Thursday, January 31, 2008

We've Been Simpsonized

Tanya and I have Simpsonized ourselves. What do you think? :-)

The Simpsonize Me website has been out a while, so we're a little late getting to this. But it's quite fun. I guess we need to do Henry now :-)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Week 4, ‘08

January 29nd, 2008
Summary of Miles Walked:
- This Week: 21.2
- Since Jan. 1: 75.8
- Since Nov. 26, 2007: 176

The notable news from this past week is that I walked in a 25K race (The 25K Endurathon in Bulverde, north of San Antonio). I actually did about 27K due to a wrong turn, but I'll get to that in a minute. Tanya competed too, but she ran. She did quite well, I thought considering her bad knee pain, finishing in 155 minutes (exactly 10 minute miles).

The course was great! The hills hurt... a lot (I'm from Houston and we don't have those strange, inclined surfaces :-) The scenery was pretty (can't beat the hill country). The post-race food and drink was awesome. Breakfast tacos and beer never tasted so damn good!!!

But here's a little advice for anyone who is thinking about doing this race for the first time as a walker (note that this was me last Saturday - yes, I was the large, sweaty man in a maroon shirt and white cap):

1. Despite the race info packet and the website stating that they encourage walkers to start an hour early, expect that no one will know what you're talking about when you show up 10 - 15 mintues before the early start and ask where the walkers go to start. You'll get some confused looks. Just find the head race coordinator.

2. Because you'll be starting ~1 hr early, expect that no one out on the course (manned aid stations) will be expecting you, and will ask you what the hell you're doing. Don't stop for questioning, just keep going. Also, there will be no police stationed on the course until after the official race start time.

3. The mile markers and U-turns are marked with nice, professionally printed signs that include the race sponsor's logo. Everything else is marked with white flour poured on the road surface. No, that is not a joke. Is it suspicious white powder left by terrorists? No! It's a race course. (If you're not familiar with what white flour poured in the shape of an arrow looks like, it's suspiciously similar to the white spray-painted arrows left by the GVTC utility company close by.)

4. Take a map with you. Take a cell phone with you. Take some patience and some Motrin.

Many, MANY, thanks to the two guys who pulled over and informed me that I was about 1.5 miles off course and then gave me a lift back to the wrong turn that I'd made. Turns out they were runners (due to start the official race in roughly 30 minutes) that were driving the course first to check things out. They'd missed the turn as well!

And, to set the record straight, I added 1.4 miles to my "personalized" course, thus bringing my total mileage to 16.9 miles. According to my trusty iPod clock, I accomplished this mis-feat in 229 mintues. That's 13.6 minute-miles. My shins, hamstrings, and butt are thanking me for it right now ;-)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mesquite Sunset

Here's a photo from last month. I shot this in the Mesquite Thicket Valley on the ranch where I hunt. As the name implies, the valley is full of Mesquite trees. Some are large and knarled with age.

Shooting in this valley is a challenge because of the clutter and difficulty of travel. It's ripe with thick bunches of whitebrush and catclaw. Hidden within the tangles of spiney, thorny bushes are many types of cactus. To make things even worse, thick grass covers the ground. And, just when it couldn't get anymore difficult to walk, the ground is littered with ankle-twisting rocks that usually hide under the rough flora.

Just before sunset that evening, I noticed the clouds had a lot of potential, and I started to visualize a tree that mimicked the cloud pattern. I stomped and ripped myself through the wild tangles trying to find the right Mesquite tree to fulfill my vision.

As the sun dipped below the horizon and the colors peaked in intensity, I found this tree and quickly set up for a photograph. I worked through several positions and slightly different compositions. The one that looked best to me was a superposition of the tree over the sunset.

Week 3, '08

Summary of Miles Walked:
- This Week:  19.6
- Since Jan. 1:  54.6
- Since Nov. 26, 2007:  155

I've gone 54.6 miles in three weeks. In keeping with my goal (1000 miles in 2008), I should be averaging about 20 miles per week. So, I'm a little behind with a 5.4 mile deficit (averaging 18.2 miles per week). I could have made that up last night, but it was raining :-)

Tanya and I will be running and walking, repsectively, in a 25k (15.5 miles) this weekend.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Backyard Photography

A couple of weekends ago, I smoked a few links of smoked venison sausage on the back porch. Yep, that's right - double smoked sausage :-) It's pretty damn good!

I decided to break out the camera and shoot in the backyard. Usually this type of shoot results in macro shots of little flowers or insects. Or I take to shooting my son... with the camera. Although some of his performances this past week could have warranted shooting with something else. I never thought I'd be calling my own kid a brat, but he's quickly learning how to push our buttons.

So this is what I found that looked beautiful and interested me in my own backyard. Clouds, palm trees, and sausage. Damn it was good! :-)

Beer Review, Jan. '08

I'm behind on my beer posts, but not to worry, I've been drinking plenty :-) Just ask my waistline. First up is a set of drinkin' beers (i.e. beer you typically buy in a 6-pack). I know, that sounds kinda silly, but there are the "special" beers - beer that usually costs around $10 and comes in a 1-liter bottle.

(click on photos for larger pic)
Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat is a delightful beer. My wife even likes it. It's smooth, refreshing, and done just right. Don't be afraid of this one being a sweet "girlie" beer (like so many flavored beers are) or a regular beer with some nasty fruit syrup poured into it. The Cherry Wheat is not. It's a full-flavored (but not too strong) wheat beer with an absolutely perfect "hint" of cherry. Damn good. It's smooth - almost a creamy smoothness - but still has a little bit of crispness. It's just a damn fine balance of goodness.

Paulaner Oktoberfest. I'm a big fan of the "liquid bread" type beers, usually double or triple Belgian Abby Ales. The Oktoberfest carries a lot of similarities but is slightly lighter and toned-down. It's definitely full flavored. It's so tasty that it's hard to put down after the first sip.

Paulaner Salvator (not pictured). This double bock comes from the same brewery as the Oktoberfest. Like the Octoberfest, the Salvator is a fine beer. This one is definitely a "liquid bread", it's just as full flavored and strong. It's slightly sweet, but not too much. It goes down smooth and the aftertaste is lovely. It's much better than the Samuel Adams double bock - a beer that I find too bitter.

Affligem Tripel. This one was a just-slightly less than full flavored "liquid bread". It has a stronger bitter/sour-ish flavor, very much like The Reverend (Avery Brewing Co.). Can't say that I'd buy this one again, but it wasn't bad at $6-something for a liter.

Erdinger Hefe-Weizen Dark. I made the mistake of drinking this one for dessert on Saturday, and dessert came after a few beers, wine, and a large meal. So, my taste buds were a little overworked by the time they swam in this brew. It was good, and had a nice, rich taste. Sort of a chocolaty-burned-smokey flavor floating around in it. Might have to give this another try when my mouth isn't so confused.

You may have noticed the slightly industrial setting of these photos. That's because I was working on a little project in the garage whilst I was drinking beer. Drinking and power tools, you ask? You got it. It's nice to work with my hands and sip on a little beer in the afternoon :-)

If you've never tried a pure Cabernet Franc wine, you should (yes, I just had to throw in some wine in the beer post :-) ). This one was quite nice. It had a full bodied taste and one little sip filled my head with a nice aroma. There's a touch of dryness that seems just right - you won't be enjoying this in big gulps. As the label states, "ripe black fruit with a mentholy edge". I don't recall what the back label on the bottle stated, except that it was from the south of France. This one is definitely worth buying again, and again.

Astrophotography - 2nd Try at Mars

Just another set using the 40D with a 400mm and two 1.4x teleconverters. The first moon shot was taken on the afternoon of a particularly clear and cool day. The photo of the dot is Mars and is my second attempt. I didn't blow out (overexpose) the disk of Mars, but it's still a little too fuzzy to make out much detail other than its slightly reddish hue (it's a 100% crop).

(click for larger image, except for the Mars photo)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

'08 Week 2

Walking Log, Week 2 (Jan. 8 - 14)
Miles Walked: 23.9

Miles Walked in 2008: 35.0
Miles Walked Since Nov. 27, 2007: 135

Weight: Unknown (I'm giving it a while.... I know I haven't lost any to post a decent loss here. Too much sausage and beer this past weekend :-) )

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Look out, people!

I just don't understand why or how some people drive through my neighborhood with seemingly total disregard for pedestrians. I've seen it many times during my travels on foot - a car comes blasting up to an intersection, intent on running the stop sign, only to slam on the brakes at the last possible second because the driver just noticed a person on foot or bicycle right in front of them.

Just last night I was out on a 4-miler, cruising along, listening to some bitchin' tunes on my ipod, when some truck comes racing up to the stop sign of the intersection I was walking across. He sees me, slams on the brakes, and comes to a screeching stop in front of me (no, not me in front of him, but him in front of me). If I had not stopped, then I'd would have walked in front of him and been hit.

It's just a matter of time before I make someone a 250-pound hood ornament. I just can't wait to see their eyeballs staring at me, the large mass on their hood, in disbelief and shock. I don't know what I'll say to them. Well, obviously something like, "call a damn ambulance, you moron", but after that?

I got news for you speeders and stop-sign runners, if you don't kill me with your car (and provided I'm not suffering from a punctured lung or compound leg fracture) you will have to deal with me in a very pissed off state.

Just ask the guy in the silver colored luxury car that hit me some years ago. He went home with a brand new palm-sized dent in his hood ;-) Along with the hood-crater, I gave him "the look".

"The look" is the "I'm going to rip off your left arm and shove it down your pie-hole" stare. Coming from a 6'-3" man weighing 250 pounds and covered in sweat, "the look" is quite effective. That dude must have shot a load of dung in his pants because he made no effort to get out of his car. He just sat still with the "I'm in deep doo-doo, and I'm fixing to get dismembered" look.

Pleasant thoughts, and happy walking... :-)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

'08 Week 1

This is a re-start to my walking count. Again, my goal for this year is to walk 1000 miles.

Week 1: Jan. 1 - 7
Miles Walked: 11.2 (988.8 to go!)

This was a slow week for me. Although I did 5 miles last night in 65 minutes (13.0 minute-miles)! That's the fastest I've ever walked for that distance. Interestingly, in the past 6 weeks, I've walked 111 miles!

I've not measured my weight or waist lately, so no report. I've not lost anything since New Year's, especially because of the massive food and beer intake :-)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Portraits from the Backyard

My wife commented here on my blog that I don't have enough content of the family. Seems I'm more absorbed with beer, cameras, and walking. Well, I can't let it be known that I'm NOT a family man.

Perhaps I should post some realistic photos of our lives instead of portraits from the backyard. But no one wants to see an overflowing poopy-diaper, or me on a weekend with a grumpy, unshaven face and wrinkled clothes.

Anyway, here are a few photos from our backyard taken last October. They were made with a Canon 1ds Mark II and a Canon 24mm f/1.4L lens, shot handheld at ISO 400 and f/2.0 in the early evening shade with no flash. I borrowed this camera and lens combo for that weekend and had a good time with it :-)

Below is our late dog, Ginger. She died suddenly from cancer two days before Christmas last year, r.i.p. The photo is quite fitting. She was always gentle, kind, and loved to be silently right in the center of the family.

We'll miss her greatly. She was a very good dog and companion. She was a true friend to us all.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Little Astrophotography

I spent about an hour and a half last night in my frigid backyard attempting to see and photograph some of the astronomical events going on: the Quadrantid meteor shower and comet 8P/Tuttle. Despite the some of the clearest skies we've had in Houston in a while, I saw neither.

Along with feeling cold I also felt like a perv. I was half afraid that one of my neighbors would see me out there with my cameras and think I was attempting to photograph them through their second story windows. Worse yet, I was afraid the older, overweight lady next door would turn exhibitionist on me and show me something I'd regret seeing. Maybe my imagination is just too active.

The shot of Mars is a 100% crop, and was taken with a Canon 40D. I stacked two 1.4x t.c.'s onto my 400mm f/5.6 lens. The exposure was 1/60 sec. using ISO 1600 (and with the special high-ISO noise reduction turned on). The disk of Mars is blown out, and I was quite surprised to see that. I'll have to try again with a faster shutter speed. You can see a bit of red/magenta chromatic aberration on the lower edge of the bright disk. I used the Live View feature of the 40D to focus. When zoomed in at 10x, it's quite easy to see the target and fine-tune the focus.

The other two shots were taken with a Canon 5D and a 17-40mm lens. The shots were both at 17mm, f/4, ISO 800, and 15 sec. Yes, it's really that light in Houston, even with mostly clear skies. I pointed the camera ENE and repeated several long exposures, hoping to catch a streaking meteor or two. I only caught planes streaking across the sky.

I was disappointed not to see the comet. I just couldn't find it in the sky with camera or binoculars. I guess there was too much light pollution. I did manage to photograph the 17P/Holmes comet last November when I was up in the Texas hill country:

Things that People Say

Here's a run-down of the common things I hear from people when they view my photos. They are followed with my thoughts.

Now, please understand that I understand why and where these comments come from. My thoughts are meant just to be humerous. The irony is that I'd be making comments just like these if I did not have the photography experience that I have :-)

You must have a really nice camera.
(Hell, you should see my stove. It makes some damn good food!)

You have a really good eye.
(No, I have two semi-good eyes. I passed my last eye exam with corrective lenses.)

You should sell your photos.
(Where, Wal-Mart? The world is inundated with billions photos from millions of camera-toting amatuers. Chances are that any images I submit to publication x won't even be looked at by human eyes. And when was the last time you went out and bought a landscape or nature photo? I mean a nice, large print in a nice frame to hang on your wall. Yeah, no is the answer. Think about it...)

Are you a professional?
(Yes. There, I said it. No, I don't earn a living from photography. But I think I'm to a point where my photos are on a level that most people categorize as averagely pro.)

How much did that camera cost?
(What does that have to do with anything? None of your f'n business. What'd your boob job cost?)

Can you shoot my friend's wedding?
(Oh, the agony. Freakin' hell NO. If you really knew what wedding photogs go through, you'd think cleaning gas station restrooms was a fun job. If your friend wants decent photos of her wedding, then she'll have to pay for a good photog. Quadruple digits, people.)

Wow, that lens is huge! You must be compensating for something.
(Um, no. The lens is huge because that's what it takes to do the job. It's a tool, not a play toy. It's a working piece of equipment that gets hauled out into the field and subjected to heat, cold, rain, my dripping sweat, dirt, and hard knocks. It is not a status symbol nor an object to collect dust and hold down papers on my desk.)

What kinda camera is that?
(It's a digital single lens reflex optical-electric device with a lithium-ion battery, bayer pattern sensor, 9 contrast-based focus sensors, bayonet-style lens mount, magnesium chassis, and a smokin' data processing engine that can put 10 - 20 megabytes of photos onto the memory card within a few seconds. Whew, wait, there's more... Basically, it's just a black box that makes clicky sounds and records images.)

Wow, one day I gotta get me a nice camera like that.
(Yessir, you got it. And THEN you'll take amazing professional-quality photos worthy of the cover of National Geographic. Having a "nice" camera will also qualify you to shoot people's weddings and charge 100's of dollars. And you'll most definitely impress all the parents when you lug the big zoom to your kid's soccer game - or they'll think you're a perv. and ask you to leave.)

Awesome photo! You have a great camera.
(Thanks! Yeh, it's freakin' sweet. I just lug the thing out there and press a button. Easy as pie. It apparently has nothing to do with the years of shooting experience I have, or the books/magazines/articles that I read and study regularly, or the classes, workshops, discussions, etc. that I've been through. Seriously, aside from the experience I have, the photo you're seeing probably is a result of taking time off work, packing many pounds of expensive equipment to a remote location, sweating/freezing/banging/hurting/etc. my balls off getting to location X, taking thousands of photos, missing breakfast or dinner, neglecting or pissing off my friends or family because of being where I need to be at the right time, sifting through the thousands of photos I took, editing them, making test prints, and having a computer and software that's up to date and capable of handing all the processing.)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Two Landscapes for Practice

A few weeks ago I was hunting out in the Texas hill country and experienced a clearning storm during sunrise. It was cold (nearly freezing) and the wind was blowing hard. But the light and clouds inspired me so much that I just had to take a few photos.

Now these are not my best work, nor are they interesting landscapes. But it was practice. I went through the motions of scouting around for a composition that best captured the glory of that morning (it had been cold, rainy, and gray for several days prior, and the break in the bad weather and return of the sun was elating). I set my camera and tripod up, repositioned over and over as I found new compositions, and shot many images.

I felt rusty and out of touch with the camera and the whole shooting process. I fumbled with things stubbornly until I was properly set up and clicking the shutter. The process smoothed out just as the sweet light ended and it was time to leave.

So my point is this: I need more practice! This isn't a revelation for me but merely an observation. Something I need to work on...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hello 2008

Screw the new year's resolutions, I have "goals" for this year:

1 Walk 1000 miles. Yep, that's right. 12 months, 1000 miles, and my two feet (and possibly several pairs of shoes). I just finished walking almost 100 miles in 5 weeks, so if I keep up that pace, I'll accomplish this goal.

2 Get published. Magazine, newspaper, website, whatever. I want to get at least one of my photos published. This will require a lot of work on my part. Many publications take submissions, and each one has their own unique requirements. For all of you that have seen my photos and told me, "this should be in a calender/magazine/book", wish me luck!

3 Go to Big Bend. Work on my photo project. This is an easy goal as you don't have to twist my arm at all to get me to go :-) With a little luck, I'll go twice this year.

4 Attend a photo workshop. I'm already signed up for a week-long photography workshop in Death Valley National Park in February this year. I'm really looking forward to it.

Bye Bye 2007

Boy am I glad 2007 is over. What a year! There were tremendous highs and tremendous lows. We lost a dear friend and also a beloved pet. Work was hard (spent 80 days away from home). Had a vactaion cancelled at the last minute because of flooding.

I guess I could easily dwell on the negative, I have that tendancy. I must remember the good times and the special events that we enjoyed. There were some pretty good things that happened. Any year that presented this amazing scene to me can't be all that bad :-)