Thursday, June 28, 2007

NC Aquarium Photoblog.

Entrance to North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
This past Saturday was the second time in less than a month that the Teleospouse and I had the same day off. (See this photoblog on the Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC). This time we went back to the coast for a little beach time and a visit to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher (just south of Kure Beach.) Here is Google Maps' eye-in-the-sky view of the aquarium grounds. (If you are interested in visiting and need directions just click the link and zoom out.)

Whenever we both take out our cameras I have a rather complicated perspective on the event. On the one hand, I am rather competitive and I tend to look on it as a contest so I want to take the best photos. On the other hand, I gave her the camera for her birthday and new cameras confuse her and make her cranky, so considerations of domestic tranquility make it highly desirable for her photos to come out well. And then again, there is the matter of my camera having more features, doodads and gizmos than hers; If I can't take a better picture with my bigger, bewilderingly-complicated camera than she takes with her simple point-and-shoot then my standing as technological man is rather tenuous. But then yet again, no man ever really won a competition with his wife...

Reef Scene (me)

Clam (me)

Loggerhead Turtle (me)

Seahorse (me)

Salamander (me)

Water Lilies from below (her)

Slider (me)

Juvenile(?) White Ibises (me)

Juvenile(?) White Ibis (me)


Water Lily (me)


Water Lily (her)

So, I know that we weren't really competing for the best photo... but if we were competing, how would I score it? My photos, on average, came out better than hers. The interior of the aquarium poses a number of difficult problems for hand-held photography (low light, quickly moving subjects) and neither of our cameras was particularly up to the task. On the other hand the best photo of the day was her water lily shot.

Update: I had originally misattributed the last photo to myself when it was actually taken by my wife and it is the photo that I refer to as the best of the day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tomb of the Undecided Voter.

This posting has been languishing, half finished, in my Drafts folder for quite a while now. I'm not particularly happy with it. It repeats information I have written about before and when I look for ways to expand on my previous exposition I find it difficult to find topics with clear stopping points. But, since it looks like the immigration bill may be decided, one way or the other, in the near future I am faced with the options of deleting the draft, expanding it into a grotesquely long and terrifyingly tedious essay that nobody would ever read, or just posting it as is. I have chosen the third option.

I'm not sure exactly when it happened but at some point in the last year or two the last undecided mind in the US was irrevocably made up on the subject of immigration policy. There is simply no point talking about the subject any more. People have chosen their sides and no one is listening. But this doesn't stop the pundits. Despite the impossibility of convincing anyone of anything-- or perhaps because of the impossibility -- the rhetoric has become increasingly shrill. The spokesmen for both sides have long since passed into ultrasound and their arguments are now audible only to dogs. It's sad, actually, because many of the people whose opinions I most respect are on the other side.

It would be interesting to do a meta-analysis of the polling on the issue to try to locate the individual who was the last person in the US to form an unassailable opinion. We could then feature him (or her) in a museum exhibit as a sort of historical relic -- a historical oddity like the last-decommissioned manual phone switch or the last horse-drawn milk-delivery wagon outside of Amish country.

I don't know who that individual might be but I am not a candidate. I seem to have chosen a side years ago. I remember the moment, although I had no idea at the time that I was choosing sides in a decades-long debate. I was waiting to be picked up at a train station and watching the day-laborers at a pick-up shelter across the street. One by one trucks would pull up and, after a brief discussion, three or four Hispanic-looking (probably mostly Mexican) men would climb in and the truck would drive off to make room for the next one. The only native-born, obviously all-American man at the shelter was the drunk who would stumble out to the truck and noisily announce his unwillingness to work for "No sevunnn dollursss an houuurrr."

Musing on the contrast between the big mess that was Mexico and the men quietly waiting for a day of hard work in the hot sun it occurred to me that the Rio Grande was exactly wide enough and deep enough and cold enough. The effort required to sneak across the border was just enough to deter the Mexican counterpart of my American drunk; our wetbacks were the best, the hardest working and the most-motivated low-skilled labor available south of the border. The Mexican bums didn't bother.

I have since decided that the Rio Grande may no longer be quite wide or deep enough. The economic problems in Mexico in the late 1990s increased the pressure on the border and the it proved too porous to control the new, more forceful flow. As a result, we have more wetbacks now than we really need and the quality is starting to drop. We need to make an adjustment. We need to make the Rio Grande a bit wider, deeper and colder. That is to say, I want to build the fence. I want stepped up enforcement. I want a vigorous effort to catch and deport newly-arrived border-crossers.

You might think, what with my supporting increased border and security and enforcement, that I had switched sides. But you'd be wrong there. I can't lose the image of the hard-working illegals waiting quietly in line to be put to work and it turns out that the Enforcement First Club has very stringent rules on who can join; I am just not angry enough about illegal immigration to get in.

Before I realized that first impressions are destiny on immigration I would listen to the arguments of conservative pundits who took the opposite position on immigration but with whom I generally agree on other topics. My thought was that, since I find myself somewhat in the middle, their arguments might offer useful areas of agreement. But noooo. There is very little discussion of the merits of the issues, and what little discussion did occur was punctuated by constant appeals to that anger which I just can't manage.

Many of the talk radio types limit their argumentation to childish manipulation of words, convinced that if they can just get their opponents to say the word "amnesty" they will disappear back into the fifth dimension like Mr. Mxyzptlk in Superman Comics when he is tricked into saying his name backwards. So, for those of you who are big Sean Hannity fans, here you go: I don't think it is possible or desirable to round up fifteen million poor, mostly-hard-working illegal immigrants, who are trying to make a buck to support their families, and send them back to Mexico. Apparently, that means I support an ...
Yeah, fine... Whatever...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tree Service Photoblog

There was a really big pine tree in our yard, about ten feet from our back door, and ever since we moved into the house seventeen years ago the Teleospouse has worried about that tree. Several of our neighbors lost trees during hurricane Floyd in 1999 but not us. That big pine tree -- which could have cut our house in two if it came down just right -- survived Floyd and, instead of losing any trees, we gained five trees. Five of our various neighbors' trees fell into our yard but, happily, all missed our house.

Since them the Teleospouse has worried even more about the big pine and this past weekend we finally got around to having it taken out. Before we selected a tree service to do the work we obtained four different estimates. Each of the first three tree services looked at the trees we wanted removed and at our yard, and each of them gave us a hint along with their estimate. "Here's our estimate," they all said, more or less, "we'll be glad to do it ... but you might want to talk to J&D -- their crane would be mighty handy for a job like this."

Demonstrating that even I can take a hint the last firm we talked to was J&D and their price was as good as any and they estimated they could get the job done in four hours where all the others were figuring on two days minimum. Here are some photos of the process. They aren't photographic marvels but they do show off my new image stabilized Kodak p850 camera and Sony DH1758 teleconverter to some advantage. We had four trees removed but I only stayed around to photograph the removal of the first one -- the big pine.
















Note: This sequence of photos makes it look like they took out the tree in two sections. Actually it was three. I didn't have a clear shot of the cutter cutting off the first section (too many branches in the way) so I omitted the cutting and removal of the middle section.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007



This past Saturday I attended a Pirate-themed party thrown by my friends Steve and Gretchen. My costume came from three sources. Most of it was borrowed from a friend in Atlanta who produced a play featuring pirates and had costume pieces I could borrow (Thanks, Caran, everything fit!) The Teleospouse bought the hat at Disney World and embellished it with some of her costume jewelry. And I actually made the spats that hide the laces of my black Hush Puppies (tm) which I fancy makes them look a bit more piratical.


When S&G throw a party they do it up brown! In the panorama below notice the two "cannons" designed to disguise the potato guns (in foreground with can of hairspray, bag of potatoes and ramrod); the pirate flag flying over the airplane hanger; the dock area and an actual pirate ship. Each of those potato guns would shoot a spud 300 yards, easy.


There was a treasure hunt (with children's and adult divisions) and a prize given for the best male and female pirate costume. Thanks to the kindness of those who loaned me costume bits I made it into the second round in the costume contest but I didn't win. There were a number of rather good costumes.

He didn't win, either.

Nor did the Teleospouse's costume win in the female division...


... despite her attempt to intimidate the judges ...


But, despite not winning anything we had a swell time. It was a heckuva good party...


... for pirates of all ages ...


Monday, June 04, 2007

Sony DH1758 Revisited

Recently, I posted information and test photos for the Sony DH1758 teleconverter that I bought for my Kodak P850 camera. I have had an opportunity to put it into action (although it took several tries) and I am here to show off my results.

In recent weeks my wife and I would be awakened, either in the early morning or from a weekend afternoon nap, by a loud tapping on the wall above our bed. I identified the exact location by moving around the room and then went outside to look for the source. The section of wall in question can only be seen from our neighbor's front yard -- the shape of the eaves hides it from the front of the house and the garage roof hides it from below. By the time I had figured this out whatever was causing the tapping was gone. I could see that the noise was coming from near one of our carpenter bee colonies and I resolved to be ready the next time... and I almost was ready -- almost. By the time I woke up, grabbed my pants, camera and teleconverter lens and dashed out to the neighbor's lawn I was just in time to see a dark-colored bird fly off. I missed it... Several times, actually. But, finally this past Saturday, victory!


This image has been cropped and sharpened and is not much of a photograph but it's not bad for a hand-held telephoto shot of a small bird on a second-story roof taken from next door. (Click for a larger size image.)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

In Afghan Fields the Poppies Blow

Poppies. Memorial Day, 2007. New Bern, NC.
On May 3rd, 1915, Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote one of the most famous poems of WW I to commemorate the death of a friend the day before. The poem starts like this:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

For the rest of the poem and more information, see the Wikipedia article here.)

It is because of the popularity of this poem that for many years veterans organizations would hand out paper poppies on Memorial Day -- a tradition that seems to be passing in the US but is still widely observed in Canada where the peom is still strongly associated with their memorial observances.

Thinking of poppies and memories of war makes we wonder how future generations will connect the two in the history of the western powers. In WW I poppies were a pastoral image summoned to contrast with the horrors of war in a poem. But poppies are playing a bigger role in one of our current wars. The US has declared war on poppies in Afghanistan and it currently seems likely that the poppies will win.

Opium poppies are the third-largest source of income for the country of Afghanistan and are, far and away, the most important cash crop in the southern regions along the Pakistani border where the UN forces are trying to win the "hearts and minds" of the local populace away from the Taliban. The US may be winning the war in Iraq but we are not doing nearly as well in Afghanistan where we have cleverly placed ourselves in opposition to the local economy.

Just a bit of post-Memorial Day pondering of the imponderables -- and a story to go with my Memorial Day photos of poppies in a garden in New Bern. For more on poppy eradication in Afghanistan see this recent story from MSNBC or this excellent story by Michael Yon in National Review.