Nice Hotel

My view

My view

My recent business trip took me to Nice, France and Monte Carlo, Monaco.  I know it’s hard to feel bad for someone who just went to the French Riviera, but I’d like to point out a few facts that make me sympathy worthy:

  1. I arrived Monday morning and departed Thursday morning after 2 hard days of work,
  2. I stayed in Nice, but the conference was in Monaco, resulting in a 1 ½ hour bus ride from hell during rush hour traffic on Tuesday morning,
  3. Pat couldn’t come with me
  4. Tisen couldn’t come with me
  5. I spent 40 hours traveling in exchange for 72 hours on the French Riviera.
OK, so it's a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

OK, so it’s a King-sized bed, but check out the carpet

If that’s not enough, let’s talk about my hotel room.  First, I had a sense of deja-vu when I arrived at my hotel.  I didn’t remember where I stayed the last time I was in Nice (in May of 2006), but when I walked into the lobby, I was pretty sure it was the same hotel with an updated decor.

These chairs were "updated" with orange slip covers looking like they're in desperate need of a cleaning

These chairs were “updated” with orange slip covers looking like they’re in desperate need of a cleaning

Unfortunately, the updated decor stopped at the lobby.  I had to chuckle at the orange shag carpet and matching accessories in my room.  I did not, however, chuckle at the tiny little room with a toilet, and only a toilet, in it.  Fortunately, I discovered a bath tub and sink in a separate room opposite the toilet room.

I tried hard to remember whether the toilet was separate from the bath and sink the last time I was in France.  I never did manage to come up with that memory, but everyone I talked to had the same arrangement no matter what hotel they were in, so I guess it’s a French thing.

Now I understand why some people call it a "water closet"

Now I understand why some people call it a “water closet”

The view from my room left something to be desired.  From the window, I could see the back of 3 surrounding buildings and the shed for the trash bins for my hotel.  This is not the kind of view one hopes for when staying on the French Riviera.  Especially not when one read that the hotel in question was a 4-star hotel.  I suspect the person who awarded the 4 stars was the owner’s mother.

I don’t mean to complain.  After all, it was a trip to the French Riviera that I didn’t have to pay for.  But no matter how glamorous it sounds to say “I’m going to the French Riviera,” the reality was far from glamorous.

One last look at the view from my window

One last look at the view from my window

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Dead Animals

This little guy might have been less startling had his back half not been missing

This little guy might have been less startling had his back half not been missing

After a long lack of business trips, I spent most the week in Nashville at a conference.  It’s rather ironic that the conference was in Nashville–only a 2 hour drive from home.  Because I was there to present at a “pre-conference” session, I had to arrive on Sunday.  Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one.

A group of us congregated in the center of the Opryland Resort, trying to decide where to have dinner.  Since the probability of leaving the resort decreased with each day we were in Nashville, we decided to go off-prem for dinner since it was likely to be our only chance.

This guy gives the place a little kick

This guy gives the place a little kick

However, we ended up taking the hotel shuttle across the street to a place called Caney Fork.  Personally, I would have gladly driven downtown just to get a chance to get away from the resort that night, but I guess across the street was far enough for the rest of the group.

Caney Fork was a bit of an enigma.  It’s tag line is “Southern Style Camp Cuisine Served with a Killer Smile.”  There’s just something creepy about the word “killer” in that sentence.  That’s not the only thing creepy about the place.

A white-tail deer stares down diners

A white-tail deer stares down diners

I’m not fond of being reminded of the life I’m participating in taking when I eat a piece of meat.  I know this is hypocritical of me.  I have a great respect for responsible and talented hunters who take care to kill as quickly and painlessly as possible and who eat what they kill.  I just don’t want to be the one holding the gun.

The bar has a nautical theme

The bar has a nautical theme

I was a vegetarian for 10 years, but I guess that doesn’t give me a free pass from facing that the meat I eat comes from a living creature.  None-the-less, despite the hypocrisy, I do not want to face my dinner staring down at me from the wall while I eat.  I had a hard time swallowing the Elk burger I ordered as the glass eyes in the elk head on the wall glared at me.

A view of the dining room--including the front of a truck stuck into the wall

A view of the dining room–including the front of a truck stuck into the wall

The other thing I found a bit odd was how many of the animals displayed in the restaurant cannot be found in the wild in Tennessee.  Elk were recently reintroduced in Great Smoky National Park, but other than that herd, there hasn’t been an Elk in this part of the country since 1700.  That didn’t keep them from appearing in the Caney Fork restaurant next to wolves, moose, and a variety of other critters I’m pretty sure can only be found with any predictability out West.

A moose head decorates the entry area

A moose head decorates the entry area

I’m always suspicious of a restaurant whose interests seem to cross over into taxidermy.    But, the burger was pretty good, as were the fries.  No one seemed disappointed with their meal and I came home with some pretty interesting iPhone images.  While it would have been nice to make it downtown, Caney Fork was an adventure all its own.

Waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel

Waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel

Lessons Learned

Notice the bar top in this shot where the LED flash on the iPhone fired

Notice the bar top in this shot where the LED flash on the iPhone fired

News flash:  Pat and I changed our eating routine!

Mellow Mushroom pizza had become our regular thing on Friday nights.  The problem was that we could only count on the pizza being cooked properly about 50% of the time.  Sometimes it was burned.  Sometimes it was under cooked.  Often it was cold after I stood waiting for a long time to get waited on.

The final straw was when we invited Twiggy’s dad to join us for pizza the previous Friday and when we got home with the pizza, it was still raw in the middle.  I don’t mean undercooked, I mean raw.

So, we decided it was time to find a new Friday night gig.  We failed miserably and ended up grabbing a really awful take-and-bake pizza from Whole Foods.  We decided to try to find a Saturday gig instead (we’ve never had a Saturday gig).

Notice that while the bar top is darker and the beer taps less bright, not much else has changed

Notice that while the bar top is darker and the beer taps less bright, not much else has changed

Saturday mid-afternoon, we got so hungry we decided we would have a late lunch/early dinner at our new Saturday night place.  We headed out to get barbecue at the “Q with the View”–Sugar’s on Missionary Ridge.  However, when we arrived, they had a tour bus out front and a line of about 20 people outside the door.  We drove around for a while and, getting slightly lost, ended up at Public House in Warehouse Row–an area near the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel that has been recently reinvented as a shopping/dining area in the original warehouse structures.  Public House is a restaurant we’d heard good things about, so we figured, what the heck.

We ended up eating at the bar because the restaurant wasn’t serving food at the time we arrived.  Thinking I needed to take some pictures for my blog, I played tourist and took out my iPhone.  The first shot I took, my flash went off unexpectedly, suddenly making us the center of attention at the bar!  Not exactly stealth!

By choosing the floor as the exposure setting, everything is visible (although maybe that's not a good thing here)

By choosing the floor as the exposure setting, everything is visible (although maybe that’s not a good thing here)

Let that be the first lesson about taking pictures with an iPhone in a public place with low light.  If you don’t want everyone to know you’re taking pictures, make sure you check the flash setting before you take the shot.

But, it affords an opportunity to make a few points about back-lit indoor photography with an iPhone when you don’t want to use flash.  First, notice the difference between the first two photos.  This first one was with flash the second without.  The only thing that’s brighter is the bar top.  The flash doesn’t fall far from the iPhone.

By choosing a lighted inset for the exposure setting, the people fade into silhouette and the floor disappears

By choosing a lighted inset for the exposure setting, the people fade into silhouette and the floor disappears

Now, look at the next two photos.  The first, using the Camera! app, I chose the floor behind the bar for the exposure setting, which allows us to see the floor (not very appealing).  In the last photo, I chose the lighted insets under the bar for the exposure setting.  It makes for more dramatic lighting and keeps everyone at the bar anonymous–not always a good thing, but works here.

Beer Over Dirt

My how the scene has changed

My how the scene has changed

Beer Over Dirt is a funny name for a festival.  If you happened to know that every spring the Wine Over Water event is held on the Walnut Street Bridge and if you happened to know that Beer Over Dirt is held in Renaissance Park on the ground, you might find it ha-ha-funny instead of strange-funny.

After all, we usually think of beer as being the humbler drink of the two.  Plus, some people seem to think drinking beer is a more manly activity than drinking wine.  So, if you’re going to start an annual beer tasting festival, it’s probably a good idea to give it a name that is both humorous and manly sounding so as not to alienate any possible participants.

Smells that make the dogs want to stay for the beer tasting

Smells that make the dogs want to stay for the beer tasting

I was busy getting ready to leave for a conference the next day, so we didn’t get to go to the event.  But, we did walk through the park while the organizers were getting set up.

It’s interesting to watch the transformation of the park as they set up for an event. Encountering the sudden invasion of the sidewalk under the ramp over the wetland by a row of plastic port-a-potties was our first tip-off that something was going down that night.

Booths begin to dot the landscape in Renaissance Park

Booths begin to dot the landscape in Renaissance Park

Next, the grass circle had orange plastic fencing all the way around it.  We later learned it was roped off because they set up an agility course for dogs.  Had we known that sooner, I might have made time to go down to the event–I would have loved to see what Twiggy and Tisen would do in an agility course!  Twiggy probably would have pounced on the tunnel and tried to eat it while Tisen tried to play tug-o-war with it.  In any case, it could have been fun.

A drive-in stage appears on the sidewalk

A drive-in stage appears on the sidewalk

The next clue was the appearance of canopies for vendors’ booths along the sidewalk and in the picnic area of the park.  One vendor walked back and forth with a dog following faithfully at her heels with no leash.  The law says dogs have to be leashed in the park, but I’ve seen dogs on leashes who were far more out of control than this dog.  That dog clearly thought following his owner back and forth was the most interesting and important thing in the world–he didn’t even look at Tisen or Twiggy.

Twiggy looking her cool and regal self

Twiggy looking her cool and regal self

Finally, the giant semi with a stage and sound system pulled up on the sidewalk removed any doubt we might have had at that point that there was going to be some kind of party along the river.  For $25 you could taste beer for 4 hours, enjoy a live band, and take your dog through an agility course.  It was all to raise money for a conservancy project for a local creek that feeds into the Tennessee River, but I wasn’t willing to spend $50 for us to run down for ½ an hour with the dogs.

Back home, Tisen prioritizes a scratch from Daddy over posing for Mommy

Back home, Tisen prioritizes a scratch from Daddy over posing for Mommy

The Etiquette of Dog Days

Twiggy keeping cool

Twiggy keeping cool but not still

When I was a child, I preferred to wear dresses.  My mother was constantly trying to get me to wear pants, but I was insistent on my own sense of fashion.  I have no recollection as to why I would have wanted to wear dresses or even that I did, but I know that all the photos of me up until I was in about the first grade prove my mother’s story.

In most of these photos, I have skinned knees or knees marked with the white residue of a white-painted fence we used to climb.  I my memory, I spent most of my time outdoors running around, frequently falling or managing to bang myself up in other ways.

Tisen enjoying a rub

Tisen enjoying a rub

This was not, however, the concern my mother had with me wearing dresses.  Rather, it was the constant battle she had going on in her head between wanting to preserve my childhood innocence and wanting to help me learn to conform to some social norms.  While I’m sure someone somewhere has written a book that tells parents when girls should stop being allowed to run around climbing on things when they’re wearing a dress, my mother hadn’t read it.  Even if she had, she might not have agreed on the cutoff point.

In any case, eventually my mother did convert me to wearing pants.  Had I been born a generation or so earlier, she might have made me stop climbing trees and fences and kept me in dresses.  I feel pretty fortunate that pants afforded me freedoms that might otherwise have been denied to me.

Twiggy does not wear dresses or pants.  She goes out in fur every day of the year, although her parents were kind enough to have her coat trimmed for her as the temperature rose, she otherwise dresses the same every day.  As a dog, we humans don’t expect her to have adopted our own hang ups about sitting primly with ankles crossed.  Yet, Twiggy frequently does sit that way.  She assumes a sphinx pose, crosses her front pays, and holds her head in a pose that makes you think she might be Cleopatra reincarnated.  She truly is regal.

Tisen takes Duck to the other side of the room

Tisen takes Duck to the other side of the room

But the other day, when our inside temperature was pushing 80 (yes, I am trying to make it to June with no A/C), she had no qualms or self-consciousness about flopping down on the floor in as unladylike a pose as imaginable.  And I found it so amusing that I had no qualms about taking a few photos (using the Camera! app on the iPhone) to share with you.

Tisen, who was happy to opt for a belly rub when Daddy was available, didn’t seem quite as comfortable with the whole belly-twist pose Twiggy assumed.  Although, I don’t know how much of his shyness came from my with the camera vs Twiggy sprawling across the floor.  All I know is Tisen took Duck and moved to the other side of the room.

Tisen decides to hang out with Duck

Tisen decides to hang out with Duck. Photography note: backlight seems to create a very hazy effect with the iPhone

Dogs and Pillows

Tisen looking ridiculously comfy

Tisen looking ridiculously comfy

I thought today’s collection of iPhone images (shot using the Camera! app) made for a good comparison–perhaps even providing an explanation between shooting action and shooting a still subject.

For anyone who has been keeping up with this blog long enough to know that I often post photos of Tisen (my dog) sleeping and far less frequently post photos of him doing something more exciting, perhaps the comparison of what iPhone photos of an excited Tisen running around with Big Dog vs. a sleepy Tisen enjoying the comfort of pillows will make my preference for Lazy Tisen photos understandable.

Yes, that is a custom-made American Leather throw-pillow my dog is propping up his butt with

Yes, that is a custom-made American Leather throw-pillow my dog is propping up his butt with

There are several things that make the iPhone as a camera challenging when shooting Excited Tisen.  First, the iPhone is slow.  One thing to remember is that it will start taking the picture at the point when you let go of the volume-up button or lift your finger from the screen–not when you start.  This is important when you’re trying to take a picture quickly.  When Tisen is prancing around with Big Dog in his mouth and I’m trying to get an adorable image of Tisen carrying a toy that’s almost as big as he is, getting the camera to take the image at the moment I want it to is important.  Otherwise, I end up with images like this one, where Tisen is not caught carrying Big Dog, but rather the moment after he dropped Big Dog and started sliding to to the floor relatively gracefully.

Tisen sliding into the down position

Tisen sliding into the down position

This is called missing the shot.

I do this a lot with the iPhone.  It’s hard for me to retrain my brain to release the volume-up button after spending so much time learning to depress a button to take a picture.  Some day I will be able to switch back and forth

Another way to increase the odds of catching something like an Excited Tisen with the iPhone is to use the Fast Burst setting in the Camera! app.  While this reduces the resolution of the images, it allows for the camera to shoot multiple images in rapid succession.  While it’s still a lot slower than, say, rapid fire with a DSLR shooting JPEGs, it’s still a big improvement over the normal amount of time between shots, when you use this feature, you push the button and hold and it will shoot until you stop or the memory fills.  It does not, however, help freeze the motion of Excited Tisen–that is dependent on shutter speed, which is a different issue.

An almost sharp shot of Tisen carrying Big Dog

An almost sharp shot of Tisen carrying Big Dog

Shooting Sleepy Tisen is a much easier option in many respects.  He holds still, I get to try different angles.  It’s easier.  However, one of the short comings in this scenario is how the iPhone over exposes his white fur.  There’s not much that can be done about this other than using the flashlight feature to try to brighten up his dark spots.  This has the disadvantage that once the flash starts, Tisen quickly turns into Excited Tisen.

Tisen licking the fur fuzz off his lips after dropping Big Dog

Tisen licking the fur fuzz off his lips after dropping Big Dog

A Walk in the Park

The native lens in the iPhone does not make for a great way to capture Great Blue Heron

The native lens in the iPhone does not make for a great way to capture Great Blue Heron

Today when Tisen and I made our morning round of the park and I spotted a Great Blue Heron hanging out on the railing of the bridge, I promptly reached into my pocket and pulled out the only camera I had with me, my iPhone.

Now, I use my iPhone for work even though it’s my personal phone.  This is an example of what corporations now call “work-life integration.”  I remember when it used to be called, “work-life balance.”  I have the advantage that I need only have one phone number and one device.  The company has the advantage that they don’t have to pay for my service.  I suppose it’s win-win.

I'm sneaking up on the heron.  Can you seem him yet?

I’m sneaking up on the heron. Can you seem him yet?

I mention this because one of the really horrific disadvantages to using my personal iPhone for work is my company requires special security before they’ll allow corporate email on a mobile device.  That security prevents the camera from starting without unlocking the phone.  It also forces me to use a long password with special characters that, on average, take me 3 attempts to type in correctly.

So, back to our Blue Heron, here I am, walking in the park.  I spot a Great Blue Heron on the railing up ahead.  I tell Tisen “Wait” as I pull my phone out of my back pocket.  While holding the leash and trying to see the screen in bright sunlight and with sunglasses on, I use my thumbs to key in my password.

Can you see him now?

Can you see him now?  (Hint:  he flew to the left)

Cultural note:  the phrase “All Thumbs,” as in, “She tried to enter her password, but she was all thumbs,” should have been a really strong indicator to the inventors of smart phones that a keyboard requiring you to type using only your thumbs might not be the best answer.

I get an error message.  I look up.  Heron hasn’t moved.  I enter my password again.  I get another error.  I curse under my breath and check the bird again.  Still there.  I try a third time and just as I am about to hit the return key, Tisen moves, pulling the leash, which moves my left hand, which jerks the phone and causes me to hit an extra key as I hit the return key.  3rd strike.  My phone is now counting down until the self-destruct sequence begins.  I frantically enter my password one more time.  The planets align!  I get my phone unlocked, my camera app open, and the heron is still sitting there!

Now you can at least see a silhouette!

Now you can at least see a silhouette!

However, as you can see from the photos, perhaps there are times when it truly is better not to have a camera at all.  The Camera! app was not set in rapid fire mode.  It took far too long to shoot to capture the heron taking off from the railing.  Of course, with no optical zoom (my mini-telephoto lenses back at home), I’m not sure it’s possible to actually tell where the heron is in most of the images in any case.

Tisen giving me the "Oh mom, you're so crazy" look

Tisen giving me the “Oh mom, you’re so crazy” look