Sunday, December 30, 2012

Farscape: Back And Back And Back to the Future

Farscape episode 5 Back And Back And Back to the Future
My Farscape rewatch continues (after a bit of a break through December) with "Back And Back And Back to the Future." The fifth episode produced, this is the first one filmed in the "American style" as opposed to the "Australian style" for series, in that all the production effort focused on the single episode as opposed to the filming of two simultaneously. I'm not certain there is any difference apparent to the casual viewer, but to me,it seems as if character development takes a strong step up to the forefront of the show.

The episode opens, as they often do, with an alien space craft disintegrating amidst a strange green cloud. The crew of Moya rescue two survivors in a shuttle--Ilanics, a race that is a genetic offshoot of Luxans. D'Argo immediately feels kinship to them, and pledges to help the elderly male, Verell, and his female companion, Matala. Crichton, checking the shuttle for any other survivors, gets zapped by strange green glowing energy and begins to experience strange time-loops, like deja vu set to stutter. D'Argo is hot to trot for Matala, not having enjoyed female companionship for many years, and gets all esprit de corps when he learns the Ilanics and Luxans are at war with an invading race known as Scorvians. Crichton's flash-forwards grow progressively more disturbing, starting with Matala sexually assaulting him and culminating with her killing pretty much everyone on board Moya, Crichton included. His attempt to discuss the situation with D'Argo only generates hostility and jealousy from the Luxan, while Zhaan and Aeryn are skeptical. Aeryn, though, doesn't like Matala and invites her to a "friendly" martial arts sparring match. Aeryn essentially kicks Matala's butt, to the point Matala responds with a scorpion-like hand-strike that leaves Aeryn paralyzed in the workout room. When Aeryn recovers, she finds Crichton and Zhaan in conversation--one Crichton experiences over and over. Aeryn reveals Matala is a Scorvian in disguise, exposed by her distinctive hand-strike. Crichton finally convinces them of the accuracy of his future flashes by finishing their sentences before them and generally predicting everything that happens moments before it does. They uncover that Verell is a weapons expert, and has harnessed a singularity to use as a weapon against the Scorvians--and Matala is a Scorvian spy intent on stealing it.

Most future courses of action result in the deaths of Moya's crew, or even the destruction of Moya by the captive black hole weapon aboard the shuttle. As a Scorvian ship approaches to collect the weapon, Crichton has a flash-forward in which he overhears D'Argo telling Matala he has not revealed to his companions on Moya the true crime for what he was initially imprisoned by the Peacekeepers for. Once back in the present, Crichton confronts D'Argo with this information--which D'Argo has revealed to nobody at this point--proving his time-jump story. Reluctantly, D'Argo joins Crichton in confronting Matala, who stabs Verell and flees D'Argo and Crichton. She gets into the shuttle and flees to the approaching Scorvian ship, but Verell, in his last, dying act, remotely triggers the singularity which consumes both the shuttle and Scorvian ship. Moya escapes via starburst.

Commentary: This is an interesting episode in many ways. As I mentioned above, character takes center stage more than it has in previous episodes. D'Argo, apart from the arrogant bluster, is shown as vulnerable and isolated. His character deepens considerably, although his true crime is not revealed. The fact that he has a secret burden is fascinating. He also develops an unwilling bond with Crichton, since Crichton was astute enough not to "out" D'Argo's secret with any other crew around to witness, thus preserving a portion of D'Argo's private dignity. The appearance of the Ilanics further defines the broad universe of Farscape, laying out alliances and a sprawling interrelated universe of widely- and closely-related species. And while the Moya crew is just as dysfunctional as ever, the classic Jim Henson theme of "family is what you make it" shows up pretty overtly here for the first time. D'Argo is quick to abandon, or at least sideline, his crewmates on Moya for a race that is historically and genetically closely allied with his own. But this alliance of blood turns on him and leaves him vulnerable--it is the uneasy friendships he has forged on Moya (namely Crichton, but also Zhaan and Aeryn) who really have his back when the chips fall. Also, Crichton unambiguously takes command of the situation for the first time.

Quote of the Episode:: D'Argo: "Crichton, I am normally unaffected by females during a crisis... it is just... it has been so long..."
Crichton: "Now that, I understand. Man, do I understand."

Now Playing: Amy Winehouse Lioness: Hidden Treasures
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Night Videos: Chicken Ranch edition

Last week I reported that Larry L. King had passed away, the legendary Texas writer who penned the Playboy article that later became the Broadway hit, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In one of those sad cosmic coincidences, Charles Durning, who portrayed the sidestepping Texas governor in the film version of the Broadway musical, died this past week at the age of 89.

Durning's career is too vast and varied to go into here, and his life outside of acting is fascinating, indeed. But in getting back to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, I feel compelled to point out that Durning, performing the scathingly funny political satire "The Sidestep" in the august halls of the state capitol building, provided one of the few bright moments in an otherwise disappointing film. For anyone who has seen the live play, the reason is obvious--"The Sidestep" is one of the few elements of the musical that the filmmakers didn't dramatically alter in some fashion. Apart from the changing locations and special effects, what you see on the screen is pretty close to what you'd see on stage. That's pretty telling.

And yes, I like to think that somewhere, Durning is giving Dolph Briscoe pointers on a few dance moves while Larry King and Edna Milton watch with amusement.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Eartha Kitt.

Now Playing: Amy Winehouse Back to Black
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chicken Ranch report no. 31

Larry L. King photo by Bill Wittliff
This post is coming several days late, but the kids are out of school for the holidays and I'm riding herd on a bunch of things. Not least of which is a two-day cleanout of my office, during which most of the time I couldn't reach my computer. That's my excuse.

Larry L. King has died. The Washington Post, as always, has a well-done obituary up. Matt Schudel, the author of the piece, is the same journalist who wrote up Miss Edna when she passed away in February--the same fellow I spent several hours on the phone with, exchanging many emails on the topic. This is fitting, as King called the D.C. area home for pretty much the past 40 years even though he's always been the iconic Texas writer.

If it weren't for Larry L. King, it's doubtful I'd have written my Chicken Ranch book at all. Hell, it's likely nobody would remember the Chicken Ranch today, other than old timers and Aggies. Back in those dusty August days of 1973 in the aftermath of Marvin Zindler's closure of the La Grange brothel, King came down to Texas to do a little hell-raising in Austin and pounded out a quick article for Playboy with the fanciful title of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." Fast forward a couple of years, when actor/director Pete Masterson and songwriter Carol Hall decided the "Whorehouse" article would make a good basis for a musical comedy, and brought King on board. Despite clashing egos and visions, the unlikely play picked up steam and became a Broadway hit, earning a couple of Tony Awards before spawning a somewhat bastardized movie starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.

The upshot is that everyone knows about the Chicken Ranch these days, even if nobody knows what actually happened for true in La Grange back in 1973.

Sadly, I never got to interview King for my book. This wasn't for lack of trying. He's one of the first people I approached on the subject, and before all was said and done, I'd probably mailed a dozen letters to him (I had his phone number, but chose not to intrude on him so directly). King, you see, had been in failing health for a number of years, and spent part of 2007 in a coma after one particularly nasty illness. The good folks at the Wittliff Collection at Texas State (which archives King's papers) were great help to me, and gave me access to his relevant letters and writings. Also, King's book on the play and history surrounding it, The Whorehouse Papers, proved invaluable. I eventually talked with his collaborators, Pete Masterson and Carol Hall, but never King himself.

It's a pity. I'm certain King would've given me some of the great quotes for which he's notorious. Once King, Masterson and the rest of the creative talents behind the Broadway hit were forced out of the film production, King unloaded during an interview with Maxine Cheshire for the Washington Post:

“I think Burt Reynolds wants to make Smokey and the Bandit Go to a Whorehouse," groused King. "Apparently, they don't intend to follow our script at all and Dolly's said to be writing her own songs. I see only a tenuous connection between Whorehouse as we did it and the mess they're concocting in Hollywood. I doubt whether I'll even go to see the film version of the son of a bitch, though I may send my lawyer so she can take my name off if it's as bad as its potential."

"Will Dolly wear her outlandish wigs?" Maxine asked.

"I suppose she will," said King, "and probably Burt will wear his, too. I understand they're both bald.”
For the record, King was not invited to the movie's red-carpet premiere. Big surprise that, eh?

As for me, there is little to report on the book front. The current publisher has informed me that they remain interested, but (there's always that "but," isn't there?) they are not willing to make me an offer now. They might in the future, or they might not. They're not rejecting my book, they're just putting me in limbo. Which is not my ideal situation going into the new year, now, is it? The good news, if you can call it that, is that they've told me I can shop the book around while they dither. Since Random House and every other big publisher these days don't accept unagented submissions, it's back to the agent-go-round for me. I wasted a significant portion of 2011 shopping the book around to pretty much every competent non-fiction agent out there with nothing to show for it. It is baffling to me how hard a sell this book has proven--nobody seems to recognize the interest in the Chicken Ranch that exists. I certainly know, because I see the traffic on my stat counter and get the random emails and comments on my blog. But August 2013 is going to roll around and every newspaper and TV station in the state is going to run stories on Marvin Zindler and the closing of the Chicken Ranch, and a golden opportunity for promotion will come and go, unexploited. Heck, put me in the MSC bookstore at Texas A&M on a football Saturday, and I guarantee I could move 500 copies of the book on the spot. Seriously.

This is a book that will sell itself, and never go out of print. If I can just convince someone to publish the damn thing in the first place.

Now Playing: Original Broadway Cast The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Night Videos

Here's the late, great, Eartha Kitt with her signature holiday staple, "Santa Baby". I couldn't find an original-era performance of this song, but she still rocks it pretty hard in her golden years. Besides, when she intros it with "I used to have a lot of fun with this song... then Madonna sang it," how can you not love her?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Kinks.

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Night Videos

I maintain that the Kinks' "Father Christmas" is one of the best holiday songs ever. Certainly tops in the rock era. So here are Ray, Dave and the rest of the boys performing on a German television show for your entertainment. Poor Mick. I wonder what kind of bet he lost to have to wear the Santa suit?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Beach Boys.

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

365 / 40: Sting

So, remember how I mentioned in yesterday's photo that I'm a huge fan of passion flowers/passion vines/passion fruit? Well, one aspect of growing passiflora is the fact that several species of butterfly lay their eggs on it, and their larvae eat the passion vines as their only food source. Passiflora generate a natural form of cyanide in their foliage as a protection against being eaten, but these caterpillars have evolved to absorb that poison and use it as a defense mechanism to prevent them from being eaten. They've got little black spines all over their orange bodies to drive the point home. Normally, they're harmless. Just brushing or touching one isn't harmful (unlike bushing an asp/puss caterpillar, which is excruciating). However, if you happen to bump into a fritillary caterpillar with any force, and those spines are actually jammed into the skin, well, the effect is not pleasant. This is my leg today, after an encounter with a caterpillar two days ago. You can still make out the puncture marks where the individual spines impaled me. So let me serve as a lesson to you: Don't try this at home!

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Gulf fritillary sting.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
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365 / 39: Late-Season Passion

Yesterday, after sorting through the issues surrounding my eldest daughter beating up a misogynistic boy (see previous 365 post by Lisa) I went outside to bring in several passion flower vines. Passion flowers are something of a hobby of mine, and most around the Blaschke house are native or hardy species that live in-ground throughout the year. But I have several that are cold-sensitive. Two are passiflora edulis the tropical species grown commercially that passion fruit juice and fresh passion fruit come from. They'd grown up into a large pomegranate bush on the side of our house, and I had to prune the passis back to get them untangled. As I was doing this, the big, green fruit in the image below dropped to the ground. A nice, fat, passion fruit. I hadn't realized any of the sparse flowers that bloomed this year were pollinated. It's a shame, because given a few more weeks, this one would turn deep purple and be delicious. As it is, the fruit is unripe and actually poisonous. Then, I happened by the pecan tree in our front yard, where another passion vine grows. This one, "Incense," is a hybrid that stays out all year. Despite several attempts to hand-pollinate it over the years, the few fruit it's produced have been uniformly hollow and small. But I found this small yellow fruit lying on the grass, and it felt unusually heavy. I tore it open to find it full of seeds. I figure the Edulis provided the pollen, rather than one of the other species (as they haven't flowered much this fall). I'll pot the seeds to see if any interesting hybrids sprout.

Late-season passion fruit are something of a tease. Next year, though, I expect them to produce fruit all summer long.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Passion fruit. Incense and Edulis.

Camera: Canon 5D mark III
Lens: Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8 L

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Dr. Demento Show 12/09/2000
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, December 10, 2012

Farscape: Throne for a Loss

Farscape episode 4 Throne for a Loss
My Farscape rewatch continues with "Throne for a Loss." The fourth episode produced, there are several significant milestones reached here: 1) it's the first episode with a pun for a title, which will become a staple of the series; and B) the classic Farscape plot formula solidifies.

Moya's crew, broke and desperate for money to buy food and other things to sustain their flight from the Peacekeepers, decide to hire out Moya as a cargo transport.To increase their bargaining position, they make Rygel their frontman, as the greedy Hynerian Dominar knows how to negotiate and his regal heritage would give their business an air of legitimacy. Unfortunately, the Tavleks--whom they are negotiating with--are in actuality ruthless mercenaries who abduct Rygel to hold for ransom. During the skirmish, one of the younger Tavleks is knocked unconscious and taken prisoner by Moya's crew. They discover the Tavleks use a sophisticated gauntlet weapon that injects the wearer with an addictive drug that increases aggression as well as strength and stamina. Zhaan attempts to comfort the hostile young Tavlek as it goes through withdrawals while Crichton, Aeryn and D'Argo plot a rescue of Rygel from the planet below. Although most of the crew would happily abandon the pompous Rygel, the Hynerian covertly "borrowed" a crucial circuit crystal to decorate his royal scepter, rendering Moya's propulsion system inoperative. Simply put, they need to get it back.

In turn, D'Argo then Aeryn put on the gauntlet as they try to gather information and logistics necessary to free Rygel. In turn, each is left exhausted and nearly helpless once the gauntlet is removed and the drug leaves their system. Rygel, for his part, is nearly killed during an escape attempt by the occupant of the cell next to his--the octopoid Jotheb, next in line of succession in the Consortium of Trao--revives Rygel and announces his empire will pay Rygel's ransom in order to absorb the Hynerian Empire into his. Rygel mocks him, admitting he'd been deposed and no longer has any official standing on his homeworld. Finally, Crichton puts on the gauntlet and attacks the Tavleks, but in the middle of the firefight the gauntlet runs out of drug, leaving Crichton helpless. After a series of fanciful lies fail to sway the Tavleks, Crichton admits the crew of Moya has nothing of value and negotiates a straight-up swap of Rygel for the captured young Tavlek.

Commentary: "Throne for a Loss" is interesting for several reasons. First and foremost, it feels like a Farscape episode, whereas the previous episodes merely had flashes of that vibe. Part of this, I think, results from the fact this was the last episode filmed in the Australian style--that is, two episodes simultaneously. This approach (judging from commentary tracks) proved difficult with such a complex series, and the actors and directors had trouble keeping the plots straight during filming. They switched to the standard American one-episode-at-a-time schedule for all subsequent episodes. For the first time, D'Argo shows his Qualta blade can transform into a Qualta rifle. Also, when D'Argo is wounded, we learn that Luxan physiology is susceptible to deadly infection unless the wound is cleansed by the blood "running clear." As significant as those revelations are for the future of the series, Virginia Hey provides the episode's WOW! moment with full backal nudity, complete with elaborate blue body paint depicting her alien Delvian physiology. Just remember, Rebecca Romijm may have impressed audiences in 2000's X-Men movie by performing clad only in blue body paint, but Virginia Hey did the same thing a year earlier.

I also quite liked Jotheb, and felt the non-humanoid alien the best effort by Jim Henson's Creature Shop (excepting Pilot, of course) to this point. As the series progressed, I halfway hoped to see this race again, and maybe follow up on his grudge against Rygel. Alas, it was not to be.

Finally, the infamous "I have a plan" rears its head in all its glory. Previous episodes--including the premiere--had some low-key variation on this, but "Throne for a Loss" is special in that for the first time the grand plans fail spectacularly and disaster is averted only through urgent improvisation. Think of it like Scooby-Doo in space: Each week, an elaborate scheme is concocted to capture the ghost/monster (or in this case defeat the alien menace) which invariably fails at some crucial point. Mayhem ensues. Then the heroes somehow salvage victory from certain defeat. That is, in a nutshell, the Farscape formula. A lot more gets added to the mix as the series matures, but at the heart lies Crichton's failed plans. It's wildly entertaining stuff, and I can't wait to see more of it.

Crichton Quote of the Episode:: "That's your plan? Wile E. Coyote would come up with a better plan than that!"

Now Playing: Duke Ellington Ken Burns' Jazz
Chicken Ranch Central

Post-Heisman update

I just received this hidden camera footage (obtained by the great Cuppycup) of Coach Sumlin, Kliff Kingsbury and Johnny Football driving back to Texas from the Heisman Awards Ceremony, and just had to share. You're welcome.

Now Playing: Dr. Demento Show 12/06/1997
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, December 09, 2012

365 / 38: Tammy

Another Picture of the Day, another photo of a lens. This is the Tamron 28-75mm 2.8 lens that Lisa purchased when she made the decision to start photographing weddings. It's proven to be a workhorse for us over the years, and is now the lens that spends the most time on my (Jayme) camera since Lisa's traded up to the Canon EF 24-70mm 2.8 L. The Tammy is an extremely sharp and light lens, and one of the best cost-per-performance lenses we've got. As you can see in the photo, it's not anywhere near mint condition. It's been used, and used a lot. There are a lot of miles racked up on this one, and a lot more to go.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Temron 28-75mm 2.8

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mark I

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, December 08, 2012

365 / 37: Cactus Flower

There's a little cactus in a broken pot sitting on our front porch. It was a gift from someone in the family to someone else quite a few years ago. Several other ornamental cactus with it have since died, but this one soldiers on. Today I noticed a tiny flash of color--on closer examination, I discovered it blooming. I felt that kind of perseverance deserved a Picture of the Day spotlight.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Cactus flower. Macro.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: The Dixie Chicks Fly
Chicken Ranch Central

365 / 36: Holiday (Traffic) Lights

The holidays are here in full force, with decorations hither and yon. The traffic circle in downtown New Braunfels is a veritable blaze of lights, so last night I thought I'd try for some long-exposure shots of traffic to get some nifty light trails. Naturally, as soon as I set up, the traffic flow slowed to a trickle. I spent an hour there, camped out on the island, taking a whole lot of photos of nothing. Eventually I got a few decent shots and was able to stack this image. Once I broke down my tripod and packed away my camera, however, it was like the Daytona 500 broke out: I had to wait almost five minutes before a break in the traffic allowed me to escape the traffic island, and as I reached my car, a horse-drawn carriage decked out with thousands of blue-and-white twinkle lights showed up to make leisurly loops around the traffic circle. I will not share the words I used at the time to express my feelings on the matter, but I'm sure you can come up with a general approximation on your own.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Christmas lights. Long exposure traffic. Traffic circle.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Opteka 6.5mm 3.5 fisheye II

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Dave Brubeck The Essential Dave Brubeck
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday Night Videos

What better way to kick off the incessant holiday music season than with the Beach Boys' "Little Saint Nick"? Here's a vintage performance from Shindig! for your seasonal enjoyment!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cheap Trick.

Now Playing: The Dr. Demento Show 99-48
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, December 06, 2012

365 / 35: Constellation Orion

Confession time: My interest in photography began with the stars. I've been a nut for space for as long as I can remember, and shortly after I bought my first telescope at the age of 13 (which I still have) I also ponied up some of my hard-earned lawn mowing money to buy a camera adapter for the family's Canon AE-1 so I could shoot through-the-telescope astro photos (I still have that adapter, by the way).

There was just one problem... I was terrible at astrophotography. This was back in the days of film, mind you, so it was very challenging. Add to that the fact that I had no clue about photography, and it's no surprise I burned through a whole lot of film rolls to get exactly zero good images. Fast forward to today. I've learned (with Lisa's help and patience) a great deal about photography. Digital makes astrophotography infinitely easier. Seriously. Unfortunately, despite all that, I still stink at astrophotography, the one photographic discipline I really, really want to be great at. Part of that stems from equipment problems--I've only got a primitive, 30-plus year old clock motor on my telescope mount for tracking, which limits deep sky and long-exposure images. My high-quality telescope mirror got damaged by a company I'd sent it off to for resurfacing, and the replacement mirror I have is not quite as good. But mostly the fault lies with me. I don't have the instincts for it--every little aspect I have to struggle with, while I've seen other comparable amateur astronomers take jaw-dropping images their first night out. Someday I'll get it, but it may take a while. Until then, here's my Picture of the Day for today, a series of stacked images of the constellation Orion taken between midnight and 1 a.m. this morning. And yes, I am indeed tired today.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Orion constellation.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mark I

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: The Beach Boys Christmas with the Beach Boys
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

365 / 34: Mesquite Sunset

There is a field of mesquite trees I pass to and from work every day, one which I love very much. I've photographed it before. Sometime last week I missed photographing an incredible, fiery sunset with those striking trees in the foreground because I had a pressing engagement to get to. I promised myself that if I saw another potentially spectacular sunset, I would make the time to shoot it. Well, this evening's sunset held potential. Alas, it didn't live up to that potential, at least not for the widefield shot I was hoping for. On a whim, I ran back to my car and grabbed the FD 500mm reflex lens, as I had a hunch that lens would frame this particular mesquite tree perfectly. Turns out my instincts nailed it. And there will be other sunsets for the rest of the trees...

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Mesquite. Sunset.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon FD 500mm 8.0 reflex

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

365 / 29: Blanco Shoals infrared

Went for a little walk on my lunch break today, scouting out Blanco Shoals Natural Area in San Marcos for possible future photo shoots. As undeveloped park land, it's a little confusing getting around and knowing where the boundaries are. There are some old, overgrown roads that offer a rough guide for the hiker, but beyond that you're on your own. There are only a couple access points to the Blanco River--and most of the time it's not even visible, which is surprising considering that it borders the length of the park. Today's Photo of the Day is from the south end of the park, looking north east. I thought it would make a good false-color infrared scene, and it looks as if I was right.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Blanco River, Blanco Shoals Natural Area, San Marcos, Texas. False-color infrared

Camera: Canon XTi/400D 720nm infrared converted
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22mm

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Astrud Gilberto Astrud Gilberto's Finest Hour
Chicken Ranch Central

365 / 33: Steel Wheels

Today turned out to be dreary and overcast for the most part, a little drizzle here, a little fog there. Nothing dramatic, weather-wise. I hadn't used Lisa's manual fisheye lens to any real extent--she's kept a pretty short leash on it--so I borrowed it and stuck it in my camera bag, planning to experiment with it a bit if the opportunity arose. Opportunity presented itself in the form of a train parked on a railroad bridge spanning the Blanco River. The colors, lines and textures appealed to me, so I squeezed off a few shots before getting out of there before the train decided to start moving.

Thoughts on the lens: It's a decent buy for the price, and this newer version, with the removable lens hood, is preferable to the original with the fixed lens hood. Corners were definitely cut, though, to keep the price down--in addition to having manual focus and aperture, the aperture ring doesn't even have a setting for f/4. Believe it or not, it skips from f/3.5 right to f/5.6. Bizarre. The stated focal length of 6.5mm is bogus as well: I'd say it's closer to 8mm, as the wide field views it gives aren't that much more expansive than my EF-S 10-22 (although the fisheye distortion is obviously more pronounced). Finally, I noticed some significant chromatic aberration in the images, which is not unexpected with an inexpensive lens like this. Fortunately, CA can be corrected to a great extent in Photoshop.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Railroad. Fisheye. Wheels.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Opteka 6.5mm 3.5 fisheye II

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Aerosmith Honkin' on Bobo
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, December 03, 2012

365 / 32: Pomegranate

I've always liked pomegranates. The seedy arils make great tart/sweet additions to breakfast cereal, and are a bright, fruity addition to countless recipes. Plus, they're pretty good to snack on straight. But I think what appeals to me most is the fact that when you crack one open, it's like a fruity geode, filled with glittery, juice-filled gems. What's not to like?

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Pomegranate

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, December 02, 2012

365 / 31: Leaf-Footed Bug

I wasn't sure what I'd do for today's Picture of the Day after my somewhat elaborate concept photo from yesterday. But then I noticed this leaf-footed bug resting calmly on the car's front windshield, and I knew I had to try a macro shot. It's not often the opportunity to photograph an insect from underneath presents itself--and even rarer for our cars' windshields to be clean enough to shoot through!

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Macro insect

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: The Bangles Greatest Hits
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, December 01, 2012

365 / 30

In recent months there's been a meme circulating around Facebook and elsewhere, "How I see me/How others see me." I suppose that's the underlying theme for today's Picture of the Day. I call it "Self-Portrait: Guy With Camera."

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Self-portrait. Clone. Photo manipulation. Double exposure

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, November 29, 2012

365 / 28: Gruene Hall

How about a little local flavor for today's 365 photo? Here is the legendary live music venue Gruene Hall, smack dab in the middle of downtown Gruene, Texas. They've decked it out for the holidays with a wreath right there amidst the famed logo.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Gruene Hall, Gruene, Texas

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22mm

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

365/27: Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mark I

I spent today home sick, trying to sleep off sinus congestion and a nasty sore throat. I'm better now, thanks. But hovering in the house all day put a crimp in my 365 photo acquisition. I suspect "pictures of the lenses I use" will become my go-to feature when I don't have anything else better to run, but hey, a least you folks get to see the cool toys Lisa and I play with. This here is a personal favorite of mine: The Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mark I. The (good) optics are the same as the current EF 50mm 1.8 mark II lens available for around $120, but the build quality of the lens is much better. I believe the autofocus in the older model lens is slightly faster and more accurate, but more importantly, it has a easy-to-use manual focus ring, which is something the newer version can't claim. I bought this lens used back when I first started getting serious about infrared photography. Ever since my Rebel XTi was converted to full-time infrared, it's become my absolute favorite go-to lens for portraits. From my vantage point, it's an even better performer in infrared than in visible light. It's a workhorse, and one of the oldest EF lenses Canon ever produced: Judging from the serial number on it, it rolled out of the factory a month or so before the first EOS cameras became available for sale in the U.S. That makes it at least 25 years old, and still earning it's keep.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Canon 50mm 1.8 mark I

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Aerosmith Music from Another Dimension
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

365 / 26: Tatonka

Through a series of unfortunate events which I'll not bore you with, I spent today in Cuero, banging my head into a proverbial wall. On the way home, my Picture Of The Day was the furthest thing from my mind. So much so that when I drove past the woman parked on the side of the road taking pictures of buffalo grazing in the nearby pasture, the only thing that crossed my mind was, "She's got a nice lens. That looks like the Canon EF 70-200 f/4 L." About a mile later, the lightbulb went off in my head, and I turned around to get today's shot.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Buffalo bison

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon FD 500mm f/8 reflex

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: The Kinks Live in London, 1973-1977
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, November 26, 2012

365 / 25: Black walnuts

I love the very idea of Texas black walnuts. Yes, they're good to eat, but they've never been a popular home orchard or commercial crop simply because they're too darn hard to get at! They've got one of the thickest shells of any nut in the natural world, and even squirrels have to put in quite a bit of effort to gnaw through all that hard wood armor. But they're lovely trees, and I will always find them fascinating.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Black walnuts

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Jefferson Airplane The Worst of Jefferson Airplane
Chicken Ranch Central

365 / 24: Stuffed squash

So with the Thanksgiving holiday and all, a craving for stuffed acorn squash came over me (Lisa's not such a big fan of the winter squashes, but hey, she wasn't cooking dinner, I was). I made this a few times years ago, until I accidentally burned them one meal, and haven't fixed the dish since. In fact, I lost the recipe. But thanks to the miracle of the interwebz, I poked around and found a couple of appealing vegetarian recipes (since Monkey Girl doesn't do the meat thing), combined the most likely elements of them and produced a new and original stuffed acorn squash recipe, with portabella mushrooms, wild rice, quinoa, spinach, feta cheese and some other stuff. The verdict? Not bad. There are some things I'd do differently next time, and a few things to add to bring out the flavors more, but all in all it's a dish I'll certainly revisit in the future.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Stuffed acorn squash

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Jefferson Airplane The Worst of Jefferson Airplane
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, November 24, 2012

365 / 23

Whew! Shooting a wedding makes it quite a challenge to get in a 365 photo project shot. You just get all photographed out. "But wait," you might say. "If you were shooing a wedding, can't you just use one of those photos?" Ah, but the whole point of the 365 challenge was to start taking photos that weren't work-related. In the rules Lisa laid down on Day One, neither of us can use images from a paid photo session. Which mean no weddings (although, technically, I could probably use the shots I took since Lisa's pretty chintzy when it comes to paying me--don't tell her I said that, okay?).

In any event, I was feeling pretty uninspired. Some hay bale-by-moonlighet shots I tried didn't come out at all, and a few other options I rushed and wasn't satisfied with. We'll try those again at a later date. Tonight, boring though it may be, my 365 image is the view down my Newtonian telescope's optical tube. I'll try to do better tomorrow. Promise.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Meade 645 newtonian telescope

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, November 23, 2012

365 / 22: Nuts

Today we went to Columbus to celebrate a belated Thanksgiving with my Mom and brother Chris. Such are the compromises you make when you've got two sets of relatives to juggle and keep happy. Today was also Monkey Girl's 14th birthday, which Lisa so eloquently covered in her preceding post.

Visiting Columbus is always bittersweet for me, because it drives home the fact that my happy childhood memories have been supplanted by family conflict. The old homestead has been neglected as an outgrowth of this, and while Chris does his best to fix and maintain what he can, it's more than one person (or really, several people) can handle. The fact that he lives in Waco and I live in New Braunfels doesn't help matters any. Today, he and I took a walk in the sprawling back yard, figuring out out to protect the fig trees (which I'd planted for Mom last year) from deer, and what to do with some of the old outbuildings that have fallen into serious disrepair. As we walked under the pecan trees our Dad had planted 40-something years before, I stopped occasionally to pick up a pecan. Most were bad, infected with pecan scab disease. I could tell by whether they'd separated from the husk, and also by weight. Rotten pecans are very light. Almost all the hybrid pecans Dad had planted were bad, vulnerable to the disease without regular spraying. The one native in the back yard, though, had produced many, many good nuts. The downside was these nuts were quite small compared to the others. I did find a few good hybrids, but many more natives. I thought back to our days as kids, picking up so many pecans we couldn't carry them all, so many big nuts that even the dogs would happily crunch the shells to eat the sweet meat inside. It made me think about how life is a series of trade-offs, be it fat delicate nuts or small, hardy ones; or happy childhood memories contrasted to melancholy adult reality. The sum of these trade-offs, for good or ill, equals the human condition.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Pecans

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Various artists Cool on the Coast
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday Night Videos

Last week The Wife and I went to the Aerosmith show in Austin. It was a mighty fine show, so I thought today I'd give some love to the opening act, the quintessential 70s rockers Cheap Trick. Here's one of my favorites of theirs, Dream Police.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Aerosmith.

Now Playing: Cheap Trick Live at Budokan
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, November 22, 2012

365 / 21

For Thanksgiving, as we do every year, we visited relatives in the piney woods outside of Bastrop. Fortunately, this part of the county was spared from the wildfires that caused so much damage last year, so we're certainly thankful for that on this holiday. Following a magnificent dinner put together by my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and assorted pot-luck contributions from friends-and-relations, my little boy and I took a nature hike through the woods. He found a centipede. And a velvet ant. And some grasshoppers. And I also let him take pictures of many of these things with my camera. I, on the other hand, took this one as a memento of our little adventure together.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. shadows

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22mm

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

365 / 20

Vulture feather. Algae bloom. Picture of the day.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Vulture feather algae bloom

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Shakira Laundry Service
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

365 / 19: Red

If the leaves turn red, it must be autumn.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Autumn. Red leaves

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon FD 500mm f/8 reflex

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Stan Getz Stan Getz vol. 2
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, November 19, 2012

365 / 18: Done with mirrors

Maybe it's just because I gravitate toward the offbeat and unusual, but the Canon FD 500mm f/8 reflex lens has become one of my favorite lenses to shoot with. Maybe it's because I'm into astronomy and this mirror lens uses the same basic conceptual design as Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes. I dunno. I dropped a lot of hints to Lisa before she surprised me with this as a Christmas gift last year. The conversion from Canon FD to EF mount took several months (and several pints of blood, as I impaled myself several times in the process) but once I finished, I had a workable 500mm mirror lens with focus confirmation capabilities. It's a fully manual lens, so that last part was a biggie as my eyes aren't quite so sharp and eagle-eyed as Lisa's. Some photographers may scoff at this old-school lens. It's slow. It's dim. It's manual focus only. But son-of-a-gun, it's got a huge reach at 500mm and is light as a feather compared to out other telephoto lenses. It's got a steep learning curve and can be unforgiving, but I've gotten shots with it that I'd never have a prayer at getting otherwise. I can't believe how well it performed at Aerosmith the other night. Of the Texas State/Texas Tech football game, or the Texas Renaissance Festival... I think it's safe to say some of the most fun I've had shooting this past year has come while using this lens. That makes it a keeper in my book!

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Canon FD 500mm f/8 reflex mirror lens converted to EOS mount

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Girl From Ipanema: The Bossa Nova Years
Chicken Ranch Central

Farscape: Exodus from Genesis

My Farscape rewatch continues with "Exodus from Genesis." The third episode produced, it's still very clear the series is awkwardly finding its way. At the same time, we see the emergence of some of the personality and world building that will come to define the series down the line.

The story is straightforward--Moya encounters a particulate cloud in orbit around a star, uses this cloud as a shield to hide from a Peacekeeper Marauder scout ship filled with a detachment of commandos. The cloud is actually a spacefaring species of insect, which spawns in hot environments. The swarm boards Moya and begins manipulating the ship's environmental controls to increase the heat. Crichton discovers one of the roach-like creatures in his quarters, and in a panic, squashes it. The swarm takes samples of the crew's DNA and uses that to construct automaton duplicates of Crichton, Zhaan, D'Argo and Aeryn in an effort to take over the ship. The increased heat inside Moya sends Aeryn into a state of fevered delirium. Turns out that Sebaceans (the Peacekeeper race) cannot tolerate excessive temperatures--that rules out Peacekeepers ever colonizing Texas--and will slip into a permanent coma if she can't cool down. Through Zhaan, the crew establishes contact with the swarm and realize the hostilities were a mis-understanding, that the alien "Drak" didn't realize Moya was a ship when they boarded and Crichton impulsively attacked the insect in his quarters out of fear. They establish a truce, with Moya's crew moving to an isolated part of the ship that will be kept relatively cooler while the Drak completes its spawning process. Unfortunately, the Marauder returns at this point and the Peacekeeper commandos attempt to storm Moya. They kill several of the automatons, and the Drak believes Moya's crew has broken the truce and begins raising the heat precipitously across the ship. Crichton negotiates a plan with the Drak--he, and a dozen of his automatons confront the now-delirious commandos. He subdues the commander, and then sends them packing with a warning to Crais not to continue pursuing Crichton or else he'll use his powers of duplication against Crais. The Drak finish spawning, the ship's temperature returns to normal, and Aeryn survives.

Commentary: The episode is a bit reminiscent of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes, in that an alien life form invades the ship and conflict springs from misunderstanding. That's been done before. That said, scriptwriter Ro Hume threw the kitchen sink in here with Peacekeeper commandos, alien doppelgängers, spacefaring insect swarms and whatnot. There's a lot going on here, with alliances and broken alliances and general mass confusion for most of the episode, with pretty much every side in the dark as to what's going on for the majority of the episode. The most significant development is the introduction of Sebacean heat delirium, which will play a much more prominent role further on in the series. Whilst barely hanging on to her sanity, Aeryn demands that Crichton kill her if she slips into a coma, as permanent brain damage will take hold then and Peacekeepers consider that vegetative state a fate worse than death. At the end, Aeryn asks Crichton whether he'd have gone through with her request and he pointedly doesn't answer. Regardless, a bond--however tenuous--has been established between the Sebacean and human.

The most unfortunate aspect of the episode is the physical appearance of the Peacekeeper commandos. Each of them has very heavy eyeliner applied in a stylized fashion. Dear lord in heaven, who thought this was a good idea? I assume the intent was to project the impression of bad-ass warpaint used by a hard-core fighting unit. Instead, they looked like wannabe glam rockers pissed off because they couldn't get into the Gary Glitter show. It's just flat-out embarrassing.

Crichton Quote of the Episode: "We call 'em linebackers. Or serial killers. Depends on whether they're professional or amateur."

Now Playing: Pink Floyd More
Chicken Ranch Central

LoneStarCon 3 membership sale!

Just a quick heads-up on a LoneStarCon 3 media announcement I just sent out today. A good deal if you've got a geeky significant other you need to find a stocking stuffer for!

LoneStarCon 3 offers limited time membership special

November 19, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – LoneStarCon 3, the 71st World Science Fiction Convention, has announced a special two-week membership sale running Nov. 19-Dec. 2.

Attending memberships will be available for the reduced rate of $170 until midnight, Dec. 2. In addition to full access to the convention, attending memberships entitle the holder to make nominations for the Hugo Awards, receive pre-convention publications and advance information featured guests, exhibits and special events such as the LoneStarCon 3 International Film Festival.

"The committee saw this as an opportunity to say 'Thank you' to the fan communities who've given LoneStarCon 3 so much encouragement and support," said Laura Domitz, convention co-chair. "Think of it as getting a jump on the end-of-year holiday spirit."

Regular convention membership rates are scheduled to increase Dec. 31.

LoneStarCon 3 will be held Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2013, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Mariott Rivercenter and Mariott Riverwalk will serve as the host hotels. This marks the first time since 1997 that the Alamo City has hosted a Worldcon, when LoneStarCon 2 drew thousands to the downtown convention center.

The guests of honor list for LoneStarCon 3 includes Ellen Datlow, James Gunn, Norman Spinrad and Willie Siros, with Paul Cornell serving as toastmaster and featuring special guests Leslie Fish and Joe R. Lansdale. Artist guest of honor Darrell K. Sweet tragically passed away Dec. 5, 2011.

MEMBERSHIPS

Attending membership rates for LoneStarCon 3 are normally $180 for adults, $110 for young adult (17-21 years old), $75 for children (16 and under) and $480 for family memberships. The listed membership rates are good through December 31, 2012. The sale only lowers the rate for adult attending memberships ($170) and family memberships ($460).

LoneStarCon 3 is also offering a military discount rate of $110, which is not subject to future increases.

ABOUT THE WORLD SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTION

Founded in 1939, the World Science Fiction Convention is one of the largest international gatherings of authors, artists, editors, publishers and fans of science fiction and fantasy entertainment. The annual Hugo Awards, the leading award for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy, are voted on by Worldcon membership and presented during the convention.

LoneStarCon 3 is sponsored by ALAMO, Inc., (Alamo Literary Arts Maintenance Organization), a 501(c)3 organization. For more information about LoneStarCon 3, memberships or hotel information, visit www.LoneStarCon3.org.
Now Playing: Fleetwood Mac Tusk
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, November 18, 2012

365 / 17: Say "Cheese!"

Lisa's not the only on who can take cute pictures of our kids. Bug decided he wanted to get in on the action, and I was happy to oblige. Say "Cheese!"

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Jefferson Airplane The Worst of Jefferson Airplane
Chicken Ranch Central

Saturday, November 17, 2012

365 / 15: Aerosmith!

Okay folks, here is my much-anticipated, much-delayed photo no. 15 for the 365 project. You'll recall from my previous post that the CF card I was shooting the Aerosmith concert with went belly-up right at the end of their show. More than 90 minutes of Aerosmith, not to mention Cheap Trick's opening act, were lost. All I had was the encore left. Lisa, always the pro, handed me a spare CF card to try and get something in the closing minutes. Despite being more than a little flustered, I did manage to get a few keepers (I'm particularly aggrieved about losing my shots of Steven Tyler singing a Beatles medley with the guys from Cheap Trick). Since Lisa already stole some of my thunder by going with a Steven Tyler shot for her 365 entry, I'll balance the scales with this shot of Joe Perry ripping his guitar atop a baby grand piano during "Dream On."

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Joe Perry performs during the Aerosmith concert at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas, November 16, 2012.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon FD 500mm 8.0 reflex

But look! I have some bonus shots as well! Here's Austin-area resident Joey Kramer on drums! (This man gives the best damn drum solos I've ever seen. This concert, after a rousing traditional drum solo, he chucked his sticks and continues the solo with his hands and head. When I saw Aerosmith in '88, Kramer abandoned his drums and took electronic drum sticks off the stage and performed a solo on the audience. That is genius, I tells ya!

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Joey Kramer performs during the Aerosmith concert at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas, November 16, 2012.

Next up is Tom Hamilton, Aerosmith bassist. What is there to say about Hamilton other than the fact that his sublime bass line from "Sweet Emotion" is the single most influential impetus in making me want to learn the bass guitar. I never learned, mind you, but if I had, it'd be because of Hamilton.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Tom Hamilton performs during the Aerosmith concert at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas, November 16, 2012.

Finally, we have Steven Tyler, the quintessential front man. He gets all the attention, and it's easy to see why when you're photographing Aerosmith--he's always doing something interesting, and his flamboyant dress, acrobatics and personality make for dramatic shots. Of all the band members, I got far more engaging shots of Tyler--even during the limited time I had to shoot during the encore. It's hard to choose just one, but this will do.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Steven Tyler performs during the Aerosmith concert at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas, November 16, 2012.

Aerosmith fans might note that I've omitted guitarist Brad Whitford. That's not intentional--I had a bunch of him from early in the show. But during the encore, he lingered in a dark corner of the stage and I was unable to get any decent images of him at that time. If Mr. Whitford feels slighted, I'll be more than happy to set up a personal photo session with him the next time he's in the Austin/San Antonio area. My treat.

I'll have a review of this show, along with some more photos, later. I'm pretty bushed now. Gonna get some shut-eye.

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Aerosmith Music from Another Dimension
Chicken Ranch Central

365 / 16: The element of frustration

You may be wondering why I have no 365/15 entry, but instead am posting my 365/16 image instead. The answer would be the subject of today's photo: This Transcend Compact Flash memory card failed on me last night with two--count-'em--two songs remaining in Aerosmith's concert in Austin. It is dead to the world, unrecognized and unresponsive to cameras, computers and other assorted electronic stick with which I've poked it. To say I am out of sorts about this is something of an understatement. I'll have my day 15 entry in a few hours, but the fact that the vast majority of some pretty nifty Aerosmith concert shots are now lost (as well as all of my Cheap Trick photos) a wee bit disappointing.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Transcend compact flash CF memory card

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Night Videos

I first saw Aerosmith in concert at the Summit in Houston back in 1988. That was during their Permanent Vacation tour, and I was a senior in high school. It was a great show, and I remember wondering aloud how the band could possibly gone off drugs completely as they'd claimed, because Steven Tyler and the other members were manic whirlwinds of energy during the entire show. That album contains some of my absolute favorite Aerosmith songs--"Rag Doll" and "Hangman Jury"--but for my money, their best post-addiction album is Pump. Absolute greatness on nearly every track. And the band started taking on more socially daring subject matter, specifically the hard-hitting "Janie's Got a Gun." Wow, what a great song. It still pisses me off that MTV and radio forced the band to produce edited versions to get airplay. Some horrors should never be sugar-coated.

Sadly, Aerosmith gravitated toward more slickly-produced, top 40-friendly music after this, and none of their subsequent albums come close to Pump. I'll see them tonight in Austin, 24 years removed from my first live viewing of the band. Scary to think I'm now older than the band members were when I saw them the first time!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Urban Dance Squad.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Permanent Vacation
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, November 15, 2012

365 / 14: Bur acorns

Fall continues to offer an abundance of nature scenes to shoot for this 365 photo challenge. Today, we have bur oak acorns. I love acorns, the very concept of them. I like the massive, oversized bur acorns the most, particularly those with hairy acorn cups that look like birds' nests. They just sing "autumn" to me.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Bur oak acorns

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Aerosmith Pandora's Box
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

365 / 13: Primary mirror!

To pretty much everyone reading this, my photo today is going to be exceedingly boring. For me, however, it is a thing of beauty. What you are looking at is a 6" f/5 parabolic primary mirror for a Newtonian telescope. My telescope. I've been without since March, when I sent my original primary mirror off to be resurfaced. It came back badly chipped and unusable. I've finally gotten a replacement, and this makes me happy. As soon as I post this, I'm installing it in my telescope. Naturally, it's cloudy tonight so I won't be able to test it out. Such is life.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Newtonian telescope primary mirror

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mark I

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 1/Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53
Chicken Ranch Central

My luck is EPIC!

Unfortunately, that epic luck is all bad, at least where it comes to astronomy. The rest of my life, I figure I'm at worst break even, if not somewhat ahead overall. But when it comes to astronomy? Forget it. I'm like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football.

A telescope mirror was delivered by FedEx today, a replacement for my old 6" f/5 mirror that was badly chipped and rendered useless back in April. I've gone the whole summer observing season without a working telescope, a painful ordeal I will expand on more fully in a future post. But today I was getting a replacement, perhaps not as good as the mirror I lost, but one that will allow me to resume backyard astronomy. Yay!

Except said package was not on the front porch as had been indicated. The Wife looked all around the front of our house where it might've been left. Nothing. Then she checked the neighbors'. Again, nothing. Seriously verging on a personal meltdown over the senseless unfairness of the universe, I called in a missing package report to FedEx.

FedEx wanted me to check again. Particularly around the car washing supplies, because the delivery driver made sure to leave it with the car washing supplies.

Which is very interesting, because we have no car-washing supplies at our house, outside, inside or otherwise. If you've seen my car, you would understand this.

So, The Wife set out into the neighborhood again, looking for homes with car washing supplies out front. And she found one, down the street. The house didn't look like ours. The address wasn't similar to ours. Yet this is the house the driver decided to leave the package at. The Wife retrieved it, and I let FedEx know we've located their lost delivery.

The Wife hasn't opened it, though. The last time I opened a shipping container with a telescope mirror in it, little broken pieces of shattered glass came out. At this point, I'm conditioned to expect the worst. Will find out this evening when I get home if my (bad) luck holds.

Now Playing: The Police Message In A Box
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meadmaking redux

So, yeah. Despite having a grand old time at the inaugural Texas Mead Festival, I haven't actually made any mead in more than a year. In fact, the only homebrew I've done in quite a while is a dark ale about 8 months ago (which is aging quite nicely, thankyouverymuch). Overall, not a great track record when I'm trying to refine my skills to make libations that taste more like the professional beverages I sampled at the Mead Fest and less like rocket fuel or sour mash.

So anyway, I started a new batch of mead on Sunday. I took 11 pounds of clover/wildflower honey (pretty generic stuff) and dissolved it in hot water on the stove (never actually bringing it to boiling, mind you). I added two teaspoons of yeast nutrient, then poured the honey and enough cold water to make five total gallons in my 6-gallon fermentation vessel.

While that was going on, I had my yeast starter warming up. The yeast I pitched is Lalvin D47, also known as the wine yeast Cotes du Rhone. I've never tried this strain before, but it's supposedly good for medium and dry meads, and as I'm shooting for a semi-dry/demi-sweet batch this time out, it will hopefully fit the bill. I started it in a glass of apple juice with an extra spoonful of sugar, and it took off very quickly. By the time the must in the vessel had cooled enough to pitch the yeast, I had a very active glass of yeast. I stirred the must vigorously to oxygenate it, then let the yeasts do their thing.

After taking a sample of the must and running it through my hydrometer, I got a specific gravity reading of 1.085, which should give me a final alcohol content of approximately 11.1 percent. Of course, that's going to change slightly, because I'm not making a traditional mead. Once the primary fermentation tapers off, I'll rack the mead and separate into smaller containers. I've got about 15 pounds of pears from my moonglow pear tree in the back yard that are ripened and frozen in the deep freeze. I plan on crushing them and adding the nectar to make a type of perry/cyser. The moonglow are considered a dessert pear, but the do have a stronger flavor than any store-bought pear I've ever tasted, so we'll see how they work. I also still have some frozen plums from earlier in the year for one of the smaller batches, and plum mead has traditionally been one of my more successful meads (even if I've failed miserably at plum wine every time I've attempted it).

Right now it's a case of hurry up and wait for the yeast to finish it's job. Since this is Texas and it's relative warm even in the fall and winter, I've got the fermentation vessel in a shallow tub filled with two inches of water. I keep the vessel wrapped with moist towels and the ceiling fan blowing to cool the must and reduce the amount of undesirable fusel alcohols generated. I also agitate the vessel regularly, to release dissolved CO2 (there's a lot of it!) that builds up in the liquid and can contribute to stressed fermentation. So yeah, I know enough about this stuff to be dangerous, but not enough to actually produce an unequivocally "good" vintage of mead. Maybe this time...

Now Playing: Rafael Kubelik Dvorak: Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8
Chicken Ranch Central

365 / 12: Hint of autumn

It's cold, cloudy and dreary out now, but this morning we had a bit of sun. Just enough to illuminate a hint of autumn.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Hint of autumn

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Sting Mercury Falling
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, November 12, 2012

Farscape: I, E.T.

My Farscape re-watch continues with the second episode, "I, E.T." Although it is officially the second episode, it didn't originally air until after "Thank God It's Friday, Again." It really makes the viewer wonder why networks and/or cable channels insist on airing episodes out of order. I can't discern any valid purpose in doing so (in this instance at least).

A Peacekeeper beacon booby-trap hidden aboard Moya abruptly begins transmitting a homing signal, one certain to bring Crais and the Peacekeeper Command Carrier running right to Moya's location in the Uncharted Territories. Not to mention the piercing audio component causes Crichton to suffer uncontrolled facial tics. To muffle the signal while the crew devises a way to silence it for good, they attempt the risky move of actually landing Moya on a nearby watery planet. Leviathans live their entire lives in space, but legends of Leviathans touching a planet's surface and living to tell about it convince the reluctant Moya. They land, and Moya submerges into the mud of a swamp. Crichton, Aeryn and D'Argo leave the ship to look for a particular type of naturally-occurring anesthetic effective on Leviathans, while the diminutive Rygel squeezes into the space behind the bulkhead and begins the process of cutting the homing beacon out of Moya's neural net. Zhaan, the Delvian priestess, uses her abilities to absorb some of the intense pain away from Moya.

Before long, Crichton, D'Argo and Aeryn get separated when a search party of natives--generally human-looking with the exception of odd ears--attempt to capture them. Crichton hides in a barn adjacent to a radio telescope, and is subsequently knocked out by a young boy packing some sort of taser wand. The boy's mother--who initially called in the report of a UFO to the authorities--holds Crichton captive, but eventually comes to realize how lost and unthreatening he is. She lets him go, Crichton rescues D'Argo--who'd managed to get captured--and they escape back to Moya just in time to throw the numbing chemical on Rygel's surgery and effective an escape back into space.

Commentary: Weak episode, I'm sorry to say. As much as Farscape distinguished itself with originality, this plot comes off as a tired re-tread of a basic premise used for at least one episode of every Star Trek series, plus the original Battlestar Galactica and quite possibly Buck Rogers and Babylon 5, although I can't quite recall specific episodes. The military's interest in capturing the aliens is perfunctory, with no socio-political commentary developed to any real extent. The entire plot consists of a by-the-numbers series of events without depth. Huge hints are given out that the "anesthetic" Crichton and friends are out looking for is actually salt, which isn't really clever and has no payoff. In fact, the "quest for salt" has no real payoff as the surgery on Moya is completed without it (yes, the salt numbs her pain enough to launch off the planet, but come on, the whole wrap-up is entirely anti-climactic). The best thing to be said about the episode is that the slower pace of the plot allowed for some much-needed character development. D'Argo is still a one-note "Fight first, ask questions later" dope, but Rygel gets a little depth, showing that underneath his pompous self-importance lies a core that will come through when it counts the most. Aeryn remains angry about her circumstances and Zhaan is the compassionate caregiver. Pilot is still something of a mystery, but his uncertainty and far-from-omniscient knowledge of Moya are interesting touches that hint at interesting backstory to come. Also, we get to see commlink badges used by Moya's crew, which are never used again as far as I can recall. Farscape was great at introducing little bits of detail that were ultimately discarded as not worth the effort.

Crichton Quote of the Episode: "Kinda like Louisiana... or Dagobah. Dagobah. Where Yoda lives."

Now Playing: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble The Real Deal: Greatest Hits vol. 2
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365 / 11: Ladybug

I set out to take an entirely different photo today, but just happened to come across this little ladybug resting on an acorn. I hadn't expected to see any insects about because of the chilly weather, but it didn't seem to bother this little fellow much.

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Ladybug macro

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing:
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Sunday, November 11, 2012

365 / 10: Yeast is Yeast (and Ywest is Ywest)

Doing a little homebrew tonight. Currently dissolving 11 pounds of honey into a pot full of water with which to make honey wine, otherwise know as mead, the beverage of choice for discerning vikings everywhere. My photo today is dedicated to yeast, those miracle plants without which the magic of fermentation could not take place!

365 photo challenge, Lisa On Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Lalvin D47 wine yeast

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Canon EF 100mm 2.8 macro

Lisa On Location Photography

Now Playing: Art Tatum The Best of Art Tatum
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

365 / 9: Johnny Football!

I confess, this is not the photo I planned for today. But when the opportunity presents itself, who am I to say no? Truly, a thing of beauty!

365 photo project, Lisa on Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel upset no. 1 ranked Alabama.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Now Playing: Texas State vs. Louisiana Tech
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Friday, November 09, 2012

Friday Night Videos

Whatever happened to Urban Dance Squad? I utterly loved their hit "A Deeper Shade of Soul" back in the day. The video is simple, but they look like they're having a blast. And I really dig that Charlie Brown shirt. I need to get one of my own.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jerry Harrison.

Now Playing: William Stromberg and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Grofé: Death Valley Suite
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365 / 8: Mission San Xavier

Well, anyone who knows my photographic interests realized as soon as I agreed to participate in this 365 Photo Challenge with Lisa that I'd be including some infrared images. I'm a huge fan of the otherworldly look of infrared when done right. I suppose the only surprise is how long it took me to get around to actually shooting some IR for this challenge--a full week! Today's effort is a false-color infrared image of the San Xavier Mission replica at Aquarena Center in San Marcos.

365 photo project, Lisa on Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. San Xavier Mission replica in infrared. San Marcos, Texas.

Camera: Canon Rebel XTi/400D 720nm infrared-modified
Lens: Canon EF-S 10-22mm

Now Playing: New World Renaissance Band Live the Legend
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Thursday, November 08, 2012

365 / 7: Honey Locust

Thought I'd go for a little change of pace today, with a simple, straightforward image: A corkscrew seed pod of a honey locust/thorny locust tree.

365 photo project, Lisa on Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Corkscrew seed pod. Thorny locust. Honey Locust.

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Now Playing: St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Rachmaninov: Complete Works For Piano & Orchestra
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Scuba IV

Texas Scuba symbol
So, technically and officially, my scuba lessons are complete. That went by fast, or was it just me? My third lesson consisted of equipment checks and procedure discussion, but go cut short because we were unexpectedly locked out of the pool. We followed up the next day with an extended pool session, and covered a whole heck of a lot of ground, er... water.

After a quick review of skills learned last week, I was introduced to deep-water entry. Then we went through air share and other emergency procedures. I learned what it feels like when you run out of air (believe me, it's unmistakeable). I learned that it's possible to have a severe coughing fit with your regulator in place and come out no worse for the wear (that wasn't in the lesson plan--I just kinda winged it). Finally, we did rescue procedures. The last was a bit complicated--NAUI is one of the few scuba certification organizations that still includes this training, but I feel it's important information to know, if only to prevent a well-meaning diver from making a bad situation worse and endangering more lives.

And... that's it. By taking private lessons because of my hectic schedule, I've completed the entire pool training component in a two-week period. The learning curve is amazing. Even more amazing, I've successfully mastered all the skills--at least enough to satisfy the novice-level requirements. All that remains for me to earn my scuba certification is A) complete the online testing (which I'm in the process of working through now) and 2) complete my two-day open water certification dives. There's good news/bad news on that last front. The bad news first: The next scheduled open water certification dives are this weekend at Lake Travis, which I can't make because of preexisting schedule conflicts. The good news? There's a dive trip scheduled for Balmorhea State Park in early December that will count for my certification dives. Even though it's a bit of a drive, Balmorhea offers warmer, crystal clear waters that makes for a far better dive experience than Lake Travis or Canyon Lake. Score me!

Since that dive is several weeks weeks away, there's a concern that my newly-learned skills would atrophy in the interim, so we've set up one additional pool session to revisit all the things I've learned these past two weeks, and also to give me a chance to work on buoyancy control (which is one area I still haven't got a handle on 100 percent).

But still, wow. Almost there. Hard to imagine, but 20-plus years of delayed gratification is about to be resolved in my favor!

Now Playing: Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra Battlestar Galactica Original Soundtrack
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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

365 / 6

Rumor has it, there was an election of some sort yesterday. Living in New Braunfels, one of the deepest crimson communities in the red state of Texas (81 percent of voters cast straight-ticket Republican ballots yesterday) the reaction to the election outcome has proven somewhat impassioned. I call this one, "Letters To The Editor, November 7, 2012."

365 photo project, Lisa on Location photography, New Braunfels, Texas. Letters to the editor regarding President Obama's re-election

Camera: Canon 7D
Lens: Tamron 28-75mm 2.8

Now Playing: Stan Getz Quartets
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