White Sands National Park

Onward to White Sands National Park in New Mexico – the world’s largest gypsum dune field.  We spent a few hours hiking around and taking pictures.  The fine gypsum feels nice and cool underfoot – it doesn’t heat up in the sun like sand.

I had hoped to also visit the Trinity test site but it’s open to visitors only two days each year (once in April and once in October) due to the site being part of the active White Sands Missile Range. We left the park an hour or two before sunset to find a nice dispersed campsite beyond the next little range of mountains:

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Summer Board Gaming

This is a gallery of pictures from another summer season of board gaming, including: 49, Flamecraft, Plague Inc., Thunder Road: Vendetta, Yedo, Merv, Atlantic Star, Eclipse, Middle Earth Quest, Chinatown, Quacks of Quedlinburg, Dominant Species, Dead by Daylight, Camel Up!, Hegemony, Clank! Catacombs, Evolution: Climate, Cosmic Encounter, Brian Boru: High King of Ireland, Horrified, Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers, Game of Thrones, Bus, The Networks, Thunderstone Quest, Campaign Trail and Heat.

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Home Theater Upgrade: Taller Screen

With more and more “blockbuster” movies being released in tall aspect ratios (apparently optimizing for IMAX screens) or even frequently switching aspect ratios midstream (Christopher Nolan!!), my existing, 12-foot wide 2.4:1 aspect ratio screen hasn’t been so useful as it used to be.  These taller aspect ratios meant that the image ends up quite constrained, not using much of the screen real estate to the left and right.

So I finally decided to go through the trouble of buying and installing a new screen.  It’s the same width as before (12 feet) but now in a 16:9 aspect ratio.  So now I’ll have “Constant Image Width” (CIW) rather than “Constant Image Height” (CIH).

It’s another retractable screen (Luxus) from Stewart Filmscreen using the same screen material (Ultramatte 130 and still 30% gain) but this new unit was quite a bit heavier than the old one.  It weighs somewhere between 125-150 lbs depending on which documentation you believe.  I installed another set of mounting blocks with 2×6’s on the wall to clear the window sill but there was no way just two of us could lift it in place.  Four of us were able to do it though! Many thanks to Tim, Geof, Jennifer, Richard and Nacho for volunteering to help Darlene and me:

Old vs New (2.4:1 vs 16:9)

The new taller screen is filled out wonderfully with the likes of all those tall aspect ratio movies – making these films feel much more immersive again.  And so far, the upper and lower “black bars” with 2.4:1 material haven’t been distracting.

Some movies (like Tron: Legacy) like to switch aspect ratios.

Darlene’s Family Visit

Darlene’s mom Alice and her sisters Kathy and Shel came out for a visit to Santa Cruz.  They hit up the Monterey Bay Aquarium, stayed overnight at the Monterey Zoo, visited the Santa Cruz boardwalk, visited Alice’s sister Betty, did a few laps of indoor go cart racing, experienced a drone flight over the bay, a little virtual reality and a bit of video gaming.

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In Memory of Pan


I’m writing this four months later… we lost Pan on July 3rd after an attempt to treat a reoccurrence of his heart failure.  This was really hard to take. He was my best buddy.  Whatever I was doing, he was always nearby.  He would follow me from room to room, hang out with me while I was on my computer, be in the midst of whatever project I was working on or in my lap while reading or watching TV.  He just had to be on the table with us when we were playing board games.  He’d run to join me if I went out to the garage or in the yard and cry and pout in the litter box if I couldn’t take him with me when I was going out.

On road trips, he insisted on being in my lap or on the countertop behind my shoulder in the camper van.   He was up on the bathroom counter sink to watch me and wait while I brushed my teeth and then get his drink from the tap. Then he’d immediately leap to the bed to join me on my pillow when I went to sleep. He slept curled up against my face, under my chin or on my head every night – as close as possible.  His signature greeting was his head butt to the face and nose-to-nose rubs – the same initial greeting he gave me when I got down on my knees at the animal shelter way back in March of 2009 and he picked me out.  He’s been a near constant, joyful presence ever since.  Darlene and I miss him terribly.



In June, he started refusing his meds and not eating enough to get his meds that way.  Over a few weeks it became clear that his breathing was starting to become more labored again.  The last time this happened, a couple of years ago, the vet was able to tap and drain the fluid from his chest, start him on some medications and he bounced right back.  He did just fine over the next couple of years despite their warning at the time that he probably only had limited months left.  So when I brought him on the Friday ahead of the 4th of July weekend to request a repeat of the chest tap, I totally expected that it would go like before.

He was happy and active when I brought him in for the procedure on Friday and it seemed to go well but his health deteriorated over the subsequent 48 hours. By Monday morning, it was clear he was in serious trouble and we took him to the emergency hospital in Santa Cruz.  On a phone call a few hours later, we were told he was in a terrible state with three opposing conditions – the treatment for any one of them would exacerbate the other two.  It would apparently take many days of intensive care with a highly unlikely probability for success.  To avoid putting him through all that, we made the decision to go with their recommendation to euthanize.

Here’s a gallery of selected pictures and videos from my 14 years with him:

Winter Board Gaming

Pictures from another winter season of board gaming, including Paris, Lost Ruins of Arnak, CloudAge, The Great Wall, Dead Reckoning, Flamme Rouge, Just One, Spirit Island, Quacks of Quedlinburg, Crazy Karts, Star Wars Risk, Bohnanza, Finger Guns at High Noon, The Hunger, Master Labyrinth, Aquatica, Spy Alley, Sushi Go Party, Ready Set Bet, Captain Sonar, Rocketmen, Heat: Pedal to the Metal, Roll Camera, Ark Nova, Quadropolis, Dinosaur Island, Great Western Trail: Argentina, Mountain Goats and CuBirds.

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Van Smashed

We had the van loaded up and we had just headed out on our next extended road trip, this time up to Alberta and British Columbia for a few weeks – but we didn’t even make it out of town before this happened:

Dash cam video (warning: lots of profanity)

We were off to a very late start and had numerous unhelpful things come up that morning – and Darlene was just realizing she had forgotten her phone (you can hear her calling it to locate it) – and then… the impact.  It was immediately clear that we weren’t going anywhere now and there would be who knows how much hassle ahead to deal with whatever had just happened.

We were fine and the cats were fine. The kids who slammed into us didn’t have their seat belts on though. One ended up slamming his teeth into steering wheel, the other had his head smashed into the windshield, bits of glass in his forehead and he was bleeding at the scene. We encouraged them to go to the hospital.

So yeah, a very abrupt end to our road trip. Can’t open the cargo doors any more but we managed to squeeze the bikes and all of our gear out through the front opening under the bed to unload everything.  The van is now back up in Vancouver, WA at Van Haus Conversions where the original custom build was done.  All of the interior installation (cabinets, walls, insulation, wiring, plumbing, etc) needs to be removed before a body shop can tackle the exterior damage.  Then it will all need to be rebuilt again after the body work is completed. Plus the flooring will need to be replaced as it was buckled from intrusion by the cargo doors being crushed.

Very bummed. I can’t help but think that if we’d left a minute earlier or later we would have missed this whole mess.  But then perhaps that young driver who somehow didn’t see this big white van slow down in front of them would’ve run over that woman and her dog.  We’ll never know.  But what’s with that Volvo sitting at the green light the whole time, eh?

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Update (end of March 2023): Six months later and the van is still at the body shop. It’s been a long series of setbacks, delays and excuses (mostly from the body shop) and it’s still doesn’t even look close to ready to go back to my van builder, Van Haus, so that they can rebuild the interior.  Maybe I’ll document all of that mess at some point, but in the meantime I’ve added a bunch of the blurry photos the body shop has sent me over the past few months to the gallery:

Update (early May 2023): The body shop finally finished and now the van goes off to Van Haus to have the interior rebuilt.

Update (mid-August 2023): The van rebuild is finally complete!  Almost an entire year lost – and we’ve only had it three years since it was originally completed in August of 2020.

Great Basin National Park

Looking towards Doso Doyabi (center) and Wheeler Peak (right).

These are pictures from spending four days in Great Basin National Park in mid-April (with the cats, of course) – driving up to the Mather Overlook (the road was still closed beyond that point due to snow), hiking up the Baker Creek Trail and the Lehman Creek Trail, taking the Lehman Caves tour and venturing around to the remote southern tip of the park to hike up to Lexington Arch.

I want to go back sometime and do the hike to the top of Wheeler Peak (elevation 13,065 ft / 3982 m).

(If this HDR video can’t play in your browser, here’s a more basic, non-HDR version.)

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