Thursday, October 2, 2014

Quick Trip to Baxter's Hollow Preserve

Since I am still between contracts, I took some time yesterday to ride the motorcycle in search of early fall color. I had intended to head up to Pewit's Nest, near Baraboo, WI. As I zipped up Hwy 12 near the former Badger Ammunition plant, I recalled that there was a conservancy area nearby that I had been trying to visit for probably a decade. Early attempts had been thwarted by bad timing or bad luck. A quick left got me to the entrance road, now a dead end since they had made some changes to the area and the road, while it still exists, has a 2.5 mile stretch that is now considered a "moderate hiking path". The narrow road is beautiful in the fall.

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From the parking area it is a short walk, less than a quarter mile, to the first intersection with Otter Creek which runs through the area. This time of year after weeks with little or no rain, it was pretty low but there was evidence to suggest it swells significantly during other times. I spent some time nosing around the general area though since I was still in all my motorcycle gear I was not interested in strenuous hiking.

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f/20, ISO 500, Shutter 1/10 second (hand held!)

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f/16, ISO 500, Shutter 1/8 second (hand held!)

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The area is called Baxter's Hollow, and it is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Madison, WI. I intend to return in the spring and see if I can catch Otter Creek at a full, rollicking state.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Green of MG&E's Proposed Billing Policy Change is Money

Madison Gas and Electric is the local energy supplier. Like every business, they are in it to make money, and yet there are times when businesses cross certain lines and their customers line up, link arms, and say, "No, you are not going to do that." Sometimes that takes the form of a boycott, but since it is pretty doggone hard to boycott your gas and electric company, other measures are called for. Here in Madison we know a thing or two about making our concerns public. And thus, today at noon there was a short, effective rally to make some noise in front of MG&E and in front of passers-by.

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©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

First there were the usual informative speeches by informed parties. The rally was organized by RePower Madison, and I will let this bit of text from their webpage fill you in:

Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) proposed a radically new billing system to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that encourages consumption of electricity, increased use of coal resulting in higher greenhouse gases. The proposal will increase the fixed charge that everyone pays per month regardless of your electricity usage by about 80% (~$10.5 to $19) while lowering the energy charge (cents per kilowatt hour) by about 8%.

The net effect is to increase electric bills for customers who use relatively little electricity and decrease bills for larger users. The proposal will stifle customer investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy due to the uncertain direction of future rates. The misguided approach will shackle community initiatives to build environmental sustainability into their own operations and create an unwelcoming environment for businesses and residents pursuing clean energy.
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©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

In a nutshell, the proposed policy is a disincentive to reduce energy usage and embrace renewable sources like solar and wind. Those who use less energy will pay a higher rate and increase the grid fee. The original proposal increased the base cost of being a customer of the grid from the current fee of $10.40 to $69.00 per month! Public outcry forced MG&E to repropose a grid fee of $19/mo, still an increase of roughly 80% and is a move that fools no one into believing that they will not simply come back every two or three years and inch the fee up to where they intended. The real problem with the rate structure they propose is that it is regressive, hitting both low-income and energy-efficient customers the hardest. It is a Robin Hood scenario in reverse. Again from RePower Madison:
Across the country, low income customers use less energy than higher income. With MGE’s billing plan, low and middle income customers are more likely to see an increase in their utility bills than high income users whose bills are likely to decrease.
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©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

MG&E would like its customers to believe they support green energy policy and will reward us for being better consumers of power, yet their proposed policy creates incentive for exactly the opposite behavior. By further proposing to reduce the energy buy-back rate produced by home (or business) solar production it substantially reduces the payback time for the initial investment. Switching to energy efficient appliances, light bulbs, and practices around the home would actually cause the customer's rate to increase!

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©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

The "green" coming from MG&E's claimed Green Energy program is whitewash to conceal maximal profit motives. Their concern is that as we become more efficient and embrace alternative energy, they make less and less money. There is truth to their dilemma. Maintaining the energy grid takes money and employees. They must make money to continue to support that infrastructure. Even if everyone, every single customer, were producing energy, the grid will still be needed for the foreseeable future in places like Wisconsin where we have winter. That time is not now, and MG&E is greatly outreaching its actual problem. Today approximately 200 customers have viable solar production as part of their household energy supply. That works out to about 0.7% of their customer base.

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©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

We are witnessing the first stages of an industry giant that thinks it is about to face extinction. They cannot envision their role in a world without centralized power production, and this proposed plan says they intend to keep their profit by disproportionately charging the most efficient consumers of energy and rewarding those who consume more. It especially rewards industrial scale consumption. Under our current Governor's agenda, that plan makes perfect sense. It shows a distinct lack of vision about the future, and the role they could be playing. Why not shift their corporate energy to inventing, creating, and installing solar, wind, and geothermal technology? Instead they cling fearfully to the past. With a bit of an eye roll, I will point you to a business book on exactly this topic: "Who Moved My Cheese". Note this link is to the South Central Wisconsin Library System, and the title is also available in ebook format. (Click on Title Notes" to get the synopsis.)

I am hopeful that they have underestimated the resolve of their customers. To become more informed and take action, you can visit RePower Madison's webpage, attend the next meeting at 7:00 PM on Monday, Sept 29th, 2014, at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St, in Madison. Next there will be a Public Service Commission meeting on Thursday, Oct 9th, a 610 N. Whitney Way. Time for that meeting has not yet been set, but likely morning, and you can watch the RePower Madison website for details as the date draws closer.

According to Slate, our fight in Wisconsin could decide America’s energy future. Tell MG&E (gwolter@mge.com, copy directors@mge.com) to withdraw their proposal and share your concerns with the WI Public Service Commission - http://tinyurl.com/ks8rd2o

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Does Boiling Water Freeze When Thrown At -17 Degrees (F)?

I had read that water would freeze nearly instantly when thrown at sub-zero (F) temperatures. Well since the temperature here is currently minus 17 degrees (F) why not find out using the scientific method. I did not understand the water needed to be quite close to boiling so my first test was with hot tap water, probably no warmer than 135 or 140 degrees. Nothing special occurred. A scientist friend pointed out that the water in question needed to be near boiling. Well, I had established a base test that proved that merely warm water did not spectacularly freeze when tossed, so I brought another pan to boiling and had my lovely assistant toss it while I photographed the result. Much more spectacular. Would have been even better if I had a backlight too!













We could hear it freeze - as a hissing sound - and very little wet water hit the ground. Actually projecting the water in a thinner stream like from a Super Soaker water gun would probably produce some pretty cool results!

Cheers!

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lighting the Morning Rocket

Coffee is part of my morning routine. I am not particularly addicted to it (or caffeine) but I do enjoy a couple of cups each day. Over the years I have experimented with different ways to make coffee. I have tried garden variety drip with the Bunn maker we got as a wedding present. That coffee was always, always weak. I bought a Moka pot for camping and that made a pretty good cup of coffee, but it was fussy, and tough to brew back-to-back batches without oven mitts. I even added an electric Moka pot to my collection. French press works pretty well, but my wife and I diverge on coffee; she drinks flavored and I do not. The French press also doesn't do a very good job of keeping the second, much less third, cup hot enough. My wife presses, pours her cup, and pours the rest into a thermos. OK, but a bit of a pain. I don't gulp coffee down, and the last swallows are generally tepid. Since I also like iced coffee, I don't find that offensive but I do want the first sips of hot coffee to be hot. I am currently using a Hamilton-Beach "Scoop", s single-cup brewer that is probably the equivalent of a Keurig-type machine except I get to use my own coffee.



I start with fresh beans and grind them just before use. I have a fancy electric burr grinder, but the damn thing sounds like a jet landing in the kitchen. It is not endearing to my wife or the cat. It sits on a shelf, and this $20 hand-cranked grinder now does the job. It is not very consistent with the grind unless I go quite fine but that results in an unpalatable amount of dust in the brew. *shrug* It is quiet and quick enough, so tranquility is maintained. Everything has a trade-off it seems. I use slightly more than the recommended amount of coffee, at least Hamilton-Beach's recommendation, but still roughly 2.5 teaspoons per 8-oz cup.



The brewing takes about two minutes on the normal setting, not really long enough for a good cup. I use the "Bold" setting for a longer steep. My only real complaint about the machine is that, as you can see in the photo, the finished brew is at 150 degrees, or a good 25 degrees cooler than optimal. I have not been preheating my mug and that could have something to do with it. The water boils before it is fed to the grounds, so I know it is hitting the coffee at 205 or so degrees, but why the cool brew at the end? I had not measured the temperature before this, so I have not yet done any experimenting (dang that Cooks Illustrated magazine!) but I will be starting with the next cups. Preheated mug? Insulated mug? We shall see.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

House Spouse

Happy new year! As 2013 ends and 14 begins, I find myself without a day job. As luck would have it, that is not a totally bad thing. Reena still has her job which she loves, and with Obamacare we have affordable health care (affordable, as in less expensive with much better coverage, despite what the lying liars are telling you). I find myself settling a bit deeper into that of house spouse. I do still seek employment every day, which consumes an alarming amount of time on the face of it. But I find I am turning more to certain domestic duties. I still confess to having some sort of aversion to, you know, cleaning, but I am finding ways to improve that ailment. What I have been grooving on is kitchen detail. I do love to cook!



I discovered a love for Cooks Illustrated magazine, and Reena got me a subscription for the coming year. I put out a request on Madison Freecycle for any back issues, and a kind soul let me have a dozen or so, as well as another dozen or so of Cook's Country which I had never heard of. I look forward to many enjoyable hours with them! Another of my solstice gifts, partly by my mother-in-law and partly from our accumulated credit card points, was a fine new utility knife (blogged a few posts back). I have been getting bolder in my cooking, and while I will never be confused for a fine chef, I'm starting to get a grasp of things beyon the basics. It is great fun and tasty too.

Not having a job could be off-putting but we are in pretty good shape. We have no debt and our spending habits are historically frugal so while Reena's solo income probably is not sufficient to sustain us indefinitely we are not feeling a crunch. This year has been a tremendous turnaround year for our investments after five years of pretty much not going anywhere.



It is pretty tough not to feel buoyed after seeing a year of returns like that. While we do not anticipate having to draw from it yet, it sure is nice to know there is a pretty solid support there in case I do remain unemployed for a long time.

I ease into this new year with a profound sense of calm and a sense of possibility. What will come next? Is this a lack of a job, or is it an opportunity to cast a creative net and see what else is there for my next decade or so? Time will tell, or as the old saying goes, all will become clear in the fullness of time.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Solstice Preparations

Happy holidays! Around here we celebrate the winter solstice, the time of the longest night and the promise of the returning sun. It is one of the holidays that Christmas was designed to supersede (since the historical Christ was actually born in May or June according to historians) along with Saturnalia and Hogmanay and likely others. And the "bring a tree inside and decorate it" tradition has its roots in European Pagan tradition associated with the solstice. Thus, we have a tree inside and we decorate it.



The above photo was last night and we were just starting with the little tree. It is a 6 foot tall Frasier fir and was rescued from the saddest, tiny lot at a large hardware store. An added bonus was that it fit entirely inside the Honda Fit and a tarp under it kept the car clean. Late this morning we got around to decorating it more thoroughly.



Our house is pretty small - roughly half the average house size here in the United States - so a small tree is scaled appropriately. We are also quite fortunate in that our cat, Nala, has pretty much no interest in the tree. She notices it and sniffs it, but has no interest in climbing it or (so far) otherwise batting at ornaments. I suppose that could change if she got bored enough. We ran into a bit of a dilemma when we pondered what to put on top of the tree. We do not have a star and an angel is out of the question, so...what? In a flash of inspiration, I remembered my "wire guy", the graduation trophy given to all new members of the aerial dance company I am part of. It has been hanging around since 2006, always near my field of view as I sit at my computer. Why not repurpose it? And the tree has a long, long top branch, and I am a pole dancer, so...



Yep, that fits this house! As I type this Reena is still sifting through the individually wrapped ornaments making sure we did not fail to put up a really cool one, and Pandora is supplying music under the heading of "winter solstice" (which is apparently a pretty broad category to them, but there has been a lot of Pogues so all is well). In addition I have started cold-brewing a batch of coffee for homemade coffee liqueur, and am having a good time dredging through my memory (and my big sister's too) to recall an old family recipe for dinner tonight.

May the joy of the various holidays that remain in the year be yours in abundance.

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Fixing" a photo with a free app

I don't spend a lot of time using Photoshop for "effects". I mainly use it to correct minor tweaks to brightness and levels, cropping, and the odd pimple or two. I spend my effort on getting it right before I take the photo. Other than that? Not so much. But the kids these days are obsessed with Instagram, Hipstamatic, and the like, because a crappy cell phone photo is always better when the warts are obscured, right? [Insert visual of Yours Truly yelling at an empty chair, or telling passers-by to get off my lawn.] Anyway, I don't use my phone for photos because it is a crappy camera and I have a good camera. But I know a technology speed bump when I see one, so I thought it would be well for me to spend a little time playing with a free app to "fix" my photos.

I revisited one of my all-time favorite portraits using Snapfish, a free Android app for my tablet. It has all sorts of ways to take a good photo and add clutter and noise and bad color and random light leaks (because $10 Diana cameras are hip(ster)).

OK, all snark aside, I parked my butt in a coffee shop with my tablet and four or five of my favorite photos. Alas, they are mostly nudes of people who really should not have nudes of them floating around on the Interwebs, so you do not get to see them. I ran each through Snapfish to see what I could do with them, and to see if there really was any artistic merit to it. I wanted to create a faux vintage effect with either B&W or sepia tones, some film grain, a bit of softness (Vaseline on the lens?) and a bit of telephoto vignetting. Here is the result (the original is linked above).



What do I like about it? The blackness of the water and the soft blurring of the reflection I like a lot. The blown-out skin tones reduces the tan lines and sunburn a bit, so the viewer might not even notice it in a casual viewing. The detail in the hair was brought out nicely.

Things I don't like - but are choices I made, so they're my fault - is that the grain is heavy handed. The brightness is pushed to far, and I'll call that a consequence of my tablet having the brightness dimmed versus my Mac's screen. The faux sloppy print at the edges and light leak is...amateur. No one worth his salt would print that sloppy. Hell, I only darkroom printed twenty or thirty (B&W) images in my lifetime and none of them were that sloppy. One such print did have that much grain, though it was a very deliberate choice to have it. I was being an artistic twenty year old with a 35mm, and in retrospect, it reminds me of the opening sequence of the recent James Bond movie "Casino Royale": Harsh and gritty.

So the end result of my delightful afternoon is an image I like. If I were doing it again - within the realm of possibility - I would do some things differently. It was my first day playing with a free app after all. When all is said and done, it really is a lovely photograph.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Studio work - New Momma!

I have posted a bunch of performance photos recently, but not much of my portrait work from the eyeDance studio. Here are a pair of recent photos, a before and after of a woman pregnant and with her first beautiful baby. I really enjoy this sort of work. It is rewarding to my spirit and brings delight to the client. Win-win!



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Friday, December 6, 2013

With this knife, I dub me...presumptuous?

I ordered a fancy-schmancy new kitchen knife that arrived today. All during my 20 years of martial arts study I vowed I would have a Damascus steel* knife and never bought one. It's hard to justify $400+ for what will essentially be a wall decoration. Anyway, my fighting days are behind me, even the pretend ones, and over the last years I noticed that I was paying more attention to our kitchen knives. We have a set we got as a housewarming present in 1986, the typical block of Chicago Cutlery. Serviceable, but no one's idea of good quality. Two years ago I bought a set of two santoku-style knives, 5" and 7". While still low-end knives from Calphalon, I found they quickly became my go to choice rather than the chef or utility from the set. To make a short story long...Reena's mom gave me an early Christmas gifts of cash and she always wants to know what we did with it, so I try to use it for something special. I decided I would use it towards a Damascus steel kitchen knife.

Oy, was that ever a rabbit hole to dive down.

Calphalon has a high-end line of knives, their Katana series, that featured Damascus, and surprisingly cheap; just under a hundred bucks for the 7" santoku. Surprisingly - as in wondering what's wrong with it. So I started researching, getting all fact-based instead of purely emotional (the whole impetus was emotional after all) and learned that most so-called Damascus steel kitchen knives are sort of, kind of real. Most of them are a solid steel core of proven contemporary steel (wow, are there ever a lot of steels out there for every purpose under the sun!) with some form of folded steel wrapped around it and blended in around the core. Thus the knife looks like the real McCoy, but the important part, the working part, is a single steel. OK, now I had to know why.

I turned to the artisan knife makers, the guys who work in real Damascus steel. At this point my metal lust spiked again and I pondered spending upwards of $400 on a kitchen knife. (Reel it in, big boy, you're not any kind of great chef!) It turns out that Those Who Know don't make kitchen knives out of true Damascus steels because the new metals are so much better for that purpose. The wrap-around technique is a looks good/works well balance. And then while I was looking at knife magazines and perusing online sources, I learned about a dude named Ken Onion. He is a young guy who became a notable knife maker with a lot of great ideas, and worked for/with a Japanese company called Shun on their kitchen knives. I had been looking at Shun knives and liked their style. Turns out he left Shun and opened his own design studio in Hawaii. From there, he formed a partnership with ChefWorks and found a domestic manufacturer to create a brand of knives called "Rain" (a Job Creator!). There's a promo video on the ChefWorks web page of him talking about his painstaking design work that was fun and interesting to watch - my wife liked it too because of his ergonomic study melded with his knife knowledge. The blades are distinctive in shape (read: beautiful) and etched (acid? If it said I don't remember.) with a random pattern that looks like water on the blade. It's tactile and serves the function of a Granton edge to keep food from sticking to it. I looked at all of them and settled on the 6" Utility, figuring it best suited the uses to which I was putting my santokus. I sincerely hope it is as beautiful to use as it is to look at, and may I be worthy of it. Others seem to think so as it is the Blade magazine 2013 'Kitchen Knife of the Year'. Time will tell!

Ken Onion Rain series 6


(* I feel obliged to point out that though I chose to link above to the article about Damascus being rediscovered by metallurgists at Stanford University in 1981, their claim is questionable. In the book "Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork" (Meilach, ©1977) a significant portion of the book covers Damascus steel and the exploration of it by metallurgists Jim Wallace, Daryl Meier, and Robert Griffith, the "Damascus Steel Research Team" at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Their work was well advanced and quite detailed in the specifics of the properties of the various metals as well as the techniques used to create pattern-welded steel for blades and decorative objects. It was through articles by and about Daryl Meier that I became aware of Damascus steel in the early 1980's, and my metalsmith wife was surprised that I knew of it and shared the above referenced book with me.)

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

More From Recent Gigs

I often try to keep my posts to 3-5 images. My last post hit that limit and yet I had a few more I wanted to share. We have had quite a number of corporate gigs recently, and they often generate fun and sometimes wacky photos. Her are a few more from a late summer performance in Milwaukee at the Summerfest grounds for an event called The All White Affair.

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Testing the rigging before the crowd rolls in.

Since I am often the guy with the camera, I don't always get in the picture, but in this case one of the others picked up my camera and caught me in action. Getting paid to play is really good work if you can get it.

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And here we are in the background over a crowd of a few thousand. Great fun!

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For those who geek out on such things, this was shot at ISO 1600, f/4.0, and 1/40th second shutter. The camera was hand held.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mea Culpa and Self Indulgence

Bad blogger! I see it has been months since I posted here, and even the gentle prodding of an anonymous commenter did not spur me to action. Well please accept my humble apologies and allow me to rectify my tardiness with a most un-humble post.

As part of Cycropia Aerial Dance I have been delighted to have opportunities galore this fall to perform. I missed our big show in August as I was officiating at a friend's wedding. That was a very difficult thing for me to pass up because that show is typically the highlight of the year. The performances pictured here are from various corporate gigs we have done since late summer. We have THREE more this weekend (!) so there may be more coming soon.

Since this is primarily a photo blog, I will stop writing and let the photos speak. Thanks for stopping back.

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On a pulley rig about 20 feet up in a business atrium.

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Backstage. Aerial keeps the body toned!

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Happy boy. Please ignore the slap-dash Photoshop blurring of the background!

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Outside on the new portable rig. That is me, on the bottom.

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One more on the portable rig. That is me, again on the bottom.

Cheerio!

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Scouting For A Shoot

Somehow despite not currently having a day job, I have managed to let this blog languish. Life has been filled with interesting things, but I have not felt compelled to do much in the way of photo documentation. And tellingly, what little I have done went first to Pinterest. Who knew?

Mambling aside, I have an upcoming photo shoot at Olbrich Gardens. It is a lovely place, and I have spent man hours there, and yet I needed to ascertain where the sun would be at the time we would be there. So I tossed the camera in a bag and went scouting. There are a lot of diverse nooks and crannies where photos could be taken, and abundant variety of background foliage. While visually intriguing this is not ideal for a group photo...

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I did find several good locations so I got the scouting work done. But as a garden, there is so much to draw the eye! I do not recognize many of the plants there, and my memory is overwhelmed so I seldom remember more than one or two specific plants. No identification of the following from me then, but you are welcome to chime in with a comment if you recognize something.

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Thanks for taking this moment to share my experience. I'll likely get another post out of this trip, and maybe even a black and white version.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Unexpected Vacation Time

After an all too brief gig at the job I got in January, I find myself again unemployed. I can console myself knowing that the termination was budget motivated and not due to poor performance on my part. Simply the bad luck of being the New Guy when the ax needed to fall. Job-hunting is an unpleasant task, though being unemployed in July has its advantages.

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Reena had three days in a row off, and I have all sorts of free time at the moment. So when her younger sister called and invited us up to visit at their cabin in the northern part of the state, we juggled some minor obligations, secured a cat-sitter, and whooshed three and a half hours north to spend a few days chillin' on a pair of small lakes. There was no agenda. There was plenty of cold beer, an array of suitable foods and snacks, weather that ranged from hot and sunny to cool and rainy (in the span of about an hour!), and loads of good conversation. Plus we got to toodle around the small lake in paddle boats while our gracious hosts showed us the sites, a sure way to remind yourself to slow down.

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Feels like the African Queen!

The trip was the first highway venture for our new car, a 2013 Honda Fit Sport. It is rated at 27 MPG City and 33 Highway. During the first week we had it I managed to average just a bit over 30 MPG in almost exclusively city driving. On this trip, we filled the tank as we departed town, and when we arrived at our destination 210 miles away, the handy Average MPG feature of the car informed me that I had managed to coax 39.2 MPG out of it. Yeah baby! That is nearly as good as my motorcycles. The car has a 1.5 liter, 117 horsepower engine. That is essentially the same power as our previous car (2001 VW Beetle) with an engine 25% smaller. I think I will like this car.

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I am back to job hunting today, but feel pretty relaxed and ready to roll with whatever comes. I am working with a consulting firm, the same one that landed me at the last job, and hopefully have an interview this week with a company that sounds like it might be a good fit. So my fingers are crossed for luck, and my suit is pressed and ready. Wish me luck!

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