Getting Right-Sized

Has it really been nearly six months since I last posted?  According to WordPress and my site logs, apparently so.  Time to rectify that.

The summer has been mostly work, work, work.  But I managed to get in some “me” time recently, and that’s what this is about.

I struggled to find a vacation that would address my interests, wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, and which could be taken at a convenient time.  I searched and searched, considering trips to Alaska (still on my must-do list), a Mediterranean cruise, a visit to Machu Picchu, and other exotic travels.  Long flight times, added “single traveler premiums” and other disincentives caused me to pass on some otherwise very enticing possibilities.

Then, I happened to visit my Road Scholar account and saw that a trip I’d put on my wishlist was available, the single premium wasn’t too horrible, and addressed one of my interests directly:  A photo journey through Utah’s national parks!  I quickly booked it, and the die was cast.

In preparation, I took a day trip and drove to Blackwater Falls, WV to test my camera skills, hiking endurance, clothing choices and mindset.

Blackwater Falls, WV

Camera
COOLPIX P900
Focal Length
5mm
Exposure
1/640s
ISO
100
Camera
COOLPIX P900
Focal Length
5mm
Exposure
1/640s
ISO
100

Blackwater Falls, West Virginia

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

COOLPIX P900

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

5mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/640s

 

 

 

ISO

 

100

 

 

 

I felt I was prepared.

A discussion of Road Scholar will have to wait for another post.  Suffice it to say that this was my fourth adventure with them, and each has been a very rewarding experience!

My first trip with Road Scholar was also to Utah, where I visited Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon (North Rim) national parks.  This trip was a ten-day journey around a circle which included Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley and Lake Powell/Antelope Canyon.  The difference:  Specifically intended for photographers.

The longest vacation I’ve taken to this point was seven days.  I wasn’t sure I would know how to handle a longer time frame.  Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

Scheduling made this trip different.  We would frequently arise early in the morning to do a sunrise shoot,

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise

Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
55mm
Exposure
1/80s
ISO
200
Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
55mm
Exposure
1/80s
ISO
200
Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
55mm
Exposure
1/80s
ISO
200

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

55mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/80s

 

 

 

ISO

 

200

 

 

 

 

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise

and often would eat dinner around 5:00 p.m. so we could do a sunset shoot.

Panorama Point, Capitol Reef

Camera
NIKON D7500
Focal Length
26mm
Exposure
1/10s
ISO
200

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

26mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/10s

 

 

 

ISO

 

200

 

 

 

 

Panorama Point, Capitol Reef

I love this area of the country.  In this day and age, where we measure the time of our lives in hours, days and weeks, the visible geology of this land shows how time is measured in millions of years!  The enormity of the rock formations, the petroglyphs etched thousands of years ago, all serve to remind me of how truly small we are in God’s tremendous universe!

Wow

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

60mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/250s

 

 

 

ISO

 

200

 

 

 

 

Wow.

The capstone to the trip was Antelope Canyon. I have been enthralled by photos taken in this Navajo-owned marvel, and hoped I could come away with one or two “keepers.”  I shot over 250 photos during my 90 minutes in the canyon, and at current count, have at least 19!

Lower Antelope Canyon

 

 

 

 

Camera

 

NIKON D7500

 

 

 

Focal Length

 

18mm

 

 

 

Exposure

 

1/100s

 

 

 

ISO

 

2000

 

 

 

 

Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

And guess what?  I have been invited to exhibit my photos!  This is a first for me, and I’m really flattered, excited and honored to be asked!

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon

smart? Or not?

The wheels were already turning as I made ready to move into my new home.  I had previously noted the existence of an electric vehicle charging station

Electric Car Charging Station

and I knew instinctively that I was going to have to find a way to put it to use.  After all, despite the resistance to (and I freely admit my participation) new forms of fuel, there is a part of me that believes electric vehicles are the wave of the future (at least until fusion power becomes the norm).

I did some research. I went to CarMax and looked at a used Nissan Leaf.  I went to a Chevy dealer and checked out Motor Trend’s 2017 Car of the Year, the Bolt. I read about BMW’s i3 (and oh-so-sexy i8!).  But YIKES, the cost of these cars — even used!

But one car came across my browser page:  The smart fortwo electric coupe.  Designed and sold by Mercedes-Benz (the name is actually an acronym: “Swatch, Mercedes ART”), this little two-seater has a quirky appeal (to me, at least).  I don’t need a new car; my 2014 Mercedes-Benz E350C4 with only 19,000 miles on it is just a doggone fun — and attractive — car.  And I’m going to keep it!

I found several smart electrics (or “ED” as they are unfortunately named) in the area.  I went and looked at one in a lot, and kept coming back to one I saw online.  I called the dealer, an independent used car seller, and said I wanted to check it out.

And check it out I did.  In fact, I wrote a check and drove it out (away)!

It’s a 2015 and had 17,400 miles on it.  I put $1,800 of tires, brakes and service into it to bring it to manufacturer’s spec, and now it’s my “local runabout.”  It has a range of about 90 miles, and a top speed of about 76 mph.  A/C AM/FM with AUX and USB inputs, a charging plug (for my phone) and surprisingly roomy!

I’m not sure where this is going to lead me.  I’ve been saying this is my way of dipping my toes into the EV pond.  Time will tell.

Moving Day!

I have grown increasingly disappointed and frustrated with the management of the condominium association where I live.  To the point where I started looking for a new home.

Okay, there’s more to it than just that: my growing guitar collection and desire to have somewhat of a photo studio have made me realize I’ve outgrown my digs.

So, I started looking. And I found some places that were “acceptable.” The real estate market around here is such that no sooner does a property go on sale, someone snaps it up. I had several such experiences.

I guess that made me anxious and willing to settle for less. Which led me to almost buying a home that failed the home inspection. But, as both my realtor and God know better than I what’s best for me, I finally landed on the “right” home!

Front

The previous owner (a bit anti-social, according to the neighbors) apparently worked in the security field, and so the home came equipped with a security camera system (active) and a home security system (inactive). It also comes with an Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE), commonly known as a charging station.

Electric Car Charging Station

Which leads me to research and probably buy a small electric car, for local errand running and tooling about.

(The above photos are not of the car I’m likely to buy. I saw this in the lot of a dealer and just shot photos of it).

Sunday is moving day!  I’m both dreading it (a lot of work + expense) and anticipating it!

 

 

Culinary Delights, pt 2.

I lied.  I was going to make one post about two different dinners, but I found I couldn’t do it.  So, here is Part 2:  The Dalí Dinner.

For years, I have made attending the annual Salvador Dalí Museum a key part of my year.  In the beginning, this event was called a “benefit,” as the funds raised by attendance costs helped pad the museum’s treasury.  Having now been established as one of St. Petersburg, Florida’s prime attractions (attracting more than 50,000 visitors each the first of this year’s two months), the annual dinner has now become the place for the rich and famous to be seen.

This year’s dinner was especially meaningful for me, as I was seated next to the newly-elected museum president, Karen Lang Johnston — at her request.  In fact, she told me, “The Morses [Brad and Mary Ann, son and daughter-in-law of museum founders Reynolds and Eleanor Morse] wanted you at their table but I insisted you sit at mine!” What an honor, and how far I’ve come since sitting in a corner somewhere.

Diners are seated in the gallery, among the artist’s masterpieces.  This year, we were appropriately seated in the Honorable Eugene and Karen Lang Johnston Gallery, where Dalí’s “The Ecumenical Council” hangs.

dali's ecumenical council

The Ecumenical Council, by Salvador Dalí

Food this year was catered by Parkshore Grill, the parent company of Café Gala, the museum’s own eatery.  Hors d’oeuvres were served in the Foyer and Gran Sala and included oxtail, lobster ceviche and shrimp skewers.

 

Roasted Beet Salad

 

 

 

 

 

The first course was a Roasted Beet salad with Mango Habenero Vinaigrette, Toasted Pepitas, Queso Fresco, Pomegranate Seeds, Petite Green Beans.

Delicious!

 

 

 

The seafood entree was Grilled Open Blue Cobia with Guajillo Chili Sauce, Avocado Mousse, and Crispy Pork Belly.

Grilled Open Blue Cobia

The meat entree was Cocoa Chili Rubbed New York Strip Steak with Mole Verde, Sweet Potato Puree, and Crispy Corn Tortilas (which oddly enough, were absent from the plate).  Dessert was Cactus Pear Mousse, Toasted Coconut Mexican Chocolate Truffle and Pistachio Guava Macaron.

Delightful!

 

Cocoa Chili Rubbed New York Strip Steak

Cactus Pear Mousse, Toasted Coconut Mexican Chocolate Truffle, Pistachio Guava Macaron

The Menu – 2017 Salvador Dalí Museum Dinner

Culinary Delights

Some people eat to live.  Others live to eat.  To me, one of life’s great pleasures is enjoying a variety of foods; I’ve said repeatedly over the years that I would try anything once. Whether it be a rich, hearty bowl of phở

bowl of pho

Phở – Comfort in a bowl!

enjoyed communally, or a seven course meal served privately by an internationally-trained chef, food is to me something to titillate the senses, as well nourish the body.

I had the great pleasure of experiencing both this week, and then some!

To start, I spent five days and nights aboard the cruise ship Carnival Paradise.  Not being given to hyperbole, I wouldn’t say the ship lived up to its name, but it’s pretty well known that the food aboard cruise ships is one of the allures.  The buffet dining is satisfying, the pizzas cooked on the spot, and the formal dining offers a gustatory treat.

But nothing compares to a chef’s table.  Offered on the cruise, I jumped on the opportunity and made sure several times that my reservation was in place.  It was.

Sadly, I didn’t think at first to use my cell phone camera, so I missed taking some shots of a few of the hors d’oeuvres.  But I did make sure to shoot the menu,

menu

Seven courses of inventive, excitingly savory food.

which lists each of the seven courses.  Not as lovingly and detailed as the chef presented them, but it’s the best I can do.

The evening began with a brief tour of the ship’s galley.  Preparing food for 2,200 people is not a task taken lightly, and a staff of over 60 people work in around-the-clock shifts to make sure it’s right.

In the galley, we enjoyed our hors d’oeuvres. Shown here is the Beef Carpaccio on Air Pillow, Chocolate Bacon, Apple Ribbon.  Wow.

Also pictured is the Double-cooked Lamb, Tapioca.  Even pictures can’t describe the delicacy and sensation of myriad spices and ingredients.

wow

Beef Carpaccio on Air Pillow, Chocolate Bacon with Apple Ribbon

Double-cooked Lamb, Tapioca. The name doesn’t begin to describe the taste.

Bleu Cheese rolls, crackers and flavored butter

Duck Textures, Creamy Quinoa, Parmesan Churros, Olive Snow, Port Wine Jus

Two Tomatoes, Three Basil, Crisped Brioche, Garlic Chip

Waygu (Kobe) Beef, Bone Marrow Soufflé, Scallion & Garlic Panisse, Gremolata Crisp

Sea Salt Praline Chocolate, Raspberry Mojito, Key Lime Cake, Apricot Vanilla Gel, Citrus Cream

Today’s Special: Two Posts!

I had a fun week.  So much fun, in fact, that I’m going to make two separate posts covering different aspects.  This post, is about my recent Caribbean cruise to the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.  This was originally planned to be a carbon-copy of last year’s trip, but no sooner was I on board the Carnival Paradise, than I learned the ports of call had been

Carnival Paradise

Carnival Paradise Cruise Ship

changed;  gone was the stop at George Town, Grand Cayman, and added was a visit to Costa Maya, just down the coast. That was OK with me, as I’ve been to George Town several times and wasn’t interested in more than lunch ashore.  Tulum, on the mainland from Cozumel was where I wanted to go.  Truth be told, I was interested in purchasing a replacement obsidian cartouche for my granddaughter.  The original never made it home from Florida last year.

So, I said if I ever had another chance…

Learning that Costa Maya offered a second opportunity to photograph Mayan ruins, I was all in.  After all, photographing Mayan ruins while on a cruise was my impetus for purchasing a Nikon Coolpix P900 camera with its super-zoom lens.  I lugged my camera gear around in the drizzle last year, and didn’t want a repeat experience. I am delighted to report that the Coolpix did an admirable job.  It’s got a smaller sensor (16 mpx) than my D7100, and doesn’t shoot in NEF (RAW), but the super-zoom (24mm – 2000mm equivalent) gets you there in a hurry, and the results are excellent for day-to-day

iguana

An iguana, perched atop a walwas watching us tourists line up to enter the ancient city of Tulum.

photography.  For example, this fellow was watching the tourists lining up to enter.

Tulum is the only evidence of the Mayan civilization on a coast site.  The others are all inland, covered by centuries of jungle.  Thus, Tulum not only offers great insight into the Mayan society, but also provides unfettered chances for photographing out in the open.  The down side?  Sunburn!

Perhaps the most iconic image of Tulum that makes the travel pages is the Temple of the Wind God, which sits perched some 39 feet above the seashore.

Temple of the Wind God

Temple of the Wind God, Tulum, Mexico

The super-zoom makes photographing this temple a dream of creativity.

temple of the wind god

Temple of the Wind God

temple of the wind god

Temple of the Wind God, Tulum, Mexico

The day was so nice that I was able to walk to the other side of the clearing and see the temple from another angle. The Castle Pyramid is the most impressive edifice, but the is also the Temple of Frescos, the Temple of the Descending God (yes, the tilt of the roof is intentional) and more.  Despite the richness of the site, experts say it’s a small outpost.  Map of Tulum. 

Now, how to figure out placing photos on this page without requiring a lot of extraneous text….

temple of the wind god

Temple of the Wind God

Temple of the Wind God

temple and pyramid

Temple of the Descending God and Castle Pyramid

Temple of the Descending God and the Castle Pyramid.

Oh, I haven’t forgotten Chacchoben (“chak-CHO-ben”). This site was “rediscovered” in 1972, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the Mexican government set to restoring it. Work continued until it was opened to the public in 2002. It’s currently a small site, with only three pyramids restored.  As money and time permit, more will be revealed.

The primary pyramid is the Temple Pyramid.

temple pyramid chacchoben

Temple Pyramid at Chacchoben, Mexico

There is ample evidence of other structures under the jungle overgrowth, as some of these photos show.

temple pyramid

Temple Pyramid, Chacchoben, Mexico

jungle growth chacchoben

Chacchoben Jungle Growth

Up next: Fine dining at sea and on land.

Just Because…

Having updated WordPress to the latest release, I figured it was time to add another “nothing burger” to this site.  Since no one reads it anyway, what the heck?

Lately, I’ve become acutely aware of my obsessive-compulsive nature due to my profligate acquisition of gear.  Last year it was guns, this year guitars.

In the span of a couple of weeks, I’ve purchased two guitars.  Heck, I’ve purchased 12 guitars in the past six months!

The latest, being wrapped and shipped as I write this, is a 2006 Fender Custom Shop Robin Trower Stratocaster, autographed by Trower himself.

Recently, I tripped over a gorgeous 50th anniversary Stratocaster, made in Mexico (MIM).

I had a slight issue with this one.  The bottom E and A strings sounded “overdriven” when I played the instrument, so I took to to Melodee Music in Sterling, Virginia, where Chris, the savvy guitar tech, took a screwdriver and adjusted the neck pickup height.  Told to “plug it in” and see if that fixed it, I there and then fell in love all over again.  Thanks, Chris!

Now my guitar collection numbers 14.  I’m doing my taxes now, and unless I’m overlooked something, I suspect I’ll have a refund sufficient to cover #15.  And a Fender Deluxe Reverb 1968 Re-Issue, as well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Will Never Again Have an Android Device

As a computer professional for the past 35 years, I’ve worked with a number of computers and operating systems.  That I prefer Apple Macintoshes for my personal use does not mean that I find Apple completely flawless.  Still, Apple and its variety of OSes (Mac, iOS, WatchOS, tvOS, etc.) seem to do their work well.  Most of the time.

A few years ago I purchased a Google Nexus 7 tablet.  I did so because I wanted the experience of Android OS.  If I’m going to comment or criticize something, I should at least be familiar with it, no?  So, yes, it was an impulse buy; nothing I needed for work.

But what a disaster it’s been.  Shipping with version 4.3 (Jelly Bean), I have upgraded the Nexus as OS versions and updates were released.  It is currently running 5.1.1 (Lollipop).  And I think the Nexus does not support anything newer, which means I’m stuck in the past, with an unsupported OS just four years after buying.  Contrast that with my Macbook Air, which I bought in 2012, and is humming along on MacOS Sierra (10.12.1), the latest.

I wouldn’t complain about the Nexus being obsolete if it only worked.  But it doesn’t, and that’s the problem.  For the past couple of years I have found that every application and system process freezes, crashes, and renders the device unusable.  I might want to check the weather, and the weather app locks up.  I might want to check my Gmail and the Inbox crashes.  I’ve pretty much decided it’s not usable for anything except playing a game or two.

Strike that.  It doesn’t even play games without crashing.  Candy Crush Soda Saga and Bejeweled Blitz are the only two games that I waste time playing, and even they don’t run well.  Did I say “run?”  When they work (and that’s a big WHEN), they often crawl, become unresponsive, and crash.

I don’t think I got a fluke.  And, since the device is out of warranty and not updateable, about the only future I see for it is as a range target for one day when I want to take my .45 out for some practice.  The mental image of my glass-and-plastic device exploding into shrapnel continues to give me pleasure.

Some day.  And after that day, Android will never exist within my sphere of computerdom.

This Is Fun!

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, although I suspect anyone of any age who engages in guitar playing would agree.  After all, why pursue playing any instrument if it weren’t fun (notwithstanding the parental requirement of having to play)?

For me, I sometimes feel like kicking myself for not expanding my horizons sooner.  By that, I mean when I was deep into playing, I stayed pretty much in the acoustic guitar arena.  Oh sure, I had my (very sweet) 1957 Gibson ES-225, which has a pickup, but I never really plugged it in to a serious amplifier.

Gibson ES225

1957 Gibson ES-225

Yes, I had my little Pignose amp, but that lulled me into thinking what I had was an electric guitar, when in truth what I had was an amplified acoustic-electric.

Then along came idle bachelorhood (again) and inspired by the young people playing guitar during church services, I pulled my instruments out of their cases, took them to a luthier for proper setup, replaced the strings, and started to play.  I added another acoustic because I thought I might have to wait weeks for the setup to be completed.

But then I came across an electric guitar–one might even say the electric guitar of my dreams–and my life changed for the better.  I bought the Eric Clapton artisan model Fender Stratocaster and a Fender Champion 40 amplifier, and I was transported into a new dimension.

Fender Strat EC

Fender Eric Clapton signature model Stratocaster

But that was just the beginning.  The Stratocaster was such a fine instruments, and I found playing an electric guitar so much more different than playing an acoustic, I added another electric to my collection.  This one was the guitar world’s counterpoint to the Fender beast, a Gibson Les Paul.

Oh my, how the guitar world has changed since my days as a teenager.  Back then, your choice in models was limited to a handful.  Now, the choices are country of origin, type and number of pickups, and even the type and quality of the wood used to build the guitar.  Gibson offers the Les Paul in Standard, Custom, Studio, Classic, and more.  Gibson even owns the Epiphone company, which makes their own line of Les Pauls.

I found what I hope/believe is a collector’s item:  A 2015 Gibson Les Paul Classic “Rock II.”  It’s a limited-edition LP with a body that looks like marble instead of wood, hence the “Rock” monicker.

Gibson Les Paul

2015 Gibson Les Paul Classic “Rock II”

Now I was off and running. The other guitar of my youthful dreams was the Fender Telecaster, and lo and behold, I came across a 60th Anniversary mode that just spoke to me.

Fender Telecaster

Fender 60th Anniversary Telecaster

Next up was another Stratocaster. Honestly, I wasn’t looking, but I came across this 40th Anniversary aluminum-bodies Strat, one of only 400 made, and added it to my growing collection.

1994 Fender aluminum Strat

Fender 40th Anniversary (194) Stratocaster w/ Aluminum Body

(I should also add that I bought a Pignose PGG-200 Deluxe travel/practice guitar to allow me to meet my commitment to myself to practice a minimum of 5 minutes a day).

I think I’ve cooled off on the collecting.  I now have an acoustic 12-string, an acoustic (with built-in pickup) 6-string, an acoustic-electric, and four electric guitars plus one electric practice guitar.  Knowing that collecting is a personal thing, I won’t say I’m done, but for the present, I have a wonderful choice of guitars to play when the urge strikes.  And it strikes often!

Four Electric Guitars

The “Electric Company”

A Case of G. A. S.

I’ve become afflicted with a condition known as “Gear Acquisition Syndrome.”  This is a common occurrence, recognized immediately among the guitar (and gun) owning community.

For decades, I was more than satisfied with two guitars: a 1971 Framus 12-string and a 1957 Gibson ES-225.  Now, within the span of a couple of months, my collection has grown to six.

guitar collection

Guitar Collection

From left to right:

The newest addition is the Les Paul.  The guitar I fell in love with the first moment I held and played it is the Stratocaster.  I may look to add a Telecaster as well, and maybe replace the Les Paul with a more traditional model.

“What’s a Pignose?” you may be asking.  Years ago, I bought a shoebox-sized practice amp that was powered by a 9-volt battery and had carrying strap buttons that enabled one to plug in and walk around while playing.  I loved that little amp, and still have it!

pignose amp

Power in a Piggy Pack

 

Note the on/off/volume knob is shaped like a pig’s snout, hence the name.

Well, when I learned Pignose offered a practice guitar with a built-in amp and speaker, I just knew I had to have one. I found several models on Amazon, and went for the Deluxe (which I think differs from other models in that it has a humbucking pickup). I’ve committed to practicing a minimum of five minutes every day, and this guitar has already gone with me on two trips, helping me accomplish my goal. I’m going to put some heavier gauge strings on it though, because I find it goes out of tune too easily.

It’s a good thing I’m single and don’t have a lot of debts.  🙂