6/25/2015

The Show Goes On

My little work band just got called up at a corporate event to play a song. I'm telling you, playing somebody else's guitar, through somebody else's amp, with somebody else's sound, is such an awkward and uncomfortable experience. It's like wearing somebody else's underwear. In this case, it was assless underwear. But I tried to act like I owned the joint.

6/21/2015

Airline Suckage

I generally avoid bitch posts where the writer just gripes about things. But I've been traveling a whole lot lately, which has put me in the mood to do one. So I present to you, D7's List of Things That Suck About Airline Travel.

  • Airplane Prison  I get that a lot of delays are not the fault of the airline. But twice now I've been on a plane stuck on the runway for over 6 hours at DFW due to weather-related delays in take-off. I'm not exaggerating, it is absolutely ridiculous. If a plane is stuck on the tarmac for more than, say, 90 minutes, then suck it up and get the passengers off the damn plane.I know it slows things down when the logjam finally clears, but you need to look at that as a cost of business. Either that, or refund them their money. Because holding your passengers hostage is simply wrong.
  • Prison Overcrowding  The airlines have figured out how to squeeze every last penny out of a flight and a huge part of that is making sure every flight is full to capacity. The focus on flight capacity means that all airlines overbook flights as a matter of policy. It makes for uncomfortable flights in the best case, and getting bumped in the worst. And for all tickets sold after capacity is reached, it is by definition selling a product which does not exist. WTF?!
  • Carry-On Hoarders  Between carrying on too many bags or way over-sized bags, a lot of people squander a ridiculous amount of overhead bin space. If that space were plentiful I wouldn't care, but it's not. Carry-On Hoarders consume everybody else's carry-on space, making the rest of us subsidize their indulgence. They also slow down load-in/load-out. Fortunately this problem isn't nearly as bad as it used to be though because airlines have gotten a lot more aggressive about making these a-holes check in their bags.
  • Checked Baggage Fees  The airlines themselves are responsible for creating a lot of Carry-On Hoarders. Most of them now charge for every checked-in bag instead of bundling one checked bag into the cost of the ticket like they used to. Which leads me to...
  • Nickel and Diming Us to Death – I hate the fact that airlines have made every tiny little convenience an exorbitantly priced added cost  checked in bags, a decent seat, a reasonable boarding number. I could get behind that if the base price of tickets were lower, but in my observation they haven't really changed since the airlines started all this paid convenience crap.
  • Gate Crowders – This is understandable, but it's still annoying when people start crowding the gate even when their zone number is a long ways from being called. I think people do it because of the Carry-On Hoarders – they're trying to make sure they can get their carry-on luggage into the overhead bins. But it makes load-in take longer and it adds stress to an already stressful situation. 
  • Dwindling Legroom – Originally I was going to call this one, "Seat Recliners" but they're not really the problem. The seats are made to recline so people reasonably expect to be able to do that. But once again in the airlines' zeal to maximize profits on every flight, they've crammed in too many seats, and the leg room just doesn't support reclining. I'm 6' 2", which is tall but not real tall, and on some airlines if the guy in front of me (frustratingly, it's always a short person) reclines his seat, my knees are jammed into the seat back for the duration of the light. It's extremely uncomfortable and with average person heights increasing, average leg room is going in the wrong direction.
  • Smell Baggage People and their smelly food, cologne, perfume, body odor, farting, whatever. 'Nuff said.
  • Bathroom Pigs – Good grief people, have an ounce of personal pride! Pick up after yourself, wipe up the water you've splashed everywhere, and for the love of all that is good in the world, don't pee on the $#@ing floor.
  • Rude TSA Pricks – Unlike a lot of people, I'm generally okay with security lines at the airport. I look at it as part of the price I pay to travel safely in the 21st century. But a lot of TSA people have "customer fatigue." Over time, they've developed a contempt for passengers and it shows in the way they speak and interact with us. They're apathetic in the best case or outright hostile in the worst. They speak to you like you're an idiot or a nuisance for them (so, exactly what do you have better to do?). From a customer service standpoint, these people are cancers. They kill the TSA's reputation and they poison the attitudes of other employees to whom they're exposed. That said, the TSA workers who take pride in themselves and the job they do are a joy and they make traveling so much better.  
  • The Walmart School of Lane Optimization – Like I said, I'm okay with standing in the security line given the worst case alternatives. But I hate it when I'm standing in a really, really long line at security and it's being serviced by one or two lanes while several other lanes stand unused. We pay for those lanes through our taxes! Open them up and have a sense of urgency about your job! If you don't have the staff to do it, then why did you install more lanes than you can actually use? Either stop wasting our money or stop wasting our time; right now you're doing both.

5/20/2015

Space Needle at Night


Took this one from my hotel room when I was in Seattle. I was using aperture priority mode and I dialed in -2/3 EV exposure compensation to keep the color in the sky. On my first try, I handheld the camera with auto ISO. That one came out well, but the sky was really noisy due to the high ISO selected by the camera. A nighttime shot like this will take you right the limits of a small image sensor like the one in my X20. I wanted to dial down the ISO but there was no way I could handhold the camera with the slow shutter speed that would result. I also didn't have a tripod, so I dialed down the ISO and held the camera on the railing of the teeny-tiny balcony. Came out pretty well.

5/15/2015

Grand Floridian


The Worst of All Worlds

So I just got back from a conference for my day job. The topic of this conference is communications industry taxation. One thing really struck me. The world of tax is largely defined and populated by politicians, lawyers, and accountants. Think about that for a moment. It combines the disciplines of politics, bureaucracy, legal maneuvering, and bean-counting. Is a more unholy combination even possible?

5/08/2015

Astronomy Tower


Temptation Bundling


I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast that talked about a cool technique termed "Temptation Bundling". It's a simple but powerful tool for dealing with lack of willpower or procrastination. The idea is you tie together two activities. One is something you that's good for you but that you don't enjoy (e.g. exercise, mowing the lawn, paying your bills, etc.) with another activity that you like to do but isn't good for you or you ought to spend less time doing (watching TV, surfing the web, drinking beer, etc.). You link them together in such a way that you don't allow yourself to indulge in the latter without the former. So for example, you only watch Game of Thrones when you're pedaling on the stationary bike. Or, your reward for mowing the lawn is a trip to Dairy Queen. The ideal bundling has you engaging in the activities simultaneously (listening to music while dusting the furniture, for example) because it bolsters the motivation factor. But where that's not possible, the next best bundling is to indulge in the thing you like only when you've completed the thing you don't.

So for me this week I temptation-bundled getting through my work e-mail backlog that accumulates overnight (since my employer has worldwide offices, that can be a lot) with my personal e-mail and web surfing. In other words, every morning this week I didn't allow myself to deal with my personal e-mail, RSS feeds, Facebook, or even this blog, until I'd had gone through all the work e-mail that had come in the night before. In fact, this blog post is being written now that I've gotten through last night's e-mail.

I gotta say, it's been surprisingly effective. I found that just this dumb little trick made me a hell of lot more productive and reduced the odds of an important work e-mail "falling through the cracks". It didn't take a lot of willpower because there was a very clear and achievable path to get to the activity I wanted to do. And I felt good about myself because I was dealing quickly with an activity that I sometimes drag my feet on.

Very cool technique. Now I'm looking for new things to bundle...

5/01/2015

The Virtues of Traveling Light

Ever since college I've been a fairly frequent traveler. In college, I packed for long trips to foreign countries. Nowadays, I usually pack for short 1-3 day business trips to domestic cities. Over time, I've developed some ideas about how to ease the burden of business traveling. The most important one for me is to travel light. My appreciation for traveling light came from backpack camping. You start to question the need for every little thing when you have to schlep it on your back for several miles. But packing light improves business travel too. The less you bring, the less time and effort required to carry, pack, and keep track of stuff. And that makes trips a lot more enjoyable to me.

The golden principle: Bring only what you know you'll need and don't pack for contingencies.

So how does that work in practice?


  • Find out the weather forecast and bring only the clothes you need for the predicted conditions and your predicted activities. I don't try to pack for every possible situation, only the ones that have a high probability of actually occurring.
  • If you're going into cold or erratic weather, bring layers instead of packing a big heavy coat. It will take up less space and it will be more versatile in inconsistent weather. I will usually bring t-shirts, outer shirts, one thin fleece sweater, and a light jacket, all of which pack down really small and can be added or taken off a layer at a time as the weather changes.
  • Plan out your clothes for each day and bring no more than that. This is important. You have to exercise some restraint here. If you absolutely must bring extras, then bring one extra change of clothes and no more. In fact, what I usually do is limit it to one extra pair of underwear, socks, and tee-shirt. And normally I don't even do that. If for some reason I go through my clothes quicker than planned, I can always launder some at the hotel, but I've never actually needed to do that.
  • So what do you do if something unexpected comes up and you don't have the clothes you need? Well, I go to a store at my destination and just buy them. In over 30 years of traveling this has occurred only a few times for me! That's a trade-off I can totally live with. I'd much rather spend a little dough once in a blue moon than lug around a bunch of junk I don't need on every single trip. So the most important thing I pack for contingencies is a credit card.
  • Shoes are your enemy if you want to travel light. Ideally, try to plan your clothing so that you only need one pair of shoes and then wear them on the plane. That frees up a ton of luggage space! Of course this isn't always possible, especially for vacation travel where you might be strolling on the beach in the morning and eating at a posh restaurant in the evening. But at least try to minimize the number of shoes you bring, and narrow down your clothing colors so you don't have to bring multiple pairs of the same type of shoes.  
  • Don't just grab all the toiletries out of your bathroom and pack them. That's packing a month's worth of stuff for a few days of travel. Instead, use travel-sized bottles of your toiletries. Since I travel frequently, I have duplicates of all my toiletries in containers big enough for about 5 days of use, that's it. For my typical trip, any more than that is just carrying around too much useless stuff. I put it all in a small bag ready to go whenever I need it.
  • Fold all your clothes carefully and make use of any cinch straps in your luggage. This will not only let you get more stuff into your luggage, but it will also reduce wrinkles. You can roll your clothes too which is the most space-efficient method, but I only do that if I'm backpacking because I don't want to deal with the wrinkles.
  • Choice in luggage is a tough one and I'm not sure I have settled on the best thing yet for me. I like to have luggage that is size-appropriate for my trip. So I have a few different bags including a very small overnight bag, a small backpack, a sports duffel bag,  and some proper rolling luggage for longer trips. If I'm trying to avoid checking in my luggage, then I like to use a bag that is small enough that I have an extremely high probability of getting it into the overhead bin even if I get a crappy boarding pass number (which is most of the time). Usually this is either my duffel or a backpack. I'm not a fan of rolling luggage for carry-on because nowadays flights run out of overhead room more often than not and rolling bags end up getting checked. 
  • When I'm at my destination, as I use up my clothing, I will fold it up neatly and put it in a drawer in the hotel room. That way, packing for departure goes really quickly, which is important to me because I often have early morning flights on departure and I don't want to stay up late or get up any earlier than necessary to pack before the flight. I like my sleep, especially when traveling.

I've gotten so into traveling light that I actually make a bit of a game out of seeing how small I can go for a trip and still have everything I need. Now, I don't recommend people going that far with it, but I do encourage people to try traveling light and see if it might make their trips more enjoyable.

4/27/2015

Father to Son



When I first got serious about photography, I was more comfortable photographing things. People photography is a little more daunting to an introvert like me, because it feels intrusive. You may have to ask your subject for permission, ask her to pose or give a particular facial expression, and then you have to stick this phallic looking device in her face. All of this while simultaneously trying to build a rapport with your subject because people tend to take their best photos when they're comfortable with the photographer. I find all of that very unnatural and a tiny bit intimidating.So I always saw myself as better suited to things like landscapes, architecture, still life, and just cool pictures of stuff.

But over time, I've come to realize that people pictures tend, on balance, to be more emotionally engaging. That's not to say that landscapes or whatever can't be emotionally engaging. Good ones certainly are! But adding a person to a photo instantly adds an emotional or story telling element that's a lot harder to achieve without them. Take this photo for instance. Earlier in my photography I might have waited until they left to take my picture. Or I might have composed them out of the shot. Hell, I might have even Photoshopped them right out of there! But without the people, this photo would be a garden variety landscape - nice, pretty, somewhat interesting on a technical level, but not that remarkable. With the people, however, I think it takes on new meaning. Instead of just being a pretty scene, it becomes a story about a young boy fishing with his Dad, the details of which are left to the viewer. Maybe it's their first fishing trip together. Maybe it's their last. It all depends on what sort of feeling or memories it evokes. For me, it reminds me of when my father taught me how to fish and our summertime camping trips to the mountain around Ruidoso, New Mexico, and that brings on feelings of longing and nostalgia.

4/19/2015

Orchids on Purple


It's been awhile since I've done a still life. My wife's orchids have really thrived in the breakfast room of the new house in NC, so I figured I'd take advantage of the blooms. I shot this on a white backdrop with a purple gel and small softbox mounted on a flash and shot up the backdrop to give a nice gradient. I was trying to tie the background color in with the color in the middle of the flowers. It's not exactly the same hue but it still works nicely because the purple contrasts with the yellow on the main part of the petals. The light on the flowers is another softbox from the top-right, along with a reflector on the left for some fill.

4/12/2015

Tea House


Last weekend we took a well-needed break and rented a cabin in the mountains around Linville. It was nice. Got to do some fishing and general relaxing. I made a point of leaving my laptop at home and not checking my e-mail on my phone. We got up early Saturday morning to do some fishing on a river on the first day of trout season. Unfortunately a cold front had rolled through and it was seriously chilly on the river, especially wading into it. The kids were pretty miserable at first, but once it warmed up a little they got into it. Only caught a few fish, but still it was very peaceful and relaxing, very A River Runs Through It.. Sunday morning I got up early to get some pictures around our cabin from which this shot comes. There are several cabins on the property along with a lot of lanscaping, including this replica Japanese tea house. It was frosty and things weren't green yet (that only started in earnest this last week), so I decided to process a lot of my photos in black and white. Afterwards, we had an Easter breakfast with the kids and let them hunt Easter eggs. Then the drive home to get back to the grind on Monday..