Another catching up episode

I've been a bad LJ poster again -- often lurking and reading other posts, but infrequently commenting or posting myself. The last two items here should help and hurt my posting frequency, so we'll see how they balance each other out. Now, onward to the summary:

Home projects: We had some major enhancements done to the house over the summer. We had the front brick porch and steps replaced with fresh brick, added central air-conditioning and heating (we just had hot water heat before), had a patio added in the back yard, and landscaped the entire property. Whew. But the house is much nicer inside and out now.

Dragon*con: We made it down to Dragon*con again this year and a good time was had by all. I was very happy to see David Gareth-Lloyd, the actor who plays Ianto on BBC's Torchwood, and the parties were fun and naughty as usual. A nice change this year is that a friend of ours is now a pilot, so he flew us down to Atlanta.

Circle of Life: The day after I got home from Atlanta, I found out my grandmother had become gravely ill and was being moved to a hospice; she passed away a couple weeks later. Fortunately I was able to arrange things with work so I could visit her over a couple days while she was in the hospice. She had quite a long life -- nearly making it to 100 -- and was sharp right up to the end. If we can't live forever, that's about as good as we can hope to get.

Computing: I'm now the proud owner of a Dell Mini 9 netbook; in other words, a super-portable, low-cost laptop computer. This one weighs about two pounds and has a 9" screen and no moving parts. Storage is a solid state drive instead of a spinning hard drive, and it doesn't even need a fan. It's the perfect computer to take on trips or off to Panera.

Flying: Our pilot friend will also soon be a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), so I'm taking the opportunity to get pilot training! It's going to be pretty time consuming to get my Pilot Certificate -- at least 50-70 hours of flight time alone -- but hopefully I'll be a pilot myself by next summer.

So yes, hopefully the Mini 9 will make it easier for me to LJ on the go, and the pilot training won't consume so much time that I don't have any left for blogging.

Animals galore

On Sunday, David and I made our way down to the North Carolina Zoo near Asheboro, NC. The original plan had been to go down on Saturday, but David was up late with his D&D group on Friday night and thus wasn't much up for an early Saturday departure.

The zoo is quite an expansive place. At about 1,500 acres and 5 miles of walking paths, it's the largest walk-through natural habitat zoo (according to wiki). The eastern half of the zoo is the Africa section, including a large savanna where you can watch the elephants and rhinos and Thomson gazelles ("tommies") roam, while other areas have other animals like lions, zebras, and a wide range of primates in large, natural habitats. There's also a great tropical aviary with gorgeous plants and many colorful birds buzzing around.

The western half is the North America section, with the grizzly bears, bison, alligators, etc. My favorite area there is the arctic pavilion. The outside area features a couple of polar bears (napping soundly on the rocks), while the inside area includes an area with arctic birds like puffins. It's amazing to see the puffins dive into the water as they don't seem to swim but rather fly through the water just as they fly through the air. I'm also rather fond of the Sonoran Desert pavilion, particularly on Sunday when it actually felt cooler in the desert area than it did outside in the heat and humidity. The animals there were enjoying the day, as the roadrunners, lizards, and ocelots were all scampering about in their enclosures.

It was a fun day, and nice to get out of town to do something enjoyable outdoors. We capped things off with dinner at the P.F. Changs restaurant in Greensboro, which unfortunately was only so-so. The three hour drive each way felt a bit long for just a day trip, but it was worth it to get a some reprieve from the cabin fever I've been feeling around Blacksburg.

For those interested in pictures, I've posted a mini-gallery.


Yay! ComicCon attendees got to see a trailer for the sequel to TRON! It's just too bad I wasn't there to see it myself. As with the writer from Gizmodo, TRON (along with Wargames) was one of the formative movies to my early life in the digital age. I expect I look forward to the new movie much as many of my somewhat younger associates looked forward to the Transformers movie. Hopefully the rumors of some Pixar involvement hold true, and they and Disney will really be able to make this work. Hey, it was a surprise that Disney pulled off such a good movie from a theme park ride with the first Pirates of the Carribean movie, so miracles are possible.

Alas, it looks like the Disney lawyers sent in the logic probe and deleted all the better copies of the preview from YouTube.
not happy

Thailand and Cambodia

After visiting Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year, it's rather distressing to read that there are troop buildups on the border between the two countries. Of all things, part of the border dispute is over a temple, Preah Vihear, which was just named a UNESCO world heritage site. I guess it's naive to want to just ask everyone to please play nice together and not beat each other with sticks (or worse).

Hopefully this is all just posturing and nothing more serious will come of it. Cambodia certainly doesn't need new conflicts to interrupt it's regrowth following the brutal times there under the Khmer Rouge

Be cool, man!

This seems to be the summer of having work done on the house. The projects (in various stages) include interior painting, new brick front porch and steps, landscaping with a back patio, and a major bathroom renovations, but the one to bring the biggest change to our life is adding central air conditioning to the house. For the first time in nearly 20 years, I'll be living in a house that can stay cool all summer long (in fact, only two years of my life have I lived in a place with central air).

The work was just finished yesterday, though we've had the upstairs system running for almost a week. The biggest change isn't having the house be cool, but to be able to keep the windows closed so there's less pollen and dust blowing around us. We're both terribly affected by pollen, and always feel run down through the entire allergy season. I'm already noticing quite a difference in how I feel. Maybe my new found energy will lead to more LJ posting too. :) The new system includes a high-tech air filtration process that should pull the mold and dust out of the air as well. Ahhhhhh..... Now the danger is that our house will become our bubble and we won't want to go outside all spring and summer.


Out the glider window
Originally uploaded by BunnyHutch
Today I went soarin' without being at Disney World! A friend has his glider license and invited me out for a day with the Blue Ridge Soaring Society near New Castle, Virginia. We had a fantastic flight for my first time in a glider! The tow plane took us up to about 3000' above the ground. From there we had great luck finding thermals and managed to gain another 3000' or more. We were able to soar for well over an hour, and we only landed when we did because the glider lacked a lavatory. I survived a few brief moments of 0g and a few hard turns -- not white-knuckled like I was when he took me through a stall in a single-engine plane.

While I was there, I also ran into someone who was faculty in the Electrical Engineering department at Virginia Tech back when I was a student, and we got to chat about other professors I knew from those days.

It really was an amazing, exhilarating afternoon and I look forward to another flight!

Mmmm, mmmm good? Si!

I've long been a fan of tortilla soup, but when eating out it can be tough to find it without bits of chicken meat or with chicken broth as a base. I put together this recipe for Cinco de Mayo, based upon recipies I found at Recipe Zaar and several other online sources. This rich, spicy vegatable soup is tasty and pleasantly filling too.

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Mmmm... Thai Food

Tonight I finally made use of the skills and experience I got from taking the Thai cooking class in Bangkok, and passed that along by way of running a mini cooking class for jontheprophet and . We only cooked three dishes, not all twelve from the class, but we did hit the big highlights: tom yum soup, pad thai, and penang curry (all vegetarian, of course). The tom yum and the penang came out a little spicy, as I wasn't familiar with how hot the local chili paste and red curry paste are, but overall the taste was great. I was particularly happy with the tom yum -- all the flavors of the lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaf, and lime juice came through just right. More please!