Monday, 14 October 2013

Photography is all about light. Good light can make for great photos with little effort as long as you know the basics of composition and your way around the appropriate settings on your camera Throw in bad light and getting good images from the same camera gets a little trickier. Now you might need to know how to use flash lighting to get the same result. But when using flash isn't an option and you are in a dark environment where the subject is fast moving you better know your way around the camera and have at least one low light lens to get anything useable. To get the shots that will give the viewer a sense of the action some educated guessing of where the action  might take place and the timing of it, and a little luck helps.

On Thursday when I was getting ready to shoot the show at the downtown theater that my wife is lead singer for I was excited for the opportunity but apprehensive as to what the final results might turn out like. As a photographer I'm used to shooting in daylight, I don't do a lot of night shots, even less with fast moving action. Normally when I am doing so its on the basis its for my wife's own personal facebook and it doesn't matter much. For this event though there was no other official photographer so the stakes were higher. I wasn't too concerned about getting shots of the band. The low light lens I had at my disposal would do a reasonable job at that.

Getting pictures of the dancers, aerial, fire and Brazilian material artists throughout the show were going to be a whole lot trickier and all something that I had struggled mightily with in the past. This time though, although it was a new show with new routines, I was somewhat familiar with what to expect action wise. That certainly helps. As did somewhat knowing my way around the lens I was about to use a bit more than I had previously. Still on the Thursday night I was just largely trying to shoot the action by guesswork, not really sure what the lighting might be at any given moment or where the various performers may stand, dance, jump etc. I was totally underprepared for the theater to be darker than expected for the opening act of the aerial performers. The images were useable but I was hoping to get better shots on the Friday performance. I did some research for the following night's show as to what to do from some dance photographers blogs online, and it turned out I should have stuck to my gut and just marginally changed my settings from the previous night, because on the second night that same segment of the show got worse results. It's a shame because it was a very impressive element of the show.

Thereafter though I did stick to my instincts and feel like I got better results on the second night for the faster moving elements of the show. Now because I changed the settings on my camera all that much from the previous night, but because I was there the first night I was more able to better guess the positioning and movements of the dancers and martial artists.
Timing, and luck is everything, but be aware of the action going around you and trust your instincts regarding your own cameras settings and those special one off moments can be captured.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Fall, Winter, Fall

One of the joys of living in our canyon is Fall. The leaves generally start changing colour here around the start of August and then the leaves don't fall off until around the end of September / start of October, giving us almost two months to enjoy natures show, which seems to change the look of the canyon on a daily basis between the time when we drive off at half seven in the morning and return about half past six at night.

This year though, things were different. Not sure what it was, maybe it was the long hot summer and a consequence of the lack of real moisture throughout the year for the past two years, but the leaves didn't change colour like in years past this time around. This year the leaves of the trees changed one day to an orange or yellow, then shriveled up and fell off the next. I was starting to thing that we weren't going to get a real display. But then last week there was a cold spell, followed by a warming spell while we went to Vegas at the weekend. On our return the canyon had transformed. Trees that had managed to hold onto their leaves but had stubbornly refused to change to their Autumn shades had altered he look of the canyon in our absence in the three days that we were away.

I should have taken a picture then, but we had dogs to walk after a long trip, and dinner to eat. A couple of late days at work meant more photographic opportunites were lost. Then this morning the first signs of winter looked like it had arrived.


Beautiful as it may be I hope winter stays a way a little longer yet. It would be bad enough only enjoying my favorite season for a short time. That would be made all the worse by having a long winter.

Friday, 20 September 2013

I'll Be The Alpha Dog, Dammit!

Bonding with the new dog has had it difficulties. I didn't think it would be too much of an issue, we already have a hyperactive high energy jack russell after all. The new guy though is high energy and then some. I did not know what I was letting myself in for. Old girl likes to run, and likes to rest. New boy likes to run, and run, and run, and if you don't take him he'll run away, usually to some of the neighbouring dogs taking a direct route through trees (and weeds that stick to his coat) that involves a 20 minute detour for me. Cranky ogre becomes even more of a cranky ogre. Well its not fun working 10 hour days to then run around the neighbourhood looking like the eejit who can't control his dog! Especially after he breaks the long extendable leash, that was helping to control his wandering ways.

The tactic lately has been to take new boy, and old girl on long walks (when I have the energy myself to do said walks) and get them both, but mainly new boy, suitably tired so that he doesn't run off, or listens to my call if he considers it. He's a great listener, until he decides to make a break for FREEDOM! Should have renamed him Braveheart, except he's kind of scared of things, a lot of things. Possibly a good call on the no name change.

As part of the get them tired to make bonding easier plan I took them both on a 2 hour hike to the ridge of the mountain the one morning I had no work this week. It was supposed to give more time to get on with things when we got back to the house, thus allowing me more to play bonding games later when he was less tired. He got home suitably thirsty, hungry and tired. Unfortunately he also had diarrhea that day, and there wasn't much resting going on when we spent all day going in and out, in and out, in and out the house to deal with his runny stinky poop.

Talking about stinkies, not sure why old girl is farting what smells like split pea soup on my lap. Must be the new food.

Anyway, got through that fun day of diarrhea and many walks and somehow survived without him running off that day in the process. Maybe something clicked but there hasn't been too many moments since then when he hasn't responded to calls of wait or stay when he has been tempted to get out of range, and he has been even more affectionate and needy. Let's hope. All these walks up the mountain are sure making me tired and its going to be a pain in the butt, back and legs if he's just lulling me into a false sense of control, again.

That wandering look, that spells trouble

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

In the 80's when I was growing up in Scotland I don't remember too many reality tv programs being on the box. Back them there were no shows depicting the lives of rich American housewives or shows that locked up a dozen strangers a house, but there was One Man And His Dog. The concept was as real as it gets. You take a group of sheep, one smart border collie, and a man (usually older) with a long staff (stick) and a whistle who stands in the distance as the dog brings the sheep into the pen within a given time slot (hopefully). As a young, young boy I was glued to the tv. I was amazed at what those dogs could do, from afar, just from a few whistling calls of control from their handler. The older I got though the more I started to think that it was nerdy and wanted nothing to do with watching it.

Now though that I am about to take my wife to the Soldier Hollow Classic here in Utah on her return from California at the beginning of September, I have a a whole new respect for those dogs and handlers. Especially now that I have a border collie of my own who doesn't like to stick around when on a walk and instead likes to run off the beaten path and meet the neighbouring dogs and will not respond to any of my calls or whistles and I have to go scampering off in 100 degree weather to fetch him.

I might have to get myself some tips.

Monday, 19 August 2013

If You Love Someone, Set Them Free

Sometimes I can be selfish. I admit it, this not too long ago loner, has grown up, settled down, and become a family man. A man who values his time with his family. I've become a man who holds that time dear. Who doesn't want to give up too much of that precious time for others.

The best of times for me are simple moments. The time I roll over in bed - just before I fall asleep - spoon my wife and feel her fingers instinctively entwining mine just as she drifts off to dreamland. I live for her smiles, her touch, her warmth, the laughs.

The best of times don't involve going places, or buying things. If I had been a single guy the last 4 plus years I would have probably spent a lot more on books, on clothes, and kitted my camera out with more lenses but none of that I've missed. Some of the best times that we've had is when we've had no money. Just simple time together has been enough to make it great. We have something special going. In the same way that magnets do, or the tide and the moon.

Next week though I have to learn to be a little bit less selfish. I have to learn to share her with the world for 10 days. 

Have a wonderful time my dear.

Friday, 16 August 2013

One of the things I didn't want to talk about was getting that big scary C. It wasn't the cancer itself that was scary. I had learned to live with it for 18 months or so. When you have something visually growing in your body that shouldn't be there, you just kind of know. Even if you do hope for the best. And I was hoping that it would be something else. Every time I looked online for the symptoms the diagnosis was that it wasn't. So I would be like 'thats good, I can save up then'. Then that hot summer of last year came and passed, work dried up just when I needed it most and and spare money went on childcare, going to a clinic for diagnosis was put to the side.Without insurance it just didn't seem like an option that could be affordable. I knew if I went to a clinic and the diagnosis wasn't good and it was there in black ink that I wouldn't be able to shrug it off to the wife as nothing. At the same time if it was something big, and expensive I couldn't see how the wife could pay for those medical bills in the winter months when we would be relying on the one wage coming in. Besides the growth was only painful one or two days a month. The rest of the time it could be managed, with baggy pants, and sleeping in bed in some funky positions.

Eventually of course your body goes 'Hey, Stoopid! Why you no listening!?! You really that stupid, well I'll make you listen!'

Inevitably it did so right after Christmas, when I was hoping to hold off to Spring - when we might actually have money. No money, no insurance meant a trip to a clinic that deals with mostly immigrants in similar situations. By then the pain and resultant swelling was so severe, the doctor wasn't sure that he wanted to see or not see it. Had me confused at the 'let me see, no put it back', but nonetheless he was able to say that it wasn't Cancer. So those online diagnosis sites must be right after all. Money however was wasted on a scan that showed nothing due to the swelling. A shot leading to a sore bum with a 4 hour trip in the car later and two weeks of antibiotics should be the answer for that. No follow up by the doctor and his words ringing in my ears "its not cancer', a bank balance that allowed us to pay the bills and nothing but that month, and I use the excuse not to find out any more until I see some more money coming our way. For a while the pain subsided, and I could put the worry aside, then it returned.

By now I wasn't so good at hiding the pain. Hadn't been for a few weeks now. I'm sure I wasn't much fun to live with. I can be shrek like at the best of times, but the pain and worry was probably making life living with me extra unpleasant. Thankfully I have a wife that loves me through my unpleasantness, who despite my outrageous pride and for reasons unknown wants to save my anus, if not my ball.

She was able to find another clinic, who referred me to a specialist within a few days after yet more tests. Who then told me there was no time to waste and I had to come in again tomorrow.

Cue - the shakes.

Damn those shakes. I knew I had cancer. Despite what I had read online. Despite what I had been told earlier, I just knew. It wasn't s a surprise. I just put it to the back of my mind, and now here it was front and center. But still the shakes would not freaking stop. I hated those shakes more than the cancer itself. To me it was a relief, lets just get that thing out of there. The worst thing was the waiting, its spiritually draining just waiting, waiting, waiting some more. Its anti climatic. And yet it was nothing really, I had a great hospital care and I was in and out next day, god knows what it would have been like if I had to wait like many others before me have ad to do.

Six months on, those bills I thought I might not be able to afford 18 months ago are almost paid. Tomorrow I will see 36, and have yet another reason to love the woman in my life just a little bit more.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Dogs & Crates

I apologise, its been some time since my last confession blog post. Life has been busy, we have gone through plenty of changes, and life issues, some of which I didn't want to write about, others I did but just didn't have the time or had just plain lost the writing habit long ago and thus couldn't get it together.

Anyway lets skip over that. We have a new addition to the family and that is something that has brought up a concern to me. After two years of having a Jack Russell we decided it was time to get another dog. We've long thought there were times when she needed another dog around to help her with the separation anxiety that she seems to have suffered from since her last owners moved to Hawaii and we took her to our hearts. Unfortunately we thought our house was just too small to have two dogs running around, although the students who lived upstairs seemed to manage with four.

However when our lease was up, and the landlord gave us 8 days to make a decision whether to sign and stay for another 12 months or move, we discovered the cabin across the road was going to be available and we jumped. We were sad to move on, not least because it was the first house we got to chose together as a couple, but in exchange we gained a 3 level house with no neighbours above us, a new first for us. We may have lost a garden that took us 3 years to build but we also had new opportunities. The space that came with this new house meant that it was ripe for partying away from disturbing the neighbours too much and of course space for  a new dog.

We love having a Jack Russell, her energy is infectious, and the love that she gives us and needs from us in return has added so much to our lives the past two years, but she is, at times, willful, and the thought of having two dogs like that was too much, especially with our busy lives. Besides she always seems to do better with bigger dog. I had thought that having a medium sized dog like a Border Collie would be ideal. A collie would be smart enough not to do the things the she would likely want to teach any new additions to the house, and a collie would also be more loyal than the Jack Russell sometimes likes to be. So when we moved the wife found a 10 month old Border Collie mix available from a family that was moving to Japan, it sounded ideal. After travelling the 30 or so miles to Orem to pick him up we realised there was a bit more to the mix that we had originally thought. This dog was a big boy. But he took to us all instantly and so we took him home with us. Which brings me to concern.

I'm not sure when dog crates became so popular. I never saw dog crates being used much back in Scotland, at least I wasn't aware of it, but here in the US it seems to be routinely recommended by breeders, dog owners and veterinarians.

Carl's (that's his name, apparently the family were big on The Walking Dead)  previous owners had him sleeping in his crate at night, and had him cooped up in his crate during the day when the family were out of the house. The family clearly loved him, and the parting was hard for everyone concerned as we drove off home with him in our car. They gave the big boy a walk in the morning , and a walk in the afternoon daily but outside of walking and family time that is a long time to spend in the crate for any size dog never mind one as big as Carl.

Now I understand some of the advantages of dog crate training. It can be a useful tool for puppies to learn and keep them from mischief, and if you are going to travel a lot it can come in handy having a crate trained dog, but a a day after getting Carl home and making sure he was comfortable here I broke that crate down and put it down in the laundry room in the basement. Why? Well the poor boy must have had little more than 8 hours of freedom a day the past 10 months, if even that. After spending every night, and family work hours in the crate Carl didn't exactly have a dogs life. Just the time it took me to write this much has my legs itching to get up and walk around, I can't even imagine what Carl must have felt like unable to stretch his legs or roll over. Or what sort of thoughts he might have during that part of the day.

With this kind of restricted, impoverished environment its not surprising that he's kinda dumb. My concern is not that he's kinda stupid when it comes to being a pet, as a family we can take the time to learn how to train him in such matters but the fact that he doesn't know how to be a Collie/Shepherd saddens me and maybe I'm wrong on this but I can only put it down to him spending so much time in a crate.

By getting a slightly older dog, and a Border Collie (albeit a mix with a whole lot of Australian Shepherd thrown in) I had been hoping for a dog that was smart and to a certain extent trained. But unfortunately the poor boy had been in his crate so long that he had not learned the essence of being himself. What should have been a smart dog by default of his breed turned out to be pretty stupid boy.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sticking It To The Middleman!

We all love to cut out the middleman. If it means we can save money, time and get what we want and not what someone else thinks we want then its all good. But is it?

When I go to the supermarket these days if the self service aisle is open I’ll use that rather than wait in the queue for someone else to serve me. That option though has consequences,  when I choose that option I’m helping a company decide to employ one person with the responsibility for 8 check outs instead of 4 separate employees for 4 separate check outs. Right now the supermarket will say they are giving me a choice. In a few years to come, there will be no choice. It will be self service for most of us and someone to help the older shopper that can’t do it by themselves. Less jobs, more profits.

Politicians like to tell us jobs have been lost to China and India, and they have. But the sort of jobs that are now going to China and India have been going to the cheapest markets for decades. A lot of the jobs that are being lost in the economy now aren’t manufacturing jobs. I don’t mind my computer being made in China, the whole world needs jobs. Besides China is probably what is keeping this world economy moving when the West has right royally screwed its own economy.

Its not the emergence of China and India that we need to be wary of. Nor is it the deficits of the US or European countries. Its the collapse of our economy through corporate and individual greed. We are responsible for it too. Every time we cut out the middleman we make a job less necessary.

The jobs that are disappearing in our economy aren’t the manufacturing jobs of old. For more than 30 years those jobs have been going to wherever that is deemed to be cheapest at the time. They disappeared out of the economy a long time ago, the manufacturing jobs that are staying here, are either industries that are barely hanging on or have taken steps to make something better than what China and India are offering.

Instead the jobs that are disappearing in today's economy are service jobs that used to require a local person to service you. Those are jobs that can’t be done by someone in China or India. Yet those jobs are disappearing faster than any other in today’s economy. Unless something is done about it, we are all going to suffer. If the politicians don’t catch on, until its too late, the economy of America and the economy of Europe is going to collapse. Those of us lucky enough to have jobs will be left with the bill of paying off the deficits that our politicians have run up and left holding up whatever economy is left.

When was the last time you used a travel agent to book your 2 week break? We are being bombarded with adverts on tv and online with ways to book our flight, hotel room and whatever else we want. Cheap flights are just a click away. All the people that used to do those jobs are having their jobs being obliterated not by developing  countries but by technology. That nerdy kid who used to get bullied at your school is getting his revenge, he now works for a software company that is eliminating jobs left and right. Whole employment categories, from secretaries to travel agents, are starting to disappear. 

You might think that the supermarket pays poor wages to the check out person and that job isn’t a huge loss, the person who lost their job doesn’t think so. Forget the supermarket analogy for a moment, a lot of the service jobs out there that are going the same way have middle class pay grades.

For more than 30 years technology has reduced the number of jobs in manufacturing. We have grown used to it. Now though technology is being adopted by every kind of organization that employs people. It's replacing workers in large corporations and small businesses, established companies and start-ups. The most vulnerable workers are doing repetitive tasks that programmers can write software for — an accountant checking a list of numbers, an office manager filing forms, human resource personnel reviewing job applicants for key words to help fill a job. The software of the technology today is becoming ever more  sophisticated, workers who thought they were protected by a college degree aren’t as safe as they thought.

Thanks to technology, companies are once again reporting profits but the jobs of those companies are only slowly coming back, and at lower pay grades than before the recession.

Entrepreneurs who used to be the great driver of new jobs in the economy can launch businesses with fewer employees than ever before. There is less need for administrative support and back-office jobs that handle accounting, payroll and benefits. It's becoming a self-serve world. Instead of relying on someone else in the workplace or our personal lives, we use technology to do tasks ourselves.

Politicians are distracted by the apparent threat from China or the immigrant. Those politicians miss the point. The immigrant is an easy target but immigrants pay taxes, they pay rent, they buy cars. They contribute to the success of the country. Take 11 million people out of the economy what happens to the economy? Big bad China provides goods at a cost that we are willing to pay and in return keeps the world economy ticking along. No politician is attempting to stop companies here from using technology that allows them to operate more efficiently with fewer employees.

Bad times are coming and we will reap what we sow. Technology is taking our jobs and we are helping corporations by cutting out the middleman. Just bought a toaster online? You helped make someone obsolete. It used to be that you would go to a store and someone with knowledge of of what you were buying would help you choose something that would work for your needs. Now if there is someone at that section of the store at all they will usually be young, on minimum wage and with minimum knowledge of the product. Thats sad, because its that knowledge that could be the difference maker in whether they have a job in a few years.

Politicians either don’t realise it yet or they think its not going to get the votes in the same way as blaming the immigrant or the developing world for the disappearing jobs. If you are so good at your job are you really going to lose your job to someone that doesn’t speak English? Yes you might, thanks to someone in Silicon Valley you might lose it to a machine, or software.

If I buy a dress for my wife without going to a store? I’ve just taken work from a saleswoman.

Back in Glasgow, where I am from, they are converting the 100 + year old subway system to run on driverless trains.

Technology is enabling companies to do tasks that people used to do. Companies are realizing they don't have to re-hire people if a machine can do it for them, at least not as many. Maybe trains will be better without human error but our economy is going to be better the more jobs it has in it. Those of us lucky enough to have jobs will pay less taxes if more people are in work. Technology is always going to eliminate jobs regardless. However we have a choice in what jobs are eliminated, if we like human interaction in the things that we do we can choose that until that choice is taken away from us.