Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Pack is Slack

When I got the issue of Sports Illustrated showing Bart Starr diving over the goal line against the Cowboys to win the Ice Bowl, I cut out the pictures and pinned them to my bedroom bulletin board. Nearly 39 years later, I wonder what that magazine would be worth if I had popped it intact into a plastic bag rather than cutting it up. Ack! Anyway, the point is the Packers have been my favorite team since the days of Lombardi.

But I consider myself a realist, not a zealot. After the results of recent seasons and last night's pre-season 48-17 debacle in Cincinnati, I think the Packers will be awful this year. Brett Favre has been a great player for many years, but it's time to blow up the team and start over.

What would Lombardi do?

As a gunslinger on a good team, Favre won a Super Bowl, but he's the wrong quarterback for the current team. As a gunslinger on a bad team, he threw 29 interceptions last year. Favre and Packer fans need to clear their heads of the delusion that another Super Bowl is just around the corner. If Favre still wants to play, he needs to go elsewhere. The Packers need to start rebuilding.

Favre and the Packers should have worked together on a trade to Baltimore or Miami in the off season. But those teams ended up with veterans from elsewhere and those opportunities were lost. Unfortunately, about the only good team now that would benefit from acquiring a starting quarterback is the Bears, and that trade would be politically impossible.

After Favre eventually retires, he will return to Lambeau Field and participate in his well-deserved Ring of Honor ceremony. But last March he should have moved on. He didn't, and I think it will be a bleak season with no groundwork laid for the future. Ack, indeed.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Old and New

I happened across this image from 2002 today. It caught my attention because I haven't gotten one like this recently.

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Cardinal, click for larger image.

It was snapped with an old two-megapixel Canon S330 tethered to a computer by USB and triggered remotely. I haven't tried that method with my G6, but it is still a viable technique. Of course the best method if it's available is to get close and snap the bird with an SLR. It is overcast and gloomy today but I was able to get this blue jay portrait from my bedroom window with a the Canon 1D Mark II and 300mm f4 lens.

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Blue Jay, click for larger image.

I've spent a few years wishing for a small, light camera that will do everything I want it to do. The G6 is not it, and not just because the lens tops out at the equivalent of 140mm. I wouldn't dare use it at ISO 400, which is no problem with a DSLR. To get the blue jay on an overcast day, big and heavy is still required.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Country singer murders bear

I've gotten up in arms a few times about people thoughtlessly killing bears (Richmond murders, dumps bears, New Jersey sentences bears to death), so I can't let this story pass.

Alaska black bear
Please don't fill me with arrows!
Some country singer named Troy Lee Gentry has been indicted in Duluth on charges of buying and killing a tame bear. The bear was tagged with a Minnesota hunting license and reported to the state as a wild kill. AP reports:

Authorities allege that Gentry purchased the bear from (Marvin) Greenly, a wildlife photographer and hunting guide, then killed it with a bow and arrow in an enclosed pen on Greenly's property in October 2004.

Gentry's lawyer said Wednesday that the federal indictment was misleading.

"Number one, the bear was not killed in a cage," said Minneapolis lawyer Ron Meshbesher. "The bear was roaming around in a fenced area of several acres, and my client spent almost two hours in a tree stand before he got a clear shot with a bow and arrow."

Oh well, that makes it better. The bear had a chance of dodging a few shots before being cornered and brought down.

Meshbesher said Gentry "is extremely distraught about these allegations. He prides himself as an environmentalist and an avid hunter who respects the fish and game laws of the United States."

I'll bet the proud environmentalist/sportsman told his buddies that he had to track the dangerous beast for 40 miles through thicket and swamp before finally prevailing in a hand-to-paw death struggle. The truth is the pathetic crooner sat up in a tree and took potshots at a tame animal named "Cubby." Yep, he must be real proud.

Even though it's not something I would do, I have nothing against hunting. In particular, a lot of areas would benefit from a culling of the deer population. But cornering a tame bear or blasting hand-raised pheasants as they bolt out of a cage is not hunting. It's just killing, and it's sick.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I am not worthy

When it comes to legendary military units, the 101st Airborne Division is right up there. The defense of Bastogne may be the most famous, but there are plenty of other stories about the division since its founding in 1942.

A few months ago I was contacted for permission to use one of my photos in "The History of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)" being produced by the 101st Airborne Division Association. Yesterday I received the 30-page color glossy booklet in the mail. Here's my photo that is reproduced on page 15.

Cobra Gunship

I was too young for the Vietnam-era draft and too much of a coward to join up on my own. The photo was taken from the safety of the spectator area at the 2003 TICO Warbirds Air Show in Florida. The "I am not worthy" feeling comes over me as I look through the rest of the booklet. There are accounts of incredible bravery, and most of the rest of the photos were taken during the unit's deployments.

I'm not sure what the association's plans are for distributing the booklet, but it's an interesting read.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What now?

I'll spend hours doing things that a lot of people would find asphyxiatingly boring. But the concept of going to the beach, even though lots of people do it, strikes me as deadly dull. To each his own.

Yesterday I took delivery of my new photo blind! (It says "hunting blind" on the box, but I haven't fired a gun in 30 years.) I set up the blind in the back yard and spent this morning sitting in it waiting for the birds to happen by. I know most people would find that boring if not borderline weird. (Or maybe not borderline.)

The payoff is I have the best goldfinch photos I've ever gotten, plus shots of a downey woodpecker, house finch, chipmunk, blue jay, and chickadee. These images have been added to the Backyard Habitat gallery. I didn't get any turkey images this morning. I saw three of them skulking 20 yards away in the woods, but the big haystack-looking object must have made them wary of coming into the garden. No big deal. I was really gunning for goldfinches and blue jays today; turkeys are big enough to shoot from the house.

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Goldfinch, click for larger image.

Warning: Technobabble ahead. I've been using Photoshop for a couple of years and have always used Adobe RGB as my working color space. I noticed that my photos were a bit dull on most monitors because they are not capable of displaying the full color gamut of Adobe RGB. I've seen recommendations to switch to ProPhoto RGB because it has an even wider color gamut than Adobe RGB. But when the images were displayed on screen outside of Photoshop, my image colors were even more flat and awful than they had been while using Adobe RGB. Hmmm. I don't print most of my images, so why process them as if I was?

I have the color management book I bought couple of years ago and I've read parts of it, but it still seems hopelessly confusing. So I just tried different settings to see what worked. I'm getting decent results by using ProPhoto RGB during the RAW conversion process and using a Photoshop working space of sRGB, which the typical monitor can handle easily. As I said, it's confusing, but this shot of Chip shows much better color saturation on screen than when I was using Adobe RGB for both RAW conversion and working space.

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Chipmunk, click for larger image.

So the moral of the story is to use a Photoshop working space of sRGB when preparing images for screen display. Now I have to figure out what to do if I want to print them.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Dragonflies are great big colorful bugs, and every once in a while they will even sit still for the camera. I snapped this one with the Canon G6 (reduced flash) a few weeks ago at Mass Audubon's Stony Brook Refuge.

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Dragonfly, click for larger image.

Not bad for a point and shoot. Here's what can be achieved with a real macro lens, in this case a Canon 100mm f2.8 on a DSLR, no flash. Click to see a detailed image of a dragonfly eye.

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Dragonfly, click for larger image.

From just a few inches away, the depth of field is so shallow that only the eye is in focus, even stopped down to f6.3. Shallow depth of field is one of the inherent problems with macro, so for more depth of field a tripod and a specialized ring flash would be helpful in stoppping down further to f11 or f16.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Doctors, Lawyers in Deadly Shootout

With the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in full swing this week, I often read quotes that are similar to what I used to hear back in the day. It goes something like this: "You would be surprised to find out how many of these grungy bikers are doctors and lawyers back home."

I don't see the fun in pretending to be a dirtball, but to each his own. People can do whatever they want in their spare time as long as they don't hurt anyone. However, the play-acting got a bit out of hand yesterday in Custer State Park. The vacationing medical and legal professionals (apparently disguised as members of the rival biker gangs Hell's Angels and Outlaws) shot it out at Legion Lake. There were six wounded and two arrests at last report.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sodom and Gomorrah

In the 1980's, two small western South Dakota towns were faced with tough economic choices. Business leaders in the fading tourist town of Deadwood (population 1,300) hoped to revitalize their Main Street by legalizing low-stakes casino gambling, and in 1988 managed to get the necessary constitutional amendment proposal on the statewide ballot. It's hard to remember now with the explosion of "gaming" (a more digestible term than "degenerate gambling") throughout the country, but back in 1988 only Nevada and Atlantic City had casinos.

The vote went in favor of the amendment, and Deadwood's gaming establishments opened Nov. 1, 1989. I had moved out of the Black Hills five years earlier, but I happened to be back in the area on a work assignment. A group of us headed up to Deadwood that first night, and I remember the temporary tables set up in the Franklin Hotel basement and defunct hardware stores along Main Street. I lost my customary quarter in a slot machine, and watched the others lose at blackjack for the rest of the evening.

Since then permanent facilities have been built, and the town gained free publicity when the foul-mouthed TV series "Deadwood" began airing on HBO. So today Deadwood is a community thriving on gambling and its colorful history of murder, mayhem and prostitution.

Fourteen miles east of Deadwood is the second town that faced a choice: Sturgis (population 6,400), which saw violence flare in 1982 during the annual motorcycle rally. A town vote was held to decide whether to continue with the event. I was with the Sturgis newspaper from 1979-84, and before the vote I opined in my weekly column that the event should continue because it was what made Sturgis unique. The referendum narrowly went in favor of continuing the rally.

But to prevent another outbreak of violence the city decided to prohibit camping in the city park, which had been the location of the violence. Private biker campgrounds sprung up in dusty pastures outside of city limits. Since then these temporary campgrounds have evolved into the scenes of week-long parties with big-name entertainment. (I guess Sammy Hagar and Alice Cooper are big names.) In my day the motorcycle rally crowds were estimated by the Highway Patrol at 50,000, which in my opinion was overstated by a factor of five (i.e. 10,000). Now the estimate for the Sturgis Rally (which starts next week) is 500,000 bikers; I left Sturgis more than 20 years ago so I don't know if the 5x fudge factor still applies.

This summer, a guy from Arizona developed 600 acres six miles northeast of town into a camping facility called "Sturgis County Line" that will include a huge biker bar and an amphitheater that will seat 30,000 concert goers. (By "seat," I'm sure they mean seated on the ground. It's a pasture 51 weeks out of the year.) You can tell he's from out of town because there is no Sturgis County; it's Meade County.

Native Americans are upset because the campground is within sight of Bear Butte, a solitary mountain just outside the rest of the Black Hills. They say Bear Butte is a sacred site, and the partying bikers will disturb their religious observances. USA Today reports:

"In the past, all the partying was done near town, but now they're going to surround our sacred mountain and desecrate it, drink on it, and leave their trash when they go back to where they came from," says Vic Camp, 31, a Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

I don't know if religious observances at Bear Butte date back to prehistory as some claim, but they do date back at least to my reporting days. Most of the mountain is a state park. When these observances were revived (or initiated) in the early '80's, the local townsfolk didn't quite understand what was going on, but the Native Americans were left alone to conduct their activities and other visitors were advised not to disturb them.

This year the Meade County Commissioners voted to issue a liquor license to the new campground. There is no zoning in that area, so liquor licenses are one of the few forms of control that the county has over what is done on private land. The Native Americans (and the disturbingly-earnest white people who are their allies) protested issuance of the license, to no avail.

I attended more than my share of Meade County Commissioner meetings, so I claim some understanding of the thought process that went into the decision. Back in my day, most of the commissioners were old ranchers. Although the members changed once in a while, there were always four Republicans and one Democrat. One day a young man with a ponytail walked by the meeting room in the courthouse, presumably on his way to apply for welfare benefits. One of the commissioners commented on the long hair, "I would like to take my pocket knife and cut that thing off." But surely the lone Democrat objected to such insensitivity. No, he was the one who made the comment! These guys were conservatives no matter their party affiliation.

Most of the ranchers I ever met believe they have the right to use their property as they see fit. The commissioners I knew were not proponents of the Rally; to them it was an annual annoyance that meant extra expense for the Sheriff's Department. But to them, zoning was more objectionable than a few drunken bikers, and the current-day commissioners apparently agree. They didn't see any legitimate reason to deny the landowner the right to use his land in the proposed manner, so the liquor license was approved.

The Native Americans have spent (according to the AP) $1.3 million in the last 20 years to buy 2.6 square miles of land around Bear Butte. Under the system of private ownership that the majority of Meade County residents apparently believe in, that's the way for the Native Americans to solve the problem. But the chance to make money by building giant biker bars is bringing in opportunists and driving up land prices. If liberal celebrities are looking for a cause, maybe they should buy up land near Bear Butte and donate it to the Native Americans.

In the '80's and since then, choices have been made in the northern Black Hills. In Deadwood and Sturgis, the course was steered toward gambling, debauchery and biker bars, and a certain level of prosperity has resulted. I doubt my little opinion column in the Sturgis newspaper back in '82 swung any votes, but sometimes I wonder. If a few people had voted differently, next week Sturgis would be a sleepy little town at the turnoff to Deadwood instead of the scene of the wildest party on the face of the Earth. These days, peace and quiet are more appealing to me than drunken partying, so I might write that column differently if I had to do it over.