affair with. I'm not sure how much of it she was in on, if any, or if them being on the flight was a coincidence or not. Maybe the book is clearer.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Celebration 10K

    I drove down to Celebration, FL for the Celebration 10K - excuse me the official name is the "Florida Hospital Celebration Health Founder's Day 10K" making this the race with the longest name I've done - a race in the Grand Prix (which I'm not doing this year) and the Challenge Series (which I am).

    It was a pretty good race for me - 46:37 (net time) over 6.2 miles. I finished 18/64 in my division and 139/848 overall. I was hoping to come in under 45:45 and set a new 10K PR, but I was about a minute off. Next April there is a 10K in Winter Park, so I'll shoot for a PR then.

    My GPS measured 6.34 miles, and a friend in the Orlando Running Club, Michelle, measure 6.3 as well. So we joked about being cheated by 1/10th of a mile. On the other hand, 0.1 miles over 6.2 is an error of ~1.6%, which is quite reasonable.

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Election Problems

    Wherever I live, there are election problems... I don't think it is due to me! ;) Two years ago I voted in Washington and then took a vacation to New Zealand. When I returned three weeks I found out the state of Washington still hadn't figured out who was elected governor.

    Now in live in Florida, famous for voting problems in the 2000 election, and there is a voting problem involving four counties and "undervoting", which is the term for a ballot with no choice made.

    It's just funny, in a really sad way I suppose. For a country that often touts the right to vote as being so important, we have low turnout, voter apathy, and apparently don't run the process well on top of that.

    These problems were with electronic voting machines, which have notorious problems. I've read many comparisons to Oregon's vote by mail system which neatly wraps up voting and absentee balloting, with higher accuracy and less cost than electronic systems. Maybe low-tech is the answer: reliable, cheap, and counting by hand is good enough every two years.

    In earlier years Chicago was the butt of jokes due to election fraud and dead people voting. I have this feeling Florida will be the butt of future voting jokes involving miscounts. ;)

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    Election Day and Rain

    I glance at the Seattle newspaper's websites from time to time, and see the area is experiencing some heavy rain. According to the chart embedded in the article, the rainest day in Seattle was Oct. 20, 2003 - I was a resident then! I think I even remember joking with coworkers that the streets were so flooded it took me 10 minutes to drive home - the joke being I lived so close to work my normal commute was only 5 minutes. Some weren't all that amused, hehe.

    The 5th rainiest day was Nov. 25, 1998, which occured while I was a resident of the Pacific Northwest. What an honor, to have lived in the area for 2 of the top 5 rainiest days of the past 50 years! I guess in that light I won't moan about the scattered showers we got yesterday.

    This afternoon I voted, after searching a bit for my polling location. The election board sent out a map but the marked location was just a bit off - it pointed to a building under construction. However, tucked away so well I didn't even realize it was there, was a Lutheran Church that was my real polling place.

    I showed my ID, signed, and took away a huge ballot. Literally, the ballot was an oversized paper that was probably 11" x 18". It was a bit exciting - my first vote as a Florida resident. It will be interesting to see how this midterm election turns out.

    On the way out I filled out an exit poll, which was about 20 questions asking me why I voted the way I did. Things like "rate the importance of the following" and then choices for various issues. I've never taken part in an exit poll before.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Happy Hour

    I attended a Happy Hour of the bike group, at a nearby Italian Restaurant. It was sparsely attended - the previous week's get together was a lot bigger, so I was told since I couldn't make that one.

    It was OK but tedious as two of the people I didn't really know spent the time talking about their favorite church to attend. Then they started in on the Left Behind series, a thriller set in the post-Revelations earth. Oh I wanted to stick a fork in my eye and slink away, but instead I nursed my drink and payed far more attention to the plasma TV showing some football game than I usually would have.

    I ducked out after eating some soup for dinner.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006


    That was the sound my car made this morning, when I tried to go to work. I tried a few times, but got the same result: turn the key in the ignition, and a rapid fire machine gun noise was all I got. My battery wasn't dead - I had the radio and lights - but the car wouldn't start.

    I called up my local Toyota dealership, and described the problem. They said it was one of two things: a) low voltage battery - enough juice to power the extras but not turn the engine over, or b) dead starter. In the first case, a jump start should suffice, but for the second, I would need to have my car towed in.

    My poor car, it has served me extremely well for 9 years!

    Anyway, I called up Francis at work and he came over to jump my car. Fortunately I always back into my garage so the hood was facing out and we had no problems connecting the cables. After hooking everything up, I turned the ignition and my car started up just fine, after a moment's hesitation. It looked like my battery was indeed low.

    I let the car idle for a few minutes, but wanted to get outside instead of pump more exhaust into the garage. I drove around for 20 minutes or so, stopped by work to check mail for another 15 mins, and came back out. The car barely started again - I thought I was going to need another jump. But it did start and I drove to the Toyota dealership and just waited there while they fixed it. Two hours later, after $160 for a new battery and oil/lube, I was set.

    In the grand scheme of things, I was fortunate. My car battery died inside my garage, I live less than 2 miles from work and am even closer to a grocery store. So in the worst case, I could get by without the car for a while. Having it die late at night or far from home - that would have been crappy.

    While at the dealership I thought about getting a new car again. My car has a little over 128,000 miles and still runs well, for being 10 years old (9 years of ownership for me because I bought the car as a 1 year old used car). Since the Camry has been so great over the years I want another Toyota. Maybe I'll get one in May 2007, when my Camry turns 11 (10 years owned by me). I'm leaning towards the Prius, a hybrid.

    I do enjoy not having a car payment (since early 2002!) but on the other hand I don't want to "drive" my car into the ground. ;)

    Friday, October 27, 2006

    Lounging at Home

    My cold peaked yesterday, which left me pretty tired overall. I decided to take a sick day and sleep in. When I was younger ;) I'd just show up to work anyway and tough it out. But now I'd just rather get more rest and help beat the cold faster. While at home I caught up on some TV, mostly the new shows I am watching this season.

    First up was Friday Night Lights, a TV-series version of the movie and book which in turn was based on a year of the real-life Odessa Permian Panthers, a West Texas high school football team around which the city revolves. High school football is huge in Texas, especially in the middle of nowhere! Anyway, in the series the main QB is injured, his backup isn't quite getting the job done, and the town's mood is turning ugly. The coach is forced into trying to recruit a displaced New Orleans high school quarterback (working in last year's hurricane Katrina disaster) to get the team back on track for the state championship. So far I am really enjoying this one.

    I wonder how popular this show is in Odessa, TX. ;)

    Next up was The Nine, the bank robbery show. I am losing a bit of interest in this one because the current timeline, unresolved questions, and ongoing plot isn't interesting enough for me to want to know what happened during the hours the group was held hostage. So far we have some muddled handling of the hostage situation by the FBI, a woman with political ambitions, a pregnant woman who broke up with her boyfriend, the murder of one of the hostages under unexplained circumstances... there is stuff there but it isn't grabbing me. And, I'm more or less uninterested in the motives of the robbers, one of whom is in critical condition. I may wind up dropping this after a few more episodes.

    After that I watched Heroes, a show I avoided because the trailers looked stupid ("save the cheerleader, save the world"). But a coworker recommended it and I recorded some shows from a weekend marathon, and it is pretty good. The story sounds cheesy - ordinary people discover they have special powers, and are drawn to a common location - but it is well written and each person is developed well.

    With such a busy day I managed to work in some computer game playing as well. :) I mean hey, I might as well milk a sick day for all it is worth! I played a bit of Zuma (I have the PC version), a game that I had set aside a while ago but picked up again visiting Seattle over the weekend. Then, I started up Nightfall, the third chapter in the Guild Wars series. Once again I am off to save the world from certain doom... what can I say I really like these kinds of games, and Guild Wars overall is just excellent.

    I did wander outside, to pick up food. And I did a little bit of housework so I wasn't a complete slug all day long.

    Sunday, October 22, 2006

    Dawg Dash and Waffle Fest

    An fall event I like to attend is Waffle Fest, a food bonanza put on by my friend Francesca, who prepares a large brunch for us to consume after running in the Dawg Dash. This event has grown over the years - I'm positive the first time I ran it the field was maybe 50% or smaller than it is now. These days it is part of Homecoming Week at UW, and is a kid friendly (strollers) and animal friendly (lots of dogs!) fun event.

    Last year I set my 10K PR at this event, which was a bit surprising because the course is tricky, with stairs, hills, and lots of turns to negotiate. This year I wasn't up for running it that fast, and instead cruised in for a 49 minute finish - my watch had 48:59 as I crossed the finish line so I'll check the results to see if I did indeed slip in under 49 minutes by 1 second.

    The course winds through the UW campus and features several hills, including a steady climb easily visible in the elevation profile of my run data. The weather was fantastic - cool, sunny, clear... I was almost too warm in running pants and a long sleeved shirts, but hey I live in Florida now and am used to 85 degree days. :)

    Afterwards I had some purple Belgian waffles (food coloring in the mix for UW colors) and later some Winnie the Pooh waffles, all covered with strawberries, blueberries, peanut butter (try it sometime, it was pretty good despite sounding nasty) and maple syrup.

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    Corn Maze

    We found something fun to do in the afternoon - drive up to Everett to a corn maze. Also at the site was a pumpkin patch, petting zoo, animal show (loosely based on the Three Little Pigs), a bakery, cider, and wagon rides.

    The maze itself is shaped like the state of Washington, and has paths cut through it where the real life highways are. So I wouldn't really call it a maze, since it wasn't very hard to find our way through. It was pretty fun, because the maze included replicas of major sites (a rope bridge at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a mini Space Needle, models of the major mountains, etc.) even if it didn't have many dead ends.

    The Space Needle looms over the corn

    We're lost!

    We lined up for the short wagon ride to the maze start - along the Idaho border - and entered near Pullman, where Washington State is located. The maze marked the roads and had small info signs where cities were. On the back of the map they supplied us was a scavenger hunt for facts from cities spread through Washington. So this was really quite educational. Except, we didn't do the scavenger hunt part and just wandered around to the Grand Coulee Dam, Canada, over to Mt. Baker, south to Seattle, Tacoma, and Mt. Rainier, and then around the peninsula before exiting in Gray's Harbor. That's a huge amount of travel for one day. ;)

    Following the Leader...

    Francesca has a snack attack

    Mercer Island

    Francesca, Sandy, Robin, and I took advantage of beautiful weather to ride from Ravenna to Mercer Island (data here), a very popular ride among Seattle cyclists. Despite living in flatland, I felt like I held my own and kept up with them... but perhaps they were being nice to me and slacking.

    On the way back we stopped at the Leschi Starbucks and I warmed up with a Chai and a Top Pot Donut... very tasty indeed.

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Seattle Weekend

    I flew out to Seattle this morning, sleeping most of the way. Francesca picked me up at the airport and then we went to have Thai food at Tup Tim with Alexandra and Sandy. I can eat Thai food very frequently and look forward to taking future visitors to Thai Delight in Longwood!

    It seems I brought the weather with me. The weekend forecast for Seattle is sunny, clear, and a bone-chilling high in the 50's (hey I live in Florida now). Autumn has also arrived in the Orlando area, because the daily temperature range has slid all the way to lows in the 50's to high in the mid 80's. Brrrr!

    One thing I miss about a more noticeable fall are changing leaf colors. Even though Washington is the Evergreen State, there are plenty of non-fir trees that change colors.

    Fall Colors

    In the evening I borrowed Francesca's car to visit my friends out in Bellevue: Kandi, Mark, and their kids Sam, Jacob, and Ellie. They are growing pretty fast, especially since I see them about once every 6 months now. After dinner we played Uno but with some house rules that added an edge to the game:

    1) Draw cards can be stacked - if somebody plays a Draw card on you, you can play another and forward the total along to the next player. It doesn't take many for a simple Draw Two to turn into 6 or 8 cards for somebody down the line. And of course a few stacked Draw Fours are brutal.

    2) Out of turn play - if you have the identical card to the one just played (same color same rank) you can play it, if you are fast enough. This steals the current turn away from whoever was too slow to you and play proceeds.

    It was fun!

    Saturday, October 07, 2006


    A friend Ken in the running club sent out mail about the German-American Society in Casselberry's Oktoberfest celebration. I can't really say I imagined Casselberry (an Orlando suburb) or Florida having a German-American population or that ethnic group, but apparently 14% of Casselberry's residents claim German ancestry. I figured it would be fun to show up.. I lived in Germany for 3 years in the early 80's, and was even in Munich for Oktoberfest in 1997!

    Also, a good number of fellow running club members would attend since the little secret about them is quite a few really love to drink beer. I'm not sure what it is - after biking everybody wants to sit around and have coffee or healthy smoothies, while the running group likes to eat barbecue and have a beer. ;)

    I got there and found a packed venue of at least 500 or more people crammed into the German-American society's clubhouse and picnic grounds. As expected there was beer on sale, plus various German dishes: goulash, wurst, red cabbage, sauerkraut, potato salad, desserts (apfel strudel, but unfortunately that was all gone), and some almond snacks. I had trouble finding the group and decided the best bet was to position myself near the food ticket area and search there. This was also near the restrooms and the beer line - and behold, who did I find at the very closest table? Yes, my friends in the running club had staked out that prime location already!

    In the middle of the picnic area was a covered dance floor where where society members wore traditional costumes and did dance demonstrations. I forgot to bring my camera but found a website with pictures of what those looked like: check the "Halb Tracht" section of this page.

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    The Nine

    I watched this premiere tonight after reading a great review in the paper. I had recently seen Inside Man, a movie about a bank robbery, and this show reminded me of it.

    The summary is 9 people are taken hostage in a bank robbery, and they are released 52 hours later. The show will fill in the details of what happened during that time through flashbacks, and of course continue various threads in the aftermath. For example, one woman is pregnant but her boyfriend doesn't know it, and they are in the process of breaking up.

    Several actors are familiar: Kim Raver, who was Audrey Raines on a previous season of 24, plays an attorney with some political ambitions. John Billinglsey, who was Dr. Phlox on Enterprise, is a mild mannered insurance salesman who went to the bank to commit suicide, until the bank robbery intervened. Timothy Daly's character Nick Cavanaugh seems to be the focus - he is an ex-cop dismissed under unexplained circumstances, with a history of feuding with his chain of command. Something happened during the hostage negotiations that makes him furious (he punches out an FBI negotiator when they are released)... something that the FBI would like to cover up, since they offer him reinstatement, a promotion, medals and commendations, if he just says everybody did a great job and the death of another hostage was the fault of the bank robbers.

    The bank branch manager (Malcolm Jones played by Chi McBride) is taken hostage along with his daughter Felicia (Dana Davis). The cliffhanger in this episode is while the ex-hostages get together for dinner to celebrate, she goes to visit on of the bank robbers in prison... and they clearly know each other. The implication is she may have been the source of inside information for planning the robbery...

    I'll see how well this show does revealing the backstory, and continuing plotlines related to info we haven't had fully explained. So far it was pretty good.

    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    China and Thailand

    I'm back from my trip and way behind blogging, so I'll start posting and making links when I sort my pictures out. ;) There was internet access over there, but between busy days and convenience matters (I didn't bring a computer to take advantage of free WiFi) I didn't really have the time until late in the trip in Bangkok.

    So I'll start posting and linking here... it'll take me a while!

    9/27 Four Faced Buddha (Bangkok)
    9/26 Reclining Buddha (Bangkok)
    9/26 Golden Buddha (Bangkok)
    9/23 Floating Market
    9/22 Grand Palace (coming soon...)
    9/21 Maglev Train (Shanghai)
    9/21 Where is the Watermelon?
    9/18 Shànghǎi
    9/17 Hángzhōu
    9/16 Nánjing
    9/15 Yángzhōu
    9/14 Sūzhōu

    Wednesday, September 27, 2006

    Four Faced Buddha

    At a busy intersection in downtown Bangkok is a Four Faced Buddha. There are several throughout Thailand, but this is the best known one. As you can see it is a busy outdoor shrine.

    Four Faced Buddha
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    The dancers are a money-raising method for this temple - the women dance in exchange for a donation.

    Temple Dancers
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    Worshippers buy a dozen incense sticks, a candle, and four garlands. Then they pray to each of the four faces, leaving a garland and three incense sticks in a tray of ashes.

    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    It is considered good luck to release fish or birds, and just outside was a vendor selling cages of small birds. My mom bought a cage and we took turns releasing the birds, who I'm sure were very happy to be free again!

    Free Bird
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    Reclining Buddha

    Reclining Buddha Head
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    The Reclining Buddha is enormous - the head rises 15 meters above the ground.

    Reclining Buddha Feet
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    Each foot is 3 meters high and 5 meters long.

    Reclining Buddha
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    A friend took this slightly fuzzy picture of me, which shows how large it really is! The total length is 46 meters.

    Pot of Coins
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    For a donation you receive this pot of coins. By the side of the Reclining Buddha are 108 small pots, one for each auspicious sign of the Buddha. The tradition is to toss a coin into each pot, thus blessing you to live to be 100+ years old!

    Golden Buddha

    Golden Buddha
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    This large Buddha weighs 5.5 tons and is plated with pure gold.

    Gold Leaf
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    For a donation you receive incense sticks, a garland, and three gold leaf squares. This leaf is 24 karat gold, and sticks to skin very easily, thus the paper enclosure.

    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    By the side of the large Golden Buddha are three smaller ones. What you do is take the gold leaf shown above, and carefully apply it to these smaller ones, by pressing the gold against the statue and rubbing it for a few seconds through the paper.

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    Floating Market

    Orchid Farm
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    One side trip outside Bangkok was a trip to a floating market, and we passed this orchid farm on the way.

    View from Boat
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    We got into long boats and sped to the floating market via a series of narrow canals.

    Country House
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    A typical house along the way - easy access to the canal!

    Kids Playing
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    They were blowing soap bubbles and tossing rocks into the canal, and waved as we passed by.

    Floating Market
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    A portion of the floating market. People would sell their wares or cook food as we wandered by. While many vendors carried their stock in boats there was also a larger permament building with various souvenirs for sale... that portion of the market had all the signs of the classic tourist trap. ;)

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    Maglev Train

    Here is a (blurry) shot of the top speed the Maglev train in Shanghai reached - 431 km/h, or 267 mph! This train turns the 30 km trip from the depot to Pudong Airport into an 8 minute journey.

    I'm positive this is the fastest I've traveled on land.

    Speedy Train

    Where is the Watermelon?

    Our trip included meals, and they have been delicious and very large.

    About to Feast

    A typical meal that we were served in China was 20 to 30 courses of food - no kidding. Each course was a plate shared by the whole table, but even still, if you average eating 1/10th of each plate that still comes out to 2 to 3 plates of food. And sometimes there was an individual soup (or two) brought out! What is pictured above are just appetizers...

    One thing that remained constant through every lunch and dinner was the last course: sliced watermelon. It became a little joke when we were stuffed and couldn't eat anymore, people would start to ask if the watermelon was coming soon. ;)

    Monday, September 18, 2006


    We took a river cruise one evening in Shànghǎi, along the Hangpu river. The city district is called the Bund, and it is a very scenic waterfront area. Especially at night, when dozens of skyscrapers put on light shows!

    The Bund at Night
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    View from our river cruise.

    TV Tower
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    I think the guide said this is the tallest TV tower in Asia.

    Big Ching
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    The clock on the right is modeled after the Clock Tower at London's Parliment building (nicknamed Big Ben). This one is nicknamed Big Ching.

    Sunday, September 17, 2006


    West Lake View
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    Pagoda view from West Lake.

    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    Interior Lake
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    We visted this very fancy home/estate of a wealthy merchant. His house was so large it had this interior lake and several pagodas around the perimeter!

    Ornate Table
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    City View
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    View of Hángzhōu from the pagoda at Lingyin Temple.

    Saturday, September 16, 2006


    We had a busy day in Nánjing. We started off at the Sun Yatsen Mausoleum, a popular attraction since Sun Yatsen is recognized at the father of modern China. Hordes of people climb the stairs to the top where his tomb is. The coffin inside is sealed with a marble statue of Sun Yatsen.

    Sun Yatsen Mausoleum
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    After spending some time here we went to the neary Ming Xiaoling tomb, which was finished in 1383. A series of courtyards lead to this large rectangular structure, behind which is a mound which has been fully excavated.

    Ming Xiaoling Tomb
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    While there isn't a lot to see at the tomb area, the avenue leading up to it is lined with various stone statues of animals and people.

    Stone Guardian
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    Elephant Statue
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    Our last stop in Nánjing was the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Museum. The Taiping Rebellion was a civil war between the Qing empire and the Taipings, led by Hong Xiuquan. He built a palace in Nánjing complete with a very ornate throne for himself! The museum now takes up the grounds, and was originally a garden complex.

    Heavenly Throne
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    Garden Building
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.

    Friday, September 15, 2006


    Rock Garden
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    This rockery is in a bamboo (Ge) garden built by a wealthy salt merchant. The rocks were from a nearby lake, and used because they were expensive to get. This Ge Garden has four areas that represent the four seasons, and this area is "winter".

    Slim West Lake
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    This lake is a "slender" or "slim" version of the more famous and scenic West Lake in Hángzhōu.

    Slim West Lake Bridge
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    A scenic bridge at Slim West Lake.

    New Business
    Originally uploaded by klbarrus.
    These bright streamers announce the grand opening of a new business!