Monday, September 25, 2006

A Picture Share!

Screaming kids? What screaming kids? Instant privacy.

Improving the McDonald's Experience

I'm sitting in a McDonald's in Southport, Ind., a southern suburb of Indianapolis, where I just finished lunch and am killing time until my 1 p.m. dental appointment.
Lunchtime at a McD is usually pretty chaotic, especially when the place is full of kids like this one is.
However... I'm on my motorcycle and brought along my in-ear stereo headphones that I use while riding to listen to XM satellite radio.
I'm also carrying my iPod.
So I stuck the earphones into my ears, plugged into the iPod and am listening to a Leo Laport podcast from Aug. On KFI radio in Los Angeles.
I've been a Leo Laporte fan for a few years now, ever since I was helping Tim Balough move stuff to his new home in the Colorado high country. He had a satellite dish of the old variety and we spent hours upon hours watching Leo and his friends on Tech TV.
Unfortunately, TechTV got bought by some greedheads who wrecked it. Now, the only place you can see Leo on TV is Canada and Australia. But he's on the radio in LA and has lots and lots of podcasts.
Leo is a genius when it comes to explaining all of the arcane details of computers, software, cell phones and other such technology in a friendly, understandable way. If you haven't heard him, Google him up and see what you've been missing.

--
Sent from my Treo

Friday, September 22, 2006

A smiling Pete


I just had to post this one too.

Climbing the learning curve


We've had the Nikon D200 for a few months now, just getting used to it and exploring the features but it wasn't until this afternoon that I got around to checking out some of the elements of the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS). The SB-800 speedlights we've been using for a couple of years are CLS-capable, but the D100s we were using were not, so it wasn't until the D200 showed up that it became an issue.
We shot photos for a furniture store ad earlier this week in which I tried to get the SB-800s to act as remote/slave flashes without success.
I downloaded a primer on the subject from the internet this afternoon, read and re-read the pertinent passages in the flash and camera manuals and discovered that I needed to change a camera setting so it would tell the flash what to do. The results were encouraging and I convinced Pete the Aussie to sit for a few portrait shots, one of which is posted here.
Maria just called to say she's on her way home. We have to be at a wedding rehearsal in a couple of hours and tomorrow will shoot our third wedding in three weeks.
Fortunately, we have nothing booked for next weekend, but the weekend after that is yet another wedding. If we're not careful, this could turn into a real business.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Summer yields to fall this week and my world is full of changes.
My mortgage lady friend says we could conceivably close on the sale of my parents' house late next week.
That house has been in my family since April, 1954 when my parents and I moved in. I was in the third grade and it was a very big deal to move from the only home I'd ever known to this neat new house where I would have an upstairs bedroom.
I last lived there in the months between my discharge from the U.S. Air Force in early November, 1965 and when I returned to college in January, 1966. So that makes it more than 40 years since I called the place home.
My dad died in a nursing home in November, 1997, and we moved Mom to a retirement community in April, 2000, after she injured her leg in a fall.
It stood idle until the late summer of 2001 when my first tenant moved in. It's been a rental property every since and I've known from the start that I was never meant to be a landlord. So I'm only a little sad to part company with the place, very relieved not to have to worry about flood or fire or other calamity theere and delighted to have the money from the sale.
The additional cash will make it possible for us to make a lot of long-delayed improvements at our own house and pump some much needed revenue into our photography business.
Plus, we desperately need a vacation together and I hear Colorado calling ever stronger with each passing day.
--
Sent from my Treo

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Great free image viewer

Tim Balough turned me on to Irfanview several years ago and I've used it as my principal image viewer and slideshow program ever since, going through more periodic upgrades than I can recall.
It's freeware and it's amazingly diverse.
It was created by a Bosnian-born programmer named Irfan Skiljan who lives in Vienna, Austria and it shows stills, plays movies and music and includes some basic photo editing tools. There are also tons of plug-ins that can also be downloaded for free.
If you haven't tried it, you really should.
Check it out at www.irfanview.com

Monday, September 18, 2006

Not all that bad


Saturday's wedding shoot turned out to be closer to normal that I'd expected.
Yes, the bride had the dry heaves at the hairdresser's on Saturday morning and was on prescription drugs much of the day.
And there was a flying trip to the tux rental warehouse some 80 miles away because of a size screw-up for one of the groomsmen.
And the tent/chair rental guys showed up to collect their stuff a couple hours before the wedding. (It was a mistake - they had misread the pick-up time.)
And the bride arrived more than 90 minutes later than originally planned.
But the ceremony went ahead on schedule, nobody freaked out and the wedding party rode motorcycles bareheaded the three miles or so to the reception without incident.
We only charged them $500, which was hideously cheap and I have decreed that it's the last of the cheapies for friends or coworkers. This is too much work to let it go that cheaply.
And yes, the aisle runner was white fake fur and the bride and her attendants all wore flipflops.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bizarro World

Shooting what promises to be a world class clusterfuck wedding today.
Clue: the aisle runner will be white faux fur & the bride will wear flip-flops.
We gotta raise our prices & get out of this social niche.

--
Sent from my Treo

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Picture Share!

Lunch at White Castle - 5 cheese and a large Diet Coke.

Schloss Weiss

That's German for White Castle and that's where I am at the moment, having polished off 4.5 cheesburgers.
White Castle is funky and no-class, but I love the taste and have to have them every now and then.
I've been hooked since around 1964 when college friends introduced me to the little square burger in a box.
I was a student at Indiana State University - well, actually, it was still Indiana State College at the time - in Terre Haute, Ind.
The nearest White Castle was in Indianapolis, which was nearly a two-hour drive east on U.S. This was years before the Interstate highway system existed around here in any major way, so it was down the old National Road to the White Castle.
Naturally, after driving so far, we stuffed ourselves stupid on these White Castle runs.
Burgers were a mere 12 cents then, compared with today's price of 49 cents. But today's White Castle hamburgers and cheeseburgers still taste the same - greasy and tangy with onions. They still start with square little hamburger patties with five holes in them - arranged like the spots on the five side of dice - presumably to make them cook faster on the grill.
I remember visiting a White Castle in Jeffersonville, Ind., with a college friend back in the late '60s and being dazzled by the speed with which the girl at the grill could flip, bun and box the burgers. It was a beautiful thing to see, made even more beautiful by the fact that I've only seen that kind of White Castle expertise a few times since.
Today's WC burger flippers approach their work with a nonchalance and indifference that borders on being an insult to the customer.
When I started my career at The Indianapolis News in 1967, there was a tiny little White Castle restaurant with maybe 10 counter seats and three booths up Delaware Street by the Indianapolis Public Schools Education Center. Bob Basler, now of Reuters fame, and I used to make the two-block hike on a regular basis for lunch.
They used to have a stainless steel pocket-type rack by the door stocked with copies of the White Castle House Organ - a regularly published magazine filled with articles and letters written by WC employees around the United States. Bob and I thought it was somewhere between funny and pathetic, but we always read it. I haven't seen one in years and can only suppose it went the way of the motivated employees like the girl in Jeffersonville.
The service may have gone to hell - I spent 20 minutes sitting outside the drive-up window of the Lebanon, Ind., White Castle a few weeks ago waiting for my order (and I was the only person in line) - but the burgers and cheeseburgers still call me back.

--
Sent from my Treo

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Memory enhancement


We shot a wedding last Saturday night and a portrait assignment the next day, generating something like 3,500 big digital images in a single weekend.
We have three more weddings lined up over the next four weekends and probably another portrait job or two in the works.
All of this is heavily taxing our combined hard drive capacity - the 80GB on our Sony VAIO laptop and Maria's and my desktops, both of which have two hard drives.
It's also a big hassle to burn usable CDs or DVDs to transfer the images from the laptop, where we dump them in the field, to a desktop computer for final editing, client CD burning and album composition. I've tried doing a copy/transfer via the wireless router, but it's too slow for my taste.
Plus, we've been concerned about how to create a portable storage medium that could be relocated offsite as insurance against distaster.
I stumbled upon the solution the other day while browsing through the aisles of a Staples office supply store - an external hard drive.
The one that caught my attention is the My Book unit by Western Digital. I've used WD hard drives for a long time and have been pleased with their reliability. The My Book I bought today for $158.98 (sales tax included) has a 250GB capacity and takes up very little desktop real estate. It's 6.71" tall, 2.25" wide and 5.55" deep and looks like, well, a book standing on the desk.
This model connects to the computer via a very robust cable and USB 2.0.
I've just now copied last weekend's images and will now take My Book up to our office and copy the images to my desktop computer.
I love technology.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Frühstück

That's breakfast in German and that's what I'm doing at the moment, although you won't find much German food on the menu at Denny's.
It's Friday again and I've come to the county seat to pay what I fervently hope will be the final $100 child support installment to Maria's ex.
With any luck at all, her son will find his spine and move out of his dad's house during the coming week. He's been under tremendous psychological pressure from his father and stepmother, but I have confidence that he'll find the strength to get out and be a man. Especially when he realizes his girlfriend is watching.
It's a glorious sunny September day and reminds me of Sept. 11, 2001 - along with all of the news/talk shows today.
I was en route to the BMW motorcycle dealership in Indianapolis when the first plane hit. When I arrived, the head mechanic - the only mechanic I've ever known who listens to NPR all day - growled about some assholes flying a plane into the World Trade Center.
The only TV in the place was a small portable that was used to view promotional videotapes and they didn't have a cable connection. So they pulled up the rabbit ears antennae and got a passable over-the-air signal. Good enough that we were able to watch the second plane hit and the two towers collapse.
I remember Tom Brokaw saying exactly what I was thinking: "This is war."
And it still is.
Too many Americans never really got their brains around that. Maybe they are so conditioned by stupid disaster movies that they unwittingly think of the 9/11 attacks as some kind of unreal TV show.
But those were real people raining down from those towers and, for them, it was as real as it gets.
They thought they were safe that morning, just as we think we're safe today. But as long as there are wacko dirtbags like Bin Laden out there, none of us is safe.
So, five years into this war on terror, I'm delighted that the battleground is in Iraq and Afghanistan and not in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or Indianapolis.
End of rant.

--
Sent from my Treo

A Picture Share!

Breakfast at Denny's.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

My home town

This is about the town where I grew up, not where I live now.
I'm selling my parents' house - funny how they've been dead for years and I still think of it as their house rather than mine - and rode my motorcycle up to take a sales contract to the woman who has rented it for a couple of years.
Riding down the leafy streets of my childhood, I recalled seeing those streets and houses from the saddle of my bicycle.
About a block from the house, I passed a guy watering the lawn in front of a low one-story frame house.
He was about my age, dressed in shorts and an untucked sport shirt.
I looked a little closer and realized he was in my high school graduating class.
John, like me, was an only child. But he was an athlete - a gifted basketball and baseball player who was short on academic ability but long on boyish charisma.
His parents gave him pretty much everything he wanted, including a new Plymouth Fury when he turned 16.
He was a kind of golden boy in high school and doubtless expected the rest of his life to be equally charmed.
He went off to Ball State University, but didn't finish, and married his high school girlfriend.
I remember bumping into hiim on a street corner in Indianapolis a year or two after I'd begun my career as a reporter with The Indianapolis News.
He made sure I knew he was doing well and had earned "5 figures" ($10k or more) the year before. Yeah, that was more than I was making.
I lost track of him over the years, reconnecting at five-year intervals at class reunions and getting the occasional scrap of gossip from friends.
He got divorced and drank a lot. I heard a rumor that he was a professional gambler. Pretty much every time I saw him at a reunion, he was drunk and hiding out from his ex, who was also in our class.
Over the last 10 years or so, I heard he was living with his widowed mother and there he was, at the house of his childhood, watering the lawn with little to show for the 43 years since we collected our diplomas and began our lives as grownups.
John is, for me, emblematic of that town. All of the real achievers left and only come back to visit.
Ou friend Jack is an executive with major trailer manufacturer.
My friend Lynda is obscenely wealthy, living in Louisiana with her hometown husband who got rich closing banks after the Louisiana oil economy crashed.
I'm sure this pattern was repeated by every class since mine and a lot before it and it created a growing intellectual vaccuum in the little county seat town of 2,500.
I was reminded of that later when I stopped at the town's McDonald's - my nomination for the worst-run McDonald's in the world.
As I tried to enter, I found the inner door blocked by an oblivious woman who was chatting with an equally oblivious McD employee. With another customer standing impatiently behind me, I finally shouldered my way past them, but neither gave any indication that they realized they were blocking a doorway and inconveniencing others.
So I wasn't particularly surprised when my request for an M&M NcFlurry was answered with a dull stare and the explanation that the "McFlurry machine is broke down."
Of course it is.
I was reminded anew that my local attorney friend who has lived in that town all of his life, told me he has never set foot inside the McDonald's.
I seem to be doomed to re-discover the wisdom of his attitude everytime I go there.
--
Sent from my Treo

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wendy's observations

This must be job applicant day at Wendy's.
I'm sitting in a corner booth watching the hapless fucks maxing out their reading and writing skills to complete the Wendy's job application.
Nearest me is a couple - he's a skinny little twerp in his 30s with jeans, a wifebeater and an Indianapolis Colts blue cap.
She's maybe 10 years younger and twice his weight, but looks significantly brighter. I find myself wondering what they've been doing with their lives that brings them into the job market at this level. I'd bet that he can't pass a drug test.
A young woman in her early 20s is hunched over a job app at a table over by the window. She looks pretty intense about it, with her glasses and wild black hair. She's wearing jeans, a black tanktop and lots of silver jewelry, including a big boxy silver cross. She also has tattoos - big ones - on her chest and right bicep.
Now Mr. Colts cap has advanced to the interview stage.
"Have you ever worked fast food before?" asks the manager. I can't catch his answer but it hasn't occurred to him to take off his cap.
He's smiling a lot and seems to be maintaining good eye contact, so he may have some people skills after all.
He's nervous. Has his hands clasped as he leans on the table on his elbows. Hands clasped - opening to gesture - clasped again.
"Did she break up with him?" asks a woman talking on a cell phone, ignoring the man sitting across the table from her.
Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" plays on the ceiling speakers and the manager dismisses Mr. Colts cap. He and his woman friend step outside for a cigarette.

--
Sent from my Treo

Zen and the Art of iPod Maintenance

My 60 gig iPod (with video) has been giving me trouble this week.
At some point, it stopped responding to the Turn Off procedure of holding down the Play/Pause point on the control wheel for a few seconds.
Consequently, it was perpetually on. That was no big deal when it was docked because it was getting recharged through the USB 2.0 connection.
But when I carried it around, the fact that it couldn't be turned off meant the battery was getting needlessly drained. I was starting to worry about possible damage to the battery, which is not user replaceable.
I decided to attack the problem last night and went to the iPod support site. I downloaded v1.1.2 of the operating software (it came with v1.1.1), installed it and then wiped the memory clean with a Restore procedure that put it back to the factory settings, albeit with v1.1.2 in the driver's seat.
This all occurred after 11 p.m. I was tired, so I decided to let it restore the 17.3 gigabytes of music and other data while I slept.
So I was delighted this morning to see the welcome "fully charged" symbol on the display. And the Turn Off feature is functional once again.
O, frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

More drama

The drama surrounding my stepson's departure from his dad's house continues.
At the time of the previous post on the subject, Stepson had not yet told his dad and stepmother of his plans to move into a vacant house owned by his paternal grandfather.
Sometime Monday, his dad and stepmother figured it out or wheedled the information out of him.
As we expected, they cranked up the psychological warfare, telling him he was sure to fail if he struck out on his own. They also said they would stop paying for his technical college schooling if he moved out. That, of course, is a lie, since the most recent support agreement requires both parents to contribute. Where the kid lives is of no consequence.
My wife took the support agreement to work this morning so as to make a copy for her son to demonstrate (a) that the money will be there and (b) that his dirtbag dad and evil manipulative stepmother are lying to him.
He's a reasonably sharp kid and I fully expect him to put all of the puzzle pieces together and return to his earlier plan to move out this coming Saturday.
I sure hope so, because I'd like last week's support payment to be the last dollar I send to that house of snakes.
He's been talking to his mother and his sister and last night asked about certificates of deposit my wife has been holding for him in a bank safe deposit box. This shows he's not caved in to his dad and stepmother and is still working on an escape plan.
This could be his watershed moment where he stops thinking of himself as his father's child (property) and begins to think of himself as a independent functional grownup. He'll be 20 in November and there are soldiers younger than he fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it's high time he got up on his hind legs and started making his own decisions.
Fortunately, his girlfriend is also pushing him to be a man and move out and I'm pretty sure he wants to make a favorable impression on her.
Stay tuned for further developments.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Crikey!

It sounds like a bad joke, but it's true.
Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, was killed this weekend when a stingray he was filming put its tail barb into his heart.
It kinda figures, considering the level of risk-taking he enjoyed, but it's still a bit of a shock.
He was 44.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lisa Lisa


We made a long-overdue pilgrimage to Cincinnati yesterday to visit my son Steve, his wife Nicky and, of course, our granddaughter Lisa.
We haven't seen them since shortly after Lisa's second birthday at the end of May, so naturally Lisa has grown in every dimension.
She exudes wisdom beyond her years and seems to have the ability to recognize when a bad mood is overtaking her and pull away from it.
Maria and Steve and I took her to a park near their home where she had a great time climbing and sliding and swinging and running. When it came time to leave, her face clouded up and she stuck out her lower lip in what - for a lesser child - would have been the prelude to a crying fit. She was riding on Steve's shoulders at the moment and Maria stuck out her lower lip in challenge. Lisa apparently realized how she looked, decided that was not cool and then flashed a sunny smile, proclaiming, "Now I'm happy!"
She also spontaneously used her fingers to pull her mouth out of shape, a move her dad and his big brother Sean did when they were kids. (See lower picture of Steve when he was her age.)

The visit took place against the background of cell phone drama with Maria's son, Austin, who is scheming to escape from involuntary servitude at his father's house.
As I mentioned earlier, Austin has finally realized his father and stepmother want him living with them mainly as free labor and on-demand babysitting for the stepmother's three feral children. They told him that his studies at an area vocational technical school are paramount, but keep him so busy with chores that he doesn't have time to study.
His presence in their house is also costing us $100 a week in child support, something that I feel particularly angry about since the father spent 10 years hiding income so he could under-pay on child support when Maria had custody of both kids.
Austin has gotten the go-ahead to move into a vacant house owned by his grandfather and Maria and I met him and his girlfriend there Friday to determine what needs to be done to make the house livable.
He opined that he can't move until he saves enough money to keep himself afloat. Seeing an opportunity to free her son and annoy her ex, Maria offered that she would much rather pay Austin than give money to his father and asked how many weeks he would need to save enough money to make the jump. He guessed five weeks, so she agreed to give him the $100 a week for five weeks, since we'll stop paying her ex as soon as Austin is out of his house.
Austin agreed.
He called late last night to say he'd been studying all day and wanted to go out with his girlfriend last night, but his dad and stepmother forbade it because he hadn't done any work for them during the day. This is a kid who will be 20 in November, who has a job, a car and is going to school. He asked Maria if he should just force the issue and bail out immediately.
She advised him to chill out, stick to his plan to move out next Friday and not let his emotions force him into a hasty uncontrolled departure.
He saw the wisdom in the advice and took it.
He's working at his pet store job today and Maria is over at his new home cleaning up the hideous mess that his idiot cousin Adam left after living there for a couple of years. Adam had adopted a gimpy stray cat that peed on the carpet and made the house reek of cat piss. I have a cat allergy and could only take about 30 minutes inside before my chest started to tighten up and I began to wheeze. So that's why Maria's cleaning and I'm not.
I can't tell you how delicious it is to know I've made my last trip to the county clerk's office to make the unjust support payments. Austin's premature departure means the ex will get about $6,000 less than he expected. It also means that his legal expenses will come close to canceling out any gain he got from extorting support payments from us.