Sunday, July 27, 2008

The price of gas

This is my transportation, outside of a bicycle and feet that is, and it always raises the question whether to find a better mileage vehicle or keep my trusy, dusty van. It's the issue of which is more cost efficient and productive. It's not just about the price of gas but the cost of owning and operating a vehicle, and gas is just a part of the equation.

This my 1991 VW Vanagon Syncro (4-wheel drive). I've owned it since new, which has a long story and history to me as the one car I've always wanted and don't want to part with. It's the perfect all-weather, all-season van. It's been more reliable and durable an almost any car and easily most van. It's not quick or fast but does the job very well.

You see, for all of it's 90 bhp for pushing 4,250 lbs of weight, it hauls 7 people and all their stuff, has a 1-ton (2,000 lb) carrying capacity, has nearly 240 cubic feet of cargo space, has a back seat that unfolds into a full-size bed (6' x 8'), and is built like a tank. The Syncros were designed by Magna-Steyr (their Website).

They share the same body and interior as the 2-wheel driver Vanagons, and share the same motor, although history has shown the Syncros seem to have better quality motors, but everything below the body (frame, suspension, brakes, steering, drivetrain minus motor, etc.) is all unique to the Syncros. It makes parts hard but not impossible to find and expensive.

My point? Well, it only gets 18 mpg, +/- 1 mpg, no matter how it's loaded or driven, except over 60 where I lose 1 mpg per 5 mph over 60. It's an understatement to say it's sensitive to the wind, as all VW vans are, it's no exception except at 2-tons it's a little more stable driving in some types of a crosswind. It's worse nightmare is a wind right at the right or left front corner, meaning pushing against a head and holding against a cross wind.

It's all paid for years ago, is just a few years from being an officially collectors vehicle (hopefully will be then), and only requires the annual maintenance costs (expensive), insurance and gas. I would lose money trading it in and buying a new car just for better gas mileage, more expensive insurance, car payments and the annual maintenance costs, and I would definitely lose over it's capabilities.

So, it's always a trade-off and the balance between payments, maintenance, insurance and gas. I love this van for what it is and can do, something no other vehicle today can do. Some cars will do some but none are equal. And it's fun to drive (like a bus since you sit over the front wheels), so I'll keep it thank you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

NPR - I hate swimming

We all have our contradictions in ourselves, those issues when brought to the surface look obviously stupid, and perhaps even really dumb. The ones people look at you and go, "What?", meaning you are just what you think. Well, for me it's water and swimming. Ok, that's not so bad, many people don't swim and many people aren't comfortable in and around water, especially large bodies of water, like lakes and oceans.

But I love rivers, both from a hydrologic and Taoist perspective. They're really cool and wonderful. I spent a whole career in basic data, thirteen of those years in field work in Oregon, Arizona and Washington. While the actual work of field work can be repetitive and mundane, the place never, ok rarely, was boring. I often hated the drive but I always loved being there, and the work was the excuse.

And I love working with the data trying to understand what was happening. I was never much more than a basic hydrologist, but that was because I loved the basic data side, collecting, producing and reviewing data, and trying to determine what was going on with that river at that place, based on the data and the place, where science meets reality. I understood the basic theories and concepts about hydrology, but not much more, it was and is always that which interested me.

I'll wander to editorialize that this is the abused and misunderstood aspects by senior managers in the USGS Water Resource Program. I know a few senior program managers and leaders, such as Bob Hirsch, understood and did wonderful jobs conveying the message to the public and the "troops", the hundreds of field office hydrologic technicians and hydrologist. They're terrific people doing a great job.

But very few senior district and regional managers understand. It's a significant part of the Water Resources Program, somewhere between a third and half for Districts, but the least appreciated despite the work and data of the field office effects the lives of millions of people everyday. Without the data, no one knows what the rivers are doing. Think about that and you'll understand how important the field office folks are to this nation.

[Note.--Whenever I got involved in conversations with scientists, especially those, and yes, snobby, investigation and research hydrologists and they touted the importance of their studies and reports on science and the understanding of the environment, I would always pick up an annual data report and tell them that this one volume, especially with the real-time data, is far more important in the lives of everybody because all the major decisions about rivers are made with this data. It effects everyone everyday. Something their science can't do.]

Anyway, all that said, my secret for my entire career was that I had this fear of falling in the river, and while I can swim, I hated the prospect of it. I've measured some big rivers, especially during high flows and floods, and waded many streams and creeks where I could have easily fallen in and be swept downstream. Most of the time it would have been easy to swim to the bank, but some would have been the end of me.

I don't know why and can't explain where it came from in my childhood, but I'm afraid of bodies of water. As I said I can swim, learned when I was 22 (yeah, 22), and have swam in small lakes, and got over this fear. I can swim to save my or someone else's life, I'm just don't feel safe.

While I loved making wading measurements, I always had the fear when it was possible - some creeks and streams are too small to fall in and drown - I would fall in and couldn't get out. It's why I never fell in during the hundreds of wading measurements I made and why I never fell in while wading during fly-fishing on some large(r) rivers. I always erred on the side of caution or ensured I had a good footing on the river bed

Well, most of the the time. There were more than enough times I easily could have been fallen over or in during wading measurements, but this deep seated fear drove me to stay upright in my chest waders. I always came out of the river dry. And sometimes after the work was done and it was the end of the day, I would get the fly rod and go back in since it was fishing season and those were good fishing rivers.

But I always hated the prospect of swimming. It's one of those go figures in a life.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Form versus Function

I spent the morning and early afternoon last Sunday (7/13/08) walking around and photographing Seattle Art Museum's (SAM's) Olympic Sculpture Park. It's an interesting place, (previous portfolio, newer one in progress). You're in a park with lots of sculpture surrounded by the city, the building on the north, east and south and the railroad and Puget Sound on the west.

It's hard to get a good photo or image because almost everytime and everywhere the background has elements which detracts from the subject or scene. And when you try to get up close or hide the background, you're bound to get either concrete or people in the scene. In short, it's a now win situation for the photographer, so you have to balance the image and sacrifice something for another.

But then I noticed this time, while trying to have an "artful" place, the SAM's management had to make even the ordinary artful. The mechanics of a building meets the art of public space. Can you make it fit? Obviously many buildings have accomplished this and some beautiful too. Well, while walking into the entrance with it's covered walkway, I looked up. And saw the image above.

It struck me the architect had to make a choice of hiding the mechanics of the building or exposing it to fit into the style of building. They obviously choose the latter. I'm always struck how we often dismiss the art of the contstruction work, the professionals, journeymen/women and craftsmen/women who build the structures we visit, like the SAM cafe and office space.

The irony to me is that if they don't build it beautifully we'll notice it an instant, but when they do build it beautifully, we overlook its blend of form and function into its own art. They translate the architects' design into reality, the architects' vision into the tangible. But do we see their art? Their form and function? Do we glance and go on? Do we notice and wonder? Do we look and appreciate? Or do we see and understand?

It's why I like to photograph the ordinary, and sometimes the things we take for granted. It wasn't to those who designed it and those who built or made it. Shouldn't we spend a little time too?

NPR - Just in passing

Thursday mornings are the time for errands around town, and usually ending at a cafe for a mocha to take home and enjoy with lunch and my 4-5 papers I picked up along the way. And I often try to find a new cafe I haven't tried before to see what they have and how well they make a mocha, which after a doppio con panna, are the only two coffee drinks I like.

Anyway, today stopped by a new place, just opened in a new upscale shopping center in the local town, a Cutter's Point cafe tucked in the back, but with a loyal following of people. And one was driving this 1964 Porsche Carrera, obviously refurbished, but still, who would argue driving it?

You can have all the new expensive sports car you want, almost any 1950's to mid-1960's sports car will always be better for the sheer enjoyment and spirit of driving something meant to drive. Granted compared to today's cars, almost any midsize compact can out perform it, and any modern sports car will leave it in their dust. But it's not the same if you've ever had the experience.

Throughout my life I've the occasion, and even short periods, of driving them (eg. Lotus Europa, Fiat 850 Spider, 1954 MG TF, etc.). I even still remember my second real car - my first a 1961 Studebaker Lark shared with my sister- a 1963 VW Notchback. Besides my 1971 VW Bug, that's the one car I would love to have again, warts and all. It was simply a car, but a lot of fun just being a car.

But for me the best one was a 1961 BMC (Bugeye) Sprite. My uncle was heading overseas for the summer and dropped it off and tossed me the keys saying, "Take car of it and just don't wreck it." For a teenager with a summer and this car, "Wow." is an understatement.

I learned to service it and find a good place to keep it tuned up, and just kept filling up the gas tank and driving. It was funny at stop lights being able to reach over the door and touch the road. And look straight at the axles of semi trucks. It was without a doubt a tin can with a little motor, but it was mine for the summer.

And I remember when we lived in Germany, 1959-63, and Dad, my brother and I would pack the camper and go to car races at Nurburgring and Hockenheimring. Friday you'd see herds of Porsches packed with families, camping stuff, and whatever else you could squeeze into one racing down the Autobahn, racing and weaving among traffic and themselves.

They would unpack the camping and families, tune the motor, and go racing for the weekend. Then Sunday, if they didn't burn the motor or wreck the car, they'd reverse the process, join other Porsches and go racing up the Autobahn home. They were a blast to see, 6 or so at a time coming up from behind, blasting past and gone, out of sight. And then another bunch.

And so on a Thursday morning, it all came back in a moment seeing this fine car. I can't think of a better road car ever made. But that's my view.

JMO - Fair Hiring

I read that the Bush Administration is proposing changes for family planning funds through the Department of Health and Human Services by prohibiting any organization, institution or university which receives federal funds to refuse to hire anyone based on their religious values, even if those values go against the interests and work of that entity.

While Bush Administration has issued regulations and help pass laws granting religious organizations exemptions to anti-discrimination laws and allow them to refuse to hire people who don't believe in and abide by the views and values of the religion, which is discrimination, they're prohibiting the opposite, non-religious organizations, institutions and universities from refusing to hire religious zealots.

They're doing this under the guise of equal opportunity and to avoid discrimination in hiring practices. It's a sham. They can't espouse this rhetoric in the name of fairness and then not only allow but promote discrimination by churches and religious organizations, institutions and universities. They have had an overt and covert plan against women and LGBT people, and this is just another example to fill regulations with bias in their waning months of office.

This administration has disregared the separation of church and state to embed religion into government and all it's decisions and actions, and promoting religious views and values in many national and international programs, some in defiance of local cultural values in foreign countries. They've forgotten the world isn't Christian and to respect the people who live there, something we expect in return.

On top of that, the Bush Administration is expanding the definition of "abortion" to be nearly all-inclusive of any means or methods of good family planning, like birth control, emergency contracptives - such as cases of rape or incest, and women's health care proeedures, some of which contradict state laws governing those same entities. This on top of the exising prohibition on providing information and advice to women on the full range of choices about their reproductive health.

I don't know what world the Bush Administration folks live in, but it's not the United States of all of us, not even their own neightborhood. Do they really believe everyone will follows the practice of abstinence and be good mothers and fathers? There's not a place on this planet like that. And try as they want, they can't change the reality of the world we all live in.

They've already expressed and pushed their arrogant Christian view and values throughout our government through their political decisions and actions, and now they're pushing into non-religious organizations, institutions and universities. Is this what women want and what is right for America? Not in my book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JMO - The New Yorker

Ok, I'll add my voice to one of the choirs about the cover the July 21st New Yorker magazine with Barack and Michelle Obama. And it's not new or unique, simply mine. I think this cartoon in the Washington Post kinda' sums it up fairly well.

I find the cover totally offensive and the New Yorker owes the Obama's an apology for the distaste of the cover on the cover too. It's not about satire. I read many of the editorials and blogs and listened to many of the political pundits, and my impression is that most are over analyzing the purpose, goal or meaning of the cover. It was to make a statement which can have many interpretations, of which only the artist and the editorial management of the New Yorker knows for sure.

But to me, they missed whatever that mark was and it's beyond the point of being funny or political satire. It's simply crude and cruel. It plays to the false information that the many conservatives and religious right are pushing about the Obama's, which are all misleading at best and lies at worst. And even when faced with the facts, they continue to portray Obama with their same rhetoric.

I would ask the New Yorker if they think it is funny or satire, how about one about John McCain? Or does the magazine have the balls to do that? Satirize McCain in the extreme? What's the adage about what is good for the goose is good for the gander? Will you do that or are you afraid of or in the pocket of the Republicans? You can sell fear in the page of satire of a race or etchnic group but not stand up to it from others, like rich, politically powerful, white men?

As you can tell, I'm anger about the cover. It's over the line of acceptable behavior for a magazine of your quality. And while I have bought and read the New Yorker occasionally, I'll reconsider more in the future if I want my money to pay for this attitude by the editorial management about selected political leaders or some racial or ethnic groups.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

JMO - The Truth be told

I listened to NPR's Fresh Air today (7/15/08) with Jane Mayer of the New Yorker who has a book out now, "The Dark Side", about the Bush-Cheney legalization and use of torture, the slippery slope of abandoning the Geneva Convention for using cold war torture tactics, and its inevitable failure. In short, a small group of men changed American history destroying American values along the way, and set a new standard of the worst a nation will do in the name of fear.

And she raises a couple of points in the interview.

First, the initial review of the detainees and Gitmo showed at least one-third were innocent civilians, caught in sweeps or at the wrong place and time and have nothing to do with fighting the US or terrorism. Later studies have shown as many as 55% of them are innoncent civilians, and only 8% of them had any connection, let alone being members, of Al Qaeda. In short, to find the bad 5-10% we incarcerated another 90% or 9 times more than we thought were involved with Al Qaeda.

In short, we were blind to our own proces of evaluating individuals and took whomever seems suspicious.

Second, according to the International Court, anyone or any person(s) or nation who violates the Geneva Convention can be prosecuted and is considered guilty of war crimes against humanity. And the Bush-Cheney team thought that invalidating the Geneva Convention by calling these people "enemy combatants" would avoid that view of torture, especially since we know all the forms of torture used violated the Geneval Convention.

But they were, and still are, wrong. And according to many experts now, guilty of war crimes.

Third, the forms of torture the CIA used in the extraordinary rendtion program with its secret international prisons, doesn't illicit good information, but was used in training of the US military during to cold war against being captured and tortured by Communists. It was developed to provide false confessions and information to the enemy. And almost all the information they've gotten at the secret prisions and Gitmo is the same, false confessions and information.

The technique we knew and used to train soldiers we used to extract information from prisoners, but led to the same result. Lies. Pure and simple. Just lies.

Fourth, all this has destroyed the United States' credibility in the world. Where we once stood for justice, we now stand for secret prisons and torture. We're no better than our worst enemy, the very people we decry as villians and "evildoers", arresting or capturing and terrorizing people, innocent civilians for no reason other than suspicions, without trials and due process.

How can we say anymore we're for justice and the Geneva Convention? Who will believe us?

Fifth, the Bush, Cheney team overreacted and became super paranoid about Al Qaeda. Instead of showing strength and courage in the face of terrorists, they cowered in bunkers fearing another even worse, maybe nuclear, attack. And they used all the available intelligence, most of it inaccruate and incorrect, to justify their actions and decision to rewrite the laws on privacy and surveillence.

They didn't create all the terrorism issues out of the challenge to face our enemy, but out of fear of them.

Sixth, they've also showed they're more than willing to do the same to and use the same tactics on American citizens. We are all now considered suspects in the war on terrorism, and we can be treated no different than any enemy combatant if the government simply believes, without any proof or providing evidence to a judge, we have connections to or are providing material support for terrorists.

When it comes to terrorism we are now presumed guilty without the rights guarranteed under the Constitution and federal laws.

Our enemy won by making us paranoid and expending a lot of resource, orders of magnitude more than they could imagine having let alone using, out of fear instead of courage. And Bush and Cheney and the bunch of them did it to us, our country, and our nation.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

NPR - Alexander

Alexander was a half Siamese, half domestic short hair we and then I (after the separation and divorce) had. He lived nearly 21 years and was nearly blind and deaf and had arthritis when he was put to sleep with failing kidneys. But he was funny for many years before that, and every time I make the bed I remember him.

When we and later I made the bed, and we flicked the sheet high into the air over the bed like a tent suspended in air by air, he would jump underneath it onto the bed and watch in amazement as the sheet slowly floated down over the bed. He thought he would disappear and be invisible to us when the sheet finally settled over the bed. He forgot about the physics of lumps.

We would then play with him. If we scratched the sheet somewhere on the bed he would try to find the sound and race to our finger and then try to grab it through the sheet. We would grab the tip of his tail and he thought it was some ghost, and turn around to see who's pulling his tail, to find nothing.

When we grabbed the sheet and flicked high in the air again, he would race around the bed trying to hide under the first part that was settling onto the bed, and when the sheet settled again, he would lie there motionless, thinking he was invisible. We would then peek under the sheet and find him still with his eye wide open and ready to strike any imaginary enemy that tried to find him.

It always made making the bed fun, until he tired and simply stopped and fell over on the bed asleep. We had to lift him off to finish, in which case he always came back, and took one for pillows for his bed and take a nap. Playing hide and seek just wore him out.

When we got Benjamin, a gray short hair domestic we got from the Animal Shelter, he would just sit on a nearby chair in wonderment, really thinking, what is going on. Eventually he got the idea and when the sheet settled and he saw the lump he would attack the lump. He couldn't discern either end, or likely didn't care, he just leapt and ran, leaving Alexander to chase the fleeing invisible demon.

Benjamin wasn't into beds and sheets, so he would play a little, watch us a little, and wander off to his favorite place, either the food bowl or his nap place. We never learned what happened to him early that made him like being alone, but he was. He was loyal to a fault once he learned to trust you, but he never got close, only to your feet or at arm's length. Just to be there but not to be close.

The two made a good pair, but I always remember Alexander when making the bed. We all should have such fun with our imagination.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

WSF Update

Well, it took a few months. Last September I wrote about my minor experiences photographing on a Washington State ferry from Bremerton to Seattle, the ferry I take routinely throughout the year. I posted six portfolios of images I've taken before these incidents, first with the captain of the ferry and second with a Washington State Patrol officer after disembarking.

Well, in October I wrote the Public Relations office of the Washington State Ferry System (WSF) after reading an article in the Olympian newspaper, and followed it up a few months later with a letter to the Governor's office, both through their Website contact Web pages. Well, this last week I finally got a response from the WSF folks.

And they said?

While the letter was positive and reassured that photographing in and of public spaces on a ferry is not prohited, they have instructed ferry personnel to report what they deem to be "unusual photography", which includes secure areas, locked doors and safety equipment. But it's not absolutely clear about safety equipment since the ferry is full of safety equipment and since all safety equipment has to be obviously marked in full public view.

And that's the interesting part of a ferry, the way the ship is built and everything is arranged, especially the safety equipment. It provides beautiful photographic opportunties. Even the captain when he reviewed the images in my camera laughed and liked them, and the Washington State Patrol officer thought the images were, or I was, simply stupid. If anyone can see them, sketch them, take camera phone images of them, why can't serious and/or professional photographers capture the same images?

And the representative's parting advice?

"Carrying a business card or identification badge to identify yourself to WSF crews is a good idea. I want to assure you that you will not be detained because you are taking photos of our vessels."

I haven't taken photos of trips on ferries since then. I realize that's kinda' stupid since I love walking around and photographing a ferry, but I didn't like the idea that the freedom to do something they say isn't prohibited or illegal is really considered suspicious by employees who aren't following their own rules and training and worth reporting.

All the while the Washington State Patrol and FBI still haven't found let alone question the two middle eastern looking gentlemen who walked on and rode four ferries in two days, and according to employees, tried to access locked areas and question workers about areas of the ship. Even after they have video of them. And since then the WSF invited the media on ferries into the secure areas to film stories, including filming people working on enginees and operating the ship.

The irony is that before the incident about these two men who managed to ride the ferries and walk off without being stopped, I would often talk with the ferry employees who would ask me, "Say, whatcha' doin?" I would reply, "Taking pictures." And they would look in the direction of the lens, shrug and say, "Ok." That was it, nothing, and I was never stopped by anyone or asked to see the images.

It's a really go figure to me. And I'm not sure I'll photograph on a ferry again, or at least until I find something that obviously lets people know I'm just "Another stupid professional photographer." (WSP officer). Any ideas beside the obvious vest or shirt? I always carry a business card, but maybe a t-shirt which quotes the WSP officer?

Anyway, that's the story to date. Who would have thunk the photo above is considered suspicious? Which by the way is in clear and plain view on the wall on the starboard side near each end of the ferry.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

JMO - Congress betrayed us

It's clear the new FISA laws passed by the Senate this week (7/9/08), Congress, and especially the Democrats, have betrayed the American people, the very people who elected them to represent them and their interests. It's clear the NSA, CIA, FBI and other agencies have been spying and conducting warrentless searches and surveillence on American citizens, as well as collecting a lot of information on and about totally innocent people.

In addition, the Senate gave complete immunity to the telecommunications companies to lawsuits for cooperating with the agencies in the spying and surveillence. In short, the telecommunications companies are in bed with the government to conduct invasive and illegal surveillence of American citizens. Our Congress and our government does not trust any and all us anymore.

And we now have Congress to thank for corrupting our Constitution in the name of something no one knows, no can explain, and no can identify without the obvious hints and allegiation to terrorism. Congress sold us out in the name of fear. And 70 of the Senators have no more information about the government's programs than we do. Our own government kept them dumb and blind, and they have decided staying dumb and blind is better than seeing the truth in the cold light of day.

As it stands right now, the FBI with the help of the CIA, NSA, DOD and other agencies can conduct covert invesigations and surveillence on any American citizen without a warrant, and if and when pressed to explain, the FBI only has to say they have information, no matter if it's fully corraborated or the opposite, nothing but a rumor or hint, that the individual has "ties" to terrorists or is suspected of providing "material support" to terrorists.

In short, they can simply lie to the courts, call it secret, and the judge has to say ok, because the law says the FBI doesn't have to produce any evidence, simply the suspicion of something. But to gain that evidence they can collect information about you without telling your and those asked can't tell you, and they can conduct surveillence on your phones, computer and Internet use, e-mail, etc. The very things you consider private can be described and used as evidence.

How? Suppose you're interested in the Islamic Society of North America, wanting to know about Araric people and Muslims. That and other information you search for through the Internet, at your local libraries, with credit card receipts at bookstores, or at meetings or public events can be used against you, suggesting you are interested something that is either related to terrorism at worst or unamerican at best.

Your name could be added to watch lists or no-fly lists, you could be the target of additional investigation, and you could be open to losing your job or other avenues of work if FBI agents starts questioning your employer, your friends, your collegues, etal. Shades of the 1950's is alive and well in the 2000's. You could easily be the wrong target of the FBI.

And after the dust settles, there is nothing you can do about, even if the FBI is obviously totally wrong. That's what they did with a man in Portland, Oregon when they falsely accused him of involvement of the Madrid, Spain train bombing. They arrested him and detained him without access to legal aid, calling his family, telling his employer, and so on. He was dropped into hell for months before the FBI said, "Gee, we're sorry, you're innocent."

It took him another 2 years to get a settlment from the FBI, but his life was shattered and much lost. All because the FBI said he was a suspect, even after the Spanish government and Interpol said he wasn't. The FBI screwed up, refused to acknowledge their mistake, then covered it up, and finally let him go without notice. And then fought the lawsuit against them, citing secrecy, the "national security", of the investigation and evidence.

They eventually saw the light of day and settled for a significant compensation. But the damage was done. And they now have more power to do that and more. Instead of freeing that man, now they can simply continue the fight against releasing him, labelling him a potential terrorist. As long as they wanted and can provide circumstantial evidence of links or ties to terrorism and terrorists.

All because of the new FISA bill passed by the Senate to be signed by the President. It won't be undone in our lifetime. People who get power don't give it up, and we have given the FBI, CIA and NSA, amoung other agencies, the power formerly guarranteed under the Constitution. They took an erasure to it and we lost, as citizens and as a nation and we are now the very enemy of our own government.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chasing technology

I was reading the personal columns, bulletin boards and forums about the new Nikon D700 camera and all it's features and capapbilities, especially in comparison with the Canon 5D. I have no doubt it's a terrific camera, which in the hands a of good or better photographer is quite capable of delivering awesome images (sorry, to me film are photographs, digital are images), especially raw with its (same size) full-frame sensor and faster continuous shooting.

Anyway, it seems there is a small group of professional photographers who along with their other interests seem to like to test and promote the latest camera and lenses. This isn't saying they're chasing technology, that's a whole other group of photographers who always seem to think the latest camera technolgy is always the best and will always make them a better photographer, forgetting photography is about the photographer, not their equipment.

I'm referring to those photographers who chase technology to describe and/or promote it. They buy the latest as soon as it's available, test it for a week to a month, the write some column, article or post on boards or forums their pros and cons and their comparisons to other cameras, especially seeming to write the older cameras just don't measure up to the new one and maybe the other camera companies need to play catchup.

Unfortunately photographers have been doing this for 40 years now, that I can remember (I bought my first camera in 1969), when there were quite a few major camera companies vying for the top spot in the camera world for professionals, serious and amateur photographers. So why is now any different? It's not, only now the time between the introduction of new models has shrunk and the immediacy of communications has made promotion faster. But to whom?

The Canon 5D has been around for about 5 years now, and while there are rumors of either a 5D Mk II or an intermediate model between the 5D and D1s Mk III on the horizon after Canon's introduction the latter last year it's still a terrific camera. The only real criticism of it by people are the slow continuous shooting (3 fps) and price, which I also choked at spending more for one camera than my entire collecton (14) of Minolta cameras.

The 5D, however, is still good and still used by many photographers. But my point, really criticism, is that while we need the reviews of new cameras, we don't need the hype and denigration of older cameras in comparison simply because it's handy and fulfills someone's ego how smart and cutting edge they think they are. I have no doubt folks will think these guys are geniuses, but are they really?

No,they're just more experienced at testing cameras. Hell, almost any photographer could do that with a modicum of experience or breadth of interest in the range of types of photography to know what to check and test with the camera. And some are impressed how expansive they're knowledge of cameras is except they forget it's what these guys have been doing for years if not a decade or more.

They chase the technology to be on the "cutting edge" of cameras and the market. In many cases they're rich and can afford to buy or lease these cameras or they have connections to be provided with them by magazines or companies. Their job is to market and promote cameras and make you feel less with your older cameras. And you want to find the money, or the credit, to buy one to make you a better photographer.

I've never been there. I've upgraded to newer cameras because I wanted the technology in them, except in every case I've always been a number of years behind the times, usually 2-3 years after the camera had been introduced and sometimes 5+ years later. That's me, and I just find all this technology chasing stupid but it is the reality of the world we live in and have been living in photography for nearly half a century.

So, take a deep breath and get your camera out and enjoy it. Use it as if it you just found it. And don't buy the magazines promoting technololgy simply because it looks cool. Remember most photography magazines are there to promote technology chasing. Just say no.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Being ordinary

I'm clearly a long ways from being a commercial or professional photographer. I'm barely a serious one at times since I take vacations or respites from it for periods of a few weeks or, like of lae, a few months. And during my life after getting my first camera there are periods where I rarely used it over a year or two. In short, I'm not driven to be a photographer and do photography.

I like photography and taking the best photos and images I can when I shoot, but photography doesn't consume my life. It's always my deep regret when I do take breaks, but I find if I force the issue to try, I don't do very well and the photos or images turn out worse. And so I put myself in the catagory of being an ordinary photographer who does some good work at times. Good beiing in terms of professionals and fine art photographers where good is ordinary to them, meaning I get C's in their school of work.

Part of this is due to my genetic, lifelong Dysthymia. That's a handy excuse, reason or explanation, take your pick. I'll use one of them from time to time. My cameras now sits in my office, in two bags always ready to go, the 4x5 camera and the digital SLR. The older film camera bag is also ready to go but I transferred many of those small things you need (lens brush, notebook, etc.) to the digital bag, so it needs a little preparation before it's ready.

I often kid that the bags have feet and voices. They try to sneak to the door to remind me it's a good photography day or they start to sing tunes to remind me they're there, all ready and willing to do my bidding. And I know they gang up with the backpack in the closet for hiking stuff to create a chorus with the hiking boots, "A hiking we will go..." Lots of places to see and photograph.

And I know work on my photography guide for Mt. Rainier NP is to develop lists of places to go and photograph. And yet I don't, both go and photograph. And while I don't think I got the luck of the draw with my depression, I realize it's what I got and who I am, and I have choices. I can or can't, and in the end, it's the choice I made.

It's the old situation where facing death you say, "I wish I had..." But I won't say that because I know I did my best when I tried, I just didn't try as often as others did. We're all on the scale between nothing and everything, and there are always someone before us and will be after us who are to both sides of us, who did less or did more. It's the reality we face, one in many. And despite what those self-help advocates who espouse it, it's not always about trying, it's about being.

Photography is about looking and seeing. The capture and production process are also important but secondary to the primary reality that you have to go, look and see first. And that's what I've realized is what I lose, not so much the interest to photograph somewhere, something or someone, but the interest to go, to look or to see. One, two or all of these.

They simply fade into the background of my mind, to get lost among the many things and events in the world we face everyday and the many concerns, interests and worries we carry around and mull in our conscious and subconscious. Photography has to fight to be noticed and then fight to be in the forefront. Like the scene in the photo, a lot under snow, some stuff in the dark, some cloudly and rainy places, and some patches of sunlight.

It's all at once and the synapses for photography has to drive to the top, park and stay overlooking the whole scene in my mind to put everything else aside to do photography and be a photographer above all else.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

More Thanks

The Pierre and Alexandra Boulat Association in association with VII Photo has establish a grant for "the photographer to produce a story that must be told but that the photographer cannot find support for from within the Media." You can get complete details from their Web page (warning Web page moves and resizes the browser window). You can get more information about Alexandra Boulat.

While I've said my peace and piece about Alexandra Boulat and war photographers I would be totally remiss if I didn't emphasize it again. We're losing more and more conflict and war photographers and photojournalist when they're becoming targets of both sides in wars. No nation's military is immune from this guilt and shame.

When telling the truth, it isn't the governments in a conflict who are telling the truth, it's the photographers and photojournalists with their images and from their experience. And it's not cofined to conflicts and wars but includes natural disaster, human disasters (eg. Dafar), and simply human existence that photographers and photojournalists are considered the enemies and targets.

My point? When you see the images, be thankful for the photographer and photojournalist. Many have given their life and many more risk their life to be there and capture the images you see, along with thousands you will never see. And while I won't criticize the publicity about the loss of Tim Russert to the world, I will criticize the media for not publicizing the loss of their own photographers and photojournalists.

We salute the famous and forget the rest? When was the last time you heard about a conflict or war photographer? Do you look at the names behind the images you see and the ones which move you or you like? Did you look at their work? You might try it sometime. Become amazed at the world and the photographers who show it to you.

JMO - Hands Free

Today the State of Washington prohibits using cellphones while driving. And while it's targetted at people using them with one hand, ie, holding them to their ear, and the laws bans using them under any circumstance, such as speaker phones, dialing or using other features. This includes while stopped or in traffic backups (stop and go). This is a followup to the banning of text messaging while driving earlier this year.

The only exception is dialing an emergency number to report an accident, crime, etc.

The law only allows totally hands-free phone use, using voice recognition calling or steering wheel controls. Anything else is banned. Many people, Washington State Patrol included, feel that using any cellphone while driving should be banned, but felt this was the next best step since many cars have hands-free capabilities built-in.

The federal government totally bans employees using cellphone while driving and requires either the passenger to handle calls or the drivers pulls over and is stopped, and being caught is grounds for immediate termination. It's also required that people receiving calls from employees on cellphones to ask if they're following the regulations, and if not, to hang up and consider reporting the individual.

I remember a time when a field technician called after fixing the satellite telemetry equipment at a streamflow gage. He was on an active logging road and I occasionally heard a truck passing the technician. I asked him to at least pull over but he said he was in a hurry to get to another site that day. Then I heard some noises and a string of language not part of our conversation. He had missed a turn and almost drove off the road into a ditch. He finally pulled over to finish the conversation.

Studies have shown it's not the cellphone that is the problem, although they showed holding one blocks or limits the driver's vision or movements, but simply not paying attention to driving. Driving takes so much concentration these days, almost any distraction is potentially dangerous. And they showed that many people using cellphones put more attention on the conversation than driving, forgetting many of the basic driving skills leading to lapses in attention and safety.

I am one of those who wants a total ban. I've seen too many people using cellphones and if possible I get away from them if it's obvious they're not really driving. And I've seen many driving dangerous, often fast in traffic, while talking on cellphones. It's not their level of confidence that scares me as the potential danger they pose to the rest of us. What don't people understand driving 60-70+ mph is dangerous enough but using a cellphone too?

The law makes this a secondary offense, meaning police and patrol officers can't stop you for using your cellphone, but only after finding another offense and noting you were also using a cellphone. Somehow I think if you're using one and it's obvious you're not paying attention to your driving, you'll be pulled over for some primary offense and then ticketed for the cellphone use.

So, to all you drivers, please pay attention and drive now.