Last Week of Skiing

Darlene and I were up in Tahoe for ten days in early March right up until all the ski resorts decided to close down and the Bay Area counties decided to tell everyone to “shelter in place” to try to slow down the spread of Covid-19.  As it happens, Resi, Troy and Aiden joined us at the house just before that for those last two weekends – and we finally got a nice big snow storm this season – albeit on the last weekend for this unexpectedly shortened ski season.

These two weekends at Homewood (and Alpine Meadows during the week) made quite the contrast to each other: from getting pretty barren to turning warm and slushy to an overabundance of fresh heavy snow and people getting buried and digging out left and right!

On the first Sunday, Aiden finished up his “Super Sliders” season with a slalom race and awards ceremony.  On the last Sunday, with about two feet of new snow, all the major ski resorts had decided to close the night before but Homewood chose to go one more day – for a final huge powder day for passholders and advance ticket holders only.

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Winter Gaming

Well, the global pandemic has certainly put a stop to our frequent gaming meetups, and I don’t mean Pandemic Legacy: Season Two – although Darlene and I have continued to play through the campaign while the real world pandemic develops outside.  (And, so far, in the real world, Darlene hasn’t been called in to help at Stanford Hospital yet.)

Since hosting a gaming day for New Year’s Day and before the directive to “shelter in place” was declared in mid-March, I got in a couple of games of Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated and my first adventure in Gloomhaven with Nacho, Luno and Lynette.  I picked up and introduced folks to managing the Taverns of Tiefenthal and manipulating empires in A War of Whispers.  I also got copies of both the original VivaJava: The Coffee Game (very popular with everyone) and the simpler dice version.  I got to try the intriguing but weird Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents and finally try Race for the Galaxy, which really is just “Terra Mystica in Space”. Other misc games with my local gaming group were of Saboteur,  DiamantPower Grid (with the newer power plant cards), Space Base (still not into it) and likely others I’m forgetting and didn’t take pictures of.  Looks like we’ll be getting together virtually for awhile, with online tabletop game simulations and video chat.

Switching to virtual play and videoconferencing during the pandemic

I also finally got my newer rendition of Merchant of Venus to the table with Darlene – I used to play the original version a lot with Clay, Patty, Dave and Kathie back in the 90’s.  This second edition includes “classic” versions of the board, rules and components to play essentially the original game but also an updated version with some new mechanics and changes to gameplay that I really like.  Oh and Darlene and I tried the “Legendary Asia” map for Ticket to Ride for the first time.

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Colorado Ski Week

This year, Jon, Bill, Kat, Jim, Stan and I hit up Beaver Creek and Vail in Colorado for our annual week of skiing and board gaming. We started off the week with the remnants of a heavy snow storm (as in heavy, wet snow) for a rough first day full of new and old moguls.  It was also pretty cold with highs in the teens.   As the following day promised to be much colder, we all sheltered indoors for a day of gaming including Sushi Go Party, Chinatown, Bang!, King of New York, Instinct, Cheaty Mages, For Sale, and the card game version of Shadows over Camelot.  The following days turned warmer and even sunny and blue skies at times so we were happy to venture out and explore the slopes again.

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Tesla Powerwalls Installed

My two Tesla Powerwall 2‘s were installed last week and now I’m running on my own solar-generated power after dark!

You see, Powerwalls not only keep the lights on when the power goes out but they also let you automatically time shift energy daily to avoid using power from the grid at peak demand times – not something you get from a traditional backup generator.  Plus they don’t need any maintenance or fuel.  And yes, this does mean that now I will still have power for the whole house and, most importantly, running water the next time PG&E needs to shut down the power grid for fire safety.  Yay!

I really like the Tesla app for configuring and monitoring your Powerwall and, if present, your solar PV system.  It continually displays the flow of power between your home, Powerwalls, solar panels and the power grid – in real time.

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Bobcat Crossing Ahead

It would seem that my backyard has become quite the bobcat crossing – this collection of clips is just from the past few weeks:

Perhaps these are those same bobcat siblings I spied as youngsters playing in the yard a few years ago.

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Who Needs New Snow?

It’s been a pretty dry January and February for snow in Tahoe, but we got the gang together at the Tahoe house for an early February weekend all the same. Darlene and I joined Greg, Erin & Merritt for a sunny Saturday at Squaw Valley and then Resi, Troy & Aiden at Homewood for a very windy Sunday.  But it would seem the wind didn’t slow down Aiden at all…

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Unistellar eVscope

I recently received my eVscope from Unistellar and after just a few sessions with it, I thought I would share my thoughts and experiences with it so far – particularly since there wasn’t a lot of info available when I ordered it in back in July of 2019.

Overview

The Unistellar eVscope is quite different from a traditional optical telescope.  It’s a highly integrated and automated digital imaging telescope that enables you to easily find and view deep sky objects in color and detail that would not normally be perceptible to your eye looking through a normal optical telescope.  In addition, the eVscope is designed to let you easily participate in and contribute data to crowd-sourced “citizen science” projects.

The eVscope is a 4.5-inch Newtonian reflector that captures light on a highly sensitive, low noise Sony IMX224 color sensor while using a motorized alt-az tracking mount and autonomous field detection to automatically identify, align and continually track its view of the sky.  Integrated image-processing software takes and combines an on-going series of short exposures to generate an image in almost real time that brings out much of the very low light, color and detail that’s not visible to the human eye even when looking through a normal telescope. This view accumulates over just seconds and minutes and is displayed both in the telescope’s eyepiece (on an OLED display) as well as on a WiFi-connected smartphone.  The whole thing is self-powered via an integrated 9-10 hour rechargeable battery, fits into a large backpack and weighs just under 20 lbs. including the provided tripod.

In other words, it’s quite an impressive level of integration!

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Carrizo Plain National Monument

After getting the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle back from the repair shop (following my close encounter with a falling tree limb), Darlene and I decided to get in another little road trip.  I found Carrizo Plain National Monument initially as looking like a nice layover point on our planned way to Joshua Tree National Park, but we ended up deciding to spend our four days just there, exploring the hills and valley.

Carrizo Plain is probably most known for many illustrative pictures of the San Andrea fault cutting across many old creek beds and showing how quickly (geologically) the two plates are moving past each other.  It’s also home to some once elaborate Native American rock paintings, at “Painted Rock”.  Here’s some great side-by-side images showing the terrible damage these rock paintings have been subjected to over the last century.

In the spring, the valley and foothills are often covered in a brilliantly varied carpet of wildflowers.  (See this image search for examples.)

Besides these sights, we got in some hiking, drone-flying and general exploring.  I also brought along my newly acquired digital imaging telescope from Unistellar to see what it can do.

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New Years Day Gaming

We gathered fifteen gamers for a full day of gaming this New Years Day!

I joined Greg and Erin and GregToo! as we drank and caroused until just Erin was left standing at the Red Dragon Inn, and then Dan and Luno joined with us to just barely vanquish evil in a desperate game of Shadows Over Camelot.  Troy, Roland and Nacho fought over the solar system in The Expanse; Darlene, Lynette, Jacobi, Molly and John worked to defeat the monsters in Horrified and then later collected birds and bird eggs in Wingspan.  Nacho, Troy and Roland then competed to build up their cities in Machi Koro.  Nacho, John, and Dan joined me for more endeavors in the industrial eras of Brass: Birmingham while Darlene, Greg and Luno explored the worlds of Above and Below and Roland, Jacobi, Molly and Lynette weaved histories of civilizations in Tapestry.  After dark Roland, Greg, Luno, Lynette and Elizabeth gathered gems in Century: Golem Edition and then we all finished off the night in a six-way, cobblestone-filled bike race of Flamme Rouge.

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Christmas in Tahoe

Christmas in Tahoe… fresh snow, skiing, snowshoeing, hanging a ceiling fan, playing new board games (Covert and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2).

 

But then… uh oh, my cat broke:

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Troy’s “Hawaii Five-Oh” Birthday

Pics from Troy’s “Hawaii Five-Oh” birthday party this past weekend – click through for the gallery:

   

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Transit Van Arrives

  

With Glenn’s help, I picked up my new Ford Transit van in Portland on Monday, soon to become the *new* Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle.  First step was delivering it to QuadVan in Portland to have a four-wheel drive system installed plus upgraded shocks (Bilstein) and leaf springs (Vancompass), a full set of skid plates, larger all terrain tires (BFG KO2’s), new wheels, a locking differential (Detroit Trutrac) and have the rear shock mounts raised up.  Once this work is completed, the van is off to Van Haus for a complete campervan build out – somewhat similar in layout to this one but with different cabinetry designs, appliances and materials.

While meeting with the owner John of QuadVan, we got to meet his amusingly helpful German shepherd:


Update (February 25th, 2020):

The van was finally transferred from QuadVan to Van Haus to start the build out this week.  It’s a late start, but at least it’s starting.  Should be about 12 weeks to completion.  In the meantime, I’ve worked with Erik of Van Haus to finalize the design – and we’ve moved away from the dinette under the slide-out bed to a fixed platform bed design just to get more storage room for all the gear.

 

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X-Wing / Tie-Fighter Dogfight

Glenn and I took his x-wing and tie-fighter to the air at dusk this Sunday in Portland for a nice, old-fashioned dogfight.  There was much mayhem:

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More Wildlife Visits

More recent wildlife visits in the yard – deer, coyotes and bobcats:

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Fall Gaming

 

 

A busy season of fall gaming: we competed to infect our host without outright killing him in Viral, collect and steal the most treasure while evading the dragon in Drakon, try to score the most popular brews in Vivajava: The Coffee Game, battled each other under the sea in Captain Sonar, compete in the early industrial era in Brass: Birmingham, experiment on ourselves and our student “volunteers” to break down the magical ingredients in Alchemists, wheel, deal and swindle negotiate ourselves into the most profitable business locations in Chinatown, avoid causing too many time traveling paradoxes in Anachrony, interpret our vision dreams to solve a haunted murder mystery in Mysterium, be the quickest to work the marketplace in Istanbul, outmaneuver each other while working the Mayan calendar in Tzolk’in, make the most of our ingredients without exploding our potions in Quacks of Quedlinburg, vie for control over the meadow in Battle Sheep, escape the deadly maze in Room 25, race to the finish line in Flamme Rouge, fight the forces of evil in Shadow Over Camelot (only to be thwarted in the end by that unseen traitor, Richard!), build and shape the habitats and ecoystems in Ecos: First Continent, gather treasures in Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated, compete to power the most cities in Power Grid, survive the horrors in The Mansions of Madness, cultivate our grapes and make wine in Viticulture, dig tunnels while thwarting traitorous dwarves in Saboteur, and buy and resell goods to economic success in Container: 10th Anniversary Edition.

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Ghost Bear Visit

I noticed a curious thing on the Tahoe house front camera after a recent snowfall: first a pristine layer of snow across the driveway and then, a little later, a set of tracks across the driveway and *directly* under the camera….. but no recording of the creature that left them. This camera triggers a recording every time a passing car’s headlights even just illuminates the driveway and yet… no recording of the mysterious creature.  Spooky!

Now given the size and shape of the footprints, and how they lead under the front porch, there can be only one conclusion: it was a visit by the ghost bear!!

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