Rants

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I Am Fat

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WARNING – weight-related, fitness rant ahead. I promise not do do this often.

There. I said it. I’m fat.

That’s a hard reality to admit out loud. I’ve always hedged a bit by admitting that I’m a bit overweight, but it’s time to face hard facts. I’ve got to lose fifty pounds to get back down to a comfortable weight, and even then I’ll STILL be on the heavy side.

Here’s a comparison. The photo below shows two images of me and Laura. The one on the left was taken in the mid-1990′s. The one on the right was taken this past December.

TomLauraCombined

So, you see, I wasn’t always this way. I know people gain weight as they age, but this is not good.

For most of my early life I was so skinny that people got worried. This photo from the early 1980′s shows how skinny I really was. (more…)

The Anonymity of a Common Name

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One nice thing about having a VERY common name is that I’m harder to track down online. If you do a Google search for my name I’m fairly far down on the list. Throw in a couple of variables, such as kayak, photography, or music, and it might get you a bit closer, but you’re still going to have to know a good bit about me already in order to simply Google my name and find me.

I’ve come across another interesting twist, though. This dilemma can be summarized by the opening line from Harry Chapin’s “Corey’s Song”…

Old John Joseph was a man with two first names…

Here’s a link to the YouTube video, if you want to hear the song.

Regardless, apparently I also have two first names. This was brought home by an encounter with a young waitress the other day. She was rather chatty, and when I handed her my credit card she said, “My boyfriend’s name is Taylor. Our other waitress is also named Taylor.”

Well, isn’t that nice.

…but, a light bulb went on. Several times recently when I’ve given my name, I’ve had it repeated back to me as “Taylor Thomas” rather than “Thomas Taylor.” This happened when I gave my name for my hotel reservation last weekend, and they had a hard time finding my reservation. It’s happened when I’ve tried to pick up prescriptions, and when I’ve ordered pizza for delivery. The name “Taylor” has become more popular as a first name than “Thomas”, so I guess people of a certain generation assume that “Taylor” must be my first name.

Oh well. It’s funny how generation gap discrepancies hit you at the oddest times and most unusual ways. At least I don’t have an odd name like “Agnes” or “Hortense”, but the way things are going, one of those might become common again. At least “Thomas” is from a biblical source, and those names tend not to fall out of favor.

…except, maybe for Judas, Ebenezer, Boaz, Hanan, Ephai, Jorah, Asaiah, Zebedee, Laban, Banoni…etc., etc.

Google Maps Screws Up

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I’m not one of those people that mounts protests every time Facebook changes their layout, or when GMail makes some slight change. I even like the new updates to Flickr, even though some users are threatening to abandon it for Ipernity. So, when I say that Google Maps has really screwed up with their latest updates, I really mean it.

Initially the update looked promising, so I signed up for the Beta version. The 3D views and integration with Google Earth look very slick. However, right away I started to seeing some problems. The “My Places” section was hidden – de-emphasized as if Google may be doing away with it. When you click on the map you get links to (surprise, surprise) businesses with potential advertising. For users like me, I now had several steps instead of one or two to get to what I wanted, and it looked like one of my primary tools was being threatened.

However, the real clincher came as I was trying to geotag some photos from my last paddling trip to Lake Marion. For this past trip I had photos from three cameras – GoPro, Panasonic Lumix LX-5, and a Fuji WP33. I had GPS tracks from a Garmin Venture HC and an iGotU 120 tracker. I use the GPSPhotoLinker software on my Mac to match the photos with the GPS tracks.

I can check individual photos by clicking on “Show on map” in GPSPhotoLinker. By default, this brings up a Google Map with the latitude/longitude coordinates for the photo. If it’s not where I expect it to be, I can tweak either the timing or some other variable to get it where I want it.

Unfortunately, this morning I couldn’t get any of my photos to show up correctly on Google Maps. I assumed that the either the GPS clock or the internal camera clock must be off. However, it didn’t matter which camera or which GPS track, the photos showed up on the same road as shown below:

New Google Maps

After an hour and a half of trying to get this to work (and even downloading a trial version of a new geocoding program), it dawned on me to try something else. I started by popping the photos into Lightroom and using the mapping program there to check geocoding. Using the same images and GPS tracks, it showed the photos where they are supposed to be. However, the Lightroom geotagging function is useless because it doesn’t write the location data to the image’s EXIF data when the picture is exported.

Since the images and GPS tracks seemed to be synced OK, I decided to try something else. I went back to GPSPhotoLinker and set the default so that it would display on MapQuest instead of Google Maps. Worked like a charm. Now my images were showing up where they were supposed to be. Since that worked I decided to switch back to the Google Maps “Classic View” for the default view, and that cleared up the problem. The images appeared once again were geocoded correctly, in the middle of the lake instead of a lakeside neighborhood.

Classic Google Maps

As far as I can tell, what the new version of Google Maps is doing is when a set of coordinates is input into the service, it returns the location for the nearest street address – always. That doesn’t help if your coordinates are in the middle of a lake, or if you’re hiking in the middle of nowhere. it seems that Google Maps is now only useful for people driving or people on streets. I can’t find anywhere to turn off that “feature.”

So, Google, if you’re truly wanting feedback about your beta product, you need to make your maps once again useful to those of us that tend to stray off of the roads.

Thus endeth the rant. Selah.

Another Spam Injection Attack

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Well, looks like this website has been hit by another spam injection attack. Links to stuff apparently are being added to the posts and comments in RSS feeds. So far I’ve only seen it in one post, so this posting is a test to see if it happens again.

I remember the last time this happened, a couple of years ago. It was a real pain – I basically had to rebuild the blog from scratch after I had purged the database. At least I’ll have some time to do that next week. Until then, I’ll change passwords and hope that holds off the spammers until I can take more drastic action.

Published again, without permission

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Fellow explorer Mark Elbrecht alerted me to this. The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce has a website promoting their Festival of Flowers this June. On the page promoting tours of Cokesbury College there was a familiar photograph – mine! The problem was that they had not asked permission to use the image.

Cokesbury College Website

Normally I don’t mind if folks use my images on their sites as long as they use the proper embed codes that Flickr provides, which link back to my original photo, or if they credit the photo properly. Technically, they don’t even need to ask my permission since I leave the embed codes available to anyone.

What ticked me off about this image usage was that A) they re-hosted the image on their own site, cropping the image in the process, and B) the statement at the bottom of the page stating, “Copyright © 2011 – South Carolina Festival of Flowers. All rights reserved.” That would imply that they are claiming copyright to my photograph. I sent the Chamber of Commerce an e-mail listing conditions for continued use of the photograph.

For the record, here is the original photograph, with the proper link back to its Flickr page…

Cokesbury College (more…)

Flickr Video Artifacts

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Flickr has its flaws, and has come in for some warranted criticism from photographers such as Thomas Hawk in San Francisco for its management practices and failure to keep up with Google+ and other photo-sharing communities. However, I find it a cost-effective service that still meets my needs for both blogging and photography. At last count I have nearly 19,000 images on Flickr.

There is one flaw in Flicker that has really jumped out recently, though. That’s with it’s video compression routines. Video uploaded to Flickr looks horrible. Period.

I’m more of a photographer than videographer. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of video compression, etc., etc. I also get that Flickr is primarily a photo sharing site, and has limited functionality as far as video uploads are concerned. However, there are some times that it’s quicker and easier to upload to Flickr. I also like the control over privacy, which tends to be an all-or-nothing proposition with YouTube and other video hosting. (more…)

Published Again (without credit)

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Edisto River 2

UPDATE: A correction can be found here.

Back in early November I was contacted by the artistic editor for the Charleston Magazine about using the above photograph in their January issue. I agreed, provided that they gave me credit as the photography, and sent specific instructions on what I wanted on the credit line.

Published in Charleston Magazine

On Christmas Eve I received a copy of the magazine. The photograph was there, as part of an article on a “Bucket List” of things to do around Charleston. It was number 39 on their list – a full page photo that spread across the gutter.

Published in Charleston Magazine

While I’m flattered that they would use the photo as a full-page, there was one problem. I wasn’t credited ANYWHERE – not on the photo, not in the article, not even on some obscure back page. Same goes for the online version.

Right now I’m thinking of sending them a hefty invoice for violation of our terms.

Blogging Drought

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Things have been very hectic around our household lately. I worked all last weekend getting ready for school to start, and have spent several late evenings at work this past week. As such, I haven’t done much exploring, paddling, or photography. This weekend we’re hanging around the house trying to catch up with errands.

So, there won’t be any ghost town stories for awhile, or explored rivers. But, don’t worry. Once things calm down, I’ll head back out and write more stories.

But who knows? Something may pop up at the oddest moment and demand attention. We’ll see.

Whither Photography?

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Calligraphy

A long time ago I used to do calligraphy. I was pretty good at it, and picked up some spare change by doing place cards for wedding receptions, invitations, and a couple of framed pieces. I didn’t do anything fancy – just basic Old English and script fonts. I had the correct pens, and that was half the battle.

Then came computers, desktop publishing, laser printers, and the ready availability of an almost unlimited number of fonts. Calligraphy was dead as a commercial endeavor. Only artists of the highest caliber could hope to make a go of it. I myself haven’t put pen to ink in decades.

I fear that photography is at a similar juncture. And, I’ve got a couple of pieces of evidence to back me up.

First, last weekend was Artisphere in Greenville. Laura made the trek over to the festival while I was off paddling Sparkleberry Swamp. Her comment was that there were very few booths with the type of abstractionist art that she likes. Instead it was either hyper-realistic watercolors and paintings, or photography. She commented that there were more and more photography booths at these exhibits.

Then, this past Sunday there was an article in the Greenville News about the Pickens County Museum of Art & History’s “Thirty-Third Annual Juried South Carolina Artist’s Exhibition.” The author of the News article commented on the number of photographs entered in the exhibit…

Photography is playing a big role in the 33rd annual Pickens County Juried Art Show.

“We’ve never had so much photography entered,” says Allen Coleman, executive director of the Pickens County Cultural Commission. “Out of 194 artists who entered the show, 71 were photographers.”

What accounts for the dominance of photography this year?

It’s a sign of “the digital age,” Coleman says. In fact, the show’s top prize went to a digital ink-jet photograph, “Woods Along the Tyger River,” by Taylors resident Zane Logan.

…and that last statement pretty much sums it up.  Artistic photographic effects are now trivial, with Instagram filters, automated Photoshop actions, and other quick tools readily available for punching up an otherwise mediocre photograph.  High-quality inject printers are available at the consumer level.

Camera technology itself has improved so much that settings within the device itself, whether an actual camera or smart phone, can compensate for lots of problems. I’ve noticed this with my own new little camera. This fake tilt-shift image was straight out of the camera, with no post-processing…

Tilt Shift River Place

That effect previously would have required Photoshop and several minutes of tweaking, as well as knowing how to handle selective blur and color curves.

As for the quality of this glut of photographs? As with anything it’s a mix of good and mediocre. To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with the winning photographs in the Pickens show. I’m seen much, much better photographs just taken casually by some of my friends. I’ve also seen some “artists” put up booths with the intent to sell some really bad photos. I even came across one photographer that shares a studio at River Place. The photographs there had one of the stock Photoshop filters applied, then were printed on canvas. Apart from that, there was nothing to distinguish the images, and certainly nothing to make me want to pay the prices this artist was demanding.

Even with advanced technology the rules of composition apply. There will always be those photographers that really understand these advanced tools, and know how to get the best images from them. There will also be those that think that a good camera and printer equals good photography. Unfortunately, the number of those in both of these categories is increasing, and there is almost a market glut.

Who knows, though? Maybe even photography itself is no longer necessary. The image below is completely fake…

Nuts and Bolts

These nuts and bolts do not exist. The entire image was created by the open source program Blender, from the surface texture to the lighting effects. According to Mark Meyer at Petapixel, still-life photographers may be facing some competition from sophisticated software packages.

But, that’s the way things have always been. Advanced technology makes things easier, and replaces those that once made money in that field. In music studios synths and samplers replace oboists and string players, etc., etc.

As for me, I don’t think I’ll abandon photography like I have calligraphy. One of the main reasons I take pictures is to document events and the places I explore. I strive for quality images, but will use lesser ones if it gets my point across. What I don’t expect is to make lots of money from my photographs.

Telecom Scam

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UST Invoice

Yesterday several of our schools received an invoice similar to the one above. The invoice is for a service agreement that “covers preventative maintenance on all telecom system equipment, including, [sic] telephone instruments, switches, routers, & cabling.” The bill was for $425, and since it included technology equipment, it wound up on my desk.

Of course, I had no clue what it was or from whence it had come. I keep track of all of our technology maintenance agreements, and I know all the companies with which we do business. This wasn’t one of them, and I began to smell a rat.

I checked their website, and it looked like a like a legitimate business site, offering the standard fare of switching and telephone equipment.

Aviary us-telecom-com Picture 1

Still, though, I was skeptical. I know fake websites can be convincing. I called the 1-800 number on the invoice, was put on hold for about 15 minutes, then shunted into voice mail. That pretty much cemented my conviction that this was a scam, and I left voice mail stating as much.

This morning I checked with my counterparts from other districts around the state. Every one that responded said that they have received similar invoices from UST. They also pointed me to links confirming this group as a bunch of scam artists…

 

One of my colleagues actually got through to them on the phone, and what they were told was that this was an OFFER of services, and not an invoice.  Neither the words “invoice” nor “bill” appear on the document, but the implication is that the amount is to be paid upon receipt within “Net 30 Days,” a phrase generally reserved for an invoice.  If this was an “offer” and not an invoice, then it is intentionally deceiving.

It appears that UST was targeting public institutions, and was hoping that some bookkeeper would receive this and just go ahead and pay it.  Fortunately, our folks knew to question it, but I wonder how many around the US fell for this.  If they are so deceptive with their practices, I also have to question the quality of their maintenance “services.”

I guess with everyone now learning how to recognize, filter, and ignore spam and e-mail scams, UST decided to use good old paper and snail mail.  With e-mail so common, there seems to be an air of authority about a document you can hold in your hand.  I’m sure there were some that did fall for it.

I’ve had unscrupulous vendors attempt to scam me over the phone.  They would call offering a “sample” of a product, but when questioned, had to reveal that there was nothing free, nor free from obligation about the offer.  I’ve heard other tales of someone at a school accepting a free offer of supplies, be they technology, cleaning, or something else, only to receive exorbitant invoices later.  Our finance director told me that one company sent materials unsolicited, THEN tried to bill for those materials.  He said he dumped both the materials and the invoices in the trash.

I guess there will always be someone trying to scam the system, but it just makes my blood boil when I see it in action.  I really hope UST doesn’t get any takers on this fraudulent action, and won’t be able to cover their cost of mailing this junk.

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