Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas

High tidings to all:

If you possess the capability to read this message, then I suppose you are of sufficient means to enjoy this holiday. I hope your fortunes have been half of mine in this quickly failing year.

Since peace on earth and goodwill toward man is a bit much to ask, I simply beg for some improvement in the year that is yet to come.

I shall now drink Scotch. Happy Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy whatever

You people know who you are. Happy Christmas, merry new year. For my domestic friends, I hope the economy has spared you this year and will do so again in that which is to come. For overseas readers, I hope you, too, are avoiding tanking economies and other disasters both natural and man-made*.

Nikon D90, crappy kit 18-105VR: ISO 200, f:7.1, 1/60sec, popup flash -2⅓EV. Picture control landscape with max saturation, shade white balance.

(After two requests, a larger-sized copy of the above image is available at: http://i35.tinypic.com/2v827h2.jpg.)

* Why is it that all people-made disasters seem to be man-made?

Lens beating

Everyone worries about their lenses not being up to the task. Unless you're shooting architecture or test charts and are a pro, even Nikon's least lenses are up to the task. I'm more interested in how fast a lens is (lower f numbers are better), how good autofocus is, and whether or not it has VR (Vibration Reduction, called Image Stablization in Canon parlance and anti-shake in many mags) than I am in distortion and that sort of thing.

Even the best lenses can be pushed a little too hard. In between ryes tonight, I thought I might see how much abuse my best glass could handle. I was surprised. Our test subject is a Nikon Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm f:2.8 IF-ED, which is capable of taking better photos than the D90 can capture (and frequently better than I can compose) and doubles as a self defense tool, it's so bloody heavy.


Ouch! Here we've got a terrible shot: that bright light in the photo makes a ghost, the green blob to the left of the bulb. It's caused by being an idiot: shooting with a large aperture into bright light. Here, we're at f:2.8, wide open. Let's see what happens when we blotto overexpose?


Yuck! Short of hitting someone over the head with it, you couldn't abuse this lens much worse. You'll also note I've performed some pretty heavy post-processing here, dumping the exposure EV -3, boosting the shadows and adding heavy sharpening. The ghost is huge!

Ghosts are caused by intense light bouncing around between the various pieces of glass (elements) inside the lens. Modern lenses are multicoated to help minimize this. This lens also has ED glass, or extremely low dispersion. The ED elements reduce ghosts and glare even more. But this is just too challenging a shot for even the 17-35.

But I was still shocked when I pulled this image up in Photoshop. Have a look:


This is an enlargement of the ghost-blob-from-hell, rotated 180°. You can read parts of the ghost of the super-blotto-overexposed lightbulb itself and the lamp shroud. Whoa!

Even pushed way past its design tolerances, the 17-35 continues to surprise.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Should we enact an indoor smoking ban?

(From the 11 Dec. 2008 Thermopolis Independent Record:)
The health and safety nannies are back!

A statewide (Wyoming) anti-smoking ban looks to have a real shot in the next Legislative session. It would ban smoking in most indoor settings outside of your car and home.

In September, Rep. Elaine Harvey (R-Lovell) laid out three reasons she supports such a ban in an interview with the Lovell Chronicle. Briefly, she thinks such a ban would save the state money, support the health of non-smokers and “(change) the culture.”

Color me skeptical. Financially, well, we should thank smokers. The sin-taxes smokers pay generate loads of income for the state. According to the Department of Revenue, smokers paid about $25 million in fiscal year 2007.

Harvey told the Chronicle smoking costs Wyoming nearly $300 million a year, split about evenly between lost productivity and healthcare costs, according to the Department of Health.

Well, lost productivity costs will only increase if you make everyone, everywhere, step out to burn one. And how many businesses have you been in lately that allow smoking, besides a few restaurants, and bars?

I’m not sure how the Department of Health came up with their healthcare numbers. Way back in 1997 the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that concluded healthcare costs would go up if everyone quit smoking.

The authors wrote, “If people stopped smoking, there would be a savings in healthcare costs, but only in the short term. Eventually, smoking cessation would lead to increased healthcare costs.” Whoops.

(Why is that? Smokers do generate more healthcare costs while we’re alive. But we die a lot sooner, minimizing our withdrawals from Social Security, Medicare and private insurance.)

Let’s talk about the health of non-smokers. Would a comprehensive ban on indoor smoking in public places make a difference? Absolutely. But how much of a difference, and at what cost?

Harvey said “we already regulate the air we breathe,” referring to coal power plants and vehicle emissions. Yep. And so do the many, many business owners who don’t allow smoking in their buildings.

With the lowest unemployment rate in the country, finding work isn’t difficult in Wyoming. Look around Thermopolis. Some businesses can’t find people to hire. If you don’t want to be in a smoky atmosphere, look for a job in a non-smoking environment.

We already accept all sorts of compromises and restrictions at work. Coming into work drunk isn’t a good idea, generally. Drug tests are becoming more common. Some places offer only decaffeinated coffee. But if it’s too much of a burden, well, we can seek other employment.

For the folks who are serious about reducing smoking, here’s an idea. Instead of plowing sin-tax revenues into an advertising campaign that would leave Joe Camel green with envy, subsidize the patch.

We have all kinds of cultural issues to address. Sexism, running up debt like the score against Glenn’s Cowboys, eating too much. A worthwhile cultural shift would be a more honest discussion about consequences.

Smokers are some of the best informed about the impacts of our decision. How can we not be, what with all the propaganda demonizing us like axe murders? I hope we’re as good at explaining the impacts of our economic actions to our children, who will pay our tab.

What of the libertarian bent of this state? Republicans voting to strip autonomy from business owners? That doesn’t sound like Wyoming. But I should have known better.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a smoke. Outside, because my boss says this is a nonsmoking building. It’s his call, and I can live with that.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nikon D90 Review | Addendum

Nikon D90 Review | Addendum


In my main D90 review I didn't touch on the Nikon's LiveView and video capabilities. I wanted to focus on the important stuff.


Well, let me rephrase that. The video may be important to you. I expect it will become so to me, as I take full advantage of the -90 to grab video for our newspaper's website. But I didn't want to tackle that along with the regular photography stuff.


I had originally planned to give you the skinny on the D90 video by... posting a D90 video. Alas, even at the lowest quality setting a one minute clip was over 20MB large. I could compress a video, but that's a lot of work and wouldn't show you what the -90 is quite capable of, either.


To record video, enter LiveView, pull focus, and hit OK (the center button on the multi-selector). Hit OK again to stop. Push the shutter-release halfway before you hit OK to pull focus, because you're on your own once you pull the trigger and begin recording AVIs.


You get three flavors: 320:216; 640:424 and 1280x720 (HD). The first two are 4:3, while the 720p is 16:9. All are 24 fps, not 30. Unless you want to pull individual frames out of the AVI file for sports or news, those 6 fps don't matter, anyway. The D90 can shoot some good video for quick and dirty assignments -- great for someone like me, a PJ who needs occasional video for the newspaper website. I wouldn't want to use the D90 for much more than quick and dirty ditties, but having that capability is great. The sound, while monaural, is surprisingly good for having nothing more than a little grille in the front of the body. It works in a pinch or when you don't want to have to carry a Mini-DV, too.


HD clips are limited to about five minutes, at which point the D90 lowers the mirror to prevent sensor-overheat. That's fine; five minutes is probably more than enough, and a newsies like me, working for the web, probably won't be using the HD res but rather the 640. Those go out to about 20 minutes, longer perhaps.


You won't want to post the naked AVI's online. They're too big. As I mentioned above, the 1:04 minute clip I recorded as a review for this blog was over 20MB at the 320 res. I bet we'll end up using FLV -- Adobe Flash video format -- for our website.


The larger sensor of the -90 affords nice shallow DOF if you shoot wide-open (as with my 17-35mm f:2.8). But you'll either need to be stationary or have someone good pulling focus, as AF is disabled in video mode. But under good light and stopped down to where you've got a little depth to play with... I'd love to have the Sunex 5.6mm fisheye to play with in video mode. (Super-wides have fantastic DOF.)


One last thing about the video mode. If you're shooting a video and see something you need to get a regular photo of, just punch the shutter-release! You'll be stuck with whatever focus you were pulling in the video-record mode, but instead of a nasty video you'll have a real JPG (or NEF) of whatever. Once the photo is captured you return to LiveView, not videography.


Onto LiveView. It might be handy every once in awhile. I don't know when. Here's an idea (Nikon pay me if your dare): It sure would be handy if you could set the -90 to recognize the IR remote to start video when the camera is in LiveView, instead of just taking a photo. Who needs LiveView for a remote trigger photo? Hit the remote and the D90 could grab an autofocus and then roll video. Another click would stop it.

(Update: I ran that 22MB file through Flash and it compressed down to a little over 5MB, manageable for streaming. Maybe I'll post it when I get home from Thanksgiving vacation Sunday.)

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Nikon D90 Review

Nikon D90: Penultimate enthusiast shooter
Digial single lens reflex camera
12.2 mp, DX (APS-C), 4.5 fps, SD(HC), ISO 100-6400
Street: $900, body only; $1,200, w/ kit 18-105


At right: the D90 hanging on for dear life behind the Zoom Nikkor 17-35 f:2.8 with the now discontinued SB-800 providing illumination.


In a hurry? Get one, but skip the kit.


The good:
» Active D-Lighting helps tame high contrast shots
» Excellent performance at high ISO/ASA
» Fantastic configuration makes this a camera for the blind
» 4.5 fps a 50% improvement over the D80
» Fantastic flash exposures - better than the D300!
» Exposure comp button should last, since the D80 meter is gone


The bad:
» Kit 18-105mm lens is a pass - not even real AF-S
» LiveView autofocus is disappointing, even with f:2.8 AF-S glass
» Software needed to use body as card-reader
» Nikon software needed to use body as webcam


The ugly:
» Video limited to five minutes at HD-720
» No accommodation for piping in external audio into video
» Kit lens stinks - labeled AF-S but isn't, might burn up the focus motor


Handling: A-
Production: B
Performance: B+
Construction: B+
Value: A*
OVERALL: B+


* Body only; kit is B-


Introduction ~


The D90 replaces the D80, which was getting long in the tooth by the time this newer body started shipping. This particular D90 replaced my old D80, which hand-me-downed to another newsie who had been happily shooting a D70s. The -90 is a little higher resolution, at 12.2 mp to the -80's 10, which leads to JPGs around 6MB in L|Fine.


I won't get into the RAW v JPG pissing match, except to say as a newsie I shoot JPG because it's faster in every way. My buffer is deeper, my cards hold more shots and our photo department can tear away on stuff much faster than wrestling with NEFs. I've sold 12x18 prints from the D80 shooting at L|Norm and the exercise was trivial. I'm working on making a 24x36 of one of those same L|Norm JPGs.


Nikon bodies:
D40 -- D40x -- D60
D50 -- D70 -- D70s -- D80 -- D90
D100 -- D200 -- D300 // D700
D1x -- D2x -- D3


The D90 is Nikon's second-tier camera. I'd call it an enthusiast offering, above consumer but below prosumer and professional. It is also Nikon's newest body, having shipped about six months after the D700 (FX or 35mm frame) and a year after the D3 and D300. The year's wait shows. The D90 incorporates most of the D300's tricks and several from the D3, as well, while adding video and automatic Auto D-Lighting.


As a PJ I like both of those features a lot. The ADL, or in Ken Rockwell parlance, adaptive dynamic range (ADR), is good enough in the D300, so long as you remember to set it accordingly. The D90 seems to do a pretty good job of selecting itself. The video is also a nice touch, as it means I don't have to carry separate equipment to cover something quick with a video clip to throw up on my newspaper's website. Less equipment is a good thing.


Handling ~


As a PJ and newsie, it's hard to overstate the importance of good handling and ergonomics. The D90's 12.2 megapixels are more than sufficient for newspaper work. Unless I'm shooting something for my own use I usually stick with M|Norm JPGs. A Sandisk 4GB card, which I stole from Adorama for $10 with rebate, holds over 2,000 snaps at that setting, or about 650 at L|Fine and 300 in NEF. Frequency of card changes is a handling issue. Also, in everything from L|Fine on down in terms of size and quality, the Class 6 SDHC card and buffer will work indefinitely. You'll run into Nikon's arbitrary 99 shot ceiling, but just lift your finger for a moment to reset the counter and blast away again. With some finagling you can increase the camera from 4.5 fps to 24; you'll just need to pull stills out of the resultant AVI video.


With a few evolutionary improvements, the D80 control layout remains. The multi-selector is much, much improved, even better than that of the D300. There just isn't much I can't set with push-spin between a button and a command dial. Good job!


The -90 also feels like someone put a glob of clay in my hand and told me to squeeze before setting the camera mold. I have big, clumsy paws, but the controls on this body are intuitive. Even with insulated leather gloves on, with only the right index and left thumb cut out, there are no worries.


This camera is also about a six-pack lighter than the D300, and a bit lighter than the D80 that it replaces, as well. Hurray!


Split between performance and handling is the rear screen. You simply must see one (the same as the D3, 300, and 700) to believe it. Not only that, but playback is snappy and the new multi-selector can do diagonal, too.


The integrated flash is no slouch and also works as a master for supported Speedlights including the SB-600, 800, and newest 900. Flash exposure onboard is the best I've seen, bar none. Things only get better with an external. (I've used the SB-28DX, 800, and 900 on the digital Nikons.) And in the few situations were the integrated psychic-computer can't figure out your perfect fill flash, program the AE-L/AF-L button to fire a strobe and lock exposure. Even with multiple flashes it's damned near infallible. In the 1-1,000 times when flash-lock doesn't work, manual compensation is also a poke-spin away, ±3 EV. The above photo shows two more or less identical shots taken seconds apart. The first was with flash-lock, the second with EV-1⅓ flash compensation. The first exposure was technically correct, but wasn't the look I wanted. But 99.9% of the time it will be.


Production ~


The D90 makes fantastic photos out of the box on full-idiot-auto (Green-Auto). F/I/A works well enough for 90% of shots, really (and is good for beginners because the camera is intelligent enough to pop up the flash whenever it is needed, something many of our photogs need help in remembering). The rest of the settings are just refinements to give the shooter more total control, or to override when the shooter has something in mind that might not be technically correct.


If you hand your -90 to a newbie, just put it on Green-Auto, and they'll get the shot. Just don't refer to it as F/I/A while they're within earshot.


I ignore everything except F/I/A, P (Program), S (Shutter priority), A (Aperture or f-stop priority) and M (Manual). Don't ever let a newbie accidentally slip the program knob into No-Flash, either. If they want no flash, they can shoot in Program.


As I mentioned above, I often shoot in medium resolution with normal JPG compression. If I'm shooting something at the long end of my zoom and will be cropping-in, I do shift up to L|Fine. To steal a line from Ken Rockwell, I occasionally shoot in RAW just to remind myself what a pain in the ass it is.


The popup flash works great for most stuff. I only need a Speedlight for special stuff, or if I'm shooting at point blank with my 17-35 since it's so large it casts a shadow.


Use a dedicated card-reader for top-speed, or run Transfer NX (included). I'm not a huge fan of Capture's interface, but it saves me a few steps in identifying images I've already transferred and copying to two locations for an instant backup. Rockwell recommends formatting a card (hold down the Trash and Meter buttons together for a few seconds, let up when the display blinks and tap them both again) each time you pull photos, and I generally agree. But I like an off-site backup, as well. I'll pull photos at work, bring my rig home and do the same here, and then format the card.


Here's a quirk, mentioned in the manual but nevertheless a strange obscurity: shooting in regular RGB colorspace, filenames are DSC_0000, but shooting in Adobe makes them _DSC0000. Go figure.


Performance ~


I've already mentioned most of it above. In JPG M|Norm you'll hit the 99-shot ceiling before you run out of buffer. Release your finger for a hair of a second and you're back in action. In L|Fine you can still get about six shots off in a burst. I hear the Sandisk 30mb/sec Extreme III cards are about 50% quicker.


You can shoot S (single), Ch (4.5 fps) or Cl (configurable from 1-4 fps) from the shutter release. Additional options are remote (the wonderful IR is visible in my hand in the top photo), remote self-timer, self-timer and self-timer-multiple (2-9 frames). After driving a D80 for 10 months, 4.5 feels like a machine-gun. You can tell the difference without having a D80 handy. The D300, on the other hand... I couldn't tell much off a difference until I put one in each hand and stuffed the shutter in Ch.


The D90 turns on in about an instant. You can try it at home: switch to manual focus, hold down the shutter and use another finger to throw the power on. I couldn't detect any delay. Resumption from what little sleep mode there is is flash-bang quick, too. Autofocus speed is about the same as the D300 and a whit quicker than the D80 in all but the dimmest light, where the -300 has an edge. (Hint: my boss, with the D300, keeps the wonderful 18-200 f:3.5-5.6 on his body. When I have my 17-35 f:2.8 on, however, I can best him in any light, except at 18mm, where we are a draw.)


Program shift, denoted as an inverted P* in the viewfinder and LCD displays, works flawlessly. The camera magically knows how long to remember the shift before falling back into regular Program.


My boss and I disagree on a few issues, but he can get his own blog. First, I find the meter on the D90 to be almost idiot-proof. ("Make something idiot-proof and they'll built a better idiot." --Ed. What's life without progress?) The D80 almost always wanted to overexpose about ½-stop, leaving me jacking around between -⅓ and -⅔ EV compensation. Sometimes I would find myself at +1 EV. The D90 improves upon this, and works well unless I'm shooting something very dark on a light background -- see right: bottom is matrix meter 0, top is +2 EV.


I also think the flash exposure works even better than on the D300, with both the older SB-800 and the new -900, and a good-bit better than the D80. Unless you like arguing as I do, it isn't worth the bruised egos: all three have excellent flash-exposure whether popup or Speedlight.


Battery life isn't worth discussing. If you carry one spare you will never go wanting in a day, unless you shoot the hell out of the popup flash. Two batteries and the charger will get everyone by. (If it doesn't, step up to the D3.) One battery and the charger will get 95% of you by. Remember: Nikon recommends you charge your battery daily. These don't suffer memory, throw them on the charger whenever it's handy.


Construction ~


The D90 makes no claim to be bulletproof, like the industrial strength D3. But I doubt anyone will wear one out. The D80 I had been using has clocked about 120,000 exposures and is still in active duty. There were only two signs of wear and tear: the rubber padding on the rear of the camera was starting to come loose (nothing a little Crazy glue can't solve) and the paint was worn off of the exposure compensation button (due to the D80's defective meter, which liked to overexpose ⅓-stop -- corrected in the D90).


The rear display -- did I mention it is gorgeous? -- only has a plastic cover, not glass as does the 300/700/3, so keep the protector on it. You don't want to screw it up. Hell, I kept the static wrap on it until it was wilted half-off.


I doubt anything but outright abuse or neglect would damage this body. One thing, however, to keep in mind: be weary of shooting in rain or snow. You'll want a D3 if you plan on doing a lot of that, or make like me and keep some plastic bags in your shooting bag. Most non-pro (i.e. <$2,000) Nikkor zooms don't respond all that great to moisture, either. (Hint: if you're also a PJ and don't mind cropping a bit, cut a hole in one of your bags a little smaller than the front element and screw the filter on over it to hold it on.)


The one construction/durability/safety issue I wish Nikon would address would see them add a positive release to the SD door. I know better than to ask for CF in their lower-tier cameras, and SD is catching up in speed and capacity (to the point where ... who needs a 16gb chip?), but adding a latch would be nice. Sometimes I do paw open the card door.


Value ~


As a body-only, selling for about $900 as of Thanksgiving 2008, the D90 is the deal of the century. While also a fan of the $400 D40 (with the excellent 18-55 kit glass, no doubt), I think the D90 is worth it for anyone thinking about spending that sort of money. If you want an excellent photo rig but don't want to drop $1,630 (D90+18-200), ignore Rockwell and listen to Rockwell: shoot film instead of the D40.


The 18-105 VR lens kitted with the D90 is scrap. While a useful do-anything focal range, the lens itself is crap. It gets too slow too fast and isn't a real AF-S lens. Well, I suppose it is -- it has an integrated focus motor in the lens so the D40/x and D60 can autofocus with it -- but you can't override autofocus without throwing a switch! Compare that to a real AF-S lens, like the 70-300 VR, at right. Nikon knows this: that's why the 18-105 is labeled A-M and the tele is M/A-M. The reason the M is first on the tele is because manual focus gets priority. No such luck on the 18-105, even though its branded AF-S. This is, thankfully, the only AF-S branded Nikkor I know of to be so crippled.


(As an FE owner, don't even get me started on G lenses...)



Lens recommendations ~


If you have special needs you know what they are. But, especially in light of my trashing on the kit glass, I thought it prudent to offer a few suggestions. First, buy the body only. Then you can start thinking about what to do. Second, don't put the cludge 17-35 on your D90, as I have. I did so because my boss bought that lens back in the film days and I happen to like it, but its heavy, not to mention about $1,350 used. I like it for because it focuses laser-quick, focuses super-close, and has nice Bokeh.


For journos and PJ's, I recommend the excellent 18-200 do-anything. It is a VR lens and reasonably sized. It's also $650 new, and even two years after their introduction can be difficult to secure. If you're not a PJ, or are on a budget, have I got a deal for you! A coworker of mine recently purchased said 18-200 to replace his 18-55 and 55-200, both lenses par-excellence. He unloaded that glass on eBay. I'll have to check with him, but I think he may have sold both for $200, the (second-best) deal of the century! That's $1,100 for a D90 and 18-200mm coverage. With the built in sensor cleaning in the D90 changing lenses isn't as big of a crisis as with older Nikons.


The 70-300 pictured above is also a good lens. It isn't much faster than the 55-200, but I like it all the same. If it weren't so damned expensive I'd recommend it with an 18-55, but I can't. And avoid older 70-300 no-VR no-ED glass version. They are cheap used, but the build quality, like the design of the 18-105, should bring shame to Nikon.


I'm solidly in Thom Hogan's camp in being of the opinion that Nikon should introduce some DX (APS-C) prime glass, as well. If you have money, though, look for the new Nikkor 50mm f:1.4 AF-S, brand new. The older, regular AF 50mm f:1.4 should be nice, too. If you can find a used 35-70mm f:2.8 for cheap, I happen to like that lens, even if the macro mode is goofy. The old-school pro ED-AF 70-200 f:2.8 works well enough if you can find one cheap. While a little slower for autofocus, we have two at the office and I borrow one to shoot low light sports. It's a pig. But you get f:2.8 at 200mm, as opposed to f:5.3 on the above 70-300 and f:5.6 on both the 55-200 and 18-200.


A final note ~


I mention Ken Rockwell extensively above, and have a link to Thom Hogan as well. Most of my references are to Rockwell. I respect both of them and read them both closely -- where I quibble with Rockwell it is to point out our disagreements. The whole review would be in blue links if I highlighted stuff we agree about. You should read both of them. I tried not to repeat too much of what Rockwell says in his -90 review, but some of that is unavoidable. Please let me know how you feel about this review, and if there's anything else you would like to know. I focus on the PJ/journo/newsie side of things, because that's my day job. And, yes, I'm still waiting for the High-Sheriff to throw down the scratch for a D3 (or even a D700 so my 17-35 can realize its full potential as a wide-angle). But until then: I'm very happy with my D90.


Cheers,
Modest Holdings a/k/a Jonathan Green


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Friday, October 3, 2008

Leaves of fall

Took these in my back yard Friday afternoon and outside of my office. All are -1/3 stop exposure compensation unless otherwise noted, with color matrix metering selected.


Nikon D80, Zoom Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 @ f4, 35mm, ISO 100, 1/100 sec, -1/3 exposure compensation with matrix metering selected.



Nikon D80, Zoom Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 @ f4, ??mm, ISO 100, 1/1250 sec.


Nikon D80, Zoom Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 @ f4, 35mm, ISO 200, 1/400 sec.


Nikon D80, Zoom Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 @ f4, 35mm, ISO 100, 1/800 sec, -2/3 compensation.


Nikon D80, Zoom Nikkor 17-35mm f2.8 @ f4, 35 mm, ISO 100, 1/640 sec, -2/3 comp.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Limited edition print: "The field before the mount"

Introducing the first limited-edition print from J. Green photography:


"The field before the mount"
(Click for screen-size. Nikon D80, Nikkor 18-200 f:3.5-5.6.)

$250, 18x12", matted and framed. Signed and numbered, only 9 will be printed. Contact me to purchase on 307-221-9309. Serious inquires only, please.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Poem: Beetle

A short poem...

"Beetle"

I saw a beetle on the walk to-day.
I turned him over too see him squirm,
twitching there to try and right himself
burning all that energy in his hopeless task;
I squashed him like a bug.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sacrifice

The Iowa River sacked Columbus Junction's three-pronged makeshift levee system Saturday night, drowning the community's lower section. State officials offered to send 400 National Guard troops to attempt to reinforce the levee, but town leaders saw the breach as inevitable and declined. Those troops instead were used to guard Oskaloosa's water facility on the Skunk River. (Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 16, 2008.)
Columbus Junction fell on the grenade.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Get closer (Updated)


Nikon D-80, Nikkor 70-300mm: ISO 200, f5.6, 1/640 sec., 300mm. Click photo for full-size.


Nikon D-80, Nikkor 70-300mm: ISO 400, f10, 1/200 sec., 300mm. Click photo for full-size.


Nikon D-80, Nikkor 70-300mm: ISO 200, f5.3, 1/640 sec., 200mm. Click photo for full-size.

The trick to wildlife photography isn't in zany super-long glass, although that helps. It's being patient, making nice with the critters, and getting right up close with 'em. As a matter of fact, the only reason I wasn't closer to the subjects in the top two photos was the lens I was using can only focus to about five feet.

Sometimes, of course, you just have to get lucky.

Nikon D-80, Nikkor 70-300mm: ISO 400, f5.6, 1/640 sec., 300mm. Click photo for full-size.

Of course, all photos are Copyright © 2008, Jonathan Green and the Thermopolis Independent Record, all rights reserved.

**UPDATE** 080609@1720MDT: Of course, the boss cropped the top photo tight-center, so you can't see the lighting that makes the photo. Oh, well.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Two of the better photos I've recently taken

For those of you counting, yes, there are four photos here, not two. But the first photo isn't one of the better photos I've taken lately (although it did provide the thinking point for the next photo) and the third picture is just an edit of the second. All photos are from a Nikon D80, and all but the final are on a Nikkor o/77mm 17-35mm f2.8IF D ED AF-S SWM at 35mm and wide open. And, yes, Matthew, that "IF" means this (just like all of my glass) is internally focusing. The last picture is also from the D80, but with the Nikkor o/67mm 70-300mm f4.5-5.6IF G ED AF-S VR-II SWM. I've finally studied up on what that whole alphabet soup means, and having done that, I can tell you if you don't already know it probably won't interest you. Anyway: onto the pictures, and click for original resolutions.

Sledgehammer. D80 and 17-35mm, 1/13s, ISO 320. Handheld.

Handheld sorta. I was on my back in my apartment with the camera resting on my face. My right (focus) eye still is a little squishy and not focusing right. I liked this shot but was losing too much detail in the tassles. (This is a picture of a hanging lamp, and the tassles shown here in the center hang about 38" below the light bulb, which you can't see.)

Hmm, well, what to do about that? I wanted some additional color contrast, because the white ring is just a little too overpowering and grabs your eye from the center. Hence the title Sledgehammer. No subtlety here.

Also note the small bursts of lightness in the mostly flat background. Those aren't lens artifacts, but rather, the reflective spackle on the ceiling (which I hate). The 17-35mm f2.8 Nikkor is a very sharp lens. The corners, also, are not suffering vignetting. (You will be hardpressed to see vignetting with this lens on an APS sensor (DX in Nikonspeak) because the glass is designed for full frame.) The corners are dark because of the throw of the light from the top of the lampshade.

So now we've got our problem: needs color contrast and subtlety, while holding onto the detail in the tassle. To soften the direct light I swapped out the 40 watt bulb for a 25 watt red lamp. For contrast, I cranked the flash all the way down. And, voila:

Inorgantic life. Again, D80 with the wide (well, not on a DX...) Nikkor, ISO 400, 1/60s ... and, .4 sec delay between mirror lockup and shutter release.

Why the delay? Mirror-shock? No: read on...

The D80 has a very nice feature: remote flash control. You can fire the onboard flash and also use it to control up to two banks of compatible Nikon Speedlights. (If you slap a SB-800 into the hot shoe, you can use it to flash itself and control three banks of Speedlights!) The first photos I took with the red bulb didn't show any tassle: it was too damned dark. Next I tried the onboard flash. Well, that was almost right, but the six round areas out of focus around the tassle were unevenly lighted: the tassle was obstructing the flash from hitting the round things on the far side of the lamp.

Well, dial in the D80 for "Commander" mode flash, and I was able to compensate by holding my SB-800 directly below the camera, filling the other side out. But even with both flashes dialed all the way back down, I was either blowing the tassles out or washing the red out -- usually both.

But the D80 apparently suffers a bug that can be turned to advantage: engaging the shutter release delay does not change the flash timing! Back-sinc flashing, multi-flashing, et al are old hat in flash tricks. Maybe this is too, and I've just never heard about it. But by holding off the shutter for just a split-snap-fraction of a second (and only to be open for 1/60th a second anyway) I was able to get the lighting I wanted. I found this on accident.

The above photo is almost camera original. The only thing I did was run a very slight curve to get the background into the shade I wanted. Nothing else. Just for fun, though, I washed the photo into B/W with a red filter to cut back on that RED! a little bit.

It may be from Mars. Same as above, but with red filter B/W.

I like both images, but the B/W one struck me as looking like something you might have seen on a very camp 1950's sci-fi show.

The tassle here was at the minimum focus distance for the Nikkor, about 2" from the front of the lens! As I've been reading at www.KenRockewell.com the trick with wide angle lenses is to get close, not to try and shove everything in. 35mm was the right length for this, otherwise I would have needed to crop.


Desert simulation. D80, but with the VR 70-300mm, focal length here 240mm. Aperature f5.5, ISO 100, 1/80, VR on active, handheld at the lens' min. focus distance of right around five feet.

I just liked the colors here, and the distorted feeling of size. Note that the cactus is about seven inches tall. Just a hair of saturation boost in Photoshop, nothing else.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More birds




About 1/2 mile north of the Wedding of the Waters, on the Big Horn River.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Where the heavens begin no man knows

"Where the heavens begin no man knows" Nikon D80, Nikon 18-70mm, 70mm, f4.5, 1/2500s, ISO 500. "Filtered B&W, red" in Google Picasa2.

Quick: can you figure out where the snow-capped mountains end and the sky begins in the above picture? I couldn't. Click on it for the full size version.

I've had the chance to play with a fair number of photo editing toys in my day, from Adobe's Photoshop, to the GIMP (a free knockoff, but without any of the negative connotations of "knockoff" -- really a fantastic piece of software), to Picasa. At any given time I may well have Adobe Bridge, Picasa and Photoshop all cruising along my computer. Picasa, I've discovered, can do some neat things, and many of them with much more ease than Photoshop. But for some things, well, for some things PS remains the gold standard. I wish I had a chance to upgrade my computer to something can run PS/CS3 with some dignity. Maybe when I get my "economic stimulus" check. Maybe.

I really liked this shot in the original color (with some minor corrections for the D80's tendency to overexpose every damn thing), but I was messing around just now and looked at it in the filtered B&W. The original appears below (well, after some basic color correction). I had the camera stuck on "Vivid" that day, which explains the redness of the sand and dirt on the right of the river, but, if anything, the river does not appear here as blue as it was that day. The sky is still hard to discern from the mountains here.

So: better in color or filtered B&W?

Smoke in art

From commenter Sarah:

I was just reading the David Lynch interview book "Lynch on Lynch" and he was talking about why he has so many smokers in his films. He talked about smokes ability to be ever changing and it's organic movement. He also had a few things to say about photographs of smoke, you should check it out. Good book. (Emphasis mine.)
For those who don't know -- and I was in this category until I pulled up the book on Amazon -- Lynch was responsible for Lost Highway (never seen it but always enjoyed NIN's "Perfect Drug" from the soundtrack) and the television show Twin Peaks (hmm, never seen that, either -- I'm sheltered and uncultured).

The key word, as I've indicated with italics, is organic. In the most scientific essence of the word, smoke is certainly organic: there are a lot of carbon atoms flowing around in various molecules of smoke.

More important than the specific scientific notion of the word, though, is the idea that smoke is alive somehow. Its movements reflect the inputs of everything around it: to exhale near the plume of exhaust from an incense stick is to watch the effect of your breath. Smoke's closest relative is probably water (in the artistic, not scientific, sense).

But while water is so fascinating because of its devotion to gravity (as it splashes over rocks for centuries and centuries wearing down rock, for example, like the Wind River Canyon just south of my home) smoke struggles against that force of attraction.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Smokes!


Untitled 3524: Nikon D80, Nikkor 70-300/f4.5-5.6 G-ED (AF-S); 300 mm, 1/60, f5.6, exposure 1600. Clearly aiming for a very shallow DOF here, and achieved.


Untitled 3525: Nikon D80, Nikkor 70-300/f4.5-5.6 G-ED (AF-S); 185 mm, 1/60, f5.3, exposure 1600. With this particular lens, you can crank open further depending on focal length (hence the f4.5-5.6 notation in the lens description). By backing out from 300 to 185mm, I was able to stop up.


Untitled 3527: Nikon D80, Nikkor 70-300/f4.5-5.6 G-ED (AF-S); 300 mm, 1/60, f5.6, exposure 1600. Including the fern shots in the last post, I think this is my favorite shot. The smoke acts almost as a bend in space here: notice the red flowerpot it in the background and how it seems to change dimension around the smoke.

I started rebuilding a Tamron SP 80-200 Friday afternoon and I'm afraid I will be unable to finish the job. Some of the screws are rusted into the housing and I don't know if I can tap/die them without screwing things up. Too bad. That SP is also f2.8 across the 80-200, with some other figures that belie its original $2,200 cost (if I'm figuring inflation right). Currently, this lens, completely manual, runs about $400 per on eBay, 28 years after its introduction. I wish I could solve mine.
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A little fun with noise and DOF


Untitled 3513: Nikon D80, Nikkor 70-300/f4.5-5.6 G-ED (AF-S); 300 mm, 1/60, f40, exposure Hi 1. The D80 tops out at ISO 1600, with Hi .3, Hi .7 and Hi 1, which is what I shot here. Lots of noise, like Tri-X pushed to about 3200 (and, uh, in color). Even at f40 field isn't as deep as I was shooting for, but I enjoyed the effect all the same.

Untitled 3516: Nikon D80, Nikkor 70-300/f4.5-5.6 G-ED (AF-S); 300mm, 1/60, f13, ISO 1600. This photo, taken only about a minute after the above, is opened up to f13 as opposed to the fully stopped down f40 in the above, and so I was able to turn the ISO down to 1600. Notice the lack of noise, and even less depth of field. I was as minimum focus distance and the background was about eight times further down the glass.
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Sunday, April 6, 2008

A long overdue update


Ah, yes, here we are. I must admit that work has consumed these last several months, and precluded me from making updates here. Well, truth be told, I've failed to make the time. But, anyway, here we are, as I said. Oh, I got a dog: Mama (inside joke of the ironic sort).

Here's a photo of home, Thermopolis. I live down there somewhere.

This is a photo of the Boysen Reservoir about 20 miles south of town on the Wind River. It was much fun driving to the spot to take this photo -- one needed to exercise care in not whacking a hole in your oil pan.

More will be forthcoming, if I don't disappear camping again this next weekend. Maybe I'll get something put together after the next newspaper goes out, Wednesday.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How to deal with the married sex offender?

Here, from my files, comes to you a particularly thorny workplace question of ethics. I'm struggling with it, and would like to float it here, for everyone to think about, and perhaps even a few intrepid souls to comment upon.

For those of you who do not know, or who are simply a few months behind, I am a newspaper reporter in the state of Wyoming.

Let me give you something of a background in the law, as well as I am versed in it, and then I'll dive right into the confusing contours and particulars of this situation.

The law.
Again, caveat emptor: I have a deep interest in the law, but I'm not lawyer. I've only lived in Wyoming for about seven weeks now, so I'm still trying to figure out the subtle differences in the law between here and Iowa, my former residence.

In Wyoming, there are two classifications of sex offenders, with three tiers in each classification index. The first index is how long an offender must register their residence, the second is how likely they are to re-offend.

Both are now set by the state. Previously, the risk of re-offending was determined by the local judge.

Offenders are required to register for 15 or 25 years, or for the rest of their lives. Registration involves going to the local Sheriff and providing print information, data on vehicles owned and operated, address of residence, and posing for a photo.

All of this information, plus the title of the statute that the offender was convicted under, is entered onto a website that anyone can access. If offenders are classified as Type H or Type J, the Sheriff is also required to "paper."

Type G offenders usually fall under the 15 year registration requirement, and are considered the lowest risk to re-offend. Type H offenders usually fall under the 25 year registration requirement, and are considered a moderate risk. Type J offenders usually fall under the lifetime registration requirement, and are considered so likely to re-offend that the state decided to skip the letter "I" in the matrix.

The risk assessment -- which determines how likely a given offender is to re-offend -- is performed by the state Attorney General's office (or maybe it's DCI, which is like the state FBI), although it used to be done by the judge, remember?

The registration requirement -- 15 years, 25 years, or life -- is determined solely by the statute under which the offender was charged, and the ages of those involved (more on this later). It is black and white, insomuch as that it can be applied by a monkey.

Now, if an offender is convicted out of state and subsequently moves to Wyoming, the state must try and figure out under which Wyoming law the offender would have been convicted here. Wyoming has unusual sexual crimes statutes, and is in the process of modernizing them, which means that these transitions can be difficult.

When a new offender moves into the county and registers, the Sheriff is required to "paper and notify" if the offender is in Type H or J. Papering involves going to every residence within 750 feet of the offender's residence and giving them a flier with that information I described above (sans fingerprints), as well as notifying county schools, libraries, day cares, churches, &c.

Finally in the law department: for those of you keeping score at home, it apparently can sometimes be a crime to reveal the identity of a victim of sexual assault.

The specifics.
A man and wife, and their four (methinks) children recently moved into town. The woman works at a local eatery, and I'm unsure as to the man's occupation.

The woman is a convicted sex offender. She was convicted in Utah, in 2004, of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a felony. In 2006, she successfully lobbied the court of original jurisdiction to have the conviction reduced to attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a class "a" misdemeanor.

The victim is now her husband, and two of her four children apparently are by him.

She is considered, by the state of Wyoming, to be a Type J offender: most likely to re-offend. She also has a lifetime duty to register. This is because -- as well as we were able to figure out at the newspaper -- Wyoming made their classifications about her based upon her original conviction, not the subsequently reduced charge.

I suspect that if someone were to run her through NCIC or do a localized search in Utah, only the misdemeanor conviction would show up. But I don't have NCIC, and I couldn't quickly discover how to do a localized search in Utah.

As a Type J, the Sheriff was required to paper town. As a matter of policy, when the Sheriff papers, the newspaper runs a brief story about the offender.

Now comes the woman, angry with the Sheriff for papering, because of her subsequently reduced charge. She delivers a letter to the editor to the newspaper, announcing that she was convicted of "attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor" and is now married to him. There's no reason to fear her, is the clear intimation.

In discussions at work, several views were raised. One was that, because the woman is now married to the victim, she is less of a risk. I doubt that marriage is such a powerful force, and said as much. But I wholeheartedly agreed that the woman should have the opportunity to present her case to the people who would shortly be reading about her in the newspaper.

But the letter clearly identifies the victim of the crime: her husband. As best as I can understand the Wyoming statute (scroll down to 6-2-310) on the topic, it is illegal to release the name of the offender or the victim of a sexual assault up to trial, and perhaps beyond. A minor victim's name can not be released indefinitely.

Now, I'm not positively sure that the husband is 18. Everyone seems to be assuming that he is, but I don't know the legal age to marry in Utah, either, so I'm worried that it is a flawed assumption.

Alright, well, we would have to severely curtail this woman's ability to make her case in the public forum, if we are to refuse to allow her to identify the fact that she is now married to the victim, and has children by him. Again, while I disagree, a good number of people think that the fact that they are married makes a significant difference.

So, what to do? Should the newspaper even be running such notices (i.e., victim and offender are now married; in my county there are 14 registered sex offenders and beside the woman we here consider, two others, both men, are now married to their victims)? Our hands our tied in this case: we don't have time to come up with a new policy before press time. And I don't think we should.

Are we destroying this woman's life? I imagine we will be responsible for causing a good deal of harm not only to her life, but to the lives of those in her family, as well as the eatery where she works. Regardless of what people think about her being married, I've already thrice heard "Eww, that was a sex offender that waited on me?"

And what about the other two persons in the county, the two men, who are now married to their one-time victims? Before my arrival here, one of them was papered and subsequently written up in the newspaper, while the other was not.

(The second was not because he was convicted before the most recent change in the law. When the law changed, he was reclassified as a more serious offender, and required to begin registering again after his original 15 year registration had concluded. He is still married to the woman he was convicted of assaulting more than 15 years ago. He has not yet been papered because he is suing the state over his reclassification, and the Sheriff is waiting on the suit to complete.)

Come to think of it, should newspapers be printing any of these things? Should offenders have to register at all? I wonder if they shouldn't just be left in prison until they have been sufficiently treated to satisfy the state that they are not likely to re-offend? I don't have any good answers, I'm afraid.

So, what of the woman married to the man that she was convicted of assaulting when he was a minor? If the ages make any difference to your analysis, and they have mine, here is what little I know:

Reading the date of her conviction and her current age, I figured that the woman was 25 at the time of the incident. Reading the way that the Utah law she was originally convicted under lines up against the Wyoming law that she was classified under, I figure he was 14 or 15 (Utah law: 14 or 15, Wyoming law: 13-15 -- for Wyoming law, see here, under 6-2-315(a)(i)). However, the woman claims she was 20 and he was 15 or 16 (hearsay, but a considerably smaller margin than by my back-of-the-napkin figures).

So I'm more or less lost about how this should be handled. Anyone? Please examine everything here that you care to, including my reading of the law, and newspaper policies, and where I like to put commas in sentences. I'm really at a loss to come to any conclusion that I feel halfway comfortable with.

There are a lot of facts to marshal here, and I hope I've gotten them all right. Take especially my interpretations of the law with much salt, as well as my math on the ages above. But even if my facts are somewhere wrong, I felt that this was an important enough issue to raise anyway.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Villain

Ah, you can tell that I've really gotten into a fit of writing when I stay home on a Friday night to push out a few pages. But it has been too long since I've offered anything of substance here, and I was in the mood. Now that I'm done, I'm going to have supper and then make a run for my local tavern - where I'll proofread this. I hope you enjoy it. As an aside, I'm going to submit this to my college's lit mag.



With a bottle of Ancient Age in his left hand and a case of Coors in his right, Jeremy Tout tried to fumble the door to his apartment open. It was a Friday night, and he was desperately trying to figure out what to do for supper.

Walking into the living room, he placed the beer in his dorm fridge that he now used for booze. He put the bottle of whiskey on top of the fridge, and grabbed a clean - if not somewhat dusty - low ball and poured himself a healthy dose. He had neglected to buy soda, so straight whiskey and beer were the choices tonight.

Tout sipped his dram while he meandered into the kitchen. Clicking on the cheap fluorescent light over the sink, he read for the hundredth time the bumper sticker he had hung there:

"May god be with you on your quest for a clue"

That's about how he felt tonight; indeed, it was how he felt most nights.

He grabbed a banana and walked back into the living room. He turned on some music, and turned out the lights, firing a few tea light candles as he walked from fixture to fixture. He sat down and turned the music up.

And then he stood up again. He quickly ate the banana, and walked to the garbage, throwing away the peel.

He walked back to the couch and resumed his seat.

And then he quit his seat, again. This time, he had forgotten his cigarettes. He grabbed them from the desk across the room, thinking himself very clever to remember the matches and ashtray.

A third time he settled into his preferred corner of the couch, letting his legs dangle over the edge, his posture slouched. He sloshed the whiskey around in the glass, and finished it before lighting a cigarette. The Diamond sparkled as he scrapped it along the sole of his boot, and then he placed the glowing orb to the tip of the Marlboro, inhaling that first drag, a mixture of sulfur and smoke. It burned, but no more than the whiskey.

...and thinking of whiskey, he poured himself another, between puffs of the cigarette, and he drew a beer from the refrigerator. He hastily drank the whiskey this time, now that he had acclimated to it. He did not yet open the beer: it was some matter of personal pride to him to drink straight spirit without considering a chaser. He took another drag, and inspected the flicker of the candlelight.

He put the glass down on the fridge, and then put out the Marlboro in the ashtray, also on the fridge. Looking through the glass of the dispensary for spent smokes, he noticed - again for the hundredth time - the bumper sticker he had affixed to the top of the fridge:

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

That particular sticker was a good one to contemplate when he was drinking, Tout thought, and grabbed the beer, cracking it open to the satisfying sound of a little more relaxation just sips away.

He had thought about that particular bumper sticker so long now it wasn't even thinking. Like a path trodden through golden grass in his head, he had trampled a circular path around the thing. The grass would not grow anew; he just walked the same path over and over again, thinking it thinking.

On the one hand, he could completely understand the sentiment: once you're dead, there isn't much left to complain about. Death even paled in comparison to many of the more uncomfortable ways to go. And then, sleep, without the alarm ever going off again.

Sounded kind of nice.

But on the other hand, death was bullshit. Tout was young, but he had seen enough death to know that it wasn't something to be celebrated. A character on a TV show had once said that there was no dignity in death, or something like that.

Something like that. His head swirled around the conflicting ideas of death as a permanent holiday and death as being the end of everything. Could you enjoy a holiday if you couldn't think anymore? No, but you couldn't be pained, either.

The music skipped - a loud, electronic, obnoxious sound - and jarred his mind out of the rut. Without willing it, without meaning it, without even realizing it, his head settled back down to a slightly different spot than it had found itself before the jolt. Just outside of the rut.

Tout had always thought that the bumper sticker implied something painful. But now the words reformed in his skull, rearranging themselves in a new way. "Death is of the greatest insignificance."

His mind had gone off of the rails, like it sometimes did. More rarely now did he enjoy these superfluous moments of insight, but when they did come there were manna. He was racing around in the badlands in his brain, feeling out the dynamics of this new idea, this reassessment. He was almost to a destination of sorts, the excitement rising in him. He sipped beer as cool as if he were matching socks after laundry, but inside there was a symphony tuning before the show, and the tension was mounting.

The candles seemed to burn brighter for a moment, the music was louder. Something whacked him in the temple, and he thought he might pass out for a moment. He was seeing stars.

Nearly dropping his beer, Tout steadied himself with his free hand, feeling ill. With some sense of balance regained, he put that left hand to his temple, trying to discover what had stricken him.

The candles returned to their dull flicker, and the music was again a familiar tune he knew much like the palm of his hand: intimate, close, loyal, boring, familiar, familiar.

There was another knock on the door.

The blow to his head had been a knock. He had been so engaged in thinking that it had hurt when his concentration had been broken. The knock was harder now, but it did not hurt at all. Tout, beer in hand, walked slowly to the door. The floor creaked below his feet, but there was yet a third knock when he had put his hand on the handle, already turning.

The knob had turned as far as it could travel, and his palm slipped across it as he continued to twist. His palm was sweaty. He pulled the door open. He looked as if he had just fallen out of a deep sleep.

He nearly thrust the door closed again.

The vestibule light was off, and there were but three tea lights burning in the apartment. The door obscured two of them, and the third was directly behind him. The only light bounced around him, hitting her face indirectly. But he would have known the face in darkness; even with the music playing he knew the sound of her breath. If he hadn't been so deep in thought when she had knocked, he would have known that, too, he thought.

He stood there, feeling his hair turning grey, the vitality draining out of him.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

"Death is of the greatest insignificance"

Jeremy Tout felt nothing happening, he felt himself suffering the greatest insignificance. His breathing had stopped; the beer was slipping from his finger. All of the weight of his body was suddenly below his knees, the rest of him a shell and ready to float away.

He had fouled his once chance to slam the door closed before this happened. But hope had trumped experience, instinct was bested by longing. He had failed to do the hard thing, and now he was suffering a long death.

She stood there, looking back at him, inspecting him, critiquing him. He felt her breath, and he shuddered. Her gaze moved upon him and felt lighter than a feather across his skin. The hair on the neck, in a last act of desperation, stood straight. He could feel his heart dying.

He exhaled.

Time returned to normal. His palm had been sweating, but now everything was. It seemed as if he had sweat through his shirts in a matter of seconds. Chemicals were coursing through his body in a way that he could only begin to understand, in a way he could not control.

He inhaled.

Control seemed to return. He released the doorknob, and transferred the beer to that hand, to try and stem the sweat. He swallowed. "Come in."

He slowly backed away from the door, pivoting to his right, as if he were but an extension of the wooden thing. She crossed the threshold, a step at first, examining the lay of the furniture, and then advanced ahead a second step. She was clear of the door.

Tout closed the door behind her, and turned to her. She was facing away from him. He looked at the back of her head, trying to focus his mind. His glance drifted down...

but he marshaled his control and placed his eyes directly on the back of her head again. He forced himself to take a quick swig of beer, trying to regain some sense of normalcy.

This, of course, would have been normal five years ago.

He walked ahead of her a step, to the coffee table, and set his beer down. Again, he turned, this time to her. "Can I take your coat?"

She nodded, and they came together for a moment. He put his left hand on her left shoulder, gently grasping to coat, while she lowered that side of her body, allowing the wool that had draped her figure to gently slide down her arm. Her arm was not stiff, but fell to her side straight. He moved behind her, taking up the coat, as she arched her shoulders as if to stretch, only to let the slack in her body move to the right side. The rest of the coat fell away from her, limp, into his hands.

He hanged her coat from the tree next to the door. She had already seated herself.

"Something to drink?"

She gently shook her head.

Tout nodded, and walked to the end of the couch: his spot, next to the dorm fridge. He bent over, and put that clammy left hand on the bottle of whiskey, and thought better. He left his hand there for a moment, though, and tried to herd the tomcats running around inside his gut and head.

He stooped further, and grabbed another beer from the fridge. He carefully set it down on the table, and collected the first can, finishing the last drink. He walked to the garbage and dropped the empty vessel in.

He returned to his seat, his spot. He sat, and leaned forward, opening the second beer. The sound was the same, the sound was somehow different. The furnace was running, but he was cold. The flicker of the tea lights looked more like that from the cheap fluorescent in the kitchen than warm candle fire.

He again forced himself to drink.

"How are you?" he asked. There was a bit of beer in his mustache, and a stream dribbled down his chin, wetting his beard as well.

She cocked her head and squinted, almost imperceptibly. Wrong question.

"How's Frank?"

"He's dead." Again the weight inside shifted. He was sitting. His feet were iron bricks, his ass, lead. He thought he might sink through the couch, and fall through the floor beneath. Gravity would pull him to the center of the earth.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again. The light from the tea lights was still cold. Any warmth had left now; he was cold, almost shivering. He was sweating again, more.

"How?"

She scoffed. "You killed him."

He grimaced, and set his jawbone like a stone, pushing his tongue out against his teeth, probing them, making sure they hadn't rotted and fallen away. He forced another drink of beer, and, trembling, poured more whiskey. The beer in his left hand, the bottle in his right.

"I really wish you would quit drinking."

He took a long drink of the whiskey. It, too, dribbled down his chin, and a few drops dripped onto his chest. He took another long drink, emptying the glass. He set it down on the fridge, and he lighted another Marlboro.

"Drinking won't bring him back. It won't make you feel better, either."

He could feel that insignificance boiling up in him again, like a fire leaving only ashes behind. He took a drag.

"When is the service?" He drank beer.

"Yesterday."

They both sat there in silence for a few moments. He finished his cigarette, and punched it out in the ashtray. She reached her hand out, now stiff, like there were competing forces at work. She wiggled her hand in a circle, twice. Tout handed her the ashtray, and she removed a small pipe from a purse Tout had not noticed. She produced a lighter, and put spark to bowl.

"That won't help either, Rachel." He drank beer.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

Tout hadn't done much for Frank.

"It helps me deal with you." Her voice was flat. She inhaled and coughed a moment later. "I'll have a drink of water."

Tout walked to the kitchen, fumbling for a glass in the near darkness. He opened the freezer, and grabbed a handful of ice cubes, and then poured water. He took the glass to the couch, and offered it to her.

His arm was half extended, with the glass at its terminus. She finished inhaling, and set the pipe down, taking the water. She snorted a wisp of smoke out of her nose, and exhaled a moment later. She coughed again, and drank water.

Tout drank beer.

Again she stuck her arm out. "You want some?"

Tout shook his head. "I've got enough vices as it is."

"If man is the sum of his vices, you're the biggest man around." She sipped water. "Didn't you have a bumper sticker that said that once?"

"No, I just said it a lot."

She tapped the bowl against the ashtray, and then smoked what she had missed.

"Well, you were half right anyway."

Tout lighted another cigarette.

"If man were the sum of his vices, you would be the biggest man around. But man isn't the sum of his vices. You are a real piece of shit." She said the last sentence with a diction that could cut smoke.

"What happened to Frank?"

She snorted, this time because something was funny.

"I told you, you killed him. He drank himself into old age, and old age killed him, and you drove him to drink."

"Why are you here?"

"I just wanted to let you know what I think of you." With that, she stood and grabbed her coat. She did not turn around, and she did not even put the coat on. She transferred the purse into her right hand, under the coat draped over her right arm, and she opened the door. She did not bother to close it.

Tout drank beer.

He could hear her footsteps walking down the vestibule. The outer door opened. He heard the screen door creak on dry hinges. The screen door slammed shut. The phone rang.

Tout drank beer.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

The phone rang.

Tout drank beer.

The phone rang.

"Hello." Tout said into the receiver, as a pronouncement, not a greeting.

"You're supposed to follow me you asshole." Cell phones don't click when they hang up. But she was gone.

Tout stood.

"May god be with you on your quest for a clue"

Tout walked to the vestibule, and then turned the corner, breaking into a trot. He managed to get to and through the screen door without killing himself or destroying the door. Rachel was walking, at the end of the block, Tout stiffened his pace. She was crossing the street now, to a car parked in a gap between the street lights.

Tout didn't run to the end of the block, but crossed diagonal. She slammed the door. He was running toward the rear of the sedan. He couldn't see inside.

The car started. It began to pull away.

Tout was nearly there now. At the stop sign, the car did stop. The right turn signal flashed. The car went around the corner as Tout jumped the curb feet away. He fell into the car, which stopped.

Tout collected himself, and feebly stood. He approached the passenger door, and fumbled for the handle. As he pulled, and noted that it was locked, the window slid down.

As the tinted window disappeared, things behind it became visible. First Tout saw his sister, who was staring straight ahead. The window continued upon its descent. Then Tout saw his father.

The warmth was back. The street lights were a pleasant golden, and their radiation reflected off of dew down on the dirt and the grass and the road. This was the wrong car. He felt dizzy, like he had bumped his head or drank too much drink. Where had the other car gone?

"Hello, Jeremy," his father whispered. "How are you son?"

Tout collapsed against the saloon, slumping down against it. He felt the wet of the pavement soak through his jeans and then his undergarment. His back was against the door, and he was drained.

He felt his father's hand in his hair, tousling it like when he was a child.

"I had a nightmare," Tout said, also a whisper.

"Death is the ultimate insignificance"

"It's alright. I'm here. You're with me now."

Tout was getting wet. Was it raining? His pants were soaked, and the dew had crept up to his gut now.

"Where's sis?" he bumbled.

"I'm here," she said, but coldly.

"I'm here," Tout said.

"I'm here," his father whispered.

He stood there, feeling his hair turning grey, the vitality draining out of him.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

"Death is of the greatest insignificance"

Jeremy Tout felt nothing happening, he felt himself suffering the greatest insignificance. His breathing had stopped; the beer was slipping from his finger. All of the weight of his body was suddenly below his knees, the rest of him a shell and ready to float away.

He had fouled his once chance to slam the door closed before this happened. But hope had trumped experience, instinct was bested by longing. He had failed to do the hard thing, and now he was suffering a long death.

The dew was heavy and coming faster now. His gut and his pants were wet. His was standing in a puddle, his vitality flowing out of him as if she had turned on a spigot.

She was looking into his eyes, and he gazed back at her. She was crying. She crouched down on her knees, and put the gun on the floor. She stood again, looking into his eyes, and he gazed back at her.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

she said, crying freely now. Tout could feel the insignificance building, the moisture descending.

She stood there, looking back at him, inspecting him, critiquing him. He felt her breath, and he shuddered. Her gaze moved upon him and felt lighter than a feather across his skin. The hair on the neck, in a last act of desperation, stood straight. He could feel his heart dying.

He exhaled.

He collapsed.

She joined him.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Another deer pic


I still find it a little bit mind-blowing that deer around here are docile enough that you can walk up to them and pet them.

Perhaps I'll manage to put together a substantive post, the first in well over a month, here this afternoon. But I wouldn't hold my breath, if I were you.