Monday, June 30, 2008

Crazy shoes

I recently bought some new shoes... they're called Vibram Five Fingers.

They might look a bit strange (a bit like I have Hobbit feet), but they're actually extremely comfortable. The sole is thin enough that it's almost like walking barefoot - you can actually feel the difference in texture on the ground - yet the sole is also thick enough to offer decent protection while walking over stuff that would be a bit painful or dangerous barefoot.

It takes a bit getting used to putting them on. The first time I tried, I had no sense of where my toes were - I had to feel them with my hand to figure out whether they were in the right toe slots. It was a good eye opening experience revealing just how much lack of awareness I have with that part of my body. Now that I've worn them a few times, it's definitely easier to put them on properly.

Vibram originally designed these things as water shoes, but they've been adapted for all different kinds of activities. I bought them because I think they'll be useful for practicing karate outdoors. Having the individual toe movement gives a much better feel than wearing shoes. People even use them for training while running, although since you need to run differently (more on the balls of your feet), it's recommended that you don't do really long distance runs starting off.

I recently wore them on an hour long hike through the woods and they were ok. It's definitely easier in regular shoes or boots, but it gave a nice carefree barefoot feel. I did need to pay a bit more attention to where I was stepping - stones and roots hitting the sole of the foot unexpectedly was still a bit uncomfortable. I definitely wouldn't recommend wearing them with a big pack on your back - there's absolutely no ankle support.

I even wore these shoes to work once, although I did change into regular shoes half-way through the day. They were bringing a bit too much attention. The folks at work weren't ready for my forward thinking.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Gadgetry

I must admit, I recently purchased yet another electric gadget. I could try to describe it by mentioning how powerful the motor is, or all the moving parts it has, or how if you're not careful with it you could get a nasty puncture wound, but I'll just skip all that and say it - it's a sewing machine. Specifically, it's a Kenmore 19110.

Yes, it might not seem the most masculine of gadgets, and combined with the fact that I was doing some scrap booking a couple weeks ago, it has brought some teasing. When I mentioned this purchase to a friend at work (who also was aware of the scrap book project for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary), she asked me if there were any other feminine hobbies I might be starting up. Yeah, yeah... Very funny. Single guy in his forties, hasn't been on a date in over 5 years, does scrap booking and sewing in his free time...

I mainly purchased the machine for repairing my karate gis. My gis are made of fairly heavy cotton - it feels a bit like canvas and occasionally one of the ties that hold it in place will tear off. The place where the tie attaches is on a hem about 4 layers of fabric thick. Sewing the tie back on by hand is a real pain - I end up breaking needles and it takes me over a half hour to just repair one. And, the repair work usually doesn't last very long. Now with the sewing machine, it only takes about a minute and it's super durable.

A few days ago I repaired 5 of my gis. Sewing by hand was such a pain that I had resorted to buying a new gi whenever the tie ripped. Now I have 7 usable gis. Looks like I won't need to buy a new one for a long time.

The sewing machine has a clever little attachment for threading the needle. It's a spring-loaded clip that you can pull down adjacent to the needle and it inserts a tiny hook through the eye of the needle. In the center of this picture you should be able to see the hook.

You then pull the thread under the hook like so...

Then pop the clip back, pulling the hook and thread through the eye of the needle.

Here's a close up of that last step. (Sorry this picture is a bit blurry. I had a hard time focusing on the hook beyond the needle, especially using just one hand.)

Then, you just pull the rest of the thread through and you are ready to sew.

Random Eye Dull Photo #8 - Marabou Stork

Definitely not the prettiest bird I've ever seen...

In my African wildlife guide book the Marabou Stork is described as having "a rather grotesque appearance." I tend to agree, especially after reading further in the description that their legs are not naturally white - they are just whitened from their droppings. Ew.... what a pleasant bird.

I took a picture of this one as we were leaving the Maasai Mara Wildlife Refuge.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Random Eye Dull Photo #7 - Elephant on the Mara

I can't have African safari pictures without one with an elephant in it, can I? Unfortunately, I'm not too crazy about any of the elephant pictures I took. They just seem kind of ordinary.

Here are my best two:

I must admit, I do have a picture of a not so ordinary elephant view. Until I witnessed this first-hand, I never really thought about the volume of liquid being generated... and this was just a baby elephant!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Decision making

I really have a hard time making choices, especially when I can only pick one thing. For example, inspired by a change some friends made to their blog, I figured I'd use a photo of mine as a title banner here. The problem I have is, how do I decide which photo to use? It's sort of like rearranging furniture for me - each layout has its own merits, but in the end, it's not practical to keep changing it around.

I suppose that's why I never did well with art projects. I have a problem committing to one idea. Years ago I took a stone sculpture class at RISD's continuing education program, yet never finished my project. I only roughed out the shape of what I was making, but lacked the confidence to chisel away and make a final choice in any of the details.

So, the same goes with something as simple as a banner for this blog. In case you are wondering, here are some photos I was playing around with.

For a few hours I was using the Tanzanian sunset scene but I wasn't comfortable with it. I like the picture, but the friends whose blog I was inspired by also use a sunset scene. I didn't want to be completely copying their idea.

From the sunset scene, I switched to the Okinawa ocean rock formation. This was a really crazy piece of sea-worn coral I saw on the Okinawa coastline two years ago. It was about 15 to 20 feet tall! It reminds me of a painting I used to like as a kid when I played the game Masterpiece. The painting is called "The Rock", by Peter Blume. Whenever I saw it up for sale in the game, I always bid high.

I kind of liked the idea of using the banner containing my eyes since it plays along with whole "Eye Dull Musing" theme, but I think my face takes up a bit too much of the frame, so I decided against it. I could have "photoshopped" the right hand edge to make the picture wider and hence shrink my face, but I'm trying to stick with unmodified photos. Other than adjusting tone and cropping, I'm trying to avoid doing any photo doctoring.

The other two banners are both pictures from Africa; the crane one has already been posted on this blog in the past. The field one was taken on a hillside in a Masaai village. If you squint at the right hand side of the picture, you might be able to make out a couple of people leading an ox plowing the field. I decided against the field one because it reminded me of the default background image for Windows XP (also a grassy hillside). The crane one is ok, but I guess I felt it was a little too dull. Yeah, I know, "dull" is part of the name of this blog, but still...

Hmmm, I guess I did make a decision after all. I suppose for now I'll stick with the Okinawa scene.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eye Dull Photo #6 - The Rhino

Those dang flamingos try to get in every picture!

(In case you didn't guess - this is yet another photo I took while at Lake Nakuru.)

Eye Dull Photo #5 - Pelican Outcast

Another picture from Lake Nakuru. I get the impression the pelican is thinking something spiteful like, "I didn't want to be a part of the flamingo crowd anyhow."
Not that pelicans really have spiteful thoughts, but if they did, that's what I'd expect this one to be thinking. (As usual, click on the the image for a slightly better view.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eye Dull Photo #4 - Cape Buffalo and Flamingos

This is a photo I took at Lake Nakuru in Kenya back in January.

While it may appear to have been put through a "paint effect" Photoshop filter, it has not. It was simply an underexposed photo that I bumped up the tone to get rid of the dark areas. Oddly, the end result was a photo that looks kind of like an impressionist oil painting..


Monday, June 23, 2008

Layout Change

Sorry for the somewhat ugly change to this blog.

I'm experimenting with a new blogging tool (Ecto) that makes it a bit easier and faster for me to upload photos.  The one drawback (from my point of view) is it requires I use Flickr for hosting the pictures. It's not that I dislike Flickr or think it's a bad photo hosting service.  It's just that Flickr automatically creates several image sizes for the uploaded photos, and the closest blog-friendly size is 500 pixels wide.  All the Blogger templates assume a photo width of 400 pixels. If I use a 500 pixel image with my old layout, the photos run out of the box and it looks even uglier than what you are looking at now.

As a quick fix I tried to find a fairly simple Blogger template and just hack it a bit so it was resized to be friendly to 500 pixel wide images.  That's what you are looking at right now. Eventually, when time permits, I'll try to clean it up a bit more, or maybe, if I feel motivated enough, I'll try to make my own system for auto-sizing images.

So, the good news (assuming more is better) is that using this new Ecto tool, I should be making more frequent posts - at least the random photos with a brief description. I'll also continue to have the more wordy posts about things on my mind, but the photos should be a lot more frequent - hopefully daily. I have taken more than 10,000 photos over the past several years, so there should be a few decent pictures in the bunch worth sharing.

Random Eye Dull Photo #3 - Go West!

I saw this cool weathervane at the beach.
Somehow, someone was able to put it way on the top of an old dead tree.

Baby scanner

No, no, not a scanner for scanning babies, but a very small, very cool, battery powered flatbed scanner.
My brother-in-law showed me this thing this weekend. It's pretty handy - just the right size for scanning photos. It's made by HP and is the Photosmart 1200. From what I'm told, it's not sold in the US market - only in Europe. That's too bad. I guess it doesn't fit the US demographics of having everything oversized...BCS_2308.jpg

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Random Eye Dull Photo #2

Snapshot from a sunset walk on the beach yesterday after my parents' 50th wedding anniversary party.

Sunset at the beach

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Happy 50th Anniversary!

June 21st, 1958...


Congratulations Mom & Dad!


Friday, June 20, 2008

Random Eye Dull Photo #1 - Millipede

This is the start of an attempt to begin regular postings of random photos I've taken. Hopefully it'll keep my interest longer than my "Fortune of the Week" attempt a while back.

While hiking with some friends, I came across this lovely critter...

In case you couldn't guess, it's a millipede. I was surprised by how big the thing actually was. I realize there's nothing in this picture to properly represent the scale, but this thing had to have been about 6 inches long.

I wonder how it controls so many legs all at once. If it wanted to (not that millipedes are known to have wants), would it be able to actually move just one leg?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Where am I going?

I had a funny encounter at work the other day. My boss took me aside and asked if he could speak with me for a few minutes. He introduced the topic by saying something along the lines of, "I would have assumed you'd have told me already if it were true, and I assume it's not, but there's a rumor going around that you'll be quitting your job on June 30th."

I thought it was pretty funny as this was the first I had heard of the subject myself, yet my boss said he heard the rumor from several people, including the VP of Engineering at our corporate headquarters about 1000 miles away! Wow, I know I'm usually out of the gossip loop at work, but this was crazy - and the rumor was about me!

I assured my boss I had no immediate plans of quitting and I'd definitely let him know if/when I did have such plans. I had already told him of my whole Peace Corps application and my search for a more nonprofit-focused career, and he's been quite understanding and supportive in the matter.

So, this brings up the general subject of where am I in this whole process of looking for more meaningful work? What happened with the Peace Corps? Well, I've come to the conclusion that the Peace Corps isn't the best option for me at this time. The financial burden of coming up with enough money to cover my mortgage for 27 months was going to be difficult. And I got to thinking, why intentionally put myself in a difficult situation when there may be other opportunities to also help that wouldn't require such a drastic sacrifice. That, combined with finally talking about the whole Peace Corps thing with my not-so-young parents helped me decide against it. While both my parents are healthy right now, a lot can change in two years and I'd hate to be away should something bad happen.

Since deciding against the Peace Corps, I've been applying to nonprofit opportunities that seem to fit my skill set. There's a handy web site that is a great resource for looking for nonprofit opportunities: So far, I've not had much luck. Most places looking for software engineers are looking for someone with 5 years of experience or thereabouts. I have 20. I try to stress in my cover letter that I'm interested in making a career change to the nonprofit sector and I do not expect to make the same salary I make now, but most places don't even bother replying to my application.

I did have a phone interview with one organization that I was very excited about back on May 1st. It was with Partners in Health. Coincidentally, this past winter I read Mountains Beyond Mountains a biography about one of the founders of Partners in Health and his work in Haiti. It's a great book - actually it's one of the things that motivated me to finally apply to the Peace Corps. Anyhow, the job they are hiring for is computer programming mentors to work in Rwanda to help with training programmers who will be maintaining an open-source medical record management system, called OpenMRS. The position would be for 6 months to a year. The time span is definitely financially doable for me. I already have more than enough money saved.

The one strike against me is the fact that the OpenMRS system is written in Java. I have no professional Java experience - only C and C++. Sure, it's easy enough for a skilled programmer to make a transition from C++ to Java, but still, I can definitely understand if they are looking for someone with specific Java experience. (The job requirements didn't list Java, so I'm hopeful.) I felt the phone interview went well, but I avoided trying to make a hard sell for myself. I have the utmost respect for Partners in Health and based on what I've read they've done some great work in the world. While it is good interview advice in the commercial world to try to portray yourself in the best light possible, I would rather take an understated approach when interviewing for this position. If they can find better skilled mentors suited for the job, I would not want to interfere with the that process just so I can get the job instead. If someone else will be helping PIH better than I would be able, then it's a good thing if that someone else gets hired.

The last I heard, PIH hasn't made any final decisions regarding the mentor positions. The fact that they're still interviewing for the person who will be managing the project leads me to believe things are running a bit behind schedule. I would imagine the person hired as the project manager would also be conducting the final interviews for the mentor applicants. So, I have no idea what the timeframe might be before I hear back on whether I might get another interview. (I did recently confirm I at least haven't been rejected yet.)

Since I was so excited about the potential for the PIH position, I have put on hold applying to any other positions. I'm still looking, but nothing has interested me more than this opportunity. I figure I should just wait it out. I wouldn't want to find an opportunity I don't like as much, switch jobs, and then hear from PIH a week later.

While waiting, I've been doing some more thinking about the whole idea of a career change. A friend had mentioned to me the potential benefit I have right know of having a decent paying job without a family to support. This means I could afford to donate a substantial amount of money to worthwhile causes and might be able to have more of an impact than personally doing the ground-work. For example, the pay for the PIH job in Rwanda would mainly cover living expenses. Since costs are relatively low in Rawanda - the pay might come out to something like $12,000 annually. (I'm making up this figure as an example - I don't know the exact salary, but I don't think this is far off the mark.) Now suppose instead of quitting my job, I donate $24,000 to PIH. That would fund the salary for two mentors. Would that be better than me personally being in Rawanda doing the actual mentoring?

I might have the details off a bit, and I don't have the book handy to verify, but I think it was in Mountains Beyond Mountains where one of the significant financial supporters of PIH mentioned he would like to quit what he is doing and instead do the hands-on work in Haiti. The response he received was that if it weren't for his financial support, the hands-on work of many people wouldn't be able to be funded and it would actually be a very bad thing for him to do such a thing. Granted, my current salary does not give me the means to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but I could definitely donate enough to fund a couple mentors in Rwanda, or several volunteers in the Peace Corps.

So, this is where I am right now. I'm waiting to hear back from PIH, while at the same time reevaluating what would be the most beneficial thing for me to do.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mara needs help

Due to the recent unrest in Kenya, the national parks in that country are in need of help. According to this article park attendance has dropped 90 percent this year and the fees from visitors pay much of the bills. Fortunately, as also featured in the article, the parks are having some success raising funds online.

Even if you can't donate, visiting the Mara park ranger's blog is definitely worth the time. You can view it at It has amazing photos of the wildlife on the Mara.

Having had the opportunity to visit the Mara this past winter (which is when I snapped the above picture), I can definitely say it is an area worth preserving. The diversity of wildlife in that area is incredible.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Valley view

This is probably my favorite picture from the bunch I took while in the Seattle area.

It's the view from a mountain ledge road looking back towards the small town of Mazama. (If you click on the link, it'll show a contour map of the area. Look for the road NF-5400000 in the center. I snapped this picture right before the first switchback - around 2800 ft.) I think technically this is a view of the Lost River Valley.

There's a bit more to say about this crazy mountain road, but I'll have to write about it when I have a bit more time.