When I was in the third grade, I was diagnosed as nearsighted. My teacher noticed me squinting to see what she was writing on the blackboard. I didn’t notice anything wrong; all I had to do was squinch them up a little bit and everything was fine. But, I was issued glasses. My eyesight got worse until it leveled out somewhere in high school, and I haven’t had a change in my prescription since then.

1980 was also the height of Star Wars mania. It was the barren time between the first two movies, when we didn’t know much about what would happen and the modern PR machine didn’t exist, so everything we heard was third-hand rumor. Boba Fett was whispered about like a boogeyman. Millennials don’t really understand the cultural impact of the franchise on my generation; I heard someone claim The Matrix was bigger, but I just laughed in their face. Star Wars was EVERYWHERE. We loved it; our parents loved it. We all lived and breathed the trilogy and were sad to see it come to a close.

Jen and I have been debating on when to expose Finn to the series, and how to handle things. We decided early on that we would show her the movies we saw at roughly the same age we did; we agreed to leave the prequels out completely, because fuck that. On Saturday we screened Star Wars at home, and Finn loved it. Sunday was Empire, and Monday we saw Jedi. Each night we fielded 20 new insightful questions before putting her to bed. We’ve got the 2004 DVD series, which means they’ve been “enhanced,” and while we cringed at the cutesy CGI additions, Finn loved them. Gauging her response after Jedi, we debated taking her to The Force Awakens (we’d been planning on getting a babysitter and going ourselves) but ultimately decided she’d be fine.

We all loved it. Jen and I have been studiously avoiding any kind of spoilers for weeks now (I will avoid them here) so everything was fresh for us, and it was a treat. The main beats of the movie hit really well. The character and story arcs are written skillfully; there’s more character development in this single movie than in all three of the prequels. Each character had a clear sense of purpose, direction and emotion, thank god. I like the new characters they’ve introduced, and it was great to see our old friends joking, smiling, and kicking ass!

Finally, the movie looked like a Star Wars movie in a way that the prequels simply did not. Practical effects, real sets, real props, a return to the original lighting direction and a cautious use of CGI go a long way. The Millenium Falcon is a real set. It exists somewhere, and the characters can touch it.

Gripes? Just a few. It’s JJ Abrams, so things are paced a little quicker than I’d like. It’s quite derivative in terms of plot. I wanted to spend just a little more time with some of the characters and the places they visited. But if I squint just a little bit, it’s 1980 again, and I’m happy to be back in that world, if only for an hour and a half. I can’t wait for the next one.

Date posted: December 30, 2015 | Filed under geek | Leave a Comment »

A photo posted by @idiotking on

I took Finn across town to a playdate yesterday, and used the opportunity to finish up my grading for this semester’s class. Finding myself down the street from Zeke’s, I grabbed a table, a decaf, and a sandwich, and went through projects piece by piece. I’ve been waiting for some downtime to get that done, and it does feel great to be finished. Then I started outlining the syllabus for this spring’s class, which we’re writing from the ground up. I’ve got a fair bit of research to do, but I think it’s going to be a good project.

Date posted: December 30, 2015 | Filed under photo, teaching | Leave a Comment »

Christmas has come and gone, and we are enjoying a quiet day of doing nothing in our pajamas. the house is quiet after an eight-day visit with my sister in law and her son Scott, who is a cute and very active two-year-old. It was challenging to fit the two of them into our daily schedule, host my folks last weekend (hooray!), host three cats, and prepare for Christmas, but now that everyone is gone I think we’re all quite depressed. The house is silent and we haven’t bothered to pick anything up.

Christmas itself was great. We hosted the Lockards here (there was a slight chance Rob might have joined us Christmas eve but his flight out of Philadelphia took off on time) and Jen outdid herself with milk-braised pork, brussel sprouts, potatoes, and arugula salad. Finley came downstairs to a new bicycle from Santa, as well as a bunch of excellent new books, educational toys, and, most surprising of all, a 3′ Crystle Carrington doll from Dynasty–yes, Dynasty (don’t ask.)


Santa was good enough to bring me an iPad Air two Christmases ago, when I settled into my commute to DC and needed something portable to read and write email. It was great, and I enjoyed using it on a (mostly) daily basis. It has a combination of excellent battery life, portability, and convenience that made my first year on the train an easy one.

When I started teaching, things got more difficult. This past semester, I found myself carrying a ton of extra stuff for each class. I bring a pad of paper to class, along with an attendance sheet that doubles as a notepad. Then I was humping design books, Pantone swatchbooks, paper samples, and other bulky items to show the students each day. Adding all this to a 13″ MacBook Pro, a camera, a Moleskine, and about 5 pounds of other stuff meant that the iPad got left on my desk more often than not. Santa brought me a medium sized Timbuk2 messenger bag, but as I’ve found, the bigger the bag, the more crap you want to cram in it, and the heavier it gets. My intention is to pare the things I carry down to the bare minimum.

On Black Friday I saw that Amazon had discounted the Kindle Fire to a price I couldn’t pass up, so I bought two of them. One for Jen, to complement her phone as an entertainment device, and one to replace my iPad.

I’m impressed with it so far. It’s less than a half the size and weight of my iPad, and it has the main features I was using my iPad for–watching Netflix movies and reading eBooks on the train. It takes time to get used to a non-Apple interface, but overall they’ve done a decent job of laying things out and letting me get to my stuff. I could do without the ads on my home screen, but I didn’t pay extra for that. The browser is responsive and small, but it’s good to have something to check smaller screens with. As with our earlier Kindle (thanks, Linda!) I can dump books on it with Calibre, the ugliest OS X application I’ve used in 20 years.

Meanwhile, my Mom has been using a white MacBook for email and websurfing since we got it for her in 2008. It’s getting very long in the tooth, and even though it’s still working, things have been getting funky with it; the browser chrome is blinking out, and the fan cycles up to “tornado” regularly. It’s running 10.7.4 which is the latest version the processor will support, so she’s way behind the times in terms of security. It only made sense to give her my iPad. During their visit, I wiped it and we got her set up with email, her browser settings, an Apple Store account, and found apps to replace the ones she’d been using on her laptop. She’s thrilled and I’m happy it’s going to a great home.

I’ve been using the Fuji X-E1 for about six months now, and I’m finding its limitations a bit frustrating. My primary complaint is that the shutter lag is maddening. Waiting for it to find focus is irritating, having been spoiled by years of lightning-fast DSLRs. It’s pretty useless in low light even with ISO cranked to the ceiling because the camera can’t find anything to settle on. I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to purchase a used 27mm fixed lens for it to slim it down or to sell it and look for a better camera.

While my sister-in-law and her son were here, I made a conscious effort to use the Fuji as much as I could, which meant daylight and quieter situations to avoid movement and low light. It works great in those environments. However, I needed something that could keep up with an active 2-year-old and his mercurial facial expressions–which led me back to the D7000.

I’ve been noticing that the shots I’ve been taking lately aren’t as crisp as I want them to be. It could be the new 35mm lens I bought isn’t sharp, or that the camera is out of alignment, or that I’m just not using it correctly. Something I’ve got planned for this coming week is to set up a tripod and shoot comparisons of the AI 35mm and 50mm lenses I have as well as both non-AI lenses with both the D7000 and Jen’s D90 to see if I can nail down what’s going on.

Date posted: December 28, 2015 | Filed under geek, life, photography | Leave a Comment »


Watching Charlie Brown Christmas

composing a letter to santa


Date posted: December 26, 2015 | Filed under family, photo | Leave a Comment »

Once upon a time there was a beer. A beer with bold flavor and character. A beer that was supposedly America’s first IPA. But then the 1970s happened. The tastes of the masses changed, and not for the better. A tidal wave of flavorless lager rushed in. And this unique, legendary beer was washed away in the tide. Until today.

Pabst is brewing Ballantine IPA again, based on some educated guesses about the original 1960’s recipe. I’m going to have to see if I can find a bottle or three.

Date posted: December 22, 2015 | Filed under brewing, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Force Captain Kirk to relive a memorable Star Trek scene over and over again. Enjoy the power of Plato’s stepchildren and see how many slaps you can land on the captain’s face. Swipe left and right with the will of gods to control Jim’s right hand.

Via Dangerous Minds

Date posted: December 13, 2015 | Filed under humor, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Slick: Someone is developing an integrated cartridge for old Super-8 cameras with a 5MP sensor and SD card carrier. That would be fun as hell to play with.

Date posted: December 11, 2015 | Filed under photography, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Jen and I attended a silent auction in the spring, and one of the things we bid on and won was a night at a hotel in Baltimore and a dinner for two, something we were really excited about. We planned a month in advance to have Finn stay at the neighbors’ house and made reservations for both places.

Last weekend, we got churched up, checked into the hotel, dropped our bags, and then drove to the restaurant, which is on the far side of my old neighborhood. Pulling into the valet lane, we were dismayed to learn there was a private party that evening, and that our reservation was no good. Let me be clear here: We made a reservation a month in advance, and the restaurant fucked it up. After the shock wore off, we pulled around the corner, got on our phones, and found another local restaurant with a 45 minute wait and a bar.

The Fork and Wrench was exactly right for us, and the man at the front desk seated us almost immediately at a lovely table upstairs. We proceeded to have an outstanding meal, starting with cocktails and a roasted pork belly in beer-adobo glaze over mashed yucca. Things only got better from there. What could easily have been a horrible evening was saved by excellent service, delicious food, and, of course, the company of my lovely wife.

The hotel was nice, but the room we were booked in was downmarket compared to the pictures on the website. We joked that they put us on the gift certificate floor, but really we didn’t care: we were by ourselves and away from the house for an evening.

Postscript: I called the restaurant who fucked up our reservation (they made it for the day Jen called, not the day she asked for), talked to the manager, and got nothing resembling an apology. Now, I’ve tried to control my temper in the last 20 years; time was when I’d just fly off the handle and either start swearing or go throw something. Not one of my finer traits. Perhaps I’ve swung back the other way too far, or maybe I just don’t like making waves, but I got off the phone without any resolution from the guy at all. Thinking it over for a few minutes, and talking with Jen about it, I called back a few minutes later and got the manager back on the phone.

At this point you might ask what I was expecting the guy to do. Comp me a meal? Pay for my hotel? Actually, no. I just wanted an apology for their booking mistake. What I got from the guy was a bunch of fumbling, repeated insistence that he didn’t know who was at fault, and, at one point, he told me my call was breaking up. I don’t know if this is a common scam or something, but how hard is that to do? Realizing he wasn’t going to make any effort, I got fed up and hung up on him, something I rarely do with anybody, and decided we were going to skip the meal we’d already paid for and sell the stupid gift card on Craigslist for 75% of its face value.

When I worked in food service, I learned how to deal with unhappy customers; there were always times when things got messed up and it was our fault. My manager (the owner of the restaurant) taught me it costs little to apologize and comp a bottle of wine, a burrito, or a soda to customers who have already committed to walking in the door. Keep them happy, and they’ll return. This guy? I don’t know where he learned his business, but I’m not happy. Fuck him and his restaurant.

Two tech notes for this week. First is  the rebirth of an old lens: the Nikon 1.4 manual lens I bought this summer came back after only a few days away for an upgrade. A nice man in Michigan filed part of the barrel down so that I can mount it safely on my D7000, and holy shit, it’s sharper than a knife. Some quick test shots show it’s got a razor-thin depth of field, and the glass is in great shape. I’ve fallen into my usual pattern of shooting less in the fall, but I’m going to put it on the D7000 and carry it with me for a week.

Secondly, my neighbor and I got to talking about our AV setups over brewing beer, and I explained to him what I was facing: the need for a $400 head unit that switches HDMI signal so that I could get all of the components up on the shelf and away from the TV, as well as feeding audio through the speakers on the floor instead of the tiny ones on the TV.

He shook his head and told me all I needed was a $15 HDMI switcher and a couple of patch cables, and sent me Amazon links, which I purchased the following morning. Because Prime, they were at the house the next day, and I hooked everything up last night. Sure enough, he was right: the AppleTV is now sitting atop my cable box, and both go into the splitter, which sends the signal out to the TV. I get cinema audio via an optical cable to the head unit. The splitter is smart enough to know it’s got two viable inputs (out of a possible five) and only switches between what’s plugged in.

He also told me about HDMI over Ethernet, which piques my interest, because I don’t want to lease another FIOS box for our bedroom. I ran at least two data cables to each bedroom, so I could split the signal out of the downstairs box, send it up to the TV, and use a wireless remote to change channels on both floors.

Date posted: December 10, 2015 | Filed under Baltimore, geek, life | Leave a Comment »

Radio sucks now. We all agree. It’s the worst place on the planet for music. The FM radio. It’s a terrible cesspool of grown men singing like 17-year-old girls writing in their diaries. That’s deplorable, but there was a time period during what you’d call the ’80s where a band like Huey Lewis And The News could write simple pop songs, present them in a simple way, sing with earnestness, play it comfortably, have a nice little riff, and it’s just killer.

John Baizley, a musician in a band I really like, talks about Dad Rock and lists a bunch of songs he’s not ashamed to admit he likes. I love the fact that the shuffle beat in Toto’s Roseanna inspired a new Baroness song(!!)

Date posted: December 8, 2015 | Filed under music, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »


That’s Jane Goodall introducing AFR100, the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, which is working to restore 100 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2030. That logo is something I put together in the leadup to COP21 last month. I came up with the solution during the initial kickoff meeting, and fooled with it for a couple of weeks until I had the right balance of positive and negative spaces.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 11.46.46 AM

Date posted: December 7, 2015 | Filed under art/design, WRI | Leave a Comment »