Dec 21 2008

Early Christmas

Christine’s daughter, Sam, flies back to New York every year to spend winter break and Christmas with her father. For the last 3 years Rece and I have had the pleasure of joining them for their celebration of Christmas the day before she leaves. We share their tradition of orange cinnamon rolls and exchanging gifts and spending time together doing some fun things.

Despite how it may appear, Sam wasn’t tired or in a bad mood – I just caught her off-guard.

 December 20, 2008

To be honest, the original shot wasn’t very good at all. When I opened it in Photoshop I didn’t have a clue as to what to do with it, so I just fixed the red eye and let Photoshop auto correct the tone, color, contrast, etc and then I cropped it to what you see here. I think it turned out pretty good.

This entry now understands that a bad shot can sometimes be a good one.

Dec 16 2008

Taco Tuesday

There’s this sort of regular thing we (Christine, Sam, Rece, and I) do almost every Tuesday. It started off when Christine was taking some more college courses and asked if we wouldn’t mind hanging out with Sam while she was in class on Tuesday evenings. To make things easy (and cheap) we began going to Del Taco for their cheap, 3 for $ .99 tacos. This got old real fast, so we began checking out other local taco places for their dollar taco specials. We now have a few places to choose from – and while it isn’t always tacos, it tends to be Latino cuisine,

Tonight I thought it would be fun to make tacos at home with fresh ingredients and fry our own tortilla shells for a change. As usual, the tacos were delicous, but we ended up with some extra shells left over.

 December 16, 2008 - Taco Tuesday

Had I been thinking about it earlier, I would have snapped some photos of the tacos we actually ate. Delicious!

This entry can’t believe how unbelievably boring this post has been.

Dec 15 2008


As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t take many photos of people. So today I decided to try a natural photo of my buddy, Nam.

December 15, 2008 - Nam

Nam is the other tech at the company I work for. Like me, he’s almost entirely self-taught. He grew up in Vietnam and moved to the U.S.A. as an adult. His accent is pretty thick, but he works hard to correctly pronounce words so he’s clearly understood. He’s a great guy to work with and smart as hell – not to mention having a sharp sense of humor.

He was a bit reluctant to allow me to take his picture; knowing that I’d be posting it here. But he relented after I promised that I’d delete the photo if he didn’t like it. Apparently he did.

This entry thinks people photography isn’t as scary anymore.

Dec 6 2008

Technically speaking

I was helping my friend Rana with her computer; she’s a graphic artist and enjoys photography as well. While sitting around waiting for a malware scan to finish, I spotted one of the old components we took out her computer and thought it would make for a good subject for a photo. We discussed how it might best photograph and experimented with a few angles and focal points. This was the result.

December 6, 2008

This is an AGP video card. The big part you see here is the heatsink for the GPU. Either this video card or the memory stick in her computer was bad and causing some errors and/or random restarts. I swapped them both out with some spare parts I had laying about and her computer was back to behaving as it should.

This entry loves macro shots.

Sep 1 2008

Back to nature to escape the heat

It’s been too warm and humid lately for me to feel up to doing much physical activity. The result of remaining sedentary for so long is that I’m finding myself pretty out of shape. Christine recently asked if we could go up to the mountains to get away from the city life and to reconnect with nature. Seeing how this was the last weekend before Sam and Rece began school, we decided to go.

We drove up to the San Bernardino National Forest and made our way from Lake Arrowhead (or at least above it) to Big Bear. With some quick checking the night before, I had found a couple of hikes that we could do and downloaded the coordinates for a half a dozen caches that sounded interesting.

The part we’ll likely remember the most is the hike up to Castle Rock. It’s a short hike of about 1 mile each way. What makes this hike interesting is the steep incline – about 600′ in 1/4 mile. Our not-so-top physical condition and the higher altitude made this short hike seem like quite a workout. When we finally did reach Castle Rock, gasping for breath, we were rewarded with a beautiful view and plenty of fresh air. Rece and I decided to climb to the top of Castle Rock and had a lot of fun climbing the rocks. The view from the top was definitely worth it. We enjoyed a hearty lunch of MREs and relaxed for awhile.

After finishing lunch and making our descent, we drove around Big Bear Lake before heading back home to feast on nachos and beer. A good day, indeed!

We snapped a few pictures along the way. Here’s the photo gallery from the pictures taken with my camera.

This entry’s legs feel just the right amount of ache.

Jul 28 2008

Christine’s travel blog

Christine wrote a blog about our cross-country trip. She wrote about a lot of stuff I had forgotten about, some interesting/funny things that happened, and posted some more pictures – I’m even in some of them! 🙂

It’s a multi-page deal, so click on the next page link at the bottom. You can view the pictures larger by clicking on them.

This entry ain’t no sissy boy.

Jul 23 2008

Road Trip 2008

We just recently returned from a journey across 8 states, over the course of 16 days, spanning 5999 miles. Christine, Sam, Rece and I (yeah, we really do need to come up with a traveling group name) drove from Costa Mesa, California to Asheville, North Carolina and back again.

More kicks on Route 66

We made plans to explore more of the Mother Road, picking up from where we left off last year on our Grand Canyon trip. So from the Petrified Forest National Park in New Mexico to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma that’s just what we did.

As we learned all too well over a year earlier, the old road isn’t always easy to find. Not only that, but the damned thing had been rerouted so many times since it was started that there are multiple pieces along the same area — often miles apart. I found a set of Route 66 maps that did a pretty good job of helping us find it, for the most part.

To help put us more into the mood of the old highway, Christine did a great job of finding historic Route 66 accommodations and attractions to see along the way. Old hotels, cheesy roadside attractions, and classic diners helped give us a taste, if you’ll excuse the pun, of how it was to travel the road back then.

One significantly long section that had been bypassed was the loop up to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Taking that loop meant leaving another rerouted section of old 66 near the I-40 unexplored. I figured that I’d be more likely to be driving across the I-40 than around Santa Fe, so I could leave the smaller bits for another trip.

This journey left us with only one more stretch of Route 66 to explore at a later time. Maybe some time in the next couple of years we’ll get to finish it by driving up the Oklahoma City to Chicago portion.

City Slickers

Christine was very creative in her choices for places to stay along our journey. One of the highlights was a stay at the Flying W Guest Ranch, just outside Sayre, Oklahoma. After a relaxing night’s sleep we went went for a morning horseback ride.

The owner and his daughter were very friendly and made us feel right at home. Their ranch is quiet and beautiful. What a great place to go and get away from it all.

World record family

My mother is a wonderful artist and does a lot of traveling to shows and events, mostly around The South. She and her partner and will do all sorts of artistic things like portraits, caricatures, and face/body painting.

For the 4th of July they attempted to create a Guinness World Record by body painting 900 people and arranging them into an image of the American flag in Kingston, Tennessee. Unfortunately the support they seemed to get from the people of the town wasn’t what it appeared to be and they didn’t make it.

We met them there and camped out for a night. It was what you might expect from a small town patriotic celebration in the conservative South — complete with speed boat races (Earl won). Honestly, I wasn’t impressed and the people seemed very closed to strangers. I didn’t feel the least bit welcome, except by the people wanting money. So much for breaking a stereotype.

Fire and light in the dark

My family, at least the ones that had met up at the campgrounds for the body painting event, went back to my mom’s place to hold our own celebration of the 4th. We were in a fairly remote area with little light in the sky, which made the fireworks all the more brilliant. During the pyrotechnics, I tried to capture the fun with long exposure shots. They turned out pretty good. After we ran out of things to burn, my brother Danny and I experimented with the long exposure (bulb) setting on my camera and a flashlight. The results were quite interesting.

Flexibility of plans

Christine and I did a lot of planning for the trip. Well, actually Christine did the majority of planning, seeing how it’s one of her strengths. Despite all the planning, we still had plenty of spare time to make unplanned stops and to deal with the inevitable unforeseen delays. This allowed us to enjoy our trip and see all that we wanted to without feeling stressed for time.

All the flexible planning came in handy while we were in Tennessee and decided to drive to Asheville, North Carolina to see more of the family that couldn’t make it for camping. I had an absolutely wonderful time getting the chance to spend some time getting caught up with the family.

Eat here, get gas

Gas prices fluctuated a bit in price across the country, but even in the middle of nowhere the price of a gallon of gas was much lower than we were used to paying in California — and thankfully much lower than the $5.00/gallon that I had budgeted to pay by the end of the trip.

Food is always part of the fun on any trip, if you’re like Christine & I. We go out of our way to eat at locally/family owned food establishments instead of (inter)national chains. Most of the time we found ourselves enjoying a tasty meal with the comfort of knowing that the money we spent was going directly back into the local economy. It also meant that we were getting a taste of something new or a slightly different variety of an old favorite.

At least it’s a dry heat

The weather turned hot the week before we left for our trip. Even though the temperature was lower than it was back home for most of the trip, the humidity more than made up for the difference. I’m a huge wimp when it comes to the heat, even more when it’s muggy. 85° F with 95% humidity in Tennessee felt far worse than 101° F and dry in Arizona. It’s no wonder that things move at a slower place … who wants to move around much in that!?

Needless to say, I spent a good amount of time trying to stay cool on the trip. The rest of the gang didn’t complain nearly as much as I did about the heat and I’m glad they were able to tolerate my whining.

Science and history

You can’t help but see a bit of days gone by along Route 66. The boom and crash of small towns that once lined The Mother Road is rather astounding, but helps one understand how fickle business can be and how the economy can change over time. The history of the road wasn’t the only education we received, though.

We visited museums and national parks and stopped at historic placards along the way. Here’s a quick list of the places we stopped:

Zuni Pueblo/Reservation – We drove around a small Zuni Indian settlement (pueblo) and saw some Indians in tribal/ceremonial outfits walking about.

Devil’s Rope & Route 66 Museum – I was completely surprised by this one. A top-notch museum about barbed wire and how it changed the world. It also included a small pictorial display about the dust bowl that really moved me.

National Route 66 Museum – For a new museum, this wasn’t very good. In fact I felt oddly detached from the information they were trying to present. The short film about the evolution of America’s highway system was very good, however.

Hot Springs National Park – Not only the oldest of the national parks in the country, but the only one contained within a city. A great place to come if you enjoy hot springs and spas – and also learning a little bit about history.

Texas Snake Farm – An unusual place with an amazing diversity of animals.

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch – Drive through and get up close to the animals. If you’ve ever wanted to have a zebra poke its head in your car window to say hello, then this is the place to go.

The Alamo – You should have no trouble remembering this piece of history after you’ve spent some time exploring the site.

Carlsbad Caverns – Incredible! This is a must-see. Who would have thought that a cave could feel so spacious? Do yourself a favor when you visit and go on at least one of the guided tours (reservations needed).

NRAO Very Large Array – A deliciously geeky place to learn about radio astronomy and see some very cool (and large) radio antennas (don’t call them satellite dishes!).

Titan Missile Museum – Want to see an nuclear missile up close? This decommissioned Titan II missile silo has been converted into a museum. Take the tour and go down into the silo and learn more about these cold war weapons.

The end of the road

16 days in a car can really put people to the test. What’s good is that we all had a good time, even during the long and boring stretches of driving. You know you’re with good company when the trip is over and you’re still getting along just as well (or better) as you did before you left. This will be a trip we’ll all remember for a lifetime.

Be sure to check out the set of photos from our journey.

Christine also wrote about the trip on her travel blog.

This entry dislikes living in California even more, now.

Feb 22 2008

Living it up, down in Death Valley

Death Valley is known for its highs and lows: the highest temperature recorded on the planet and the lowest elevation in North America. It’s also known for its once bustling mining towns and strange geology. We felt it was worth checking out.

Christine, Sam, Rece, and I — we really should make up a name for our group, since we travel all over the place together — set out on a 3-day, 2-night journey to view Death Valley National Park. With a rented 4WD SUV, and a few bags and cameras in hand, we made our trek across the desert.

As usual we brought along our GPS receivers, loaded with geocache coordinates along the way. The first of them was at the oddly named Zzyzx exit, followed by Baker and its oh-so-many sights.

The last 3 trips we’ve made out to the desert have given Christine reason to get excited about the prospect of visiting (and eating at) the Mad Greek in Baker, CA. Unfortunately for her, it has always been too far out of the way to justify the long detour. This time our route took us right to Baker, home of the Worlds Tallest Thermometer and also the Mad Greek restaurant (one of their many locations – but she had to go to THIS one).

Having filled our bellies with decent enough Greek-style food, I pointed the 4runner north, towards Death Valley. We stopped quite a few times along the way, either after spotting a point of interest (we stop for almost all historical markers on all of our trips) or to hunt for a geocache.

We’ve come to learn from our past trips that travel time is usually at least double of what it would be if the distance was covered without stopping. So it was already a known variable in our plans that we probably wouldn’t be entering Death Valley on the first day. This proved to be true and drove on to our first night’s stay in Pahrump, NV. I’ll admit that this was probably due a good part to the name of the town, but it was also the closest lodging that probably didn’t have a Norman Bates type of person running it.

Our hopes for word-play were dashed after discovering that we could not stay at Terrible’s Casino (they didn’t have a hotel at this one). Here’s a short list of some possible fun phrases we were unable to use:

  • We stayed at a terrible hotel in Pahrump, NV.
  • The hotel was terrible — and so was the casino!
  • After a terrible night’s stay, we awoke and enjoyed a terrible breakfast.

Then another catastrophe: the Nugget Hotel & Casino was more expensive than other places in town and had no more non-smoking rooms available. So we couldn’t say we stayed in “Pa’s rump nugget” or anything silly like that. We had to settle for the Saddle West Hotel & Casino, which wasn’t a bad place to stay — it just had a boring name, comparatively.

Day 2 began about as planned and we filled up at the buffet breakfast at our hotel. After backtracking to Shoshone, CA, then turning north we reached the southern most entrance to Death Valley. We thought areas of California state highway 395 were remote and desolate, but they seemed pretty crowded compared to Death Valley. Sparse desert hills for miles and miles — the only living creatures were a few crows.

We arrived at Badwater Basin, one of the lowest points in Death Valley (there are a few other points a few feet lower, but they’re difficult to get to) and found one of the largest groups of people we’d see for the rest of the trip. (As introverts, Christine & I enjoyed the lack of people.)

Continuing on our northern route through the park, we stopped at the Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Palette, and Furnace Creek Visitor Center (central hub for the park).

Our primary destination for Day 2 was the Devil’s Racetrack (also known as Racetrack Playa) , which is located in a remote part of the park far up in the northern area. The Racetrack is a natural oddity that I just couldn’t miss. You can read more about it here. The road was 27-miles long and washboard gravel/dirt which added to the adventure. I think I took about as many pictures here as I did all at the other areas we visited in Death Valley combined.

With sunlight soon to be gone, we departed the Racetrack and made much better time on the way out than we did on the way in, having discovered that the bumps smoothed out more the faster I drove. How fun is that?

Driving into the night, we again had to modify our very flexible plans and change the town where we’d be sleeping. Beatty, NV turned out to be the closest option. Apparently it was better that we arrived at night when we drove through and decided to stay at the local Motel 6 — daylight revealed a different mood. The town seems to be in a slow, but steady decline. It had obviously seen better days when tourism brought more people through. But now it seems a little sad — or at least I felt a little sad for the town.

A nice fellow in the motel parking lot pointed out that our back tire looked a bit low on air and he told us where we could get it fixed in town. Coincidentally, the tire shop was next door to the hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant we had decided to patronize the night before. Some yummy food and a $20 tire patch later we were headed back towards Death Valley.

A sign along the highway pointed to Rhyolite, NV, a ghost town we had read about while planning for the trip. This was another of our impromptu stops and an interesting discovery. Not only had the town been occupied and thriving a mere 100 years ago, but we also found an open air museum with some bizarre sculptures.

Just a few miles after getting back on the highway we detoured onto Titus Canyon Road. Another 27-mile washboard dirt/gravel road, but this time one-way and through, well, a canyon. Aside from one pickup truck and a mountain biker, we were completely alone. The road brought us by some mines and another old mining (ghost) town called Leadfield. Beyond the ghost town the canyon drive became quite narrow, which made us feel as though we were in an old Western film or an Indiana Jones flick.

With the canyon drive behind us, we made it back to California highway 190 and westward through the park. A few minor points of interest later and we again found ourselves on another dirt road in a desolate area on our way to see the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. These beehive-looking structures were quite remarkable.

Finally, after leaving Death Valley, our last stop was at yet another ghost town named Ballarat. The caretaker was an interesting fellow with a friendly and playful dog. He pointed out a rusty old truck on display and told us it used to be owned by Charles Manson. We didn’t really believe him until we looked it up for ourselves.

The drive home was uneventful, aside from learning that Carl Kartcher had passed away a month earlier when we went into Carl’s Jr. for a potty break and ended up buying a Captain Crunch Shake – it was the first day they started selling them (and they’re actually quite tasty).

As usual we took pictures. Lots of pictures. You can view them at:

Gabe’s photos

Christine’s photos

Sam’s photos

This entry still feels a little dehydrated.

Nov 26 2007

Gobble Gobble

Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone. Christine, Rece, and I made our pilgrimage (snicker) to Mimi’s Cafe for the annual stuff-your-face-with-turkey fest. As usual, Mimi’s didn’t disappoint.

Quinn flew out (who says turkeys can’t fly?) to drop off his kids after their visit. We managed to get a good amount of time to hang out during his visit. It was nice to have a chance to catch up with Quinn. I’m really looking forward to him moving back to California next year.

On Saturday the 4 of us (Christine, Quinn, Rece, & me) found ourselves in front of the TV, watching 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later (skip the sequel — it sucks). There’s nothing better than hanging out with the people you care for most while watching end of the world flicks!

This entry is a bit more than thankful right now.

Oct 5 2007

Best Friends

Just in case you’re wondering, my best friends are Quinn & Christine. I may not always mention all the stuff we do or how often we talk and such, but it does happen. So when I say “I don’t have any plans for the weekend” I very well might be hanging out with Christine at some point over the weekend. I just mean that I don’t have any formal or complicated plan that might get in the way of me trying to sleep in or having some quiet time to myself.

This entry wants to be sure that his introverted behavior isn’t taken the wrong way!