Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dear John

This isn't a letter to John, or any other individual, but it's actually a farewell to the Los Angeles Times paper edition.  I called the Times this afternoon to cancel our subscription.  It's been a long time coming.  

We used to subscribe many moons ago to the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, because it was a cheaper paper at the time.  When the Examiner closed up shop, it was either take a local paper, or the LA Times, which I felt had some meat on it.  We've been with the Times ever since, probably close to 20 years or so.  The paper has been getting thinner and thinner over the past year or so and there isn't much meat left on it anymore

I'm not going to blame the Internet, but the reality is I can get local news, national and world news quickly and easily by reading it off of the Internet, either on my iPad or on my computer.  I don't have to wait until tomorrow to learn that Van Cliburn passed away yesterday. I have come to the conclusion that having to shell out close to $10.00 per week to receive a paper copy of the newspaper is an exorbitant price that we just can't justify spending anymore.  It doesn't make financial sense and my wife and I made the decision to finally pull the plug this week.  The savings will pay for the iPad and then some in less than a year's time.

I think what's bugging me the most about this is the way their customer service department, like many others, has deteriorated over the years.  I had to wend my way through countless layers of choices to find my way to where I wanted to be.  When I told them I wanted to cancel our service, they wanted to know why.  I guess I could have just lied and said we were moving and then it would have been done, but I felt they needed to know they were just too expensive to continue.  

It was then I got the sales pitch.  That's fine because it's what I expected.  But you need to listen LA Times.  When a customer says no, take that answer and run with it.  Don't continue to beat a dead horse as all it's going to do is smell further down the road should that customer ever want to come back.  Be gracious and accept the fact that you're a dying breed and unless you reinvent yourself, you're not going to be good for much of anything much longer.

So now I'll get my news via my iPad, probably like many other people are doing, including this guy who we saw on our walk along Olvera Street last month.  Tuesday will be the last day we receive a copy of a newspaper.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Stranger lag

The 100 Strangers Project that I started back in July seems to be at a standstill at this point.  I pointed out about 10 days ago, that it had been awhile since I took a stranger's portrait for the project.  I think I'll attribute it to the weather and my different style of photography this year.

I've been much more relaxed about what I take photos of this year.  I'm not going to stress out about getting a shot each and every day and I've posted filler shots many days this year.  Monday was the first day I picked up my camera in three days.  This would have been out of the question the last couple of years.  This year, it's a different story.

I went back and critiqued some of my 100 Stranger portraits.  To be honest, many of them should be better.  I won't quibble about this one I've posted as I think it's definitely the best of the bunch, but others either shouldn't have seen the light of day or I should have taken better care to get better lighting or better focus or something.  Perhaps I'm not cut out to take portraits?

That's a distinct possibility.  One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Ansel Adams, has been an inspiration to me for as long as I can remember.  Shortly after his passing, there was an exhibit, near where I lived, of his 100 prints, the ones he kept in two distinct galleries for exhibition.  Many of the prints we are all familiar with, while others were brand new to me.  There were also several portraits included in this gallery, including one of Georgia O'Keefe.

It is my opinion, that Ansel Adams was not a portrait photographer at all.  I felt his portrait work was lacking and didn't have his signature quality to them that his landscape photos had.  There seemed to be a lack of tonal definition and high contrast that we had come to expect in his photos.  I found it odd at the time, but now, I seem to relate to this experience.

Hopefully, I'll get my stranger mojo back in the near future.  Maybe I just need a change of scenery.  Next month, I'm heading up to visit my daughter during my spring break for her birthday.  We're planning on visiting San Francisco.  I haven't been to San Francisco, outside a quick drive through one summer, since my honeymoon 25 years ago, so I'm very excited about the photo possibilities there.  The thing that I just need to remember, however, is that it just needs to be relaxed.  The opportunities will come for all sorts of photos, including strangers.  I don't need to push them like I did in years past.  I just need to remind myself this.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Anatomy of a geocache

Can you see the geocache in this photo?  Look closely.  It's there.  Don't scroll down to the bottom to see it revealed unless you don't like the suspense.  This is what I really love about geocaching.  It's like our own little secret society, where we know something and you don't.  Or you might if you also geocache.  

My son and daughter and I play a game when we drive in the car.  We'll be driving down the road and I'll point over to a spot and say, "You know, there's a geocache there."  Their response is, "Did you find it?"  I'll answer, "Yep." and we move on.  Once I answered no and my daughter made me stop and find it.  She's just a big enabler to my addiction.

The thing I love about this silly game/hobby is the different ways people can create camouflage and hide things in plain sight.  The craftsmanship that some people employ on their caches could rival some big time Hollywood set designers.  I don't get that elaborate with my camouflage, mainly because most of my caches are far away from the beaten path and you usually have to hike to them.  Geocachers want people to find them, so I figure since they're hiking a mile or more to get my cache, the least I can do is make it fairly obvious where it is.  When cachers  hide in urban or suburban environments, they also want their caches to be found, but just by geocachers.  Regular people might pick up a non-cammoed box and throw it away, so urban hides need to be a little more devious.

People think that geocaching should be easy.  What's so tough about it?  You're given the geographic coordinates, so all you have to do is go there and find it right?  Well, yeah, that's the premise, but it's not always that easy.  The photo above is ground zero, where the cache was hidden.  My GPS unit was telling me that it was 35 feet southeast of this spot, putting me in a field.  That's where I should have been looking according to the GPS.

Most handheld GPS units are only accurate to about 30 feet or so.  Which means once you get to the cache site you still might have to look around for awhile, especially if the cache is small, like this one was.  Sometimes cachers aren't very accurate when they take their geographic readings for caches and you'll end up finding them much farther away than they should be.  This one was well within the margin of error for typical handheld machines.  As you can see, it's well crafted, blends in with the surrounding scenery.  

Next time I drive by there, I'll be able to point and say, "There's a geocache over there."  When they ask if I found it or not, I'll be able to answer in the affirmative.  You're my witnesses since you can see my signature on the logbook inside the cache.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Flashback Friday

Photo taken March 28, 2012.  I posted this one for the theme at 365 that week, which was "Creatures."  This is our dog Jack, and although I've taken better photos of him, I really liked his eyes in this one.  These are some of the quotes I found on-line to accompany his photo that day.

"Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe, we are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made."
-Roger Caras

"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion."
- Unknown

"Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear."
-Dave Barry

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog."
-George Graham

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The challenge of the hunt

A lot of my friends get that glazed over look when I start talking about geocaching.  Pure and simple, it's my hobby and I enjoy it and I like sharing it with other people.  Once I know people aren't interested in it, I'll stop talking about it to them, but I won't stop talking about it.  I hope that makes sense.

This past weekend was my birthday.  My parents called me fairly early in the morning to sing Happy Birthday to me.  They figured I'd be out geocaching and they were right. I was eating breakfast waiting for my friend, Jim to show up and then we were going to head down to Lake Elsinore for some caching.

Lately, he and I have gotten into challenge caches.  A challenge cache is just that.  It gives you a certain challenge, then you have to meet that challenge before you can log a find on the cache in question.  We looked for several challenges on Saturday.  One of them, at least for me, was the most memorable, Discovering and Logging California's 58 Counties.  Back when I was writing Electronic Breadcrumbs, which was exclusively about geocaching, I wrote about that challenge.  

A year and a half ago, I qualified for that challenge by finding caches in the last four counties in California where I hadn't found a cache.  The last county was Napa County. Saturday became the day that I wanted to get the final for that challenge, so my friend obliged me since he hadn't fulfilled the requirements yet.  We had the coordinates and we made the half mile hike up the side of this small hill near Lake Elsinore and I made the find.

In Geocaching, I'm usually not interested in anything that's inside the cache.  It's more the thrill of the hunt that interests me.  There are times when I don't use the GPS at all, preferring to use wits (some would say I only have half of those anyway) and Google maps to find the cache.  Most of the time I'm successful with those finds.

Jim and I ended up finding two others later in the day, one of which ended up being my 5500th geocache found.  I'd actually planned for that to happen, since the numbers will probably only coincide this one time, it was kind of nice to get #5500 on my 55th birthday.

As always, I like to cache with someone else.  My usual caching partners are my friend Jim who lives in Camarillo and my son Elliott.  Elliott doesn't go out as often as he used to, but he likes to cache when we go camping every summer.  The photo of him is in the Zion Narrows taking coordinate readings for a cache we found there.  That was actually tough to do since the canyon walls are so narrow, satellite reception is very sketchy back there.

This summer, Elliott and I plan on camping in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.  I haven't been there since I was in Junior High, so it will be all new to me as well. Since we're going to be close, we'll probably geocache not only in Colorado, but also New Mexico, which will give me 10 states that I've found caches in.  And yes, there is a challenge for that as well.  I've already found it, but haven't logged it.  After we come back this summer, I'll log it as found - Challenge accepted - Challenge accomplished.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Flashback Friday

For some reason, I missed this last week.  I'm not going to post two different flashbacks so you just one this week.  This is Nik and Tanya, two people I met on the Santa Cruz wharf over Labor Day weekend.  I had started my 100 Strangers project about a month before that and Nik and Tanya became my 9th stranger(s) that I met and photographed.

I decided to post them as one stranger, as opposed to two because Tanya was reticent about talking about herself, so I only really got Nik's information.  As I was walking along the wharf with my son, I spotted the two of them struggling to take a photo of themselves with the Boardwalk in the background on one of their iPhones.  I offered to help them out, talked with them a little and also took some photos of them using my camera.

Since then, I've photographed and met another 21 strangers, but haven't taken a stranger photo in about 6 weeks or so.  I'm not sure why I haven't, just haven't really been using my camera quite as much and it always seems like I'm with other people when I see a possible stranger shot and I don't want to inconvenience my friends that I'm with.  I'm sure I'll get back into the 100 Strangers project again soon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blog Roll

For those of you who follow this on a regular basis know I write about a variety of things, but mostly this blog focuses on photography and geocaching.  It's what I like to do, it's what I'm knowledgeable about and I figure why not?

Today, I just want to feature some of the blogs I read on a regular basis.  The list is actually rather short, mainly because I don't have a lot of time in my day to sit and read blogs all the time.  Not like that won't change in the future, but for right now, I don't have many. 

Latitude 47 is the official blog of  It gets published several times per week.  I read the articles and usually watch the videos that are posted there.  It usually leads me to other videos which in turn help me create better caches for people to find.  

I will readily admit that I don't hide really hard caches.  Some of my caches might be challenging because of the nature of the puzzle involved, or the skills needed to find the cache, but once you get to the cache site, it should be fairly obvious where the cache is hidden.  This blog highlights some of those caches that are just amazing with regard to camouflage or the type of puzzles involved.  If I see something really interesting, I might incorporate it into my next cache hide.  That's why I read that blog.

A 'lil Hoohaa is a blog about this and that.  P.J., the writer is a geocacher in New York and also a photographer, so you can see why I'm interested in what he writes about.  He posts old photos of his family every Saturday on his blog.  He's also a frisbee golfer and writes about that as well and although I don't participate in that hobby, I can see the interest.  P.J. used to follow me when I was writing Electronic Breadcrumbs which was exclusively about geocaching.

The blog Various Vanities looks very out of place for a guy like me to be reading, especially since it's a fashion blog written by an almost 24 year old woman who's working on her master's degree at the University of Santa Clara in northern California.  I'm very proud of this woman, as she also happens to be my daughter.

Puppy on a Roomba is a little blog written by two Corgis dogs with no tails named Ty and Eve.  Their secretary mommy is also a geocacher who I met via the geocaching forums.  Mostly, it's photos of the two corgi dogs with no tails romping around at their house in Illinois.

Brave Gnu Whirled is a blog written by my friend Steve who used to work with me at my school.  He's moved on and now teaches at the community college level in Visalia, CA, but writes this blog about politics with some other slices of life from time to time.  Steve was best man at my wedding and we've kept in touch over the years via email and through comments on both of our blogs.

The photos have nothing whatsoever to do with this blog piece today.  They are photos of my wife with her flute. The reason I'm choosing these photos is because my wife keeps me grounded.  26 years ago tomorrow on Valentine's day, I took her to Disneyland and proposed to her while riding over Fantasyland in the Skyway. It was the single-most important decision I ever made.  I have lived a fantasyland type of existence ever since.  Why she puts up with me, I'll never know, but I am truly grateful that she does.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A day at the zoo

Yesterday, my son and I decided to do a spur of the moment trip to the Los Angeles Zoo.  We had planned on a trip to the zoo over Christmas break, but the one day when everyone could do the trip, it started to rain, so we didn't go that day.  On Friday of this week, it had been cold and rainy, so I thought perhaps that might keep the crowds down which is why we decided the trip might be a good outing.

I hadn't looked closely at the zoo's website.  The past two days had been advertised as "snow days."  They trucked in a lot of snow and deposited it in several of the exhibits.  The snow leopards were in their element as were the river otters.  Siberian tigers and the American Black bear had snow in their pens as well.  Needless to say, the zoo had lots of people there, but really no more than usual.

The zoo, over the past 5 years or so, has been undergoing some major renovations, including expanding their elephant facilities.  When they expanded the elephant grounds, the reptile house was taken down.  The past year or so has seen construction on a new reptile house called the Lair.  Yesterday was the first time we were able to walk through that exhibit.  They did a good job in there, although I think they could have made the aisles a little wider to allow a less claustrophobic feel to the place.

My wife hates zoos and her opinion has rubbed off on me to a degree.  I don't hate them, but I tend to have mixed feelings about them.  Looking at them one way, they are viewing pens for people who don't have the wherewithal to take a trip to the different continents to see the animals in their native habitat.  In essence, they are a kind of prison.  They do, however, help educate many people, some of which would never be able to see them any other way.  And they do perform a necessary function by keeping species alive that would probably be extinct due to shrinking habitat which is mainly the cause of our actions.  Zoo are like a double edged sword.

The shot of the desert bighorn sheep above is one of the shots I took yesterday.  My son and I went to Zion National Park this past summer and saw some bighorn sheep in the park.  That was the first time I'd ever seen the sheep in their native habitat.  We saw yearlings and females but didn't see any males like the one above.

I had a great amount of success taking shots at both the orangutan and gorilla exhibits.  I think their particular exhibits bother me the most.  You can't help but see their human-like behavior and wonder about our common ancestry.  Looking at the shots I took, I chose this one of Evelyn, mainly because it made me wonder what she was thinking as she watched us watching her.  Evelyn has known nothing but the zoo as she was born there in 1976.  She knows nothing about the outside world, or what it was like in the wilds of Africa.  This has been her entire existence.  

Knowing the laws of our country, you know she's been treated well, has had the best medical care and has been fed a balanced diet, probably much healthier than any of us have had over the last 37 years.  And yet, you can't help but look into those eyes and wonder what she's thinking about all this.

Monday, February 4, 2013

All over but the shouting

Once again, the Super Bowl is history.  As I noted last year around this time, the past couple of years have produced some very entertaining football games.  It seemed like in the 90s, most of the games were very lopsided.  This year was very similar to last couple of years however, with the game not being decided until very late in the game.

Monday morning quarterbacks will complain about non-calls in the end zone, or possibly blame the blackout, but one team won and the other team lost.  I also noted last year that if the game wasn't a good one, I hoped the commercials would be good.

This year, I didn't find many of the commercials that entertaining.  Perhaps it's because we've come to expect a certain level of commercial at Super Bowl time and when they don't deliver, we pass judgement quickly.  Or maybe, just maybe, advertisers have finally run out of ideas.  Did we really need to see full mouth on kisses like the one shown on the ad?  It was rated one of the lowest liked commercials of the Super Bowl and yet most people will continue to talk about it.  Isn't that what advertising is all about though?

There were a couple of funny ads.  I liked the old folks going out for Taco Bell.  I thought the Kia ad about where babies come from was entertaining.  My favorite commercial wasn't funny at all.  I probably liked it because it was so visually stimulating.  Dodge Ram truck used a speech by Paul Harvey and showed farm life throughout the 2 minute commercial, entitled, God Made a Farmer.  About 30 seconds into it, I just stopped what I was doing and watched, totally mesmerized by the images.  

I've watched it now three times and will probably watch it again.  I've already thought about ways that I could use the compositions of different shots into my own shots.  I guess that's what photographers do. - look at other people's work and try to emulate it.  If I can, at some time, produce images like are in this commercial, I shall be satisfied.  Until then, please feel free to enjoy it here.

I've included above a shot that I took on Saturday while out geocaching.  I think it fits the theme of the video quite nicely.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Flashback Friday

I took this shot during my first year doing the 365 project. That first year I made sure I was taking a shot every single day.  It was important back then to do that and I continued into the second year doing the same thing.  

This year has been a little different in that I've posted several "fillers," photos that weren't taken on the date posted.  All of my street photography shots posted this week were taken last Saturday, but posted on other days because either I didn't pick up my camera, or I wasn't satisfied enough with what I had taken that day.  This is what I'll be doing for the foreseeable future.  It's not that I don't like this shot, but I'm not really satisfied with it and had I taken it today, probably wouldn't have posted it.  

Photography is a learning process.  The first year was creating the discipline to make sure I took photos every day.  Now, it's more making sure I take really good shots, shots that I'm not hesitant to post.