Friday, October 26, 2012

The State of the Union - as seen from daytime TV!

I am just getting over the flu.  I watched a lot of TV.  Daytime TV.  Oh, boy.

Even with Comcast's "wonderful" HD lineup and a 42" TV, it was slim picking.  Much to my surprise, I did learn quite a bit.  Here's the summary:

  1. If you have a structured settlement and need cash now, there a whole bunch of nice companies that will "help"you. 
  2. If you have been injured, on the job, in a car wreck or on the job in a car wreck, there are bunch of nice law firms ready to "help" you.  
  3. If you don't have a car, or have a really crappy one, and you don't have any money and you have lousy credit,  there are lots of nice loan sharks companies that will "help" you.
  4. If you have a house and are starving on your Social Security income, Fred Thomson's company will "help" you.
  5. If you need money NOW - and I mean RIGHT NOW, and can't wait until payday, there are lots of loan sharks companies that "help" you out.
  6. If you are diabetic, you can get all kinds of meters, pump, pens, test strips and the insulin from many, many suppliers, all shipped direct to your house and billed directly to Medicare AT NO COST TO YOU!
  7. If are, um, "mobility impaired", you can get one of several motorized scooters, all shipped direct to your house and billed directly to Medicare AT NO COST TO YOU!
  8. If you are overweight, the answer is simple, just send money (usually a lot of it) to one of several companies and they will send you, not-much-food, a machine, magic sprinkles or cool sounding placebos.  Sorry, can't bill Medicare direct for this one.
  9. Christmas is coming.  All kids toys this year have batteries and make noise.  All of them.
  10. If your kids need all those noisy toys for Christmas and you don't have the money now, "help" from Walmart is on the way! Layaway!  
  11. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Where are they now? Ilya Kuryakin has a nice job working for NCIS as "Duckie", but Napoleon Solo is stuck shilling for a law firm. (See #2)
  12. Deloreans will last forever. There is a show on Velocity by this English guy who doesn't shut up.  He is short and squat. He has a mechanic for a side kick.  He is tall and thin. Think Laurel and Hardy.  Each episode they buy a car and fix it up a bit and resell it.  This episode:  A Delorean.  The guy flies to California, finds a half decent used one - recently resuscitated by the current owner - buys it and has it shipped back to England.  Along the way, we find out many things.  One, this guy REALLY liked Back to the Future. Two, there were only 9000 Deloreans built, but a lot of them are still roaming around, but not many in Europe.  Three, this guy can really talk a lot.  Four, there were parts made for 30,000 Deloreans and one company owns them all - and is selling to owners. They guy bought a bunch of parts to take home with him.  The mechanic did all the work.  The car came out great.  They sold it for a pretty big profit, at a Delorean owners club meeting in England - who knew?  I now know how to change a rear crankshaft oil seal in Delorean (no thanks!).  Also, did you know there was a Delorean in Back to the Future?
  13. Moving wallpaper on TV.  Mecum Auto Auctions are continuously replayed on Velocity - except when the talky English guy is on.  A new car pops up every two minutes.  It's great to watch with a 103 fever.  Not much to comprehend.  I've seen enough Corvettes and Camaros to last a lifetime, now.
  14. I will never get tired of Big Bang Theory reruns, although I still can't shake the thought that it is reality show and I know these people....
I think what I learned overall was this.  

A lot of people are stuck in some sad circumstances and there are lots of "sharks" out there that want to feed off what little they have.  This is very sad.  The time to manage you money is before you need it.  You don't need anyone to "help" you.  Learn a bit and use common sense.  I say this now.  I'll let you know how it works out in a couple decades....I hope.

If Americans ate right and exercised as part of normal living by walking more and driving less, then maybe we wouldn't be in such need of diet pill, exercise machines, hoverround scooters, insulin and a lot of other stuff shipped direct to your house and billed directly to Medicare AT NO COST TO YOU!  I think I'll start by looking in the mirror.

Deloreans were cool.  Particularly at a time when there weren't many cool cars to choose from.  Wonder if that parts store has any spare flux capacitors?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The good camera - It's all relative

I learned to take pictures on a camera like this one.  Huge, size 620 film.  The negatives were 3-1/4" x 2-1/4", I think.  Eight shots to the roll.  You advanced the film by turning a knob and looking in a window on the back to see when the next frame number appeared on the paper backing of the film.

You had to set the exposure by guessing - using the printed guide that came with the film - or by using a separate light meter.  The shutter only went to 100th of a second.  You had to be very careful taking pictures of moving things.  But, the lens was good and I learned the fundamentals of photography on it.  Even managed some half-decent pictures over the years.

Then, the world changed.  Christmas 1972, I got this neat 35 mm SLR camera.  Within a few years, I added a telephoto and a wide angle lens.

The light meter was built in!  The shutter went to 1/500th!  Interchangable lenses!  35mm film, 36 exposures to the roll!  A year later, I got my driver's licence and I started wandering around taking pictures of everything, but mostly of trains.

Taking train pictures is hard.  They are moving.  Often very fast and you only get one crack at it.  Even with a pretty good background in using a camera, I struggled to get things just right.  Practice and learning from mistakes turned the tide, and after a couple of years, I was getting decent shots.

However, now I have digital camera and life it just too easy. You can post-process your work on a PC and adjust for all the things you did wrong in the field.  You can even take rapid fire multiples and pick the one that looks best to start.  Now the expectation with each shot is "perfect".

Back then, the expectation was "pretty good".  Here is picture from back then.  One of my better ones.

AMTK_2Southern Crescent, July 1977, Princeton Jct. 

This is a good example of the challenge of taking train photos with a manual SLR.
Step zero: Load film in camera. Kodachrome (ASA 64) or "slow" or "fast" Ektachrome. What's the weather like? What's it likely to be when I finish the roll? I think this shot is on ASA 80 Ektachrome.
First step. Select a lens. Zoom? Forget it. Too expensive and not fast enough. Looks like I picked a 135mm fixed for this one. Later, I would buy a 200mm. I really liked tele-wedgies back then. (still do...)
Step 2: Gotta set that shutter speed high because of the long lens and the fast train. Camera went to 500th but I usually tried to get away with something slower so I'd have at least a little depth of field.
Step 3: Set the exposure. You only get one shot at it. Is the scene balanced or not? You have two metering choices - spot or average. Pick one an guess. Would you rather be a little over or under? Under looked better projected (over scans better, but who knew?).
Step 4. Focus. Where will the train be when I push the shutter? How will the shot be framed? How tall is that locomotive? Pick a spot and hope the train fills out the shot like you imagine. You only get one shot and there's no cropping. What you get is what you get.
Step 5: Shoot! Let the train wander into the frame and just at the exact moment - click!
Results: Maybe the shutter speed was high enough. Maybe the exposure was close. Maybe you shot the train right at the spot where you focused. You'll find out when the mailer comes back.
How'd I do on this one? Pretty good. This is pretty much the full frame of what I shot. The exposure was pretty close to dead on. I'd guess this was at 500th at f5.6 or so. Miracle of miracles, I was holding the camera level. (I have trouble with this one....) But, the focus is very slightly off. The center of focus is back closer to the first or second car, leaving the nose of the loco just a bit out. Perhaps I was counting on depth of field greater than what I really had or maybe I misjudged exactly where I wanted the train in the shot. (Anyway, the shot was just fuzzy enough for a reject.)
Perfect? No. But, pretty good for 1977!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fifty. Part 1

I was fifty.  Once.  In 2006.

Early in 2006, my wife, Patti, asked, "What do you want to do special for your 50th birthday?  Do you want to take a train somewhere?"  Well, in Atlanta, there aren't many choices for train travel.  The Crescent to the north takes you to the Northeast overnight.  Not a particularly fun trip and I've "been there, done that".  To the south, it's an all day trip to New Orleans.  New Orleans sounds like fun, but this was the Spring of 2006, and Katrina happened in the Fall of 2005, so not such a good idea.

Hmmm...  Oh!  I wonder...  "How about riding from Denver to San Francisco on the California Zephyr?" Not exactly a cheap idea, but you're only 50 once, right?  After a brief, successful  "sales pitch", I started making the plans.  

May 3rd, fly to Denver, bus shuttle to from Airport (cheap, easy, nice! Big MCI D4500s) and stay at the Hampton Inn downtown, a short walk from where the shuttle drops you off.  We had all afternoon to look around Denver. 

Capital of Colorado.  Impressive!

Replica of Liberty Bell.  (The bronze item.  Not the woman.  That's my wife, Patti.)  Why?  I don't remember...

No,we're not in Buffalo.  We're at the Colorado State Museum.  We poked around in here for a while.  Good stuff!

New art museum about to open.  Strange "falling down" building style. Okay....

Light rail.  We didn't have time for a ride.

Free "mall" shuttle. Diesel - electric - battery hybrid drive.  Little diesel gen set on roof hums away all the time, charging batteries. Bus is otherwise all electric.  A good design!
 We wandered around downtown Denver.  Despite that Denver is a large "sprawled out" city, it has nice downtown area that's worth a visit.  They have created a transit mall from Union Station to the Capitol area.  It was very nice and there were nice shops and restaurants the way.  There was even a free shutle bus that ran the length of it.  Very handy.  The next morning, May 4th, it was time to board the train.
Big station.  One train a day each direction.

The California Zephyr just in from Chicago, on time.
We boarded the train, stowed our stuff in our bedroom.  We went "all out" and got a bedroom - 50, remember?  Having a bathroom with shower in the room was a key piece of my "sales pitch".  Okay, I liked it, too.  The train got rolling out of Denver and started up the Front Range, and into the fog.  Oh, no!  What if it's foggy all day?  What if I don't get to see all that wonderful scenery?   Why worry?  Let's eat!  We headed for the diner and had breakfast.  Not bad.
Off we go toward Moffat Tunnel.
The closer we got to Moffat tunnel at the crest of the Front Range, the more the fog lifted.  The east side of the Rockies are a bit more lush than the western slope.  Lots of pine trees.  Moffat tunnel was built in the first part of 20th Century.  It is six miles long and eliminated a tortuous route over the Rollins Pass in the Rockies and is the reason the rail route has any economic value today.
After the tunnel the train rolls into Frasier.

Frasier looking west.

Frasier back east.  Ski slopes at Winter Park still have snow on them.
 After Frasier, the fog finished burning off and the sun popped out.  Ah.... That's better.  The train rolls through canyon after canyons, some of them only visible from the railroad.  Great scenery!  Just what I'd hoped for.
Why Sightseer lounges have glass ceilings.

Interior of Sightseer Lounge.  Why are these people looking at me? I should be looking out the windows!

Canyon walls dwarf railroad (see tunnel portal on LH side of picture)

Finally, by late afternoon, the train rolled out of the last canyon and into Grand Junction where you could  get out and stretch your legs for a bit.

Hey!  What's that NS Dash 9 locomotive doing out here 1000 miles from home?

 The the train rolled into the more arid portion of western Colorado and Utah.  Not as scenic as the canyons, but still interesting.

Western Colorado
As the sun set, we rolled in "dry as a bone" terrain in eastern Utah.
Sun sets in Eastern Utah.

The train had snaked it's way through Colorado, meeting and passing trains in nearly every passing siding, but rarely having to stop for a meet.  Coal train after coal train.  Empties and loaded.  I'd grade that UP dispatcher A+!  We went to bed in eastern Utah nearly on time.

But, we woke up in eastern Nevada a couple hours late and "rode the approach" of the freight train ahead of us all the way into Reno, despite passing several empty passing sidings.  Don't know what the issue was.  Maybe the train ahead was a monster that wouldn't fit in the sidings?  Maybe the crew was short on hours of service?  Oh, well.  More time on the train is not necessarily a bad thing!
One of may small mountain ranges scattered through northern Nevada. This was a surprise.
Across western Utah and northern Nevada and all the way over the Cascades into Sacramento, the railroad runs on the route of the original transcontinental railroad.  I-80 was built right along side the railroad the whole way - a testament to the quality of the route surveying done in the 1860s.
Truck on I-80
Stay tuned for Part 2!  The Cascades and San Francisco.