Sunday, March 30, 2008


Another ETRA just wrapped up. This was the 5th since 2000 and it seems to be getting better every time, even though attendance (~100) and paper submissions (~45) may have plateaued. The quality of the papers has improved a great deal over the years, however. There are a number of very bright grad students responsible for this, so I'm hopeful that they'll continue with eye tracking and keep the momentum going. The cover pic shows just one example of this work, in this case the development of a one-point calibration technique for gaze tracking of infants. Infants are particularly troublesome eye tracking subjects since their attention span for staring at calibration dots is quite short.

Of course it's not all work. Conference attendees require nourishment, and as is typical, large groups often form to go off in search of sustenance. This can be problematic with reservations, however, requiring the group to wander from place to place in search of open table space. I think restaurants refer to this as "getting slammed" when a group of 20 people manage to get in through the door. The first night (pic at left) we finally found a pub with enough space to sit us all. Outside. And it was cold. The waitress just managed to clear out a group of 15 or so people when we showed up. Eventually we all got our food (good stuff too) and finished off our meals in our coats. The next night we got smart and called ahead. Oleg, the guy across from me, called in reservations and found us an excellent place for dinner. He also got us a good place the next night, where a live band played after dinner. I could have stayed in Savannah Saturday night, but I was by then too tired and wanted to get the 5 hr drive home overwith. I am now "decompressing" on the couch after a quiet, long night's sleep. Saturday we're off to Florence!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On to ETRA

Turns out the octogenarian's little tap on the beamer was more serious than it appeared. In fact, because his bumper first hit my wheel, the impact bent the entire shock/strut assembly. Result: after three months' anticipation ("three months!"—homage to Point Break, one of my favorite Keanu movies), the beamer was deemed undrivable forcing me to make the 5 hr drive down to Savannah in a rental. And what a rental! A Kia Optima. Not very comfortable, not clean (you can't see it in the picture but the windshield was filthy), and it smells! Economy class, essentially :) To be fair, the octogenarian's insurance company meant well and paid for a rental model comparable to the beamer sitting in the shop, but unfortunately no comparable model could be found (on such short notice). So I shlepped it along in this goofy thing all the way down to the coast. Maybe it was just as well; I took the side roads, rife with slow speed zones, at which, naturally, many cop cars can often be found. Anyway, after an uneventful drive I made it in time for dinner with friends. This morning we're off and running with the conference goings on. So far so good!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sailing

While out shopping yesterday we had stopped by West Marine to pick up some new cordage (double-braided nylon, my favorite :) Just a few short snippets to replace a few short lines on the boat. One of the more problematic items was the rudder lanyard. The old line was so worn that it would not properly set in the jam cleat (holding up the rudder when in the slip; sorry, I didn't take a picture of this so it might be hard to explain). I think that old lanyard was also too thin for the cleat. I used 5/16 line to replace it and this now provides sufficient leverage to allow me to lift up the entire rudder out of the water. In addition, we replaced the tiller tamer line (holds the tiller in place when in the slip) and the boom vang line. Everything now matches and looks really nice—much nicer than that old graying, degenerating stuff that was there before.

After all that "cutting and splicing" (2 hrs worth), we went out sailing. There was supposed to be no wind (NOAA forecasted 3-7 mph wind). So I had prepared the asymmetric spinnaker to see if we could get a hang of hoisting and sailing that large piece of fabric. However, the latter half of the cold front brought with it some more wind. Yesterday it was blowing 15-20 mph (Beaufort force 4-5), gusting to 30 (force 7) so we decided to go shopping instead. Today, it climbed from 5 mph (variable at 14:00) to about 10 mph (3 Beaufort), gusting to 16-20 mph (4-5 Beaufort) by 16:00 when we decided to head in. We never did get the spinnaker hoisted, but we had an excellent Easter's day sailing nonetheless. You can see the spinnaker bag on the bow in the video clip.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Unlucky Anderson

This is the second time the car gets dinged in Anderson. This time it's not the firebird but the beamer. Not at the movie theaters but at Sam's Club. An older gentleman, a retiree (to put it mildly; I have other terms but will refrain from using them) backed up in to the passenger side front quarter panel. We were just leaving, backed up from our parking stall into the lane, when this guy backs up his Ford Explorer pickup right into the beamer. They were in a hurry, trying to get back to their church for some kind of Easter egg hunt thing. He told us he had only looked right and didn't see us in the lane before backing up. Well, maybe a minor thing, but we had to wait for the cops to show up to write up the report. Unfortunately, he managed to bang me right in the seam between the front quarter panel and the front panel, possibly knicking the wheel. Now the gap between the panel and hood on the passenger's side and the driver's side differs, and the steering seems a bit off (alignment?). Hopefully they'll fix it back to it's three-month old shape. What a bummer! And just two days before heading down to Savannah...sheesh...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lazy day on the lake

After we got back from Reno we picked up the cats, who got back into the routine pretty quickly. Out every morning, then back inside for a snack in the afternoon. Now with daylight savings time, they go back out after their treats, but usually they just hang around the yard or the deck. If there's time before dinner we take them out for a forest walk. They're usually pretty excited about that.

This weekend we went out sailing on the lake. Not much wind, only 6 mph, so it was a lazy couple of hours. Still nice, though. Even with this light wind we managed to circle around the sailing club's race circuit to find new potential arms of the lake to investigate when the winds are better. This year we might have to stay on Lake Keowee if Lake Hartwell's water level remains as low as it is. So we're on the lookout for good places to anchor the sailboat on local beaches so that we can go for a swim in the summer months.

After sailing Corey wanted to get some yardwork done. I think she had time enough to clear out another region of the yard of fall's debris, while I drove in another truckload of mulch. There's more stuff to do in the yard, and more mulch to get. I'll try to get more mulch Monday. Then Tuesday I get to play with a new band—a metal band this time, when we'll try to play some of the harder hits of the 80s as well as more recent stuff. Should be fun!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Squaw Valley USA

Reno is just an hour's bus ride from several ski hills surrounding Lake Tahoe. I remembered Squaw Valley from one of Warren Miller's movies (it is also famous for hosting the 1960 Olympic winter games), and so chose it as the destination of our 2008 spring skiing excursion. My favorite run was the Woman's Downhill, a pretty steep dropoff into a slightly narrowed neck off peak KT-22, accessible via the KT-22 Express chairlift. KT-22 is one of five peaks on the mountain (second from the left in the pic below).

Eventually, we skiied all five peaks, usually starting out by taking the Gold Coast Funitel gondola to the station up at 8200′ elevation just between Squaw Peak and Emigrant. I found Granite Chief and Emigrant good peaks to ski in the morning, as their runs were more sheltered than Squaw Peak's. They were also a bit more woodsy, reminding me somewhat of Whistler's Blue chair. In fact, I think the Granite Chief lift line looked somewhat similar to the Blue chair's. The stuff between Emigrant and Squaw Peak was mainly composed of bunny hills situated close to the ski school. On the second day we skied the Shirley Lake Express, then Solitude (which was empty!), then Granite Chief, before an early lunch at the ski school. On a typical day, I'd probably consider skiing all the way down to the gondola before skiing Squaw Peak, thus making our way from peak to peak, right to left on the map.

Just like at Telluride a couple of years ago, we got pretty lucky with the crowds: Squaw was fairly empty. At one point we had the gondola all to ourselves. Except for a couple of brief points during each of our two days, the weather was very good (mostly sunny). They sky was fully overcast for only two brief moments, making visibility rather flat. But beyond that it was sunny and warm. Maybe that was the problem: in the day the sun would soften up the snow, only for it to freeze overnight. This would create somewhat icy conditions. Not the best snow I've skiied, but the terrain and lack of crowds more than made up for it. As did the views. Lake Tahoe was clearly visible from the top. From the bottom, we got a nice view of the mountain and the cable car, reminiscent of Grouse Mountain's.

This year marks a couple of firsts for us.

  1. Since we were skiing only two days we decided to rent equipment instead of hauling our own. This worked out quite well. Similar to the time when my brother took me skiing at Big Bear, I opted for the performance package and got a pair of Volkls. Although I used to ski on a pair of straight 207s, they put me on a pair of 177 AC40 Unlimited Carbon shape skis. They seemed rather short, but afforded a fairly aggressive (for me) stance: I felt the skiis performed better when I really leaned far forward over the front of the bindings. Renting equipment, although more expensive than bringing your own, frees you from having to lug heavy gear around, and gives you an opportunity to try the latest and greatest. So it has its advantages. I think we might do it again when we next go skiing (Spring Break '09 perhaps?).
  2. The other new thing for me was the use of the iPod Shuffle, generation 2. Look closely at the pic in the gondola: see that little silver postage-sized button I'm wearing on my left front pocket? That's it! Gone (for good!) are the days of the oversized, heavy tape walkman that we had to have a special harness designed for. The shuffle weighs next to nothing, clips nicely, and if worn externally has pretty simple controls for pausing playback. It even survived a wipeout when I dumped it at the end of the second day. And with 1 GB capacity (and they just came out with a 2 GB model), no more changing tapes! Not to mention that I have a much larger playlist than the 30 or so songs that a tape would hold. I really liked having this little bitty piece of equipment this year.

As with all good things, this year's ski outing had to come to an end. Two days was a little short; I think a good length would be four days skiing with a day's break in the middle. On the way home we lucked out and got bumped up into first class for the leg from Reno to Houston. A very pleasant flight: those extra-wide seats are really comfy. The food's better as well. The only thing that didn't work very well was the sound. Corey's fiddling with an earphone adapter that one really shouldn't need these days, but this plane still had those old two-pronged headphone jacks. Hopefully we'll get a slightly younger plane when we fly off to Italy in just three short weeks.

The Biggest LIttle City

Reno: a retro mini-Las Vegas...or a rubby Las Vegas as Corey called it, ha ha :) Reno itself isn't all that impressive. Once you've been inside one casino, you've pretty much seen them all, in my opinion, anyway. No matter how much they try to glam it up, it's the same stuff: slots, blackjack, craps, etc. There are those who think certain slots pay out more than others (you know who you are :) but in reality the machines are all rigged the same way (in the casino's favor of course) but with different facades. So when we gamble, we know it's purely for entertainment and not for profit. We thus spent $100 on craps (got a couple of "free" beers that way :) and about $1 on slots—yes, they have penny slots at Reno! At one point we had actually doubled our money (to $2!) but then promptly lost those winnings. It was somewhat disappointing to find that the slots no longer drop coins out into the tray beneath the spinning tumblers. Now it's just a cheap soundtrack and all you get is a paper ticket with a bar code. Lame.

To be fair, however, Reno has more to offer than just casinos. It has its more outdoorsy attractions as well. When out walking about town, we came across the Truckee River. I don't know when this river really fills up, but it looks like it has potential for some kayaking/tubing. And in fact we saw a group of kayakers practicing their dunking skills, for lack of the proper term to describe the maneuver they were performing. Previously unbeknownst to me, Reno is also close to Lake Tahoe, which is surrounded by several fairly well known ski hills. More on that later...

Besides sports and gambling, we also found a decent western wear store that we cabbed it to one day. I wanted to replace my old Luccchese cowboy boots and I found a store that carried them. My old Lucchese boots (Classics model 3630) from Cavender's in College Station, now about 10 years old, fit like a glove, but I've since worn them out. I had another pair of Tony Lamas and Justins (if I remember correctly) that I bought locally. None of them seem to fit me as well as Lucchese. The store in Reno had a good selection and the (Lucchese 2000 model T3302) black cherry boots I wanted (and am now wearing, as in the pic) were on sale (priced down to about $119 from $269!). Corey found a pair of cool-looking Lucchese Charlie 1 Horse slip-on shoe boots for herself and I also picked up a pair of Durangos as a new pair of Harley riding boots. Armed with a 20% coupon from our hotel, the Silver Legacy, we ended up saving $100—about the same amount we dropped on craps, so I kinda figure we broke even!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Off to Reno

The cats got packed up and carted off to Miss Kitty's, their home away from home. Sidney ran up to the window and seemed to settle right in. Harley, on the other hand, was not happy. Hissing and swatting, she didn't want to stay in the room. Sometimes she goes in without a fuss, this time she wasn't quite as happy to do so.

Besides the cats, the other living things that need to be taken care of when we leave are the indoor plants and Corey's new seedlings. She's got peppers, tomatoes, and something else started in the greenhouse. The biggest problem of course is water delivery while we're away. I think this time around since we're away for a relatively short time, Corey just gave all the plants a lot of water that should last them for a couple of days. For longer trips she might set up a timed drip system that she tried out last year. It seemed to work pretty well so she might use it when we go to Italy in a few weeks.

We got to Reno late Friday night, around 1am after a 2 hr delay in Houston. I was a bit ticked about that since we missed the free shuttle to the hotel and had to grab a cab. But better late than never I suppose. A short night's sleep, then it was up early the next day to get to the conference I'm attending. After the conference we walked around Reno a bit, had dinner, then hit the craps table. This morning up once again for the final day of the symposium. Later today I think we'll check out the mall, then tonight dinner and who knows. Maybe we'll try our luck again at the craps table or something else, we'll see.