Open Letter of Apology

FAIR WARNING! This is gonna be long. tl;dr version: AJ, I hope you’re well, and I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend–especially when you needed a friend the most.

Yesterday afternoon, I fell asleep super early. It had to be somewhere around 5:30. Consequently, I woke up around 12:30. And 1:30. And 2:30. And 3:30. And 4:30 … at which point, I just gave up, took a shower, and went to work.

Once I woke up at 12:30, I pretty much didn’t go back to sleep. All those other times were when I just got up and wandered around, went to the bathroom, got a drink, rummaged through the fridge (to no avail) … I just couldn’t find the comfort zone, you know? And there’s a pretty solid reason why I couldn’t sleep.

So, about 10 years ago, I had this really good friend with whom I worked. This person really made work enjoyable in an otherwise pretty miserable place. We had lots of the same interest in music, lots of the same twisted humor … but we had enough differences that it kept conversations interesting and engaging. I’m pretty Mormon-y; she’s not. It was never an issue, though, as far as I know. The entire environment we worked in was one of toxicity, back-stabbing, and posturing–all environments in which I really don’t deal very well.

For a number of years, we worked in the same building. At some point, she was transferred to our off-site facility. About 4 and a half years into my stint with this company, there was a schism on my team, in that half my team turned on me and got me released from my position as team lead. I was re-assigned to the facility where my friend worked, which was a bright spot in another-wise demoralizing experience. I was not at all pleased to have to move, but I held my head high, packed my desk, and moved on with the day.

That was mid-February 2008. Several weeks went by. I had come to grips with the back-stabbing. Still wasn’t happy at all with my ex-team members, but… whatever. It happened, and nothing I could do would change it.

Now … keep in mind that some of the complaints levied against me was that 1) I wasn’t carrying my load of actual work (in reality, I had more projects than any of them, but they were neck-deep in their own work that it wasn’t fair to ask them to shoulder more, so I took that burden upon myself, which they weren’t aware of); 2) I’m hogging all the work (they found out about the extra projects and felt like I was “hogging the glory” … which … yah. Utterly hilarious.); 3) I wasn’t helping enough with our CMMI project (I *asked* if anyone wanted the responsibility to shoulder that task. One girl said “Yup! I’ve got it!”, and then proceeded to go behind my back when I didn’t immediately jump to her aide when she didn’t “get” something–completely forgetting that I had put her in contact with ALL of the key players on the project who would have been infinitely more knowledgeable than I would have been … not to mention that I was trying to juggle four or five projects of my own, all of which had pending deadlines for various milestones.).

Let’s skip on ahead to the first week of April. Our program manager called an all-hands meeting for just our company’s employees–no government or military personnel would be in attendance. I had absolutely no desire to go to this meeting, but it was an all-hands meeting. It was required. I emailed my friend about not wanting to go. She wrote back, “Oh I’m not going. I don’t want to see [insert government manager person’s name here].”

“Yah, but … it’s an all-hands. We kind of have to go.”

“Well I don’t want to, so … I’m not going.”

Now … before pressing forward with this insane diatribe with which I’ve punished you enough already, there needs to be a level of explanation about [IGMPNH]. He … I dunno how to describe him, other than he seemed kind of misogynistic. Like … to the point where he didn’t think my friend was capable of doing her job without him hovering over her. Now … this friend was a complete bad-ass: she was *exceptional* at her job, she knew her stuff inside and out, backward, forward, up, down … she knew it all, but because she’s a girl, [IGMPNH] didn’t trust her. She did *not* need him hovering over her to get her work done, yet that’s what he felt he needed to, for whatever reason. At some point, an issue came up that she was adamant required answer “A”. To literally no one’s surprise, [IGMPNH] insisted that the answer needed to be “B.” My friend went with what she knew, provided answer “A,” and in the end, was completely in the right. [IGMPNH] did not appreciate being shown up, I guess. Then again, she didn’t appreciate having her knowledge questioned. I completely understand why she wouldn’t. For one, the office in which we worked was and probably still is very male-dominated, and she’s a very independent and strong woman. It had to have been extremely frustrating for her to have her work questioned based solely upon her gender. I believe there were other instances of this kind of whack-o-ism, but this is the primary instance–the proverbial straw that broke her back.

Back to the all-hands meeting day. I messaged her later in the day and said, “Hey, I’m heading over. Save you a seat?”

“No. I’m not going.”

*sigh* …

“Whatever.”

I went, much against my better sense of emotional and psychological self-preservation. In retrospect, I wish I had taken the path of my friend–blow it off altogether. But, as I was constantly reminded, it was “a mandatory meeting–no skipping.”

Lucky me–I got to watch my ENTIRE EX-TEAM reap the rewards of all my hard work. They swooped in as I was at 90% solutions on all my documentation, and were awarded merits and commendations for “work well done.” I sat there in stunned silence. It was all I could do not to laugh, get up, and walk out. Just … flabbergasted. I know why our PM did what he did: he wanted to boost the rest of the team’s morale. And I’m sure it worked. However, on the opposite end, it killed me to watch them all walk up, get their little gift certificates and awards … all for work that I had done ALL the leg-work on (with the one exception of the girl who *finally* got all of our CMMI stuff figured out and submitted. In all fairness, she deserved her commendation. I can’t and won’t take that from her.).

After the meeting let out, I made a bee-line for the door. Didn’t stop to talk, didn’t congratulate them on their grand accolades, just marched out the door and went back to my office. When I got back, there was an email from my friend discussing something completely unrelated to the meeting or work … probably something house-related cuz we were both pretty keen on the housing market back then. Whatever it was, though, I wrote back and added a line at the end that said something along the lines of “Yah, that was a riveting meeting, wasn’t it?! Oh, wait …”

She wrote back one line: “I told you I wasn’t going.”

At that point, my dam broke. I had been trying to keep the wall from breaching, but it finally broke, and a flood of emotions came welling to the surface and spilled over into my follow-up email. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was pretty scathing … something like “I don’t know who you think you are that you’re so much better than everyone else that gives you privilege to skip mandatory meetings, but it isn’t cool.” Words to that effect. I hit “Send,” and then I called my wife and bemoaned my frustration with the meeting. Mere minutes later, my friend came in to the office and started *screaming* at me. I mean … she just laid into me something fierce. “Honey, I gotta go. I’m getting yelled at and need to take this elsewhere so the rest of the office doesn’t have to hear this.” *click*

We went in the hall outside our office. The screaming and lambasting continued. I just stood there and listened, knowing that she was pissed off and in a rage. There was no way anything I would have said could have resonated with her in any kind of positive way, so I let her speak her mind, then I said something like “Listen … you’re too spun up right now. I’m going to go back in the office. Let’s talk about this after you’ve had a chance to cool down.”

Now … I know I’m kind of losing my memory on certain things. Names, places, dates … all things for which I used to have a super-sharp mind, but lately I feel like I’m starting to lose some of that sharpness. However, her face as I walked by her to go back in is *not* one I will ever forget. It was filled with rage, hurt, disillusionment, … pain. Like, actual pain, in hindsight. I don’t remember if she said anything as I went in, but I do remember the silence the rest of the afternoon and the following day.

That was on a Thursday. Friday came and went. Nothing. Saturday, I called her. No answer. “Probably busy.” Sunday morning, I tried again. She answered. And … I kind of wish a) I hadn’t called, b) she hadn’t answered because HO-LEE S***-SNACKS (that’s for all you Archer fans).

Let’s be honest: sometimes, friends get into arguments. Sometimes, friends fight. However, friends also make up, right? Friends patch things up because friends are valuable and worth the apology, right?

As she verbally attacked me and my character for the next several minutes, I sat stunned and numb. She hated me. And I don’t mean she was just angry; she … I dunno how to describe it. The pain in her voice was tangible. I don’t even remember most of what she said, other than she leveled some pretty harsh accusations at me, like “You always yell at me,” “K was right about you–you’re abusive” … things like that. Things that, to this day, I still don’t quite understand clearly, but from her point of view, I can see where certain conversations could be taken out of context. Not that they were ever cleared up in the moment or even discussed, just filed away for future verbal beatings that I simply did not see coming. I really had no idea what to say. Once she started leveling accusations at me, I apologized profusely and tried telling her that she was *never* the intended target of any kind of malicious dialog. Ever. But she kept pulling up instance after instance of times where she felt attacked. No amount of explanation would counter her already entrenched beliefs–I was now public enemy number 1, and I was to be shunned and cast off. Permanently.

I sank straight to the bottom. I thought being stabbed in the back by my old team was painful; this was … I dunno. I’ve never been diagnosed as clinically depressed, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I landed–right at the bottom of the pit of misery (minus all the “dilly dilly” and beer). I couldn’t get out of bed. Sleep was the only relief. Going to work was excruciating, knowing that I couldn’t laugh with or chat with my friend. And the worst was not being able to apologize for how I unwittingly hurt *her*. I’m one of those kinds of people that doesn’t really hold things in. If someone asks me how I am, and I’m not well, I answer as such. I do recall one occasion where she asked me a question, and I was pretty low. I explained to her how low, why I was low, and I didn’t mince words. I didn’t level anything at her because none of it was her fault, right? Just work crap and house issues. To this day, I don’t know how she could have construed that as yelling at her, but mine is not to question why someone takes something the way they do; mine is to hopefully explain and clarify … but I didn’t get that chance because a) I had no idea she had ever taken it that way, b) she wouldn’t *let* me explain in light of our imploding friendship.

Like I said, this was almost 10 years ago, right? So why do I let this keep bothering me? How is that this keeps me up at night?! WHY!? WHY!??!?

The answer to that is simple: I do not know. The much more complex answer is probably about as lengthy as this post already is to this point, and to be honest, I don’t have the mental stamina to hammer that out. The in-between answer is this: it bothers me still because, to this day, I still feel horribly that this friend feels that I betrayed her, that I wasn’t there for her when she needed a friend, and that I put my feelings above hers. It was never my intent to betray her (or anyone, for that matter). As a friend, I always try to put others’ feelings before my own. I always try to see their point of view. I want to be that kind of friend for them because that’s the kind of friend I want to be. And this one time I put my feelings before someone else’s, and … yah. It went so far sideways that I couldn’t ever get it back on track, you know? And that’s on me. I¬†should have been better. I didn’t need to worry about all those accolades my team was getting for what I had already done. She was hurting, I knew it, and I could have been more supportive … but in a selfish moment, I focused on me.

Now … there will be some of you (right?! because EVERYONE reads this dung-heap of blatherings!) who will insist that I *need* to take time for me and vent my feelings. And you know what? You’re right. I do because I, too, am human, and need to feel like I’m worth listening to or understood. BUT, and this is a big one, there could have been and should have been a better time to vent and wallow. It was just such a horrible confluence of misery for both of us. She chose not to attend and avoid that misery. I chose to run into it head-on, and, if I’m being point-blank honest, I wasn’t mentally or psychologically prepared for it. Maybe she knew how she’d react, and she knew that that was a situation she needed to avoid. I had never been in that situation, so I wasn’t at all sure what I was getting myself into, but regardless, that’s no excuse for accusing her of thinking she’s better than everyone else. She was hurting, she needed to keep her distance, and she did. I didn’t.

AJ, you’ll probably never read this. And that’s cool. If, on the remote chance that you do, I hope you know that I’m sorry I made you feel less than you are. I hope you’re doing well, and that you’re happy. That’s all.

 

 

RIP Delores O’Riordan

She’s dead. And worse yet, there’s no news as to why. I can’t stand this. She was 46. One year older than I am. Probably not even that much older. Their music has always been such a great throwback to my simpler times in the 90s. No college to worry about, no mortgage or even many adult bills, just care-free and happy.

And she’s dead. I can’t fathom what would have taken her this early. I know they cancelled last year’s tour, but that was for back issues, from what I remember.

I’m sad. Hers was a voice that could soothe and comfort, yet she also carried herself as someone who I wouldn’t really want to mess with, ya know? Songs like “I Just Shot John Lennon,” “Zombie,” “Salvation” … all showcase her raw power with her vocals.

I don’t know what to do. I just want to drive around and listen to The Cranberries and her solo stuff. And I can’t cuz I have a meeting in over 3 hours.

RIP, Delores. Dreaming my dreams with you …

The Great American Eclipse of 2017

It is August 2nd. That means that the month over which I’ve been slobbering for the last 8 years is *FINALLY* here. Assuming that you aren’t living in a remote Brazilian jungle and completely and utterly isolated from news, the fact that there is an eclipse coming to the continental US should not at all be shocking at this point.

I have reserved a couple different things through borrowlenses.com: a Canon 7D mark II camera body, and a 100-400mm F4L lens. I figure that shooting on an APS-C sensor will automatically get me about a 640mm equivalent look to the pictures, which is still a tad less than I’d like, but it is what it is, and there are other eclipses coming.

One concern I have is that I haven’t ordered any filters. That’s … yah. Not an oversight. I’m actually making my own, and I really need to start dedicating my time to making sure that they’re going to work. I ordered a sheet of black polymer solar filter film from thousandoaksoptical.com through Amazon. I really should order another because I have 0 confidence that I’m not going to severely jack up this thing. I’m also considering ordering some optical glass from a warehouse, but we’ll see. I’m not doing that just yet … and at this point, probably not, but we’ll see.

I have two camera bodies that I’ll be using. I own and use (read: abuse) a Canon 6D with pretty much reckless abandon. I also have a 24-105mm F4L lens that I’ll use to track the eclipse from beginning to end. I HOPE to use it to capture the eclipse and the constellation of Orion, since it will be out to the southwest during the eclipse. That, to me, is just … wow. WOW!! I hope to get it all in one shot, but if not, I’m happy making a composite.

I’ve been going through old pics the last few weeks. It’s amazing what I’ve learned about Adobe Camera Raw over the last few years just from tinkering. I love it. I’m confident that these pictures of the eclipse are going to be … dare I say it …… *stellar*. Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I mean … sure, I could have, but I chose not to. Cope with my wit.

We’re going to Idaho Falls to stay with a friend of mine who I haven’t seen since I moved from Buffalo in 1995. She and her husband have graciously invited us to stay with them. The problem is that the sheer number of people who are traveling to the shadow’s path is *insane*. The eclipse is on a Monday. We’re leaving that Friday afternoon to beat the traffic heading north. Friday. A full 3 sleeps before the actual eclipse. We’re also bringing a ridiculous amount of food and water for the car ride because who knows what’ll happen when we go to leave … or for that matter when we can actually leave. According to some reports, we may be stuck in Idaho Falls until that Wednesday due to the traffic. THAT IS RIDICULOUS.

Speaking of ridiculous, though … ha ha. The I-15 north-bound will be lined with porta-potties. I don’t … whatever. Sure.

Less than 3 weeks … I’m stoked.

Post-Kenya Blues

Well, I’m back from Kenya again. Have been for almost a month, actually. If I had my way, I’d totally quit my job, find a source of residual income, and just move to Kenya permanently. There’s just so much to do over there. People to meet, buildings to construct, culture to absorb … and I love all of it. And I do mean ALL of it. The lack of running hot water, the latrine pits that scare me, the mosquito nets that don’t really do a lot to keep them away … I’d trade all of this life over here for a life over there. I think the transition would be … I don’t know. Difficult, maybe? Maybe not? For me, I don’t think it’d be a huge deal. For my girls, maybe not so much. For my wife … again, not a big deal … so I don’t know.

I do know one thing I’d miss a lot: hockey. I *love* hockey. And with the off-season changes the Sabres have made, this coming season should be interesting in a way that hasn’t happened in a long, long time. But we’ll see …

However, this most recent trip to Kenya will probably be my last for a couple of years. I *might* be able to go in November of 2018, but I can’t make that call yet. As a family, we have things coming up that I cannot divulge here due to secrecy and promises, but I can tell you this: we are going to have a LOT of fun somewhere in the first half of 2018. I really need to start preparing for that. There are things that we’ll need to buy, arrange, and acquire. Primarily, passports. ūüôā That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Anyway, due to the nature of this upcoming family adventure, all funds are going to that effort right now, which makes me nostalgic for my friends and family that I won’t get to see in Kenya for at least a year and a half … probably 2 years.

This is one of the reasons I’m so sad that I won’t be going back over in the near future. Those papers on the table display the architecture plans for the cultural center we want to build. And the ground-breaking ceremony took place last November on the trip before mine. We’re hoping to have a ribbon cutting ceremony this coming November on *something*–be it a latrine pit or a cottage … we don’t care, as long as something is built.

This pic is of one of our humanitarians surrounded by a small army of Kenyan kids who fell in love with her because she’s awesome!!

And, of course … hippos.

SO Many Happenings!

This has been one emotional, crazy ride. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve seen things here that I have ¬†never seen elsewhere. Take, for example, the riot we encountered on our way to meet a family to deliver a cow. There was an incident with a police officer, and a local ended up dying because of it. We’re talking burning tires, screaming and marching, banging machetes on boulders in the middle of the road … traffic stopped cold. We couldn’t move forward, and we couldn’t back up. Moses, thankfully, was pretty laid back with it all. He just asked some people to move their cars so we could go way around. “What? Oh! Yah … sure.” And move them they did. We still had to go down through the tiny village, but we made it.
David’s jeep crew, by way of comparison, did not. They were stuck there for hours. Literally. One of the ladies in our jeep had a daughter in the other jeep. She was freaking out, and it’s well understood why. One wrong move, one weird twist, and and that whole thing could have spiraled out of control. It didn’t. Angels attended them.

But we delivered the cow!! It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The whole village walked out to greet us.

Well … hmm. Let me back up. When I say that we delivered the cow, I mean we walked it a solid mile down a dirt road, through fields, jumped ditches, and THEN delivered the cow. When we were probably a block or so away, I could hear singing. The villagers walked out to greet us in song of the most gratitude and thanks I’ve ever witnessed. Just thinking about it right now brings tears to my eyes all over again. We¬†met them, they turned around, and we kept walking back to the village. we circled around, formed a horseshoe type line, and then the cow was brought into the center. Pastor Ben said a few words, as did one of the girls from the family (I think …)from whom we bought the cow said some words, and then we celebrated.

I’m telling you right now, you cannot come here, witness these types of events, and not be moved. It just isn’t possible. The human condition forbids it. The joy on that family’s face–knowing that complete strangers took them into their hearts and made sacrifices on their behalf to raise money for us to present them a cow so that they could be a little more independent than they were the day before … it was so overwhelming.

That was our Monday. Yesterday was spent training another village on how to use reusable feminine hygiene products. If you aren’t familiar with the Days for Girls program, I suggest you become such.
Imagine that you’re a little girl, eager to learn and go to school. You’re fervently studying your favorite subjects (and not-so-favorite subjects). You feel smart. You feel EMPOWERED. You feel like you could conquer the world!!

Now imagine that you start to get your period, but because there’s no way to stop the flow, you have to sit at home one week a MONTH on a cardboard box because your school won’t let you come. Because you’re bleeding. From your God-given and -made body part. You can’t do anything about it, and you want¬†to go to school … but you’re not permitted. Because you’re a girl with a period.

You fall further and further behind. You struggle mightily to catch up after every cycle. Inevitably, the work just becomes ovewwhelming, and you end up dropping out. You realize that your dreams are dying. All the thoughts you had of becoming an engineer, or a marine biologist, or a doctor–gone.
Days for Girls provides girls in these exact types of circumstances the means to continue their education. No longer do they have to miss an entire week of school a month. They can stay caught up and get their assignments done. THEY GET TO GO TO SCHOOL EVERY SINGLE DAY because Days for Girls provides them reusable, washable pads. Such a simple concept, yet such a miracle for these girls.

So yah. Part of our day was spent training the girls of this village on how to use these kits.

Now … I did not participate in the training. It’s already an awkward enough discussion and situation; these poor girls did not need some random American guy¬†coming to their village to discuss their newly-minted womanhood. And personally, I was grateful that I didn’t have to. The awkwardness goes both ways, sister. ūüôā
While most of the others were training, Becci, Sarah, and Sherry  played all kinds of games with  the little kids: Red Rover, Duck Duck Goose, and Red Light Green Light. I got a bunch of really great pictures.

I also laid down in more poop than you can possibly imagine to try to get some toddlers and a baby to smile. It didn’t happen. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Lots of scared looks, lots of tears, lots of clinging to each other. Meanwhile, I just laid there with a coloring book, colored pencils, and lots of smiles. eventually, the older toddler started smearing his pencil all over the paper, which … you know … kind of how ¬†they do things at that age.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS have candy on hand.
Aaaand because we’re rolling out in a bit, probably ought to wrap this up. THERE WILL BE MORE.

Weird happenings before the trip 

So here I sit outside the Farmington Utah Apple store, waiting to get in for a genius bar emergency appointment. The camera all but stopped functioning in its entirety. It would open, but a) I couldn’t take a picture, b) I couldn’t even see what was on the screen. It just froze out of focus. Weirdest thing I’ve ever seen my phone do.

So I came to the store in a fit of panic. On my way to the store, I set my phone on the dash rather than my normal hands-free cradle. Some guy cut me off, and then he immediately slammed on his brakes. I, of course, followed suit. My car stopped, but my phone didn’t. It went sailing st about 80MPH into the windshield.

You should see this screen …

Yet somehow, the touch screen is still  usable. No idea how this is happening, but whatever.

So now, instead of possibly getting the phone replaced for free, I may have to pay for a refurb … unless they play it super nice as they are often wont to do at the Apple Store.

Of all the times in the world for the camera to stop working, it would be just before I go to. Kenya.

Interestingly, the camera works now. I restarted the phone a couple different times, and now it keeps taking pictures. Figures …

So I guess I’m just¬†gonna scrap the WordPress app. It doesn’t auto-post anything, so what’s the point?

Speaking of Kenya, I need to start packing! GAAAAH!! SO much to do … so little¬†energy to do any of it.

At least I have the blog posting thing figured out. One check box I can mark. ūüôā

Hashtag Hell (or, How I Learned to Love the Pound Sign)

So, I hear a lot of people asking, “What is the point of a hashtag?” and saying “They’re so stupid! I hate them!” That’s because most people use them incorrectly. You *can* use a hashtag of #ThisIsTheLamestThingEverAndItSucksMoreThanBroccoliSoup … but no one will ever see it except you and your handful of twitter followers/facebook friends/instagram addicts, depending on where you deploy your tag.

 

Hashtags actually serve a very useful purpose. Think of them as a sort of index for your post. For those of you who have no idea what an index is (read: the under-20 crowd who barely know what a book is), think of your old text books or instruction books. In the back, you have an alphabetical index of key words that are very specific to a functionality or a task. If I’m looking at an HTML book, and I want to know all about “classes,” I can search the index, find “classes,” and it will give me a list of pages where you will find useful information. It’s the same with hashtags. You tag key words that you want to use to help others find your post on whatever social media platform you’re using. Twitter has been great for using hashtags for years and years. Instagram, a little less so, but definitely getting up to speed. Facebook … yah. A work in progress, and we’ll leave it at that.

 

In your post/tweet/pic, you have a point you’re trying to get across. You specifically mentioned something. For example, let’s say that I just took a picture of Old Faithful in Yellowstone. My caption reads, “Hey, check it out–it really *does* go off every 75 minutes or so!” My hashtags, IF I want them to be useful, would be something along the lines of #OldFaithful #Yellowstone #geysers #awesome (because let’s face it … OF is freakin’ insanely cool, as are most other geysers). The first two are specific to Old Faithful. They say where you’ve been specifically. The 3rd is a tad more generic, but it’s still specific to OF because it is a geyser, and Yellowstone houses the largest concentration of geysers in the world. The 4th shows your feelings (not a necessity, but sometimes a nicety), and anyone looking for something #awesome is going to find your picture. Eventually. Probably. I mean, I’m sure a lot of pictures or posts are tagged as “awesome” because most people view their vacation pics as such. “Awesome,” though, is subjective. YOU believe it’s awesome. Others may agree; some may think, “Really? Water blowing out of the ground is ‘awesome’? Whatever …”

 

Now … some people like to use hashtags as a way to rib their friends/followers. That’s definitely one way of using them. The odds of it being useful in a search are pretty close to zero, but it can be done. My friends and I do it all the time. Doesn’t mean we *want* people to find it; we’re just using them as a short-handed form of teasing. #Idiot, #LMGTFY … stuff like that. It’s pretty fun.

 

Another thing to consider when using hashtags is the use of capitalization. In conventional writing, you typically capitalize the first word of a sentence, then the rest of the sentence is lower-case (except for the appropriate pronouns and proper nouns). However, with hashtags, to make them more readable, the smart tagger capitalizes the first letter of EVERY word–regardless of whether it’s a small word, big word, proper noun, gerund, objective prounoun … doesn’t matter.

 

This concludes my primer for tagging. I’m sure there’s a lot I’m leaving out, but these are just the things I’ve observed since using hashtags. They have their place, and they’re definitely a great tool … IF you know what you’re doing with them.

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.

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.

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