Leki has it right, it's a day for burrowing under the covers and ignoring the day. Or at the very least, trying to enjoy the little bit of it left.

It's Monday, and for whatever reason today was harder than most Mondays. Nothing crazy or out of the ordinary today at work or anything. Just kind of bleh and wanting to take time off. It probably doesn't help my mood reading the news about what's going on in Wisconsin either.

Yesterday I picked up a small pouch of gemstones for a photo comparison post. So today I set to taking photos of the various quartz and stones for this week's post. It was more or less an excuse to play with the extension tubes again.
I took a few different photos that I knew wouldn't be usable in the post, such as the above one so close in on the amethyst. I didn't realize I'd accidentally set my ISO to auto instead of 100, so a lot of the photos ended up with more noise than I needed since I had the tripod out. Still, practice is practice, right?

This afternoon and evening was game night over at Dan's house. That means video games, board games, and a bad movie!

There were the five (and a half) of us (Chris, Dan, Mark + baby, and Jeff) which meant a pretty decent group for a game of Tomb. I really like this board game. It's like a cross between Magic and Hero Quest. We also played a few rounds of Mavel vs Capcom 3. Fighting games have seriously gotten hardcore since the SNES Street Fighter days.
We also watched Ninja Terminator, which was an amazingly cheesy, poorly dubbed 80's film. There were ninjas in black, hunter camo color, and bright red. Even a little Voltron-wannabe robot and a Garfield phone.

Today is Leki's 3rd birthday, so we celebrated appropriately with candles, party hat (not really visible in the picture), and tasty ocean fish cat food.

He was slightly more tolerant of the party hat this year, and less interested in the candles than last year. Mostly he just wanted to know why we were making a fuss and feeding him canned food.

There are a whole host of things I want for my camera, but all of them are very expensive and I mostly play with the camera as a hobby between other activities - I am by no means trying to be professional or even semi-professional. So this means most of the time I opt not to purchase equipment because photography gear is quite expensive.

This weekend though I decided that it was time to pick up a small thing. I prefer macro photography, and I'd really like to get a macro lens, but they're expensive. So why not work my way up to it with some extension tubes? I ordered a set of Kenko extension tubes (3, as you can see above) and they arrived today.
(focal length 210mm)
I slapped the extension tubes on the camera and decided to see what they could do with the nearest item I could find in the apartment - which happened to be a set of action figures. With the three tubes (12mm, 20mm, and 36mm) you can step up or down depending on the combination. 
(focal length 70mm)
I played with the different tubes until I finally came up with this, which is much closer than I could get with just the zoom lens alone. I'm sure over the next several days and weeks I'll get a better feel for what control the various tubes provide. So far, I'm please with the outcome. 

I spent a chunk of the evening running around in Lord of the Rings Online working on this week's photo comparison post and stumbled across this scene. I'm not sure how I missed this coffin creator, toiling away for years in the heart of Bree.


Chris and I headed over to Celebration Cinema after work to catch the day's last showing of Citizen Kane.

The movie was far more entertaining and interesting than I thought it would be. I can't believe I'd never seen it before.

Now I feel like I should make a point to see other classics like Gone With The Wind and Casablanca that I've been avoiding all these years.

A lot of snow fell in a short period yesterday - so that means another round of blanketed buildings and cars in the city. The freeway this morning wasn't bad - not as snowy as the day after Snowpacolypse earlier this year.
The library was closed today so I headed over Skywalk in downtown Grand Rapids. It's nice little haven in the winter when you want to avoid the snowy blustery sidewalks on the way to the library or some restaurants downtown.
Several portions of the Skywalk were coated in snow and ice - which made for an interesting view down to the street below.

The last week or so has been fantastic; unseasonably warm and spring-like. So it's no surprise that winter has decided to kick back in and snow is now blanketing a big chunk of Michigan. There's one thing that fresh snowfall does really well - and that's look serene (at least to me).
I took a few shots of the falling snow with my camera - all in black and white. I once read that you should take all photos in color and then post process them to black and white if you decide to do so - but honestly I'm not a huge fan of post processing to begin with and I really should learn to use all of the color settings on my camera.
Since it's a snowy day we've been indoors most of the day. That meant time at the computer to research and finally purchase some extension tubes. While I'd love to have a macro lens, they're kind of expensive so I opted to try extension tubes first and see how much I use them. A much cheaper alternative and when and if I do get a macro lens, I can always use them together.

The weather is supposed to turn cold, which means getting out and enjoying a mid-40 degree kind of day. Chris and I headed over to Millennium Park. It's closed for traffic during the season but you can walk around on their paved paths and what not.
It was after noon, which meant a blinding sun shining down most of the way. It made for some interesting shots of the ice.

I've added the latest photos to the Millennium Park folder I have on flickr. Below is a quick slideshow. The first few are from the summer, as you can tell by the green.

This week has felt like a long week. I know it's been your regular Monday through Friday, but there's something about Spring-like weather that makes it hard to sit still indoors, especially when you get your first taste of it only weeks after a snowpocalypse.

I had intended to go out after work and walk around, to enjoy the weather. But work was so crazy busy that all I wanted to do when I got off was just sit at home and relax. Which is exactly what we did.

Tomorrow though! Tomorrow I will get out and enjoy the weather (before it turns cold again).

It's been a long time since we've all gotten together and had drinks outs. Heck - we haven't been out since last August when we had breakfast. So this evening a bunch of us ladies got together and had tasty drinks and even tastier dinner. Shelly brought her friend Michelle (end of the table) who was quite amusing. I'm glad to have met her.

It was good to see everyone again and catch up. I'm really happy I got to catch up with my friend and cousin Sherry, who I apparently wasn't able to photograph well (or Wendy, who is sitting next to her). They both have lovely hair though, as you can see in the right of this photo!

I had an errand to run on lunch which I anticipated taking much of my lunch hour, when it didn't that left me with free time to wander around downtown. I didn't have my book with me, so I decided to walk around and enjoy the weather. It's been warmer these last few days, which means melting snow and clear sidewalks. A very welcome change from the last few weeks.

It's been pretty nice weather the last few days, including today. The sun was shining and the sky was pretty blue this morning. It's nice to have the sun shining and some of the snow melted (making it easier to walk around in work shoes downtown).

Oh, and the Casual Stroll to Mordor article I was working on for playing Lord of the Rings Online with Kinect is up. So check it out. There's even a video!

Valentine's Day in the US is such a sweet-heavy day. Even if you tried to avoid them (which I'm not, of course) it's hard to get around free chocolate or other tasty sugary treats.

A co-worker walked around and gave everyone in our department a few candies. Classic combination of peanut butter and chocolate.

The evening was good and relaxing. Leki even got to wear a necklace of ribbon from a box of chocolates. I think he really enjoys wearing and playing with necklaces. Ever since the chain on my necklace broke he's searched but hasn't been able to find one to wear. So we let him wander around with this on until it looked like he was just going to chew it and put it up for later.

So with the chocolates in the morning, chocolates when I got home, and the cheesecake I baked yesterday, there were a lot of sweet treats around.

I woke up at 5:30 to an 82 degree apartment. It's been an entire week now since they fixed the heat where we have no real influence over the heat in the apartment. Now instead of being too cold, it's too hot. I kept the windows wide open, including the slider, for several hours. That meant I got to get some gaming in and check out the valentine event in World of Warcraft. They now have heart-shaped fireworks, which is amusing.

After a few hours, the temperature got down to 72 degrees before we went out grocery shopping for an hour only to come back to it being 77 degrees. We'll have to get someone out here tomorrow when the maintenance group is open again.
Since we did a lot of grocery shopping that meant we had provisions for tasty home cooked meals. Chris made a tasty chicken parmesan and I have some cheesecakes chilling in the fridge for later.

Apartment is still incredibly toasty (no thanks to all the baking). I'm keeping the windows open for as long as possible before falling asleep. I'd leave them open overnight if the cat was trustworthy.

Saturday is finally here, and that means using all of the various pieces purchased over the last few days (snowpants, jacket). So after running to the store one last time to find a decent pair of winter boots (and finding them), Chris and I headed out to Pando Winter Sports Park in Rockford to meet up with friend of his and another couple.
At first glance on their website, the hill looked massive and scary. I'm afraid of downhill skiing and the prospect of propelling in a tube down a snow covered hill didn't sound much more appealing. But, once we got there and I saw how much slower the tubes seemed to go down the hill, I was calmer. And probably a lot less annoying.
Passes come in three hour chunks, and we went up and down the hill about two and a half hours of that. We even stopped and ate some tasty cookies Angel made this morning.

All in all it was a good time. I'm really glad I invested in the snow pants and water proof jacket (the boots - meh - marginally warmer than my hiking boots would have been). I kept dry and they'll be really useful on future days when I want to wander through a snowy park. No more doubling and coming home in wet jeans.

Anyway, we took a bunch of photos so enjoy!

Nothing I did today tops this news.

Chris and I have some outdoor activities (tubing) coming up this weekend with some friends and it was discovered quickly that I don't really have any clothing for such an event. Usually I just wear multiple layers of pants and shirts with a wool coat. I guess it's easier if you have snow pants...something about not getting wet.

So we went shopping after lunch and found some pants on sale. We then quickly discovered I also don't have an appropriate jacket or boots. We hunted around a little for jackets but couldn't really find anything. Honestly, women's jackets can be a little much in color and frills (or fake fur). Unfortunately all the mens jackets that were awesome were too big. *sigh*

Hunting tomorrow, I suppose, for Saturday's tubing event.

Mid-morning at work some co-workers stopped by and dropped off some tasty doughnuts from Kalamzoo (Sweetwater Dougnuts) and a designated gallon milk, just from the doughnuts. There was a lot of flutter about the milk being vitamin D (and therefore too fatty and undrinkable) and the doughnuts being too large (and therefore too fatty and inedible) but I paid no attention. I'm not a fan of doughnuts and milk, so I passed on the milk, but I did scarf down a delicious glazed doughnut (which are my favorite and remind me of tasty doughnuts every breakfast in Florida - visiting my grandparents).
In the evening I checked out Battlestar Galactica Online - which is in open beta and a browser based game. Meh. Not really impressed - but the fighter plane style of game isn't really my game of choice either.

Pretty good graphics for a browser based game though.

Temperatures today have been all over the place for me. In the morning I woke up to a sweltering 78 degrees thanks to the motor in the heater in our apartment building being replaced (and all the apartments below us being able to heat up). When we got home the temperatures had risen to just over 80 degrees. I opened the window but Chris made me shut it...something about it being chilly outside.
Of course all this heat is in stark contrast to the temperatures outside today. This afternoon on lunch when I walked to the library (and saw this dude outside twanging away at a guitar and singing) it was only around 15 degrees. It was sunny, beautiful, and blindingly bright out - very deceptive when a gust of wind comes along and chills you.

I spent a big chunk of the evening playing around with the Kinect and getting it working with Lord of the Rings Online. More specifically, capturing video of the two screens for a brief introduction and tutorial over at A Casual Stroll to Mordor.

So here's just a screenshot (because it's hard to take a photo of yourself) of about 15 minutes of video I captured that I now need to edit down.

Hooray for progress!

Update (2/16/2011): Please check out my post on using a Kinect & LOTRO at A Casual Stroll to Mordor for a detailed introduction and video.

I spent a big chunk of the morning playing more Rift. I'm getting more into it, and it's a pity the beta closes Monday. I was enjoying the PvP!

In the evening after getting some chores done Chris and I snagged a pizza and settled in for the evening. Originally we were going to watch a movie since Chris had watched most of the commercials yesterday and neither of us care about football. The plans quickly changed while we were watching the Puppy Bowl and realized the snarkfest that twitter could be for the game.

So we set up the laptop with some tweetdeck searches going and let the game play in the background. Most of the evening has consisted with Chris fast forwarding through to the commercials (Thor and Captain America premiered during the game) and me working on the netbook, messing with FAAST keybindings and reading google reader.
As you can tell from Chris's photo, it was an exhausting night for Leki. Too much snark perhaps?

So I finally got into one of the Rift betas (beta 6). I didn't have a chance to start a character yesterday, so I booted the game up first thing this morning and dove in.
I picked the Defiant faction and a cleric. The majority of the time in a new game I create a healer. For one, there are usually a lot less of them in being played in a beta - making it easier to group up if you want. I also figure if your healer class is broken or useless, the game really wont be much fun to me once it launches. Plus, healers are typically my favorite PvP class.
The game is interesting enough, and it pulls a lot from other MMOs. There are rifts, which are essentially like WAR's public quests (complete with stages, leaderboard, and loot); instanced PvP which so far remind me more of WAR than World of Warcraft; achievements and titles for various in-game activities (which reminds me mostly of Guild Wars); and of course your typical MMO-type quests (gathering, slaying, delivery, etc).
Graphically the game is very similar to Guild Wars (and LOTRO, but not as cohesive or polished - but this is a beta). So it's a very pretty game, though nothing tops Final Fantasy XIV in my experience yet.
The biggest difference to me that Rift has over a lot of other MMOs I've played is the character class system. It has more customization than a lot of MMOs. You choose the areas you want to concentrate on up top and as you put points into each tree you open up additional skills and spells. Plus, if you decide you dont like one (or all) of a tree, you can remove it and choose another specialization.
Overall I like the game. I absolutely love the public quest system from WAR, so I'm glad to see it implemented in another game. I also like the instanced PvP so far. But the major problem for me is being compelled to invest in another MMO.

Rift has a lot of similarities to a lot of MMOs I've played and it mostly just made me miss WAR or Guild Wars instead of want to invest 49.99 in a new game and a monthly subscription. That's a hard sell when I already have Guild Wars, LOTRO, and Champions Online that I can play for free. Plus, I can activate a subscription on World of Warcraft or WAR since I've already purchased a license for the software.

No. This does not involve beans.

The day started out really crappy, so I spent most of the morning looking forward to lunch with Lori. And lunch was great. Tasty pitas from the Pita House, and good conversation. As an added bonus the musician who normally plays outdoors in the summer (and who we've seen in the Dog Pit next door) was playing away at his guitar.

When I first noticed this guy playing it was the summer and I was reading The Picture of Dorian Gray (and later 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Now every time I hear him I think of Dorian, the Nautilus, and summer.

Downtown Grand Rapids had a fair amount of snow piled around town. I decided to head out on lunch, knowing full well there might be untouched sidewalks I'd have to trudge through.

Luckily nearly every sidewalk I had to take was clear of snow, and those that weren't had only a little snow. Someone even cleared part of Veteran's Memorial Park (though as you can see from the top photo, not all paths were cleared).

In the evening we took Peppy to the vet to get checked out. She's got a small cyst on her foot and I just wanted to make sure all was good - it was. She's still crazy active and certainly doesn't act her 5 years old.

Ok, so there was some serious snowfall. Enough that the roads were kind of dangerous (and apartment complex not even cleared until late this morning) so we both worked from home. Yay for internet and electricity!
On lunch we took a walk around the apartment complex. As you can see, they were still clearing the roads in the apartment complex. Anyway, here's a few shots I took early this morning and on lunch of Snowpocalypse in Wyoming, Michigan.
Also, Chris shot some video of our foray out on lunch for your enjoyment!