The Whole Fam Damily

Melissa & I had a busy Thanksgiving holiday break. We travelled to four family events in four days. On Wednesday it my niece Vivian’s first birthday party. On Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving with my dad’s extended family in Danville. On Friday we celebrated Thanksgiving with Melissa’s family near Rockford. Finally, on Saturday we celebrated Thanksgiving with my mom’s extended family near Indianapolis.

Since both my brothers were visiting with their families from Texas, this was the first time my mom’s extended family had all been together since well before my nephew, cousin, and niece were born. We commemorated the event with a family photo.

The Bassetts

Grandma and Grandpa with 3 sons, 2 daughters, 5 significant others, 9 grandsons, 4 significant others, 1 great grandson, 1 great granddaughter

The Thanksgiving Dinner

Shortly before stuffing my face at Thanksgiving dinner with my family in Danville, Melissa pointed out this funny picture of me hanging on the wall at my parents’ house. I appear to be very concerned about something (perhaps that there wouldn’t be enough food).

Young Rob at school Thanksgiving

Rob stuffing his face at preschool Thanksgiving celebration

The Leaves

At our old house we had one tree in the yard, and it was only a couple years old. So we never had to deal with raking leaves at all. When we moved to our current house last year we were a little overwhelmed by the shear quantity of leaves that fell in our yard from the numerous mature trees. We basically just left them there all winter (which didn’t turn out so well come spring). This year we’ve at least been trying to rake them up, but it’s slow going. I raked the side yard for an hour and a half today and my back and sides are now aching. I have a feeling I might not be able to move tomorrow. We’ll see.

Back yard leaves

back yard

Side yard leaves

side yard

The Nighttime

I went out in the pitch black dark with my camera & tripod to take some photos. As it was completely dark, I wasn’t always entirely sure what would be in the photos. I had to play around with the camera settings to get A) something to show up at all, and B) to get the content in focus.

Arboretum at night
30 second exposure, notice the stars in the sky

Trees at Arboretum at night

Row of trees at Arboretum at night

University President's house

Orchard & Vermont

1503

The Victory

It’s been a long time coming. Yesterday, I ran a 5K race. And won. This was not the first race I’ve ever won, but it was the first race I’ve won in 12.5 years (1/8 of a century). My last victory was the 3200m run at the sectional track meet in 1996 (my senior year of high school).

I wanted to do another 5K this fall, but I had a hard time fitting one into my schedule. It took me a few weeks to fully recover from my 30 mile run. Then in two weeks I’ll be running the Tecumseh trail marathon in Indiana. I heard about this Run for the Library race in Mahomet and it seemed like it would work. As per usual, I decided at the last minute (late Friday evening) to do it.

I looked at the results from previous years and figured if I had a good race I could finish in the top 10, maybe even top 5. The highest placings in this race were dominated by high school runners who can typically run these shorter distances much faster than old farts like me.

It was 22˚ when I woke up Saturday morning. I drove out to Mahomet, registered for the race, and warmed up a little. By the time the race started it had warmed up to 24˚. This is probably the coldest temperature I’ve run in this winter. While warming up I noticed a number of high school aged runners. I also saw a guy my age, Chris, who I ran against in high school. We’ve competed at least three times since then and he just barely beat all three times.

Mahomet Run for the Library 5K

Photo courtesy of Mahomet Library. I’m on the far right wearing all black with a white hat.

The race started and immediately one of the high schoolers took off sprinting, much to the confusion of the rest of the runners. I started out near the front. I became concerned after 200-300 meters when only Chris and two high schoolers were in front of me. Was I going too fast? Was I going to fade away? After a half mile I passed both the high schoolers and it was just Chris & me. I was feeling really good. We ran together for .75 miles. We passed the mile mark at 5:37, exactly where I wanted to be. What a relief.

Shortly after the mile mark I started to pull away from Chris. I have never been able to run the second mile of a 5K as fast as the first, but I was feeling so good I just kept going and going. I passed the two mile mark and my split was also 5:37. Even splits for the first two miles of a 5K was unprecedented for me.

During the last half mile we turned into a strong headwind on a fairly open road, so I slowed down a bit. I managed to hang onto the lead and finished in 17:40. I’ve only run two 5Ks faster than that, and both were on courses that were short (less than 5K). A bunch of my friends from Second Wind running club were working the finish line and they all congratulated me on the great run. 13 seconds later Chris came in for second place.

We waited a good minute and a half before the next pack came in. It was mostly the high schoolers (including a couple who puked upon crossing the finish line). Amongst them was the winner of the women’s race, my new friend Ellen. She is an extraordinary ultra-marathon runner. She runs (and wins) races in the 30-50 mile range. Yesterday she set a new 5K personal record.

After the race I chatted a lot with Chris and we caught up a little bit while running a mile to cool down. Next, we went indoors for a pancake breakfast (which I skipped) and award ceremony.

Normally the story would end there, but I have this marathon coming up. I needed to do a long run this weekend, but I don’t let myself run two days in a row (due to my past knee problems). So after the awards I went with Ellen and Brian (another friend from Second Wind) a short ways to the Buffalo Trace trails at Lake of the Woods park and we ran. Once there, we caught up with more of our trail running friends. Ellen & I ran three loops on the five mile trail. I ended up with 20.5 miles in total. Unsurprisingly, I did a lot of eating and sleeping the rest of the day.

The Mathematica 7 Release

Mathematica 7 was released today (okay, late last night). It has been under active development for 18 months. While not as gigantic in scope as Mathematica 6, it’s still a very solid, feature-filled upgrade.

The headlining features for version 7 are:

A list of all major new features is available here. In addition to the highly publicized features, here is an incomplete list of other improvements I worked on for this release:

  • QuickLook plugin provides previews for notebook documents on Mac OS X 10.5
  • text & cell selections use system highlight color rather than XOR drawing
  • better sub-pixel accuracy of screen drawing & vector graphics export
  • BezierCurve support for EPS & PDF Export, and PDF Import
  • PDF export can attach arbitrary files (including the source notebook) to the exported PDF file
  • PDF import can read file attachments
  • PDF import of encrypted files works with default (empty) or user-supplied password
  • decreased EPS & PDF export file sizes in some cases
  • decreased notebook file sizes in some cases
  • ControllerState supports MIDI devices (e.g. keyboards, mixers, etc.) on Mac OS X

Additionally, the minimum Mac OS X version increased from 10.3 to 10.4.

The Rebel

In 2003 I wanted a SLR camera to replace my old Vivitar, but at this point I was already accustomed to the extraordinary convenience of digital cameras. Digital SLR cameras existed, but they were targeted solely at professional photographers (and they were priced accordingly). That is, until the end of 2003, when Canon released the Digital Rebel (EOS 300D). The Digital Rebel was the first digital SLR (DSLR) camera priced under $1000, and it wasn’t targeted at professional photographers. It was targeted at me.

Shortly after the camera was released, Digital Rebels could not be found anywhere. There was a huge demand for this device and it was sold out of every store that carried it. I went to cameras stores. I went to electronics stores. I went to generic stores that carried cameras or electronics. While visiting my grandparents for Christmas my dad accompanied me while I looked at half a dozen stores in Evansville, IN. I think he thought I might be a little crazy looking high and low for a camera. I mean, it’s just a camera right?

Back home in Champaign I put my name on a waiting list at a camera store, and I made daily visits to Best Buy. Eventually, a guy working at Best Buy was kind enough to suggest (quietly) I check back on Wednesday morning. I checked back Wednesday morning, and they had just received two Digital Rebels. I immediately tried to acquire one, but there was some bozo right in front of me (the store had just opened) who was looking at it. Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!! JUST LET ME BUY MY CAMERA!!!

After five or so of the most impatient minutes of my life the bozo walked away and I was able to purchase the camera. Finally. I left the next day with my parents to go to Texas to visit my brothers for Christmas, where I was first able to test it out. It was amazing.

I’ve now had the camera for almost five years. A few days ago the four-digit photo counter reset to zero, meaning I’ve taken over 10,000 photos with it. It’s still great, but it’s showing its age. So I’ve decided to retire the Rebel. Two days ago its replacement arrived, a brand new Canon 50D. This new camera takes (significantly) higher resolution photos, has better low light (high ISO range) performance, has a gigantic high-res LCD screen (the 3″ display has the same resolution as my first 15″ computer monitor), works with all my old accessories (lenses & flash), and (thanks to an extra attachment) can wirelessly transfer photos to my computer and phone (which I’ve wanted for quite some time), and can directly geotag photos.

Hopefully the next 10,000 photos will be as great as the last 10,000.

The College for Kids

During the summers when I was growing up in Danville, the local community college put on courses covering a variety of topics for, well, kids. It was aptly named College for Kids. The courses counted for no credit, just pure educational enrichment. As you can imagine, they weren’t wildly popular, but there were a few highly motivated youngsters who showed up ready to learn.

One summer I took an arts & crafts class. The summer between 5th & 6th grade I took a photography class. I don’t really remember why I thought I was interested in photography. Perhaps it had something to do with the camera shop down the street from my grandparents’ house. I would walk down there and look at all the neat equipment for hours. The course was taught by a photographer at the local newspaper.

The first day of class I showed up with my mom’s fixed-focus point-and-shoot 35mm Vivitar camera. The instructor gave each of the students a roll of film and assigned homework to take a bunch of photographs, enough to fill the roll, before the next class. He would develop them all (for free), then we would start learning what we could do to take better photos. Each class we picked up a new roll of film and turned in our previous role. In these days, long before the advent of the digital camera, film and development were somewhat tedious and expensive, so this was the first time I really had the opportunity to waste film by taking whatever types of pictures I wanted.

The class was amazing. We learned about framing & lighting. We learned how to operate really nice cameras. We even learned how to develop black & white film (color film being more difficult to develop). I was hooked. A few weeks after the class ended I took $120 I earned from my job as official scorekeeper at the little league park all summer, walked to the camera store down the street from my grandparents’ house, and purchased a used Vivitar SLR camera body and a 50mm prime lens. A couple months later I saved up some more money and purchased the matching 135mm telephoto lens. Nothing on this camera was automatic. It required manual focusing, aperture, shudder speed. It even required manually winding the film between photos. It was actually somewhat difficult to operate, but it was worth it.

I loved that camera. I used it to take photographs for school yearbooks and newspapers. I photographed family gatherings and sporting events. I took the camera with me to my job at ASP the summer after my freshman year in college. I used it all summer long to preserve many wonderful memories. Unfortunately, that’s where the story ends. At the end of the summer I packed up the camera (and all my other stuff) in one of our vans. We stopped at a few work sites in a different county to help out for a few days. I never saw the camera again. I still don’t know what happened to it. My best guess is that somebody stole it, though I can’t rule out the possibility I simply misplaced it somewhere.

I replaced my beloved Vivitar with a cheap point-and-shoot camera. The photographs weren’t as good, but it was much cheaper and easier to operate than a SLR. In 2001 I replaced it with my first digital point-and-shoot camera, which was amazing (I took 240 photos while hiking on the first day of our honeymoon). It wasn’t until 2003 that I finally got another SLR camera, the Digital Rebel.