Saturday, June 24, 2006

Goodbye Modern World!

I'm leaving for camp soon and I'm about to put my computer away. This is my last post before I go off into the wilderness, and I promise I'll write about what happens out there when I get back.

So I shall bid you all farewell in Arabic: Mah' a' salamey!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Camping: It's in-tents!

Forgive the atrocious pun.

I'm leaving around noon on Saturday on a trip to Colorado. I'm an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 65 of Council Grove, Kan., and we're going for our annual summer camp trip. This year we're going to Peaceful Valley, a fairly-large camping reservation outside Elbert, Colo.

I've been to Peaceful Valley before, it's a swell place in the foothills of the Rockies. Great facilities, solid tents and wonderful weather. It's up rather high so the humidity stays down, so even when it's 100 out it doesn't get to you. Kansans aren't so lucky.

I'm bringing Matilda (the typewriter, remember her?) and I intend to use my time there to add many chapters to the finished file. I really want to finish this work, and get it published. It'd be so awesome to see my name on the spine of a finished tome.

I won't have internet out there, probably not even cellphone reception, and I like that. I need to spend some time disconnected from the net. To unwire, you could say. And I need to, because my photo business is starting to catch on a little too strong lately and I need to get free before it sucks the life out of me. That's why the whole digital kit is staying behind. I am, however, bringing my prized Canon AE-1P along, but with only one lens: my venerable, trustworthy, loveable 5omm 1.8. And no others. We need some quality time, me and my fifty. (Non-SLR shooters won't get what I'm talking about here.)

Speaking of a fifty, I bought a new lens for my digital kit last week, but didn't get to use it until yesterday due to all the moving hubbub. It's a 50mm f1.4, I paid $275 for it, shipped. On my digital it's like a 75mm lens; slightly telephoto. That makes it a killer portraits lens, especially because it's curse-word-inducingly sharp and blows backgrounds of cluttered garbage away into soft, smooth baths of color. (To understand what I'm talking about, read about "Depth-of-Field" in a photography book.) I (heart) this lens.

To prevent confusion, my film and digital kits have different lens mounts, the film kit is entirely manual focus while the digital supports aut0focus. This is because they were made more than two decades apart. I'm only bringing the manual focus camera and lens on the camping trip. They cost less than 1/10th of their corresponding digital gear.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Back in DC, I read the words of an experienced newswriter talking about his favorite kind of story, the kind that people would tell others to read because it's just so enthralling and interesting and downright good that it would be a crime for them to miss it. He called this kind of story a "Bus Nudger" because it would prompt strangers riding on the bus to tell those sitting next to them to read the story.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you a fine example of a bus nudger.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A crazy little week

Just as I thought it was going all right,
I find out I'm wrong, when I thought I was right.
It's always the same, it's just a shame, that's all.

A week ago today, I visited a girl with whom I believed I was developing a relationship. I'd thought she wanted me to be more affectionate and romantic to her, so I tried to be. She didn't want it at all, and now she's only interested in being friends when she had previously talked about some thing more in the future.

Maybe. Kind of. It's all one continuous bath of grey to me anymore. The bottom line is this: we're not really going to be together any more from now on. I'm over it.

Then I got one hell of a shocker on Tuesday. The relatives I was staying with in Manhattan told me they wanted me to move out. Right away. Two months earlier they'd asked me to stay another year, but things change. I don't want to talk about them anymore.

I was on the road to Topeka at the time, but turned around because it seemed foolish to do shopping when I had an imminent relocation to deal with. Luckily, the constant moving I went through in the past two years gave me a nomadic mentality and within a few hours had checked out one potential place to stay packed my car as full as I could with my things.

The place I looked at is at the corner of Laramie and 17th Street in Manhattan. It's a single room in the home of this friendly retired couple who rent 3-5 of them out every school year. It's $275 a month, utilities paid.

My parents were happy to take me in, my mom had quite the list of chores in her head when I got home with my first load Tuesday. 48 hours after I left Manhattan that evening I had already emptied my room and put a deposit down on the room. There is no kitchen, but I can have a dorm fridge and a small microwave to use in my room. I'm cool with that. I'm taking six classes this fall, along with being Public Editor, so I doubt I really need anything more than a simple room where I can eat the occasional simple meal. The funny thing is, it's nextdoor to the apartment building in which I lived two years ago.

One of those chores my mom had was done tonight: We disassembled the old family swingset in our yard. I helped my father put that thing together years ago. It had since rusted and broken in many places, and it was unsafe for children. So Drew and I took it apart and loaded the pieces in our father's truck to go to the dump. We celebrated the end of father's day with a game of kickball in our backyard, with the diamond larger than before since the swingset was no more.

Drew and I went together on our dad's Father's Day gift: a big bottle of one of his favorite whiskeys. I lbelieve being 21 makes shopping for dads so much easier.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Pardon my dust...

I'm on a bit of a mission this summer: I want to be a new person when classes resume this fall.

I've altered my diet (no soda, no deep-fried foods, no ice cream, no pizza, and generally less of everything) and started excercising regularly. After a few weeks, I'm liking it.

I tried a can of soda one week ago to see what it was like after two weeks abstinence. I couldn't finish it, it was nasty. I used to have up to two, sometimes three, bottles of that crap every day and I liked it, but after keeping away from it for long enough my sense of taste has reset itself.

Now that my taste buds aren't being maxed out on Pepsi and Mountain Dew every day, everything else tastes better. Sandwiches. Fruit. Even Tap Water. They all seem to have finally shown their hidden flavors I'd been missing thanks to that carbonated garbage. I may never consume the stuff on a regular basis, and I like that. It feels like having one less thing have control over my decisions.

There are other changes I'm bringing into my life. I bought a pair of hiking boots a few weeks ago, and I intend to use them to go hike some pastures around here. They're owned by a farmer who wants photos of his land, and I figure it'll be a chance to have some real solitude and practice my craft. For now, my feet bear the marks that come from breaking in a pair of new leather boots.

I'm tempted to liken it to taming a wild animal. You have this creature that has never known human touch but must become used to it on a permanent basis. The blisters and callouses are the marks of the fight.

It has been harder on my left foot than my right, though. I recently discovered that my right foot has a taller arch than my left and thus it is half an inch shorter. It scared the hell out of me when I noticed that, but it certainly explained the nasty broken blister on the back of my left heel. I'm thinking of taking it to a shoe shop in Aggieville where they can stretch shoes. Might get just enough to make it fit perfectly. Then no hill shall stop me.

I've also purchased a new hiking backpack and some water bottles, thanks to a gift certificate to the Pathfinder I got for my birthday. I can carry enough water, film, and gear in there to last me a whole day in the field.

Work on the novel will continue this week now that I've finished my summer course, MC 510: Germany and the Cinema of War. I have no idea when I'll get my grade. I plan on filling the time between work on chapters with excercise and such. Also, stories for the Collegian and photography. On that note, I made an order this morning for 1,000 new business cards since I'd run out of the ones I've had since last year.

I want to do a lot more bike riding now as well. I have a bike, but it's always been a piece of junk. The seat is ripped, the tires, tubes, brakes and handles need replaced, and the gears are cheap. I could fix it up, but I imagine it'll only be as bad as when I first had it, which wasn't that good. So I'm thinking of buying a new one. Wal-Mart has some decent ones for $100-$140 I'm thinking about, so we'll see.

Monday, June 05, 2006

CAS rears its ugly head...

I've been reading a lot of used equipment listings looking for used equipment in good condition that I could use to bolster my gear and be better prepared for my next job. I've been looking at all sorts of things and I've gotten some ideas on what I want to buy.

Highest priority: Flash Bracket.
This bit of gear allows me to rotate either my lens or flash to keep it directly over the lens with a bit extra height to improve lighting and to keep shadows behind people and out of sight. Shadows to the right or left of people look nasty, and I need to eliminate them, so I'll have to spend about $100-$250 in this department for the bracket and cord.

Just below that: Second digital body, 24-70mm 2.8L and backup flash.
No one should ever professionally shoot a wedding with a single camera. You simply must have a backup. I've been Ok because my 20D is extremely reliable and I have my old film kit which I keep at the wedding with many rolls of film, ready to go.

But the fact remains I need a second digital body, and for that I'm looking to get a Canon Digital Rebel XT, which is slightly smaller physically than my 20D and gets a little bit less frames per second and doesn't go to as high of a "film" speed, but would work perfectly as my backup plan. I will, however, still keep my film kit because the only thing better than a backup plan is two backup plans. I could get a good used one, with additional vertical grip and batteries, for <$600.

The 24-70 (linked in earlier post) would fill the focal length gap that exists between my 70-200 and my 17-35. I've missed a few important shots and done less as good as I could have in the past because I was either too wide or too tight, and this sucker would fill that gap. Even more, with two digital bodies I could walk around with two working cameras at parties, switching as needed. It would be badass. I could get a good used one for about $900.

For the backup flash, I'll probably get a Canon 420EX, a recently-discontinued flash that works well with digital and can also work as a wireless slave controlled by the 580EX flash I already own. It should cost me less than $150.

And then there are some of the things I've been dreaming about: On-site printing, a supertelephoto, and STROBES!
To do on-site printing, I'd need to buy this $425 Canon monstrosity that uses eight ink tanks which cost $11 each to replace, or $85 as a set. On the upside, i could sell 13x19 posters at tournaments and such for about $35 a pop (the average going rate.) Considering the paper and extra ink I'd need, it'd be a $700 initial investment.

I also still want a really long lens, either a 300mm or 400mm 2.8L. These cost thousands of dollars. As in $7,000 for the 400 brand new.

Finally, I've been looking at Alien Bees strobes for a new portable lighting source for portraits or even lighting indoor sporting events. This would require anywhere between $400 and $2,000 depending on just how much stuff I'd buy. Probably this one to start with, and they do give a 10 percent student discount.

I've been learning a lot about gear resale value, and one thing is clear: invest in glass, expense on bodies and flashes. Lenses keep most of their value after even years of use, usually keeping 80 t0 90 percent of it. Bodies, flashes and other more disposable things can lose 40 percent of their value in a year, easily. I bought my Canon 20d for $1,500 brand new just under a year ago now (anniversary coming up the 16th). Today it would likely only fetch $800 or so.

A toast to capitalism.

I got some good news today: Sony is going to be announcing their new line of digital SLRS.

They've got a new body and several new lenses, the most interesting of which, to me, is their 300mm 2.8 telephoto. There are no confirmed prices yet, but I don't care so much about what they're charging, just that they're selling these products.

I'm not going to be buying any of their stuff, I just hope this gives Canon enough cause to drop their prices on some of their lenses so I can afford them. Right now there are two big-time Japanese Camera Companies, Canon and Nikon. Minolta used to be big too, but they didn't adapt quickly enough to the digital age and were left behind Sony bought Konica Minolta's camera line earlier this year (they'd merged, if memory serves, in 2003).

But now Sony is looking for a piece of the pie, so Canon and Nikon will have a third camera line to compete with. Competition fosters better products at lower prices, and the consumer (read: me) winds up winning.

I would like to buy a Canon 300mm 2.8L IS USM and a 24-70 2.8L USM to improve my kit, but they aren't cheap. Hopefully this news will get Canon to offer me a better deal.

Cheers to you Sony, I hope you sell tons of your cameras. Just not to me.