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My car was dirty, I had a microphone, and Oxford comma later, *BAM*, ASMR video!

I don't know where this is, but I'm quite sure it won't smell too pretty when I get out.

This is how I imagine it might look if I was eaten by Cthulhu and then, inexplicably, regurgitated. Yes, that is the imagination life dealt me. You should be so lucky.

Tip to the aspiring ASMR artist – always do a test run. I did, using an old cell phone as a camera, and the cell phone overheated, causing the software to “shut down some apps” to help it cool.

Included in the shut down apps?

The camera software.

Sigh.

Sorry. Life has been crazy. No real updates, just this video. If you actually bother to watch, wear headphones. I made it for listening, not really watching. You know, 3D sound and all that.

And as an added bonus, it’s short.

 
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Posted by on 29 August 2016 in 3D sound, Angst, Life

 

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Finding Publisher – A simple guide to getting (your kid) published, even if you really shouldn’t

As an amazingly successful published author, I am recognized as an expert on the subject and often asked how one should go about getting published.

By my kids.

Everyone else? They just tend to roll their eyes when I talk about getting published.

If they even notice I’m talking.

But, in case someone out there is looking for advice on how to get published, here is my simple guide.

How simple, those of you with short attention spans ask worriedly?

Simple enough for a pre-tweener.

As proof for the above statement, I am using my pre-tweener kiddo’s experience following my sage advice to illustrate my approach.

Step 1: Write a book. I can’t help you with this one, except to say form words with letters and sentences with words and paragraphs with sentences. The more pleasant and easier on the eyes the paragraphs, the better.

Don’t forget the spaces between the words and sentences (but NOT between the letters!).

Fortunately, Step 1 turns out to be the easiest part of the process.

Those fat blue drops? Tears of joy I managed to get this project completed to the kiddo's satisfaction.

A surprisingly large number of best-sellers start out as staple-bound, hand-drawn paper books

It smells fine, so these contents must be brilliant! Whew!

Flipping open a homemade book is like slicing the author’s brain in half and seeing the either brilliant or gangrenous contents within.

Step 2: Write a query letter. This involves doing market research so you can argue convince the publisher you’ve selected to print your book that people will actually buy it. I know, this sounds like something the publisher should be doing, but apparently they are lazy.

Don't worry about spelling errors in your query letter. Publishers know you're too busy focusing on the book to waste a lot of time on the query letter.

While the penmanship is not great, this *is* the preferred stationary of editors and publishers everywhere. Also, plaintive requests to print your book on the outside of the envelope always helps improve the odds.

As a bonus, you can falsify your data and the lazy publisher won’t bother to check.

If dealing with a small child, you will most likely be asked what to put in the query letter. Ah, the innocence of youth, asking that age-old question as if there’s an answer. I simply told my spawn to say why someone would want to read their book. A translation of his letter (pictured above) appears in the Details section if you click on it. I think he put it exactly how the rest of us authors wish we could put it.

Now I know, you’re thinking, “Why bother with a query? My book is amaze-balls and I had to buy a home security system just to ensure the manuscript wasn’t stolen after I wrote it. Why not just send the publisher the only copy of my book and be done with it?”

Good question. And for the most part, you’re absolutely correct. But there are two points you overlooked: publishers are lazy (see above) AND they have terrible office security systems. But the sheer awesomeness implied by your query letter will excite the publisher out of their apathetic state and give them time to upgrade (or install) a suitable security system in their office.

Or they might ask you to send the manuscript directly to a bank for safe-keeping in a vault.

This is the true purpose of the otherwise tedious query letter – to learn the appropriate secure address to send your manuscript to.

Step 3: Wait for the offer letter. Don’t worry, you’ll get an enthusiastic and generous response almost immediately. Books are in high demand, and publishers can’t wait to crank out more. As an author, you’re a valuable asset in high demand! Prepare to be on Easy Street (near the intersection of Unbelievably Effin’ Wealthy Lane), living the high life! You probably won’t even have time to run to the nearest corner convenience store to get a slushy. That’s how fast the turnaround time will be!

Publishers are sh*t-eating mo-fos who deserve to die the most outlandish, B horror movie way possible, caption notwithstanding.

You will never receive a form letter from a publisher. Even in the unlikely case of a rejection, they always hand-craft the nicest, most details rejections, nudging you into the right direction should you wish to make some edits and try again. The publisher’s response is always the highlight of my submission process.

Step 4: Upon receiving a request back from the publisher to see your full manuscript, send it. Then sit back and wait for the proof copy to show up on your doorstep, along with the check for an advance so large it dwarfs the GDP of third-world countries like Sweden and Belgium.

It only took ten hours of sweat equity and ~$12 on my part to make a beautiful book that filled my kiddo with the sort of joy one won't experience again until their second marriage.

Not only is the print quality on this CreateSpace proof better than the original, but it’s also slightly larger. And at this age, the kiddo approves of larger.

You haven't experienced true joy until you've seen your kiddo flipping the pages of his/her own published book.

This binding is less prone to rusting and looks WAY better than the stapled version. And the paper feels more solid too. Less likely to dissolve in water.

And wa-la! You are done. You are now a bona fide published author with all the associated bragging rights that come with that.

Yes, you can corner coworkers, guests at parties, Nanowrimo participants in coffee shops, even complete strangers on the street, and sing the praises of your book and your writing prowess, all in the name of encouraging them to buy a copy of your book.

Step 5 (optional): You can also do as the kiddos below did, and flush with pride and confidence, start your next book.

When I say predators, I'm speaking metaphorically. Except when it comes to that dog that keeps eating their homework. I hate that dog.

And here we have two young authors in their native habitat, writing away while their parents watch over them, keeping an eye out for predators that might eat them or tattoo artists who might give them age-inappropriate tattoos.

Environmental destruction aside, this did keep the kiddos quiet for a couple of hours. Two blissful, screaming and punching and crying free hours. (And the kiddos were quiet too.)

Excited kids without a clue as to how the process really works are book-generating machines. There will not be enough trees in the forest to keep up with their paper needs. Thanks for destroying the environment, you jerks. Personally, though, I blame the parents.

FOOTNOTE:

Yes, the kiddo did come to me asking to have his book published, and yes, I did make him write a query letter. I wanted to properly prepare him for the horrid, thankless reality of being a writer.

However, I fear I may have undermined that message with my ‘response’ to the query letter and making a physical copy of the book for him (via CreateSpace).

What do you think? Did I do the kiddo wrong? Keep in mind that said kiddo was jumping, dancing, and running around the house with pure joy when that proof copy found its way into the kiddo’s hands.

For any parents out there thinking this might be fun to do for their kids, here’s the process I followed:

1) Wait for kiddo to write the book and then come to you, demanding it be sent out to a publisher to be printed. This will most likely happen in the middle of reading said kiddo a book s/he likes. In this case, it was Yobgorgle by Daniel Pinkwater.

(Interesting aside: it was another Pinkwater book, one of the Blue Moose series, that put the idea of getting a book published in said kiddo’s head. I think Pinkwater owes me, big time.)

2) Pretend to mail the book to a publisher. If you have qualms about this, but encourage belief in Santa or the Tooth Fairy, then lose the qualms.

3) Spend those precious few spare moments when you aren’t working, the kiddo(s) aren’t around, and the spouse isn’t on the computer to painstakingly disassemble kiddo’s book, scan each page, and then import into a word processing document.

4) Realize you should have downloaded the CreateSpace template for the book (and cover) BEFORE you imported the scanned pages into your document.

5) Realize that the scan resolution you used (600dpi) is way to frickin’ high to generate a manageable word processing document (unless you have a terabyte of RAM and an OS that can address all of it).

6) Resize the images down to something manageable.

7) Export your kiddo’s book to PDF format if using CreateSpace. This is a CreateSpace requirement. Modern versions of both Word and LibreOffice have an Export to PDF option.

7) Discover that your kiddo’s six page book isn’t long enough for the 24 page minimum required by CreateSpace. Get creative. I separated pictures from text, put them on opposite pages. I also wrote crazy author, illustrator, and editor bios, and manufactured some ‘deleted’ scenes.

8) Upload your book to CreateSpace. Wait an hour for the upload because you didn’t downsize the images enough. Then realize you need a proper cover with something to go on the back of the book. Wait for the panic attack to subside and slap something together. Unless your kiddo is in high school, they aren’t going to care that much about the back of the book.

If they are in high school, put something jaded and ironic on the back.

Oh yeah, and download the cover template BEFORE creating the cover. You will need your favorite PDF-reading image editor. I use Gimp 2, but Photoshop probably works as well. You will be using multiple layers, with the cover template as the bottom-most layer. Ultimately, nothing from the template should be visible in the final image.

Save two versions of the cover – one in the native format that preserves all the layers, and one that is a flattened PDF.

If your image editor won’t let you save/export as a PDF, save as a normal image and then open that image with something that does allow such an export. I use the free program Irfanview.

9) Get an email back from CreateSpace within 24 hours stating that your manuscript and/or cover has formatting problems. Don’t open this email when your kiddo(s) are around. Wait until they are somewhere they can’t hear you swearing. Then do your best to understand what the cryptically described issues are and fix them. Then upload everything again.

If you didn’t save a layer-preserving version of your cover, this is the point where you decide the whole thing is pointless and the kiddo(s) should be sold off for medical experimentation. Why? Because you’ll have to start the cover from scratch.

10) Step 9 will most likely happen several times before success is yours. Once it is, order the proof copy. CreateSpace allows you to preview the book online as well – do that first to make sure everything looks right. I spend about $4.50 for the 24-page book and about $6.50 on the cheapest shipping rate. Despite the predicted delivery date, I received the proof copy in three days. Apparently no one sends mail any more, so the post office has nothing better to do than rush the few packages they do get to my house.

 
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Posted by on 5 June 2016 in NaNoWriMo, Parenting, Writing

 

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Natural selection: Survival of the rudest

Humans may be the most evil animals on Earth, but raccoons surely are a close second.

Certainly they are the most inconsiderate animals on Earth.

Right bastards, they are, raccoons.

Whoa, Ian, what’s with the raccoon hate? What, you ask, have these cute, cuddly-looking little bandits ever done to you?

Plenty. They’ve had it in for me from day one, and you’re a naive fool to see them as anything but the thieving, conniving bastards that they are. To wit:

  • As a small child, a raccoon mauled our beloved family pet, a soft, cuddly, and thoroughly un-maul-worthy bunny rabbit.
  • Frequently while camping, raccoons have raided my campsite, stealing the heavy food I packed in. And, surprisingly, all the beer. Though I haven’t ruled out my campmates on that.
  • On one camping trip, the raccoons broke into my car and stole all the Blake Shelton CDs that somehow found themselves, against all odds, in my car. They left all the classical music CDs untouched.
  • A few months ago, a domestic dispute between two raccoons unfolded on my roof. Loudly. At two in the morning.
  • Regularly while driving at twilight, I see raccoons skulking about the street corner storm drains, a shifty glint in their eyes. Clearly up to no good.

As I said, the most inconsiderate animals on Earth.

Which brings to me last weekend, when they went from inconsiderate to just f*cking with me.

About six months ago, my beloved kiddos, playing in the backyard, decided that throwing toys on the roof and then asking big, gullible ol’ Daddy to get them was the bestest, funnest game in the world.

Teenage Mutant Smug Turtle, more like

This crime fighter doesn’t inspire confidence.

It took me about three rounds of this sport to catch on, at which point I flatly refused to go back up and fetch their latest volley, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll, a plush stuffed animal that shouted TMNT catchphrases when flung against hard surfaces.

Such as the ground and roofs with slate shingles.

So up it stayed on the roof, through sun and rain and wind. My refusal to recover it instantly converted this into their favorite toy. The kiddos still cry themselves to sleep at night, mourning the loss of that toy and cursing not just my name, but the date of my birth.

Which I find ironic, given if their curses against my birth had any weight or power, there would be no them to curse me.

Time travel has its paradoxes, and so too, it turns out, does black magic.

I’ve attempted to explain to them the dangerous lack of logic in such a curse, in case it turns out they do have magical powers, but apparently six-year olds aren’t that good at understanding where babies come from or how their Daddy’s genetics contributed greatly to who they are.

And as they are still six, I have no enthusiasm for the birds and the bees conversation yet because I know, when I make the Missus give it to them, I will bear the brunt of her irritation at making her do it.

So the kiddos, not understanding, just wail anew and spit at me.

Numbskulls.

(I will say, the spitting is an improvement over their pre-potty training days, when they found less pleasant things close at hand to fling at me when expressing their disdain.)

But speaking of bastards, back to the raccoons.

Last Sunday, I retired to bed early. I’d recently been tasked to hire an engineer at work, and the lovely recruiter scheduled an 8am phone screen with the latest candidate.

I am not a morning person. I have never been a morning person. If the sun wasn’t essential for all life on Earth, I would have it snuffed out just to sleep in an extra five minutes. This is how I feel about getting up early, let alone being well-rested when I rise.

So I not only had to be at work at the normal start time, but I had to be sharp and pleasant and ready to talk to potential talent.

Where_in_the_world_is_Agent_Carter

Greatest (British) American hero

Hence the retiring early, despite the Missus’ entreaties to finish watching Agent Carter with her on the DVR. I’d sat through the first hour, quite enjoying the episode, but it was one of those ‘two hour events’ networks often put on to generate excitement about a program, and I simply could not stay up another hour.

I left my poor Missus, wailing and gnashing her teeth at my absence from her side as she watched the second hour without me, and went to bed.

Except shortly after closing my eyes, I heard something in the crawlspace above my bed.

Well, possibly in the crawlspace. Or possibly on the roof.

It’s surprisingly hard to tell, when lying half-asleep in the dark, whether the thump thumps you hear above you are on the roof, in the crawlspace, or maybe the result of some Lovecraftian beast walking upside down on the ceiling directly above you.

I am not a morning person because the night terrors that arise from my twisted, dark imagination keep me up at night.

I am a morning person out of necessity.

I struggled awake. I threw on the lights. I reached for the cricket bat next to my bed.

Nothing on the ceiling, thank the Old Ones.

Still some thump thumps, though.

I went outside, still clutching that cricket bat, and checked the roof as best I could in my PJs, bare feet, and with no ladder.

Nothing, which told me a truly shifty bastard was at work.

Naturally, my thoughts went immediately to raccoons.

I went back to bed, light left on, and tried to doze off. All was silent and right with the world.

At first.

But then the thump thump again. Only this time, something new:

The Thing On The Roof (henceforth known as TTOTR): Thump Thump “Cowabunga!” Thump thump
Me: WFT?
TTOTR: Thump thump “Totally awesome, dudes!” Thump thump
Me: OMFG! The neighborhood teenage hooligans are playing on my roof, and they brought a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll with them! I mean action figure, I added, knowing they’d correct me as such had they heard my thoughts. Such are the teenage hooligans in my neighborhood – smug.
TTOTR: Thump thump “Cowabunga” thump thump I taunt you with my spooky ambiguity thump thump

I abandoned raccoons for teenage hooligans because come on, what raccoon plays with toys on a stranger’s roof in the middle of the night? It defies all logic.

I rose again from bed, blearly-eyed and more than a little put out. This time I went to the backyard, where a ladder leans against one wall of the house, left over from that game, many months ago, of Daddy Fetch From the Roof.

I climbed the ladder, and because I was tired and I couldn’t find a proper flashlight, used my cell phone for illumination.

Let me just say, when attempting to see something in the dark from far enough away that you have time to successfully climb down a ladder and flee in case said thing decides to charge you, a cell phone light is not sufficient.

This thought is the very one that went through my head as I alighted that ladder. It was not a comforting thought.

Made all the moreso by the fact that I couldn’t climb the ladder, hold my cell phone, and hold a cricket bat at the same time.

I felt naked.

Yes, my PJs are slight and flimsy (and mostly see-through), but I’ve never felt naked in them before.

Of course, I had forgotten all about the kiddos’ little game and the toy left up there as I ascended that ladder. I just knew that something very wrong was happening on my roof, and while I really, really had no desire to see what exactly that wrong was, the only way to get some sleep was to investigate.

I don’t do my best thinking when I’m tired.

Fortunately, in moving the ladder into position, I’d made a lot of grunting, groaning, and “Ow!”ing sounds. This, apparently, alerted the bastard raccoon on the roof that I was coming.

I was back to raccoons at this point because once my head cleared the eave and saw no living creature there, I knew only a raccoon could have slipped off so stealthily.

Almost like a ninja.

Teenage hooligans tend to make a lot more noise disembarking my roof in a hurry.

I speak from experience on that count…

The only thing to greet me, as I tottered on the top rung of my ladder, surveying my roof, was the now silent and dismembered TMNT doll.

This battle goes to you, raccoon, but the war goes on.

As is natural in these situations, I paused for a moment in order to tweet about it. I then scraped the remains off the roof, carried them into the kiddos’ room, and with a scream fit to reanimate a thoroughly dead-due-to-mauling toy, woke them so they might see the logical conclusion of fun had at Daddy’s expense.

I explained, as my father once explained to me while I lay sick in bed one morning, that a raccoon had mauled their precious, beloved companion.

There was much crying and wailing after this. Mostly from the Missus, who was not happy that I had awakened the kiddos in the middle of the night and distressed them so.

But they were out of school for the whole week and didn’t need to get up early like I did.

Why should I be the only one to suffer?

I am living proof that humans are the most evil animals on the planet. At least when they’re really, really tired.

No doubt the kiddos will carry on that tradition when, years from now and despite my protests to the contrary, they decide it’s time to unplug Daddy from life support.

Holy Disemboweled Ninja Turtles, Batman, the shingles on this roof look, well, OK, actually!

In case you thought I made this whole horrifying story up…


Yes, I’ve been away from this blog for a long time. It hasn’t just been raccoons depriving me of sleep and leaving me too stressed out and exhausted to post.
I had pretty much given up on life, and by extension, this blog, but then the raccoons came, and their outrageous disregard for common decency fired me up again. Gave me the will to live. Endowed within me a newfound zest for life (or at least revenge…).

 

 

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I’m not old, I’m just mature and think about the future while dwelling inconsolably on the past

You know you’re getting old when:

While watching a walk-through of the latest Batman game, you can’t help but shudder at all the property damage you witness

It’s true. I was watching the Batmobile not just crashing into buildings, statues, railings, and people, but shooting them up too. And all I could think about was the amount of money it would take to repair all that devastated real estate, how much time the rioters would have to spend in the hospital, and how penniless Bruce Wayne would end up after the lawsuits if his identity ever came to light.

It shattered my suspension of disbelief and completely robbed me of my ability to enjoy the game play.

I highly recommend the next Batman game be a lot less violent. Maybe send the Dark Knight on quests to collect hugs as comfort for the loss of his parents, allowing him to finally heal and become a peaceable, contributing member of society. You could have an outline of a heart in the top right corner of the screen that slowly fills up with love as he gathers those hugs. My eyes are tearing up just thinking about it.

Or ooh! Posies! It would be really soothing, and potentially very colorful, to have Batman seeking out different varieties of beautiful, soothing flowers.

There. That idea is yours, Rocksteady Studies. Free of charge.

You are watching a walk-through of the latest Batman game rather than buying the game and playing it yourself

I’m not a poor man, but I have a mortgage to pay and kids and a spouse to support. So while I could afford to buy Arkham Knight and a game console that can play it, I have better uses for my money. Plus working full-time means I don’t have the cycles to spare to sniff out and explore all the secrets of Gotham’s underworld via trial and error. Heck, I had enough trouble getting through the seven hours or so of the walk-through, having to pause constantly to tell one of the just-out-of-kindergarten kiddos, no, this isn’t a Batman video you want to watch.

You have that problem with your kids? You send them out to play in the front yard so you can watch a video game walk-through, and all they do is keep coming back in to bug you about being hungry, or thirsty, or the cars driving by are too close, or there’s a strange man who needs to find his pet bunny and will they help? Can’t they just entertain themselves for a few hours while I watch online videos?!

Yes, help the poor man find his bunny, just GET OUT OF MY HAIR FOR AWHILE!!!!

Sheesh! You’d think kindergarteners are dependent on their parents for everything!

Camping isn’t fun any more

Instead of the joy of the outdoors, the wonder of birds singing and strange animals scrabbling around the campsite in the night, camping has become a guarantee for a back ache when I wake in the morning, no matter how many mattresses, inflatable or otherwise, that I schlep along with me. And those lovely scenic hikes? Death marches as far as my knees are concerned. And how often, due to lack of refrigerated storage and/or poor preparation, do we risk serious food-borne illness? While out in the middle of nowhere, miles from medical help?

Yes, camping is little more than an unwise flirtation with death once you get old, and having brushed up against death a few times, I can’t say she’s all that. Skip the flirtation and stick with your spouse, that’s my advice.

Preferably in the comfort of your own bed.

You have a history, good or bad, with other people

The longer you’re alive, the more likely you are to have friends (and enemies). Or friends who are now enemies, leaving you to dwell inconsolably on your past failings that led to this point. Fortunately, my enemies, if I have any, are of the type to hide their animosity so they can stay close and more easily slip a blade between my ribs.

Which is not a bad thing: I have come to terms with the fact that I am mortal only because I know I will die suddenly and blissfully ignorant.

And the good history? With friends?

That’s what you develop to make yourself feel better about getting old. Because you can’t have a good history with someone without the passage of time.

And getting that history in exchange? Makes it all worth it.

 
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Posted by on 6 July 2015 in Angst, Life, Reviews

 

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The real reason I don’t eat seafood

Hello. My name is Ian and I’m a mercurial.

It’s hard for me to say those words, because it’s admitting to my greatest shame, my worst failing:

I’m a mercury addict.

A heavy metal fan.

A snorter of the quicksilver. (Also known as quickie, though you have to be careful when you ask for it by that name. Can lead to misunderstandings.)

That is, I am addicted to the consumption of the element Hg, and I’ve just come off a two month bender.

Big deal, you say? Mercury isn’t a controlled substance, so how bad can it be, you ask?

Well, it’s hardly the fun-loving addiction of other drugs, like heroin or crack. This one comes with severe, real-world consequences:

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Visual, auditory, and olfactory delusions
  • Death
  • Semi-permanent hiccups

But there are moments, moments of non-clarity (usually while in the throes of its metallic hug), that mercury seems worth all the costs.

I can see you, having now been appraised of the dire consequences, shaking your head in judgment, tsk-tsking.

Asking yourself what could possibly make Hg worth the risks, what could lead an adult male of reasonable intellect to fall into thermometer chewing, as it is sometimes called.

Two words. The two most dreaded, hated, and libido-killing words ever uttered:

Writer’s block.

I once wrote about where my ideas came from, but that post. like the cake, is a lie.

It was mercury.

It was always mercury.

Turns out mercury does something to your brain, something that leads to more creativity, more ideas, making it the ultimate writer’s block buster.

And before you get too judgmental, did you know that all the best ideas come from us metal munchers?

It’s true. Mercury bumps our brains up to ’11’.

Einstein: strung out on mercury for the first half of his career. He’d likely have come up with the atomic bomb all by himself if he hadn’t quit.

Tesla: Lifetime addict. Upon reviewing the body of his work, most experts suspect he probably started Hg in the womb.

Henry Ford: he originally envisioned a car that ran on mercury, but switched to gasoline when he realized his original fuel plan would make ‘recreational’ mercury more expensive.

George W. Bush: Like the English language, there are always exceptions to the rule. And that defines ol’ Dubya. He got all the liabilities, none of the assets of guzzling the merc.

Hawking: well, he’s never publicly admitted to it, but there’s this guy who comes to some of our meetings in a wheel chair with a voice synthesizer and ALS who bears a strong resemblance to the man.

Yes, we have meetings.

Mercury Anonymous, or HgA (pronounced Hug-uh).

It’s where we support each other in our fight to shake off the silver dragon. Where we ask for help and understanding when we fall off the wagon and land in that bright, shimmery puddle of lustrous, luscious liquid metal.

Which is not as pleasant (or visually stunning) to fall into as you’d think.

Believe me, you don’t know rock bottom until you wake up in an alley, a bunch of broken thermometers in your mouth, and your pants soaked through with mercury.

(Yes, it does indeed stain.)

Double rock bottom these days, because modern thermometers don’t use mercury. But, mortally desperate, that doesn’t stop you, doesn’t make the wishing override the facts.

So you wake up, your mouth dripping red, still seeking to douse the unquenched crave, and you don’t know how much is blood and how much is red-tinted alcohol.

The only thing worse is the series finale to Lost.

One of the tenants of HgA is that you need to stay motivated for success if you want to stay off the silver sasquatch. Which is why we have sobriety medals as part of our meetings.

Although to be honest, they aren’t very well thought out.

They’re made of mercury.

Usually sealed in plastic disks, but sometimes frozen, which means you have to keep them cold.

Really cold. As in “No, you can’t wear that against your chest, it will melt. Here, have some liquid nitrogen, no, I can’t pour it into your hands, where is your dewar? What do you mean, you didn’t bring it? You knew you’d be getting this medal tonight!” cold.

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I forgot my dewar… But I digress.

You get a medallion when you’re sober for thirty days.

The only problem with that? The idea-boosting effects of a single hit of thermo juice lasts about a month.

You can see why this might present a dilemma.

A mad hatter can go clean for a month, get a 30 day sobriety medallion, and then thar she is, lying there, so close, not so sober as we were led to believe.

So much the better.

You break it open, snort the contents, wait for the vomiting to stop and the mood swings to settle, and write your next blog post.

You ‘fess up at the next meeting, go cold turkey while still getting all the creative benefits, and then just as the month winds down and you need another hit…

You get that next 30 day coin.

I blame this lack of farsightedness on the fact that HgA was founded by addicts, and apparently mercury poisoning can impair your ability to reason.

Also, I can’t rule out diabolical ingenuity, because knowing you get that mercury if you stay off it for a month is a powerful incentive.

I said mercury gives you crazy ideas, not that it made you smart.

 
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Posted by on 2 June 2015 in Art!, Life, Writing

 

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An analog man in a digital age

Hidden puzzle game: find the cameras and lenses

This is what a contemplative life looks like.

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a new lease on life.

Specifically, a bag full of cameras (and lenses) that belonged to my grandfather.

35mm film cameras.

Now my daily camera these days is my cell phone, and it takes convenient but usually terrible photos.

On those (rare) occasions where I’m actually worried about picture quality, I lug along my digital SLR.

Which also takes bland, slightly less terrible but significantly more inconvenient pictures.

And you know what? I take a lot of pictures, but I rarely spend any time looking at them.

I point the phone at the subject and press the shutter button. The pictures are taken, and on some level my brain says, “Ah yup, that one’s captured for posterity.”

(For some reason, my brain sounds like Jon Stewart imitating a cartoon turtle while talking about Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell.)

And since that moment has been safely tucked away on digital medium, I do a quick check on the LCD screen to make sure everything’s in focus and exposed properly, and then never look at the images again.

It’s as if I’ve decided, on some level, that knowing I have the pictures is enough, and reviewing them later unnecessary.

Receiving these film cameras got me to feeling nostalgic for the early days of my youth, when I shot with an all manual Pentax K1000 with a 50mm prime lens and a bobbing needle light meter, then went into the darkroom to develop the film.

Because in those days, that’s how you checked if your pictures came out. You sat in the dark while they soaked in chemicals, and then you put them in an enlarger and made prints.

If they didn’t turn out, you couldn’t just quickly try again. The event was long over.

If was an important event, you did a lot of swearing.

And let me tell you, if you’re in a small darkroom with another person and they start shrieking expletives and slamming the counter over and over with their fist, sloshing chemicals all over the place, it’s a little unsettling.

Or so I’ve been informed when asked why I was being banned from yet another darkroom.

Which is to say, I realized that I miss film photography.

Also, one of the cameras was at least fifty years old, and I really wanted to play with it for the novelty, if nothing else.

That fifty year old camera? A Zeiss-Ikon Contina III.

Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster.

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

One thing about the Germans - they sure build great cameras!

Fortunately, the manual was surprisingly clear.

(Now calm down, lens aficionados, it doesn’t use Zeiss lenses. I had thought so too, but research revealed that there were problems with manufacturing at the time, and so they went with a different lens manufacturer.)

I went to the drug store and discovered they don’t carry what some people would call ‘a lot’ of 35mm film these days.

No, all they stocked was one roll of Fuji film.

One lousy roll.

Surrounded, to add insult to injury, by several brands of LED flash attachments for use with your cell phone camera.

I bought that lonely roll. Rescued it.

Rescued it from a long and miserable existence sitting untouched and unloved under Rite-Aid’s fluorescent lighting.

(I pick up a lot of stray rolls of film that way. Damn you, Sarah McLachlan!)

Upon examining the camera, I discovered I would need to read the manual. The light meter reports in EV (Exposure Value), and then you used that to lock the lens aperture and shutter speed to the correct exposure.

Also, it was a viewfinder, which meant I couldn’t focus through the lens. Instead, you turn the focus ring to the distance setting that matched how far your subject was from the camera.

This resulted in a lot of out-of-focus pictures on that first roll.

Turns out I’m not only a terrible judge of character, but of distance too.

Still, I had a lot of fun using the camera, and while most of the images were of poor quality, I have to blame myself rather than the camera.

Oh, it has its quirks, like the light meter consistently overexposing when shooting outside on a bright day, or there being nothing to remind you to set the focus. But that’s what the first roll was for: to help me get to know the camera.

What the heck do sprockets have to do with photography!? You were born in the 90s, weren't you?

Ironically, every single picture appearing in this blog post was shot using, what else, my digital SLR.

After my photo shoot, I couldn’t find a local place to develop the film that didn’t return the negatives.

(WTF?? I don’t get the negatives back, Walgreens? What do you do with them? Send them to the NSA so they can add to their database on me and my known associates?)

So I opted for mail order processing. That took, all told, nine days.

Nine days of wondering: did any pictures come out? Does the camera even work worth a damn? Is the light meter accurate?

And in the course of that fretting, I started thinking about the type of photography I wanted, nay, yearned to experiment with twenty years ago but couldn’t afford.

Medium format photography.

Back then, a decent MF camera cost many thousands of dollars. Far more than I wanted to spend on a hobby.

Not being able to afford it didn’t help either.

Bored, and needing something to distract me from the anxiety of waiting for my film to come back, I started researching MF cameras anyway.

I told myself it was window shopping.

It wouldn’t amount to anything.

And discovered that the bottom fell out of the market for MF film cameras when digital became established.

Suddenly the MF cameras I used to dream about were affordable (in the used market).

I won’t go into the hours I spent on research, staying up far later than was advisable on a work night, plugging makes, models, configurations and prices into a spreadsheet.

In the end, it came down to this:

Even used, MF film cameras are still pretty expensive. Affordable, yes, but advisable?

Not at my current skill level.

Interior (electronics) require a battery. No battery, no picture.

Compare this exterior to the Contina’s. Boring! All smooth lines and a complete lack of toggles! Pah!

Again, seriously, this thing is completely dead without batteries.

No film advance lever! Even THAT is automated!

I decided it made more sense to break out the ‘fancy’ 35mm film camera I bought in the 90s. Not a super high-end camera, but no all-manual K1000 either.

Which is what I was using yesterday.

I hate it.

It’s a Pentax PZ-70. I spent a lot of time-saving up for that camera, and I loved it. Took some classes, bought a bunch of lenses and gear, even photographed a wedding with it.

I marveled, back then, at the technology I was able to buy.

Here’s the problem with it now: it’s too automated.

The 35mm lens I use on it (and my digital camera) for a prime is a featureless cylinder. No f/stop setting ring. The camera chooses for you.

Sure, I can put my all manual K1000 50mm prime lens on it, and put the camera in manual mode, but I still can’t control everything. The aperture setting goes to ‘B’ and that’s it.

(‘B’ is bulb mode for those of you not familiar with cameras. The shutter stays open for as long as your finger is on the trigger.)

All the joy, learning, and exploring I was engaged in with the Contina was gone with this camera, and I found this sucked all the entertainment and interest out of using it.

I also found that, given the automation, I went straight into cell phone photography mode: point it real quick and press the trigger.

I didn’t frame the picture. I didn’t think about angles. The impact of lighting on the shot didn’t cross my mind.

I was making a Xerox of the scene rather than creating a composition.

Why?

Because I didn’t have to.

Focus? Camera does that.

Exposure setting? Camera does that.

Film advance? Hell, the camera does that too.

I was practically superfluous to the experience.

So I’m starting to think maybe that used MF camera isn’t such a bad idea after all.

But first I’m going to dig out my old K1000 with the bobbing needle light meter and shoot a roll on that.


 Proof the Contina can work (most, if not all, technical and artistic failings are the photographer’s, not the camera’s):
I've always held that animals are bastards. Here's a bastard taking a dump in a public park. Jerk.

I’ve always held that animals are bastards. Here’s a bastard taking a dump in a public park. Jerk.

The easiest way to ensure a sharp image is to photograph something far away and set the focus to Infinity.

The easiest way to ensure a sharp image is to photograph something far away and set the focus to Infinity.

It's rare to photography this kid and NOT get motion blur. Metering a bit off, but it tends to be outdoors.

It’s rare to photograph this kid and NOT get motion blur. Metering’s a bit off, but it tends to be outdoors.

 
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Posted by on 30 March 2015 in Art!, Photography

 

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