Kickstarter


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!

 

Metz 58 AF 1 or 2 review


For  a couple of decades I have been a Metz flash fan.  The consistency of the light produced by the mecablitz is unparalleled.

Unfortunately I never took the plunge from the monstrous flashgun (mecablitz 76 MZ5 digital being the last one) to the more manageable hot shoe mount.

This past weekend I finally got myself a new in the box 58 AF-1 that was already phased out 2-years ago.

I never expected the smaller hot shoe mount to perform the same way as the big gun, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the beautiful and very consistent light.

The secret of both units is their dual reflectors. The large reflector that you can swivel to bounce the light, and a much smaller reflector in the base of the unit.  The latter is the key to incredible portraits or event shots.

I always use a bounce card or more recently the large Rogue FlashBender to soften the light directed on my subject.  The issue that always required some time in post-processing was the weird “raccoon-like”shadows under the eyes caused by the light coming from above.

Metz has had that second reflector on their flash for a couple of decades at least, and when set at its lowest power, provides wonderful and even illumination on the face of my subject(s).

For the past few years I have had a 3/4 CTO filter taped over the secondary reflector to make that direct light a bit warmer than the 5600K of the flash unit.

Doing the same on the small unit works just as good, and makes the faces appear a bit warmer.

The Metz 58 is priced well below the Nikon SB910 (and I presume the Canon equivalent). The only difference between the 1 and 2 is the mounting foot; it is plastic on #1 and metal on #2. Internally the guts are the same.  What is surprising is that the 58 AF-1 is still being sold at close to its original retail price some years after it was replaced by the new 58 AF-2 .

I am now retiring my 76 for the 58.

I always felt like apologizing for the huge camera that really wasn’t.  My Leica M9 and D800E were often a small attachment to this flashgun! Metz manufactures a simple SLA adapter base to allow true TTL operation with just about any camera.

The Metz 58AF-1 and 2 both work through the camera’s TTL and high speed sync systems, and can be switched from full power to 1/64th power (+3 to -3) in 1/3rd stops. I am looking for a few more and will then have completely switched from Nikon light to Metz.

If you are considering a new flash for your camera, I would highly recommend you try out the Metz series of lights. You cannot go wrong.

Give to forget, don’t forget to give….


The story begins with a Jew and Muslim sitting next to each other…

Really?  Yep.   Trust me, read on!

During a short flight to San Antonio, two guys sitting next to each other got into deep conversation about life, religion, and travel.  Both had come to the USA to study and both had made the decision to stay and build a new life in a strange land.

It was incredibly easy to go from one subject to another, and we quickly realized that we shared a passion for fried chicken (albeit from opposite sides of the counter), driving in the comfort of our Rolls-Royce, and traveling the world with our kids.

We were there with a common goal: to greet and visit with the children and widow or widower being shuttled on their very own American Airlines charter to the 2012 Snowball Express held this weekend in the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex.

Snowball Express is an all-volunteer, very young charity focused on providing a great, albeit brief, memory to children of military members whose lives were cut short by war since 9-11-2001.

And that was exactly what we were doing aboard this AA flight. Giving so that these youngsters could forget. For four days, they are treated as VIP’s. From the volunteer baggage handlers to the nametag, everything pointed to the VIP status of these kids.

As our lives are just slices of memories stacked on top of each other, these four days are a wonderful way to be able to add some positive slices within the stack of life.

American Airlines provides the greatest chunk of support though the “loan” of aircraft, revenue seats for those families who cannot reach a charter point of departure, and all cockpit and cabin crew who do this on their own time. Next time you see an AA pilot or attendant, thank them for their support to this incredible program.

We picked up the first group of families and saw that Santa had already made it to the gate and was greeting the children who were anxiously waiting for their flight to DFW.

The crew who would be flying the plane back to DFW

The crew who would be flying the plane back to DFW

Mr. & Mrs. Claus will actually celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on December 25th

Mr. & Mrs. Claus will actually celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on December 25th

At our second stop, a steel band was there to give the families a festive send-off. Now shown are the bomb sniffing dog that was a great hit with the younger crowd, and the 30+ men strong Honor Guard.

At our second stop, a steel band was there to give the families a festive send-off. Not shown are the bomb sniffing dog that was a great hit with the younger crowd, and the 30+ men strong Honor Guard.

From the very first minute these children step aboard, the crew does everything possible to begin a memorable 4-day weekend. The airplane was fully decorated prior to departure and during the shuttle to our first destination.  A stuffed animal was placed on each seat assigned to a younger participant.

Now, why can't we fly like this every day. How can you not get off the plane with a huge smile?

Now, why can’t we fly like this every day. How can you not get off the plane with a huge smile?

Experts are asked to make the pre-flight announcements

Experts are asked to make the pre-flight announcements

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Just in case we fill up, volunteers were asked if they would give up their seat and be stowed in the overhead compartments.

Just in case we fill up, volunteers were asked if they would give up their seat and be stowed in the overhead compartments.

Upon arrival at DFW, the volunteers – some 60 to 70 people – made sure the music was at full blast and the volume level of other noise makers was at its peak. For many it was the first reality check that this trip would indeed become a memory filled with laughter, all-day fun, and pampering for the moms. Some families were here for the second or third time; children are welcomed back from the age of 5 until they turn 18.

I made sure I was the first off the plane to capture the reactions of the children getting off the 737.

I made sure I was the first off the plane to capture the reactions of the children getting off the 737.

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Indie Racer, the Brit Martin Plowman, was there to sign photos, pants, shirts, you name it. Even the full-scale fiberglass replica of the actual racecar sporting the Snowball Express logo was in the hotel lobby for the weekend.

The AT&T Center for the Preforming Arts hosted an event, there was a Children Parade, there was Six Flags Over Texas, Fair Park, The Stockyards, and Neiman Marcus opened their store so that kids could buy a Christmas gift for their mother or father. Of course there was no register where they had to pay for the gift selected.  No parent was allowed in the store – this was a kids-only event.

No matter where the event was held, the buses were always escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders.  I am sure these guys were ecstatic with this year’s weather. 70 degrees beats 20 on any day when you are riding a motorcycle.

Martin Plowman posing with one of the Patriot Guard Riders

Martin Plowman posing with one of the Patriot Guard Riders

The highlight (especially for most moms) was the evening at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth.  Performing this evening was none other than Gary Sinise, the actor famous for his roles in Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, The Green Mile, and the hit show CSI New York. Mr. Sinise is also an accomplished musician who not only is extremely liberal with his wallet but also performs for the Troops and causes supporting our Troops with his band, The Lt. Dan Band.

So, were there any slices added to my stack of memories. Absolutely.

Take the 5-year old girl who asks if she can sit on my lap on the bus ride from DFW to the hotel.  She talked about her first birthday party and the people who were there then but not now.

Or, the 3-year old boy who held the dance instructor by the hand and did the electric slide and a Texas Two-Step without missing a beat.

Or, the mom who told about her 6-year old insisting on packing all his clothes in a suitcase back in July for his second trip to the weekend party.

Or, the 12-year old boy wondering if Dallas is where his Dad had gotten the family Audi. All he was sure about was that it shipped from Texas to the house in Colorado.

Or, the young man being helped out of his wheelchair and held up by his mom on the dance floor. Smiling all the way.

Or, the love shown by Gary Sinise towards these children, entertaining them, spending time chatting with anyone and everyone who wanted a minute of his time.

Or, the AA crew who gave so liberally of their time and caring to shuttle the families to and from DFW.

What was planned to be a few hours of “work”, ended up being (start of smile and big wink) too many hours (heck, just keep smiling) hours of volunteering to capture smiles and recording that moment in time when each child “realized” it was okay to  have fun.

A big smile to the front row family members in wheelchairs

A big smile to the front row family members in wheelchairs

I think I can do it on my own now, it's okay to let go on the instructor's hand for a moment!

I think I can do it on my own now, it’s okay to let go of the instructor’s hand for a moment!

I am sure this went to Facebook before the song was over!

I am sure this went to Facebook before the song was over!

This little gymnast has that smile you can never forget

This little gymnast has that smile you will never forget

She is ready for Christmas!

She is ready for Christmas!

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Vocalist Molly Callinan

Vocalist Molly Callinan

Vocalist Julie Dutchak leading the Conga line

Vocalist Julie Dutchak leading the Conga line

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I have given time and funds to many charities or programs over the decades, but this particular weekend will go down as the most incredible experience ever. It does not compare with providing Polio vaccine in Asia, building an orphanage in Haiti, helping at a medical clinic in South America, shivering in a snowstorm to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or comforting and holding the hand of a Hospice patient. Yet, each of those – and so many more – is a wonderful slice in the memory bank.

So, therefore my title…. We gave so the youngsters could forget.

In this season of giving, do your share and give a child an opportunity to smile. Whether this is in time or money, please do your part, but….. Don’t Forget to Give!

I know, this was a long post, but I hope I was able to share some of the great moments that were had by all attendees.  If you want to learn more about the Snowball Express or want to give a donation, go to their website by clicking on THIS LINK.

No matter where the 2013 weekend is held (Dallas is most likely to host it again though), you will be able to volunteer at a point of departure or in the city that will host the 2013 event.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to all the organizers and volunteers who make this event successful.

Finally, if you made it this far, hit the “like” button below so I know at least someone read this. And, if you actually liked it – share this post with your friends! The more people who know about this fine orgsanization, the better off we all will be.

Last, but not least - a photo of one of the volunteers in the make-shift photo studio on the 2nd floor of the hotel!

Last, but not least – a photo of one of the volunteers in the make-shift photo studio on the 2nd floor of the hotel!

p.s.  More about the Nikon D4 crapping out yet again on my next post!

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:

 Military:

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.

 

Telecommunications: 

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?

 

Airlines:

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.

 

Banking:

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?

 

Guns:

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.

 

Poverty.

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.

Reflections


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!