I got my paperwork in the mail from UMBC today, which means I’m officially teaching another class in the fall. I’ve been working on the syllabus for this one for a while, but now that it’s set I’ve got to finish it up and develop about 6 lectures: an overview of concept, a refresher on grid systems (I’ve got some before and after National Park Service brochures for that one), a primer/refresher on paragraph/character styles in InDesign, a primer on typography, maybe some modern typographic history (I’ve got the inaugural issue of Bikini magazine for that one), and whatever else I can cook up. I have no idea how many students I’ll have this semester–last spring I had 18, which was 5 more than I was supposed to–but I’m not afraid of a challenge.

Date posted: August 7, 2015 | Filed under teaching | Leave a Comment »

I’ve talked about mirrorless and micro 4/3 cameras here before, and set the idea aside last fall as too expensive to pursue. I do, however, add Craigslist search alerts to things I’m interested in to follow pricing trends over time as new products are released. One of the alerts I set up was for anything Fuji-related, even though their lens system isn’t compatible with M4/3 bodies.

This winter, with all of the extra stuff I was carrying, I left my DSLR home more often than I carried it. Much of that is because I don’t have a lot of opportunity to shoot anything new in my commute, but also because it got to be a hassle to carry. In the meantime, several of my pro photographer friends cycled through various mirrorless camera kits, and recently one upgraded to a Leica (WAY out of my range). He wound up selling his Fuji for way more than I could afford.

This week, a Fuji X-E1 kit showed up in my feed for a very reasonable price, and I dove into researching it. It’s about two steps from the top of their line, but is very well regarded. I decided to give it a try, as I’m pretty sure I can resell it for more than the purchase price. Plus, I’ve been sitting on photo money since I sold my old iPhone, our original Flip, and a pair of unused DX zoom lenses that overlapped with our current lens collection.


It’s a whole different world than a DSLR; the philosophy around the controls is completely different. Where a DSLR is built around getting to the lens and shutter controls with secondary buttons to modify the selection, the Fuji is all about secondary buttons. They did nail the ergonomics of those buttons, though–they are almost perfectly organized and placed on the camera. It doesn’t have an optical viewfinder. There’s a digital screen inside the eyepiece, or you can use the LCD on the back to compose and interact with the camera. It’s tricky getting the unit to autofocus properly, and I’m not used to the slight shutter lag this has.

My unit came with a chunky f/3.5 18-50mm lens, which is too big for my taste; I’d like to swap it for the f/2.8 27mm prime, which is compact and almost in my focal sweet spot. If I suddenly won the jackpot, I’d splurge on the f/1.4 35mm, which is a little bigger but much faster. I’m going to give lensrentals.com a try over our vacation, as they’ve got the 27mm f/2.8 available for a good price.

Having shot a lot with my D7000 and and two 50mm primes–an AF and non-AF, I find it impossible to compose and shoot on the fly at that focal length. I’m always backing up from my subject or running after the kids in order to frame anything worth value; shooting with and adjusting the manual lens is hopeless in all but the most optimal situations. Having an autofocus prime is pretty much key until Finn is in her late teens.

There are a slew of Fuji to Nikon adapters, however, which allow for the use of my Nikon glass on the Fuji body; a manual adapter and several AI adapters. At some point I’ll pick up the cheaper of the two to use my Nikkor f/2 on it. The midrange AI adapter is $100, but I can’t find any reviews on it yet. The more expensive AI adapter is $~500, or equivalent to the f/1.4 Fuji lens, so I’d rather spend that money on new glass.

Overall, I’m impressed; the picture quality is great and the camera is light and easy to use. I’ll be leaving my D7000 at home for the next couple of months and shooting specifically with the Fuji, and we’ll see if the results match a DSLR.

Date posted: August 6, 2015 | Filed under photo, photography | Leave a Comment »

…is following my daughter’s line of questioning about superheroes to policemen carrying guns to a brief description of the Constitutional right to bear arms and bringing it all back to a weekend conversation about which Beatles are dead and which are alive by describing how a very sick man was able to buy a gun and shoot John Lennon.

Date posted: August 3, 2015 | Filed under finn | Leave a Comment »

Underwater portrait

Who is this child? Where did she come from? When did she suddenly decide that swimming with her head underwater was not only possible, but fun?

Date posted: August 3, 2015 | Filed under finn, photo | Leave a Comment »

Mama was off to the salon to get her hair did, so Finn and I were home this morning getting ready for a birthday party. This involved making a card and then decorating a drum head we found at a yard sale (her friend is the daughter of a drummer and a huge Beatles fan) so I showed her how to practice drawing her design first before she got to work with a black Sharpie. It came out good!

Then I went hunting for wrapping paper. Jen swears we have bags of it but I’ll be damned if I can find it anywhere. Driving to the CVS to restock, Finn and I spotted something on the side of the road. In front of a table piled with housewares, a white women’s hybrid bike stood waiting for some attention. We took care of our shopping (also grabbing two folding beach chairs for $20) and drove back to look it over. When Jen got home from the salon we rushed back to try it out. the tires were flat but we did a brief test run down the sidewalk, and she said it felt good. Sold!


I took some time out this afternoon to wash it, fill the tires, and run through the gears. It checked out well except for the front derailleur, which was disconnected. I put it back in the Scout and dropped it off for a tuneup at the local bike shop, where it should be ready by Tuesday.

Now, a new bike has been on our list of priorities since, oh, 2002, but this Christmas I promised her I’d buy her one. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but with professional servicing and a thorough wash, it’s an excellent bike (It’s the same vintage as my second mountain bike, a Trek 820) and it’s right in time for our vacation. Plus: Comfy saddle! rear pannier! And the basket from Uberbike (the tandem) will fit perfectly on the handlebars for trips to the Farmer’s Market.

Date posted: August 1, 2015 | Filed under family, general | Leave a Comment »

Mike Montiero posted the first chapter of his new book, What Is A Designer? on Medium:

I’ve also seen my share of studios where the designer wasn’t given the opportunity to sell their own work, which is amazingly shortsighted. Selling your work directly to clients is extremely important. Not only should you be able to explain why you made the decisions you did, but you’ll get first-hand feedback on where the work needs to go next.

This right here. I’ve worked at several shops where I did all the hard work and then had some brainless AE–no, wait, let’s call them what they were, project managers–go in and fuck everything up trying to sell it to the client, and then come back and fuck up explaining what the client actually asked for. This was a theme in Baltimore; most of the shops I was at were terrified of the designers poaching clients. It did nothing for my career and contributed to a sense of powerlessness. All designers should be present in the pitch meetings, period. This was why I moonlighted tirelessly for 20 years, sometimes to the irritation of my salaried bosses, because it was the only way I was going to get that experience myself, and they didn’t trust me with “their” clients. Fuck that shit. If you work in a shop that won’t take you to the presentation, get the hell out.

Date posted: July 30, 2015 | Filed under art/design | Leave a Comment »

As it turns out, it costs $50 to fix a Hamilton watch that’s stopped working. I’ve got to look at the warranty that came with it to see if I’m covered (I doubt I am) but because I’m the unfailingly honest person I am, I told them I’d dropped it on the floor in the letter I sent along with it. And, of course, they’re going to charge me $25 to ship it back.

Friday I took the Scout on a roadtrip up to a town outside of Frederick for a small company retreat. I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to do it. The morning weather was 65˚ and sunny, so I left the top up. One of the Crazy Ray’s locations is on 70 halfway to Frederick, so I planned for a visit as the doors opened at 8. Life being what it is, I arrived at 8:30 to a sleepy parking lot–just a few guys sipping coffee in their trucks. Inspecting the sign on the door, I found the times posted there are an hour later than those posted on the web, and, discouraged, had to leave empty-handed. The retreat itself was great; our host owns a beautiful spread on the side of a mountain, with three horses and a stand of woods visible from the back porch. We got a lot done and I was packed up by 4:30 for a brisk ride home with the top down.

Our weekend was one of ups and downs. I spent a good part of Saturday cleaning and reorganizing the den. In the evening we drive down to Ellicott City to take in a starlight showing of Frozen at the Wine Bin; the crowd there has grown since the last time we were there, and so we had to squeeze into some spots saved for us by friends, but the movie is still just as  good the tenth time as the first.

Sunday the girls went to church while I kept cleaning (it’s hard to put a Dyson down once you’ve picked it up) and then we were invited to the local pool in the afternoon. After running out to pick up lumber, groceries, and lunch, we threw food together, packed our bags, and Finn and I hit the road, leaving Mama home for quiet time. We unpacked, the kids jumped in the water, and within 10 minutes they blew the whistle again: someone pooped in the pool. Dejectedly, we packed everything back up and regrouped at the neighbors’ house to cook dinner.

All was well until Finn said something rude to one of the other kids, and that stopped everything cold. I walked her outside and talked it out; after getting vague, noncommittal answers, I packed all of our things, thanked our hosts graciously, and hiked her out of there. I immediately got her bath started and Mama and I started talking things out with her. While they got her cleaned up, I returned to our host house to pick up some things I’d left behind, and apologized to them at length; to their credit, they spent just as much time putting me at ease as I did explaining and apologizing.

I’m not entirely sure what possessed Finn to say what she did; I think she was trying it out to see what would happen without really knowing how hurtful it could be, but it was said in a way that told me she knew it might be hurtful. We had a long talk with her, and hopefully the lesson got through to her. She’s going to say dumb stuff in the future, I know, but I want her to start thinking about what she says before she says it–something it took me years to figure out.

I moved the trashcan subwoofer into the living room over the weekend, and finally read up on how to hook it up correctly. I’d been using a single-wire RCA plug from the amplifier, which didn’t seem to send enough signal to the subwoofer unless I really cranked up the volume. In the living room, both sets of speaker wire come through the floor in the same location and then snake to the speakers, so I hooked them up to the plate on the back of the subwoofer and then ran leads from there to the speakers. So now the signal comes in through the subwoofer, which keeps the lows for itself, and sends the midrange and highs to the speakers. It makes a huge difference in that room!

Date posted: July 28, 2015 | Filed under friends, life | Leave a Comment »

Finn, there will come a day when you are too big for me to lift you out of the car and carry you into the house and up to bed. On that day, your dad is going to go have himself a cry. Just warning you. 

Date posted: July 25, 2015 | Filed under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

I remember dabbling in shoegaze back in the day, right before it got obliterated by grunge, but I do have a few favorites from that time. Slowdive was a good band who didn’t quite get their due. Check out the Pitchfork documentary on Souvlaki, arguably their best album:

Date posted: July 22, 2015 | Filed under music | Leave a Comment »

We closed out Grampy’s memorial with fireworks over a field of corn. The weather was uncommonly cool for July in Cayuga county, so we bundled in fleece blankets and stood in groups among the cars in the parking lot, faces lit up by green and red flashes in the sky.

My little family traveled the day of the wake and arrived for the last viewing hour. Walking up the stairs at the funeral home, I followed my wife and daughter inside in a daze. Finn marched right up to the casket, oblivious to her mother, grandmother, and a hundred other people, and inspected Grampy closely. It took me a while to warm up into greetings and making small talk with my family, but after an hour or so I got my brain working and became sociable.

We left, got changed, and walked down the street to my uncle’s house, where deli plates were being dropped off and the drinks were pouring. Finn found herself a place on the porch swing next to my oldest cousin and easily held her own with the crowd. Later, when seats were at a premium, she secured her spot by bringing dessert back for her seatmate; that kid is getting smarter every day.

The service was held in a small lakeside Catholic church where Grampy went to Mass before the shrinking congregation consolidated to another parish. I sat in the third pew with eight of my cousins, dressed like the cast of Reservoir Dogs, as pallbearers. The service was capped with eulogies from cousins and children, ending with a history written by my father and filled with details I’m sure few of us had heard before. Then the piper started up outside and we carried him to the hearse.

His gravesite is beautiful, set up on a hill facing west toward the lake. After a short service we adjourned to the Inn for drinks and light food on the back lawn, and then to my Uncle Brian’s farm for barbecue and a larger party. To see my daughter playing in the barnyard with her cousins filled me with joy; it was a small taste of my experience visiting Grampy’s farm 40 years ago, running free and full of life, which is how all funerals should be celebrated.

Date posted: July 20, 2015 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »