Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Night Videos

You know what? It's time for The Kinks. And because gas prices are high, unemployment is high and we're all tightening our belts these days, here's a relevant classic from the '70s and early days of their arena rock years: Is anyone else on a Low Budget?

Previously on Friday Night Videos... REM.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Meddle
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jack C. Hays

Remember that great anniversary present I mentioned the other week? How The Wife took my old Canon Rebel XTi and had it converted to shoot full-time infrared images? Well, this past week I've finally had a chance to get out and play with it a little bit. And the results are every bit as good as I'd hoped.

Jack C. Hays statue in infrared, San Marcos, Texas

Anyone who'd ever spent much time in San Marcos will recognize this statue instantly. It's famed Texas Ranger John Coffee "Jack" Hays, for whom Hays County is named after. Born in 1817 and died in 1883, Hays fought in the Mexican War, served during the Texas Revolution and became renowned as a fierce Indian fighter. He also had a bit of a wild streak, to put it mildly.

Jack C. Hays statue in infrared, San Marcos, Texas

The statue stands prominently at the corner of E. Hopkins and LBJ, right on the courthouse square. And as statues go, it's quite dramatic. I've wanted to photograph it for a long time, thinking the background of trees on the square would provide a striking image in infrared. Because of the heavily trafficked location (I had to step out into the street to get some of these shots) the old way of shooting in infrared by threading in a filter and exposing the shot for 10-20 seconds wasn't realistic. Have I mentioned how much I like the versatility of my infrared converted camera?

Jack C. Hays statue in infrared, San Marcos, Texas

I'm also in love with the results my Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mark I gives in infrared. These images are consistently sharp. It doesn't miss focus. The optics in this lens have a reputation for producing the best image quality for the least amount of money of any lens on the market (at least the mark II version does--lesser build quality of the lens itself, but the optical elements are the same). If anything, I'm starting to think it performs even better in IR. My Canon EF 10-22 ultrawide lense also does a fantastic job shooting in infrared. Alas, the same cannot be said for my Canon EF 28-135, which has consistently produced nothing but soft, slightly out-of-focus images at every focal length and aperture. That's a big disappointment, as I'd hoped to use it as a versatile walk-around lens for infrared shooting. Still, I'm more than happy with the productive lenses I do have, and hope to have more images to share in the near future.

Now Playing: Dire Straits Brothers in Arms
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Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Night Videos

I like R.E.M. Don't necessarily love the group, but their music formed a large chunk of the soundtrack of my high school and college years. Over the years they've drifted away from the infectious, guitar-driven alt rock that made them so popular with albums like Document and earlier, but occasionally a hint of that older R.E.M. Slips through. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" is one of those songs. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Robert Plant.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Animals
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Best anniversary gift ever! (2011 edition)

This year, The Wife and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary (I imagine a lot of folks lost money on that bet). Because we'll be halfway across the country on a Griswold Family Adventure, we've been treating each other to gifts ahead of time this year. Take a gander there to the right. See that? Best anniversary present, ever. Now I know what you're thinking: "Hold on there, Jayme. That there is your Canon Rebel XTi, the very same camera you bought back in early 2008 with money you got from selling off your Doctor Demento radio show collection. And that lens is the Canon EF 50mm 1.8 mark I that you bought used in 2009. How can that possibly be your anniversary gift, much less a good one?" Well friends, that is indeed a valid question. It is true that neither camera nor lens is new, and that I've taken many photos with them over the years. But as your parents assured you during those awkward junior high years, "It's what's on the inside that counts."

Since The Wife has both a Canon 5D mark II and a Canon 50D camera for her photography business, mine is no longer needed for backup duty. Likewise, she recently picked up an older Canon 300D Digital Rebel (aka the "Junk Camera"), which serves as a quick grab-and-go camera for snapshots and the like. My XTi, capable as it was, had become redundant. The only thing I still used it for was infrared photography. I've been fascinated by IR since almost the moment I got that camera. I bought several 720nm filters to thread over the ends of lenses, and have shot many, many false-color landscape images over the years. The trouble with this arrangement is that exposure times are very long--20 seconds is not uncommon--which means I always need a tripod for shots. Not only that, but because the filters are essentially black, I have to compose and focus the shot first, then thread the filter on, then shoot, which makes the entire process complicated, cumbersome and slow. I've tried shooting portraits in IR, and it just didn't work. The alternative to this is getting a camera converted. Converting a camera to full-time infrared involves removing the IR-blocking filter from the image sensor (the so-called Hot Mirror) and replacing it with a filter that blocks visible light while allowing IR to pass unhindered. Finally, the focusing is recalibrated using a 50mm lens, as the longer IR wavelengths focus at a slightly different point than visible light. Once all that is done, what you have is a camera that you can use just like any other, only it takes images in a part of the spectrum invisible to the human eye. Is that cool, or what?

I'm happy to report that The Wife, wholly on her own and uninfluenced by me (apart from a steady stream of links, hints, suggestions and outright pleading) craftily bundled up my XTi and shipped it off to LifePixel for 720nm IR conversion. The camera returned last week. This makes me exceedingly happy. I've been far too busy at work and home to give it a proper workout, but during my lunch break today I went outside and, using a tripod (ironic, I know) took a few test self-portraits, once of which is below:

This is, simply put, an amazing photo. Not because of the subject, wise guy, but because of the technical settings: f/8.0, ISO 400, shutter speed 1/30. bear in mind that it is heavily overcast out today, with occasional feeble drizzle. Pre-converted and using a thread-in filter, the shutter speed would've been in the 40 second range, my face would've had blurring because of my inability to hold stock-still for that long, and the image overall would be muddy with poor contrast because of the cloud cover. This image is crisp. It's the sharpest IR portrait I've ever taken of any human being, and this is with my guesstimating the focal plane. And this image is pretty much straight out of the camera--I tweaked the levels a bit and applied an unsharp mask to it, but I'd have worked half an hour to get my earlier IR efforts to this point. I also discovered that while my 50mm lens produces clean, white images, my 28-135 lens adds a yellowish color cast to them. This is odd, and I've never heard of a lens doing this before. I'll have to investigate further, under better lighting conditions.

But yeah, as I said before: Best anniversary gift ever!

Now Playing: Peter Gabriel Peter Gabriel 2
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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Big Brag

I've mentioned here a time or ten that The Wife has a photography business. She started her photographic journey back in college, and spent years as a photojournalist (as well as wearing other hats around the newsroom) before deciding several years ago that she'd turn pro. So we developed a business plan, launched a snazzy website and over the past couple of years invested in quite a few professional-grade camera bodies and lenses (and that doesn't begin to count the strobes, backdrops, props, software and computer tech necessary to operate a proper business).

She joined the two largest professional photography organizations, Professional Photographers of America and Wedding and Portrait Photographers International as well as the Texas Professional Photographers Association. It didn't take long for her to decide to take her photography to the next level. Last year, she declared her candidacy, studied a whole heck of a lot, and took the written exam at Imaging USA before turning in her 20-image portfolio for review by a panel of judges. She passed the written exam. She passed the judges' review.

Lisa On Location is now a Certified Professional Photographer!

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Robert Plant's post-Zeppelin career has been wildly inconsistent, with the exception of his Now and Zen album. I got it when it came out and must've listened to it a million times during college. There's not a bad track on the disc. Granted, some are better than others, but the album holds together incredibly well. Everyone remembers "Tall Cool One," but I love the exotic, slightly off-kilter rhythm of "Heaven Knows" almost as much. And the strange Arabian motif of the video is quite entertaining.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Stealers Wheel.

Now Playing: Pink Floyd Obscured by Clouds
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Monday, May 09, 2011

That was the Mother's Day that was

So, Mother's Day turned out to be far more exhausting than any of us expected. Originally, we'd invited my mom to come to town for dinner and Fairy Girl's piano recital, but unbeknownst to us, Mom had some kind of federal jury duty and never responded to our invite. With those plans on hold, we just did the usual--went to church in the morning, then headed over to Montana Mike's for some chicken-fried steak and a rugby scrum with the 500 or so other people waiting to be seated.

After lunch, we headed over to the First Protestant Church for Fairy Girl's piano recital. First Protestant is the oldest church in New Braunfels, founded in 1845 just ahead of Sts. Peter & Paul a short distance away, and both churches share the lovely German limestone architecture from the late 1800s. I'm a little more puzzled by its denomination--their website indicates they once were United Church of Christ, but broke away a while back are essentially independent these days. The whole history of the church puzzles me, as the UCofC's predecessor denominations didn't exist at the church's founding, and in 1800s Germany you were pretty much limited to either Lutheran or Catholic. But that's neither here nor there. I'm happy to say Fairy Girl rocked the house with a great rendition of Vince Guaraldi's "Linus & Lucy." We all went home happy.

We didn't stay home for long, though. After changing into shorts, we were off again. Cryptically, The Wife and I loaded the kids into the van without telling them where we were going. Various guesses centered around the San Antonio Zoo were offered, but it wasn't until we pulled into the Six Flags Fiesta Texas parking lot that the light bulb went off and the young'uns got excited. We splurged on season tickets, you see. The Bug was especially giddy, since the last time he'd been to Fiesta Texas, he'd only been 6 months old and was denied entrance to all of the rides. We started off with the Road Runner roller coaster and much fun was had by all. Sadly, most of the Wyle E. Coyote and Roadrunner figures spicing up the ride with various ACME trap gags were missing or removed for repairs (a polite euphemism for "It's broke and we're too cheap to fix it"). Still, the coaster is a fun one, a perfect starting point for the rest of the park, where wild rides are guaranteed to give everyone the thrills they seek. Except mom and dad. You have to understand, The Wife and I, when we were first married, went to the original Six Flags in Arlington and rode the double-loop Shockwave roller coaster over and over again, reveling in its stomach-churning antics. Five years back, when we had Fiesta Texas passes before, we rode everything and had no problems. This time, to our dismay, even the relatively mild rides induced nausea. We have vowed to never be those stick-in-the-mud parents who refuse to get on any of the cool rides, but our bodies are betraying us. We're simply getting too damn old when the Scooby-Doo Ghostly Manor is our favorite of the day (mostly because of the air conditioning). A parents, we are now officially pathetic.

Dinner on the way home was at a fine, upstanding establishment that incorporated not just Taco Bell, but also Kentucky Fried Chicken. Wow. We had the singular good fortune of having a new trainee take our order, and the shouted phrase "Hey Raymond! How do you...?" shall henceforth echo throughout my family's annals of history. Because Raymond, you know, holds the key to keying in a Nacho Supreme with no sour cream, or substituting chips and queso or cinnamon curls in a kids meal. Yeah, we do indeed live the high life. Happy Mother's Day for another year.

Now Playing: Spin Doctors Pocket Full of Kryptonite
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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Wein & Saengerfest (or, time to make some mead)

Today New Braunfels held the annual Wein & Saengerfest downtown, blocking off a large section of San Antonio Street along with a couple of blocks of Castel as well. It seemed larger this year than previously, with three separate music stages set up on opposite ends of the festival. I was quite impressed with the wide array of vendors, with Deep South Barrels and another who's name escapes me (AHA! It's Precise Pens) that had an amazing array of artistic bottle stoppers for sale. There was a giant velcro wall for the kids to jump onto (wearing a velcro suit, of course) and Blue Bell had a big bouncy castle in the shape of a gallon of Homemade Vanilla. The Wife and I bought our drink tickets and commemorative glasses and sampled our share of wines, but nothing stood out this year for us as a must-buy. The only ones we really liked are already available locally, so we ended up not going home with any wine.

The downtown Farmers Market normally closes at 1 p.m., but because of the festival a block away, had extended hours this day. I've wanted to go for a long time, but I normally remember around 1:30 after everyone has packed up for the day. This time I remembered around 1:30 as well, but most booths were still open. I made it only a few steps before I found my destination: Round Rock Honey. After a brief chat with the friendly young lady at the booth, we bought a 12-pound jug. I hadn't made any mead in a very long time. It was high time to get back at it.

For the record, Round Rock Honey is a wildflower honey with a very clean, smooth flavor. I like it. I cleaned and sterilized my homebrew equipment when I got home, and began the process. Here's the recipe thus far:
Honey Mead 5/7/2011

15 pound honey (12 pounds Round Rock, 3 pounds North American)
1 packet Red Star Cotes des Blanc yeast
3 tsp. yeast nutrient
2 tsp. yeast energizer
1 tsp. grape tannin
5 tsp. acid blend
1 tsp. Mexican vanilla extract
Water to make 6 gallons
After letting the mixture sit and cool, I placed in a water bath with ice to keep the temperature of the must in the mid-60s. I've placed wet towels over the fermenter and watered them thoroughly with the ceiling fan in my office turning to keep it cool via evaporation. Unfortunately, I've yet to replace my broken hydrometer, so I don't know the potential final alcohol. It should be a little under 12 percent, unless my estimation is way off. In about four weeks, once the primary fermentation ends (the Cotes des Blanc yeast is reputed to be a slow fermenter, but one good for retaining fruity characteristics) I'll race into separate batches and make one fig mead, one prickly pear mead and probably one plum mead. All of my plum wine attempts have been disastrous, but my plum mead (melomel) has been quite good, so we'll see if that works out again. Dry fig mead is also reputed to be quite good, so I'll try a 1.5 gallon batch of that with about 4 pounds of figs. Hopefully we'll strike gold here before long with some really good drinkables.

To read about the racking and addition of figs and prickly pear, click here.

Now Playing: Peter Wolf Lights Out
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Friday, May 06, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Hmm, I must be stuck in a retro mood of late, because I find myself running more and more videos that predate MTV. Go figure. The latest is Stealers Wheel "Stuck in the Middle With You", which gained a new wave of enduring popularity when Quentin Tarantino featured it in a memorable scene from Reservoir Dogs. Or maybe the Itchy & Scratchy riff from The Simpsons. Either way, it's a memorable tune.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Harry Nilsson.

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