My neighbor, the one with the drone I borrowed to take to Paraguay, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. We’d just taken it up for a spin to sort out a camera issue; he’d flown it over the neighborhood Easter Egg hunt to shoot some pictures but when we looked at the footage afterwards, it was pictures of him–he’d mistakenly set it for Burst mode, so it took five pictures and stopped, instead of Interval mode where it would shoot continuously every couple of seconds. I walked him through getting the GoPro app sorted out on his phone and showed him how the various modes work, and it immediately clicked for him. While we were working, he mentioned that he’s been thinking about getting a new drone and selling his, and I immediately told him I’d buy it.
So it’s a DJI Phantom 2. It was upgraded by the original owner with a camera gimbal to fit a GoPro Hero 3, a long-range transmitter-receiver, and a 7″ monitor that I can’t find a manual for anywhere. The camera sends real-time video back to the monitor to make flying easier. It comes with an extra set of propellers and the two new batteries I bought for the Paraguay trip, the three original batteries, assorted parts, and a pelican-style travel case. It’s in great shape, and for the price I couldn’t pass it up (he got it for a steal and sold it to me for what he paid, which is hundreds less than the going rate).
The only way I can justify this purchase is because I spent every waking hour on the ground in Paraguay running around shooting, preparing to shoot, or organizing gear for the next shoot, and thus didn’t eat much. Besides the complimentary hotel breakfast (which was lovely to look at but not much in the way of carbs or protein) I was subsisting on bottled water, Clif Bars I’d brought with me (having learned from previous shooting trips) until dinner. I paid for my meals out of pocket, which was just easier, but when I got home the per diem that came back to me was easily four times what I’d spent–and about $50 more than what I paid for this drone.
What are the plans for it? Fly it, first. Learn how to keep it in the air, aim it at what I want to see, and make the movements fluid. I took it out with Finn earlier in the year and ironed some of the issues out, even though it was a windy day.
Eventually, I’ll have to see if upgrading the gimbal to a Hero4-compatible unit makes sense; the Hero4 adds a lot of extras in terms of camera angle, improved ISO and a higher frame rate. But that will only happen if I can get some paying jobs that call for a drone.
Meanwhile, I went through my old hardware box and pulled out ten old hard IDE drives that have been decommissioned for years to prepare them for disposal. First I put a rare-earth magnet over each drive platter for a couple of days to scramble the electrons. Then I broke a couple of cheap Home Depot drill bits going through each drive to render them unusable. They will get dropped off at the dump with a bunch of other large metal items I can’t put out by the curb, and hopefully be recycled into compact cars.
We had another contractor come out and look at the bathroom Thursday evening, which puts our grand total at four. One has responded with a price three times our budget, another went completely dark, we’re waiting for the third to respond, and the fourth will get back to us within the week (we hope). The last two guys are single-person operations so it may be a couple of weeks/months before they can get started, but it would be nice to get someone interested in the job for a reasonable price to sign a contract and get this thing moving.
It’s not a break. The orthopedic doc said it’s a bad sprain and that I don’t need the boot anymore, so I left it off after the appointment and haven’t worn it since. Over the past week I’ve walked on it, careful not to do anything stupid, and while it’s not magically healed I’m not feeling pain during normal movement.
I’ve been afraid of switching to Lightroom for a couple of months now after an aborted attempt to switch at work; in a time-sensitive workflow I couldn’t get it to do what I needed to do and switched back to Aperture (now discontinued, but my solution for 5 years). With a little more free time this week, I moved all of the 2017 pictures I’ve taken to an external drive and built a Lightroom catalog for them after watching a couple of tutorial videos so that I knew the basics. The interface is strange and things are in different places but once I sorted out what was going where it started to make sense.
In other old photo news, I sprung for development of four rolls of film that have been knocking around the house since we moved in. I had no idea where they came from or what was on them, so I wrote a check, mailed them off, and waited. The service is really good. I got a notification email when they arrived, another with links to an online archive of images, and a third to tell me they were in the mail. One of the rolls is Jen’s from 2004 =, containing shots from Rome and a trip to Aurora. The second is 120 film shot at Finn’s birth, but unfortunately there are only three exposures. The third is color film from a trip to Monticello in 2007, and the fourth is a roll of double-exposed film from our friend Dave, which somehow found its way into our hands.
This got me thinking about the three unexposed rolls of Tri-X I’ve got sitting in the cooler downstairs, and the perfectly good film camera I have up on my shelf. I bought some new batteries for it last week and powered it up; I’m not certain but I think there might actually be film in it. That also got me thinking about film cameras within the ecosystem I’m in, and I poked around for some late-model Nikon film cameras on Craigslist as a lark. It turns out they’re available for ~$200, which means they’re something that would be fun to have but not required at this time.
The big honking TV is in the back of the CR-V waiting to be recycled this weekend; I’ve got three other computer monitors and a battery backup to join it as well as some other small appliances that have been sitting around for months. I’m waffling over getting rid of the lampshade iMac I got back in 2011, which is itself over ten years old; it’s a nice piece of history but I don’t really know what I’d use it for besides decoration.
I’m hooked on a couple of new podcasts: Crimetown is a series about crime focused in one city and its effects on the people there. The initial series is about Providence, Rhode Island, which was gripped by the Mob up until the mid 90’s. It’s an engrossing story and the narrators do an excellent job of keeping all the people and stories sorted out.
Heavyweight (now on break) tells stories about people who have unfinished business–things that happened to them in the past that could use a little revisiting. It’s handled with humanity and dignity, and also a good bit of humor.
Criminal is a podcast about, well, criminals. Criminal activity, examining crimes both famous and obscure. It chooses a wide range of topics to discuss, which keeps it interesting.
Song Exploder is a shorter podcast with interviews of musicians who take apart and explain how they’ve constructed a song they’ve written. Some of the musicians are better at doing this than others, and some of the songs are more interesting than others, but overall it’s an insightful look into who the artists are and how they make their music.
A few years ago, out the window of my train, I spied something interesting along a wooded patch of forest. I sat on the same side for the return trip and confirmed my suspicion: a the hulk of a finned 50’s sedan of some kind, minus doors and hood. I filed this away for future exploration and checked on it once every couple of weeks, always meaning to plan out an investigation. Recently I was appalled to see that a tree had either fallen on or had been felled on the roof of the car, squashing the back half flat, and decided I’d better shoot it now while I had the chance, and before spring vegetation swallowed it.
I did some Google sleuthing and found the nearest road to access the site, then found a place to park my car. I noticed that several lengths of chainlink fence nearby were missing or knocked over from snowplows, so I knew I could get to the trackbed easily without bushwhacking or climbing fences.
I woke up at 6AM on Saturday to balmy weather, stopped at McDonald’s for some breakfast (don’t judge–nothing else in the ‘Ville is open that early) and set out for my parking spot. Getting down to the trackbed was as easy as I expected, and the hike was short.
There’s been some work done to erect fencing along the track, and upon arrival it became clear that a bunch of the clowns on the work detail decided they’d use the car for target practice when they dropped one of the trees.
Using these three distinctive bolt holes on the remaining front fender, and the fact that it had single headlight buckets when most other sedans of its era were dual-lamps, I determined it was a ’57 Chevrolet Belair Sport Coupe, a desirable car in good condition.
This one had been abandoned since at least 1998 based on graffiti I found etched into the paint.
Anything of value is long since gone. The only distinctive element left on the car other than its shape is the wiper knob barrel, which holds one last piece of the hammered metal dashboard fascia in place.
I stuck around and shot a couple hundred photos with a Canon 7D and my Fuji X10 over the course of an hour, at times walking back into the woods for different angles. I found some castoff elements hiding under leaves and under bushes, including the brake pedal. Then I packed up my gear and headed back home.
I’ve been slacking on my photography lately; winter months usually make it harder to shoot interesting subjects. I’ve also been fighting my Fuji kit. The Ins and Outs of Fuji Autofocus talks about how the original X-series lenses (of which I have several) were slow to focus, which made the subsequent photos blurry unless you’re shooting in full daylight. While I’m happy with the system overall it’s clear that I need to either divest myself of all of the gear to go back to DSLR, or invest in one fast AF lens and maybe sell the others.
Since I got back from Mexico last year, people have been asking me if I’ve got travel lined up for work, and up until last week I was telling them no. Then I was suddenly offered the chance to fly to Paraguay to shoot a bunch of interviews with finance and bank officials who are investing in forest restoration and protection. A little less than half of the country is forested, and they’ve lost 12.7% of their total forest cover since 1990. My job is to film these financiers explaining how a web tool we’ve produced helps them make sustainable business decisions for their companies. What could I say? I started packing and reorganizing schedules to make the trip.
I know nothing about Paraguay itself other than what I’ve been able to read online. The last couple of weeks have been chaotic for multiple reasons, so I haven’t been able to prepare the way I want to, but I’ll have some handlers in country who are going to take me 2 hours into the Chaco to shoot B-roll of deforestation. Then I had an idea and contacted my neighbor to see if I could rent his drone for the price of a couple of new batteries, and he was happy to oblige. On Saturday we got a couple of test flights in to familiarize with the controls and assembly process; from all I took in the drone itself is almost idiot-proof; it finds its position via GPS and is happiest when it connects to at least 7 satellites. If it gets low on batteries, loses contact with the controller, or has any other positioning problems, it will take control of itself and fly its way back to the place where it took off. So all I have to do is make sure I recalibrate the compass and then not crash it into a tree.
The flight was more than a full day of travel; I was out the front door at 5:50 and did not hit my hotel bed until 12:30 (1:30AM local time). Sitting way back in Coach, I got used to the close quarters quickly. On my second leg I was seated directly in front of the rest rooms, and was joined by a pair of young Paraguayan men who were returning from a two-year hitch as volunteers on an ocean-going ship run by a Christian mission. They told me of their adventures, answered my many questions about the trip, their family history in Paraguay (descendants of German immigrants) and told me about the country. I did not think to have them pose for a shot with Ox, but should have. Leaving Customs with my WRI group, I spotted a family of familiar faces (tall, blonde, Germanic) waiting outside the gate, and played a hunch. When I asked them if they were waiting for Gabriel, they brightened up and said, “Yes!” I told them he was on his way out, and to say thanks again from Bill on the plane.
There’s a slim chance I’ll get some time in Ascención itself before I leave, but from what I understand it’s not wise to walk around alone after dark. The only free time I’ll get is in the evenings but there won’t be the kind of time to do full reconnaissance via foot like I did in London and Mexico City.
I’m taking a somewhat stripped-down kit with me compared to the load I brought to England; a lot of the redundant gear I didn’t use got left behind at the office. The interviews themselves should be easy to set up and break down, environment permitting–I have no idea what locations they’ll have me working at, or what the lighting situation will be, but we made the first one work with as much natural indoor light as possible, and then shot some beautiful interview footage outside.
I rented a Fuji X-Pro2 for my Mexico trip, and apart from a little bit of user error, I fell in love with it. It was bigger than the two bodies I’d previously used, the X-T1 and X-E1, but a slab form like the X-E1 and felt great in my hands.
The thing I liked best about it was the speed and quality of the focus. It was on par with my DSLRs and is the kind of thing that would make me sell off my Nikon kit to enjoy. The camera was (relatively) lightweight–I noticed a huge difference in hauling it around vs. a Canon 7D, although that was attached to a heavy 24-105 zoom. I made the mistake of forgetting my Fuji 18-55 kit lens at the hotel on my walkaround day, so I had to compose and shoot everything with a 35mm 1.4–something that forced me to stop and compose my shots a lot more.
I’m still bumping up against DSLR habits when I shoot with the Fuji kit. I’m used to having a lens in the 24-105 range permanently mounted on whatever my walkaround is; shooting with a prime has been an education in choosing, composing, and setting up the right shot at the right time. I still do a lot of shotgun-blast shooting, but I’m more careful to set things up and be prepared for the right moment.
A couple of weeks ago I spotted an ad on Craigslist for an X-T10 body at an extremely low price, and followed up with it. I met the guy in Chinatown and he showed me a very well-cared-for body in great shape, with all of the accessories and the original box. The X-T10 is a pared-down version of the X-T1/2 series, minus the weatherproofing and high-end features. It’s two years newer than my X-E1, so there are a lot of updates to the platform, and this body features a bunch of things the more consumer-grade E1 doesn’t have: a tilt screen, better controls, an updated interface, Wi-Fi (my first!) better focus and a faster shutter, and a host of other improvements. It’s laid out like a DSLR, in that the viewfinder is in the center of the camera–I liked the X-Pro2 and my X-E1 for the left-hand viewfinder, because my nose doesn’t get in the way–but it’s not a dealbreaker. The camera itself is smaller than the X-E1, which is a lovely bonus, and the controls, while generally similar to the E1 and T2, are just different enough to have me scratching my head.
Having used it for a couple of weeks, I’m much happier with it than the X-E1. So, I put an ad on Craigslist and within two days sold it for $50 less than what I paid for it. I made a command decision to sell it with the kit lens it came with, which helped move it along faster. I rarely used it mainly because it exists in the same focal range as my other two lenses and doesn’t add a whole lot to the kit. I’ve been looking at the 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6, which is a large, weather-sealed, do-anything lens for walking around that covers a huge focal range. It gets great reviews and would extend the range of my kit, which I like. Amazon has it on sale for $200 off the normal price, so with the sale of the X-E1 and some other gear I’ve been getting rid of (an older MacBook Pro, an older Nikon DSLR) I’m getting very close to pulling the trigger.
My neighbor bought a used drone from a guy he met, and it came with a gimbal mount for a GoPro. He borrowed mine to test out the system, and it works flawlessly. This was a quick flight over our neighborhood from his house to mine and back again before his battery died.