Thursday, January 31, 2013

Two Great Blogs to Call Attention To

As a long standing blog writer, I am always interested to see what other blog writers are up to.  To that end, I frequently find myself trolling through blog after blog on either Blogger or Wordpress - two of the largest blogging sites of which I am aware.  Though my trolling I have found a bunch of blogs to which I return on a regular basis. There are two blogs that I have been reading for a while that I wanted to which I wanted to call of my readers attention.

The first blog is called "Nature's Blog" and it is written by a gentleman by the name of Robert Folzenlogen who makes Littleton, Colorado his home for part of the year.  His blog provides a great viewpoint of some of the natural phenomena that shape the world around us.  Given his part time home is here in Colorado he tends to write a lot about the environment and nature of this great state.  However, he has traveled far and wide and has written about many different areas of the world.

Another thing that makes Robert's blog impressive is the fact that he posts a new entry practically every day!  That is an impressive feat for someone who is not a full time writer.  I can't even keep up with blogs I read, let alone post an entry to this blog every day!

If you have any interest in the natural state of the world, I would recommend you look up this blog. The web address is http://naturesblog.blogspot.com/.  It's definitely worth your while!

Another blog that I have found interesting for a variety of different reasons is Carletta's "Round the Bend".  The author is a woman by the name of Carletta. I don't know anything more about her than that and what small amount of information she has written in her blogger profile.  I am attracted to this blog because Carletta seems to find beauty in every day things.  A post I found indicative of her ability to do this was her description of a two silos on a farm.  She described her discovery of these silos on a casual Sunday afternoon drive with her husband.  Driving through a rural area of Southeast Missouri, they came across an old barn with two silos attached.  The silos were at opposite ends of the barn and created an interesting image in her minds eye.  In addition to the striking descriptions that Carletta writes about the places and objects that she see, her photography is quite striking.  Several of her last blog posts have featured photos of birds that have flocked to her bird feeders to find food during recent snow storms.

The address for Carletta's "Round the Bend" is http://carlettasroundthebend.blogspot.com/

These are just two of the dozens of blogs that I try to follow.  These are interesting blogs to me and I hope you might find them to be interesting too!

Day-to-day life has been moving in a very boring pattern for the last several weeks.  It seems that each day I need to rise earlier to deal with more and more issues coming out of work.  This week I have consistently had meetings scheduled for 5:30AM every morning.  Unfortunately, I have woken on many days to find that these meetings have been cancelled.

Throughout the day, the pressures of work seem to be mounting with each passing hour.  My business unit had a very successful 2012 but the end result has been that senior executive management have made us responsible for achieving more results.  This has translated into a day-to-day pressure level that is going through the roof.  But it seems par for the course these days.  Each January we are presented with a more challenging set of profitability requirements by executive leadership and we are forced to become more and more creative in terms of how we can reach those goals.

The real pressure of the day begins however when Zack returns home from school.  Zack is in a make or break position as he heads into high school next year.  He really needs to achieve great grades across the board or he risks missing out on the opportunity to take Advanced Placement track classes in his freshman year.  I am trying to help him see the importance of every single assignment on which he works.  Despite his ability he seems to really struggle with the motivation to get good grades.  I am hoping that we can truly reverse this motivational issue in the coming days and weeks.  It doesn't help either that he has been sick with a cold all week.  That has done nothing to improve his motivational levels!

As we head into the weekend we are looking forward to having some time to finally relax after a crazy week.  We don't have anything extensive planned for the weekend.  Originally we had planned to go to the mountains, but then it became clear that Zack was still going to be sick so for that and several other reasons - the main one being that I am just exhausted, we decided to postpone our trip to the mountains until next weekend.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Change is Inevitable - Liberal/Progressive Ideas will Prevail

I often struggle with how much I should use this blog to advocate, discuss and harp on my personal beliefs and ideas.  In particular, I have some strong opinions in areas regarding politics and religion.  I normally don't touch upon my beliefs regarding religion as I feel that religion is based exclusively upon faith.  Who am I to tell someone that their beliefs about religion are wrong when no one knows.  There are no facts that can be verified or disproved about religion.  We accept what we believe as a matter of faith.  There is no way to say "I am right and you are wrong" about religion.

Politics on the other hand is a whole different ball of wax.  I don't have any qualms about discussing politics and political opinions.  My reason for this is that politics is not a faith based belief as there are empirical facts that can be proven about politics.  We can objectively prove the American federal government's deficit is higher than in previous years.  We can prove that US tax rates are lower than historical averages.  We can prove how many people are killed via gun violence as opposed to other countries that have banned the private ownership of guns.

However, I don't want to make this blog exclusively about my politics because that isn't what it is all about.  This blog is about the life that Zack and I lead as a small family.  I don't know that I would even be blogging today except for all the difficult times that Zack and I suffered through between 2006 and 2011.  Politics will never define this blog,but there are times in which I feel the need to discuss politics. So for those of you who hold different political beliefs than do I, please keep reading as my ventures into the wild and crazy land of politics will be few.  And if you don't hold my views, at least read what I have to say, perhaps I might change your opinion.

The title of today's blog reflects what I consider to be my overriding viewpoint regarding politics - change is inevitable.  This is a point that I have been harping on continuously in a number of Facebook posts of recent.  My point has been that the ideas and ideals represented by conservatives are rearguard actions by elements of society that are attempting to prevent change.

If you look at conservative ideas and ideals over time, you will notice that what is considered conservative today was once considered extremely liberal in the past.  And what was once considered conservative in the past is now, in many cases considered biased, racist, intolerant or just plain wrong!

So what do I mean by all of that.  Perhaps it is best illustrated through a series of examples.  Example 1  - In 1776, the liberal thought process said that the 13 colonies needed to split from England, while the conservative thought process was that the 13 colonies needed to stay tied to England.  The conservative view point fought the concepts of liberty and self-determination.  Splitting from England was a bad thing because it rejected the status quo and sought to institutionalize the equality of the men.  Of course in the end, the conservative viewpoint lost and lost in a big way.  The entire existence of our country was established by the rejection of conservative ideals represented by the English monarchy.

Example 2 -  In the 1830's, 1840s, 1850's the liberal thought process was that slavery needed to be abolished in the United States. During that same time the conservative thought process was that slavery needed to remain for the nation to be true to it's ideals. The conservatives said if slavery were abolished it would herald the end of the United States.  In this case the conservative ideals of the time spoke for a viewpoint that is racist, elitist and just wrong.  History decided this clash of viewpoints in a decisive manner.  Though some in our country still try to battle for the Confederacy!

Example 3 - In the 1910's and 1920's the liberal thought process said that women needed the right to vote. The conservative thought process was the women had no business voting.  The conservative ideas of the time didn't value the participation of women in the democratic process.  Could you imagine anyone advocating such extreme viewpoints like that today?  Once again history has rightly assigned this conservative ideal to the trash heap.

Example 4 - In the 1940's and 1950's liberals challenged the notion of racial segregation. Conservatives fought for it.   The people who campaigned for civil rights were labeled as extremists, radicals and even communists.  What has been the judgement of history?  The judgement of history says those that fought against civil rights were the extremists who were determined to hold back the progress of the nation so that the status quo would prevail. 

Today conservatives are fighting against gay marriage, abortion, gun control, legalization of MMJ, etc.  How will these issues be resolved in future years?  The writing in many cases is already on the wall.  I'll address the issue of same sex marriage as a prime example as it seems to be the issue closest to being resolved.  In the last 10 - 15 years public perception of this entire issue has been turned on its head.  In the early 2000's public opinion was squarely against this concept and conservatives/Republicans used it to their advantage in the elections of 2002 and 2004.  However the winds of change have already begun blowing with the passage of voter initiatives in a number of states in 2012 to approve same sex marriage.  As reported in the news today, another nail in the coffin of the sexual orientation discrimination is set to happen as the Boy Scouts of America, one of the staunchest opponents of gay rights is set to reverse their policies and allow gay Americans to publicly serve in Boy Scouts. (Yes there are a lot of caveats to what the BSA is going to announce, but it is still a far cry from their "No Gays" policy of the past.)

The issues associated with sexual orientation and same sex marriage are just one example of the tidal wave of social change that is coming.  As the older generation that came of age during WWII dies off the mores of the United States are set to take a decided tilt to the left on issues as far ranging as abortion, the environment and climate change, gun regulation and immigration.  In all of these cases the conservative idea and ideal is going to lose.

I think a good argument can be made that in general conservative ideas and ideals always lose.  Humanity is marching forever forward and maintaining the status quo is not possible.   There are examples in which conservatives have triumphed for a while, but in the end run those gains are short lived and usually reversed within a generation or two.  A great example of this that didn't even take a generation or two to reverse was the 18th Amendment to the constitution - Prohibition.  In the case of Prohibition - another cause advocated by the conservatives of that time, it only took 14 years for the tides of change to wipe it away.

It's hard to see this if you are of the conservative viewpoint, but history doesn't lie.  In western civilization and culture, conservative ideas and ideals always lose to the more liberal progressive ideas.  Trying to resist the change brought about by liberal, progressive ideas is like the Luddites smashing the automated weaving looms at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  (See the following article on the Luddites. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite   It gives you some idea of the similarities between the Luddites and today's conservatives.)

 (King Ludd - the leader of the Luddites)

Change is inevitable!  So get on board and go along for the ride.  It might be a bumpy ride but humanity is going to move forward.

Moving on from the political thought of the day, we finally got a bit of snow here in Denver this evening.  It wasn't much, only about 2 inches but at this point anything we get is better than nothing.  

Zack and I went to an open house night at the Cherry Creek High School this evening.  This will be the high school that he attends next year.  I have never been on the high school campus and I must say I was shocked at its size.  The overall size of the campus seems to be bigger than the size of the campus of the university I attended.  The size is a little intimidating, however I think it will force Zack to really grow up much faster than if he went to the sheltered environs of smaller school.  Here's hoping it is a good thing as the formal registration process kicks off next Monday and he is registering for classes there.  Gulp!  Hard to believe my boy is going to be headed to high school in seven months!!!

I hope everyone's Monday has been good and that your weeks are off to good starts!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Thirty-four million years ago a series of 'strato-volcanoes' roared to life is what is now central Colorado.  These volcanoes, called the Guffey Volcano center would create a rich and abundant record of the plant and animal life forms that made the area their home in those long distance times.

When the Guffey Volcano center erupted, a series of lahars and ash falls covered the land in an impenetrable layer of mud and ash.  Preserved within this ash and mud were the remains of giant redwood trees that covered the area in this epoch.  Over time the tops of the trees that remained above the mud decayed and fell away.  The stumps that were covered in the mud and ash eventually petrified.

As the eruptions from the Guffey Volcano center progressed the makeup of the land changed.  Originally a thick redwood forest, the land was eventually transformed into a large but somewhat shallow lake.  The lake formed when a stream was blocked by one of the lahars or pyroclastic flows from the volcanoes.  Over time, the life that made the lake it's home would die and fall to the bottom of the lake forming a thick mat of organic matter.  As more volcanic eruptions occurred, these thick mats were covered over by ash and eventually the organic matter turned into a fossilized record of everything that had lived in the area.

In the late 1800's the area that is now the National Monument was privately owned and people by the hundreds and thousands came to the area to exploit the cache of petrified wood and fossils.  Over time much of the rich geological record was carried off into private ownership.  What remained was only preserved through the efforts of locals who ran tourist businesses that were dependent upon the fossil beds.

In 1969 after a long and protracted battle with local landowners and businesses, the federal government was able to purchase the area that made up the fossil beds and turn it into the Fossil Beds National Monument.  (On a political note: Imagine the Federal Government trying to buy up land like this today.  Fat chance that would ever happen with all the vitriol against the government that is out there today.)

The Florissant Fossil Beds is one of the National Monuments in Colorado that Zack and I had yet to visit.  This past week, I decided we needed to get out of the house and get into the outdoors.  Given we have never been to the Florissant Fossil Beds I decided this would be our objective for the weekend.

We got up early Saturday morning but we didn't get going right away as I was scheduled to have a work meeting and I didn't want to be out of cell range.  As it turned out it didn't matter as the meeting got cancelled since the person who scheduled it was involved another meeting that took precedence.

To reach the Florissant Fossil Beds our trip would take us south on I-25 to Colorado Springs.  From the Springs we would journey on Highway 24 through Woodlawn Park to the small town of Florissant.  Once in Florissant we would head south on Teller County Road 1 to reach the National Monument.

The journey was uneventful except for an exceedingly long breakfast at a small restaurant in Woodlawn Park.  I wasn't sure what the deal was there, the staff was just really slow!  I don't think we will go back to that restaurant again.  I don't want to give them bad press so I am not mentioning their name.

Arriving at the Visitor Center of the National Monument, we went inside to pay the entrance fee and get the scoop on the monument.  I expected to use this visit as my opportunity to purchase my 2013 National Park Pass.  However, I only had my debit and credit cards with me as I rarely carry any cash these days.  Unfortunately the visitors center is not equipped to take debit or credit cards.  Oops!!  Despite the fact that I didn't have any cash to pay for our visit, the staff on duty said no problem we could still visit, we just couldn't buy our 2013 National Park Pass.

It was obvious from walking into the Visit Center, that this National Monument doesn't get a lot of visitors.  According to the most recent figures I could find, it receives about 60,000 visitors per year.  The staff on duty (a US Park Ranger and some one who wasn't wearing a Ranger's uniform) were exceeding friendly and explained anything and everything we wanted to know about the monument and the extent of it's natural treasures.  We were the only people in the visitor center and we got to take our time looking at everything.

Finishing our viewing of the exhibits in the visitor center we journeyed out on to the trails.  The first trail we took was the Petrified Forest Loop.  This mile long trail provides the best access to the visible petrified trees that remain in the park.  There are apparently a number of other petrified trees that remain buried, but for now the Park Services has decided to leave them underground for preservation purposes.  Some of the exposed petrified trees are absolutely massive.  The largest one is 41 feet in diameter!!  Dear god it was massive!

Right outside of the visitor center is an amphitheater that is framed on either side by two massive petrified stumps.  The first is that of a single massive tree and it looks to be at least 35 feet is diameter.  The second is a group of 3 stumps.  These stumps, similar to many modern day redwood trees had all grown out from one central core.  It was a truly impressive artifact!

Walking the length of the Petrified Forest Loop we saw numerous other examples of the massive petrified stumps and also people's stupid attempts to remove these massive objects.  On one of the very largest stumps, appropriately named "The Big Stump", there are at least 3 different rusted steel saw blades embedded in the top of the stump.  These remain as evidence of the amount of ruin caused by fortune seekers in the 1800's and early 1900's.


(Zack by one of the petrified stumps at the visitor center.)

(Zack by the appropriately name "Big Stump.)

The Petrified Forest Loop eventually brings you back to the visitor center and it was from there that we started out into the wilderness of this wonderful place.  The staff in the visitors center had recommended that we hike the Boulder Creek Trail to it's furthest point because of the dramatic scenery found there.  We set off towards the Boulder Creek Trail with the silence of the monument ringing in our ears.

The trail was gentle with some rolling ups and downs until you come out into long series of meadows that skirt the route of a stream.  Due to the arid nature of the environment this stream only flows periodically - when there is enough water in the environment.  Given the recent cold weather, there is a lot of ice built up in pools in the some of the meadows.  Progressing up through the meadows we eventually came to the very farthest reaches of the trail.  At this point the meadows gave way to a dramatic landscape of boulders that had potentially come from the Guffey Volcano Center in it's last eruption.  Given my proclivity to do stupid things I just had to climb up on the snow and ice covered boulders.  It really wasn't that dangerous but it did allow me to get a great view down the entire set of meadows.

(Zack on the trail.) 

(Frozen pond/swampy area in one of the meadows.  In the summer this area is probably is as dry as a desert.)

(These boulders could be part of the outflow from the "Guffey Volcano Center".)

While hanging out in the boulders, I had Zack just listen.  It was amazing as we heard nothing.  NOTHING at all.  There was no sound at all - no airplanes, no cars, literally nothing.  The only thing that would break the deep penetrating silence that filled the air was the infrequent cry of a bird or the chitter of a squirrel.  The silence was so deafening that it actually seemed to hurt our ears after a bit.

The trail back to the visitor center lead us through a vibrant forest of Ponderosa Pine mixed with some Aspen.  We didn't encounter one single person on these trails - it was fantastic.  Arriving back at the Visitor Center we went inside to thank the staff for all of their information and ideas and then it was back to the car for the return journey.

Given my overall lack of knowledge about this part of Colorado, I decided to take another way home.  Instead of just taking the quickest route back to Highway 24 we decided to continue on Teller Country Road 1 and go through the gambling town of Cripple Creek.

Now one of Colorado's gambling towns (the others being Blackhawk and Central City) Cripple Creek started off as a gold rush town back in the 1890's.  The Cripple Creek Gold Rush was one of the last seen in Colorado.  This area had been avoided by prospectors as a result of a hoax perpetrated in 1884.  The hoax, dubbed the Mount Pisgah hoax, occurred when an unscrupulous speculator seeded an ore sample with gold.  This of course caused the anticipated gold miner stampede and the associated profits for those who ran the stores, railroads and other infrastructure around Cripple Creek.  Exposed as a hoax, prospectors had a hard time believing tales of gold when it really was found in the area in 1890.

Today Cripple Creek draws it's income from another type of gold - gambling.  Driving down Main Street of this small town you can see the impact that gambling has had.  Every old store front has now been turned into a casino.  Unlike the mass commercialization that has taken place in Blackhawk, Cripple Creek seems to retain the mom and pop gambling culture that first sprang up when gambling was legalized in 3 Colorado mountain towns (Blackhawk, Central City and Cripple Creek) in 1991.  All of the casinos are relatively small and there are no big name casinos like Ameristar or the Riveria as in Blackhawk.  (Blackhawk is the closest of the gambling towns to Denver.  As a result of it's closeness to the large Denver metro area, Blackhawk has benefited the most from the 1991 gamble law.  Central City which is only 2 miles further from Denver than  Blackhawk hasn't had the same kind of success because everyone stops in Blackhawk and never goes further up the hill to Central City.)

After driving through Cripple Creek and deciding there wasn't any reason to stop as I wasn't going gambling we continued up the mountain and back towards Highway 24.  Reaching Highway 24 we headed east back towards Woodlawn Park and Colorado Springs.  We did a quick stop in Woodlawn Park for lunch at Sonic and then made our way home.

It was a great day of exploration as I am very happy we visited this wonderful National Monument and saw a part of the state that we had never experienced.  Though the drive was lengthy Zack and I engaged in some really good and meaningful conversation, which is something I don't often get from him.  Of course, I facilitated things a little bit by not allowing him to bring his Nintendo 3DS with him and not allowing him to listen to music on his iPhone.  So he had to talk to me or face a massive amount of boredom.  Sometimes it takes a little bit of work, but I can get through to that teenage brain of his!

The rest of our weekend was good.  Saturday night Lisa and I went to the Nuggets game.  It wasn't much of game as a rout.  The Nuggets beat the snot out of the Sacramento Kings.  We had a good time watching the game, eating some bad for you stadium food, drinking a beer and talking.  It made for an exclamation point on an overall good day!

Sunday has been all about getting work done and getting ready for the coming week.  Zack had his friend James over for a little bit and I went shopping and ran errands.  Now as Sunday evening winds down it finds us hanging out in the basement with a warm fire burning in the wood burning stove.  We almost don't need the fire as today in Denver it was mild and beautiful.  We took the dogs out for a walk this afternoon and it seemed the whole neighborhood was out walking.  It was nice to see people and catch up with many neighbors and friends along our walk.

We hope everyone has had a great weekend and is eagerly looking forward to the  work week ahead.  Alright - I guess I am pushing the envelope a little bit with that statement! :-)

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

Monday, January 21, 2013

National Western Stock Show 2013 and Shooting in Raw File Format

The 107th National Western Stock show kicked off in Denver in the bitter cold of Saturday, January 12th.  This year's show featured a small but important change that made visiting the show easier.  For the first time parking was free!!!  The monumental pain in a butt of finding a parking space was no longer an issue.  Arriving a little bit early guaranteed you excellent parking.  Given the size and very sprawling nature of the National Western Complex in North Denver - this was a very positive change!

OK - I digress from the main points of today's blog entry!  I was just so surprised and thrilled with the changes in parking - which is normally a very difficult situation that I had to wax poetic about it!

Our first visit to this year's National Western Stock Show took place on Sunday, January 13th.  Had we gone on Saturday the 12th we would have had the place much to ourselves as all of Denver was occupied watching the Broncos lose their playoff game.  I say our first visit as I am hoping that Zack and I will make a return visit to see some additional animals and the Evening of Dancing Horses program.  The Stock Show runs through this coming Sunday which makes it likely we will have the opportunity for a return visit.

For our trip on the 13th, Zack brought his friend James.  I was very glad that James came with Zack as it gave me the opportunity to roam the dark corridors of the livestock pens underneath the exhibit hall and the acres upon acres of outdoor stockyards searching for interesting photo opportunities without Zack in tow, complaining every inch of the way.

In addition to looking for some great photo opportunities, my other goal was to spend time looking at llamas and talking to llama breeders.  I am still very determined to buy a llama!  With all the problems I have had with my back over the last 2 years it is difficult for me to resume something I love - backpacking.  It is hard enough to carry a 70 pound pack on your back even when you haven't had 3 different back surgeries.  To allow me to resume this activity I love, I am going to require a beast of burden to carry the burden for me!  It is always thrilling to see the llama and spend time talking to the breeders.  However the number of llamas on display this year seemed to be quite fewer than in past years.

For my photo shooting at the National Western I was decided to make a clean break from shooting in the .JPG file format and shoot exclusively in the "RAW" format.  Unlike JPGs, RAW files are not universally readable.  A RAW file is a much larger file than a JPG and it contains hundreds of times more information and detail of the image captured than a JPG file.  My Digital SLR camera is a Canon Mark II 5D and when shooting in RAW mode it shoots a file that is specific to Canon cameras. The files cannot be viewed on a typical computer unless there are specific programs or Codec extensions in place.

A more formal definition of the RAW image format is provided by Wikipedia.  It states, "A camera raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, image scanner, or motion picture film scanner. Raw files are so named because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor. Normally, the image is processed by a raw converter in a wide-gamut internal color space where precise adjustments can be made before conversion to a "positive" file format such as TIFF or JPEG for storage, printing, or further manipulation, which often encodes the image in a device-dependent color space. There are dozens if not hundreds of raw formats in use by different models of digital equipment (like cameras or film scanners).[1]

Raw image files are sometimes called digital negatives, as they fulfill the same role as negatives in film photography: that is, the negative is not directly usable as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image. Likewise, the process of converting a raw image file into a viewable format is sometimes called developing a raw image, by analogy with the film development process used to convert photographic film into viewable prints. The selection of the final choice of image rendering is part of the process of white balancing and color grading."**

** From Wikipedia article "Raw Image Format".

In the past I have experimented with RAW files but I have not done an extensive amount of photography in that format.  As I seek to take my photography to the next level I have decided that I will mainly shoot pictures in the RAW format from now.  The exception being is if I am taking a picture with my iPhone or a little point and shoot camera.

The great thing about pictures in a RAW format is that you can "digitally" develop them, just like photographers used to do with film images in their darkrooms.  The work is now done on a computer and it can be done with any number of different programs, from ones supplied by the camera manufacturers to the popular Abode Lightroom.  I am using Abode Lightroom V4.1.  The power of this software to improve an image when you have that picture in the RAW format is truly amazing!  For some of the shots I took in the basement pens of the Western National Events Center the lighting was exceedingly poor.  Yet I was able to salvage these shots by using Lightroom to adjust the light balance, exposure, color saturation and many other variables.

It's taken me a while to get these photos processed and in a state in which I can display them, but the time and effort was worth it to me.  I hope to continue to learn many things about digitally developing pictures and share some of my work on this blog.  Attached are a bunch of the pictures I took at the Stock Show.

(These were some beautiful llamas!)

(This guy had quite the attitude.)

(This scene just really caught my eye.  The steer in the center looks so proud.  Good reason he had quite the blood line to put on display.)

(Watching the ranchers get the cows ready for their moment in the ring shows the true heart of what goes on at the National Western as people work for years to get their animals bred right and looking perfect.)

(I always wonder what the animals think of this event.  Most of them will be sold for stud purposes as they are the best of the best.  Some of course are immediately destined for the slaughterhouse, but that is the purpose of this show - highlight the best animals and send the rest to become steaks and burgers.)

(Another day-to-day scene of preparing the cows for show.)

(The two teenagers - always looking to eat and get in trouble.  Its funny to look at Zack as he has gotten so big in the last year.  He's only about 1.5 inches shorter than me!)

(This ole boy isn't going anywhere!  He's been at the stock show for at least the last 3 years.  He is fan favorite and his owners make a ton of money by letting kids get on his back and having their parents take their picture.  He's huge but he's gentle!)

(Auction time!  These guys aren't going to any slaughterhouse soon.  Most of these steers are being sold for breeding purposes.)

(This one sold for something like $18,000!  That's some big money!)

(He's a beautiful animal!)

(This group was being sold one-by-one.  The auctioneer definitely thought they would be good for breeding.  His comment during a break in the bidding was "If you like testicles, these boys are a packing."  Needless to say, I had a hard time suppressing my laughter.  You could tell I was the non-rancher in the crowd as no one else was laughing!)

(Out in the stockyards it was COLD.  High temperature that day was only 18 degrees.  Even the cows were cold!)

(Didn't see too many pure white cows like these two.  I wasn't sure what breed they were.)

(I got some good shots of the cows breathing in the cold air and steam rising above their faces.)

That's it for today folks.  It has been a very long day as my work started at the wonderfully pleasant hour of 4:30AM.  On top of that Zack was off of school for MLK day.  He and I were in a state of war regarding his efforts to complete a massive amount of homework.  Sometimes he just doesn't want to put in the amount of time and effort that is required to properly complete his work.  Needless to say, between my conference calls he and I argued just a little bit.

Hope all of your week's are off to a good start so far!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

More on Guns and Gun Violence

Over the last week the whole issue of the discussion of guns and gun violence has exploded on the news, in TV ads and in social media commentary.  This post relates a running conversation that I had this week concerning guns.  I won't identify the other participant because I haven't told them I am publishing this here.

My original post on Facebook was this:

Wow - Look at that - He's not coming to get your guns! To all the conservatives out there the President didn't put out any executive orders to take your guns. Instead most of his executives order had to do with tracking information about gun violence. And keep in mind his legislative request for the assault rifle ban is just for the sale of NEW assault rifles. And Congress has to pass a law to make that happen. And if you have an assault rifle you get to keep it. So tell me - what is wrong with this plan? Is there anything in there that is unreasonable or wrong? And wow - he isn't a dictator coming to take your guns - absolutely amazing isn't it!  I then link to the following article from the Denver Post.   http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_22383482/obama-unveil-gun-violence-measures-wednesday

My point in originally posting this and linking the article was to counter the viewpoint from so many NRA backers and gun nuts that the President was going to use Executive Privileges to take away guns.  Of course he couldn't and didn't.

The following post was made in response to another one of my friend's posts:  I am a firm believer in OUR 2nd amendment rights. I am a gun owner, a law abiding citizen and a teacher. I have absolutely no problem with requiring background checks at stores, gun shows or private sales. Unfortunately, many tragedies occur, not bc of legal ownership, but through illegal gains. Correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm sure someone will), but the shooter at Sandy Hook illegally took someone else's weapon. I currently teach a "inner city" school & my 1st graders know how, where & how much it costs to obtain a "cleaned" weapon. If we're going to address this issue, where does that come in? I'm sure everyone out on the stoop will lining up right away to turn those assault weapons in. I agree that Sandy Hook was a tragedy & needs never to happen again but I think we are making decisions based heavy on emotion right now rather than common sense. I would echo the president's statement about being accountable to humanity for our children's welfare. And one more thing, my niece was at Columbine.

My response to this item was where I feel I made the best case against guns and the fact that the world is changing.  Though the second amendment says we have a right to maintain a well regulated militia it really doesn't not say we have the right to own guns.  Regardless, I feel in 100 years from now the second amendment has a fairly good chance of being stricken from the constitution.  (Remember the constitution can and has been changed including the elimination of amendments.)   

Anyway here's my response - I have paraphrase a bit to eliminate things that are not germane to this post.

The guns used at Sandy Hook were all legally obtained by the shooters mother. The guns were purchased by the mother for her (the mother) and him to have at their home. Additionally, the shooter was legally sane without a criminal record or any feature that would have raised his profile to police. The guns were simply around his house - he used them to kill her and then the kids and teachers at Sandy Hook. 

This is my absolutely biggest problem with guns. They are left in the house and anyone in the house can have access to them. There is no safe storage of guns in a home. If you have a place in your home that you think is safe - think again - your kids know how to get into it. Additionally they know where you keep the keys if you use gun locks. Guns are 43 times more likely to be used to kill an owner of a home (either by someone in the home, suicide, etc) than to kill or injure an intruder. I refuse to let my son go to any home in which a gun is located for this exact reason. Parents are away, gun is safely in a drawer with gun lock on. Kids decide to play.. one says - hey I know where my parent keeps the keys to the gun lock. Gun is unlocked, kids play, kids get killed. 

Everyone in the gun lobby is so opposed to any kind of rules - they say what did Pres. Obama did was so drastic - but it really wasn't. To me, the biggest thing he did was give executive orders that require the various governmental departments to track gun violence and gun deaths. It isn't a waste of money - we track cancer rates, work injuries, etc and provide volumes and volumes of statistics on those things. We are now going to do the same for gun violence and gun deaths. 

And if any one says the stats on cancer, work related mishaps, etc are a waste money, I will challenge you by showing you how tracking those kinds of issues have allowed us to reduce the number of deaths caused by those issues and reduce the cost of those things to the economy. The cost of tracking those statistics is totally off-set by the savings to society and the economy. I really think the gun lobby will have the hardest time with those issues because it will once and for all demonstrate how severe of an issue we have in this country. Over time those statistics will sink in and change peoples minds and turn the general population against guns. 

Change does happen on supposedly sacred issues like gun ownership. Look what happen in Colorado and Washington with legalization of pot. Look what happened in several states regarding same sex marriage. Times are changing and though it won't happen while we are alive, the gun culture of America will die. The gun culture is maintained by a demographic that is rapidly becoming a minority. Latinos, Asian-American and Blacks are more against gun ownership than suburban/rural whites. And the suburban/rural white will be a distinct minority by the end of this century. Times will change and what is consider taboo today will be the norm in the next century. 

Bring someone back who was in their 30's, 40's or 50's in 1913. I am sure they would be shocked to see women voting, women running for president etc - think of what they would think about racial equality!!! Today it is normal for us to see and accept those things. One hundred years from now, all these issues that conservatives hold so dear will be decided against them. 

To illustrate this last point, I am going to do a bit of research.  Within the next 2 or 3 weekends I am going to spend some time at a library reading microfilm of some of the headlines from 100 years ago.  I'll then present those headlines in a blog post just to illustrate how society has changed in 100 years.  It will be fascinating to see all the different areas in which our society has changed.  We can only imagine all that will have changed by January 19, 2113!

I hope everyone is having a great weekend so far!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

Tonight has been an epic example of the old adage "Don't count your chickens before they hatch".  For the last 6 weeks the media and press of Denver have been on a constant drumbeat of discussing how the Denver Broncos were going to the NFL Superbowl this year.  That dream ended in the bitter cold of Sports Authority Field at Mile High this evening.   All the hype and hoopla concerning how great the Broncos were and how they were a lock to beat the Baltimore Ravens meant exactly nothing.  The Ravens demonstrated on the field that they were the better team today and that the Broncos season was at an end.

Here's a link to an article written by one of Denver's top sports writers that defines the viewpoint of many in Denver going into today's playoff game.  http://www.denverpost.com/kiszla/ci_22343829/mark-kiszla-ravens-not-exactly-cloud-nine-against.  After reading this article you can see how many in this city were thinking before the game.

Back in week 14 of the regular season I sat in front of my TV on a Sunday night watching the local newscast and was astounded when the sportscaster started talking about who the Broncos would likely face in the Superbowl.  Really?? I was utterly astounded by this premature line of thought when there were some really good teams in the running for the playoffs.  Denver is a city that seems to live and die by it's football team.  Why stir up such hopes and dreams when there is no reason for it?  You need to demonstrate you can win in the post-season before you should start making such predictions. 

Not being a Broncos fan, I felt that I had somewhat of an objective viewpoint on this game going in to it.  Listening to the sportscasters and media pundits talk about Peyton Manning and the game I realized they were missing one key point - Peyton Manning for all of his star power has been a failure in the post season.  Yes - he has won one Superbowl with Indianapolis at the end of the 2006 season, but in general he has done horrible in the playoffs.  If your team's goal is to win the Superbowl, Peyton Manning is not necessarily the quarterback to accomplish that goal.  In the aftermath of today's game there are articles being written that Manning's legacy in football is not going to be that of a champion but that of a disappointment.  See the following article in Manning's home town newspaper.  http://www.nola.com/superbowl/index.ssf/2013/01/peyton_manning_column.html

The bottom line is though Peyton Manning does great in the regular season he is not a big game super star like Tom Brady, Joe Montana or even his brother Eli.  Just as an example, his brother Eli's post season record is 8 - 3 with 2 Superbowl victories.  Going into today's game, Manning's post-season record was 9 - 10 with only one Superbowl victory which is not a particularly stellar statistic for someone of his star power.

Hopefully if the Broncos do well in the regular season next year this kind of hype and over the top expectations can be avoided.  From my personal perspective I certainly will be glad if I never hear the phrase "United in Orange" again!

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.




Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Planning for a New Year

When I was a child there was always a sense of excitement that I would get when I received a blank notebook.  As I looked at the empty pages I would imagine all the things with which I would fill the notebook.  It might have been drawings or it might have been articles I clipped from the newspaper and pasted onto the pages or it might even have been things that I wrote.  Regardless, having that blank tableau in front of me filled me with wonderful thoughts of all that I might create.

The beginning of a new year feels like that blank notebook to me.  As I awake on New Years Day I try to imagine all the fun, exciting and interesting things that I will do that year.  Being the anal retentive and numbers oriented person that I am, I always have a ton of plans developed for what I want to do each year.

I suppose you could call my plans New Years Resolutions, but instead of nebulous, lofty goals I try and make my plans distinct and quantifiable activities.  I don't even call them resolutions, instead I call them my goals for the years.  To ensure that I keep on target in reaching these goals I track them religiously in an MS-Excel workbook.  The workbook, aptly named "Yearly Goals.xls" has been the repository for my plans and dreams for the last 15 years.  It all started in the winter of 1998 when I was feeling tremendously let down by my failure to achieve success on my "partnership" project at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture).  In the fall of 1997 my most high-profile project for work to that point had gone down the drain.  My career was sidetracked and I lost my opportunity to make associate partner at Andersen Consulting.

In the aftermath of this disappointing outcome, I found myself sitting around the Andersen Consulting office with little to do.  Getting myself back on track from a career perspective was critical and so I started this workbook in February of 1998 listing all the things that I was going to accomplish that year.  In the end I never made partner at Andersen Consulting because I left for another opportunity with PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting in April of 1999.  However the workbook that I started to get myself back on track has stuck around and it is now the guidepost for all the goals I want to achieve each year and the overall goals I hope to reach in my life.  (I suppose you could call it a bucket list - but it includes a lot of things that people won't put on a bucket list, like education and books to read, etc.)  Near the end of each year I add another worksheet in the workbook and start sketching out my plans for the year.  By the start of the new year most of my plans are laid in and I am ready to get rolling and achieve on January 1.

Having all this information in one place is a library of my hopes and ambitions.  The goals listed in this spreadsheet highlight things from how many miles I want to run to the art work I want to collect.  It's the Private Idaho of my life.

The goals I set for myself each year are lofty and I realize that I won't reach all of them.  But what is the point of setting easy goals for myself?  If I set a bunch of easy goals for myself then I will never stretch myself to do greater and better things.

Setting goals like this isn't for everyone, as I realize I can be very detailed oriented and focused on numbers.  If you don't have a fixation on numbers, keeping a spreadsheet and tracking the results like I do probably won't be any fun.  But it works for me!

As I sat down and thought about all the things I wanted to achieve with this year many of my goals were focused on things I couldn't achieve last year because of my injured leg and back.  Now that I am pretty much free of those things I have made athletic and outdoor accomplishments a key part of my goals.


For example this year I hope to run and hike over 500 miles, climb three 14,000 foot mountains, explore a series of new trails in the Eagles Nest and Lost Creek Wilderness, ride my bike for over 1000 miles, work out at the gym over 100 times, complete the Canyonlands Half Marathon and read at least 20 books (serious books not trash novels that I can go through in a day).

Those are just a few of the goals that I have for the year.  But for each of my readers, think about the fact you only have so much time on this earth and ask yourself what do you want to accomplish.  To reach those big over arching goals of life you have to start one step at a time.  If you haven't already done it, get busy and set some really cool and interesting goals for yourself for 2013.  Whether you develop a detailed spreadsheet like I have or just jot them down on a piece of paper - just do it!

Hope everyone is having a great week so far!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Years Hike in Solitude

Solitude (noun) The state of being or living alone: to enjoy ones solitude.

In recent years I have adopted a New Years Day tradition of taking a hiking into some place wild in which I can find solitude and quiet.  This tradition was interrupt for the 2012 and 2011 New Years so I was determined to resurrect this tradition today.

In the past I have taken Zack and the dogs with me on these hikes into the New Year.  To maintain a sense of peace and quiet this year I choose to undertake the hike alone.  That is not to say that I can't experience quiet and peace with Zack and my dogs as I certainly can.  But given the cold weather and fact that Zack loves to sleep in these days, I decided it was best to leave Zack and the pups at home.

Departing the house around 8:30AM I found the streets and highways to be pretty much deserted.  There was almost no traffic and the drive from our house to entrance of Waterton Canyon was very pleasant once the heater in the car warmed up.  When I arrived at the Waterton Canyon parking lot, I found the place empty with only 2 other cars there.  On a normal day at 9:00AM in the morning, the parking lot would be full of several dozen cars as Waterton Canyon is a popular place to hike, run and bike.  The temperature and the fact it was early on New Years Day played large roles in the fact that it was so quiet.  When I rolled into the parking lot, the thermometer in my car read only 14 degrees.  It was going to be a cold and brisk hike!

It took me a few minutes to get everything set and put on my warm clothing, but then I took the plunge into the frigid air and got out of the car.  When dressing for cold weather I like to dress in many thin layers as opposed to big bulky jackets.  Today I had on a bottom layer of Under Armour, a long sleeve t-shirt and an outer layer of a Northface athletic pullover.  Sometimes with a layering system like this you end up a little bit cold and today was going to be one of those days.

Starting out through the parking lot, the snow was crunching under my boots.  And my breathe was producing a very large cloud of steam in front of me.  For a short time I was seriously reconsidering the wisdom of taking a hike on this cold and frigid day.  But as I crossed the road to reach the entrance of the canyon, I realized I would almost have the canyon to myself.  That made any amount of cold I would suffer through well worth it.

Walking into the canyon I noticed how still and quiet everything was.  There was almost no sound at all.  A few cars on the nearby road generated a low hum but after a short distance into the canyon even this noise was left behind.

About a quarter mile into the canyon, I encountered two people walking the opposite way - going out of the canyon.  Besides these 2 people I would only see 2 other people during the entire time I was there.

Moving further into the canyon, the Platte River runs right beside the trail.  Most of the river was frozen over but there were a few place near rapids and fast flowing areas where water could actually still be seen.  At each one of those places, the sound of the rushing water was a jarring contrast to the silence that filled the rest of the canyon.  With the sound of silence ringing in my ears I came to look forward to the sound of the running water.  It was such a beautiful sound that I took a video of the rushing water with my iPhone's camera.  I have attached one of them to this blog entry for the peaceful and calm sound of the water.

video


The mountain peaks through which the canyon is carved were all covered with snow.  Closer to the floor of the canyon, only the north side was covered with snow as the sun tends to quickly melt the snow on the south facing side of the canyon.   Looking upward at the peaks and the sky even they were quiet with no big horn sheep to be seen or hawks circling on thermals.  It was like the whole planet had gone to sleep for this day with the exception of the river.  Only the river showed any kind of life or movement as even the air was still and quiet.

Given the cold I decided to turn back after journeying 1.8 miles into the canyon.  At that point my fingers were becoming numb so I decided it was time to head back to the car.  Though my hike only lasted a little over 1 hour and 10 minutes it was a wonderful and peaceful walk through solitude.  What a great way to start the New Year!

Aside from my hike this morning, Zack had a gathering of geeks/nerds at the house today.  For whatever reason Zack and his group of friends love to refer to themselves as geeks and nerds.  This afternoon Zack had two of his best friends over to spend a wonderful afternoon of jumping on the trampoline, listening to music and of course.... playing video games.  They are in the process of filming several videos for YouTube about video gaming and today they spent a fair amount of time working on episodes 1 and 2.

With all that teen mental power in my house, I had to get out for a little bit.  Given that it is winter break and Lisa is on a two week break from her job as a school teacher we have been trying to see each other every day.  So while the nerds were occupying the house Lisa and I caught up on our movie watching as we went to see the Cirque du Soleil movie - Worlds Away.  Nothing compares to seeing a Cirque du Soleil performance in person, but given that is difficult to do unless you live in Las Vegas or happen to be in a town visited by one of their touring shows this movie is a great way to get an introduction to the beautify, grace and mystery of a Cirque performance.

The movie was interesting as it combined scenes from most of Cirque du Soleil's shows in Las Vegas directly into the movie.  An overarching story was wrapped around these scenes and the scenes were shot specifically for the movie.  Unless you plan to see a show in person within the next year, I highly recommend the movie!