Saturday, August 20, 2016

 

Here we go again

On an ABC News report on the flooding down south, they showed an old gent going through his severely damaged home. This is the 11th time he's been flooded, they tell us, and each time he has rebuilt.

I'm sorry but that's just (pick one) insane, stupid, or insanely stupid. Twice should have been enough to convince him to move on.

When I was age 7, my family drove to New Orleans on vacation. Someone pointed out a levee and said that the city was below the level of the water on the other side. Even at age 7, I thought that sounded insane, stupid, or insanely stupid. My house is safely surrounded by 1,500 miles of continent and 1,500 feet of elevation.

Tired of getting flooded? Afraid of rising sea levels? Move inland and find higher ground. It's simple.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

 

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

As Stealers Wheel sang back in 1972, "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you."

It appears as though the clown on the left, Hillary, will become the next president of the United States. It appears unlikely but still possible that the joker on the right, Trump, will win instead. When (or if) one of the two takes office, will anyone be surprised when they start handing out favors to their friends while pushing for greater government control over our lives? Both of them are experts in what is called "Crony Capitalism," an offensive corruption of true capitalism and free markets. The central tenet of crony capitalism is, "It's not what you know, it's who you know."

According to Luigi Zingales, writing in the New York Times, "As a businessman Mr. Trump has a longstanding habit of using his money and power aggressively to obtain special deals from the government. For example, his Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan was built with the benefit of a decades-long tax abatement obtained through government connections."

But if Trump has been the buyer of political favors, Hillary has been the seller throughout her career. Hillary and her family have laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of "donations" through their so-called charitable foundation. In a Washington Examiner article, Timothy Carney quotes Carly Fiorina, "They are not going to challenge the crony capitalist and they are not going to challenge the Washington insiders," Fiorina said of Clinton and Trump. "They are not going to challenge the lobbyists. My gosh, their campaign is filled with them. No. They are not going to challenge the system. They are the system."

There are plenty of examples of the offensive behavior of both of these noxious cronies. Just open your eyes and Google "Trump Crony Capitalism" or "Hillary Crony Capitalism" to see for yourself.

To take a broader view of why increased government involvement in our lives isn't necessarily a good thing, consider whether the big banks really object to the increased government regulation they have been placed under since the meltdown of 2008? No they do not! The big banks gripe publicly about government regulation but in truth they are happy to go along with it because it eliminates their competition. The FDIC has insured ONE (1) new bank since the meltdown, and hundreds of small community banks have been closed or merged out of existence at least in part due to the high cost of complying with the new regulations. (That one new bank lends almost entirely to Amish farmers, not exactly a competitor for Bank of America.) One of the goals of bank regulation is to promote competition within the industry, but in the past eight years it has done the exact opposite. The law of unintended consequences has flourished as regulation has grown, and the usual response to these consequences is to impose even more regulation.

The Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld has been coming into the news more in recent weeks. Both are former Republican governors of predominantly Democrat states, New Mexico and Massachusetts respectively, so they have a bit more credibility than the usual Libertarian presidential ticket. Some polls report them as high as 10% against Trump and Hillary, with 15% needed to get into the presidential debates. I've been voting Libertarian since 1980, and I acknowledge that voting Libertarian will probably be a protest vote this time just like the previous nine times. I believe Trump is a racist, know-nothing buffoon. I believe Hillary and Slick Willie are the most successful corrupt politicians in American history. What choice do I have? What choice do you have? Giving the Libertarians a shot is by far the best option. Just take a look at their web site and see if you don't agree with the majority of what they say. This article is a good place to start.


Monday, July 25, 2016

 

Sioux Falls Air Show

I've been photographing air shows from time to time for 14 years now. In fact, my first trip overseas ever was to attend the 2002 Flying Legends show in England.

I didn't have to fly across the pond last weekend as the Blue Angels and a number of other interesting aircraft came to Sioux Falls. Rather than deal with the crowds, I decided to shoot the show from a hill about three miles from the airport. I tried this back in 2009 on one of the two days, and it worked fairly well for the larger aircraft.

I've developed some definite opinions about air shows, and I suppose they are tied to my photographic preferences. I like to get closeups of powerful planes in flight. I find big aircraft on the ground less interesting, and little aerobatic planes (airborne or not) even less so. I don't like being in a crowd when shooting air shows because (a) it's hard to carry my 500mm lens and tripod into the show particularly when backpacks are prohibited, and (b) even if I'm shooting handheld with the 400mm zoom, it's possible to bonk someone in the head as I'm trying to follow the planes. So I parked at the Southeast Vo-Tech and only had to carry my big lens and tripod about 10 feet. I missed out on the ground displays and the aerobatics by being further away, but I got some great shots of the B-17 Sentimental Journey and other planes as they came close, sometimes directly overhead. Click on the image to start the 14-image slide show.



B-17 Sentimental Journey


Sunday, July 03, 2016

 

Beer

After extensive research covering the past 45 years, I have come to the following conclusions about beer:

Generally speaking, I don't want fruit or spices in my beer, which is why I detest most seasonal beers. With that in mind:

Just speculating here, but I think the term "Pre-Prohibition" some brewers use (e.g. Brooklyn Lager) came into existence to emphasize that 100 years ago brewers didn't use cheap ingredients like corn and rice in place of barley. These cheap ingredients are called adjuncts, so crap like Bud and Miller are categorized as Adjunct Lagers. They really do have inferior flavor, and the reason is the ingredients. PBR makes the best of this disadvantage and has its place as I described above, but it is still inferior. The beer revolution is not some marketing gimmick as Bud might want you to believe. It's an ongoing revolution against the pale imitation beers that somehow became popular in this country in the 20th century.

Some beer snobs turn up their nose at Boston Lager because it has become a national brand over the past 25 years. But as far as I can tell they still aren't cutting corners, and there's something to be said for being able to go into a restaurant anywhere in the country and being sure there is at least one good beer on the menu.

I don't consider myself a beer snob. I don't really care about Belgian brews that almost taste like wine, and are bottled (and priced) accordingly. Even Boston Beer Company dabbles in this stuff. As long as they don't screw up Boston Lager, I don't care.

All of the above is my opinion. You are welcome to your own opinion, but I'm probably not interested in hearing it.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

 

Black Hills Coyotes

For the past six years, I've spent May away from home in either New York or Chicago. This year, my annual May project has been split into a semiannual project in February and August, so I'm home in May for the first time since 2009.

The latest run out to the Black Hills to retrieve trailcam images was this week and the most interesting series took a bit of deciphering. The first four images showed a coyote, which is not unusual. The fifth image showed a deer popping up from behind the hill. Shown here is the sixth image where it appears the coyote is taking off after the deer (upper right). Not a great image, but an interesting scenario with an unknown ending. Click on any of the images to bring up the thumbnail page. Also included are some SLR shots of bluebirds and baby bison, and a bad shot of the transit of Mercury.

Coyote chasing deer
Coyote chasing deer

I often get coyotes running past my trailcam as they track elk, deer, or whatever. This is one of the better shots I've gotten.

Coyote in snow
Coyote in snow

Here's one of a devil dog (or a devil yote) at night.

Coyote at night
Coyote at night

And finally, this is what they are chasing.

Elk in snow
Elk in snow

I only had one trailcam deployed during this 7-month stretch. This time I put the Moultrie back in service and also put a new Primos on the same tree as the Moultrie. Doing this will give me a chance to compare the two. I've had trailcams in Wind Cave National Park since 2009 and at this particular site since 2012. It might be time for a change to a different site in the fall. I've already picked out a potential site in Custer State Park, but I haven't actually visited it yet.


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

 

Los Angeles

I have a really weird work schedule that is five weeks on followed by five months off. The "on" time this time was in downtown Los Angeles. The real estate I traversed on my daily walk from Little Tokyo to the Staples Center area ran the gamut from posh to scary. I got back into big city mode very quickly – do not make eye contact with crazy people. And there seemed to be plenty of those.

Anyway, here are a few photos from the month, which included a weekend trip to San Diego. I'm safely back home in South Dakota awaiting my next assignment, which is supposed to start in mid-August in Minneapolis.

Challenger memorial in Little Tokyo
Challenger memorial in Little Tokyo


Monday, February 01, 2016

 

Photo of the Year 2015

My interest in photography as a hobby was revived around 1999 and probably peaked in 2003-04 when I made the majority of my international journeys. It was a way to get away from work, really. Now that I'm semi-retired, the urge to hit the road doesn't seem as strong. But there are the occasional trips, usually to familiar places, and from one of those I select the 2015 Photo of the Year. This is from Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri. There was one of the biggest flocks of snow geese I've ever seen filling the sky as sunset approached.

First prize, which I award to myself every year, is a trip to Keokuk, Iowa to see wintering eagles. I did go through eastern Iowa this January but didn't make it down to Keokuk. Instead what few eagle shots I got were actually from Squaw Creek again. Here is this year's POY and previous winners.

Squaw Creek Geese
Squaw Creek Geese 2015

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2014.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay, 2006.
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish, 2007.
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls, 2008.
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer State Park Bighorn, 2009.
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk eagle, 2010.
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma ButterflySertoma Butterfly 2011 Dark Morph of Broad-Winged HawlDark Morph 2012 Yellow Crowned Night HeronNight heron 2013
  Elk FrameElk Frame 2014  


Tuesday, January 05, 2016

 

Winter Drive

I had to get from Chicago to South Dakota and wanted to include my annual Mississippi River eagles trip as part of the trip. Alas, the Corp of Engineers site wasn't giving me good news about eagle numbers around Keokuk and Burlington, so I decided to hit Squaw Creek in northwest Missouri for the second time in a month. The snow geese were mostly gone, but eagle numbers had increased. Along the way I made the usual stop at Neal Smith NWR just east of Des Moines to see the small elk and bison herds.

Click on the image to start the slide show.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle


Friday, December 04, 2015

 

Geese and more

This is a fairly big photo update covering the past 6+ months, including:

The trips to the two wildlife refuges in late November and early December were quite different experiences. I have been to Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico many times. For this late in the year I was expecting many cranes and geese, and a number of raptors. For whatever reason, the migratory bird numbers were down and there were no raptors in view. On the positive side, the snow geese were close enough to provide opportunities to photograph individuals and small groups. A highlight was seeing a leucistic sandhill crane. The crane had mostly white feathers, but it still had the red patch on the head and colored eyes so it was not an albino. Refuge staff said this was the bird's second year on the refuge. Seeing this bird reminded me of the leucistic penguin I saw in Antarctica 12 years ago.

I've also been to Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri many times. Even though the geese were further away than in New Mexico, there were such massive numbers that it was easy to get the huge group shots you will see in the slide show. I also saw 15 eagles and a few hawks in the refuge, which is a low number compared to previous years, but I've included a few shots of those.

Click on one of the images below to start the 49-image slide show.

Moth
Newton Hills

Elk
Trail Camera

Moth
New Mexico

Moth
Missouri


Friday, August 07, 2015

 

Sturgis at 75

I am compelled to comment on the 75th edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which is wrapping up this weekend. I drove through the Black Hills a couple weeks ago and already significant motorcycle traffic was evident, lending credence to the expectation that this year's rally would be a monster with attendance approaching 1 million bikers.

Many of the articles leading up to the 75th rally mentioned its start in 1938, giving credit to J.C. "Pappy" Hoel as the founder. I claim a unique perspective on the rally because, although I have never driven a motorcycle in my life, I was a reporter for the Sturgis weekly newspaper 1978-84, and I met with Clarence (as locals called him) and his wife Pearl at their home soon after I started at the paper. I remember him as a cordial but sort of deaf old gent. He talked about working as a young man in the family business, which was cutting and storing ice in the winter and delivering it in the summer. In 1936 when refrigeration was making ice delivery obsolete, he bought an Indian motorcycle franchise. Clarence founded the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club in 1936 and helped start the rally in 1938. I got the impression that he didn't want to take personal credit for founding the rally, but whether that was due to modesty or embarrassment about the crazier aspects of it, I'm not sure. Whenever I dealt with him after that initial interview, it didn't have to do with "the Rally," but with the White Plate Flat Trackers, an organization he helped found in 1979-80 that was devoted to preserving the history of motorcycle racing. ("White Plate" refers to the white numbered plate awarded to expert riders, and "Flat Track" was the dirt track upon which they raced.)

Part of my beat was city and county government, so I covered countless meetings where rally proponents and opponents came to debate whether the town should continue hosting this insane event. A near-riot by campers in the city park one year led to a series of meetings and a public vote. I wrote an opinion column in the paper advocating that the rally should continue because it was the thing that made the town unique. Without it, Sturgis would be just another ranch town like Belle Fourche. (No offense.) Proponents narrowly won the vote, but there were changes – camping was banned in the park and much of the partying moved, out of sight and out of mind, to new private campgrounds outside of city limits, such as the Buffalo Chip.

In 1989, nearby Deadwood embraced part of its dark history. Gambling was legalized, revitalizing that little town. Today there are dozens of casinos and hotels in Deadwood. Without Deadwood gambling and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, there still would be tourists in the Black Hills, but not nearly as many. Whatever judgments you want to make, moral or otherwise, those two decisions made back in the 1980's bring millions of dollars to the northern Black Hills each year.

Being in the middle of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was part of my job, not something I would do on my own time. These days I live 375 miles to the east and usually visit the Black Hills in the spring and fall when the roads aren't clogged with bikers and RVs. But the rally is a unique event and I'm always interested to see (on TV, not in person) what is going on.



A t-shirt from 1981, one of my few Sturgis souvenirs. The event has gone by various names over the years.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

 

Photo of the Year 2014

How about that, until now (Auguest 2015) I neglected to choose a Photo of the Year for 2014. There's no doubt I've spent less time hunting with my camera the last few years but I did get a few decent shots during the 2014. Nominees were the partial solar eclipse and my first photo of a Baltimore Oriole, but I picked a webcam shot of an elk framed by another elk's antlers. I have been diligent about checking my webcams in Wind Cave National Park every six months. First prize, which I award to myself every year, is a trip to Keokuk, Iowa to see wintering eagles, although I neglected to make the trip this year. Here is this year's POY and previous winners.

Looking back on the previous selections, I was wondering if I should pick a photo of the decade, but it is too hard. The 2003 penguins were snapped during the greatest adventure of my life, a trip to Antarctica. "Little Brothers" from 2004 ended up on the cover of a book. After I clicked the owl picture in 2008, I was thinking about retiring then because I didn't know if I would ever top it. Maybe the Sertoma Butterfly from 2011 comes close. So there will be no "photo of the decade" selection. Click on the images for larger views.

Elk
Elk Frame 2014

Here are my POY selections for 2002-2013.

Young red-tailed hawk Junior I (2002 edition) right outside my office window.
Junior I 2002
Gentoo penguins greet each other, Jougla Point, Dec. 4, 2003.
Gentoo Penguins 2003
Puffins on Machias Seal Island, Gulf of Maine, 2004.
Little Brothers 2004
Bald Eagle along the Mississippi River, 2005.
Bald Eagle 2005
Blue Jay, 2006.
Blue Jay 2006
Eagle with fish, 2007.
Eagle with fish 2007
Great Horned Owls, 2008.
Great Horned Owls 2008
Custer State Park Bighorn, 2009.
Custer SP Bighorn 2009
Keokuk eagle, 2010.
Keokuk Eagle 2010
Sertoma ButterflySertoma Butterfly 2011 Dark Morph of Broad-Winged HawlDark Morph 2012 Yellow Crowned Night HeronNight heron 2013




Sunday, June 28, 2015

 

GOG

Every once in a while I have a hankering to watch a silly sci-fi movie, and this week I found GOG on Amazon Prime. It has its share of silly movie "science," but the premise is quite interesting: The story centers around a computer that, among other things, controls two robots, Gog and Magog. (Wiki says these names show up in the Old Testament in many different contexts, including the End of Days.) An unfriendly foreign government installed a Trojan Horse when the computer was being assembled by outside contractors, and are able to hack into the computer and control the robots and other systems. Several "accidents" and attacks occur before the intrusion is detected and stopped.

Have I mentioned this movie came out in 1954? In other words, more than 60 years after this movie was released the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is still too stupid to figure out that it might not be a good idea to trust outside contractors with access to confidential records. Although I have not received notice that my information has been compromised, as a former federal employee whose records were transferred to OPM upon my retirement, it appears I am at risk. Thanks Obama (and Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy and Eisenhower).


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

 

Black Hills

It's (almost) spring, and time for another trailcam check. I only had two cameras deployed due to a lock snafu with the third. The old Bushnell didn't deliver anything of note, but the newer Reconyx had some good nighttime shots of elk, a decent looking buck deer, and a couple of coyotes chasing through the snow. Strangely enough, there were absolutely no images from February, but some of the better nighttime elk and the coyotes were snapped during an early March snowstorm.

But what I'm showing here is (what I believe is) a yearling Bighorn that I snapped in Custer State Park while driving to the camera site in Wind Cave National Park. Click here for a slide show of the eight images.

Despite some frustration with another lock that I had to break, eventually, all three cameras including the Moultrie are now deployed a few hundred feet from each other in the national park.

Bighorn
Bighorn Yearling


Thursday, October 23, 2014

 

Eclipse

Partial solar eclipses aren't spectacular events. I'm sure a lot of folks didn't even know why it was a bit darker than usual in the late afternoon.

If nothing else, I took this as a rehearsal for the total solar eclipse that will cross the US three years from now. I have a Coronado solar telescope, but I've never taken a decent photo through it, so my best setup for solar photos is a telescope with a neutral density filter and an SLR. These telescope images are not flipped, so north is at the bottom. Note the large sunspot. Click on an image to get into the slide show.

Partial Solar eclipse
Eclipse starting

Partial Solar eclipse
Eclipse


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

 

Trailcam time again

I've gotten into a six-month cycle of April and October for checking my trail camera in Wind Cave National Park. I was eager to see the images this time since there were multiple cameras deployed for the first time. Alas, the cameras didn't capture any usable images past mid-August.

The problem with the two primary cameras, the Reconyx and the new Moultrie, was I followed a hint I read somewhere and set them just a couple feet off the ground. This probably would be fine if I was able to check the cameras every few weeks, but grass grew up in front of them as they sat there for six months. Both cameras took tens of thousands of images of wind-blown grass before the memory card filled up (Reconyx) or the batteries gave out (Moultrie). As for the old Bushnell, it got a few elk shots, but the batteries only last about a month and the image quality leaves a lot to be desired (which is why I've bought two cameras since).

I reset the Reconyx and the Bushnell, but there were some problems with the Moultrie. First, when I came up on it I was surprised to see that the cable lock securing it to the tree was loose. Hmmmm. Second, my key chains did not have the key to open the case, so I couldn't get to the memory card. Third, there was a bit of schmutz on the lens that wasn't easily removed. It was necessary to take the Moultrie home with me to get to the memory card and clean the lens. While reviewing the images it got before the batteries ran out, I discovered why the cable lock was loose. An elk had chewed on it and somehow managed to undo it. See below! I have to say my faith in Master Python cable locks has been shaken. The jostling turned the camera by about 20 degrees, so most of the Moultrie images are tilted. The Moultrie has new batteries and a clean lens, so now I'm trying to decide whether to drive out to the Black Hills in a few weeks to re-deploy it. By the way, this is the second time an elk has tried to eat my trail camera. Several years ago, one chewed up a solar panel connection on my old Bushnell.

Despite these trevails, I got some interesting images of elk, coyotes, and even a turkey. I have created an October 2014 gallery which also includes SLR shots of an elk, a bighorn ewe, Devil's Tower, and (for something completely different) a partial eclipse of the sun. Click on an image to get into the slide show.

Elk
Elk chewing on cable lock

Elk
Elk



Monday, June 23, 2014

 

The Windshield and the Oriole

Long story short, I'm getting my windshield replaced tomorrow so I headed down to Newton Hills State Park today to get some use out of my state park sticker. I was looking for woodpeckers but the best images I got were of a new species to my photo albums, a Baltimore Oriole. I also saw a little fox observing me from a distance. The images have been added to my generic South Dakota album which has different photos from the past 10 years or so. Click on the first image to launch the slideshow starting with the most recent seven images.

Oriole
Oriole

Fox
Scrawny fox


Saturday, April 05, 2014

 

Trailcam check

I did a six-month trailcam check and found some decent snow shots of the elk. In the same area, I deployed two more cameras (a new Moultrie and an old Bushnell), so we'll see what happens with those. I also ran into a coyote hunting near the road.

Elk
Framed elk

Coyote
Coyote



Sunday, March 02, 2014

 

Duck

I know it's generally cold in South Dakota during the winter, but a high of 0 on March 2 is just wrong. That's Jan. 2 stuff. Despite this, I headed out with my camera today because one of the local TV stations reported a gathering of eagles along the Big Sioux River. There is a dead-end road next to the river I wanted to go down because I thought it would give the best chance of seeing something. However, it turned out to be a steep road, and the previous night's snow wasn't cleared. I waited for a small SUV to make its way up the hill before I attempted to go down. It looked like the SUV hit some slick spots on the way up. It made it, but with the memory of getting stuck near Ft. Randall Dam three years ago, I decided to wait until later in the week before attempting it.

The news story said the eagles were following waterfowl, so my backup plan was to head to a location where I know the ducks and geese hang out in winter, Arrowhead Park just east of town. The pond near the parking area was completely frozen over. But the other pond had a small flock of geese and ducks huddled around a patch of open water. Some ducks landed in my vicinity and it looked as though they wanted to get some warmth from the sidewalk and other open ground. I got a few shots of them, but there were no eagles to be seen. Even though the car was only 1/8th of a mile away, the wind was directly in my face and it was really, really cold. I'm sure frostbite would have ensued if I had faced into the wind for more than the couple of minutes it took to make the walk.

I have posted five images to my catch-all South Dakota album, so if you click through this you will end up at Mt. Rushmore. Click on the image to start the slide show.

Duck
Duck!



Sunday, February 23, 2014

 

Director's Cut: Eagles 2011

I don't know what I was thinking in February 2011 when I put together my annual Mississippi River eagle album. I posted seven images, only four of them of eagles, and said in this blog that I didn't get much. It's true I didn't get many flight shots except a few in Keokuk, mostly against gray skies. But upon further review, I got some really good roosting images, most of them above the road to the boat ramp (officially the Henderson Creek Day Use Area) near Lock & Dam 18, Gladstone, Illinois. When I bought my car in 2009, I got a sunroof so I could take photos of birds roosting in trees, specifically eagles roosting above that road. A car is a rolling photo blind, and the more openings to shoot through, the better.

When I went through my pictures again today, I selected 30, including only three of the seven previously posted. So this album includes 26 new images, including this fellow staring down through my sunroof.

Eagle
Eagle

There are a couple reasons why I'm going through my photos from 2009-2013. First, I was employed for much of that time and didn't always have time to go through my images thoroughly. Second, the laptops I used for most of my editing don't have the best screens. Now I'm using a large external monitor and I think my color and brightness adjustments are more accurate. Third, since camera resolutions and screen sizes have increased over time, I have increased my standard large photo size from 1024x768 to 1200x900.

Other recent Director's Cuts:


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