Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas 2007

honeysuckleMy favorite honeysuckle vine grows by my nightly dog-walking route. It has a complex scent—jasmine with a hint of camphor-wood and musk. I stop every night to smell it. It amuses me to make the dogs wait while I stop to smell something. Generally, it blooms from June through September but this year it is still blooming in December -odd weather this year.

Some may suspect that, since I opened with the weather, this will be a no-big-news year for the North Carolina Haslups Christmas news letter. I suppose… but the weather has been big news this year. You see, we are having a drought here in the Carolinas. Last spring they declared a minor drought and since then they changed that to a moderate drought, then major, severe, extreme and finally exceptional. Efforts were made to conserve water but it was only after it was too late that they realized that they should have been conserving adjectives as well. “Exceptional” is the last one – the highest level. Now they’re out.

papaLee is still working for Keane, Inc., on a computer system to track environmental mitigation projects that offset impacts of DOT construction projects in NC. What is new is that this year the time he steals from his honey-do list is spent on photography. This mild obsession was made worse when Irene gave him permission to buy a new camera for his birthday and Christmas. She thought that, since digital cameras don’t use film, they make photography an inexpensive hobby. What she failed to take into account is that the camera he wanted takes interchangeable lenses. Having a Nikon D40 around is a bit like having an unspayed female cat. So far the litter includes two zoom lenses, an attachment for copying 35mm slides, a telescopic converter, several close-up lenses and a Ukrainian-made Russian SKF-1 stereo attachment for taking 3D photographs. Fortunately, the D40 is almost content—lacking only a faster prime lens, a flash and a much bigger camera bag to be totally happy…for the moment.

100_1005_cropMy Halloween costume was a member of the 3d Paparazzi. To view this photo you need to cross your eyes slightly so you see three vague images and then concentrate on the image in the middle which will be in 3D. It takes some practice but most people with good vision in both eyes can learn.

Less satisfactory are Lee’s new glasses. Most people start to need glasses when they are Lee’s age, officially 39, and Lee thought it might be time for him. The progressive bifocals are Lee’s first glasses that he is supposed to wear all the time. Trying to look on the positive side, Lee has compiled a Pollyannaish list of things his new glasses do well. The new glasses, he decided, are great for looking at his watch, good for reading the odometer in his car and perfect for futzing with his cell phone. Sadly, they are irritating for almost everything else. The are unsatisfactory for reading, driving and, oh yes, they give him a bit of a headache in his recliner with his laptop while writing a Christmas letter.

ireneIrene still sells cheese for Harris Teeter. They are renovating the store where she works. It is to be a “Super Flagship”, one of only five Harris Teeters so designated in the country. For the cheese department this means a much bigger facility with fancy new cases—needed, presumably, to keep the cheese from flying about when the Super Flagship is maneuvering at high speed.

She took another trip on the corporate jet to Wisconsin, this time for a course on cheese making. On last year’s trip the Wisconsin Cheese Producer’s Association plied Harris Teeter with food, wine, entertainment, dinner cruises on the lake, etc. This year’s trip was a four-day intensive course on cheese making—up early, in class all day at UW, bag lunches, dinner in the hotel--quite a different scene. Irene thinks that several people on this year’s trip were managers who, hearing how much fun last year’s trip had been, suddenly developed an interest in cheese when another trip was being planned. That newfound interest in cheese was severely tested and, in some cases, came up short when the class ran far into the evening, leaving time only for hotel food before bed with class starting early the next morning. Irene had a swell time but some of her classmates got a bit cranky.

cheese whizzes
The Harris Teeter Cheese Whizzes.

Speaking of being cranky, Irene struggled with frequent migraines most of the year. She went to her doctors saying she had headaches. They did CAT scans of her head and MRI images of her arteries, they measured, they consulted, they evaluated, they employed the full arsenal of diagnostic technology, and in the end they had good news: she just had a headache. The process cost our insurance company some money but, on the positive side, after being married to me for almost thirty years she has finally had her head examined.

It turns out that the expensive drugs do work better for migraines than the cheap ones. As the holidays approach Irene is now more often cranky about the cost of her medicine than about the pain in her head. This is a big improvement.

savanahChristopher is a Senior at the Ringling Art School in Sarasota, Florida. Since he works hard and keeps his nose reasonably clean there just isn’t that much to write about for him. He gets good grades, his teachers and his boss at Big E’s coffee shop think well of him, and neither he nor his girlfriend ever seem to need bailing out of jail. Next year there should be more to report—there will be graduation, for one thing (in May), and maybe a new job and/or a change of locale, and who knows what else. But, for this year…

He was given an assignment in his Documentary Photo class: to document his Thanksgiving dinner. His teacher, doubtless, was hoping for Norman Rockwell shots of a golden-brown bird surrounded by a quintessentially American family. What Chris had to photograph was his girlfriend’s pleasant, but not particularly photogenic parents and grandfather eating in a restaurant where Chris would have felt awkward turning supper into a photo-shoot. After taking a desultory shot or two he decided to hope that his good performance on other assignments would make up for one dud.

Amber still works at the Carolina Living and Learning Center, a home for adults with Autism in Pittsboro, NC. She is still applying to medical schools where she hopes to specialize in psychiatry. Her grades and scores were good and she volunteering in the ER at the local hospital to jazz her resume and improve her chances. She lives in Chapel Hill with her two ferrets and a cat. Her latest boyfriend, Jake, is a graduate student in Modern Languages at UNC and teaches undergraduate classes in Italian.

Amber reviews some photos of her cousins in South Hill.

Her best friend from High School, Liz/Anna, got married this year and Amber was Maid of Honor. Anna decided to go by her middle name (Liz) when she left for college. At the wedding you could tell who were family and who were her college friends by what they called her: Anna for family and Liz for friends.
Amber was Maid of Honor.

It is wonderful having Amber live close enough to do things with us. We seldom go to a film without calling her first to see if she has seen it, and on Tuesday there is the “pub quiz” at the Hibernian Pub in Cary. The prize for the team with the most correct answers to a list of (occasionally idiotic) questions is a $100 gift card. When Amber is there (every other week) I play on her team, The Boondocks Saints. We win often enough to make the pub quiz thing about 75% self-financing. If Amber gets into a far-away medical school those state capitol and European geography questions will be trouble.

Lee’s father is doing well. He had his cataract fixed and no longer walks into walls in dimly lit environments. This year’s “beach week” will be Hilton Head again so we’ll see if his improved vision helps with his bicycling abilities. To be fair, the problem was not so much his vision as the coaster brakes on the tourist bikes we rented. If you stop on a hill you have to decide between falling over with your feet on the brake or putting a foot down and rolling down the hill towards the muddy, alligator-infested canal. Dad tried both options and found neither altogether satisfactory. This year, we’ll get him a hand brake. (More about Beach Week).
No brakes needed on the beach. The sand slows you down.

We had a very enjoyable visit with him for the Thanksgiving holiday and also had Lee’s college roommate, Bill Ritch visiting from Atlanta. Bill’s girlfriend, Caran, was able to come, too, and we had a wonderfully full house for the holiday.
We also got to spend some time with Bill and Caran at two Science Fiction conventions we attended this year: the Robert A Heinlein Centennial celebration in Kansas City (see my blog postinghere), and DragonCon in Atlanta (see my blog posting ).

Both Lee and Irene lost cousins this year. Lee’s cousin, Tod Mears, was struck by a truck on a highway in West Virginia. Tod and Lee have a great-grandfather in common, Eli Motts, and many of the same people who were at last year’s Fehl-Motts 100th reunion were at this year’s funeral. Funerals are not as good as reunions but it was good to see everyone again. Hopefully, next year we can manage a happier occasion.

On Irene’s side of the family, she lost a cousin-by-marriage to illness in November. His wife, Krystal., was Irene’s cousin Wayne’s step-daughter. Irene never met him but her parents, who met him at Croft family reunions, spoke well of him. Irene’s cousin, once removed, several times hospitalized and occasionally jailed, born Robert Knievel but better known as Evel, R.I.P..

Wishing you a merry Christmas, the happiest of New Years and all the joys of the holiday season.

– The NC Haslups, Christmas 2007

jaxonTamAs I type this Jaxon has just sent his Holiday greetings… if I understand him right. He may just have been barking at this critter who sneaks into the back yard sometimes at night to scavenge for uneaten dog food.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Cheap Critic: Underdog -- A Labor of Love


I hadn't expected to like Underdog. The trailers I had seen for it didn't show any tie-in to the original series. I was expecting it to be a pleasant but insubstantial film about a boy and his talking super-dog that took its name from the 1960s cartoon show -- and nothing else but its name. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the writers had gone to considerable lengths to stick to the original material with the main concession to the difficulties of a more-realistic style being that the two lead characters -- Underdog and Polly -- were each split into two individuals (a human and a dog) to avoid the surreality of people ignoring the fact that underdog's alter-ego, Shoeshine Boy, is a talking dog.

And some Disney references, too, here's A Lady and the Tramp riff.

All this effort to tie the film back to the original marks it as clearly a labor of love because it wasn't easy and... nobody will care. The Underdog cartoon show ran from 1964 until 1973. The new movie is a kids film about a forty-year-old cartoon show that hasn't seen many reruns in the last twenty years. Not only will today's kids not remember the show, their parents won't remember it either. It's before their time. All that work to tie a new kids movie to a cartoon show their grandparents used to watch. From a business point of view, what's that all about? It wasn't a business decision: it was just something the people who made the film needed to do -- a labor of love.

Simon Bar Sinister then and now.

Don't get me wrong here, Underdog won't change your life. It is insubstantial but it's fun. It's good family fun with enough references to other things -- not just the cartoon show, but to the Superman films and other Disney properties -- to make it enjoyable for grown-ups too.

It would make a fine DVD rental to watch with your young grandchildren.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Several of my readers have noticed that blogging has been light lately and have worried that I might have developed a life. Nothing could be further from the truth as I will now demonstrate.

Here is a device that has consumed some of the time I might otherwise have spent blogging:

SKF-1 Russian Stereo Adapter

Here is a photo I narfed off of eBay. It shows a Russian SKF-1 stereo adapter mounted on an old nikon (using a Russian Helios 58mm lens.) I don't suspect that MoscowStore will mind my using their photo since I bought the product from them that it portrays.

I went through several plans on how I was going to use this adapter. Initially I was going to mount it on my Kodak p712 using the accessory mounting tube. But the mechanics didn't work out. The Kodak accessory tube mounts the accessory a fixed distance from the front of the camera. This works fine for filters, etc. but doesn't work with the SKF-1 since by the time the lens has zoomed out to the 30mm length required for a stereo photo it has pulled too far back into the tube and the corners are cut off.

My next theory was to use the 18-55mm lens that came with my new Nikon D40 but the filter ring on the lens turns as the lens focuses. This could be made to work -- sort of -- by focusing manually and repositioning the adapter every time you move the focus ring. Not very satisfactory, to say the least.

So I went to my local used camera dealer and bought an old non-AI 30mm lens. I can only use it in Manual mode and the meter doesn't work so I have to guess the exposure, look at the histogram on the camera, adjust and try again until I get it right. My current rig for the SKF-1 uses that 30mm lens.

SKF-1 Auction Screen Shot
The eBay auction

BTW: if you are thinking about getting an SKF-1 for your Nikon digital don't be tempted by the Russian 58mm lens. The right focal length on a D40 is 30mm because of the smaller sensor size.

The SKF-1 is set up to be slightly crosseyed so that a subject four meters from the lens can be centered in both of the left and right images. My dog Jaxon is very friendly and it is difficult to get him to stay 12 feet away so you can take his photo. In this series I tied him to his run and stood ten feet beyond the reach of his cable. Technically, this worked fine, but he did bark at the camera without stopping until I was done. People tend to look retarded if you take their picture while they are talking. Barking dogs are also not a their best, as these pictures demonstrate.


To view these photos relax your eyes letting the image go slightly out of focus. Cross your eyes slightly so you see three copies of the image and then concentrate on the one in the middle.




For a few more photos taken with the SKF-1 plus some more-technical discussion of depth-of-field and vignetting, see my Flickr set here

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Cheap Critic: Enchanted


Ok, even a dedicated cheapskate spends a buck every now and then. We have out-of-town guests staying with us for Thanksgiving and we all decided to go see Disney's Enchanted at a first-run theater. The late show at the Southpoint Theater in Durham, NC. If you were there too I was the guy in the fourth row who muttered about "ten bucks to see an f'in' movie" though the opening credits.

I don't have time for a lengthy review. Did I mention out-of-town guests? Well, they are starting to wake up and my hermit-in-the-office time is limited, plus there's that big raw bird in the refrigerator to deal with...

Without giving away anything that isn't obvious from the trailer, Enchanted is the story of a Disney princess from an animated world -- small animals that talk and sing, birds that can tie ribbons into bows, that sort of stuff. She has a run-in with an evil queen and winds up magiced into gritty, live-action New York. While she is waiting for her handsome prince to come rescue her she is taken in by a world-weary divorce lawyer (divorced himself) who lives alone with his young daughter.

Enchanted is a lovely film and succeeds wonderfully at what it tries to do. It is an excellent example of a rare form: the affectionate parody -- parody without snarkiness. In Enchanted Disney spends the entire film making fun of Disney films, with specific references to all of their animated films and deft send-ups of the patented Disney Schmaltz. In the animated portions there are just a few too many cute talking animals helping our heroine, a few too many hearts and flowers and the songs are just a bit over the top. But it's wonderfully subtle, you can get the joke without stepping out of the experience. In the live actions sequences the cartoon romanticism collides with gritty, New York realism and comes off better than you might expect -- not because the characters are surrounded by some sort of Glenda-the-good-witch bubble, but because princesses turn out to be more resilient than you might expect. There is not one shred of alienation in the whole film.

One gets the sense that the entire rather-large cast of Enchanted consists of insider cameos. In recent years Disney has had a series of mega-hits on Broadway which has given them a New York Theater vibe to offset their Los Angeles Movie biz connections. With Enchanted Disney is flexing their New Yorker muscles: Enchanted is very much a New York City movie -- several plot elements revolve around addresses (New Yorkers love the yeah, I've been there thing) and there are fantasy elements designed just for residents of the Big Apple; talking chipmunks and giant dragons may be fantasy elements for the rest of us but that rent-controlled apartment with a view is the stuff of dreams for New Yorkers.

Bottom line: If you take a very jaded view of things Disney you might miss the cynicism of other parodies that target Disney films (see The Cheap Critic: Shrek Third) but if you are looking for an almost perfect family film you might drop a couple of bucks on Enchanted. I spent ten to see it and I am only mildly cranky about it: the movie is that good.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Belated Veterans Day Posting.

on the iraqi border

I meant to post this photo on veterans day but life got complicated and it didn't happen. This is a small image of a copyrighted AP photograph that was taken on the Kuwaiti side of the Kuwait/Iraq border the night before the initial assault started. These soldiers got up at 3:00 am to listen to the President's speech on the radio. Chris is second to the left, holding the radio.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Photos from Todd's funeral.

Multimedia message

The disconcerting thing about funerals is how enjoyable they can be. It is pleasant to get a chance to catch up with family members you don't get to see as often as you would like, but you feel guilty about it. You might see a favorite aunt and say "It is so good to see you... but I wish it was for a better occasion." For the extended family it is a reunion with one chair sadly empty and for the immediate family it keeps them busy -- with planning, notifications, arrangements, giving directions, meeting people at airports, making sure everyone is fed and housed, and with all the business of hosting such a large event, until the pain had ebbed just enough to get on with their lives.

This past weekend I attended a family funeral in the small town of Nitro, West Virginia, with the burial in nearby Huntington. I took along my camera to snap a few shots of relatives and this posting is mostly intended to provide the extended family with this link (click here) to the photos that I took.

This is probably the best photo of the lot. It shows three generations of the family of the deceased.

While the adults know, intellectually, that life will go on, it is always the kids that make the concept concrete.

As I was waiting near the end of the procession to park in the cemetery this old truck caught my eye. I went back the next morning to snap this shot of it.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Wedding Photoblog.

Over the weekend I attended the wedding of one of my daughters best friends (since high school). It gave me a chance to try out some of my new photo gear. It was a learning opportunity, as usual. I learned, for instance, that one's external flash, despite being fully automatic, does not turn itself on. Putting it on top of your camera isn't enough. You have to turn it on too.
Panoramic view of the wedding.

Here is a link for a Flickr slide show with the best of the shots from the wedding and the reception. The Teleodaughter was the Maid of Honor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

DragonCon 2007

Danger Woman takes a call.

This posting is mostly a few photos that the Teleospouse and I took at DragonCon -- with a few annoying and distracting comments thrown in. If you would rather see the photos without the commentary (quite understandable) you can view them in my Flickr photoset for this month. These photos are mostly work safe with the possibility of the last one in this posting. If you are in a buttoned-down work environment you might want to stop scrolling with the thumb of the scroll bar about one inch from the bottom.

I often have a crisis of confidence while standing in the long lines to register at DragonCon. Many fans of science fiction (comics, etc.) tend to have some sort of social deficits -- they are often pathologically nerdy, or fat, or neurotic -- there's noting wrong with that, mind you, we all have something -- but when they get together in large groups some of them can cop an attitude -- that they don't fit in with the real world because they are too cool for the "mundanes" to understand -- and that attitude is annoying at best and often a bit pathetic. We are only talking about a small, small percentage of fans but when you get me in a room with about a thousand fans waiting in line there will be enough troubling individuals to creep me out a bit. When I am about one hour from the front of the line I start to wonder why I am there. But I get over it after I make my way through the line and pick up my badge. Then I am fine and I head off to look for my friends.

Here are some of my friends now.


My friend Bill and his readers.
(The twin bald guys in the back are actually one person who was tragically duplicated in a panorama splicing accident involving my wife's camera, an accident which also rendered part of one of his heads transparent.)

My friend Bill is a DragonCon regular. He directs performances of the Atlanta Radio Theater and the Mighty Rassilon Art Players sometimes putting on more than one performance with each group during the course of the convention. This year, in addition to directing performances of both groups he was invited participate in several writer's panels. The photo above is his "reading" of his short story, The Cuban Sandwich, which, rather than just reading the story himself like a normal person would have done, he chose to invite half of A.R.T.C. to read the various characters.

I didn't take any photos of the fans standing in line but other people did -- Here's one for instance. What I did take photos of was the DragonCon parade. On Saturday morning during DragonCon they close Peachtree Street for two hours and DragonCon holds a parade.

The Parade Starts Here.

The Piper novelist and professional artist, Janny Wurtz.

Erik Estrada, star of Sealab 2021 (and some other show back in the day... FLAKES, or something...)

Nichelle Nichols, star of Lady Magdalene's (and something else... on TV, I think)


A Transformer, I think, with entourage.

The vignetting in the Transformers shot is caused by my teleconverter which I removed from the camera shortly after this photo was taken. It adds to my reach at the long end but takes it away for wide angle shots. If you forget you have it on and zoom all the way out it looks like you are shooting through a black pipe. It works great for wildlife shots but, as it turns out, is the last thing you want to shoot a parade from the sidewalk.


Dragon Riders (from Anne McCaffrey's series).

Dr Who and Companions

K-9 from Dr. Who

Hawk Man

HawkMan got by me while I was waiting for my camera to clear its buffer. The Teleospouse snapped this shot which is slightly blurred by the motion of the subject and the slow shutter of her Kodak V705.

Lord of the Rings characters?

Not sure who the tree guy is here. I'd call him an Ent from the Lord of the Rings but he was in with the Harry Potter crew.

Captain Jack and the Royal Governor from Pirates of the Caribbean

There appeared to be many fewer Star Trek costumes this year, both in the parade and at the Con, but Star Wars is still well represented.

Storm Troopers...

...lots of them...

...and the occasional Imperial Guard.

Haunted Hot Sauce

Here's the teleconverter.

A spectator enjoying the parade.

These guys claimed to be the 300 but there were only about a dozen by my count.

The costumes were by no means limited to the parade. About one third of the 40,000 attendees was wearing some sort of costume at some point during the convention. Here are a few "hall costumes" where the photos came out.

These guys were pros. They make costumes for several Florida theme parks. Here they are as members of Davy Jones' crew.

Not sure who this one was supposed to be but the costume was lovely and she looked good in it.

Frodo and Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.


Jack Sparrow and some random wench.

Not sure who this one was either but she put on a good show for passing photographers.

They have worked out a clever way of keeping anyone from getting decent photographs of the DragonCon masquerade. They ask you not to take photos during the actual event but to remain afterward for some staged photo opportunities with all the costumes. And sure enough, after the masquerade they set up some risers as a runway in an insanely dark corner of the hotel ballroom with the chairs for the photographers positioned just out of anyone's flash range. (The chairs are for standing on, as far as I can tell. At least I always wind up standing on a chair in the back and wishing I had bought that add-on flash unit for my camera. I don't have many photos of the masquerade and the ones I did get were dark. I have adjusted the brightness, contrast and color saturation so you can get some idea what the costumes looked like.

The big winner this year was the Wallace and Grommit costume.

100_1876 100_1877
On the runway

In the lobby after the masquerade.

100_0952 100_0936
getting out of their hot costumes after four hours.

The guy who made this Jack Skellington puppet wore a black hood during the masquerade but dispensed with it for the photo shoot which was probably sensible since with out the black background it was pointless.

Jack Skellington

These guys were a hit

Duct tape is versatile stuff. It comes in lots of colors and is easy to work with. It is used extensively in making costumes for DragonCon.

These two ladies made these masquerade costumes entirely out of Duct tape...

...while this young lady's costume in the parade contained only enough Duct tape to keep her in compliance with the local laws.