Don’t go there (until 2015)

Posted in Society, Travel at 15:48 by RjZ

I travel to see and experience the world. I’ve done little to filter that view. I pick places that are cheap or easier to visit, because it makes sense on my budget and time, and I pick places that have famous things to see, because, well, there is often a darn exciting reason these things are famous!

I’ve refrained from making political choices during travel, but I picked one place to be off-limits because I just cannot stomach the choices of the ruling government. This is a shallow, arbitrary decision that, upon closer inspection, might more readily apply to one country, and might not apply to another, but so far, I’ve haven’t explored enough of the world to have any conflicts.

My off-limits country could be getting a little better soon. The Saudi Arabian king has decreed that he will finally increase the rights of women, including allowing them to vote and to run for office. Like I said, not going to a country because of a particular policy is pretty arbitrary, given the nasty behavior of so many other places, but dis-enfranchising half of the population and blaming such behavior on archane mystical beliefs is just too much for me.

Women have limited rights, in practice, in many more nations than Saudi Arabia, but only that country, of all others on the planet, still denies suffrage to women and not men.

In practice, there are many other places I am unlikley to visit, but until 2015, I can’t imagine one as safe, and easily accessable as Saudi Arabia, which will purposely be excluded from my list.

Where won’t you go?

(1 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
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Travel photography: Nice shot, what kind of camera do you have?

Posted in Photography, Travel at 13:13 by RjZ

The number of digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) is proliferating at a wild pace lately. So, many of you have already spent handfulls of cash on a shiny new camera with interchangable lenses. That probably means you’ve already heard the standard question aimed at one of your better shots: “what kind of camera do you have?”

Everyone else seems to think your camera took the shot all by itself; that you take it with you and it jumps out of the bag on its own at just the right moment to snap an incredible photo. Who can blame them? Heck, I want that camera too!

Eventually the learned response is that it’s the photographer, not the camera, who takes a great shot. Of course. Honestly, though, that’s not completely true, is it? I mean, if it were, how would you convince yourself and others in your life, that it makes sense to spend another couple-of-week’s salary on a new lens? Cleary, the camera has something to do with it.

For me, going to pretty places is one of my best techniques to ensure good pictures. That, and taking a lot of pictures. Eventually, the numbers win out! What role, then, does the camera play at all? Well, good quality cameras, and optics do make better pictures. The colors are more even, contrast is dramatically improved, and focus is better, or at least more likely to be where you meant it. Better optics also increase the range of what is possible. You can now capture a wider view or a closer look than your cell phone camera will allow. Most interchangeable lens cameras are also fast enough that you can point them at a fleeting subject, press the button, and actually expect it to focus on something and record a picture before the shy moose, or perfect kiss in Paris streets, has vanished.

That brings me to my incredibly simple tip for great travel photography. Know your camera. It matters little what kind of optics your camera has if it hides in your bag and you have to fiddle with it when you finally pull it out. Even if you plan is to play the numbers game like I do, you’ll be able to choose from many more not-exactly-poor shots if you’ve been able to make the camera at least do what it’s capable of.

Whatever your camera can do, from auto-focus and magic scenes, to fully manual pixel level adjustments or feeding that old stuff, what was it? film? your job is knowing which end to point at what you want to record and what’s going to happen when you press the button that makes it take a picture. The only reliable way to do this, is to have taken many pictures in a variety of situations.

If you can have an idea what all the buttons do and which ones save you time before taking a shot, which ones make sure you focus where you wanted to, and which ones make the flash come on, or stay off, then the numbers game, enabled by cheap digital images, will surely pay off. For this reason alone, if you’re planning a trip and thinking about a new camera for it, great, this is a good excuse! But, and here is my second indespensible tip, get the thing early enough and take a load of pictures with it before you head out. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with your camera, or cellphone, you’ll never even get to answer the question “what kind of camera do you have?” except, maybe, when it comes from some snob hoping to justify a decision to have bought something else.

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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“You never pick up your phone…”

Posted in Society at 17:29 by RjZ

I don’t miss my last job much. I was actually glad to be laid off: it was more than about time I moved on. There was something I left behind, though. Something I can never retrieve, and I am sure it’s long gone by now.

I don’t miss my father much either, although certainly much more than my job. It’s not that we didn’t have a good relationship or that I am so callous, just that he’s gone and there isn’t very much to do about. What is left thinking about him now and again; thinking about how his life effected me, good and bad, and how much unlike him, yet just like him I have become.

My father prepared us all for his passing. He was a smoker who, after his first heart attack (at 37!) and open-heart surgery, the doctors explained “[his] lungs didn’t look that bad, for a smoker.” He only heard the first part and refused to remember the latter, or the admonitions, warnings, and downright Verbots the doctors insisted on over and over again.

Smoking added to ailment after ailment: a second heart attack; weakened bones and a bad hip and back; congestive heart failure. He would say each time the competing medicines got him down that he didn’t have that long to live anyway. Not the nicest thing to say with my mom around, but, well, he did prepare us.

The sad part isn’t that he didn’t live that long. Actually, he made it deep into his sixties, which is only just a few years shy of the average in the United States (75.6). What got me is not how long he lived, but how well. My father was mostly a happy person, made unhappy by pain and suffering of illness. It was understandably hard for him not to share that pain sometimes, even if I am confident he did his best not to. The Chinese often wish each other a long life. I can’t see any value in a long life without health. My father’s dying lesson for me was to make sure I take enough care of myself so that, now matter how long I live, at least I will have done my statistical best to make it pleasant on the way out.

I had worked at my last job for quite some time; over nine years. Like I said, it was time to move on (it’s not like they have a pension or anything). A few years before my father passed, he called me at work and left a long voice mail. He was funny in the part he meant to leave, but then, he didn’t hang up the phone properly and continued to babble on to the others around them, not realizing it was still recording. It wasn’t anything all that bad, but I imagine he’d be embarrassed if he had realized that I had heard his less than charitable comments.

To be honest, I am smiling as I write this. I used to listen to that message now and again and laugh. Sure not everything people say or think is nice but he wasn’t trying to hurt me (mostly self-promoting a bit, a frequent trait of his, even if this time it was a tiny bit at my expense) but there it was, a last missive from the last time I heard him healthy and cheery.

There was no way to pack that message into my cardboard box as I was leaving the building. No way to file it among the books and potted plants. The simple relic is probably gone now; the phone system reset. It’s been some years, so it isn’t hard to move on, but it would be nice, now and again, to hear that old voice mail once in awhile. In spite of his complaint, I’m glad I didn’t answer that day.

(1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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