Monday, November 30, 2015

Give Me a Minute ...

Imagine me, you know, with my hand raised in that "Time Out" gesture, head hanging, hand on chest as I try to catch a breath.

I've got some really complicated posts in the works, pretty deep and good ones, if you ask me. But they're long, and becoming really hard to write. (I've been hacking at one since last spring!) I keep going back to them when I can.

Frankly, it's just so hard to have a minute's peace these days, or at least a minute when I don't instantly fall asleep, or just sit there, staring blankly at the screen, my brain bludgeoned into inertia.

So give me a minute here. I on it ...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hey You Kids, Get Outta' My Jeans!

I am notorious among coworkers and friends (especially among coworkers) for wearing clothes I have had a long time ... like, 30 years. And it's true. I "retired" a pair of Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes that I bought shortly after graduation from college (in 1982) just the other week, because the soles had worn through. And then I wore them again that weekend, because they just seemed to go perfectly in the outfit I had on.*

Part of that outfit was a pair of Levi's 505s that have washed out to be nearly white, and the knees are pretty much blown out, which would embarrass me except all the casual fashion wear stuff I keep seeing on the internet shows people wearing jeans with artfully torn up knees. So I figure I'm right in style.

However, it is indeed time for some new jeans, and here's where I switch from fashion-aware older guy to crotchety old man. First of all: When did these things become so freakin' expensive?! I know jeans have become fashion clothing, acceptable at the highest, most dressy of circumstances, but I wasn't looking to buy some styled, tailored, posh pair of hand-washed-by-Burmese-orphans designer jeans. I just wanted a pair of "regular fit" (and that whole trend from "relaxed fit" -- talk about your transparent euphemism -- to the potentially atrocious "skinny fit." How about just jeans. They came in that same boxy shape for 100 years. Buy the tailored-by-rare-Capuchin-apes, fancy, designer things if you want some sort of "fit," but that's a side-rant ...) 505s, a longstanding, standard Levi's product. They list for well over $50 a pair. These are jeans, the pants I wear when I'm afraid things might get messy, the pants that entered our culture for miners and stayed there as work pants. I bought the pair with the now blown-out knees for around $20, if I recall correctly. And this is hardly the worst it can be: Levi's advertises a special "1967" model of 505 for ... $278!

Which brings me to the main trigger of this old guy tirade: What happened to my damn jeans? After some hunting and strategic waiting, I finally did get myself a pair of 505s from Macy's online when they went on sale for a mere $38. I put in that effort because the pair I had gotten from Old Navy (usually a satisfying source of cheap, decent clothes) didn't fit me quite right (maybe I should have tried the "skinny fit," but the idea made my nerves jangle) and -- the worst problem -- was made of surprisingly thin denim, more the weight of the light cotton/synthetic blend I expect from khaki pants. So I figured I had to pony up the money for the quality I wanted and return to my preferred Levi's.

"Levis 501 rear detail" by Blake Burkhart - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons 

But when my Levi's arrived: exactly the same weight and texture to the fabric. Not really "jeans" in my mind at all. How just not right, especially when one has memories of only being able to buy jeans when they were stiff and a dark indigo blue, requiring an extended breaking-in process.

Ah, well, I guess I'll just have to make due. Now if I can just get them to fit right ...

Friday, October 23, 2015

Am I Wrong ...

I think this is an incredibly ugly camera design ...

I don't mean literally wrong, because it is a purely subjective thing, but somehow I feel that it is wrong to judge something like this purely on its aesthetics. However, it's just a concept idea on the Leica Rumors site, so I guess it's all about aesthetics. So ...

UPDATE: Apparently, there are those who think I am wrong:
"Of course, Leica will probably much never abandon their iconic body design for this series. But is starting anew (and lowering prices, which will never happen) perhaps one way of bringing the M-mount back to prominence?"

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Are You Really Satisfied With That?

They've been saying -- and acting on what they've been saying -- that photojournalism as a specialty is doomed. With smart phones and easy-to-use point-and-shoot cameras producing high quality photos and videos, "anyone can be a photographer." As I have said before: Wrong.

Here's why: It all hinges on what you mean by "high quality." Much as when the camera companies and tech-heads go on about megapixels and bit rates (usually to get you to buy the newest, hottest, most fabulously expensive thing) the technical image quality just gets better and better, but the quality of the picture itself still depends on the photographer.

For example, Time photographers were recently given iPhone 6's to make pictures during news events, and they made some amazing images. But what does that mean? If you ask me, it means amazing photographers make amazing images no matter what the gear.

It reminds me of a story a friend told me about a seminar led by a famous landscape photographer. The speaker was known for lush images shot using giant view cameras and huge, 8x10 negatives. After a slide show and speech, he took questions, one of which was inevitably what gear he used. He delineated the maker of his equipment and lenses, etc., and then added, "But these slides I just shot were made with one of those little plastic cameras they send you as a gift when you subscribe to a magazine." (This was some decades ago, when cheap plastic film cameras were actually considered a worthless gift rather than the tool of deep, meaningful art school students.)

So the question we the consumers need to ask is this: Are we willing to be satisfied with some grab shot of a news event taken by a bystander with his cell phone? It does show what happened ... but it does little else. And you had better not be expecting the craft of Journalism to ensure you get something better, because the craft of Journalism in the end works for a bunch of guys who are less interested in craft, journalism, or quality than they are in making money. Let's face it: The Paley's and Sulzberger's and Graham's and Luce's seem like noble icons only through the mists of time; none of them took a vow of poverty. So it's up to us, the consumers, to show we will buy good stuff and not buy crap.

But if you're satisfied with the crappy photography ...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Today's Reading

Today's Gospel Reading, in part ...

Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” 

From Mark, Chapter 9. 

Before this, the disciples are confused about Jesus' lesson, and discuss it among themselves. They are afraid to ask Him what it means, however, and try to figure it out among themselves. Rather than puzzling out the message (or doing the obvious, and simply asking for guidance), they eventually fall into an argument over who is the best disciple. Typical.

Catching them at this, Jesus calls them together, and says the above. 

So is this coincidence? How is it that the reading seems most grandly applicable in a time of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and others who feel they should naturally inherit the earth?

Let us move on to what comes next ...

Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

One can only think of the Syrian children dead on the beach, the crowds of youngsters struggling with their parents through Southern Europe to find safety. Are we ready to receive them?

Remember: these readings were chosen at least a year ago, if not longer. How is it they are so applicable now?

Saturday, September 19, 2015


"The killings appear to have been skillfully engineered for maximum distribution, and to sow maximum dread, over Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones." This is could be one of the very stupidest things I have read in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, though I am sure I shall see much more ... and far more stupid.

The author, who specializes in writing about tech for The New York Times, engages in a rumination on the rapid spreading of information via social media in our age, and speculates on how "as a newshound," the killer anticipated and exploited this. What crap.

The killer was a 41-year-old, worked in the media, and lived his life -- like his contemporaries and others in the business -- online. How else would one communicate with the world? Envisioning his last-minute posting and videoing of his act as some devious scheme gives him far too much credit. While making a video of a killing is bizarre (though no more bizarre than having a range of delusional grievances that drive one to murder), in a social media-saturated world it means no more than posting a video of any other important life moment.

By no means am I saying, as has become obvious, that he wasn't contemplating and planning his actions for some time. He rented his getaway car weeks before, bought his gun and plenty of ammunition (But for what? No one seems to have an comprehensive, rational answer for that, nor in my opinion will they), and packed an assortment of items to aid in an escape (like a wig, a hat, and several license plates), not to mention his many and various online actions, but my point is that there is not the organized, devious, and clever planning that the writer describes. Vester Lee Flanagan showed the organizational skills of an eight-year-old packing to run away from home, not those of some criminal mastermind.

In the search for clarity, I turned to a friend who both practices and teaches clinical psychology. He has posted a very useful excerpt/summary of an excellent piece that drives directly to the sort of craziness that drove Flanagan to murder.

Put succinctly, he was an "Injustice Collector," the most recent in a line of such, and what may seem a carefully structured method is just an extended collection of deluded, angry complaints and intentions. "Whatever you do, don't cherry-pick quotes from a collector and believe it explains him," Dave Cullen writes. "They tend to state their motives emphatically, but they are mostly outbursts."

Now I should probably give the poor fellow at The New York Times a break. We all approach things from our own perspectives, and when confronted with something so outside of our experience and worldview, something so bizarre and alien as to be positively surreal, we try to box it up and organize so we can understand it. He writes about technology and the internet, and that's how he saw it. But like so many bright, deeply entrenched experts, particularly (and sadly) in journalism, he's lost the path in the depths of his expertise.

In my case, these recent, shocking, hopefully (though sadly not really) unique events have forced upon me, at least, a greater understanding of my role as a part of a news story.

As I said in my last posting, in the journalism business one must go into a disassociated state when dealing with the shocking, the catastrophic, the unimaginably sad. If you don't separate yourself from the reality of it all, you run the risk of being overwhelmed. Sometimes, this attitude can be quite callous and cynical; I refer to it as "telling dead baby jokes."

This is quite easy to do when the people involved literally have nothing to do with you. One is and rightly should be shocked by pictures of drowned children who died trying to flee war and privation, only seeking the most basic of life's needs: safety. But it's a Syrian child, half a world away in Turkey. It's easy to see that as tragic, but nothing to do with me, not in a direct sense.

Alison and Adam were people I knew. Their loved ones are people I know, and people I have had direct interaction with since the killings. They are people I want to help, to be gentle with. I need to cling to the visceral reactions I have to the events, and most important keep fresh that feeling, that moment of hesitation I experience when I contemplate using this picture or that description, fearing how cruelly sad or shocking it might be to my friends and their families. Every death, every horrible news story carries with it this entourage of secondary victims, and as I proceed to trundle through my work in the usual way, I've got to remember that for them this is a uniquely massive event. It may be just another story to me, but it is the central tragedy of their lives for them.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Not Again ...

After careers as a media figure, journalist, businesswoman, mother, and charity executive, Chelsea Clinton has decided now that she is also an author ... and the establishment that adores her and her parents continues to act as enablers.

If the above offends you, allow me to apologize in advance for indelicacy, but Chelsea's easy stroll through careers in which talented others have struggled to advance has always irked me and does so even more with each step. She may be very clever and even very appealing (though I have yet to be presented with any serious evidence of either), but apparently she is not a talented writer.

"Where she succeeds is in making even the knottiest issues seem accessible to a bright seventh grader," New York Times reviewer Maria Russo starts in a hopeful fashion. "In fact, she writes in a style that would seem perfectly at home in a stack of middle-school term papers. ('In my lifetime, a number of countries across the world granted women the right to vote for the first time. Having the right to vote is often only a first step. Being able to safely exercise that right is often harder, even dangerous for some women ... and men alike. In many countries where women are denied a meaningful right to vote, men are too. To be clear, that shared inequality and lack of rights is nothing to celebrate.') There are abundant references to what she has already told us, or will tell us later, a tic teachers seem to love, but alas, no one else." And there we have the damnation by faint praise.

So, aside from the name "Clinton," how has she come to deserve the opportunity to lecture the youth of America for 400 pages? (And seriously, Four. Hundred. Pages. What young person is going to read this? And couldn't their time be more valuably spent reading, I don't know, any well established author on poverty and economics? Surely Steinbeck and Ellison are still in print. Hell, make a run at the other sections The New York Times; there you'll find real journalists who actually know how to write like grown ups.)

So, the review concludes, what is this massive doorstop for? "On the evidence of 'It’s Your World,' Clinton feels a lot for other people. [Oh Dear God] But it mainly seems as if she feels sorry for them, and that’s ultimately where 'It’s Your World' reaches its limits. This is not a book destined to influence hearts and minds in the way 'I Am Malala' [A book by a young woman who has actually done something] has done — by helping children to understand the slow way change can happen and to truly feel a part of that magic."

I wonder what identity she'll be offered an easy, effort-free pathway to next ...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Alison and Adam

What hangs with me, some two days after the killings of WDBJ's Alison Parker and Adam Ward, is the sound of her screams. It wasn't the long, horror movie scream, but a series of short screams. It was the sound of being startled and frightened, like when someone jumps out at a girl in a house of horror and shouts: "Boo!" At the time, I took it as a good sign: as long as she was screaming, she was alive. I am used to the sound of gunshots on TV (I edit the network footage, full of the violence of the world, every morning), but those half-dozen or so screams were both familiar and troubling, especially now that I know what they mean. It inhabits my mind.

However, to be honest, I must note that I didn't know any of the characters well. Adam was working in production when I was at WDBJ, running the in-studio camera, getting promoted to the actual Photojournalist job only as I was leaving. Both Alison and their killer were hired after I left. It is a small world we work in, and even smaller in a relatively tiny city like Roanoke, and so we run into each other often on the streets and generally get along amiably. But I don't want to create the illusion that they were some great friends of mine.

If you want a personal connection, there is the fact that I held that very job -- the morning field reporter's photographer -- for a year or so before moving over to do Fox's morning show. I think it was Adam who replaced me. But I have to say, this in no way troubles me. I didn't have to deal with the workplace annoyance that the killer was (rather, I was most amused as friends still there told me stories about it), and the whole thing really seemed in that way distant from me.

But those screams hang on. That poor girl.

It is a shocking and startling event. We watched it more or less live in the newsroom, just before starting our own morning show. Someone came in saying that "something" had happened on the WDBJ live report. Another local journalist quickly posted a recording on his FB page, and we then acquired a copy ourselves. Frankly, I thought it was a drive by -- a few wild shots that scared everyone, and then we'd all move on.

What I didn't know -- and wouldn't know for a while -- was that across town (I work at the local Fox affiliate, they were at the CBS station), the people in the control room were listening to a horrible silence. For those unfamiliar with TV, the reporter has what is known as an IFB -- it's that earplug they wear -- where the director and producer can talk directly to them from the control room. When you're in the field as Alison and Adam were, it's usually plugged into a cell phone that has been dialed into a special phone line back at the station. After something unexpected, the producer would probably get on the IFB saying, "What the hell was that?!" And the reporter would call in with an explanation and maybe an apology. Then they would all move on.

But Wednesday, all the control room heard was silence.

In our newsroom, we were all struggling to find out what happened ourselves. The police are typically difficult and unwilling to commit. At first, they would say there was an "incident," then after an agonizing period, a "shooting," then a "shooting with injuries." And that's when it went from just another story to something truly serious. Now it wasn't some weird, wacky "Thing" that happened, like accidentally falling off the stage or saying an obscene word on air. But how serious?

You send people to the scene, but it's nearly an hour's drive away from the station. The police have nothing further to say -- they are "investigating." Side rumors are flying. But most of all, as a journalist, you are in breaking news mode.

It's like how a doctor disassociates from a patient. You don't spend a lot of time thinking deeply about the subject and what it means; you just gather the information, get the picture, find out what happened and organize it to make an understandable report. The whole scene was on the one hand surreal -- we're more than familiar with the people, the place, and that sort of thing doesn't happen to people you know in places like that -- and on the other very businesslike.

It's only later that the philosophy seeps in.

The other thing that stays me is their youth, or rather the lives interrupted. I remember that time: when you're getting everything in place. You have found what you want to be, and you're on the upslope of that career, nothing but sunshine and the summit of achievement ahead of you. Both had decided to marry, having finally found the partner for that journey. And then ... nothing. It's done. All that potential, all that hope and ambition and joy. The future is no more. It's heartbreaking.

By Monday, we'll have all moved on. After all, in Syria this happens ten times daily. Being a journalist at all in Pakistan, in Russia, in Mexico, in too many places comes with the expectation of personal risk. I don't blame the world for losing interest. But it will stick with us for a while.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It was in the Corner Just Where I Left It

Every so often, I am struck by phrases we use casually, phrases that we all understand but have lost all of their literal meaning.

A longtime, personal favorite is "spare change." What is that? Is that to mean that you have money - you know, the money that you actually use - and then you have some extra that you keep around, but don't really need or plan to ever have any use for, but just have in case of an emergency, like a spare tire? People may have more money than they need, or even more than they could ever spend (I'm looking at you, Donald Trump), but when is that ever spare?

Another is "find the time," as in: "I just couldn't find the time for that." Where was this time that you found? Did it pile up in a corner with the dust and dirty laundry? How is it you didn't notice this time, just laying around there, before? And finally, who knew that time could just wander off like that? No wonder we seem to have so little.

Maybe if we had some spare time, like spare change, carefully boxed up in a safe place just in case we needed it. After all, we all have some extra time we're not using, right?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Be This Guy

We all like to think we would be that guy - the one who holds his morals and stands up in the face of evil. But I think about this every so often, and I fear I might have been worse than simply not being that guy.

“I find Elser is someone to be proud of because he wasn’t an aristocrat or an educated man, he was an ordinary German craftsman and he chose to resist. He had that moral courage inside him. What makes his story even more remarkable is that he managed to resist in the countryside, because it was easier to keep to yourself in a big city. There was more anonymity there. In the countryside everyone knew everyone else so there was more pressure to conform.”

It's really embarrassing, in a way. It's not like all sorts of people didn't resist, or actively work against the Nazis.  There was an active German underground - it doesn't get as good press as that of the French (who needed something to cling to after a lot of their Jews seemed to disappear, among other things) - and there are a lot of other examples of people under Nazi rule who at worst managed to make the machinery of oppression grind very slowly and poorly, and at best actively fought.

Richard Pryor on the Nazis: "Was iz das?" "Oh, nothin'. Just funning around..."

However, history is more commonly full of people who would rather be left alone while they get on with their lives. In fact, if you go through all history carefully, you find the general rule is like that in the average American election: 20 percent on each extreme end, and about 60 percent in the middle. Or, f you want, split into thirds: one third for, one third against, and one third who want to be left alone to go about their business.

The Nazis provides a particularly invidious example, and not just for the reason you might think. With 20-20 hindsight, it's easy to see their evil from top to bottom, starting with mass killings of not just Jews, but political opponents, other troublesome religions, the mentally retarded, the handicapped, and on and on. There's the absorption of all society into a grand social scheme, the usurpation of children from their parents. But at the start, especially for your average person not paying close attention, this wasn't so clear. Then, they seemed an understandable, crypto-conservative/socialist reaction to the tough times ... with cool uniforms. If one is honest, it's easy to imagine joining up for the parades.

What does this mean? One perhaps should approach exciting political ideas - especially those that claim to solve everything easily - with caution. And one should be humble. Though we may hope to be Martin Niemöller, we generally fall into that middle third, just going along to get along ...

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Apparently I'm not the only one who is now tired of the flag debate.

"I am here to say there is something at stake far more important than this symbol," says "Southern Avenger" Jack Hunter.

"Heritage might not be hate. But battling hate is far more important than anyone’s heritage, politics, or just about anything else. We should have different priorities."

Monday, June 22, 2015

About that Flag ...

Ya' know, maybe we need to think about this. The whole flag thing is getting old.

I found the whole debate tiresome to begin with: few who objected to the Confederate Battle Flag seemed to have even the simplest grasp of what it was, let alone what it meant, and those defending it often seemed unable to hear themselves and the antiquated, absurd rhetoric they were using. But now, it's become embarrassing.

"Let me be clear: I don’t think that everyone who reveres the flag is racist," J. Richard Cohen, the President of the Southern Poverty Law Center writes in Time. "Surely all of the people who apply for state-issued license plates bearing the flag do not believe in the hatred with which some people display it. For many South Carolinians, the flag at this point may well represent heritage without the taint of past racism.

"But they should ask themselves, Whose heritage are they celebrating?"

Indeed, after the shootings in Charleston, SC, the use of this particular flag has truly passed its time, hasn't it? I mean, the CSA and its military used at least four flag patterns (depending on how one treats the "Bonnie Blue" flag); can't we just use one of those when honoring people who served as soldiers believing that they were merely defending their homeland?

The Bonnie Blue Flag
from Wikipedia

Not that I think this will solve anything or end the debate, but maybe I should note that - like Mr. Cohen - I don't think all the people who display the battle flag are bigots. Far from it: I'm usually the guy defending both it and them. I've spent a lot of time explaining historical and regional details to people in this. But the SC shooter has pushed me past the limit.

So I'm done. If I want to talk about the admirable aspects of Robert E. Lee (and note the less-than-admirable ones), just to pick an example, I'll do it using one of the other flags, one that dimwitted lunatics haven't expropriated.

Robert E. Lee's personal headquarters flag

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sooner or Later, You'll Need A Source

So there's been a bit of a micro-sensation as Apple first announced a music streaming service and then, more to the point here, started putting together a news service, called "News." CNN Money worries - or rather, passes on the worries of others, because as a "legit" news operation, it can't have opinions of its own - that Apple "job listings provoked some of the anxiety that is palpable in the news industry at a moment of intense tech-fueled disruption. Journalists on Twitter cracked dark jokes about being put out of work by Apple when the job listings circulated widely on Monday."

But here's the thing about all of this - and a thing that has frustrated me as technology has disrupted journalism - sooner or later, the stories have to come from somewhere. In other words: Apple's News, and Yahoo, and even the now ancient Drudge Report, though they do some original reporting, all still are pretty much news aggregators. This is a cheap way to move information around without having to pay for the content creation; you just take other people's work and point at it.

And that's where I get frustrated: the internet isn't the only technology that's revolutionized how we get news. Cameras are cheaper, smaller and more efficient, video editing is a totally different, easier, and cheaper process than when I started some 30 years ago, still photographs are virtually cost free thanks to digital (which eliminated the costs of film and processing), sending stories is now a breeze via worldwide internet connections accessed by commonly available, free wifi connections. So now, rather than having to build an expensive bureau somewhere, staffed by a number of workers in specialized fields using expensive equipment to create content that then has to be sent to a central distribution point via expensive, unique transmission lines, a news organization can send out a kid with a camera and a laptop ... virtually anywhere.

But news organizations are cutting down on bureaus, counting on free consumer-provided content (don't get me started again on the "everyone's a photographer with the iPhone" thing) or locally produced (usually by state-owned and -run operations) material revoiced by some network reporter at a hub half a continent away (or not changed at all, when linked via an aggregator). In my earlier blog on iPhones, etc., I quoted Boston photographer John Tlumacki: "I’m so sick of citizen journalism, which kind of dilutes the real professionals’ work. I am promoting real journalism, because I think that what we do is kind of unappreciated and slips into the background."

So what happens when every outlet becomes an aggregator? It's much, much cheaper - you need only employ a limited number of "editors" to move material around, and they don't really need to be journalists, just web mavens. Maybe you collate a few pictures or factoids and put them under a clickbait headline ("7 Ways You May Be Killed By Your Puppy!"), but nor real reporting or news gathering.

But then, where do the stories come from? Sooner or later, you have to have a source.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Lessons I Have Learned from Having a Cooking Segment on TV

The best thing about having chefs on our morning show most every day is, of course, the food.

The next best thing is the tricks and techniques you learn, things that you not only didn't know but probably never gave any thought to when trying to cook yourself.

1. Use Nonstick Spray. No, all the time, not just when you're worried your cake will stick to the pan. Always. I know you've got Teflon pans, and they're nonstick miracles of science. Spray on the stuff anyhow, what'll it hurt?

2. Just Let the Food Cook. So you lay your bacon in the pan and it starts to sizzle. You're tempted to reach in there with the spatula and move it around, maybe flip it a few times to make sure it doesn't stick. (See above.) Stop. Don't. Just let it sit there and cook. How is it supposed to cook properly if you keep messing with it and taking it away from the heat? Flip it when that side is done, not because you're nervous.

3. Cook Real Food, with Real Ingredients. Honestly, it's not that much harder or more time consuming to make stuff from "scratch." (And when I say "scratch," I don't mean you have to make your own tomato sauce or salad dressing; let's be reasonable.) Cutting up real vegetables, chopping fresh herbs, stirring it into just basic things like tomato sauce - not completely pre-made jars of spaghetti sauce - really does make things taste better. And they taste just the way you want them to.

4. Prep. This is the secret to not making yourself crazy doing Instruction 3. Spend a few minutes before you start pulling together your ingredients, chopping, dicing, shredding or whatever you need to do to them, and having them all set out in little bowls and ramekins. You know, like they do in the cooking shows? Then you're not rushing around the kitchen trying to find this thing or that, all in a panic, while your food is burning.

Actually, I have begun to find this step in the process not dull or frustrating, but rather very soothing ... almost a zen-like, calming moment. It lets me know that I have all my ingredients and that I have everything under control. And the regular, controlled chopping and prepping process itself is almost like a meditation before going to work.

5. Use Salt and Pepper. In the 80s, there was this thing against salt, and everyone stopped cooking with it. But it's a flavor enhancer and - when not done to extreme - it really helps, as does pepper. Go ahead: throw some around as you cook, then taste it and see if you need more. You'll be surprised how much this helps as you go along.

6. Having a Go-To Technique Is Not Lazy. It's a go-to technique. It ensures that, when confronted with something you're unsure about, you still have a pretty good chance you'll make a decent meal out of it. For me, it's garlic and butter (and maybe sauteed onions, depending on what's being faced). I figure you could hand me a bowl of crickets and, with a hot pan and enough garlic, onions, and butter (and salt and pepper; see above), I could make something I would be willing to eat.

7. Don't Be Afraid. You know, often if something isn't what you wanted, it can still be good. Frequently, you can save yourself by falling back on a trusted technique (See 6. above). Or you can just chuck it, if it's hopeless, and move on. This happens to the best of us, like in the Julia Child video. (At 2:50, she completely jacks up flipping her potato pancake. "But you can always pick it up, if you're alone in the kitchen," she infamously says. "Who is going to see?") I can't tell you how many of our segments turned out to be about, not just slightly, but completely different dishes than planned.

8. And Finally - And Most Importantly - You Are Not a Chef! Even after all this, and even though all your friends and family tell you what a fabulous cook you are, even though you have a bunch of very expensive knives and really nice pots and pans, you are not a Chef. Or rather (with, not irony, but spoken-seriously-with-intent quotes) a "Chef."

Chefs are professionals. They have careers, they went to school just for this. The work really, really hard. Actually, the word in French means "chief." He isn't a cook, he runs the entire kitchen. Don't cook a few good meals and think you are a "Chef." Show these people some respect.


These aren't all the rules of cooking, nor are they the only ones or even the best ones, but they are what I have learned from watching while the experts work.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

One More Time ...

A dialog between a colleague and her young son, posted on Facebook:

"Mama, I wonder how time works. Like, we walked in here, but - I don't know how to explain it."
"Like, how come everything doesn't happen at the exact same moment?"
"Yeah! Except I think everything *does* happen in the exact same moment, just in different dimensions. It's, like, the complete opposite of infinity."
How is it he can theorize on time and space like this, but he can't remember to turn off a light when he leaves a room?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Newton's First Law ...

"Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it."

I'm not in motion ... and I don't really see any forces that impress me.
But I'm trying, I'm trying ...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

In the Gap

Again, it's been a while, and again it's been because I have been busy. So I thought I would share with you the series on Appomattox and the surrender that effectively ended the Civil War, the project for the Fox 21/27 Morning News that has been taking up all of my time.

More to come ...

Monday, March 16, 2015

How Far the Mighty Fall ...

So Leica has done a remarkable job of surviving several near deaths and predictions of doom, often by making fancy limited editions -- some classy (35th anniversary of Leica Historical Society of America, for example) and some not so much.  But this ... well, this is a bit much.

This here's the "Leica M Kumamon," and according to, it "is based on the famous Leica M Digital Range Finder (Type 240). On the front, it has a smaller logo and KumaMon symbol. On the lid on, we have a very large Kumamon logo and the words with “Leica Kumamon x” indicates that this version is specifically made ​​for Kumamon mascot."

Kumamon, Wikipedia explains, is the mascot for the Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan, created as part of a tourism campaign.  Contrary to what I originally thought (or rather feared), it is not a cartoon face of an African, but rather a little black bear.

I have this vision of David Douglas Duncan suddenly looking into the clear blue sky of Southern France and softly saying he felt a disturbance in the Force ...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Deep Thoughts

It's one of those profundities of adolescence that you suddenly come to realize that time -- or at least the way we mark time -- is an artifice, something we just mutually agree on for our general convenience.  There is no universal requirement, no rule of physics that says this is one o'clock, or that is Tuesday.  We simply name it so because otherwise we have a hard time keeping track of stuff.

But it's actually much more mind blowing that that.  Lately, a couple of articles addressed the actually physics of it -- the rule that would say why this is Tuesday -- and it turns out that there is a problem with time, or at least with the way we perceive it.

Einstein in 1921 by F Schmutzer

As one article points out, according to the science of it, there really is no time.  According to Brainy Quote, Albert Einstein said, "The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."  He famously had to stop using time as a constant to make the math of his Theory of Relativity work.  Now, physicists say (because of that math Einstein did) everything actually does happen all at once.  Or, rather, everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen already exists as a dimension, like height or distance.  It's just there

But here's the thing: We only move along the dimension in one direction.  It's as if you could only go up, but never down again, or if you drove to Cleveland along the interstate, there was only one lane and no return.  Why can't we move up and down time like we go from here to there and back?

Ludwig Boltzmann

A piece on the BBC website says it apparently has something to do with entropy and a guy named Ludwig Boltzmann.  Boltzmann was a classic example of the man before his time.  He argued for the existence of atoms before the consensus of scientists agreed as well as a number of other basic principles that we now consider obvious truisms (and he was ostracized for his beliefs).  He died in 1906, 10 years before Einstein published and won the Nobel for Relativity and physics generally came around to agree with pretty much everything Boltzmann said.

As the article explains it: "According to thermodynamics, every object in the world has a certain amount of entropy associated with it, and whenever anything happens to it, the amount of entropy increases. For instance, if you put ice cubes into a glass of water and let them melt, the entropy inside the glass goes up."  But like time, entropy only works in one direction, and the two, Boltzmann thought, might be related.  Time moves in that way because it's forced to by entropy.  Or rather we move through time that way because of entropy, because time doesn't move, just our place in it. Or ... well, one can end up in the thick weeds fairly quickly, especially (as the BBC piece explains) if you start getting into the math of it all, which often still insists that time is a dimension like all the others and we ought to be able to move in either direction on it.

This is a lot more complicated that getting a Delorean to 88 miles an hour ... but I think it's a lot more interesting.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

This Is Even A Bit Much for Me ...

Leica has a new designer camera out: The M-P "Correspondent," designed for them by rock star Lenny Kravitz.

Now here's the thing: I'm conflicted. On the one hand, I'd love to have a Leica M-P, especially one carefully blacked out in the tradition of how photojournalists through the decades have personalized their rangefinders. (Now, they usually did this because the Leica M was a favorite of war photographers, and taking everything down to matte black reduced the chances of being targeted by snipers, but that's a separate thought and story, especially as photographers who never saw the wrong end of a machine gun started covering their cameras with black gaffers tape to be just as cool.)

On the other hand, I find it hilariously absurd that they have o so carefully worn down the black paint at the traditional rub points to reveal the underlying brass, so the camera will look like it has been in continuous use since around 1945.  That's taking the idea of Leica Jewelry to a whole new level.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Left Shark

Now that we've survived the deflated football "scandal"(And are you as tired as I am of the addition of -gate to words to name a scandal?  Can't we just come up with a new name for one?  Aren't journalists supposed to be clever?), moved through the fascination with the details of Katy Perry's psychedelic Super Bowl halftime show, and are now deep into whether Brian Williams is capable of telling an anecdote that is accurate, I saw something that inspired me to take a step back.

But first, let me take a short second step back -- or rather, out to the side.  Really, talk about First World Problems, is this all we have to be fascinated with?  Syria and Iraq are in real war, overrun with dangerously crazy killers, Ukraine is being invaded by Russia in a situation that, in future centuries, may be regarded with the same head-shaking amazement as we look now at August 1914, at least two kinds of dangerous viruses (viri?) are running about on several continents, simply hinting at what nature is capable of suddenly producing to clean out populations, not to mention a dozen other truly important things out there, and we care mostly about what kind of ball a multimillionaire chucks at another one?  Really?!

Moving on: there is general coverage of the irresistibly appealing story of a small businessman in Orlando, Florida, who hopped on the Left Shark bandwagon by producing small figures of it (him?) for sale online.  Katy Perry's lawyers promptly served him with a cease-and-desist letter.  Typical little feature story that follows these bigger ones like pilot fish, and one that usually ends with the big, mean, expensive lawyers coming to some resolution with the little guy that lets him do his thing and proves the star isn't evil.

However, I think this little story should be looked at from the other side.  The new model for music is no longer what we all think.  Sure, a few stars like Katy Perry have big hits with big distributors that make a lot of money, but those are small in number and even that top one percent doesn't work like it used to.  As for the second tier -- well, let's just say the system will no longer support the Ozzy Osbornes of the 21st Century in the mode to which Ozzy's family became accustomed. 

The actual sale of the music no longer pays the bills for most, if not all, professional musicians.  It's the concerts and the secondary sales -- T-shirts, tchotchkes, and little figurines, for example -- that bring in the actual income.  So maybe Katy Perry herself, currently in the Olympian upper levels of the music business, doesn't need the twenty bucks a Left Shark figure will bring in, but all those other folks do.  I'm thinking we need to look at this maybe from their point of view.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Things I Would Write About If I Had the Time ...

Just because I go a month without posting doesn't mean I'm not thinking about stuff to put here.  It's generally just that I don't have the time, either to properly research and compose a piece, or to merely sit quietly at the computer for a sufficient period of time to get down my thoughts ...

But, among the ideas I've had are:

The Horrors of Overwriting, specifically the song "Mr. Bojangles" and the book Bridges of Madison County.  Sometimes writers put just a little too much effort into composing artful work, producing phrases and sentences that are grindingly overdone.

How does ISIS get these kids to fight for them?  Perhaps we should look at Clockwork Orange and ask if the current Middle East, specifically the area around Syria, doesn't resemble the world in Anthony Burgess' novel.  Just replace the garbled Russian he used for slang with garbled Arabic ...

And while we're at comparisons, I was wondering this morning if there was a decent comparison between today's complaints of a wealthy 1 percent and greater income disparity and the scene in Victorian England.  Probably not a useful parallel, as I suspect there was a large middle class, mostly forgotten because of their absence in the period literature from then that we read today.

Anyway, I keep trying.  We may see that first one yet ...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Et Sic ad Infinitum

over a very interesting piece on black.

What a great line, and so over-the-top classy in Latin: "Et sic ad infinitum" -- and thus infinitely.

Things have been busy lately, and so this blog has lay fallow for a month, and as I lean into the wind of hyperactivity, and frustration, and panic, and so on, et sic ad infinitum seems to be the way of things.

The picture, by the way -- and it is just a big black square without any detail, the Latin phrase written on each of the four sides -- is from a 1617 book by Robert Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi Maioris scilicet et Minoris Metaphysica, Physica, atque Technica Historia (The Metaphysical, Physical, and Technical History of the Two Worlds, Namely the Greater and the Lesser), and was an attempt to illustrate the universe before the Creation.

Sort of Zen, in its way ...