A year with the Mk-Z

A year with the #Mk-Z

This was the first US-built four-door car that attracted me from the get-go and I ordered mine early on. The design still gets compliments from both young and old wherever I park. The dash is well laid-out and everything is in easy reach.

Overall Quality:

After some initial frustrating issues, the car has performed extremely well. Knowledgeable techs and very capable support team managed all service appointments within the promised timeframe and there was always a loaner car available. I have averaged 36.1MPG, quite a bit less than #Ford had stated in their documentation, but they did send a check to “make good” on that mistake.

After a year with the car, there are some issues that reinforce the perception that an American car is made with subpar components and it will likely stay in the stable for a few more months before it is relegated to the “it was fun while it lasted”.

The three main issues that will very likely get me in another brand for the next car are:


Ford never was, and apparently still is not, capable of designing a very comfortable seat. Jaguar, GM, Toyota, and VW all have been able to come up with a design that is comfortable on long haul trips. Why Ford never adapted some of these designs from Jaguar into their other products is beyond me, but I guess it has a lot to do with “if it wasn’t designed here then….” attitude. It is one of the reasons I stay away from Hertz too!

Leather Interior:

The biggest difference between all European luxury cars I have owned (or still own) and the Lincoln is the quality of the leather. After just 20,000 miles – less than half of those are with a passenger in the car – both front seats are already showing significant wear in the leather. I have cars that are 30 years old with 100,000+ miles on the odometer where the leather is in better shape. I certainly expected the leather on the Lincoln to last a bit longer that this. The seat A/C works well, but there is a distinct dark dust deposited on the seats each time it is turned on. Even my Chevy Silverado leather still looked better at 250,000 miles!

Navigation System:

In two words….. IT SUCKS!

First of all, the $300 map that comes with the car is (was) at least a year old. I know this for sure since major highways in the area that had been open for at least 14 months are not part of the map system.

Navigation in quickest route is always wrong. On a recent road trip (I have been heading there for at least seven years and the route is well known to me), the car decided to want to take me on 732 miles, 10:50 hours ride that according to Google and my trusted Garmin was only 634 miles and 8:48 long. Why it routed me some hundred miles out of my way is beyond me, but Ford must have logic to their madness.

The SYNC voice command system performs poorly at best. If the car is in motion, that is the only way you can enter an address since the panel is locked out. So, you will need to pull over and enter an address.

But, lastly, the most annoying part would be the flashing white circle surrounding the triangle that represents the vehicle. N one has figured out how to eliminate this blinking light.

So, I keep my Garmin with lifetime map updates in the car and use it 90% of the time.

In a nutshell, I must rate the attempt at luxury and comfort a complete fiasco.


Cambo Actus and the Fuji X-T1

This afternoon I got to do some preliminary testing with the Cambo Actus fixed to the Fuji X-T1.

This, I believe, will be a great addition to the landscape photo kit I travel with. I tested the Nikkor 75mm and Schneider 90mm and discovered that the Schneider 47mm would not focus to infinity, but as a macro or even close portrait lens, this lens will work superbly.

There was not much difference between coverage of the 75 and 90mm lenses, and I liked the results with the latter quite a bit better.

The images (on the linked page below) with the proprietary Fuji and Zeiss fixed focus lenses at 12mm, 23mm, and 35mm.

The 90mm Schneider comes close to the coverage area of the 35mm lens. Although not very wide for landscapes, the Cambo Actus will provide for some incredibly sharp images in many instances.

Tomorrow morning I will go to one of the few scenic spots in town and see how it does in the field. This way I can test the system including a Lee polarizer and some graduated filters.

Here is the link to the test images shot.


My quest for the perfect beef ribs

Few BBQ restaurants serve beef ribs, probably as a result of low yield from the purchased weight.

The best beef ribs I have ever eaten are found in Kansas City’s #Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ. Each time I am in the area, a stop at Jack Stack is a must. I’ve frequently even bought additional meals and taken the extra portions back home to enjoy the following days.


This image was taken from their website!


In Texas, as I drive around the area, I have come across a few places that do beef ribs, and even fewer that do it well.

 A favorite spot with top-notch beef ribs is the #Woodshed Smokehouse in Fort Worth. All the fat is cooked off the meat, and the sauce is a wonderful peach-based glaze.

 On a trip to southern Texas last week I decided to stop at a couple of popular BBQ restaurants to try their (supposedly) top-rated beef ribs.

I stopped in Lockhart, home to the best BBQ according to many food critics. #Black’s BBQ might be rated in the top spots, but in my book it does not rise to the occasion. The meat was extremely fatty – both the brisket and the ribs, and a little less than half of my order found its way to the garbage on my way out.


Two ribs and a slice of brisket at Black’s

On my way back the next day, I revisited #Cooper’s in Llano. I did not remember them serving prime rib during the week, and had to have some – in addition to the beef ribs. Both were great. A tad too much salt for my taste, but a wonderful smoked taste and extremely tender meat. It would be well worth the ride down for a weekend day lunch – if I want to stand in line!


The pit at Cooper’s

Closer to home we have Kenny’s. Their ribs were good, but definitely not in Cooper’s or Jack Stack’s league. Far from it! Because of proximity I will likely be a frequent visitor, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the ribs, but more with the distance from door to door! Had Tony Roma’s not shut all of it’s area locations, they would still have my vote!


The ribs at Kenny’s


Digital photography opened the door to millions of new hobbyists who had never considered the craft when there was a need to learn metering, composition, aperture, or shutter speed before you could take a decent photo in the “old” film days.

Today, just like in photography, Kickstarter has given tens of thousands of people a peek into the world of R&D, prototyping, and manufacturing.

What used to be a simple click of the mouse or a visit to a retail location to pick up a new, cool gadget, Kickstarter has allowed these same consumers to get in on the ground floor of a gadget’s introduction to the market.

It is funny to read all the notes and comments that are being left by “investors” who provided seed money for a new project.  Okay, maybe not funny from the consumer perspective, but quite funny from a manufacturer’s or designer’s perspective.

No gadget, car, pillow, deodorant, plastic spoon, or you name it comes to market without the engineering, tooling, and most importantly retooling of molds, dies, etc. that always precedes the final “perfect” item shipping to a store near you.  The only difference is the consumer was never made aware of this timeline until now.

In many cases, the next irritation is already in the design stages when the preceding version is shipping to their distribution points for the very first time. And, no, most companies will not divulge this to their own salespeople. So, don’t bother asking when the next big thing is shipping; the salesperson is usually the last to find out! That is why we now have rumor sites that try to get this data from (likely unethical) vendors, designers, or partners.

I got in on two gadgets that I think will make my photographic life much more fun. There was no actual need for any of these, but there was a “want”.  So, as long as there is no dire need, there is no rush.

This cool gadget, ought to make landscape panoramas a lot easier, but that is all.  Looks like a neat toy to add to the camera bag, but it is not a lifesaver.  I am looking forward to receiving my all-black version sometime next year.  Is there a rush? Heck no, I want it to work. And work well.

What photographer does not have a gazillion camera bags that never get used, all in the name of finding the perfect bag!  Although two come close, this belt is a brilliant idea. The heck with bags, just carry the lens on a mount attached to a belt. How cool. Again, it is not a life changer but a cool gadget. Let’s be patient and get it right before it is shipped. I am sure neither the creator nor I want a $4,000+ lens to drop to the ground.

What are my 2 near-perfect bags?  One is the Kiboko 30L that handles all my gear on a safari or birding trip.  Yep, it will take the 500mm, 300mm, 24-70mm, two camera bodies and much more AND still fit in the overhead of a small regional jet. The other is a small bag that doesn’t weigh a thing and still holds enough for any photo shoot or short trip – plus a 17” Macbook Pro.  It is the ThinkThank Shape Shifter. Both bags have straps for my tripod.

So, just as digital technology has done an incredible job for relatively small camera manufacturers, Kickstarter will do the same for many small companies trying to launch the next big thing. But, unlike using your camera in “P” mode*, getting in on the ground floor of a great idea doesn’t mean all will be easy or smooth sailing! Kickstarter will make many thousands of investors a much better consumer by finally learning the ins and outs of launching a product.

*  The “P” stands for Program. I like to think it stands for Pray your image will be what you intended it to be!


Texas Secession

I wonder if the clowns who have been signing the White House’s website have given any consideration to the huge benefit the secession by Texas will have to… wait for it….. the USA minus Texas!

Everyone living in Texas by some predetermined date would now be a Texan citizen and lose his or her US citizenship. Of course this date will not be pre-announced to prevent people from skipping across state lines and settle in a neighboring State.


Now here goes the Federal support of the economy:


The Dense Department currently injects over $20 billion a year into the Texas economy.  Do you think there will be other states vying for this new-found revenue? Most if not all career military would probably like to keep the benefits they have earned and will opt for the US Armed Forces, and might not want to serve a new Texan Armed Forces that will have to build from scratch.

Which State will want the naval ships, aircraft, personnel, tax base, etc. from the closure of, and transfer out of Texas of the following bases:

Dyess, Lackland, Laughlin, Sheppard, Fort Bliss, Fort Hood, JRB Fort Worth, and NAS Chorpus Christy.



Federal law requires large telecommunications companies to be domestic for national security purposes.  So now, where will the large Texas-based operations move to? AT&T, Verizon, Samsung, Nokia, Time Warner, Ericsson all will have to relocate in order to comply with US laws.  Will the US be as friendly towards Texans when they apply for work visas?  Or will we follow current sentiment persist and require a tall fence along the Red River to stop Texans from illegally entering the new USA?



Federal law requires airliners to be domestically owned. So what will happen to the large operations of American, United, and Southwest? Will they now qualify as foreign carriers or will they be forced to move out of Texas?

Wait, if I want to do business in New York – after all, all big banks are still headquartered there – I will now need to pass TSA in Texas (all inbound flights to the USA are required to adhere to these level of scans after all), followed by long lines at US immigration, followed by even longer lines at US Customs where they will scan each bag for illegal products, unreported money.



Of course the Federal Reserve Bank and Mint will leave north Texas for another State that they oversee.

Oh, now who will secure the previously FDIC insured deposits of everyone’s bank account? Suddenly you bank account won’t be as secure.  Will you want to keep your money in that bank or revert back to the mattress?



The export without license of any firearms is illegal.  Licenses will have to be obtained for the export or rifles, handguns, ammunition, scopes, etc.  Let’s assume the USA will allow for the export of arms but now there will be an added cost of paperwork thrown into the price of your firearm purchased in Texas. After all it is an imported product.


Who will be in the minority?

Oh, wait. This might present a huge problem.  White, Anglo-Saxon folk will now be less than 50% of the population.  Bet you they did not give this some thought.  Me a minority? No way.  Yep.   That Latino (you most likely used another term) down the road is now the new mayor, senator, governor. Ay Dios!


How abut our State budgets?

We make plenty of money in Texas.  We have no budget deficits. Huhh? We don’t. No Sir.

Oh, but how about the following:

  • Turns out Texas was the state that depended the most on those very stimulus funds to plug nearly 97% of its shortfall for fiscal 2010, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • Even budget deficits are bigger in Texas
  • Texas, which crafts a budget every two years, was facing a $6.6 billion shortfall for its 2010-2011 fiscal years. It plugged nearly all of that deficit with $6.4 billion in Recovery Act money, allowing it to leave its $9.1 billion rainy day fund untouched.
  • “Stimulus was very helpful in getting them through the last few years,” said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers, said of Texas.

Even as Perry requested the Recovery Act money, he railed against it. On the very same day he asked for the funds, he set up a petition titled “No Government Bailouts.”

So, where would this money come from if there was no Federal Tax sharing?  Okay, Texas would start to collect its own income tax.  You think 35% top marginal rate will cover this, or will it have to go as high as 50% to match the revenue stream lost by secession?  How about 70%?

From utexas.edu:

  • The majority of state government revenue comes from sources other than state taxes. The largest component of state government income comes from the federal government for funding of programs in education, healthcare and transportation, to name a few. Just less than one-third of all Texas state revenue comes from the federal government. This federally-sourced revenue can take the form of outright grants or matching funds.



Texas will inherit its poor citizens as well.

From the University of Texas Politics’ website

  • We have already noted that Texas has some of the poorest counties and places in the United States. These figures all argue that Texas is among the most unequal of states in the United States; its wealthy are wealthy on a nation-wide basis, while its poor live, by some standards, in the poorest places and counties in the entire country.
  • it ranked first, at 24.4 %, in the percent of its populace with no health insurance.


And then here they are on Education:

  • Let’s not forget all the Federal grants for Medical Research ow given to MD Anderson, UT Austin, Arlington, etc.
  • By 2009, nearly a decade later, the percentage of Texas residents with a high school diploma had increased to 79.6. But other states increased at a greater rate, leaving the Lone Star State ranking dead last. Nearly 40 percent of Texas residents — about 9.5 million of the state’s 25 million people — are Hispanic, and another 11.5 percent is African American. Of those, 26.4 percent of Hispanic residents live in poverty along with 23.1 percent of African Americans, according to census data provided by Steven Murdock, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau under President George W. Bush.

Poverty is typically a strong indicator of educational attainment, Murdock said. And that is reflected in the state’s high school dropout numbers. Figures provided by the Texas Education Agency show that 11.8 percent of African American students scheduled to graduate high school in 2010 dropped out, along with 9.1 percent of Hispanic students 3.5 percent of Caucasian students.


Oil, Gas, and Fishing.

Texas’s territorial waters will be12 miles anything beyond that will be limited or excluded by the claim of exclusive economic zone by the USA and Mexico.  A slight problem is that most oil producing wells and fishing grounds are beyond these limits.  You know how the US protects its fishing grounds and oil fields.  So now seafood and oil will have to be imported from the US or Mexico.


I am certain all 100,000+ signatories considered a few if not all of these obstacles to an independent Texas.  Do we really know their reason for signing? Could it be that some of these are simply racist and can’t stand the fact that there is a black President? A President so limited in his powers that even if he was a clone of Stalin he could not begin to enact any law to make the country less capitalistic than it is.  Do any of these numb-nuts realize that it takes three branches – independent branches – to make law?

The last 4 years have consisted of some of the lowest tax rates in our country’s history; more gun freedoms than under any previous administration; elimination of more rules and guidelines for many US agencies; and a tremendous improvement in economic conditions inherited from two wars that were never paid for and whose bills are now coming due.

I would love to see a coherent response as to why my thinking is wrong!

And, p.s. I am a conservative voter!


Post Election opinion

So, now that the electorate has spoken, can we get back to the business of living a normal life?

To our congressional leaders: There ought to be quick consensus on several bills that have always had support from both sides of the isle.

  • One would be the reform of our immigration system, laws, and policies.  Ted Kennedy, John McCain, George W. Bush, and Obama agreed on comprehensive reform.  Let’s get it done and put a huge issue behind us. All of us are descendants of immigrants or first generation American.  Accept some more and make them tax-paying productive citizens.
  • Obamacare is here to stay. Accept it.  It was a Republican concept of personal responsibility championed by Newt Gingrich as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s pushing for socialized medicine. It was Governor Romney’s plan for Massachusetts.  If you can afford insurance, get it.  If not, there will be some help for you.  Let’s get past this. No need for my taxes to subsidize your medical bills.
  • Financial Reform is done, get on with it.  Perhaps the legislation needs overhaul; let’s look at it and consider some tweaks.  Let’s not let Wall Street sharks influence your decision.  It needs common sense review and consideration of all unintended consequences.  This will take time and some smart people to review all options.  Let’s listen and act in unison.
  • Let’s prevent the fiscal cliff.  You are insulting every single inventor, entrepreneur, dreamer, and worker when you tell him or her the only reason they invent, develop, and produce is a low tax rate. No one looks at the marginal tax rate when all they see is a new world order because of what he or she created.  We did pretty darn well under George W.H. Bush and Clinton. Marginal tax rates were higher and deficits came down fast. Accept a higher marginal rate to pay down the debt and move to invest in our decaying infrastructure. There needs to be some sacrifice, not just by families whose children went off to war, but by all of us who have the luxury of living here.

If Republicans want to ever win the presidency going forward, get any and all abortion issues out of the realm of politics.  It has no place there. It is disgusting. I do not want to tell a woman what she needs to do or not with her body. It is between her, her doctor, and her God.  You angered women and drove many to vote Democratic against their Republican roots or beliefs.

As the Republican leadership is slowly replaced by a younger generation, accept the fact that the younger ones might have people of color, gay people, non-Christians as their significant others, friends, and even supporters.  You too should welcome them with open arms.  Reagan would have. Bush did. Even Nixon accepted a Jew in his inner circle while he was an anti-Semite.

Stop the insecure hatred and vitriol. Live a much happier and relaxed life.  Refocus all this negative energy on building a successful business, a more energetic workforce, and a successful nation.

I am happy this is over for the next year.  I am saddened it cost $7 billion. I am ecstatic that al that money did not buy people’s vote as was widely expected.

The Sheldon Adelsons, Marriotts, Foster Friesses, Bob Perrys of the world might want to rethink how they dispose of their riches. There are so many noteworthy humanitarian causes that might actually help the economy. We proved clearly that money could not buy love. Sorry it didn’t work out.  $7 billion is an obscene amount of money. Let’s instead use it to rebuild roads, bridges, and ports.  It will give you many more billions in return.

President Obama might not be my choice, he might not be your choice, but for the next four years he is OUR president.  Let’s be a united United States going forward.

Now, I am going back to producing wonderful memories through travel and photography.


When photographing landscapes or cityscapes our brain tends to quickly eliminate any repeating patterns after a quick glance of  patterns.

A hedge, a hay field, a row Aspens, windows in a skyscraper.  As long as this pattern is of the same color and goes in the same direction, the brain stores the information and allows you to focus on the main subject – usually something that contrasts the “pattern”.

One way to keep the viewer’s attention on the image is by throwing off the brain by having a repeating pattern that does not make sense. My favorite way of doing this is to photograph reflections of the pattern or to pan the camera in the direction of the energy in the image.

Here, Aspens and a clear blue sky are being reflected off a lake.  It was a windy day, so I added a 4-stop ND filter to allow for longer exposure that would neutralize the waves into a “flat” surface.

Although these are “normal” patterns, the eye stops for a moment because the “upside-down” trees. This is not a normal occurrence so the brain needs to process the photo.  You have now captured your audience!

Reflections on North Lake, CA

Reflections of Aspens


In this image, I used a small aperture to allow for a 1/30 exposure.  The waves were coming from left to right, and I began by panning in the same direction. While turning at the hip at the moment I had a steady motion, I clicked the shutter.

Try something different!  Sometimes the results will surprise you!

Let it rain (or go dark)

Over fifty photographers stand at the lake’s edge anxiously waiting for sunrise to click the shutter at the precise moment when the early rays fill the sky with the most intense colors that cannot be described by mere words.

Imagine the collective gasp when at first light you notice there will be no magic because it is completely overcast, and actually some sort of moisture in the form of rain begins to fall on your gear.

Out of the fifty or so photographers, 48 begin to pack it in.  Not you.  Why not you?

Well, you are looking at all sides of the scene and notice that the totally overcast sky is actually acting like a giant scrim, softening whatever light there might be.  You stare back to the East and notice there is a bit of pink beginning to show before the sun has risen above the horizon.

A bit of pink lit from one area through a giant diffuser… mmmm.  Just in case, let’s get the camera ready. Shower cap or whatever protective gear you have over the setup, but ready for that moment should it occur.

You shoot some images every couple of minutes to make sure your metering is accurate (or very close to) and you adjust for the additional light.  You are ready, but will nature cooperate?

The suddenly the few pink rays turns into a completely pink sky and voila……

Mono Lake, California

Two minutes later and the color had disappeared.

No luck, well maybe a little bit. A lot more patience and a bit of pre-visualization than luck – that is for certain!

Here is another photo that was carefully composed at least an hour before the right opportunity arose to click the shutter on the Nikon D4. This is a single image, no HDR!

Chihuly exhibit at the Dallas Arboretum with a storm approaching from the northwest.

 My photos can be seen here:  michaelsphotos.net