I came to a realization early on Tuesday morning. I was in a Dupont Circle soup kitchen taking portraits with Jen for an annual report she’s been working on. I was shooting with my Nikon D7000 and she was shooting with a borrowed Canon 7D. The results I was getting were just not as clean or as sharp as hers. A big part of this, as I admitted later, was due to the skill of the photographer: Jen has an innate knack for framing and shooting people that I don’t naturally possess, and was immediately connecting with her subjects and knocking off professional shots with ease. But another big part of this was the feel of the shots I was getting and how they differ from the shots I’ve seen and taken with the Canon–they just look better to my eye in a way I can’t describe.
This could be due to several factors. The photographer, as mentioned. The glass, which is the key difference in quality: She was shooting with a full-frame f/1.4 L lens, which is a full order of magnitude better than the crop-sensor f/1.8 lens on my Nikon. Faster, sharper, and better. It also could be shiny new toy disease, wherein some small part of my lizard brain convinces the rest of it that we’d be much happier with that more expensive thing over there instead of what we’ve got in our hands.
I’m curious if the camera body is as important as the glass. I’m considering the rental of a Nikon full-frame body and FX lens to see if I like the results–I’ve always liked Nikon’s approach to ergonomics and user experience more than Canon’s annoying scroll-wheel/joystick controls, and the way things work is very important to me. I haven’t given up on Nikon yet, but I’m seriously evaluating a (costly) migration to Canon full-frame gear.
One thing I didn’t mention about last weekend was the fact that I picked up another 100+ bricks from Second Chance for the front walkway. For the grand total of $50 I got a bunch of oversized, weathered brick that then got cut down to size (adding a $45 rental fee) and stacked under the back porch. If the weather holds out this weekend, I’ll get the supplies needed, rip out the hedges on either side of the walkway, and get the last of the brick installed before the ground freezes up.
The other major project I’m hoping to tackle is getting the hardtop back on the Scout while it’s still somewhat warm. I spent a good bit of time last weekend attempting to get her started, to the point where I ran the battery down. It just wouldn’t get any gas into the carburetor. Then, after taking 10 minutes to cool off, I dumped a gallon of gas into the tank, jumped it from the Accord, and it fired right up. I must have backed it into the garage on fumes before I left for Abu Dhabi.
I drove up to Parkville on Sunday to pick up that lens I was talking about last week (it’s wonderful and was a fantastic bargain) and somehow misplaced this year’s Moleskine notebook, which has me feeling anxious.
As a longtime sufferer of ADD, I desperately need someplace to capture thoughts before they fly off into space. I’ve been using notebooks for the past 10 years to keep track of everything, collecting copious lists of tasks, ideas, plans, sketches, and other ephemera, and it helps me stay organized and focused. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go, and it sits at my bedside under my phone when I sleep.
The last place I remember seeing this notebook was on the trunk of the car after I put it down to snap a picture of the Bel-Loc diner, where I’d just finished a stack of pancakes. I don’t think it made its way back into the car from there.
The big problem is, this isn’t the first one I’ve lost recently.
I keep a separate notebook for work, because if I combined the two I’d never keep anything straight–there’s too much going on in each place. The one I keep for work went missing last week.
I’m thinking this is the universe telling me something, because the sheer volume of projects we’ve got going on at work is too much to be contained in a notebook; they are all multi-level long term productions that require a lot more than one page to keep track of all the details and notes. I’ve been searching for a project management solution that fits with my particular needs, and I haven’t found anything yet–Basecamp’s organization is too convoluted, Flow isn’t robust enough, and Slack is more focused on chatting. Wrike could be close, but I haven’t had time to get it set up yet. Moving from paper to online makes me nervous, but if I can find something that works maybe I won’t need to buy a second notebook anymore.
I broke down and got a barber to trim my hair and beard yesterday, after going a full two months without any major manscaping. The shit was getting bushy. In strange places. My neck directly under the jawbone was like deep, dark Amazon rainforest, while the area above, between my ears and the overgrown perimeter of my goat, was thinly covered. My chops were big fuzzy clouds. While I’m sure most of the locals in Abu Dhabi didn’t mind it one bit, I really should have gotten it cleaned up before I left.
I went to a local barber and had her trim my hair up, and then we worked out a plan for the beard. I’ve still got one, but everything below my jawline is gone and the stuff up top is neat and tidy. It rounds out my face, which has been getting more and more angular as I get older. I’m going to give it another couple of months to see if it fills in OK, keep my neck clean, and see how I like it.
It occurs to me that my father was only a year or two younger than I am now, in 1981, when the family went on vacation, and he grew the beard he’s had until the present day.
Sewer lines are like arteries; you never really think about them until they clog up and you have to spend thousands of dollars to have them excavated, and then you’re left with a terrible scar and an empty feeling. Our sewer line went in relatively painlessly, but the magnolia tree had to die for its selfish ways. Along with 20 feet of hedge in front of our house.
A nice bunch of men came with a cute little backhoe and went down nine feet to get to the pipe; as part of the process they disconnected the copper ground from the electrical panel and blew out four breakers. If you haven’t guessed, that’s not supposed to happen. It turns out BG&E never properly hooked up the main ground going back to the pole with our service, so the backup copper wire attached to our water pipe has been carrying the full 220 volt ground. When he disconnected the ground, the breakers blew and fried four power strips. (Pro tip: always buy high-quality power strips). Our plumber, shaken, suggested we call BG&E to have it checked out. Um, yeah.
And, it turns out there was a cleanout for the sewer, but it was buried under the magnolia.
So at the end of today, we’re missing one whole side of hedge, the west side of the front lawn is one huge mound of dirt covered with straw, the magnolia tree is gone, but we can again poop in dignity without raw sewage flooding the basement.
As is our family tradition, we drove to Leonardtown this morning to take in the St. Mary’s County Oyster Festival. The festival hasn’t changed much in the 15 years we’ve been going, and that’s exactly why we like it. The beer is cold, the oysters are raw or fried, the funnel cakes are hot, and there’s St. Mary’s County ham available.
They’ve added baked oysters, steamed oysters, various deep-fried desserts, and pit beef. It feels, actually, like it’s gotten bigger over the last five years or so, which is a great thing.
This year, instead of the sketchy carny rides they normally have, there were three huge bouncy rides for the kids, and a zipline. Finn went right for the bouncy rides, got her courage up, and asked to ride the zipline. Who am I to say no?
As she waited at the base of the stairs for her turn, the older girl in front of her froze at the edge, unable to jump by herself. After about three minutes of waffling, she walked back down the stairs. Finn marched up to the top, listened to the guy who hooked her up, and then looked down at the grass. She closed her eyes for a moment, bent her knees, and then she jumped!
She liked it so much, she asked to do it again.
This young man is Gus, who is a shucker working in the main shed. I tipped him a dollar, asked his name, and talked to him briefly about how long he was shucking for before asking if I could take his picture. I was nervous about asking him, because he’s the first stranger I’ve ever shot. I’m going to do a lot more of this.
The oysters were excellent as usual, and Mama had her fill.
Finley even had three herself! We’ll make a gastronome out of her yet.
There was a time, long ago, when your correspondent hoarded several tons of brick in his backyard, with the idea that he would mix concrete, lay water piping, and build a patio to escape the city blues in Baltimore. It came to pass, after a few long months of planning, construction, and hard work, and for a short while into the fall of 2001 I had a lovely oasis with lighted steps, trees in planters, and a deck leading to my back door.
That November, the ancient terra cotta sewer line collapsed, and I had to call a man in to demolish half of the brick I’d laid down to dig out the yard and repair the pipe. Discouraged, I waited until the spring and Jen and I replaced the brick, fixed the planters, added fencing around the walls, and made it new again. Then I sold the house. (I think the new owner is using it as a parking pad now).
I’m telling you this because I’ve been feeling a keen sense of deja vu lately. I was feeling great about the progress I’ve made on our brick walkway, which is only about 8′ from being finished. Last week, our basement started filling with water.
It turns out the magnolia tree in the front yard has been looking really healthy for a reason: it’s broken through the sewer pipe and is drinking straight from the tap. So we have to dig up the front yard to replace the sewer line from the house to the street–there’s no cleanout anywhere outside–which will eliminate any funding for further renovation this year.
Am I discouraged? Yes I am. Could it have been worse? Certainly. It didn’t happen in frozen February, they’re coming out on Tuesday to fix it, and we have the Oh Shit cash to make it better. But I really would like to have spent that money on new windows.
I sold one of my duplicate Nikon lenses (a 55-200 zoom) this afternoon in order to finance the purchase of a new lens in a focal range I don’t already have: a 35mm f/1.8 that just appeared on Craigslist. The seller is out of town this weekend but hopefully I can meet up with him on Tuesday to make the deal. In a coincidence, I relisted the Xerox Phaser that’s been sitting in the office taking up space, and got a hit on that after a couple of weeks of silence. Getting rid of that will free up space and some cash to replace the ancient Laserjet 4000 we’ve had for years, which is suddenly throwing memory errors and refusing to print.
I’m on the ground in Catonsville after an enjoyable 14 hour plane ride (thanks, Etihad! thanks, Ambien!), a two hour wait in DC Beltway traffic, a burger and a beer at Red Robin, and 10 hours of sleep. Hopefully, I won’t be too jet-lagged today, which is why I stayed up yesterday and slept for as long as I could this morning.
Abu Dhabi was an amazing experience, although I really didn’t get to see much of the actual city. The conference was the most elaborate, organized, and expensive event I’ve ever been to, hosted in the most elaborate and expensive hotel I’ve ever set foot in. Had I been a little luckier, I might have been able to stay at the host hotel, which featured several swimming pools, multiple four-star restaurants, and a beach fronting the Persian Gulf. My hotel was a 45 minute drive from the venue, which meant I was beholden to the bus service, eating dinner at my hotel, and rushing to press a shirt before crashing into bed at 11, only to wake up at 4AM unable to go back to sleep.
I’ll write more later, because there’s a soccer game to attend and a house to clean before we host guests for dinner tonight. It’s good to be home.