Thursday, August 25, 2011

Avoiding the Siren's Song

Sony α77 with 16-50mm f/2.8 zoom
Once he hears to his heart's content, sails on, a wiser man.
Homer, "The Odyssey"
In the midst of earthquakes, eminent hurricane disaster, the fall of Libya's Kadafi (Gadhafi?) and the resignation of Jobs, comes news of a mega-product release from Sony which includes the Sony α77.

As is all too typical for such things, the Internets are awash with gushing superlatives about the camera, the new lens, and in particular the brand-spanking new 24.3 megapickles APS-C sensor. I will be taking a contrarian view of this release, so that this post will not fall into the gushing group.

As a current Olympus user, I can't help but feel the siren's call of this camera with its sensor that is twice the resolution of the current Olympus 4/3rds sensors and has 40% greater areal space. And then there's the magnesium-built body's environmental (dust and moisture) sealing and the new Sony DT 16-50mm constant f/2.8 with the same environmental sealing. Add the sensor-based image stabilization and dust-busting sensor shake, and on "paper" the Sony α77 makes a for a powerful replacement for both the Olympus E-3 and the E-5.

But that's at first blush. Digging deeper and reading many of the pre-release reviews, I came across the Imaging Resource's review and this particular paragraph:
From what we can tell, there is no strategy for keeping dust off the translucent mirror, except to blow the surface gently with air; it cannot be cleaned, and should never be touched. A fingerprint would require replacement at a service center.
This is what I was afraid might be delivered. What use is an environmentally sealed body and lens when, by removing the lens and violating the totally sealed system, something happens to fall on the pellicle mirror that requires a trip to the service center? The Sony α77, at a suggested MSRP of $1,400 body only, is a bit too rich to have to send to a service center due to a wayward fingerprint, or any other contaminant that might wind up on the pellicle mirror. It may be that there's no danger, that this is a red herring, a false alarm. And then again, maybe not.

The pellicle mirror violates a basic rule of simplification by permanently affixing a critically vulnerable optical element in the light path between the lens and the sensor. Mirrorless systems get rid of the mirror. Future mirrorless systems may even eliminate the mechanical shutter. But the Sony design, while brilliant in so many ways, has what I consider a fatal design flaw, the fixed pellicle.

I live and work outdoors in a messy environment. That's why I have an E-1 and an E-3. Most of the time I fix a lens on the body and just leave it that way until I'm finished, never changing the lens until I'm back indoors. But there are times when I have to swap a lens, such as the 50mm macro onto one of the bodies. More often than not that's "out in the wild." I have the ability to carefully clean sensors and mirrors of something falls on them. I would be extremely annoyed if something inadvertently splashed on a pellicle requiring a clean and fix at a repair depot.

In a way I wish the NEX-7, with the same sensor and EVF as the Sony α77, were also weather sealed. Then I might consider replacing both regular and µ4/3rds bodies and lenses with the NEX-7 and equivalent E-mount weather sealed lenses (assuming such were to be ever released).

It's a tough old world. Sony's pellicle design is meant to provide blazing fast and accurate phase-detect autofocus, both in stills and video. On paper it looks wonderful. But Panasonic and Sony have also shown that you can now have blazing fast and accurate contrast-detect autofocus without having anything in the light path, not even a pellicle mirror. I consider the Panasonic and Olympus a better engineering solution than Sony's, but that's not the complete story. It never is.

The best course of action for me is to continue to use what I've got and bide my time. I can afford to wait. I have heard the Sony α77's song to my heart's content and move on a wiser man.

Update 30 August

Came across this image on another site. Although it's a photo of the focus select dial, you can see into the mirror box, and see that there's no cover over the mirror.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rational Discourse

While I don't get very many comments, the ones I do are always interesting. One blog follower left the following comment on an earlier post:
Bill, I like your blog and have been following it for a while but I do have to disagree with your political views. Yes, I am a conservative but not quite in the Tea Party realm. You seem to blame S&P and the Tea Party for the current problems while I blame Washington in general and the 'spending beyond their means' in specific for our terrible current situation.

The downgrade of our credit rating was not unexpected in financial circles. The Tea Party has been doing nothing but to say that this neverending increase of our Federal debt has to stop and that cuts have to be made to bring spending in line. This wall that we are hitting has been visible for years yet we have careened towards it as a spend, spend, spend nation, living beyond our means as individuals and as a country.
One immediate observation is the great civility of the writer. Even though he disagrees with my views, he expresses this disagreement with great politeness.

Our nations's problems have now reached a point where we must all practice civic virtue for the continued success of this nation. If we continue to attack each other over partisan politics then we really will get the kind of government we deserve.

The person that wrote those words has a pretty good website.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Speed Traps 'R' Us is Back In Business

Orange County Sheriff Speed Trap 15 August 2011 West-bound Conroy
Speed trap on west-bound Conroy, headed towards I-4.

The speed traps were all over the place. I managed to snag photos of two, one on west-bound Conroy before the I-4 overpass near where I live, and the second at the intersection of Corporate Blvd and Quadrangle Drive, near where I work and near UCF.

Orange County Sheriff Speed Trap 15 August 2011 Corporate Blvd and Quadrangle
Speed trap at the intersection of Corporate Blvd and Quadrangle

The Corporate and Quadrangle are always a popular spot for Orange County. The really like to stack up their forces. This time they had two squad cars, two motorcycle officers, and a gray van they were using. One of the officers is up on the hill, to the right, using his radar gun.


Olympus E-3 with ZD 50-200mm telephoto zoom and EC-14. Both using ISO 400. Top was taken at full 283mm zoom and further cropped in post. Bottom was actually taken at 153mm, as I was walking closer to get around some trees that were between me and them further back up Corporate.

I'm still trying to effectively use the combination of 50-200 and EC-14, but for some reason they're not as sharp as I would have thought they would be. Looking at the lens surfaces on the EC-14 I see I will need to clean them. Another part of the problem is heat. The bottom shows effects of heat distortion from air rising from the road. It was taken around noon today, during the heat of the day.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Apes don't like gridlock either.
I finally checked "Rise" out today. After having lived through the original Planet of the Apes with the late Charlton Heston and the sequels that followed, this latest take was interesting, although it had a few plot points I tend to take issue with. And trust me, the end of this movie is definitely set up for its own series of sequels.

The genesis of intelligent apes this time around is genetic manipulation by man. What follows are the 29 Steps to Ape Domination according to this movie:
  1. Open to Bad Humans capturing Innocent Apes in their jungle Eden. They are caged and shipped to GenSys, the Bad Pharma Company, employer of the Misguided Scientist Who Will Cause All That Is To Follow.
  2. Misguided Scientist is developing a cure for Alzheimer's, a gene-based therapy named ALZ-112 that is delivered by an altered virus. Misguided Scientist has a father who suffers from Alzheimer's.
  3. One of the captured apes is female and pregnant. She is pregnant with Caesar, the future ape leader. No one is aware she is pregnant. Major Plot Point.
  4. Misguided Scientist is using Caesar's mom as one of the test subjects for ALZ-112. She shows enhanced intelligence by repeatedly solving a Towers of Hanoi (called Lucas Tower in the movie) puzzle. She develops green flecks in her eyes and is nick-named Bright Eyes by Misguided Scientist because of it.
  5. Misguided Scientist shows results of  Bright Eyes enhanced intelligence to Greedy Boss, who sees Major Money in the treatment. Greedy Boss subsequently schedules a presentation to the GenSys' Board of Directors to gain their approval.
  6. During the presentation, GenSys lab staff attempt to bring Bright Eyes in a cage up to Misguided Scientist's presentation. Little do they realize Bright Eyes has just given birth to Caesar. Their attempt to put her in a cage will separate her from Caesar which infuriates Bright Eyes. Bright Eyes breaks loose and goes on a rampage throughout GenSys.
  7. Bright Eyes breaks into Misguided Scientist's presentation in front of the Board of Directors. Before Misguided Scientist can act Trigger-Happy Security Guard shoots Bright Eyes dead. Scene pulls back with Bright Eyes dead and bleeding profusely on board room table.
  8. As is typical in such movie situations, Misguided Scientist has his project shut down. In the process they euthanize twelve other apes using in the ALZ-112 testing. Newborn Caesar is spared by the lab staff and is taken home in a cardboard box by Misguided Scientist. Major Plot Point.
  9. At Misguided Scientist's house we are introduced to his Stricken Father. Son introduces father to infant Caesar.
  10. A three year period passes in which Misguided Scientist works from home to look after Father and Caesar. Caesar grows more intelligent, surpassing an equivalent human child's intelligence (age-wise). The Father grows worse.
  11. Misguided Scientist brings home four doses of ALZ-112 and gives a dose to Father. Father shows pronounced regression of Alzheimer's the next day. As the days pass the Father's intellect grows beyond what he was pre-Alzheimer's. Misguided Scientist is thrilled.
  12. Caesar lives in the attic of the Misguided Scientist's house, which has round windows at both ends. One day Caesar sees the next-door children riding a bike which fascinates him. One day, a window is left open and Caesar goes out to find that bicycle. In the process Caesar crosses paths with the children's father, an Asshole Airline Pilot. The AAP goes after Caesar with a baseball bat, but Caesar is rescued in the nick of time by Misguided Scientist and Father.
  13. As time passes Father begins to regress, as the Father's immune system starts to fight and kill the virus delivery system. This is the setup for the next major stage on the Path of Doom of Mankind.
  14. During a very bad episode of Alzheimer's the Father goes out and gets into AAP's car, starts it up, and begins to just ram it back and forth between two other parked cars. AAP sees this, goes into a rage, drags Father out of car, and pokes him with his finger. Caesar sees this as aggression against Father who he cares for. Caesar attacks AAP to defend Father, biting the poking finger. Caesar is captured and sent to a Sadistically Run Primate Facility (SRPF) for wayward apes.
  15. The SRPF has an Ape Romper Room. The first time Caesar is allowed into the room it is with the other SRPF's apes. Caesar is beat on by the current alpha male, but before anything bad can happen, both are hit with tranquilizer darts and put back in their cages.
  16. Caesar learns to communicate with all the apes, especially the orangutan Maurice. Caesar one day attempts to show Maurice why the apes must band together to be strong. He uses sticks, creating a crude fasces, a reference to Caesar's name entomology, ancient Rome, and fascism. Maurice rather brightly notes that the apes are too stupid.
  17. SRPF is run by Indifferent Father and his two sons, Stupid and Sadistic. Sadistic has a Lame Friend. Sadistic loves to torture the poor apes. Stupid watches T.V. and occasionally objects to Sadistic's sadism. One evening while Sadistic and his Lame Friend are showing to girlfriends the interior of the center, Lame decides to tease Caesar. Caesar grabs Lame by the throat and steals his knife.
  18. Caesar uses Lame's knife to create a crude tool that lets him get out of his cage and explore the SRPF, finding it's weaknesses. He eventually sees the numeric code on a door lock, which he later uses to escape one night and head back into the city.
  19. In the meantime, the Misguided Scientist has spilled the beans about his original trials with his father, and the problem with the immune system, to the Greedy Boss. Misguided Scientist tells Greedy Boss he needs a strong agent to deliver the gene therapy, something in a handy aerosol. Greedy Boss immediately sees Major Money again, gives immediate go-ahead to Misguided Scientist. This leads to a stronger (read: more viralent) agent, ALZ-113. Major Plot Point.
  20. During an initial test of ALZ-113 on an ape test subject, the ape is strapped to a bed and a mask placed on its face to deliver the aerosol agent. The ape breaks free, knocks a hose delivering the agent loose, and knocks the mask off the one lab staff that saved Caesar. Unbeknownst to him he gets a snoot full of the aerosol agent before he gets his mask back on. Major Plot Point.
  21. Misguided Scientist takes home four of the new ALZ-113 canisters. One is used on the father, but the father dies the next morning. The ape test subject is showing high intelligence, at one point spelling the Greedy Boss' name, 'Jacobs' on a touch screen monitor. Meanwhile, the one lab staff exposed to the agent is getting progressively ill, coughing up blood. Right before the lab staff person dies, he goes to the Misguided Scientist's house looking for the Misguided Scientist, knocking on all the doors. The AAP hears him, comes down to yell at him for disturbing the peace, and in the process is sneezed on with infected blood. Major Plot Point.
  22. Three days after exposure the lab staff person is dead, discovered by his landlady, bleeding out through the eyes, ears, and nose. Meanwhile Greedy Boss has given the go-ahead to start major production of ALZ-113. Misguided Scientist warns Greedy Boss about the consequences of sloppy testing of ALZ-113.
  23. During all of this a manned mission to Mars, the "Icarus", is launched. Major Plot Point.
  24. Caesar sneaks out again, this time to go to the Misguided Scientists house. While there he finds the other three canisters of ALZ-113. Caesar takes them back and opens them in the SRPF, exposing all the other apes. The next morning all the other apes are intelligent. Major Plot Point.
  25. Sadistic and Stupid try to control the apes. In a scene with Caesar, Stupid utters "Get your paws off me you damn dirty ape", at which point Caesar says his first human word, "No." Sadistic eventually winds up dead, Stupid winds up in a cage and traumatized, and the apes make a break and head for GenSys.
  26. The apes overrun GenSys, releasing all the other altered apes. Greedy Boss walks into the middle of the mayhem, listening to a phone call telling him that ALZ-113 doesn't affect humans the same as apes, it kills humans. Greedy Boss finally sees the apes, who chase him out.
  27. The apes make a break for freedom across the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of them make it across to Muir Woods. In the process a gorilla sacrifices itself to take out a helicopter trying to kill all the apes. Greedy Boss is on board. The copter is taken down. Only Greedy Boss survives. Greedy Boss begs Caesar to save him, but Caesar turns away and lets one of the GenSys test subject push the wrecked helicopter off the bridge and into the bay.
  28. Misguided Scientist finds Caesar in Muir Woods and asks him to "come back home." Caesar whispers to Misguided Scientist "I am home." Surprised, Misguided Scientist agrees. Scene closes on Caesar and his ape comrades up in the top of the trees, looking back across the forest to a burning Golden Gate Bridge.
  29. Movie ends with the AAP leaving for the airport. As he heads towards his flight his nose is bleeding. The scene ends with yellow airline routes running across the world as infection vectors, with yellow areas around major cities indicating the rapid spread of the lethal infection.

Homages to Past Movies
  • Misguided Scientist named Caesar's mother 'Bright Eyes' due to the green color flecks in her eyes as a side effect of the ALZ-112 virus. 'Bright Eyes' was the name given to Taylor by Dr. Zira in the original Planet of the Apes film.
  • The flight to Mars is Icarus. This is the name of the spacecraft in the original Plant of the Apes film.
  • Caesar plays with a model of the Statue of Liberty in Misguided Scientist's attic. This is a homage to the Statue of Liberty scene at the end of the original Planet of the Apes film.
  • Sadistic uses an electric prod and a water hose on Caesar. These were used on Taylor in the original Planet of the Apes film.
  • Sadistic says two lines, "It's a madhouse! A madhouse!" and "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!", which were Taylor's lines in the original Planet of the Apes film.

Plot Holes
  • They didn't check Caesar's mom enough to note she was pregnant. I find that very hard to believe a good veterinarian staff at a major pharmacy company would be that grossly incompetent. Gestation for chimpanzees is 237 days, humans 266.
  • GenSys uses heavy tech. A simple video feed would have been sufficient to show Bright Eyes at the board meeting. But then we wouldn't have had a rampaging ape that needed shooting, and a shutdown of the ALZ-112 project.
  • Even though the project is shut down, there's still a lot of vials of the stuff floating around, and slack enough security that the Misguided Doctor can sneak material out of a supposedly secure lab.
  • Keeping an ape in a residential area  for years on end without somebody complaining a lot sooner.
  • Sneaking infant ape Caesar out in a cardboard box from GenSys. With holes cut in it. That didn't draw any attention from security. Really.
  • The miraculous remission the Misguided Scientist's Father's Alzheimer's. I'm assuming he had regular medical care, with a real doctor, who would have freaked out over that patient's near-instantaneous remission. A real doctor would have been all over that like, pardon the expression, ugly on an ape. Questions would have been asked. The ape would have been out of the bag.
  • The second breach in protocol where the Misguided Scientist brings home four canisters of ALZ-113.
  • The failure to quarantine the lab staff when his face mask was yanked off for more than 24 hours. That would have shown the virility of ALZ-113.

Final Points

"Apes" has been a foil for the fears of the culture in which it was written and later filmed. The original story by Pierre Boulle had the intelligent apes/primitive humans on a planet orbiting Betelgeuse. According to the story the planet was at one time ruled by humans in their distant past. The humans built a technological society and enslaved their apes to perform manual labor. Over centuries the Betelgeuse humans grew ever more dependent upon their ape servants until the humans became so lazy and degenerate that they were overthrown by their ape servants and degenerated into a final primitive state. This follows the idea of a decadent bourgeoisie and their 'deserved' fall at the hands of the oppressed (in this case the apes).

In the original Planet of the Apes film human society was destroyed by a nuclear war, leaving the majority of the human descendants in a primitive state. Later sequels to the original filled in the origin history, including the slavery issue of primitive apes. As a product of the 1960s and 1970, the original film incorporated fears and themes of the times, specifically nuclear war and racism.

This latest movie taps into a series of contemporary fears, which include the fear of contamination of genetically modified (GM) products, primarily food, fear of Alzheimer's (and other degenerative diseases), fear of the rapid spread of multi-drug resistant bacteria, such as MRSA, and the fear of unintended side-effects of rushing new drugs to market.. Mix in the usual fear of science run amok and a fear of a major industry (in this case, Big Pharma), and you have a potent paranoid stew.

One major problem with this movie is the string of improbable events that have to occur in the order postulated to produce the movies' denouement. Any one of those major plot points are tough enough, from having an ape at your house for years to poor protocol in handling ALZ-112 and ALZ-113, to how everything mixed together. I will give points to combining the vectors for the ape's intelligence and the demise of humanity's civilization into one vector, the virus ALZ-113. It's clean, if improbable. And as much as I liked the characters, character development was minimal at best, producing stock simplistic characters. In particular it's Yet Another Movie About Science and Technology Destroying Us (YAMASATDU), and I'm getting a bit tired of it. It's all that science and technology that gave us the movie with its marvelous effects, about the horrible consequences of using science and technology.

This latest movie is ripe for a sequel. The Icarus launch, the rapid spread of the ALZ-113, the man-made human killer, the escape of the intelligent apes, all are a setup to a re-boot of the original Planet of the Apes movie. I have no doubt that there will be a new Planet of the Apes, and more to follow after that I'm sure.

Keep the Cat, Give That Critic the Boot

I think, therefore I am ... a cat. (B&W)
Lucy contemplating worthless lower life forms, such as professional anti-cat photography critics.

There are certain photographers who seem to gleefully excoriate the poor Cat Photographer. Pity the hard working amateur who would dare to show a feline photograph to such a professional critic.

Lucy and I have had a number of conversations about the situation Cat Photographers find themselves in. She is of the opinion (one of many) that such critics are failed Cat Photographers. After all, she opines, those who can, photograph cats, while those who can't criticize those who can. She is also of the opinion (one of many) that a so-called bad photograph of any cat is far better than the best photograph of any other subject you care to name, unless, of course, it's another cat. And in her considered opinion (again, one of many) there is no such thing as a bad cat photograph, as any photograph of a cat is always a good photograph of a cat.


I was playing around with a loaner M.Zuiko 9-18mm UWA on my E-P2. Lucy was arrayed pretty much as you see her. At the moment of exposure she was cleaning between the toes of her paw. As luck would have it I happened to catch the moment when she'd stopped momentarily licking. Lucy had just paused in her cleaning to glare at me but still had her paw up and near her chin.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Praise of Olympus FourThirds Cameras

E-1 glamor shot #2
E-1 + HLD-2 + Zuiko Digital 12-60mm
I've been pretty critical of Olympus these days, for reasons you can read about in some of my other posts. But I never said the equipment was so bad that I would sell it or stop using it. In fact I had opportunity to use it today, and I enjoyed every minute.

Early this morning I traveled to a farm near Oviedo Florida that has been used for some number of years as demonstration and test area. Today was a demonstration. The farm is still a working farm, which means everything is set up in a large open field. With all the recent rains the area was pretty saturated with lots of standing water, along with the copious cow patties dotting the field.

I carried two cameras with me this morning to the demo, my E-1 with the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm and my E-3 with the EC-14 and Zuiko Digital 50-200mm.

The demo started at 8am, under a foggy sky. I tried to turn the Prius' air conditioner down so the interior wouldn't get so cool, so that my glasses wouldn't fog over when I arrived and stepped outside. In spite of my best efforts my glasses still fogged over in spite of my best efforts. The air at the farm this morning was so super-saturated that both cameras covered over with so much condensation it was dripping off both cameras.

I arrived twenty minutes before the start of the demo, so I simply waited for the cameras to warm up to ambient temperature. They did, but because the air was so saturated the condensation didn't evaporate from the cameras, especially from the lenses' front elements. I've been through this before so I came prepared with a micro-fiber cloth, which I used to clean off the front elements of both lenses. Once that was done the cameras were put to use for the rest of the morning.

I can't show anything I took today, but I can say that both cameras performed flawlessly. Every photo was taken raw, then processed later in the day for an afternoon meeting in which the photographs were used as part of a review. Everyone was more than satisfied with the results.

Everyone talks about being able to use the Olympus FourThirds high-end bodies in the rain. In central Florida, during the hot humid months of the summer, the bodies combined with HG lenses are subjected to repeated entry from cool and dry to warm and very humid. Most of the time the condensation quickly evaporates, but there are those times when I have to wipe the front elements clean. In all cases the lenses and bodies are unaffected by the moisture, and they work flawlessly, exposure after exposure after exposure. This is one very important reason why I am so reluctant to let this gear go. I can't find anything with the same combination of features, especially the environmental sealing, that's as cost effective.

One day I'm sure something will go wrong with some item in my kit. But the kit has already earned my complete trust. I'll fix any problem and continue to use it until it completely fails. The total system is dependable in use, day in and day out. While I try to take care of my kit, it's definitely been used and carted all over the country. No other camera, not even my E-P2, has earned the same level of trust my FourThirds gear has.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Old Painless

So here I am, helpless in the face of extreme stupidity in Washington and abroad, desperately wanting a ridiculously simple solution to an overly complex situation. So what do I do for comfort and solace in such a trying moment? Watch Predator.

In particular, Old Painless. A supposed GE M-134 minigun. And fantasize about mowing down all the Enemies of Amerika.

The weapon of choice of Blaine Cooper (Jesse Ventura), this little baby could wipe out an entire guerrilla base or acres of jungle growth in mere seconds. I start to fantasize I have one of these little babies with me. Until reality sets in.

  • It fires 7.62mm rounds at 50 rounds/sec. Simple math shows that every 10 second burst requires 500 rounds. Between the firefight with the guerrillas and the emotional firing by Mac (Bill Duke), Blaine's buddy when Blaine was done in by the predator, there's no practical way a normal human being could have carried that much ammunition. I counted at least 60 seconds of combined fire time, which means 3,000 total rounds. More or less. Probably more.
  • Cost. Every second the trigger is pulled about $200 flies out of those six barrels. In 60 seconds I've burned through enough ammunition to buy a nice used car.
  • Recoil. It's strong enough to knock you back on your ass. That's one reason it's usually pintle mounted in the door of a helicopter or the top edge of a vehicle.
  • Reload. Did I mention it shoot's 50 rounds/sec? Unless you've got extra belts with you, you'll chew through ammo far far faster than you'll get the minigun reloaded.
  • Electricity. The M-134 has an electric motor to drive the rotating barrels. That's the whine you hear in the movies along with all the rounds being fired. Problem is the gun needs a big battery. Big enough that when it was being used in the Predator they had the power cabling running off of Jesse and carefully hidden off the edge of the scene.
Yeah, I could cut a hatch in my fire-red Prius and mount a pintle and the minigun on the shotgun side, then run the ammo belt into the back seat. I think the Prius' battery pack is powerful enough to run the minigun's motor. The only problem is I think I'd have to be careful when I fired the minigun. I'd hate to be embarressed by having the recoil of the minigun roll my Prius over.

Not to mention what an eye-catching sight an M-134 minigun mounted on top of a fire-red Prius would look like driving around downtown Orlando. I haven't looked to be sure, but I don't think Florida's right to carry laws covers a M-134 minigun.

Oh well. Time to come back down to earth.

How much is camera gear supposed to cost? (Part 2)

IMAG0201-1Here's another datapoint via the Fujifilm Quicksnap and Walmart. For $8.67 in a local Orlando Walmart you can purchase a 35mm film camera with the following features:
  • Pre-loaded with Fuji Superia X-TRA ASA 800 color film, 27 exposures
  • Waterproof down to 35 feet
  • No batteries
  • Rangefinder-style optical viewfinder (framing only, fixed focus)
  • Single use - use, drop off at your local developer, pick up prints
  • No chimping, no instant gratification
Outside of ego-stroking and the ability to take photographs in dark areas where even the human eye can't register light, what have we really achieved with our multi-hundred to multi-thousand dollar digital cameras?

Really? You say your fancy digital camera provides more?

If the camera really doesn't matter, if it's the photographer, then isn't the Quicksnap all the camera any of us need?

Monday, August 08, 2011

I'm Not With Stupid

I have to laugh. Tea Party supporters of Michele "I'm not a deep thinker" Bachmann are venting their spleens over what they believe was a an evil left-wing plot by Newsweek to pick a photo that would make her 'look crazy'.

Well, guess what. Randomly pick any photo of Michele out of the current pile of Bachmann photos and it would look crazy. There isn't a sane one to be found, anywhere.

She's the perfect poster child for the Tea Party, the same Tea Party that nearly pushed this nation into default, the same Tea Party that contributed to the downgrading of America’s sterling sovereign credit rating, and all the consequences that have followed. She's the ultimate result of decades of the dumbing down of the Republican party. They all are.

It doesn't take much to find evidence of Bachmann's gross crazed stupidity. Just search the web for all the crazy stupid quotes she's made to date. They remind me of all the George W. Bush quotes I used to read. Except Bachmann makes Bush look like a Rhodes scholar (or about as smart as his younger brother Jeb).

Here's an interesting list of some of Michele's finest.

Dumb Michele Bachmann Quotes [LINK]

Michele Bachmann Quotes & Claims Raising Eyebrows: Fact Check [LINK]

The Most Controversial Michele Bachmann Quotes [LINK]

And a whole lot more... [LINK]

I'll take Thomas Jefferson for 634

I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.

Thomas Jefferson

How does it feel to be financially raped again by Standard & Poor's? The first time was when they over rated mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO) along with Morgan Stanley's and Moody's, helping to bring about the over-inflation of the real-estate bubble and its subsequent collapse.[1]

Four years later S&P does it again when they offer their considered opinion about the US Congress' performance when raising the US debt ceiling, by down-grading the United States' credit rating from AAA to AA+. The consequences have been reverberating around the world, resulting in a drop of 634 points on the Dow on yet another Black Monday. And who knows how much lower all the markets will head before this is over, and how many more trillions will be lost. A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.[2]

[1] Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

[2] With apologies to the memory of Senator Everett Dirksen

Captain America

My wife and I watched the latest Marvel movie to hit the multiplexes Sunday, "Captain America: The First Avenger". We were both pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the movie was.

The 2011 movie is meant to show the origin of Captain America in the lead-up to the major Avengers movie to be released in 2012 (hence "The First Avenger" in its title). Chris Evens ("Scott Pilgrim vs The World"/Lucas Lee, "The Fantastic Four"/Johnny Storm/Human Torch) puts in an excellent performance as Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.

In his prior movies, especially as the Human Torch, Chris' characters have come across as somewhat brash and arrogant. This time around, as a skinny kid from Brooklyn, Chris' Steve Rogers is far more humble. He has to be; as "Skinny Steve" he's constantly being beat up and picked on by the bullies of the world. Chris surprisingly strikes an excellent balance between honest humility, realizing his physical limitations, with a stubborn determination never to give up. As Skinny Steve he voices that you can't run from the bullies of the world forever; you have to stop and fight. As "Skinny Steve" he's determined to do that, no matter what.

He's given his chance to stand up to the bullies (along with his super powers) by Dr. Abraham Erskine, portrayed excellently by Stanley Tucci ("The Core"/Dr. Conrad Zimsky, "Robots"/Herb Copperbottom, "The Devil Wears Prada"/Niigel, "Julie & Julia"/Paul Child). I've yet to see a role where Stanley Tucci didn't excel. He brings a polished spontaneity to his role as the good doctor, especially in the scene where he tells why he chose Steve Rogers over all the other so-called better candidates. His time on screen was short but memorable, and his final simple message to Steve Rogers is moving.

Finally, there's the major villain of the film, the Red Scull, a.k.a. Johann Schmidt, played with excellent effect by Hugo Weaving. While Hugo has starred in many roles, the one that will always come to mind was as Agent Schmidt Smith in the Matrix trilogy. Although, truth be told, he was equally good in "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" as Mitzi. Hugo brings a highly sophisticated villainy to the role, something I haven't seen in a film since Charles Gray played Ernst Stavro Blofeld in "Diamonds Are Forever." Best Red Skull scene in the movie was the personal weapons demonstration he gave to a trio of visiting Nazis.

I was also pleased with how the movie followed a number of original Captain America comic details. For example, the first shield used in the movie is a copy of the original shield from the Captain America issue #1 printed in 1941. I liked the way the costume evolved, from a comics-like ensemble to the more combat-realistic attire used in the latter half of the movie.

The movie also triggered a bit of nostalgia as well. As the fallout from the crazed political brinkmanship surrounding the debt ceiling increase continues to echo around the globe, the movie reminds me of a time in this country when we all pulled together to win the second world war. I wish that sense of sacrifice and cooperation were still as widespread today as it was during that period. It's easy to look back on that period with historically supplied rose colored glasses; we know we won. Back then, we weren't sure we were going to win against the German Reich or the Japanese Imperial Army. Until Pearl Harbor there were many who wanted us to remain isolationist. But once we were committed, we stayed committed and united until victory was achieved on both fronts. How far we've come since then, how spoiled, how lazy.

"Captain America" is a fun movie, both form a contemporary sense, and a nostalgic reminder of what we once were, and could be again if we want.

At Work with Chrome: Issues with Chrome on Win 2k8 R2 SP1 and Win 7 Force Removal

I have switched three of my six workstations in the lab from RHEL to Windows 2008 R2 SP1. The other three remain as RHEL hosts. The primary reason for switching to Windows was to support Windows virtual machines needing 2D and 3D graphics support. Virtual Box couldn't provide this capability while hosting on RHEL. This need came about from applications that needed Windows support with 2D and 3D graphics acceleration.

During the installation of Windows (both server on as host and Windows 7 virtual machines) I installed Chrome as an alternative to Internet Explorer 8. When first installed Chrome worked as expected, especially automatic updates. This continued until Chrome 12.

When Chrome 12 tried to update to Chrome 13 I started to receive "Update server not available (error: 7)" messages on the combined about/update dialog. Looking around it appeared that the update downloaded but failed to install. Further looking about gave no clear indication of the problem or a single solution. In the end I deleted Chrome 12 and installed Firefox 5 in its place.

Right now all host and virtual instances of Windows are running Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 5. All instances of Chrome are failing (host server as well as Windows 7 VMs) and have been removed. Chrome still updates on RHEL and all Linux VM instances. But the latest version of Chrome is having issues with the latest patched versions of Windows 2008/7. I am not pleased with this fundamental problem, nor with Google's poor support. I may have to seriously rethink the use of Chrome throughout the lab.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Why I still reach for the E-P2

Two generations - E-P2 on the left, OM-4T on the right, and over 20 years in between.

I've been less than thrilled lately with the Olympus Camera Company. Because of the way they've handled the regular Four Thirds camera line, releasing just one overly expensive regular Four Thirds body to placate the regular users while they've poured all their resources into the µFour Thirds side, they've burned up all trust I had in them. They made a business choice, and in the process left me out in the cold.

I had originally thought that they would keep regular and  µFour Third lines going as equals, eventually merging the two into one. Along the way I hoped they would provide good engineering solutions for the older design (Four Third) lenses and accessories to be easily integrated and used with the µFour Thirds bodies. But that's not how it's turning out.

So I'm left with a collection of bodies (an E-300, E-3, two E-1s and an E-P2), lenses, and accessories that are still quite functional.

What I've noticed is that of all the bodies I still have (an E-1, the E-3, and the E-P2; I gave the other E-1 and E-300 to my youngest daughter) I keep reaching for the E-P2.

Of all the bodies, the E-P2 is the closest in size and shape to my even older OM-4T. Even with the 35-70mm lens attached, the OM-4T's easy and fun to carry around. With both cameras it's easy for me to wrap one hand around the body with a lens attached.

The E-P2's the smallest, easiest to carry of the three digital camera bodies. With either the 17mm or the 14-42 collapsible lenses mounted it's a far tidier and lighter package than either the E-1 or E-3. It makes for a more practical package to carry, and it's far less obvious when in use.

Until such time as I become flush with cash and a competitive camera manufacturer releases a clearly affordable and superior model to what I currently have then I'll be kicking along with what I've already got. It's paid for and I know how it works. Right now, that's good enough.

Follow-up: Hot N Juicy Crawfish Gives Away Free Beer, Still Not So Hot

The Short Version: They're still to be avoided at all cost.

The Long Version: Know when a restaurant is in real trouble? When they start giving away free beer. That's not the punch-line to some joke, but the opening in a dark new dramatic chapter to the real-life Hot N Juicy Crawfish locale I covered back in mid-July.

Free Beer
Don't try the food or the free beer - Hot N Juicy Crawfish

That lovely hand-drawn sign you see above says in cursive at the bottom, "All Day Weekends, 3-cl Weekdays", or all day every weekend day (Saturday and Sunday) and 3pm to closing during the week.

That's a lot of free beer. I don't think they have much to worry about, though, because the place was nearly empty. I didn't go in to check, so I could have mistaken staff for customers, but there were a few scattered about. If their food was any indication, I wouldn't drink their beer either, free or otherwise.

I don't want to see anyone loose their job, especially in this economic environment. But Hot N Juicy deserves to go out of business because of its poor food and service. Instead, head next door to the newly-opened Tijuana Flats for great burritos, chips, salsa, and other Tex-Mex food. And excellent service. All at a a far better price than what you'd spend over at Hot N Juicy.

Tijuana Flats Sandlake Road
Great burritos, chips, salsa, Tex-Mex and more.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Signs of our Current Times

Danger - Steep FallI took the Labs to a local PetSmart at 8am to have their coats coiffed and nails buffed (they walk enough each day to keep their nails warn down to a proper healthy length).

This particular PetSmart is located at the West Oaks Mall near Ocoee, Florida. I've written about West Oaks before, specifically the mall. I've photographed many empty stores to the point where I was chased out by a local rent-a-cop. That was, of course, when all I had was the E-3. Hauling that camera around with the 12-60 mounted made me stand out from the rest of the few shoppers that were moving about the mall. That mall hasn't had real crowds since 2008.

This time I was parking near store fronts that sit between the main mall and West Colonial. This section includes a Best Buy. It used to include a Toys"R"Us and a Borders Book Store, but the Toys"R"Us moved to a location next to the Mall at Millenia while Border's is finishing going out of business.

And what was open had a feeling of emptiness. Very few people buying much of anything these days.

People are concerned. Calling a recovery a "jobless recovery" is an obscene joke. There is no recovery if there are no jobs. No jobs, no money being earned and later spent. No money spent, no businesses. No businesses, no jobs. And so it goes on and on in an every growing downward spiral. And those that still have a job are hunkering down, pulling back, waiting for the axe to fall on them.

While I was there and walking about I came across this sign that reminded me of where we are as a nation and what we'd just gone through with the debt ceiling debacle followed by Standard & Poor's downgrade of our credit rating from AAA to AA+. All that screaming and yelling in Washington from Tea Party backed representatives, but no real solutions. Just like no jobs.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Asus Transformer TF-101 Android Tablet

Sometimes my job is a lot of fun. I have a small but significant lab budget that on occasion allows me to purchase certain contemporary technologies that are relevant to the job as well as a bit of fun. The Asus Transformer TF-101 Android table is one of those relevant and fun purchases.

Nearly everybody I work with is interested in portable devices running iOS and Android, especially for portable training. Towards that end I've been purchasing devices that run both of those operating systems for  experimentation and determining relevance. It started in late 2009 with the purchase of a pair of iPod Touch 4Gs, followed in 2010 with an iPad, then again earlier this year with the Motorola Xoom. The purchase of the Asus Transformer represents the latest, and in my opinion, the best portable computing device to date.

The following quick screen captures are meant to convey some of the look of the Android OS version 3.2 running on the Transformer.

The locked screen.

I've changed the background from the original tree screen to something a little more subtle. I liked this background because it reminded me a bit of the Tron reboot.

The tablet has only two switches, both on the upper left corner as you hold the table in landscape mode. The switches are power and a rocker for volume. There are no other switches on the tablet, not even a lone switch on the front bezel a-la Apple's iPod/iPad/iPhone devices.

The device is powered on by pressing the power button on the top left edge. Once completely on you're presented with a simple locked screen showing date, time, and a lock in a an encircling ring. Placing your finger on the lock and dragging it away from it's location towards a ring will unlock the device. What's nice about this method is that the lock can be dragged in any direction to unlock the screen, either left to right or right to left, or any other direction.

Unlocking the screen by dragging the lock towards the ring so that the lock touches the ring.

The main screen. The analog clock was added to the initial layout.

Once unlocked, the screen is nice, big, and uncluttered. Much better than having the screen filled with little square icons. Touching the plus sign on the upper right corner shrinks the main screen towards the upper half of the screen, showing all five possible screens as well as providing a methods for changing the screens look and feel. You can add widgets, application shortcuts, of change the wallpaper. I'm not sure what 'More' provides you, as it's a small subset of applications. Once done, hitting the home icon on the lower left screen will return you to a regular screen.

All possible screens at the top, while items to add to a screen are arrayed across the bottom.

Dragging the analogue clock around the screen shows the placement grid and where the clock will land when let go.

Once you've added a widget to the screen, it's very easy to touch and then drag it about the screen, even dragging it to a different screen before letting it go. You can remove it by dragging to a 'Remove' trashcan icon that will appear while in this mode. This version of Android gives a more subtle indication of where a widget will land when let go, both with small translucent pluses indicating an underlying positional grid, as well as showing a ghosted image of the widget as to where the widget will be precisely placed. This is probably the best I've seen to date for movement and placement of screen widgets.

Moving between two screens using the swipe/drag method. The screens are outlined.

There are five screens you can select on the tablet. You can either swipe your fingers across the face of the tablet to quickly move between them or just touch the vertical edges of the screen. An odd quirk of the edge touching method is that it only works when the tablet is in landscape mode, not portrait mode. Dragging/swiping still works just fine.

Touching the digital clock on the lower left brings up the first stage settings panels.

Getting to the tablet settings is a very easy process. A first touch on the lower left corner will expand the date and time and display two small panels. Each of the little icons on the panels is active. Touching the slider icon beneath the time will display a larger panel for most used settings. Touching 'Settings' again will pull up the full settings panel.

A further touch of the settings icon on the time panel brings up more settings to change.

Full-blown settings section showing, among other items, the Android version running on the tablet.

The Asus Transformer is one of the best Android-based portable computing devices, if not the best, I've worked with to date. Up to this point I would have given the nod to Apple and its iDevices. But the Asus tablet, powered with the nVidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor, pulls away from every other device, iOS or Android.

Asus wants this device to be as open and up-to-date as possible. When I turned the device on the first time yesterday, it had Android 3.1 running on it. Late last evening while sitting in my chair at home, the device downloaded Android 3.2 via WiFi and installed it.

Like my HTC myTouch 4G, the Transformer is very easy to connect to a computer for development. I plugged the Transformer into my Latitude E6510 running Windows 7 Enterprise, and in very short order Windows had downloaded and installed the device driver for the Transformer. I was able to start ddms and interact with the Transformer.

I will have more to say about this later, complete with a review on Matthew Robertson's review site. But from a first-touch developer's perspective, this is probably one of the best Android/iOS devices I've worked with yet.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Buying Cameras: Refinements

Cameras are curious things: they're simultaneously indispensable and secondary to photography.

An unavoidable fact about cameras and lenses is that there's always something better out there. Some people take that as a challenge, and lust after gear that's sharper, faster, or bigger; I choose to see it as permission to use whatever I like without coveting my neighbour's glass. If it's not a question of having that unobtainable best camera, then it's a matter of choosing the right camera.

Like a sculptor who can create art in a stack of rocks, not all photographers need elaborate equipment. But having the appropriate tools matters immensely – just try to find a woodcarver who exercises her craft using putty knives. The key is to not let the tools dominate the art, either in execution or in conversation.

At its best, picking new camera equipment isn't something that someone else can do for you. While a technical review may show capabilities and anecdotes might provide perspective, neither of those can give the entire answer. With that in mind, here are the four self-diagnostic questions that I use to guide my own purchases.

What does my current equipment not do that I want; what could do it better? Changing camera equipment is an exercise in codifying dissatisfaction. Be specific, because the better a shortcoming is defined then the more likely it is to be resolved.

Take a look back at your past years' worth of photos, and pick out your very favourite images. How will your next purchase improve them? Consider your failed images, and look for common themes and problems. Do you need what you think you need?

If you don't have a body of work that's large enough to really go through and learn the answers to these questions, then it's not time to buy anything new. Take photos with what you already have instead.

Can I work with my limits; what other solutions are there? Everything's a compromise, but nearly every problem can be solved. If you want better low-light performance, buy an uber-pro camera and a half-dozen fast lenses. If that's too expensive, then use almost any camera and a good tripod. If that's too bulky, take bursts of photos and processes them through a stacking application. If your subject's moving too fast for long- or multiple-exposures to work, then buy an uber-pro camera.

The other easily available solution is to take a different photo. If iso-gazillion isn't an option, that doesn't mean that you can't take photos of your little one's gymnastics competition. It just means that you can't take crisp photos from the bleachers during the peak action. So if you don't like the answer, ask a different question: how can a photograph capture the poetic essence of movement through motion blur instead of freezing it into an unnatural tableaux? Limitations can be an incredible creative force, so be willing to redefine success whenever possible.

What does it cost? Cost isn't just financial, although that's an unfortunate part of photography. Don't fall into the trap of having a "photography budget", or at least, remember that a life lived well can make everything into an outlet for your passions. Would dropping four figures on a camera every three years really improve your photography more than taking a workshop, or improve your life more than a family vacation? Perhaps it would, and prioritizing money is always an intensely personal decision, but unless you're a professional photographer – and my condolences if you are – every purchase and cost is an elective one. Buy whatever you like if you can afford it, but don't let the want-generators of web forums and technology blogs disort your sense of what actual photographers are doing and using.

Is there a significant difference? "Significant" means that it's easy to choose between two options. If you'd leave one camera at home because it's too big but carry a smaller one, then there's a significant size difference between them. As always it's subjective and situational: sometimes even a small MILF – yes, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Format – is too much to carry, while other times a medium-format SLR is no big deal. Conversely, if it's difficult to choose between two cameras or lenses, then one of them is probably redundant. Fight the tendency to give disproportionate weight to minor differences.

Another aspect of "significance" is whether the new equipment will actually be a substantial improvement. Buying a new APS-C digital SLR for better 40x60" prints isn't the right answer, but going from 12 to 18 megapixels might be worth doing for a really good 11x14". As unfun as it is, being realistic doesn't hurt when the credit card has your own name on it.

Of course, pragmatism can be over-rated. There's nothing wrong with wanting a camera just to have something new or different, and there's no rule saying that everything must fulfil some fundamental purpose. I have to admit that I like cameras just as much as I like photography, and as hobbies those two don't always have much to do with each other. The key is to have fun – and I always have something else to buy on my list.

Matthew Robertson writes for the popular website `thewsreviews, and although he's still a novice photographer, he does really like his cameras.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Shoot What's In Front Of You

I'm on a high contrast wild color binge. I'm sure it doesn't fit in with the "full-frame"[1] crowd, those toting their 5DMkIIs and D700s around[2]. You know, the "real" photographers. Not the substantive photographers.


I pass these bikes nearly every day that I walk to pick up my luncheon sub. Today I was carrying the E-P2 with the M.Zuiko 14-42mm Mk I, the original kit lens. I'm no big fan of the lens, preferring the 17mm, but I loath leaving any lens sitting in the bag. If it can fit the body it will come out and make itself useful. So I pressed it into service as something of a close-up lens, although it's not a true macro. And when I got back to the house I processed it in Lightroom. I've turned into a real raw junkie. I like what I can do to mold the image. It's fun.

Automic Purple Grill
Automic Purple

And then I had to stop by the grocery on the way home to pick up something for supper. I parked a few cars up from this interesting vehicle. I couldn't get the E-P2 out of the car fast enough to grab a few photos. I love the colors, inside and out. I love the interior, stripped though it might be. I love the Pabst beer tap on the shifter. Whoever owns this had parts sitting in the back seat. I'm assuming they were restoring the interior. Maybe I'll see it again when it's more complete. The "Automic" was the name on the rear vanity plate.

Automic Purple Interior
Automic Interior

I'm going all out for weird for the rest of the year. Try to keep up everyone.

[1] "Full Frame (FF)" is the older 24x36mm film frame size. It was called 35mm because that was the width of the film. The 24mm side of the frame was what was left when you subtracted the sprocket holes on both sides. It's difficult to decide what was the first 35mm camera to use a 24x36mm frame. It was either the Furet camera (made and sold in France in 1923) or Oskar Barnak's first experimental production run of ur-Leicas (Serial No. 100 to 130). Back in the day they weren't called full-frame, they were called miniature film cameras. Real Photographers shot with medium format (6x6 or 6x7cm), or larger 4x5" film cameras.

[2] Those two "affordable" [sic] cameras come in around $2,500 body only. The 5DMkII has a 24MP sensor with lots of chroma noise at higher ISO settings, and not too high an ISO range, at least not compared to the crazy levels you can attain with the D700. The D700 has a mere 12MP sensor, but the photosites are huge and the results still spectacular. The only problem is you need digital glass on those bodies to take full advantage of the sensors. I used to blanch at the cost of Olympus lenses until I started to price out equivalent Canon and Nikon glass. I still blanch, but not as much.

Last Day July 2011

Rubs (Don't stop...)
First weekend
What a month. July was dominated by four weekends driving back and forth from Orlando to Tallahassee to help Megs move out of her student apartment.

The First Weekend

The first weekend was July 4th. I took a Friday off and created a four-day weekend where I drove up with the wife and the Labs to stay at the local Red Roof Inn at Monroe and I-10. That weekend we started the long process to get Meg's student apartment organized, boxed and cleaned so she could move out by 31 July. You'd think that starting this early we'd have had plenty of time to get it all sorted and her moved out. That wasn't the way it would turn out.

It was a holiday weekend. It was also a full month since we'd last seen Megs (graduation), so we treated it more like a holiday than a working weekend. We wound up spending time at two state parks (Wakulla and St. Marks), taking photographs as father and daughter while mom tagged along viewing the scenery. The Labs came along, as they always do, and were pretty good pups, preferring to spend their time in air-conditioned comfort while the Cartoon Channel played back-to-back episodes of Scooby-Doo. Max got to spend time with his "original" person; it was Megs who adopted Max when he was a six-month-old juvenile delinquent runaway pup.

Ordering at Robotos
Second weekend
The Second Weekend

The next weekend was one I drove up by myself. I worked at home that Friday and then left for Tallahassee around 3:30pm. When I travel by myself I can make the best time, which is usually 4 1/2 hours from Orlando to Tallahassee. If I take the wife and the Labs you can be sure to had another hour to hour-and-a-half to the trip for stop-overs and a meal and whatever.

We actually got a fair amount done. I started to pull items together and get them boxed, and them to help her organize the packed items to get them ready to be moved later on as well as open up more space to work in the apartment.

The apartment was a 1 bedroom with a kitchenette and combined living/dining room. She'd managed to shoehorn a foldout couch, a table and four chairs, and several other pieces of furniture including an old 27" Sony T.V. we'd sent up to her years ago. During that weekend we gave the T.V. to Goodwill and got rid of some other items. I purchased her a vacuum cleaner since the one she had didn't do very much.

She'd spent the last two years as an art student. After two years and the small apartment was crammed full of books and projects and personal history, that needed to be sorted out and boxed up or tossed. It was a far cry from the clean and empty place I'd first moved her into. When I left that weekend I felt sure it would only take one more weekend.

July had five weekends. The middle third weekend was spent in Orlando. I needed to do work around the house.

Breakfast Girl
Fourth weekend
The Fourth Weekend

The fourth weekend was another trek with the entire troop (wife + Labs) back up to Tallahassee. That was the weekend punctuated with the Norway terrorism and Amy Winehouse's tragic death. Meg's had started to work full time (40 hour weeks) and hadn't made much progress in the two weeks I'd been away. I was glad she had a full-time job (without medical benefits, unfortunately).

This time I kept an eye on the Labs while I let Megs and the wife work together in Megs' apartment. I'd show up to get rid of certain items or try to move stuff around. The place was slowly, arduously, getting cleaned up and organized. Because it hadn't been cleaned for years, I wound up vacuuming and mopping multiple times to get the dust and dirt up.

The fourth weekend was also the weekend I supposedly reserved a U-Haul van for moving the heavy stuff from her apartment to a storage locker up on Thomasville Road. We got advice from both U-Haul and the storage place that turned out later to be wrong, But in the end we worked around it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

On the Sunday of that weekend I drove home with the Labs, leaving the wife to stay with Megs. Megs had an air mattress for the wife to sleep on, and the wife was going to help Megs finally finish up.

Fifth weekend
The Weekend from Hell

The final weekend, this past weekend, turned out to be one of the worst I've ever spent up in Tallahassee. I'd taken two days of personal time starting on Thursday, spending the morning cleaning up around the house in preparation to packing and heading back up to Tallahassee with the Labs.

The trip back with just the Labs only took a half hour longer than normal. I stopped twice at rest areas for them, but otherwise just kept on driving until I hit the Red Roof on I-10 and Monroe. We'd spend every weekend in July at that Red Roof, to the point where Clarence Greene knew me by sight and greeted me as "Mr. Beebe" every time I checked in.

When I got there early Thursday evening I went over to see what kind of progress had been made in my absence. More stuff had been packed, but it was still going painfully slow. Like the drama playing out in Washington over the debt limit, this move was taking a long longer than normal and it was coming down to the wire.

Friday morning was spent renting a 10x10ft storage locker up on Thomasville Road. I discovered that we could have reserved a 10x5, the size we really wanted, with a $10 deposit the prior weekend when they still had a few left. Except the woman who waited on my wife and daughter earlier in the week hadn't bothered to tell them that. As it turned out the 10x10 was a better choice, allowing me to leave a cleared out path down the middle, placing furniture and boxes on either side. That meant Megs could go in and find anything without having to unpack the locker into the hallway. And the monthly cost of the 10x10 was only a little higher than the cost of the 10x5. Which was cheaper than when I had to do this for my first daughter a few years back. With the rental taken care of we drove to get the van.

When I got to the U-Haul I discovered that my so-called guaranteed U-Haul van wasn't guaranteed after all. The stoned slackers running the U-Haul on North Monroe near Lake Ella called to tell us that my guaranteed two-day rental to pick up at 11am had somehow been switched to a four-hour rental from 8 to noon that Friday. I was absolutely furious. They didn't give a damn. That weekend was a moving weekend for every student in Tallahassee (FSU and FAMU) and every single truck rental was reserved or being used at that time. Apparently this occurs at this time every year. I'd managed to miss it since 2004 because neither girl had had to move during a first weekend in August. This time my luck ran out.

We drove down to another U-Haul on East Tennessee, the same place that the last weekend had said they had nothing to reserve. The crew at that U-Haul were much more professional and managed to find a van for me to use from 5pm to 9am on Saturday. I said "fine" and planned to move through the night.

At 5:30 I got the van, drove over to the apartment, and moved the sofa, chests, a lot of boxes, side tables, book shelves, and anything else that could fit in the van and drove it up to the storage locker. That was run #1. Go back to the apartment and pull more boxes and other loose articles out and store them in the van. We head up to the storage locker and get there at 9pm. We load up two carts, take them up and store the items, then had back down to get two more loads.

Turns out the storage facility is only open until 10pm at night. Megs and I didn't realize this until we tried to go back in at 10:05 with our next and final loads. Couldn't punch in. That's when we noticed the small print on the far door as to the hours. So I loaded the van back up and left the carts out of the facility, drove Megs back to her place, then drove back to the Red Roof to crash.

Up 6am Saturday. Walk the dogs. Dress, then drive from the Red Roof on I-10 over to Thomasville Road to drive back up to the storage place. Remember I left the key to the storage locker at the motel. Turn around, drive back, grab the keys, loop back to Thomasville and finally get to the storage area. I'm the only one there.

Grab a cart, start moving stuff out of the van and up to the storage locker. Make two trips by myself. On the third trip come down to a coaching staff pulling out racks full of helmets and pads for football practice. In the hot August Tallahassee heat.

I finally got everything stored. Stopped at the local Walmart to pick up an Allen wrench set so we could take the bed apart. Megs had lost the wrench that came with it. It's now 9am, and I still have to stop and get some gas for the van. I'm a little late, but there's so much traffic I have to wait to drive up to the U-Haul store. While waiting I get a text message that I'm late checking in. Hey folks, look outside I think to myself. But I get out and rather than wait in the line that snakes through the store, I just let one of the guys outside know the van is there and they flag me on. Later I get an email for $60 for the complete rental, which isn't all that bad.

We spent the rest of the day picking through the aftermath in her apartment. I pull the bed apart and get it in her Volvo, along with more boxes. A few more trips to the storage locker to put all that in.

Meg's move goes to prove a major engineering law with regards to scheduling: 90% of a job can be done in 90% of the time. The last 10% takes the other 90%. We were down to the last 10% of the "stuff" in Meg's apartment.

Meg's move also uncovers a deep psychological truth with women: Moving is more than just moving stuff. It's an unwinding of all their memories. They stop and think about what everything means, and agonize over what to do with a lot of it. I've seen my wife go through this, and now both girls. And as surely as the sun rises in the east, I'll live through all this again.

For the month of August Meg's will be staying with a friend until she can find a more permanent place, hopefully with a roommate to split the rent. She's moved on to the next great stage in her life, trying to find a place to live on her own. I'm hoping and praying the Volvo hangs together long enough for her to live in Tallahassee. The friend's apartment is only a few minutes away from her job at FSU, but unlike her student apartment, she can't walk to work if the Volvo decides to break down (again). So I'm now living in fear, hoping she doesn't wind up out on the street living out of the Volvo that won't run. I obviously won't leave her there (she can certainly come back home), but she's determined to make her own way. She has a plan to eventually move to Austin Texas in a year. A plan that includes living and saving in Tallahassee, while she sends out letters and resumes. Her mom and dad are rooting for her.