Murdering the Hours

Working on the railroad
Working on the railroad

Charles Bukowski used to go to the racetrack as often as possible for something to do during the day, or as he called it: “To murder and mutilate the hours.” In his book The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship he wrote: “It gets boring, even when you’re winning. But where else could I go? An art museum?”

So on this rainy March morning with a high wind advisory and gusts between 40-60 mph I asked myself what am I going to do all day. And for some reason I decided to go to a museum, not an art museum but The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg.

It was fairly interesting with many badly lit displays and signs that asked you not to climb on the best things like the fancy dining cars and hundred year old steam engines. There were also a lot of mannequins dressed in period clothing posed in trains, storefronts and working on the railroad.

I walked up the stairs on one of the few locomotives that allowed it and what I thought was a dummy reading the newspaper was actually an old man who wanted desperately to talk to someone, about not suprisingly, trains.

A few minutes later I saw what I thought were costumed workers setting up a new exhibit, but this time it was dummies. I was fooled again, fooled by things because I wasn’t paying enough attention.

Shunryu Suzuki once said: “The kind of life you have is not so important. The most important thing is to be able to enjoy your life without being fooled by things.”

That seems to be good advice although the part about the kind of life you have not being important is a bit confusing. I’ll start off with trying not to get fooled again, maybe even tipping my hat to the new constitution.

Note to self: Buy a hat.

Face Off

Horse (obviously)
Horse (obviously)

I was on the way home this afternoon and couldn’t resist stopping in at Aaron and Jessica’s Amish Buggy Rides to get more practice with my 35mm lens. I didn’t see Aaron or Jessica but there were two horses standing there probably wondering why tourists get so excited about a buggy ride.

I wanted to see how close I could get, the specs say the minimum focus distance is 11.81 inches but I rarely bring my ruler so I had to guess. I was talking to him and even calling him by name but he wouldn’t turn to face me. It occurred to me that there was a distinct possibility that his name was not Mister Ed and for all I knew he only understood Amish.

Finally as another buggy was pulling up he turned around to look at me for a split second and I took this shot. American Horse trainer Pat Parelli once said: “If your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question, or asked the question wrong.”

Note to self: Learn Pennsylvania Dutch or at least get the horse’s real name.

Reconsidering Attachments


Brad Warner, author of ZEN Wrapped in Karma and Dipped in Chocolate said: “True nonattachment is understanding that you are fundamentally attached to everything and, through that understanding, dropping your attachment to the view that you are detached from that which you encounter.

At the same time, real nonattachment means not clinging to things or people. It means dropping the idea that if you don’t have this or if you can’t get that, your life will be a catastrophe.”

I wish I read that before I went shopping for a new car this week, the decision would have been much easier and probably much less expensive. Or not.

The Aristocrats

Strasburg Rail Road Station
Strasburg Rail Road Station

“There was an air of indifference about them, a calm produced by the gratification of every passion; and through their manners were suave, one could sense beneath them that special brutality which comes from the habit of breaking down half-hearted resistances that keep one fit and tickle one’s vanity—the handling of blooded horses, the pursuit of loose women.” Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary

Note: I did not speak to this woman so I have no idea if she’s loose.

Nothing Is Free

Free for the taking
Free for the taking

Toba Beta, author of Master of Stupidity wrote: “Nothing is for free, even in heaven.” But driving around the back roads of Lancaster, Pennsylvania today I proved him wrong. I was thinking about nothing in particular when I saw them, not one, not two but three FREE gently used tractor tires.

I stopped to take a look, wondering what I could do with such a generous gift from a simple Amish farmer. My first thought was to buy a tractor, but I don’t have a garage. Then I considered making tire swings for the kids, but I live in an apartment and don’t have any kids.

After what seemed like hours but was probably minutes of racking my brain I realized that I had no need for them at all. But it bothered me, after all they were free. As free as a fly, as free as light, as free as a mountain bird, but to me they were useless unless I become a hoarder (briefly considered).

Robert A. Heinlein once said: “Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain.” Dammit.

First Impressions-Sony 35mm f/1.8


White-Rose f/1.8
White-Rose f/1.8

The Sony 35mm 1.8 lens for my A6000 came yesterday and I wanted to experiment. Since its snowing, sleeting and raining today I decided to shoot indoors. To conduct a proper test I put some large white roses on a shaky table, set up two daylight balanced full spectrum bulbs with reflectors, forgot to turn off the lamp with the regular bulb and drank four cups of iced coffee. But I did use a tripod and an iShoot L bracket, shot in manual and used the self timer.

My first impression with this lens is that the closest I can get is about a foot away, so filling the frame without cropping will take some thought. It seems that focusing wide open this close is tough but easier at f/4 and above with enough light. The lens goes from f/1.8 to f/22 although the sharpest aperture is probably about f/8, which I will obsessively determine on the next sunny day above 30 degrees.

The main reason to use a fixed focal length prime lens is that it encourages you to focus on composition. If you need to zoom you move closer, which is easy unless you’re on the bank of a lake or river, in which case you simply buy a boat. Prime lenses are also compact, allegedly sharper and sometimes inexpensive although not this one. The Sony 50mm f/1.8 is about $200 dollars cheaper but it’s also bigger and depending on what you photograph possibly not the perfect all around lens.

I plan to shoot wide open or a stop down with flowers so I really wanted to see what the rose looked like at f/1.8. The flower is past its prime and so am I and this photo is far from perfect. But as cinematographer Conrad Hall said: “There is a kind of beauty in imperfection.” I think I like Marilyn Monroe’s quote better: “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”


Kitchen Sink Mentality


Kitchen Sink
Kitchen Sink

“Are you searching for purpose?
Then write something, yeah it might be worthless
Then paint something then, it might be wordless
Pointless curses, nonsense verses
You’ll see purpose start to surface
No one else is dealing with your demons
Meaning maybe defeating them
Could be the beginning of your meaning, friend.”

Twenty One Pilots – Kitchen Sink

I’ll Fix It in Photoshop

The Photo Shop
The Photo Shop

Some people understand that in photography it’s all about the light. They scout out a location, set up a tripod, check their camera settings and patiently wait for the golden hour that usually lasts a few minutes.

Other people will shoot something they find interesting when they’re standing in front of it, even if conditions aren’t perfect. I’ll fix it in Photoshop they think to themselves, sometimes converting to black and white or using a filter or special effect.

The problem is that photography is all about the light, and most of the time you can’t make a bad photo great by playing with curves, levels, exposure and all the other tools in Photoshop.

Award winning photographer Jay Maisel once said: “There is no bad light. There is spectacular light and difficult light. It’s up to you to use the light you have.” I think that’s a little like saying there are no bad dogs, but if you watch The People’s Court cases with flesh eating Pit bulls you might disagree.

I’m posting this photo as an example of what not to do because the light was bad and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop. I can go back this afternoon with a tripod and patiently wait, maybe even get a great sunset reflected in the windows, or I can remind myself of another Jay Maisel quote: “There is no one solution to all problems. It’s the problem itself that can lead to the solution.”

I think a giant sandwich and an afternoon nap in a nice warm bed might be the solution in this case. If it’s good enough for Dagwood it’s good enough for me.

You Are What You Eat

Fancy feast
Fancy feast

Ernest Becker, the quintessential optimist and sometimes life of the party had a thing about worms. It’s possible that he was also an avid fisherman or gardener, although there was no mention of that in his biography.

One of my favorite of his worm quotes is from a book he wrote that won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1974:

“What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax, which is why one type of cultural man rebels openly against the idea of God. What kind of deity would create such a complex and fancy worm food?”

Reflecting on this has got me through many hours at the lake when the trout weren’t biting. But I think David Gerrold said the same thing in a better way: “Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.”

Food for thought.