Sunday, April 13, 2014

Try a little positivity

It's really easy to complain.  Believe me, I'm a master at it.

But sometimes, it's good to take a minute to be conscious of the good things.  Take this weekend, for example.

Saw a good movie - the Captain America sequel.  I can't tell you how many times I've left a movie feeling disappointed.  But this one was pretty good.

The weather could not have been better.  Sunny, mid 70s, just perfect.

I got some writing done, and got a five star review on an ebook I wrote months ago.

And I spent this afternoon making a truly killer gumbo.

Really, life is good.  Take a few minutes and look for the good stuff.

Monday, April 7, 2014


It seems that in writing, as well as in life, momentum is the key.

In a flash of the very, very obvious, I've discovered that the more you write, the more you write.  And, of course, the opposite is just as true, and just as obvious.

I started writing for money way back in 2006, getting a story published in a men's magazine - on a dare.  A few weeks later, with my contributor copy and a check for $100 in hand, it occurred to me that maybe there was more money to be made - easy money.

The money turned out to be not all that easy, but most definitely there.  Over the course of the next few months, I sold probably two dozen short stories of the 'Dear Penthouse' variety at $25 a pop.  Fiction, though, was not my first literary love, so I moved on to writing reviews of dirty movies for two different websites.  Do you see a theme developing?

The review work dried up as one site insisted that a byline (under a pen name) was just as good as getting paid. I disagreed.  My reviews for the other site, still under a pseudonym, did earn a bit of cash, but their budget for paid reviewers disappeared as they discovered that, while I wasn't one of them, plenty of writers were happy to write for free.

Eventually, I stopped writing altogether, other than occasional entries in the journal I've kept sporadically since high school.

Each time that I took a break from writing, it got harder to fire up the machinery again.  The whole process repeated late last year, when I took a break from writing and selling ebooks on Amazon.  The smut I wrote will never pass for fine literature, but even after months of not publishing any new material, they still sell a couple dozen copies a month

The lure of semi-easy money has drawn me in again, and finally - finally! - the words are coming again.  So to speak.

The point of all this - if there is a point - is that if you are a writer, or an artist of any kind, keep at it, even if you aren't trying to make bank.  The older I get, the harder it is to get the engine started after it's been idle for even a short time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A New Look...

Guess it's been a while, huh?

The lack of new posts is an indicator that I've run out of steam with this incarnation of the blog.

I'm not sure what the new direction is going to be yet, and this may not be the blog's final form.  But to speak the plain truth, I got bored writing about food and cameras.


It's on to something else.

Take a look at that 'About Me' over there on the right.  Does that resume look like it belongs to somebody who can commit to a single interest?

For now, then, and maybe for a long time, I'm going back to basics, back to one of the things that I always return to: writing.

No expensive tools, no technology that needs constant maintenance or upgrading, just making up stories and writing them down.

Maybe there will be book reviews here.  Could be some flash fiction, too.  Most likely, though, it'll just be writing about writing.

Hope you like the new look.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Beer Snob in Training

Well!  Some winter, huh?

I sure didn't intend to wait a month before posting again, but who plans for Arctic weather in the Midwest?

Anyway, the snow and the cold make it tough to do much besides cook and eat and think.  I'm not hardy enough to brave this kind of weather just to take pictures.  I'm a wuss that way.

As a result of the cooking and the thinking and my ongoing contemplation of middle age, I've come to a couple of decisions.  The first involves a career change. I'll get to that.

The other, more immediate, decision is to expand my food and drink horizons.  I grew up in Central Indiana.  Despite commercials you may have heard, there really isn't much more than corn in Indiana.  Corn and beef.  My culinary experience, I'm quickly learning, is limited.  Stunted, even.

Last year, my resolution was to lose weight.  Sixty pounds gone, the last ten thanks to an unexpected emergency surgery, but gone just the same.

This year, I'm trying food and drink that is way outside of my experience.  For....reasons, my first step was to turn on to Southern cooking.  I discovered that if I put enough sugar in it, I can learn to like tea.  Sweet tea was born in the South, and I found that even though I've never been a tea drinker, with enough sugar and lemon, it's not bad at all.  Same goes for coffee, another taste I've never quite acquired.  Cinnamon roll flavored coffee, though?  I'm all over that.

Beans and rice?  Jambalaya?

Made 'em both and love 'em!  Made a pecan pie for my wife and did ok for a first attempt.  This weekend I'm making my first gumbo, and I'll have pictures and commentary in this very space, so watch for that.  Crawfish and shrimp?  Never had either, and have gone out of my way to avoid most seafood up to this point.  Blame it on my Midwest upbringing.  The most exotic fish I've ever had was catfish.  My old man made it - breaded and fried - and it was pretty damned good.  But lobster or crab or any sea critter that wasn't shredded and shaped into a frozen, fried stick?  Nope - never had it.  I'm starting to think that maybe I'm missing out on something.

Getting back to the title of this post, I've decided that as a part of my gastronomic development, I'm gonna learn to appreciate beer.  My experience with beer is, predictably, limited.  My departed Grandmother only drank Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the sips I would sneak while she pretended not to notice were....unpleasant.  Despite the time I spent tending bar, I learned very little beer as an adult.  But the guy with the awesome voice and even more awesome beard on Beer Geeks has me convinced that I can give it another go.

I have friends who are beer fans and amateur brewers, and I delight in telling them that all beer, from the cheapest swill to the priciest craft brews, tastes exactly the same to me.  My palate just isn't developed enough to pick out the flavors that they insist are there.

In addition to the periodic camera test drives, then, I'm going to try whatever beers I can find and report my impressions back to you.  One of our local grocery stores has a large selection of single bottles that you can mix and match into a custom six-pack.  So you'll either get to watch my growth as a beer connoisseur, or you'll have a laugh at my expense as I completely misunderstand the culture and the craft.  Either way, should be a good time.

Getting back to that first, life changing, possibly ill-advised decision - here it is:  once my life becomes a little more stable, I'm going back to school to learn to cook professionally.  Again, watch this space to either follow my incredible rise or my spectacular failure.

Either way, enjoy the ride.  I promise it won't take me another month to post again.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Peace, Love, and Cameras

The end of the year is a time of introspection, for me at least.  It's a great time to look back at the highs and lows that happened during the year.  There have been a lot of changes, a lot of endings and a few beginnings.  And pictures.  Never enough, though, no matter how many I take.

As an amateur historian and the proud hubby of the family genealogist, I see a lot of old pictures.  And as a camera geek, I spend a lot of time wondering about the people who took them, and about the gear they used.

The camera I'm talking about in this post hits all the sweet spots.  It's old, and it has a family connection.  This particular rig, an Argus C4R, belonged to my Great-Aunt Opal, the woman who raised my grandfather after his mother's early, mysterious passing.

Before I get into the meat of this entry, take a look at this glamour shot --

She's all original, right down to the Argus branded leather case.

My Great-Aunt and -Uncle traveled a lot after his retirement and this 35mm rangefinder went everywhere with them.  Every time I visited them, I insisted on seeing their slides (much to my mother's chagrin).  Most, if not every single frame, passed behind the lens you see here.

When my Great-Aunt could no longer take care of herself, her camera passed to me.  Even though I've had it in my collection since the late 1980s, I've never shot anything with it, until now.

A bit of Argus history.

The Argus C4 was produced in large numbers in the 1950s.  Later versions, like the C44, had interchangeable lenses.  The C4 is a rangefinder, meaning that the image you see in the viewfinder doesn't pass through the lens via a mirror/prism arrangement like an SLR.  Focusing is a bit different, too, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't know how to do it when I shot the first test roll.  More on that in a minute.

A visit to an Argus collector's site helped me pin down the year this camera was built.  As it turns out, my C4 is actually a C4R, which stands for (R)apid Wind.  I don't have another C4 to compare it to, so I'm not sure what the difference there is between this and the standard model.  The C4R was made only in 1958, which makes this one, if not rare, at least uncommon, and easily the oldest usable camera in my collection.

Shooting the C4R was better than a time machine as far as I'm concerned.  There are no electronics of any kind - no meter, no auto exposure, no auto focus, nothing.

Speaking of focusing, since I had never used a rangefinder and didn't bother to look for a manual before loading it up, what I did was guess the distance from the camera to the subject, then dialed the focus ring to the the distance I had estimated.  I couldn't believe that Great-aunt Opal managed to take such beautiful pictures of the American Southwest by guessing distances.

Turns out she didn't have to, and neither did I.  If I had done my research before shooting, I would have known that there is a way to get very good focus, at least as accurately as an SLR.

Rangefinders focus by displaying a double image in the viewfinder.  All you have to do is turn the focus ring until the images become one, and you're there.  Duh!

The viewfinder on my C4R is more than a little dirty, so I didn't even notice the double image when I was shooting my test roll.

On to the pictures!

 The scratches are just 30-odd years worth of dust and dirt.  The lens is pretty good shape.  Even with the dirt, it's hard to take a bad picture of this cat!

 The line through the photo is from the photo lab scanner.  It's not on the negatives.  I love how modern film still looks like it was shot decades ago

 How hipster!  Leaves, rocks, and ice.

 7 days earlier, the spot I was standing on was under four feet of water.  That's still ice back there, even though it was well above 40 degrees when I shot this.  Gotta love Indiana in the winter.

 This is the sharpest shot of the bunch.  Not bad, considering I was guessing the distance to focus.

Notice that the dirt and scratches were nearly gone by the end of the roll.  But the C4 is still due for a good cleaning before I take it out again.

There were plenty of shots on this roll that were WAY out of focus, but now that I'm know what I'm doing, the next bunch should be better.

Like I said before, there's no metering on this rig, so this was my first chance to try out the Minolta meter that I picked up at an auction a few months ago.  The exposures it calculated were dead on, matching the meter on my Nikon DSLR.

There's no way to know for sure how long it's been since the C4R last saw action, but I'm sure it's been silent for at least 35 years.  Even after all that time, it performed perfectly.  I'm going to clean it up and run another roll through her.

Pressing the shutter button on a half-century old camera is like a trip into the past, and I'm eager to take it again.

The future...

I still have lots of cameras to share with you in the coming year, and even more that I hope to find.  Yard sales will start up again in a few months, and there are still auctions in the winter, so the treasure hunt continues...

May 2014 be full of of peace, love, and cameras for all of us -- and for the benefit of your family historians, take more pictures!