Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January Final 2012

Primary 2012
Voting station at Salem Lutheran Church, S.W. Orlando, FL
It's almost 9:30, the quarter moon is up high and bright, and I've just come in from a walk with the Labs. A quick check of all the news sites continues to affirm what everyone predicted would happen - Romney beat Newtorious like a drum in the Florida Republican primary.

I will, of course, reserve any predictions of future outcome based on what just happened here in Florida. Why?

Firstly, because as highly (and as richly deserved) as I think of myself, I can't foretell the future. If I could, then I'd be president, and we all know how that's worked out.

More significantly, politically speaking Florida is a big, complicated state. Florida is the forth populous state in the union, and our record shows we're the largest swing state by population. We are as prone to vote Democratic as Republican, and by very narrow margins each time, as noted by the 2000 presidential election.

Our population is a reflection of the rest of the nation, but built in reverse of US population:
  • South Florida, as represented by Miami, is mostly damn yankee and snowbird transplants.
  • North Florida, as represented by Tallahassee and Jacksonville, is mostly southern redneck due to the herds of Georgia and Alabama Deep South rednecks that tend to migrate across our common border.
  • Central Florida, as presented by the I-4 corridor, is where the two collide, and also includes that peculiar mix of California corrupt liberalism and California near-fascist conservatism in Orlando. 
  • There's also an interesting peppering of Hispanic and African American communities throughout, two burgeoning voting blocks that've been pandered to, and eventually betrayed by, both parties.
Florida is a state both parties can't take for granted and are going to have to really work hard to win in November.

Local Political Shenanigans

I didn't realize it until I heard it on NPR driving home, but there was a special referendum held along with the Republican primary to determine if the Orange County Commissioners should be allowed to grant property tax exemptions "for new businesses and expansions of existing businesses that are expected to create new, full-time jobs in the county?" The vote was yes, they could, or no, they couldn't.

I voted "No", and here are my reasons.
  1. Creating jobs in Orange County is no guarantee that Orange County residents will get those jobs. Central Florida is well known for having residents living in Daytona commuting into Orange to work. And that's just one example.
  2. Our tax base has shrunken considerably because of the real estate bust and the Great Recession. The county has already had to cut services (fire and police among others), and the school board has had to cut services and lay off teachers. It's fiscally irresponsible to further reduce the tax base and cause even more reductions. We're essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Peter is really getting the worst end of the deal.
I had enough time to vote in my precinct, and I called my wife to get her out to vote as well. But it was for naught; as the Orange County Supervisor of Elections web site shows, the referendum passed 62% to 38%. What's amazing to me is that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by nearly 40% in the election. I don't have the statistics on how the vote was split across the referendum, but I would have thought with such a heavy Democratic turnout it would have been turned down. After all, those Democrats certainly weren't voting for Republicans.

Which just goes to prove in its own way what I wrote earlier; politically speaking Florida is unpredictable.

Monday, January 30, 2012

You Tell 'Em, Fidel!

There are times where you just can't make this stuff up.

From The Guardian, 25 Jan 2012

Fidel Castro attacks 'idiocy and ignorance' of US Republican race

Fidel Castro has lambasted the Republican presidential race as the greatest competition of "idiocy and ignorance" the world has ever seen, and also criticised the news media and foreign governments for seizing on the death of a Cuban prisoner to demand greater respect for human rights.

Castro's comments came in a long opinion piece carried by official media two days after a Republican debate in Florida presented mostly hardline stances on what to do about the Communist-run island.

Cuba has become an important issue as the candidates court Florida's influential Cuban-American community in an effort to win the biggest electoral prize so far in the primary season.

Castro said he had assumed the candidates would try to outdo each other on the issue of Cuba, but nonetheless he was appalled by the level of debate.

"The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalised and expansive empire is – and I mean this seriously – the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been," he wrote.

Our Deal With the Devil

Things Assembled in China
HTC myTouch 4G on top of a Barnes & Nobel 2011 Nook Tablet

The title is pinched from an editorial written by Dan Lyons, "Apple's Deal With the Devil." It's an excellent editorial that asks a lot of hard questions about our destructive addiction to the latest and greatest haute gadgetry. While he initially aims his ire at Apple and the Apple faithful, he soon opens up his broadside to cover us all:
As the Times article points out, this isn’t just Apple. It’s every company. It’s every product we use. It’s our entire way of life, built on the backs of people who are being treated in ways that we would not allow ourselves or our countrymen to be treated.
Just about every item we now buy in Amera, whether it's cheap or expensive, seldom has "Made in America" or "Made in the U.S.A." on it any more. My Android cellphone with T-Mobile and my Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet (also running Android) were assembled in China. Nearly all of my Olympus camera equipment was assembled in China, especially my E-3 and E-P2 camera bodies. The only Olympus digital camera gear that was made in Japan was the E-1 and my three HG lenses (and oddly enough the official Olympus battery packs), but absolutely none of it was made in America.

Not everything comes fully assembled from China. My 48" Samsung flat-screen HDTV I purchased back in 2008 was manufactured in Mexico. But don't kid yourself. Buried inside that device are components either made directly in China or made with rare elements mined and refined in China. Chinese content is everywhere, even if the label proclaims it was assembled elsewhere. Is there any content made in America? I wouldn't want to bet on it.

I could offer all sorts of convoluted theories complete with well-reasoned villains as to why we're at this point  today, but the only reason that matters is us. All of us. Ever since the 1960s, when the Baby Boomers came of age, we've lived an incredible hedonistic life style, fueled by easy credit and cheap commodities. Step by step we willingly made every single decision that has led to this point in time.

Once we started partaking the drugs of consumption and easy credit there seemed no way for us to rehabilitate ourselves. We kept sating the senses, and in the process, we stopped learning how to think, which made the slide down the road to hell all that slicker and faster. Along the way industry, American industry, took whatever steps necessary to lower costs and feed American consumers their fix. So they transferred manufacturing out of the America to artificially cheaper locales and hollowed out American industries and outsourced further and further up the jobs food chain, from blue collar to white collar, on up the ranks of the middle classes, all in the name of efficiency and lower prices.

Our children grew up learning our ways, and they passed on what they learned, adding to it along the way to their children, our grandchildren. There are very few of our parents generation left who remember what it meant to live in moderation, who saved rather than burned up the credit, who knew how to think and plan beyond their own immediate gratification. And they're leaving us rapidly.

There's nothing they could do to help us anyway if they could, because I doubt we'd bother to listen. Instead, we're going to have to live through this. Our deal with the devil was our soul (financial freedom, a good job and career, a bright future) for diabolical favors (instant gratification, cheap credit and cheap consumer items). And it looks like it's come time to pay the devil his due.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Those Fine Young GOP Cannibals

We have witnessed something very disturbing this week. The Republican establishment which fought Ronald Reagan in the 1970s and which continues to fight the grassroots Tea Party movement today has adopted the tactics of the left in using the media and the politics of personal destruction to attack an opponent.
Sarah Palin, "Cannibals in GOP Establishment Employ Tactics of the Left", 27 January 2012
You know what I so like about Sarah? He completely comical disregard for any facts, starting the the very first paragraph of her of her nearly 1,400 word turgid screed she "penned" on her Facebook page. Since we're talking about facts, let's talk a few facts about Ronald Reagan, especially around the 1970's when he allegedly fought against the heinous Republican establishment.
  1. 1964 - Ronald Reagan campaigns for Barry Goldwater, releasing his "Time for Choosing" speech which raised $1 million for the Goldwater campaign and launched his political career in California. This is the year that Sara Palin is born. I'm 10 years old at the time.
  2. 1967 - Regan is elected to his first term as governor of California, defeating two-term incumbent Edmond G. "Pat" Brown. Sara Palin is three, and I'm 13.
  3. 1968 - Reagan joins the "Stop Nixon" movement within the Republican party in an effort stop Nixon from being nominated in Miami that year. Nixon winds up with 625 delegate votes, 25 more than he needed and thus dominating the convention. Nelson Rockefeller comes in second, and Reagan comes in third. Nixon goes on to win the 1968 election for his first term as president. Sarah is now 4 and I'm an elderly 14, old enough to really start paying attention to politics in a staunch Republican household.
  4. 1969 - While governor of California, Reagan sends in the California Highway Patrol to quell anti-Vietnam war protesters at UC Berkeley. The incident becomes known as "Bloody Thursday", resulting in one student death and one injury. This triggers further actions from Reagan, who calls out 2,200 National Guard troops to occupy Berkeley for two weeks to further crack down on the protesters. Sarah is now 5. I'm 15, and old enough where the actions in Berkeley resonated strongly with my sense of right and wrong. While I felt the protests were wrong, I felt what happened at Berkeley to the protesters were far worse. I didn't realize it at the time but that event started my eventual break with the Republican party.
  5. 1970 - Reagan is elected to a second term as governor of California. He will serve until 1974, then step down, refusing to run for a third term. Sarah is now 6, and I'm 16.
  6. 1972 - Nixon is re-elected for a second term as president, defeating Eugene McCarthy in one of the largest landslide elections in American history. Sarah is now 8, and I'm 18, and attending college as a freshman.
  7. 1973 - First Watergate, then the Oil Crisis, rock the nation. Between the revelations of misconduct printed in the Washington Post and the gasoline price controls and rationing, as well as the 1973 stock market crash, life isn't all the pleasant, especially for a 19-year-old college sophomore who has to commute to college and to a part time job. Sarah is now 9. Oh. One more news item. Spiro Agnew resigns as vice president over criminal charges of tax evasion. Agnew is replaced by Gerald Ford.
  8. 1974 - Nixon resigns as president rather than face impeachment over Watergate. Gerald Ford, who replaced vice president Spiro Agnew less than a year before, become president. Sarah is now 10, and I turn a nearly ancient 20.
  9. 1976 - Reagan runs against presidential incumbent Gerald Ford as the Republican candidate. Reagan would eventually loose, in the process damaging Republican solidarity. That loss of solidarity, along with the public's anger of Ford's pardoning of Richard Nixon, helped sweep Jimmy Carter into the office of president. Sara is 12, and I'm in my early twenties, and a fully fledged independent. I actually vote for Ford because as a Georgia native I'd seen what Carter did as governor, and I was not impressed.
  10. 1980 - Reagan campaigns for president against a Republican field that includes George H. W. Bush (the intelligent Bush). During the campaign Bush labels Reagan's economic plan as "voodoo economics". That criticism magically disappears when Reagan is nominated and Bush is selected as Reagan's vice presidential candidate. Reagan goes on to win the election, again by a wide margin, over Jimmy Carter. This is the last election I vote for a Republican.
Reagan didn't fight against the Republican establishment so much as with factions within the Republican establishment. By the time Reagan started running for president he was already well established, having become a Republican in 1950, 17 years before he ran for governor, and 18 years before his first run for the presidency. During that time he'd endorsed Eisenhower in the 1950s and Nixon for his presidential run in 1960 against John F. Kennedy. He was a classic staunch California Republican who helped to shape Republican thinking throughout the party (both for better and for worse). He was as much an insider and part of the establishment as anybody else, and to say he was fighting the establishment is to say he was fighting himself.

Reagan's march to the White House were classic American politics, where he built a base of support and executed a long-term vision, key attributes every successful presidential candidate has, attributes that Palin has absolutely no clue of whatsoever.

And as far as the "politics of personal destruction to attack an opponent" are concerned, there is no politician more adept at playing that game than Gingrich himself, who honed those skills while attacking then-president Bill Clinton, along with everybody else on the right. Skills that have been used with great abandon by right-wing talk show hosts. The Republican party now eats its own with great gusto because the Republican party, especially with the Tea Party, has driven away the intelligent, thoughtful moderate members who put country before personal gain. A concept that Palin herself can't begin to fathom, as she quit her job as governor of Alaska to pursue a highly lucrative book and Fox-paid talk show career.

The Grand Old Party isn't so grand anymore. It's devolved into the Party of Know Nothing and the Party of Grand Hypocrisy, the Party of Win At Any Cost.

The Eleventh Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.
Gaylord Parkinson, 1966, used by Reagan during his 1966 campaign for governor of California

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Republican Hypocrisy in Florida

Early Voting 2012

It's early voting time for the Republican primary here in Florida, and the hypocrisy is flying about fast and furious. According to a report on CNN, Romney is being attacked for alledgedly committing Medicare fraud by a pro-Gingrich super-PAC. This mud slinging is bad enough, but what really pushes it over the top is it's being voiced by former Florida state Attorney General Bill McCollum.

To fully understand why this is so hypocritical, especially for anyone associated with the Florida Republican establishment, you need to consider our current governor, Rick Scott. Before he moved to Florida to meet the absolute minimum residency requirements of seven years before running for governor of Florida, he was chairman and CEO of Columbia/HCA. He was forced to resign by the Columbia/HCA board of directors in 1997 when agents of the FBI, the IRS, and the Department of Health and Human Services served search warrants on Columbia/HCA facilities in El Paso as well a dozens of doctors affiliated with Columbia/HCA. As a result of the search warrants and following investigations, Columbia/HCA was charged with 14 felonies related to Medicare fraud, eventually paying over $600 million in fines, the largest fraud settlement in history.

That's right, we elected a real crook as governor of Florida.

And that's why absolutely nobody of this state's Republican political establishment, and I mean nobody, had better sling the accusation of Medicare fraud at anybody else. Not until Rick Scott stands up and tells the real truth about his involvement with Columbia/HCA during that period of time. As chairman and CEO he had ultimate responsibility, and should have had knowledge as to what was going on, and further, that what was happening was wrong. To say anything else shows either incompetence, gross unethical indifference, or both.

Oh. One other little thing. The early voting station had lots of Romney and Santorum signs, and a group of Romney supporters nearby, but not one shred of Gingrich signage anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Although I'm a Democrat, I hope that the Republicans Nuke the Newt this coming Tuesday.

Rick Scott via Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Scott

M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R Reviewed

In case you're interested I reviewed this lens on thewsreviews.com. Basically I gave the 'R' lens a very good recommendation, but you'll have to read the complete review for the details. I'm going to expand on a few observations made of the 'R' version at thewsreviews and take more of an editorial/grumpy opinionated tone in the process.

M.Zuiko 40-150mm R on E-P2

As I noted on thewsreviews this is an all-plastic lens from bayonet mount to lens shade mount at the seeing end. The only parts that aren't, obviously, are the lenses and the electrical (focusing motor) and electronics. Olympus isn't the only camera manufacturer to do this; the vaunted Canon and Nikon sell kit zooms that also have plastic mounts. But that doesn't make it any more acceptable in my book. I mentioned in the review about how I held back purchasing this lens because it was selling for $300. If the lens had had a full metal bayonet (and maybe a little more plastic?), I would have purchased a copy then instead of waiting for the price to hit $160 on Adorama.

I want metal on the bayonet for two reasons: strength and durability. Strength comes into play when you're slinging the whole assemblage of lens and body around; the mount is the weakest link and will see all the forces of twisting and moving the camera and lens combination around. Fortunately for this lens, there's very little lens mass to worry about. Durability comes into play when mounting and unmounting the lens. I wrote that the 'R' version mounts "snugly" on the E-P2. That's right now, while the lens is effectively still new. I tend to change my lenses a bit on my interchangeable lens cameras, so I'm curious to see just how long this bayonet will last under my usage. I hope for a good long time. I know that every other lens I own, including those purchased over 40 years ago with metal bayonets still click smoothly and snugly into place.

So in case you haven't figured it out already, I don't like plastic bayonets on my lenses. Rather than beat this particular dead horse Yet Again and annoy the reading public over on thewsreviews, I came back into my cave to vent.

Zooms at 40mm

The 40-150mm lens concept is pretty powerful regular 4/3rds, and that power caries over onto µ4/3rds systems. It is the focal length equivalent of 80-300mm on 35mm cameras. A zoom with a 4:1 zoom range and 300mm on the long end is quite useful. The sins of a plastic bayonet are mitigated somewhat by the small size and very light weight of a lens that zooms out to 300mm. I know this because I have an Olympus OM 300mm f/4 lens that weighs more than two E-P2 + 40-150mm zoom combinations. Light weight and compactness have to be taken into consideration.

As I noted in the review, the 'R' version of this lens is smaller in diameter than the Mark 2 version, while being a bit longer. I have a theory that what you're seeing is the effective length of the MMF-2 adapter built into the 'R' version (and the earlier MSC/Mark 3 native µ4/3rds version as well).

Why? Nobody talks about it much anymore, but one of the early selling points of the 4/3rds system was telecentricity, or as Olympus advertised, "near-telecentric optics". Telecentricity was the attempt to design lenses that would align rays coming out of the exit pupil of the lens to be as perpendicular to the sensor as possible. You wanted your light rays as perpendicular as possible to minimize vignetting in the corners of the image.

While the debate rages in some circles to the effectiveness of this design, I will say this: I have seen the quality of Olympus optics, and it is because of Olympus glass that I stay with Olympus digital cameras. Whether that quality is due to "near-telecentric" optical design, I can't say for certain.

I back this theory up with one final observation; flip the 'R' lens over and look at the exit pupil of the lens, and see that it's recessed into the rear of the lens. The Mark 2, by comparison, has its exit pupil flush with the bayonet edge. Whatever the case, the 'R' 40-150mm optically performs every bit as well as the regular 4/3rds lens with an adapter, and I don't think the longer length of the µ4/3rds version is an accident.

Zooms at 150mm

The greater length is the 'R' over the Mark 2 is even more pronounced when both lenses are extended to their full focal length of 150mm. The designers of the 'R' lens also cleaned up the two-piece design of the Mark 2's inner lens barrel. As a consequence the 'R' lens feels more solid racked out to 150mm. The inner barrel of the 'R' is also more tightly seated, or at least it appears and feels that way. There's none of the "rattly" feel of the older Mark 2. But then again, when using the older Mark 2 with the MMF-2 adapter, I never felt I got poor quality photos from the older 40-150mm. The Mark 2 is good, but the 'R' just seems better.

Comparison Lens Caps

If there's one thing I will complain about it's how cheap Olympus has gone on its lens accessories. Every older 4/3rds lens came with a lens shade and a center-pinch lens cap. For High Grade lenses you also got a pretty decent lens case/bag (which, unlike some people I know, I actually use). Even my Sigma 30mm came with all the aforementioned accessories.

But not Olympus' µ4/3rds lenses (and to be fair, Panasonic is just as cheap). The only thing you get are the front and back lens caps, and that's it. Even the front lens caps have been cheapened. Note that 'R' front cap on the left, compared to the older Mark 2 front lens cap on the right. I should note at this point that both lenses have 58mm filter rings, so the older Mark 2 cap fits just fine on the newer 'R' version.

At this point I would shrug my shoulders and say "what did you expect with a cheap lens", except I know what to expect because Olympus set the standard with its regular 4/3rds versions. What makes it really bad is that this is policy on all µ4/3rds lenses, regardless of price. I have the M.Zuiko 45mm that came with nothing but cheap caps, and if I want to purchase the M.Zuiko 12mm for $700, it's only going to come with cheap end caps as well. I guess this is a cost cutting measure to help pay off all those bad investments Olympus made 10 and 20 years ago.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Afternoon Walkabout

The youngest came down to visit with mom and dad for a few days this past week. We missed her at Christmas because she'd traveled to New Your. She made a promise to help a friend drive up to New York. The deal was she'd help with driving up and down, would pay very little, and would stay at the friend's parent's house to really keep costs down. While she was up there she'd get to see New Your city. She'd never been to New York before then, so she jumped at the chance for a road trip to exotic New Your. And I can understand that.

But she had gifts down here from her folks and relatives, and she was getting home sick, so when work allowed she rented a car and drove down to Orlando on Tuesday. The next two days were somewhat hectic as she worked to take care of personal business and visit a high school and  later college friend. She also decided to spend a few hours photographing with her old man. And so on Thursday afternoon she loaded up with her E-1 and I loaded up with my E-P2 and we headed out to Downtown Disney.

I love the winter light in central Florida. The sun sits rather low on the horizon through a good part of the day. It's a warm, rich, more diffuse light, that the hard overhead light you have to deal with in the middle of summer. And so when we started walking about around 1pm, the light was almost perfect.

Planet Hollywood

I've never been inside Planet Hollywood before, and looking at it from the outside, I can't think of any reason why I would go inside. Nevertheless under certain circumstances and at certain angles it looks interesting.

Study in Blue, Yellow, and Red

A short walk from Planet Hollywood is a large yellow tethered balloon. In all the years I've lived here and all the years it's been here, I've never gone up for a ride. In the early afternoon light I was captivated by the shapes and saturated colors of the sky, balloon, and the umbrella tops.

Waiting to be Seated

As we wondered around the back on West Side Lakefront Walk, I came across the back of a group of buildings that included The House of Blues. Something about the light, the chairs, and the colors...

Faces

And then we stepped into Cirque Du Soleil gift shop to "appreciate" the air conditioning and look at what they had to sell. I saw these masks at just this angle, and well, I had to experiment with the light and composition.

Flying Through Stars

On the way back to the parking lot we stopped off at the Hoy Poloi art shop, where I happened to come across this simple wooden model of the Space Shuttle. Set the 45mm to f/1.8, focus on the nose, and it looks like it's floating across a sea of stars in space.

Flying Minnies

We almost made it out to the parking lot before the smell of mint fudge drew my daughter into the Candy Cauldron. Dad doesn't need that kind candy, but I didn't have any problem with my daughter getting a huge block of it. While she was waiting for her fudge I happened upon all these Minnie toys in a bin. Brings back lots of memories when both girls were small enough to actually want Minnie toys.

Technical

Everything taken with the E-P2 and post processed in Lightroom 3.5. The balloon was taken with the Panasonic 20mm, while everything else was taken with the M.Zuiko 45mm.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Next Generation

The Well-Wired Child

Nothing will focus your attention on the future like having children. Especially when they've hit their twenties, and you see them making their way about the world. As a parent you hope that you've given them every possible opportunity to prepare for the future, and you hope that you've given them a decent enough world to build on. Over the past few years, however, I've come had my doubts about both.

When each girl was born we took out a Florida Prepaid account for both. My wife and I had decided that we would give them good education at a Florida state school. I worked through college and my wife had taken out loans; based on those experiences we wanted to give our children the opportunity to just go to school and graduate without any financial burdens. We hoped that the girls would do well academically through K-12 on up to college and beyond. Fortunately for all concerned, that's pretty much the way it all turned out.

When my youngest daughter graduated Spring 2011 after four years at FSU, on paper her future looked bright. She'd graduated magna cum-laude and with honors. She had a major in art and a minor in art history. In addition to all her course work she'd also held down a number of on-campus positions, some that paid, and some that were voluntary, but all in an attempt to build up an initial resume that would look good to recruiters and companies looking for entry level employees, either in Tallahassee or elsewhere. But that was on paper. Reality was a whole lot darker.

It turned out that while we were busy raising our kids and paying into Florida Prepaid, the economy grew over-heated, then burst with the Internet bubble, and finally entered the Great Recession (nee Depression) of the mid-2000s with the even larger real estate bubble collapse. By the time my youngest daughter was ready to graduate (and even before that) there were no job offers, no entry level positions anywhere. The best that FSU could do at the time was to offer a job fair with nothing but unpaid internships. FSU provided no help what-so-ever except to make sure she took her assigned classes to graduate and to collect her fees. And there were lots of additional fees above and beyond Florida Prepaid.

She's working right now, but not at what she had hoped to do. It's hourly, which means she has no insurance. And the number of hours worked at the various jobs is low enough that if she gets laid off, Florida's revamped unemployment system won't give her any benefits. Telling her to work hard in school and make exemplary grades and she'd have a shot at a decent job rings pretty hollow right now. I certainly never went through this, but then I came of age during the mid-1970s, nearly forty years ago. My experiences and advice are absolutely worthless for navigating through this particularly bad economic period.

All I can do at this point in time is to do what all parents should do for their kids, and that's give them whatever support possible to help them get launched. She's bright and hard working, and she has zero school loan debt to worry about. That lack of debt offers her tremendous flexibility at this point in her young life. But she doesn't see it that way; she's grown tired of the system and the continuous run around, and I can certainly understand that. So I have to be careful of the advice I give her (if I can even give her any useful advice).

About the best thing I can do is be the ultimate backstop for her. Just because she's "grown up" doesn't mean I've been relieved of my responsibilities as a parent. I'll have those responsibilities until the day I give my last breath. Until that day I will see both girls succeed, and go beyond where I've gone in my life. Right now, it's just tough to envision.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Silly Season

The Grand Old Party Four Ring Circus (Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul) came ramblin' into Florida after the wild show they put on in South Carolina. They held one political performance art installation in Tampa Tuesday, and they'll hold a second Thursday evening. Then the Florida Republicans will vote next Tuesday which of them entertained best. I hope the Florida Republicans can count better than the Iowa Republicans. But we Floridians, since 2000, really have no room to comment about how votes are tallied elsewhere by others.

In the meantime the economy seems to swerve and spin and eddy like a slow moving stream in a swamp, with a lot of trash churning around in it. Junk seems to slowly rise to the surface, while other junk slowly sinks out of site. And so it is with the little slice of economy on University at the entrance to UCF.

These three businesses are opening where three former businesses used to be.

New Centra Care

The Centra Care went in where a private walk-in clinic used to sit for years. I know it was there because I had to go pee in a cup there sometime around the mid-1990s for a drug test. I passed the drug test, but never went to work for the company that asked for it. I basically turned the job down when they called me to tell me I'd passed the drug test, at which time I told them what I thought of their interview process and drug testing procedure. This was so I could be a software engineer.

Former Don Pablos, now a Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo Wild Wings used to be a Don Pablos. All but one of the Don Pablos are now closed and reclaimed by other businesses. Buffalo Wild Wings is unique in that they built an extension that looks like a garage complete with roll-up doors. The extension covers what used to be the front of the building and all the parking slots across the front. What did they put in there? A big sports bar. I have no idea what else is in the rest of the building. I'd say it's a good place to go there, but the one and only time any group from my office went there for lunch, it took them an hour and a half to get seated, waited on, and served. Since that time no-one's been back. Oh, and before it was a Bufallos, it was a cheap local bar with a very cheap sign for nearly two years.

Backyard Burger goes out, Jimmy Hulas comes in

This used to be a Backyard Grill. I've been so busy I didn't know it'd gone out of business, but I can say this; it was out of business the shortest of any on University. I have no idea what the place is like, but if it's yet another bar I doubt I'll drop in any time soon. Going east on University from Bufallo, there are at least five major bars that I know of; Buffalo, Houlihans, World of Beer, Tilted Kilt, and this one, Jimmy Hulas. I know the college crowd can drink, but I don't think they can drink all that much.

There are still lots of empty buildings in this area, especially away from University Blvd, but at least there's a bit of life on University.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

At Work with Linux: A Failure to Update OpenSUSE 12.1

Back in early December I installed OpenSUSE 12.1 as a VMware virtual machine hosted on Windows 2008. At that time I'd written that I'd installed Chrome from the Google repository, and wondered if it would automatically and independently update like it did for all the other distributions I'd installed the Google version on. As fortune would have it I was overwhelmed with end-of-the-year work and the holidays, and forgot all about it. Then, every so innocently, someone asked in the comments of the December post if Chrome had auto-updated. So I went back into the lab, fired up the VM, and decided to check and see if the installation would update, and what parts would update.

The update started off automatically and innocently enough. Because the VM had been off since I finished the installation, there were some sixty-plus updates sitting in the queue.


Which, when expanded, showed "132 packages to install" and "110 packages to update". Hidden in plain site was a checkbox; "Do not confirm when installing or updating additional packages." I did not check this box, and I have a feeling that it was responsible for what was about to happen to me.


One of the annoyances of the update is the fact that it required my authorization, which is fine. However, the authorization dialog appeared behind the update window. I didn't see it until I touched the window with the cursor, and the window because transparent enough to show me it was sitting behind it. That's one of the nicer features of KDE 4. After entering my password to authorize the update, then the really bad part of the update started.



I started to get a continuous stream of warning dialogs telling me the package was unsigned and asking if I wanted to install this, because all sorts of horrible things might just happen if I did. This, of course, raised all sorts of questions and observations:
  • Why was I getting unsigned packages? I was getting this dialog for just about every package.
  • Why didn't the dialog tell me what package it was complaining about?
  • There was no global escape button on this dialog. Once this started I couldn't find any way to shut it up or shut it down.
I put up with this bad behavior for some fifteen minutes, clicking the 'Yes' button the whole time, until I got tired of it and just shut down the VM. I'm not going to be in the office until Friday, and when I get back I intend to just delete this instance and forget about OpenSUSE. I've got other working distributions that do what I need.

This is 2012, folks. This should not be happening with any Linux distribution, let alone OpenSUSE. It seems like this release has been star-crossed from the start. If anyone reading this is having a better time of it, I'm glad to hear it, but I'm not. I don't need a lecture or steps that might fix the problem. This either works as you would expect out of the box, or it doesn't. And if it doesn't then I'll stick with those Linux distributions in the lab that do. I've got plenty to choose from already.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Waiting for the Next Big Thing

There's been considerable speculation about the next camera allegedly to come from Olympus, the OM-D. You've seen little "peeks" of it on the rumor site, 43rumors.com. I've seen them, and while I find that they certainly pique my interest in this new camera coming from Olympus, they've now started to raise even more questions about what Olympus is planning to introduce the first week of February.

E-P2 vs. OM-4T

Although I've taken photos of the E-P2 next to the OM-4T in the past, I've not gone to the trouble to make them look as accurately together before now. While it looks like the E-P2 and OM-4T bodies are essentially the same size, they aren't. First off, if you butt the bodies bottom-plate to bottom-plate, the E-P2's length is a good half-inch shorter than the OM-4T. The overall body depth is the same. Secondly, the OM-4T has a large mirror box; the E-P2 doesn't.

Another interesting feature are the lens sizes. I deliberately photographed the M.Zuiko 45mm with the Zuiko OM 50mm to show just how much smaller the 45mm is. On the one hand the 45mm at 1:1.8 is 2/3rds stop slower than the 50mm 1:1.4. On the other hand the 45mm is considerably smaller and lighter than the 50mm. By the time the OM 50mm is mounted on the E-P2 with its adapters, the whole assemblage dwarfs the 45mm. And the 45mm is very fast to autofocus on the E-P2, which the OM 50mm can't. Finally, the 45mm is noticeably sharper at the center than the 50mm, especially wide open. While I certainly got a lot of fun out of using the 50mm, I've "seen the light" with the 45mm, and for me there's no going back.

OM-4T Top Deck View

I've seen the two small images of the OM-D controls on what is the shutter button side of the OM-D. When I compare those images with the OM-4T, well, there's really no comparison. The OM-4T is still a masterpiece of minimal ergonomics. The OM-4T still maintains the original OM-1's placement of the shutter speed selection ring around the lens mount. The ASA selection dial was moved from the shutter button side of the camera underneath the rewind button while given an exposure compensation control concentric and overlaying the ASA dial. The right side was then taken up with the metering controls. I loved the layout and the responsiveness of the OM-4/4T series.

Which begs the question in my mind. People who've seen the OM-D say it reminds them of the OM-4. I'm going to reserve judgement until it's finally released, but from what I've seen so far the OM-D will look like the OM-4T the way my E-P2 looks like the original film Pen, which is to say, only very generally.

The OM-D certainly won't have the mirror box, and it certainly won't have the control layout. They say the OM-D will have two dials on the top deck, one on each side. It will be very interesting to see how those controls are programmed and what it is they do. I do know this; unless I'm very, very mistaken, the OM-D won't have a shutter speed ring around the lens mount, which is a distinctive hallmark of the OM film series.

Which is not to say I'm not interested in the OM-D. I most certainly am. I will more than likely do something I've never done with any camera, and that's put in a pre-order for the OM-D before I've even had a change to hold one in my hands. I've been waiting for Olympus to produce this style of camera for the µ4/3rds series since the release of the E-P1. If it comes in the same general size and weight of the OM-4T, it will still be far smaller and lighter than my E-1 and E-3.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Yes, Throw Hollywood Under The Bus

This post has been a long time coming. The seed for this post was planted way back in 1998, when a Democratic President (Bill Clinton) signed into law the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. Among its many far-reaching strictures was the criminalization of the production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent Digital Rights Management (DRM) features built into digital technology, as well as the act of circumventing said DRM, "whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself."

For the first time in this country, a law had been passed that made it illegal for you to open up a device fully bought and paid for by you, and perform certain actions that might alter any built-in functionality, specifically DRM, because Big Content had convinced Congress that their High Holy Intellectual Property had to be protected. And they weren't going to release their High Holy Intellectual Property, particularly digital movies, into the new frontier of the Internets without this protection. No longer were you innocent until proven guilty, you were considered guilty irregardless and thus had to be defended against. Hollywood was convinced that each and every one of us were closet pirates, just waiting for the opportunity to pillage and plunder their High Holy Intellectual Property. And so, instead, they pillaged and plundered us by shoving the DMCA onto us.

And of course there was that criminalization of sharing what you learned, either by basic bits (information and/or software) or hardware. For example, in 2001, Edward Felten (the current the Chief Technologist for the United States Federal Trade Commission) was threatened with a lawsuit because he and his team had broken SDMI digital audio watermarks. Never mind that SDMI had invited this via a contest, but when Felten and his team first attempted to publish their results, they were threatened with a DMCA lawsuit by SDMI and the RIAA (little brother to the MPAA). It took a year and the assurances of the Department of Justice saying Felten wouldn't be sued before their work was published.

And heaven forbid if you wanted to move your DVD-based movie from your DVD player to something more portable that didn't have a DVD disc player, such as using Handbrake to rip your copy of "The Empire Strikes Back" to a digital file that can be played back, on say, the Nook Tablet. Fair use? What's that? You sir, are a criminal for even contemplating such use. Here, let us sell you another digital copy to go on your portable digital device. You haven't paid us enough already through your DVD. We haven't made enough billions to satisfy our insatiable greed.

As with all classic tragedies I didn't really appreciate what had happened with the passage of the DMCA or what I'd given up until much later. Starting in 2007, my loss was driven home by the walled garden Apple built around the iPhone, iPod touch, and later the iPad. I believed the lie peddled by Apple that they needed such draconian controls over software going into the iPhone lest some evil sneak onto the handset and cause grave damage to the AT&T network. I believed that until the iPod touch came out and was thrown into the same restrictive walled garden. The iPod touch had no AT&T network access. Why did it have to be restricted?

Because Apple saw the iPod touch as another big monetary channel for content, specifically games, video and music. Apple at the time heavily pitched the iPod touch as an ideal portable gaming platform against similar devices from Nintendo and Sony. And we all know how locked-down gaming platforms of all strips are. And because Jobs had sold Pixar to Disney the year before (making Jobs Disney's single largest shareholder) the iPhone first came out, Jobs and Apple had every reason to make sure that their iDevices were heavily locked down as portals to their High Holy Intellectual Property just in case they wanted to play iDisney content on iDevices. Can't have Mickey Mouse running loose, now can we. And Apple had the perfect weapon via the DMCA to enforce the lockdown.

The literature of the web is rife with all the jailbreaking and unlocking of Apple devices. And Apple's reaction by updating the OS that ran on the devices to break the jailbreak, and the attempts by Apple to send out the lawyers to stop it. It took an act of Congress (an act of the Library of Congress, actually) in 2010 to allow jailbreaking and rooting of your own paid-for device so that those who had the desire to do so could do with their iDevice as they saw fit. Sorta like what we take for granted with the personal computer.

But all of that pales to insignificance with the recent bald attempt by Hollywood's bought and paid for Democratic congresspeople to shove SOPA and PIPA down our collective throat. As Marco Arment so astutely pointed out, Hollywood, through its goon squad, the MPAA, sees "us as stupid eyeballs with wallets, and they are entitled to a constant stream of our money. They despise us, and they certainly don’t respect us." And on matter how bad they get, we still support them by watching their movies. We willingly and blindly give them the money which they in turn use to gleefully build a digital prison around us.

Until last week, when Democrats in both houses of Congress tried to shove both bills through committee. And then the Net rose up en mass and did something it hadn't done quite before: it simultaneously shuttered quite a few of its better known properties for 24 hours. On 18 January, led by Wikipedia, quite a few big and little websites went "dark" in protest against SOPA and PIPA. In the end quite a few senators and representatives dropped support for both bills, but interestingly enough, far more Republicans than Democrats.

That's because ever since the DMCA was passed the Democratic party has been "bought out" by Hollywood. Hollywood is heavily unionized, and Democrats have historically been the party that supported unions. And it's been a quid pro quo arrangement, especially during the decades when Big Auto was an economic force in this country. But Big Auto collapsed, leaving Hollywood, who, along with the unions, has always been the Democratic parties biggest supporter. And as the years have gone by Hollywood has begun to expect a "return on their investment", especially with regards to donations made by Hollywood.

This was never made more plainer than by former Connecticut Senator, Democrat Chris Dodd, now currently chairman and chief lobbyist for the MPAA, when he was quoted as saying on Fox News:
"Those who count on quote 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake,"
This has further enraged an already angry Internet public, so much so that there's now a petition on the government web site We the People to "Investigate Chris Dodd and the MPAA for bribery after he publicly admited to bribing politicans to pass legislation."

What am I going to do in the mean time? No more movies. I'm already paying $8, $9, and $10/head to see movies in this town, and that's pure crap. No more DVD/Bluray purchases. Whatever I can do to stop willingly pay money to Hollywood, that's what I'll do. Donate to politicians, regardless of party affiliation, but particularly Republican, who are for bringing Hollywood to heel, if not outright breaking them up. There's an unholy collusion between the creation of consumer technology and the creation and ownership of content; Sony is the prime example, but Apple's in there too, if more subtler than Sony. I'd like to see the DMCA either cut back, or better yet, completely repealed.

But whatever it takes, I want  to see Hollywood broken. We really don't need Hollywood, they need us, both as willing buyers of what they're peddling, as well as us being the producers of technology that allows them to create their so-called High Holy Intellectual Property.

I've got more to rant about, such as how government agencies such as the FBI have become little more than an enforcement arm to Hollywood. Make no mistake. SOPA and PIPA isn't about making the world safe for little guys like us. It's all about turning us into little more than digital serfs to Hollywood, and I'll be damned if I'm going to just stand around and watch that happen. Not on my watch.

Update 23 January

An Interested Reader sent these observations to me in an email:
I agree with all of it - except for the very end.

Boycotting 'Hollywood' makes perfect sense. But voting republican because they're less prone to that particular Big Entertainment special interest group is a vote for Big Oil, Coal, Insurance, Military, Church, and other groups that want society remade in their images.

The root of the problem ... is that corporations are people, with the same rights to free speech and association as biological people, but vastly greater resources. Until the huge amounts of money go away, it's just [a] matter of picking whose interests you want to be secondary to. For that, if I had to choose, I'd still say that the democrats are the lesser of two evils.

Ars Technica: Throwing Hollywood under the bus could pay dividends for GOP
Ars Technica: If the A5 makes mobile gaming awesome, why isn't it in the iPod touch?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Touchdown

All this time I've been photographing airships, they've been pretty much moored on the ground or flying high in the sky. I've never seen one come in for a landing until today. Whoever was at the controls made it look as easy as can be, although I'm sure that it's not, especially if you have no training at the controls.

Dropping Down
Final approach
Coming In
Nearly down
Capture
Crew capture
Link-up
Link-up to the mooring mast

Technical

All of these were taken with the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm 'R' zoom lens on the E-P2. While I was very pleased with the results of this lens in Atlanta, I noticed with these photographs that the resolution was not nearly as great as the Zuiko Digital 50-200mm SWD. This is particularly true with the lines in the photos. If you're wondering why the top photo has the airship looking more brown, it's because there's currently a layer of smog over Orlando, through which the airship was passing down through the lower boundary above the ground.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Great SOPA/PIPA Internet Day of Blackness

Just a collection of screen shots of some of the sites I happened to visit today that were "blacked out" protesting SOPA and PIPA. Wikipedia came across as the de facto leader of today's protest movement.



Matthew Robertson, Canadian proprietor of 'thews reviews, darkened his site in solidarity as well. I'm sure there were many other smaller sites than that did the same.

The rest of the sites that followed were all the 'big names' that advertised their intention to go dark as well.









Two variations on a theme were Ars Technica and Wired. Ars went black but spent the day writing stories about the issues surrounding SOPA. Wired put up a clever site that showed what was underneath the blacked out areas when you rolled your mouse cursor over the redacted sections. Ars stayed up to educate about the issues, and did a very good job. Wired stayed up trying to look cool and make money at the same time. Wired wound up looking 'tired' if not a little lame out of all the protesting sites.


Ars Stories:

  1. SOPA Resistance Day begins at Ars http://arstechnica.com/staff/palatine/2012/01/sopa-resistance-day-begins-at-ars.ars
  2. Protesting SOPA: how to make your voice heard http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/protesting-sopa-what-you-can-do.ars
  3. Why one game developer is skipping E3 to start an anti-SOPA crusade http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2012/01/why-one-game-developer-is-skipping-e3-to-start-an-anti-sopa-crusade.ars
  4. "Least restrictive means"? One way that SOPA could die in court http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/least-restrictive-means-how-sopa-could-go-the-way-of-copa.ars
  5. SOPA blackout spreads across the Internet http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2012/01/sopa-blackout-spreads-across-the-internet.ars
  6. SOPA, Internet regulation, and the economics of piracy http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/internet-regulation-and-the-economics-of-piracy.ars
  7. A history of IP violence: how SOPA's and PIPA's sponsors have waged war on the Internet http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/a-history-of-ip-violence-how-sopas-and-pipas-sponsors-have-waged-war-on-the-internet.ars
  8. The Lonely Island gets off its boat to oppose SOPA http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/the-lonely-island-gets-off-its-boat-to-oppose-sopa.ars
  9. When a petition isn't enough: SOPA protestors raise money to hire lobbyist firm http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/when-a-petition-isnt-enough-sopa-protestors-raise-money-to-hire-lobbyist-firm.ars
  10. What does SOPA mean for us foreigners? http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/what-does-sopa-mean-for-us-foreigners.ars
  11. Even without DNS provisions, SOPA and PIPA remain fatally flawed http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/even-without-dns-provisions-sopa-and-pipa-remain-fatally-flawed.ars
  12. PIPA support collapses, with 13 new Senators opposed http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/pipa-support-collapses-with-13-new-opponents-in-senate.ars
  13. Hollywood fights Internet protests with... TV ad, billboard, radio spot http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2012/01/hollywood-fights-internet-protest-with-tv-ad-billboard.ars


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My Trip to Atlanta ‒ Some Camera Lessons Learned

The Travel Kit
Clockwise from the top, the M.Zuiko 40-150mm 'R', M.Zuiko 45mm, and M.Zuiko 17mm
At the center, the Olympus E-P2 with Panasonic 20mm

I traveled by Greyhound bus from Orlando to Atlanta to visit my parents over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. I carried two pieces of luggage with me, a wheeled bag for all my spare clothing and a Kata DR-467 digital rucksack that carried my Dell notebook, my Nook Tablet, and my Olympus E-P2 with a small collection of lenses. Along with the primary devices I took chargers, spare batteries for the E-P2, and an FL-50R flash that never once came out and did nothing but waste in the rucksack. I put it in there on the irrational fear that I might need it. I never did.

The E-P2 lens collection consisted of the M.Zuiko 17mm, the Panasonic 20mm, the M.Zuiko 45mm, and the M.Zuiko 40-150mm 'R' zoom. The lenses used most to least were the 20mm, the 45mm, the 17mm, and the 40-150mm zoom, in that order. If you twisted my arm I could have whittled it down to the three primes. If you'd strung me up by my thumbs, maybe down to the 20mm and the 45mm.

The surprising realization (at least for me) is how fickle I am with regards to the 20mm vs. the 17mm. I've taken quite a few photographs with the 17mm on the E-P2. Based on my personal statistics, it's been the most used focal length on that camera, and for good reason. When mounted on the E-P2 the 17mm is diminutive, so much so that it seems to almost blend into the E-P2 body. The 20mm, by comparison, appears subjectively larger, at times much larger. But its darker color helps it to blend in as well with the black-bodied E-P2. But that's just the way it looks on the camera.

The real reason I've favored the 20mm is because the 20m 1:1.7 is nearly a stop-and-a-half faster than the 17mm 1:2.8. And that's a difference I've found quite useful. I have discovered that with the 20mm mounted I can set the E-P2 to auto-ISO mode, limited to an ISO range of 200 to 800, aperture priority mode (usually wide open to f/1.7), and be able to capture anything I care to point the camera at.

Based on experience so far, the camera has produced exposures from f/1.7, 1/8sec, at ISO 800 to f/5.6, 1/4000sec, at ISO 200. This is an EV range of (roughly) 0 to 16, or dim ambient artificial light to full sunlight on bare concrete or sand. The only limitation is autofocus, not exposure. I've gotten enough correctly exposed blurry photos to prove to myself that the E-P2 with the Panasonic lens is more than capable of properly exposing a shot with the 20mm even though at certain times it can't lock focus to save its diminutive soul.

The same holds true for the M.Zuiko 45mm. I can use the same body control settings for the 45mm with equally good effect. As much as I'd like to follow Kirk Tuck with regards to artificial lighting, I have to admit I really force myself to use my two flashes. Like I wrote earlier, the one FL-50R I carried with me sat in the rucksack the whole time, wasting space, while I was out carrying the camera and lenses in my jacket pockets where-ever I traveled around Lilburn and the general vicinity of north-east Atlanta. Broad daylight or late evening, I was always ready.

I no longer carry any adapted lenses. I'm glad I had the opportunity to try out that style of photography with the E-P2, but I've come to discover that native µ4/3rds lenses are far faster to focus with than adapted regular 4/3rds lenses, and blazingly easier to use than manual focus lenses such as the G.Zuiko 50mm 1:1.4. The 20mm is a fraction of the size and weight of the three types of 50mm lenses I currently have, and so much easier and faster to focus and use.

If there is a real limitation with the E-P2, it has to do with autofocus. Not so much the ability to lock autofocus, but the ability to quickly set an autofocus point without having to go through a menu. The E-P2 doesn't have the touch-screen-focus ability of the E-P3. After fumbling and bumbling with the camera menu to set the focus square for the umptempth time to the section of the composition where I really needed it, it suddenly dawned on me how nice it would be to just touch the section of the screen where I wanted focus to be, and oh, have the shutter trip right after. You know, like the E-P3. (face-palm)

With the E-P3 I could have had my E-P2's sensor (which I still love) along with some key features the E-P2 lacks (easier, faster autofocus plus touch-select focus point and built-in flash to remotely trip those FL-50Rs I own (another face-palm)) that would have made my style of photography (no comments from the peanut gallery) a lot easier and faster. By making the brash comment I made last year about how the E-P3 was "too little, too late", I let emotion and personal bias deprive me of a camera with key capabilities I actually needed, that in turn made it more difficult (if not impossible) to capture the kind of moments the E-P3 could have easily enabled me to capture.

So, yes. I have to eat some crow.

Regardless, the current kit with the E-P2 is still a hell of a lot of fun to use and very lightweight to carry. The only lens I might add to the mix is the M.Zuiko 12mm in place of the 17mm. It's dropped down enough in price that it makes purchasing a copy acceptable, and I can only imagine how well it would work, even in my thick-fingered clumsy hands.

Right now is an exciting point in Olympus Camera's history. No, I'm not talking about the fiduciary shenanigans of upper management. I'm talking about the rumors circulating about a Pro Pen that is supposed to be designed similarly to the OM film camera. I'm now poised to either purchase an E-P3 or the OM-D (as rumor would name it). I'm leaning heavily to put in an advanced order as soon as advanced orders are opened. If the OM-D carries all the key features the E-P3 has, even if it still has the same sensor, I'm going to buy it. And if I can't get one, I'll go ahead and pick up an E-P3 body. I've become excited about using Olympus again, more than I've been for quite some time.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Long Way Home

Monday didn't start quite as early as Friday did, but it was early enough at 4am. My brother shuttled me down to the Forsyth Grayhound terminal so I could catch the 6:30am bus south to Miami and points in between, including Orlando.

Waiting
Waiting
Getting on the Bus

Getting into the Atlanta Greyhound terminal was as simple as walking in, getting a tag for my one piece of luggage, and then queueing up at door #6. Loaded into the bus starting at 6am, and then on the road back to Orlando by 6:30am.

Stopover

Buses don't just make a beeline trip between destinations. They make numerous stops a long the way. The first stop was in Macon about an hour after we started. Most of the stops were fairly fast, with passengers getting off and new passengers getting on. Two of the stops were 30-minute layovers where the passengers could get a bite to eat. The first was in Tifton, the next stop after Macon, and the second was in Ocala, right before the final leg (for me) to Orlando.

Watching It All Roll By

The Greyhound buses are undergoing something of a transformation these days. They're nice, clean, modern, and quite comfortable. The bus I traveled home on had standard American 120V electrical outlets at most seats and open "free" WiFi on the bus. I tried the WiFi using my Android phone, but eventually turned it off because I discovered my T-Mobile connection was faster, and more significantly, I discovered that whey you use Greyhound's WiFi all web pages are wrapped in a "frame" with a Greyhound advertisement banner running across the top of every single web page. That might not be too bad for a device with a large screen, but for a smartphone the banner took up too much screen real estate, and was thus Highly Annoying.

I suppose that's the price you pay for "free" WiFi. My solution works because I'm paying for unlimited data with T-Mobile. For others not so fortunate the banner is something they're going to have to live with, along with the slow throughput. I would imagine that the bus' WiFi is based on technology very much like Verizon's MiFi (which I also have via my job). Greyhound advertises this bus-based WiFi as a way to surf the web and keep up with your email. I'm curious to see what will happen when someone wants to stream YouTube or Netflix, especially more than one someone. You only have one pipe on the bus, and I'll bet the aggregate is fixed. That means that everybody shares the one connection, and it'll only take one "data hog" to make it excruciatingly slow for everyone.

Or maybe not. My worst-case scenario assumes that the typical Greyhound traveler can afford a portable device capable of streaming copious amounts of data, like a Netflix movie, across WiFi. On my bus trips I saw passengers with feature phones texting, or else they read books or magazines they brought with them, or listened to music stored on their phones or dedicated players, or else they just rested against the window and watched the landscape slip past.

Scanned at Greyhound Orlando

And then, of course, there was Orlando, back where I started last Friday. And the same group of security guards scanning dangerous passengers as they walked into the bus station. In all the bus stations we stopped at, both up to Atlanta and back, including Atlanta, there was no other security check at all. It is only Orlando that has the heavy-handed security checking like you see above, complete with rifling through all your personal possessions. Who authorized this, and why would they consider retirees, students, and regular folks to require such invasive inspection? What do they think they're trying to protect the bus traveling public from?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Dinky 104

Boiler Front

The Milstead 104 "Dinky" Steam Locomotive is a 0-6-0 1905 Rogers Steam Locomotive from Patterson, NJ weighing 94 tons with an overall length of 50 feet. It is one of three left in the world.

Front Boiler Hole

Originally owned by West Point Railroad as a switch train, the Dinky was sold to Callaway Mills in 1948 and operated along the 3.3 miles of the Milstead Railroad from the textile mill to the main line in Conyers, Ga. The Milstead 104 hauled bales of cotton to the mill and returned to the main line in Conyers with the finished woven fabric ducking.

Air Breaks

In 1960 Callaway Mill closed and relocated its operation to LaGrange, Ga. The Dinky remained in Milstead until 1973 when it was bought by the State of Georgia and located at Georgia Agrirama in Tifton, Ga. A community fundraising effort spearheaded by the Rockdale County Historical Society in 1983 returned the beloved engine to the Conyers area for its final stop. (Transcribed from a sign located at the site of the engine).

Lower Plumbing

Plumbing

I have an interest in locomotives because some of my family ancestors worked on various railroads from Georgia to Texas. The most notable was my great-great-great-grandfather, a locomotive engineer on the original steam-driven Nancy Hanks that ran from Atlanta to Savannah in the late 19th century. When I was a little guy I rode the Nancy Hanks II to visit my grandmother in Savanah, and she would ride the Nancy to visit us. We kept that up until my dad worked long enough for Delta that he could fly grandmother up on standby. It's probably one of the reasons why my dad and uncle made a career in the airline industry, because by the time they decided what to do for a living this nation's train system was in decline and commercial aviation was growing considerably to take its place.