Posted on Tuesday, March 1st, 2016
Double your Bullet Sunday, double your fun! Because a Very Special SHOPPING Make-Up Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• SUNDAY? I wasn't able to get a Bullet Sunday together for the 21st, so that had to be made up yesterday. Then this last Sunday got bumped to today. At which point I think I'm caught up with Bullet Sundays again. At least so far as I can be given how far behind I am getting my entries posted. My internet situation at home is dire, with the cable-based service dropping constantly while I wait to see if I can get fiber installed. I may just bag it and stick with shitty cable... assuming they can ever get it to work consistently.
• FREE? I no think that word means what you think it means...
It's not that their free shipping and handling cost me $45... it's that it's so "free" that they actually said "free" twice! Maybe they're hoping to say "free" so much that you won't bother looking at the actual cost? I dunno. But this is probably the best attempt at bad marketing I've seen in quite a while.
• BARGAIN? And then there's Amazon, who should really know better given how massive they are, but still makes goofy marketing blunders all the time. Like this twofer price structure which is pretty much genius... if you're looking at the fact that you get "free" Prime shipping for $13.75?
Sign me up! If I buy three does the price go up again?
• LOBBYIST! The problem with living in the wilds of Redneckistan is that your shopping options are limited. Most of the time this problem is solved via Amazon and their Prime 2-Day shipping, but what if I don't have two days? What if even ONE day is too late? That means making a lot of phone calls to a lot of stores and running around from one end of the valley to the other trying to track down what you MUST HAVE IMMEDIATELY. In my case, that was plain silver foil wrapping paper. Nobody had it. Nobody. Not any drug stores. Not any card & gift stores. Not the party store. Not Shopko. Not Target. Not the art store. Not the craft store. Nobody. Except, of course, Hobby Lobby.
The fucking assholes whom I swore I would never give a single dime of my money.
But what else can I do? Drive three hours to Seattle then three hours back for my emergency project that's due right now?
Nope. I bit the bullet and shopped at the only option I had after exhausting every other possibility. Knowing full well that my money would be used to further their heinous agenda of forcing their religious beliefs on their employees, choosing allowed methods of birth control for their insurance coverage, supporting bigotry, and being overall assholes towards anybody who doesn't hold the same beliefs as they do.
Luckily a Facebook Friend came to my rescue when I was lamenting about having to shop at Hobby Lobby... they suggested I make a donation in Hobby Lobby's name to Planned Parenthood in the amount of what I had to purchased. Genius!
I don't feel any better about giving money to Hobby Lobby, but I sure feel a lot better about (hopefully) offsetting some of the damage that comes from shopping there.
• PETCO! Since adopting two kittens, I spend a lot of time shopping for kitty food, kitty toys, kitty litter, and everything else kitty-related. My favorite store to shop at? Peptic! I love the selection. The prices are decent. And the staff is generally cool. But they're nearly a half-hour away, and I don't have time to make the trip as often as I need to. So the solution is easy, right? Just shop at Petco online! Except... no. Their website is complete shit. I tried to shop on Valentine's Day because they had a coupon code that could save me some money... except when it came time to check out, EVERY ONE OF THE EIGHT ITEMS I HAD IN MY CART were conveniently "out of stock" and they wouldn't let me place an order. Haven't they ever heard of a backorder? And, of course, everything was back in stock the next day when the coupon expired. But that's not even the worst of it. Every time I try to shop at Petco.com, I always have all the items in my cart disappear at least once. Sometimes when I've tried, I've had my cart turn up empty so often I just give up. How in the hell do they expect people to shop with Petco when their online shopping experience is bordering on useless? It's hard to fathom how a company this big could afford to piss people off like this in a day and age where most stuff they buy is online, but here you have it. Guess I'd better work an hour into my schedule to drive to the local shop in person. Again.
And that's more than enough shopping for this week. See you next Sunday.
Posted on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
It's probably too early to declare The 1975's i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it as my favorite album of 2016, but I can't fathom anything coming along to move this breathtaking work out of my top spot. The album is a bit eclectic, with some musical numbers injected between the songs, but it's a full volume of awesome, even when they're skipped over...
Probably my favorite track on the album is Change of Heart. Remarkably, it's lyrically a direct sequel to the song The City on their previous album. In a very cool, yet heartbreaking way. The band played this at the concert I went to with Aaron back in December, and I'm glad I finally get a studio version to listen to...
And then there's Somebody Else, which is a hauntingly beautiful track that hasn't left my head since I first heard it. I could probably listen to this on repeat for days before getting tired of it...
For a pure 80's flashback episode, look no further than the bouncy This Must Be My Dream...
The song Paris is one of those melodic masterpieces that drifts into your consciousness when you least expect it...
A song that's bound to cause a bit of controversy for dissing a big chunk of The 1975's fans comes in the form of She's American. It's a bit over the top, but is speaking to a point, I suppose...
I could just go on gushing over all the tracks on the album, but I'll probably stop here and wrap up with the last video the band released for The Sound, which addresses the band's critics in a way that's more thought-provoking than antagonistic...
And so... as if it weren't obvious... I give the album my highest recommendation. It doesn't stray too far from what made them an instant favorite with their first album, but isn't a clone that would just be boring.
Posted on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016
The thing about my feral kitten rescues is that they have spent most of their time in hiding. Everything is scary. Everything is dangerous. And getting accustomed to the fact that not everything is out to kill them seems to be a difficult concept for them to wrap their furry little heads around.
But, more and more, that's been changing. Just last Friday I posted about them crawling all over me to play, which was a huge step.
Yet there was still one lingering problem I had yet to resolve... any time I took out my "real" camera (as opposed to the iPhone shots I've been posting), the sound of the shutter would send them scurrying. I switched to a silent shutter, but that didn't help much. Just pointing the camera in their direction was enough to make them run for the hills.
But yesterday all that changed...
Apparently I've whipped out the camera often enough that they're no longer scared when they see it.
Sorry for the deluge of kitten photos that are sure to follow...
Posted on Saturday, March 5th, 2016
So very, very small...
But scary. So very, very scary.
Posted on Sunday, March 6th, 2016
Double your Bullet Sunday, double your fun! Because a Very Special SHOPPING Make-Up Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Sam. Anybody saying that women don't have what it takes to bring it in a hard-hitting comedic "journalism" show aren't watching Samantha Bee in Full Frontal. I'd put her up against Trevor Noah, Larry Wilmore, or John Oliver any day. Hell, I'd put her up against Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. Samantha Bee is made of awesome...
Mondays at 10:30pm on TBS.
• Free! Well, this is new...
A free house is quite a deal. Which is why I imagine it's the "U-HAUL" part that makes this some tricky business. After Googling the costs associated with relocating an actual house, the money involved seems absurdly high. Approaching the cost to buy a house! And I can't imagine that the house will ever be as structurally sound as it was originally, which means that the costs are just beginning. Still, it looks a decent house. I might have taken them up on it if somebody hadn't spray-painted "for sale" graffiti on the front of it.
• Vampyre! Turns out one of my new kittens is a vampire...
Here's hoping he stays satisfied with kitten blood and doesn't move on to humans.
• Five! And, speaking of cats... high-five, Chris Hardwick... HIGH FIVE!
My cats like to watch television and participate as needed.
• Con. And... my local comic convention, the Emerald City Comicon apparently didn't get the memo about trying to expand the audience for comic books in a positive way. I find this infuriating. A lot of the time I think people overreact to stuff like this. But in this case? I don't think people are reacting ENOUGH. Take your daughter to Comicon on "Kid's Day" and she gets to wear a badge featuring an illustration of a woman being molested by a monster? Really? And their fix for this bullshit? YOU have the option of trading in your badge to get a different one. Yes, the burden is on YOU. Insanity.
• Patriotism. Sometimes... not often, but sometimes... justice wins out.
Learning that freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from consequences is a tough lesson. Though, I have to say... a part of me does feel badly for this kid. Is what he did wrong? Absolutely. Is this the kind of person we want representing the United States of America in our armed forces? No. Did he get what he deserves? Sure. But history has shown time and time again how mob mentality can sway even a good person to do reprehensible things. I know nothing about this guy or where his heart is when he's not being swept up in a wave of hatred. Apparently the forces of evil were so strong that he proudly posted a photo of him verbally assaulting someone on his Facebook page. Maybe that's who he really is, I don't know. But the heinous amount of hate that keeps building and building and building which makes sad events like this possible has been weighing on my mind a lot lately. We, as a society, are far weaker finding our strength from fear and hatred than courage and mutual respect. But that's the way it is. I'm truly happy that justice was served here. I can only hope that it will result in some deep soul-searching that leads to reevaluation and a newfound kindness. But it could just as easily lead to an escalation of the hate that's already taken hold. And we just can't afford any more of that.
And there's yer bullets, pardner!
Posted on Monday, March 7th, 2016
Ever since I received a Canon A-1 SLR camera as a graduation present, photography has been the hobby that will not die. Other activities come and go, but this is the one that's always there regardless of circumstances. The artistry that comes into play when composing a shot is every bit a creative endeavor for me as painting a picture or shaping something from clay or pushing pixels on a computer. And the more I move away from "automatic" camera settings and start making my own choices as to how an image will be recorded, the more I'm left craving a better tool set.
Not to say that I don't already have a pretty stunning array of tools in my photo bag. When I prepped for my Africa trip, I sunk a huge chunk of cash into some impressive hardware and went home with some pretty amazing shots to show for it.
But, as with most hobbies, even "amazing" is never enough.
Ever since Sony unleashed the NEX-6, which took every advantage of mirrorless camera technology to deliver stunning DSLR quality in a portable package that was perfect for travel, my allegiance to Sony gear was set. So much so that I took an even deeper plunge when I bought the Sony a7S because of its full-frame sensor and a miraculous ability to shoot in low-light situations. And then I dropped a chunk of my savings on the Sony FE 70-200 zoom lens, which gave me an entirely new appreciation for an aspect of photography I rarely explored.
And yet... as much as I love my NEX-6 and a7S, I'm starting to hit boundaries of where I can go with them.
Time to take a look at Sony's second generation of a7's. Starting with the a7 Mark II, which I was all set to buy when it was released a year ago. It's a big step up from my NEX-6, and has a lot of room to grow. Except... I didn't have any big photo opportunities coming up, so I decided to wait for the inevitable release of the more feature-packed variant, the a7R Mark II. Which finally happened back in August. I wanted one immediately, of course, but the price tag was double what I had saved up for the a7ii, so I'd have to wait until I had the means to do it. In other words, I had to wait for my tax refund to happen.
It did, and now I have my dream camera...
The a7R Mark II has a dizzying array of "professional" features for me to salivate over, mostly justifying the stupefying $3,200.00 price tag. Primary of which is the new sensor, a full-frame marvel that has amazing 42MP resolution. Though, to be honest it's not the whopper pixel-count that made me buy into the hardware (more pixels don't necessarily translate into great photos, and you have to have a subject and lenses that will make it worthwhile). No, what I was obsessed with in the sensor specs was the BSI (backside-illuminated) CMOS construction, which allows for more light to reach the sensor and provide much better ISO performance. Which means less noise and more detail in less light. Not to the level of my Sony a7S (which only has 12MP), but jaw-dropping performance just the same. In other words, The Camera Holy Grail.
But that's just marketing hype. Does Sony deliver?
Well, obviously they did, or I wouldn't have bought the camera.
I read many, many reviews before my tax refund came in, and it really does seem like the camera that's too good to be true... for me and what I do anyway.
And how did that pan out?
I'll get into that with Part 2 tomorrow.
Posted on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
I'm not really sure how to best review a camera that has already been reviewed countless times since its release last year. I think its easiest to just go through the things I like, then go through the things I don't like. I don't know if that will provide any new insights that haven't already been talked about... but perhaps coming from the perspective of a hobbyist who likes travel photography and has to shoot for art photography from time to time will be of use to somebody.
Here's what I'm liking about the Sony a7R Mark II...
Build. Sony claims the a7R Mark II has a magnesium alloy shell. Which I take to mean that it's metal, which is a big step up from the plastic on my other Sony E-mount cameras. I'm sure this adds weight... but the camera is already heavy from being so densely packed that it probably doesn't matter much. All I can say is that it feels substantial and well-made, which I like.
Handling. The thing about Sony's alpha line of mirrorless cameras is that they're small. Tiny even, when compared to a traditional DSLR. I've never had a problem with that (despite having pretty big hands) but will admit that my a7S could be a little cramped to use. The a7R Mark II has a bigger grip with a good depth to it, which improves handling quite a bit... without adding much size. I wouldn't go so far as to say that this camera is as comfortable as a Nikon or Canon DSLR, but it's plenty comfortable for a full day of handheld shooting.
EVF. Out of necessity, mirrorless cameras rely on Electronic Viewfinders to provide a look at what you're shooting (often in tandem with a screen on the back of the camera). On one hand, this gives you the ultimate "What You See is What You Get" feedback you need to construct a scene. On the other, EVFs usually suck. Even the "good" ones have a hard time accurately showing you what's happening. Until now. I can honestly say that the EVF in my a7R Mark II is just as good as the optical viewfinder in my Canon and Nikon cameras. And nowhere is this more apparent than using the "focus assist" (otherwise known as "image magnification") when manually focusing your lens. The guess-work that comes from too-big-pixels providing a poor picture that isn't accurately showing you sharpness is gone. It's just gone. This alone gives me nothing to regret when it comes to the jaw-dropping price I just paid for this camera. Seriously amazing. Even if you have no interest in the Sony line of mirrorless cameras, you owe it to yourself to drop by your local camera shop and take a look at this. One caveat that will get mentioned tomorrow, however... the sensor to activate the EVF and cut out the rear display is way, way too sensitive.
Apps. I'm not going to lie... getting apps is an unbelievable nightmare. Sony's "app store" and method of downloading/buying stuff has always sucked, and nothing is improved with the a7R Mark II. But once you have the apps? Boy-howdy is it worth the stupidity you have to endure to get them. My favorite is "Bracket Pro" which allows bracketing not just with shutter speed... but with aperture, focus, or flash as well. So handy (not-so-great example of aperture bracketing is below, but you get the idea). There's also stuff like "Time-Lapse," "Motion Shot," and "Star Trail" which are fun... plus a lot more. Some are fluff, yes, but there's a lot of jewels in there that are worth having. If only Sony would invest in a way of buying/managing/downloading apps that didn't make you want to set your camera on fire.
Sensor. If there's anything that's been proven over and over again, it's that more pixels don't necessarily translate to better photos. So I had no illusion that the massive 42MP was going to substantially change my images for the better. Heck, I regularly get amazing shots with my a7S's mere 12MP. If anything, I figured it would make things worse compared to say... 32MP... because bigger pixels absorb more light. Sony got past this by back-lighting the sensor, which apparently increases light sensitivity. All I know is that, while it's nowhere near the amazing shooter my a7S is in low light, it does a really amazing job. And then you get to the benefit of having 42 megapixels in your photos... your ability to crop into them and still have impressively detailed photos. At 7952 x 5304 pixels, you can print 26.5" X 17.7" at a full 300dpi. Which means you can discard 2/3 of the image and still get an 8" X 10" print out of it. That's pretty crazy. But so very cool in that your lenses automatically have extra reach to them if you ever need it (what I wouldn't give to go back in time and have this camera for my Africa trip). Color fidelity and sharpness are exceptional, as I've come to expect from Sony, but you'll need quality glass to make use of it.
Focus. Sony pulled out all the stops with 399 phase detection focus points on-sensor that's backed up by through-the-lens contrast focus. The combination of the two can provide blazingly fast, deadly accurate focus... assuming you've got a lens responsive enough to take advantage of it. At least most of the time (every once in a while it fails for no discernible reason, which I'll talk about tomorrow). Of course, all this focus ability means nothing if the camera doesn't provide an easy way to access it. I don't know if it's as easy as it could be... but the a7R Mark II definitely gives you a wide variety of focus modes to play with. Rather than list them all, I'll just say that pretty much whatever the situation, there's a focus mode you can use to handle it, and they all work very well (Continuous Auto Focus with Face Detect being my favorite).
Optical Steady Shot. Until now, the a7 line has relied on in-lens stabilization. This was fine... until you buy a lens like the 35mm f/2.8 that doesn't have it. This hasn't been a problem for me... but, as the light falls, it could be. Then along comes the a7R Mark II which has 5-Axis Optical Steady Shot stabilization built into the camera. And since it works with your lens to come up with the best combination of stabilization between the two (assuming your lens has anything to work with), it's pretty impressive. To test what the new "5 Axis Steady Shot" capabilities bring to the table, I took a number of test shots with OSS on/off on the lens. As expected, having OSS set to "on" gives a much clearer image when going handheld. From what I understand, when shooting with an OSS lens like the 70-200m f/4 zoom, the lens OSS handles pitch and yaw (up/down and side/side)... while the camera adds roll (round and round). I couldn't figure out how to turn lens OSS "on" and a7R Mark II OSS "off" so I had to shoot those tests with my a7S. I never realized that I was adding roll to shots, but the results show that the 5-axis stabilization definitely makes a different when comparing them. If you shoot with slow glass, low light, or with the aperture closed-down, the 5-Axis OSS is providing you a couple of stops to work with... which can make all the difference.
Dynamic Range. For quite a while now I've been shooting "important" shots using HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography. It's tedious, but the results can be great. They can also be terrible. In a nut shell, I bracket a shot with three (or more) exposures... dark/medium/light and then use an HDR program on my Mac to "average" them together in a way that pulls detail out of the highlights and shadows...
As you can see, it can make quite a difference. Most times in a good way... unless you go overboard, in which case it looks too fake and pretty bad. But anyway... what if a camera sensor had such fantastic dynamic range that you didn't need to take three shots to get the details you wanted? Well, camera sensors are getting better and better at just this kind of thing, and the a7R Mark II has the ability to capture a range so impressive that I'll probably not be doing as much HDR shooting since I can just shoot in RAW and recover what I want from the highlights and shadows during import. This is a pretty amazing concept for me to wrap my head around, and will fundamentally change the way I take travel photos. It will also fundamentally change the amount of memory cards I need to carry, as I'll be shooing anywhere from 1/3 to 1/5 the number of shots! Time will tell whether the impressive dynamic range will be enough to make me happy in all conditions, but test shots have me feeling pretty optimistic.
Silence. My a7S had the ability to shoot with no shutter noise at all. That ability has worked its way to the a7R Mark II, and I couldn't be happier. Whether it's because you don't want to startle your subjects or are shooting in a place where silence is required, this is a feature that, once I've had it made available, I can't do without. Yes, there are apparently some drawbacks, but none that matter to me when you need to shoot without any noise.
That's a pretty good list... and it's not even that comprehensive. The a7R Mark II offers so many amazing features and knock-out capabilities that I'm sure I'll keep finding more to love about it the longer I use it. In the meanwhile, I'm very happy that my creative options have opened up to a new level. I spend less time with settings and more time getting shots I can work with... and that's no small thing.
Posted on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
After two days of praise for the A7R Mark II, I'll now be turning to the things that are not so great.
Auto-Focus Errors. The massive number of focus points and several focus modes gives you a wildly easy system for locking on to exactly what you're wanting to focus on (once you get it all memorized, that is). Problem is... there have been several times when I can't get a lock. And there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason behind it. I thought it depended on the lighting. It's not the lighting. I thought it depended on the lens. It's not the lens. I thought it depended on the shooting mode. It's not the shooting mode. So what is it that causes these auto-focus fails? You got me. And apparently Sony is stumped too. I'm getting really accustomed to manual focus lately.
Buttons. Everything from the shutter to the function buttons and directional-pad are tiny and mushy. In the case of the shutter, you never feel anything physical and the actual tactile feedback is weak. The buttons have minimal "click" and lack the crisp punch that makes it so much easier to register when you've pressed. This is amateur hour bullshit. How many cameras has Sony made over the years? Hundreds? And they can't get the frickin' buttons right? Inexplicably disgraceful. And don't get me started on the "movie button" which is the most uncomfortable, difficult to activate buttons in the history of DSLRs.
Lock. Sony is infamous for not putting wheel locks or switch locks where they're desperately needed (the manual/auto focus switch on my 70-200 lens comes immediately to mind). But, with the a7R II, they actually took a first step... and put a wheel lock on the shooting mode dial... WHEN I HAVE NEVER, EVER, EVER ACCIDENTALLY SWITCHED MODES! This is about the craziest damn thing I've ever seen on a camera. Was this ever even a problem? Why? Being able to instantly switch shooting modes is pretty critical, which is why they let you custom-program them. Except it's just been made exponentially more difficult on the a7S II because of the addition of a wheel lock nobody wanted or needed.
Menus. Sony's menu system is a byzantine nightmare that is not even remotely intuitive or easy to navigate. They attempt to "organize" things into tabs, but the organization makes no sense what-so-ever. Red-Eye Removal Assist is a "Camera" menu function. Silent Shutter Release is a "Settings" menu function. ON THE FIFTH PAGE. OF EIGHT PAGES!!! With every new camera I hate Sony a little more because they simply refuse to improve the menu system. It's categorically bad and universally panned in every review I've ever read. So WTF?!? Is nobody at Sony able to design a proper user interface? If not, HIRE SOMEBODY!
Battery Life. On one hand, I appreciate the fact that the A7R Mark II uses the exact same battery as my three other Sony cameras... but when you can completely drain the battery in a couple hours of shooting? Time to come up with a more robust battery... even if it has to be a bit bigger. The camera comes with two batteries, which you will definitely be using. I'd have three or four on hand just in case, because I can practically burn through one in two hours with heavy use..
Database. I've lost count of the number of times I've gone to do something... only to have a message pop up telling me that the camera can't access the database for some reason. Luckily, you're given the option (ONLY option, really) to repair the database when this happens, but can't the camera just do a better job with this so you don't have to?
Electronic Viewfinder. The EVF in the A7R Mark II is stunning. The best I've ever seen. But, as mentioned previously, it's overly-sensitive and activates many, many, many times when you don't want it to. Hell, I've had the display cut out because a finger got too close to the viewfinder WHILE IN THE MENU SYSTEM. It's just so asinine. Obviously the EVF only needs to activate when your eye is ON the sucker... so why not have its sensitivity adjusted apropriately? Hugely frustrating. Hugely.
Touchless. For reasons that completely escape me, Sony doesn't put touch-screen displays on hardly any of their cameras. Including this one. And it's insane. Their heinous menu system is made ten times worse because of it. Navigating your photos in playback is twenty times worse than it should be. I don't know if it's because Sony designers don't like fingerprints on the display or what, but that should be up to their customers. Maybe one day we'll know why Sony doesn't have touch-screens on their cameras when other manufacturers find them essential... in the meanwhile, all we can do is bitch about it.
Bus. The images that come off a camera with a 42MP sensor are going to be huge. And, if you are crazy enough to shoot uncompressed RAW, bigger than huge. Which is why the slow internal data bus is kinda hard to understand. I attempted to bracket some uncompressed RAW shots just for fun... and didn't get very far before the buffer was maxed out and I had to sit there waiting for it to clear. Even worse? The camera goes non-responsive while clearing it. With a camera generating such massive files, Sony really needs to do something to speed up transfers. Or at least let the camera playback controls remain active.
WiFi. You would think that having built-in WiFi would make it absurdly easy to transfer photos from your camera to your laptop. NOPE! I mean, yeah... you can do it... but only if you want to transfer the whole damn card. Which is stupid because transferring an entire card over WiFi is something nobody would want to do. If you want to transfer a single 42MP image to your mobile phone, however? THERE'S A DEDICATED BUTTON FOR THAT! Which, I guess is useful, but why can't I reprogram it to send a single image to my computer, which would be far, far more useful to me?
Apps. Every time I review a new Sony camera, I end up bitching about Sony's shitty app handling. Which wouldn't be a big deal if the apps were crap, but they're not. There's actually some real winners with fantastic functionality you'd be crazy to ignore. But just try getting any of them. Rather than provide a dedicated portal for apps, Sony uses a horrendously shitty built-in web browser to access their online store. It's shitty because most of the damn time it doesn't work. You'll try to load it again and again and again and again... getting failed connection after failed connection despite having a solid connection and perfect signal. And once you get connected? It means nothing because logging into the site fails most of the time. I've lost count of the number of times I've crashed out of the store when attempting to access the apps I've paid for. Oh... and don't even bother checking "remember my login" so you don't have to type it over and over... it doesn't work. All this wouldn't be so bad if there was another option that worked well, but using my computer and a USB cable to install apps HAS NEVER WORKED ON ANY OF MY SONY CAMERAS! Including this one. Sony's app store desperately needs a complete revision that dumps the shitty browser and is much, much more robust and reliable.
Are any of the above deal-breakers? Not for me. Not really. Are any of the above annoying? Absolutely. Some of them inexplicably so, as Sony keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. It's like they're learning-impaired.
Anyway... my review continues tomorrow.
Posted on Thursday, March 10th, 2016
The issue with Sony's E-Mount cameras is that the lens selection has been less than stellar for a long time. Since it's all relatively new, you just aren't going to get close to the vast, vast library of lenses amassed for Canon and Nikon shooters.
Yes, there are adapters which give you access to an entire world of lens options, and a great many Sony photographers go that route... but I'm not one of them. For the past couple years I've just limped along with whatever offerings Sony deemed fit to send our way. But, in recent months, their offerings have improved immensely. Yeah, there are some glaring holes in their lineup that may never be filled... but, for most people, there are lenses to fit whatever comes your way.
I own two Sony FE (full sensor) lenses. An absurdly expensive (for what you get) $800 Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.8... and a $1,500 70-200mm f/4 G zoom. I also own a 10-18mm f/4 wide angle zoom that is not full-frame, but the 15-16mm span on this lens works perfectly fine on full-frame cameras, so I still use it.
In addition to those lenses, I've rented the Carl Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8 lens (stunning clarity and sharpness... but a little crazy at $1000) and the Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 lens (absolutely amazing, but a bit heavy and bulky for 35mm at $1600).
My newest lens (which was purchased with the camera) is the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 G. Just like long-range zooms, macro photography has been an area that I haven't explored much, and I figured now was the time. The lens itself is pretty spectacular and a lot of fun to shoot with.
My next lens will be the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM zoom. It's insanely expensive at $2,200, but it bridges the gap between my 10-18mm to 70-200mm lenses perfectly. It's also gotten rave reviews from early testers which claim it's worth every penny. And that will probably be my last lens for a while. The only thing that might change my mind is one of the upcoming Voigtlander Ultra-Wides (in 10mm, 12mm, and 15mm flavors), which are smaller and lighter than my ultra-wide zoom and are full-frame lenses. With the light sensitivity and 42MP sensor of my a7R Mark II, the 12mm f/5.6 would probably be about perfect... assuming I could live with a manual focus lens. I'm not entirely sure about that.
What have I actually been able to shoot with these things?
I'm saving that for tomorrow.
Posted on Friday, March 11th, 2016
Unfortunately, I haven't had a lot of time with the Sony a7R Mark II yet. I did rent one for a project back in January, which is where most of my experience comes from, but all the shots I've taken with my own camera have been from just three days of experimentation.
The first lens I took a look at was my brand new Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 G. Technically, it's my first macro lens. And when it comes to macro shooting, 90mm at an 11-inch range is a pretty good combination for getting the 1:1 reproduction ratio you need. Though I admit a part of me would like to be a bit closer/tighter. While getting used to shooting with it, I kept wondering if I'd be happier with something in the 60mm at 6-inch range. Regardless, this is a pretty great macro lens that would also work very well for portrait photography, I think.
Shooting at f/2.8 with this lens is pretty magical...
The sweet spot for me seems to rest at f/3.5...
As expected, the bokeh is amazing...
Even with the aperture set at f/4, noise is minimal in good light...
Once you get to f/7.1, it starts to get a bit noisy, but nothing terrible...
The crisp optics of the FE 90mm pair well with the awesome sensor of the a7S Mark II to give you sharp details easily...
Needless to say, if you're a flower or insect photographer, this lens has your name all over it...
I spent a lot of time trying to nail down the focus falloff. Not having much experience with macro photography, it's difficult to wrap my head around just how quickly f/2.8 blurs out...
So. Yeah. If you are a macro shooter (or am interested in becoming one) you could do a lot worse than the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 G.
Given the heavier weight of the Sony a7R Mark II from earlier models I've had, popping on my tiny Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.8 was a bit of a relief. Very comfortable as a walk-around lens. Very good results with little effort. The in-camera 5-axis Optical Steady Shot stabilization is handy to have in low light since this lens doesn't have stabilization of any kind. The bigger/heavier f/1.4 model would undoubtedly shoot nicer, but not enough to justify the price you pay, methinks...
Cropping into the photo reveals terrific, crisp details...
As good as the clarity is on the above shot, to really test how well the a7S Mark II is at recording sharp features, I need to get my hands on the Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8, easily the sharpest lens I've ever used. Something tells me that's a dream combination for travel photography.
My 70-200mm f/4 G was great for testing out the in-camera 5-axis "Optical Steady Shot" stabilization. As mentioned previously, I believe the camera lets the lens take pitch/yaw stabilization and contributes internal roll stabilization to the game. Regardless of which part is doing what, the results are great, even at 200mm. Not as crisp and deep as you're going to get from a shorter lens with Zeiss glass, obviously, but still very respectable for a jittery handheld shooter like me...
My Sony 10-18mm f/4 is hobbled by not being a full-frame lens, but still does very nice set at 15mm in full frame. Very very nice, actually...
Interestingly enough, the a7S Mark II will automatically put your camera in "APS-C/Super 35 Mode" (which I prefer to call "Cropped Lens Mode") to compensate for the lesser coverage of non-FE lenses. This lets the camera shoot with the 10-18mm f/4 as if it were my NEX-6. Here's what I get at 10mm, 15mm, and 18mm in "Cropped Lens Mode"...
Take a look at the middle photo above. That's 15mm in "Cropped Lens Mode" at 5168 by 3448 pixels. Now take a look at what happens when I turn "Cropped Lens Mode" to OFF and shoot at 15mm...
Surprise! That's as much coverage as 10mm in "Cropped Lens Mode!" Maybe even a little more! And that's at 7952 x 5304 pixels! Which means by making sure "Cropped Lens Mode" is OFF when shooting with my 10-18mm lens I have enough pixels to crop in to 18mm if I wanted. Which means I pretty much have the full 10mm to 18mm range that I have with my NEX-6. Sure, there's vignetting on the corners, but that's a two-second fix in Photoshop...
Pretty incredible. Especially when you consider this lens is just $850 new.
What's frustrating is that the "Cropped Lens Mode" isn't smart enough to automatically know that cropping isn't necessary at 15mm. If the camera were to know when to crop and (more importantly) when not to crop based on focal length... now that would be impressive. Even if I had to set it manually, this would still be a great feature. Until the day that happens, I'll just continue to happily shoot at 15mm and make sure I have "Cropped Lens Mode" set to OFF.
And, that's a wrap. I'll review my new Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens whenever it gets released.
Posted on Saturday, March 12th, 2016
My brain is melting.
Marvel continues to blow past my expectations with each new film.
Cannot wait for this.
Posted on Sunday, March 13th, 2016
Don't jigger that googly-widget! Because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Directly. To add a channel to your DirecTV, just click here!
To remove a channel, call a phone number, make your way through automation hell, wait for a representative, answer a bunch of questions, give a secret code, ask for a deletion, review your bill, confirm the deletion. Thirteen minutes of your life down the drain.
Fifteen minutes if you count the compulsion to write a blog post about it.
Apparently, AT&T/DirecTV wants to make it as difficult as possible to delete channels under the absurd assumption that people will somehow change their mind and give up if you make it difficult enough? Asinine and backwards. This isn't the 1980's. Just let me manage my channels online. I might be more inclined to ADD channels if I knew it wasn't such a hassle to remove them later.
• Dyslexic. Ever wonder what it's like to read when you're dyslexic? Here you go...
Image by Victor Widell.
Well, for me it's not like everything is jumping around everywhere as shown in this image... it's more like the letters are switching around as you read them. But. Yeah. Kinda this.
• Hart. If I were Jonathan Hart (from Hart to Hart), I'd handle these idiots who fuck with me or kidnap my wife by shooting them in the dick. Maybe people would stop fucking with him or kidnapping his wife if he got a reputation for shooting people in the dick. Would you risk getting shot in the dick by Jonathan Hart? I sure wouldn't...
What I wouldn't give for an Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, and Horatio Sanz reboot!
• Whheat. In an attempt to eat a bit healthier, I bought "Hint of Salt" Wheat Thins instead of the usual "Box of Salt" Wheat Thins. Who knew that the thing that made Wheat Thins taste so good was the box of salt? These Wheat Thins are absolutely disgusting. It's going to take a shit-load of chip dip to salvage this mess...
It doesn't pay to eat healthy, I'm telling you.
• Growth. Orchard Grown Apples? Where else would they grow?
McDONALDS! PLEASE EXPLAIN!
And... that's enough googly-widget for this week.
Posted on Monday, March 14th, 2016
Wait a second.
Our military spending already outpaces Mexico FIFTY TO ONE.
Our military is larger than any other country on earth by a vastly huge margin.
Our stockpile of weapons could destroy this planet a hundred times over. And yet here comes Drumpf saying he needs to "rejuvenate" our military so he can go to war with Mexico... OUR ALLY... if they won't build a wall?
Who the fuck would vote for this dumbass after listening to this absolute lunacy? I'm just beside myself here. I loathe Hillary Clinton with every fiber of my being... but if it comes down to her and this piece of shit? How is this even a contest? Why not just threaten to NUKE Mexico? The result would be the exact same in the international arena. The US would lose every ally we have. A country would have to be fucking insane to ally with us after we strong-arm a current ally possessing a military 2% the size of our own over a fucking wall THAT WON'T EVEN WORK!
A Drumpf presidency would mean the end of us.
The literal end.
There is nowhere to go after that.
Everything we are would be gone. Everything we stand for would be gone. Even worse, we would deserve it. That this asshole can even be considered a candidate is unthinkable. That he's most likely going to be the GOP nominee is unthinkable. But I guess that's how we got here. People refuse to think any more.
Why every nation on earth isn't considering a first-strike scenario against the United States if President Drumpf becomes a reality is beyond me. It wouldn't even be considered an act of war. It would be self-preservation.
Posted on Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Posted on Wednesday, March 16th, 2016
I love a good television ad.
Putting Cookie Monster in an iPhone ad is about as good as it gets.
Putting Muppets in anything is about as good as it gets.
Posted on Thursday, March 17th, 2016
You know how when you're little and magic is real and the world is ripe with possibilities?
Even impossible possibilities?
But then you grow older and more cynical and the magic dies and you'd give anything to go back to a time when you could believe again?
The look on the monkey's face is priceless. That's what happens when you can believe that anything is possible.
Even the impossible.
Posted on Friday, March 18th, 2016
Where is the party of the fiscally conservative, socially liberal American?
Every election is a punch to the gut. This one is going to kill me.
Republicans profess to be "conservative" but are only "conservative" about governmental reach where it suits them. Everything else is draconian overreach into our personal lives at unprecedented levels. Democratic candidates don't fare much better. They may be the heart and soul of this country, but are brain-dead in areas we desperately need some smarts. I thought that the Libertarians would be the answer for me, but they're so grossly naive and unrealistic in global policy as to be laughable.
My vote for President of the United States of America is likely going to have to be "Not Trump." Which means I'm voting for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? I cannot fucking believe this shit.
I DON'T FUCKING BELIEVE IT!
Guess I've offended everybody now. Move along. Nothing to see here.
Posted on Saturday, March 19th, 2016
Worked all morning.
Came back to work on my home all day but am already at my limit.
Replaced a GFCI outlet in the kitchen and now both GFCI kitchen outlets work... but neither of the bathrooms are getting power. So... there's still that to sort out.
Then went to hang bedroom blinds. The clips that you hang the blinds on are so badly engineered and idiotic that I want to hunt down the moron who invented them and bitch-slap them so hard their face falls off...
But it gets worse... two of the clips are missing. And neither Home Depot or Lowes carry them. Now I want to shoot myself in the face. Guess I get to search the internet for brackets I hate. Yay.
If anybody knows where I can buy these abominations, please let me know.
Posted on Sunday, March 20th, 2016
Take time to make time, because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Panther. Could not possibly be more excited for the Brian Stelfreeze illustrated version of Ta-Nehisi Coates' BLACK PANTHER comic! It looks like the book will pay homage to the origins of the character, but also give us something new and different to enjoy... hats off to Marvel for giving one of my all-time favorite super heroes a creative team that's knocking it out of the park...
If you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look at how the book is shaping up, there's a Briam Stelfreeze Fan Page on Facebook. The book launches on April 6.
• Encryption. And, leave it to John Oliver to explain the current situation with Apple and encryption...
Forget everything else. Safeguarding our privacy is the threat of the future today.
• Dumbfuckery. And, speaking of John Oliver. Today being DAYLIGHT DUMBFUCKERY TIME seems like the perfect opportunity to repost this from last year...
And the idiocy continues.
• Prince. After Paramount dumped one of my most anticipated releases, The Little Prince, I was pretty bummed. Turned out Netflix has picked up the ball so badly dropped by Paramount...
Really looking forward to seeing this film. Whenever that might be.
• Humans. If I weren't such a foul-mouthed asshole, this is probably along the lines of how I'd respond to the idea of a Trump presidency. Alas...
And... no more bullet-time.
Posted on Monday, March 21st, 2016
Welcome to the first installment of CAT WEEK here at Blogography.
My first cat was a beautiful black cat that I named Midnight. He was incredibly sweet, but didn't have much personality. Any time not spent sleeping or eating was spent trying to be alone. He didn't really want to play or even hang out. So when he passed away, I wasn't compelled to get a replacement.
Forty-some-odd years later, I hadn't changed my mind. I still wasn't interested in having a feline companion. But then I ran across a starving cat that was hanging out at the old apartment complex where I was living, and fell in love with the little guy. I wasn't allowed to have pets, but I did my best to take care of him and "bent the rules" when I could to make sure he was kept safe and warm. I named him Spanky the Cat, and he was awesome...
Spanky was a very social cat, and eventually moved on to a home where he could hang out with other cats. This was a heartbreaking turn of events after having cared for him for the past three years, but I was happy if he was happy.
When I decided to move out of my pet-restricted apartment to a new home, I knew that a new cat was in my future.
After getting settled once I'd moved a little over a month ago, I ended up with brother & sister kittens that I named Jake and Jenny...
I haven't said much about them since then, so I decided to devote a week here at Blogography to get everybody caught up. Starting tomorrow...
Posted on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016
Neville and Ginny were two of three feral kittens brought into the Wenatchee Humane Society that I found on their website. They were in foster care until they were old enough to be spayed/neutered. When I went down to take a look at them they were on their way back surgery, but I was lucky enough to speak with the foster parents who were there waiting for them to see how things went. They were very kind to talk to me about the kittens and how terrific they were and how close they had become... and I knew that I would be adopting all three rather than breaking them up. But one of them was "on hold" so I ended up taking the brother and sister. The boy I knew I wanted to be named Jake. The girl I wanted to name Roger but, when I told my mother of my plan, she refused to let me name her thus, so I changed the "G-i" to a "J-e" so they have matchy brother-sister names. Jake and Jenny. Both had been through a lot and were very timid... not wanting to come out of the carrier. But when I put food out, Jake was an animal. Charging out to gobble down every bite in his bowl... and then he started in on his sister's food. I moved her bowl into the carrier where she thought about eating... but ultimately scampered to the back of the carrier to hide without taking a bite...
I honestly didn't care what the cats I was adopting looked like. I actually like homely/odd looking animals that nobody else would want. Missing eye? Three legs? Ratty fur? Bring it! But these kittehs are adorable and perfect in that heart-melting way that makes me want to photograph them for sappy greeting cards. The fact that Jake looks a little bit like Spanky is just the icing on the cake.
Their first week was spent hiding under the couch, only coming out to eat.
Eventually they started staying out a bit more, but then I had a setback in cutting off Jenny's hospital collar (I was afraid she'd get it caught and choke to death) which sent them back under the couch for days.
I spent the second week attempting to socialize them a bit. They were still sleeping under the couch, but most of their day was spent exploring their new home.
As we entered their third week, I was able to spend extended time playing with Jake and Jenny without them freaking out. This led to more trust, which led to them spending most all of their time running around instead of hiding.
And that was my last update, which was a month ago...
Now things are both very different and much the same.
Different in that they no longer run under the couch at the slightest provocation. It used to be when I so much as sneezed that they'd hide away for hours. Now I can be pounding nails into the walls and they'll come see what's happening. Even better, they've become brave enough to be crawling all over me...
But they're also the same in that they only want to be touched if it's on their terms. If you walk up and try to pet them, they're off like a shot.
Maybe. Possibly. Eventually... they'll come around and be a little more accepting, socially.
Posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016
Jake is usually a very mellow cat. But if there's ONE THING that will set him off... it's Jenny trying to take his toys. Especially his lion or his monkey, both of which he refuses to share. If he sees her with one, he'll come tearing into the room and take it away. And if she tries to take it while he's playing with it? It's go time.
For quite a while, Jake was hiding his stuffed toys on top of the dining room table because Jenny couldn't figure out how to get up there...
That lasted for two days when Jenny managed to figure it out.
Recently Jenny was playing with Jake's monkey. As expected, he ran up and took it from her as soon as he saw her with it. She chased him around for a while, but eventually gave up and found a blue mouse to play with...
Jake charged up and teased her with the monkey... then ran away. I'm guessing he was wanting her to chase her, because he did it four or five times...
Jenny was having none of it, so Jake gave up and left her to her blue mouse.
There's also an orange mouse and a green mouse. Jenny loves all of them...
Jenny's favorite toy is a "cat dancer"... which is a fabric streamer attached to a plastic wand. She'll chase anything string-like, so this is right up her alley. Jake doesn't get the concept. He grabs ahold of the streamer and tries to take it away with him, not seeming to realize it's attached to a stick...
I tried getting them interested in cat games on an iPad, which was a lot of fun for them... but ultimately a bit frustrating, I think...
Of course, the toy that cats love best is the toy they can't have. Like my camera strap. If I take something like that away from Jenny, she'll just move on to something new. If I take it away from Jake though? He will scowl and glare at me for what seems like an eternity...
Posted on Thursday, March 24th, 2016
I did a lot of research on what foods are best for cats and was surprised to see how passionate people get. After weighing all the opinions out there, I decided to formulate my own plan. I am focusing primarily on birds... chicken, duck, turkey... as it seems like that's closer to what cats actually eat when left to their own devices. I've never seen a cat take down a cow or lamb, so I'm avoiding those. Fish worries me because of all the mercury that's in seafood, so I'm feeding them fish sparingly. I am, of course, going grain-free... at least while I can afford to. I am also trying to minimize vegetables, since I've never seen a cat dig up a carrot and eat it. But an argument could be made that the animals they eat in "the wild" have vegetables in their stomaches, so I'm not militant about it. Purchasing food with minimum ingredients and carrageenan-free is pricier than I thought... and can be more difficult than I thought... but will hopefully be worth it in the end.
The wet vs. dry debate is insanely intense with vets landing on both sides of the fence. Wet is apparently better in some respects while dry is better for others (like keeping their teeth clean). I wanted to focus mainly on wet food and offer dry as a dessert but, as you'll see, that's not working out as planned.
The next step is trying to introduce some raw food into their diet. I really like the idea of making my own, but it seems to require a lot of trial and error (and an expensive grinder) to work... so I'll probably wait until they're older. Apparently going raw helps keep them out of the doctor's office to fix expensive health problems, which is always a goal.
I have the kittens on a strict feeding schedule (7:00, 12:30, 6:00) and they both know it. As breakfast approaches, they've taken to coming in my room each morning to act all starving...
The first thing they get is a bowl of wet food. Which Jake attacks right away...
I was told to feed kittens as much food as they will eat because they need lots of food for their growing bodies and will regulate their food intake on their own. But Jake doesn't seem to be doing that, even though he's as active as Jenny is. He LOVES to eat. And any invitation to eat guarantees he'll stick his face in the bowl for a chow-down. Guess he's the exception. Jake is growing noticeably bigger than Jenny, and I'm guessing it's because of his voracious appetite.
Jenny hems and haws about the wet food, but eventually relents and eats some because she knows after she eats some of it, I'll break out a plate of the dry food she loves so much.
At least she used to eat it.
Lately I noticed how her bowl would still be full after devouring the wet food.
After watching her for a while, I realized that she's not devouring it after all. She's just licking it to make me think she's eaten it so I'll bring out the dry food for dessert. The trickster!
She loves dry kibble so much that she often purrs while eating it!
Fortunately, Jenny drinks plenty of water throughout the day to compensate for her diet of mostly dry food...
Though sometimes how she drinks it is a bit... odd...?
You have to be careful any time Jake's around, as he'll chow down on any food that he can get his paws on. The scavenger!
In an attempt to offer a healthy snacking alternative, I grew some cat grass!
They both like nibbling on it throughout the day... though I don't know how much they're actually eating. Most of the time it looks like they're just playing with it.
Next step? Going to continue researching raw food. Not only is it supposed to be the healthiest way for cats to eat... it's supposed to cut down on the heinous smell of their poops, which would be a nice bonus.
Posted on Friday, March 25th, 2016
Jake and Jenny have been inseparable since they came home with me. They eat together, sleep together, groom together, and play together. In the rare occasion that they get separated and one of them realizes it, they'll start walking around looking for their sibling... squeaking in despair. If it goes on too long, they'll get more frantic and vocal, which means I usually have to start looking for them too.
Jake is such a good brother. I think Jenny has bad dreams from time to time, as she'll wake with a start and seems troubled. When this happens, more often than not she'll hop up on Jake's perch and snuggle up next to him, then go back to sleep. No matter how irritating it is, Jake never kicks her out or leaves. He'll shift position if he has to... often several times... then try to go back to sleep... but he doesn't abandon her...
As entertaining as the kittens are to me... I'm even happier that they are so entertaining to each other.
Posted on Saturday, March 26th, 2016
Wrapping up Cat Week with some random kitty pictures on Caturday...
BASK IN THE ADORABLE!!
At first I tried keeping them off the dining room table... but it seems kind of cruel. Because they're so tiny, they can't see interesting stuff going on from floor level. One more thing to add to my morning disinfection routine.
For having started out so afraid and shy, they sure are brave and adventurous now! Anything new is cause for investigation... which means I never have to be alone when assembling IKEA again.
At first I was terrified that the kittens would somehow knock my beautiful new television off the wall, but after a few tries at interacting with the picture, they gave up. I guess that's what happens when Chris Hardwick doesn't high-five back.
You would think that this is an invitation to rub her belly. You would be wrong.
Just when you think that they couldn't possibly do something to be more adorable than they are...
...they prove you wrong.
Sleeping is their most favorite pastime. They nap after breakfast, after lunch, and after dinner... then sleep through the night. Thank heavens.
Compact kittens are the best kittens.
Jenny's favorite spot is the window sill. She can stare outside for a half-hour or more and not get bored.
Jake just wants outside. Guess it's time to build that catio...
And that's it for Cat Week. But don't despair, you'll probably be getting another one soon.
Posted on Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Ignore that Easter Bunny, because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Gary. Gary Shandling passed away, and I'm more than a little sad about that. There's been some great tributes by his fellow comedians, my favorite being from Jimmy Fallon when he sang It's Gary Shandling's Show theme song on The Tonight Show... I was surprised that I still remembered all the words...
You will be missed, sir.
• FREE! I've used the Nik filters for years. They're amazingly useful and powerful tools that were eventually purchased by Google. And now they're FREE! If you are a Photoshop or Lightroom user, run... don't walk... and click right here to get 'em. The only sad thing is that this is probably the end of development for the set.
• Jailed. Sorry... but I'm siding with North Korea on this one. If you are so fucking stupid as to not familiarize yourself with the laws and customs of a country before stepping foot on their soil, then you get what you deserve. The asshole even tried to conceal his identity by wearing a hoodie... so don't tell me he didn't know what he was doing was wrong. This was no accident that landed him in jail. Pity he didn't seem to grasp the consequences for his actions but, again, not North Korea's fault that he's an idiot.
This reminds me of the stupidest fucking movie I've ever seen called Born American where some drunken frat boys cross over into The Soviet Union on a goof during The Cold War. As the consequences of their actions escalate and a small town is decimated while the Soviet army is after them... they, of course, end up captured. And the whole movie is them whining about their horrible treatment and how they don't deserve it because THEY'RE AMERICAN, DAMMIT! Never mind the damage, death, and destruction they caused... BECAUSE: AMERICAN!!!
Well fuck you. All the dumbasses like this do when being dumbasses is make it more difficult (and more risky) for other American travelers who DO follow the rules and customs and want to travel abroad. And here we are, once again reinforcing the "Ugly American" stereotype we so richly deserve. And now I'm supposed to feel sympathy for you because you're a moron? Oh do go on. Do I feel sorry for the friends and family who will miss and worry about this tool? Of course I do. I feel sorry they came to care about somebody who ended up being dumber than a box of rocks.
• Balls. Well. This is new. Woke up to the cats grabbing their spongey ball, taking it up the stairs, then pushing it off so they can chase it down the stairs... over and over and over and over and over and over again. They are still doing it an hour later...
• Easter. I thought I'd be all cute and give the cats an Easter Bunny for Easter Sunday. Set it next to Jenny while she was sleeping. She woke up and was so freaked out that she grabbed it, drug it upstairs, then ran back to her perch and fell back asleep...
• Thanks. To all the wonderful people who posted birthday wishes on the 24th, THANK YOU. I am truly blessed to have friends that would take the time to say such wonderful things as I inch ever-closer to death. It would be better to have friends that would take the time to send money, but I am grateful just the same. Love you guys. Love you guys and your cheap, cheap hearts.
Enjoy those eggs, everybody!
Posted on Monday, March 28th, 2016
You know how when you dig into a big bowl of cereal how the first two or three bites are utter perfection? The cereal crisp... the milk cold... and no sogginess to be found?
Then, like the inevitability of death and taxes, the milk starts to permeate your Cocoa Puffs and they grow increasingly less crunchy with each new bite and you'd give anything to get back to those glorious moments of cereal perfection?
"Only every single morning!" you say.
Well, there's an invention called Obol that aims to fix all this...
As you can see in the above photo, your cereal is kept high and dry in the top portion while the milk is safely waiting in the lower section. When you want to take a bite, you just push a spoonful of kibble into the milk and chow down with crunchy perfection.
And while Obol doesn't have a cooling unit to keep your milk cold, it does have kind of a "handle" on the bottom so you don't have to wrap your hands around the bowl and have your body heat warming your milk.
If you are a cereal fanatic like me, Obol is a must-purchase. It's a little pricey, but oh so worth it.
Unfortunately, I think Obol is going out of business or something, because most of the colors/sizes are out of stock and the pricing is weird at Amazon. If you're interested, I'd act sooner rather than later...
Medium Single Serve obol: $14.95, Large Double Serve Obol: $14.99
Posted on Tuesday, March 29th, 2016
My new home has an utterly bizarre design choices. It's a nice place but, logically, rooms are positioned strangely, walls don't align as they should, and absolutely nothing is centered. Some of this I was able to address in the remodel, but other things ended up sticking around because there's just not enough remodel money to deal with all my ADD issues.
One of the areas that my new home's quirks made especially challenging was decorating. Since nothing is lined up and nothing is centered, placing pictures on the walls is a maddening struggle.
Take, for instance, my upstairs hall.
I decided I wanted to decorate it with movie posters. One wall has two small windows above a stairwell (off-center, of course), another wall has bizarre angles cut into it, another wall ends in a desk nook that's off-center from two bedroom doors. And, as if that wasn't bizarre enough space to try and align some wall hangings, the far wall comes out of a stairwell and has the HVAC vent return! It's enough to drive you crazy.
For this wall I decided to put a couple Star Wars posters (A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back... the only two that matter) and have them line up with both the stairwell and the upstairs hall. This left a big gap in the middle that needed filling.
I decided a light saber might be cool.
Only to find out that replicas are insanely expensive.
And then I happened across a "science kit" from "Uncle Milton" that featured a "Build Your Own Lightsaber" style room -light... for just $25! SOLD! I liked the design of Darth Vader's lightsaber best, so that's what I went with.
Opening the box had me bust out laughing, because it's not actual-size. It's a mini-saber that's tiny, tiny, tiny...
As if that wasn't funny enough, the "Darth Vader" lightsabers come in a box with a picture of Kylo Ren!
Even though it's billed as a "room light" it sure doesn't glow bright enough to light up a room... even in total darkness. But it does make a lightsaber sound when you turn it on, so I guess that's something. It comes with a remote control, but the remote doesn't turn the thing on, so I have no clue what the hell it's for (you have to push the button on the hilt to get it to "activate"). The description at Amazon said that the blade changes to eight colors with the remote, but the Darth Vader blade only glows red.
Ultimately, a big disappointment, as this is not the lightsaber you're looking for... move along.
Eventually maybe I can find a decent FULL-SIZE replica with a glowing blade that's affordable. Until then, a mini-saber it shall be.
May The Force be with you.
Posted on Wednesday, March 30th, 2016
The thing about cats is... they're cats.
Cats... and especially the two kittens I have... are curious by nature, and want to get into anything and everything they can. They're always looking for adventure, which can be problematic when it comes to keeping them safe.
If there's one room I don't want them adventuring in, it's the kitchen. Too many opportunities for them to get into trouble once they're able to jump high enough to get on the countertops. Also... that's where the front door is, and I don't want them running out into the street.
The first thing I tried was putting "Scat Mats" in front of both entrances. These are plastic sheets with conductive wires running through it. They're hooked up to a battery and deliver a small shock when your pet (or you!) make contact with two wires...
The mats seem to work as advertised. It just took a few attempts before Jake and Jenny stopped trying to go into the kitchen. When I make their breakfast in the morning, they stop short of entering and wait patiently.
At least they did.
Maybe my cats are geniuses or something, but they just started jumping over the mat on day three...
Not the best solution for keeping cats out of a room. Probably works great for keeping cats off of something though. If that's what you're after, then they might be worth picking up. The only thing that really bothered me with the product (other than them not working for my intended purpose) was that they tell you to store your mat rolled up... but it arrives folded. Which puts big-ass creases in it. They say you can use a hairdryer to smooth them out, but not even an industrial hairdryer would remove mine (as you can see in the above video). Kind of stupid they don't come rolled, as suggested in the instruction book!
After the failure of Scat Mat, I turned to another solution... Ssscat!
This is a can of compressed air with a motion sensor on top. When something triggers the motion detector, it releases a blast of air that scares any cats (or humans) who come within range...
It's a great idea.
Except mine doesn't work.
Even with two changes of fresh batteries, it doesn't activate when you get near it as it should. Sometimes it will go off with motion, but there's no rhyme or reason to it and it's worthless 99% of the time. I don't know if I got a bad one or what, but it's an even worse failure than the Scat Mat.
Hopefully a solution will come along that actually works.
Until then, there's always "NO!"
Posted on Thursday, March 31st, 2016
For decades I've been vowing that if I were to ever get my own place, I would never have carpeting again.
This was only confirmed when I pulled out the carpeting in my new home only to find that massive amounts of dirt were sitting beneath... belying the clean appearance of the carpet from above. It's pretty heinous... even if you're got a power vacuum like a Dyson.
The problem with hardwood is that it makes for some slippery stairs... especially if you have kittens that struggle to climb them and need something to grab onto. This means buying some stair treads, which is easier said than done, as there are a number of hurdles to overcome. First of all, decent stair treads are really expensive. I've seen them as high as $50... per stair! Second of all, I am picky in that I want something which blends in with my flooring as much as possible... but still stands out enough so people know they're there. Since I couldn't find them local, I had to best-guess while shopping online, which is always dangerous as the color you see on your display rarely matches reality.
Amazon here I come.
There were a few options that caught my eye, but the one that really stood out was the treads by casapura...
So I ordered them with my expectations kept in check.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the box and found that they were absolutely perfect. The quality. The color. The shape. The size. Everything. They look far more expensive than $89, and work perfectly for my kittens to navigate the stairs safely...
If I have one complaint, it's that quite a few treads didn't have the pattern perpendicular to the edge. It's not hugely noticeable, but for somebody ADD like me, it does drive you a little crazy. Other than that, I'm very happy with the casa pura stair treads... and even happier that I only had to pay $89 for them.
When it comes to installation, it's pretty straight-forward. There are adhesive strips on the back which keep the tread securely positioned. Some people in their Amazon reviews complained that it wasn't strong enough, but mine have been holding just great. I was sure to carefully clean and dry each step to get the best adhesion, so maybe that's all it takes. I did remove a tread to see if it comes off cleanly, and it did, but I don't know if that changes over time.
A helpful hint: After measuring my treads and stairs, I found that they centered with 4-1/2" gaps on each side. In order to make sure they all lined up perfectly, I found a small box that was 4-1/2" wide to set them against...
This made installation a snap.
You can find the casa pura treads over at Amazon... though, ironically enough, the "chocolate brown" color I purchased is no longer listed.