December 2004

31. December, 2004 - another year gone

I spent yesterday driving on either sloppy roads or glare ice, and once I was done with that, I relaxed with some beers, where “some” was a fairly large number. But I was pretty darned tense from trying to drive on roads I couldn’t even stand up on, and I feel better now. A steak special, beer, and playing pool with Mark made for a relaxing evening.

But in spite of staying up until 3am (I just wasn’t ready to sleep when I got home), I’m awake at 8. Any earlier plans I had for the day are going to need adjusting due to the almost certain need for a nap, and the linkage will be tardy. More later.

Okay. It’s later. And apparently it’s self-improvement day here at Dave’s Picks. Guess it’s that time of year.

Update: In today’s mail I got a note telling me that my 102-year-old great-aunt the nun died on December 21st, and was buried on Christmas Eve. Nobody in the family was alerted until Christmas Day. Not exactly happy news, and I’ve got a bunch of relatives who are mad at the convent now.

30. December, 2004 - freezing rain

As promised, I didn’t do much anything yesterday after getting home from breakfast. There was lunch, some reading, a nap, and then dinner and a few beers. It was a darned good day, even if I now feel as though I should have been more productive. That’s okay, I guess. There’s plenty to do today, and I don’t think I’ll have a chance to be bored.

29. December, 2004 - it’s later now

[8am]

I just got invited out to breakfast. Will post more after I’ve eaten.

[11:30 am]

Well, that was a pleasant start to the day. Went out, put fuel in the truck, picked up my free calendar at the gas-station for 2005, put fuel in me, and spent over an hour chatting. Then a stop at the grocery store, follwed by a car-wash for the truck so it’ll be clean until the freezing rain hits tomorrow, and home. That feels like a pretty darned good morning to me. I followed it up with a bit of business, wrapping up the 2004 payroll, and then spent a few minutes perusing the Miles of Music holiday catalog that arrived this morning. Yeah, they’re late, but they’re just about my local music store, in spite of being in CA, and mailing the catalogs from New York.

Then it was time to give y’all some links, which I’m doing right now. I think I’ll follow that up with some lunch, and then perhaps (to steal a phrase from Jeff), I’ll log some time on the couch. It feels like a good day for doing very little.

28. December, 2004 - not a work week

Well, there’s a bit of work happening, but after yesterday, I’ve decided I’m not going to treat this like a work-week. It’s not a Great Week To Be Single as Lileks suggests, but it’s not a horrible week, either.

Yesterday’s a day I’m glad is done, though. I muddled through some of the things I’d planned to do, then lunched in Dinkytown, chatting with a few of the bored shopkeepers, and headed home to relax. Not to be. I’m not going into details, but I spent the twelve hours between returning from lunch and finally going to bed trying to relax, punctuated by episodes that tensed me right up again. Nobody who reads this was involved in the tension, so don’t worry that it was you. Advice from the Reverend Jim seems useful about now.

27. December, 2004 - is this a work week?

Well, yes and no. Lots of people have the week off, but some of us will need to be working. I expect this week to fall in the middle. I’ve got some work to do, but I don’t think I’ll be hard at it, since I’ll have the excuse that some of the people I need to work with are out for the week.

The weekend? A mix. Friday night with the cousins and their families was good. There were a couple new kids in the mix, and four of my six cousins are now grandparents. It was good to see everyone, and I made out pretty well in the “Christmas Present Bingo” we play.

Christmas Day at mom’s. Well, I had been hoping to convince mom to go out to dinner, and arrived wearing a tie and sport-jacket, figuring that might help. But mom was adamant about staying home, and I ended up cooking dinner there. It can be frustrating. Mom complains that nobody comes to visit her, but won’t take an opportunity to get out of the house, either. I can understand that feeling, but when I spot it in myself, I usually try to make an effort to get out more.

Yesterday felt almost like it should have been a Monday. I woke up early, checked the internet to make sure the world was still out there, and then realized that it was Sunday, and there was nothing I had to do during the day, so I went back to bed and slept until almost two pm. At that point, any shred of motivation I’d had was gone, and I spent the afternoon and evening watching movies on the TV until almost one this morning.

Which brings us to today. I’ve got a fairly long laundry-list of things to do that includes laundry, but they’re a fairly even mix of easy to do and things that nobody will miss if I put ’em off for another week. Figure in the short sleep, since I was awake about six am, and will probably feel like a nap at some point, and I forsee difficulty in getting motivated for the the things that I could put off. Hopefully a sense of acomplishment from doing some of the easy things will get my momentum up this morning. We’ll see.

25. December, 2004 - Merry Christmas

I don’t have links for you today, but just in case you stopped by and need something to read, here’s a look at Christmases past:

Here’s hoping your Christmas was merry, and you had enough of an offline life that you didn’t see this until either late in the evening or early on the 26th.

24. December, 2004 - Christmas Eve Morn

Well, I find myself writing this as I get home from the bar, early on the morn of Christmas Eve. It was a fun evening, and I’m glad Bill brought Ryan along for drinks. I had a fun evening, would gladly do it again, and I’m pretty sure that’s not just the likker talking.

Today looked scary from a distance, but as I get closer to it, I’m much less afraid. The big social obligation is the evening with the cousins, and what the hell, they’re related to me, so they have to put up with me, right? I’m actually looking forward to it, though. They’re good folks, even if we don’t see eye to eye, and since we’re family, we all have to be tolerant of the differences we have, right? And since we’re all Polish, we all have to realize that the other guy’s a hardhead, and we have to be really tolerant.

In any case, I think this will be a good day, as will tomorrow. I only have to deal with family, and we’re all pretty tolerant of each other’s foibles. We’re not the closest family, but it’s Christmas, so we’ll get along. There’s a few grumpy links after this, but take the commentary with a grain of salt. I’m in a good mood, no matter what it sounds like.

23. December, 2004 - impending holiday
footprints in my back yard
footprints in my back yard
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One of the nice things about having snow on the ground is that I can look at what sort of critters wander through my back yard. The snow that fell Tuesday morning isn’t very deep, but it’s enough that I can see tracks from the squirrels, rabbits, cats, crows, and pigeons in it. The picture to the right was taken Wednesday about noon. That’s less than thirty hours of tracks in the snow, and there are only a few square feet of my backyard that don’t have some sort of tracks in them. Then again, I’ve been refilling the two bird-feeders daily, and in some cases, twice a day. With winter in full swing, I’m expecting I’ll go through fifty pounds of sunflower seeds, fifty pounds of cracked corn and twenty pounds of peanuts per month. It’s about a quarter of that in the summer. But all of the critters (including the neighbor’s cat) are looking well-fed.

Had a good evening yesterday. I went up to BW-3 in Har-Mar and played trivia for a while. Put two monthly high-scores up on the boards out of four games I played, and then Pete, Beth, and Mike showed up after their shopping and we yakked between bites of food. It wasn’t well planned, but rather the result of me calling around looking for someone to have dinner with, but it worked out to be just the kind of change-of-pace I didn’t know I needed. And I guess it fits in with my goal of being more social this holiday season. It also kept me up late enough that I slept until almost 7am this morning. Progress!

Tomorrow, the holiday begins. I think I’m ready, but dang! Tomorrow!

22. December, 2004 - that’s a schedule?

My “schedule” lately has been a little, um, off. I find myself waking up between three and four in the morning, answering work-related emails, fumbling through putting together the blog entry for the day, then showering, dealing with whatever precipitation is on the sidewalk before the mailman arrives at 9, and then going back to bed for a “nap”. The majority of the working day happens after an early lunch.

That’s not all bad, as schedules go, but it means that I’ve been done for the day about 9pm, which is going to prove difficult with some evening obligations coming up. I only need to shift my body’s clock about 4 hours later to be in good shape, with a normal afternoon siesta, but I’m not sure how to solve the problem. I think it’s going to involve staying up awfully late one of these evenings so I’m tired enough to sleep until sunrise or so.

21. December, 2004 - winter begins

Today’s the shortest day of the year. Just four more days until the day will be noticeably longer and the sun will be headed back to the north (for an explanation on why the sun isn’t obviously headed north for four more days, take a look at analemmas). Oh, and there’s some big holiday coming, too. I find that I’m mostly ready for Christmas itself, but still have some things to do for all the family events that’ll happen this weekend.

Sure, there are some little snags. Presents for one friend appear as if they won’t arrive in time, in spite of me having ordered from amazon.com on December 10th. They still haven’t shipped, in spite of being in stock when I ordered. Pfui. I’m also still trying to decide if I’m going to do a ham for Christmas dinner at mom’s. I’ve got a ham, got a recipe, but the motivation, that’s another matter entirely. And then there are other smaller complications I could worry about, but I’m going to try to avoid worrying at this point. The to-do list each day has less work and more holiday prep, but that’s fine, too. I’ll get enough work in that the cash flow won’t dry up, and not stressing out is more important to me now than any potential headaches in eary February.

In all, I’m feeling pretty good about the impending holiday. I’ve done what I can to prepare, have a plan for the few things that still need doing, and the rest, well, it’ll work itself out one way or another. And if anything goes horribly awry, you’ll probably get to read about it here. Everybody wins.

20. December, 2004 - wintry

Friday was a pretty normal day. Some work, some errands, and a party in the evening. The party was fun, but I couldn’t stick around as long as I wanted to because I had to head up to mom’s on Saturday. There were even a couple cute gals there I got to talk to for a bit. I’ll ignore the fact that many were married and concentrate on the fact that I had fun.

chowing down
chowing down
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Saturday, I made the weekly trip up to mom’s, battling 30-45 mph winds the whole way. For some reason, my truck doesn’t get especially good mileage when the speed of the truck relative to the air is over 100mph. And of course on the way home, the wind had shifted enough that it was a cross-wind, so the mileage wasn’t too great that way, either.

All day Saturday, the temperature had been dropping. After refilling mom’s bird-feeder with sunflower seeds, I got to snap a picture of one of the squirrels huddling behind it, somewhat sheltered from the wind, and stocking up on fuel for the cold that was to come.

almost 7 below, Fahrenheit
baby, it’s cold outside
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Sunday morning, sure enough, it was cold. The picture of the thermometer is from the one outside my bathroom window. It typically runs a couple degrees above the “real” temperature, due to some warmth coming from the house. In any case, it was pretty darned chilly out there.

But the cold-snap was a one-day thing. It warmed up during the day on Sunday as I hung out around the house, napping, catching up on bad TV, and generally resting up from a week of too much excitement.

And then this morning as I’m writing this, I hear rain hitting the windows of the house. The temperature outside is below freezing, and snow is likely during the day, but either my neighbors are hosing down my house, or things are warm enough higher in the sky that I’m getting rain. That’s going to make for a day where I’m awfully glad to be working from home, I think. It also makes me wonder whether I’ve still got any salt left from last year. I should salt the front sidewalk so the mailman doesn’t take a header out there.

17. December, 2004 - that went well

Got through yesterday in better shape than I expected. The work seemed to fall together in the morning. Lunch and groceries, no problem there. The FMR party was good, and then I headed towards home, with a stop at the Sporty for dinner, and a beer or three, skipping out on another dinner invite I just didn’t have the energy for. I think it was for the best. I was burned out from chatting up people at the party, and sitting and working on the crossword while gabbing with Jim was just about the right speed.

Today, some work. Many errands. Party in the evening. Tomorrow is pretty well planned, too. Sunday looks like a day of rest, and I’m sure I’ll be ready for it.

16. December, 2004 - two mondays a week?

For the second week in a row, I made a mid-week run up to mom’s, rather than the usual Saturday. That’s more disruptive than I’d like, for a number of reasons. The first is that I generally lose a full day of work that way, and no matter how I try, I never catch up on the weekend. But a bigger reason, as I’m discovering this morning, is that it makes the day after feel like a second Monday in the week. My brain has spent a day out of “work mode” and I need to get back up to speed again. I think I need to try a lot harder to avoid these emergency trips, hopefully with better preparation on the weekend.

As for today, the plan is pretty simple. Work, then more work, lunch & grocery shopping (I’ve been out of eggs for breakfast for two days now — a third Just Will Not Do), more work, party, then home to sleep. With any luck, none of those items will fall on the floor, especially the getting home to sleep part.

15. December, 2004 - Bill of Rights Day

Yesterday started out being a good day. In the morning I finally got around to Fixing the Sprayer Hose and writing up the results. Then meeting at a client’s office, and lunch at Kabuki on their dime. Some more work in their office and more meeting, then home, stopping off to buy some meat so my freezer wouldn’t feel lonely. Felt like a pretty good day, it did, and I was ready to spend a couple more hours tracking down the bug I’ve been working on since last week.

Then I got home, and had unloaded everything, filled the bird-feeders, hauled out the trash and recycling, and checked my voice-mail. Ugh. Down crashes the day, and after spending a couple hours going back and forth on the phone with mom, her doctor’s office (who has never once called me back, so I have to call them repeatedly in order to talk to anyone other than the receptionist), and her neighbor, I wanted to do nothing so much as curl up on the couch. Nothing horrible, but it’s one of those little crises that would be no big deal at all if I lived closer to mom, but turns into a major disruption when I have to drive over an hour each way to “drop by” to help her out, which I’ll probably have to do at some point today.

sunrise
sunrise
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Oh well. At least there’s a pretty sunrise this morning.

14. December, 2004 - today it begins

The long march of holiday-related parties, lunches, dinners, and other obligations begins today. Actually, not all of them are holiday-related, but today is the first that is explicitly a holiday activity. I’m not exactly complaining about having enough people wanting me at things that I have a busy two weeks ahead of me, but I find myself thinking that for the boom in social activities now, there’s going to be a matching bust in January. So I’m tentatively planning a party for Saturday January 29. More information when I figure out the details.

Yesterday felt productive. Until this morning, when I looked back and realized that I’d spent a lot of time spinning my wheels. I wanted to get the Christmas cards into the mail yesterday, which meant I spent most of the morning digging through boxes, trying to find the rest of the cards that I know I have somewhere, while Jon from Finer Surroundings was installing my new windows. As it turns out, I never did find the cards, and made a quick Target run over lunch. The cards are mailed (except for those folks I inevitably missed because I’m a moron), laundry got done, and I’ve got new weathertight windows on the ground floor, plus Jon changed the lightbulb over the front door (he had a ladder long enough to reach it) so the pizza guy might be able to find me, but the actual work part of the day wasn’t as much as it should have been.

We’ve finally seen some wintry weather. The temperature got into the teens yesterday, but with the wind it felt like winter out there. My parsley plant in the garden, which was still green on Saturday, finally succumbed to the cold on Sunday night. It’s done for the year now, but I’m impressed by how tough it proved to be.

Next up on the holiday list: wrapping presents. At least I bought all the paper and tape I should need while I was at Target yesterday so I won’t have to make a special trip for that later in the week.

13. December, 2004 - It’s getting close

First, the weekend. Friday was a reasonably productive day, with a break at lunchtime for some shopping. I should know better than to go to HOM furniture, and it’s been explained to me multiple times, but never as clearly as when I was in the store. After a half-hour of walking about with a very helpful saleswoman, I found two end-tables that would work very well in my living room, and were on sale. Then she got stolen by another salesman, and I got handed off to someone who would finish things up for me. This person determined that they were the only two of that model of table in the store (we already knew that), and they wouldn’t sell them to me, since they had to keep a floor model for the weekend. I could wait until next week for delivery at an extra cost, though. Fine. Whatever. Target had something almost identical for less, and I can deal with assembling them, and they’ve got two in stock that they will sell to me. Of course one doesn’t have the right parts in it, so I’ve got one new end-table, and need to try and remember to get another at Target once they’ve restocked. And I’ve identified what I want for tables in the bedroom, and just need to find someone to sell them to me. After finishing up work for the day, I assembled the one table that had all the right parts, and returned the other, dealing with the parking-lot at Target for a second time in a single day during the holiday season. Ugh. At least I finished most of the Christmas shopping. I just need to find something for Mom, and I’m good, which is a nice feeling, since we’re getting pretty close to Christmas.

Saturday, some shopping in the morning, looking for a light-bulb for a lamp I want to use to light up the bedroom while I work on it, and a spray-bottle so I can finally stick the window-film onto my bedroom windows (it seems odd to me that I don’t have an empty spray-bottle of any kind somewhere in the house, but I don’t, and the full ones are all very nearly full). Both should be available at my neighborhood hardware store, so I don’t have to worry about the parking-lot mess at Target. Got the spray bottle, but the light-bulb proved more elusive, as they’d sold the last one in stock on Friday.

Then it was time for Shawn’s wedding reception at Buca. I gave Jim a ride, since the restaurant is in a transit-hostile location. Much fun, and it was good to see a bunch of folks that I haven’t seen for years. For many, it’s the first time they’ve seen me with short hair, and I got some comments about how I cleaned up nice. Sadly, Jim and I weren’t bright enough to head home and call it a day, but instead went to shoot some pool, first at Town Hall, where there was no seating available (they had a reservation for a big dinner party), then to the Sporty. Fun. Then a stop at Manning’s (see previous comment about not being that bright). Then I finally headed home.

As might be expected after a Saturday where the drinking ran from 3pm until nearly midnight, Sunday wasn’t a very high-energy day. I watched a few movies, searched unsuccessfully for the rest of the Christmas cards (there’s the partial box I bought last year that I need to find, but it’s packed in a box I haven’t opened recently), napped, watched some more movies, and generally huddled inside my nice, warm house while 30mph winds whipped around outside. Oh yeah, I also retightened the cable on my Chim-a-lator because the wind was howling through the fireplace and the cable has stretched a bit since it was installed. The window-film isn’t on the windows in the bedroom yet, but I’m hoping to get that done on one of the few evenings this week when I don’t have anything planned. Or maybe sometime next year.

10. December, 2004 - I don’t think I’m sick

But I sure haven’t been feeling well, either. I’ve slept for nearly 24 hours since Wednesday evening, and don’t feel particularly high-energy today, either. In fact, I’ve just started for the day today, and am already thinking that I’d rather go back to bed than face the day.

But there’s stuff that needs to be done. There’s work for a client. There’s forms to be faxed to various people before the year’s up. There’s shopping so I don’t feel like a schmuck when it’s time to hand out presents. And if I don’t get around to putting away the clean laundry soon, it’s going to topple into the dirty, and I’ll have to start from scratch. Big excitement, eh?

9. December, 2004 - catching up

It’s been a busy couple days. I’ll try to get you caught up quickly, but suspect I won’t succeed.

Tuesday began with a trip to see my accountant. Nothing traumatic, just a trip to talk over how 2004 has gone, plan the final paycheck for the year so the withholding comes out more-or-less right, and generally make sure I know what I’m doing. On the way there, I was sitting at the corner of Hennepin and 11th Ave, waiting for a red light. The truck next to me started rolling out into the intersection and then acclerated some. The guy’s running a red light in a delivery truck!

crunch!
crunch!
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When he got far enough forward that I could see past the body of his truck, I noticed a garbage truck coming along 11th. It’s one of the first accidents where I could clearly see everything developing, and got to watch it start to finish. Sadly, I’d left my camera at home, so I didn’t get a chance to capture what happens when two trucks collide, but the guy who ran the red light got spun 90 degrees, and probably would have done a full 180 were it not for the stoplight in the way of his truck’s spinning.

When everything came to a stop, the intersection was mostly clogged, and a cop that had been driving the other way up Hennepin rolled up and finished the job, taking up the last available lane. I got out and explained that I’d seen the whole thing, and that the light was red from our direction too (the intersection has a left-turn light, so the cop couldn’t be sure of the state of the light from our direction), and suggested he move his car so at least a single lane through the intersection was open, and that was that.

After talking with my accountant, I headed to Fidelity’s local office to talk retirement plans. I think they’ve got an offering that will work for my business and hope to read through everything in the stack of papers they gave me between now and the first of the year, so I can fire everything up in the first few days of 2005.

Then a quick trip to the Apple Store, in search of present ideas. No luck, so it was home to try and get some work done. I mostly just got caught up on email.

After lunch, I had to head out to get my hair cut. I took the camera with this time, and got the picture up above of the wreckage of the stoplight.

On the way home from the haircut, I stopped off at a bookstore for almost an hour, again unsuccessfully searching for presents, then for a beer and some dinner at Keegan’s. Ended up staying for the pub quiz (did horribly) and then headed home, with a stop at Arone’s just to see what it’s like now. Depressing doesn’t begin to describe the ambience there, although they have painted the walls white and turned up the lighting so you can actually see just how depressing it is.

Yesterday, a trip up to mom’s. Meeting with the lawyers, and it’s quite possible the legal issue that’s been going on for the past twenty months is almost wrapped up now. Ugh. When I got home, all I wanted to do was sleep, and that more or less gets us up to date.

8. December, 2004 - day off

I’m taking the day off today.

7. December, 2004 - grinding on

The work week continues along. I’m starting to work on end-of-year things already, and have an appointment today with my accountant to make sure my taxes and withholding don’t need any end-of-the-year corrections. There’s been a lot of year-end planning this month, but it used to be worse. I can remember a time when the entire Mac market would be scurrying all through December to get new products ready for MacWorld in January. Now, December is actually one of the slower months, as companies have already blown their budget for the year, and are trying to figure out what to do about next year. I think I like things better this way, even if it means I’m going to be scrambling for new work in January.

I managed to put together the first of the two lists for Christmas cards yesterday while waiting on a compile. I’ve got the list of personal cards ready to go. Now I need to make the list of companies that will get the cards that I’ll be sending out from the business, and then write something for each list. If I’d planned ahead better, I would have had a custom card designed for the business, but I’m probably going to settle for something more mass-produced this year.

There’s plenty left to be done before Christmas, too. I still have a couple boxes of lights sitting in my living room, waiting for me to figure out how to plug them in if I hang them on the front of my house. There’s a light socket out there, but it’s up above the roof that covers my front door, and I need at least a sixteen foot long ladder to reach it. I don’t have one, and I don’t know if the light socket actually works. I dunno. I’m starting to wonder if the lights will go up at all this year. I’m also resigned to not getting a tree. It’s not like I’m going to be hosting much in the way of holiday events here, but I feel a little bad about not doing any decorating, but I also still need to start shopping for presents one of these days. Sigh.

6. December, 2004 - weekend wrap-up
George
George
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This weekend was a little backwards. Started with a Friday trip up to Mom’s, since she had a doctor appointment. Nothing critical, just a checkup. I even got to see one of Mom’s cats, who usually head into hiding as soon as someone walks in the door. I guess the top of the stereo was just too nice of a perch to give up. I did get a good staring-at, out of the deal.

In the evening, or actually after my usual bedtime, there was a gathering at Grumpy’s for a friend’s birthday. As is typical for these events, I went to the wrong Grumpy’s, and by the time I figured out that everyone was probably at the other one, I was just ready to go to bed. Of course, the last time I had this problem, the wrong Grumpy’s was the right one. I’m pretty sure there’s some rule that would help me determine which of the two is correct, but I’m starting to think I’d have better luck just flipping a coin.

Saturday, I posted about the problem under my sink, and have gotten a bunch of helpful responses. I haven’t gotten around to trying any of them yet, but that’ll be coming soon. And yes, the sprayer is on the right, and the supply is on the left. Suggested solutions range from overly complex to creative uses of the Handyman’s Secret Weapon or empty big-gulp cups. I’ll probably go with one of the latter solutions, since I’m just that kind of guy.

Saturday continued with a PeTA gathering in the afternoon. We met up at a chain-bar for wings and beers, and a good time was had by the core crowd. Ten of us were there, and that was just about the right number of folks to have a few hours of good conversation with.

After a fine afternoon marination, it was time to head home for some cleaning before playing cards. I got things cleaned up, and had time to lounge in front of the TV for a while before folks showed up, and then it was cards until the wee hours (Wee!).

Sunday, photography rambling, and many hours spent filling that with links, and then an afternoon and evening of complete couch-potatodom, as I watched half of season two of Angel. Contrary to what I said on Thursday, the living room is arranged just fine for watching TV, with or without a fire. That pretty much wrapped up the weekend.

This morning, I woke up to snow outside on the sidewalk and such. As I write this, I can hear my neighbor shovelling, but to me it looks like barely enough snow to bother getting out the push-broom for. I guess I should probably clear the sidewalk before it gets packed into ice, but since we’re supposed to have flurries all day and tomorrow, I may put it off until there’s enough accumulated that I feel a need to dig out the shovel.

5. December, 2004 - available light photography

This can also be found at Available Light Photography in my essays. That’s probably a better permalink.

I’ve been thinking about photography a bit again, and think that the state of digital photography still has a ways to go. I really like my Exilim S100 since it’s possible to carry just about everywhere, but I still feel the need for speed. To translate this into the film world, the camera feels like shooting with Plus-X film, but with more noise and grain.

And that’s somewhat counter to the way I first thought about taking pictures. My first “real camera” was a Canon FTb, which I got with a 55mm f/1.2 lens, not because I knew what I was doing, but because I got lucky. Combine this with the fact that I liked shooting Tri-X, and then later discovered Ethol’s UFG developer, which only claims to give 3½ stops plus or minus, but worked fine for me pushing Tri-X to ASA 6400, or a full four stops, and I had some impressive tools for taking pictures in low light.

So anyway, when I read about the Speed Demon of a lens that Stanley Kubrick used in Barry Lyndon, I got a little hardware-lust. I obviously don’t have the resources (or talent) of Kubrick, but I still come pretty close to sporting wood over the idea of a f/0.7 lens.

Why the fascination with speed? There are a few kinds of photography I like and think I’m good at. The first is landscapes. No real need for speed there. I also like taking pictures of architecture, and today’s digital cameras are plenty good for exteriors. It would be nice to have a faster camera for capturing interiors, but I could survive by carrying a tripod. But my other favorite kind of photography is candid portraiture using available light, and in that, there’s just no substitute for speed.

I realized this morning that I don’t take a lot of picture of people anymore. Part of the problem is that I don’t like whipping out a camera when I’m talking with someone. It breaks the flow of the conversation and changes the entire mood. The person I’ve been talking to switches to “posing” and the range of expressions you get is suddenly very artificial. A longish lens, combined with fast equipment gets around that problem because you can back off, and capture a portrait without the person being aware of you as a photographer.

Using a flash brings along the same problems. You may get one truly candid shot, but after you’ve lit up your subject like a deer in the headlights, that’s exactly the kind of picture you get.

Some of the best portraits I took in high school were done in available light. One that springs to mind (which I’ll add to this page after I’ve found it and scanned it in) was of a cute gal who wasn’t camera-shy at all, but who fell into a pose every time she realized a camera was on her. I took her portrait from across a basketball court with a 400mm f/8 mirror lens handheld, with her head filling about 5% of the frame. I don’t remember the exact settings, but I managed to get a fast enough shutter speed that there was no shake visible, so I was probably around 1/500 of a second. A little push-processing, enlargement and cropping in the darkroom, and I had what folks agreed was the best picture taken of her all year. That may not sound too impressive on its own, but the photo-editor of the yearbook was dating her, and had plenty of opportunities to take her picture. I got a better shot in a handfull of tries, most of which were bracketing for exposure on a single evening. I’m sure the reason was that I used fast film, a long lens, and was far enough away that I got a completely candid portrait, rather than one that looked posed.

Yes, it borders on the voyeuristic, but when I used to do more of this sort of photography with film, I would get permission after taking the picture, and people were generally happier with the results than if I’d put them on guard by asking first and being obvious about doing a bit of soul-stealing. With digital, you can even let the person see the results right away, making their consent more informed. But the big problem of digital not being fast enough remains.

Another kind of picture I like to take are photos of bands performing. The lighting is dim, and a flash not only disturbs the performance, but also annoys the other people trying to watch it. I still try to take pictures of bands with digital cameras, but the results don’t usually live up to what I’d like to see. I want faster equipment.

That’s a large part of why I still have techno-lust for the Nikon D70. Reading the reviews, it would appear to have almost enough speed for my wants, and the ability to slap some truly fast glass onto it. Well, a guy can dream, right? Of course, if I were to get such a setup, I’d start complaining about how it was too big…

4. December, 2004 - a plumbing problem

I like to think that my readers are smart folks, so I’m posing a plumbing problem that has me stumped. In my kitchen sink, I’ve got one of those sprayers. The hose from it is long enough that it loops around the valve (which sticks out about four inches from the wall) and supply line for the cold water to the sink, and when I try and pull the sprayer up, the valve catches the sprayer line and I can only move the sprayer about six inches, which makes it less useful than it should be. Whenever I want to use it, I have to first lay on the floor, negotiate my arm under the garbage disposal, and unloop the hose.

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Needless to say, this means that I don’t use the sprayer as often as I’d like, and almost every time I do, I end up being glad there aren’t children around to hear the language I end up using.

I’ve tried doing things like feeding the sprayer hose around to the right of the valve, or wrapping a towel around the valve-handle to make it easier for the hose to slip over it, and that will work once or twice, but then inevitably the hose will wrap itself around the valve, and I’ll be using foul language again.

I’ve thought about just removing the handle from the valve, but at that point something will go wrong with the sink, and I’ll have water spraying all over the kitchen while I try to find the missing handle, which doesn’t seem like an especially good plan. I can also see the hose still getting caught, because it naturally hangs behind where the fattest part of the valve is.

I don’t see how I can easily shorten the hose, since it’s got crimped-on fittings on both ends, and I’d rather not have something leaking under the sink. Frankly, I’m stuck. And that’s where you smart readers come in. One of you must have a clever idea of how to fix this problem, so I’m asking for your help. Do you have any clever ideas?

I’ll post the suggestions and whatever solution we come up with once the problem is solved. Thanks for your help.

3. December, 2004 - first fire

Last night, I actually lit the fireplace for the first time, rather than just pushing the furniture around near it, or sitting there being happy about having it done. It’s nice being able to have a fire to warm your feet while turning into a tuber in front of the TV. Unfortunately, I don’t have any real wood for the fireplace, just a few synthetic firelogs (they’re Target brand ones, but Target doesn’t seem to sell them online). Better than nothing, but not as nice smelling or sounding as real wood. Then again, they’re a lot less messy, too.

But I’m going to have to buy some more furniture. I’m on the home-improvement merry-go-round and can’t get off. Rearranging the existing furniture points out gaps. I need a place to put the lamp I got from my mom, for example. I need a place to set the remotes and whatever book I’m working on. Same thing in the bedroom. Once I get the carpeting put in there, I’m going to need to buy more furniture for the bedroom. It’s a vicious cycle, and I find myself wondering if it wouldn’t be simpler just to move into a cardboard house. But then I’d need to furnish that, too.

But hey, it’s nearly the weekend. After some number of hours fighting with CodeWarrior today, I’ll be able to call it a week, and start preparing for laying around being a slug over the weekend. And trying to put together the list of folks who’ll be getting Christmas cards this year. And vacuuming before folks stop over to play cards on Saturday evening. And shopping for end-tables for the living room. And and and…

2. December, 2004 - hunkering down

I’m discovering that I like the way my living room is now arranged. As I mentioned earlier, I tried to make curling up in front of the fireplace more inviting, and the TV less of a center of attention. It seems to have worked. I haven’t even turned on the TV since Monday night, instead spending Tuesday evening reading a book, and last night over at Town Hall with Mark. But the feeling I get is that the living room is going to be a fine place to hunker down for the winter as the weather gets colder.

I’m feeling almost bipolar about the work situation lately. I realized yesterday morning that I had somehow managed to invoice plenty of hours last month, in spite of feeling like I was getting nothing done the whole time. But I still find myself thinking that I need to be more productive. Luckily, I’ve got a couple leads for new gigs that should may provide more work, possibly even before the first of the year.

1. December, 2004 - tick tock

Another month ticks away. Holiday stuff looms. It’s generally the first of the month when I notice time passing, and December and January are right up there for noticing it (along with birthdays). The clock ticks inexorably on, and I find myself wondering where the last week / month / year / decade went.

But enough of the philosophizing. Today’s links aren’t the freshest, since I didn’t find anything interesting this morning, but what the heck. I’ve still got some links piled up from earlier in the week, including a fairly long rant.

A friend pointed me to Software Engineering for Internet Applications, a book that’s online. This is one of those very frustrating books for me. I’m pretty sure there’s some good stuff in there that I’d like to read–for that matter, the introduction had me stopping to ponder for a half-hour. But the problem is that I think there are faulty assumptions out of the gate. An example from the introduction:

Amazon is the best known example. In 1995 there were dozens of online bookstores with comprehensive catalogs. Amazon had a catalog but, with its reader review facility, Amazon also had a mechanism for users to communicate with each other. Thus did the programmers at Amazon crush their competition.

Well, no. There may have been dozens of online bookstores with comprehensive catalogs, but I sure couldn’t find them back then. I remember Amazon, Powell’s, Stacey’s, and Computer Literacy being the bookstores I shopped online. Computer Literacy became Fatbrain, which got swallowed by Barnes and Noble. Powell’s is still out there, but isn’t quite comprehensive. Stacey’s has closed up a couple locations, and is nothing like comprehensive anymore.

All along, Amazon was the most comprehensive, and simplest to use. It also had the best item descriptions, and not from users, but editorial descriptions. At amazon, there was a good way to put in an ISBN and get taken straight to the book. Most of the other stores obscured that behind some big ugly web application. And finally, while I often use isbn.nu for my online book shopping, because you can put in an ISBN and get the cheapest price, I frequently end up going to Amazon to see more about the item, and then discover that while Amazon may not have the cheapest price on any one book I want, if I order two or three books, Amazon has all of them, and I save enough on shipping by buying them all from the same place to make up for the fact that they’re not the cheapest place.

So I think the three big factors for Amazon were a comprehensive selection; good, non-user-generated descriptions of things; cheap prices, even if they’re not the absolute cheapest; and a simple interface that always worked on my Mac, which other bookstores often failed at. The user reviews are nice, but they’re not what brings me back there.

So anyway, back to the book, I find it awfully hard to decide to spend time reading a book like this one when right out of the gate I find something that just isn’t true in my experience. It’s not the community. It’s the not-sucking that matters.

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Copyright 2009, Dave Polaschek. Last updated on Mon, 15 Feb 2010 13:58:07.