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Friday, July 30, 2004


Boston Follies

Caladium at The Castle Like many of us, my Mom taught me not to say anything if I couldn't say something nice. And I definitely can't say anything nice about Senator Kerry's speech last night. So I'll just post this pretty picture. That's nice, isn't it?

OK, I'll say just a little bit - I haven't yet had time to write any coherent political pieces about this election campaign. But I will say that I'm depressed at how shallow and meaningless all this week's rhetoric at the Boston Convention was. I'm sure I'll say pretty much the same thing next month about the GOP's big bash.

I haven't always felt this way. In fact, I remember enjoying most of the Democratic conventions I've watched over the years (I'm a registered, lifelong Democrat and usually don't watch the Republicans.) I certainly remember smiling, nodding, and yelling "right on!" four years ago when Bill Clinton made his speech at D2KLA (don't talk to me about Al Gore's 2000 campaign, though. )

Well, a lot's happened in four years, and I'm getting older and more cynical for sure. I need to Google President Clinton's 1992 acceptance speech, which I don't remember, but I'm sure I loved, to see if it was really just as silly as Kerry's performance last night.

I've already said more than I intended to, so enough for now. But I'll come back Real Soon Now with some more detailed thoughts on the campaign and why I'm going to vote for President Bush this year.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Unnatural Amplexus

Ménage Á Frog
So I had to do a little errand at lunchtime today, a walk to the Post Office for stamps. I've been bringing my camera to work almost every day, and, well, you never know - why not bring it along for the walk.

As I got to the ground floor of our building, I realized that I hadn't looked in on our little colony of Green Frogs for at least a week. So I detoured out the back door and walked the couple of steps over to the goldfish pond.

But my delicate eyes weren't prepared for what I was about to see... a Ménage Á Frog!

After that salacious springtime of Cicada sex, I thought I had seen the last of creature copulation for this year, but here was Froggy, or I should say Froggies gone a-courting.

Not two, but three croakers doin' the dirty deed. What's wrong with this picture?

Well, for one thing, Froggy Number 3, at left, is a male, and so is Froggy Number 2. Froggy Number 1 is indeed a female, and 1 and 2 are properly oriented for amplexus. But what Number 3 is doing, I don't know.

Don't ask, don't tell.

A Very Merry Half-Birthday To Me, To Me...

Around 4 PM this afternoon, after writing "7/28/2004" in my notebook for two meetings and three phone calls, I realized that today is my half-birthday!

Yes, I am exactly 54-and-one-half years old today. And that was the quickest half-year I've ever seen. They just go more and more rapidly, and I must admit, it's a little scary.

Not only that, but as I get older I'm becoming increasingly more aware of dredging up more and more brain sludge. This is a term invented by Dave Barry to describe the crap we actually remember instead of useful information we should remember, like our bank PIN number or our kids' birthdays. For example, Dave points out that as we reach 50, most of us can't name the Secretary of Defense, but we can sing the Brylcreem commercial ... a little dab'll do ya!.

In fact, that's happening to me right now. As I'm writing this salute to my half-birthday, out of my brain sludge, like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, crawls a little ditty from the Mousketeer Show (the real one from the '50s, not the fake one with Britney Spears) that "Jimmy" used to sing... "A very merry un-birthday, to you, to you..."

Make it stop!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


ISO On the Fly...

Mall Carousel Exit
At first glance, a digital camera seems to be just a "filmless" equivalent of a film camera. And that's true enough, but it's not the whole story.

In a digital camera, film is replaced with a sensor to capture an image, electronics that processes the image, and some digital memory in which to record the image. And that changes the whole ballgame.

For you see, that combination of sensor, electronics, and memory can be a whole lot more flexible that a roll of film.

Let's talk just about the sensor and electronics today, and only about one aspect of that combination - the ability to change ISO rating on the fly.

In the good old days, which for me ended just about one year ago, one roll of film corresponded to exactly one ISO rating. Oh sure, you could push and pull the processing to raise or lower the rating if absolutely necessary. So, for example, if you found yourself with ISO 100 film in a shooting situation that demanded ISO 400, you could have your film push-processed to get the job done. But that special processing applied to the whole roll of film, not to individual exposures.

What did we do if we needed different ISO ratings at roughly the same time? Well, we carried two or more camera bodies, each loaded with different film, that's all. So in my two beloved Praktica MTL-5 bodies last year, I might have one loaded with ISO 50 Fuji Velvia and another with ISO 400 Fuji Provia 400F. And boy, did I look professional!

Of course, I also schvitzed a lot from schlepping those two heavy cameras, and I hoped like hell that ISO 50 and 400 were in fact what I needed.

So what are things like today?

With my Canon Digital Rebel SLR, like most digital cameras, I can set an ISO rating for any given shot. Now is that really something that's all that useful, you ask.

Yes, it is. And last Friday, I had a chance to prove it to myself again.
Metro Composition
I was in Washington, DC for the afternoon on some business that took me just a block away from the Smithsonian Institution Building, "the Castle." After my work was over, I ambled around the Castle, taking photos all the time, and over to the Mall on my way back to the Metro station.

As I passed by the old Carousel on the Mall, I thought some shots with motion blur might be interesting. It was still quite sunny out, so I set the camera's ISO to 100. This let me stop down my lens to the point where I could get exposure times in the range of one-half to one-fifteenth second. Lots of shots later , I ended up with the image above. One-eight second turned out to give me just enough blur to say "motion" while leaving horses and riders somewhat recognizable.

At the other extreme, about ten minutes later, I was standing on the platform of the Smithsonian station of the DC Metro. I glanced back up the escalator for a moment, and noticed an elegant sweep of concrete around the top of the escalator and above it, the Metro's trademark waffled vaulted ceiling. It was a beautiful "found" composition, ready for me to isolate... but did I have enough light to take the shot? I cranked the ISO up to 1600 .... f/5.6 at 1/4 sec, my viewfinder said. Just as my train arrived at the platform, I braced myself, prayed, and took one shot. And here it is.

One camera, two successful shots from bright sunlight to underground twilight, with ISO setting five stops apart! Not bad for a day's work.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


Ticketmaster Blues

Spa Creek Sunset
No new photos today, I'm afraid - you'll have to settle for a "stock" image I took last summer. I spent my Saturday on various missions for our household and for myself. I had planned to go to the Firemens' Carnival tonight, it's last night, to shoot some more, but Sandy and I decided to go out to dinner together - a good decision. You can't spend too much time with your spouse. On the other hand, there are a few more local carnivals this summer.
Meanwhile, Sandy and I will celebrate our 24th anniversary this Tuesday! Also, Wednesday will mark 26 years from the day Sandy and I met. She was 22 then, the same age our daughter Leah is now.
When I asked Sandy what she'd like for our anniversary, her answer was to see Phantom of the Opera when it plays in Baltimore next month. So I jumped onto the Internet today to score some tickets. My Google search, "phantom of the opera baltimore 2004", led me to a Ticketron website. On the surface, it seemed nicely laid-out, but in reality, it was a nightmare to use.
We like to go for Saturday matinees, and I thought I'd get really good seats for this one, but every time I'd check for, say, orchestra seats on a given Saturday, there were none left. The instructions said to try again, this time specifying "best available." Trouble is, there is no selection for "best available," just "Orchestra," "Middle Balcony," or "Upper Balcony."
But it gets better - there isn't any way to get back to the schedule of performances to try to pick another date and time. So back to the very first web page to start again.
I tried every Saturday matinee in August and September for orchestra seats, then middle balcony seats, but no luck. Finally I settled on two tickets in the nosebleed section for August 28th, $62.50 each - ten measly bucks less than orchestra seats - what's that about?  Not what I was hoping for, but beggars can't be choosers. And hey!... there's an option to have them send an email with an attachment for me to print out my tickets. Cool - I can give them to Sandy with my anniversary card.
So I takes my choice and I pays my....
So what's the "Order Processing Charge" as opposed to the "Convenience Charge?" And what is a "Building Facility Charge?" They don't say. And why don't they pay me for printing out my own tickets and saving them the trouble and cost of mailing them to me?
For the priviledge of using this "service", I paid more than a twenty percent premium.
Next time, I'm schlepping to the box office!

Friday, July 16, 2004


Kishke-Based Photography

Sometimes we go out and find images, and sometimes they find us.
Yesterday evening after work, I needed to attend a meeting in Owings Mills, about an hour from home, until 9 PM. Instead of getting home hungry and late, I invited myself to stay at Mom's apartment in Pikesville, about 10 minutes from the meeting - a comfortable bed and free meals, too!
Heading to work this morning, I decided to skip the Baltimore Beltway traffic and take the scenic route, which took me right past my old elementary school. Just as I got to a stop sign by the school, I saw something out of the corner of my eye - a set of three helically-coiled airbrake hoses trailing down the back of a parked semi-tractor's cabin. Blue, red, and yellow.
It was a photo-intuitive moment.
My intuition told me that there was a decent image to be isolated here. My first thought was to make a mental note and keep moving, but I decided to stop, get out, and make a few exposures.
The morning sun gave me some good illumination of the coils, but I was worried about the scruffy spare tire hanging in the background. Oh well, take it anyway - the shapes and colors are good, and digital exposures are "free!"
A few hours and a little photoshop later, the scruffy tire has become a nice jet-black background, which helps make the vivid blue and red coils pop out of the image.
Sometimes we photograph with our heads, and sometimes with our kishkes (guts.) Today was a kishke day.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Dave Beckerman Appreciation Day

Kittamaqundi Pier
Dave Beckerman, whose Mother of All Photo Blogs helped inspire me to get back into photography after over 20 years, is a master of B&W. You should see what he can do with a some rolls of Ilford XP2 and a few liters of chemicals.

The Force is strong with Dave, and until a few short weeks ago, he had resisted the Dark Side - digital photography. But on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday in early July, a trip to buy an inkjet cartridge went awry, and Dave ended up coming home with a Canon A75. He's already done some great work running around NYC with his new camera. And unlike me, he has a great eye for B&W and is succeeding in producing super B&W images from his little digital delight. My favorite so far is an elegant composition, Pacifier.

So today's post is in appreciation of Dave, and in his honor, my photo today is ... Black & White!

Wednesday, July 14, 2004



The Zipper!
OK, that's not really how they say it here in Anne Arundel County, but in any event, our local Firemens' Carnival, a few miles away from me in Earliegh Heights, is now in full swing.

Realizing I'd be heading past the carnival grounds last night at about 9 PM, I thought it would be fun to stop and take some photos. My tripod wasn't with me, but I thought I could capture the fantastic lighting and movement of the rides, using exposures of a second or longer. I was surprised that in some cases there was enough light to get shots like this one, at about 1/30 second, of the Zipper, capturing the entrance fairly shaprly along with the zippy movement of the ride.

When my kids were smaller, I'd take them to the carnival. As they got older, they were able to go by themselves with some friends, so I hadn't been here in several years. I had forgotten how magical it is to walk, on a summer's night, among the colored lights, the smell of summery junk food, and the squeals of delight.

Summer Night Nutrition
The carnival started this past Sunday night and continues each evening through Saturday. I can't go tonight or tomorrow evening, but I gotta get back again this week. I'm not sure if I'm going to bring my tripod and do a lot of shooting, or if I'll just grab Ben and go on rides with him.... or both. Do you think they'll let me bring a camera bag on board the Zipper?

These kind of traveling carnivals are all over the place this time of year - no doubt there will be one near you soon. Try bringing a camera along this year. Ironically, a pocketable point-and-shoot digital camera is, in some ways, more suited to shooting the rides than a digital SLR. For example, I was trying to follow the motion of the gondola on one ride over the course of a 1-second exposure, but the viewfinder blackout from the mirror made that difficult. On a little P&S, you can use the normally abominal optical viewfinder and do a creditable job of it - you don't have to be very precise with these kinds of photos. Experiment with setting your ISO value so as to get an exposure long enough to capture the motion streaks of the brightly-lit ride.

And don't eat too many Elephant Ears!

Monday, July 12, 2004


PC Tzuris

Aloe in Blue Pot on Red Table - Radial RBG
Tzuris (TSOO-ris)is one of those great, expressive Yiddish words. Leo Rosten, in The Joys of Yiddish defines it as "troubles, woe, worries, suffering."

Well, I've got PC tzuris - not Politically Correct - the computer kind. My desktop computer's on-board network chip doesn't work anymore, and the PC keeps suddenly rebooting itself. My notebook, on some tasks, has slowed to a crawl - I think that one is a case of Operating System Decay rather than anything hardware-related. So I've decided to back up files that I need on both computers, then reformat and reinstall their respective operating systems.

So that was pretty much my weekend - I spent hours getting files from my desktop, mostly .jpg images, burned onto CDs. It was frustrating work, as the PC kept on rebooting itself, sometimes in the middle of a burn. I threw out a stack of CDs that were half-written but unusable, since the session wasn't closed out when the computer went flooey.

I know, I know, I shoulda been backing up all along, but I didn't, so don't remind me - I have enough tzuris to deal with right now!

Friday, July 09, 2004


Midsummer Approaching ...

What happened to June!? Midsummer is almost here, heralded by the as-yet-unerected tents and unassembled rides now sitting in the field next to the Earliegh Heights Volunteer Fire Company.

I shouldn't let it bother me anymore, but I always feel a little sad as mid-July arrives. Our local Firemens' Carnival and professional baseball's All-Star Game always seem to serve as a reproach to me ... a signal that the summer is half-gone and I haven't taken advantage of it yet. That I sleepwalked through June instead of living it. Old patterns repeating ...

But wait ... now that I think about it, I did get out and actually do stuff during the first part of the summer. In fact, one of the good things about keeping a blog is that I can go back and remember just what I did. So I see that during June I ...
Now I feel better.

Dave Goes Digital?

Check out B&W Maven Dave Beckerman's blog (be sure to look back a few days, too) and you'll see that Dave is dipping his toe into the Digital Lake. He just bought a Canon A75, a really nice little pocketable, 3MP camera - a very good choice, I think, for testing the waters, digitally speaking. He's already posted some nice images - keep an eye on his blog for what I'm sure will be more to come.

Following Up on A New PhotoBlog

Greg's new photoblog, Beauty in the ordinary is living up to its name. London-based Greg has made seven posts so far, each with an unusual and evocative photo. Take a few moments to check it out.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


Busted in Sarasota

Colonel Mustard
Yes, I was hoist in my own petard ... We almost got away with it again, but Joel and I were busted! More on that later.

Otherwise, our little vacation to Sarasota was a great success. Joel and Roz live in a beautiful area called Lakewood Ranch. a master-planned community in Manatee County. Beautiful homes built around small lakes and golf courses, palm trees, egrets and cranes, and even alligators. What's not to love!

We stayed at the Ehrenpreis' gorgeous new house, an airy, spacious home complete with a media room and a tiled swimming pool with spa. I gotta tell you - waking up every morning to a pool and palm trees is very appealing!

Roz and Joel took us to a fantastic Fourth of July block party a few doors away on Sunday afternoon, where we got to meet a bunch of the neighbors - a very nice crowd. Roz introduced me to her next-door neighbor, Dick Vitale, and his wife Lorraine. Being totally ingnorant of the world of sports, I hadn't known who Dicky V. was until Joel mentioned him to me a few days earlier. Dick was very genial and talked about his children and grandchildren. He and Lorraine were very nice and seem to be the kind of people anyone would love to have as neighbors. Awesome, bay-bee!

OK, back to the bust. As I mentioned in my last post, Joel and I have a long tradition of cheating on the board games that Roz, Sandy, Joel and I like to play whenever we're together. The girls have learned to always suspect us, and we, naturally, always protest that we are shocked, shocked to be accused of winning by anything other than our luck and our wits.

One time, years ago, the four of us were playing Clue. At one point early in the game, Sandy and Roz were so engaged in their conversation that they didn't notice that Joel simply slid the three cards out of the folder at the center of the board, took a quick look, and quickly slid them back in. I saw the whole thing, but kept quiet, stifling a laugh by pressing my palm to my mouth. Then he spent the next few minutes alternately furrowing his brow in concentration and scribbling down little "notes." At about his third or fourth turn, Joel ventured his "guess": "Mrs. Peacock, with the candelabra, in the bedroom." ... or something like that.

When he pulled those three cards out of the little folder, the girls exploded: "What!! That's impossible!!" while I just laughed and said, "That's amazing! How did you do that?"

Anyway, this time, Joel had a new plan. We would encourage the girls to play "a quick game of Password. Meanwhile, Joel had already placed a certain card in one of the two holders for the game, written down the first five "passwords," which he shared with me, put the holder with the card on the top of the stack of cards. After a few days of us whining to the girls about wanting "a quick game of Password, they finally agreed to play after we returned from the July Fourth party.

Joel and I headed back to his house a few minutes ahead of the girls. We went over the words and what clues we would use as we walked, then decided to look up each word online and get synomyms - why not!

We went to Joel's study and I pulled up Merriam-Webster Online and looked up "scallop." Just then, we heard the girls coming in the garage door and I closed the browser.

We all headed for a set of four chairs around a large Ottoman. As usual, it was Joel and me against Roz and Sandy. Joel opened the game box and handed Sandy the pre-positioned holder he had planted earlier while he handed Roz the other holder.

Sandy and I took the first turn at giving clues to our partners. As it turned out, Joel had copied the first password incorrectly as "change," while it was in fact "champ." I wish I had a camera handy to capture the puzzled look he shot me when I gave my first clue as "Rocky," while he had been expecting "coins." But sure enough, Joel did end up correctly guessing "champ" after Sandy and I had each given another clue. Off to a good start.

Now it was Joel and Roz' turn to give clues to Sandy and me. Amazingly, although we didn't know the contents of the second holder, I succeeded in guessing the password.

Each time we got to another of "our" words, I would do one of those Bill-Clinton-deep-in-thought things with my lips and give our pre-arranged clue. Joel would then look appropriately thoughtful, and after a decent interval, would give the right answer. By virtue of good clues on Joel's part ane sheer luck on mine, I also guessed several of Roz and Joel's passwords from the other holder. We racked up dozens and dozens of points, leaving the girls in the dust. We got to the last of the five passwords we had memorized, "scallop," which Joel, naturally enough, "guessed" correctly.

"Somethings going on here!" Roz said again and again. Meanwhile, Joel would say things like "What do you think we did, memorize every word in the game?" while I would smile and look dumb.

Just after the "scallop" round, Roz and Joel drew a word from their holder whose meaning they were't sure of. "Look it up online,..." I said helfully, "... m-w.com [Merriam-Webster Online] is the one I use." Roz and Joel walked over to their study and started to look up the word.

Suddenly, a loud scream from the study! Then, "You guys are so busted!... Sandy, come here quick and see what they did!"

I tried to keep a straight face and feign innocence as I walked over. "What? What's the problem?" I said.

Then I looked at the monitor, and there, attached to the little textbox on Merriam-Webster Online where you type in the word you want to look up, was a little drop-down list, the "AutoFill" list, which held only two words - the one Joel had just typed in, and ....

                  ... scallop

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