Sunday, January 31, 2016

Not So Fast!

It was only a few days ago when I wrote here, "We're officially into the scooter ‘off season’ here with consistent temperatures at which it's just too uncomfortable to ride for any reason."  It wasn’t so much a matter of my having spoken (written) too soon, but rather a day, today, that was a noteworthy exception to that recent consistency which gave me the delightful opportunity to take the scooter out for a relatively long ride considering that we’re still in January.
While I didn’t go anywhere beyond the usual up and down the same section of “da valley” that I typically haunt on two wheels when I just want to go for a spin, there was a distinct delight in the realization that had today been a typical January one I might have been trapped indoors watching it snow or turning up the thermostat to force the dragon downstairs to blow a little more heat.  Likewise there was a certain je ne sais quoi in taking the new camera (ION SnapCam Lite™) to put it through its paces in time lapse mode.
It took a little experimenting to figure out where to put the camera so it would more or less capture what my eyes were seeing.  It doesn’t come with a secure system by which to attach it to anything so I came up with my own using Scotch adhesive strips with some heavy duty magnets.  I attached it to the cap I wear under my helmet when it’s cold out and it worked well in spite of giving me a quite dorky appearance.
In spite of it feeling warm outside by human standards, the scooter wasn’t quite as eager as I was to get moving.  It took me a good deal of pressing the starter button to get the engine to turn over.  A few more attempts at getting it to fire up and I would have given up on trying, but just when I was close to calling it quits I heard the familiar putt and purr and was soon heading up the alley toward the street.
Since I started this blog I’d wished for a way in which I could make pictures while riding that wouldn’t require me to press a shutter button to render a rider’s eye view.  While it might have been feasible to make a video clip of an entire ride and grab frames from it, I’m no fan of using up gazillions of bytes of hard drive space on videos, and simply prefer still pictures to videos of most anything.  I’ve found through the years that while I love looking at photos, I don’t have the patience to sit through videos that I made.
I wasn’t the only two wheeler on the road.  I got and gave the wave to a number of fellow “bikers” who were out, like me, taking advantage of a chance to ride smack, dab in the middle of winter.  Okay, we’re a little shy of the middle but the extra half hour or so of daylight these days does makes my heart sing.
The little camera didn’t do as well a job as hoped when riding into the sun.  The picture of the other guy on his bike was snapped with beautiful golden sunshine all around us.
A colossal thrill for me was seeing that the county park is still open!  I rode there deliberately to see if it might be because in a typical year it’s locked up tight by the middle of December not to reopen until sometime in April.  Annually I ride there every nice weekend starting at the beginning of March to see if the big, yellow gates are open to herald the arrival of spring.
There’s nothing there that’s particularly worth going there for, but when it’s nice out I’ve been known to enjoy a mid-afternoon snack at a picnic table under a familiar pavilion and to grab a picture or two of me on or beside the scooter.
I had to pause in front of the plate glass windows to get a picture of my reflection.  I like the way it turned out looking a little like a shot in front of a funhouse mirror.  Despite riding for nearly nine years now it’s still somewhat weird to see myself on a two-wheeled motorized contrivance.  Anybody who knew me as a kid would have voted me least likely to ride anything on two wheels beyond a bicycle.
Before I knew it I was heading up the home stretch, this time with the sun at my back and with the camera giving a much better view of what a gorgeous day it was.  I might have looked for excuses to stay out longer, but since I have to take two fistfuls of pills a day now I find myself getting tired by mid-afternoon and ready for a nap.  I parked the Piaggio under the deck and traded in its purr for a lap full of cat as I settled into my recliner.

In a day or two, with weather being as fickle as it usually is, it might seem that the ride I took today was only in a dream.  Luckily, I'll have the pictures to prove that it wasn't and some great memories of being given a very welcome respite from the "off season."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Off Season - Installment 01

We're officially into the scooter "off season" here with consistent temperatures at which it's just too uncomfortable to ride for any reason.  Since I still enjoy writing here, though, I'll be posting a series of "The Off Season" posts just with regular old stuff for the few of you who enjoy reading about what I've been up to doing.  As usual I'll probably use recent pictures that I've taken as inspiration.  After all, if it's worth taking a picture of, it's worth writing about - right?  Okay, admittedly, after some (about a half a second's worth) of deliberation I realize that you wouldn't want to hear about even 1% of what I photograph.  Nonetheless, I find SOME pictures worth a bit of story.

 I continue to enjoy the results of having lost 40 pounds since September.  The belt in this picture shows the setting on which I needed to cinch it when I went into the hospital on Sept. 16th.  Though I've not updated my wardrobe and my old clothes kind of hang off me, I want to keep going with the weight loss and buy some new duds when I'm where I'd like to be.

The dirty people who used to live next door and who supported themselves with a brisk trading in drugs were evicted some weeks ago.  The landlord filled two of these dumpsters with the crap they left behind before fixing the place up and getting new tenants.  Our new next door neighbors appear to be a normal young couple with a few kids and we hope they're going to continue to be as friendly and "normal" as they've been so far.

It was during the first summer after I bought the Piaggio BV that we decided to replace the small back porch on the back of the house with a deck which would serve as a carport for the scooter as well as a nice place to enjoy the outdoors during the warmer months.  How I longed to take the laptop or netbook or tablet out to the table on the deck to do various things online, but I didn't dare to do so because the last thing I wanted was for the lowlifes who lived next door to know that I have these things lest they break in to take them.  The back door was kicked in once, a few years ago, but nothing was taken because I suspect that the scum who did it noticed the camera aimed at the door only after having given it a swift kick hard enough to break the lock and open the door.  Hopefully now, with the druggies gone, I'll be able to enjoy outdoor activities with my gadgets.

Noticing that there were issues with my power steering, I took the Impala to our mechanic to find not only that it needed a new power steering pump but, this advice: "You need FOUR new tires NOW! These are all bald!"  Now I'm not surprised that a few weeks ago I couldn't make it up a bit of a rise that was covered with a few inches of packed down snow.  I admit that I look at things on the scooter a lot more often than I do with the car to try to stay safe.

Looking to use up some of the booze out in the pantry I came up with an interesting concoction that everybody thinks is disgusting sounding until they give it a sip and ask for their own glass of it.  It's Goldschlager, melon liqueur, and vodka in more or less equal proportions.  If I had to name it, it would be something like an "I Won't Care about Much in an Hour or So."

On these cold winter nights it's a perfect sipping drink while watching TV and enjoying the company of one or more cats that decide to sit atop me.  I'm told that when I'm away, Cricket, who is the usual cat that jumps onto me when I settle in to watch Jeopardy each evening waits by the foot of the couch looking and waiting for me all evening.

I bought two new gadgets in recent weeks, the first of which I'm wearing above.  It's not the sporty hat, but rather the blue thing hanging around my neck and clipped to the front of my jacket.  It's an "ION SnapCam Lite™" which is a still and a video camera with no viewfinder or display.  It can take single still pics, decent video clips, and best of all it has a time lapse mode that will snap a still picture every 30 seconds.

I was doing my daily walk, around the perimeter and up and down the aisles of our local Target store a few days ago and came upon a clearance rack when I found the ION marked down to $23 and some cents.  A quick check online with my phone showed it with a suggested retail price of $99 so I jumped on it.  The pic of me driving above was taken with it on my way back to the house after I purchased it.  It's shrunk to a quarter of the original size.  I'm really looking forward to using this camera on the scooter when the weather warms up!

Here's night falling from the back window in the form of a short video made from 30 second still shots.  The brightness in the upper right hand corner of the clip as it gets darker is a reflection from the window pane of the inside of the kitchen.

Similarly, I was walking around the local Walmart last week "visiting the electronics" as I call my leisurely tour of the gadget aisles to see if there's anything new under the sun since my last visit when I found a beat up box that contained a "Pogoplug" device of which I'd never heard.  It was a small black box with an ethernet port, a USB port, and an SD port that's supposed to make any thumb drive or hard drive that's plugged into it into a personal cloud that's accessible from any smart device or computer anywhere.  Because I have close to 90,000 digital photos that I'd taken since 1997 or so and many of them of family functions I thought this little device would provide me with a quick, easy way to share all those pictures with family members.  It was marked at $39.99, but at 10% off because the box was beaten to hell.  It seemed a bit steep, but I really wanted it so I parted with the cash only to have to return it because I couldn't get my network to recognize it.

I was hugely disappointed, but some plinking around online revealed that if it had been activated by someone and returned to the store, I'd never get it to work.  Each device, once activated, "belongs" to the person who activated it unless it's deactivated before being passed on to somebody else.  The good news was that a quick Google session got me to an offer for a bigger and better Pogoplug for $15.99 that allows one to plug in up to FOUR USB drives.  Nearly a week later and I have almost all of those nearly 90,000 photos on the device and ready for my daughters, sister, et al, to browse away and grab all of the photos they'd like from the past almost 20 years.

If you landed here looking for a review of the Pogoplug, let me assure you that it is a good piece of hardware.  Be advised, however, that if you're planning to upload tens of thousands of pictures it's going to take quite a while.  The device creates a thumbnail of each photo saved to it so that when a picture folder is being accessed the remote user has some idea of what's in each photo.  It can take over an hour to save a large directory of pictures with thumbnail creation turned on, but it's well worth the investment of time in order to have the thumbnails.  It should be noted that the thumbnail creation function can be turned off which will make uploading the files much quicker.

And that's about it for this inaugural installment of what I might be writing about during the scooter's dry dock time.  Stay warm!  Stay happy!  If you're the kind of person who enjoys winter activities, I hope you have a blast.  Meanwhile I'll be hunkered down with a few cats and a little booze to keep me warm.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Allow me to begin by wishing and praying that anyone who reads these words will have a most blessed, happy, healthy 2016 as there can be.  Although the dawning of a new year is typically a joyful thing, it does bring the gloom of having to say goodbye to Christmas - something that it's never been easy for me to do.  I had a most wonderful trip away from home that lasted a full week from January 3rd to January 10th, and although the official end of the Christmas season (on the 6th of January, the 12th day of Christmas) happened while I was away, the joy of it all continued well past it.

Now that winter's here to stay, scooter talk is going to be scant, so I'll write about whatever strikes my fancy till the just warm enough to take out the bike days return.  I'll start by sharing some highlights of the hundreds of pictures I took while I was away, staying as a guest on a non-working farm with dear friends in Somerset County, Pa.  

I don't often putz with the post processing capabilities of the Nikon that goes with me everywhere, but I couldn't help but save and share this doctored up view of the barns taken from the porch of the cozy farmhouse itself.  When I stay there, there's a feeling of being welcome that I can't describe, but this image somehow conveys that feeling in a way that words can't express.

This view of the farm taken on one of my daily walks makes me long for the return of summer when we spend lots of time in the yard whiling away the time amid the merry joy and laughter of friendship.

I really liked the new holiday laser lights that filled the fronts of many homes this year with little green and red flecks of light.  This shot, taken on a foggy night, shows the beams of the lights as they streak toward the house to fill its face with their cheerful dots.

Our hostess is an incredible cook, and anybody who goes hungry at her home has only himself to blame.  This was just one of many terrific meals I enjoyed.

Although the temperatures were quite cold outdoors, there were times when the coal fire inside made me need a bit of a respite from the heat.  Having grown up in a home in which there was a coal furnace and a coal stove, the smell of a coal fire takes me back instantly to those carefree days of childhood when my biggest worries came on Sunday nights when I frantically tried to remember if there was any homework I'd forgotten about doing.

I was assured that the family cat doesn't take to many visitors so it was a special thrill when he jumped right into my lap when I flopped in the comfy recliner.

Similarly, I was thrilled when this little guy was all over me when visiting with others during our trip.  From the size of his paws, I'm not sure I'll want him lying on my belly when I see him again.

And melting my heart most of all was this young man to whom I'm an honorary grandpa.  After spending much of my adult life insisting that I'm not keen on the idea of having grandkids, well, I could possibly see myself changing my view on that sometime in the future.

Alas, all good things come to an eventual end.  As did my trip.  As did Christmas itself.  Here I am on this morning's walk, having traded the Santa hat I'd been wearing since the beginning of December for this one that I received as a gift and which I treasure for its warmth as well as for how dapper it makes me look.

Although the tree was put away already when I got back from my travels, the manger scene was still up.  I put it away today while thinking of the many wonderful memories of this year's celebration of Christmas. As usual, it was wonderful to this old romantic.