My week with the Sony A9

Only a seriously unserious photographer would spend 350 bucks to rent a camera like the A9 for a week and then use it as frivolously and haphazardly as I just did with it. My only defense is that I only wanted to establish one thing. I wanted to know whether the autofocus was great, good or as miserable as on my A7S. It’s not a good defense. Enough reports are out there to show that it’s much, much better than the A7S. In fact there is plenty of testimony for it being better than any of the A7 cameras and for it being at least comparable to high end Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
Well, call me Doubting Thomas. I needed to see it with my own eyes and experience it with my own hands.
Okay, big surprise, it’s really very, very good. Put the camera on center point focus and point it at anything inside or outside and it focuses instantaneously and flawlessly. Beyond that I did some tests with tracking and eye-focus of moving targets and it was pretty good. It wasn’t perfect or flawless but that could be attributed to my lack of understanding of which setting should be used when and my lack of technique for shooting sports or occasion subjects.
At this point you can see that there will be no big surprises or important information coming out of this post (unless you are a doubter like me and for some reason trust me more than the reputable reporters who’ve already sung the A9’s praises). What this is is a personal opinion about why the A9 is an important camera for Sony shooters.
As anyone who has been following my photography posts knows I have been a somewhat patient long-suffering Sony camera user. As an owner of the last full frame DSLR from Sony (the praiseworthy A-850) I have been waiting and suffering through the long chain of mirrorless cameras that Sony produced. From the NEX-5N up to and including the A7R II I have been disappointed by the incompetent autofocus and mediocre shooting experience of these cameras compared to a basic DSLR like the A-850.
Those days are over.
The A9 is a better camera than the A-850 in every way.
And here’s my take on why this is important. I don’t have to abandon Sony. I can keep my lense and buy into their overpriced stuff and at least I won’t have to sell it all in a fire sale and go over to Canon or Nikon. The features that the A9 has are remarkable. No black out shooting, excellent indoor and outdoor autofocus, low light capability, silent shutter, very short exposure time, you name it, it’s got it.
The only downside, $4,500 price tag. I am not that nuts. You see I’m a hobbyist. I don’t shoot weddings and I don’t work for CBS sports. I do not actually need 20 frames per second. Nor do I want to pay for it.
What I do want is that fantastic autofocus and the no blackout shooting experience. Well actually, I’d also like to get that bigger battery too. Unfortunately, it’s starting to get closer to most of the camera. Damn. Well anyway, I want an A7 III with all the goodies of the A9 but without the mortgage. Three grand? Sure. Thirty five hundred? Ahhhh, I dono. So come on Sony make it a Merry Christmas. After all I have been patient.

Talking to the Sleepwalkers

As someone who has slowly become aware of the depths of the change going on in the country I’ve recently been in the odd position of acting as an interpreter to my even less aware brethren. At a family gathering I was drawn into a discussion of the recent Charlottesville riot. The prevailing opinion was that Trump had botched it by addressing the situation the way he did.
• It was a mistake to give the press the chance to tie him to the protesters.
• They were bemoaning his drops in opinion polls and the chaos at the White House.
• I was warned about the danger to the Senate majority and the inevitability of impeachment.
• I was told that he must begin getting on message and concentrate on passing an agenda that included tax reform and spending cuts.
The talk became rather heated and I tried to convince them that what they took for a bug was a feature. I tried to make them understand that what Trump needed to do was not embrace the moderates but wake up the sleep walkers. And that they themselves were the sleepwalkers. I pointed out that any actual Nazis there were more than matched in evil by the fascistic Antifa present at the proceedings. Highlighting that and countering the narrative coming from the press and the establishment political parties was Trump’s job and needed to be done. I’m not sure I was successful in convincing my audience. I think their time hasn’t yet arrived. Or maybe it won’t. For some the chaos that would occur during a full-blown confrontation between left and right is unthinkable. Hell, even I view such an event with enormous trepidation and distaste. But just as strongly I reject the notion that these leftist miscreants should destroy what’s good about this country.
At a certain point in the conversation I was asked how Trump calling out the left could succeed in reversing the damage that already had been done by the left. I answered that he couldn’t. All he could do was try to wake up the sleepwalkers to how much trouble we are in. Wake them up and and hope that there are enough of them left to win by democratic means. When asked how likely that was I made up a number based on how pessimistic I felt. Maybe thirty percent, maybe ten? Later on, I thought about that guess and realized that ten percent was actually closer to what I believed.
The next day I noticed that everyone actually seemed a little more optimistic about the future. I think just talking with someone who wasn’t discouraged with how Trump was addressing the press and the left seemed to help them even if the prognosis for difficult times ahead was part of the package. We discussed how to take positive action and improve our own personal environments. Build business and social connections to protect ourselves and our families from disruptions to come. We even discussed what areas of the country might be the best place for us to coalesce to. It was a real shot in the arm. So today I’m encouraged. People can learn that there are alternatives to capitulation. If you articulate the futility of the establishment appeasement position people will listen. And if they listen sometimes they wake up. And talking about it with friends actually seems therapeutic.
Did I wake anyone up? I don’t know, but at least now I feel like I want to keep trying.

18AUG2017 Update – Make a Start

So, every month or two the world becomes even a lot weirder and I need to do an evaluation to allow for course correction. And it’s definitely one of those times again. The events of the last week have pushed us still deeper into the uncharted territory of American Guerilla War. The prospect of Antifa battling it out with Nationalists has become reality. And right on script establishment republicans have backed Antifa. The press has become almost apoplectic and President Trump is still managing to defy the powers that be. Wow.
The upshot. Social media and much of corporate America have joined lock-step with the narrative that right-wing = Nazism. Even relatively moderate bloggers are being deplatformed by social media and even their internet service providers. Moderates are panicking and swearing allegiance to anyone on the left who will accept their confessions. Many on the right are angry and confused. Some are blaming the Alt-Right for making all this happen.
What do I think? I think that those who foretold a growing separation between left and right in America and the beginning of a schism of the American public were right. I think it may be starting to happen. Now, I don’t think this will be some civil war (either cold or hot). I think there will be more clashes in the streets and more and more animosity and hate. And I think it will harden opinions on both sides and it will move things further along toward a separation of us and them. Alternative platforms and companies and agencies will begin to form that will allow people to disengage from the irritants that exist in the present condition. A way for people to avoid Twitter, Facebook, PayPal, Patreon and Google and the other myriad institutions that despise the right and everything it believes in. And then people on the right are going to start using boycotts to put pressure on Walmart and Target and the other big businesses to stop caving into the pressure from the left and just sell their crap to us without the social justice virtue signaling attached. And they are going to have to start looking for alternative places for their kids to go to school. That will be the toughest choice of all.
But I think all of these things are starting to become more real. The left becomes ever more hateful and irrational. It becomes ever more strident and its demands become more and more intolerable. I believe people on the right will have to build networks and relationships that allow mutual support and even economic relationships. Hire the people you trust and the people you like. Buy from people who don’t despise you. Shun the businesses and the individuals who openly hate everything you stand for and believe in.
It’s not a pretty picture. A year-ago I would have said it sounded silly and melodramatic. I don’t think so anymore. I think it’s the direction we’re going. I’ve begun the first little steps myself. I will no longer click on a news link from any of the left-wing media. Never. I avoid all arts and entertainment sites that control the message and only allow leftist dogma. That is one of the reasons I include photography and science fiction on this website. I wanted a place where people on the right who enjoyed these things weren’t second class citizens. I am looking for alternative companies for products that are produced by flagrantly leftist companies. I don’t use Twitter, Wikipedia or Facebook. I limit what I use Google for and avoid their browser. I support alternatives like Gab, Infogalactic and Brave. I’m waiting to see what alternative crowd-funding and other funding choices become available.
Of course, these are tiny steps. For many of the daily actions no good alternatives exist yet. But start somewhere. Patronize those who agree with you. Shun those who are your sworn enemies. Make a start.

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.