Tuesday, January 31, 2006

I got a Nikon camera...

One of my wife's coworkers gave us a couple of old film cameras the other day - something he'd had knocking around for decades.
One was a Mamiya C3 double-lens reflex, 2¼x2¼ camera.
The other was this - a Nikon F with the Ftn light meter finder and a 50mm f/1.45 lens.
This was once the camera of my dreams. When I got into the newspaper business back in the mid-1960s, this was the absolute ultimate supreme 35mm single lens reflex camera. All of the top shooters, especially guys covering Vietnam like Eddie Adams and David Douglas Duncan, wouldn't walk out the front door without at least two of these hanging from neck and shoulders - one with a wide-angle lens, the other with a telephoto.
These things were clunky and heavy but they earned the reputation of being able to take a terrible beating and keep on going. One shooter of the period called the Nikon F a "hockey puck" for its indestructibility and the name stuck.
For whatever reason, I didn't think I could afford a Nikon, so when I was ready to step up from a Mamiya HiMatic 7 rangefinder 35mm to an SLR, I bought a Pentax Spotmatic and ended up investing in several Pentax screw-mount lenses. They were a nightmare to change under pressure because it was tricky to get the threads lined up.
Nikon, of course, pioneered the bayonet mount - insert the lens into the camera body, give it a twist and it locks into place.
I eventually got seduced by autofocus point-and-shoots and it wasn't until I started hanging out with Maria that I sold all of my Pentax junk and started investing in Nikon gear - first an N90S, then an F5 before we transitioned to our digital D100s.
My friend Bob Basler, who went on to the Albany, N.Y. Knickerbocker News and then to Reuters, married the daughter of the president of the Associated Press. Consequently, he came to know Eddie Adams and ended up with one of Eddie's Nikon Fs.
The F, introduced in 1959, was the first successful 35mm SLR and helped change "Made in Japan" from pejorative expression to a mark of quality and precision.
By today's standards, it's as ancient and obsolete as a typewriter. Other than the light meter, there's nothing electronic about it. Everything is mechanical.
No autofocus, no program modes, no automatic film advance. You focus manually with a (to my eyes, anyway) hard to use viewfinder screen and you set the shutter speed and aperture manually. You also advance the film with a thumb lever.
The light meter, which replaced the stock prism eyepiece housing, was a through-the-lens affair, so it saw what the film would see in terms of light. You achieved a proper exposure by adjustinaperturere and shutter speed to balance a light meter needle that appeared at the top of the viewing field. Along with the needle, there was also a read-out for the shutter speed.
The meter used two 1.35 volt mercury batteries, which are no longer available because of environmental concerns about mercury. The mercury cells were ideal because they continued to deliver a consistent 1.35 volts throughout their life until they finally crapped out. Currently available 1.35 volt cells deliver less and less power as they age, which means less and less accurate meter readings. The other choice is 1.5 volt cells which deliver a consistently wrong reading by an f-stop or two.
Other than dead meter batteries, the Nikon F given to us appears to be usable. The optics are reasonably clear and the shutter seems ok. I expect I'll run a roll of film though it soon and see how it does, not that I expect to use it for anything important.
All of our serious work is digital and on the rare occasion that I do need to shoot film, I have the F's direct descendant - the Nikon F5. But the F5 has been obsoleted too, by the F6 - what many believe will be Nikon's last professional 35mm SLR.
But whether I ever use the F or not, it's fun to finally own one and to have a piece of photojournalistic history on my office bookcase shelf.

TreoAlarm: Killer app

This is TreoAlarm, a truly killer application and something I've been looking for since I got my Treo 600 last fall.
It wakes you up and gives you the current weather all in one shot.
One of the main reasons I bought a smartphone was because I wanted as many of the features of a notebook computer as possible in a small package that I could carry with me on motorcycle trips.
The Treo 600 lets me journal, check e-mail and blog from the road, but until now I never had a reliable alarm and it was a bit of a hassle to check the weather - something a touring motorcyclist routinely wants to know about as soon as he wakes up every morning. Now I have an application that will get me on the road on time and brief me instantly on the current weather conditions and the forecast for what's waiting out in front of me.
If you're a Treo user, check it out at www.treoalarm.com

Monday, January 30, 2006

Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Frantz

This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army as a token of appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service.

Marilyn and James Frantz, Lafayette, Ind., accept the flag from the casket of their son, Spc. Matthew Frantz, 23, killed in action Jan. 20 at Hawijah, Iraq.

A half-dozen of the loonies from Topeka did show up outside the church, but so did about 60 bikers - mostly members of ABATE of Indiana and Vietnam and Gulf War vets - who would have stomped the wackos if the cops hadn't kept them separated. The wackos left about 5 minutes before I got there and, while I would have enjoyed photographing the scene, it did mean that they will get no publicity in my wife's paper. And, after all, this was about Spc. Frantz, not a bunch of evil morons who are an insult to Christianity.

Funeral duty today

I'm being a photojournalist today.
I'm driving up to Lafayette (Ind.) to photograph the funeral of a 23-year-old soldier in the 101st Airborne Division who was killed last week in Iraq.
The funeral will be in the Lafayette Christian Reformed Church. My first wife and her family were members there and that's where we were married, so I know the place well. The last time I was there was for my mother-in-law's funeral in 1991.
I don't plan to go inside for the funeral services because I don't want to be intrusive. So I'll stay outside and shoot the casket coming out and keep an eye out for those malignant imbeciles from the moronic Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kans., who think casualties in Iraq are America's payback for not putting gay people in concentration camps. They would have been right at home in the Third Reich.
Then I'll beat it over to the cemetery and shoot that scene.
It's overcast and it will be around 40 degrees by then. The last two funerals I shot were for police officers killed in the line of duty and they were on considerably colder days. Just once, I'd like to cover one of these things in nice weather, assuming I have to cover one at all.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Taxing times at Wal-Mart

Tax time at Wal-Mart I listened in on a bit of this interview and there's no way I'd let the guy she was talking to figure my taxes.

Job app

The kid on the right is filling out a job application at Wal-Mart. Good luck, kid.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Funky Llama

Hot damn! Funky Llama Argentine wine on sale!
Funky Llama is a pretty good brand of table wines made in Argentina. It's a killer bargain because of the extremely favorable exchange rate between the Argentine peso and the U.S. dollar.
We discovered it a few months ago in the wine section of Meijer stores, gave it a try and were favorably impressed. We checked out a few online reviews, just to be sure our taste buds weren't completely out of synch with everyone else and have been regular consumers of Funky Llama ever since.
Ordinarily, it runs $5-6 a bottle, so it was a pleasant surprise to find it on sale at Meijer for $4.50 a bottle.

Read this

I discovered Colby Buzzell's milblog from Iraq several months ago - http://cbftw.blogspot.com/ - titled My War: Fear and Loathing in Iraq.
He wrote the most compelling first-person accounts of combat I've read from that conflict and had a huge following. He was even read on a regular basis at the White House and the Pentagon.
Unfortunately, he made people in his chain of command nervous and they put so much pressure on him that he decided to pack it in.
But the good news is that his blog entries ended up forming the core of his book titled My War: Killing Time in Iraq (clever double-entendre, eh?).
I put it on my Amazon.com wish list and my stepdaughter was kind enough to buy it for me for Christmas.
I took my time, savoring it, and finally finished reading it this week.
It's not great literature, but it's as honest an account of a U.S. soldier's experience in Iraq as you're likely to see and it makes me proud of this most professional army we've ever fielded.
If Buzzell, for all of his faults and frailties, is typical of America's armed forces, our enemies have little to hope for and much to fear.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Low-speed banking

My view for what seemed like forever this afternoon at the bank. Today, everyone is a moron.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dog Wars

Ruthie telling Pete to get out of her space.

Pete the Pup is feeling feisty this morning.
He's growling his little high-pitched growl and shaking the bejeezus out of the seemingly indestructible rubber mallard we gave Ruthie for Christmas a couple of years ago.
Now he's dashing wildly back and forth across the bedroom floor, looking for something to attack.
A few minutes ago, he and Ruthie were engaged in a spirited argument - facing off and barking and snapping at each other. I think it's just play, but sometimes it's worrisome.
Ruthie jumped up onto the couch with Maria and me last night while we watched TV and Pete, who apparently has come to regard the couch as his exclusive domain, went crazy and started growling and snapping at Ruthie. This was mildly comical, since he's still too small to jump up onto the couch from the floor. His usual route onto the couch is up the stairs behind it and through the bannister rungs onto the back of the counch.
Pete seems generally unimpressed with Ruthie's size and recognizes that he has the edge with his Aussie speed and agility. He backs off only when he senses she's ready to do him some serious harm.
But he's always pushing and probing and intruding into her comfort zone.
Maria had hoped they could be buddies and we see occasional indications that things may turn out that way. At least they're not mortal enemies.
When we turn them out into the back yard, Pete bounds out the back door right behind Ruthie and shadows her around the yard. When she sits and stares at the treeline behind our property, Pete sits next to her and gazes in the same direction, probably wondering all the while what it is that they're looking for.
He's looking to her for instruction on how to be a member of our pack, but he's also asserting himself whenever possible.
He wasn't the Alpha dog in his litter. That position was occupied by a white-faced female pup who shouldered her siblings aside at feeding time and grew conspicuously faster than the others.
But now we wonder if Pete wasn't second in the pecking order.
Ruthie will be eight years old this year, which makes her 56 in dog years. It's clear that Pete's energetic pestering wears her out. She's turned to me several times lately, after a fierce barking exchange with Pete, with a pleading look as if to say, "Would you please get this kid away from me?" Sometimes she even whines about it.
We can only hope that she can endure until Pete outgrows his impulse to tweak her up, since she seems to be losing her ability to put him in his place.

A moment of truce.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Life's little surprises

Wise man hide leaf in tree - ancient Chinese proverb

See this rug?
We have one just like it in our dining room and a similar, darker version in the living room. They fit nicely in our century-old Queen Anne Victorian house.
But they have an unexpected down-side, especially the one in the living room.
They are a near-perfect camouflage background for dogshit.
We don't use the living room much, so Ruthie's rather rare indiscretions sometimes went a week or more before they were discovered - long enough to dry and nearly petrify.
Now that we have Pete the Pup, this is especially troubling because Pete hasn't quite gotten the idea that his bathroom facilities are outdoors.
Even with daylight streaming in through the windows or with all of the lamps blazing, Pete poop is fiendishly hard to see. Maria made that discovery last night with her sock feet. We did a careful survey and got all of it, but just to be sure I swept the area with my laser pointer at a height of about a half-inch and found nothing more.
Pete gets regular visits to the back yard but he seems to think it's because we want him to chase Ruthie around, gnaw on a stick or poke his nose into interesting places under the deck.
Pete has no idea how lucky he is that I am completely captivated by his cuteness and that he has caught me at a point in my life when I had the patience to deal with his chaos.

Burns me up

Aside from the usual two or three credit card solicitations, today's junk mail included promotional material for the Cremation Center of Indiana.
I'd like to think everyone in my Zip code got the mailing. It would be disturbing to think I was singled out as a particularly promising recipient because I just happen to be 60.
The letter from someone named Barb Milton, which addressed me familiarly on a first-name basis, informs me the Cremation Center of Indiana at 635 E. Market Street in Indianapolis "is a one-of-a-kind facility that includes a spectacular meeting room. It is the perfect place to hold a memorial gathering, reception and other special events and there is nothing like it anywhere in the country."
Barb goes on to invite me to come for a visit, dangling as bait a cheesy looking "Howard Miller clock with mahogany finish, quartz movement. A $25 value!"
Wow. A clock with a wholesale value of $12.50.
The envelope also includes a Q&A sheet with photos of 60-ish men and women who are presumably getting their questions answered. Like, "How long does it take to cremate a body?" (Between 2 and 2½ hours.) and "Is embalming necessary for cremation?" (No.)
Well, Barb, you caught me in a particularly unreceptive mood today and I'm throwing your stuff in the trash.
I'm not ready to go up in flames just yet.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Seeing things in a bad light

I'm working on reducing our energy consumption around the house.
I've been walking around turning off lights and unneeded appliances and I've got programmable theromostats delivering heat to only the parts of the house where there are people. The fact that we're having a remarkably warm January makes me hopeful that we'll save enough on natural gas consumption to offset the post-Katrina price hikes.
And slowly but surely I'm replacing the most heavily used lightbulbs with the spring-shaped fluourescent bulbs that deliver lots of illumination for much less electricity.
Maria discovered from her quilting sources that there's a color-correct daylight version of these high efficiency bulbs. We bought one for her quilting table lamp and another for a lamp in the parlor where she quilts while watching TV. She loves them and swears she can see better and with greater color accuracy.
So when I was at the Home Depot yesterday afternoon looking to pick up a few more replacement bulbs, I snarfed up a three-pack of Commercial Electric Daylight Lamps, rated at 90 watts of illumination, but only drawing 23 watts of power.
I decided the three-light ceiling fan fixture over the kitchen table was probably getting the most use of any conventionally bulbed light in the house, so I replaced its three 60 watt bulbs with the new Daylight Lamps.
I hadn't anticipated there would be such a difference from a combined 180 watts of illumination to 270 watts. The color quality was quite unexpected at this intensity as well.
This end of the kitchen now looks like it's being lit by one of those mercury vapor outdoor security lights. It certainly doesn't feel like daylight - too much blue/purple. And it makes the can-mounted floods on the other end of the kitchen look positively yellow.
I also noticed a warm-up period for these bulbs. They come on a little dim and build to their full intensity over a period of about 30 seconds or so.
Rather than evoking the warmth of natural sunlight, the quality of the light strikes me as stark and cold. In fact, it's making me feel a little queasy. Daylight? On what planet?
Maybe the non-daylight 60 watt version of the energy saving bulb would be a better fit for the kitchen table. I can install the 90s in seldom-used living room lamps and derive my advertised $201 in energy savings that way.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Scary stuff

So I'm editing stories at Maria's newspaper this afternoon and we hear someone screaming "Mayday!" on a fire department frequency.
All other activity in the newsroom stops as we gather around the scanner radio and listen to a conversation between a firefighter who is apparently trapped inside a burning building and the guys outside.
Maria had one of the reporters call the photographeer on his cell phone and then checked with the fire department dispatcher.
We're all having visions of the movie "Ladder 49" and think we're listening to a firefighter about to die.
But no, it turns out it's a training exercise.
Maria got on the phone to the fire dispatcher and implored them to let us know ahead of time when they're going to train, explaining everyone over here was freaking out.

Sent from my Treo

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I'm Super Cool. How about you?

Am I cool or uncool? [CLICK]
You are Super-Cool!
Whoa! Step back - the future's so bright for you it's blinding me! You are the coolest of the cool. Everyone looks up to you as the benchmark for being coooool. The Fonz was your grandfather. Any cooler and you'd freeze! WOO it's chilly in here.
Cool quizzes at Go-Quiz.com

Purging Pete's parasites

Pete the pup has had a rough morning.
He's dozing in his kennel, worn out from a traumatic trip to the veterinarian's office.
We took him to the vet four weeks ago, where he got medicated for roundworms - a parasite common to puppies. The doc gave us a syringe with a second dose of the liquid to squirt down Pete's throat on Jan. 6 and we followed his instructions.
But scrutiny of Pete's poop showed he was still blowing out worms as late as this morning.
Turns out they were tapeworm segments, something outside the reach of the wormer meds we'd given him.
So, in addition to his distemper shot this morning, Pete had to swallow a couple of tapeworm pills. The doc put them deep into Pete's throat and the pup managed to swallow one, but spit out the other.
He clearly wanted nothing more to do with pills, so the doc had to straightjacket him with a towel wrap and recruit an assistant to hold the pup down while he used a pill-poker to jam the tabled down his throat.
Pete, of course, was sure he was being killed and screamed and choked accordingly.
He stuck close by my side while I paid the bill and lay quietly in his basket on the ride home.
He went directly to his kennel for a nap and I haven't heard a peep out of him since.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Like father, like son

Maria's son, who moved out after graduating from high school last May 30 to live with his father and stepmother, has turned on his mother in a most disturbing way.
He's going to a vocational techinical college, studying "quality assurance," which is presumably preparing him for some kind of white collar job in manufacturing.
As per the terms of his parents' divorce, he pays one third of the cost and his parents pay the other two-thirds.
We dutifully ponied up a third of his first semester tuition last fall. Then his father decided to drag us back into court to try to get Maria to pay support. This caused us to review the terms of the divorce and discover that the two-thirds that the parents pay is supposed to be in direct proportion to the parents' relative incomes. His father has made a 10-year habit of hiding income so as to avoid paying his fair share of support, so it wasn't until a few months ago when he produced a copy of his 2004 IRS 1040 that we were able to determine he should be paying 60% of the parents' share of tuition and Maria's share was 40%.
So, when the boy called Monday in a panic to say he needed tuition money right-fucking-now, Maria dashed off a check for her 40% and dropped it off at the pet store where he works, along with a copy of the divorce decree. She made the mistake of phoning him beforehand to advise him of this adjustment and he went into a tirade about how she's trying to cheat him and his father. I wish she'd written the check for an even smaller amount, backing out the overage that she paid on the fall tuition.
He also called his sister at college and went on a rant about how Maria has a new laptop computer (we charged it and it's necessary to our photo business) and a new pedigreed Australian shepherd puppy (Pete was my Christmas present to her) and managed to drag a new coffee maker and a new toaster into the diatribe. He also screeched that it was "unprofessional" of Maria to drop off a sealed envelope containing his tuition check and the explanatory divorce decree at his place of employment.
Considering the fact that he destroyed or damaged nearly everything of value that Maria ever owned during his childhood and all the time Maria and I spent in teacher conferences and counseling sessions because of his behavior, I find this absolutely outrageous.
His father is a dishonest moron and it appears he inherited all of his father's bad traits and damned few of his mother's good qualities.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the road again...

On the road again: a January jaunt to the Greencastle exit on I-70.

Riding again. Amazing!

Anytime the temperature gets above 55 in January in Indiana, it's riding weather.
So here I am, putting some unexpected miles on the K1200GT.
At the moment, I'm taking a break at the Greencastle exit on I-70, having ridden down to see the World War II German V-1 buzz bomb on the Putnam County Courthouse square. Unfortunately for me, its V-shaped concrete pedestal is empty because the thing is being restored after 50-some years of Hoosier weather and acid rain. I guess it's a testimony to German craftsmanship that the thing has survived as long as it has. After all, the designers never envisioned 50 years of weather exposure. They figured it would be fired and blown to bits somewhere in England within a few weeks of its manufacture.
Anyhow, it's a very incongruous sight, since most military courthouse lawn decorations are artillery pieces, tanks or gutted aircraft.
The ride down here kinda sucked because I got stuck behind a long slug of slow-moving traffic on a twisty two-lane highway with few passing opportunities and lots of oncoming traffic.
So I just backed off, put it on cruise control and got into XM radio's 5002 greatest hits of rock on the Deep Tracks channel.
I spent a few hours yesterday briefing some touring novice friends on road choices in Arizona, Utah and Colorado and couldn't possibly pass up a chance to ride in today's fine weather.

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The Kennedy Curse

After watching Sen. Ted Kennedy badgering Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, I find myself wondering, "Where is the Kennedy curse when we really need it?"
Does it just work on Kennedys who I like? Despite my present political perspective, at various points in my life I've had favorable thoughts about some of the Kennedys.
I liked John Kennedy, being in my teens during his brief presidency. I liked him so much that I went to Washington, D.C. in November, 1963 for his funeral.
I liked Bobby Kennedy because he represented what I thought was the best alternative to Lyndon Johnson in 1968.
I liked John Kennedy Jr. because he didn't go into politics and trade on his family name and because he was stylish without being politically menacing.
But when it comes to Ted Kennedy, I can't remember him saying anything I could agree with since about in the last 35 years.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Friday, January 06, 2006

Bust the hoax

A friend forwarded an e-mail to me today - a chain-letter kind of thing that purported to be an account of testimony given by Col. Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987 in which Col. North warned senators - including Al Gore - about Osama bin Laden. It also included a story about how the Israelis had 9/11 WTC pilot Mohamed Atta in prison and were pressured to release him by Bill Clinton and then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
I've seen enough of these things to be reflexively skeptical and I also know some of my friends will forward some crazy stuff without checking it.
So I went to the two best authorities on online tomfoolery - Hoaxbusters and Snopes.
And, of course, both sites said the stories are bogus. Snopes, in fact, had a letter from Col. North refuting the bin Laden story and asserting that he was speaking of the terrorist Abu Nidal.
Now, I detest Bill Clinton and Al Gore as much as any right-thinking Republican, but I prefer to deal in facts.
So the next time you get an e-mail with a shocking story, regardless of the political spin, please check it out before you forward it to everyone in your address book. If you don't, it's about the same as if you let a virus replicate via your e-mail access. It also makes you look like a gullible dope when your friends try to confirm the story.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Semper Fi

I had the amazing honor today to speak with Raymond Jacobs, a member of the Marine recon patrol that raised the first American flag on Iwo Jima.
Everyone has seen Associated Press photographer's iconic photo of the second flag-raising on Iwo. It's possibly the greatest photograph to come out of World War II and was the basis for the sculpture that is the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The first flag-raising involved a smaller flag. Moments after the Marines erected the makeshift flagpole that was actually a water pipe the Japanese defenders had used to supply their fighting positions on the summit of Mt. Suribachi, the Japanese came out of their holes in the volcanic crater and attacked the Marines. They beat the attack back, but Staff Sgt. Lou Lowrey, who photgraphed the first flag-raising, tumbled down the slope and smashed his camera. Fortunately, the film was saved and we have this photo of the guys, including radioman Jacobs on the far right of this picture.
Jacobs is one of two surviving men from this photo. The other is Charles Lindberg.
Jacobs has an account of the action on another website and I was struck by this passage from it:

Just moments after the flag was raised we heard a roar from down below on the island.
Marines on the ground, still engaged in combat, raised a spontaneous yell when they saw the flag. Screaming and cheering so loud and prolonged that we could hear it quite clearly on top of Suribachi.
The boats on the beach and the ships at sea joined in blowing horns and whistles.
The celebration went on for many minutes. It was a highly emotional, strongly patriotic moment for all of us.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Jan. 2 and I'm riding!

Greetings from the westbound rest area on I-74, 25 miles east of the Illinois state line.

Out for a ride

The temperature is crowding 60 and it's partly sunny, so I've gone for a motorcycle ride.
I checked the Weather Channel radar before I left home and determined there was a storm front about 50 miles west of the Indiana-Illinois state line, so I took Maria's advice and rode west on I-74 to meet it and race it home.
I got as far as the Covington exit - about 8 miles from the state line and ├žoncluded the rain was one, maybe two exits away.
So I turned around and headed back east, stopping at the first Crawfordsville exit for a McDonald's lunch and to blog.
Being able to go for a 100+ mile ride today is like a gift. I didn't expect to fire the engine again until late February.
I needed a ride to clear my head - Morgan had Ruthie and Pete playing tug-of-war with Ruthie's rubber mallard last night when Ruthie suddenly went on the attack and Pete ended up with a bloody gum and a front tooth nearly ripped out - it was standing straight out and when Maria tried to push it back into place, she concluded the underlying soft bone may have been broken.
I'd read Maria (and I thought Morgan) a passage from a dog training book my son Steve gave me for Christmas that advised against forcing a new dog and an established dog to play together. Rather, you're supposed to let them define their relationship themselves. I had misgivings when they playing started last night, but didn't want to seem a jerk by stopping it. Obviously, I should have interceded.
Fortunately, Pete seemed to be mending nicely this morning and the tooth looked like it was moving back into its original position, so we cancelled the appointment we'd made with the vet.
Nevertheless, I found the attack very disturbing and felt terrible that I'd allowed the puppy to be hurt. I'll not make that mistake again.
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