Close-Up Photography with the Sony A9 + FE 55mm F/1.8

So this is a bit of a joke.  The FE 55mm is in no way a macro lens.  Its closest focus is about a foot away and so with a 55mm focal length it’s basically a normal size image.  The twist is that because the A9 allows autofocus in a magnified view you can get incredibly exact focus on small things like insects from that 12 inches away and then you can crop the image to look like a macro shot.  What follows is a series of images followed by a crop of the focal point.  I found it pretty easy to get even hyperactive bugs like the bees and wasps to end up in focus.  This was my first day with the camera. These photos are just jpgs. I don’t have the latest Lightroom rev that works with A9 files so these are rough pictures and won’t be reworked to their fullest potential.  Tomorrow I’ll see if I can do anything more sensible with it.

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Trump’s Statement on Charlottesville and What it Says About Him

 

In what kind of bizarro alternate reality does Donald Trump end up as the only man brave enough to speak truth to power?  While all the republican politicians and the alleged right-wing pundits groveled and cowered away from the charges of racism and Nazism being hurled by the Fake News, Donald Trump stood there and dared to proclaim that both sides of the riot at Charlottesville came prepared to spill blood.  This he did clearly, strenuously and repeatedly.  He didn’t cower or equivocate or back-pedal.  He stood his ground.  He used effective logic to show how today’s statue of Robert E Lee would be tomorrow’s Washington Monument or Jefferson Memorial.  Watching him fight the good fight should fill the rest of the right wing with shame and feelings of inadequacy.  How is it possible that a real estate builder whose biggest claim to fame was a tv show that showed him firing make believe employees is basically the only republican in the country with an intact backbone?  How did we get here?

I’ll confess I don’t know the answer.  And I don’t know if Trump can continue to stand up to every power structure in the whole world attacking from every angle.  But I will tell you that as long as he continues to show the courage and stamina to hold his ground, I’ll support him 100%.  If he needs me to send letters to my congress critters I’ll do it.  If he wants to draft me into some kind of geriatric right-wing literary goon squad whose job it is to send nasty letters to Rosie O’Donnell and Nancy Pelosi, I’ll volunteer.  If he needs cash for his defense fund once he’s retired from the White House I’ll send him cash.  Hell, if he needs a getaway car to make a break for the border I’ll drive it.  The man delivers.  He’s fearless and he’s obviously talented.  Damn, I wish he’d been president during 9-11.  We wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.

What Trump has demonstrated is that if you stand up to the Press and push back you look good and they look stupid and dishonest.  If you speak plainly and avoid the weasel words you can get people to understand that the Left isn’t the good guys.  Sometimes they are the villains and we are the good guys, or at least we’re the lesser of two evils.

I’ve said it before jokingly but now I’m saying it completely seriously.  Trump is the best American President in my lifetime.  And that includes Reagan.  Reagan was a great president and a good man.  But Trump has been plopped down in the greatest meltdown in American history and every day he’s wrestling with the most dysfunctional array of fake newscasters, politicians, special interest groups and corporate thugs ever assembled.  And despite that he’s getting done what can be done through the power of the executive branch.  And even there he’s being harassed and sabotaged by deep state bureaucrats and operatives at every turn.  Reading the news, I wonder how long a man his age can stand up to the pounding.  But I’ll offer up a fervent prayer that he does survive.

So here’s to you President Trump.  As I’ve said before, you’re a crazy son of a bitch.  But you’re our crazy son of a bitch and the only one who just may save this country from collectivist oblivion.

Snowpiercer: A Sci-Fi Movie Review

Back at the beginning of the summer one of my relatives recommended this movie to me.  He’s a sci-fi fan but of course tastes vary.  Well anyway, I watched it last week and it was bizarre.  The premise of the movie is basically ridiculous.  As a way to combat global warming, humans treat the atmosphere of earth with a chemical that ends up plunging them into an ice age.  The temperature drop is so severe that all human life is destroyed except for a tiny remnant that lives on a train that constantly circles the planet.  This is the eponymous “Snowpiercer.”  So, this is the first problem with the movie.  If the earth was becoming cold and uninhabitable would you build a train as a refuge?  I would think that an insulated bunker somewhere near the equator would make sense.  Or something under the ocean would remain warm for centuries.  It’s just a ridiculous idea.

Put the inconceivable nature of the premise aside and let’s look at the story.  The train has a population that is stratified by position on the train.  The back cars of the train are inhabited by the wretched refuse who are crowded into cattle cars and fed protein concentrate bars that look like sludge.  Moving forward the environment and the inhabitants become progressively more fortunate until by the front few cars we have the elite who live in luxury and eat delicacies like sushi and fresh fruit.  The proles in the rear are controlled by armed guards and punished for infractions with barbaric violence.  When a man whose child is taken away by one of the rulers throws his shoe at her we see an example of this.  For this offense, his arm is exposed through a gasketed aperture in the side of the train to the frigid gale whipping past the train.  After eleven minutes, his arm is brought back in and struck with a sledge hammer.  The arm shatters like one of those rubber balls that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen and bounced off the floor.  That’ll teach him!

The majority of the movie is the chronicle of the revolt of the proles and their battle to reach the front of the train and conquer their overlords.  Along the way we see details of how the ecosystem of the Snowpiercer works.  The prole food is revoltingly produced while the elite have whole car lengths of aquariums full of rare fish and rain forests of plant life to produce food and purify the water.  We also get some of the back story to explain how the proles became so downtrodden and the greater horrors that transpired when they first entered into the train.  The details are horrific and make you wonder why these people even bothered to keep struggling.

And finally, the climax occurs when the proles reach the engine.  At this point we learn the answer to how this train maintains the balance between life and death.  And we meet the engineer, Ed Harris, who charms us into seeing his point of view.  And of course, the movie ends on a catastrophic reversal that resolves the whole thing.

So, is it any good?  Parts of it are interesting and some of the characters are fun to watch.  I especially enjoy Tilda Swinton as the schoolmarmish sadist who has the man’s armed frozen off.  She’s quite demented fun.  But I’d say as a movie it’s just too jumbled a mixture of action, sci-fi and human drama to recommend.  It’s just too nuts.  But maybe there is an audience out there for this.  But it’s not me.

Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1

Years ago, I had read that Cowboy Bebop might have been one of the influences on the making of the TV show Firefly.  Being a big fan of Firefly, you would have thought that I would have tracked it down and watched Cowboy Bebop long ago.  And you would have been wrong.  I never did.  Now this might have been because it was an animated series.  Or maybe because it wasn’t originally an English language show.  Or maybe because I figured it wasn’t as good as Firefly.  Who knows?  Anyway, I started watching the first few episodes last week.  My first conclusion is that Joss Whedon definitely borrowed heavily from the look and feel of Cowboy Bebop.  Secondly, it is an enjoyable show and stands on its own merits.  Now let me qualify that second statement.  It’s a cartoon.  The characters and the action are larger than life.  When a gun fight breaks out bullets saturate every last square inch of wall space around the protagonist.  Every fight has fists and feet flying in all directions and every facial close up has clenched jaw muscles and popping eyes.  Basically, everything is exaggerated to cartoon level.  Oh, and there’s a Welsh Corgi as part of the crew of a space travelling bounty hunters.  Suffice it to say that reality is in no way a condition for something showing up in this show.  But the characters have consistent personalities, the look of the show is very well done, there’s a fascinating backstory with terrible enemies and mysterious women and the plots although wildly unrealistic are (in my opinion) enjoyable.  As I’ve said, I’ve only watched the first five episodes but I like it well enough to want to keep watching it.

 

Alright, now what’s it about?  Cowboy Bebop is a space ship that so far has a crew of three humans and one Welsh Corgi.  They are bounty hunters who work for whatever government (or other organization) that can provide a large enough pay day.  Like on Firefly the culture seems to be a combination of American and Chinese culture.  Also, as on Firefly, humans inhabit a number on moons and planets (but this time within our own solar system).  Cowboy Bebop seems to work on both sides of the interface between the criminal and legal spheres.  Their biggest problems seem to be monetary.  They are chronically short of funds.  The protagonist is named Spike and seems to be a young man in his thirties who enjoys his job as much for the fighting as for the rewards.  In his past, he worked for a very high-level mob boss.  Spike’s partner is an older man with a much angrier façade but can also be depended on in a fight.  The similarities to Mal and Jane Cobb in Firefly are pretty strong.  The regularity with which the ship comes up empty handed after a mission is also a point of similarity to Firefly.

I consider that I prefer live action movies to animation but I’ll go on record as saying that Cowboy Bebop seems a highly creative show and has many features that make it interesting and entertaining.  I look forward to seeing the remainder of the series and will report back on its qualities.

 

So now I know where Whedon got his inspiration.  And maybe his own effort may not have been the superior to the model.

Charlottesville (or Black Lives Matter Without the Good Press and Government Support)

The sides are beginning to square off.  Very hard to predict how things will go.  Apparently, the genie is starting to get out of the bottle.  Maybe it’s my imagination but it seems a little hushed right now.  The calm before the storm?  Well you cannot blather on about flashpoints.  It’s a waste of space.  You have to watch them in real time.  Critical mass?  Hard to say.  Watch and see.

James Damore

Probably so much has been written about this young man that anything I write is bound to be at least somewhat repetitive.  So, instead I’ll tell you what bothers me about this situation.  This is a pretty idealistic good-hearted kid who just got railroaded by the richest company in the world and then pilloried by the press.  Can you imagine how his parents feel?  Can you imagine how he feels?  I listened to him answering the charges trumped up by the media.  They did everything they could to twist his statements into misogynistic and somehow even racist sentiments.  His answers were measured and well expressed and very much to the point.  His facts were accurate and his whole approach was reasonable and genuine.  He struck me as a very intelligent and very young man.  Naïve is also how I’d describe him.  I think he was genuinely surprised that he would be punished the way he was for opinions that were moderate and reasonable.  I think his sin is believing the words that his employer told him.  James Damore believed Google when they said that those with different opinions could speak openly at Google and have no reason to fear.  That was the lie.  Someone of my generation knows that is the leftist lie.  It is a recasting of the basis of the story “Animal Farm.”  Basically, it is a way of saying, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Well, he’s just learned that lesson.  Chances are he’ll be just fine.  Anyone who goes to multiple Ivy League schools probably won’t be out on the streets anytime soon.  And I’m sure that his family connections will allow him to bounce back from this setback.  So maybe this will make him a wiser man.  But he’s just learned a hard truth.  Because he’s a normal white male, he’s a second-class citizen and nobody is going to come to his defense at Google or any other Fortune 500 company if he tells the emperor that he has no clothes.  He’ll be cast into the outer darkness where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Anyone over the age of thirty knows how the corporate diversity speak works.  We’re all told how important it is and to what lengths we must go to make it work.  And if you want to hold onto your job you’ll keep quiet and go along at least to the extent of keeping your opinions to yourself.  That’s what James Damore will do from now on.

But the most important thing that comes out of this whole circus is that more and more people are finding out just how pathetically twisted the whole diversity sham has become.  It’s become a religion from which no dissent is tolerated or allowed to survive.  Possibly this will re-open the debate about the whole government affirmative action racket.  Maybe something finally will be done by the Supreme Court.

I wish the best for James in the future.  I hope he goes on to great success as a software programmer or whatever tech specialization he possesses.  Maybe someday he’ll own a company of his own and then he can treat people the way he says he thinks they should be treated.  But I just hope he fires the first person who tells him he has to hire more women.  That would seem to be poetic justice.

So good luck James and welcome to the real world.  It ain’t pretty.

Quail Fail – A Cautionary Tale

Bob, the Wayward Quail

 

About 10 minutes down the road from me is a field that is surrounded by corn fields, dairy farms and suburban neighborhoods.  This sizable tract of land is covered by a patchwork of hayfields, grain patches, high grass and brush, small stands of trees, puddles and even a streamlet.  The owner stocks this area with game birds.  It provides hunters with access to pheasant, quail and partridge.  Where I live there is an abundance of turkey and duck that move respectively through wood and pond at will.  With respect to other bird life, the air is full of hawks and even bald eagle.  At night, a particularly annoying Barred Owl often serenades me and Camera Girl at about 1:45 a.m. from a perch seemingly right outside my bedroom window.  Only state firearm ordinances and my inherent laziness has saved this avian jerk from reaping the large caliber comeuppance he so richly deserves.  During the day the bird song is much more melodious.  Finches, robins, sparrows, titmice, jays, catbirds, cardinals and orioles abound.  And for viewing interest there are the fascinating hummingbirds.  Basically we’re flush with feathered friends.

So why would I be looking to add to their numbers?  The answer is ticks.  Connecticut is the Lyme disease capitol of the Universe.  Apparently scenic Lyme Connecticut was so inviting that even the lowly spirochete responsible for this malady heard how great it is there and decided to immigrate.  Having been blessed once with the honor of sharing my bloodstream with these delightful one celled creatures I have made it a high priority to pass on a second such honor.  To this end I have devoted a certain amount of thought to lowering the local tick population.  One thing the long-time inhabitants of the area told me was that chickens eat ticks.  That pecking action they’re so famous for allows them to systematically ingest enormous numbers of small creatures including ticks.  This seemed to me a great idea.  Chickens!  I mean, I like chicken.  Fried, baked, souped, casseroled.  I even like them before they are hatched.  Why not bring them in and let them solve my problem.  I did some research.

  • They need a house. Well, okay, why not.  I’ll buy them a house.
  • They need to be fed and watered. Hmmm, that’s a lot of doing stuff.
  • They get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. On Saturday? What the hell is wrong with them.  They sounded a lot like that jerk the Barred Owl.
  • Their house has to be cleaned a lot. Okay, that’s enough.

The cure was worse than the disease.

I returned to my research and looked into what else eats ticks.  Other birds eat ticks.  Yeah, well we’re flush with birds already and they’re not getting the job done.  It turns out that some birds are better at it than others.  And even if chickens were too much trouble there are birds sort of like chickens that also eat a lot of ticks.  I went through the options and the one with the least maintenance was quail.  They’re smaller than pheasants and guinea fowl and peacocks and with just a little help from me they might successfully acclimate to my property and be fruitful and multiply.  This all sounded really good.  Next step get quail.  I went out next day intending to stop by the local quail store and pick up a couple of dozen before heading to the town apothecary and pick up my monthly assortment of leeches.  One solid month of following up leads and I found a friendly regional quail guy.  Negotiations were negotiated and basically, I acceded to all terms.  Which unfortunately meant that the quails would arrive on a day that I was at work (Friday).  No need for panic.  Camera Girl would carry out the transaction and the quails would become part of Orion’s Cold Fire Enterprises with all the rights and responsibilities that entails (eat ticks).  When the appointed hour arrived, I sat at work waiting with bated breath to get the victory message.  “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”

The actual call went slightly differently.  When Camera Girl called up I could tell there had been a hitch.  Quail come packed in a plastic box that basically keeps them in a standing room only enclosure.  Apparently packing them cheek to jowl keeps them from getting too stirred up.  But it also means they are anxious to spread out.  When Camera Girl opened the box door the quail flew out in much the way shaken soda escapes from a bottle, rapidly and straight up.  After the mass of panicked birds departed into the stratosphere and she had stopped blinking in amazement Camera Girl noticed that one bird had remained.  This was the silver lining that was presented to me at the end of the story.  Being a glass half empty kind of guy, I speculated that it probably broke a wing during the melee.  But, being a fair and even-tempered individual, I thanked her for her help in the event told her I’d be following this lone bird’s future career with great interest.  At that point I wrote off the whole thing as a good learning experience, namely that I’d learned that all birds are jerks.

On Saturday morning during our weekly inspection tour of the south forty, Camera Girl was excited to point out that there were now at least two quail skulking around the perimeter of the property.  I should explain that part of the preparations for “Operation Shoot a Bunch of Money into the Sky” was the purchase of what is called a quail field base which consists of a device that provides food and water to quails in your field along with a battery powered electronic quail call that summons the quail to the base.  Even though we only knew of one quail remaining in the immediate neighborhood of the base I activated the quail call.  Every thirty minutes during daylight hours, this call produces a really goofy sounding bird noise which is supposed to lead the quails home to the base.

Well I guess it works.  At least one and possibly several quails are now roaming around my fields and the surrounding woods.  As the kids would say I’m mightily chuffed.  So, Saturday as I was taking close up shots of caterpillars and plants I was able to get close enough to one quail ambling around in the brush to take his photo that I’ve attached above.  The jury is of course still out but it’s entirely possible that maybe not all birds are jerks.

August in the Yard – Closeup Photography – Monarch Caterpillars & Translucent Sprouts

So Camera Girl found two interesting subjects in the yard.  These are all shot with the Sony A7S and the Minolta 200mm F\4 Macro.  This is using the manual focus ring because this is a screw drive AF lens and the adapter only autofocuses motor driven lenses.  But for caterpillars and plants that not such a problem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forbidden Planet – The Quintessential Sci-Fi Movie? – OCF Classic Movie Reviews

A lot of stuff has been said about what makes Forbidden Planet such an important sci-fi movie.  The ground-breaking special effects, the plot element of a human military vessel exploring space that would spawn the endless iterations of the Star Ship Enterprise.  And of course, there’s the classical angle.  Supposedly the plot is an update of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

So, there’s all that good stuff.  But to my mind the real reason can be summed up in two words, Anne Francis.  When the angelic face of Miss Francis first appears on screen I began to see the movie in the correct light.  This was an epic adventure story that rivalled the Odyssey of Homer for timelessness and meaning.  Now the fact that I was a sixteen-year old boy at the time probably colored my thought processes to some extent and the skimpiness of her costumes might even have had something to do with it.  But let’s face it, giant ants can only get you so far.  If you want to keep the natives from getting restless you have to appeal to their most powerful motivations and if a blonde-haired, blue eyed creature with a very pretty face and extremely long shapely unclad legs is brought center stage, suddenly even the acting skills of Leslie Nielsen seem greatly enhanced and worth a fair hearing.

But now that I’m in my dotage and no longer as easily swayed by a pretty face, I’ve had a chance to re-evaluate the movie.  Surprisingly, I’m still a big fan.  And this is despite the obvious weaknesses that are extremely evident in such an old film.  The dialog has some extremely cliché-ridden exchanges including:

  • The captain tells off the young woman because her uninhibited interest in the young men in his crew will be a distraction from military discipline.
  • Morbius displays the stereotypical arrogance of the academic intellectual toward the practical military authorities.
  • The banter provided by the ship’s cook is the comic relief that would seem right at home in an Abbott and Costello movie.

So what makes it good?  Well, the humans are mostly likeable and admirable.  The plot unwinds in a manner that allows for the gradual reveal of the mystery.  Of course, the who of the question is answered long before the why and how of the problem.  But the details provide reinforcement of the underlying lesson to learn.  We are reminded that smarter isn’t the same as perfect.

And the special effects are still pretty good.  The animation of the Krell infrastructure impresses the viewer with the gargantuan scope of the installation.  The humans walking through it literally look like ants at one point.

And finally, the interaction between the isolated inhabitants of this dream world and the crew of the no-nonsense military vessel is classic.  It reminds you of the stories that portray the first contact between Europeans and the South Sea Islands.  The sailors always have a feeling they have somehow discovered paradise with its idyllic climate, scantily clad, friendly women and tropical fruit. The military men are enthralled with how favorably it compares to the boring, spartan existence of their all-male naval vessel.

Are there problems with the story?  Yes.  Morbius seems a little too dense for a brilliant scientist.  The resolution of the crisis at the end is a little jarring.  The solution is quite heavy handed.  But all in all, it’s a pretty neat story.  I think it indicates why the Star Trek series was so popular.  But I think it also shows why the later tv series were less interesting.  The adventure and discovery aspects became less of a focus as the Enterprise became less of a military/exploration vessel and more of a social worker/nanny vehicle to the stars.

The Edge of Tomorrow – A Short Movie Review

Last night I watched the Tom Cruise movie “Edge of Tomorrow.”  The first thing that strikes me is that it is a sort of mixture of things.

First off, it’s a mil sci-fi movie.  It tells the story of aliens invading and battling humans.  Almost the entire movie takes place within the confines of a single battlefield.  And because it’s a big budget movie with a big star that part is done rather professionally.  The special effects and sets are very good looking.  The action takes place in England and France and Germany so there is the interest of seeing The Louvre and London engulfed in military paraphernalia and smashed by battle.  So, there’s all that.

Next, it’s a time travel story.  The gimmick is that Tom Cruise has been caught up in the gears of the aliens’ ability to alter the future.  Because of a chain of events involving his lucky killing of a high level alien, Cruise is effected in such a way that every time he gets killed in battle, it resets time back to the start of the day of the battle he’s in.  But when he returns to that day he remembers each of these past lives.  It’s sort of like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog’s Day.  So, even though he’s a complete neophyte to combat, he can learn from what happened to him on the previous incarnations.  Comically, after countless iterations he can effortlessly step through the battlefield performing a choreographed dance with death.  Of course, this means to keep advancing his progress on the battlefield he has to keep dying over and over again.

So, in a way, it’s also a metaphor for, or even a parody of someone playing a first-person shooter video game.  You keep playing the game and increasing your knowledge and skills.  You also have to die over and over and over.  And for anyone who has spent a lot of time playing one particular game you understand the psychologically painful experience of building up the necessary muscle memory and rote memorization of the endless sequences of motions and thought processes needed to wend your way to the next level.  That’s the feel this movie provides.

I’ll have to say it’s a mixed experience.  It’s both stimulating to sense the iterative advancement and at the same time irritating.  There’s one particular sequence that occurs almost endlessly during the movie.  It’s when he’s awakened by a sergeant screaming abuse into his face.  It must happen at least two dozen times.  By the end of the movie I’m genuinely hoping Cruise just clocks him in the face, just to shut him up.

So, does the movie work?  Yes, it does.  The initial introduction to Cruise’s character presents him as an unlikeable jerk.  By the end of the movie he has had to grow.  There’s even, believe it or not, the elements of a love story in the tale.  And, Lord help me, I know how ridiculous that seems in the context of a war movie.

Who is this movie for?  If you’re a Tom Cruise fan and you liked him in War of the Worlds and Minority Report you’ll probably like this movie a lot.  If you’re a mil sci-fi fan I think you’ll probably enjoy it.  If you don’t like science fiction or war movies you will hate this.  And if you’re neutral on Tom Cruise, sci-fi and war movies I think it’s 50/50.  It’s a good sci-fi movie and provides solid entertainment.  But it isn’t “Gone with the Wind” so if you’re looking for highly cerebral or morally meaningful move on.