What’s Wrong With News?

I quit paying attention to the news, this time, on November 5, 2014, the day after the most recent mid-term elections. I’ve done this before, although it’s probably been a couple of decades since the last time.

If you’re wondering why, it’s because both local and national television news is either depressing, they’re trying to scare me, or it’s junk feel-good entertainment. Don’t believe me? Check out America’s most-watched newscast.

Once highly-respected, world-class news organizations are assigning producers to scour YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to find videos and photographs of cutesie crap for the last third of the evening “news”-cast.

The stuff that gets into “the news” has no effect on my life. The day-to-day shit they throw at us isn’t worth anything. So that’s why I no longer check Web sites for local, national, or international news. I don’t look at local news or national news on television, either. If something important happens, something that effects my life, I’ll know about it.

I’m feeling much better.

Veteran’s Day 2014

I served. 1966 to 1969. I spent a year in Vietnam. Today those who are closest to me have thanked me for my service. One even dared to suggest that I kept her safe.

To set the record straight, the Vietcong had no interest in attacking the United States of America. Neither did North Vietnam. Even Ho Chi Minh’s successors, a committee that included Defense Minister General Vo Nguyen Giap, had no interest in attacking the United States of America. I did nothing to keep anyone but myself safe. Regrettably over 58,000 (I still tear up at that number) American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines were not as successful as I was. The goverment lied; too many died.

Few of us were heroes. Whether we were drafted or volunteered, we showed up, did what was expected, then went home. When we got “back to the world” we were at best ignored, and at worst spit upon. This wasn’t exactly the homecoming we expected. However, most of us got over our time “in country.” Some didn’t.

Now we have a new generation that has signed up to protect our country. Yes, a small band of criminals commandeered some airplanes and flew them into important buildings. Rather than go after those who financed and planned that attack, the sitting administration convinced a congress, and a nation, that invasion of and a multi-year war in a country that had nothing to do with the initial attack, was somehow responsible and deserving of shock and awe.

Here we go again. This time the hippies of the 70s who protested war in Vietnam believed the lies and turned into pro-Iraq war ideologues. The Bush administration lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction and connections to 9/11. The reasons for doing so can only be guessed, but oil, war profiteering and personal glory are high on the list. It hurts me to suggest that only 4,400 American service members perished in Iraq. That number would have been much higher except for the incredible advances in medical science since my war.

The other significant difference between then and now is how veterans of this recent conflict are treated upon their return. The most offensive, in my mind, is that those who did nothing more than show up are hailed as heroes.

I guess my point in all this is that those of us who served forty-some-odd years ago have been under appreciated and those who put on the uniform today are fêted beyond reason. Al Quaida shot its wad in 2001. Another attack approaching that scale is not going to happen anytime soon. Attending a war does not justify heroic status. Saving lives on the actual battlefield does.

I’m not bitter, but I expect perspective.

iMac Order

Jen didn’t need a lot of convincing; she’s perfectly fine allowing me to spend my own money. Ha! I was going to do it anyway; it’s just easier if she buys into the idea. So, I’ve ordered a fully “tricked-out” 27-inch iMac. It’s not the new retina version; I don’t really need a screen with 14.7 million pixels. A quarter of that will do fine.

For me, fully tricked out means I’m getting the upgraded i7 processor, a 512GB solid state drive, and a 4GB GPU. I’m skimping on RAM –- only 16GB. RAM is cheap and easily upgradable. If I eventually decide I’d be better served by 32GB of memory I can do it myself.

Managing Data

One of the faults of my mid-2011 MacBook Air is the 128GB solid state drive. If you haven’t paid much attention to computer technology the last several years you’ll think, “Fault? In what Universe is 128 gigs of data storage too small?”

The truth is 128 is a pittance with today’s Operating Systems and Applications that take up a significant chunk of storage even before Dropbox, music, photos, and a lifetime of files begin competing for space. A 512GB solid state drive will mean I won’t have to push regularly accessed data off to secondary drives. And it will be fast. Very fast. That makes me happy.

Speed

Another flaw in the MacBook Air is that the processor is the bottom of the line – the least capable Apple was putting into computers three years ago. The result has been I spend too much time waiting for the beachball to stop spinning, especially when I’m working with RAW photos. That brings up the other speed concern. A 4GB graphics card will probably never be taxed by my photos. Isn’t that the point?

From the old 30GB Video iPod (circa 2005) I still use, to an iPhone 4s that’s in my pocket right now, to the first generation iPad Mini on which I’m writing this, I’ve been an Apple minimalist. My MacBook Air is a marvelous machine if used at the level for which it was intended. Unfortunately for it, and me, high-volume photo editing and storage exceeds its capabilities. Now I have the opportunity to upgrade to a system that’s almost state of the art. I won’t say, “I deserve this.” But I have been getting good stuff done with nominal equipment. Now I have the opportunity to speed up my life.

I’m retired; every day is Saturday. I have no place to be unless I want to be there. Yet staring at a screen waiting for that beach ball to quit spinning is robbing me of precious minutes. I have photos that need to be catalogued and edited, and there are golf balls to be struck. If I have to sit around waiting for that damn beach ball to quit spinning, think how much retirement I’ll miss. There, that’s a tragedy.

Yosemite

Note: Non-Apple people are encouraged to skip this one as it will make little difference to your life.

I spent a few days this week upgrading the operating systems on the MacBook Air to OSX Yosemite (OSX 10.10) and my iPad and iPhone to iOS 8.1. The entire process has been easier than anticipated. I did essentially a clean install on the phone, which almost tripled my free space. I did nothing fancy on the iPad, but the upgrade went smoothly. When I got to the MacBook I was contemplating a clean install (“Nuke and Pave” per Katie Floyd of the Mac Power Users podcast) but decided to just load Yosemite over the top of Mavericks. However I’m considering a re-install with a wiped drive. I think I have the guts to do it. I’ll need several hours to get it done but I expect the result to be more drive space and a sense of satisfaction for having successfully accomplished something that’s a little outside my comfort zone.

OSX Yosemite

Generally I’m OK with the new Operating System. I haven’t found anything to squawk about so far. The concerns I had about iCloud Drive have been resolved, most by waiting for App upgrades from developers. I’m reading John Siracusa’s analysis of Yosemite and it’s guiding me through attributes I might not have noticed or been confused by.

Some things have been moved from their traditional locations. Example: Accessing Disk Utility was formerly done by clicking the so-named button on the Storage tab in About this Mac. It doesn’t exist in Yosemite. But after a few minutes of, “Oh, man… What am I going to do now?” I figured out I could look for Disk Utility in Alfred. No problem, and using Alfred is faster than drilling down through the  menu.

My old eyes have to strain a bit to see many of the interface items, so I’ve taken advantage of system settings that increase contrast and decrease transparency. Much of the hyperbole has centered on how wonderful Yosemite looks on a retina display — which I don’t own. It looks fine on my old 20" monitor.

Ever since its Worldwide Developer’s Conference in June, Apple has indicated that the new toys in Yosemite/iOS 8 would play well on a mid–2011 MacBook Air (MBA). Now that I’ve installed the new OSs their tune has changed. My MBA will not run the Continuity stuff, which was mostly the reason I’ve spent the last several days updating Operating Systems.

Underpowered Air

When I bought my MacBook Air I was really impressed. It’s extremely portable and it had enough processor and RAM to do what I wanted; then I took up photography. It wasn’t long before I ran out of drive space. If that wasn’t bad enough, the image software I use taxes both the dual-core processor and the 4GB of RAM.

Shopping

In order to have enough computing power to work the way I want I’ll need a new computer, which I’m perfectly happy doing — a non-retina 27" iMac with 16GB of memory, and a 1 Terabyte fusion drive, if you please. An iMac would resolve my capacity and performance issues.

Unfortunately Jen would throw large objects at me if I came home with the machine of my dreams.

The Check Up

Yesterday I had my annual “check up” with my endocrinologist/family physician (imagine a kindly Irishman in his mid–60s with a shock of white hair). Prior to our meeting I’d received the results from my “labs” which is common parlance for: I went to the hospital, they withdrew blood from my arm, then sent it where people in lab coats centrifuged, and did god only knows what else, to my bodily fluid. The result was an alpha-numeric report that only the initiated understand.

Normally my results show slightly elevated cholesterol, which is controlled with a small daily dose of a statin, and a dysfunctional thyroid whose functions are simulated by another daily drug. This time the results appeared, to my uninitiated eye, to be significantly outside the norms. I thought I was going to die in the not too distant future, and I didn’t know why.

My lack of initiation into the sisterhood of medical expertise flat out scared the crap out of me. It turns out there are only minor changes to my “conditions.” If I die sooner than later it won’t be because of anything in the blood test results. That’s good news for me and those who enjoy my company. Fools. I need to increase my exercise level and daily water intake, and decrease the amount of sugar I consume. Water will replace the Coca Cola at lunch, and the half Hershey Bar I normally have after dinner will disappear.

Life really is a bitch.

I applaud the technology that makes it possible to view results within a few hours of blood being drawn. The lesson I’ve learned is I don’t understand the code used by medical professionals and therefore have no business trying to interpret them.

Strawberry Summer

My strangest summer in recent memory began on April 27 when I fell off my bicycle, breaking my left elbow and right hand. That was 4 1/2 months after breaking my left collarbone. I’d have difficulty expressing how depressing the whole episode has been. Winter for me is downright depressing so I count on the other three seasons to not be downers. Oh, well…

Eventually my bones healed; but it was mid-summer when I finally got my golf game on, although my results have been a mixed bag. I’ve been shooting between low-nineties to mid-eighties at my home course, then well into the one hundred teens at other venues. Humbling. Frustrating. Infuriating.

Eventually my game settled down, sort of. The front nine most days reflects excessive scores; the back close to what I expect. sboncheerios

Through all this I managed to survive because I had one constant that kept me grounded from mid-spring through summer — strawberries.

I’ve eaten strawberries on ice cream; I’ve eaten them on my morning cereal. If I could find a reason to core and slice the luscious red goodness onto anything I did it. Essentially, the way to sanity during my tribulations has been through a sweet red berry. I’m OK with that.

Crowd Funding Woes

Crowd funding through something like KickStarter is a pretty good idea if it’s monitored for fraud and other crimes. Reading John Gruber’s Daring Fireball I learned of a project in which he and other tech geniuses are participating. I wanted to throw a few bucks into the pot. Unfortunately the only way to access the donation screen on KickStarter is through Facebook.

I have a problem with Facebook and every other social media application. My problem is they are free, and if they’re free the only way they make enough money to stay in business is selling my data to advertisers. I hate advertisers.

I don’t like being marketed to. That’s why I’ve backed away from using Google as much as possible and I won’t use Facebook. I have a mostly anonymous Twitter account that I only use for logging into a select group of Web sites for the purpose of commenting. I’m not sure I could maintain an equal level of anonymity doing the same on Facebook. I’ve never even been tempted to look at any of the other social applications.

Fortunately the project in which I was interested has met its funding goal without my help. But I’m lamenting the fact that I could not participate without becoming a social media maven. Woe is me.

I’ve got Granola In My Bra

In 2013 Jen suggested that we spend time at an “off-the-grid” cabin. I pictured a Kaczynski-esque shack deep in the woods. The thought of roughing it without electricity and internet for days filled me with fear. I strongly resisted.

This year she presented the concept differently. Now it was a cabin that was part of a complex in the Red River Gorge National Park, nothing to get uptight about. I figured, OK, as long as I’m not in the middle of nowhere with only hungry bears for companionship I would probably survive. We made the reservation and off we went.

Arrival Day

We arrived at the park on Nada Tunnel Road,nadatunnel the tunnel being one lane hewn through sandstone a few hundred feet tall and about an eighth of a mile long (my guess). It’s a spectacular introduction to Red River Gorge. We stopped short in a pull off area from the road then did a little exploring and photography.

A couple of miles past the tunnel we came to the rental office for our cabin. We met the owner, grabbed a park map (this will become important later) and got directions to the cabin.

As we climbed a steep, rocky and rutted road in low gear we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Had we bitten off more than we could chew? We found the hillside parking area. The instructions had said something about a 40-yard, aggressive climb; it was closer to 100-yards and it was definitely aggressive. The climb was worth the effort as we found ourselves staring at a wonderful little cabin in the woods. It really was a tough cabin climb so after some consultation we agreed on a system where Jen would bring our gear up the first half, then I would take it the rest of the way. We made four trips using that method, getting everything we needed into the cabin. We were exhausted.

We evaluated our situation, we really were off the grid. Water was delivered by hand pump and there was no electricity, no cell service, no wi-fi, we were cut off.

First Excursion

After recovering we discussed our adventure options for the remainder of the day. We had passed a parking area that the map showed to be a trailhead. We decided convenient was a great idea. We drove down our hill to the Martins Fork Parking Area, the trailhead for three different trails. We selected the longest, the Rough Trail, which is anywhere from 7.0 to 8.2 miles, depending on your source. The goal was to get to Gray’s Arch, the closest attraction to our cabin, about two miles up the trail.

We started walking and found Rough Trail to be not so difficult, following a creek upstream, gently making our way uphill. At about the 1-1/4 mile point we arrived at a portion of the trail where it narrowed, diverged from the creek and began an aggressive move up the hill. Jen forged ahead while I brought up the rear. We climbed a couple hundred yards then the trail narrowed even more and showed no sign of leveling off. We decided two old ladies had had enough after our exertions getting moved into the cabin. checkers_byheadlampDown the hill we went. We got ourselves back up the hill to the cabin, soaked our feet in icy well water and drank beer. Life was really good.

We had hotdogs and beans for dinner, then as darkness fell we began a checker match lighted only by our headlamps. At some point we realized we’d arrived at a stalemate. We made some noise about trying to build a fire in the pit; but that would have required more effort than we were interested in exerting. It was time for bed.

Day Two – Adventure Time

Cabin management had given us a map that seemed more complete than the one we’d gotten at REI. Unfortunately both maps left off critical information, like the location of roads that provided access to attractions we were interested in visiting. We were confused. Confusion be damned; we were on vacation! So off we went in search of attractions.

After beating ourselves up the previous day we decided we’d spend this day seeing attractions that were one-half mile or less from parking areas. Unfortunately we were unable to find any of them. However we came upon the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Center & Learning Site, a fancy name for a fancy ranger station. Inside the center we were drawn to the information desk where Rick the Ranger gave us a map with a larger scale and more detailed information. He showed us how to access points of interest (hint: roads not apparent on the previous two maps.).

With better information in-hand we first headed off in search of Sky Bridge. Along our way we stopped at a couple of overlooks that provided views of the valleys and gorgeous sandstone cliffs that are characteristic of the region.

Sky Bridge

Sky Bridge Sky Bridge is a sandstone arch that bridges a gap. As we walked across the bridge we considered whether we should follow the trail down the other side then back up on the parking lot side of the arch. The sign had said it’s only one mile, so we figured, why not?

We took the stairway down to “ground level” then began walking along a sandstone wall back toward the car park; within a hundred yards we found the arch. On top of the arch it had been hot and muggy. In the shade of the arch there was a strong, cool breeze. We loved that part. After hanging around under the arch for a bit it was time to move on, the sandstone <img src=”http://tinypal.com/wordpress/?p=110″ alt=”[Jen catching the breeze] cliff on our right. We were hoping the terrain would gradually climb to get us back up to the car park — it was a nice hike until we arrived at the stairs going up. We climbed and climbed and climbed, then climbed some more; but eventually we crested — in the parking lot.

We drove back to the main road then proceeded to the parking area for the next attraction on our list, Angel Windows, which are more arches formed by erosion,

Angel Windows

The parking area at Angel Windows afforded us a little shade. The time was about noon and we realized two things; we were hungry and the only food we had was a bag of granola. We scarfed it down, chasing it with water. Yum. As we completed our snack and prepared ourselves for our next walk, Jen exclaimed, “Oh, man… I’ve got granola in my bra!” Too funny.

Angel WindowsThe map said from the parking lot to Angel Windows was only one-quarter of a mile, a mere 440 yards, nothing. Off we went, happily on our way, until we got to the first downhill portion of the trail which was a little steep. We considered the implications of climbing back up the hill (remember, we’re older Americans) but continued on anyway because, hey, it’s just a quarter of a mile. We continued on the trail and eventually arrived at the attraction which consisted of two triangular openings in the sandstone that were pretty neat. The photograph at the left doesn’t show the openings are tall enough for an average sized adult to stand.

After wandering the area for a bit we decided it was time to head back to the car. We did OK in the uphill portions of the trail; although we did stop to catch our breaths a couple of times. When we got back to the car we checked the map and decided Chimney Top Rock should be our next stop.

Chimney Top Rock

Ranger Rick had pointed out the gravel road leading to the parking area for Chimney Top Rock and a couple of other attractions, saying it was about 3 miles long but would seem like forever. He wasn’t that wrong. After arrival we checked our information and decided Chimney Top Rock was our best option, it was only a quarter-mile, right?

A Dangerous Place signThe first thing we saw as we started on the trail was a sign that described the dangers of falling to our deaths if we got too close to the edge on the trail. As it turned out there were several opportunities in that quarter-mile that a few steps off the trail would have put one at great risk. We stayed in the center; when we arrived at the end of the trail there was a formal viewing area that allowed us to see many of the sandstone formations.

Contrary to our expectations Chimney Top Rock turned out to be a viewing area rather than an opportunity to see the rock we were standing upon. If that was a disappointment, the view was not.

view from chinmey top

After getting our fill of the view we headed back to the car. It was now mid-afternoon and other than water and granola we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. We had no choice but to head for downtown Slade, Kentucky and the “world famous” Miguel’s Pizza and Rock Climbing Shop. Miguel’s walls are decorated with rock climbing equipment, from shoes to rope to hardware — all for miguelssale. They also make a really good pizza. We filled our tummies then headed back into the park and our cabin. After two days of going up and down hills we were challenged hiking back up to the cabin. We decided to park ourselves again soaking our feet in a bucket of well water and sip on a beer while we talked about our activities the last two days.

There were still a couple of items on our to-do list but we weren’t sure whether we’d save them for our next trip or check them off before heading back to Cincinnati.

Day Three – Going Home

July 4 – I awoke to find Jen taking a load down to halfway bench. Our plan is to get everything the staging point, then take our time getting it to the car. So much for best laid plans. We packed the remaining items, secured the cabin, loaded ourselves up, and headed down to the car with everything — in one trip. It was awesome.

Our bodies had made the decision for us — we were going to drive home. Heading out early in the day meant we wouldn’t have to deal with Fourth of July traffic. We made a brief stop, photographing Nada Tunnel from the other side; where it was no less impressive. We were home before noon.

On the drive we decided this would not be our last trip to Red River Gorge. There were enough attractions we didn’t see and hikes we didn’t take that would make the short two-hour drive worth our while. We have committed ourselves to getting into better physical condition so that getting up the hill to the cabin, for example, won’t wear us to the point that we feel obligated to cut activities short.

So, until next time…

Photography Item

Working in Lightroom 5 on second monitor

]1 Pushing pixels in Adobe Lightroom 5

9to5 Mac published an item about Lightroom, including information that an iOS version is available for the iPhone. Thinking Lightroom is part of a pixel pusher’s toolbox and not really suitable for the small screen I posted a comment saying so. The immediate reply was from a pro photographer who uses the iPad version as his initial culling workflow tool before starting the editing process. I hadn’t thought of that, what a great idea. I don’t have the same volume of images the pro does, but I thought maybe I could improve my own workflow by doing the same thing – I don’t need to be sorting through 200 photos on the computer, I don’t do that well. I downloaded Lightroom Mobile for the iPad; heck, it’s free… for 30-days. At the end of that time I’ll be expected to give Adobe some money.  If I could purchase it for a reasonable price I’d consider keeping Lightroom Mobile after the free trial expires. But if the only option puts me into Adobe’s $10 per month rental that includes Photoshop I’ll decline. In either case I expect an opportunity to learn a different workflow; and if Adobe wants big bucks from me I’m certain I’ll be able to find an App that will allow me to sort RAW images on the iPad before sending them on to the real work I do in Lightroom 5 on my Mac.

(UPDATE) After the free trial expired I realized I had not used Lightroom Mobile at all in my workflow. I removed it from my iPad without regret. I’ve gotten better at culling on the big screen and have no doubt I’ll continue to improve.

Birmingham

On a recent trip to Alabama I had the opportunity to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which chronicles the struggles of African-Americans during the early-and mid–20th Century in the South. I found the experience to be moving beyond my expectations.

While at the Institute several busloads of high school-aged children arrived. As they toured the facility I noticed each group had one common characteristic — all were people of color, not one single White child was among the groups I saw. This raised two questions in my mind:

Memorial at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham

Memorial marking the spot where Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion killed four little girls: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley on September 15, 1963.

The first is, do White kids ever get to see what their forebears did and what the effects of those actions were? The second question is, do these children attend segregated schools even today? If so, what was the point?

White kids need to see what happened to Black people during Jim Crow. They also need to know people with a different skin color, and know them on a personal basis. White kids need to know that all people share the same humanity. If they don’t injustice will continue generation after generation.

One of the exhibits showed the differences between typical classrooms for White and Black children during the middle of the 20th Century. It doesn’t take a genius to know that White kids learned in state-of-the-art classrooms while Blacks were given leftovers from a bygone era. Teachers in Black schools were paid significantly less than their White counterparts, which meant that people with the skill and motivation to be great teachers had to find work in other fields to provide for their families.

The tragedies of the status-quo are numerous. The parents of White children scrimp to get their children into segregated private schools for no reason other than fear. Black parents typically have fewer resources so their children are forced into substandard schools where they don’t learn what is needed to compete for high-end jobs in a global marketplace (forgive me for generalizing here, but it doesn’t take a social scientist to observe reality). With nothing to disrupt it the cycle will continue for generations, into eternity.

My education and experience have not provided me with the answers to resolve the present dilemma, but I’d like to offer a few ideas anyway:

  1. Stop giving tax dollars to so-called Charter Schools and dis-incentivize religious schools. The goal must be to educate children in a diverse learning environment, not indoctrinate them. In addition to reading and arithmetic, children must learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Not every child will excel but each should be familiar with the concepts. Home-schooled children, who most likely will miss diversity, must demonstrate their knowledge in these areas before being credited with having passed high school.
  2. Provide incentives to parents who put and keep their children in schools with ethnic and cultural diversity. There’s a genius somewhere with the skills to write an algorithm that will account for the percentage of students with different ethnicities and cultures then provide tax incentives for parents who keep their children in public schools with the most diverse ratios.
  3. Affirmative Action is a well-meaning program that has missed the point because people of color who have the skills to compete on an equal footing with anyone are labeled as having been given special treatment. Again, I don’t have a solution, but surely there’s a way to eliminate the stigma of studying and working while Black. If rocket scientists can invent the credit default swaps that tanked the economy in 2008, surely a few can be found who can fix social inequality.

Life isn’t fair. Some will be born with the silver spoon, others with leaking Canadian tar sands. In a civil society, neither social station at birth nor biology should define destiny. Well-meaning Blacks and Whites, despite our best intentions, have been abject failures at resolving the inequities that have continued for more than fifty years because we lack whatever it is (knowledge? skill? commitment?) that will make society right.

It’s time to change our methodology or we’ll live with the status quo for a long damn time.