Anna Top 10: Year 6

Welcome to year six, covering September 2008 to 2009. This was Anna’s final year at Tutor Time leading up to her first day of 1st grade at Lawton.

This was taken on October 29, 2008 at a Tutor Time Halloween party. Anna loved, and still loves, dressing up for Halloween.

Here she is opening presents at Grandpa Snazzy’s and Grandma Robbie’s house on Christmas Day, 2008.

This was taken during our one (and only) trip to Disney World.  She is giving us a nice super-hero pose in front of the Epcot “giant ball”. I have always loved this picture and was one of my favorites from that trip. As a side note, this was taken with a small point-and-shoot camera as I didn’t bring my DSLR on that trip. It goes to show, that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you!

Here she is on April 5th, 2009 at our neighborhood Easter egg hunt.

This is from May 10th, 2009 during our annual “help Mom plant the garden” activity. At this point, she was pretty afraid of worms, so she didn’t like to actually get her hands dirty too much, but she certainly liked working the hose!

I helped take a bunch of formal pictures for Anna’s Tutor Time kindergarten graduation. There were a lot of nice pictures, but this is one of my favorites with her and her good friend CassE on June 11th, 2009.

A little face painting at a summer Tutor Time party on August 25th, 2009.

I took some family pictures for a friend near Domino Farms where they have a bunch of sunflowers. I managed to sneak in a couple good ones of Anna too. It was pretty hard to take a bad picture of Anna back then with her extreme cuteness!

Here she is on the way to the bus stop for her first day of Lawton (1st grade). It was a rainy day, and she was nervous, scared, and excited all at once. If I recall, her parents also had similar feelings at the time. This was September 8th, 2009.

To go with the last picture, here she is on the same day coming off the bus for the first time. She is extremely excited to tell us about her day. We were very proud of her that day, and we have been every day since!

Anna Top 10: Year 5

Welcome to year five, covering September 2007 to 2008. This was Anna’s final pre-school year leading up to her first day of Kindergarten in the Fall of 2008.

The first picture is a bit out of order chronologically, but I wanted to start with this one because it’s one of my all-time favorites.

This was during our traditional Mother’s Day garden planting day around Memorial Day, taken on May 4th, 2008.  Vicki is using the hose to cool Anna off on this warm day.  Life is good!

Rewind a couple months to Halloween night 2007. Our little fairy princess is ready for some serious candy collecting.

This was taken at the Tutor Time holiday show on December 19th, 2007. If I remember correctly, this was after the show, and kids were lining up to say a few words on the mic for fun. Of course Anna had to get in on the action.

This and the following picture were taken on March 3rd, 2008. We got a late snow that winter, and Anna took full advantage of it.

Here is the final result! Vicki definitely helped a lot, but Anna was the master designer. You can see the cute “prototype” Anna is holding.

Here Anna is riding a full-sized horse at Domino’s Farms on May 17th, 2008.

This was also at Domino’s Farms that same day, enjoying sitting on a real tractor with her Aunt Debbie leading the way.

This was taken on July 6th, 2008 at Mike and Cheri’s house. Getting ready for a swim doing a pre-game nose bop.

Now in the pool at Mike and Cheri’s house. Anna was definitely a tentative swimmer back then, but water-wings made it all possible!

September 2nd, 2008, at 8:32 am.  Anna is heading off to her first day of Kindergarten. “Piggy-pink” is riding along to help her not be as nervous.

UM Solar Car 2012

I really like the University of Michigan Solar Car Team student project. It was founded WAY back when I was there in 1989. While I wasn’t on the team, it was a big deal around the engineering campus even back then. It doesn’t hurt that they compete at a world-class level, often winning the American Solar Challenge, and placing in the top 5 at the World Solar Challenge.

Back in 2012, the car was driving either some kind of practice, or returning from a race, but the route took it along Ann Arbor-Saline road, which is right next to our subdivision!

They published approximate times of when it would be where, so I made sure I was out there ready to take some pictures. I only had one chance, and it was traveling around the speed limit if I had to guess (40-45 mph).

This is the 2012 Quantum UM Solar Car driving by our subdivision. This car and team eventually won the American Solar Challenge that year! Taken July 16th, 2012, at 11:23 am.

It always has an escort/support vehicle driving with it.

A nice shot of the “helmet” cockpit and all the sponsors. I don’t know the exact amount, but if I recall, the budget for this vehicle is well over a million dollars.

Here it is heading away, and you can actually see the brake lights on as it starts to slow down for the upcoming intersection.

Here is the wiki link for the team if you want to read more about them:


Anna Top 10: Year 4

Welcome to year four, covering September 2006 to 2007. This was Anna’s pre-school year at Tutor Time where she really enjoyed herself. The teachers and learning opportunities there were all top notch.

Here she is getting a pony ride without any help from Mommy.  This was late October, 2006 at Jenny’s Farm.

Here is our little butterfly on Halloween night. These are definitely the magical years for Halloween!

This was taken at the Briarwood Mall Christmas display in early December. We went mainly for the sitting-on-Santa’s-lap experience, but I think this picture is much cuter than any of those.

I love this picture from the Tutor Time holiday performance. Anna is with her friend Max and one of her favorite teachers, Toni.

This picture is from May, 2007.  In the continued tradition of helping Mom plant the Mother’s Day garden, Anna is doing some serious work here!

From the same day, here is the dynamic duo putting the final touches on the garden to help scare away the animals.

This is from late June, 2007 at Top of the Park in downtown Ann Arbor. Anna was lucky enough to get her picture taken with one of the Australian acrobat performers of “Strange Fruit”. I can confirm that her name-tag in this picture is 100% correct!

This is from early July, showing off her freshly painted fingernails at Tutor Time.

Also from Tutor Time on the same day, here she is with her triplet friends Aditi, Rohini, and Bhargav.

Here is one from her 4th birthday party at Jump City.  Max makes another appearance, but he is a little less sure about what’s going on this time!

Anna Top 10: Year 3

Welcome to year three, September 2005 to 2006. This year was about the time that Anna’s core personality really became recognizable as who she is today. She was always happy and fun to be around, but it became really obvious that she was going to be a great person with her kindness and empathy.

This is one of my all-time favorite pictures from Halloween night, 2005.  She is ready for her big adventure, but still wanted to make sure Mommy was close by. It was only a couple days earlier that she went to the emergency room to have her hand checked out. She managed to smash it in the door jam at Tutor Time. Luckily, nothing was broken and there was just some swelling and bruising.  Nothing that could possibly stop the Halloween festivities!

This one was from just before Christmas, from one of our attempts at getting a good picture for our yearly cards. We didn’t wind up using this, but I really like the picture of both Vicki and Anna.

Here is a picture from Christmas morning at Grandpa Jerry and Robbie’s house. Living large!

Here she is at 2 1/2 years old right out of the tub.  There were some super-cute ones of her in the tub too, but I don’t want to embarrass her even more than I already am.

This is from May, 2006. During these years, Anna always helped her Mom plant and water the garden. This year was special in that Grandma Pat was also here for a visit.  She was the one holding the hose here.

We always have a great time at Kevin and Michelle’s 4th of July party at Portage Lake. This was Anna chillin’, taking a break from playing.

This was also from the same 4th of July party, enjoying a sweet ride on the inflatable dinosaur!

I really like this picture of Anna meeting her cousin Jackson for the first time. He is one day old here on September 1st, 2006.

Here is Anna at her 3rd birthday party.  The cake theme was from the movie Madagascar. I seem to recall some dancing at the party to the song “Move It, Move It” which was incredibly cute.

Speaking of incredibly cute, this is Anna with three of her favorite friends from Tutor Time. Aditi, Rohini, and Bhargav are triplets and really loved Anna. Unfortunately, they moved away before elementary school, so Anna didn’t get to grow up with these guys as friends, but I’m sure they are all doing great.

Anna Top 10: Year 2

Welcome to year two, September 2004 to 2005. As you’ll see in this post (and in future ones), Halloween is Anna’s favorite holiday. I first upgraded my camera during this time frame, so I experimented with some posed studio shots with her. Some turned out as expected, and some didn’t, but she was always super-cute!

This shot was taken on October 24th, 2004 at Wiard’s Orchard. She got to ride a pony for the first time that day too. Most of those pictures had more of a concerned/scared face though.

This picture was taken later that afternoon in the pumpkin patch at Wiard’s. It one of my all-time favorites of both Anna and Vicki.

This is Halloween 2004 as we walk to a neighborhood block party.

So many cute kids in our neighborhood!  This is Anna with her neighbors Alexandra and Olivia.

This was taken on February 13th, 2005.  I had just upgraded my camera to a Canon 1D Mark II.  That camera was a huge jump from the original 1D, twice the resolution and at least a full stop better high ISO performance and dynamic range. You may or may not notice a difference in quality at this size, but trust me, it was a big deal at the time.  I had also recently bought some studio strobes and a couple basic backdrops, so what better practice than my favorite subject.  The problem here was, she had a tendency to run back to us instead of posing. I still managed to grab a couple cute pics like this one.

We tried again for some Easter portraits in front of the studio lights about a month later, and she did much better standing still long enough for me to take this shot. She is just over 18 months old here.

This is from Memorial Day 2005. Her Grandma Pat was in town for a visit and she really enjoyed showing her around the yard.

Here she is on the same day again with her watering can. She loved helping her Mom with the gardening, and it became a tradition to help her plant every Mother’s Day.

Here she is on August 27th, 2005 at our neighbor’s house watching Olivia play piano. You can see the gears turning in her head. They are still going strong today!

At least some of the frosting is finding its way in at her 2nd birthday party. I’m still amazed at how light her hair was back then compared to now.

Anna Top 10: Year 1

This will be an ongoing series of posts where I pick my 10 favorite Anna pictures from each year of her life.  That is trickier than it sounds, as I’ve taken thousands of pictures of her over the years!

I’ll put them in chronological order and give a brief description of each one.

This is Vicki, of course, but Anna is in there waiting to make her appearance.  Vicki’s water broke at 2am on September 10th, 2003. This picture was taken at 4:11am after showering and getting ready for our trip to the hospital.

To make a long story short, after arriving at the hospital around 11am, and after 5+ hours of 100% natural labor, the doctors discovered that Anna was breech! Surprise! There was no real choice except to proceed with a C-Section delivery. Vicki asked the doctors if I could bring my camera into the operating room to take pictures, and they said sure.  I got some really neat pictures of the actual procedure, but this is my favorite non-bloody one. I even got my hand in there for good measure. According to the time-stamp on the picture, Anna is about 17 minutes old here.

Anna Raquel was officially born on September 10th, 2003 at 5:29pm. She was 7 lbs 9oz, and 20″ long. Here she is the next morning at 8:02am, less than a day old.

We wanted to get a nice shot to use for our official announcement picture. This was the final result taken on September 19th. She is 10 days old here.

Fast forward a couple months.  This picture was taken on January 11th, 2004, so she is 4 months old.  This was the first time we put Anna in her saucer. We had to put a blanket in the seat with her to keep her upright, but as you can tell, she really enjoyed the experience.

“Piggy Pink” makes her first appearance at 6 months old. As many of you know, Anna loves pigs, and this was the beginning of that relationship! Special thanks to Lisa Spencer for giving her this stuffed animal to go along with one of her favorite childhood books, If You Give a Pig a Pancake.

Now 8 months old, I did a photo shoot outside. This was her first real experience being on grass. Vicki tells me this was right after her first haircut.

Here she is on June 12th, 2004 at 9 months old, playing with her rings on our deck.

At 11 months, our little girl is enjoying the life of a super-star diva.

September 10th, 2004, Anna’s first birthday. This was one of her first birthday toys. As I write this in 2017, she is not that far away from driving a real car! Enjoy these early days while you can. My recommendation is to take as many pictures and videos as possible, as you’ll wake up one day and they’ll be all grown up!

Keep an eye out for future posts like this covering the 10 best pictures from each of her years growing up.

30 Years of Console Gaming

For my first gaming related post, I wanted to share the “console wall” I created in our basement a couple years ago.  It covers all the major home gaming consoles from 1976 to 2006. From the enhanced-Pong-only Odyssey 300 to the Nintendo Wii.

I first had the idea to create a display like this when I was organizing some of my old gaming equipment. I decided it was time to unload a bunch of my old stuff, so I sold some of the more valuable games I had on eBay.  The hardware itself though, really wasn’t worth enough to make selling them worthwhile, and I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. My five originals on the wall were the SNES, Playstation, N64, Dreamcast, and Gamecube.

I have always thought of the engineering work and design that goes into making these machines, as a work of art, so what better way to honor them than to make a museum type wall. I was able to pick up most of these games fairly inexpensively on eBay because you can get them as “broken” or “as-is”.  Some of the older ones and low-volume sellers (like the Jaguar, 3DO, and Colecovision) are a bit harder to find, but they are still out there.

I created a one-page display for each one that describes a bunch of the technical details of each machine, when it was released, and some of the most popular games. I’ve taken pictures of each one individually which I will share below so you can see them in detail.

Another thing I think is really neat, is that this is a great example of Moore’s Law.  If you aren’t familiar with that, Gordon Moore (co-founder of Intel) basically said the number of transistors that can fit on a computer chip will double about every 2 years. The number of transistors on a chip is directly proportional to how much it can do. The more transistors, generally the faster it can go, the better the graphics look, etc. Amazingly, this law, which isn’t a law at all, but more of a prediction, has essentially held true for the past 40 years!

The actual transistor counts of all these console chips aren’t easily available, but some definitely are, and the trend is unmistakable. When available, I usually put that information on the data sheet I created for each machine.

To get a general feel for it, the very early machines like the Odyssey and Atari 2600 had about 1000 to 2000 transistors. By the late 1980s, with machines like the Sega Genesis had maybe 100,000 total transistors. By 1993. the Atari Jaguar’s GPU (graphics processing unit) had 750,000. The Microsoft Xbox 360, released in 2005, had a GPU with 337 million transistors. Not on the wall, but if we jump all the way to 2017, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPU in my current computer has 12 billion transistors!!

Without further ado, here are the first batch of machines. These are the 1970’s machines.

There were many analog Pong games before 1976. My Dad built one from a Heathkit kit which I remember playing. I chose to put the Magnavox Odyssey on the wall as it was one of the very first that used an IC (integrated circuit), or digital chip for all the hard work. If you look carefully, there are actually two individual transistors on that motherboard! Imagine 12 billion of those (or 12 billion vacuum tubes, which do the same thing), on a modern chip.

I never owned an Atari 2600, but it was extremely popular and I played quite a lot at friend’s houses. It sold around 30 million units with a 2017 inflation adjusted price of around $800. That is pretty impressive.

We had an Intellivision in our house when I was growing up. I used to play Astrosmash a lot! It was definitely my favorite game on that platform. I remember take a Polaroid picture of the TV of a score of 1+ million and submitting it for some contest, which I can’t remember exactly.

The early 1980’s saw three big machines come out.

I remember I was always impressed with the Colecovision’s graphics, especially compared to the earlier machines like the Intellivison and Atari 2600. Donkey Kong was probably the most famous game on that platform.

The Atari 5200, as you can tell from the picture, was a large machine. It was really just a stripped down Atari 400/800 computer. I never owned one and never even played one from what I recall. For the time, some of the arcade ports were very good. Apparently the controllers were terrible, like unplayably bad. It’s amazing that Atari would screw that up so bad.

I put the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) after the Atari 5200 based on the North American release date of Oct 1985. It actually came out in Japan quite a bit earlier in July, 1983. This machine was responsible for rebooting the entire gaming industry after the early 1980’s video game crash which killed most of the arcades and earlier consoles. I never owned one of these machines, but played many hours at friend’s houses. The Legend of Zelda was an industry changing game.

The Atari 7800 was Atari’s reaction to the NES. It had decent hardware, but it was too little, too late. It sold about 4 million units compared to around 62 million for the NES. Atari would never really recover after this machine.

The Sega Master system fared much better than the Atari 7800, and sold about 13 million units. This was the beginning of the massive console “wars” between Nintendo and Sega.

The TurboGrapfx-16 was not hugely popular in the United States, but sold pretty well in Japan. Games like R-Type were this machine’s strength.

The Sega Genesis, released in August, 1989 in North America, was a pretty big deal.  It had a very powerful CPU for the time, the same Motorola 68000 used in popular home computers at the time like the Amiga, Macintosh, and Atari ST. Fun fact, the Motorola 68000 got its name for the number of transistors inside, 68000! Modern CPUs today have over 7 billion transistors.

I really enjoyed the Super Nintendo. This was the first console I actually purchased as an adult. This machine and the Genesis were often compared directly. Both were very popular and each had their own strengths and weaknesses. Generally, the SNES had better sound and some graphics effects, but the Genesis had a stronger CPU. There were many great games for both machines.

The 3DO was an interesting machine. Up until this point, companies typically subsidized the price of their hardware and made their money back on software. The 3DO model was very different. It was designed as a technology platform that could be licensed by anyone who wanted to manufacture the hardware. The actual hardware design was very advanced for the time, with basically the first real 3D hardware and CD-ROM. The downside was it cost a fortune for the consumer.  The hardware manufacturers had to at least break even on selling the hardware. The retail price was an unheard of $699, or nearly $1200 in 2017 dollars. Not surprisingly, it didn’t sell well, only selling about 700,000 units.

The Atari Jaguar sold even worse. Only about 250,000 units sold over its lifetime. It was touted as the first 64-bit console, but that was only partially true due to the complex nature of the architecture. It was very difficult to program to its full potential, and developers tended to use the Motorola 68000 CPU as the primary CPU instead of the much more advanced co-processors. Not many good games were made on this platform, although Tempest 2000 is a major exception.

The Sega Saturn was the final transition console from 2D to 3D. It had incredible 2D hardware, mostly coming from the Sega arcade division’s influence, but it didn’t do 3D nearly as well as what would come from Sony just a few months later.

The original Sony Playstation was a ground-breaking console. Released in the Fall of 1995, it had state of the art 3D hardware. Home computers at the time couldn’t out-perform it, and it rivaled the best you could find in the arcades. I bought this machine on launch day, and enjoyed it quite a bit. It sold over 100 million units!

I also bought the Nintendo 64 on launch day. It was another ground-breaking console providing visuals not seen on anything but high end computer workstations. The graphics chips in this console were developed by Silicon Graphics and used many of the techniques as their Reality Engine supercomputer graphics boards. Mario 64 is still considered one of the best games of all time on any platform.

I bought this console soon after its release. It was Sega’s first real 3D console and it was well ahead of its time. In many ways, it was more advanced than the Playstation 2, but was never as popular.

The monster Sony Playstation 2. It sold over 150 million units, but I never bought one. My console gaming had declined at this point. There were tons of great games for this platform though.

Microsoft’s answer to the PS2 was the original Xbox. It was really just a standard PC stuck in a console box. It had good hardware for the time, so it did fairly well.

I jumped back into console gaming a bit with the GameCube. I liked some of the Nintendo specific games, which aren’t available anywhere else, which makes buying these machines attractive. Hardware wise, it was not as powerful as the Xbox or PS2, but it was cheaper. This trend would continue for Nintendo.

I bought an Xbox 360 on launch day. The early versions were notorious for having hardware overheating problems, and I had to exchange mine, but when it worked, it was a great platform. It sold over 66 million units and was a huge success for Microsoft.

Sony’s Playstation 3 was a big deal. It contained a massive new Cell CPU which was highly parallel and really started getting game developers to think about multi-core CPUs.  The Xbox 360 had a 3-core CPU, and the PS3’s CPU had 8. It was very difficult to program though, so it wasn’t until later in its lifespan did you see some really amazing games.

In a duplication of strategy of the GameCube, Nintendo launched the Wii as a less-powerful, but less expensive console. This time, they had the motion sensitive Wii Remote which allowed for gameplay never seen before in a console. It was a huge success, selling nearly 95 million units.

I have not acquired the latest round of consoles to put on the wall. The PS4 and Xbox One are really almost identical to each other.  Both use mostly off-the-shelf PC hardware. The very recent PS4 Pro and Xbox One X really are just PC-like upgrades to the console. Unique hardware gaming consoles may be dead. They are also no longer really more powerful than the current PCs at the time of their release. It’s a bit sad to see the state of console gaming, but it’s not surprising either.

Nintendo’s WiiU was a significant upgrade to the Wii, but still fairly underwhelming. We do have one, and Anna has enjoyed games like Splatoon, which is pretty unique, but there is nothing special about the hardware. Nintendo’s latest Switch console is more of a tablet that can be plugged into a TV.

I hope you have enjoyed this LONG gaming post about my console wall. I really had a lot of fun putting these machines on display and I love talking to people about them when they come over.

If you have any great memories of any of these machines, feel free to leave some comments!


Yellowstone Road Trip: Wildlife

This is the final post covering our Yellowstone road trip covering some of my favorite wildlife pictures.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see any bear or moose, but we did manage to see some cool wildlife that you don’t see too often roaming around wild in Ann Arbor, MI.

We did see a TON of buffalo, or American Bison.  I’ll start with probably the most dramatic shot.  We were on a walking path when we came across this magnificent pair.  This was taken at 200mm focal length, and is barely cropped. That means they were pretty darn close!!

While there are many buffalo around Yellowstone these days, and it’s very easy to get pictures of them, it’s still very challenging to get them in great lighting. I’m extremely happy with how their faces and eyes were lit by the sun in this picture.  Of all the buffalo pictures I took, this was the best.

I really like this next buffalo picture too.  I was hoping the giant “Dad” would show his face to really make it an exceptional shot, but it’s pretty good as-is, and does show how many of these guys are roaming around. The hot springs and lake in the background are nice too.

Sticking with buffalo, I’m including the next two pictures, not because they are awesome shots or anything, but they were the very first one we saw – and it was up close!  This was at around 7am local time and I was walking out of the hotel to the car to get something and I stop dead in my tracks!!  He was probably around 30 feet away, just chillin.

Here he is among the trees showing the scars from these guys eating the bark. Notice how this is a nice profile picture, but the lighting isn’t nearly as good on his face, so his eyes don’t pop like in the first picture.

Moving on to other animals, I believe this is an American Pelican.  The lighting was great (at 6:41 am local time!). This was taken with a 300mm w/2x teleconverter, so an effective 600mm and a fairly heavy crop.  These guys were a long way away, but I think it holds up well quality wise.

I believe this is a female pronghorn or American antelope. We have plenty of deer all around Michigan, but you don’t usually find them hanging out like this and posing nicely!

Probably the most rare/difficult wildlife pictures I got were of this wild fox. Our photo excursion trip saw this beautiful animal on the side of the road in the woods.  Our driver was able to stop the bus to try and get some shots, but there was no time to get out.  These pictures were through an open window. Definitely not ideal conditions, but I was lucky enough to be ready (and on the correct side of the bus) to snap a couple great shots.

I really love these final two shots of a prairie dog.  There was a huge field of them around Devils Tower.  You can see one coming up to Anna in the “Vicki and Anna (part 1)” post.

The first picture is the little guy being super cute eating some grass.

I was lucky enough to get this one howling, or doing some sort of mating call. It was pretty neat to see, and hear, in person. It happens really fast, so I was pretty lucky to get it.

As a nice bonus, both of these picture were taken with the incredible Canon 300mm f2.8 IS lens (which I borrowed for this trip), so the quality is exceptional.

I hope you enjoyed seeing my favorite pictures, and reading about some of our adventures during our road trip to Yellowstone. If you’ve never been there, I can highly recommend it!

Please feel free to leave comments, and subscribe to the blog if you’d like to be notified when I create new posts.

Yellowstone Road Trip: Vicki & Anna (part 2)

Anna and I explored Yellowstone Lake almost immediately after we arrived at our hotel.  This was a very short distance away and the really nice thing, was that you had to climb down a fairly steep sandy bank, so that kept the majority of the people away.  We basically saw no one as we walked up and down the shore.  It was awesome!

I can’t remember exactly which hike this was from, but I like it a lot.

Just in case you thought I forgot about Vicki, the next three are from our long hikes around the various hot springs areas.

I really love this one.

Here Anna is standing on a hot spring vent in the middle of the parking area. We both thought it was pretty neat that they just decided to build around this vent.  It was fairly chilly at this time of day (~8:50am local time), so finding a warm random vent was a pleasant surprise!

Again, I can’t recall exactly which hike this next one was from, but I like it a lot.

These final three pictures were from our day at the Grand Teton National Park. The scenery here was incredible, every bit as amazing as anything we had seen.

This final picture was one of the rewards for hiking up trail which climbed about 1000 ft.  It was well worth the effort!