Monday, January 29, 2007

More work than I was expecting

(Image stolen from some random website. Thanks to some random website)

I had hopes of going down to the protest in DC this past Saturday. Photo ops abound at these things. And my hopes of catching that Pulitzer prize winning moment had my head full of delusions of grandeur. But alas, it wasn't to be.

Ya see, the wife and I are house shopping. And I must say, it's way more work than I ever thought. I can't even imagine the horrors of trying to sell a house, if simply buying one is this much of a pain in the ass!

This ordeal started about three weeks ago, if I remember correctly. We picked a random bunch of Realtors (proper noun, dontchaknow) online and emailed each. One replied back with a non-canned response, so we decided to go with her. She's been in the business over 20 years, so we figured she was qualified.

On the first Saturday, I think we managed to see 6 or 8 places. Some were just plane fucking creepy. How people have the audacity to ask the prices they're asking for some of these shitholes is beyond me. We're focusing in Reston, as it's a decent commute for both of us, has lots of woods and old-growth trees, is close-ish to my kid, is close to the W&OD bike path, as well as another mountain bike loop I ride regularly.

The following weekend, we saw probably 4 or 5 more. This past week, we each took half-days on Friday and saw a few more places, in addition to seeing a couple of our favorite places again. Saturday AM, we decided to invite the wife's dad (and step-mom) over to look over the two front-runner houses so we could get another opinion. After seeing each place and hearing the thoughts of the in-laws, the wife and I decided to put in a bid on one place. So Sunday we went to the Realtor's office and spent ~4 hours in a "Q&A/sign here/sign there/initial here" marathon. The Realtor was going to put the bid in Monday AM, as the property we're looking at is "bank owned" (which means it was most likely foreclosed upon) and therefore available only on a M-F 9am-5pm kinda schedule. The Realtor tells us that "bank owned" properties are a huge pain in the ass, and many Realtors don't even deal with them. I see why, now.

So here it is, Monday morning. The Realtor gets in touch with the listing agent (seller) and hits him with a few questions we had before submitting the offer. Well, it turns out the house is being listed "strictly as is", which the listing didn't bother to mention. And, when you're selling something "strictly as is" and you don't mention's a little, what's the word?..."illegal" I think is the term our Realtor used. What a fuckwad.

"As is" in VA is tricky. Legally, *all* homes are sold "as is", however there is a paragraph ("Paragraph 7" in case you were curious) in the contract which says, basically "the core systems of the house (heating/plumbing/ac/etc) will be in working order when we sell you the place". With a "strictly as is" house, that buyer-protecting paragraph is struck from the contract. Basically, "strictly as is" is a huge fucking red flag. Had the listing agent included that in the original listing, we would never have even looked at the place originally. We've skipped 3 or 4 other "strictly as is" homes for just that reason. In addition to the "strictly as is" red flag, the house has been winterized, so all of the water is shut off. The bank will not turn the water back on, so when we have a home inspection (which the seller won't pay for), the whole plumbing system will be essentially untested and untestable. Oh, yeah, and they won't pay for a termite inspection or a home warranty either.

So, basically, fuck that joint. It's off the radar. We wasted a few days with this place, and I'm a bit pissed. I should send a bill to the listing agent. Or maybe just pay him a visit and kick him in the nuts. Twice. Either one. I'm easy.

Now we're back to the drawing board, essentially. There is another place in Reston that's at the far end of our "we can afford to pay this for a house, and still (probably) be able to afford food". So we might make some changes to our contract and point it towards that place as opposed to the original place.

The wife also found another "we can afford to pay this for a house, and still (probably) be able to afford food" place we're checking out tomorrow night. Wish us luck.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


...I may lack. But it's not for a lack of trying.

Obviously, I'm far from the master yet. But for my first,


and third,

attempts at artistic smoke photography, I'm not *entirely* unhappy. Sure, there's lots of room for improvement. But for shooting in my studio (some might call it "my bathroom with a thin piece of black fabric taped to the wall") and using my Sigma flash as an off-camera slave, instead of real studio lights, and relying on the bathroom vent fan to pull the acrid smoke out of the confined workspace, I think they came out OK.

Improvements for next time: beg/borrow/steal (maybe buy) a heavier piece of fabric to use as a backdrop. And make sure it's flat-flat black. Not this semi-gloss thing I have now. The flash kinda reflected off of it, making it look gray. Secondly, burn a bunch of incense sticks at a time (sorry honey). Burning a single stick just doesn't create the volume of smoke necessary for good photos.

I'm sure there's more to consider, but that's all I got for the moment. I'm out.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Holy crap!

These might be my favorite "artistic" photos ever:

I'm not usually one for abstract art, but these photos of smoke are beautiful. I gotta get me some incense, lights, black/white backgrounds and colored gels and give this a try at home. I'm inspired.

Found via, via the MAKE blog, via Photocritic

Monday, January 22, 2007

Owwwwmmmm. Owwwwmmmm. Owwwwmmmm.

OK, now that that's out of my system...

The whole reason for going out into the...erm..."blizzard" Sunday was to get in our annual "first snow ride" of the year. The '06-'07 snow season has gotten off to a late start, and who knows...maybe this will be the last snow-ride of the year (thank you fictional global warming). So as much as I was enjoying my Sunday-afternoon-with-ass-glued-to-the-couch-yet-again, when DT called, I knew I had to get out into the cold.

After an hour in the car to make a ~20 minute drive, I met DT at ye ole Reston Ice Rink. The plan was to do a quick Colt's Neck loop before dark. We had originally planned to meet at 3:30pm, but thanks to driver stupidness (as mentioned in my last post), I didn't get there till almost 4:30pm. We'd be lucky if we were out of the woods before complete darkness. But, we both had suffered...erm..."blizzard" traffic, so we decided to take our reward.

The loop was pretty uneventful. No mechanicals. No crashes. No broken bones. We walked most of the water crossings (at least, I did). The idea of riding back to the cars soaking wet in 20something degree temps wasn't appealing. I've seen a buddy have to do it, and it didn't look the least bit fun.

Snow has an interesting effect on mountain biking. It covers technical sections of the trail, actually making them easier to navigate. There's a rock garden on a downhill that I usually clear, but it ain't pretty. With the snow, I flowed over the whole thing. Without being able to see the rocks and psyche myself out the bike just did the work. The same thing happened in a baby-head-sized rock drainage ditch climb. I can usually make it to the top of the run, where you have to get over a concrete pipe. That's where I usually bungle it. In the snow, I just flowed up, crossing the pipe with ease.

Drive time to trailhead: ~1 hour
Temp at departure: 27
Inches of snow on the ground at departure: ~1
Total miles: ~9
Miles following in the tire tracks of riders gone before us: ~4.5
Miles of virgin snow covered trail-blazing: ~4.5
Inches of snow on the ground at completion: ~1.5
Total saddle time: dunno, but longer than a "normal" Colt's Neck loop due to both of us being off the mountain bikes for too long. Maybe 1.25 hours?
Total drive time home: >1 hour


Ahh, the first snowfall of the season. For me, it always brings to mind a single fill-in-the-blank question:

What the fuck is the matter with _______________??

Fairfax County VA Department of Public Works, or Highways, or whatever the hell. Every fucking year we go through this. Every year! Why? 4...6 hours after the massive winter storm dropped nearly one whole inch of snow on us, why were major roads still a clusterfuck? I'm not talking about neighborhood roads. I'm talking major 2 or 4 lane thoroughfares. I had heard the forecasts days ago saying "winter weather is coming". Is there nobody in your department with a fucking radio? I mean, seriously. I think weather people are about 90% full of shit, too. But I at least give them a small benefit of the doubt. And I'm not responsible for keeping the county roads clear. YOU ARE! Why is it every year, you're caught with your proverbial pants around your ankles the first time it snows? Haven't you learned *anything*? Have you any idea what I pay in taxes each year? Well, neither do I, but it's a fucking lot. I'd appreciate it if some of those tax dollars could go to county services.

Fairfax County VA police. When you're going to close a fucking road because the highway department can't manage to sand it down (see rant, paragraph 1), how about closing it a mile or two back, maybe even at an intersection? I mean, instead of closing it 20' before the ice patch. Closing it *at* the problem spot leads to dozens, probably hundreds of cars (over the course of the night) having to pull U-turns on snowy, slushy 2-lane roads. This, in turn leads to cars that shouldn't be on the roads in the snow in the first place (see rant, paragraph 3-4) getting stuck and cluster fucking up the whole process for the rest of us.

My fellow drivers. I'm talking to you, people with cars that have no business in the snow. You know who you must. Don't you? You Mustang drivers. Camaros. Corvettes, BMWs. Things with huge fucking engines and rear wheel drive. *I* know your car can't handle snow...why don't you? They're your cars? You guys get the other ~360 days of the year. All the dry, sunny days, where you take off from traffic lights and make us big, slow 4x4 SUV and truck drivers look like we're going backwards. Do me a favor, give us our 5 snowy days to rule the roads. You guys stay the fuck home.

Oh, and you 4x4 SUV and truck drivers who've got no idea how to drive that 4x4. If you think 4x4 means you can go 60 MPH and stop on a dime in the snow and ice, you guys just stay the fuck home too, OK? I saw one of you with your Toyota 4Runner who 4-runned his dumb ass 20' off the road into the woods. I saw at least 3 other 4x4 vehicles in various states of slid-off-the-road-ness. You guys do everybody a favor and stay home, eh? Pretty please?

And finally My fellow human beings. You're the worst of all. You make me so fucking crazy that I want to run around with a giant frozen herring and club you all in the heads. Here's a little lesson: If you're driving ~3 (yes, three) MPH after pulling one of those dumbass Police-induced U-turns (see rant, paragraph 2) and you see a woman and her ~2 year-old child walking along the side of a fairly dark, busy, shoulder-less, snowy, slushy road at night...WHY DON'T YOU FUCKING ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOW AND ASK IF THEY NEED A LIFT??? What, that 5' tall woman with a small child in her arms is gonna pull out a knife, shank you, dump your body on the side of the road and drive off with your Lexus SUV? Seriously people, a little fucking humanity is all I ask. I don't even like people, and I managed to overcome my issues and offer assistance. I saw three of you in your bigass SUVs drive past this woman without so much as a slowdown and a "Hey, are you OK?". Let me tell you a little something, she wasn't. Sure, she, and her 2-year-old could have walked the ~1 mile back to their house. But they were damned grateful not to have to.

Or how about the (extremely) heavyset woman walking along the other dark, ice/slush/snow covered road? I saw one of you pass by her, apparently without a second thought. You think she was just out for a nighttime stroll? No, not so much. Again, is it too much to ask of my fellow man to slow down, roll down a window, and offer a "Hey, do you need a ride somewhere?". She did. She'd have had a hell of a ~2 mile walk ahead of her.

So, people, how about we try some common decency for a change. I'll make you an deal, you try to be better human beings, and I'll try to stop disliking so many of you. No promises. But I will try.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Evil? Genius? Evil Genius!

I have a strange love/hate relationship with advertisers, their product, their methods, and the innovative ways they find to feed us consumers the idea that we can't live without their wares. There are some aspects of advertising that fascinate me. I have no idea why. I don't particularly *like* advertising. Matter of fact, I downright *dislike* most of it. I prefer TV shows commercial-free on DVD, and the FFW button on my DVR gets a workout constantly. I *hate* stupid TV commercials (which, sadly, is about 99.95% of them). They seem aimed at the least-bright 1% of us. And commercials played in front of movies in the theater make my head explode. I mean, seriously, if they were subsidizing my ticket prices, then maybe, *just maybe*. But with ticket prices in my town over $10 each now, they ain't subsidizing shit besides the theater's coffers.

However, product placement in movies is one area that interests me. The idea that nearly everything we see in a movie has been paid for I find fascinating. I love when it's done well. Movies for me occasionally become a "Where's Waldo" game of finding random products in a scene. I would love to know what it costs to have that pen lying on the desk, on camera for no more than five seconds, be a Bic pen as opposed to any other type of pen. However, when it's done ham-handedly, like the scene in the toy shop in "Jurassic Park", or the entire movie "I, Robot", I think it's an abomination.

I also usually dig "Hey, I didn't even know that was an ad!" advertising. I was not terribly impressed with the TV show "Lost"'s attempt at innovative advertising. It was interesting for a minute, then annoying.

Which brings me (in a roundabout way) to the latest issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine. It arrived in the mail a few weeks back. Like so many other OP issues, and indeed countless other photography mags in general, it had a nice background image, overlaid with a "new and improved" product of some variety. I gave the cover a quick once-over...blah blah blah Epson makes a new well-reviewed printer that I can't afford, yeah yeah, nothing new there...


Then I turned to page two:


where the enormity of the advertising ruse was revealed.

I can't imagine the balls it takes

1)for a marketing to present that to the editors

2)for the editors to actually go along with it!

I mean, seriously? To sell out your cover. 100%. Totally? Front and back heavy stock glossy paper cover. Sold to the highest bidder (this month, Epson!). Man, I wish there were some kind of footnote to tell us what that cost Epson.

Added to gallery

I've added a few more photos to my USAF Memorial gallery. I still have more to work on, so look for future updates.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I took a drive down to the new US Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia last night. I'd seen it from afar and thought it would be cool to photograph. I got a few that I'm really pretty happy with. The first two are below. I still have some hopefuls in my "to be post-processed" folder. Click on the images below to see the slightly larger versions.

Honestly, I think my shots are better than 99% of the shots of the memorial out there right now. And I'm not really one to say that kinda stuff. Before going to the memorial, I did a bunch of Googling to see if I could find the best angles/shots and get general ideas for how to shoot that behemoth. The shots that are out there are pretty limited. (You listening, Air Force Memorial Association? I'm not above selling out my images. Just say the word. We'll talk).

Anyway, the third shot presented here is my first attempt at a High Dynamic Range composite shot. Basically, you take a number of shots of a scene altering the shutter speed each time (leaving the aperture constant), so you capture the full range of brightness of a scene, from almost featureless black shadows to almost featureless white highlights. You then use software to merge all of these images together into what you see here:

When you create the HDR image, there are a few adjustable settings. I decided to go for a more surreal look to the photo, than real. Not bad for a first try. It definitely seems like a cool technique to play with.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Blew off the Realtor meeting last Wednesday after all. The wife (the artist formerly know as "the girl") called Tuesday afternoon with news that she'd scored a pair of free tickets for a performance of Stomp. It's been years since I'd seen the show, so I was pretty excited to see how they'd updated their routine.

The show was fantastic. But I'm easy to please. It doesn't take much for a bunch of people beating on bits of trash bigass 55-gallon drums to entertain me. I've always loved tribal rhythms. Add to that the "found art" aspect (yes, I realize none of their gear is "found" anymore) and you can't lose. From Stomp, to industrial act Test Department, to go-go legends Junkyard Band, to (Jane's Addiction drummer) Steven Perkins banging on pots and pans on a kitchen floor, and Jane's Addiction's "Chip Away" (sadly, one song I never got to see them play live, despite having seen JA live half a dozen times), to the guys on the streets of DC with a few pots and pans, buckets and water jugs. I can watch and listen to that stuff for hours. I just wish I could find a couple of CDs that capture the sound I'm after. I've tried a few African Tribal Rhythm CDs with no luck. If anybody know of anything, clue me in!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy anniversary... me. This month marks 7 years since I kicked cigarette smoking. One of the best things I ever did. I've totally become one of "those" ex-smokers, too. Wondering (often out loud) how/why people could do that shit to themselves. It seriously is a nasty-ass habit. And one I'm very happy to be rid of.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Oh, the wife and I also took a quick overnight trip to NYC just before xmas. Took the kid and the niece. It was a great trip, but I wish we'd have had more time to roam the city. A few of my snaps can be seen here. I have a bunch more to post process. (See my last post re: motivation and hibernation).

We drove up early Saturday. Stayed over in Jersey. Ferried to NYC. Roamed the south end of the island. Had lunch in some random little cafe. Cabbed it up to Rockefeller Center. Saw the crowds. Saw the tree. Saw the light show on the side of the building. Roamed through Saks for a bit to warm up. Then, under protest, I dragged the family up to 76th St(?) and Fifth Ave to check out the Apple store. Took some quick snaps (not as nice as the official Apple snaps above). Cabbed it back to the ferry. Ferried back to the Jersey. Crashed for the night, then drove home Sunday.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Not much writing going on lately, obviously. With the holidays, a brother-in-law's near-xmas-wedding (which I attempted to shoot with mediocre results, some of which can be seen here) and all sorts of other goings-on time has been tight and motivation has been nil. I seem to be in full-blown hibernation mode. Tonight the wife and I have our first meeting with a Realtor (proper noun? Who knew?). Time to stop paying other people's mortgages and start paying our own. Hopefully.

Anyway...I have a few drafts in the hopper. I'll finish them up and post them shortly. I've moved the blog to the new, non-beta Blogger format. This adds one super-cool feature on which I've been waiting...tagging. So now I'm spending time going through my 400+ old posts and tagging them appropriately.

So, until I have some quality content to provide, I'll offer this random tidbit found on CNN the other day. Sad situation, random-ass quote. On the suicide of Nikki Bacharach, daughter of Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson, the family's official "announcement" contained this gem:

"She loved kitties, and earthquakes, glacial calving, meteor showers, science, blue skies and sunsets, and Tahiti".


Sounds like a Playboy Playmate bio on acid.