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Canon “Quality”

Posted on Saturday, February 7th, 2004

Dave!Along with my new Canon EOS Digital Rebel camera I purchased a FireWire memory card reader to get the photos into my computer (the camera only has USB-1, which is way too slow). But last night I didn't have my reader with me, and so I had to hook up directly to the camera only to find that the USB port doesn't work... in fact, it's so loose in the camera that I don't think it's even connected! So now I am having to send back a brand new camera to have it repaired. That seems to be my luck lately.

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I can’t sleep

Posted on Saturday, February 21st, 2004

Dave!For the past few weeks, I've had the worst luck getting a decent night's sleep. This sucks because I'm in a constant state of zombie-like tiredness throughout the entire day... and yet I still can't seem fall asleep each evening. Tonight is no different. I barely have the brain-power to type, so anything too complex is out of the question. Mindless blog surfing seems the perfect solution! And that's when I run across an entry on Adriaan Tijsseling's blog about the futility of a new photo rating system in Apple's iPhoto. It does seem like a bizarre feature, but a great way to kill time until SNL comes on.

I've got nearly 2000 photos packed into my iPhoto album, and quickly find that most of my photos are "average," so I am giving them 3 stars. On the rare event that something seems 5-star worthy, it's not really because of the photo... it's because the subject is 5-star worthy. Like, for instance, this amazing sculpture I snapped at the Vatican:

Vatican Cherub

And this really cool shot of the Eiffel Tower:

eTower

Or this beautiful photograph of the Grand Canyon at sunset:

GrandCanyon

See? It has nothing to do with me. It's not like I've done anything smart or artistic... how could anybody make those shots look bad if they had a decent camera? So do they really deserve 5-stars just because I happened upon them? Or do I reserve a 5-star rating for some piece of subtle genius like this shot that I took in Stockholm:

Infart!

Heh heh heh... it says "fart!" Oh well, I give up... there doesn't seem to be much point in rating my photos, and SNL is on in five minutes.

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Lies! (and the lying liars at Canon that tell them)

Posted on Wednesday, February 25th, 2004

Dave!I was pretty upset that my brand new Canon EOS Digital Rebel camera had a defective USB port. I was a little more upset that I was expected to pay for shipping it to Canon to be fixed (hey, it wasn't my fault their Quality Control Dept. screwed up!). But that is nothing compared to the fact that I was told it would be 7-14 days for the repair... and now it's day 15 and I still don't have my camera back.

Canon is saying that they didn't enter it into the repair shop until the 17th... but I have a FedEx confirmation of delivery on the 10th. Which means they sat on it for 7 days. When I complained, I was told this was a "normal" amount of time. Well, if a 7-day delay is normal, they should stop lying about a turn-around of 7 to 14 days and instead give a more accurate time frame of 14-21 days.

Needless to say, I am really pissed about this. Why is it that everything you buy is total crap anymore?

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Canon “quality”… part deux

Posted on Monday, March 15th, 2004

Dave!Well, it took over a month, but Canon finally returned my brand new EOS Digital Rebel camera. The non-stop screw-ups in regards to them repairing a camera that was faulty out of the box has me seriously questioning whether I will ever buy another Canon product. First they lie about the 7-14 day turn-around (it takes that long just to check it into the repair facility!), then they have me send the camera to the wrong place at my expense (where it sat for TWENTY-FIVE DAYS until they forwarded it to the proper place). Then, only after coming completely unglued and demanding to speak with a supervisor, did I get any results. I understand that mistakes are bound to happen, but to be treated like this when the camera was brand new and the problem was in no way my fault... well, it sucks ass. I guess next time I go with the Nikon.

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Texture

Posted on Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

Dave!I was browsing through iPhoto looking for a picture I took of a sleepy cat when I noticed a tendency I have to snap photos of interesting textures. I never really thought of it before because they are always scattered amongst dozens of other shots. But, thanks to iPhoto, I can easily create an album of just the textures which ended up being pretty cool. A few of my favorites...

Texture 1

Texture 2

Texture 3

Texture 4

Texture 5

Vacherie, Reykjavik, Sedona, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh.

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Wildcats of the Colosseum

Posted on Wednesday, March 31st, 2004

Dave!Oh yeah, about that sleepy cat photo I was looking for in my last post: Cats fascinate me. They are always doing something that leads me to believe that they are smarter than most people I meet. Cats also have attitude. They hop up on your lap and demand your attention and then, without notice or provocation, they'll bite you and run off as if to say "I tire of your inadequate affections, begone with you" (which, oddly enough, can sum up most of the relationships I've had).

Last night while watching Friends, Phoebe was singing the "Smelly Cat" song, which somehow hit my brain as "Sleepy Cat," which reminded me of this cat I saw at the Roman Colosseum.

Colosseo

While the landmark is overrun with dozens (hundreds?) of wild street cats, it was this one in particular that caught my attention...

Sleepy Cat

The sun was shining, so it was a nice day despite the crisp December air. I was walking along when I saw this cat taking a nap, oblivious to the swarming tourists around him. As I approached, the cat suddenly realized that the sun had moved and left him under a shadow. He then moved one foot to his left so he was sitting in the sun again then promptly fell back asleep. After walking around the Colosseum, I came back to where the cat was and noticed he had to move again.

My digital camera was full-up with Colosseum photos, but I deleted one just so I could get a shot of this cat. I'm glad I did, because it ended up being one of my favorites from that trip.

   

Theme Thursday: heavy metal

Posted on Thursday, April 8th, 2004

Dave!The minute this week's Theme Thursday mailing hit my in-box with the subject of heavy metal, I knew exactly what my photographs were going to involve. The back-alleys of my home town here in Cashmere, Washington are filled with all kinds of interesting metal fittings... heavy metal doors, pipes, grates, and bars are everywhere. Most people would probably think that this makes the city look junky, but I think it's actually pretty cool. We've got a post-industrial kind of funk going on that makes an interesting contrast to the "Early American" theme that's decorating the town. My favorite shot from today is of this old fire door that's just been torn out...

TT_HeavyMetal 4

Other heavy metal contenders...

TT_HeavyMetal 1

TT_HeavyMetal 2

TT_HeavyMetal 3

My favorite old structure in the entire city is the so-called "Modern Apartments" building that might have actually been modern at one time, but I remain skeptical. Talk about heavy metal... if that concrete and steel balcony should ever fall on anybody, they're dead meat!

TT_HeavyMetal5

TT_HeavyMetal6

Every morning when I ride past that building, I wonder if the typeface for "Modern Apartments" actually exists, or if I should use it as inspiration to create a new typeface of my own. It's so very retro-cool.

   

Theme Thursday: heavy metal redux

Posted on Thursday, April 8th, 2004

Dave!I never look at other people's entries for Theme Thursday until I have posted my own... I just don't want to be unduly influenced by somebody else and end up stealing their idea (even subconsciously). So after posting my heavy metal photograph, I took a run through everybody and was surprised to see how many used metal bridges in their shot. That's a pretty good idea, especially if you live in Pittsburgh, because there are some really cool photos to be had there. This one was taken last summer...

TT_HeavyMetal 7

Pittsburgh seems to have the image of a dirty old steel town that's truly undeserved, as it is actually a beautiful city.

   

Blogallery

Posted on Tuesday, April 13th, 2004

Dave!In honor of the one-year blogiversary of Blogography (just five days away!), I've decided to add a gallery to the site. I've received more than a couple requests to do this, but always resisted because most of my photos are filled with friends and family that may not want to have their picture posted on the internet.

I know, it's kind of a lame excuse... I was just too lazy to look for photos.

Anyway, a gal e-mailed me to point out that there are already hundreds of photos scattered in my blog, so I had plenty of "acceptable" pictures readily available if I would just get off my ass and make pages for them. She was right of course, so here you go. It will take a while to get everything set up, but I'll try to add a couple of new galleries each day... so, if you're interested, check back from time to time to see what's new.

   

Nawlins

Posted on Wednesday, April 14th, 2004

Dave!As I was prepping some New Orleans photos to add to my gallery, I ran across a link to a nice Photoshop "action" that will alter your images so that they look like they've been taken with a Lomo camera (thank you Jason Kottke!). For anybody not knowing what a Lomo is, it's a nifty Russian-made camera that takes intense pictures dripping with color. I had a used Lomo a long time ago and liked it a lot, but it was badly damaged on a hiking expedition and was not long for this world. I've always wanted to get another one, but there are so many models to choose from that I can't make up my mind. You can see the Lomo line-up at the official Lomography web site.

The Lomoizer action can be found here for free, courtesy of Jake Ingman. I just made a quick pass through all the photos in the gallery, and they look pretty cool, but I'll probably experiment with the effect when I have more time and tweak them more to my liking. Here is a sample of the Lomo effect on a couple of shots:

Lomoizer Effect

Hmmm... now I really got to save up some cash to get a real Lomo!

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Theme Thursday: noise

Posted on Thursday, April 15th, 2004

Dave!Of all the Theme Thursday's I've done so far, none have been easier than noise. Directly across the street from my office are the train tracks through town, so all day long I've got painfully loud train whistles blowing noise at me as I am trying to work. I don't seem to notice the trains as much as I used to... unless I am on the phone. Then it's impossible to ignore them since you have to repeat everything several times while screaming so that the other person can hear you.

Taken outside my office door... in the background there, you can see the train speeding through town. Here comes the noise...

TT Noise Coming

And there goes the noise. This time taken across the street. Note that I did not tilt the camera while shooting this (the little building is the one that's crooked)...

TT Noise Going

Still playing with that Lomoize action in Photoshop here.

   

Pope Bali

Posted on Friday, April 16th, 2004

Dave!It looks like Friday Five came back for a week, only to disappear again. I hope everything is okay with Heather. Anyway, I added a few photos to my ever-growing Blogography Gallery. This time there are photos from Asia, Rome, and the stunning Hard Rock Hotel in Bali. If you're looking to get away from it all, this is the place...

My Bed

Pool Overlook

The Pool

Somehow, I think my upcoming visit to the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago will pale in comparison, no matter how great a job they made of it!

   

Rain

Posted on Tuesday, April 20th, 2004

Dave!This morning I was awakened by the sound of torrential rains slamming into my roof. It made me almost glad that I was driving my car today instead of my motorcycle. But in the time it took me to get up, take a shower, and get dressed the rain had stopped. When I finally stepped outside, all I could see was the aftermath; flowers crushed, leaves and blossoms stripped from the trees... a pretty big mess. After I ate some toast for breakfast and headed off to work, the sun was coming out and Mother Nature was already starting to recover...

Rainy Day 1

Rainy Day 2

I guess even fragile things can be tough when they have to be.

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Alone in Utah

Posted on Sunday, May 2nd, 2004

Dave!Salt Lake City is an interesting place to me as it's one of those rare major cities where I simply don't know anybody. Unlike L.A. or New York or Chicago or London or Tokyo... or whatever... I have no friends in the area. I guess it's simply because I don't get here very often (which is bizarre, because it is the closest Hard Rock Cafe to where I live: 3 hours by plane, 12 hours by car). Oh well, it's nice to just kick back, watch a movie, and be alone for a while.

Northwest Airlines doesn't have a direct Seattle-Salt Lake City route (this is Delta territory!) so I took a quick 2-hour Sky West flight on a very small plane. It's kind of a boring trip but, once when looking out the window, I did see PacMan!

Pac Man

There are actually a lot of PacMen down there, but the one in the middle has an eye on him which was kind of nifty. After a while, I noticed a lot of cool patterns that I thought would make great "modern art" with a little help from Photoshop.

SkyArt1

SkyArt2

SkyArt3

"Lilly Pads," "Circuit Board, " and "Pink Polka Dot Infusion."

   

Pioneer

Posted on Friday, May 21st, 2004

Dave!Yesterday when I walked over to photograph my Theme Thursday entry, I took a quick 5-minute walk through Pioneer Square, one of the many great places in the beautiful city of Seattle. I have several fond memories (like go-go dancers at Doc Maynards!) and a few not-so fond memories (like being held-up at knife-point!) from this area of the city. If you are into architecture, this is the oldest area of Seattle, and filled with amazing old buildings.

The heart of Pioneer Square is Occidental Square, a beautiful little park with a leafy canopy of green above it...

Occidental Park

A friend introduced me to the J&M Cafe and Card Room (the oldest bar in Seattle) which is home to my most favorite shooter drink... The McNasty! While it's not the same as ordering up a tray of McNastys with a bunch of friends, you can make this yummy concoction at home... fill a shot glass half-way with hot coffee. Add Sambuca Liquor and then float a little Bailey's Irish Cream on top... fantastic!

J&M Cafe

Not many people realize that UPS (United Parcel Service... those delivery guys in the brown trucks) was started in Seattle. At the very spot that UPS began, they have created this amazing little oasis in the middle of Pioneer Square and called it "Waterfall Garden." When work-related stress takes me to the breaking point, just ten minutes sitting in this amazing little park can work wonders...

Waterfall Garden

Waterfall Garden

One of my favorite places in the Square is the Elliott Bay Book Co. In a day and age when wonderful old book shops are being replaced with online behemoths like Amazon.com, places like this are a true treasure. The eclectic and well-informed staff has littered the shelves with small cards pointing out their favorite books and other items of interest, which makes browsing here a real treat. I try to support this nifty store by buying a new book every time I visit...

Elliott Bay Book Co.

Sure the Space Needle and Pike Place Market are worth visiting in Seattle, but if you ever come to this wonderful city, you owe it to yourself to wander through historic Pioneer Square and discover all of its wonders for yourself.

   

Memorial Day

Posted on Monday, May 31st, 2004

Dave!Finally I am home! On the way to my apartment, I pass by the cemetery where Memorial Day festivities are in full display. Hundreds of flags decorate the perimeter, and even more have been placed next to the markers of those who served in the armed forces. If you can put aside the inherent sadness that comes from visiting a cemetery, it's a beautiful sight.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

Memorial Day

To the men and women of all nations who acted in service of the freedoms we are privileged to have... thank you.

   

Life in 50mm

Posted on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

Dave!Today was an incredibly busy day, which was heartbreaking because my latest toy arrived... a brand new 50mm f/1.4 lens for my Canon Digital Rebel camera... and I had no time to play with it. The camera originally included a 18-55mm lens of fairly low quality, and I had been longing for a sharper, brighter, more color-accurate lens since day one. Well, now I have it, and have spent the past hour playing around with it.

Wow.

After I placed the order I had a bit of remorse over buying a fixed $400 lens when a cheaper $70 version existed at f/1.8. But this lens is so sweet that all my reservations disappeared in about 5 minutes. It is absolutely brilliant, and even mundane shots look amazing...

Teddy Bears

Teddy Bears

The only problem is that the Digital Rebel has a magnification factor of 1.6 for any lens you attach, effectively making my 50mm lens 80mm. So now I need something a bit wider for landscapes and architecture shots. The sweetest solution would be to get Canon's lovely 16-35mm ultra-wide zoom, but it's astoundingly expensive at $1400! I suppose that I could sell a kidney or something, because I really, really want it...

Canon Lenses

That's my beautiful new 50mm on the left and the object of my desire, the 16-35mm on the right. Is it too much to hope that $1400 falls from the sky before I start traveling again?

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Sixteen to Thirty-Five

Posted on Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

Dave!For anybody who is curious about the Canon EOS Digital Rebel's 1.6 magnification factor "ruining" any chance for wide angle shots, it really doesn't... if you spend the money to make it happen. I seem to have caused a bit of confusion yesterday when I posted shots with a "wide angle lens" that were not very "wide." The reason for this is that I limit photos on Blogography to a 425 pixel width in order to save bandwidth, which makes any detail in wide shots drop out quite badly. Keeping that in mind, here are a few shots at 16mm, cropped out of the middle of the full-frame...

Seattle at 16mm

Pretty sweet, I know. It was very tempting to "accidentally" forget to return the lens! Ordinarily I would attempt to correct some of the barrel distortion in Photoshop, but I didn't do that here because it actually isn't too bad.

The truth is that even with the 1.6 magnification, 16mm still gives you about 25mm, which is still a respectable wide angle. I was pretty happy to finally be able to shoot an image that came closer to capturing my field of vision with this camera... but at the same time dismayed that it's going to cost $1400 to get it (that's more than the camera!). Sure there are cheaper alternatives out there, but if I decide to spend that kind of money, I'd rather pay the extra and be assured of quality.

Decisions, decisions... buy the lens and starve to death or don't by the lens and forever be stuck with a narrow view of the world?

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Valley

Posted on Saturday, June 19th, 2004

Dave!I just got an e-mail from my little brother (a far more talented photographer than I am) with the most amazing panorama shot of our home here in the Cashmere Valley. It would seem that while I was slaving away at work, he was out in this beautiful weather on a motorcycle ride. Lucky bastard! You can click on the photo to open up a larger shot in a new window...

Cashmere Valley Pano

He notes: "Shot with Canon S500 in panoramic mode and stitched together in Canon stitch software."

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Poverty

Posted on Tuesday, June 29th, 2004

Dave!Yesterday I ordered my dream camera lens, the Canon 16-35mm Wide-Angle. Tomorrow is payday. That makes today the mid-point between spending money I didn't have, and collecting the money I already spent. What this all really means is that I am poor for the next several weeks. I may end up having to beg for food, but at least I'll be able to beautifully photograph my poverty with a $1400 lens.

Ack. I think I'm going to be sick.

I sure hope I take some amazing photos on my upcoming journeys to justify this obscene expenditure.

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Salty

Posted on Tuesday, July 6th, 2004

Dave!Back again to Salt Lake City. Today I managed to squeeze in an hour in-between jobs so I could visit Temple Square and play around with my new wide-angle lens for a while. Having such a lens certainly makes it easy to fit large structures in the frame. Unfortunately, I forgot my polarizing filter back at the hotel, so stray light on a bright day like today has a tendency to wash things out somewhat. Playing with curves in Photoshop helped to get a bit of the contrast back...

Temple Square

My previous photos of the Assembly Hall barely managed to fit the building in the shot, but now I have the option of adding a little scenery around it to better place the structure in context. The building itself is a beautiful example of gothic architecture, so it's a bit of a shame that it's obstructed by so many trees, but it does make for a peaceful setting...

Temple Square

Unfortunately, the lens does have a few pitfalls... shooting really wide causes some freaky distortion (especially at the corners), and there seems to be a bit of a lens flare problem that creeps in from time to time (even when the included lens hood is attached). I suppose you could look at the bright side and consider that you can use these "features" to your advantage and get some interesting shots out of it...

Temple Square

I can't wait to head south this weekend, because I'd imagine this lens will do astoundingly well with the scenery there!

   

Moab

Posted on Friday, July 9th, 2004

Dave!After my work had finished in Salt Lake City, I rented a car and took a 4 hour drive south to the city of Moab, which is famous for its spectacular location among three parks that contain some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever find: Arches National Park, which preserves numerous naturally occurring archways that have been eroded into their present shape over millions of years. Dead Horse Point State Park, with one of the most incredible scenic vistas I have ever beheld... rivaling even the Grand Canyon. And Canyonlands National Park, which picks up where Dead Horse Point leaves off, a features even more spectacular scenic overlooks.

If you are a photographer, the entire area is a dream come true! Just a few shots from yesterday and today...

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Petroglyphs

Dead Horse Point Overlook

Park Avenue

Boy, having a wide-angle lens and a polarizing filter came in handy this trip!

And, lastly, before I forget... for anybody visiting the area, a company called "Canyonlands by Night & Day" gets my highest possible recommendation if you are looking for excursions into the beautiful countryside. I took both their "Land Before Time" 4-wheel drive tour and their "Where the Wild River Runs" jet boat tour and found them to be exemplary in every respect. When visiting these kinds of places, it's often difficult to know which company to choose, because there are so many and all of them advertise being "the best" (and sometimes end up being complete crap) but I got very, very lucky in finding this one. My only regret since I got here is that I don't have more time so I can sample some of the other adventures they offer (or do the two I've already done all over again).

   

Bryce

Posted on Saturday, July 10th, 2004

Dave!The wonderful thing about having a digital camera is that there's no film to waste, so you can shoot absolutely everything and sort it all out later. Usually, I keep only a quarter of the shots (or less) that I take and trash the rest. But Southern Utah is proving to be an exception. I took 552 shots in Moab and kept 170, which is about a third. I guess having a good subject gives you a better ratio of keepers.

Today, after a long drive to the other side of the state, I stood in awe of the miracle that is Bryce Canyon National Park and shot 232 photos in under 4 hours. Now that I sit here looking through them, I can only find 17 shots to toss out. Sure many of them look the same but, thanks to a lucky break, there was a layer of clouds out today that caused nifty tricks with the light... so it seems everything I shot turned out amazing. I mean, how in the heck can I possibly delete cool stuff like this:

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Obviously I can't. Every blasted one of them looks like a bloody postcard. I have found a photographer's Nirvana.

   

London Night

Posted on Tuesday, July 27th, 2004

Dave!This evening was my first time without plans since I arrived, so I decided to explore a bit by night and get some dinner. London, like any large city, is abuzz with activity at all hours. Here in the West End, most of that has to do with people heading off to the theater... Hasselhoff is in town, after all.

I took a few photographs to see how my new lens does at night, and ended up with a freaky set of images, where the sky looks completely drained of color, while objects in front of it appear normal. I have no idea if this is an effect of the lens, the camera, the scene, or a factor of all three. To me, the result looks a bit fake, like the sky was desaturated in Photoshop or something, but it wasn't... what you see is exactly what I got:

Big Ben at Night

Parliament at Night

I cannot decide if I like this rather odd-looking effect or not. I think I will take my other lens out tomorrow night and see if things look more "normal."

   

Sunday

Posted on Sunday, September 26th, 2004

Dave!Surprise: It would seem that the initial delay I had getting into LAX for my recent trip to Korea was not because of a power outage... turns out somebody didn't perform a monthly reboot of their Windows 2000 Server, causing it to crash over some kind of data overflow. Why am I not surprised?

Lost: I finally got around to watching Alias creator J.J. Abrahms new show: Lost. I was not surprised that I ended up liking it, but was surprised that Matthew Fox turned in a decent performance. Who knew?

Flickr: While I would prefer to make my own gallery to put my photos on the web, server space is starting to become an issue. There are a lot of free photo sharing services out there, but the first one I've ended up liking has been Flickr (see my test gallery). Free accounts only get three albums (with only the most current 100 photos displayed), but you can cram in as many photos as you like because there's no storage limit, just a bandwidth limit of 10 megs a month. Manipulating and organizing your photos is pretty easy, but the nicest thing about the service is the ability to keep track of your friend's photos and see what they've been up to (if you invite a friend to join, their albums will automatically be added to your list!). Once Flickr is out of beta, they will offer paid upgrades to Pro accounts so you can have more than three albums and view more than the last 100 photos... if it's reasonably priced, I'll absolutely be signing up.

Photographic: Speaking of Flickr, be sure to check out the Flickr Blog. Here they highlight some of the more interesting photo albums from their users, some of which are amazing. One of the best is Guys on Bikes, which is a photo journal of a trek four guys made across the USA on bicycles.

Fable: The new Xbox release, Fable, was developed by Peter Molyneux who created one of my favorite games of all time: Populous. I've been too busy to look at it much, but the hour I did manage to spend playing (while backing up my laptop) was pretty cool. It's nifty how the game kind of changes depending on the choices you make. I just wish it weren't so complicated... navigating through a half-dozen menus to eat an apple from your inventory is ridiculous. This is only the 3rd time I've had a free moment to turn on my Xbox since I bought it months ago. Why did I even bother to spend $50 for a game that I know I'll never have time to play?

Hah!: I'm not even here today! My entries for yesterday and today were posted automatically by a new feature in Movable Type that allows you to pre-date your posts. That's kind of a nifty way to keep your blog fresh when you know you won't be able to post in person! But it's also kind of spooky. I mean, what if I am was in a car wreck and died tomorrow yesterday morning? That would make this a post-mortem post! If that's the case, I think I would like my last words here to be "funky taco."

   

Flickr

Posted on Thursday, September 30th, 2004

Dave!I just got an email from Flickr, where they are releasing the pricing for the Pro Account upgrades... it's $59.95/year (but, while they are still in beta, you can save 30% and get a year for $41.77). Back when I signed up for Flickr, I had asked myself "how much would you pay for this service" and came to a price of $3.00/month, or $36.00/year. So, with the sale price being fairly close, I went ahead and signed up... but I'm not so sure I would have spent the $59.95 "original price." Sure the Pro Account gives you a nice way of backing up a full gigabyte of hi-res photos each month, but it it really worth sixty bucks?

Uhhh... probably not.

So whether or not I continue on with my Pro Account after it expires will probably be decided by what new features and conveniences are added in the coming year. I really like the idea of Flickr, so I'm hoping they keep making it worth my while to remain a customer. Some things I would like to see:

  • Restrict access to hi-res images.
  • Customizable templates, so I can make my Flickr area look as I want.
  • More batch functions, to more easily add keywords and attributes to groups of flagged photos all at once.
  • A "date photo taken" field and the ability to view photos in the order they were taken not uploaded.
  • Ability to mark photos "purchasable" so guests can purchase physical copies (like Ofoto).
  • Sets within sets for better organization.
  • Stand-alone software for uploading with a Mac (not from within iPhoto).

In the meanwhile, I plan on pushing that 1-gig limit every month so I can get my money's worth!

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Eerie

Posted on Sunday, December 12th, 2004

Dave!Oooh. While cleaning crap off of my PowerBook's hard drive, I ran across this strange photo that I don't even remember taking...

Cloudy City

I believe that this is Milwaukee from my last flight, glowing under the cloud cover. The low-light made the photo pretty grainy, but I think it looks kind of cool that way.

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Lit

Posted on Saturday, December 25th, 2004

Dave!Mom's Christmas Tree as I see it without my contact lenses...

Blurry Lights

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Snowful

Posted on Sunday, December 26th, 2004

Dave!When I woke up this morning and grabbed my laptop off the night-stand, I knew that it was going to be a sad day before I even opened it up. You don't have the most powerful earthquake in 40 years strike without any ramifications. Sure enough, the news coming out of Asia is horrendous, with the resulting tidal waves ravaging coastal cities in six countries. I think of the time I was walking along the beach in Phuket, Thailand and realize full-well that it could have been me being swept out to sea.

Setting aside the world to get a slice of toast and hot cocoa for breakfast, I notice that something good has happened when I look out my window to watch the sunrise...

Snow Day

Snow Day

Snow Day

Snow has finally come!

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Lomoizer

Posted on Sunday, January 9th, 2005

Dave!Thanks to a link over at Kotke where Jason has updated his entry on the subject, I started playing around with the Lomo Effect again (as I did in a previous entry). It's one of those nifty little Photoshop tricks that can take boring images you don't know what to do with and transform them into something interesting...

Lomo Originals

Lomo Shutters

Lomo Statue

Oddly enough, I find that it doesn't work very well on good images you tend to like, but it does have a certain kind of magic on the others.

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Fogged

Posted on Wednesday, January 19th, 2005

Dave!It's foggy out today.

Fogged

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Day Five: Barcelona, Spain

Posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2005

Dave!I took a quick two-hour flight on the ever-excellent GermanWings airline out of Cologne, and ended up in Barcelona. Since I had never been here before, it was going to be a new adventure for me. After taking the train into the city, I checked in to my hotel, grabbed my camera, and then headed out.

My first stop was The Cathedral, a compact yet no-less impressive church at the heart of Barcelona. Unfortunately, as with most places I've been visiting lately, the structure is completely covered in scaffolding and undergoing repairs. I was a little disappointed, but that vanished just moments after entering the grounds. It's hard to be upset when you are greeted by geese...

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona Cathedral

Leaving my new friends behind, I enter the building...

Barcacathedral2

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcacathedral0

...and proceed to lose my mind. The architecture is just amazing here. Eventually I manage to tear myself away so I can go eat lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe...

Barcelona HRC

Don't let the plain exterior fool you. Inside, it's all Hard Rock and very well done...

Barcelona HRC

It's still fairly early, I think I'll go wander through Old Town and see what I can find.

   

Day Five: Barcelona, Spain 2

Posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2005

Dave!The most famous street in all of Spain is "Las Ramblas" in Barcelona. Here you can find shops of every kind, from famous designer brands to street vendors selling pets, flowers, food, toys, and everything else you can imagine. As the sun began to set, I spied a glow off to the side and realized it was an open-air produce market. The "St. Josep Mercat" to be exact. From the outside, it looks like it might be a single street which has been covered to protect the vendors from the elements (artfully framed with stained glass tiles)...

Barcelona Market

Inside, it is entirely another matter, as it ends up being a huge, sprawling market with row after row of the most beautiful produce you've ever seen. Massive strawberries so red they seem to glow. Beautiful peppers so fresh their smell fills the air. Everywhere you look there's mountains of perfect food, all painted with a bright rosy light for maximum appetite appeal. A photo can't really capture how overwhelming an experience this is for the senses, but I decided to try anyway...

Barcelona Market

Barcelona Market

Barcelona Market

Barcelona Market

A few vendors were selling bowls of freshly cut fruits, so dessert was at hand! As I headed back to the hotel with my prize, I decided to take some side streets so I could get lost in the hundreds of back alleys and tiny walkways that create a vast maze in Old Town Barcelona...

Barcelona Alley

As I sit here eating strawberries and typing away on my PowerBook, I am saddened that I've only got a day-and-a-half left in this amazing city. I can't wait until sunrise so I can begin exploring once again.

Movie Quotable of the Day: "Look, I'm through arguing with you! I don't take checks... now slip me some cash and I'll slip you the wiener."
Yesterday's Answer: Aliens (1986) starring Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn.

   

SF

Posted on Monday, February 28th, 2005

Dave!Between family, friends, and work... I have been to San Francisco many, many times. And because of that, I'm about all "touristed out" on all the sights and attractions here. This is actually a good thing, because it allows me to concentrate on what's really important: 1) Visiting the San Francisco Museum of Art so that I can see Diego Rivera's The Flower Carrier, which is one of my most favorite paintings of all time.... and 2) Going to Chinatown so I can get some freshly-made fortune cookies that are so good, they come very close to proving there is a higher power at work in the universe...

Fortune Cookies

Fortune Cookies

The "Golden Gate Fortune Cookies Factory" is tiny. Barely a closet off of Ross Alley, actually. There's room for only two automated cookie machines, which are run all day long, churning out hundreds (thousands?) of cookies. In the ten years I've been going there, I see the same two ladies every time. As if the fresh cookies are not enough, if you purchase a couple of bags worth (at $3 each), they'll toss some of the ruined (unfolded) cookies in your bag... STILL WARM! There is very little that can compare to a deliciously crispy fortune cookie when it's hot off the griddle.

The forecast said it was going to rain all day today, but the weather was absolutely brilliant. Beautiful blue skies and crisp air all around. I took advantage of the day to visit the new Apple Store, then head down to the wharf so I could see if there were any interesting new pins at the Hard Rock Cafe there...

Apple

TransAmerica

Wharf Crab

Yeah, that crab-thing at Pier 39 really freaks me out too. Anyway, it was about as perfect a day as you can get in the City By The Bay, which is very sweet indeed!

   

Spring

Posted on Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

Dave!While walking to the post office this sunny afternoon, I noticed that the crocuses are in bloom. Along with California poppies and bachelor buttons, the crocus is one of my favorite flowers. I like the purple ones best, but they come in dozens of varieties that are equally beautiful. These poor guys are growing outside of a tavern so, in addition to the crappy weather we've been having, they also have to worry about drunks trampling all over them.

Not an easy life, to be sure... but it is a pretty one.

Crocus Purple

Crocus Yellow

Also along the way to the Post Office, I ran across this poor dog so ugly that it was almost cute. And that got me to thinking about how dogs are so much more practical than we are when it comes to determining who they want to hang with. They don't care what other dogs look like as long as their ass smells okay. Shouldn't it be the same with people?

Ugly Dog

And one last thing before my lunch is over... has anybody noticed that Google has been "Van Gogh-ed?" That's kind of cool because his Starry Night is one of my favorite paintings...

Google Van Gogh

Bummer. I'm still hungry.

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Sunday

Posted on Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

Dave!Thanks to dumbass lawmakers who refuse to abolish the twice-yearly insanity of "Daylight Saving Time," I woke up already in a rage. I've blogged about how stupid DST is several times before, and still don't understand why they don't just split the difference and leave our clocks alone... set them forward 30 minutes instead of an hour, and just forget about it... FOREVER!! Daylight Savings is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID!! Why in the heck don't they put this crap to a national vote so we can finally be rid of it? I can't imagine that anybody feels it's necessary anymore.

Sadly, things didn't improved much, because the entirety of my day has been occupied working. It's not the best way to spend your day off, but it's raining and cold outside now so it's hard for me to get too upset that I didn't get to go riding today (as I had originally planned). I think my motorcycle must feel forgotten.

One thing I did get to do was play with the depth-of-field on my camera for a few minutes, which is kind of a fun thing to do...

Dogwood

Dogwood

I'm guessing this is a Dogwood tree or something. All I know is that it's pretty and pink.

Movie Quotable of the Day: "I lost my wife, I lost my job, and I'm developing some kind of rash..."
Yesterday's Answer: Shallow Hal (2001) with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow.
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Utah Day 3: Goblin Valley

Posted on Tuesday, May 17th, 2005

Dave!Woo hoo! Vacation-time baby! There are indeed benefits to working through the night... especially when it means that it gives me an extra day to goof off in Utah. And let me tell you, there is a lot of places to be goofing around in this state. I drug my lazy ass out of bed at 7:00am (after a blissful five hours of sleep) so I could hit the road early. All because I wanted to see "Goblin Valley" which is supposed to be a really cool place.

And it is.

The entire valley is filled with interesting lumps of rock just begging to be explored. It's kind of like a giant field of mushrooms, except the mushrooms in question are fifty feet tall, made of stone, and probably don't taste that great in a spaghetti sauce...

Goblinvalley1

When I hiked down inside the valley, some bitchy woman was bitching to her equally bitchy husband saying "THIS IS STUPID! I DON'T SEE ANY GOBLINS!! WHY DO THEY CALL IT GOBLIN VALLEY??" I'd imagine that is because the skanky ho only sees this...

Goblinvalley2

Whereas I was seeing something entirely different when I looked at the same scenery. Goblins everywhere I looked. Hundreds of them...

Goblinvalley3

When people tell me that I act like a child, I am never offended. It just means I get to look at the world in a much cooler way than everybody else my age. Sometimes it really is good to be me.

   

Utah Day 4: Lake Powell

Posted on Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Dave!GAAAH! I am completely without the world today. NO internet. NO mobile phone reception. NO newspaper. And only a tiny 13-inch television with four channels to let me know that there is life outside of my small corner of Utah. I guess I should have posted yesterday's blog entry when I had the chance?

I am currently in lovely Bullfrog Bay on the shores of Lake Powell. Except it really isn't a lake... it's just a big canyon full of water that flooded in when they built a huge dam down-river. Some friends asked me to meet them here so we could go boating around the inlets and see some cool stuff. Apparently, the water level is the lowest it has been in a very, very long time, so you can see things that are normally buried under water.

Like this tree, for instance...

Lake Powell

If you look at the cliffs, you can see where the water-line usually is, because the rocks have been bleached. Only the red rocks are supposed to be showing above the water, or so I am told. That would mean that this tree is usually under about 80 feet of water, and hasn't seen daylight in 40 years. I wonder how come it hasn't completely rotted through? You can't help but feel sorry for the poor guy. He was just minding his own business, when some asshole comes along and builds a dam, then suddenly he's underwater thinking WTF?

And here is a boat that sunk years ago...

Lake Powell

Yeah, I know that it seems to have ran aground and crashed into the shore, but it didn't. That's because the shore usually isn't anywhere near here. It just so happens that the water level is so low that it looks that way. If you examine the rocks carefully, you will see that the water-line is usually way, way back there. No sign of Gilligan or The Skipper.

But the best part is cruising into these little grottos that usually don't even exist because they're buried underwater. Some really funky shadow-and-light stuff can be found that takes your breath away...

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Except now I'm sunburned and tired and have a five-hour drive ahead of me later today. Bleh.

Movie Quotable of the Day: "I'm a killer. A murdering bastard... you know that. And there are consequences to breaking the heart of a murdering bastard."
Day-Before-Yesterday's Answer: Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1999) with Chevy Chase and Daryl Hannah.

   

Day Four: Hong Kong Harbor

Posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2005

Dave!Hong Kong Harbor at night is pretty.

HK Harbor Night

HK Harbor Night

HK Harbor Night

   

Elph

Posted on Friday, December 16th, 2005

Dave!I take most all of my photos with a Canon Digital Rebel SLR. It's a terrific camera, but kind of big and bulky to lug around. Because of that, I also have a Canon Elph that's so small I can fit it in my pocket. It goes with me everywhere, and I often use it as a backup just in case my big camera gets lost, stolen, or broken. The problem is that I never manage to remember to off-load the photos on it. They just keep piling up until I run out of space on the memory card and am forced to deal with it.

And today's the day.

The photos go all the way back to August of 2004, and include dozens of random shots I have no idea why I ever took. Some of the more recent ones I actually do remember...

This photo from Shanghai is kinda cool, mainly because I took it from a moving taxi cab, and didn't have much flexibility in composing the shot. The name of the sculpture is "Light of the East" and is pretty nifty, especially with the clouds in the background.

Found Image

Also from China is a photo of the entrance to the famous "Peace Hotel" and a shot of The Great Wall that actually turned out better than much of the stuff I took with my "real" camera...

Found Image

Then there's a shot I took of the "Cloud Gate" sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park while walking down Michigan Avenue, and a shot of Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah...

Found Image

There were also some shots of me that Monica took to use for my IT-2 forum profile (whatever happened to the Creative Commies movement anyway?). I like the second one, because I look totally constipated...

Found Image

And lastly, a shot of a frozen tree at the local airport. And a picture of Thanksgiving decorations...

Found Image

When did Thanksgiving decorations start looking like crap you raked out of your back yard? I remember not so long ago when there were paper turkeys that folded out, or little chipmunks in pilgrim hats and stuff. Now, you just take a bunch of sticks, leaves, twigs, seeds, pods, and tree bark... toss it in a dish... and, yeeehaw, it's a decoration.

Lastly on my camera, is a very special episode of "A Very Lego Holiday Tale" you won't want to miss...

CHAPTER 16: Little Driller Boy.
LEGO ADVENT CALENDAR TOY OF THE DAY: Drill Press.
   
The mechanic who was kind enough to help Lego Dave, his faithful companion Barky the Dog, and Mr. Construction Worker, has just been cut in half by the evil Lego Buzz....
   
"Let's get out of here!" screams the construction worker. "He's going to kill us next!"
"Bark! Bark!" agrees Barky the Dog, as he backs away from the psychotic Lego Buzz.
"Let's hide in Mr. Mechanic's workshop" says Lego Dave. "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"
   
With Lego Buzz and his rotary saw hot on their heels, the trio make their way into the garage.
   
"Let's split up" suggests Lego Dave. "We'll meet at the back door once we've lost him."
"You got it fella!" says the Construction Worker enthusiastically.
"Bark! Bark!" confirms Barky the Dog.
   
The team splits up, each heading off into the dim recesses of the mechanic's massive garage. For several minutes, nothing can be heard as each of our heroes makes their way to the rear exit of the workshop. But suddenly, in a moment of horror, the silence is broken by the sound of machinery and a lone dog barking.
   
"BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! BARK! yelp!"
"BARKY?!?" screams Lego Dave in a panic. "Is that you? What's wrong buddy?"
   
Unconcerned for their own safety, Lego Dave and Mr. Construction Worker go running towards Barky the Dog. But, when they arrive, only pain and sadness await... Lego Holiday Sixteen
"DUDE! Your dog has been drilled full of holes!" utters the shocked construction worker. "That is so wrong."
"BARKY!" screams Lego Dave as he runs to his canine friend. "Oh Barky."
   
But the dog does not stir, even when his head is cradled in Lego Dave's lap. Tears rolling down his face, Lego Dave says goodbye to his good best friend.
   
"Oh Barky!" Lego Dave sobs. "I would give anything to have you back."
   
One of our heroes is gone... do the remaining duo have a chance of escape?
   
FIND OUT TOMORROW WHEN DAVE'S "A VERY LEGO HOLIDAY TALE" CONTINUES!

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Digital

Posted on Thursday, January 19th, 2006

Dave!We are living in a digital world and I am a digital boy.

Oh crap. Now I'm going to have Madonna running through my head all day.

Anyway, the truth of the matter is that I am a digital boy. I love living in a digital world where I can take my entire music collection with me on my PowerBook. I love being able to take a photo on my digital camera and then digitally send it to my digital photo software and digitally do whatever the heck I want to digitally do to it.

But that's not really a digital world at all, is it? I want an actual digital world to live in... like The Matrix or something...

Cinemadave3

Flying around, blowing shit up, kicking asses with kung-fu... how friggin' sweet would that be? Plug me in!

In the meanwhile, I just have to be content with what's available now.

But when it comes to photographs, this kind of sucks because everything I have before 2001 is on film. Boxes and boxes and boxes of film. Transferring my CDs into iTunes was a pain in the ass, but I managed it. Transferring my film into iPhoto is another matter entirely. It would take days of sitting in front of my computer with an expensive scanner, and I just don't have that kind of time.

Enter a company called "DigMyPics" who will handle the drudgery of scanning your film for you.

For a price.

A pretty big price. I sent in a test batch of 920 photos to be scanned and ended up paying a cool $600 for the privilege. Was it worth it? Well, for those of you who are interested in this stuff, I've put the answer in an extended entry.

For those of you who are not interested, come back tomorrow when Bad Monkey will be making an appearance. Because everybody just loves a monkey.

→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
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Toys!

Posted on Sunday, March 12th, 2006

Dave!I finally got around to finishing up the last hour of VH1's I Love Toys show and have to say I am monumentally disappointed. THE HULA-HOOP IS THE #1 TOY OF ALL TIME?!? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. The Hula-Hoop was a fad... not a great toy at all.

But the show was great fun, and did remind me of my favorite toys from over the years. With nothing better to do, I decided to come up with my own list of top ten best...

Dave Toys

  1. Lego. Easily the greatest toy ever created, there is not a time in my life that I can recall Lego not being in it. In the early days, all you had were bricks... if you wanted to have a Lego figure, you drew a smiley face on a yellow piece and that was it. But now Lego is cooler than ever, with little pirate and ninja mini-figures to populate your self-created universe. Lego kicks ass!
  2. Atari 2600. I shudder to think how many wasted hours were spent staring at the television playing Atari. My favorite games were always of the explorer/RPG type genre (not that you could have much of an RPG back then)... those games that had a purpose. My favorites being "Adventure" and "Superman".
  3. Six Million Dollar Man. My Steve Austin action figure was beyond cool. He had a hole in his head so you could look through his bionic eye, and had fake skin on his arm you could roll up to get to the bionic "parts" inside. You could also get Steve's space capsule (which turned into a bionic repair center), and other action figures like Oscar Goldman and Fembots!!
  4. GameBoy. I am pretty sure that I've owned each of the GameBoy models that have been released over the years... from the original Black & White... to the GameBoy Color... to the Advance... to the Nintendo DS. Being able to "game on the go" is almost too good to be true, and Nintendo has always been there to make mobile gaming cool.
  5. Micronauts. This very retro toy was a big favorite back in the day. You started out with the little transparent "Time Traveler" dude, then added other nifty characters like the evil "Acroyear" and "Pharoid". Everybody had holes on them so you could plug them into bitchin' vehicles like the "Mobile Exploration Lab". If you are a fellow Micronaut fan, you need to visit the Micro-Outpost!
  6. Hot Wheels. There were too many days spent running Hot Wheels track through my childhood home, then racing cars through the twists, turns, and loops. Keeping up with the latest hot cars was a big status symbol in my neighborhood. I also played around with Matchbox cars, but they never captured my imagination like Hot Wheels.
  7. Erector Set. A real building toy for real men made with real metal. Oh yeah! Erector Sets let you get pretty creative in terms of what you could build, and you were able to order extra parts from the Erector company in order to create exactly what you had in mind. Any toy that comes with a wrench is entirely too sweet.
  8. Viewmaster. Back before the VCR and DVD the only way you could travel the world and watch big-name entertainment at home was with a Viewmaster. In some ways, it's still superior technology than what we have today because it was in awesome 3-D!!
  9. G.I. Joe. Yeah, like every other kid in my generation, G.I. Joe was a huge favorite growing up. My favorite was always the Joe that had "real" fuzzy hair and beard, along with Kung-Fu Grip and a bad-ass scar on his cheek. In many ways, G.I. Joe was even more of a vain toy than Barbie, because there were all these clothes and accessories you had to collect to make sure that your "Joe" was the coolest on the block. Eventually the 12-inch Joe was replaced by these pussy 3-inch models that weren't nearly as fun.
  10. Tinker Toys. I was really into building toys growing up, and started out with Tinker Toys. Then moved on to Lincoln Logs. Then Erector Sets. Then Lego. Sure Tinker Toys were always kind of limited in what you could create, but it was the first, and I do remember having a lot of fun with them when I was young.

Speaking of toys... Boing Boing had a link a while back as to how you can make photos look like tiny little models. I gave it a try and ended up with this shot of Toy Shanghai...

Toyshanghai

Nifty!

   

Chair

Posted on Saturday, March 25th, 2006

Dave!Yesterday I made the mistake of visiting Brookstone and trying out one of those magical computerized "massage chairs". You sit down and press buttons that makes the chair come alive and give you a massage. There are a variety of modes to choose from... you can get a Swedish massage, a Shiatsu massage, or anything in-between. You can get a hard massage or a soft massage. You can have a heated massage or a vibrating massage. You can even have the chair massage your ass.

I turned on everything.

It was actually painful. But in a good way.

It was SO good, that I had to resist the urge to touch myself inappropriately...

Magic Massage Chair

By the time it was over, I was ready to buy. But there were three problems...

  1. The price tag was $4500. And for $4500, it had better do a lot more to me than massage my ass.
  2. It was made by Panasonic, and everything I have EVER bought by Panasonic has busted to shit.
  3. Did you read the FOUR THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS part?!?

After goofing around the East-side this afternoon, I said goodbye to my friends there and headed Seattle-side.

Since our Cabo San Lucas plans were scuttled, my friend and I decided to stay downtown so she could take me out for birthday dinner and we could wander around the Market in the morning. We would have taken a look tonight, but everything was closing just as we arrived. The sunset was nice though...

Pike Place Market Sunset

Our room overlooks the new Seattle Public Library. This freaky building seems interesting, and sure photographs nicely from a distance...

Seattle Public Library

Unfortunately, it looks like total crap from street level. Kind of like they took six really cool buildings, then smashed them all together at unpleasant angles or something. Not a pretty picture to me, but it does have its fans.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's ice cream time.

ICE CREEEEAM!! ICE CREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAM!!

Oh yeah... thanks to everybody who was kind enough to send their birthday wishes... I feel much loved. :-)

   

Picture

Posted on Sunday, May 7th, 2006

Dave!It's 11:00am and I haven't gotten out of bed yet. Well, I did get up to go to the bathroom, but that was only because I had to. I simply must invest in adult diapers for Sunday mornings (and to think I was embarrassed to buy toilet paper).

Last night my trusty photo scanner broke. It was old and slow, so I suppose I should be okay with the situation... but it was a bummer to have to spend all morning trying to decide on a new one. I think I have it narrowed down to a cheap-ass Epson, because I couldn't find what I really want, which is a tabloid (11" X 17") scanner.

The entire ordeal started when I went to sort through my photo negatives so I can get another batched scanned by DigMyPics. Eventually I realized that a large number of film negatives are missing. This means that a huge chunk of my life exists only on paper photos that are going to fade and fall apart. This is not okay.

If the pictures are gone, how can I see what I looked like 20 years ago at Expo 86?

Dave Expo 86

Or remember how beautiful a Maui beach is at sunset back when it wasn't jammed with people?

Maui Sunset

Sure photo scans are not as good as having the film negatives scanned directly, but I guess I have the memories to go with them, so it's better than nothing. I wish I could go back in time and hand myself a digital camera.

Okay, time to eat a Pop-Tart for breakfast...

Categories: Photography 2006Click To It: Permalink  29 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Day

Posted on Monday, May 29th, 2006

Dave!Today is the Memorial Day holiday, which isn't much of a holiday at all when you have to work.

The drive back from Seattle-side was uneventful because I headed out early before there was any traffic on the roads. It was still overcast and drizzling in the city when I left, then poured rain all the way over Stevens Pass. Once I was over the pass, however, everything changed. The skies opened up to a glorious blue and, by the time I made it home, there wasn't a cloud in the sky (really!).

This was nice for the Memorial Day services going on at our local cemetery because they display hundreds of flags (one for each veteran killed in service, I think). If it rains, they can't hang the flags since they have nowhere to dry so many of them. And if the ceremony was cancelled, I'd miss this beautiful site...

Memorial Day Flag

Memorial Day Flag

Memorial Day Flag

With apologies to R.W. (who is wanting a new flag design), I must say that the "Stars and Stripes" sure looks great against that flawless blue sky! If you look closely at the second photo, you can see how they mark each pennant that goes up with somebody's name.

I am not a big fan of the cemetery. For one thing, a good chunk of my family (not to mention my best friend) are buried there, and it's kind of depressing to be reminded that they have gone. When I picture them in my head, I see them as if they're still alive... but here in the cemetery it's hard to see them as anything but dead. I suppose that's why I don't visit very often.

One thing I do find interesting is the mystical symbols that are carved on various tombstones. In particular, the inverted pentagram seems to be a popular choice. I always thought this was a sign of heavy metal music or satan worshipers, and yet here it is all over the place, and always on lady's headstones...

Devil Metal!

Since heavy metal wasn't around back when these people were alive, I am guessing it means that they are satan worshipers. That woman in the middle must be hard-core, because she's got a hammer on hers as well! But when I look at the names of the people buried under the markers and see "Mae" and "Betty" and "Eleanor" and "Mabel"... well, those don't seem much like the names of satan worshipers does it?

I guess that means they were heavy metal fans after all... just really, really ahead of their time.

   

Glass

Posted on Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Dave!Work was in Tacoma today, which is about an hour south of Seattle and the "TAC" in SeaTac International Airport. It's a noteworthy city to me because of one man: Dale Chihuly. I am a huge, huge fan of his stunning glass artwork, and Tacoma is a showcase for some of the best of it (probably because it's his home town).

Surprisingly, even though Chihuly is a huge backer of The Museum of Glass, his work in not a major part of the museum's relatively small gallery floor (you need to go to the Tacoma Museum of Art to see a permanent Chichuly exhibit). But you do get to see live glassblowing here and a few beautiful pieces of Chihuly art in the "Hot Spot" balcony...

Glassblowing

Chihuly Glass

From the museum, you can walk across the "Bridge of Glass" and see even more Chihuly, including a glass ceiling that is breathtaking when the sun is shining through it...

Chihuly Glass

Once across the bridge, you can enter Union Station and see five amazing Chihuly installations in glorious open spaces...

Chihuly Glass

Chihuly Glass

Who could have ever guessed that Tacoma, Washington would end up being the "Venice of the West"?? I just consider myself lucky that such an amazing display is only three hours away from my home.

Anyway, then it was back to the airport so I could catch a quick 50-minute flight to Spokane (which is about 4-1/2 to 5 hours by car). My flight was delayed (what else is new) but I managed to catch an earlier plane. Once I arrived and picked up my rental car, I discovered something surprising with my Subaru Legacy... can somebody tell me when they started making semi-automatic cars?

Semi-Automatic Car

I call it "semi-automatic" because, while there's no clutch, you'll note that there is a "+" and "-" on the gear-box which allows you to change gears, just like a manual transmission. It's a very odd driving experience, but not bad once you get used to it.

First stop in Spokane was, of course, to eat THE BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD at David's Pizza. I debated going out for a movie, but I've seen Pirates and Superman already, so there's not much else I want to see until Clerks II hits this weekend. Oh well. You won't hear me complaining about calling it a night and getting a few extra hours sleep.

   

Market

Posted on Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Dave!By the time I get off work here in Seattle, all the cool shops are closing up for the day. This really blows since I'm just across the street from one of my favorite comic book stores.

Because of this, I have two things I can do at night that don't involve something illegal or deeply frowned upon by the local authorities... eat and drink. So this evening I decided to go have some yummy Cappellacci di Zucca from Il Fornaio. And the only thing better than the food tonight was the view, because there was a really cute girl at the table next to mine. Seriously cute. I totally started falling in love with her as I was eating my breadsticks. At least I was falling in love with her until she opened her mouth to have a bite of her pasta... and never closed it again.

GACK!! SHE CHEWS WITH HER MOUTH OPEN!!

Dave Chew

Gross! First I was happy that she was there, but then I was disgusted that she was there... nobody wants to see some bitch smackin' away on their dinner like that while they try to eat.

Oh well. Despite the rain, it's actually kind of a nice evening out. As I looked out over the deck, a ferry boat was passing by...

Pike Place Market at Night

One more day. Cannot... keep... eyes... open... must... have... sleep...

   

Adapt

Posted on Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Dave!Finally made it to an Apple Store only to find out that it might be my power adapter that's the problem and not my PowerBook after all. This was a big relief, because the new MacBook model that I was going to buy wasn't in stock. So all I had to do was buy a new power adapter and I'd be golden. Sweet.

Except they didn't have any of the "older" power adapters in stock... they just carry the new "magnetic" version. This is pretty f#@%ing stupid. With a laptop, the only thing you need to keep it going is a power adapter. It only seems logical that such a critical element would be well-stocked to keep PowerBook users running in a time of crisis, but no.

So now I am back to square one, which sucks ass.

With no PowerBook to work with, I've scored tickets to the first ever Pet Shop Boys concert in Seattle tonight. Somehow, in their 21 years, they've missed playing here. Hopefully the wait will have been worth it...

Categories: Photography 2005Click To It: Permalink  11 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

SD800-IS

Posted on Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

Dave!The refrigerator in my room makes noise that keeps me up at night, so I unplugged it and decided to leave my leftover pizza in the car. I expected that the pizza would stay cool... I did not expect that it would be frozen solid. The good news is that I was able to reheat my pizza for breakfast by setting the box on the dashboard of my rental car and turning the defroster on. 23 minutes on high thaws out and warms up a couple slices of Pizza Hut "Thin-n-Crispy" quite nicely. Breadsticks are thicker, and required 35 minutes. Breakfast is served.

In-between jobs, I decided to take out my new Canon SD800-IS compact camera and see what it can do. I wanted someplace that would offer a good balance of both large architectural structures and smaller items to photograph so I'd have a good idea of what the camera was capable of.

Time to visit the beautiful Milwaukee Museum of Art.

I haven't been there since they remodeled years ago, and this was just the excuse I needed.

The review that follows is in-depth but not exhaustive. I've put the full text in an extended entry in the event that people find photos of art and camera talk to be boring.

Milwaukee Museum of Art

Milwaukee Museum of Art

However, if you are looking for info on a pretty darn good compact camera, then by all means read onward...

→ Click here to continue reading this entry...
Categories: Photography 2006Click To It: Permalink  26 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Pasty

Posted on Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Dave!I love panoramic photography, but the cameras required to take good panorama shots are really expensive... $3500 minimum. About the only affordable option open to me is to take a bunch of pictures and then stitch them together using Photoshop or some other utility. The problem is that the results are never that great. Things never quite match up and you end up with Frankenstein-type collages that won't fool anybody...

Bad Panorama

Even worse, every time you want to make a pano in Photoshop, you have to fire up the "Bridge" application which sucks ass. And even with "advance blending" and all the other stuff turned on, you still end up with a composite that has mismatched buildings and poor blending (which is kind of hard to see when I shrink it down)...

Bad Panorama

Until now.

The new Photoshop CS3 Beta has an incredible new panorama stitcher that does an amazing job without the need to fire up Bridge. Not only does it warp and stretch to get really accurate edge matches, but it also shifts the color to make everything blend beautifully (even when viewed at full-resolution). It has me going through all my old photos to see how they stitch up...

Chicago Panorama
Chicago Skyline, Illinois

Reykjavik
Harbor in Reykjavik, Iceland

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon, Utah

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon, Utah

Goblin Valley
Goblin Valley, Utah

Goblin Valley
Goblin Valley, Utah

In fact, the stitching abilities built into Photoshop CS3 are so mind-boggling cool and easy that I find myself looking at the world as a series of panoramas. I can't wait to take more of them.

New Photoshop is fun.

In totally unrelated "new" news... I received an email alerting me to new DVD releases that had The NEW Adventures of He-Man on the list. This puzzled me greatly, because I never knew that there were any NEW adventures of He-Man. After some serious Google investigation, I discovered that there was indeed a second series way back in 1990.

But look what they did to the poor bastard...

He-Mans

What the f#@% happened to his tan?

You can't be having no pasty-ass He-Man!

Despite the totally butch name and kick-ass physique, He-Man has never been a particularly macho dude. Maybe it was the little pageboy haircut or something. But he was tan. Now they've taken that away from him. And it's not like a ponytail and hot-pants did anything to up the testosterone quotient. He-Man looks like he's starring in a gay pirate movie.

This is just sad.

Not that there's anything wrong with gay pirate movies. It's just that He-Man shouldn't be starring in them.

Unless He-Man actually is gay, in which case I feel I owe him an apology or something. Maybe new He-Man is just being who he really is? He's out, he's proud, AND he's got the Sword of Power?

Just don't tell me that he's f#@%ing Skeletor, because that I could not take.

Categories: Photography 2006Click To It: Permalink  28 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Ownership

Posted on Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

Dave!I've just turned on the television. The Sound of Music is playing and Julie Andrews is singing about how once a woman is married she becomes her husband's property. This movie must have been filmed back in the good old days when you could own a woman outright. Given most of the women I know today, this is a pretty funny concept.

A foot of snow was unexpectedly dumped on us overnight. I only realized it when I heard a snowplow scraping by at the utterly ridiculous hour of 7:00am. But, by the time I left at 10:00, the sun was shining through a brilliant blue sky...

Blue Sky Snow

Sure, the snow makes driving a total disaster, but it sure looks pretty.

   

Deadenbacher

Posted on Thursday, January 18th, 2007

Dave!AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

So there I am innocently flicking through channels when I see Orville Redenbacher on television selling his popcorn. He's one freaky-looking guy, which would ordinarily be scary enough. But this commercial is particularly disturbing for one simple reason... HE'S F#@%ING DEAD!!

The only explanation I can come up with is that the people who make Orville Redenbacher popcorn read my Blogography entry where I don't want to eat a dead man's corn, and decided to revive him all zombie-like in a series of new commercials to get me to buy...

Dead Orville

The problem is that he was always kind of zombie-like while he was alive, so the computer-enhanced version is just downright terrifying. If they made a horror film staring Dead Orville, I would be too afraid to watch. "CORN OF THE DEAD!". they could call it...

Corn of the Dead!

But the commercial did make me hungry.

Here is my dinner menu tonight...

  • A can of Coke with Lime.
  • Two Eggo toaster waffles with extra butter and Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup.
  • A Snack-Pack chocolate pudding.

Delicious! Pudding kicks ass.

But what I really want now is popcorn.

Unfortunately I'm out of popping corn, and it's too frackin' cold out to go buy more. Bummer.

Field of Dreams Pano

Here's another panorama photo I made using Adobe's super-sweet pano-stitcher tool in the PhotoShop CS3 beta. It's a shot of the "Field of Dreams" from my trip to Iowa. My previous efforts to stitch it together failed miserably, but Adobe's magical new software somehow managed to do a beautiful job...

At this size it's hard to tell but, even at high resolution, I can't find the seams. All pieces were warped and blended flawlessly. Bravo Adobe.

P.S. I HAD TOTALLY GUESSED THE IDENTITY OF THE MASKED WOMAN IN "UGLY BETTY!" I totally should write for television.

   

Day Six: Lisbon, Portugal

Posted on Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Dave!I had set a wake-up call for 6:00am with the intention of getting up with the sunrise and seeing a bit more of Madrid at dawn. Yesterday I had noticed that the light was really nice in the morning, and intended to take advantage of it.

Yeah, like that was going to happen. I was so totally dead from miles of walking yesterday that I barely made it out the door for my 10:00 shuttle to the airport.

After an uneventful 1-hour plane ride (assuming sitting behind a smelly, smelly man during the flight and then having to wait 50 minutes for my luggage counts as "uneventful"), here I am in Lisbon, another city I've never been to before. Since it was lunchtime when I got to my hotel, I tossed my luggage in the closet and headed out to the Hard Rock Cafe...

Hard Rock Cafe Lisbon

Turns out this is a fantastic dual-level property with really interesting architecture and an incredible amount of memorabilia stacked from floor to ceiling...

Hard Rock Cafe Lisbon

In recognition for their awesomeness in winning "World-Wide Cafe of the Month" back in November, Lisbon has the honor of getting to display an original Jimi Hendrix guitar from his appearance on the Dick Cavett Show in 1969 (previous months were won by Buenos Aires, Lake Tahoe, Dublin, Houston, and Kowloon cafes)...

Hard Rock Cafe Lisbon

With plenty of daylight left, I decided to take a walk down to the Tagus River and see the sights. One thing you tend to notice quite quickly is that the sidewalks here in Lisbon are made from beautiful stone mosaic patterns, some of which are quite ornate. I guess when you live here, it's easy to take the sidewalks for granted, but I found myself looking down just as often as up...

Lisbon Mosaic

The city of Lisbon itself is quite nice. It has a very different "feel" to it from other European cities. Almost Caribbean or something... it's very strange, but in a good way. About the only thing that wasn't pleasant is being pestered every fifteen minutes to buy some sunglasses (Armani! Very beautiful!) or other imitation crap. But that wasn't nearly as exciting as being offered some hash every ten minutes (Hashish! Good hash!). Though all of that pales when compared to some guy who came up to me with a Canon EOS camera in a paper sack...

GUY: Want to buy camera? Very good price!
   
DAVE: Uhhhh... nope, I'm good.
   
GUY: Are you sure?
   
DAVE: Sure I don't want to buy an obviously stolen camera? Yes, I'm quite sure.
   
GUY: But I give you very good price!

Oddly enough, I was just thinking about how I wish I had my own Canon EOS Rebel with me. I left it back home because I had loads of crap to haul over for work and didn't want to bother with it. Still, my little pocket camera takes some pretty good shots...

Lisbon Dom Pedro

Lisbon Praco

PHONE CALL!

Living the jet-set lifestyle like I do (ha!) can make for some strange interactions with people back home. Mostly because nobody is ever really sure of where you are or what you are doing. Like Bad Robert, who just called me as I was writing this entry...

DAVE: (answering phone) Hello?
   
ROBERT: Dude, I need to get my car to the shop. Can you bring me back home so I don't have to sit there all day?
   
DAVE: Dude, I'm in Lisbon.
   
ROBERT: Can you drop by after you're done?
   
DAVE: I'm in PORTUGAL... I won't be back until Sunday.
   
ROBERT: (dramatic pause) Oh. I thought you meant like the restaurant.
   
DAVE: Huh?
   
ROBERT: So how are things in Lisbon.
   
DAVE: Pretty good so far. I've only been here for four hours.
   
ROBERT: Ah. Hey... do you wanna know what Ben did to his car?
   
DAVE: Is it worth the dollar-a-minute this phone call is costing me to find out?
   
ROBERT: Uh... probably not. Oooh! Call me when you get back! I need to tell you about my new air horn!

And so it goes...

I haven't a clue what I'm going to be doing tonight. About the only things I can be sure I WON'T be doing is this...

Lisbon Sound of Music

Because the only way I could sit through The Sound of Music would be if I was doped up on hash.

Hey! Wait a minute... I might just have plans for tonight after all...

   

Unholy

Posted on Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Dave!Thanks to everybody who sent me e-cards and kind notes over Elizabeth Hurley's wedding today. Thirty-six of you were nice enough to send your condolences, which was a bit unexpected (that's more people than usually comment on an entry!).

In an act of sublime selflessness, I wish nothing but the best for the happy couple. If Elizabeth Hurley is happy, then I'm happy... I love her that much. I mean, it's not like I am wishing for a building to fall on her new husband or anything. I'm sure he's a terrific guy, and I'm glad she found him. I suppose I could sit around hoping that Arun Nayar gets attacked by a pack of wild hyenas, but what would be the point? Elixabeth Hurley has made her choice (misguided as it may be) and I will just have to live with it. Best of luck to the happy couple!

Okay, maybe I don't wish "the best" for them... that's a little much. But I do wish that good things come their way. Just because Elizabeth Hurley decided to marry a guy who is not me doesn't mean that she should be cursed with unhappiness the rest of her life. Does it? Maybe he's not perfect or anything, but he seems nice. So good luck you two!

Alright, you got me. Being completely honest here, wishing "good things" for Liz and Arun is probably a stretch. How about I just send happy thoughts with no well-wishing at all? Sure Elizabeth Hurley just made the biggest mistake of her life, but it's not really her fault. If she had ever met me, she would realize that I was the perfect guy for her... but since she had the misfortune to never even know I exist, well, it's hardly appropriate for me to be wishing Arun fall down a well or something. That would just be wrong. He doesn't seem like the nicest of guys, but I'm sure he's not too bad.

Okay... okay... okay... sending "happy thoughts" is probably going too far. Because doesn't Arun Nayar look like a total bastard? I've never met him or anything, but doesn't he just seem completely wrong for her? He's probably a puppy-kicker. Yep, I'll bet when he sees a puppy he kicks it as hard as he can just because he likes it. And the perfection that is Elizabeth Hurley just married him in an unholy union that will wreck havoc throughout the known universe. Why should I wish anything "happy" for their marriage when there's nothing happy about it? We're all doomed.

OMG! What has she done? RUN LIZ! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! YOU JUST MARRIED A PUPPY-KICKING ASSHOLE!! Oh the humanity! I suppose I'll just have to hope that Liz manages to break free of Arun Nayar's evil spell before something horrible happens... like her sleeping with him. Oh! Oh! Oh! That would be just terrible! Like the worst day ever! Is it too much to hope that Elton John has a gun in his purse and will destroy the Ultimate Evil that calls himself "Arun" before the incomparable Elizabeth Hurley is lost to the world forever?

Elizabeth Hurley's Unholy Union

Gee... I hope that nothing happens to the plane that is taking Elizabeth Hurley and her new husband to India. It would be just terrible if it crashed and Arun were to perish while Elizabeth Hurley were to miraculously escape completely unharmed. Yeah, let's all hope that doesn't happen.

Ahem.

Speaking of pure evil on earth...

I finally got to sleep around 2:30am. Most of my work was finished, and I simply couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. So guess who decided to come calling three hours later and wake me up? That's right. THE EVIL GEESE FROM HELL ARE BACK AGAIN!

Killer Geese Rampage

Just look at the cheeky bastards all honking and riled up! Clearly minions of the devil.

And to make the entire situation even more scary, their numbers keep increasing. At first there were a dozen... then around 26... then about 40... NOW THERE ARE 67! SIXTY-SEVEN!! And I realize people think I am exaggerating here, but I'm not. There were so many of them that I had to take a panorama of seven pictures and then stitch them together so that all of the little bastards would fit into the shot...

Killer Goose Panorama
Click on the image to enlarge. WARNING! May frighten small children!
(you will have to scroll to see the whole thing)

Between Elizabeth Hurley getting married and the startling increase in the goose population, can the Apocalypse be far behind? I'm telling you, geese are going to take over the world.

I, for one, welcome our new geese overlords.

Back to work...

   

Cameras

Posted on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Dave!I currently own three cameras, all manufactured by Canon, plus a busted toy Holga "art" camera (modified to accept 35mm film) which I keep for fun.

My first "serious" camera was a graduation present from my parents in 1984... the Canon A-1. This brilliant camera was the first to have electronically-controlled exposure modes to free the amateur photographer from having to figure out shutter speed and aperture settings. Though primitive by modern standards, I can't stress how revolutionary this was at the time. It allowed me to take professional photographs with virtually no effort from day one... I could concentrate all my attention on composing, lighting, and directing my shots. As I became more experienced, I was able to dial back the automated stuff and use the in-camera metering to select my own settings...

Canon A-1 Camera

This camera is responsible for me falling in love with photography, and I took it everywhere for two decades. Rugged, dependable, and capable of amazing photos, I spent a good chunk of my income buying and developing rolls of 35mm film over the years. When the "digital revolution" arrived, I played around with a few digital cameras (most notably, the Apple QuickTake 100 in 1993), but they all shot crap compared the the beautiful images coming out of my Canon A-1. Believe it or not, I still burn an occasional roll in it to this day. As good as digital is, there's something primal about shooting film. Images shot with it aren't a bunch of 1's and 0's, but a chemical reaction you have to control. The satisfaction of getting a good shot with film is unlike any other.

But all good things come to an end.

In 2003 I was dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age when I bought the first affordable SLR camera... the Canon EOS Digital Rebel (also known as the EOS 300D). By this time, professional digital cameras were available but very expensive. I coveted the Canon 10D, but it was $1800... no lens included! I managed to get the Digital Rebel for $900 including a decent 18-55mm lens. At 6.3 megapixels, it transcended the "toy" status of other cameras I could afford, and everything I read about it was encouraging...

Canon EOS 300D Camera

This has been my primary camera for the past five years. I never fell in love with it like I did my Canon A-1, but the Digital Rebel has been a wonderful camera, faithfully accompanying me on travels around the world. It's rugged, dependable, takes decent photos, and is easy to use with its many automated modes (plus full auto). Once I added my dream lens (the Canon 16mm-35mm wide-angle zoom), I was finally able to take the photos I was imagining in my head.

Because the Digital Rebel is fairly bulky, I bought a Canon PowerShot S400 Elph just one month later. It was an okay camera, but it wasn't until I replaced it with the Canon PowerShot SD800-IS in December 2006 that I fell in love with pocket digital cameras (it was the image stabilization that did it). I carry this camera with me absolutely everywhere and can't imagine life without it.

I never bought into the idea that more megapixels give you noticeably better images (unless you blow them up really big), so I never saw a need to replace my Digital Rebel. With the high-quality optics of my dream lens, the 6.3 megapixels are plenty for everything I need. Even 11x17 prints turn out beautifully, so why spend money on a new camera?

Well...

Not only have I found a camera that has convinced me to "upgrade"... but also to switch from Canon to Nikon after 22 years of Canon loyalty. Introducing the Nikon D90...

Nikon D90 Camera

Sure it has all the cutting edge bells and whistles that make it an amazing camera. Nikon is a world leader in photography, so you'd expect it to be cutting edge. It even has the ground-breaking ability to shoot video. But adding video... even sweet video that can be shot through SLR lenses and have variable depth-of-field like a movie camera... wasn't reason enough for me to break with Canon and replace my Digital Rebel. Bells and whistles are fun, but they don't magically turn bad pictures into great pictures.

Then along comes "Active D-Lighting."

Far from a gimmick, this miracle feature applies live metering adjustments to an image to assist in opening up deep shadow areas, while also working to recover detail from blow-outs. It's not the ideal solution for dealing with problems like this, but it's an amazing accomplishment that's all happening before you even press the shutter release. The sample on Nikon's site is pushed a bit too far for my tastes, but you get the idea. Here's a shot with Active D-Lighting OFF...

Sample Nikon Active D-Lighting OFF

And here's with Active D-Lighting ON...

Sample Nikon Active D-Lighting ON

Pretty sweet. Cloud detail has been restored (including a rainbow!), plus some detail in the tree shadows too. A good photographer can always adapt to a scene given a decent camera, enough time, the right filters, and experience... but for random shooting where you're fighting to get a shot in a hurry, Active D-Lighting is an incredibly handy thing to have available (as illustrated here). It appears to be a better, more natural-looking alternative than messing around with the "Shadow/Highlight Filter" and manipulating curves in Photoshop after the fact.

Once you add Active D-Lighting to the many other features of this remarkable camera, it's just compelling enough to make me take the leap. So I'm taking the money I'll be getting from the sale of my motorcycle and sinking it into a Nikon D90. Sadly, it won't arrive in time for my upcoming vacation, but I'm anxious to play around with it when I get back just the same.

Having something to look forward to when you're coming back from vacation is nice.

Categories: Photography 2008Click To It: Permalink  26 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Day Two: Maui

Posted on Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Dave!This is not my first trip to Maui, I've been here nearly a dozen times before, which is part of the appeal to me... I've already done most everything there is to do here, so it makes for a very stress-free and relaxing vacation spot.

This time I decided to look for stuff I haven't done of the island so I'd get something new out of my visit.

I started out with The Maui Ocean Center, which is very nicely done with the usual assortment of fishes and other sea creatures...

Maui Ocean Center Sign

Fish Tank

But my favorite part of the exhibit is the Jelly Fish tank, because the creatures inside are so bizarre and unusual...

Jelly Fish Tank

Jelly Fish Tank

After playing with the fishes, I wandered north to take a look at the Iao Needle. This is a volcano that went dormant, after the center lava had cooled to a tube. The outside eroded away, leaving only the "needle" showing...

Iao Needle State Park

It was kind of cloudy, but plenty green...

Iao Needle State Park

Back in the parking lot, a pair of cats were waiting patiently for me under the car next door...

Iao Needle Cats

On my way back to South Maui, I dropped by the Maui Tropical Plantation, for old time's sake...

Bird of Paradise Flower

Maui Tropical Plantation View

The plantation has a couple of monkeys named "Carlos" and "Montana" which were rescued when the Maui Zoo closed down...

Carlos and Montana Monkeys

Continuing southward, I ended up at Maui's famous Big Beach...

Big Beach, Makena, Maui

But then it started to rain. One of the great things about Maui is that if it rains where you are at, you can generally go to another part of the island and stay dry. Wanting to keep with the theme of "doing something different," I decided to drive around the northern part of the island, which I had never done before. It starts out nice enough, with plenty of stops to admire the beautiful North Coast...

Google Map of Northern Maui

The scenery is quite beautiful, with plenty of seaside cliffs to look at...

North Maui Highway

Most places you stop there are rock piles, which people build in order to leave a non-permanent and eco-friendly mark of their visit...

North Maui Highway

For quite a while, the road is not too bad. But after a while you turn a corner and BLAM! Suddenly you are on a very scary one-lane road on high cliffs with falling rocks and oncoming traffic. It's a sphincter-puckering event to be turning around a blind corner on a cliff, only to find yourself face-to-face with another car coming from the opposite direction. At that point, one of you has to drive backwards to a spot in the road which is wide enough for one of you to pass. After 10 miles of driving in madness, the road suddenly becomes a sane, two-laned affair once again...

Two Lanes Again

With the North Maui expedition having eaten up the remainder of my day, it was time for another stunning Maui sunset in Kihei...

Beautiful Maui Sunset

Beautiful Maui Sunset
It's one of those ships from Close Encounters of the Third Kind!

Beautiful Maui Sunset

And so ends another day in paradise...

   

Day Three: Maui

Posted on Friday, September 12th, 2008

Dave!I should probably write something here before I fall asleep.

The long drive up Maui's Mt. Haleakala to watch the sunrise is one of those things you really only need to do once. I've already done it three times. But my new camera has been giving me some incredible shots, so I decided I'd make the trek again to see what happens. Unfortunately, this meant setting my alarm for 3:00am so I could get to the summit in time.

Ummm... yeah... so totally worth it...

Haleakala Sunrise

Haleakala Sunrise

Haleakala Sunrise

Haleakala Sunrise

Haleakala Sunrise

Haleakala Sunrise

Haleakala Sunrise

I also got to see a baby Silversword on the way down...

Baby Silversword

These amazing plants are unique in several ways...

  • They have shiny silver hairs on their leaves, making them look metallic.
  • They are not naturally found anywhere except the islands of Maui and Hawaii.
  • They grow only at high altitudes.
  • They are extremely fragile, and can be damaged just by walking near them, trampling their shallow roots.
  • They bloom only once in their lifetime and die afterwards.

At the Ranger's Station Visitor Center, a few adult Silverwords were in bloom...

Silversword in Bloom

This just in from the "I don't ever want to go back home department," here's the beach today...

Makena Beach

Makena Beach

And now, it's time for a nap. I'm on vacation so I can do that...

   

Day Four: Maui

Posted on Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Dave!A big shout-out to Maui Tacos for having most excellent vegetarian options on their menu! Potato Chimichanga = Delicious! Also interesting was my dinner last night at a fantastic Italian restaurant called Aroma D'Italia which had toasted CHEESE ravioli on the menu which tasted incredible (the owner is originally from St. Louis!).

Maui has a "feature" called "The Hana Highway," which is a beautiful drive along a scary road fraught with hundreds of switchbacks and dozens on one-lane bridges. I've done it twice (once as a driver, once as a passenger), and thought that was all I really needed to do... but my new camera was begging for adventure...

Google Hana Highway Map

Since I didn't really want to drive it again (it's exhausting, and once was really enough), I decided to book a tour. Ultimately, this was a mistake. Sure they made plenty of stops and the driver was entertaining... but I never got to stop at the places that I wanted to photograph. I would have had a much better time had I just driven myself so I could do all the stuff that I wanted to do.

Oh well. Still, I did get some nice photographs. Here's a black sand beach...

Black Sand Beach

And here's a scary red sand beach (looks like blood!)...

Red Sand Beach

I also got some nice waterfall shots...

Hana Waterfall

And some photographs at The Seven Sacred Pools (three of which can be seen here)...

Seven Sacred Pools

But my favorite thing this trip was finding flowers to photograph. Hawaii has some of the most beautiful plants and flowers on earth, and they're everywhere...

Hana Flower

Hana Flower

Hana Flower

Hana Flower

And thus ends another day in paradise...

Wailea Sunset

   

Day Seven: Hawaiʻi

Posted on Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Dave!To Big Island, or not to Big Island?

Back in March, a new fissure opened on the Kilauea volcano which has resulted in a tenfold release of sulphur gasses into the atmosphere. Known as "vog" (for "Volcanic Fog"), these emissions can completely obliterate the sky here on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi depending on which way the wind blows. And it's not just Hawaiʻi, but all the islands that are affected. There were a few afternoons on Maui where Mt. Haleakala was invisible because vog had blown in and hidden the entire mountain. This is a big problem, because people expect blue skies and visible sunsets when they visit the islands. If the situation gets much worse, not only will the tourist trade suffer... but crops which require sunlight to grow could start having problems too.

Keeping all of this in mind, I faced a bit of a dilemma when booking my Hawaiian vacation. Do I dare risk spending time on Hawaiʻi when the trip might very well be marred by a volcanic haze blanketing the island?

You bet your ass I do.

If vog happens, it happens. Hawaiʻi is a wonderful island to experience and if I spent all my time worrying about what may or may not occur, I might as well stay home.

And if I had decided to skip The Big Island of Hawaiʻi, I would not have had this sight awaiting me once I got to my hotel today...

Hapuna Beach

After kicking around the beach for a while (and getting a bit red because I forgot to apply sunblock), I headed to the northern tip of the island to the city of Kapaʻau. It's here where you can find the very first King Kamehameha statue. I'm thinking it was put here because he was born nearby...

King Kamehameha Statue

If you keep driving past Kapaʻau, you'll eventually run out of road. It all ends at the Pololu Valley lookout, where you have to turn around and go back...

Pololu Lookout

Which I did, driving back on the upcountry roads of Highway 250. This actually ended up being quite cool, because you could look down on the Kailua-Kona area, where it happened to be raining...

Up-Country Rains

This is one of my favorite shots I've taken so far. It's almost like a painting or something. Hey... it may be raining, but it's still Hawaiʻi!

Deciding that Kailua-Kona might be a good place for dinner, I headed on down. By the time I got there, the rain was in full-force, but it was a nice warm rain and felt great. I wandered around for a bit snapping photos, like this one of Hawaiʻi's first church...

Hawaii's First Church

They are doing lots of construction in the area, so traffic is a frackin' mess, but I did get to see a nice sunset on the way back to my hotel. Unfortunately, by the time I found a place to pull over and shoot it, the sun was already plummeting past the horizon. The colors were so vivid (probably thanks to the vog!) that they blew out in my camera's sensor...

Big Island Sunset from the Road

By the time I got back "home," the stars were already coming out...

Sunset at the Hotel

I have no idea what I'm doing tomorrow, but I can't wait to find out! Vog willing, big adventures await...

   

Day Eight: Hawaiʻi

Posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Dave!Today was the day I decided to drive the Hawaiʻi Belt Road which circles around most of the island, including the entirety of Mauna Loa (the largest volcano on earth).

This is always a dicey proposition because, with very few exceptions, it's a two-lane road with only rare opportunities to pass dumbasses who are incapable of driving the speed limit. But there's plenty of cool stuff to see along the way, so the agony is worth it. This is especially true after Kilauea started venting back in March, because the crater rim and Volcanos National Park is right off the Belt.

But my first stop was Akaka Falls, which is far nicer than the more-famous "Rainbow Falls" further down the road...

Akaka Falls

After making my way past Hilo and up to the volcanos, I got to see where all that vog (Volcanic Fog) is coming from...

Kilauea Venting Vog

Kilauea Venting Vog

I was hoping for a full-scale eruption so I could get some cool lava shots, but Kilauea kept its cool. I had to make do with seeing the lava flows from previous eruptions...

Dormant Lava Flow

And I was also sure to explore the Thurston Lava Tube, which I had forgotten about my last time here...

Thurston Lava Tube

After getting my fill of delicious vog, I continued down the other side of the mountain until I reached my favorite black sand beach, Punalu'u, which is famous for turtles (I've seen them here before, but they weren't around this time)...

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach

From there it's just a 10-minute drive to the best reason of all to visit The Big Island: Punalu'u Bakery, home of the best Hawaiian Sweet Bread on earth (not to mention the south-most bakery in the USA!)...

Punalu'u Bakery

And then it was time to drive back so I could be sure to see the sunset that I missed yesterday. When researching where to stay on Hawaiʻi, I ultimately settled on the Waikoloa area, because it doesn't seem to get inundated with vog like Kona, and the rain never seem to get that bad. So far, that's held true for my visit here... no matter what's happening anywhere else on the island, it's always beautiful back at my hotel. But the vog does get blown out to sea, making for some incredible sunsets...

Hapuna Beach Sunset

Hapuna Beach Sunset

Hapuna Beach Sunset

Hopefully I'll be motivated to do something interesting tomorrow, because right now all I want to do is sleep in until noon.

What a waste that would be.

   

Day Nine: Hawaiʻi

Posted on Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Dave!It's my last day on The Big Island.

I wanted to spend it sitting on the beach and playing in the ocean.

But that seemed like kind of a waste given all the stuff to do here on Hawaiʻi that I haven't yet done. Shouldn't I be seeing and doing as much as possible while I still can? It seemed a dilemma best pondered while sitting on the beach and playing in the ocean.

But eventually I decided to tear myself away from this beautiful sight...

Beautiful Hapuna Beach Morning

...and head south into dreary and rainy Kailua-Kona for lunch. While there I decided to wander down to where the beautiful Hard Rock Cafe Kona used to be so I could be depressed that one of my favorite cafes has closed. Somebody should buy the building and turn it into a Hard Rock Cafe...

Former Hard Rock Building

From there I decided to head to the first of two destinations I had in mind for today, The Painted Church (which is actually St. Benedict's Catholic Church). This beautiful little church sits on a hill overlooking the ocean and is famous because of the nifty paintings that cover every available surface inside...

The Painted Church Hawaii

Painted Church Interior

My favorite feature is the guardian cat that sits outside and inspects everybody who enters the church...

Painted Church Kitty

There are some terrific statues on the church grounds including a reproduction of Michelangelo’s La Pieta, but I was really intrigued by a nice rendition of The Virgin Mary. She had been lovingly adorned with over a hundred necklaces which did nothing to detract from how beautiful she is...

Painted Church Virgin Mary

After wandering around the church and its grounds for a while, I finally proceeded onward to my ultimate destination, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. This used to be a place of refuge where Hawaiians who broke one of the ancient laws against their gods could escape from a death sentence. They'd show up, be absolved of their sin by a priest, and then go on their merry way... free to keep on living. This is also a place where Hawaiian chiefs were laid to rest.

I just liked it because there are cool structures and nifty statues all over the place...

Puuhonua Park

Beachfront Guardians

But the best thing about Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is that there's a beach where sea turtles come to have a rest. The ancient Hawaiians revered turtles, and petroglyphs here show "honu" turtles everywhere. I just think they're wonderful creatures. Last Sunday when I was in Maui, I snorkeled with a beautiful turtle for almost a half-hour before he finally decided to take a nap on the ocean floor. They're such trusting and inoffensive creatures that it breaks my heart to know that they're endangered now...

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle

I wish I had another week here.

But before I go, I thought I'd mention that the exclusive design I made for Avitable's Halloween Party fund-raising event will disappear forever in a few short weeks. It's so awesome, that I wore it while frolicking on the beach this morning...

Dave in Shirt
I PITY THE FOOL WHO DON'T BUY THIS T-SHIRT... GRRRRR!

Of course, a picture of me wearing a T-shirt isn't going to convince anybody to buy anything, so I give you the lovely Danalyn, looking divinely hot in her Neverwas Fair shirt...

Tech Wench Neverwas Fair Shirt

If you want to get a shirt of your very own, in any style you wish, just visit Avitable's store on Zazzle.

   

Day Eleven: Kauaʻi

Posted on Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Dave!Decisions, decisions.

I shouldn't have to be making decisions while I'm on vacation.

From the town of Kapaʻa where my rented condo is, you can really only travel north or south. There are lots of little roads that wander off into the countryside of Kauaʻi, but there's only one main road on the island, and it goes north or south. After flipping a coin, I decided that it would be north today, south tomorrow.

Google Map of Kauai

Though I have to tell you, the weather at the beach outside my room was pretty sweet, and it was all I could do to tear myself away...

My Condo's Beach on Kauai

First stop was the lighthouse at Kilauea, the north-most point of Kauaʻi. It's located in a wildlife refuge where all kinds of birds come to nest, and has the largest "clamshell" light lens in the world. It is kind of beat up, needs a paint-job, and doesn't work anymore (they have a light beacon outside instead), but it's still a beautiful place to visit...

Kilauea Lighthouse

Kilauea Lighthouse

From there on out, it's pretty much just one incredibly beautiful beach after another until you run out of road. As you get further north, the waters are a little rougher, but it's an amazing sight to watch those waves come rolling in...

Kauai North Beach

Kauai North Beach

Once the road ends at Na Pali, I could have parked and hiked out 20 miles along the beautiful coastal area there, but that's way more effort than I wanted to put into my afternoon.

So I drove back to my condo and goofed off.

I received a couple emails and comments from people asking about the photos I've been taking... wanting to know how much Photoshop work I've been doing to get them to look so nice.

The answer is "none." I'm on vacation, and don't want to mess around with Photoshop. About the only thing I do is crop and re-size... no other manipulations are going on.

I seem to get the best results here when set my camera to "Vivid Color," put the exposure compensation to "-0.3," bracket the shot with "+/-0.7," turn on "Active D-Lighting," and add either a polarizing filter or a neutral density filter to my lens so I can cut some of the glare and brightness (polarizers look best but they don't work well for wide-angle shots, so I use a 4x neutral density filter for those).

For my Blogography entries, I always choose the overexposed bracketed shot. This is a bad thing, because all my bright whites are blown out. But going this route means the photos require no work on my part. I just crop them and slap them up on my blog. When it comes time to assemble my photo album, I'll choose an underexposed shot so I can brighten up the darker shadow areas by manipulating the levels without blowing out the bright spots.

Easy!

Times sure have changed since I first got into photography.

   

Day Twelve: Kauaʻi

Posted on Sunday, September 21st, 2008

Dave!I woke up this morning wanting to do nothing at all.

The only thing that sounded like any fun was staying in bed and re-reading Frank Herbert's Dune for the hundredth time. I found a copy on the bookshelf of the condo I rented and couldn't refuse. It's such a mind-blowing revelation of a book that it deserves to be read a hundred times.

But I still had the south-side of Kauai to explore, so away I went. Muad'Dib would have to wait.

Mark Twain called Waimea Canyon "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." I'd tend to agree, even though Mark Twain supposedly never visited Kauaʻi, which means he was describing it without having seen it. The canyon itself starts out nice enough, but it's hardly Grand Canyon worthy...

Waimea Canyon

But as you move up the canyon road, the sights get more and more impressive...

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon is notoriously difficult to photograph. The lighting is rarely perfect, usually giving you areas of deep shadow, distance haze, or a washed out glare that obscures the beauty of it all. I did the best I could, but there's no substitute for being there.

As a bonus, once you drive past the canyon lookout and continue on past Kokeʻe State Park, you get to see the Kalalau Valley Overlook, which is absolutely incredible. It's another area that's kind of hard to photograph well, but I was quite happy with what I got...

Kalalau Valley Overlook

Kalalau Valley Overlook

On the way back to Kapaʻa, I stopped to see Waimea Falls. The last time I was here, a friend decided to climb down onto the head of the falls and give me a heart attack. Heights scare me bad enough without watching somebody plummet to their death...

Waimea Falls

Waimea Falls Sign of Death

And thus ends my last day on Kauaʻi.

BUT BEFORE I GO...

Chip Zdarsky has a pretty sweet meme on his blog with these rules... "Take a picture of yourself right now. Don't change your clothes, don't fix your hair...just take a picture. Post that picture with NO editing. Post these instructions with your picture."

Since I'm all rested, tanned, and blogging from the lanai of this condo... my name is David Simmer II and I endorse this meme...

Dave Snapshot

Oog. I really should have at least patted down my mussed-up hair before snapping that photo with my Mac's iSight camera, but that would be against the rules, wouldn't it?

One more day of vacation left...

   

Day Four: Savannah

Posted on Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Dave!Having to travel for work is a mixed blessing. On one hand, you do get to go places and see things you might not otherwise have a chance to. On the other hand, when you do go places you are working, and may still not have a chance to see things you want to see.

Such is the case with me in Savannah, where I am tied up the entire day. The only time I have to myself is a one-and-a-half-hour lunch. I also have the evening, but most things close at night and I'm too tired to want to go see them anyway. This makes for a very busy lunch time, as I rush around trying to see as much as I can.

Today was especially challenging because Jester had told me that I absolutely must visit the Bonaventure Cemetery, which is about 15 to 20 minutes outside of town. There are tours that go there, but they take hours, so my only option was to take a taxi and then pay the driver to wait for me while I goof around for a half hour. It was very expensive.

But worth every last penny...

Boneventure Cemetery Walk

Boneventure Cemetery Walk

Boneventure Cemetery Walk

Boneventure Cemetery Walk

I was expecting to see the renowned "Bird Girl" statue (made famous in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), but it has been moved to the Telfair Museum in town...

Bird Girl statue on the book cover

I could have explored the cemetery for hours, but duty called, and I was speeding back to Savannah before I knew it.

After dinner I was dead-tired but intent on walking down historic River Street at least once during this trip...

Sunset on River Street in Savannah

Sunset on River Street in Savannah

Sunset on River Street in Savannah

What a way to end my day.

   

Bullet Sunday 133

Posted on Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Dave!It's Bullet Sunday to the rescue...

• Photograph. One of the projects I've been working on over the past three years is getting all my photos converted to a digital format so I can preserve them as non-degradable 1's and 0's for all eternity. Once I got off work this afternoon, I started combing through my collection of pictures and negatives to get another batch ready for scanning. With the additional 1,748 images I rounded up today, I'll be at roughly 75% of my photographed memories converted. It's an expensive ordeal, to be sure, but ultimately worth it. If, for no other reason, that I get to relive the good old days when I looked like an advertisement for 80's fashion gone terribly wrong...

Old Photos of Young Dave!

• Remember. The down-side of rummaging through old memories is that you always run into people, places, and things that you'd just as soon forget. That's when the big decision of "to scan or not to scan" comes up. I don't know what it says about me, but 9 times out of 10, I choose not to have them scanned. 7 times out of 10, I destroy the originals. Some people would probably be horrified to hear this, believing that eventually you'll regret having gotten rid of the photos because you'll want to remember everything in your life... both good and bad. But try as I might, I cannot fathom being 90 years old and wanting to kick myself because I don't have a photo of some old girlfriend who screwed me over. How, exactly would that work? "Gee I wish I could remember what that lying, blood-sucking whore looks like." Uh huh... I don't think so. Some things really are best forgotten.

• Film. I still shoot film from time to time. There's a level of creativity, unpredictability, and danger that comes from throwing caution to the wind and using a chemical reaction to record an image. That being said, man what I wouldn't give to have had a digital camera back in the 80's and 90's when all these photos were taken! I don't really appreciate how amazing it is to be able to review a picture immediately after you've shot it until I see how many shitty photos I've got from back in those days. Over half of these shots would have been deleted or re-taken if only I knew they'd end up looking so bad. Oh well. I should be grateful that I had the relatively modern film technology I did (especially when compared to what came before it).

• Print. Back in the "film days," 100% of my photos were printed. Now-a-days, I'm guessing it's less than 5%. Most of the time I look at photos, it's on my computer. About the only time I have physical copies made is when I want to share them with friends and family who doesn't use a computer. This bothers me a little bit every time I think about it. Even though all my data is backed up very, very well... I still feel the need to have things in print for some reason. Maybe I'm just sentimental that way.

• Photoshop. Of course, one of the things I'm most looking forward to after getting all my photographs scanned is being able work some Photoshop magic on them. So many of the images can be dramatically improved by just small changes... erasing that person standing in the background... fixing the color balance... cropping out distractions... Photoshop makes it all so easy. A part of me thinks of this as "cheating" when I mess around with film images, but when it comes to my digital shots I don't give it a second thought. Perhaps it's because back in the "film days" you accepted that what you see is what you get when you press the shutter release. Whereas in the digital age, you take photos knowing you can change them. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I haven't yet decided.

What I have decided is that it's time for bed. I get to sleep in tomorrow morning, and I don't intend on ruining that by staying up past midnight.

   

Affair

Posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Dave!As the train wreck that is Governor Sanford unfolded in the media today, I made a few smart-assed remarks on Twitter because I just love it when hypocritical assholes get burned. Especially hypocritical assholes who pushed for impeaching Clinton when it was his dick that ended up where it shouldn't have been. And when you consider that Sanford not only used taxpayer money to get himself a mistress, but he is also an opponent of same-sex marriage because he apparently feels it defiles traditional marriage... well, it's a trifecta of schadenfreude bliss when he goes on television and admits to having an extramarital affair.

The Twitter stuff was nothing too outrageous, just snippy comments like...

  • "Because when you want to bring morality to America, it applies to EVERYBODY ELSE. Anxiously awaiting news that Sanford's affair was with a dude."
  • "Color me three shades of shocked... Not... One more nail in the "sanctity of traditional marriage" argument..."
  • "I should certainly hope that Jenny Sanford stands by her man! According to "Doctor" Laura, it was all her fault anyway."
  • "How do you solve a problem like Maria? A hike along the Appalachian Trail, apparently..."

Not a big deal, but it was enough to compel somebody on Twitter to send me a Direct Message telling me that my "attacks" were far worse than anything Sanford has done.

Whatever.

The big difference being that I don't go around condemning people for how they live their lives, then turn around and do that same shit. So, while I certainly sympathize with Sanford's family, that doesn't make the Governor any less a hypocritical asshole.

In similar news... suck it Perez Hilton. It's not that I am advocating violence, but when you make a living writing hateful things about people all day long... well, you reap what you sow.

In completely different news... I finally found time to unbox my new iPhone 3GS. To be honest, I don't consider it to be a critical hardware upgrade from the iPhone 3G. But I decided to go for it anyway because I find myself using the camera feature far more often than I ever thought I would, and the 2G/3G camera sucks major ass. Fortunately, the 3GS camera is far, far better. For one thing, it can do macro (close-up) photography very well...

iPhone Macro Flowers

iPhone Macro World Map

Compare that to the total shit that you get from the 2G/3G camera...

Shitty iPhone Macro Menu

But the thing I love most about the new 3GS camera is that you not only get selective one-tap focus... you can also choose where the camera meters the exposure. This is a massively huge improvement because it makes the camera is actually useful now.

In this scene, I tapped the bright white sign as the focus/exposure point to force a darker shot...

iPhone Scene Exposure

This time, I tapped the train in the background as the focus/exposure point to force a brighter shot...

iPhone Scene Exposure

By tapping around the scene for a medium value, I could get exactly the exposure I want. This is a far cry from the shitty 2G/3G camera which consistently shoots everything as murky and dark unless the lighting is perfect.

Finally, FINALLY, I have a viable camera with me at all times that I can rely on for decent photos! In addition, you can shoot and edit video with the 3GS... a nice bonus that I probably won't use much. There are also a few other new features, but unless you are wanting a better camera like I did, I don't know that it's worth the cost to upgrade.

Unless you're a government official and can pay for the upgrade using taxpayer money. An upgrade is always worth it when somebody else is paying.

   

Memorex

Posted on Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Dave!Today I was supposed to work, but couldn't make it because I awoke with a splitting headache which made me so ill that I was fighting the urge to vomit all morning. I'm not sure what the problem is, but I had to make severe changes in my diet at the request of my doctor, and it's been wrecking havoc with my system.

So, in-between dry-heaves, I set about sorting through twenty years of memories that have been stacked up in boxes. It mostly photos, post cards, travel souvenirs, and maps... but occasionally I run into other cool stuff. Like money. I found $46 in US bills scattered amongst the crap I've collected. Not to mention what probably amounts to hundreds of dollars in expired foreign currency.

My main goal is to track down any loose negatives that might be hiding so I can get them scanned. Otherwise, I'll miss the opportunity to see such gems as these (which were scanned in my last batch)...

Dave Traveler

Clockwise... That's me in a tux at my good friend's wedding. Me in Hawaii circa 1986. Me at the top of Petronas Towers (Kuala Lumpur) circa 2000. And me being all business-casual in Tokyo circa 1990.

Rummaging through crap for hours wasn't doing my headache any good, but it's all worth it because every once in a while, I run across something like this...

Alcoholics Not-Anonymous Here We Come!

That's me and my sister, circa 1987. If I remember correctly, we had finished off all the alcohol in the apartment except Yukon Jack Whiskey and some kind of Bailey's Irish Cream knock-off. Not knowing what else to do, we mixed them together and did shots.

Googling this horrific concoction, I now know this drink actually has a name... it's called a "Yukon Jackoff."

That sounds about right.

And so I made it half-way through my memories today and was very happy to learn that most of them are actually worth remembering.

That's kind of a nice thing to have happen on a Saturday, isn't it?

   

Day Four: Skagway

Posted on Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Dave!Today was a very early day arriving in rainy Skagway.

And the reason it was an early start was because I had booked a river rafting trip through the Chilkat Eagle Preserve outside of Haines, Alaska. The rain wasn't entirely unexpected, because this area is smack in the middle of a rainforest. What was unexpected was that the rain decided to let up the entire time our group was on the river, so it actually made for a fantastic (and relatively dry) morning.

There was quite a bit of mist hanging around which looked really cool, but made spotting the eagles a more difficult...

Trees in the Mist

The mist also made it quite challenging to photograph the eagles, but there were 44 of the birds spotted during the trip so I was able to get quite a few good shots. Since I was on a moving raft I forced a high shutter speed on my camera to keep things sharp. This caused the picture quality to suffer, but at least I didn't end up with a bunch of blurry eagles. Once I used Photoshop to zoom in and add some contrast, they look pretty good...

It's an Eagle!

It's an Eagle!

It's an Eagle!

Overall I shot close to 70 pictures of these beautiful creatures, but it's just not the same as seeing them in person.

After an hour floating down the river looking at Eagles, it was time for a picnic lunch and a ferry ride back to Skagway. The scenery along the was was pretty spectacular...

Harding Glacier in Skagway

Skagway Falls

Skagway Harbor

The town itself seems to be one big tourist trap, and I'm told half of the businesses here belong to Princess Cruise Lines, which makes a lot of sense. Still, it's kind of a charming place that maintains ties back to its gold-rush roots with wooden sidewalks and such...

Skagway, Alaska

I'm not much of a shopper, so it was time to walk along the pier so I could beat the crowds and get back to the ship for and early dinner...

Skagway Pier

Tomorrow is a day at sea. Usually I don't like sea days, but I admit it will be nice to be able to sleep in and relax for a while.

   

Day Six: Ketchikan

Posted on Friday, September 18th, 2009

Dave!I don't believe in luck.

That being said, I have been incredibly lucky all-around on this trip. Landed in Juneau... POURING RAIN! But then it stops just in time to trek on the Mendenhall Glacier. Arrive in Skagway... POURING RAIN! But then it slows to barely a drizzle when it's time to raft through the Chilkat Eagle Preserve. Floating through Glacier Bay... POURING RAIN AND IMPENETRABLE MIST! But then, just as the ship arrives at the Margerie Glacier, the sun breaks through and we have perfect visibility. And then this morning, dock at Ketchikan... POURING RAIN AND MORE MIST! But then, after a half-hour or so, it pretty much stops.

As I said, unbelievably lucky.

And then there was today's excursion, which was a float-plane flight to Neets Bay to look at bears...

Float-Plane Flight to Neets Bay, Alaska

Misty Alaska

Neets Bay Fish Ladder

And then I got so unfuckingbelievably lucky that I should probably buy lottery tickets immediately.

Because usually on nature sightseeing trips, there are odds that you won't get to see any wildlife at all. I booked the earliest bear-watch tour I could get since I was told the odds were better in the morning, but even that was no guarantee.

But I was lucky, again, because there were bears to be seen. And it was pretty much as I expected. Little bears off in the distance, looking for food...

Momma Bear and Baby Bear

What I didn't expect was to see a bear up close...

River Bear

I certainly didn't anticipate being just 30 feet away either...

Bear in the Bush

And I about shit myself when I saw bears just 15 feet away...

Wet Bear

Bear Says

So you can imagine how I nearly lost all control over my bodily functions when I saw a momma bear and baby bear in a tree just 10 feet overhead...

Momma Bear in a Tree

As I said, unfuckingbelievably lucky. Having a Bald Eagle show up as I was leaving was just icing on the cake...

American Bald Eagle in a Tree

Then the float-plane arrived to take our group back to Ketchikan... where the rain started pouring again...

Float Plane Landing in Neets Bay

Back in Ketchikan

Eagle Statue in front of the Norwegian Pearl Ship

Maybe I should start believing in luck after all.

   

Bullet Sunday 151

Posted on Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Dave!It's Bullet Sunday from my last day in the Netherlands! And what a beautiful one it is... with blue skies everywhere you look. A nice change from the past three days. The weather came just in time, because tomorrow I'm back to Schiphol for my flight home.

• Beach. The Lady Penelope didn't have to fly out until late afternoon, so The DutchBitch was kind enough to take us to Noordwijk aan Zee so we could see the beach (and eat more potatoes with mayo). It was a nice day out, though the wind was blowing pretty fierce. This was great for the chute-surfers out on the water...

Chute Surfers on the Ocean

Blue Sign in a Blue Sky

Bicycle Tire Stuck in the Sand

Dutch Lighthouse

A Scenic Look Towards the Beach

• Blue. After saying goodbye to Lady P. at the airport, we headed back into Amsterdam because I had forgotten my sunglasses at dinner last night. Thats when I saw something pretty amazing... blue sky behind the Hard Rock Cafe! In the half-dozen photos I have from previous visits, none of them have blue sky. But there it was...

Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam

• Big. In the USA, the restaurant portions are always massive, which means I can't ever eat it all and food goes to waste. Outside the USA, restaurant portions are usually of a more reasonable size, which is nice because I can actually finish everything on my plate without bursting. But when it comes to drinks, it's just the opposite. Order a Coke and they bring you a tiny bottle that costs at least double the price you'd pay in the States. Tonight Dutchy and I decided on Italian for dinner, and I was thrilled to see that they had both "regular" (i.e. tiny) glasses... AND "big" (i.e. "American regular") glasses on the menu. The down-side? I had to pay $7.88 (5,40€) for the privilege of ordering one...

$7.88 Glass of Coke

• Parade. Just because I can't get enough of the painted elephants public arts project in Amsterdam...

Elephants in the Park

• Funny. Last night, Dutchy treated us to some comedy DVDs featuring Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain. The guy is hysterically funny, and positively brilliant in his ability to interact with the audience. I had heard of the guy before because he hosts Mock of the Week from British television, but his stand-up was something entirely new to me. I pulled up Amazon so I could order his DVDs for myself... only to find out they aren't available for sale in Region 1. Nor could I buy them on iTunes. This is a load of bollocks. In the age of digital distribution, it's absolutely stupid that I can't buy a copy anywhere in the world. With DVDs I get it... they cost money to make. But a digital file on iTunes? It doesn't cost anything but a short time to convert the video (which has probably already been done for the UK store!). Like music, the concept of global digital distribution is completely lost on the video distributors. Oh well... until I can actually purchase a copy in my country, I guess there's always BitTorrent. How incredibly stupid that, for all our modern technology, idiotic stuff like this continues to happen.

Dara Ó Briain Live

YouTube has some funny bits and pieces from Dara's stand-up, and a good one is here.

And that's all she wrote for a fantastic visit to DutchyLand.

   

Imagery

Posted on Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Dave!I'm slowly getting all my negatives and paper photos scanned at ScanCafe, so I've started moving on to pictures from friends and relatives. It's been interesting to see how others view the same people and places when comparing their shots with my own. The last batch of scans I sent included images from my brother from some of the trips we've taken together.

The nice thing about traveling with my brother is that he's a professional photographer and takes some amazing photos. The bad thing about traveling with my brother is that all my photos look like crap by comparison.

Thailand...

Thailand Temple

Thailand Statue

James Bond Island

Pattya Sunset

Thai Fisherman at Sunset

The UK...

Dave in Front of Teddy Bear Co.

Elegant Statue

Beautiful Building

BeautyBuilding.jpg

Dave at Holyrood Palace

Dave at Palace

Edinburgh Hard Rock Cafe

Edinburgh Street

DaveEdinburgh.jpg

Celtic Cross at a Church

Nothing makes me want to hit the road again than looking at pictures from past trips!

   

Photogenic

Posted on Friday, October 9th, 2009

Dave!I really need to get some sleep one of these days.

This morning I finally finished going through the thousands of photo scans waiting to be approved. Most of what remained were pictures from when I was young, and that's always fun. It's interesting to see how so many things in my life haven't changed all that much, even from when I was a baby.

My adventures with toothpaste were not always tragic...

Lil' Dave Brushes His Teeth

The reason I am terrified of clowns becomes clear once I saw the scary-ass clown doll I was given... DEMON EYES! IT HAS DEMON EYES!! KILL IT! KILLLLLL IIIIIT!

Baby Dave with a Scary-Ass Clown!

Ride 'em, Tiger...

Baby Dave Rides a Plastic Tiger

I don't know why I stopped wearing red suit jackets. They totally work for me...

Dave in a Red Suit Jacket

That's a HUGE package you've got between your legs, Dave...

Baby Dave with a Christmas Present

My what a BIG wick you have between your legs there, Dave...

Baby Dave with a Giant Birthday Candle

Wow that's a MASSIVE hose you've got there, Dave...

Baby Dave with a Garden Hose

My obsession with monkeys started at an early age...

Baby Dave with a Stuffed Monkey Toy

Baby Dave with a Different Stuffed Monkey Toy

Growing up Dave...

Young Dave with a Sandwich

Dave Writing in a Book

Dave Taking a Writing Break

And now I need to get working on a very long weekend before I have to fly out again next Tuesday.

Something tells me I am not going to get that sleep any time soon.

   

HDR

Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Dave!Photography is very much just a hobby for me. I take snapshots when I travel, and don't think much about it when I'm not. When I was younger and had lots of time on my hands, things were different. I loved taking photos, and spent a lot of time trying different things so I could improve my pictures. Once film cameras died and I moved to digital photography, I started getting even more creative because I wasn't having to pay a fortune in film and photo processing charges. Alas, it was destined not to last, because I seem to have less and less free time available as time goes on.

But then my camera died and I bought a new Nikon D90 just in time for a vacation to Hawaii. Thanks to features like "Active D-Lighting" I was getting really good photos with very little effort if I took the time to set up my shot right. This kind of sparked a photography renaissance in me, and I started experimenting again.

And the thing I've been really interested in for the past year has been High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR).

The best way to explain it is to show it. When I was at Stonehenge, I lined up this beautiful shot of the sun rising behind the stones. Unfortunately, it turned out looking like crap...

Stonehenge Automatic Photo

The bright sun blew out the sky and caused the camera to underexpose the dark stones. So I decided to take the shot again, but at three different exposure levels...

HDR Multiple Exposures

The long exposure blows out the sky, but reveals the details in the rocks. The short exposure paints the rocks black, but fills in the sky nicely. The medium exposure holds the shadows really well, but is murky everywhere else. If only there was a way to combine the best parts of each photo so you had great exposure over the entire image.

Well, there is, and it's called HDR Photography...

Stonehenge HDR

After merging the best parts of all three photos, it's easy to make tone adjustments to the color so that things really pop. The sun behind the stone now looks as I intended, with an eerie glow around Stonehenge. In fact, it looks even MORE awesome than it did in person!

And that's the problem. Most HDR photos end up looking surreal and totally fake. For a mystical place like Stonehenge, this isn't such a bad thing. But for "regular" photographs, it ends up looking strange. And most of the time it's strange in a bad way. But with some experimentation, you can make it look strange in a good way. Like this kind of boring shot of Bath Cathedral which is kind of murky thanks to overcast skies...

Bath Cathedral Photo

But in HDR, you can make it look pretty cool...

Bath Cathedral HDR Photo

Where HDR really comes in handy is when light is scarce. Buildings at sunset can change completely...

Hapuna Prince Hotel Photo

This time I composited five separate shots with different exposures to get this...

Hapuna Prince Hotel HDR Photo

Sure it looks fake and can be difficult for the brain to process, but you do get to see details you'd never see otherwise. The best use of HDR seems to be in moderation. In this image from Kauai's Kalalau Lookout, the deep shadows from the clouds completely bury the details...

Kalalau Lookout Photo

When I just want to brighten dark areas, you can composite an HDR shot with a regular shot and end up with results that don't look quite so artificial, though you do lose some depth in the resulting image...

Kalalau Lookout HDR Photo

The danger being that you can completely change the tone of a photo if you're not careful. With this shot of a lava flow from The Big Island, for example, the rock is supposed to be dark...

Hawaiian Volcanos National Park Photo

But using HDR, you end up with something that has lots of detail, but no longer looks like lava...

Hawaiian Volcanos National Park HDR Photo

Sometimes using HDR can ruin a shot. This photo of a Banyan Tree has a kind of spooky vibe to it, even though I'm in broad daylight...

Banyan Tree Photo

Take three different exposures and run it as an HDR photo and you end up with something completely different...

Banyan Tree HDR Photo

Yes, being able to see the freaky details in the tree is kind of nice, but the mood of the shot has been destroyed. Perhaps combining the above two photos would create a happy balance, but sometimes I think HDR is best avoided.

While I don't see myself using High Dynamic Range very often, I do think it has interesting possibilities for some situations and opens up an entirely new level of creativity for photographers. With practice, I'm hoping I can get better at knowing when to use it... but even more importantly, when not to use it... to keep my photography hobby interesting and fun.

If you've got some time to kill, you can download a free demo of Photomatix (the HDR software I use) and be good to go. Then all you need is a steady hand (or a tripod) along with a camera that can do exposure bracketing (or, you could try setting the different exposures manually, but you'd have to be very careful not to move the camera in-between shots!). You need a minimum of three exposures to make a decent HDR image, but I've found that five exposures works best.

Now if only I could afford a new lens... I've long been wanting to try deep macro photography...

   

Sunflowers

Posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Dave!

DAVETOON: Bad Monkey Reveals a Sunflowers Photo

   

   

   

   

Bullet Sunday 195

Posted on Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Dave!Bullet Sundaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! Let's get ready to Rrrrruuummmmmble!

   
• Tweet! Most of the time I'm too busy to pay any serious attention to Twitter, but every once in a while it's a scary insight into what I'm going through at any particular moment in time. Today was particularly telling, and had me wishing I self-censored a bit better. Oh well. Too late for that now...

If only a punch in the face could be seen as

So many times when I'm asked for my opinion on something, I'm tempted to say "no" immediately because more often than not the person has no interest in getting an actual opinion... they just want your praise (whether they deserve it or not). Yet I foolishly try to be friendly and helpful with my critique anyway, sometimes getting burned in the process. It's really too bad, because good constructive criticism can be so much more helpful than faint praise... if people are willing to hear it. The question is, how many times will I get burned before I learn not to offer it in the first place? At this rate, not long at all.

   
• Fore! Oh how I love my new iPhone 4. It is superior to my iPhone 3GS in absolutely every way... especially signal reception. I can now actually make phone calls at my home without having them fade out, go choppy, or get dropped entirely. I've had no problems with the antenna while making calls, but have had some problems while texting or using apps when I cradle the iPhone to type. It took all of one minute to learn how to shift my hand to not block the antenna, so it's pretty much a non-issue now. If you have a case for your iPhone 4, it never was an issue to begin with. Personally, if I were going case-free and couldn't adapt to "holding different," this is my favorite solution...

Antenn-Aid

It's Antenn-Aid to the rescue!

And don't get me started on Apple's amazing "FaceTime" feature, which is the future made real...

But the main reason I upgraded to iPhone 4 was for the camera. My pocket camera is being held together with a rubber band and, rather than replace it, I decided to carry one less thing and just take snapshots with the iPhone 4. The camera has been so highly praised that I figured it was a realistic expectation, but was secretly worried it wouldn't live up to the hype.

And, while it is a vast improvement over previous iPhone cameras, it kinda doesn't live up to the hype. Particularly disappointing is night shooting. Sure the light sensitivity is improved, but the grain is outrageously bad... to the point of being unusable except at massively reduced sizes...

iPhone Night Shot of a Power Station

iPhone Grain Closeup

I shouldn't be surprised. The lens is just too small to accept enough light in a dim scenario like this. Shots in "normal" lighting are good... fantastic even... but it looks like my iPhone is no threat to my purchasing a new pocket camera for shooting in low-light. Darn it anyway.

Still, in every other respect, the iPhone 4 is pure WIN, and I really do love it. Heaven only knows what Apple has planned for the iPhone 5.

   
• Freedom? From watching the news and seeing people re-tweet Sarah Palin on Twitter, you'd think that actual terrorists were wanting to build a monument to the Islamic extremists who died during their 9/11 attacks ON TOP OF "Ground Zero" where the World Trade Center once stood. This is so absurd that it might actually be true, so I looked it up and was disappointed to discover that it was, in fact, not. Some American citizens are just wanting to build a Islamic cultural center and mosque TWO BLOCKS AWAY from Ground Zero on PRIVATE LAND. From what I've read, the mosque won't even be visible from the Ground Zero memorial that's being planned. This type of crazy shit drives me insane. The non-stop parade of lies and crazy exaggerations being sold to people for political gain on both sides of the political spectrum have me hoping for the complete collapse of democracy in this country. If people are so damn stupid as to keep falling for this kind of bullshit, then obviously they can't be trusted with democracy. If people are so hot to have somebody tell them what to think and don't care whether it's true or not, I suggest a nice dictatorship, with ME as Supreme Leader. I am more than happy to tell people what to think. Or to go fuck themselves.

UPDATE: I would have just said "Fuck you, Sarah Palin, you bigoted piece of shit," but Mayor Bloomberg is a much more eloquent and inspiring speaker than I could ever be (thanks for the tip, Etienne!)...

   
And now... time to put my aching head to bed.

Hopefully to sleep this time.

   

Rich

Posted on Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Dave!Thanks to nasty side-effects from prescribed drugs I was given when I was younger, I've been sliding into a nice pile of debt over the past five years. Now that I'm "cured," I finally got a loan so I can pay off my massive stack of medical bills.

After depositing the money into my bank account, I paused so I could pretend I was rich for a few minutes. It didn't suck. I sat there daydreaming of all the amazingly cool things I could do with that pile of cash, and couldn't wipe the smile off my face.

Then I wrote the checks to pay my medical bills and was snapped back to reality.

When all was said and done, I ended up having a mind-boggling $464 left over. Apparently a past payment was credited wrong or something. If I were smart, I'd have stuck the money in my savings account, long since depleted. Or perhaps put it towards a loan payment.

Instead I spent $599 on this...

Tokina 11-16 Lens

I've always wanted an ultra-wide-angle lens, but I could never justify spending the money. If I have that kind of cash laying around, I'd rather spend it traveling somewhere cool. But I am already traveling to "somewhere cool" when I go on vacation in eleven days. So I decided I'd just blow the money on something I can't afford before my loan payments start and I really can't afford it.

I'll try not to think about that, and instead focus on how having this lens will make me enjoy my vacation even more. It's the little things that make life worth living, after all.

Or so I keep hearing.

Personally, I'd rather have the big pile of cash.

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Day Four: Barcelona

Posted on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Dave!Since I've been to Barcelona a couple times before, I've seen all the "top sights" in the city. Rather than hunting for new things to see, I thought that I'd buy a ticket for one of those "Hop-On Hop-Off" tour busses and see some of the place they recommend. This was a huge mistake and a big waste of money. It took forever for the busses to show up, half the places they went were not at all interesting, and I would have been far better off planning things myself with a Metro Pass and an occasional taxi... probably for less money too.

Oh well. Live and learn.

I did spend some time at one of my favorite museums on earth... Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. They have got some incredible, incredible stuff. And you don't even have to go to Barcelona to explore their collection... they've got most everything available online! Here are a few of the coolest things I saw...

Apparently, this guy really needs to pee. I feel bad for him, because he's looking a little desperate. Oh well, we've all been there...

I gots ta pee!

I'm guessing that the poor state of dentistry was responsible for a lot of people being all miserable with toothaches...

Statues with a Toothache

ZOMG! IT'S THE ARC OF THE COVENANT!!

Arc of the Covenant

This is one of my favorite paintings. In the middle is Baby Jesus. Around the outside are Saints and the awesome ways they were martyred for Him...

Pick-A-Death!

I wonder if you get to choose which way you're going to die? There's sawed in half...

Pick-A-Death SAWED IN HALF!

Boiled in oil...

Pick-A-Death BOILED IN OIL!

Sliced repeatedly with a sword...

Pick-A-Death STABBED WITH A SWORD

Or, my personal favorite... nails in the face... IN THE FACE!!!

Pick-A-Death NAILS IN THE FACE

But no worries... Christians definitely got their revenge during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and numerous interfaith and denominational wars. Here's part of a mural showing two Christian soldiers chillaxin on the battlefield...

Crusades Chillaxin

Right before they go out and kill some black people...

Crusades Killin

This is much like I'd imagine a Glenn Beck rally would be like if it took place 900 years ago. Or possibly two years from now. And since we've got dumbfuck Christian ministers burning the Qur'an in "The Land of Religious Freedom and Tolerance" back in the USA, I'd say that a new round of Crusades is just around the corner.

It's so convenient how an increasing number of Christians seem to forget their own bloody past when accusing Islam of being a violent religion. Historically, Christians are among the most savagely violent and destructive people ever to have existed. And when I see all the raw hatred coming out of the so-called "Religious Right," I have to wonder if things are coming full-circle. Obviously this isn't the path chosen by ALL Christians... for now... but if the past is forgotten, I have to wonder what the future will bring...

Monk!

I rode the bus around to various sites taking pictures... blah blah blah... but ended up going to another favorite location in Barcelona. Casa Milá, better known as Le Pedera. This is Gaudi's freaky apartment complex and one of his most famous works...

Casa Milá

A lot of the stuff here is way ahead of its time. Like these HR Giger-esque doors, straight out of Alien...

Gaudi Alien Door

But it's the roof that everybody comes here to see. It's got all kinds of interesting structures stuck to it...

CasaMilá Roof

CasaMilá Roof

CasaMilá Roof

After goofing around Station Diagonal for a bit, I decided to hike up Tibidabo Hill to get a shot of the sun setting...

Sunset Over Barcelona

Then it was time for delicious Patatas Bravas at a tapas bar...

Patatas Bravas and Coke!

Mmmmm... yummy greasy potatoes. Probably the best way you can end a day in Barcelona!

   

Day Eleven: La Spezia

Posted on Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Dave!Most people on the ship seem to be taking a long bus ride into Pisa or Florence from our place of landing here in the port city of La Spezia. Since I've already been both places, I decided to try something different and visit the coastal cities of Santa Margherita and Portofino.

It turned out to be a good decision.

Both cities are absolutely beautiful... rivaling even the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy. Santa Margherita is the larger of the two, and has a beautiful cathedral that's a little plain on the outside, but magnificent on the inside. In a disturbing turn, they seemed to be selling tribbles at the fruit markets here...

Santa Margherita

Santa Margherita

Santa Margherita Statue of Mary

Santa Margherita Fruit Market Tribbles

Santa Margherita Cathedral

Santa Margherita Cathedral

And, as if Santa Margherita wasn't beautiful enough, along comes Portofino. The city is just fantastic for tourists, and has terrific gelato...

Portofino, Italy

Portofino, Italy

Portofino Gelato

Portofino, Italy

Portofino, Italy

I never get this lucky when it comes to vacation weather. I'm guessing a thunderstorm will be coming along any minute now...

   

Day Twelve: Ajaccio

Posted on Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Dave!Pulling into the Corsican port of Ajaccio under flawless blue skies, I'm once again thankful for my unprecedented luck with the weather. On every other cruise I've taken, there's been at least one port that's overcast and rainy.

When it came to shore excursions for Corsica I decided on the long drive to Corte, the former capitol. The tour description promised a look at Corsica's rich and interesting history, which was all I needed to know.

Surprisingly, the road to Corte in the interior of the island is pretty rugged and mountainous...

Corsican Mountains

Road to Corte

Road to Corte

Corte itself is a nice city with some interesting places to eplore...

Corte Corsica

Corte Corsica

Another day gone. My vacation is passing all too quickly.

   

Day Thirteen: Villefranche

Posted on Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Dave!The internet connection onboard has been sucking even worse than usual. It's been so bad that I couldn't upload yesterday's entry despite numerous attempts. So glad I paid $150 for this.

Today is the cruise's final port of call in Villefranche. Sandwiched nicely between Monaco and Nice, it's a great place to start exploring France's Cote d' Azur...

Villefranche

Overlooking Villefranche

After a great drive along the coast, the first stop was Monaco...

Monaco Overlook

It's a beautiful place, with plenty of photo opportunities...

Monaco Street

Seagull in Monaco

And since you can't visit Monaco without a visit to the Casino at Monte Carlo...

Monte Carlo Casino

The interior is pretty spectacular... even if you have to pay 10 Euros to see it. I was going to go all James Bond and play some Roulette, but the lone table they had running was packed so I played slots instead. After winning 30 Euros almost immediately, I was going to cash in... but felt more than a little silly cashing in such a meager amount, and instead played it all until it was gone.

Lunch was at the famous Cafe de Paris...

Cafe de Paris

After which you are given time to wander around the pricey shops and see the sights... like the infamous hairpin turn of the Monaco Road Race...

Monaco Race Route

After goofing around in Monaco and Monte Carlo, the final stop was the medieval village of Eze, which was pretty cool...

Eze

Eze

Eze

And that was that. The last port excursion of the trip, and time to go back to the ship...

The Disney Magic

Just in time... the clouds are really starting to move in.

   

Photojojo

Posted on Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Dave!Today was pretty crazy, so it looks like it's time for a product review!

I've been so busy trying to catch up with work after my vacation that I only just this morning had time to open my new Photojojo camera-phone lenses! There are two... a wide-angle ($20) and a fisheye ($25) which you can get as a set for $40. They attach to your phone in front of your existing camera lens, and stay in place magnetically thanks to a little adhesive ring that sticks on your phone...

Photojojo Lens Ring

Here are some snapshots I took. The first image in the sequence is with no lens. The second is with the wide angle lens. The third is with the fisheye lens...

Photojojo Lenses Images

Photojojo Lenses Images

The wide angle lens is pretty nice. It adds just enough extra width to make scenery shots a little easier. It also doubles as a macro lens, which is equally impressive...

Macro Shot with Photojojo Lens

The fisheye lens is kind of goofy. It probably works better on the older iPhones with a smaller lens hole, but on iPhone 4 you get some serious vignetting in the corners because it has a bigger lens. This is disappointing, since Photojojo doesn't warn you... but, it's still a way to fit an impossible amount of stuff into your shot...

Fisheye Shot with Photojojo Lens

Overall, I'm happy with my purchase, with three things in mind...

  • The little ring that sticks to your phone will completely cover the flash that comes with the iPhone 4. What I did was use a pair of wire cutters and cut out a notch in the ring so the flash can shine through. It works fine.
  • At least it would work fine if it didn't keep falling off. The magnets on the lenses are very strong... so strong that they easily rip the ring right off the camera. I'm not sure what the solution is here, but it's very frustrating. It would be cool if Apple would build in a ring for lens attachments but, since that didn't happen, I guess I'll have to look for a stronger adhesive and hope it doesn't ruin the finish on my iPhone.
  • The vignetted black corners on the fisheye lens really bother me. If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably skip it and just get the wide-angle version.

On the plus side, the lenses come with keyring loops so you can always have them handy and lens caps to keep them in good shape. This is pretty sweet, though my keys are getting almost too big to manage now...

Photojojo Lenses Keychain

If you're wanting some lenses for your phone, head over to the Photojojo Shop!

   

Pass

Posted on Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Dave!Yesterday I was supposed to fly out of Albuquerque early in the morning. But mechanical difficulties with the plane kept pushing my flight back further and further until I was ultimately rebooked on an entirely different one. This meant getting into Seattle much later than I originally intended, where I was greeted by torrential rain and rush hour traffic. As if that weren't enough, it was snowing on the passes.

Not wanting to drive home through rain, traffic, and snow on three hours sleep, I decided to crash at my sister's house and come back home this morning.

Which was a smart move, because the drive was pretty spectacular.

At the top of the pass, it looks like all the color has been sucked from the scenery. It's drab, overcast, and depressing... yet still beautiful at the same time...

Stevens Pass Snowy

Stevens Pass Snowy

But once you get to the other side, it's another story entirely...

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

In the twenty+ years I've been driving over the mountains, I've never stopped along the way to take a look. I've always just enjoyed the view at 60mph. Today I did stop for some reason, and was glad that I did. And a little mad at myself that I never had before.

Sometimes its good to stop and smell the roses. Even if there aren't any roses to smell.

   

Fade

Posted on Saturday, December 4th, 2010

Dave!Just a friendly reminder to everybody... BACK UP YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS!

I have now had one person in Real Life, one person on Twitter, and another person on Facebook all lose their photos because a backup failed or something went wrong with their computer. This is such inconceivably horrifying event, that it makes me even more relieved that I am so dang paranoid about backing up everything.

One backup simply isn't enough. My Apple backup solution "Time Capsule" has died once, and become hopelessly corrupted twice (Dear Apple, YOU SUCK! FIX THIS!!). I have had drives go bad on more than one occasion. I've even physically lost a backup drive (and still have no idea what happened to it).

So I have four backups. One external dual-drive RAID set to mirror all data to both drives. Two external backups for my RAID backup that I rotate off-site. And an account with Amazon's Web Storage Services. Because even though I was on vacation just two months ago, the memories are already fading, and the photos are all I have...

Image of Malta
Arriving in Valletta, Malta at Dawn

Image of Tunis, Tunisia
A Side-Street in Sidi Bou Saïd, Tunisia

Image of Ravello, Italy
Overlook from Villa Rufolo Gardens, Ravello, Italy

Image of Corte, Corisca, France
Looking up at the Mountain Village of Corte, Corsica, France

Oh how I love "Vivid Color Mode" and "Active-D Lighting" on my Nikon D-90! Everything looks like a postcard.

I cannot imagine losing the 40,000+ photos that have documented my life... so I make no apologies for being an annoying doom-sayer paranoid freak when it comes to advocating backups. It's an investment that is well worth the cost.

   

Windows

Posted on Monday, December 6th, 2010

Dave!Windows of Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy...

Windows of Santa Margherita

   

   

   

Snowing

Posted on Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Dave!It takes me 5 minutes to drive home. I ended up stopping half-way because the snow accumulation on my windshield was so thick that the wipers stopped working. That's pretty bad. Then again, on the way to work I saw one car in the ditch and two others smashed on a street corner. That's really bad.

Once I finally made it home, I was done with snow.

Until I decided to walk to the cemetery and see if there was enough light to take a few photos...

Snowy Night

Snowy Cemetery Memorial

Snowy Cemetery Memorial

Snowy Cemetery Tree

Snowy Cemetery at Night

Snowy Cemetery at Night

And now I'm done with snow.

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Dave10

Posted on Friday, December 31st, 2010

Dave!2010 -> AUDIO -> VIDEO -> DAVE

And now, at long last, comes that one entry for people who are curious as to what I've been up to, but only like to read one blog post a year. All-in-all, it was not a terrible end to the decade. Picking and choosing all the good stuff that happened in 2010 (out of a blog that is already picking and choosing all the good stuff) kind of makes me think it was a great year. Alas, I know better, as there were boatloads of crap I had to deal with that never end up at Blogography. Oh well. It's okay to pretend, isn't it?


JANUARY

• Realized the right tool for the job won't actually get me a free date with Elizabeth Hurley.

• Opened my big mouth and got the entire wine-connoisseur world pissed at me.

DAVETOON: Lil' Dave and Bad Monkey drink entirely too much wine.

• AND NOW, FROM THE BLOGGER WHO BROUGHT YOU PENIS SALAD...

• Found out that somebody stole my monkey.

Copycat Monkey!

Found a vagina on the sidewalk.


FEBRUARY

• Discovered that Canadians are responsible for the pussification of America, and showed them how REAL AMERICANS GET SHIT DONE!!

• Seattle FINALLY got a Hard Rock Cafe, and I got my 125th visit.

• Released my medical findings on a cure for the common cold to Twitter (and so much more).

Tweet01.gif


MARCH

• That Crasher Squirrel has been showing up everywhere...

Crasher Squirrel in Inglourious Basterds

• Just like Lindsay Lohan's cootchie...

Lohan Coochie

• Took my annual Birthday Vacation and ended up in Dutchyland, and Brussels, and Bucharest, and Transylvania, and Prague.

Prague at Night


APRIL

• Explained why Roger Ebert is WRONG about video games not being art.

Talked shit... LITERALLY.

• Attended THE blogging event of the year... TEQUILACON 2010 VANCOUVER!

Planning Posse


MAY

• Went to New York for a-ha's farewell tour and to hang out with awesome people while Betty White made her Emmy-winning SNL appearance.

Remembered a friend.

Got the tackiest phone call ever.

Took a dump on Lost and then went out for pizza with RW, which ended up having far-reaching consequences you'll find out about later this year.

• Summed up my position on the BP oil spill.

DAVETOON: Bad Monkey covers Lil' Dave in Oil


JUNE

• Saw the Worst. Movie. Ever.

• WAY TO GO BLACKHAWKS!!

DAVETOON: Lil' Dave in a Blackhawks Jersey

• Had more fun than should legally be allowed at Bitchsterdam 2!

Bitchsterdam Euro Celebration

Rush Limbaugh is a vile piece of shit.


JULY

Saw one of the best episodes of television ever (thank you Steven Moffat, The BBC, and Dr. Who!). I can honestly say that I think this is the only time I cried in all of 2010.

Van Gogh Meets Dr. Who!

Sarah Palin is a fucking idiot.

• Went on a tour of the USA with stops in Hollywood, San Diego for Comic Con, and Atlanta for Watermelon Beer, and Tulsa, and Kansas, and Chicago.


AUGUST

• Explained to haters who don't like being referred to as a hater that they kind are.

Paid a visit to mah Hilly-Sue and FooDiddy in Sacramento.

Got a visit from Muskrat and Whit in Seattle.

• Was inspired beyond my ability to express by the final words of a legend.

Satoshi Kon


SEPTEMBER

• Took a Mediterranean vacation and saw such remarkable places as Barcelona, and Malta, and Tunisia, and The Amalfi Coast, and Rome, and Portofino, and Corsica, and Monaco. As if all that wasn't enough, I got to have breakfast with Mickey Mouse!

Dave2 and Mickey!

• Remembered The Golden Rule and became the biggest evil dumbass inhuman monster of them all.


OCTOBER

Nearly crapped myself watching a television show.

DAVETOON: Oh Shit! Oh Shit! Oh Shit!

Partied down in rural Wisconsin... a good place to be!

Put Your Hands Up!

Got all poitical for a minute.

Wore purple for a very important cause...

DAVETOON: Lil' Dave and Bad Monkey in Purple

• Went to Albuquerque to gamble away my money at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino there.

• Found out my iPhone can take some pretty decent photos if I bother to stop and look around because there's an app for that...

Wenatchee River Fall Colors


NOVEMBER

• Went back to Atlanta, this time for Pumpkin Beer and good friends... then a tour of THE WALKING DEAD!

• Took a look at porn and handjobs in the interest of airport security.

DAVETOON: TSA says okay! You're good to go!


DECEMBER

Got into the CALM Act...

DAVETOON: Lil' Dave getting blasted with a hemorrhoid commercial

• Want to know where to go on vacation? Here are some of my suggestions!.

"Take your stupid war and go fuck yourself with it."

Took some pictures in the snow.

Snowy Cemetery at Night

• Took on stupid bitches and the law, and went ape-shit over net-neutrality, and was shocked as hell by a moment of lucidity from Pat Robertson.


   
And that was pretty much what happened with me in 2010. How about you?

Hope your 2011 is a good one, and thanks for reading!

   

Day Eight: Marbella

Posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Dave!It should come as no surprise that I love Spain. Since I've started this blog I've been here in 2005, 2007, 2009, five months ago in 2010, and now today. It's probable I'll be visiting again next year because there's still so many places left I want to see.

This is my first visit to the Costa del Sol in the south of Spain, and it kills me that I am only here for two days. Tomorrow I plan to explore Málaga proper, but today was spent down the coast in Marbella. I had hoped to get on some kind of tour so I could go in-country and see a bit of beautiful Ronda but, alas, it wasn't meant to be. Maybe when I eventually get around to visiting Seville and Granada I can manage to see the city then.

Anyway... I awoke to a weather map that looked like this...

Malaga Weather

Coast of the sun indeed. Just yesterday I was schlepping my suitcase through the snowy sidewalks of Cologne.

Marbella is a major vacation city of the Costa del Sol, and home to many famous and extremely wealthy people. As a playground for the über-rich it also includes a marina complex, known as Puerto Banús, which was my ultimate destination today because it's home to the Hard Rock Cafe Marbella...

Hard Rock Cafe Marbella

The rest of the day was a delicious mish-mash of good food and cool places to walk though in Puerto Banús...

Marbella

Marbella

Marbella

And onward to Marbella...

Marbella

Marbella

Marbella

Marbella

Marbella

Marbella

Just a few photos from a beautiful day in a beautiful city!

And now off to bed before my legs collapse. I spent entirely too many hours walking today.

   
P.S. My suitcase was at the hotel waiting for me when I got back from dinner. As always, everything seems to work out in the end. Though all I really know for sure is that I'm glad to have clean underwear again...

   

Detour

Posted on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Dave!And so my journey home continues... this time with pretty pictures!

Since it would still be less time to drive back to Seattle and go over the mountain passes, the first thing I did when I got up this morning was check the pass reports. One was closed. The other was "chains required" (and my car can't wear chains, even though I am legally required to carry them). And sooo... I had no choice but to continue the massive detour I was on...

This is how I usually get home. Travel time: 2hr 10min...

Homeward Journey

This is the detour I had to take. Travel time: 9hr 15min...

Homeward Journey Detour

Well... technically it's 9 hours and 15 minutes. With my overnight stop in Portland, it actually took me 16 hours and 35 minutes to get home.

And thought the long, long drive sucked ass, there were some cool things to see along the way. My first stop? THE BRIDGE OF THE GODS! In ancient times, there was a natural stone bridge that crossed the Columbia River. Native American legend says that the bridge was put there by Manito, The Great Spirit, because he was sympathetic to the hard time people had crossing the river. A mural at the foot of the bridge shows what this looked like...

Bridge Of The Gods Mural

Bridge Of The Gods Mural

But due to a jealous rivalry between mountain gods, the bridge was destroyed (you can read all about it here). And so in 1920 we had to build our own bridge, which looks like this...

Bridge Of The Gods

From there, I continued onward, eventually crossing the Columbia River into the small region of Maryhill, Washington. The place is kind of famous because of a World War I war memorial here... STONEHENGE! And unlike the old and busted Stonehenge in England, the Stonehenge here in Washington is new hotness...

Stonehenge Memorial in Maryhill

Stonehenge Memorial in Maryhill

Stonehenge Memorial in Maryhill

There are a lot of wind turbines in the area...

Maryhill Wind Turbines

The drive up through the Columbia Basin's county roads was pretty lonely. Most of the time I was the only driver on the road. Still, there was some nice scenery to be had...

Central Washington Roads

Central Washington Roads

Central Washington Roads

Central Washington Roads

And then, before I knew it, I was home. Exhausted and wanting to die... but home just the same.

Pretty as it was, I don't want to do this drive again any time soon.

   

Venice: Gondola

Posted on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Dave!The quintessential "Venice Experience" is to take a gondola ride. I've never done it because the cost is outrageously expensive... about $120 for 35 minutes. For that kind of money, I'd rather take a ride of an entirely different kind.

But, alas, Venice is sinking and all that, and I didn't want to regret that I never rode in a gondola when I had the chance. So I didn't think about the money and decided to go for it.

Worth every penny.

It may be touristy and trite, but it really is the best way to experience this remarkable city...

Gondola Ride

Gondola Ride

Gondola Ride

Gondola Ride

Gondola Ride

The gondoliers have a fairly tough job that requires quite a bit of skill...

Gondolier Manouverings

Gondolier Manouverings

Gondolier Manouverings

Gondolier Manouverings

If you're ever in Venice, save some money for a gondola ride, it's worth the price.

There are two problems which plague a photographer in Venice. 1) Everything is leaning or warped or crooked, so trying to line up shots can drive you a little crazy. And 2) The stupid pigeons are everywhere and mess up a surprising number of shots you're trying to take. I've got dozens of photos that ended up being bird photos...

Bird flies into my shot of the Doge's Palace door!

Dodge's Palace Door

When I was last in Venice, I went to the top of the Campanile Bell Tower where I got this incredible panorama shot of the city. But it was rainy and dreary, and I longed to take another panorama in better weather. Like today. Which was sunshine and blue skies as far as the eye could see.

The problem is that something has changed since I was here last. There are heavy metal grates in place, so I couldn't really move my camera enough to take a panorama. I don't remember how I did it last time. Perhaps the grate is new? Or maybe they used to allow you to climb the stairs up past the observation deck and that's closed now? I can't figure it out. I guess I should be thankful that I've got one, even though it's in bad weather. Oh well. It's still a nice view...

The Campanile Bell Tower in Venice

Entering the Campanile

View from the top of the Campanile

View from the top of the Campanile

View from the top of the Campanile

After goofing around St. Mark's Square for a while, I decided to explore the area north of Rialto. It's there that the only McDonald's in Venice is located, and I wanted to use their free WiFi. Except the WiFi wasn't working, so I ended up going to Mickey-Dees for nuthin...

McDonald's Venice

Annnnd... I'm done playing tourist for the day. Time to seek out the perfect Venetian restaurant for dinner.

   

Behind

Posted on Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Dave!Time for another BEHIND THE SCENES episode of Blogography!

Thanks so much to everybody who has supported the debut issue of Thrice Fiction magazine! RW and I have been surprised... shocked even... by the number of people who have been kind enough to take a look and give us some nice feedback. In all honesty, I thought maybe 40-50 people would bother to download the thing. Sure it's free, but time is valuable, and I didn't think many people would give it a chance. Even more surprising, a good chunk of you actually bought the printed magazine from MagCloud. We don't make any money off of those sales, but knowing people like the magazine enough to buy it... well, that's better than money!

Okay, probably not... but when you combine all the downloads and printed issues, we've "sold" around 320 copies. Considering we haven't done any promotion outside of our blogs and Facebook, this is pretty remarkable.

Some of the nicest comments I received were saying good things about the artwork, which is really special to me considering most of it was a last-minute addition. Though, considering most people only see the crappy cartoons I slap together for this blog, I guess anything would be "good" by comparison! A few people had asked about the "medium" I used for the pieces, so I thought I'd do another "behind the scenes" entry to explain how the front cover came together...

STEP000.jpg

I suppose the first thing I should say is that this is not a painting. The painted "look" is just a couple of Photoshop filter effects. So what is it? Just a bunch of photo pieces that have been blended together to create an image based on this sketch I made to show "The End" of the earth...

STEPSKETCH.jpg

The first step was to find me a good star-field image. Fortunately, our tax dollars have funded the Hubble Telescope, which has provided thousands of hi-res images to choose from. I ended up rearranging the stars a bit, but this was the image that was most like I had in mind....

STEP001.jpg

All the other photos were taken from my extensive collection of travel photos. That way, I don't have to worry about obtaining permission to use them or get in trouble for copyright infringement or whatever. "The earth" is just a photo I shot in Southern Utah that has been turned upside-down and warped into the shape I needed...

STEP00Rocks.jpg

STEP002.jpg

The water was some tricky business. I found a photo I took on Kauai's north shore which made for a pretty good start...

STEP00Water.jpg

STEP003.jpg

Kind of rough there, but I didn't want to start painting the pieces together until I had the waterfall in place. Fortunately, that was made easy thanks to a photo I took at one of the Walt Disney World resort hotels (don't ask me which one)...

STEP00Falls.jpg

STEP004.jpg

In my original sketch, I had wanted a metropolitan cityscape in the background. The problem was that I couldn't make it look good. And believe me, I tried. I spent a good hour cobbling together skyscrapers in an attempt to get it looking right. But it never did. Rather than waste the rest of my life trying, I tossed everything out and started over. But this time I thought I'd go for something less urban, and found a shot I took last year at Portofino in Northern Italy. Cutting the city out, it fit perfectly. All I had to do was add a reflection in the water and paint in a shoreline, and I was set...

STEP005.jpg

I also cobbled together some photos of flat red rocks in order to make a better surface for the waves to sit on. I thought it looked a little more realistic. Though I suppose "realistic" is all relative when you're talking about a city floating in space.

Anyway... next up was the sky. I wanted a bright, almost surreal sky so that it would contrast nicely with the darkness at the bottom. So I went back to Southern Utah and found exactly what I wanted at Bryce Canyon. Well, not exactly. I had to do a bit of touch-up and color adjustment, but it's still a really cool sky...

STEP00Sky.jpg

After I popped it in the shot, I added a little bit more coastline waaaayyyy in the background to help add some depth.

STEP006.jpg

Time elapsed: 1 hour, 15 minutes. It would have been less, but I wasted time trying to smoosh New York and Chicago into a new city.

Then the fun begins. Hours of Photoshopping all the pieces together so they look like one cohesive scene. In particular, the ocean edge and waterfall. They never really "fit" together, and so it took extensive painting, warping, and blending to make it work. It's kind of hard to see in these tiny images just how much work I had to do, but at full print-resolution size, it's a big mess, and required a lot of time to make happen. I also had to adjust the colors of all the individual pieces so they look like they were in the same shot. It's only a subtle alteration, but it makes a big difference in the overall "feel" of the image.

Time elapsed: 3 hours, 30 minutes.

After that was all finished up, I ran a couple of Photoshop filters on the photo to make it look like a painting and, voilà, a cover was born...

STEP007.jpg

STEP000.jpg

Most of the other stuff in the issue was drawn in Adobe Illustrator, then ran through the same "painterly" Photoshop filters so I had a kind of "look" going on...

Time for a Story Montage!

And there you have it! Join us in two months for issue #2! And if you haven't checked out issue #1, you can download it for FREE at ThriceFiction.com!

   

Oahu

Posted on Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Dave!Honolulu is just a big city like most big cities except it has a really excellent location.

If you're into big cities then you really can't do much better in Hawaii than here, and I recommend it highly as a place to eat, shop, play, and (if you're lucky) work. The problem is that a big city is not really what people want to see when they visit beautiful Hawaii. Myself included. For this reason, I avoid Honolulu like the plague. I'd much, much rather spend my time just about anywhere except here. This usually means I end up on my favorite island, Maui, or taking side-trips to Kauai or The Big Island of Hawaii. I only come to Honolulu when work brings me here or I am changing planes or something.

Except...

For a very long time I had been treating the entire island of Oahu as if it were Honolulu.

All that changed one year when a colleague drove me to Oahu's East Shore for dinner and I was shocked to see that after you get outside of Honolulu, it's an entirely different world. Oahu is just as beautiful and amazing as the other islands... it just happens to have a big city on it.

So this trip I decided to not bail on Oahu the minute my work was over. Instead, I decided to stay here a few days and explore a bit.

And what better place to start than iconic Diamond Head?

Diamond Head Sign
It was a nice cool overcast day... perfect for hiking up Diamond Head!

Diamond Head Thistle
These cool thistle-like things were everywhere.

The view from the top is pretty spectacular
Looking down at Honolulu from the top.

Former bunker now a tourist attraction

The websites I looked at for Diamond Head had me worried to hike it with my messed-up back, but it was actually a pretty easy hike. I rewarded myself with a bag of fresh-cut pineapple spears when I made it back down to the visitor center...

Pineapple Spear at Diamond Head
Yes, it was insanely delicious, just as you'd expect.

Almost as cool as Diamond Head itself is how you get into the crater through a tunnel bored into the side...

Tunnel bored through the lava rock.
It reminds me of the Big-Foot alien's tunnel on The Six Million Dollar Man!

After that, it was time for fresh-n-hot malasadas at World-Famous Leonard's Bakery...

Leonard's Bakery Exterior

A box of malasadas.
Kind of a Portuguese version of a doughnut... but without a hole.

After stuffing my face with malasadas and getting sugar all over my rental car, I was going to go find a comic book shop for FREE COMIC BOOK DAY, but decided to consult Gowalla to see if there were any cool spots to visit. First on the list? Beautiful Byodo-In Temple...

Biyodo-In Temple Oahu, Hawaii
The rainy weather actually made for a prettier visit with the fog in the mountains.

Then I decided to continue driving around Oahu's North Shore. Here I stopped at a number of different lookouts and beaches, with one of the more interesting being Chinaman's Hat Island...

Chinaman's Hat island Lookout
The island is that blip on the right-hand side there.

Chinaman's Hat Island
A better view of Chinaman's Hat.

Despite being fairly close together, the many beaches each seem to have their own personality...

Pretty Beach

One of the more famous stops was "Sunset Beach" which was fairly empty now but, during the Winter, is overflowing with surfers. That's when some of the biggest and best waves on earth arrive...

Sunset Beach

Eventually I got tired of beaches and made my way to world-famous Matsumoto's General Store... one of the best places on the island to get a shave-ice treat...

Matsumoto's General Store

Shave Ice at Matsumoto's
I got "The Hawaiian" which had a colorful variety of tropical syrups on top.

The shave-ice wasn't enough cold sugar for me, so I stopped off at the Dole Plantation for a Pineapple Whip. If I were hungrier, I would have got for the Pineapple Whip Float, which is drenched with delicious Dole pineapple juice...

Dole Pineapple Whip

Even though it was still fairly early in the afternoon, I was getting tired and decided to head back to my hotel for a nap. But then I saw The Bishop Museum was on the way, so I had to stop and take a look. It's a beautiful, beautiful museum which does a great job of documenting Hawaiian history...

Bishop Museum Interior
The Bishop Museum is SHARK EXTREME!!!

Bishop Museum Interior

Once back in my room, I suddenly realized I was hungry. Since I was dead-tired I thought I might just order in room service, but decided I couldn't resist the urge to have yet another Puka Dog! This time I downshifted to "Spicy" garlic-lemon sauce instead of "Hot" because I wanted the Maui Sweet Onion Relish to shine through. This made a good thing even better...

Puka Dog Relishes
Delicious Puka Relishes on tap!

   
And now... I'm done. Time to kick back and read a few blogs before bedtime. All-in-all it was a pretty great day. Despite the off-again-on-again rainy weather, Oahu treated me pretty well, and I'm glad I took the time to get to know her a little better. Hopefully tomorrow will be just a fruitful.

   

Bullet Monday: Windward

Posted on Monday, May 9th, 2011

Dave!A second day of bullets for double damage!

Today's bullets will be fired from Part Three of my "Get to Know an Island" series: OAHU EDITION! Since yesterday was spent exploring the Leeward side of the island, today I decided to head East and take a look at the Windward region of the island...

Oahu Travel Map Day Three

   
• Nu'uanu Pali Lookout. I had just been here two years ago but, since it was along the way, I decided to stop again. This is actually a pretty gruesome place... it's where King Kamehameha the 1st and his army drove a bunch of their enemies off a cliff into this here valley...

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout

It's a lot nicer when the weather is good, but I was still glad I stopped.

   
• Kailua Beach State Park. And here it is... the best beach I've seen on all of Oahu: Kailua Beach. It's absolutely stunning, and on-par with my favorite Maui beaches. The surf seems fairly mild, which is why a bunch of para-surfers and wind-surfers were out and about...

Kailua Beach Para-Surfer

The sand is powder-fine and beautiful...

Kailua Beach

The park is in a residential area, which is kind of a nice surprise. The lack of hotels and resorts means that the beach isn't completely overrun like Waikiki. I'm guessing it's pretty crowded on the weekends, but on this Monday morning there wasn't a lot of people there. All I know is that if I wanted some beach-time when visiting Oahu, it would be Kailua and nearby Lanikai Beach all the way.

   
• Makapuʻu. Across from Oahu's "Sea Life Park" (where you can swim with dolphins and stuff), there's a strip of rocky beach that's a great place to look for crabs, fish, and other critters that call the place home. Typical of Hawaii weather, I was able to look North and see a rain storm moving in...

Rocky Beach North

Then look South and see sunshine...

Rocky Beach South

It was kind of nice to see blue skies, because it's been on-again-off-again raining my entire trip.

   
• Halona Blowhole. And so now I've finally seen a blowhole. This is a geological formation where a sea cave has an opening above it. When waves flood the cave, water is blown out of the hole. Hence the name...

Halona Blowhole

The volume of water that can shoot up is huge and makes a big impression in person. But in photos it's the smaller plumes that look more interesting.

   
• Lanai Lookout. I'm guessing the reason that this place is called "Lanai Lookout" is because you can see the island of Lanai from here. This seems odd, as I would expect that Molokai would be in the way... but whatever. I didn't see anything. Except interesting land formations and some pigeons chilling out and watching the waves...

South Shore Swirlies

South Shore Pigeons

   
• Hanauma Bay. This is the only place other than Pearl Harbor and Nu'uanu Pali that I've been to in Oahu outside of Honolulu/Waikiki on one of my previous trips. If you like to snorkel, this is an amazing place to do it...

Hanauma Bay

Unfortunately the bay has been ravaged by the masses of tourists who flock here. I'm surprised that the damage hasn't ruined the place completely, but there's still an abundance of marine life to be found. Park rangers are trying their best to educate people about how to minimize their impact, but the thousands of people who show up every day (except Tuesday) do take their toll. I worry that eventually they'll have to close down popular places like this in order to let nature recover a bit, but I suppose that's better than the alternative.

   
• Diamond Head State Park. This is a very nice park, but parking is crazy. Even on a Monday afternoon. Cars are piled everywhere, so eventually I just waited for somebody to leave and got a spot next to the Amelia Earhart memorial that's there...

Earhart Monument

A lot of surfing going on...

Diamond Head Surfers

And here's the lighthouse I was looking down upon from the top of Diamond Head two days ago...

Diamond Head Lighthouse

   
• Puka! Since I had a late 9:00pm flight, there was time for one last dinner in Waikiki. Despite having eaten there three times already, I could think of only one place I wanted to go... PUKA DOG!!

Last Puka Dog

Despite the $7 price tag, it remains my favorite meal on the island. Soooo good and a fitting finale to my trip.

   
Annnnnd... that's it for my trip to Hawaii. I am really glad I took the time to explore Oahu and see some of the many great things the island has to offer. Unfortunately, one thing it doesn't offer is free wi-fi at Honolulu International Airport, so I'm afraid this entry won't be posted until I get home. Stupid airport.

   

Day 04 – Uluru

Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2011

Dave!Alrighty then. Now that I'm back to civilization, bugs didn't carry me off, and I have internet once again... I suppose it's time to start getting caught up on my trip to Uluru (aka Ayers Rock).

After a 3-hour flight from Sydney I landed at Ayers Rock Airport, then hopped the bus to the Ayers Rock Resort where my tour group was waiting. After purchasing my $25 park ticket, we headed out.

Surprisingly, the first stop we made was not Uluru, but Kata Tjuta... another giant rock formation in the neighborhood...

Kata Tjuta
A photo can't do it justice, but that's all I got for you.

Kata Tjuta
Yes, it's really that red. My camera is set to "vivid color" and has a polarizer, but this isn't Photoshop trickery.

Kata Tjuta
The trail for the "Valley of the Winds" walk.

Kata Tjuta
Saying goodbye to Kata Tjuta as we leave the area.

   
Next it was at last time to head to Uluru for the sunset...

Kata Tjuta
A dingo ate my baby! Then boarded this bus...

Kata Tjuta
Uluru as the sun is low. Note the haze in the background.

Kata Tjuta
That haze is actually smoke from bush-fires in Central Australia. Scary, but makes a pretty sunset!

Kata Tjuta
Uluru turns purple after the sun goes down... which doesn't show too well in this photo.

   
From there it was back to camp for dinner and an early bedtime. Tomorrow, it's time to get up-close-and-personal with Uluru.

   

Day 05 – Uluru

Posted on Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Dave!At this point, I'm into day two of being covered with flies all the time. No mosquitoes, thank heavens (I was told that's the biggest problem when visiting Uluru), but more bugs than you'd ever care to encounter. After a while, you kind of get used to them swarming you constantly, but you never get used to the flies crawling on your face. Particularly up your nose and on your eyes (where I guess they're searching for moisture or something).

On more than one occasion I found myself regretting that I didn't get an Aussie Cork Hat or a Bug Net Hat... no matter how stupid they make you look. They exist for a reason.

Anyway...

As the tour had us viewing Uluru (Ayers Rock) at sunset last night, they had us viewing Uluru at sunrise this morning. For which I had to get up at 4:30am. It was nice, but not 4:30am-worthy spectacular...

Uluru Sunrise

Uluru Sunrise

And to prove I was there at that godawful time of morning, a photo of me ready to go back to bed after sunrise...

Dave2 at Uluru

And then it was time to hike all the way around Uluru, which was a fascinating 2-1/2 hour journey. The rock looks completely different depending on where you view it. Some areas are sacred and not allowed to be photographed, but I picked out a few of the hundreds I was allowed to shoot...

Uluru Walk

Uluru Walk

Uluru Walk

Uluru Walk

Uluru Walk

Uluru Walk

Once my blisters had blisters and I had made my way around the site, it was time for a visit to the Uluru Visitor Centre which was a look into some aspects of Aboriginal culture. Most of their way of life is highly complex and secretive, but even the basics are fascinating. What I found particularly interesting is how their stories and teachings are place-sensitive. Meaning that you can only speak of some events at the place where they happened. If a story takes place at Uluru, but then moves to a different location, you will only hear about the part that's at Uluru. In order to hear the rest, you have to travel to the place where the story continues. Also, men and women live completely separate lives, so all aspects of a story can change depending on the sex of the person telling it. Remarkable.

The tour ended after lunch, at which time I decided I hadn't spent enough money (ha!) so I signed up for a helicopter flight over Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Uluru (Ayers Rock). It was kind of a bummer, because most of your time is spent getting there and back, but what precious little time you do spend at the sites is pretty impressive...

Kata Tjuta by Air

Uluru by Air

Uluru by Air

Uluru by Air

Some cloud cover had rolled in, which made the already deep red color even deeper. Those are some very sexy rocks.

This area of Central Australia is known as "Red Centre" which is not quite an accurate description as of late. Over the past two years, unprecedented rainfall has caused the ground to really green up. This makes the rocks look even more foreign and strange, but in a good way.

My original plan was to take in some kind of sunset dinner at Uluru tonight, but I am pretty much Uluru-ed out now. I'm also thoroughly exhausted with blisters in places on my feet I didn't even know I had.

And so... my vastly overpriced bed in my massively overpriced hotel room is calling...

   

Day 09 – Daintree Rainforest

Posted on Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Dave!While trying to fall asleep as American tourists were fighting on the balcony below mine last night, it suddenly occurred to me that I have no idea what's going on back in the USA. I haven't once bothered to look at a news site, glance at a paper, or watch TV news since I got here. For all I know, President Obama resigned after declaring war on Canada, and Lindsay Lohan did her patriotic duty by stepping up to run the country after staging a military coup where she firebombed Montreal*.

I'll bet Seattle never gets a Tim Hortons' now. Thanks a lot, President Lohan.

Anyway...

I had just three goals here in Cairns.

  1. Visit with my friends.
  2. Dive The Great Barrier Reef.
  3. Visit the Daintree Rainforest**.

There are quite a few ways to visit the rainforest. Most involve tours, and I really, really hate tours. I also really hate renting a car, getting lost, and driving into a crocodile den where I get eaten as an appetizer. So I decided to split the difference by ignoring my fear of heights and taking the "Skyrail Buckets of Death" up over Daintree...

Skyrail Buckets of Death!
The controlled-burn fires in the area really smoke up the horizon.

Skyrail is (of course) the longest tram line system in the world. Which means the terror never seems to end. Indeed, you can't even see the end of the damn thing from high up in the buckets...

Skyrail Buckets of Death!
WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIEEE!

Along the way there are stops you can take to see the local sights. Like Barron Falls...

Barron Falls East View
Apparently during monsoon season the falls overflow and is quite an impressive sight.

But the main attraction once you reach the end of Skyrail is the village of Kuranda. There's all sorts of stuff to see and do here with plenty of eateries and shops to keep you busy. I was told more than once that the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary was worth a stop. I thought it was included in my Skyrail ticket cost, but that's not the case... it costs $18 AUD to get in. EIGHTEEN DOLLARS! I very nearly skipped it, but had four hours to kill, so I bought a ticket. And wow, was I ever glad I did...

Barron Falls East View
Some of their wings were so raggedy that I was surprised they could fly at all. Poor butterflies.

After lunch I got a little bored with Kuranda and headed back to the train station for my trip back to Cairns.

And so there I was waiting to board the train back to Cairns when I hear this shrieking coming down the stairs. It's a woman dragging her offspring down the steps to the station. The little hellion is obviously not hurt, he's just being a little brat. But that doesn't stop a woman on the platform next to me from saying "Oh, the poor dear, I wonder what's wrong?" Whereas my first instinct is to douse the little shit in holy water and scream "THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!" in an attempt to perform an exorcism. On the brighter side, the station is pretty nice...

Kuranda Rail Logo
Established 1891... and still going strong.

Kuranda Rail Station
Probably the best-maintained rail station I have ever seen, which is very cool.

Kuranda Rail Engine
I think that's a representation of the giant snake that the Aboriginal people believe carved out Barron Canyon?

I paid extra money (too much money, probably) for the "gold service" which allows you to sit in the luxury compartment with free drinks, free snacks, and a souvenir gift (a pin and a pen). The car itself was quite beautiful, and very probably close to 100 years old...

Kuranda Rail Gold Car
The chairs are probably new, but the interior is carved wood. They don't make 'em like that any more.

The train ride down is pretty special. Most of the time you're clinging to the side of a cliff where the onboard entertainment system beguiles you with awesome facts like "This section of the railway was the most difficult to build because the rock kept crumbling away." Not exactly something you want to hear, which is why I wanted to scream "HOLY CRAP! WHY ARE YOU TELLING US THIS NOW?!? But I just gritted my teeth and enjoyed the views...

Barron Canyon Overlook
The train makes a quick stop so everybody can look down Barron Canyon... from the West this time.
In all honesty, this photo doesn't do it justice. This canyon is SUPER MASSIVELY HUGE!

Stoney Creek Falls
Stoney Creek Falls, which seems like it's at the half-way point to Freshwater Station.

Stoney Creek Falls Train Bridge
The bridge over Stoney Creek Falls on the opposite side of the train.

Once I got to Freshwater Station, my Skyrail ticket included a transfer back to my hotel via bus, which was nice. Now I'm hungry, but don't dare risk a dining experience as crappy as my "nachos" last night here at the hotel. Since I have an early, early, early flight, I guess I'll just go hungry.

And dream of Tim Hortons doughnuts.

   

*And don't think that they didn't have it coming. Lindsay Lohan may spend most of her time drunk off her ass in a cocaine-fueled frenzy, but she knows the strategic importance of a first-strike scenario where the French-Canadians are concerned.

**Okay, I'll admit that visiting the Daintree Rainforest was not actually on my list of goals. But you can't fly after diving for at least 24 hours, so I had to do something.

   

Day 11 – Brisbane

Posted on Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Dave!Today was doubly lucky for me as I got to meet with one of my long-time blogger friends, Mooselet, and visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary!

Koalas, like most animals, are adorable when they're babies. Unlike most animals, koalas stay adorable no matter how old they get. So, as you can imagine, visiting a sanctuary which has 104 koalas on the premises is guaranteed cuteness overload.

And it didn't disappoint.

I've seen koalas in zoos before, but at a distance and in a very different setting. The experience you get at Lone Pine Koala sanctuary is something entirely different...

Sleepy Koala
Koalas are mostly nocturnal, so you see a lot of sleepy guys in the daytime.

Sleepy Baby Koala
Baby koalas are, as you'd expect, a veritable explosion of cuteness.

Sleepy Koala
This guy is about as relaxed as you can get when it comes to sleeping in a tree.

Koala Pair
Everybody starts to wake up.

Momma and Baby Koalas

Momma and Baby Koalas
Baby koalas get to hitch a ride wherever they go. Must be nice.

Momma and Baby Koalas
Looks kind of like he might be koala surfing on momma there.

Koala Pals
Koala pals.

Koala Cuddles
Koala cuddle cluster. You find yourself saying "Awwwwww!" a lot at this place.

Dave2 Holds a Koala
Talk about cute overload! (I'm the one on the left).

Lone Pine has more than just koalas though... they've got all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds around...

Crocodile Smile
Crocodiles have a killer smile.

Crocodiles and a Turtle
RUN, TURTLE! RUN YOU FOOL!

Tassie Devil
Tasmanian Devils, which I just love, are highly endangered and will be extinct in the wild soon.

Chubby Wombat
Wombats are too adorable. Like fuzzy piglets or something.

Feeding a Kangaroo!
Feeding a kangaroo. They're amazingly polite about it.

Kangaroo and Wallaby
A wallaby and a kangaroo hanging out.

Momma Kangaroo and Joey in the Pocket
A momma kangaroo with a joey in the pocket!

Baby Joey in the Pocket!
Joey on the lookout.

Feeding a HUNGRY Kangaroo!
I CAN HAZ CRUNCHY FOOD PELLETS? NOM! NOM! NOM!

Soggy bats try to sleep through the rain
Soggy bats try to sleep through the rain.

After rain broke out at the koala sanctuary in yet another bizarre weather change (there were flawless blue skies when I arrived this morning), Mooselet was nice enough to drive me up Mount Coot-tha for a look over the city...

Mt Coot-tha Lookout

After lunch, the rain started letting up, which made for a nicer view of Brisbane...

Mt Coot-tha Lookout

   

Pretty much the perfect way to spend a vacation day... thanks for coming along, Mooselet!

   

Day 13 – Fiji

Posted on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Dave!I walked out of my apartment this morning and had sweat pouring down my face before I could take a half-dozen steps. By the time I had walked across the road to meet some friends for breakfast, I was soaking wet. The heat and humidity were already a lot more uncomfortable than I'm happy with, and the day hadn't even started.

Luckily, I'd be spending most of my day at sea, where at least the wind would keep me from melting...

At Sea

Sailing

Arriving at the reef...

Sailing

At Sea

Time for a snorkel...

Fish Explosion!

Fish Explosion!

Pretty Blue Starfish

Pretty Fishies

Ugly Fishy

Rainbow Fishy

Coral Fishies

Corals

Glass Glowy Fishies

After snorkeling, we headed to "Plantation Island" for lunch and to goof off at a resort. By the time we got there, clouds had moved in and it was overcast. This caused a couple people to be quite upset... saying "THE CLOUDS ARE RUINING OUR HOLIDAY!!" I just smiled politely while being secretly thankful that the clouds would muffle the direct sunlight that was killing me. It was still hot, but at least I wasn't melting.

After lunch it started raining, which caused even louder protests from the peanut gallery. I just secretly laughed to myself because, at last, it was cool enough to be comfortable again. Besides, Fiji is so fucking beautiful that it still looks amazing... even in the rain...

Plantation Island

Plantation Island

Plantation Island

Unfortunately for me, the cloud cover did nothing to filter out the burning rays of the sun. I should have reapplied sunscreen after I was done snorkeling, but with the rain and all, I thought I'd be safe.

Er... Not so much...

Lobster Dave!

I am frickin' Lobster Boy here.

Oh well. I'm in frickin' Fiji, and it's going to take a lot more than a sunburn to ruin that.

   

Day 14 – Fiji

Posted on Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Dave!Yesterday's rain decided to continue all through the night and, when I woke, it was still going strong. This put my snorkeling trip into doubt, as first I got a call saying it had been canceled... then I got a call saying it was clearing up and was on again.

And thank heavens.

My second trip out was even better than the first.

When I arrived at the dive shop, I was greeted by SCUBA-Cat, who was not very impressed to see me...

SCUBA Cat!

The tide was still out. This meant a lengthy trek out to the boat. Our guide had a little extra equipment to carry, but he was a real trooper...

Bula Snorkel Mud Flats

This snorkel had quite a bit more interesting things to see than my last one. Like a SEA SNAKE!!!

Sea Snake!

Sea Snake!

SHARKS!!!

Reef Sharks!

Reef Sharks!

Reef Sharks!

EEL!!!

Moray Eel

FISH!!!

Yellow Fish!

Fish in Pink Coral

Red Fishies

Stripey Fish!

Spotty Fish!

Glowy Blue Fish!

After two really good snorkels at some impressive locations, it was time to head back. But guess who decided to show up...

Dolphin!

A dolphin!

Dolphin Racer

A LOT of dolphins! They were racing along with the boat for a good while...

Dolphin Pod

Dolphin Pod

Dolphins on the Bow!

Dolphins on the Bow!

Dolphins on the Bow!

Doesn't get much cooler than that! Quite a send-off, really.

The tide had come in quite a bit, but there was still a long walk back to the SCUBA shop...

Higher Tide

Higher Tide

Back on dry land, I decided to have some lunch at the resort restaurant. Look who finally decided to get interested in my presence...

SCUBA Cat Returns!

Unfortunately, neither my toasted egg & cheese sandwich nor my fries were cat-appropriate. But the sun was shining again, which was kind of nice. But really, really, melt-your-head-and-set-your-hair-on-fire hot. That's the tropics for you...

Fiji Blue Sky

And now its time to pick up some souvenirs and crap so I can head back to Australia tonight. Three days in Fiji... no matter how much you fill them... is hardly enough. I could have easily spent my entire two weeks here and never been bored.

Sigh. Yet another awesome place I have to find time to get back to before I die.

   

Bag

Posted on Friday, October 14th, 2011

Dave!So there I was loading up my camera bag on my second day in Sydney when I realized "Holy shit, I'm carrying a purse!" Because when your camera content drops below 50%, I think it pretty much ceases to be a camera bag. I had sunscreen, aspirin, my wallet, room key, iPhone, cash, stamps, passport and all kinds of other assorted crap that I need to get through the day.

Oh... and my camera.

Now that I'm back home, I'm missing my "camera bag." It's kind of handy having all your stuff with you all the time. I'd just start carrying it again, but it got a little dirty as I was hiking around Uluru in the Outback.

So now I'm in the market for a new "camera bag." The problem is that there's so many awesome designs to choose from that I can't make up my mind! After a week of looking, I think I have it narrowed down to five choices now...

Purple Bag

Juicy Bag

Orange Bag

Colorful Bag

Hello Kitty Bag

   
Yes. Yes I know... the Hello Kitty "camera bag" skews a little young for me. But I totally think I can pull it off!

The problem is that my Batman Chuck Taylors don't go with it very well, so I don't have the right shoes. So I guess that means I'll be buying some new footwear once I decide on the "camera bag" I like best.

The life of a photographer ain't an easy one.

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V

Posted on Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Dave!Verily!

Virtuous Victims Vying Vivaciously for Vindication...

   

Room Five

   

   

   

Day One: Bulb Fields

Posted on Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Dave!Despite having been to the Netherlands dozens of times, I've never gone out to the bulb fields when they're in bloom. Usually I've been here at the wrong time... but other times when they've been in season, I've had to work or didn't have transportation or something goes wrong.

Today The DutchBitch finally fixed all that. I have to say though, they're not quite as impressive as the postcards lead one to believe...

Empty Bulb Field NOT

I lie. They're everything you'd imagine and more.

And while a photograph can only partially communicate just how beautiful it is to be standing in front of flowers that stretch out to the horizon, the thing that really got to me was the smell. I don't know why I never thought of it before, but the bulb fields smell incredible. In particular the Dutch Hyacinth, which is almost other-worldly.

The bright colors don't record that well on a digital camera sensor, which makes photographing the field a bit of a trial (where is film when you need it?), but it's still a great subject to take pictures of.

Bulb Fields Yellow Tulips

Bulb Fields Yellow Tulips

Bulb Fields Yellow Tulips

Bulb Fields Pink Hyacinth

Bulb Fields Pink Hyacinth

Red Tulips Fields

Red Tulips Fields

Bulb Fields

Bulb Fields

Eventually all the flowers are cut down so the bulbs can be harvested then re-used or sold...

Bulb Cutter

And thus the Circle of Life begins again.

   

Day Three: Keukenhof!

Posted on Friday, April 13th, 2012

Dave!Today I visited the world-famous Keukenhof, "The Garden of Europe."

It is so famous that I had never heard of it before The DutchBitch suggested that we go there this morning and take photos of flowers.

Here is my assessment...

If somebody were to say "It is one of the most amazing fucking things I've ever seen in my life..." they would be underselling it.

It's that good. Huge grounds filled with meticulously maintained flowers and walkways...

Keukenhof Grounds

Keukenhof Grounds

Dave Floating at the Keukenhof!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Flowers!

Windmill at the Koekenof!

Annnnnd... I'm going to have to stop before I post the entirety of the hundreds of photos I took. All of them amazing. It is impossible to take a bad photograph at The Keukenhof.

After a couple hours, all of Europe turned up at the gardens, so we decided to leave while we still had room to walk out. With time to kill, The DutchBitch drove me to the city of Leiden. Where they have a citadel!

Leiden Canal

Leiden Citadel

Leiden Citadel

View from Leiden Citadel

Leiden Windmill

And then it was time for PATATJES MET and an OLD CHEESE SANDWICH! Two of my most favorite things to eat.

Which makes the day just about perfect.

   

Decoration

Posted on Monday, May 28th, 2012

Dave!Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day.

Our local cemetery certainly lives up to history every year...

Memorial Day Flags

Memorial Day Flags

Thank you from a grateful nation.

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Bahamas – Day One

Posted on Friday, July 6th, 2012

Dave!I'm not a sun-worshipper. I'm not one to lay around on a beach all day. I'm not a fan of high heat and humidity. So I'm the one who experiences a secret glee when I hear that there will be overcast skies and scattered thundershowers when I'm headed to a tropical destination. It'll still be hot, of course, but at least I'll be shielded from the sun and the rain will make it so there's a reason for the humidity.

Except the forecast was a lie, and so here I am in the Bahamas with blue skies and unrelenting sun in full 95° heat. If I was into this kind of weather, I'd describe it as "perfect."

Restort Room Window View
The view from my room pretty much sucks, doesn't it?

Oh well. At least the flight down was surreal... but nice...

Bahamas Flight

Bahamas Flight

The reason I am here is twofold...

  • There's a Hard Rock Cafe in Nassau I haven't been to yet.
  • I desperately needed a break, and it was unbelievably inexpensive to add this little diversion to my work itinerary. Gotta love those cheap-o internet specials!

I'm staying at a resort on Cable Beach, which is a pretty stretch of sand west of Nassau...

Cable Beach

I was able to contain myself all of an hour before I hopped a taxi to Nassau, and Hard Rock #146 for me...

Hard Rock Nassau Exterior

It's a nice, old-school cafe with plenty of memorabilia covering the walls. In other words, it's exactly what a Hard Rock should be...

Hard Rock Nassau Interior

Hard Rock Nassau Interior

The town of Nassau is kind of nice, if a bit touristy with all the cruise ships stopping by. I didn't feel like doing any of that kind of thing, but couldn't resist when I saw there was a PIRATE MUSEUM!!

Pirate Museum!

They recreate a pirate village you can walk through along with a pirate ship and various dioramas to show what pirate life was like. They also have a bunch of trivia you can play along the way, which was pretty cool...

Pirate Museum Village

Pirate Museum Marooned Diorama

I have no idea what's going on here. I hope it's some freaky-ass attempt at surgery to alleviate back pain...

Pirate Museum Scary Surgery?

From there I wandered down to Junkanoo Beach...

Junkanoo Beach

One thing I've noticed so far is that the kids who live here are really well behaved. This adorable tyke was content to play quietly by himself while his family was swimming, which was a big contrast to the tourist kids who were screaming and yelling and going bat-shit insane as they terrorized the beach...

Bahama Native

Bahama Native

If I knew that the weather was going to be this beautiful, I would have brought my "real" camera instead of relying on my iPhone and my pocket shooter. Oh well, something is better than nothing...

Nassau Wall Drawing

My plans for tomorrow? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Though I'll probably venture away from the resort for a little while... especially if those overcast skies ever show up.

   

Bahamas – Day Two

Posted on Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Dave!My big plans to do nothing today were destroyed at 9:26am.

But in a very good way.

Because that's when I got an email from a Blogography reader who got a text from her brother who saw that I was in Nassau... "DAVE! You're in the Bahamas? Come visit us in Atlantis! We promise to make it worth the trip!"

"Atlantis" is a resort on Paradise Island (formerly Hog Island) that's just north of Nassau. I investigated it when I was looking for a hotel here, but photos of the popular water park on the resort grounds showed that the place was overrun with kids, so I put it on my list of places to avoid.

But the idea of getting away for lunch was oddly appealing, so I got cleaned up and hopped in a taxi. Destination: Atlantis...

Atlantis Royal Tower

Now, usually, non-guests can only enter the Atlantis grounds by paying for a $135 day pass. It's a lot of money, but you do get to use the water park, pools, beaches, and all the other facilities... IF they have any passes available, since the number they sell depends on occupancy of the hotel. Fortunately, I didn't have to pay the money because my new friends just handed me one of their room keys, which is like a Golden Ticket to the grounds.

You don't have to have a pass to enter the Atlantis casino, of course. They're happy to take your money for free. And it's totally worth the trip, because they have four pieces by one of my favorite artists, Dale Chihuly!

Here's the Temple of the Sun...

Atlantis Chihuly Temple of the Sun

And the Temple of the Moon...

Atlantis Chihuly Temple of the Moon

And the Crystal Gate...

Atlantis Chihuly Crystal Gate

I couldn't find a name for this very cool chandelier. Perhaps it's "Temple of the Alien Intestines" or "Chandelier of the Flying Spaghetti Monster" or something. In any event, this photo doesn't do it justice. The piece is absolutely magnificent, and a little terrifying...

Atlantis Chihuly Monster Chandalier

Using the magical powers of my friend's room key, I then got to see the water park, which features a giant water slide...

Atlantis Waterslide

But the coolest thing I saw was the Atlantis Lazy River tube ride, which ends with a float through a big tube... THROUGH A GIANT SHARK TANK!!! Now, this the very definition of SHARK EXTREME!!

Atlantis Shark Tank

Atlantis Shark Tank

But the SHARK EXTREMENESS doesn't end there. Much to my amazement, there are sharks swimming around in the fountain pools on the resort grounds! No fences. No barriers. No nuthin'. You can just walk right up and look inside...

Atlantis Sharks!!

I guess the sharks are well fed by drunken tourists who accidentally fall into the predator-infested waters. But not everything is deadly at Atlantis. They have giant balloons in the shape of donuts and cupcakes too...

Atlantis Balloon Sweets!

From there we wandered down to the Paradise Island marina. If you've got billions of dollars for a giant yacht, you can probably afford to berth here...

Atlantis Marina

And then we got to the reason my blog friends thought that a trip to Atlantis would be worth the trouble...

Johnny Rockets Paradise Island Atlantis!

ZOMG! There's a Johnny Rockets here! AND they had my vegetarian burgers in-stock! How amazing is that? Now I was really glad I decided to drag my lazy ass out of bed this morning!

After a great lunch, it was time to bid my friends goodbye and get back to my scheduled plans of doing nothing. The passenger ferry was just around the corner, so I decided to save money on a pricey taxi and just take a jitney bus from Nassau back "home" to Cable Beach. The ferry itself is an odd experience. The "ferries" are actually just rickety old boats that charge $4 to cross from Paradise Island to downtown...

Nassau Ferry Boat?

It's not exactly a pleasant trip because it's sweltering hot, you can't see out very well, and you've got a "tour guide" screaming the entire trip (who expects to be tipped for "entertaining" you). I managed to get a few pictures off, but the boat wasn't exactly conducive to photography...

Atlantis Paradise Island

Atlantis Paradise Island Ferry

With three cruise ships in town, Nassau was beyond packed, so I bolted for the jitney stop and my $1.25 ride back to my hotel.

And here I am, hurrying through this blog post so I can put the excitement of my day behind me and get back to the important business of doing nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing...

Bahamas Delicious Kalik Beer!

A few more of these and it will finally be a vacation...

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Bullet Sunday 286

Posted on Monday, July 9th, 2012

Dave!And here we are with a Very Special Edition of "Bahamian Bullets on Monday" where I answer questions and write observations from my time in the Bahamas. So don't flip that calendar... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Money! Bahamian dollars are completely interchangeable with US dollars, since the currency of the Bahamas is tied to the US exchange rate... until you leave the Bahamas... at which time any Bahamian dollars you might be carrying are practically worthless. Not that you'll see many Bahamian dollars. Thanks to the massive tourist trade with the States, you'll see a lot more US money than anything else. A friend asked me to get her a Bahamian $3 bill as a souvenir, but I couldn't find one...

Bahamian Three Dollar Bill

Eventually I managed to trade for a $1 bill that a jitney driver collected, since it was the only currency of the Bahamas I ever saw. I don't understand why the Bahamian government doesn't just print a bunch of $3 bills that souvenir shops could put in a plastic sleeve and sell for $5 each. Everybody would win. The government would be printing money that would rarely be circulated (thus bringing money into the country for nothing), and shop owners are getting a big return on an investment that never loses value.

   
• Jitney! I have no idea about "the jitney that the Sex and the City characters rode to The Hamptons"... but the "jitney" here in the Bahamas is a nickname for the local shared bus service (the name "jitney" having migrated from the US). From what I can tell, anybody with a bus can get a permit to run designated routes around the islands. Since I was staying at Cable Beach, I rode the #10 each day which runs from there to Downtown Nassau and back. In my case, they were a cheap ($1.25) alternative to a pricey taxi ($15.00+tip). But you do get what you pay for. Jitneys are almost always older vehicles, and many are busted to shit...

Jitney Driver Seat

And I mean that literally... some of them are falling apart. The one I rode to dinner last night didn't have working air conditioning. But that's okay, because the door was broken and wouldn't close, so we had plenty of fresh air blowing in...

Jitney Driver

Despite being a bit dangerous, it was a beautiful old broken-down door with a lot of history...

Jitney Door

Jitney Door

And speaking of danger, you could literally be taking your life in your own hands when riding. When I stepped into my seat, my foot went through the floor. The plate snapped back up, but I spent most of the trip wondering if my seat was going to fall through...

Jitney Busted Floor

Jitneys are a cheap way to get around and are everywhere. They're also fairly convenient, stopping many places along their route. But since the bus doesn't leave until full (and I mean really full, since seats fold down into the aisles), you sometimes have a bit of a wait at a start-point, but it's a small price to pay for the money you save.

I heard a few stories about how jitneys are not very well regulated, and it's not unheard of for drivers to be drunk or on drugs while operating their vehicles. Even worse, there have been incidents of violence and rape reportedly involving jitney drivers. It's probably not a good idea to ride in them at odd hours or in remote areas, but I had no problems at all the half-dozen times I rode them. Scary, broken vehicles aside, the drivers I saw were always courteous... helpful even... and seemed competent in their jobs. But I was on a major tourist route, so I can't really speak to what things are like around the rest of the island.

   
• Mural! I was asked about the little pirate guy who closed out my post on day one. He's not mine... he's part of a mural downtown...

Hello Nassau!

It's called "Hello Nassau" by "Thundercut" and is part of a public murals project sponsored by Coke...

Thundercut Credit for Hello Nassau!

There are a few of them around that I saw...

Nassau Coke Mural

Pretty cool, huh?

   
• Resort! While I was in the lobby of the Sheraton using the wireless internet (since my new MacBook Pro Retina doesn't have an ethernet port for the wired internet in my room), I watched a guy have a complete meltdown because he went to pay his bill and found out there was a $40 per day "Resort Fee" that was due. I had gotten a discount rate, but even then I was notified about the fee. Sure, it's kind of a bait-and-switch deal to be reeled in at one price and then have to pay a huge add-on fee, but it was clearly stated, and so I knew to expect it.

Then I got to wondering if Sheraton doesn't tell you about the fee if you book from their site, because that would make me pretty mad. But, nope, they absolutely show you the final price (and if you click on the total, you see the $40 fee added)...

Sheraton Resort Fee

But what if the guy booked at a third party site? I usually book my hotels at Orbitz, so I gave them a try. Nope, they too show the "Local Charges Due at Hotel" right after the price, which works out to be that $40 per night...

Orbitz Sheraton Rate

Then I checked Expedia. And here's where things get strange. They don't show any fees or taxes attached to the rate at all when you are reviewing what they have available...

Expedia Sheraton Rate

But then you scroll down and see something remarkable... they claim the resort fee is already included in the rate! The same $159 rate that Sheraton and Orbitz are adding a fee to!

Expedia Sheraton Fee

Thinking that this is a trick because the "total price" isn't displayed until the next page, I clicked onward...

Expedia Sheraton Total

There we go! They add the $40 resort fee in with their "$68.62 a night Taxes and Fees." Which means that their "Best Price Guarantee" is bullshit at $682.86 when Orbitz would total $679.35 (even though $120 of that would be paid directly to Sheraton at check-out).

I can't check all the hotel booking sites, obviously, but it really doesn't matter. If the guy booked through Sheraton, Orbitz, or Expedia... he knew the total rate. If he booked at some other site that didn't warn him about the resort fee, he should be yelling at them... NOT THE POOR GIRL AT THE RECEPTION DESK!

In any event, it's word to the wise to always always always check the fine print whenever you book a hotel, car, cruise, or whatever. Shady stuff like this is getting more and more common as companies use hidden fees to avoid paying taxes... or to make their rates look better.

   
• Return! When you land at Nassau's airport (which isn't anywhere near Nassau, curiously enough... it's on the other side of the island), there are at least a half-dozen signs telling you that when you return to the airport, YOU NEED TO ARRIVE THREE HOURS EARLY IF YOU ARE TRAVELING TO THE UNITED STATES. There's even a sign posted on the baggage carousel where you wait for your luggage that's staring at you in big letters.

When it was time for me to fly back to the good ol' USA, I followed instructions and arrived THREE HOURS EARLY. I was kind of glad too, because the line at customs was quite short, but still took me 35 minutes to clear. Had the line been all the way to the door, it could have easily taken me two hours to get through it.

So there we are sitting on the plane when an announcement is made. There's 15 people still stuck in customs, so they're holding the plane.

EXCUSE ME?!?

Why in the fuck did I bother showing up three hours early then? If I would have know that I could have just ignored the signs and showed up whenever the hell I wanted to, I would have slept in an extra hour!

Then, after a half hour, they announced there were still eight people in line for customs, and it was moving slow because there was only one counter open... so we were just going to continue to wait for them.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?

Everybody who arrived at the airport THREE HOURS EARLY... AS INSTRUCTED... was already on the plane. Why in the hell are we still waiting on people who couldn't be bothered to get to the airport on time? How is this our fault? I don't give a shit if customs decided to close ALL the fucking counters... people who showed up on time made it through... BECAUSE THEY SHOWED UP ON TIME!!! Stop blaming customs for the problem... they weren't the ones who made the people show up late to the airport. AND STOP PUNISHING THE PEOPLE WHO FOLLOWED INSTRUCTIONS AND MADE IT TO CHECK-IN THREE HOURS EARLY LIKE THEY WERE TOLD TO!

I am sick and fucking tired of companies pandering to the lowest common denominator. All it does is remove consequences for idiots who can't be bothered to follow the rules like everybody else. Well, guess what? If you keep removing consequences for being stupid... people are going to continue to do stupid shit. Do you think any of the people that showed up late to the airport will bother to be on time next time? Of course not! And why should they? You're just going to hold the plane for them!

Is it any wonder that this country is going down the crapper and American companies are going bankrupt? Keep rewarding stupid often enough, that's all you're going to have left.

   
And, on that tragic note, I've got a couple hours work that needs doing before I can turn in for the night, so I must bid you adieu...

   

Something

Posted on Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Dave!It is really thundering out there. Here's hoping the walls stay standing.

And so the final rushes for THRICE Fiction No. 5 have been sent off to the Editor in Chief. Once RW has had a chance to approve everything, I'll start running out all the various files needed to unleash our fifth issue on the world.

This has been a rougher ride to completion than usual thanks to a bug with Adobe InDesign on my new MacBook. I ended up losing a full week of work-time while I was in Nassau and Atlanta, so... instead of being able to get ahead while I was traveling, I ended up getting way behind.

It's always something.

And right now... it's lightning and rain to go along with the thunder...

Storm Lightning

Storm Lightning

Storm Lightning

Gotta love a summer storm.

   

48 Hours Part 2

Posted on Saturday, October 27th, 2012

Dave!Today The DutchBitch's DutchBoyfriend was kind enough to drive us to the new Hard Rock Cafe in Brussels, where we met up with Beautiful Disaster's Pinky. I hadn't been to Brussels since The DutchBitch and I last visited in 2010, and I hadn't seen Pinky since Bitchsterdam 2, so it was a triple threat event for me.

The Hard Rock Cafe Bruxelles is a wonderful return to everything I love about visiting these properties around the world... a beautiful restoration property lovingly brought to life in classic Hard Rock style that has been packed to the rafters with terrific memorabilia...

Hard Rock Brussels Exterior

Hard Rock Brussels Exterior

Hard Rock Brussels Interior

Hard Rock Brussels Instrument Collage

Hard Rock Brussels Interior

Hard Rock Brussels Interior

Truly a fantastic property, the Brussels cafe is a well-crafted, eclectic, multi-level Hard Rock that doesn't disappoint. Located right off the Grand Place "Great Market" square, it is worth a visit... even if Brussels wasn't already destination worthy in its own right...

Brussels Grand Place

Brussels Grand Place

Brussels Grand Place

Brussels Grand Place

Belgian Waffles!

Belgian Chocolate!

Sorciere Halloween in Belgian Chocolate!

Leffe Beer!

It was a very quick trip, but we squeezed in a lot. Just like it said in the elevator of the parking garage... we're hardcore like that...

Hardcore Graffiti in a Hardcore Elevator!

From there it was back to the Netherlands and the end of my 48-hour trip to DutchyLand.

Tomorrow it's back in the metal tube to hurl myself back home.

   

Redacted

Posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Dave!I wrote a post, deleted it, re-wrote it, deleted that.

Then I started a different post, which somehow ended up right back where I started, and ended up deleting that one as well.

So now I've decided that I should write a damn thing tonight, because I've already wasted 30 minutes of my life and have nothing to show for it.

So, instead, I'm posting a photo of a cute kitty I saw in Shanghai...

Shanghai Kitty

He was fuzzy.

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Remember

Posted on Friday, December 7th, 2012

Dave!On Pearl Harbor Day, I can't help but think back to the times I've visited this National Historic Landmark. The Visitor Center was re-opened in 2010 after having been beautifully remodeled, and should be on everybody's travel to-do list. The changes and upgrades made by the National Parks Service are world-class and absolutely destination-worthy.

One thing that hasn't changed at the center is the USS Arizona Memorial, which is one of the most stunning monuments I've ever seen. Meant to resemble a bridge over the wreckage of the ship, it was designed by Alfred Preis and had an opening dedication on May 30th, 1962. In some ways, the structure is very much rooted in a 1960's design sensibility... but in others, it feels modern and timeless in a way that few architectural achievements have managed...

Arizona Memorial

Arizona Memorial

Arizona Memorial

Arizona Memorial

Like I said, well worth a visit. Get there early (or reserve a spot online) so you can claim a water shuttle ticket, because there's a limited number of people allowed on the monument each day.

If Hawaii isn't in your travel plans, I understand that the National Parks Service is planning on touring the US with some kind of mobile exhibit in 2016 for their 100th anniversary. So maybe Pearl Harbor will be coming your way in a few years? Keep an eye out.

   
Today and every day, thanks to those who gave their lives in service of their country. Whether aboard the USS Arizona... elsewhere at Pearl Harbor... or in foreign lands far from home... you are remembered by a grateful nation.

   

CRT

Posted on Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Dave!I have nothing but an odd photo or two.

CRT Skull

CRT Mii

CRT Tofu Robot

CRT Electricity

CRT Babies

CRT Max Rabbit

CRT Stella

CRT Krusty

CRT Mickey Hawaii

CRT Shipwrecked Beer

CRT Bad Monkey

CRT Pirate Booty

CRT Greedo Keychain

CRT Vanilla Coke

CRT Buzz Lightyear LEGO

CRT Dave

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Spliced

Posted on Friday, January 25th, 2013

Dave!Flipping through my photos often results in my find two shots that would be better if they were spliced together. Sometimes it works out better than others.

Stonehenge Plain

   

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NOLA One

Posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Dave!One of these days I am going to visit New Orleans and never leave.

It was here in The Crescent City that my life of travel began. Back in 1983 at 17 years old I took my first "real" trip on my own with no parents and no rules. Many important things were found... and lost... in New Orleans 30 years ago, and the city has had a hold on me ever since.

This is my first visit to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the region in 2005. My previous trip coincided with the 200th anniversary of The Louisiana Purchase in 2003, and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that it has been an entire decade since I was here last. It doesn't feel like it's been that long.

But a visit to the National World War II Museum makes me feel the time passing. When I last visited there in 2000 after it opened, it was called "The D-Day Museum" and half the size it is now...

WW2 Museum

The new "Victory Theater" expansion houses a special "4-D" movie titled Beyond All Boundaries which features narration by Tom Hanks and other stars. It was pretty good. What was not good was the boring-as-hell Final Mission submarine "simulation" which felt pointless and stupid. Not at all worth the extra money to see. But even if you skip Final Mission, walking to the massive Freedom Pavilion is still worthwhile because of the planes they've got on display...

Freedom Pavilion

There are walkways which literally allow you to walk around the full-size aircraft suspended there...

Freedom Pavilion Walkways

NOT for the faint of heart, however. Those upper walkways really took a toll on my sanity given my crippling fear of heights. Not that they don't warn you...

Freedom Pavilion WARNING!

The exhibits in the main museum are still nice, and has some terrific artifacts to look at...

WW2 Museum

After an early dinner, it was time for a trip to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, which always looks so tame during daylight hours...

Bourbon Street Daytime

Dessert was (obviously) freshly-cooked beignets at Cafe Du Monde...

NOLA Cafe Du Monde

NOLA Beignets

Dusk falls over Jackson Square as I walk the riverfront...

Jackson Square Neew Orleans at Dusk

Apparently Bad Monkey now has his own Mardi Gras beads...

NOLA Monkey Beads

Things start to heat up on Bourbon Street as the sun goes down. Never mind that it's a TUESDAY, it's time to get your party on...

Bourbon Street at Dusk

Bourbon Street Famous Love Acts

And, lest I forget the reason I came here... Hard Rock visit No. 150!

New Orleans New Hard Rock Cafe

New Orleans New Hard Rock Cafe

It's a nice enough cafe... but it's decorated in the shitty "new-style" hipster lounge motif that I hate. The original New Orleans Hard Rock may have had a less-desirable location on Jackson Square, but at least it had a beautiful selection of memorabilia and the classic Hard Rock stylings that define the chain.

And so ends my first packed day in The Big Easy.

   

NOLA Two

Posted on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Dave!I awoke to rain and overcast skies on a cold New Orleans morning.

My motivation to get out of bed and wander out into that dreary morning was effectively zero. But to waste a day in one of my favorite cities on earth would be a terrible sin, so I sucked it up and decided to visit some places I hadn't been before.

I started out with The Pharmacy Museum, which is a little place on Chartres Street I had never even heard of. As far as museums go, it's pretty tame... but it only costs $5 and there's loads of beautiful old bottle labels to explore...

Pharmacy Museum

Pharmacy Museum Shelves

Pharmacy Museum Bottle Label

They also have a collection of very old eyeglasses and other cool stuff, but a French tour group had their shit spread out all over the cases and would not fucking leave the exhibit, even though there were people trying to take a look. The worst part? THEY WEREN'T EVEN DISCUSSING THE STUFF IN THE ROOM! They were talking about historical figures or something (I'm guessing they didn't want to take it outside because it was raining). What a bunch of rude assholes thinking only of themselves and ruining the experience for everybody else.

Tired of walking in the cold, I decided to take in a couple of book shops, then grab lunch before heading back to my hotel room. But I kept seeing advertisements for Mardi Gras World that looked interesting. I had never visited there before because it used to be across the river. But now it's moved down by the convention center, so I decided to take the piece of shit Riverfront Streetcar* and take a look.

Mardi Gras World is a working facility where they build most of the floats for the 12 days of Mardi Gras parades that happen here every year. They're rather ornate affairs, and the work that goes into building them is pretty intense. So intense that as soon as one Mardi Gras ends (as 2013's just did in February) they immediately start work on next year's 500 floats...

Mardi Gras World Float

There are dozens of huge warehouses packed with floats and the equipment needed to pull them through the streets of New Orleans. The factory tour only runs through half of one warehouse, but it's still a lot to see...

Mardi Gras World Warehouse

Every year, each of the "krewes" responsible for the various parades come up with a new theme. Since the theme is always changing, they have to start from scratch every year. This means building or remodeling all the various big props that are stuck on the floats...

Mardi Gras World Worker

Mardi Gras World Props

Mardi Gras World ALIEN Prop

The tour lasts about an hour and, much to my surprise, the clouds and rain had completely disappeared by the time I was finished, and it was all sunshine and blue skies...

Mardi Gras World Sunny

Now that I wouldn't be slogging around in the cold and rain, I decided to use the free ticket I got from my hotel to visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art...

Ogden Museum of Southern Art

From their roof terrace, you get a great view of the massive expansion efforts going on at the World War II Museum I visited yesterday...

Ogden Museum Terrace View

On the top floor of the museum there's an exhibit dedicated to the elaborate Indian costumes used during Mardi Gras...

OgdencMuseum Mardi Gras Indian Costume

And, of course, paintings and photos and sculpture featuring Southern life... including this painting of the levies...

Ogden Museum Painting

Next door to the Ogden Museum is the Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall. It's a very nice place, and has quite a few very old artifacts from the war...

Civil War Museum

Unfortunately, there's no photography allowed... but the guy manning the ticket desk said it was okay if I took a long shot of the beautiful building interior...

Civil War Museum Hall

After going back to the hotel and working for a few hours, I decided to go hunt down a falafel wrap for dinner...

Falafel Wrap!

Dessert was at Cafe Du Monde again, of course...

Cafe Du Monde Redux

And thus ends my second (and last) day in The Crescent City. Hopefully it won't be another ten long years before I can visit again... and hopefully that visit will be longer than two days!

   
*Streetcars in New Orleans are always late, never seem to run on schedule, and will skip a stop at random with absolutely no warning. I started at the Ursulines Street stop where the streetcar was 12 minutes late. The stop for Mardi Gras World was the end of the line (John Churchill Chase stop), but the operator decided that he'd randomly eliminate it, forcing me to get off at the Julia Street stop. No warning. No Explanation. No notice of any kind at any station or on the website. Nothing. Just get the fuck out and walk 20 minutes around the convention center because he felt like it, I guess. So, yeah, the streetcars may be a charming New Orleans throwback, but they are complete bullshit for actual transportation needs

   

Goosey

Posted on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Dave!When I was looking for geese to use on the cover for THRICE Fiction No. 7, there was one goose that wasn't going to work... but I liked the way he looked, so I shoved him aside. Today as I was working on another project, he popped up...

Lucy Goosey

   
This is one of the geese that hang around the courtyard at Barcelona Cathedral (also known as "La Seu"). As I started snapping photos, he became curious about the noise from my camera, and just kind of stared at me until I stopped.

Silly goose.

   

Disneyland: Day One!

Posted on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Dave!The nice thing about working in Anaheim? DISNEYLAND!

It's the perfect place to take extended lunch hours for a ride and a meal. And, for this week at least, visiting an exhibit on Iron Man Armor to promote Iron Man 3... arriving in a theater near you on May 3rd!

They relocated Tony Stark's "Hall of Armor" to the Innoventions pavilion in Tomorrowland...

Iron Man Hall of Armor!

Iron Man Hall of Armor!

But the best part? You can SUIT UP to BE Virtual Iron Man!

Iron Man Suit Up!

It kind of works like an Xbox Kinnect game, where you stand in front of a screen with a camera to control the action...

Iron Man Suit Up In Action!

When you start up, the armor comes flying onto you so you can dance, shoot stuff with your repulsors, and fly around...

Iron Man Me!

Really, really cool.

I opted for a pricey (but delicious!) lunch at Wine Country Trattoria, because you can get a dining package which inclides priority viewing for Disney California Adventure's "World of Color" show. The dessert plate was awesome...

Disney Dessert

Off to Paradise Pier for the show...

Paradise Pier at Night

I didn't want to get soaked, so I decided to watch from the second level reserved area, which was perfect. It reminds me of a show I saw as a kid called "Dancing Waters" which was at Sea World in San Diego...

World of Color

It's all water, colored lights, lasers, and projected animation.

World of Color

Pretty cool. And totally worth buying that expensive lunch pacakge to get such great "seats!"

YESTERDAY...

The drive over the mountain passes was pretty harsh. It was snowing like gangbusters, and there was water a half-inch thick on the roadway...

Snowy Passes

Snowy Passes

But, when I got to Seattle, the sky was on fire, so it all turned out okay in the end...

Sky Fire Seattle

Annnnd... I'm spent.

   

Suite?

Posted on Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

Dave!Most every single thing I do for my job is with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. These are the apps I need to do whatever it is I do, and my work would be very difficult indeed without them.

Not to say that there aren't alternatives... there are plenty... but when it comes to the feature-rich tools I know best, and the ability to work together in the way I need them to, Adobe is the only game in town.

It used to be that Adobe apps were purchased like most any software... you buy them. Well, not "buy" per-se, it's more like a "one-time permanent lease payment"... and once you pay your money you can use them for as long as they work for you. This "Creative Suite" can then be upgraded every year or two when Adobe finishes up a new version.

Last year Adobe introduced a new way of using their products... renting. They call it "Creative Cloud" and for fifty bucks a month, they're all yours to use as much as you want...

Adobe Creative Cloud

The good news is that, so long as you keep paying, your apps are always up-to-date. You always have the latest features, and Adobe rolls them out when they're ready rather than making you wait for the next release. That much is really sweet.

But two days ago Adobe announced that "renting" their "Creative Cloud" is now the only way to go. As of now, they are discontinuing "Creative Suite" (for the most part) with the current version 6.

I had already moved to Creative Cloud last year, so this doesn't really affect me. But what if it does?!?

This could be bad.

Because what if Adobe discontinues an app?

As unlikely as it may be, let's say that Adobe kills off Illustrator in a couple years. You can't rent it any more. It's gone. And since you aren't able to buy it, you can't access any of your files created with it. You can't open them. You can't print them. You can't export them for use with another program. All your years of hard work essentially vanishes overnight. Everything you've created in Adobe Illustrator has to be recreated from scratch in a different program. Unless some other app comes along that reads the format.

But that's not all though. There's all kinds of doomsday scenarios that come to mind. What if Adobe doesn't kill an app... but instead raises the price of using it to $1000 a month? Pretty much the same thing, isn't it? You're trapped. You pay what Adobe wants or else you lose everything. Or maybe they don't raise the price... but all of a sudden your financial situation changes and you can't afford the rent? Again, pretty much the same thing. You're locked out and all your stuff is inaccessible.

So I guess this is bad.

And right now I'm more than a little worried.

Adobe needs to do two things to make me feel a bit better about this New World Order...

ONE
Release free "reader" programs for all their apps that at least let you look at your work. And print it. And possibly convert it to an open format so you could take it elsewhere if something happened that you couldn't use Creative Cloud any more. Knowing that I could at least see my work... and ideally export it somehow... would go a long way towards easing my mind and helping me to accept our Adobe Overlords.

TWO
Create smaller bundles of apps. As I said, I use three apps from Creative Cloud. THREE OUT OF WHAT... THIRTY?!? Give or take (some of these are services, not apps, that I won't use)...

Creative Cloud Apps

It feels like a complete rip-off that I have to pay for development of huge bunches of crap I will never (or rarely) use. Even if it were to only save me $10 a month... perhaps by renting a "designer bundle" with only the "Big Three" that I need or something... well... I would feel much better about my rent. As it is, I think it's absurd that I am forced to pay for shit like "Flash Builder Premium" that I would sooner light on fire than ever load onto my computer. This is like the cable company all over again, and it's not a good thing.

Realistically, Number Two will probably never happen. But Number One pretty much has to. If it doesn't... if there's a risk that all my work could become inaccessible tomorrow (for whatever reason)... well... is that a risk I can really afford to take?

Perhaps it's time to start exploring some of those other options?

   

NEX-6

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Dave!Ever since I returned from my "Wild Africa Trek" back in September, I've been saving up for a new camera. I love my Nikon D90, but it's like a boat anchor hanging around my neck when I'm leaning over cliffs, hiking on rope bridges, and otherwise actively goofing off. It's bulky and heavy and has lenses that are equally bulky and heavy, so I find myself leaving it at home more often than not. My iPhone may not take "great" photos, but it's certainly good enough (and at least it doesn't get in my way).

But what camera to buy? I already have a pocket camera, which is okay, but hardly the quality I'm looking for. A next-generation "mirrorless" camera seemed like the way to go. They're much smaller than a DSLR, but produce similar quality photos. At first I was looking at Nikon and Canon, since those were the brands I was familiar with. But the reviews of Nikon's N-1 were less than stellar... and when I played with Canon's EOS-M it was a piece of crap.

Enter the Sony NEX-7. A serious photographer friend of mine has one and won't shut up about how much he loves the thing. I borrowed it for a couple hours and was suitably impressed. Right then and there I knew that Sony was the camera for me. Though I did bypass the NEX-7 for the newer (and slightly less expensive) NEX-6. It just seemed like a better fit for me...

Sony NEX-6

My "review" and random thoughts on the NEX-6 can be found in an extended entry...

→ Click here to continue reading this entry...

   

Anywhere

Posted on Friday, May 24th, 2013

Dave!Summer is really here!

And tonight I decided to cut off all my hair again so I  look  feel cool. It's not so much an act of liberation, but one of convenience. And comfort. I just can't take having a sweaty mess on my head when the weather goes from hot to unbearably hot. Especially when I'm traveling.

Giving myself a haircut was the highlight of my day. All I did outside of that was work.

And wish I was anywhere but here. Perhaps here...

Haleakala Sunrise

There are certainly worse places to be than Mt. Haleakala at sunrise.

   

Memorial

Posted on Monday, May 27th, 2013

Dave! Hope everybody is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend.

When I was in Tunisia my tour group consisted mostly of Americans, so the guide was kind enough to drive us through the North Africa American Cemetery where soldiers from World War II are buried. As it was 9-11, the flag was flying at half-mast...

Flag Half-Mast at the Tunis American Cemetery

Tunis American Cemetery

It's very difficult not to think of these fallen heroes far from home when Memorial Day comes to pass.

To all those who paid the ultimate price for our country, I thank you. Your sacrifice and courage will not be forgotten.

   

Randyland

Posted on Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Dave!Back home, safe and sound.

Yesterday Becky took me to Randyland, which is a photographer's dream come true in Pittsburgh. From the minute I saw all the bright colors and craziness that is so beautifully splashed across everything, I knew I wanted to play around with some HDR photos to see what I could capture.

Welcome to Randy's head...

Randyland Corner Street

Randyland Pigs

Randyland Bistro

Randyland Heads

Randy Dinosaurs

Randyland and Becky

Randyland Gator and Snake

Randyland Garden

Randyland Imp

Randyland Doors

Randyland Signpost

If you're ever in the Pittsburgh area, Randyland is well worth checking out!

   

CC

Posted on Friday, June 21st, 2013

Dave!Adobe Creative Cloud has arrived.

Adobe software upgrades are usually a reason to celebrate, but their controversial decision to make a monthly Creative Cloud membership the only way to use such popular apps as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign has made a lot of people upset and angry. Sure you can still buy the old CS6 software, but any new stuff is members only. This kind of sucks, because if you aren't able to pay your monthly fee, any files saved in the newer CC format become useless. And, of course, to use the latest features you have to save in CC format. Catch-22.

Regardless, I thought I'd give a quick overview of the thing for anybody out there who's curious. And if you don't even know what Creative Cloud is? Hark! A promo video...

And now for this Creative Cloud business...

The bad news is that Adobe still doesn't beta test anything before release. Or, if they do, they do a really crappy job of it. Just as it's always been with their apps, I've found bugs and problems on my very first day. How the fuck Adobe can miss or overlook stuff that I run across after mere minutes of use is just beyond me. The only thing I can guess is that they know their users don't have any realistic alternative to their tools so they just don't give a shit.

Anyway...

Everything I cover will be on a Mac, because I honestly don't give a flying fuck about Windows anymore after Microsoft released the horrendous pile of shit known as "Windows 8." If you're using that hot mess of an OS, I apologize, but, damn.

Creative Cloud Logo

   
The boat-load of apps that come with a Creative Cloud membership are now managed by a menu bar extension. I thought this was a lot nicer than the previous method of hunting down Adobe's Application Manager app, but the thing is (of course) buggy and defective, so it's a mixed bag. Never mind that it doesn't update itself after an app is installed (you have to restart your Mac for that), there is a much bigger problem. In that most times when you switch between Apple's virtual desktops (called "Spaces") the damn thing activates. That's right, it just opens up for no reason at all. And this is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about when I question whether Adobe bothers to test their shit. I ran across this problem immediately after installation. How in the hell did Adobe's beta testers not notice it? Do they ignore basic Mac OS X features? This is fucking insane. And the fact that Adobe isn't embarrassed by things like this speaks volumes for what you're getting into when you sign up for their products.

But I digress. The menu extension looks like this...

Creative Cloud Menu

It's nice that you're told if your app is up-to-date, even though it makes the menu window huge. Oddly enough, if an app is not up to date, Creative Cloud doesn't have the ability to update it. Instead it launches Adobe Updater, which is kind of crazy. Why have one tool that can handle multiple tasks when you can clutter up a hard drive with two? Or, more likely for Adobe, twenty?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

If you are a professional, you'll want to install the new CC apps next to your old CS6 apps in case you run into some heinous bug that prevents you from getting work done. Thankfully, this is fully supported. But what if you're a rebel like me who only wants the new apps? Do you have the option of overwriting Photoshop CS6 with Photoshop CC? Of course you don't! That would be too fucking convenient, and Adobe has a reputation for shitty, inconvenient installers, so that's not going to happen.

Welcome to Adobe manual uninstallation! It's stupidly inconsistent, but that's the Adobe way!

Some apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat have uninstaller apps in their folders. That's not so bad, right? Well, sure... if they worked. The uninstaller for InDesign hanged and had to be force-quit. The unistaller for Acrobat said that Acrobat was an invalid application to uninstall. You get the picture. Though at least they have uninstallers. Apps like Bridge don't. Regardless of how much work you put into uninstalling (Mac App Cleaner helped a lot), you still end up with traces of crap scattered over your hard drive. I did a search to root out all things "Adobe" so I could trash them, but I'm sure pieces are still around somewhere. Guess reformatting my hard drive is the only way to truly clean out old Adobe apps?

After installation... which was surprisingly smooth and easy... I thought I'd just quit Creative Cloud since I wouldn't be needing it the rest of the day. But, surprise!, Creative Cloud doesn't like that because Creative Cloud doesn't fucking know if it's working on an installation or not!

Creative Cloud Quit Warning!

I suppose it's possible that Creative Cloud hands off installation to yet another app but, if that were the case, why would quitting cancel the install app? Insanity.

In what I can only describe as some kind of bizarre tease, two of Creative Cloud's non-app functions... Cloud File Storage and Cloud Typekit Fonts... are "coming soon"...

Adobe Coming Soon!

   
The third non-app function is Adobe's acquisition of "Behance" which is an online portfolio you can share with people. I'm already using Deviant Art for my portfolio, but it's free so I went ahead and signed up. Eventually I might even put something there.

And that's pretty much it for Creative Cloud.

But what about the new CC apps? Are the new features in Photoshop any good? Does Illustrator have any cool new toys? Does InDesign finally have decent performance at long last? Tune in tomorrow and see!

UPDATE! And the hits just keep coming. Turns out that Creative Cloud saying an app is "up-to-date" is not always true...

Adobe Update Update!

Shocking.

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Creative

Posted on Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

Dave!Yesterday I took a look at Adobe's "Creative Cloud" app. Today I'm going to look at the "Big Three" apps within Creative Cloud... Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

But before I go there, I have to come clean and admit that most of Adobe's updates have pretty much been "fluff" to me. Yeah, it's cool to get time-savers like the "Spot Healing Brush" and cool extras like "Perspective Drawing Tools"... but, overall, the basic stuff you need to do the job have been around for a long time and everything else they keep adding is nothing more than fluff.

My problem is that I like the fluff.

I get giddy every time Adobe drops some new nifty feature that makes my job easier... or more fun.

Unfortunately, I think we're getting to the point where the fluff is starting to affect app performance, and that's a problem. Kinda. So let me get the worst out of the way first...

   
InDesign CC
In a nutshell? Fucking horrendous. The program is practically unusable now.
Should you upgrade? Only if you enjoy excrutiating pain and endless frustration.

By the time Adobe bought out Aldus PageMaker in 1994, I had already moved on to QuarkXpress for page layout. The problem being that I hated Quark. So when Adobe came out with InDesign, I jumped... nay, I bolted to InDesign... and never looked back. Partly because I loathed Quark so badly... but mostly because I loved what Adobe had done with InDesign.

Fast forward to yesterday and I have to ask... what the fuck is Adobe doing with InDesign?

The previous CS6 update felt slower than CS5 and crashed quite a bit. But it's an absolute joy to use compared to InDesign CC, which is ungodly slow and clunky. The lag when typing text is agonizing. Moving objects is sheer torture because they... just... won't... move. Even hiding all the images and turning off every automated feature doesn't help speed things up much. I could go on, but it's pointless to do so because InDesign CC is pretty much unusable and worthless.

But before I go, a question... why the fuck hasn't Adobe gotten off their asses and hidden the temp files that have been shitting all over my hard drive since InDesign 1.0?

InDesign Temp

   
Illustrator CC
In a nutshell? Not a lot to see here, move along.
Should you upgrade? Sure. You get a few nice pieces of fluff and I haven't found a down-side.

Adobe Illustrator is my most favorite program ever. I love Illustrator. It's powerful. It's comfortable. It's friendly. And the pen tool I use constantly to draw stuff is sublime. It also doesn't hurt that I'm really, really good at it. Just so long as Adobe doesn't break something, I'm excited by any new feature they want to throw my way. This time I'm especially excited by the free-transform tool (which allows you to distort objects oh so easily, especially with a touch screen)... the "touch text" tool (which allows you to perform really slick adjustments to live text)... the smarter Smart Guides (which is much needed)... and the nifty stuff they've done with brushes (like automatically generating corners and allowing you to use images and brushes). Granted, that's not a lot. But Illustrator is so amazing it really doesn't have to be. Overall a minor, unobtrusive, and welcome upgrade.

   
Photoshop CC
In a nutshell? Pretty great fluff this time. No noticeable slowdown from the additional features.
Should you upgrade? Only if you have confirmed that any third-party plugins you need are compatible.

Photoshop is a stunning example of what people mean when they use words like "invaluable" and "essential." It is the irreplaceable tool I need to do my job. I use it most every single day and love it more than chocolate pudding. So how does Adobe make a great thing greater? Welllll... the show-stopper this time is "Shake Reduction" which is a really smart, mostly-automatic, all-new version of "Smart Sharpen." And the results are pretty impressive...

Hard Rock Shaken
Oops. In my defense, my camera didn't have image stabilization. And I was drunk.

Hard Rock Unshaken
Yes. This. With just a press of a button. Is it magic? It's Photoshop.

And, speaking of Smart Sharpen, that's been improved too.

Next up? Camera Raw now only works as a filter now for quickly working on non-RAW images, but they've added some new toys too... like auto spot removal. And a cool little feature called "Automated Upright" which will allow you to more quickly and easily straighten buildings and stuff...

Photoshop Auto Upright

When enlarging photos... especially ones with well-defined edges... I usually use a third-party enlargement plugin that has edge detection or fractals or some method to preserve details in the image. Now Photoshop has a new enlargement method called "Preserve Details." And it works pretty well...

Photoship Preserve Details
It's tough to tell at this small size, but the "Preserve Details" enlargement on the right is much better.

There are other new features, improvements, and a few tweaks... but the above three are the biggies. And I think they're worth the price of admission when taken in a lump sum. But there is a down-side. Some of my third-party plugins are not working. Most notably, Imagenomic Noiseware. Until you're sure that your essential plugins can work with Photoshop CC you might want to hold off upgrading.

   
And there you have it. A mixed bag. Mostly thanks to a jaw-droppingly shitty InDesign update.

But also because Adobe can't be bothered to make their apps work well with my Mac. Full-Screen support is broken. Still. And my Magic Mouse acts like a total spaz with accidental scrolls and crappy tracking even though it's been out for nearly four years... so I have to downgrade to my Mighty Mouse, which is much older, but does work for some reason. Yet Adobe did expand Mac Retina Display support, so what do I know?

Now that we're stuck in the Creative Cloud I'm already looking for sunnier weather. Because even though I love Adobe and their critical tools which allow me to to what I do... they simply cannot continue to unleash horrendous piles of shit like InDesign CC any more.

Ever.

When you're responsible for something "invaluable" and "essential," you have to do better than that.

   

Delight?

Posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Dave!Yesterday morning I had to head back over the mountains early so I could make it to work on time. The drive is usually 2-hours, 15-minutes... but I always budget 2-1/2 hours just in case something weird happens.

Like some asshole in front of me deciding to drive 15 miles an hour under the speed limit while in a no-passing zone for 20-minutes.

Or, more likely, because I have to stop at McDonalds for breakfast. Which went something like this...

      "Welcome to McDonald's! Would you like to try our new Egg White Delight McMuffin Sandwich?"

      "What? — No. — Oh gross. No."

      "Sorry, we have to ask. What can I get for ya?"

Now, I'm not doubting her word... I'm sure they really are required to ask people to try the Egg White Delight. My question is why? Do they expect that you'll order that hideous-sounding sandwich in addition to what you're already buying? That's not very realistic. Best case scenario is that you'll eat that egg white shit-sandwich instead of what you were already going to buy. Are they cheaper to make, thus more profitable or something? I doubt it. So I just don't get it.

Especially since the Egg White Delight McMuffin looks like this...

McDonalds Egg White Delight McMuffin

Oh hell no.

Because that photo comes directly from McDonalds where it was undoubtedly styled perfectly and still looks like shit. I can only guess how utterly awful it looks "in real life." The best part of an egg is the yolk, and I sure as hell ain't going to go for a sandwich without it. Go sell that disgusting, slimy, mass of vomit-inducing hell to somebody else, McDonalds.

And speaking of food styling... this is what I'm talking about...

From experience, I can tell you that a really good food stylist is worth their weight in gold. The better they are at making stuff look amazing, the less time you have to spend in Photoshop!

But even the best food stylist in the universe would have trouble making the Egg White Delight McMuffin look edible.

= shudder =

   

Day Five – Hội An (Part Two)

Posted on Friday, October 11th, 2013

Dave!And here we are for "Part Two" of my second day in Hội An.

As this was a "Day on Your Own" for our group, I had booked a morning photo tour months ago. Then yesterday our Disney guides tell everybody that they have organized a trip to the "Marble Mountains" and I was like "Oh crap! I'd like to see that!" and I was bummed that I would miss it.

But no worries... this is Disney after all... and so the guides arranged to have the hotel take four of us to Marble Mountains when we got back. Turns out they're a cluster of hills which are filled with caves and tunnels, and became a Buddhist retreat where many pagodas and grottoes can be found.

The main "mountain" has a path you can climb but, since we were short on time, we took a newly-installed elevator part-way up. From there you can see other "mountains" in the chain...

On Top of Marble Mountain

I probably only ended up seeing a small part of the stuff that seems to be packed into every nook and cranny, but what I did see was pretty spectacular...

Marble Mountain Pagoda

Marble Mountain Buddha Wheel Vietnam

Marble Mountain Hoi An Dragon

Marble Mountain Entry Way

My favorite part was this massive cave with sunlight streaming in. Just past the light there's a small Buddha statue waiting...

Marble Mountain Cave Light

Marble Mountain Cave Buddha

Marble Mountain Cave Light

Marble Mountain Cave Tiger

Everywhere you look, you see something that pretty much looks like I dropped out of an Indiana Jones film...

Marble Mountain Arch

Marble Mountain Tree

I only had an hour-and-a-half to walk around and, before I knew it, I was having to head back down the mountain. But not before searching for a bathroom and running across yet another Buddha, temple, and cave...

Marble Mountain White Buddha

Marble Mountain Temple

Marble Mountain Lucky Buddha

So... pretty much a must-see destination if there ever was one.

And when we got back to the resort? It was time for a barbecue and... the DISNEY PIN OF THE DAY!

Hit the Beach Disney Pin!

Hmmm... well, the only beach I saw today was littered with fish guts and garbage, but I finally have a pin with Mickey Mouse on it, so I'll take it!

   

Day Thirteen – Angkor

Posted on Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Dave!After two weeks of jam-packed Disney magic in Southeast Asia, I knew that I would need a day to recover from it all. And so I booked an extra day at the end of my vacation, just so I could lie around the resort and relax for 24-hours before making the long trip back home.

At least that was the plan.

Turns out it is impossible to hang around Cambodia's Angkor Wat region and do nothing. So out I went in the crushing heat so I could see a few things that I had missed yesterday. Starting with an hour tuk-tuk ride out to Banteay Srei. It'a a temple famous for the "pinker" stone used to building it, along with lots of nifty wood-carvings...

Tuk-Tuk North

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

Then a ride back South to the island temple of Neak Pean...

Neak Pean

Neak Pean

Followed by a stop at Preah Khan...

Preah Khan

Preah Khan

It was here I ran into something very cool... a Cambodian boy painting pictures to sell...

Preah Khan Boy Painting

This was such a refreshing change from the throngs of kids selling cheap souvenir crap from China that nobody wants (JUST ONE DOLLAR!!!) that I couldn't pass it up. He was asking $15... I could have bargained down to $10 (or less)... so I paid him $20...

Preah Khan Boy Painting

Then into the town of Siem Reap proper for a look at where the new Hard Rock Cafe will be when it opens next year...

Hard Rock Siem Reap

Yeah. Won't be sad about having to come back here in a year or two to see it... that's for sure!

And, lastly, a stop at Peace Cafe so I could eat some amazing (and cheap!) vegetarian food...

Peace Cafe, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Peace Cafe Salt & Pepper, Siem Reap, Cambodia

And play with their cat, who was crawling all over me the minute I walked up to take his photo...

Peace Cafe Cat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Peace Cafe Cat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

And that would be the end of my adventures through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I'd do a wrap-up of my vacation, but I have to head to the airport here in a few minutes to begin the long trip home.

   

DAY FOUR: Edinburgh

Posted on Monday, March 24th, 2014

Dave!When I learned that there was a new Hard Rock in Glasgow, my idea was to fly into Edinburgh (my favorite city on earth) and hop over and back for a quick visit. But when it came time to book my tickets, I realized that this was a risky prospect. Odds are I'd arrive in Edinburgh and never leave. So I decided to fly into Glasgow after all.

But there was no way I was going to pass on the opportunity to spend my birthday in the one place I love more than any other. No way at all. And so I took a 50-minute train ride across Scotland just because I can. But, before I go... an egg and fire-roasted tomato sandwich from Pret-A-Manger (my favorite breakfast on earth)...

Breakfast at Pret

Because the weather was so amazing,* I decided to do something I've always wanted to do when visiting Edinburgh: climb the extinct volcano there (named "Arthur's Seat") so I could look out over the city...

The Climb Up Arthur's Seat

Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

The panorama view is pretty incredible (click to embiggen)...

Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat

I had photographed the city to death on my last trip here back in 2009, but I just can't help myself when it comes to the majestic old buildings, so I ended up taking a boat-load of new photos...

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

Since I've been to Edinburgh many times, I'm always looking for something new to see and do. This trip, that ended up being a visit to Camera Obscura. It's a kind of museum filled with optical oddities and illusions...

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Which is all well and good, but the main attraction for me was the rooftop view...

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

Camera Obscura in Edinburgh

And, yes, as the name implies, there is indeed a camera obscura at Camera Obscura. It's an old-school attraction that was probably a lot more impressive back in the day... but it was still interesting since I had never seen one before (you can read all about the device at Wikipedia). Basically, a lens on the roof of the building captures light and beams it down onto a big white table in a darkened room. Everybody stands around this circular "screen" as the operator pans around the city while pointing out things of interest.

Not wanting to ride the train back to Glasgow during rush hour, I said goodbye to my beloved Edinburgh after all too short a visit...

Edinburgh Castle from the Train

Once back in Glasgow, I rushed out to the famous Kelvingrove Museum so I could take a look before it closed. Part art gallery and part natural history exhibit, it was well worth the effort...

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow, Scotland

Across the parking lot (and a creek) is the University of Glasgow. I wandered up to take a look before heading back downtown for dinner...

University of Glasgow, Scotland

University of Glasgow, Scotland

After a quick dinner (and a nap) I headed to George Square to try and get some photos without tons of people around. The beautiful Apple Store was on the way...

George Square in Glasgow, Scotland

Apple Store in Glasgow, Scotland

And that was that for my short visit to Scotland. I leave tomorrow morning on a very early flight, so off to bed I go.

   

*Dear Apple... while I love Siri, and use this miraculous feature often on my iPhone, there are times I have to wonder just how idiotic technology can be. I am in SCOTLAND. My iPhone is LOCATION AWARE. I am asking what the weather is like IN EDINBURGH. But I am given locations in the USA? Oh well... I'll just clarify that I mean the Edinburgh IN SCOTLAND then...

Stupid Siri

Nope. No matter how I pronounce it, Edinburgh is not in Scotland. Holy crap does this make Siri look like a fucking moron.

   

DAY EIGHT: Lisse and Amsterdam

Posted on Friday, March 28th, 2014

Dave!"We have arrived!" announced the hotel shuttle driver to myself and another passenger as we pulled into the Nice Airport around 4:30am. And so I climb out and ask the driver to open the back of the van so I can get my bag. He says "This stop is not for you," and so I start to climb back on the van... only to have the driver slam the gas pedal to the floor as I am half-way in. The van lurches forward, causing the sliding door to smash into my side and send me flying 20 feet. My head crashes into the pavement and, as I lay there bleeding and trying to breathe, the driver stands over me and says "I said this stop was not for you!" — which is why I was climbing back on the van, of course, but let's not apply logic to the situation. You would think that A) The driver would make sure everybody is actually ON the van before hitting the gas, and B) He would start out slowly just in case the first passenger was still standing near... or the second passenger was in the process of boarding... or a pedestrian is crossing the street... or whatever. But, alas, no.

Blood pouring down my face and hunched over in pain, I somehow make my way inside the airport (at the next stop, natch) so I can try to clean myself up in a bathroom. Much to my horror, my glasses are destroyed, so I have to fish for contact lenses in my suitcase. But I can only put a lens in one eye because blood is pouring over the other one. A package of antibiotic wipes and 20 minutes of direct pressure later, my second lens is in and it's time to head to the gate for my flight.

The wonderful KLM cabin crew gave me ice for my head on the flight back to Amsterdam. This made the swelling die down a bit, and also caused the pain to subside. As for my chest where I was hit? The pain became searing, so when I got off the plane I started pressing around and... SNAP... I think I had a fractured rib, because now that it's been set back in place I feel totally fine... just a little sore now.

In other news... I have never felt so fucking macho in all my life as to snap my own fractured rib back in place! I'd go to the doctor, but all they would do is wrap me up and give me pain meds, so I'm just going to put on a tight T-shirt and self-medicate. Same difference! A-fucking-right... this is one macho bitch right up in here.*

Anyway...

My plans to visit some work colleagues in Amsterdam had to be abandoned so I could recuperate back at Casa de DutchBitch for five hours until she got off work. At which time we decided to visit "Europe's Garden"... the Keukenhof. I was there back in 2012 and loved it, so I was looking forward to another visit on this beautiful day, even if I was loaded with pain-killers...

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

The Keukenhof

After a wonderful afternoon looking at flowers, it was time for dinner at one of my favorite places on earth, Restaurant De Kas. It's a beautiful eatery outside of Amsterdam that resides in a greenhouse where they grow their own food. It's pretty special.

Restaurant De Kas

But it's at night that this place becomes really special...

Restaurant De Kas

The menu is a surprise, built around what came from the garden that day, and they accommodated my vegetarian diet beautifully...

Restaurant De Kas

Restaurant De Kas

Restaurant De Kas

An absolutely wonderful evening. After an absolutely wonderful day. After a terrible morning.

And now? Having experienced first hand what it's like to get run into by a car, I'm going to take some heavy drugs and go to bed. So good night to you! And (hopefully) a good night to myself.

   

*Unless, of course, it wasn't a fractured rib at all... in which case I have no idea what snapped inside there. Maybe I'm the moron who just cracked his own rib? I dunno. Playing doctor is a lot harder than it looks on television. Still, I'm feeling 1000% better than I was, so you can't argue with the results.

   

Aperture

Posted on Friday, June 27th, 2014

Dave!So Apple has stopped development on Aperture, their professional-grade photography organizer and editor.

As somebody who has invested an incredible amount of time and money in Aperture, I am understandably pissed off. But not the least bit surprised.

This is par for the course with Apple and their professional software. They build something incredible, eventually lose interest, then either dump it... or downgrade it to the point that so-called "professionals" are left behind. I've been through the whole thing before with Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro.

You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now, but nope!

I've stuck by Aperture despite the fact that Apple hasn't released a significant update in four years. I've stuck by Aperture despite the fact that Adobe's competitor, Lightroom, has been getting continuous upgrades and improvements all that time. I've stuck by Aperture despite the fact that Apple has such a profoundly shitty track record with the "Pro" apps.

No, I have no idea why.

I also have no idea what, exactly, Apple is thinking by discontinuing their Pro photography app (Aperture) and their Consumer photography app (iPhoto) in favor of something new (Photos). I'm guessing their new baby is going to land somewhere in-between, in which case it's going to be too much bloat for the consumer and too little capability for professionals.

So what's the play here?

What's Apple up to?

Where's the hook?

Well... the hook is that Photos will be iCloud-based and able in integrate with Photos running on iPhones and iPads. All your photos are syncing all the time. As are your edits. If that weren't enough, apparently Photos will be smart enough to catalog proxies based on your device's capacity. The bulk of the data is kept on iCloud... including RAW originals... and the pricing looks excellent.

That's quite a hook.

Assuming it works. And when it comes to iCloud, you can never really tell.

The full feature list of Photos isn't going to be known for a while yet. Will it be "professional" enough to be a worthy successor to Aperture? Who the hell knows?

So, in the meanwhile, I'll just carry on being pissed at Apple.

I'm starting to get used to it.

   

Combustible

Posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014

Dave!And so... it's fire season again.

Some places have hurricanes. Others have floods.. tornados... earthquakes... name a disaster. Everybody has something. We have wildfires. They got scary close to where I live back in 2004. This time it's a slightly less worrisome 15 miles away near Entiat.

Local photographer Frank Cone has some amazing shots in his Flickr Photostream of the flames...

Frank Cone Fire Photo
Entiat Wildfire Image by Frank Cone ©2014

Frank Cone Fire Photo
Entiat Wildfire Image by Frank Cone ©2014

I feel terrible for all the animals that will die... and those who survive only to be homeless and hungry.

Thanks to the firefighters who, as always, put their lives and safety on the line doing a dangerous job to protect people and property in harm's way.

   

Ashes

Posted on Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Dave!When you step outside into the 106° F (41° C) blast furnace that is my home, the heat is the least of your worries. The air is filled with smoke and ash from the wildfires in the area, which makes breathing a bit of a chore.

The skies sure are pretty though.

Beneath the smoke that's rolling across the horizon, there's a golden glow that kisses the landscape until the sun goes down...

Wildfires

Wildfires

Wildfires

Wildfires

Wildfires

Too hot to sleep.

Too smokey to sleep.

Too sweaty to sleep.

Too tired to sleep.

I could really use some sleep.

   

Bullet Sunday 391

Posted on Sunday, July 27th, 2014

Dave!It's lobstah time... because a Very Special Bullet Sunday from Maine starts... now...

   
• Jet. You might find it interesting to know that Portland, Maine doesn't have an airport... they have a jetport! So I guess if you have an old-style prop plane, you're just going to have to land somewhere else. Only jets get the privilege of landing in Portland!

   
• Waterfront. Unlike so many fishing waterfronts that have been reimagined as tourist attractions or shopping destinations... Portland's waterfront is still in use by the fishing industry. This affords some excellent photographic opportunities which, alas, were lost on my because I didn't pack my camera. iPhone to the rescue!

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

Waterfront in Portland, Maine

It's a cool place to explore... assuming the smell of rotting fish doesn't offend you.

   
• Flatbread. For dinner I decided to stop at Flatbread Company, which was recommended by my hotel. This ended up being a fantastic choice, as I loved absolutely everything about the place. Exceptional service. Amazing food featuring local organic ingredients. And a very good beer selection...

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

I had a flatbread with zucchini, summer squash, maple glaze, and a bunch of other stuff I don't remember. Dessert was a Maine blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream and maple-sweetened cream.

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

Flatbread Company in Portland, Maine

If you're ever in Portland, Flatbread Company gets my highest recommendation.

   
• Cobble. Old Downtown Portland is a really nice place. Some of the streets are still in cobblestones, and there's a wide variety of shops and eateries to visit...

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

If you're an ice cream lover, Portland has you covered. There are a lot of shops here selling it (I only ate at two of them, swear)....

Downtown Old Town Portland, Maine

Turns out "The Other Portland" (if you're a west-coaster) is worth a trip. Can't believe I haven't been here sooner.

   
• BatMaine? Gotta love any city that's selling a decal like this one...

Batman Symbol with MAINE inside!

   
• Lucy. I am a huge fan of filmmaker Luc Besson. I am a huge fan of Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. So a movie combining all three of those things should be amazing, right? Enter Lucy...

After some ridiculous circumstances involving a new synthetic drug end up giving Scarlett super-human abilities, she decides to make the best of the situation by passing her massive knowledge about life, the universe, and everything on to all mankind. An evil drug lord is having none of it, however, and decides to pursue her so he can have the drug for himself. Along the way there are some terrific action sequences... mostly involving Scarlett being awesome with her newfound abilities. It's all a bit cheesy, sure, but it's fun. And then things start to fall apart in the third act. Badly. Instead of escalating the cool super-human action to a grand finale, the film takes a massive detour into some kind of metaphysical artistic statement that is really unsatisfying and senseless. Lucy was ultimately disappointed to me because the ending sabotaged the whole movie.

So... it turns out that all the best stuff from Lucy is in the trailer. The movie might still be worth a rental, but I don't know I'd recommending paying the money to see it in a theater.

   
And... bullets begone! Seeyou next Sunday.

   

Maine

Posted on Monday, July 28th, 2014

Dave!I've been to Maine before. But not really. I crossed the border back in 2005 just so I could say that I've been here, but a quick hop to Kittery doesn't really qualify me to say that "I've seen Maine." So when my travel plans went as scheduled and I ended up with a free day, I figured I might as well jot out to the coast to see a few lighthouses and stuff.

Except I awoke to find that all of Maine was pouring rain and fog. I scoured the internet for lighthouse webcams, but all of them pretty much looked like this...

Hard Rock Cafe Pigeon Forge

The radar weather map looked a bit cleaner up north, so I started combing every webcam I could find up the Maine coast to see if there was anywhere with decent weather. After a long time of having no luck, I happened across a camera for "Pemaquid Point Light" (they don't call them "lighthouses" here). It was rainy, but not overly foggy. It was an hour-and-a-half drive through a torrential downpour, but oh well. Off I went.

The entire trip was pouring rain... right up until I got to the road that led down to the lighthouse...

But then... a miracle. As I was turning into the park, the rain just stopped. Still a bit overcast, but kinda clear. No need to wear a garbage bag after all!

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Behind the lighthouse is a cool rock formation that funnels out to the ocean...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

What's cool about this particular lighthouse is that you can climb up in it...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Inside the lightkeeper's house is a small museum...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

By the time I was ready to leave, blue skies were starting to appear...

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Maine

After asking for some advice as to another lighthouse I might try, I was told that a lot of people seem to head off to Marshall Point Light from here, so off I went. Surprise surprise, it started to rain again...

Rainy Maine Road Drive

It took a lot longer than I thought (Pemaquid Point and Marshall Point look so close on the map!), but it was a nice drive. Lucky me... the rain started to let up just as I pulled into the parking lot. Again...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Wanting to buy a post card, I stepped into the gift shop for a minute. When I went back outside, the blue skies had followed me!

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

The rocks here are really cool to look at...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

Overall, a very nice lighthouse with some beautiful scenery surrounding...

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine
Click the panorama to enbiggen.

While in the gift shop, I saw a map that showed another lighthouse that's publicly accessible not too far away. So off I went to Owl's Head Lighthouse... this drive in much nicer weather...

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

Poor Spot!

Owl's Head Lighthouse, Maine

And thus ended my exploration of Maine's coastal roads and lighthouses.

Interesting to note that the geography here makes everything much farther away than you'd think. Pemaquid Point and Marshall Point are not very far away from each other as the crow flies (about 13 miles). But to navigate there in a car is just over 50 miles and a 1 hour, 15 minute drive...

Google Map
Map courtesy of... who else... Google Maps!

Dinner was back in Portland at Flatbread Company, because I just couldn't help myself. The blueberry desserts are just too incredible. This time? Blueberry-Topped Poundcake...

Blueberry Poundcake

Hopefully tomorrow I'll get the chance to explore a bit more... but it's a work day, so fingers crossed.

   

Popham

Posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Dave!I had a scary amount of work piled up today, so exploring Maine wasn't really in the cards.

I did take a quick run out to Popham Beach State Park after lunch to clear my head, however. I had wanted to visit yesterday, but the unrelenting rain made that a dreary proposition.

Luckily today was a different story...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

The southern section of the beach is a beachcomber's delight...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine
Click image to embiggen.

One of the cool things about Popham Beach is that there are islands off the coast which you can walk to during low tide...

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine

Popham Beach State Park Maine

And now it's time to gear up for a 30-hour work day.

   

Light

Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Dave!And... time to head home.

But not before I see one last lighthouse... and perhaps the most famous in Maine due to its proximity to Portland... Portland Head Light State Park.

All things considered, it's a nice lighthouse. Albeit a little more crowded than the others I visited this trip...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

I was once again astounded at the photo quality I was getting from my iPhone... and it's a 5, not even the 5S. The detail it manages to pull out of a scene is nothing short of amazing considering it's coming out of a frickin' phone...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Inside there's a small museum ($2 entry) that has an interesting look at the history of the lighthouse. And how it works...

Portland Head Light State Park

Portland Head Light State Park

Time for a mad dash to the airport jetport so I can make my flight. While waiting for my plane to board, I noticed there were displays of Maine's famous products on display... some of which I never associated with the state. Well, except "Tom's of Maine" which I kinda had figured out...

Tom's of Maine Product Display

And away I go...

   

Baggage

Posted on Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Dave!I loathe shopping.

I've never enjoyed it. If given the choice between going to the mall or getting water-boarded, I'd probably take the water-boarding. Especially during the holidays (at least the first time... as I've read that being water-boarded is seriously no fun at all). Now-a-days I rarely go to a mall or physical store to shop, I buy everything on the internet. And while I still loathe shopping, at least with online shopping I don't have to put pants on.

But that's not the only difference.

The biggest difference to me is that online shopping comes with customer reviews. When shopping at Amazon (my online store of choice) I have immediate access to the opinions of other people who have purchased the item I'm looking at. This can be a big plus. Except sometimes the reviews are paid or planted to make a product sound better than it is, in which case it's a huge detriment. They can also be sabotaged by people with nothing better to do than trash perfectly good products for petty reasons. But, overall, I trust reviews to even out and paint an accurate picture of what you'll be getting.

And, for the most part, this trust is not misplaced.

But what happens when it does?

I really like my current camera bag, a Tamrac Velocity 7x, but it's now too small to hold all my equipment and it screams "I'M A CAMERA BAG!!!" which probably acts like a beacon to thieves looking for an easy score. So I decided to buy something new. Which isn't an easy feat because no photographer I know has found the perfect bag. But this doesn't stop them from battling to the death in promoting the bag they prefer while brutally cutting up bags they don't. As you can imagine, this makes researching which bag to buy incredibly difficult. But I put in the time anyway and eventually landed on one which looked perfect for me.

Enter "The Brixton" by Ona Bags...

The Brixton Camera Bag by Ona
Photo from Ona Bags featuring photographer Colin Hughes

First of all, it's one of the best-looking camera bags I've ever seen. It looks like a high-end messenger bag and doesn't say "I'm a camera bag" at all. Sure, for the sake of the cows that died to make it, I wish it didn't have leather accents, but at least those poor animals can rest in peace knowing that their hide was used to make something so beautiful.

But, when it comes to baggage, I'll take functionality over beauty any day, so how well does it work as a camera bag?

Well, according to all the reviews I read, it was the most amazing thing since sliced bread. Honestly, I had a hard time finding anything bad that was said about it. Photographers loved the thing. So I did my best to ignore the TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLAR PRICE TAG, and placed my order with B&H Photo.

I was so thrilled to have finally found the most perfect camera bag ever made that I was walking on air for days.

And then it arrived.

Yes, it is indeed beautiful... but holy shit is it a cluster-fuck of disasters...

  • The wax coating on the canvas scratches very easily. Just removing my bag from the box resulted in some hefty crease marks on every surface. This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me... I'm sure eventually it will have an old weathered look I'll like... but, seriously, why couldn't they just use a standard spray coating? The thing looks beat to shit and I've had it for two days. Two days of doing practically nothing! Heaven only know what it will look like after two weeks of travel!
  • The Brixton has an unremovable strap(!) with very little padding on a shoulder piece that slides all over. It doesn't even have a rubberized coating to keep it from sliding on YOU. This is pathetic and unforgivable for a bag that costs TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS!
  • The handle on top is off-center and off-balance, making it uncomfortable and pretty useless. Why they couldn't have gone dual-handle to make it carry well is a mystery.
  • There is a pocket in the back that's kept closed by magnets, which is nifty. What's not so nifty is that it has no cover-flap and doesn't seal tight, which means water and dust are just going to pour into the thing when you're trekking into nature's wild abandon. The smart thing to do would be to seal it shut with silicone... but... well, it's a pocket. I do love my pockets. There are also two wide-open, unprotected pockets on each side. =sigh=
  • There are two pockets in the front right under the bag's cover flap. They are roomy and deep, which is great... BUT THAT'S ALL THE INTERNAL POCKETS YOU GET?!? Absolutely no provision whatsoever for organizing all the tiny crap that photographers seem to accumulate. This is a horrible problem. My Tamrac spoiled the crap out of me with all the useful little places to organize things. This is awful. I mean, holy crap... NOT EVEN A PENCIL POCKET?!?
  • There is a divider inside so that you can slide in a small (13-inch or less) laptop. This is a welcome addition, but it's attached FLAT with velcro so it's more of a slot than a pocket. That's great for a very thin computer (like the MacBook Air) but just plain wacky for anything else because it distorts the back wall of the main compartment. Why not at least attempt to add some depth there... especially if the whole thing is removable if the customer doesn't want it taking up space! And would it kill Ona to put a piece of rigid plastic at the back of the bag to keep your computer from bending in half as it bends around your body?
  • The internal dividers are way too short. Sure you can stick them higher in the bag, but then small lenses and other items aren't contained as they should be.
  • The brass latches Ona uses to keep the bag closed are kind of a hassle. They slide latched so easily sometimes, but require multiple tries to latch other times. I don't know why... maybe it's because you have to have them lined up perfectly straight? Regardless, anything this finicky has NO place on a camera bag, and they really should have used an alternative.
  • The adjustable buckles on the closure straps are UP-SIDE DOWN and probably the stupidest fucking design flaw I've seen on any piece of luggage. Ever.

That last bullet requires some explanation...

The Brixton Camera Bag Buckle FAIL!!!

As you can see, instead of pointing down, the buckle prong faces upwards. This means the damn thing is pointing out ALL THE TIME! The first time I noticed this, it was because I squeezed by a $1000 wood filing cabinet only to see that The Brixton left an ugly gash in the finish. The next time I noticed it, I dropped my arm to my side where the bag was resting and got punctured (no blood, but it left a mark and hurt like a m#th@f#c%er).

This is a huge, major, massive design flaw.

BUT IT WAS NOT MENTIONED ONCE IN ANY REVIEW I READ! NOT ONCE! What the fuck?!?

Did I perhaps get a defective product or something? I jumped to Ona's own website to see if I could find out. Sure enough, right there in their own marketing photos, the little buckle prong is sticking out all over the place!

The Brixton Camera Bag Buckle FAIL!!!
Photo from Ona Bags

Did nobody at any point during product testing notice this problem? Nobody?! I'm the only one who has been poked and left gashes in furniture? Seriously?!

I just don't get it.

There's a lot of things to like about this bag, but it's so deeply flawed that I just can't comprehend the universal praise it's getting. In order to make it work for me, I'm going to have to...

  • Use some shrink-tubing over the buckles so they're not poking people and fucking up the furniture. This will also (hopefully) dampen the "CLACK! CLACK! CLACK!" you hear when you're walking along with the bag unlatched.
  • Use some kind of small plastic box with dividers for all the small stuff so there's a way to keep it organized and not just sitting in the bottom of a deep pocket in a lump.
  • Pull the velcro dividers out of my other camera bags so I have useable-height dividers in the Ona bag.
  • Wrap anything kept in exterior pockets in plastic bags to keep them clean and dry.
  • Cut off the shoulder strap and replace it with something that's worth a shit.
  • Consider adding a rigid piece of plastic with a felt cover to the back of the bag to better protect my MacBook Air from bending.

My regret is not that I have to modify this bag so that I can use it effectively. That's bound to happen with something as varied and subjective as photography gear. It's that I paid TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-NINE DOLLARS for something that didn't have a lot of thought put into it. Or maybe it did, and the designers made bad choices. I dunno. It's just maddening that no reviewer mentioned any of the shortcomings that come with owning Ona's "The Brixton."

Oh well. Eventually, with modification, it should be a good bag for me. I sure like the way it looks. And it could have been worse.

I could have paid $430 for the all-leather version.

I hate shopping.

   

Akihabara

Posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Dave!To mourn the passage of Apple's Aperture photography cataloging and editing software, there was a discussion thread where people are posting the first photo they ever imported into the program.

Aperture was released in 2005, but the first photos I imported were those I took after having gone 100% digital in 2000. Up until that point, I always took a film camera with me on my travels because I wanted to make sure I had a reliable fallback in case the digital photos turned out horrible (which they often did back then).

But then the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-D700 camera was released. Suddenly I had an unbelievable 2.8 megapixel sensor that could produce dazzling 2048 × 1360 pixel images. Sure that's less than half of what you can get out of a good DSLR today and the quality wasn't that great... but, for the time, it was pretty remarkable. Suddenly I didn't feel the need to drag my film camera around with me. On a trip to Asia I took in October 2000, I was digital only.

And here's the first photo from that batch to be imported into Aperture...

Tom Bailey on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show

That's a picture of Akihabara Denki Gai ("Akihabara Electric Town") in Tokyo, Japan.

Today I shoot in RAW format and take three bracketed exposures for every image. That eats up a hefty chunk of memory but, with 32GB and 64GB SD cards so common (and getting cheaper every day), it's not a big deal. Back in 2000, however, I was constantly switching between Medium Quality (1600 × 1200 or 1.9 MP) and High Quality (2048 × 1360 or 2.8 MP) to save precious space on my 8MB Sony Memory Stick. The above image was shot as 1600 × 1200. Looking back, that was a bad choice because all the straight lines in the image are pixelating quite badly at such low resolution. I should have taken a second to analyze the scene and then selected High Quality mode. But, who knows what I was thinking when I shot it? Maybe I thought that a random street scene wasn't important enough to merit the extra space.

As for Aperture?

Now that it's been discontinued, I've resigned myself to the fact that my last import into the program will be my upcoming trip to Salt Lake City. After that I'll be switching to Adobe Lightroom.

If I'm feeling nostalgic, maybe I'll be sure that the first image I import into Lightroom will be the same first image I imported into Aperture.

   

Sony FE 70-200

Posted on Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Dave!I've never been much of a "telephoto guy." My favorite photography has always been landscapes and architecture, and these subjects have dominated my photos since Day One. With this in mind, I only rarely invest in telephoto lenses... often preferring to sink my money into the best wide-angle glass I can afford. Any lenses I've ever bought with any reach to them have been the cheapest of the cheap. While I may need a long lens one day... I know full-well that it will probably sit in my camera bag unused. They always do.

But with Sony's newer full-frame sensor mirrorless cameras reawakening my love of photography, I've found myself wanting to explore telephoto shooting for some reason. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to get a seriously expensive lens (for me anyway) in the hopes that I'll actually want to use it.

Enter the $1,500 Sony FE 70-200mm...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup
You know it's serious when it's painted white to dissipate the heat it generates with such big glass!

   
Now, let me preface the rest of this entry by saying "I know."

I absolutely know that 200mm seems like a pathetic amount of zoom in an age when even cheap hand-helds are sporting 60× lenses that blow in to a remarkable 1200mm. I mean, shit, 200mm can barely be considered "telephoto" any more, right?

Except...

These handhelds get their astounding reach because they have tiny sensors. A telephoto lens doesn't have to be very big at all to fill them up. Couple that with the slow, cheap optics these cameras use to get to 1200mm, and the quality of photos you're going to see may be decent enough for a hobbyist... but I wanted something more.

And with a full-size sensor, "more" and "quality" translates into a big, big lens. If you've ever watched a pro sports game, you occasionally see the photo-journalists covering the event as they stand behind these massive $10,000+ lenses that are so big and heavy that a tripod is required. And just look at what my little Sony NEX-6 looks like with the 70-200mm zoom...

Sony FE 70-200 on a Sony NEX-6 Body

Can you imagine what a quality 400mm or 600mm lens would be like... assuming Sony ever bothered to build one for these cameras?

Anyway...

Over the past couple days I've been goofing around with my new FE 70-200mm and have been loving every minute of it. Yes, the 200mm seems a little short on my Sony A7-S with its full-frame sensor... but on my NEX-6 with its smaller sensor I get 105-300mm, which is actually a pretty good range for a telephoto lens. Even at the low-end...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Motel Sign

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Forest Light

But it's the high-end that really matters, right? Zooming in to the full 200mm (which is 300mm on my NEX-6) can get me fairly close. Close enough that a good-quality crop is available for 8×10" prints...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

And you might need to crop in some cases because the corners can get a little soft at 200mm. Not so much that you're going to balk... or possibly even notice (this lens has amazing-quality optics, after all)... but it's worth noting.

As expected, the FE 70-200mm comes with Optical SteadyShot (image stabilization) built-in. Hand-held shooting would be really tough if it didn't. Overall, I'm happy with the quality of the OSS in this lens, and most of my shots were rock-steady despite my not being a very steady shooter.

Auto-focusing is generally fast and accurate, but can be frustrating at times. In some cases when I was getting close, the lens was simply incapable of pulling focus, even though what I was aiming at had no obstructions to confuse the contrast sensor... and I was outside the minimum the focusing distance of the lens (1m). I honestly don't know what that's all about, but it's something I'll be keeping an eye on.

The aperture runs f/4.0-22, which is fairly respectable. Though I admit I would've be happier with a maximum of f/2.8, which seems to be standard for this zoom range in other brands. I can't complain too much though... overall I find it plenty bright enough for daylight shoots.

And you can still get a nicely narrow depth of field, if you're into that kind of thing...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

These were all hand-held with no shake and very good sharpness. Which is pretty darn cool, if you ask me.

You have to be careful though. In full-auto, my NEX-6 made some poor choices that resulted in occasional depth-of-field wackiness...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Which sometimes ended up being a good thing...

Sony FE 70-200 Lens Test: Mountains Closeup

Something I was not expecting was the bokeh you get with this lens. It's round! And really beautiful. The specs say that Sony used a 9-blade rounded aperture, which looks more natural to my eye than the typical polygonal patterns I'm used to seeing.

The size/weight of this lens is either really good or really bad, depending on your perspective. At 29.63 ounces (1.85 pounds) it's pretty light when compared to other zooms. But on a small mirrorless camera like my NEX-6, it feels absurdly heavy and positively massive (see photo above).

Other than that, there's not much to tell. I've noticed no chromatic aberration at all. Naturally, it comes with a lens hood and tripod collar. The build quality is very nice, and the lens is sealed to help keep out dust and moisture. Filter size is 72mm, which doesn't seem very common, but I don't have an inventory of anything that large, so it's not a big deal to me. There are four focus-hold buttons around the lens which is always good. You can limit the focal range to increase auto-focus speed at a touch of a switch. Lastly, there's a "panning mode" switch that adjusts the image stabilization to accommodate horizontal movement/tracking (a nice feature, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference when I tried it?).

Given the whopping $1500 price tag, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. How could it be worth that kind of money? But now that I have the Sony FE 70-200mm in my camera bag, I'm not underwhelmed at all. This is a quality lens that shoots beautiful images and provides good value for the money on both Sony's full-size and cropped-sensor cameras. It's also the only choice you have without going with an adapter, as native FE lenses are pretty rare at the moment.

Now I just need to get out there and take some pictures with it.

   

Day Four: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Dave!My vacation was booked through a wonderful company called Ultimate Africa Safaris, an agency specializing in Africa travel. After examining a bunch of different options they came up with that fit my budget, I ended up booking with Wilderness Safaris. They operate a number of camps in Africa, and can provide door-to-door service via Wilderness Air, their internal airline.

After landing at Harare, I was met by the pilot and transferred to a 4-seater Cessna for the flight to Ruckomechi, my first camp stop at Mana Pools in northern Zimbabwe...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

There's not a lot to look at after you pass the outskirts of the city...

Flight from Harare to Mana Pools

After a noisy 1-hour 40-minute flight, we landed near Mana Pools for the drive to Ruckomechi Camp...

Drive to Mana Pools and Ruckomechi Camp

My adventure began before I even got to camp, as I saw impala, warthogs, and zebra along the way...

Mana Pools Zebra

Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi is considered a "Classic Camp," which is surprisingly luxurious for not being one of the top-shelf properties. My tent was more like a nice hotel room than any tent I've ever stayed in...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ooh! A visitor wanders by...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

If you're traveling with somebody, prepare to get to know them a lot better. The shower and toilet are wide open into the main room with not so much as a curtain to separate them...

Ruckomechi Camp Tent

The staff wastes no time in getting you started on your safari adventure. After a welcome drink and a run-through of the camp features and rules, A guide whisked me out to the grasslands to look for game as the sun started to set...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Minutes later I saw my first lion...

Mana Pools Game Drive

And then another...

Mana Pools Game Drive

The animals are fairly close to your jeep, but it helps to have a long lens so you can zoom in on the action. This young male is just starting to have his mane grow in...

Mana Pools Game Drive

Across the Zambezi River is Zambia, which apparently sets half the country on fire every year before the wet season to clear out dead brush. This really sucks ass, because all that smoke drifts into Zimbabwe and fills the sky with smoke. On the up-side, this makes for beautiful sunsets...

Zimbabwe Sunset

On evening game drives, your guide will set up a "sundowner" where you get assorted drinks and snacks. Tonight was home-made potato chips with honey-pepper dip (amazing) and cheese & olive spears...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Ruckomechi is known as "the elephants' favourite camp" because they hang around the place all the time. A big reason for that is the albida trees that drop tasty seed pods that elephants just love...

Zimbabwe Sunset

After the sun went down, it was time to return to camp for dinner...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Which is an impressive affair. Dinner tonight was served buffet-style with fantastic vegetarian options since there were a couple of us staying at Ruckomechi...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Shortly after dinner was concluding, word came that the lions had made a kill just minutes away. Everybody poured into jeeps to go take a look. At night the guides use red spotlights to find animals because it doesn't hurt their eyes...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Sure enough, the lions had gotten a zebra. Unfortunately I only had my pocket camera with me, so I didn't get very good shots of the carnage that ensued...

Ruckomechi Dining Room

Delicious zebra rump roast!

And, just like that, my first day of safari was over.

   

Day Five: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Dave!Attempting to sleep while baboons, hippos, and all manner of other creatures are screeching, howling, grunting, chirping, and making a racket is no easy trick. I certainly hope I get used to it over the next week, because this is going to be a really interesting vacation if I'm sleep-impaired the whole time. I'd use earplugs, but I'm worried about missing the 5:30am wake-up for breakfast and our morning game drive.

One thing adding to the pain of my inability to sleep is having to get up for a bathroom break in the middle of the night. For reasons completely unknown, the tents at Ruckomechi have stone imbedded in the floor and, while they look pretty, they hurt like hell to walk on with bare feet. I stubbed my toe on one last night and it is still throbbing...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

WTF?!?

Ruckomechi has a nice bar area where you can help yourself to drinks or sit and relax any time you want to escape from your room for a bit...

Ruckomechi Lounge

The tents don't have electricity outlets, but there's a power generator you can tap into in the dining room if you need to charge camera batteries and such...

Ruckomechi Recharging

After a nice continental breakfast, it was time to hit the grasslands for a game drive.

I considered myself lucky to have seen two lions on my first day, as there were people ahead of me that stayed for four nights and never saw one. Today I was even luckier, getting to see a lioness and her three young ones enjoying the sunrise right off the bat...

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

Ruckomechi Floor Rocks

After watching the lions wander around a bit, we came across a flock of helmeted guineafowl, well-known in Zimbabwe for their spotted bodies and bright blue heads...

Helmeted Guineafowl

Followed by a baboon on a termite mound...

Baboon in Zimbabwe

And... inexplicably... yet another lion sighting. This time a beautiful young male with his mane growing in pretty good...

Lion in Zimbabwe

It's rare to see hippos out of the water during daylight hours, but we managed to catch one as it made its way from a marshy refuge to the Zambezi River...

Hippo in Zimbabwe

A member of the antelope family, impalas have a rigid social structure where all the boys of the heard battle it out to determine who gets to be the dominate male each season. The winner gets to breed with the females and has the important job of managing the herd. The male is the one with horns...

Impala in Zimbabwe

Impala in Zimbabwe

The losing males form their own herd where they will practice fighting and growing stronger so they can (hopefully) be victorious the next season.

CRAAAAAANE!!!

Spooky Crane

As if I wasn't already lucky enough, we happened across a pack of wild dogs. Our guide said a group of people were in a while ago specifically to see them, but never did after a week of searching. They had just made a kill, so all thirty-two of them were sleeping in a big pile...

Wild Dogs!

Every once in a while a pup would stand up and look around, so we sat around waiting. All of them have interesting calico-type coats that must do a good job of camouflaging them in the bush...

Wild Dogs!

Wild Dogs!

The Mana Pools are home to all kinds of wildlife, and it's all fairly close to camp...

Antelope!

After four hours of wandering around the concession, it was time to head back to camp. When we got there, I was ready to go back to my tent and take a nap, but an elephant was on the path...

Elephant of Ruckomechi

I tried to go around, but another elephant was lounging by my tent...

After five minutes or so, he moved on... but not before staring me down first.

Elephant of Ruckomechi

One of the features of Ruckomechi is an outdoor bath. I haven't taken a bath in over ten years, but it was an opportunity too good to pass up...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Our evening game drive began where the lions made their kill last night. They left a heck of a mess...

Zebra Kill

A few of the lions were still in the neighborhood, which meant the vultures and hyenas were kept away...

Lions

As we drove around looking for a place to have our sundown snack, we saw some really cool birds goofing around. So many of the birds here are colorful, but these were on another level...

Ruckomechi Outdoor Bath

Eventually we found a spot next to a troop of baboons...

Baboons

Africa Sunset

Africa Sundowner Snack

The drive back to camp was fairly uneventful, but it was hard to complain given all the cool stuff I got to see today.

One more day left in Ruckomechi...

   

Day Six: Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Posted on Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Dave!Last night was much quieter so I actually managed to get some sleep, which was nice.

On this morning's game drive, our guide decided to head out to a giant tree that has a massive hole in it. I fully admit that this didn't seem like much of a destination-worthy sight, but if there's one thing I've been learning over the years, it's to trust the local guides.

And so off we went to see a hole.

But before we could get there...

We spotted some elephants destroying a tree. Usually, for a tree this size, they'll just strip the bark off the thing... but this time they decided to knock it over for some reason. Our guide said that this is unusual but, now that it's down, the elephants will keep eating it until there is nothing left...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

And I believed it. The elephants just kept ripping off these huge strips of tree with their trunks and chowing down...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

Maybe they knocked it down so the baby in their group could have some. He was munching away just like the adults...

Elephants Destroy a Tree!

After watching the tree carnage for a while, we headed to the tree with the hole in it... but ended up driving right on by because our guide got a call that three male lions were in the area! A quick five minutes later and one of the others in the jeep spotted them trying to escape from the sun under a bush...

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Lions in the Shade

Even doing nothing, these are beautiful, beautiful animals. And how insane is it that I've been lucky enough to see them three days in a row when there are people who come and see none at all?

After staring at lions for a while, our guide decided to head back to the tree with the hole in it.

Until one of the other jeeps that showed up just as we were leaving reported that an elephant had showed up and was CHASING THE LIONS OUT OF THEIR BUSH! Insane! We pull up just in time to see the last lion get chased off...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Then the elephant was all like "Yeah, I just made three lions my bitch! as he turned towards the jeep and gave us a sideways glance before trumpeting and wandering off... assumably to take on a heard of rhinos or something...

Elephant Chasing Lions!

Anyway... we finally made it to that tree with the hole in it...

Lions in the Shade

Kind of anti-climactic after the stuff we had just witnessed, but okay.

Then we drove around a corner and saw... CROCODILES!

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

This guy decided to be all fancy and make himself a jacket with water hyacinths...

Crocodiles of Zimbabwe

He seems happy about it too!

With all the cool animals around, it's easy to overlook the amazing birds hanging around Mana Pools but, luckily, we have a great guide to point them out...

Bird in Zimbabwe

Warthogs are everywhere, though they tend to be a bit shy so I haven't gotten many photos. This guy decided to strike a pose for me before running off, which was nice...

Bird in Zimbabwe

When they run, warthogs stick their tails straight up in the air. It looks pretty funny, so I'm definitely going to try and get a picture of that.

Today I learned that the beautiful red and blue birds we keep seeing are called "Carmine Bee-Eaters." Apparently they only show up in this area once a year to mate, so I consider myself lucky to have seen so many of them...

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

Carmine Bee-Eater in Zimbabwe

And now, for no reason at all, a baboon running with impalas while eating leaves...

A Baboon Running with Impalas While Eating Leaves

And here's the male of the group, who decided to stop and stare us down as we drove by. Isn't he beautiful?

Impala Alpha Male

AFRICAN WATER BUCK!

Impala Alpha Male

Not cool that they've evolved to have a target painted on their butt. Not cool at all.

And... we're done.

Since it's too early to take a shower when I get up at 5:00am, I've gotten in the habit of taking one when I get back to camp after the morning game drive. Today I decided to try my outdoor shower, which is attached to each tent in the camp. Not that I'm any kind of exhibitionist, but it seemed like it might be a unique experience.

So there I was, towel and shampoo in-hand, walking around the corner of my tent when... BLAM! There's an elephant in my shower.

After nearly dropping a load in my pants, I backed away slowly so I could get my camera. Who would believe it otherwise?

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he cleared out, I was able to take a shower. If you ever have a chance to experience an outdoor shower, I highly recommend it. Not just because your dick gets to air-dry in the wind, but because of the feeling you get of becoming one with nature. Or something like that.

After a nice nap, I headed back to the dining room for lunch and the evening game drive.

You would think that the constant presence of elephants in the camp would be something you get used to... but I assure you that you do not. Especially when the babies are around, as they are one of the most adorable things you'll ever see. This little guy was walking on the path back to camp, so I patiently waited for him to wander off...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

After he left, I came across another baby almost immediately. And even though I kept my distance, momma showed up to let me know that her baby was hands-off. They are very protective that way...

There's an Elephant in my Shower

Tonight I decided to take my game drive via boat, which is a nice option to shake things up a bit.

My adventure started before I even climbed onboard, because there were some zebra, warthogs, and baboons hanging around the dock...

River Cruise Wildlife

As we headed out onto the Zambezi River, we noticed crimson bee-eaters everywhere...

Carmine Bee-Eaters

Turns out that they nest in tiny caves they carve out of the river banks...

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

Carmine Bee-Eaters Nesting

HIPPO ENCOUNTER!

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

Hippos in the Zambezi

The river cruise was nice, as it allowed you to see animals in a different context. Elephants, for example, aren't scrubbing around the ground looking for seed pods... they're ripping up grass in big clumps to eat. What's fascinating about this is that they wash the dirt off the grass before eating it by dunking it in the water several times before slapping it on the ground to dry it off...

Elephants in the Zambezi

There were two elephants teaching a baby how to wash grass. The poor little guy was having a tough time of it, as most of the grass got washed away because he wasn't that skilled at gripping stuff yet. Still adorable...

Elephants in the Zambezi

The sunset was, as expected, glorious...

Zambezi Sunset

Not a bad way to spend my last night in Ruckomechi!

   

Day Seven: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Dave!And so the time I had been dreading since the minute I stepped foot in Ruckomechi has come... it's time to leave. All morning I've been fretting over needing just one more day here to make sure I've gotten the most from my visit to Mana Pools National Park.

Just one. More. Day... that's all I need.

Which is pure fantasy, of course. If I had stayed four nights I would have wanted a fifth. If I had stayed five nights I would have wanted a sixth. The truth is that my visit would always be too short, because the magic here is something you just can't get enough of.

I debated over going on a morning game drive, but ultimately decided against it. Being able to sleep for another hour... being able to pack without being in a rush... and having time to look around the campsite a bit... it was all too compelling.

Besides, I could have a game drive without leaving my tent because I had an elephant out my front window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my back window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And my side window...

Elephants at my Tent!

And even more elephants on the path to the dining room for breakfast...

Elephants at my Tent!

I had already tried the "Bath with a View" yesterday... Ruckomechi also has a "Loo with a View"...

Loo with a View!

When I went back to my tent to pack, a troop of baboons were wandering around my porch... including a mother and baby, which is always an entertaining sight...

Baboons!

How the babies have the strength to hold on like that all day long I don't know. But they somehow manage, even with their mother is in a full run.

After saying goodbye to the amazing Ruckomechi staff, I was off to the airstrip for a flight to the next camp. This time I got to be the co-pilot, which was pretty awesome...

Flight Cockpit

We didn't have enough fuel for the entire flight, so we ended up stopping in Kariba. I always try to take photos of airports I visit, but the pilot warned me not to take a picture of the control tower, as they get pretty upset when people do that. So I zoomed in on the passenger terminal sign in the hopes I wouldn't get shot or or have my camera confiscated or whatever. Kariba's airport, while small, is actually kind of nice. They planted a flower garden out front to look at and the staff was friendly, so I had no complaints...

Kariba Airport

The city of Kariba sits on the shore of beautiful Lake Kariba and is very near Kariba Dam, which is said to be in danger of collapsing...

Kariba

I noticed that some of the small islands in the lake were inhabited, which makes me wonder what would happen to them if the dam breaks and the lake drains...

Spurwing Island

I'm guessing this really cool splotchy island would no longer be an island. At the very least, the size of their beach would increase dramatically.

UPDATE: Now that I'm back, I used Google Maps to find out this is called "Spurwing Island," and looks to be home to a very nice resort property.

The final hop of my flight wasn't very exciting... but there was an occasional watering hole to break the monotony. Like this one, where a heard of elephants was just leaving. You can spot a jeep on the opposite side of the hole, so there must be civilization around here somewhere...

Zimbabwe Watering Hole

After landing at the Linkwasha airstrip in Hwange National Park, it was time to take the hour drive to Davison's Camp (named for the first park warden at Hwange, Ted Davison). At first the drive looked like it was going to be pretty boring...

Hwange Grasslands

But looks can be deceiving. Within five minutes, our guide spotter some really pretty antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Then zebra just minutes after that...

Hwange Zebra

Turns out there were all kinds of animals to look at on the drive, and it ended up being anything but boring.

One of the species we spotted was lions, which means I have been lucky enough to see them every day I've been in Zimbabwe. That's pretty amazing...

Hwange Lion

And then there was this guy, who was rolling around in the grass like a kitten...

Hwange Lion

As I mentioned when arriving at Ruckomechi, Wilderness Safari camps are divided into Premiere, Classic, and Adventure categories. Ruckomechi was a "Classic" property... whereas Davison's Camp is a notch lower, and considered to be an "Adventure" property. I had prepared myself for a drastic step down in quality, so you can imagine my surprise when I was shown to my "tent"...

Hwange Lion

Hwange Lion

Absolutely amazing.

What's nice is that the toilet/shower area offers a bit more privacy than the wide-open spaces in the tent I had at Ruckomechi...

Hwange Lion

As if that weren't enough... NO PAINFUL ROCKS IMBEDDED ON THE FLOOR! and... ZOMG... ELECTRICAL OUTLETS IN THE ROOMS! No more running to the dining room to charge my camera batteries!

It took me all of ten seconds to fall in love with my new home.

Since I arrived late in the day, everybody else at the camp was out on a safari game drive. This meant I got to explore the site a bit and visit with the wonderful staff at the camp. As dinner time approached, we could see the jeeps returning to Davison's, their night-red spotlights ablaze in the distance. But they all stopped short of arriving back at camp because a pride of lions showed up just a short distance away. You could kinda see the animals with your naked eye from where I was standing, but my zoom lens wasn't bright enough to photograph them...

Hwange Lion

The lion-sighting pushed dinner way, way back and I was exhausted, so I grabbed a snack and returned to my tent.

My 5:30am game-drive wake-up will be here all too soon.

   

Day Eight: Hwange, Zimbabwe

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Dave!The biggest difference between the Ruckomechi camp I was at previously and the Davison's camp I'm at now is the size. The concession granted by Hwange National Park here is massive. And it kind of has to be, because the animals are much more spread out. At Ruckomechi, you were just five minutes away from all kinds of animals, and would routinely see bunches of animals quite near to each other. At Davison's, you can dive for 30 minutes or more and not see a thing.

But when you do...

Ooh. I'm getting ahead of myself here.

After breakfast a group of us headed out into the grasslands to see what we could see. At the far end of the concession, there's a grassy plain where herds of animals are usually hanging out, so off we went.

Along the way I saw my first jackal, which is an animal I love...

Hwange Black-Backed Jackal

This black-backed jackal, which, according to Wikipedia is "the most lightly built jackal and is considered to be the oldest living member of the genus Canis. It is the most aggressive of the jackals, being known to attack animal prey many times its own weight, and it has more quarrelsome intrapack relationships." Jackals are fascinating creatures in that they form monogamous pairs. The male and female will mark out a territory where they'll live, hunt, and raise pups together. Once the pups are old enough, they'll head out to find their mates and establish their own territory.

Thirty minutes after our jackal sighting, we arrived at the plains... which were pretty much empty. There were small herds of animals way, way off in the distance that I could kinda spot at maximum zoom, but that was it...

Hwange Plains

A bit disappointing, so we turned into the forrest where we had a little better luck...

Hwange Animals

Hwange Animals

And then... just as I was accepting that we wouldn't be seeing any lions today, vultures were spotted circling low nearby. As we headed in their direction, we started noticing that all the trees were filled with vultures. Dozens and dozens of them...

Hwange Vultures

Hwange Vultures

And then, sure enough, a downed water buffalo was spotted. The vultures were already there in full force, which meant the predator(s) which killed it were long gone...

Hwange Vultures on a Water Buffalo

After a bit of searching, bingo, three lions were found nearby, chillin in the shade after their lunch...

Hwange Lions

When I zoomed in, I noticed their faces were stained pink and flies were piled on... apparently attracted to the blood...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

After that bit of excitement, it was time to head back to camp for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Not far from the lions was a lone buffalo, probably looking for his missing friend...

Hwange Giraffe

I also got to see my first giraffes since arriving in Africa...

Hwange Giraffe

Hwange Giraffe

As they age, giraffes lose their color. Our guide mentioned that this giraffe must be getting quite old because its sides are nearly white...

Hwange Giraffe

And then it was time for my favorite shot I got of the day...

Hwange Giraffe

Isn't she amazing?

Back through the plains...

Hwange Plains

Testing the limits of my telephoto lens with this beautiful green bird here. I was running out of space on my memory card, and ended up shooting the last twenty shots of the drive in JPEG. This would have been a much cleaner image when cropped at 100% if I had gone RAW, but oh well...

Hwange Bird

After a nice long shower followed by a restless nap amidst the screeching baboons outside my door, it was time for the evening game drive...

Room with a View

Like Ruckomechi, Davison's also features a "Loo with a View" that I had to check out...

Loo with a View

Loo with a View

There were some guests that didn't get to see the lions, so I was asked if I minded heading back to the spot we found them this morning. Naturally, I didn't mind at all, so off we went.

The lions had moved, but were still in the vicinity of their kill...

Hwange Lions

Game was a lot more scarce this time around, but we did get to see more jackals, zebras, giraffes, and some warthogs.

Our sundowner snack was at a watering hole our guide liked, providing one of the most amazing sunsets I've seen yet...

Hwange Sunset

That's right out of my Sony A7s when set to "sunset" scene mode! Beautiful, isn't it?

Once the sun had disappeared, it was time to head back to camp. just like the previous night's drive, we ran across some lions... this time with cubs!

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Hwange Lions at Night

Not a bad way to end the day.

Not bad at all.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part One)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Last night's happy encounter with lion cubs had me really, really, wanting to see them in daylight. I was prepared to do some heavy begging for our guide to track them down, but it wasn't necessary. He was on the case, heading out towards their last known location. Which happened to be the railroad tracks.

This being my last day of safari, I was hoping that my record of seeing lions every day would not be broken. Yes, I know that some people make it to Africa and see no lions in the wild at all... so this sounds a bit greedy... but I just don't care. Getting to see lion cubs in the wild is something worth being greedy for.

So there we were, bombing along a road so bumpy that I thought my teeth would fall out... when our guide slams on the brakes, skidding to a stop. Everybody in the jeep was trying to figure out if there was a warthog in the road or something, but that wasn't it at all...

Hwange Lion Tracks

Lion tracks!

And we were off.

It didn't take long.

The lions like high ground so they can better spot their prey. Since the railroad tracks are built up above the grasslands, they like to hang out there a lot...

Hwange Lioness

The lioness was very clever, walking from railroad tie to railroad tie (or railroad sleeper to railroad sleeper, for those of you outside the US) so she wasn't having to walk on crushed rocks...

Hwange Lioness

Once this lion had wandered off the tracks to investigate a tiny antelope (morning snack?), another lioness took her place. This one with a notched ear... and a drooling problem...

Hwange Lioness

She kept looking behind her, which was curious. But then a third lioness joined them and decided to lay down on the tracks to rest...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Our guide explained that the lioness with a notch in her ear must have eaten something the disagreed with her, because she climbed down off the tracks and started eating grass...

Hwange Lioness

Hwange Lioness

Three lions first thing in the morning? Pretty sweet!

But no cubs.

Until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Hwange Lion Cubs

Four. Four cubs!

It was a good time for everyone laying on those warm metal tracks until...

Hwange Lion Cubs

TRAAAAIIIINNNNN!

Must be time for a bath from mom...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Once the train rumbled onto the scene, everybody headed out into the grasslands, disappearing like baseball players into the cornfield in Field of Dreams...

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Hwange Lions

Yeah. I could pretty much go home now. This was everything I was here to see.

When the most amazing thing you've seen in Africa just happened, it's kind of hard to get your mind out of it. I hate to admit it, but all I was hearing was blah blah blah... monkey in a tree...

Hwange Monkey

Blah blah blah... kori bustard, Zimbabwe's largest flying bird...

Hwange Kori Bustard

Blah blah blah... zebras with little birds on them...

Hwange Zebras

Hwange Zebras

Blah blah blah... antelope...

Hwange Antelope

Blah blah blah... weird birds...

Hwange Birds

Blah blah blah... cute baby elephant playing in the mud...

Hwange Baby Elephant

Blah blah blah... pregnant elephant leaving a watering hole...

Hwange Pregnant Elephant

Blah blah blah... sleepy owl in a tree...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

Blah blah... blah blah... blah blah.

And I really feel terrible about being so blasé about these wonderful things... but lions with cubs were still stuck in my head...

Hwange Sleepy Owl

As I sit here pouring over all my photos, I can't imagine a better morning in Africa.

Well, it would have been nice to see a cheetah attacking a rhino or something... but this was pretty amazing.

I'll be back tonight with Part 2.

   

Day Nine: Hwange, Zimbabwe (Part Two)

Posted on Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Dave!Short of an alien invasion, it would have been tough to top this morning's game drive.

So our guide didn't even try.

Instead he decided some rest and relaxation was in order, so he drove us out to a viewing platform where we could watch elephants come down to a watering hole for an evening drink...

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

Hwange Elephant Watering Hole

After that we drove to a nice spot for our sundowner snack to watch yet another glorious Africa sunset...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

Once it got dark, the moon appeared. It looks kinda like an alien planet hanging overhead...

Hwange Sunset Zimbabwe

A leisurely drive back to camp for dinner, and it would seem my day was over.

But not quite.

If you've been keeping up with my trip, a couple nights ago I posted a crappy, blurry photo of some guests out on a night safari looking at lions...

Hwange Lion

It was remarkably unremarkable... except for one thing.

Do you see the stars in the sky?

My new Sony A7s full-frame, high-ISO sensor camera did a really good job of picking them up... even in a blur. I chalked it up to the lack of light pollution out in the grasslands of Zimbabwe.

So... I wonder what would happen if I pointed my camera upwards?

A little experimentation and... holy crap...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

That's really encouraging. I wonder what happens if I tweak the settings on my camera to try and get a better read of the Milky Way?

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Well, damn. Guess I'm interested in astral photography now! That is some seriously cool stuff right there!

It was tough to tear myself away from my camera long enough for dinner but, as usual, the camp chef made it all worthwhile. I am really, really going to miss this place...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

Good night from my last night on safari.

   

Day Ten: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014

Dave!My flight out of Hwange didn't leave a lot of safari time this morning, so last night I asked our guide if I could skip it and just take "the long way" to the airport in the morning. He was fine with that... probably because it meant he got to sleep in a bit late as well... so my day was set.

When it was time to leave, the entire staff was there to see me off. Just like Ruckomechi before them, everybody at Davison's was amazing throughout my entire stay. I can't possibly say enough great things about the people at Wilderness Safaris, and give them my highest possible recommendation.

Anyway...

when driving "the long way" to the airport for my flight, we happened upon something I hadn't seen yet in Africa... ostriches!

Hwange Ostriches

Just as the pair went tearing off into the grasslands, the radio came to life. I couldn't understand a word because the person was speaking Shona or some other language I couldn't recognize, but it was clear that something important was happening.

Turns out it was lions. They were at the camp watering hole.

Knowing how much I love these animals, the guide floored it back to camp. I was more than a little excited at seeing lions again, as that would mean I had lucked out in seeing them every day I was on safari. Alas, they were no longer at the watering hole, so off we went to track them down.

Fifteen minutes later and... heeeeeere's Simba! Apparently looking for his mom...

Hwange Lion Cub

Hwange Lion Cub

And here she comes...

Hwange Lionness

The cub was nice enough to look back one last time as we drove off to the airport. Goodbye there, little fella...

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

And I finally got that running warthog photo I've been trying for...

Hwange Warthog

And a last look at a jackal...

Hwange Warthog

Then the time had finally come... we arrived at Linkwasha Airstrip and it was time to go...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I got to play co-pilot again, which is fun... despite all the bodily injury or death...

Hwange Warthog

Next stop? Victoria Falls. And their nice, big landing strip...

Hwange Warthog

Hwange Warthog

I ended up staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel, which is the hotel to stay at in the area. It has a long, illustrious history and has been host to a slew of famous people... from kings and queens to movie stars and socialites. As you would expect, it's quite the nice place to stay...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Though I usually loathe to eat at hotel properties... the price is always high and the quality mostly sucks... I was too hungry to venture out into town. So I ate at the Victoria Falls Hotel "Stanley's Terrace" restaurant, which ended up being very, very nice. The tomato gnocchi with asparagus and parmesan shavings I had was delicious...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The grounds are meticulously cared for. And not only does the hotel have an exclusive path to Victoria Falls, it also has a view of the canyon bridge at the end of the falls...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

The only fault I have with the hotel so far is that some of the decor is a bit gruesome. I know game hunting is a part of the history here, but it's still sad to see these beautiful animals slaughtered for the sake of wall ornaments...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The rest of the decor, however, is amazing. There are old posters, photos, and memorabilia from throughout the hotel's history... all of it fascinating...

Victoria Falls Hotel

The evening was capped by a Zambezi River cocktail cruise.

Anybody who knows me knows that this is definitely not my thing. But it was something to do, so sign me up.

I have to admit, it was actually quite nice. It also topped-out at two hours, so it was just the right length of time...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

As you pull into dock, the entire crew comes out and sings to you. It's pretty wonderful...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Not a bad way to end the evening, really. If you ever find yourself in Victoria Falls and want to take a river cruise, I'm happy to recommend Nash and his crew of the Zambezi Explorer Cruise Company...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

And that was that. Back to the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

Where I noticed a wonderful mural in the lobby entrance...

Victoria Falls Zambezi River Cruise

It commemorates the old BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) route that flew from Southampton, UK to Johannesburg, South Africa via Augusta, Sicily; Alexandria, Egypt; Khartoum, Sudan; Port Bell, Uganda; and (of course) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. It was a mail/passenger route that began in 1948. The plaque below the mural says the flight was serviced nearby, permitting an overnight stay at this hotel for passengers. The stop was affectionately known as "Jungle Junction" (which now happens to be the name of one of the restaurants at the hotel).

And... that's a wrap. For tonight anyways.

All that's left for me here is a visit to the actual Victoria Falls...

   

Day Eleven: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted on Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Dave!I woke up confused this morning because everything was silent... no hippos grunting or baboons screeching. That should have made me happy, but I felt quite sad about it. My vacation is pretty much over now, and this is my last day. Guess I should probably try to make the most of it.

I was not going to go all the way to Zimbabwe without visiting Mosi-oa-Tunya, better known as "Victoria Falls." As the largest waterfall in the world, you pretty much have to, right?

From Wikipedia...

While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. In height and width Victoria Falls is rivaled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazu Falls.

Of course, all those facts and figures only apply to Victoria Falls in the wet season when the falls are at their peak volume, whereas I'm visiting during the dry season when the falls are at their weakest. At first I was worried that it wouldn't be worth the trip because the water would be dried up to a trickle, but I was assured this is actually the best time to see the falls... if you're here in the wet season, you can barely see them because everything is shrouded in mist.

So off I went on my guided tour.

Which starts off with a statue of David Livingstone (I presume!)... who discovered the falls. And by "discovered" I mean "was the first European to see them"...

Victoria Falls Livingstone Statue

Just like America being "discovered" by Columbus and Angkor being "discovered" by Mouhot, it doesn't count as a discovery unless you're the one writing the history books, I suppose.

Turns out the falls are so huge that you can't actually see the whole thing on the ground. Instead you have to view it in sections.

First up... the Devil's Cataract...

Victoria Falls

This section of the falls is active all year and is the most impressive spot during the dry season. If you walk around the end of the chasm, there's a lookout where you can see the Main Falls starting off in the distance...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Looking back at the Devil's Cataract, I spotted my first rainbow of the day...

Victoria Falls

Next up... the Main Falls, which are also active all year. If it were the wet season, you wouldn't be able to see any rock at all, just gushing water and mist...

Victoria Falls

Continuing on along Main Falls...

Victoria Falls

And here's where things get interesting. If you look at the top of the falls in the middle of the photo above, you'll see people standing on a rock outlook. They are there to take a dip in The Devil's Pool, which is a spot at the top of the falls where the rock formation creates a naturally-occurring dead spot in the current. When I tried to photograph these insane people, all I could see was mist... but after a few minutes in Photoshop...

Victoria Falls

Though it's actually more impressive if you pull back a bit...

Victoria Falls

WTF?!? There have been people who have gone over the falls and died attempting this, so... yikes.

Anyway...

Here is my attempt to capture as big a chunk of the Main Falls as possible...

Victoria Falls

And that's about it for the falls, as everything else is pretty much dried up this time of year. Here's Horseshoe Falls...

Victoria Falls

Just a "trickle" (comparatively speaking) at the end...

Victoria Falls

Rainbow Falls is also mostly dried up, but still pretty...

Victoria Falls

Once you get to the end of the falls, you can walk around a corner and get a terrific view of the Victoria Falls Bridge which links Zimbabwe and Zambia. It looks like it's in the middle of being painted just now...

Victoria Falls

Despite my best efforts, I wasn't very happy with my photos of the falls. Even with Photoshop magic, the mist was always messing with the images by making them look faded and blurry. And this is the dry season! I can only guess how impossible they must be to photograph in the wet season!

That's when my guide said that the only way to truly photograph the falls was from the air. And, lucky me, she just happened to know where I could book a helicopter ride and reservations were made.

While I waited for my arial view of the falls, I walked downtown and had some lunch...

Pizza Inn at Victoria Falls

After that? Helicopter time!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

SHOTGUN!

Helicopter Tour at Victoria Falls

At $140 it was definitely more than I wanted to pay, but I have to say it was totally worth it...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

So... bucket list item accomplished? Not quite.

After visiting the falls, you have to go for high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel...

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

The price is $30 for up to four people, and the scones are among the best I have ever had... subtlely sweet and with just the right amount of crumble...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

Except... ultimately I was disappointed with my experience. The service, which was so amazing yesterday at lunch, was severely lacking. The tea was dumped off at the table with absolutely no explanation or even so much as a hint as to what you're being served. At most places I've gone for high tea, they will happily tell you what you're drinking (usually it's a custom, exclusive tea blend from some exotic location or something).. and they'll also let you know how much longer you should wait for the tea to steep so you can enjoy it at its best. Today? Nothing. And then I had to wait for my sandwiches and sweets, which took FOREVER to arrive (maybe they bake them to order?) and my table was never checked on even once while I waited for my waiter to bring them. This was inexplicable because there were maybe four other tables occupied in the entire restaurant, and I think my waiter was only responsible for two of them. And speaking of my waiter, after he dumped off the food service, that's the last I ever saw of him... at least voluntarily. After waiting way, way too long for somebody to refill my water glass, I finally got up and went to the bar to see if they could help me. The hostess chased me down to find out why I was at the bar and, once I told her, asked me to please take a seat and she would have my waiter bring me more water. Which he did... five minutes later. Same thing for trying to pay the check. I finally begged the hostess to chase down my waiter again so I could pay and leave. I swear... no exaggeration... it took yet another ten minutes for him to show up. I have no frickin' clue what in the hell my waiter was doing today, but it sure wasn't waiting on my table. Sorry... but for THIRTY FRICKIN' DOLLARS FOR TEA at a FIVE STAR PROPERTY with the reputation of the VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL I expected better.

If the service was worth a shit, I'd say high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel is a must-experience event when you're in town. As it is? Well, despite the terrific tea and a delicious snack tray I liked very much... you've been warned. Bring your patience.

After tea I was considering heading back to the falls for a dusk viewing. But the entrance fee I paid this morning is one-time only, and going back would mean another $30 admission fee so I skipped it. Instead I wandered through the hotel looking at the vast amount of history displayed on the walls, then went back to my room to pack.

And now I'm trying to deal with the trauma in knowing that my vacation is over...

Victoria Falls Hotel High Tea

So far as vacations go, however, this was a great one.

   

Bullet Sunday 400

Posted on Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Dave!Everything's coming up picture perfect... because a very special Bullet Sunday on Tuesday FOUR HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY "WHAT'S IN YOUR CAMERA BAG" EDITION starts... now...

   
• Sony NEX-6 Camera. This is my main shooter, which I reviewed here back in May, 2013. Because it's a mirrorless camera, it is small, light, and perfect for travel... yet maintains the photo quality of a bigger, heavier DSLR. The one big caveat is that it doesn't have a full-frame sensor, so there's a crop factor for any full-frame lenses you attach. This actually ended up being a benefit on my recent trip to Africa, because my 70-200mm FE lens becomes a 105-300mm lens, making it much easier to zoom in on animals in the bush...

Hwange Lion Cub Goodbye

There's not much I don't like about the NEX-6... except the start-up time, which is kinda slow and did cost me a shot or two. Otherwise? A wonderful camera that is capable of delivering great photos. Will probably trade it in for a full-frame sensor camera before my next big trip (hopefully the successor to the Sony A7r.

16.1MP • ISO 100-25600 • $748 (discontinuted) • ★★★★☆

   
• Sony A7s Camera. I bought the latest Sony mirrorless camera specifically for night-shooting on my Africa trip. I knew there would be game drives in the evening, and wanted every possible advantage in getting clean shots. The A7s is made for this kind of shooting with its high ISO full-frame sensor, and gave me images I would have had a very hard time getting with any other camera. This post-sunset shot, for example, was taken in near-darkness. It was so dark that I could barely see, and didn't know what I had captured until after I looked at the camera's display...

Night Shooting with the A7s

Yes, things get a bit grainy when shooting at those monster ISO levels, but at least you get a shot...

Night Shooting with the A7s

For red-light safari drives in total darkness the A7s really shines, giving me shots that my NEX-6 couldn't hope to touch...

Night Shooting with the A7s

The A7s loves low light and, quite by accident one night, I discovered what this would mean if I shot the night sky...

Zimbabwe Night Sky Milky Way

The ability to shoot in near-blackout conditions comes at a price, however. The sensor resolution is a meager 12.2 megapixels. This will turn off a lot of photographers who equate megapixels with photo quality, as a 4240 x 2832 image seems weak compared to the 7360 x 4912 you'll get out of other cameras in this price range. But all the pixels in the world can't save a shot if your camera records a big black blob, so it was a trade-off I was happy to make. And after looking at the amazing photos I managed to get, I have zero regrets. The A7s has terrific video capabilities, but I'm not a video shooter, so I'm taking Sony's word for it.

12.2MP • ISO 100-102400 • $2,499 • ★★★★★

   
• Sony DSC-HX50V. As a backup-backup (hey, how many times will I get to go on safari in Africa?) I needed a camera with some reach to it, and started shopping for ultra-zooms. The field has gotten really competitive, and finding the right camera was tough. Ultimately size was the deciding factor for me, and Sony's pocketable HX50V fit the bill perfectly. Sure, I would sacrifice some zoom (it's 30x when others in this arena are at 50x), and not being able to shoot RAW was disappointing, but it's a camera I could slip in my pocket and have with me at all times that I'd barely notice.

Sony DSC-HX50V

Turns out the image quality is quite nice (for JPEG) so long as you don't zoom too much, and the HX50V is a capable little shooter that I was happy to have on me for those times my camera bag was back at my tent. But ultimately I regretted my purchase for one big reason... no eyepiece viewfinder. The only way to compose a shot was to use the display on the back, which is completely obliterated in bright light! Under the African sun this camera was rendered totally useless. I couldn't see a damn thing to compose a shot, and was shooting blind any time I was out of the shade (even when setting the screen to max brightness). If you buy this camera, I hope you'll only be shooting indoors or in overcast conditions, because that's all its good for. Still, it DOES have a GPS... which is more than I can say for the much more expensive Sony's listed above. I took an occasional shot with this camera just so I could use the GPS info to geotag my other photos, and it worked pretty great for that... meriting an extra star.

20.4MP • 30x • ISO 80-3200 • f/3.5(W)-f/6.3(T) • $325 • ★★☆☆☆

   
• Sony FE 70-200 f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. Go with a cheap zoom lens to get the reach you need... or go with a quality zoom lens and crop the reach you want? It's a question that every photographer has to grapple with at some time in their lives. In the past I've just gone for the cheapest zooms I could find because I don't use them very often. But for my Africa trip, I decided to invest heavily in a good zoom because the quality of the image was what's important to me... even if I wasn't as close as I'd like to be. And since Sony only makes one E-mount zoom with any reach to it, the FE 70-200mm, my decision was made for me. I reviewed the lens back in August, and have only one thing to add to this remarkable addition to my camera arsenal... WHY IN THE HELL DOESN'T SONY HAVE A SWITCH-LOCK ON THE IMAGE STABILIZATION SWITCH?!? Every time I slid this lens into my camera bag, image stabilization would slide off. So the next time I'd go to shoot a lion (or whatever) I'd end up with blurry camera shaken images until I'd remember to turn it back on. This is categorically stupid. At no time... none did I ever want the "Optical Steady Shot" turned off, yet there was no way to lock it in the "on" position. Very, vey frustrating. But, once I remembered to switch OSS on, I was getting some fantastic shots from this lens...

Zimbabwe Crimson Bee-Eater

Zimbabwe Game Drive

Sure it's big and at almost 2 pounds it's a bit heavy too... but you can't argue with the results. Crisp images, beautiful bokeh, fast auto-focus... I was very, very happy to have this full-frame wonder with me on safari, and was much relieved that I spent the money to have a quality telephoto in my camera bag. 90% of my photos were shot with it. Minus a star for the lack of an image stabilization switch lock... and for not having a bit better aperture (it's locked at a consistent f/4 though, which is nice)... but if you're an E-mount shooter, this is the zoom to get.

70-200mm (full-frame), 105-300mm (cropped) • f/4 • $1,499 • ★★★★☆

   
• Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E-Mount Lens. I skipped the kit lens for my A7s full-frame sensor camera because I wanted some glass that would really let it shine. Unfortunately, my choices were limited, because Sony doesn't have many options when it comes to FE prime lenses. Ideally, I wanted a 35mm with image stabilization and a maximum aperture of f/1.4... but it doesn't exist. A 35mm with NO image stabilization and a pokey f/2.8 aperture is as close as I can get. And, to make matters worse, Sony is charging a whopping $800 for it. In all honesty, I don't think the Zeiss name justifies such a heinous price tag, but what choice do I have? None at all. Yet despite the absurd cost, this lens has a lot going for it. It's small and light. It focuses blazingly fast. It's super-sharp. Color is very good. And I got some really nice shots with it...

Zimbabwe Sunset

Victoria Falls Hotel Scone

Night sky images were mind-bogglingly great...

Zimbabwe Night Sky

The slow aperture was never a problem on my NEX-6 in the sunlight nor on my A7s with its amazing low-light capabilities, but I still find it disappointing... f/2.8 on a 35mm? Who does that any more? This, along with the crazy-stupid price tag drops two stars from my rating, even though the FE 35mm is a darn fine lens once all is said and done. And yet... I keep coming back to the cost. EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? For THESE specs? Holy crap I hope Sony gets their heads out of their asses and starts producing affordable FE lenses soon.

35mm (full-frame), 50mm (cropped) • f/2.8 • $799 • ★★★☆☆

   
• Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. I shoot a lot of wide angle, so this lens was purchased alongside my NEX-6 on day one. I absolutely love it. Small and light for a wide angle. Really sharp. Great color. Quick to focus. Image stabilized. And all at a reasonable cost! As if that weren't enough... even though it was designed for the cropped sensor on Sony's NEX cameras, it works amazingly well on my full-frame A7s if you limit the focal range! Amazing! This lens fulfills the promise of mirrorless cameras, and proves Sony doesn't need Zeiss (or Zeiss' absurd price tag) to give their customers a great lens. And though I didn't get much use out of it in Africa, it's the one lens that's always in my camera bag...

Victoria Falls Hotel

Victoria Falls Hotel

Zimbabwe Grasslands

If you've got an E-mount camera, this is the lens to own. Fantastic for landscapes, yes... but I use it all the time for just about everything (the wide angle distortion is very easy to correct in Photoshop). Thank you, Sony.

10-18mm (cropped) • f/4-f/22 • $849 • ★★★★★

   
• Apple 11-inch MacBook Air. I'm using an iPad more and more for things like email and web browsing, but when it comes to photography, there's simply no substitute for Photoshop on a Mac. My MacBook Pro excels at running Photoshop, but is way too big and heavy to tuck in a camera bag. Fortunately, Apple has a diminutive solution that tucks easily in my bag, and it runs Photoshop just fine thanks to the 8GB memory option...

MacBook Air 11

Until Microsoft manages to come up with a "Surface" tablet/PC hybrid that's worth a crap... or Apple comes up with a MacBook Air that has a retina display touchscreen I can give five stars... this will certainly do.

1.7GHz i7 • 8GB RAM • 256GB SSD • $1,250 • ★★★★☆

   
• Transcend Information USB 3.0 Card Reader. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in the MacBook Air 11-inch model to fit a card reader, so you need to buy an external one. This Transcend model takes advantage of the USB 3 speed of my MacBook and accepts SDHC, SDXC, microSD, microSDHC, and microSDXC cards. Cheap, compact, and does the job. If they could remove the micro card compatibility (that I'll never use) to shrink it even further, I'd give it five stars.

$7 • ★★★★☆

   
• B+W Kaesemann XS-Pro Circular Polarizer. I have UV haze filters on all my lenses to protect the optics, but I stopped using "creative" filters ages ago. Between in-camera functions and Photoshop, I just don't need them. But every once in a while, it's handy to have a circular polarizer in your bag. B+W makes my favorite filters... pricey, but high-quality, so all I had to decide was whether or not I would go with the Kaesemann variant or not. Ultimately I went with Kaesemann, despite the added cost, because they don't "gray things up" like a traditional polarizer can. The only time I ended up using the thing in Africa was when I was shooting through a helicopter window...

Victoria Falls

It helped take the glare of the sun off the water, which was nice, but the shake of the copter coupled with the lack of image stabilization on my lens kinda sabotaged my efforts to get great shots. Oh well.

Kaesemann XS-Pro, MRC Nano Filter • $89 • ★★★★★

   
• VisibleDust Hurricane Blower. Dust and moisture are the enemy of photographers who rely on clean, dry optics to get the best image quality. Having a blower on-hand is essential, and I was using it several times a day while in Africa. At home I have a Giottos Rocket Blaster, but I wanted something a bit smaller to take with me, so the VisibleDust Hurricane got the job. Works great.

$14 • ★★★★★

   
• LensPen Lens Cleaner. The only lens cleaner I use. Has a good quality brush on one end and a concave lens swab coated with a carbon compound (from the lid) on the other. Works perfectly every time.

$10 • ★★★★★

   
• SanDisk 32GB Extreme Plus UHS-1 SDHC Class 10 Memory Cards. It took me a while to settle on a memory card manufacturer I like best, but once I got my hands on the SanDisk Extreme Plus line my camera storage of choice was found. They're tough, reliable, and blazingly fast... yet don't break the bank. Which is good, because I've stopped re-using memory cards. They're small size makes them all too easy to slip into a safe deposit box, thus providing the perfect backup of your precious memories. Sure you can save money by going with a cheaper card, but is it worth taking the chance something will go wrong and you'll lose all your photos? Not to me. There's higher-capacity versions of the Extreme Plus, but 32GB stores more photos than I can manage as it is, so I don't want to go bigger.

$38 • ★★★★★

   
• Oben TT-100 Table-Top Tripod. This tiny tripod slips easily into my camera bag, but still manages to secure my camera perfectly. Unlike some smaller tripods, the Oben has a ball head which made it really handy to get the perfect angle for a shot. A great product... I just wish it was a bit easier to tighten and manipulate.

$35 • ★★★★☆

   
Add some extra camera batteries, a couple of battery chargers, a ballpoint pen, a Sharpie marker, and some unscented wipes to keep everything clean, and I'm done!

As for what camera bag I use? That's another story...

   

Bullet Sunday 401

Posted on Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Dave!Put down that pumpkin spice latte... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Fall? Somehow Autumn got here and I missed it. Time to get the blankets out of storage, I suppose.

   
• Astrophotography. After my happy accident in discovering astrophotography in Africa, I spent my evening Googling about it. Turns out there's an entire site devoted to the hobby called Lonely Speck. Very cool. Ironically, there's a review of my new Sony A7s camera there... for astrophotography...

Lonely Spec Image
Image by Ian Norman of Lonely Speck

Now I wished I lived in an area where there's no light pollution so I can shoot the stars.

   
• Tasty! And now... BIG CATS EATING MARMITE!

Borders on cruelty to animals, I say.

   
• Kick Drum Heart. It's not the chase that I love....

...It's me following you.

   
• Gum! Ooh! Please! Please! Please! Let this be happening.

Laura Palmer Dead. Wrapped in plastic.

SHE'S DEAD! WRAPPED IN PLASTIC! Again?

   
• Fall Season. And so here's my assessment of the new Fall shows so far...

  • A to Z. Not my thing, but cute. I could use a little more "cute" in my life, so I'm going to keep watching until I can't take it any more. Probably three episodes.
  • Bad Judge. Bad. Every joke is so forced and horrifically telegraphed as to make me feel insulted as a viewer. Kate Walsh is not unlike-ably like-able... she's unlike-ably unlike-able. How in the hell did this pilot go to series?
  • Black-ish. Funnier than I expected. A terrific cast with stories that actually have something to say about race. What's not to like?
  • Forever. Boring. I liked it better when it was called New Amsterdam.
  • Gotham. I'm obligated to watch because I'm a huge Batman fan. Surprisingly, I didn't hate it despite the complete re-write it does for the Bat-Universe origins.
  • How to Get Away With Murder. Viola Davis killing it. But with a show premise that seems destined to fade. Guess we shall see.
  • Madam Secretary. A show that feels like it's composed of all the mundane bits scraped off the floor of the writer's rooms for The West Wing and Scandal. Still... I do like Tea Leoni, and she's not terrible in this. Guess I'll give it a couple more episodes to see if that's enough.
  • Manhattan Love Story. Not my thing, but oddly appealing. Well, half of it is. What I don't understand is why the guy is written so cool, together, and funny... while the gal is written as a flighty, neurotic, gullible mess. Is that supposed to be funny? Who would want to date that?
  • Scorpion. How can a show about geniuses be so damn stupid? Nothing makes sense. Nothing is even remotely grounded in reality. Nothing is appealing enough to make you overlook just how outrageously asinine this show is.
  • Selfie. Lord save us. How did Amy Pond get HERE?
  • Transparent. Holy crap. Television doesn't get more original than this. Which explains why it's on Amazon Prime Streaming.

   
And... I'm spent. No more bullets for you.

   

Transfer

Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2014

Dave!After Apple discontinued their Aperture photo software, Adobe promised to deliver a plugin for their competing "Lightroom" product that would allow you to import your Aperture library into Lightroom.

Thanks, Adobe!

Yesterday the plugin was finally released.

Thanks, Adobe!

Today I spent just over five hours performing the import. Only to find that -zero- photos had actually been imported.

Thanks, Adobe!

   

Portlander

Posted on Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Dave!I left Auburn at noon and was back in Portland by 1:00... just in time for lunch.

But first I had to spend a half hour scraping snow and ice off my rental car. This included the tires, which had frozen to the ground...

Tires frozen in the snow.

The Ford Focus I rented is a pile of crap for many reasons. Primary of which is the horrendous gas mileage. Driving the 80 miles to Auburn and back killed... I shit you not... A HALF-TANK OF GAS! As if this wasn't bad enough, the car is just awful design-wise. Massive, glaring blind spots. A driver console that has no place to put your mobile phone. Uncomfortable seats. Utterly shitty "Sync by Microsoft" computer system that's as intuitive as a nuclear reactor to control. And then you get to the outside where you have this fucking huge gap between the hood and the windshield that is so cavernous and deep that it's extremely difficult to dig all the snow out of it. Even if you have a brush, there are ridges in there that makes it much more trouble than it's worth...

Shitty fucking Ford design.

No wonder everybody wants a foreign car... their designers actually think about shit like this.

But anyway...

For reasons completely unknown, Portland, Maine has some really excellent pizza restaurants. This is nice because it takes the edge off the misery you experience when visiting in the cold, snowy, wet, days of Winter. A place I had wanted to visit but never got around to last time I was here was OTTO Pizza...

OTTO Pizza Building.

OTTO Pizza Door.

They are kinda famous for their Butternut Squash, Ricotta & Cranberry pie...

OTTO Pizza Pizza.

Sounds weird, I know. But it is pretty wonderful. Creamy with subtle flavors that taste amazing together...

OTTO Pizza Slice.

It's important to eat it while it's hot though. As soon as it gets cold the texture gets kind of rubbery and weird.

OTTO's itself is a nice enough place. Kind of eclectic in a rustic way. Service is pretty good too. The only thing I hated is that somewhere in the restaurant there's a piano that kids are, apparently, welcome to bang all over. This makes an ungodly racket that completely ruins the experience of eating here. And I cannot fathom why in the hell they allow it. They must know that it's irritating as fuck to listen to that shit... so why put your customers through the agony? Stupid.

After some various errands, it was my plan to get some sleep.

Or not.

I made the foolish mistake of checking my email only to find a problem that required me to head back out into the cold, snowy, raining, wet misery I had just escaped from. At least I was smart enough to bring my camera along with me. I didn't have it on my previous trip, and really wanted to take a shot of the Harbor Fish Market (which proved impossible with my iPhone). It's a beautiful building with amazing lighting that has a steady flow of customers pulling up all day...

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

Portland's Harbor Fish Market.

From there I wandered around for a while to see if I could find anything else interesting to shoot...

Portland Lobster Co.

Portland Lock Fence

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

Portland Maine

I finished up my evening at my favorite restaurant in the city... Flatbread Company. I was still stuffed with OTTO pizza, so dinner was out of the question. But Flatbread Company makes some of the best desserts I've ever had, so I decided to try their Apple Crisp...

Portland Flatbread Company Apple Crisp

Not as jaw-dropping amazing as their wild blueberry desserts (which are out of season, darnit!), but still fantastic. Fortunately their chef is smart enough to know that RAISINS HAVE NO PLACE IN APPLE CRISP EVER!!! I frickin' hate it when somebody ruins a good apple crisp by dumping raisins in it. BLECH!

And now, at long last, that sleep I've been trying to chase down all day...

   

Cold

Posted on Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Dave!The Plan was to fly out today since my work ended yesterday so I could have more time on my upcoming Hard Rock adventure. But to follow The Plan would cost four times the money than a hotel stay, so I'm instead flying out tomorrow morning. Early.

The rest of this entry should be prefaced with the understanding that cold Maine is cold. Very cold. Biting cold. Cold with a side of cold and a scoop of cold on top.

It's really f'in cold.

And it's Sunday in the off-season, so there's not much to do in Portland, Maine. Thus my incentive to go outside is not very high. So I didn't until the hotel kicked me out at noon. At which time I checked into my airport hotel, returned my rental car, then took a taxi back into the city because pizza and apple crumble was calling at Flatbread Company...

Apple Crumble at Flatbread Co. Portland, Maine

To say I love this restaurant is a gross understatement. The location is great. The atmosphere is great. The service is great. The beer selection is great. The food? Beyond great. Especially the desserts, which are worth a trip to Portland all by themselves.

Did I mention it's cold?

Yet I went wandering downtown anyway like the fool I am. Despite wearing a T-shirt, thermal henley, hoodie sweatshirt, and a coat, I was still freezing. But I wanted to get a shot of the fence with locks on it in daylight, so off I went...

Love Locks Project

Love Locks Project

To profess their undying, never-ending love, a couple will write their names on a lock, attach it to the fence, then throw away the key. I have no idea if you come back with a bolt-cutter if things don't work out, but it's a nice idea.

I decided to explore somewhere new this time around, and left the Old Port area for downtown. That's when I saw... MAINE LOBSTERMAN!

Love Locks Project

Sculpted for the New York 1939 World's Fair, this piece has an interesting history (which you can read about here). At first I thought that the guy was giving first aid to a lobster with a hurt claw, but that's apparently not the case at all...

Love Locks Project

He's actually "pegging" the poor thing... which is to say he's shoving a wooden peg in the claw joint so it can't be opened (so he can't pinch anybody). This practice has mostly been abandoned, and now they just wrap a plastic band around the claw. Still a bit cruel, but I'm guessing it's not as painful to the lobster. At least until he gets boiled alive.

As I was walking, I saw a really cool painting on the side of a building that was meant to mimic a giant blueprint being laid over the structure...

Blueprint Building

Blueprint Building

Just across the street is a giant postcard painting that's also pretty cool...

Greetings from Portland!

Greetings from Portland!
Click the above photo to embiggen it...

If you look closely, the "lighthouse" is actually a spray-can...

Greetings from Portland!

At this point I was so cold that I could barely move, so I called a taxi while taking a few last photos as the sun set...

Love Locks Project

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

Portland Holiday Tree Lights

And that was that.

Back to my airport hotel room where I can (hopefully) get a few hours sleep before my early morning flight.

   

Bullet Sunday 413

Posted on Friday, December 26th, 2014

Dave!Yeah, yeah, it's Friday and I'm two days early... but I can't mess up my end-of-year lists, so... Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Box! Ooh... look... it's the day after Christmas!

DAVETOON: Bad Monkey with boxing gloves saying Happy Boxing Day

Assuming you celebrate that kind of thing.

   
• Monkeymedic! When a monkey was badly shocked by an electrical line, a monkey friend did their best to revive him...

Monkey buddies for life!

   
• Land! One of the gifts from Cards Against Humanity's Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa ended up being one square foot of an island in Maine that they renamed Hawaii 2. My piece is here...

Looks like I'm going to have to see if there's a way to get there for my next trip to Maine!

   
• Cute! There's an article titled 25 of The Cutest Parenting Moments In The Animal Kingdom that's totally worth a look. Though I'd say a photo I took when I was at Mana Pools in Africa of two elephants teaching a baby elephant how to wash grass is just as cute as any of them...

Elephants in the Zambezi

And a photo I took of a mother lion giving her reluctant cub a bath when I was at Hwange National Park is equally sweet...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

Doesn't get much more adorable than nature.

   
• Horrifying! And now for something that's the exact opposite of cute. I was playing Godus (quite a trick when the pile of crap crashes all the time) when a rival tribe, the Astari, started having a celebration. If the celebration makes their people happier than my people, some of my people will defect. I didn't want this to happen, so I used my god powers to call down a meteor strike. I was hoping if I busted some of their buildings they wouldn't be quite so happy. Unexpectedly, all hell broke loose. Before I knew it, all the buildings... and all the little people... were on fire...

Hwange Lion Cub Bath

The whole scene was just awful, and I felt terrible all day for the horrific destruction I unleashed. I was going to call down some rain to extinguish everything, but the population plummeted to zero and the entire tribe was gone. Guess this is what happens when people try to play god.

   
• Quest! I'm a bit obsessed with Questlove, best known as co-founder and lead drummer for The Roots (the house band on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon). He absolutely mesmerizes me with his musical talent... especially when he sits in on drums with a guest band at the last minute (always flawlessly). He can play drums on A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Despite being a fan, I never knew he had a memoir out until last week when I discovered... quite by accident... the book "Mo' Meta Blues." It is fantastic. The guy is even more brilliant than I imagined. Highly recommend checking it out...

The World According to Questlove

If you need convincing, here's a terrific excerpt over at Salon.

   
• ASSHOLERY! One of my favorite internet services is DropBox. It's a storage space in the cloud that allows me to share files and keep my work handy no matter where I am or which computer I'm using. I've been paying for DropBox space for years, and have come to rely on its ease and convenience. At least I did until the last update when the fucking assholes moved the buttons to open the DropBox folder and open the DropBox website... replacing them with a "Pro" button...

DropBox Assholery

And since I am so accustomed to where the buttons used to be, I'm forever accidentally clicking on that stupid-ass "Pro" button, opening up their idiotic "PAY US MORE FUCKING MONEY" website which I DON'T WANT. And I am absolutely livid. First DropBox trains everybody where to click to get what they need... then they trick you into clicking on an ad? terrific way to treat your customers.

UPDATE: I do have a "Pro" account that doesn't expire until April 2015 and has PLENTY of space available. So I have no idea why I am being told I have to go Pro Pro?

   
And... that's the last Bullet Sunday of 2014!

   

Lightroom Part One

Posted on Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Dave!This is the first post in a two-part entry that will be discussing digital photo storage. Not a topic that most people will be interested in, but I very much want to document my process just in case somebody else out there on the interwebs is in the same boat as I am.

But, before we begin, a disclaimer.

I am a huge, huge, massively huge Apple Aperture fan. When it comes to working on photos, it's lagged behind Adobe Lightroom for years... but, when it comes to cataloging photos, it's pretty much the cat's meow. And since it's the cataloging that's of primary importance to me and my tens of thousands of photos, that's where my heart has been since Aperture debuted back in 2005. I will never, ever forgive Apple for canceling the app, and consider it just one of several stupid moves for the company as of late. But anyway...

Apple did cancel Aperture, so I am forced to migrate elsewhere.

My choice ended up being Adobe Lightroom. I am still not convinced it was the best choice, but I do think it's the right choice... for me anyway. Yes, I preferred the way photos looked using the RAW import on Capture One Pro better than Lightroom... and there were features in Darktable (among others) that were appealing... but it just seemed easier all the way around to go with Adobe since I know they're not going anywhere. The last thing I want to do is to have to go through this crap all over again if another app closes up shop. On top of that, the tight integration with the Adobe apps I use every day (Photoshop and Illustrator in particular) is too alluring to ignore. As if that weren't enough, I get Lightroom as a part of my Adobe Creative Suite subscription at no extra charge. Sure I could wait and see what Apple's replacement app, Photos is all about, but it looks unlikely to include the professional features I need.

So here I am.

And now a little background so you know who that is...

I have been into photography for as long as I can remember, and I've loved it all that time. So when it came time for a high school graduation gift in the mid-80's, all I wanted was a professional camera. My parents got me a Canon A-1, which was the most advanced camera of its day. The "Killer Feature" being the first SLR camera to have a digital autoexposure controller. Something I took advantage of frequently as I was learning how to properly use shutter and aperture settings. The A-1 was both a joy and a revelation over the fifteen years I used it as my primary camera, and I shot as much film as I could afford to have developed.

Then in the mid-90's the digital age was upon us. I was an early adopter, buying an Apple QuickTake 1 the day it was released in 1994. By modern standards, it was a pretty shitty camera. 640x480 pixels max and, unless you had flawless lighting, the images were pretty terrible. But... it was new. And it was cool. And I kept investing in digital technology despite not taking it very seriously. Why should I when what I was getting from my film camera was so much better?

Then the year 2000 came along and I got a Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-D700.

Suddenly, my digital photos were getting close to what I was getting on film, all without the pain (and expense) of developing the images. All summer long I went back and forth, testing and re-testing, contrasting and comparing. I was lugging around two cameras everywhere, not fully trusting the Sony after over a decade with my trusty Canon. But then the moment of truth arrived... in October I took a trip to Asia and the only camera I brought was my DSC-D700. The results were so encouraging I went ahead and did the same for a trip to Rome that December. By 2001, I was 99% digital, only dusting off my film camera when I had a project that required it.

Cataloging my photos in 2001 was a pretty simple affair. I stored all my photos on a Zip Drive, making two copies each on separate cartridges, one of which was kept in a bank safe. As image size kept climbing, I would eventually switch to Jaz Drive cartridges. Every project had a separate folder, which got a bit complicated after a while, so I then started creating Master Folders titled by year to sort them into. It worked just fine, and I didn't even think about the need for cataloging software until that infamous day in 2005 when I purchased Apple's Aperture.

And it was glorious. Especially during those heady early years when Apple was updating the thing. They added "Places" so you could tag all your photos with a location (if they didn't have one already). They added "Faces" so you could automate tagging the people appearing in your photos. And then there were the Vaults... dead-simple ways of backing up your catalogs and precious photo information which was quickly becoming every bit as important as the photos themselves. Everything in Aperture was so convenient, easy, and powerful. I quickly organized all my photos into Projects by year and Folders by project, since that mimicked the file structure I had been using for five years. Apple's amazing app made dealing with my huge library of images almost effortless.

Until they decided they didn't want to any more.

Enter Lightroom.

At first I thought the migration would be a piece of cake, because the Aperture import plugin I had been waiting for was finally released. It was a huge relief to know that all the hours/days/months of inputting photo data into Aperture wouldn't be lost. Except I could never get the plugin to work. It would hang after a while no matter what I did.

And so I gave up and decided I would just start over completely from scratch. The first step was to extract all my images from the Aperture catalog and convert them to "managed" files so I could access the individual, original photo files, which subsequently transferred to a spare 1TB drive I had laying around.

I then purchased a new 8TB Thunderbolt RAID unit from Western Digital which would give me 4TB of mirrored storage to work with. The old Aperture RAID drives were removed and popped into my bank safety deposit box just in case I ever need them.

And then the horrendous chore of importing all my images into Lightroom began.

The first years were easy. In the year 2000 I had a measly 250 photos, and they were all JPEG files that were either 2048×1360 or a tiny 1600×1200 pixels in size. NOTE TO YOUNGER SELF: Always shoot at the maximum resolution of your camera. I know that 1600×1200 seemed like a huge amount of pixels back in the day, but in the future that will be insanely inadequate for just about every purpose.

As we move forward in time, the number of photos increases considerably from year to year (especially when I decided to start bracketing most of my shots). And, because the size of the photos keeps going up as well (especially when I started shooting RAW), the storage space needed (hence the amount of time to import them into Lightroom) increases exponentially. NOTE TO YOUNGER SELF: Always shoot RAW. I know they're a lot bigger files, but if you could experience the pain of having to look back at your trip to the pyramids of Egypt with all that JPEG artifacting, you'd know the extra size is well worth it. And it's no small amount. In 2007 I shot one trip RAW. In 2008 I shot half of them RAW. In 2010 I was shooting all RAW all the time. Just look at what happens...

  • 2000 • 244 photos (320MB)
  • 2001 • 338 photos (456MB)
  • 2002 • 633 photos (782MB)
  • 2003 • 399 photos (691MB)
  • 2004 • 2,489 photos (6.2GB)
  • 2005 • 2,706 photos (7.1GB)
  • 2006 • 386 photos (861MB — no vacations this year!)
  • 2007 • 2,803 photos (7.5GB)
  • 2008 • 7,342 photos (36.4GB)
  • 2009 • 9,167 photos (63.2GB)
  • 2010 • 16,561 photos (149.8GB)
  • 2011 • 15,422 photos (135.8GB)
  • 2012 • 15,788 photos (140.1GB)
  • 2013 • 16,038 photos (149.6GB)
  • 2014 • 18,532 photos (184.2GB)

Now, to be honest, most of the photos I took in later years are not keepers. As memory cards kept getting bigger and cheaper, I was a lot less selective in what I shot... and I would shoot the same thing several times so I could pick the best image and delete the rest... except I never seem to delete anything. Perhaps one day I'll have the time to purge all the bad/redundant shots, but it ain't happening any time soon. Good thing hard drive space is getting so cheap!

Okay then. Now you know about me and what I shoot... I guess it's time to start importing everything into Lightroom!

Which I will be talking about in tomorrow's entry.

   

Lightroom Part Two

Posted on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Dave!Yesterday I talked about my photos and how the death of Apple's Aperture has forced me to move to Adobe's Lightroom. This entry talks about how that all went down.

Since the Aperture import plugin didn't work and I was starting from scratch, there really was only four decisions to be made in building my Lightroom catalog and new photo library...

  1. Will I be converting all my RAW files to Adobe's open DNG format?
  2. What size previews will I be rendering for when my library isn't available?
  3. Will I be creating "Smart Previews" for all my images?
  4. How will I organize my photo library?

To DNG or not to DNG?
When you shoot RAW, odds are your camera is saving the "digital negative" in a proprietary format. My Nikon D90, for example, saves them as .NEF files, which is proprietary to Nikon. My Sony A7, for another example, saves them as .ARW, which is Sony's version of RAW. I shot on a Canon for a while, and they use .CR2 for their RAW format. I also have .RW2 files from a Panasonic underwater camera I used and .ORF from an Olympus that I borrowed. What a mess. Unlike JPEG which is standardized, RAW formats rarely are. Which is why Adobe created the .DNG format. But, unlike what's used by camera companies, it's not proprietary... it's open, and anybody anywhere can read the specs that Adobe provides for free. This does two very important things...

  • Future-proofs your files. If Sony closes up shop or kills the .ARW format tomorrow, eventually this version of RAW will die out and stop being supported. And because it's proprietary, you would have to hope that somebody out there would reverse-engineering the format in order to read your images twenty years later.
  • Establishes and open standard. Because the specs are publicly available, no reverse-engineering is needed to read the .DNG format. And anybody can use it. Some camera manufacturers have already abandoned their proprietary RAW formats in favor of .DNG and I am hopeful all other manufacturers will follow suit.

There are other advantages to .DNG as well... my favorite being that it doesn't use external EXIF sidecar files, but instead stores the information internally. The fact that the files are also validated by an internal checksum means that you can tell when bits of a file go missing or are corrupted. The list goes on and on (did I mention that .DNG files are also smaller?).

So, ultimately, I totally embraced .DNG and had all my RAW image files converted upon import. Yes, this adds significant time to your import, but the benefits are worth it.

   

Alas yon Preview, What Size Art Thou?
When my 8TB external hard drive is connected to my laptop, all my photos are available to me at full resolution. When it's disconnected and I'm half-a-world-away, however, my photos are not available, and all I have to look at is whatever preview Lightroom has available in the catalog of my local drive. Lightroom's "Standard Size" preview is 1024 pixels along the image's longest side. That's fairly decent for looking through your images and won't take up too much space. Except Lightroom stupidly doesn't default to "Standard" but instead renders "Minimal" previews which are pretty much worthless (so be sure to switch to "Standard" in the Catalog Preferences or else you'll have to re-render all new previews!). You also have the option for 1:1 previews, which will speed up your workflow and look great on-screen... assuming you have room on your hard drive. As for me? I compromised. I changed the "Standard" size preference from 1024 to 2048 pixels and left the quality on "Medium." That's double the size of what you usually get, but generally ends up smaller than 1:1. My reason for taking the hit to my hard drive is twofold... 1) I have a Retina Display, and larger images display better... and, 2) If my library drive AND both backups are lost for some reason, I can probably live with 2048 as my only image size, but would be devastated if all I had were 1024 images. In the end, it's up to you... but with display resolution climbing and hard drive sizes escalating, it seems as though the bigger you go the better off you'll be.

   

If Thee Be Smart, Where Be Your Brains?
A couple versions ago, Adobe came up with "Smart Previews" which opened the door to all kinds of cool things. Primary of which is that you can EDIT images with Smart Previews... even if you're not connected to your library (usually, you can't do this). Once your library gets connected, the edits will be written to the original photo file's dataset, and it's just as if you had changed the original all along. As if that weren't enough, Smart Previews can also be viewed and worked on with an iPad via Creative Cloud. Pretty cool stuff, right? Except... "Smart" Previews are not exactly "smart" in that you are still required to have "regular" previews as well. So, effectively, you've got an entire catalog of previews taking up valuable hard drive space... twice? Or at least that's how I understand it to work. I don't have that kind of space available on my laptop's SSD, so I skipped stupid "Smart Previews." Hopefully one day they'll make it so you are only required to have ONE preview per image. Until then, it's nice to know that I can build Smart Previews for those times I plan on editing photos on the go.

   

But Soft! In What Organization Through Yonder Library Breaks?
With Aperture I never had to worry about the physical organization of all my image files. I created projects and folders within the app and let Aperture worry about where the files went. With Lightroom this is not possible. So what I ended up doing was mimicking the structure I was used to... a folder for each year and a sub-folder for every event/trip/session that was preceded by a date. If you take a lot of photos, it's a pretty good idea. The drawback being that if you've visited Milwaukee twenty times and want that photo you took of the Milwaukee Art Museum, you have to know when you visited in order to track down the photo. If that's a concern for you, might be better to not organize by date... but to instead organize by subject. Regardless of how you choose to organize your images, it's critical to keep organizing the same way. Once you get tired of the effort and just start dumping your photos wherever, you never be able to find them unless you spend a lot of effort applying keywords to each image. That takes considerably more time than organizing from the get-go... though, if your import groups are small enough, you might be able to apply keywords when you import to save time. Still, given Lightroom's inability to manage your photo files, you really need to come up with something yourself and stick with it.

   

Now that I've made my decisions... we're ready to import.

Getting your photos into your local Lightroom catalog and writing out your .DNG files to your external library is pretty easy. You click the "import" button, choose what you want to import... choose where you want them to go... add your settings for previews, keywords, and such, and away you go.

Since I was converting to .DNG and rendering rather large previews, my later years took a very long time. Five hours or more. And the bad news is that there's no way to pause the import and resume it at a later time... at least not that I've found. Yes, you can cancel and then re-do the import (Lightroom will run through everything again and skip the images it's already worked on) but this is a far from ideal solution. Even worse, absolutely no estimate on how long the import will take is given. You get a progress bar and that's all. Thankfully, you'll (hopefully) only have to do massive library imports once in your life, but it would sure be nice if Adobe were to allow you to pause the process. My suggestion? Break your imports down into more manageable chunks. You can uncheck folders you've already imported to keep Lightroom from doubling up (though, inexplicably, Lightroom will still go through all your photos if you have "Don't Import Duplicates" selected... whether you've checked or unchecked the folder in question).

It took me five days to get everything cataloged/imported. Usually I would import a chunk before going to bed and find everything completed when I woke up.

So how am I liking it now that I'm a Lightroom guy?

To be honest, I'm not liking it at all.

Lightroom is a massively confusing program that makes practically no sense. Compared to the elegance and ease of Aperture, I'd go so far as to say that Lightroom is crap. I hate just about everything about it. The interface is a complete mess and takes up way too much of the screen. Even simple things are difficult. Want to zoom in on a photo? I still don't understand how it works. Click once you zoom. Click again and you don't zoom in further, you zoom back out to some totally random percentage? Crazy. Instead of an intuitive, fluid zoom tool that operates like every other zoom tool in every other program (including Adobe Photoshop!), with Lightroom you have to click on a drop-down menu and choose 1:4, 1:2, 1:1, 2:1, 4:1, etc. etc. in order to get closer to/further from an image. It's about the stupidest fucking thing I've ever seen. I'm trying to use gestures on my trackpad for zooming, but it's so clunky and spastic that I can never end up where I want to be. And that pretty much defines everything you do in this program... clunky and spastic. There are times I make adjustments to an image... increase the saturation or sharpening or whatever... and nothing happens, even though the sliders are showing I've made the adjustment. WTF? It's enough to drive me insane. There are times I have to step away from the program because I'm getting so frustrated and angry that it feels as if my head is going to explode.

I'm hoping that eventually I'll get used to the shitty way Lightroom works, but I sincerely doubt it. The program is a hot mess of epic proportions, and I simply don't understand how anybody manages to get anything done with it. Yes, it's usable and I can (eventually) figure out how to do what I need to do... but it has a long, long way to go before it's as beautifully intuitive as Aperture is. Was. Whatever.

But, thanks to Apple being complete assholes and canceling one of the most wonderful apps for organizing and working on photos ever made, this is where I'm forced to be.

Maybe there's a better solution out there... maybe I should take a second look at Capture One... but the thought of having to go through all this mess again makes me want to stick my head in an oven.

I'm probably better off not using a photo cataloging program at all. I'll just go back to files and folders on ZIP drives and call it a day.

So much for progress.

UPDATE: More problems popping up every day. The worst of which is that Lightroom crashes... a lot.

Lightroom Crashes a lot

Yeah. Definitely don't understand how people are using this thing.

   

Restoration

Posted on Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Dave!Every year for the past decade I've been sending in bunched of old photos to be scanned. I finished with my own photos after a couple years. My mom's photos took an additional four years. After that, I've been going through my grandmother's extensive photo collection, which will keep me paying for photo scanning services for years to come.

It's a lot of money.

But it's well worth it.

Mostly because there's hundreds of gorgeous shots of my mother when she was little that are more artistic than anything you'll find in any museum...

Mom on a Log

And by "artistic" I should say "accidentally artistic" since they were never intended to be art... they were just everyday snapshots that happened to turn out incredible.

Not everything is accidental art though.

Like this photo of me with my hand down my pants...

Little Dave with His Hand Down His Pants

Some things never change.

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Categories: Photography 2015Click To It: Permalink  2 Comments: Click To Add Yours!  

   

Restoration 21

Posted on Friday, January 9th, 2015

Dave!Yesterday I mentioned that I've got another batch of family photos that are getting scanned.

This morning I started reviewing the scans in process at ScanCafe. As these are my grandmother's photos, I don't know most of the people that are showing up. I assume they're mostly images of my extended family, but they could be anybody.

All I really know for sure is that there's some crazy-interesting stuff popping up...

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

Photo Restoration

And it only gets stranger from here...

   

Bullet Sunday 419

Posted on Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Dave!Don't let the Grammys get you down... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Rescue! Here's the best thing I saw all week...

Meerkats by Will Burrard-Lucas

Heroes come in all shapes and size. Heroes are around us every day. Heroes inspire everybody to be heroes too. Heroes like this make the world a better place with their actions... no matter how small.

   
• Ravaging! Somebody finally said it...

LOL! ROTFL! LMFAO! I'm guessing this will be all the excuse ignorant morons (and FOX "News") need to restart their idiotic rants on quarantining Africa thanks to an ebola outbreak happening in a tiny piece of the continent.

   
• Super! Ever since I returned from safari in Africa, I've become a little obsessed with African wildlife photography. My favorite images yet come from Will Burrard-Lucas, who managed to get some of the most amazing shots you'll see...

Meerkats by Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats by Will Burrard-Lucas

Meerkats by Will Burrard-Lucas

Leopard by Will Burrard-Lucas

Lions by Will Burrard-Lucas

He has a YouTube video up that shows some behind the scenes footage that's pretty great...

Will has a blog that is well worth checking out.

You're welcome!

   
• Cuusoo! Two new LEGO sets I'll be adding to my collection...

   
• Bad! My entire weekend was made when a guy commented and told me that his kid's school lunch menu was recalled after it was discovered that somebody put a DaveToon of a gun-toting Bad Monkey on it...

Bad Monkey on a School Lunch Menu

Genius. And then it hit Reddit where a disturbing yet somehow beautiful insanity ensued.

   
• Sirens! When the show Sirens debuted on USA Network, I read that it was a shitty remake of a UK television series, so I didn't even bother tuning in. Then, every once in a while, somebody would mention how funny it was and how much they loved it, and I regretted not giving it a chance...

Sirens from USA Network

And then I noticed that it was recently added on Netflix.

Nothing groundbreaking... a situation comedy built around three EMTs in Chicago... but I actually find it kinda funny. So now I'm addicted to the show and binge-watching the ten episodes from the first season while adding the just-started second season to my DVR. If you're looking for a distraction from daily life, this might be worth a look (NSFW language included).

   
And... we're done. More bullets in a mere seven days.

   

Bullet Sunday 422

Posted on Sunday, March 1st, 2015

Dave!Don't let the drone surveillance get you down... because Bullet Sunday on Monday starts... now...

   
• Vaccinate! Classic...

And yet... the measles epidemic rages on. Thanks, Jenny McCarthy!

Jenny Stupid Fucking McCarthy

You're a horrible, horrible person.

   
• MURICA! Because nothing says "freedom" better than being able to scream "YOU'RE FIRED, FAGGOT!" when you find out that one of your employees is gay, and being 100% within the law... Arkansas has passed an anti-non-discrimination bill SB 202...

Odd Couple Promo

I've heard of legislating morality... but legislating immorality? Way to go, Arkansas. There's some terrific things about your state, but this is a fucking embarrassment. Shame on everyone who had a hand in dragging "The Natural State" back to less enlightened times.

   
• Widow! The hype machine for Avengers: Age of Ultron is really amping up, with individual character posters being released this week. Could not possibly be more excited to see this film come May...

BLACK WIDOW, BABY

Looks like Black Widow may finally... finally be getting some tech that ups her game. They showed her using a built-in taser in the last Avengers film, but that's a far cry from the "Widow's Bite" blasters she sports in the comics. I certainly hope it comes to pass, because it seems completely illogical that Tony Stark wouldn't give her some advanced weaponry to make her a stronger part of the team.

   
• Laugh? The Matthew Perry version of The Odd Couple finally debuted and it's far, far worse than I imagined. Mostly because they're using a frickin' laugh track. This idiotic and antiquated method of attempting to make unfunny crap seem hilarious is just pathetic, and only serves to underline how funny something is not to modern audiences...

Odd Couple Promo

What kills me is how Matthew Perry can't seem to find a lead role in a vehicle that's worth his talent lately. He was essential viewing in Friends, he was a revelation as Joe Quincy on The West Wing, he was bordering on genius on Studio 60, and he was terrific on The Good Wife... I even liked his movies okay. But when it comes to finding a new show, he's been rolling in shit. Mr. Sunshine was abysmal. Go On was horrific. And now there's this hot mess? Sad. Just sad.

   
• MARCIA MARCIA MARCIA! Hot on the heels of Snicker's awesome Brady Bunch/Danny Trejo mashup comes this epic art installation...

I love it when companies create ad campaigns you actually want to see. In case you missed the original commercial, here you go...

The teaser ad was equally filled with awesome...

Yep. That's advertising done right, right there.

   
• Photographic! I used to carry a pocket camera with me everywhere I went to capture those unexpected moments that are begging for a picture to be taken. Then the iPhone 4 came along with its terrific built-in camera, and I started leaving my pocket camera at home more often than not. Why bother when I can get shots like this...

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

Then the iPhone 5 was released with an even better camera, and suddenly I found myself ditching the pocket camera completely. Now that I've got an iPhone 6 with its amazing camera, I've been doing something I never thought I'd do... go on some of my travels without taking my DSLR with me. It's a mind-boggling prospect, but the shots I can get out of a frickin' camera phone are so good that it's not a much of a sacrifice at all.

This week Apple finally realized what most of us already know... the iPhone is a really good camera. And they've started a nifty ad campaign to let everybody else know it too. They've also added an amazing "World Gallery" to their website...

Shot with iPhone
Shot by Silke W. in Bali, Indonesia

A lot of people are carrying smart phone with them everywhere they go now-a-days. Which means a lot of people have a camera on them all the times. Which means a lot of photo opportunities that were once missed are being captured. It's an amazing time we live in.

   
And... I'm wrecked. See you next Sunday.

   

Photoshop One

Posted on Friday, March 13th, 2015

Dave!Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was released on February 19th, 1990 and I was there.

Lo those 25 years ago.

Well, not at the product launch, but I had a copy of the program after release which I received with a scanner I purchased in the Fall of 1990. I played around with it a few times on a Mac that was at my local library, but I was an Atari computer guy at the time, so it went largely ignored. I didn't really get into Photoshop until I first bought a Mac of my own in the Spring of 1993 (a Quadra 650). Photoshop 2.5 came bundled with a new scanner I purchased shortly thereafter, and I have been using the program ever since.

Almost daily ever since.

With the possible exception of Adobe Illustrator (which I have been using regularly since version 1.7... A.K.A. Illustrator 88), Photoshop is the single most important app in the existence of my universe. It has permeated both my personal and professional life, and I have serious trouble trying to imagine my world without it.

Which is why it's always fun to step back in time to experience Photoshop's humble beginnings. Which I do from time to time, as I have a library of old computers with their original software installed. It's even more fun to watch others give it a try... especially those who were not around at the beginning...

ONLY ONE UNDO?!?

Hah. Those were the days.

Happy 25th Anniversary, Adobe Photoshop!

   

Beale

Posted on Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Dave!After an amazing visit and an even more amazing dinner with the amazing Faiqa and her amazing family last night, I decided to wander around Beale Street after dark... something I've never done before. And I have no idea why I've never done it before, because it's exactly the kind of thing I love to photograph.

Maybe I was waiting for the Sony A7s camera to exist, which does such an amazing job of capturing night scenes? I dunno. But with a press of a button I'm in "Vivid Color Mode" and shooting everything in sight...

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

Beale Street Memphis Tennessee

And now I suppose I should pack my stuff and clean up before the hotel kicks me out... most possibly literally, knowing this place... so I can grab lunch and head to the airport.

Many thanks for the brief visit, Memphis. We shall meet again.

   

Lakeview

Posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Dave!A much nicer day today than yesterday.

Probably because I had to leave this morning!

Since my "lakeview" room at the Hard Rock didn't have a view of the actual lake, I stopped off at a "viewpoint" along the way to see if I could get a photo of Lake Tahoe. Sure enough...

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

And here's a pano of the whole schebang...

Lake Tahoe

Beautiful, right?

But before I drove back to Reno, I returned to the Lucky Beaver for a fried egg and avocado breakfast sammy... which was amazing. Even though I had to get up at 7:00am to get one...

Lucky Beaver Fried Egg Breakfast Sammy

Anyway...

The drive was fairly uneventful. Though I did run across somebody who loves A) Scotland... and B) Clifford the Big Red Dog... very, very much...

Scotland and Clifford the Big Red Dog

Much to my surprise, I ran across a Back to the Future slot machine at the airport. I refused to waste more than $10 on the thing, so I didn't get to see much... but it was very cool just the same...

Back to the Future... THE SLOT MACHINE!

Back to the Future... THE SLOT MACHINE!

What are you lookin' at, butt-head?!

Annnnnd... so much for my trip to Reno and Lake Tahoe.

   

Alaska

Posted on Monday, May 25th, 2015

Dave!Alrighty then.

My Memorial Day was spent taking the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Whittier so I could take a glacier cruise. Something I've already done before in Glacier Bay, but that was on a cruise ship. This time I'd be on a smaller boat which can get closer to the action.

The train ride was fairly uneventful... except there were loads of noisy, obnoxious people on it, so it wasn't quite the experience I was hoping for...

Train from Anchorage to Whittier

My cruise included a vegetarian option lunch, but I've gone down this road too many times to think it's going to be something I actually want to eat. Fortunately, the train had a really good cheese pizza onboard, so I went for it as a precaution...

Train Pizza

In order to not lose my sanity from having to endure screaming kids and people in general, I mostly hung out in the gap between cars where I could take photos without any glass to obscure the scenery.

And it's some pretty nice scenery. Mud flats, forests, mountain views... it's all going on...

Alaska Railroad Journey

Alaska Railroad Journey

Alaska Railroad Journey

Just before you arrive in Whittier, you go through a couple of tunnels, the second of which is the longest railroad tunnel in North America. It has a set schedule for train and car traffic that switched direction every half-hour. The second tunnel is so long that takes about 5 minutes to get through... but when you look out the side of the train it seems much shorter because you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. That's because it's dug so straight that there's never any obstruction...

Whittier Tunnel

Arriving in the city of Whittier, there was no time to waste. The boat was already mostly loaded by people who drove a car instead of taking the train (which is slower)...

Whittier

We were definitely not the biggest boat on the water. Princess Cruises has spent millions creating a port in Whittier from which their ships can explore Alaska...

Princess Cruises Whittier

As expected, the lunch was not my cup of tea. For one thing, it had mushrooms on it, of which I am allergic. And since I'm not a coleslaw person, that was also off the menu. The pudding wasn't chocolate, as one would hope, but instead some kind of runny rice pudding...

Boat Lunch

Fairly quickly we ran across some porpoises (or dolphins, I'm not sure which) swimming at the bow...

Flipper!

Not quite as exciting as my dolphin experience in Fiji, but pretty cool just the same.

Next up was a whale playing around on the shore line...

Shamu!

And just when you think you've seen the last of cool wildlife for the day, some bumps in the water appear...

Otter Bumps

OTTERS!!!

Otters

Otters

But what we're really here for is the glaciers, so Captain Carl wasted no time rolling right up to one...

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Being Memorial Day, the boat was at capacity, but it was never a problem. People were pretty good about taking turns getting their photos, and Captain Carl made slow sweeping turns at all the stops so everybody on both sides of the boat could take a look...

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

I never once had trouble getting to the rail to get some terrific glacier photos, which was nice...

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

All in all, the cruise I took advertised "26 glaciers in one day"... but most of them must have been off in the distance, because I only recall seeing about a dozen of them.

I could bore you with the hundreds of glacier shots I got, but they all start to look the same after a while so I'll spare you. Suffice to say I had a great time getting lots of beautiful photos.

You end the glacial tour with a stop at a trio of glaciers in one shot...

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

The trip back was pretty good too, because the scenery is so great. Waterfalls are everywhere...

GPrince William Sound Waterfall

And, if you look at the bottom of that photo, you'll see I got more than just a waterfall in the shot...

Mountain Goat of Alaska

Just chillin' for a bit. Thank heavens I bought my massively expensive zoom lens!

The weird thing about Prince William Sound is how the weather changes -literally- minute to minute. You can go from overcast and dreary to sunshine and vivd in the blink of an eye...

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Captain Carl had one last surprise before pulling back into Whittier...

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

Is that spotty rocks, or...

Glacier Cruise Alaska Prince William Sound

BIRDS!!!

Glacier Cruise Alaska Birds

Thousands of them.

And that was that. The boat docked at Whittier and my cruise was over. I had a few minutes before I had to board the return-train, so I walked through the town for a bit. Not a lot to see, but it's a beautiful place...

Whittier, Alaska

For the train ride home, the less expensive "B Car" was almost completely empty, so I gladly gave up my pricey dome car seat for some peace and quiet in the cheap seats. Usually, I would expect beautiful sunset views this time of day. But since the sun doesn't start setting here until 11:30, I had the same trip back that I had coming...

Mud Flats Anchorage

And that's a wrap.

Not a bad way to spend Memorial Day, I must say.

Hats off to Captain Carl and the crew of Klondike Express for a great five-hour tour! If you'd like to take your own "26 Glacier Tour" from Phillips Cruises, you can get more information here.

   

Bullet Sunday 437

Posted on Sunday, June 14th, 2015

Dave!Your life just got a little bit more complicated... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Married! I'm a huge fan of Murad Osmann and Natalia Zakharova's Instagram artistry. Osmann's series of photos featuring his girlfriend leading him all around the world is captivating...

Follow Me To...

Follow Me To...

Follow Me To...

Follow Me To...

Follow Me To...

Follow Me To...

And now they've gotten married!

Follow Me To...

There's plenty more of these amazing shots over at Instagram.

Congratulations to you both! I look forward to where you'll be taking us next.

   
• Dingbats! I was saddened to learn that Hermann Zapf, world-famous German typographer had died. He created some of the most beautiful typefaces ever crafted, and left a body of work that will be admired as long as we still communicate with letterforms. As noted in the article above, Zapf's favorite typeface he created is "Optima," which is one of my favorites as well. Most people probably know him best for Palatino and Zapf Dingbats, which are fonts that have been installed on a lot of computers over the years. Your artistry will be missed.

   
• Two Bits! Refusing to let a gay man to cut your hair is like refusing to let a Michelin Three Star Chef make you a sandwich. Sublimely stupid. But nobody can accuse homophobic bigots of being smart.

   
• Robertson! What a dumb fucking asshole...

With that logic, how can Pat Robertson be against abortion? Maybe abortion doctors are just an instrument of God who wants to stop the next Hitler from happening. Just die already, you heartless, vile, hypocritical, disgusting turd.

   
• GAH! Guess I'm going to be getting Alzheimer's any minute now: Poor sleep might be the mechanism that triggers Alzheimer’s memory loss.

   
• Moose! Probably the best thing I saw all week...

Hopefully more Alaskans will show some kindness for animals caught in the middle of record high temperatures.

   
So long, bullets.

   

Bullet Sunday 447

Posted on Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

Dave!Don't touch that back button... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Fighter. Before we get started... a huge thank you to the firefighters battling the very serious wildfires that have been plaguing us here in Central Washington State. The most serious being the Okanogan Complex fire, which is now the largest ever in state history (maps courtesy of the NIFC)...

Okanogan Complex Fire Map

Most of the smoke plaguing the valley where I live is from the Chelan fire, which is threatening a lot of people...

Chelan Fire Map

Three firefighters have already lost their lives. Hopefully these horrific fires will be contained before more lives are lost.

   
• Catastrophe! If you have Amazon Prime and don't mind a little adult-oriented humor, Catastrophe had me laughing all six episodes. When an American working in London accidentally gets an Irish woman pregnant, both their lives are turned up-side down...

Catastrophe Still

The show's page is right here on Amazon.

   
• Naptime! Could the solution really be this easy?

Damn. Banned in Washington State!

   
• Noiseless? I've been a huge fan of the Imagenomic app called "Noiseware" which does a pretty darn good job of removing noise from photos. Now there's a new game in town... Macphun's "Noiseless"...

It seems to get me great results with little hassle. I don't know that it can completely replace Noiseware, but I'm sure glad to have it in my Photoshop toolbox. Here's an old photo of me, BEFORE and AFTER at 200%...

Noiseless Demo

Noiseless Demo

Yeah, it looks a little soft... but at 100% it's actually useable. Here's another...

Noiseless Demo

Noiseless Demo

Night shots don't fare quite as well as photos that have enough light... you get some clumping in solid areas... but still, pretty nice work for a one-click fix.

HELPFUL HINT: If you want to save 20% on Noiseless Pro, just put the app in your cart then abandon it. Eventually you'll get an email with a 20% off code. I got one... AFTER PURCHASING THE PROGRAM... which is kind of shitty, but my loss is your gain.

   
• In-App. Looks like I'm not the only one pissed off by all these apps having stupid-ass "in-app purchases"... Apple has been running ads featuring games with NO in-app purchase...

NO IN-APP PURCHASES!

NO IN-APP PURCHASES!

I wish there was a way to turn off apps with in-app purchase so they don't even appear in the iTunes Store. I never download them.

   
• Freedom. If I ever have the opportunity to kick the ever-loving shit out of Donald Trump, please look at it NOT as a heinous act of violence, but as me making America great again.

   
And... it's too hot for more bullets. BS out!

   

Heads

Posted on Monday, August 24th, 2015

Dave!Just some random heads spotted while at an antique mall this past weekend.

SUPER CREEPY RANDOM MANNEQUIN HEADS!!!


Creepy Head Mannequins

Creepy Head Mannequins

Creepy Head Mannequins

Creepy Head Mannequins

   
AND A SUPER CREEPY CLOWN HEAD PHOTOBOMBING A BABY DOLL TOO!!!

Creepy Head Mannequins

SUPER CREEPY!!!

And now you know what will be living in my head as I ty to sleep tonight...

   

Lizard

Posted on Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Dave!This was an awful day in so many ways.

I don't even want to talk about it. Instead, here's a picture of a happy lizard I took while in Australia...


Happy Australian Lizard

   

I need a vacation.

   

Weather

Posted on Friday, December 4th, 2015

Dave!I got home in the nick of time.

The weather here is getting a bit crazy.

Kinda pretty though... if you can ignore the crummy road conditions. Looks better from the air though, which I found out as I was flying home yesterday morning...

Snowy Redneckistan is Snowy

Happy Friday.

   

Bullet Sunday 455

Posted on Sunday, December 27th, 2015

Dave!Time to put the holidays behind you, because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• COMICS! Ordinarily, today would be filled with my favorite comic books of 2015. But I've drastically reduced the amount of comics I'm reading because I'm just not finding the compelling reads I've found in previous years. The biggest disappointment being that we didn't get more installments of Jupiter's Legacy, whose first volume ended in a massive cliffhanger back in January. I dunno. Maybe I'll find my comic book renaissance in 2016, but I'm just not feeling it this year.

   
• GAH! As if I weren't already excited enough for the upcoming Doctor Strange film...

Doctor Strange on Entertainment Weekly

Less than a year away!

   
• FOOD! Food costs are going through the roof. Even a meager bag of groceries will cost $25 or more. My average trip to the store is running around $75. With this kind of cash involved, you can bet I'm trying to get the most for my money. Which is why I am getting sick and tired of having to throw food in the garbage because the quality is in the shitter. Latest example? I bought a box of Eggo Waffles only to find that once again they're covered in crystal frost. Even when you scrape as much as you can off, they still end up wet in spots. Gross. And a total waste of money. I can only guess that they are partially thawing at some point, then getting re-frozen. But it's not me. I'm seven minutes from the grocery store. From now on, I'm going to start seeing if I can take the shit back for a refund. If not, I'm done shopping there. Or done with the product.

   
• WINTERY! The weather has been pretty shitty this past week, but it made for a beautiful couple days this past week once the sun came back out...

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

Not bad, Mother Nature, not bad at all.

   
• HOLIDAYS. It's not been a very good holiday season for me. The days from from Thanksgiving right through Christmas has been filled with sadness, loss, and more challenges than I would wish on anyone. With less than a week left in 2015, I'm ready to move on. So... let's wrap up the year with entries looking back at my favorite movies, television shows, and music... followed by a recap of the year here at Blogography, then get on with a fresh start in 2016.

   
And... the bullets have landed.

   

Photographical

Posted on Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Dave!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...

   

Jenny!

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...

   

Sony a7R Mark II: Part One (The Camera)

Posted on Monday, March 7th, 2016

Dave!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...

Sony a7R Mark II

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.

   

Sony a7R Mark II: Part Two (The Good)

Posted on Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Dave!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.

Sony Bracket Pro App

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...

HDR Multiple Exposures

Stonehenge HDR

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.

   

Sony a7R Mark II: Part Three (The Bad)

Posted on Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

Dave!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.

   

Sony a7R Mark II: Part Four (The Lenses)

Posted on Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Dave!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.

Anyway...

What have I actually been able to shoot with these things?

I'm saving that for tomorrow.

   

Sony a7R Mark II: Part Five (The Shots)

Posted on Friday, March 11th, 2016

Dave!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...

Sony 90mm MACRO

Sony 90mm MACRO

The sweet spot for me seems to rest at f/3.5...

Sony 90mm MACRO

As expected, the bokeh is amazing...

Sony 90mm MACRO

Even with the aperture set at f/4, noise is minimal in good light...

Sony 90mm MACRO

Sony 90mm MACRO

Once you get to f/7.1, it starts to get a bit noisy, but nothing terrible...

Sony 90mm MACRO

Sony 90mm MACRO

The crisp optics of the FE 90mm pair well with the awesome sensor of the a7S Mark II to give you sharp details easily...

Sony 90mm MACRO

Sony 90mm MACRO

Needless to say, if you're a flower or insect photographer, this lens has your name all over it...

Sony 90mm MACRO

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...

Sony 90mm MACRO

Sony 90mm MACRO

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...

Sony Zeiss 35mm

Cropping into the photo reveals terrific, crisp details...

Sony Zeiss 35mm

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...

Sony 70-200mm

Sony 70-200mm

   

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...

Sony 10-18mm Cropped Lens

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"...

Sony 10-18mm Cropped Lens

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...

Sony 10-18mm Cropped Lens

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...

Sony 10-18mm Cropped Lens

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.

   

Bullet Sunday 468

Posted on Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Dave!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...

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

   
• 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!

   

Caturday 1

Posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2016

Dave!Now that I have awesome cats, I take a lot of awesome photos.

Rather than post them every day, I'll wait until "Caturday" rolls around and see if I have anything worth posting.

This week, I do. Lucky you!

Jake and Jenny spend a lot of time wanting to go outside...

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

It's not worth the worry and the risk to me, so I've decided not to let them out.

Kinda.

I'm drawing up plans for a "catio" enclosure so they can get a little taste of what it's like to be outdoors...

Catio Plans!

I just need to find the time to build it.

It's going to be a lot of time and money I don't have, but I think the kitties are worth it...

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

Jake and Jenny Kittens!

Yeah. Definitely worth it.

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Walk

Posted on Friday, April 29th, 2016

Dave!Twenty minutes from my doorstep is a rather nice, large park in a neighboring city that I enjoy walking through when I have a chance. The last time I was there was to take my new camera lens out for a spin back when we had our last snow of the season.

Yesterday I wasn't feeling well at all and decided a walk in the woods might do me some good. I took my camera, of course...

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

And discovered a new love of dandelions...

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

A Walk in the Park!

Now that tourist season is rapidly approaching, I probably won't make it back to the park until Fall.

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Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM

Posted on Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Dave!The minute I heard that Sony was releasing a professional-grade 24-70mm lens, I was intrigued.

For oh so many reasons, this is the perfect lens for general photography, but the biggest reason is that it fills a gaping hole in my lens line-up.

Which is currently like this...

  • Sony 10-18mm f/4 Zoom (with OSS).
  • <<< Sony 24-70mm f/2.8. >>>
  • Sony 70-200mm f/4 Zoom (with OSS).
  • Sony 35mm f/2.8 Prime.
  • Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro Prime (with OSS).

See? It's a perfect fit! And the lens sounds too good to be true...

  • Stunning sharpness.
  • Quick focusing system.
  • Consistent f/2.8 aperture across the entire zoom range.
  • Sealed to resist dust and moisture.

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8

Of course, it actually is too good to be true when you consider the following...

  • It is huge. Rendering the whole purpose of owning a compact mirrorless camera moot.
  • It is heavy. Seriously heavy at 2-lbs.
  • There is no Optical SteadyShot (OSS) in-lens.
  • It is unfathomably expensive at $2,200.

And yet...

This is the lens I need. Once it's on my camera, I can use it for 90% of my photography. For quick trips, it could very well be the only lens I take with me.

Of course, needing something and being about to afford it are two very different things. So I ended up selling some gear (including my amazing Sony A7s camera) to get it.

Totally worth it.

Yes, the size and weight are a bit of a bummer. But you can't have a feature-set like this without trade-offs. A few quick test-shots have confirmed that it is definitely fast and exceedingly sharp (bordering on what you get from a prime lens)...

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8

Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8

I'm sure I'll have more to say when I've had a chance to really put it through its paces. But, for now? Amazing, amazing glass.

   

Florals

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Dave!It's expensive keeping up with the Joneseses.

My neighbors have been stepping up their gardening game lately and the neighborhood is awash with flowers.

Except for me. My irises have all died off, the spice tub has gone to seed, the pots of roses are done, the dogwood is back to leaves-only, and the planters are pretty much finished. I got nuthin'.

Which necessitated my pulling out the spice garden (which I would never use anyway) and a pot of dead stems so I could plant petunias... on sale at Home Depot 6/$6...

Flower Garden

The spices got their revenge, however, as my hands smelled like rosemary(?) for the rest of the day.

That helped a bit, but my yard still looked a bit bare, so I decided to go for a hanging basket. It's nice, I guess, but I didn't notice the plastic pot was cracked when I got it (FOR TWENTY-SIX FRICKIN' DOLLARS!) so I'm sure it will be falling through the bottom any day now...

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

My back yard, on the other hand, is just now starting to bloom. The previous owner has all kinds of roses and stuff in the back flower bed, which is pretty sweet...

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

I wish I could have swapped the front and back of my home... it would have been a lot cheaper than having to buy a bunch of new pretty junk.

   

Tiny Dicks and Journalism Combat Training

Posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Dave!President Elect Trump's first press conference since being elected was everything I dreamed it would be.

And everything I feared.

This, my fellow US citizens, is how the end begins.

You may not like the media. You may not agree with how they cover events of the day. You may even consider any journalistic endeavor that doesn't fully support our elected leaders as treasonous. But it doesn't really matter what you think, because the guarantee of a free press is a fundamental building block of this country. Our founders designed it that way.

And while those who have lead this country may not like all aspects of the media, they have tolerated it... even supported it against all rational thought... because they know that's part of the job. They know it's important.

Well, at least they did.

Until now.

Don't think for a second that President Obama wouldn't have liked to tell the asshole brigade at FOX "News" to go fuck themselves ten times a day... any sane person would. But he was a bigger man (and better president) than that, and so he rose above. I may not have always agreed with his politics, but I respect how he put up with the non-stop parade of shit reigned down upon him by the media... yet continued to play the game in the name of Freedom of the Press.

But our President Elect? Not so much.

What a tiny, tiny penis Donald Trump must have to resort to this. At least I'm assuming that's the case. He's got a minuscule little dick, and this is how he wields power to compensate for it. The free press of the United States of America can piss off because our new president has a cocktail wiener for a cock.

CNN reported on the story of an unverified piece claiming the Russians have footage of Trump involved with some fancy piss-play with two hookers. They did not publish the actual unverified document, nor did they publish any details from it which talked about Donald Trump liking golden showers. They merely did their job as journalists and presented current events as they were happening. I may loathe CNN (in general) and Wolf Blitzer (specifically), but they did not publish "fake news" (though I will agree that their organization is terrible).

But President Pussy-Grabber doesn't care about any of that. He apparently feels that the only thing that CNN should ever do in such circumstances is condemn any criticism of Donald Trump. Anything less means that you don't get to ask questions. This is essentially "If you don't kiss my ass, condemn my critics, and support everything I do... I'm dismissing you, restricting your ability to question me, and discrediting your voice."

Which is ironic considering that Trump just compared intelligence agencies releasing "fake news" to Nazi Germany.

Apparently he is unaware of the fact that a big part of how the Nazi's got into power was to control and censor the media. By squeezing out those voices who did not support the Nazi Party and allowing only positive reporting of their actions, it was easier to convince citizens that they were righteous in their acts. Or at least those acts they allowed to be reported on.

And with the Trump presidency, we're half-way there!

Which is kind of embarrassing for a country that won't shut up about their superiority THANKS TO AMERICAN FREEDOM, BABY!

But only half as embarrassing as the fact that we have a president who feels the need to constantly lash out at the press... even when they did nothing wrong... as compensation for his tiny, tiny dick.

Which is nothing to be ashamed of, sir! Plenty of big men have wielded power wisely and respectfully despite their tiny member! No need to go starting World War III over it!

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's nearing midnight and me and my massive penis* need to get some sleep.

   
*I'll provide proof when Donald Trump releases his taxes.

   

It’s a Holiday…

Posted on Monday, February 20th, 2017

Dave!...or something. The reason I know this is that there was nobody at work when I showed up.

Oh well. Seems as good as time as any to say don't forget to wipe.


Toilet Paper Roll

   

   

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Sony a9

Posted on Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Dave!Photography is a hobby I absolutely love... but rarely have time to pursue.

Indeed, it seems the only time I get to delve into serious photography is when I'm on vacation. The rest of the time I'm shooting stuff with my iPhone because it's always on me and oh so handy. The iPhone also produces fairly good images, which makes it infinitely more appealing for snapshots than having to drag the Sony a7S Mark II out of my camera bag.

I mean, seriously... this was shot years ago with my iPhone 4...

Wenatchee River Fall Colors

Yes, you read that right... an iPhone 4. Which can't even touch what images you can get out of the iPhone 7s that's out right now.

And, yet... I'm not going to get shots like this from an iPhone...

Hwange Giraffe

Which is why I continue to invest in camera gear. Sure it sits in my closet most of the year, but those times I actually get to shoot with it? Magic.

Because I mostly only shoot on vacation, it's my travels that drive my photography purchases. I know I'm going to be shooting scenery in Vietnam, so I buy a new lens for that. I know I'm going to be going on safari night-drives in Zimbabwe, so I buy a new camera body for that. And so on. And so on.

Photography is an expensive hobby to have.

And today Sony announced the next evolution in their professional mirrorless camera line... the a9...

Needless to say, I'm in love.

Not only does the a9 have some astounding new features that I'll actually use... it also addresses some of the shortcomings of the a7 models that were so frustrating. Like dual media slots. And touch-screen operation. And a LAN port with FTP. And a battery that's worth a shit.

And while I rarely shoot video, the 4K footage (down sampled from 6K!) is pretty amazing...

It's pretty much a dream camera... though I'm sure they'll be coming out with an a9S sometime down the line that will add even more honey to the pot.

There are two problems, however.

First of all, Sony's lack of longer lenses makes the sport and wildlife features kind of moot. Yes, they're going to release a G-series 100-400mm for $2,500 in July... and that will definitely help... but that's all there is. That's the most reach you'll get out of Sony. Sure you can add a $550 extender to double that, but it's a less than ideal scenario for serious sport and wildlife shooters. Not a deal-breaker from my shooting perspective, but until the big glass arrives, the market for the true potential of the a9's capabilities is waiting.

A far bigger problem for me, however is the price.

All $4,500 of it.

Now, don't get me wrong, the specs on this beast of a camera are better than what you can get out of cameras from Canon and Nikon that are far more expensive. I absolutely acknowledge that. But $4,500 for something I'm not going to use very often is a tough thing to justify.

And yet...

I think back to many of the trips I've taken, and I would have killed for this camera. I think forward to the Antarctica trip I'm going to be taking in December, and I know the a9 coupled with the 100-400mm lens would be put to very good use. Heck, in many ways, it's the best possible camera I could take. And given all the money I've had to scrimp and save to even get to Antarctica, isn't that worth the investment?

I dunno.

Maybe I rent one. Or buy the camera and rent the lens. And then sell the camera when I get back if I find I'm not using it as much as I'd like. There are options. All of them expensive.

But maybe.

I guess we'll see how broke I am by the time I've finished paying for my upcoming vacation.

   

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