Things For Which I Am Grateful

Two Sundays ago, I woke up with a fever. I decided to do what everyone with a fever does–warm up. My method of achieving comfort involved standing under a steaming stream of flowing hot water … the exact opposite of what I needed. Instead of feeling better, I felt exponentially worse. As the water cascaded down around me, I could feel myself starting to slip into that very special hell reserved for those stupid enough to take a shower with a fever. My muscles fought tooth and nail against whatever oncoming infection was on the offensive. They lost. Badly. I eventually ran out of hot water and was left standing with a level of convulsions typically exhibited by those having a grand mal seizure. It was all I could do to dry off, get dressed, and crawl back into bed. Somehow, I pulled it off. I slept all day. Ended up in some state of delirium where all I could think of was the bass line from Big Data’s “Dangerous.” Not an entirely austere bass line, but catchy enough that I had it playing in my head throughout the entire psychosis that was my Sunday.

 

Then Monday came. My fever of 102.9 from the day before dropped to 100.1. Manageable, but still a fever. I stood up to go to the bathroom, and I felt an immense pressure building in my lower left leg. A panic and dread filled me with a speed rivaled only by light.

 

A quick trip to the ER revealed what I already strongly suspected: cellulitis. This bacterial disease infects the dermal and sub-dermal layers of the skin, and it creates a pain in every individually infected that is the male equivalent of giving birth. Think I’m kidding? Wait until you go through it. I sincerely hope you don’t have to because it’s horrible, but if you do, you’ll understand what I mean when I say the pain is just that intense.

 

I was admitted to the hospital Wednesday afternoon. I wasn’t discharged until Saturday around noon. 8 rounds of IV anti-biotics. More blood samples and tests than I’ve ever seen. Pills galore.

 

And not a penny of health insurance. Oh, this is going to be fun. Lots and lots of fun.

 

Despite the fact that we don’t have health insurance right now, I’m incredibly optimistic about our future, and really life in general. Some things for which I’m grateful:

 

  • My family is amazing. Supportive, loving, awesome.
  • My friends are equally amazing.
  • Aside from the cellulitis, I’m generally healthy.
  • We have essential oils all over the house that help with our physical and psychological health. This cellulitis is definitely the exception and not the rule.
  • I’ve lost over 42 pounds in the last 3 months. Go grab yourself a bag of rock salt for your driveway or water softener. *That* is how much I’ve lost. Tell me that’s not awesome.
  • My new job is so understanding of everything. They know I’m down for the hard count, and we have this massive, looming deadline that is non-negotiable … but we’re working through it. My manager overnighted all the materials sitting on my desk so I can have them at my disposal here at the house, allowing me to work from home as I can.
  • We have food in the cupboards and a good supply of extra in the basement.
  • Both of our vehicles are running just fine. They need oil changes and fluid checks, but other than that, running just fine. AND they’re both paid off.
  • Our house is getting better and better as we make improvements.
  • We have more music and movies than I care to admit. I collect … so … yah.
  • If it comes down to it, I have some very useful talents like tie-dyeing that I could use to help pay off some of the hospital costs. I would include photography in that list of talents, but it’s more of a hobby than anything else. Could I turn a profit? Maybe … but it’d take a lot more studying, practicing, and research before I even attempt to go that route.
  • And above all–most important to me–I know who I am, and that is a son of a God who loves us and watches over us. I know why I’m here, and where I can go when I die. Do bad things happen to me? Sure. Do I blame God for them? Not at all. Sometimes, the only way to grow is to go through the refiner’s fire and see how you come out. I’ve been through challenges exponentially worse than this, and it was only by clinging to that knowledge of God’s love that my family and I made it through the challenges we have.

 

Like I said, my optimism is pretty high. The first sign of medical bills might kill that, but I’m going to work really hard to make sure it doesn’t. I’d much prefer a positive attitude to a crappy one.

 

Oh well. Onward and upward.

App Review: Endomondo–An Exercise Companion

Yup. I’ve actually taken that step: I plan on using an exercise app. SEE? I’m committed to this weight loss and health thing. I downloaded Endomondo, an exercise app for iOS devices. Probably around the same time I downloaded other iBike and MapMyRide+.

 

Except all I’ve done is download it and open it; I haven’t used it to its full capacity yet. I plan on doing that this weekend, when we go to Moab and hike all over the place. We spent a lot of time last night doing laundry for the things we want to pack, like sweats, shorts, t-shirts, and sweatshirts. Hey … gotta layer while we’re down there, right? Average morning temps in the 40s, average afternoon highs in the 70s. Again, layering. Yes.

 

Honestly, I’ve had this app for a long time. I don’t know exactly how long, but it’s been a while. I’ve never used it. I’ve opened it and looked at the user interface (UI) some, but nothing exetensive. Now that I have a solid game plan in place, I thought I’d open it up and look at it more closely.

 

When you first open the app, it asks if you’d like to log in or create an account. Obviously, being the exercise buff that I am, I had already created an account couch potato sloth that I am, I needed to create an account. Once I took care of that, it opened to its main page, where the first thing I noticed was the ad at the bottom of the screen. Distracting, right? To be fair, this *is* a free app. There’s an option to upgrade to Endomondo Premium, which has a bunch of extra features (namely, NO ADS), but it’s subscription-based, and it costs $3.99/month or $29.99/year. $30 is not a lot to ask for a digital personal trainer, right? Maybe I’ll explore that later, but not right now.

 

The app defaults to a pre-set screen that has a start button in the bottom left corner and a Duration counter in the top left. Nestled between these two prominent features are, in clockwise order, a distance tracker, heart rate in terms of beats per minute, workout type (defaults to basic), and your chosen sport (defaults to running, ha ha). Now … here’s the great part. ALL of these fields–the prominent and the sandwiched– are customizeable to whatever you’d like within the options. When I tap on Duration, I have options of displaying calories, heart rate, speed, distance, aveerage speed, and hydration. When I tap Sport (cuz, yah … I’m not running), I have close to 60 options, ranging from badminton to yoga. In anticipation of tomorrow, I’ve selected Hiking.

 

My favorite feature on this screen is the GPS function. In the bottom right corner, there’s a little green arrow-looking button. When I tap that, a map slides open to display my current location. As I go for a walk, or hike, or bike ride, my location is constantly updated on the map. Once the workout is done, it displays the path I took. That’s pretty nifty. I know that’s a standard feature for a lot of these kinds of apps, but come on! That’s awesome!

 

In the interst of fairness, the data wasn’t *entirely* accurate. According to the stats on my quick walk, I gained 33 feet in elevation, and lost no elevation. So, I went up the equivalent of 3 floors in a little over .16 miles … according to this. Not possible, since all I did was walk in a circle. At some point, there should have been a descent. Minor quibbling points, but worth mentioning all the same.

 

In the top right corner are three little horizontal lines. Tapping that icon takes you to a series of options. You can upgrade to premium (which I may do just to see what’s offered. Hey, I can use all the help I can get, right?), add Endomondo friends, see your workout history, add a training plan, accept challenges, see workout routes of local users, and update your settings.

 

In all, this looks like a complete app. I’m excited to get down to Moab and test it (and me). Is the $30/year worth it? Dunno yet … but I may soon find out. For now, though, the free version is packed with a bunch of great features.

Family Vacation Time

Well this is super awesome. I don’t know how on earth I married so well … but shucky darn and slop the chickens, I did.

 

I start a new job in a couple of weeks. As such, I have this surplus of vacation hours from my current employer. I plan on using some of those to leave a bit early tomorrow, drive to Moab, UT tomorrow afternoon, and then spend the next 4 days down in some of the most rugged, rocky terrain in the world. *THIS* is going to be fun. and I mean FRICKIN’ UNBELIEVABLY NICE.

 

This is why I upgraded my camera to a Canon 6D. The low-light capabilities on this thing compared to my old T2i are astounding, to say the least. The nights are supposed to be super clear, which means star pictures will be an option. Orion is in full view on the eastern horizon pretty late–around 1 am. Now … the question is whether I can stay up late enough to get pictures. Guess we’ll see.

 

One thing for sure that I want to do is get a shot of Dead Horse Point at sunrise. Not just any shot, though … I want to get a shot of Dead Horse looking dead on. The overlook is a bit north east of the bend, and it doesn’t offer a straight shot at it.

dead_horse.jpg

 

 

I know where I need to go to get it, and I have it marked on my GPS. That’s definitely happening.

 

I plan on pushing myself pretty hard this trip. I’m on the verge of being down about 40 pounds from where i was a little over 2 months ago, and I feel great. To put that in perspective, rock salt for a water softener comes in 40 pound bags. THAT’s what I’ve lost. I don’t have to lug that around with me this trip. Last time we went to moab, I was about 310. Not this time. So yah … I *want* to push myself. I don’t want to kill myself, of course, so this may be a relatively light trip, and then I’ll work on cardio and endurance.

 

This will be fun!

 

I took this last year when we went in July.

 

delicate

It was hot. Very, very, very hot. My Camelbak was bled dry before we even started back down. I have no idea how we survived. But we did. We will this year too. I hope. It’ll be significantly cooler–at least 25-30 degrees, if not 35 degrees. I’d like this to be the backdrop for a night shot of the Milky Way, but it might not happen this trip. That’s fine. Someday, it’s gonna happen. Maybe in April or May. That would be ideal.

 

I also picked up one of those awesome Olloclip lenses that will make for some fun phone pics. I’ve played a bit with it around the house, but nothing serious. I’ve seen what it can do indoors … I’m betting we can get some amazing shots outside with it.

 

Above all, though, I just want this vacation to be *fun*. We’ve had some pretty high stress around our house lately … we need this trip to help alleviate that stress and get us back to a balanced center.

End of an Era with a Very Odd Horizon

Sometimes, you just need to shake things up. Move on. Make wholesale changes. I’ve come to accept the fact that, sometimes, things just won’t ever be the way you’d hoped they’d be, and that’s okay. Most of us are equipped with the capacity to enable changes in our lives that will provide whatever it is that we feel we may be lacking, *or* we just find ways to cope with those changes. To that end, when these shake-ups come along, whether it’s by design or by happenstance, you’re ready to go with the flow.

 

Those who know me well know that my typical day-job revolves around writing manuals. This has mostly been done through defense contractors. Working in this environment for the better part of 12 years, I’ve come to understand the government mentality, processes, and procedures that go into writing military-approved procedure documents. This has been my home for 9+years of the 12 years I’ve been in the professional world. I’m grateful for the time I’ve had here. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve gained, and the things I’ve learned will carry forward with me … but it’s time to move on.

 

As a general rule, I don’t make wholesale changes. I tend to accept positions with companies that have a similar feel to them … hence my time with the DOD over the last 12 years. Having said that, sometimes, ya just have to shake things up and go for the big 180–the polar opposite, as it were. And so it is that I end my career with the defense sector and move into a wholly, heretofore unexplored area of professional life.

 

I have accepted an offer with Jamberry Nails, starting October 28. No, I will not be a consultant. They have a real need for documenting internal processes, policies, and knowledge databases. That’s where I come in.

 

Like I said, sometimes, the change just needs to be that different, right? Well this one’s *big*. And I couldn’t be more excited.

 

Some are going to ask why I’ve decided to move on. Those reasons are my own. They’re personal, and that’s that. Those who need to know, know. :)

 

And that’s that. SO excited to start this new chapter. If you read this, thank you, JW, for your trust and faith. It will be richly rewarded … :)

Friday Night Solitude Music Selection: Dream Theater’s Awake

So it’s Friday. My wife has abandoned me. Well, okay … only temporarily. She went out with some of her girlfriends for a much-deserved night out. Meanwhile, I get to supervise our girls’ 24-hour job marathon that they’ve earned for their continued and sustained disobedience … which then begs the question, “What makes you think they’re going to do jobs to be un-grounded if they’re not listening at all?” *SUCH* a valid question! And sorry … no answers. Oddly, one will come to her senses and work on her job list until she gets everything done so she can be un-grounded. The other one, by stark contrast, adamantly fights us tooth and nail. She will actually work harder to *not* do her jobs than she will on actually doing them. When we point out that she could have been done “X” hours ago, she just furrows her brow, tries to work out the math in her head, gives up, shrugs her shoulders, and somersaults away from us down the hall. Yes, somersaults. There is no walking for her–only acrobatic methods of moving from points A to B.

 

Except that now that they’re both in bed, presumably asleep, I have some time to myself. What do I choose to do with all of this free time? Re-tag my mp3s in iTunes, of course! Can’t have a CD without a release date, can I?!

 

Seriously. That bothers me. A lot. When I’m going through my music on my phone, I want it organized by release date. Der.

 

Honestly, it’s not *that* big of a deal, but it’s just one of those nit-noidy things that I can hammer out while I have some free time, so why not?

 

Background music of choice for the evening: Dream Theater’s Awake CD. I found an old friend who got me into them way back in 1994 (Hi, KH!!!). I haven’t seen this girl in probably 17-18 years or so. We found each other on Facebook, caught up for an hour or so, and it got me thinking back to when we first met. It was rather amazing to find a girl who liked prog metal … much less neo-prog metal like DT. We went out a couple of times, hung out together in college, and then we went our separate ways. I got married, she got married, she was living on the east coast, and now she lives down the highway from us.

 

After we chatted, I thought it’d be fun to pull out some of their older stuff, like Awake, Images and Words, A Change of Seasons, Falling into Infinity … and thus has been my week. Drives to and from work, drives to interviews (a long story for another day) … any time I’ve been in the car, I’d get reacquainted with those CDs. And they have a *lot* more. It’ll be good to catch up with their more recent offerings.

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Anyone who can change up their time and key signatures with a certain degree of proficiency is going to merit at least a few listens from me. I like my music complex and semi-chaotic. Not like Aphex Twin chaotic, but well-organized chaos is always a good thing. I guess “chaos” is probably the wrong term to use. Let me put it this way: if your whole CD consists of simply 2/4, 3/4, or 4/4 time sigs and no key changes within a song, odds are, I won’t enjoy you much. There are notable excpetions, obviously. A lot of what Suzanne Vega writes is pretty much  the same key beginning to end of song … but then again she is an amazing lyricist. Her music is another layer of icing on an incredibly rich cake.

 

Guess I should get back to dating these files. 35000+, and they aren’t gonna tag themselves.

How To Be Not Fat(ter Than You Are)

So I’ve lost some weight. I could be doing more about that, but for now, I’m down 27 pounds in 5 weeks. I’m kind of surprised by that, actually. My exercises have been minimal–just walking around my building’s perimeter at lunch. Nothing heavy-hitting, by any stretch. Tonight, though … I think I’m going to hop on the bike and meet my wife at her running park–a short ride of probably less than 2 miles there, but then she’ll run some, and I can circle around while she runs. We’ll see. It’s a start!

 

The thing I don’t like about my bike is that it’s a mountain bike. It’s not designed for street use. It’s heavy, the tires are super knobby, and it makes it extremely difficult to ride over even terrain, like pavement, roads, paths, etc. I plan on getting a “new” bike as soon as possible, so I can ride to work (a current commute of 4 miles one way; on a good bike, it’d take maybe 20 minutes with traffic).

 

Having said all of that, though, I think the real kicker is the change in eating habits. I eat *way* fewer processed sugars than I used to consume. I’ve eliminated soda entirely. I actually eat vegetables in small quantities, like a salad with a low-fat dressing, cucumbers and zuchinis blended into protein drinks (a peach smoothie with zuchini is indistinguishable from a peach smoothie without zuchini), and bless my wife’s heart, she made a veggie lasagne with more veggies than I’ve ever seen. I … well, let’s just say I really appreciate her efforts, but like I said, “you can’t expect a newborn to jump right into a 7-course meal when they’re used to baby food. It’s called ‘firehosing!'” Maybe someday I’ll get there. Last night was not that day. but her heart was in the right place. She’s an incredible woman with insane culinary skills. I’m sure that, as far as veggie lasagnes go, it’s delicious. For me … it’ll have to be a meal for another day. Or … year. :)

 

The fact that I’m even considering it an option down the road should tell you how my mentality has shifted over the last 5 weeks. I kid you not that eating vegetables for me is a *HUGE* step forward. So is exercising. I’ve led a pretty much exclusively sedentary life style. It … well, it shows. However, my genetic make-up and dispositions are such that, even just walking at a semi-brisk pace allows me to lose weight. I’m curious to see where more biking leads in terms of weight loss.

 

As of this morning, I weighed 287. That’s the least I’ve weighed since about 2005 or 2006. My goal is 250-260, but it’s not just the number that matters: it’s how I get there, and what sustainable activities I incorporate into my routines that help me maintain that weight once I achieve it. Numbers mean nothing if you can’t maintain that number or relatively close to it.

 

And of course, I’ve picked the 5 months from hell to start this, right? October through February are just brutal for food. October: Halloween. November: Thanksgiving. December: Christmas. January: Football playoffs and associated parties. February: Superbowl AND Valentine’s Day.

 

Honestly though … it’s not the seasons that worry me–it’s the potential lack of self control. I have hope though. I’ve seen signs the last few weeks that my mentality is changing. I’ve turned down cupcakes, ice cream, cookies, brownies, fudge, fritters, donuts … all voluntarily–not because the boxes were empty. Instead, I’ve had cashews, walnuts, pecans, bananas, grapes, protein shakes, water, cheese sticks … exponentially healthier items. I’ve “cheated,” of course. I’ve had chocolate, some candy, the afore-mentioned turned down items … but I’ve done so in extreme moderation. And in exercising that moderation, I don’t have to miss it, but I don’t have to engorge myself on them, either.

 

And it’s all paying off.

Crafty Weekend, Coming Up

This weekend is going to rule. Our area of the world is getting slammed with the X-class Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) that our nearest star spat out. Solar flares are generally the cause of the borealis–both auroral and australial. In layman’s terms, the northern and southern lights. You know … those eerily green and red dancing lights that we all lament over when we see the amazing pics on Flickr or wherever? Yah. Tonight, I get to try to see one live for the first time.

 

That’s *after* I make over 100 tie dye bottles. That’s right–114, to be precise. “What?! *WHY*?!?” Cuz. I can. It’s all about choices, baby! 20 different hues of blue. 18 greens. blacks, greys, reds, yellows, oranges, browns … khaki, moss green, cerulean blue, baby pink, #2 pencil yellow (yes–that is an actual color on dharmatrading.com) … I’m going on a dyeing KICK. Halloween is right around the corner. Pumpkin and ghost tie dyes are gonna be a huge hit. :)

 

And to what will I be listening while doing all of this? Why U2’s new CD, of course! Songs of Innocence was a *huge* surprise announcement at the end of the Apple event on Tuesday. More than that, U2 ARE GIVING IT AWAY UNTIL OCTOBER 13. 500 million subscribers to iTunes, and all of us get it gratis. We pay nothing. We are the recipients of a gift.

 

Yet some people are squaking up a storm about how it’s “clogging up [their] phone.” Someone actually tweeted “Who the f*** put U2 on my phone?” Honestly? Who complains about free music? I don’t care if U2 isn’t your cup of tea; the fact that they’re literally giving away an entire CD speaks volumes about their character and generosity. And unless your name is Bob Lefsetz, you *should* be able to find something positive to say about that alone. But no … there are plenty of nay-sayers. Bob is one of the most vocal among them, but whatever. He’s bitter about something. Probably had to take a tablespoon of Goldenseal (don’t ask … just trust …). But I digress.

 

One of Bob’s points is that U2 are too old to be relevant anymore. “Yes, older people build the tools, but it’s young people who utilize them.” It’s stupidity like this that makes me want to bash my head against a wall. And … what experience do all these younglings have that gives them the right to tell U2–or any older band–that they’re no longer relevant? OHHHH … wait a sec. That’s just Bob’s opinion, right? Because ACTUAL musicians appreciate the groundwork that was laid for them. They stand in awe of their predecessors … especially when it’s abundantly apparent that it’s merited, as is the case with U2.

 

Whatever. One article by one grumpy gus does not  a career ruin. Well, at least not U2’s career. Bob’s may be dead in the water, with all his ability to assess talent and relevance.

 

And on a more positive note, I’m gonna get started on those dye bottles and make some wearable art. Pictures to come!

Creativity and How To Earn It

So I’ve been in a rut the last … meh. I dunno. Few months? Years? By education and experience, I’m a technical writer. That’s what it says on my several thousand dollar piece of paper that I earned several years ago. Over the course of the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve noticed that I’m not a fan of “2nd person imperative/3rd person indicative” writing. It leaves 0 room for creativity (unless you want to count the little trade secret of how every writer has his/her “signature” in every document they write. Don’t ask, cuz they’ll never tell what it is.), and it gets rather … tedious. I have a good eye for detail, so it lends itself well to my writing out things like procedures, instructions … we’re talking 100+ steps on how to make a peanut butter sandwich. That’s how I knew I could find a niche in tech writing.

 

Aaaaaand so what? At the end of the day, it doesn’t make me happy. When it’s all said and done, I get bored *super* easily with it. So when this new job came along that *isn’t* tech writing-based, I was super stoked. Beyond excited. Hyped/amped/revved … and so on and so forth. I started late last year, jumped right into it with some white papers (hey, they’re not procedures … anything different is good), and that’s about it. I asked my manager when he would have some time to review what he feels are my specific roles and responsibilities, and that just never happened. So I’ve gone department to department to department (ad nauseum), asking what I can do to help. I have a strong writing and editing background, so I can proofread, format, edit, and whatever else needed. And for a while, there was work coming in.

It’s stopped, and now I’m back to being bored. I *literally* have nothing to do at work. And it sucks. Most people would think, “Dude! You’ve got it easy! You can just surf and do whatever you want?! Don’t look that gift-horse in the mouth!” Except it’s not that simple. By moral code, I have a difficult time knowing that I’m getting paid and not producing anything worthwhile or useful to my employer. So … there’s that dilemma. Yah, I have surfed. To CNN. To Fox News (gotta keep a balance, right)? To some hockey-related websites, football sites, related message boards … and truthfully, it’s not as fun as you’d think. Well, okay … it’s not as fun for me. I’m sure I fall squarely into the overwhelmingly vast minority on this one. That’s fine. I get it.

 

So I’ve been in this rut. Work-wise, blog-wise, life-wise … it’s been a kind of downer. And I’m tired of it. I *have* to get out of it? The question is: how?

 

Right now, my wife is on a hike with one of my daughters. She and some friends are going to this waterfall that I would love to visit, but I have my standards when it comes to photography. I know exactly what shot I would want to get, and sadly, I don’t have the necessary filter right now. I will by Tuesday or Wednesday, but that doesn’t help today.

 

What that *did* help me with, on the other hand, is to come up with a list of things which I enjoy doing and feel that I do relatively well. Things like photography, writing, tie-dyeing, video game playing (when I actually sit down and play, anyway … and if I’m being honest with myself, it’s rather just an escape than any kind of creativity jump-starter) … these are highly marketable skills. Yes, tie-dyeing is a highly marketable skill. People will pay good money for well-patterned shirts.

 

Here’s what I realized today: I stayed home from this hike because a) I’m in this funk, b) I wanted to just sit around and watch something on Netflix, and c) I didn’t really want to trudge up this this waterfall if I didn’t have what it takes to get the picture I want to take. Yah, I could take a great shot of the valley below, or get some nice scenic pics … but I can also get those the next time they go up, at which point I’ll have my new filters (thank you, Amazon!).  So I’m at home, writing this blog post and listening to Dream Theater’s Awake CD.

 

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I don’t *want* to listen to other people’s music, or look at other people’s photos. I want to make my own mark. 20 years ago, I bet these guys in Dream Theater were sitting around thinking, “Man, there’s some excellent music out there, but I bet we could make excellent music too.” And so it is with me: I  *can* take excellent pictures. I *can* make excellent tie-dyed shirts, and they don’t have to be a peace sign, or a smiley face, or a mushroom. 2 years ago, when I had a booth at our town’s festival, I made a ladybug shirt that was just mind-blowing. I’m not saying that to brag: I’m saying that because at that point, NO ONE had actually dyed a ladybug. At least, not one that was posted online that I could find. And it took some work, yah … but the finished product was just amazing.

 

The couple of weekends ago, some friends of ours went on a drive with us to this tiny town in Northern Utah to get some pictures of the night sky, specifically of the galactic center, which after sunset was sitting at about 55-60 degree angle relative to the horizon. I captured a bunch of RAW images, brought them home, and started playing with the RAW editor in Photoshop. And by “started playing with,” I mean for the first time. Ever. I tinkered, looked up some Youtube vids, and did the best I could. And … yah, the images looked okay, but at 100%, something just looked off. Like, WAY off. I couldn’t figure out why all my pictures looked like Picasos.

 

I sent the RAW files to a buddy of mine who’s been shooting in RAW forever. He thought they looked great, with the settings he was using. That made me wonder why mine sucked, which led me to believe that it had to be something in the settings that I had screwed up. After re-opening and re-investigating, sure enough … fixed them, sharpened them, and now they look 100 times better.

 

Now … I told you all that about the picture not to brag, but to prove a point: creativity can be a product of a stream of consciousness that just flows out of you, but as a general rule, if you want to to look its best, you have to go back, re-evaluate, study, learn, fix, and accept that you can get better at anything you want, IF you put in the time.

 

To that end, I have some dye bottles to fill. Lots and lots and lots of bottles …  :)

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Review

Yesterday was pay day I got paid a couple of months ago. That’s not to say that I haven’t gotten paid since then, but since this is just barely getting posted and I originally started this back in January, I thought I’d clarify. You know … for all you millions of followers.

 

ANYWAY, pay day in and of itself is cause for a rousing round of applause. That particular day got exponentially better as I stopped at the local Jamba Juice to meet up with a kid who was selling his Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens. His reasons for selling aren’t germaine to my point. What is germaine is that I now own it.

 

“Why, exactly, did you feel the need to drop good cash on this lens?”

 

Good question. Indeed, it’s a bit of a gamble, considering Canon’s propensity for not playing nicely with all 3rd party lenses. However, it’s hard to ignore all the positive reviews it’s received, and for the price that this guy was selling it, I figured the risk was worth it.

 

My main reason for needing wanting it is plain and simple: night sky photography. I take pretty good pictures of the sky. I have a stellar (see what I did there …?!) picture of the constellation Orion, setting in early May in 1995. When I developed the film, I noticed a bright pink dot in the middle of the “sword.” My astronomy professor said, “Oh, that? That’s the Orion Nebula.” WHAT?! I’ve been hooked ever since. I’d like to get a telescope at some point, but for now, I’m happy getting pictures of “the big picture.”

 

And the picture doesn’t get any bigger than capturing a jaw-dropping picture of the galactic center. I swear, I will capture a good an amazing picture of this thing someday. All with practice, right?

 

Oh. And patience, since it doesn’t even begin rising until about March (edit: Hey! That’s NOW!!!), and even then it’s at like 4 am. That’s *just* about the time that the eastern sky is starting to get that pre-dawn haze of the rising sun. I’ve consulted Starry Night enough to know that the optimal time to start getting pictures of the galactic center is around the middle of April. Especially if you want to do this:

 

 

So to the review. Please keep in mind that I’m shooting with a Canon T2i, so the reality is that my crop-sensor is going to actually yield the 16-24mm equivalent of a full-frame sensor camera (I’m eyeballing you, Canon 6D).

 

Build

 

This thing is built like a tank. It feels solid, as you would expect a metal-body lens to feel. It has some quirks to it, definitely. The widest aspect to the lens is achieved by rotating the zoom ring clockwise. With all of my other lenses, minimum focal distance is achieved by rotating the zoom ring counter-clockwise. But whatever. It’s not a thing at all. Interestingly, the autofocus vs. manual “switch” is an entire ring that’s located toward the very front of the lens. So really, it’s not at all a switch in the traditional AF/Manual switch sense. Maybe it’s my limited exposure to it, but after playing with it extensively yesterday and part of today, yah … it’s cumbersome at best. Not a big fan. Maybe as I become more used to it, I’ll like it. We’ll see.

 

Picture Quality

 

It really depends on how well the autofocus wants to work. Nothing tack-sharp as of yet, but I’ve been shooting at the widest aperture on the widest angle. If I zoom in to 16mm and shoot at 3.5, pictures become noticebly sharper. The problem I have with that is that I already have a 17-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens. 1 extra mm is not justification for buying a whole new lens, in my book. However, only having it less than 24 hours is also not a case for writing off the lens as a lost cause. I have some ideas that I want to try later in the day that will test the lens further. That should help me get a better feel for what its capabilities are

 

Now … if I’m using the manual focus, the story becomes definitively different. I can get pretty sharp pictures by tweaking the focus a hair each picture, until I get a desirable shot. I also tweak them in Photoshop and DXOptics for fun, just to see how the in-camera jpg pics compare to what I see in my mind’s eye for post-processing.

 

Conclusion

 

 Like I said, there’s some playing to still be done with this thing. In the couple of months that I’ve had it, I’ve become more familiar with how it likes to focus, and what its strengths/weaknesses are. Also picked up some invaluable general night sky photography tricks (e.g. using a laser pointer to help focus in relatively pitch black conditions; setting focal distance to infinity also helps; MANUAL focus; etc).

 

Overall, this lens is a keeper. I’m also looking at upgrading my camera body from Canon T2i to a Canon 6D in the near future. From all reports and reviews I’ve read, that should help a lot with the focusing and noise reduction on images shot at ISO 1600 or greater. We’ll see … but that’ll be a review for another day.

To Those Who Suffer from … Well, ANYthing

I read a friend’s blog post today. I won’t divulge the name here; it’s not my place to share. However, it has me doing a lot of introspective soul-searching about who *I* am, and how *I* view life.

 

In short, I consider myself a rather happy person.

 

That is, by no stretch, a bragging point. If anything, I say it with a wipe of my forehead and a whisk of my hand to rid myself of the beading sweat. I say it because I just got lucky in that regard. Now … having said that, I think that I have had my bouts with depression. Nothing long-term or ongoing, but indeed, I’ve felt actual, physical pain from being in a funk. So I have to ask myself: is that what depression is? Was I, at that point, actually depressed?

 

I don’t know. I’m not really in a position to say with any degree of certainty that I was. Or wasn’t. I know what and how I felt, and I hated it. I hated feeling like I hated it. I hated facing the fact that I felt compelled to try to determine what this “funk” was. I hated that I didn’t want to be around anyone, including my wife and kids. I hated the fact that I wanted nothing to do with blogging. Or photography. Or Facebook. Or tie-dyeing. Or … anything.

 

But for as bad as I felt, at no point did I ever consider offing myself … and I think that’s why I feel safe about saying that, even if I was mildly depressed, I wasn’t nearly as badly depressed as I could have been.

 

Which brings me to my point: my friend’s blog post.

 

See, this person has been to the “contemplation” end of depression. This person has put on the brave face in public, and wept furiously when alone. S/he smiled at people, but inwardly frowned the ultimate sad face. Did any of this person’s friends know the depths to which this person had experienced depression? No. Because this person chose to keep it personal. To keep it close. To not expose.

 

To not let on just how bad the hurt had grown.

 

Now … that was this person’s way of dealing with it. Others act and react differently. Ask yourself this : on any given day, how many people do you see who are grumpy, sad, crying, or otherwise engaged in what is so obviously an emotionally/spiritually/psychologically tough time? A few? Dozens? ONE?

 

And here’s the logical follow-up–the one question you must have to ask yourself: what are you doing about it?

 

Do you just … I dunno. Walk by? Obviously turn the other way? Pretend your fiddling with your phone to avoid the awkwardness?

 

What if that person is literally praying for someone to just say hi? Or what if that person has just decided that their life has no meaning, and that their only relief is at the bottom of a ravine after a jump off of a very tall bridge, or at the end of a gun barrel? WHAT IF YOU ARE THE ANSWER TO SOMEONE’S PLEADING?

 

Why would you not try to help? Why would you walk by and not offer someone a shoulder to cry on? Or a listening ear? Or whatever it is they need? Why would you walk away

 

One word: don’t.

 

Don’t just walk away. Don’t turn a “blind” eye.

 

Another word: help.

 

Be that listening ear. Offer that small glimmer of hope. Give that hug.

 

Yes, it may take leaving your comfort zone, but the end result … wouldn’t it be worth knowing that you helped someone? Maybe saved a life?

 

People, all I’m asking is for some common decency. ALL of us have hurt at one point. Some of us have hurt exponentially worse and longer than others. You know how that one small painful experience was for you; imagine living every day like that.

 

Challenge of the week: find someone you don’t know at all and wish them a good day. Or buy his/her coffee/hot chocolate/morning drink. Or smile at everyone for an entire day.

 

Help. Help everyone.