Saturday, May 26, 2007

Did you know that you can add images to your header?

I didn't, until I happened to notice an announcement on the Blogger home page. It takes some manipulation, but it works. I tried it a few times before I got something I liked. Usually, it came out too wide, and ran off the right side margin.
Click here or just go to "Layout" and edit your page elements, specifically the Header.
Just what I need - something else to fiddle around with.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Some photos while I gather my thoughts

After 8 years of summers at school, I'm trying to motivate myself to get the camera equipment out again. It's been on and off since I started school, and now that many evenings are free, I really have only my own sloth to blame. These are all scans of either transparencies or negatives that I have taken over the past 5 to 10 years. These were all taken with either my Nikon 6006 or N70. I still cannot afford a digital camera, so I'll be on the film medium for the time being.
I'm feeling a little word-constipated, so I picked some pictures off my computer and posted them for you.
This is at Arches National Park in Utah. I was there in 1998 with my trademark over-polarized sky. There are some better than this, but I shot 58 rolls of print film in two weeks and never had them scanned. This is part of the only roll of transparency film I shot. I was afraid I'd screw up the photos, and figured it may be a once in a lifetime trip, so I shot all print film, which is more forgiving of mistakes. I still bracketed, which left me with virtual duplicates of hundreds of shots.

Nearby Deptford, NJ is the home of hot air ballooning. It says so on the water tower. Someone flew a hot air balloon from Philly to Deptford when Washington was president, and every year there is a festival at the County College. They let me go inside one as it was being inflated.

You didn't think I'd post up photos without including one of the cat, did you?

Longwood Gardens in nearby Kennett Square, PA. They were having a chrysanthemum festival, so I suppose these are chrysanthemums.

This is also a chrysanthemum. I don't know the type. I just thought it looked cool. A macro lens and a monopod. They wouldn't let me in with my tripod. Bastards.

This is at the 12th Street Amusement area in Ocean City, NJ. If you get the chance, you can actually ride these things. I just take pictures. That's the moon in the upper right corner.

This is the same ride in a different spin. A 30 second exposure, stopped way down. The funny thing about doing these long exposures is the way people will stop as they walk near the tripod. They don't know what's going on, and they're afraid they will ruin the picture, but they wouldn't show up on the photo even if they walked in front. Otherwise, it's interesting to see that people are also capable of standing completely still for 30 seconds without even trying.

Occasionally, we get one of those winter drizzle-rain storms before the air freezes. The branches get the water-ice glaze and it is quite a show. This is a peach tree in back of the office where I work.

My favorite city in the world. I'm lucky because it's right across the river from where I live. This is from the fabled South Street Bridge. It's about 5 years old, and the skyline has changed at least twice since then. They are re-building the bridge, so I need to go back soon. As it was, the thing shook pretty violently when cars went over, so this long-exposure was tough to get. That's the Schuylkill River and the Expressway on the left.

A snowstorm froze-up a big tree down the road from my house. I shot B&W film thinking I could get an old-style look, but I suck at monochrome, and this is the best I could do. The sound you hear is Ansel Adams rolling over in his grave.
This is a roller coaster in Wildwood, NJ on Fujichrome. A filter gives it a blue cast.

Another cool ride in Wildwood, although I wouldn't know how cool it is, since I don't go anywhere near the things. I just like to look at them.

This is the top of the same ride. Once it gets to the top, it spins around and comes back down in a spiral. There are people inside, probably screaming. You wouldn't catch me on this if you gave me money. It makes a nice photo, though.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fixing America's great shortages

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.
- Gerald R. Ford, August 9, 1974
Television has answered the call, and has created yet another celebrity in a nation where there are so few of them that people will spend countless hours in front of the TV and countless dollars on the telephone voting to decide. Supposedly, the votes were counted and we were led to believe that the nationwide call narrowed the field down to a high-school kid and another guy with skunk-streaked hair and a gimmick. America has settled for the 17-year old, and they seemingly could not be happier. I, on the other hand, bewail the sorry state of entertainment that allows hard working entertainers to wallow in anonymity while a kid who shows up for a TV program is instantly gratified. "It turned out pretty cool," she said. No kidding, kid.
What American Idol does, in the final analysis is prove that there is indeed no accounting for tastes. There is, however, accounting for the dollars that the show brings in, which - final analysis-wise; does matter.

Meanwhile, you cannot get blood from a stone – or some men, for that matter…

WASHINGTON - Gay men remain banned for life from donating blood, the government said Wednesday, leaving in place — for now — a 1983 prohibition meant to prevent the spread Of HIV through transfusions. They also reiterated that if you have used intravenous drugs or been paid for sex you are likewise permanently barred from donating blood.
While I realize that there is a nationwide blood shortage, I am nevertheless squeamish about needles and lying around for 15 minutes with one jabbed in my arm. Although I am one of those universal donors, I have only given a couple of times, and it is a rather unpleasant experience for me. Having led a rather clean life for the past 5 decades, I cannot dodge the issue with any illicit lifestyle choices or sexual dalliances. There is one that I may need to reconsider, however … being paid for sex. Count me in. I hope.
The bidding starts at one dollar.

My Sick Cars

Somehow, the topic of Automotive Family Trees came up over on Firestarter5’s blog. We got to commenting on his VW diesel maintenance and it got out of hand. He asked us to list every P.O.S. we have owned - as well as the good ones. Kimmyk is supposed to join in the fun, so check her out. Here is my list of lifetime vehicles, which is fairly short considering I am almost 50. Most people have probably owned more vehicles than I, but I take pretty good care of them, and I hate to waste all that routine maintenance so that some kid can beat the crap out of it.
As requested, I went to great lengths to find photos of the model and where possible, I got the matching color and body style as well, and I'm only missing one. With the exception of the first, they were all purchased new.

1972 Chevy Vega. My Sainted mother matched my $600 savings and we purchased this green hatchback in 1975 so that I could drive myself back and forth to my first job. It served its purpose, even though; at the end of its useful life it would use more oil than gasoline.

1976 Ford Pinto. Yes, that Pinto. The one that was supposed to blow up if it was hit in the back. This one I bought brand new for $3,600 with credit acquired by working at my first job. The only option it had was white sidewall tires ($36) and I asked if I could have them taken off and get credit for it off the price. It didn’t even have a radio, just a blank opening where my friend and I eventually installed a cassette player.
I drove it 76,000 explosion-free miles. Ford put a skid plate in the back between the gas tank and bumper that made it a little safer. I had to have the camshaft replaced because every once in a while the engine would seize up and it would come to a grinding [literally] halt. I had to sit on the side of the road until the engine cooled, after which it would run for a while longer.
It was my first manual transmission, and I learned to drive it on the dealer lot. Just like litter training a cat, all you had to do was show me once and I picked it up quickly.

1984 Ford Escort GT. This one had an FM radio. I remember that the monthly payment was $204. Having gone for 5 years without a car payment, I lost a night’s sleep over the decision to buy it, even though the Pinto had become unreliable and I really had no other choice. It was black, and I vowed to never again own a black vehicle. It was a pretty cool little car, and it ran great but I was never really happy with it. I would only keep it for 3 of the 4 years of the car loan when I found my next fixation.

1987 Pontiac Fiero. It was burgundy red, and my first car with air conditioning. The basic coupe model, it cost $8,229 brand new. The master plan was to keep it for a while and move up to the GT model later. They stopped making them in 1988, so the plan backfired on me rather quickly. I put 127,000 miles on this one before I started to have doubts about its reliability and functionality. Repairs were costly, since the engine had to be removed to replace anything major. The oil pump failed and the timing chain broke, which each cost $500 to repair.
I remember being told “You’re going to have to replace the clutch.” What I found was that the clutch was hydraulic and required attention to its fluid level. I never had to have it replaced.
Two seats is generally one too many for me, but the lack of trunk space started to wear on me, so my next car was more practical and more colorful.

1994 Ford Escort GT. It was back to the GT and another car payment. This was the first car I ever ordered from the dealer, with all the options I wanted. It was necessary, since there weren’t a lot of them around. My biggest mistake with this one was the choice of color. I remember reading an article that said magenta was going to be the next hot car color. Ford called it iris, and I chose it over hunter green. What I didn’t realize was the way people would interpret the color. It was a good car, though. I drove it for 112,000 miles on the original exhaust system. All I ever did to it was routine maintenance, brakes and tires. Eventually, it had to go as I got tired of hearing stupid comments about the color. Plus, I figured I was pressing my luck with the zero-repair deal. My next car would be more neutral.

2005 Ford Focus SE. I bought this on President’s Day in 2005. I’m still driving it, and I’m fairly happy with it. It’s a PZEV [Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle]. I wanted a hybrid but couldn’t afford one, so this will have to do. It doesn’t get the gas mileage I would like, but it has been trouble free for over 2 years, so I really can’t complain. I’ll be putting new tires on it soon, which will be the first major expense, but that’s to be expected.

There ya go. Six cars in 31 years. The auto makers would be in worse shape than they already are if they had to depend on people like me (or FS5) to earn any money. Hey, a good car should last 100,000 miles – at least. Take care of your car and it will take care of you. The thing you quickly see that they have in common is that they are all "compact" size and generally fuel efficient. I think, even if I could afford something more, I would choose small and efficient. So, in answer to FS5's question to show us the car of your dreams...

Toyota Prius. Seriously. I'm a simple guy. I don't need 0 to 60 in 3 seconds or form over substance. I just need reliable transportation and I don't like to waste things - like expensive gasoline - regardless of whether or not money is a factor. They're still a bit pricey for me. The Focus is the most expensive car I have ever bought, and even that payment is a drain right now. Maybe by the time I'm buying my next car I'll be driving one of these?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

All dogs go to Heaven, and one man can go to Hell

We need to be sure to choose our heroes wisely. We call them heroes, even though some of them merely throw a ball or run really fast. As heroes go, that would seem to be the minimum requirement. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 we were scolded for calling athletes and entertainers "heroes" because they don't do much other than read what they are told or run where they are told. Those who run into places from which others run are truly heroes.
For those of us who follow sports closely, it should come as only a minor surprise to find that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is something of a dirtbag, and what better follow-up to Monday's post about child abuse and Tuesday's post about my favorite pro athletes than this interesting tidbit about a slice of his personal life that has thankfully leaked out. If you or a loved one has one of those red #7 jerseys, they make excellent packing material. To wit:

SURRY COUNTY, Va. — A meeting of investigators Monday morning failed to clear Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick of involvement in an alleged dogfighting operation. Three weeks have passed since police discovered a suspected dogfighting compound on Vick's former property in Surry, Va. Police found 66 dogs— 55 of them pit bulls — many covered with scars.
The case began April 25 when police conducting a drug investigation raided the house Vick owned in rural Surry County and found dozens of dogs. They also found items associated with dog fighting, including a “pry bar” used to pry apart a dog’s jaws. Police say that between 6 and 10 people could be involved, including Vick and a cousin, who reportedly lived in the house before it was recently sold. Vick himself is a licensed dog breeder.

One story reported on WIP today said that the house also contained treadmills for cats. The cats are used to get the dogs used to the taste of blood and are trained to be kill meat.

When an ESPN reporter asked Vick, "In the end, do you think you will be exonerated?", Vick replied, "No comment."
I wonder if he knows what "exonerated" means?

Then, jackass number 2 checked in, namely Washington Redskins' running back Clinton Portis, with this gem:
“I don’t know if he was fighting dogs or not,” Portis said in the interview. “But it’s his property; it’s his dogs. If that’s what he wants to do, do it.”
Late Monday, the team released a statement on behalf of Portis in which the running back said: “I want to make it clear I do not take part in dog fighting or condone dog fighting in any manner.”
I wonder if he knows what "condone" means?

And so, we have found yet one more clown in an industry full of them - namely professional sports, and it appears to run in the family. Vick's little brother Marcus is Jackass Junior, having been kicked out of VT and is such a rotten guy that he cannot even land a job in a profession that is full of them.

Pro athletes are arrested on almost a daily basis. Generally it is for drunken driving or some drug charge. Occasionally it is for something more heinous like spousal abuse or gunplay. It is sad that these man-children represent such behavior problems, and sadder that we are generally not surprised when one of them is charged with something as lousy as this.

Animals and children. I have zero tolerance for anyone who abuses either of them. Perhaps a nice punishment for this group of scumbags would be a day or so in the basement with the dogs?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Is it Have-re or Harv?

There is something in my makeup that keeps me from getting all worked up over plans or things that I want to do, but in this case, the weird geek in me is jumping up and down - on the inside.
I don't know if the ad on the tournament web site is guilty of hyperbole or merely stating fact, but perhaps history is a bit overstated in this case. Nevertheless, I have purchased a grounds pass for the week of June 4th to roam the historic Bulle Rock golf course in Havre deGrace, Maryland to watch the best golfers in the world (no debates, please) compete in the McDonald's LPGA Championship. I'm getting hungry. By the way, I'd like to find Havre and smack him for naming a town whose name is so difficult to say.
A week's pass cost $55, and it allows me to go to the practice round on Wednesday and any of the four days of competition. I'll be blog-posting all week, so be prepared for LPGA overload, you lucky people.

Of course, I plan on following Paula Creamer for most of the tournament, as regular readers will no doubt suspect. The decision on how to best view the tournament will probably be more difficult, since I have been spoiled by TV. It may wind up being a game-time decision, and it will probably come down to whomever is leading or paired-up with Paula on the days I decide to go.

On the bright side, it's nice to have built-in blog posts for a whole week. Having [Havreing] said all that, it may rain for four days, rendering the week's pass useless, which is precisely why I do not get overly excited about things until they actually happen.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Child abuse in one of its many forms

"High-heeled shoes and make-up don't belong on no baby child."
At first, I wasn't sure if I was still hung-over from Saturday's festivities, but it was late afternoon on Sunday, so any lingering effects of Belgian Beer Poisoning would have been long gone by then. So, I sat up and paid close attention because I figured if I was going to be repulsed by something, it would be worthwhile if I knew precisely why I was being repulsed.
There it was, on VH1: VH1 News Presents: Little Beauties, The Ultimate Kiddie Queen Showdown, live from Gatlinburg, Tennessee (a town that would appear to be custom made for such nonsense). The International Total Miss Contest, featuring 6 year-old girls made up like circus clowns, replete with enough Aqua Net to stop a train. At first, I thought I was watching some "Little People" beauty contest - women who were just kind of short - but no, these were children. Six years old, made up, hair-sprayed and tan-sprayed to look like little adults. You know the kind, like that JonBinet Ramsey. Old before her time and just prissy enough to make me think that the whole event was some sort of pedophile fantasy land.

But it wasn't. These children were being closely supervised by what appeared to be adults. Moms of all shapes and sizes doting over their daughters. The only thing missing was the father. The one father who showed up was dragged kicking and screaming to the show. Something tells me that the fathers are as repulsed by this behavior as I, and they were probably at home doing what I was doing on Saturday night, hoping that drinking would make it all better. But it wouldn't. VH1 optimistically describes the program thusly:
Little Beauties: Ultimate Kiddie Queen Showdown is a one-hour documentary special that will take a light-hearted look into the wonderful world of children's beauty pageants through the eyes of four, precocious six-year old girls. This documentary reveals the humor and love behind an American tradition; the always colorful characters on the pageant circuit; and the "sparkle" it takes to win a crown.
Wonderful world? OK, if you say so. I would have said, "Demented and sad", but I don't want to get hung up in semantics. Anything with kiddie and showdown in the title is trouble from the start. The pageant was hosted by someone named Mr. Tim (anyone who uses a first name and a title has a problem - Dr. Phil) who, dare I say, appeared to be as queer as a four dollar bill. The kids were being dragged back and forth from the hotel room to the stage in evening gowns, casual wear and - yes - swimsuits. Pardon me, but ... a child in a swimsuit is not something that should be put on display or judged.
Meanwhile, doting moms were spray-tanning these children, spewing enough Aqua Net to make the planet warmer and fitting them with something called a Flipper. What is a Flipper? It's a dental implant that costs $250, and makes the child's teeth look like adult teeth, because, God forbid they show a gap or have teeth that an actual child would have.
God forbid that these kids have anything that a kid would have, including a normal social life or a parent who understands what it means to be a child. It wouldn't have surprised me if mom had thrown in some fake breast implants. Hey, why stop with the hair spray and fake teeth?
I've never watched an entire hour of television without closing my mouth or blinking, but this show made it difficult.
Through it all, I figured that there must be some massive payday in store for these abused children, like a commercial deal or some big modeling contract. Nope. The Grand Prize for the pageant winner - wait for it -- a $1000 savings bond. Retail value, $500. Which answers the question: What is the future mental health of a child and the vicarious life of a mom worth? A savings bond.
By the way, since Blogger is tied-into Google, I'm sure this little rant will come up in a search from some moms who are entering their abused children in one of these ridiculous contests. Hey mom, I don't have any children, but if I did, I sure as Hell would not allow them to be a party to this nonsense, and if you take a step back and realize what is going on and what you are doing to your child, you will stop. I wonder where the fathers are during all of this, since we only see one during the show. My guess is they are as dominated as the children, and if either of them had any guts, they would tell you to shove that can of hair spray and let them spend some time being a kid.

If you can watch this without cringing, you're a different person than I.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Edward Alehands

If I had a tongue like that, I'd never leave the house. As it was, I had trouble leaving today after a Saturday night of bar-hopping in the city. A giant self-guided walking circle of self destruction with 3 bike-riding buddies that began at Monk's for beer and dinner, moved on to Bob and Barbara's for some local jazz and culminated at Doc Watson's for - well - I don't remember. I'm a dangerous drinker when I'm not driving. I think psychologically I figure that as long as I'm being picked up and dumped off without using my car keys, I can test my limits, and they were tested. All arrived home safely, though, and I imagine by now my friends are arranging my intervention. I think I was still legally intoxicated when I woke up at 9 this morning. Good times.

I'm not watching either the NHL Hockey playoffs or the NBA basketball playoffs, but I understand something strange happened on Saturday. NBC bailed out of the Ottawa-Buffalo game a 5pm on Saturday so they could show pre-race coverage of The Preakness, whose post time was 6:05. Viewers were told that the overtime period would be shown on Versus, which is on cable and has about 40 million fewer potential viewers. The winning goal was scored at 5:20, so NBC could have stayed with the game and left viewers in the dark as to the fascinating lineage of Mint Slewlep. HINT TO NBC: No pre-game show should ever take precedence over an actual game. It's almost as bad as the lousy job ESPN does with the LPGA. The difficulty for NBC came when they had to decide which irrelevant sporting event was more important to the hundreds of viewers tuning in.

Speaking of irrelevant: CRAWFORD, Texas - In a biting rebuke, the White House on Sunday dismissed former President Jimmy Carter as "increasingly irrelevant" after his harsh criticism of President Bush.

Carter was quoted Saturday as saying "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." The Georgia Democrat said Bush had overseen an "overt reversal of America's basic values" as expressed by previous administrations, including that of his own farther, former President George H.W. Bush.
Which prompted this response from the White House:
"I think it's sad that President Carter's reckless personal criticism is out there," White House spokesman Tony Fratto responded Sunday from Crawford, where Bush spent the weekend. "I think it's unfortunate," Fratto said. "And I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments."

Those Crawford bylines always make me nervous. I think Fratto's response speaks volumes about the arrogance and lack of respect with which this administration views critics. They think they are right about everything, and whatever you think is irrelevant and wrong. It is why I feel as though people who scream for impeachment are better off screaming at their dog. We are stuck with this witless moron for another 10 months, after which George W. Bush can be as increasingly irrelevant as history allows him to be. Unfortunately, he is doing damage that may never be repaired.

Hockey's on.