Monthly Archives: April 2017

Leaving Texas with a wonder gift

An important new gift for our new houstOur very good friend Al stayed up very late on Thursday night before we left and built us one of his beautiful, custom birdhouse. It has TON of features:

  • The rock face on the front of the house matches the chimney on the back of the house
  • Hand sawn cedar roof
  • Aluminum roof underlayment (for better protection from the precipitation
  • Trap door at the bottom for ease of cleaning
  • Contoured roof
  • Hang-ability

Lorena and I have an excellent pair of binoculars to watch birds (big fans of the cardinals in North Carolina) and we both come from generations of bird-watching families. We always put up a bird house shortly after we move to a new place along with a humming bird feeder or two, so this is the perfect gift for us. That Al made it himself is icing on the cake. I will have a place of prominence on our back porch or in a hanger down in the yard–Lorena and I are negotiating that between each other right now.

Thank you Al and Jill (for letting him stay up late to finish this!).

The saddest part of taking leave from Texas

Gifts from our Wednesday night meetingIt is hard to overstate the importance of the little home church with whom we met every Sunday morning for worship and every Wednesday evening for Bible study. The Wednesday meeting was a little smaller with a group 9-10 regulars; the others from Sunday go to a different Bible study. Wednesdays, we meet at our little apartment every other week while another couple, Gary and Debbie, had it at their house the rest of the time. Which ever place we met, everyone would stick around after the study, sometimes and hour and even more, just to talk and be together.

This Sunday we had an incredible going away potluck (those Texas church potlucks are really something) at the Al and Jill’s home where we meet on Sunday mornings. Last night we might at Gary and Debbie’s place for our last regular Bible study meeting. Gary and I are both fanatical fansGary and Debbie's table of Angel Food cake, so Debbie made one for us and Jill made her mother-in-law’s famous caramel topping. We all shared this same beautiful table for an evening after meeting when Grandma Conchita and remember that night fondly.

THEN, they gave us gifts–a beautiful photograph (from Gary’s Nikon) of the group the meets on Sunday, a great little saying board, “FRIEND–Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart,” a huge box of the special, low calorie popcorn introduced to us by Debbie (I doubt if it makes it all the way to Washington) and a HUGE box of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Cherry Tango chocolate squares (we love them, but could never find them anywhere–we honestly think Debbie was buying and hoarding them all to give to us–we are grateful and doubt they will make it all the way to Washington either).

This group of people is family to us in the very best sense of the word. Of all that took place during our time in Texas, our meetings with these people will be what we remember and cherish the most.

Tio Lauro el artista

Update: For anyone who wants to hear the interview, you can listen to it here.

Lauro art #3
Lorena’s oldest brother, Lauro, has attracted quite a following in social media to the point where he is being interviewed on Internet radio and invited to art exhibits in Europe, Mexico and the United States. Tonight he was interviewed here. He has been recognized for his art in Italy, France, the United States and Mexico. He is very much influenced by the impressionists. His web page is here. His facebook is here. His instagram is here.
Lauro art #1

Lorena rowing: Almost there (12km in 60:25)

Lorena just about made it. 12,000 meters in 60 minutes (and 25 seconds)Lorena is so close she can taste it. Three days per week on the Concept 2 Rowing Machine and another couple of days, hard on the elliptical. Her goal is to row 12,000 meters in less than an hour. She is only 25 seconds from that goal, but today (well, she might take one more shot on Thursday, but we are not talking about that) was her last scheduled rowing day in Texas. Of course she will take it up again when she gets to Centralia. One of the reasons we picked the place we picked is the Anytime Fitness right down the road from our new (to us) house. Lorena has been amazingly consistent over the last seven years or so with the last two years focused on the rowing machine. She has shamed me into agreeing to up my game when we get to Washington.

How we celebrate in Texas

It does not get much better than this. Our friends, Phil D. and Eric P. went to our Sunday morning church meeting this meeting. Afterward, out little home church had a going away party for us. I can not tell you how much we appreciate and love these people. We have met with them only for a year, but it has been a joy. The party was Mexican themed and, boy howdy, they know how to do it. Here are a few pictures to give you a flavor of how it went. Please note that the last picture was absolutely a result of the first two.

Mexican food at our going away party
Exhibit A

Virgin margaritas at our going away party
Exhibit B

Sleeping it off with Kiwi
Exhibit C

Cheap cameras used for unintended purposes

Cheapy USB camerasI will have one more work week in Texas after today. I enjoy my job and the people where I work a lot and it was agonizing to turn in my notice. Part of the job I love the most is the requirement to create sophisticated machine vision and video analytics applications with cheap USB cameras and ARM embedded computers that run embedded Linux, usually Debian. We prototype a lot of the stuff on Raspberry Pi’s which is great because there is such a big user community it is easy to quickly get answers about just about anything. There are four cameras in the article accompanying this post that range in value between $20 and $50.

All of the cameras work just fine right out of the box for the purpose for which they were design–that is generally streaming video with camera controlling the capture gain and offset. Conversely, it reduces the repeatability and precision of most machine vision application if the offset, gain and lighting controls are not managed by the application. So, it has been part of my job to dive into the driver code far enough to figure out how to set the registers that need to be set to control cheap cameras well enough to work in accord with the stringent requirements of many machine vision applications. That takes a lot of patience and, although it is not exactly rocket science, it is very rewarding when the last piece of minutiae is chased down and the stuffs starts working.

One thing I have learned is that this “big data” thing is here to stay, at least in my world of machine vision, embedded computing and video analytics. There are tons of things you can almost do deterministically that become tractable when enough data and machine learning are thrown at them. I am loving working with Weka and R and the machine learning functionality in the OpenCV library because they open up new vistas, not to mention I can more frequently say, “I think I can do that” and not squint my eyes and wonder whether I am lying.

Kitchen remodel: Sanding the old hardwood floor

The installation of the hardwood floor was completed yesterday. You can see the pictures here and if you notice in both pictures, just to the left of the newly installed floor is the old floor with somewhat of a yellow tint to it. Those old floors are being sanded today so when the new Swedish finish goes down, the floor in the middle of the living room will have the same look as the floor in the kitchen. We think it looks great now. There is more work on the floor today, but as soon as that is complete, other work will start and the final floor finish will go down at the very end.
Sanded hardwood floor, almost ready for the Swedish finish to go down

Kitchen remodel: Unfinished living room hardwood floor

Unfinished hardwood floor in living room #0The installation of the floor in the living room was completed today. Notice the Brazilian Cherry from around the red oak center. The red oak, actually is the same as the previously installed floor you can see at the left (bottom) edge of the image. Because the old floor still has its finish on it it has a yellowish, shiny cast. The next step is to sand away the finish from the previously installed floor so that when the new finish is put down, all of the red oak parts will appear the same. Mark mentioned (even though we think it is beautiful already) that there will be a much more striking appearance when the whole floor is finished. We are really looking forward to that.

The view below is the view from the entry to the house. Lorena and I both noted that it is a small room, but made much bigger because it is wide open to the dining room and kitchen. Well, that and the spectacular view out the windows to Mount Rainer.

Unfinished hardwood floor in living room #1

Easter dinner with friends in Texas

Easter with CK, Joy, Sophia, Olivia, Phil D. and Eric P.Most of the West (Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and California) as well as Florida, Minnesota and Nuevo Leon were well represented at the nicest Easter dinner we have attended in many a year. The highlight, of course, was two beautiful, well-behaved young girls in their Easter dresses. It was so nice to have Eric P. with us again and our amazing and insightful friend, Phil D. was with us, too, so it could not help be make for a stellar afternoon. We had ham, scalloped potatoes, tons of other fixings and sat around the table for at least an hour after we finished evening with coffee and a 43-step, hand made cake. It really does not get much better than that. Now Lorena and I have something to which to aspire when Easter comes around next year. Look how satisfied Eric looks after that phenomenal meal. Then, to top it off we were serenaded with guitar music (CK and Eric are both pretty amazing in that regard). Thank you CK, Joy, Sophia and Olivia for the best Easter dinner in a long, long time.

Tulips in the Pacific Northwest (and pretty girls)

Flowers in Washington with a pretty girlMore flowers in WashingtonI am trying to to show a more humble side to myself and I guess it is true I had nothing to do with the beauty of the flowers in the Pacific Northwest, but right now I am struggling a little. I have very much enjoyed the bluebonnet season here in Texas because they truly are beautiful. That being said, it got a little bit wrecked for me after seeing the insanely beautiful pictures of the tulip fields in Washington state and also knowing those fields pale in comparison to our own beloved tulip fields in Flowers in Washington with anther pretty girlOregon–Woodburn in particular. It just does not do this field of flowers justice to look at the pictures. You kind of have to be there–one of those Grand Canyon/Crater Lake kinds of things where you give lip service to acknowledging the grandeur of it and kind of roll your eyes when no one is looking. Then you see the real thing, up close and personal and becomes very much a religious experience.
Stunning red tulips--Washington

Kitchen remodel: Lights and hardwood floor install

Installing the kitchen lightsThere were quite a few parallel efforts going on yesterday at the remodel. The old window to the covered patio was removed and a door frame was put in its place. The electrician placed fifteen can lights in the ceiling on three switches to give us the bright kitchen we wanted. The hardwood floor work continued.Installing the living room hardwood floor The picture at the top left is of the electrician placing the lights. The last big image at the bottom of the post is how the kitchen appears with all the lights on. The fellow waving the axe in the living room is the same hardwood floor guy who did such a stellar job for us on the hardwood floor in Albany. The other picture of the hardwood floor shows the yellowish color (that Mark promises will go away) of the current floor against the darker color of the unfinished Brazilian Cherry that frames the living room floor to create the demarcation of Old hardwood floor vs. new hardwood floor accect in living roomthe living room from the kitchen. Next week, the feverish work pace will continue, but there will not be much to see because it mostly involves infrastructure (and maybe roof) work along with the sanding of the hardwood floor. The week after that, installation of the cabinets and the appliances will start. It is nice to have people staying in the house and others stopping by during the whole process to make sure  everything is secure and to take pictures. We should arrive just about the time the cabinets and appliances are all installed, but will be without counter-tops because it takes two weeks from the time the cabinets are installed for the granite people to come the house to make measurements, then prepare and install the granite.15 ceiling lights on three switches in kitchen

Texas bluebonnets

Texas bluebonnets--April, 2017

Being from the Pacific Northwest, we have fairly high expectations when it comes to wildflowers. Our dear friend Marie Mounce sent this bluebonnet picture she took about a week ago. The exceptional quality of this years bluebonnet crop is the talk of North Texas and I have to admit they truly are beautiful and abundant. There are fields and fields of them just about everywhere. We understand now why the bluebonnet is the Texas State Flower.

Kitchen remodel: Replacing a window with a door

Current kitchen window from inside Current kitchen window from outside

Mark started in on replacing the kitchen window that looks out on a small, covered patio with a door. The window is at the opposite end of the kitchen from the windows that look at Mount Rainier. The reason for this is that we figured this patio would be a perfect place to put a gas grill. Lorena cooks on a gas grill all year long. The deck with the view at the back of the house is not currently covered. As the house is now, to get to the little patio you have to go through two doors–one into the laundry room and a second out onto the patio. With a glass door, we will not only be able to easily get from the kitchen to the cooking patio, but we will be able to see out their very well, too–at least that is the concept.

Update:

Here is the new door frame with the window now GONE!

Kitchen remodel: Electrical gets started

Tearing down the walls to adjust and augment the electricalYesterday, Mark brought in his electrician who removed most of the drywall in the kitchen to adjust and augment the electrical infrastructure. The found the control panel for the telephone wiring. Normally we would not be interested in that at all because we have not had a land line for over a decade. Sadly, though, cable internet is not available in our neighborhood. That means we need to get DSL because I have to have pretty fast internet to be able to do my work from home. In the past, DSL generally did not mean anything really great, but I have not used it for so long that I am not sure of it current capability. The company that provides it came out and checked it before we bought the house and assured me I can reliably get the needed speeds. The electrician will wire it so we can put a wireless router by the DSL modem and hardwire the upstairs for second router to give good wireless connectivity through the whole house.

More kitchen electrical workUpdate:

Mark sent along another picture of the continuing electrical work, but also of the work that is being done on the floor in the living room. In this shot, about half of the underlayment is now in place. I understand the hardwood floor will start covering that later today or tomorrow morning. In the picture below you can see some of what someone standing at the kitchen sink will see. The best part, though, is to the left and out of the picture. It is the view of the city down the low with Mount Rainier rising above it. The new floor is scheduled to be installed and the finish removed from the rest of the hardwood floor that is already there followed by a good sanding of the whole thing. The Swedish finish will not go down until everything else is complete so we are probably about a month away from that.

View from the kitchen sink with new floor underlayment going in

Kitchen remodel: Starting on plumbing, gas, and the floor

Roughing in the kitchen plumbingMark kicked off a lot more work today on the kitchen. He found a place to position the propane tank, roughed in the plumbing for the kitchen and got the hardwood floor guy going. Tomorrow, the electrician will start. I think there must be two phases of these things. My sense is that their is additional electrical and plumbing things to do after the cabinets are in and to prepare for the appliances. Mark said the final Swedish finish goes on the floor at the very end so the only thing that happens right now is the installation of the living room floor and the sanding that needs to be done. I am wondering when the window in this photo is removed and replaced with a door.  All that, I think, has to be completed before the cabinets can be installed.

In the meantime, there Wind blows over cedar tree in Centraliawas a wind storm in Centralia that blew over a tree that might or might not (maybe Bob and Gena have an opinion–they sent us the picture) on our property. The trees are dense enough there that probably most of the trees close to our property are somewhat protected.

Apartment living is a good thing

The back yard in the spring (Centralia)Life and home ownership west of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest generally involves a lot of lawn mowing. That is particularly true of the Willamette Valley where the climate is perfect for growing grass and the topsoil is generally around 200 feet deep. From the picture Bob and Gena sent us of the back yard, it appears Centralia is pretty prime lawn growing territory, too. So, today, I get to start calling lawn services to try to figure out how to keep the long whacked down. If I am fortunate, I will find one who I can just keep on the job.

We had company for a lot of the weekend this weekend. It dawned on us that it is a lot easier to get a small apartment ready for visitors than a big house. There are lots of trade-offs and we are ready to end our apartment living stint, but to say that we do not enjoy it would be wrong. There are no lawns to cut, way fewer utility bills, maintenance is just a phone call away, etc., etc. We are half-way through the process of lining up all our services (lawn, propane, electricity, water, internet, etc.) and it is returning to us that we have quite a bit of joy ahead of us with respect to those normal upkeep chores associated with the American dream of owning a house.

Lunch with friends, all weekend long

Eric P. for lunch after church on SundayCousin Trisha, the government school teacher, heaped abuse on me for writing so much about the one true taco shop in Lewisville, Texas. I think it is because she is feeling either envious or guilty, but, in the spirit of living up to her unfounded accusations (unfounded because there is no way one can give too many accolades to the one true taco shop in Lewisville, TX), we went there twice this weekend with eight new people who had never been there before. Unbelievably, EVERYONE ate carne asada tacos and a fresh churro for dessert. We felt NO guilt whatsoever. In fact, we truly believed we enriched ALL of these peoples’ lives.

The picture to the left is our dear friend Eric P. Notice the smile on his face. He had just finished eating those tacos. We are wildly grateful for his visit and for the one from the Chet, Kayleen and Malia yesterday, not only because of the tacos, but because it was just great to be with them all again. It was so good, we reserved the place for a “going to Washington” party in a couple of weeks.

Lorena and cultural enrichment

Lorena at Anytime Fitness in Lewisville, TXWe had dear friends over for dinner last night. Whenever that happens Lorena instigates a conversation in person or on the phone that takes almost exactly the same form every time. It happened again yesterday. I love this.

I was sitting at my desk in my office in Lewisville programming and the phone rings.

I pick up and Lorena asks me “Should I do A or should I do B?” about some cooking thing.

So I ask, “What do you think would be best?”

She says, “A.”

I say, “Ok, do A.”

She says “Ok! Thanks!” and hangs up.

Some time in the following day or two she will say something to the effect that it is really good that I tell her what to cook because she can never think of the right thing.

The dinner, as always, was brilliant. Lorena talked the people down at the one true taco shop in Lewisville, Texas into giving her a couple dozen of their very thin corn tortillas when, in reality, they don’t sell tortillas. They sell tacos. But she has that Mexican Mafia thing going and is comadre with the owner of the shop. She grilled sirloin steak in strips, onions and chile morron, made her hand made salsa, sliced up avocado and mango, chopped some raw onions and cilantro, etc.

Today, she is down at the gym working off all those extra calories while I sit and type (writing this blog post and programming on the sickle cell disease project). Don’t ever try to tell me I didn’t hit the lottery when I married her.

The one true best Chinese food take-out

The one true Chinese food restaurant in Lewisville, TXRight after Lorena and I got married, we lived in a condo in Boynton Beach, Florida so I could work on machine vision systems at Motorola’s now-extinct pager manufacturing facility there. Lorena had really not eaten a lot of Chinese food growing up in Monterrey, Mexico–why would she when she lives in the Mecca of all great Mexican food (I know that is a religious discussion). Nevertheless, even though there was pretty good Mexican food in Florida, it did not rise to the level of that available in Monterrey. So, every now and then, when I got a yearning for Chinese food, Lorena would grudgingly indulge me and go to one after another of a string of truly mediocre Chinese food restaurants (mostly buffets of relatively bland offerings in the retirement haven that is South Florida). She convinced herself that she really did not like Chinese food. I cannot say I can blame her given the fare.

That all changed when we saw a Chinese food drive-through place on the side of one of the main thorough-fares that had once been a Checkers hamburger place. It was drive-through only with no place to sit and eat. I remember it was not situated so well–if we did not go there in the F150 pickup, we had to get out of the car because the window was out of reach of our SHO Taurus sedan. That changed everything. They made the food as spicy (hot) as she wanted, the vegetables were fresh and the place was clean. From then on, we went there once per week until we left South Florida. We searched in vain for something that equaled that Chinese food in Oregon, Texas, North Carolina and just about everywhere in-between. We were unable to find anything like it until I walked by it on my way to work one day. The place we found is called the Rice Pot Express, located on the State Highway 121 Bypass and, in our opinion, fits into that category of food so good we believe (for us anyway), it is the one true best Chinese food take-out restaurant. Of course it is run by some really nice Korean people with Mexican cooks. Just like when we were able to find the one true best Mexican taco shop in Lewisville, this one is going to make us even sadder to be leaving Texas.