Saturday, December 24, 2005

Best Christmas Present Ever

Since my family is somewhat large (I am the youngest of 5 siblings and I have 13 nieces and nephews), we alternate each year spending Christmas day with the family or "the in-laws." This year it is Christmas day with the in-laws, so my family got together on Christmas-Eve to exchange gifts. With 20+ people getting together, we minimized the gift buying by having each person randomly assigned to get just one person a gift. I find it makes the holidays much more relaxing - just one gift to think about - and you can instead concentrate on more important matters such as spending time with family enjoying their company.

This year, I received two presents from my sister - the second one being a bonus gift. I have to say that this bonus gift is my favorite Christmas gift to date. And, it's not some whiz-bang electronics gadget, or a game, or anything like that. It's just a calendar with various family snapshots for the pictures for each month. But these are not just any family snap-shots - these are mostly rather silly ones, as can be seen by the sample for January, which was taken a couple years ago at Christmas:


Or this one for July featuring my dad playing the maracas while in the background my youngest nephew and I are playing a quiet game of chess. (Incidentally, I got my butt kicked - my nephew easily won.)

Not all of the pictures are silly. I also really like this one for February which shows one of my nieces (Hi bethd!) enjoying some Lego. (I'm not sure if those are some of the Lego I recently gave to her...)

I'm not sure why I was so touched by this gift, maybe because it reminds me of so many very happy times. In any case, it is greatly appreciated. And to think the only reason I got this bonus calendar was my sister got a special "buy two, get a third free" deal when she was putting together some calendars for our mom and her mother-in-law. It's interesting how small actions can have much larger effects than one might anticipate.

Christmas Eve Sunset

Had a family get-together at my parents' house for Christmas Eve. The water on the bay was amazingly calm - no waves at all. The sky had an interesting cloud pattern while the sun was setting. I wish I had remembered to take a series of pictures to make a panorama. I must try to get in the habit of remembering that.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Universe in a Single Atom

I'm currently reading the Dalai Lama's latest book, "The Universe in a Single Atom" and found the following piece interesting:

'...if one examines the history of Buddhist philosophical thinking, there is an understanding that animals are closer to humans (in that both are sentient beings) than they are to plants. This understanding is based on the notion that, insofar as their sentience is concerned, there is no different between humans and animals. Just as we humans wish to escape suffering and to seek happiness, so do animals. Similarly, just as we humans have the capacity to experience pain and pleasure, so do animals. Philosophically speaking, from the Buddhist point of view, both human beings and animals possess what in Tibetan is called shepa, which can be roughly translated as "consciousness," albeit to different degrees of complexity. In Buddhism, there is no recognition of the presence of something like the "soul" that is unique to humans. From the perspective of consciousness, the difference between humans and animals is a matter of degree and not of kind.'

I found this quote was a very good explanation for something I've felt for a long time, but have never really been able to explain as well as was done above. The idea that animals have a consciousness and will try to avoid suffering and seek happiness can have far-reaching consequences if you truly believe it. I sometimes find it strange that people will have a strong attachment and almost reverence for something abstract, such as a sports team or a TV show, or a fictional character, yet they'll think nothing of mistreating a fellow living "conscious" being, whether it be a person or animal.

This quote also reminds me of why I became a vegetarian. Often, when someone discovers I am a vegetarian, I am asked why. For me, there was a specific event in my life that brought about my decision. About six years ago, I was driving home late one night on a dark winding country road. A truck passed me coming from the other direction, and about 30 seconds later, my car's headlights revealed a disturbing scene. A racoon was writhing around in the road in pain - obviously having just been hit by the passing truck. It was a very surreal image - the poor animal flopping around in agony, illuminated by the only light from the headlights and the rest of the area in total darkness. At that moment, I wished I owned a gun so I could get out of my car and put the animal out of its misery. Part of me thought it would be a good idea to try to run the racoon over to kill it, but I was having nagging doubt that maybe it was just stunned and would recover or maybe I wouldn't succeed in killing it and would just hurt it some more. In the end, my weakness got the best of me and I made the decision to just drive around the animal, with the unrealistic hope that the racoon would recover on its own. But, from that moment on, I made a vow that if I could avoid causing the suffering in animals, then I would, and I have been a vegetarian ever since. The haunting image of the racoon is still a vivid reminder for me.

A friend of mine labels me a freegetarian, rather than a true vegetarian. If I am at someone else's home and they have already prepared a meal with meat, I will sometimes eat it. My philosphy in this case is the meat wasn't specifically prepared for me, and it's better to make use of it. An animal's life was already lost, so it is best to not have it go to waste. (The term freegetarian is a combination of "free" and "vegetarian", with the implied meaning that meat will be eaten if it is free. There's also the term vegequarian - vegetarian who also eats seafood, and a freegevegequarian - someone who also eats seafood and free meat. :-)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Weird optical illusion

 Maybe it's just me, but I find if I stare at the sun in the center of this picture, it seems like the sun starts to get bigger and brighter. Try it out. You can click on the image for a larger view, which might give a better optical effect.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mount Monadnock II

This past Sunday a group of us from the dojo made a trip to Mount Monadnock - the world's first or second most climbed mountain in the world (depending on who you ask). Mount Fuji used to be the undisputed "most climbed mountain" in the world but since they added an auto-road to the top, some now claim fewer people actually "climb" the mountain rather than just drive to the top in a car. In any case, Mount Monadnock gets climbed quite a bit - over 125,000 people a year or some rather large number like that. Seems like an awful lot of people. But at least in the winter it's pretty empty.

The weather on Sunday was great - nice and sunny with temperatures ranging from the mid thirties at the base to the mid twenties near the summit. There had been an ice storm on Friday, so everything had a nice ice glazing. Hiking below the tree line was fine since there was at least a foot of snow under the ice, but once we got above the tree line it was basically rock with a layer of ice. Not everyone in the group had crampons, so we decided to not try for the summit. No sense risking injury just to say we made it to the peak.

I took a large number of pictures - most of which can be seen here. (Note, there are 70 pcitures there) That link also contains some panorama images and their base source images before being stitched together, so if you are interested in seeing what the panorama pictures look like before they are built, take a look.

Here's a really wide example of one of the panoramas. It's made up of about 4 or 5 pictures stitched together. You can click on it for a large view, although you might then have to scroll left and right to see the whole thing.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Mountain Panorama

This is just a quick experiment trying to use the panorama "stitching" feature of Adobe Photoshop Elements. This is actually 3 images merged together. 

A Mountain Climbing Preview

 A group of friends are planning on hiking Mount Monadnock next Sunday (It's the world's second most climbed mountain!). Since this group is made up of many of the same people who went on the crazy kayak adventure last month, I thought it might be a good idea to scout out the trip in advance to get a better idea what was in store for us with the winter-like weather on the mountain.

So, two of us did the trip today - trying two different trails to get an idea what might be the best route for the full group. We took the most direct (i.e. steepest) route up - the White Dot trail - and even with slipping and sliding in the snow and ice, it took a wee bit under two hours to get to the summit. It was definitely made easier because one of us had trecking poles and the other was wearing crampons - without that extra gear you'd really have to climb on your hands and knees at many parts. For the trip down we took the Red Dot trail, which meanders a bit more along the ridge of the mountain. It was a less used trail, which made for a lot more fresh unpacked snow and a lot less ice. It was also a lot less steep, which made for easier walking. The main drawback is the trail is in the woods for a much longer time, so you only get the nice panoramic views close to the summit. Plus, since it is a longer meandering route, going down took us about 2 hours (same as it took going up on the direct route). Had we taken the White Dot trail down, it would have taken about an hour, although it would have been a lot more demanding with the ice covered rocks and probably a lot more stressful on the knees.

The weather on the mountain was near perfect - not too cold, around 32 degrees F at the base and about 18 degrees F on the summit, with lots of sun. Hopefully the weather will be just as good next week. 

In this picture of the summit, for a sense of scale, you can see a person on the left making their way to the summit (look for the small black dot just above the tree line). Also, you can click on the image for a larger view.
Ok, if you still can't make out the person, how about this?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Winter Guests

Just a quick snap of some early morning visitors outside my window.
(As is the case with most of the photos here, you can click on it for a larger view.)

Based on a comment from my niece, I add this further explanation. Even though it's not quite winter yet, I call these birds "winter guests" since they tend to be around for most of the winter and leave once the weather gets warmer. 

Friday, December 02, 2005

Punk ducks

When I looked out the window this morning, there were about a dozen of these cute little ducks with spikey haircuts. I'm pretty sure they are called hooded mergansers. The males look even funkier, with sharply contrasting black and white coloring on their heads.