Nodal Ninja Panographic Tools

At the end of last month, the lone direct store and supplier of Fanotec products, including Nodal Ninja panoheads, closed in Chandler, Arizona. They sold other companies' products for people interested in virtual reality photography, of panoramas where the viewer rotates the object around self and of objects where the viewer rotates an object. Years ago, the former was a hobby of mine. With their closeout sale, I bought a new Nodal Ninja 6 panohead, but I have yet to shoot anything. I also have a newer digital SLR with much better resolution than my old Rebel XT.

Not too many weeks ago I bought some panorama software updates. There is a re-learning curve, and the loss of Photoshop, since I cannot justify the subscription fees, means a bit of effort to learn enough for a new graphic editor, be it GIMP or something else that can handle layers and masking. Maybe it is time to get a drawing tablet, too.

That I have not shot any panoramas in a long time will soon change, so please stay tuned!

Visit to Tumacácori National Historical Park

Today I drove down to Tumacácori, a Spanish mission founded by the Italian-born Father Kino, a remarkable Jesuit combining religious zeal, scientific interest, compassion, and courage. He founded this mission at a village of the local O'odham people, who had begged the Jesuits come help them, apparently mainly to introduce agricultural advancements.

Spain replaced all the Jesuits with Franciscans, which unsettled whatever order the Jesuits has established. The mission was under constant threat of Apache attacks, there were internal cultural clashes, and mission was under constant strain. After Mexican Independence, the Spanish were booted in 1828, but the mission kept going. In 1848, the Tumacácori mission, its church tower never finished, was abandoned for San Xavier del Bac. The abandoned mission slowly decayed, helped along by vandals carving their names, including John J. Pershing.

Today there is a nice museum, a very pleasant small garden, the incomplete church, mission ruins, an orchard, plenty of trees, and paths, including one to the Santa Cruz River, which provides water year-round. One of the booklets notes that the placename Arizona is a Basque phrase meaning "the good oak tree", thanks to a Spanish soldier who was a Basque.

It was a very pleasant couple of hours! I look forward to another visit.

Grocery Item Deathwatch

My local grocery store tends to quit selling products my wife and I like. We occasionally ask the store employees about this pattern, and they say the disappearance of even popular items is noted by both employees and customers alike. Here is our growing disappearance list:

  1. Marie Callender's Key Lime Pie: This disappeared from our grocery store for almost a year. The next closest grocery is a Safeway, which continued to sell it. Some weeks after complaining to a store manager, this item returned.
  1. Private Selection Black Bean and Corn Salsa: This delicious salsa was a slo-mo disappearance. It would disappear from the shelves, then return in a few weeks, but always in ever smaller quantities. In its stead appeared a new similar product with a name like Black Bean and Corn Salsa with Smoky Taste, which I bought by mistake, to my regret, as it was strongly reminiscent of bile. Since Private Selection is Kroger's own brand, I wrote them a letter, which yielded a
  1. Tillamook Cinnamon Horchata ice cream: The best ice cream we have ever eaten, such that I wrote the company a letter praising the flavor and asking that they make sure to keep selling it; the next week it was gone and my step-brother encountered a Tillamook stocker who said the company had terminated that flavor.
  1. Lundgren Butternut Squash Risotto: This tasty risotto is still sold by Lundgren's, but no longer stocked at our grocery.
  2. El Mexicano yogurt drinks, individual: These have been sold out and had their shelf size reduced, which suggests they are trending toward deletion. Our grocery never stocked the piña colada; our Walmart primarily stocks the piña colada and the strawberry, with occasional mango, so we'll buy them there.

Judging a Science Contest

On Wednesday the 27th, I volunteered as a judge for an 8th grace science contest at Imago Dei Middle School. There were three groups for whom my input was particularly important. One involved people's fear of robots, another involved human-powered electricity generation, and the last involved crown gall, a bacterial infection of plants. I also talked with two girls who did a presentation on aromatherapy (lavender and peppermint) and relaxation.

All the kids did a good job, and I enjoyed judging. It was interesting to see what the students put on their posters versus what they had to say about their projects.

This project, Your Own Electricity, was done by a group of three young men who went through five different generators in an attempt to charge a cellphone.

"Your Own Electricity" Science Project

This project, Crown Gall, was about a bacterial infection of plants and was a solo project. Unfortunately for the student, someone who had a collection of crown gall-infected roses never delivered them to her, so she wasn’t able to perform her experiments.

"Crown Gall" Science Contest

The final project, Robotics, mainly involved building and programming two kit robots, but the two young men who did this researched who fears their possible future robot overlords.

"Robotics" Science Contest

Everyone did a good job, but I regret that I didn't spend more time at others' presentations.

Election Day

This morning my wife and I arrived at the polls a bit after six. The room was already full, which made me happy and, as a foreign acquaintance once reminded me, thankful that I was able to vote. However, the best thing in the polling place was seeing only paper ballots, no electronic voting machines.

Boating Trip to Lake Powell

My friend and I decided to tow his boat from Tucson to Lake Powell a few weekends ago for a multi-day adventure. The trip was that, but instead of describing why, I will summarize what happened:

  1. Traffic accident.
  2. Departure delayed by hours for repairs.
  3. Seeing mountainside on fire north of Phoenix.
  4. Choking on smoke on the way up to Flagstaff.
  5. Sleeping in bed of truck just south of Flagstaff.
  6. Waking up in the cold.
  7. Hearing that two armed men had robbed the mini-mart within sight of where we camped.
  8. Driving through the vast Navajo Nation and is varied colors and landforms.
  9. Reaching Page and Glen Canyon Dam.
  10. Launching boat and finding recently repaired impeller has failed.
  11. Learning nobody in Page (and nowhere else) has the old impeller key.
  12. Talking our way out of a speeding ticket inside the National Park.
  13. Machining a key then relaunching to find engine runs about 40%.
  14. Boating to the other ramp 17 miles away then having the engine die for good.
  15. Using the 3hp backup motor that dies as well.
  16. Finding that I have no cell service at the ramp.
  17. Getting lift back to other ramp by park rangers.
  18. Returning to pull the boat but ending up riding out a storm at the dock during which time panicked people assault the dock to get their own boats out.
  19. My tent nearly blowing away in another storm.
  20. Waking up to find friend's boat had drifted away.
  21. While I scale nearby ridge, boat has electrical fire.
  22. Can't burn almost any of the gas we bought despite the 3hp have returned to life.
  23. Meeting 20-mile bumper-to-bumper traffic jam north of Phoenix.
  24. Taking crazy route through Prescott.
  25. Arriving at 10pm to unload boat.
  26. Finding trailer third wheel is trashed due to earlier accident, so we have to rip it apart to remove it.
  27. Returning home at midnight.
  28. Waking at 5 to go to work.

Panoramic View of Lake Powell, entering from Glen Canyon Dam

Lake Powell, across from Antelope Canyon Ramp, last night’s campsite

Cruising Lake Powell with a 3hp motor and Toša looking at waterfowl

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity

This morning I volunteered for a second day with Habitat for Humanity. We were supposed to paint the outside of a house to which we applied primer two weeks ago; however, it was raining—brief lightning, too—so we wound up working on the interior. The future Habitat homeowners putting in their required hours mainly worked on painting the doors. I wound up doing much caulking of baseboards and shelves, but I also sawed some boards to become shelves and secured shelves with a nail gun. Good stuff!

Helping people build homes is enjoyable, and it also gives exposure to a number of tools, methods, and people. The Tucson branch doesn't have any volunteering during July, because it is too hot. If more openings come up, I will volunteer again later this year.

Memorial Day Weekend on Saguaro Lake

My friend and I towed his boat up to Saguaro Lake this Thursday. We quickly found that the work he had had done was inadequate: Every time we turned off the engine or ran at near-idle speed for more than a few minutes, one cylinder would quit firing. Thankfully we had multiple spares, so we could rotate through them and generally maintain performance.

But the throttle linkage seemed wonky as well, with irregular fluctuations, one of which tossed me backward from the bow. My rear still hurts from that fall.

Our first night was spent camping on a floating dock without cleats about midway to the dam at the opposite end of the lake. Early Friday morning I woke to feel four steps on my chest followed by a flop flop of wings right by my ear. Some largish bird had used me as a runway. Shortly thereafter we pulled over to the secured dock to check out the campground, which was very nice: at least twenty sites, ample shade trees, and a toilet. But someone else had set up their boat in preparation for a horde of revelers that would arrive throughout the day.

After cruising up and down the lake and refueling, we met my father and step-mother for Fish Friday at the marina's restaurant. Not bad at all! But when we returned to the campground dock, there was barely an opening. We managed to squeeze in, which brought some people convinced our boat was going to bump into theirs. We apparently defused the tension, but probably the revelers' drinking helped them forget all about us. They cranked music until midnight, but the Mr. Microphone sessions thankfully ended around 10. Few had expected the night temps to drop into the 50s, so there was a late-night exodus back to the marina and onward to homes and hotels.

Saturday was a repeat at the campsite, with even more boats tied three abreast. This time, however, people were prepared for the cold. During the day, a Phoenix friend came and we drove him up to the dam. On the way back, we stopped at a party beach where we met, unexpectedly, another Tucson acquaintance. Drinks in buggies had driven overland to the beach, and one poor guy managed to roll his on the beach. People got together to right it, only to find his head gashed badly. Thankfully another boater and hockey enthusiast had superglue on hand, which was used in lieu of stitches. On our way back to the marina, we saw the State Patrol boat stop at least one boat for unknown transgressions.

Sunday morning we decided to call it quits, but we had learned it will be worth going up for the campground on non-holiday weekends.

Atop Pikacho Peak

On Sunday some friends and I decided to go up Pikacho Peak, a peak that stands alone along Interstate 10 and is notably tall with sheer faces. When driving past it on your way between Tucson and Phoenix, you can't miss it. It is now an Arizona State Park. But you might wonder what it looks like from the top, and whether anyone can get up there.

We started about 8:45, later than we wanted but fortunate on an oddly chilly morning. The lady at the entrance collected our $7 fees and reminded us to wear hiking boots and carry two or three liters of water. I went with Chuck Taylor high top sneakers and six liters.

The start seemed not too worrying but soon it was uphill and the water began to weigh.

Once we got to the base, the wheezing and pounding hearts stopped. Things levelled off for a while, but we were soon near edges, seeking footholds and toeholds, and pulling ourselves up on steel cables.

The pictures that can do the most challenging parts of the ascent justice are those where you least want to free a hand or set down a backpack to fetch a camera or phone.

The climb took almost two hours for me, although others in better shape clearly go up in less time. Near the top, you might be pleased to note you are higher than most of the birds living on the peak fly at. There is some satisfaction in looking at hawks from on high.

There are actually two peaks, the shorter of which was far less crowded. Regardless of the peak, you can see entire trains, areas watered and not, and more.

The return was not the knee killer I had feared. However, it was turning almost crowded with all the people coming up. We had to stop in places to let others pass including some older people with what looked like ski poles and a surprising number of foreigners. There were also pairs of young people carrying no water whatsoever. They were not going to be very comfortable. I ended up drinking about two liters, but I should have drunk more.

Sure enough, I wound up with two blisters on my toes, but my shoes are now broken in for the next excursion.

The next day my calves were very stiff, but it was well worth it. That said, I don't know whether I will be in a rush to go up Pikacho Peak again.