Sunday, December 30, 2007

Big Sur

Big Sur... the name conjures up majestic coastal seascapes, lush forests and a supremely winding Highway Numero Uno tracing the contours of the shoreline. I saw almost none of that in my pursuit of a dawn-time "money shot." LOL

On our last day in the Monterey/Carmel area I decided to get up early and hot-foot it down the coast for some fine photography and a home-cooked meal. Much to my chagrin, the misty rain and fog pretty much dashed the former, while the time of day dashed the latter. The fog was so thick in areas that I was slowed to a crawl and only by stopping at a turn-out and listening carefully to the crash of waves did I have confirmation that there was indeed a coastline nearby!


Still... the worst day shooting is better than the best day ____________ (fill in the blank) and there were some decent pics that came out of the trek. The Shell sign below was hanging on an old garage in back of a restaurant that I'd hoped would be open for breakfast - it totally fit my bill of a "locals only" type joint, but alas wouldn't open for 45 minutes after my arrival. So... I took a couple of pictures and moved on. The Bixby Bridge, erected in 1932, was especially arresting.




I'd like to see Big Sur again in good weather, and preferably by motorcycle - the road would demand stiff concentration, but that would make the sweet Joe at local haunts even more enjoyable.



Friday, December 28, 2007

Monterey Bay Aquarium


Aquariums are incredible centers of wonderment and learning. It's astonishing how many species are kept alive for our amusement and study - wonder what the fish are thinking?

After visiting Cannery Row very briefly, we met up for lunch with Linda McClennan, a friend from my old days at Silicon Beach and now resident of the fine town of Monterey by way of Lake Tahoe., I specifically requested a local dining experience and we ended up at "Hulas," a surf-themed bar/restaurant that fit the bill perfectly. Afterwards, we ventured forth, sans Linda, to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Very crowded on a holiday week, but we paired up in gender buddies (Emily with Kim and I with Etho the boy) to make the best of it and press on regardless.

I noticed right off the bat that photography of any quality sort was going to be very difficult. "No Flashes" signs were omnipresent at every large aquarium - they "scared the fish" was the party line, but I only half believed it. I mean, if the gesturing tourists and ever-present miasma of humanity didn't do it, I couldn't see how a flash or two or a hundred would upset these adaptable creatures. But who was I to argue -I was there with a monopod which I later found out was against the rules. I shrugged and told the Authority Figure ("AF") that no one was harmed in the photography of the mammals.

I tried shooting on both Manual and Program modes (which handles pretty much all of the dial fiddling) with mixed results as shown below. I'm such a rookie. I can't tell you how many wasted shots there were to get these... ;-)



The fish though were amazing, just as advertised - schools of sardines, the only Great White in captivity, a Hammerhead shark, Otters, and... oh, the Jellies. How spectacular! Mesmerizing, gorgeous, hypnotic. I first gained an appreciation of the gentle Jellyfish from Spongebob Squarepants, but now I'm a "True Believer."

I think an annual pass where one could view with impunity and relaxation would be the way to go. Nonetheless, an afternoon of aquarium enjoyment was tasty sampler.

PS: Cannery Row was a total tourist trap, but there were "pockets of lore" to be found. And, of course, the shoreline was interesting...



Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Windy Road to Carmel

Don't let the title of this post fool you - I'm not talking about a beautiful road that winds along the coast, although that would be a perfectly reasonable assumption on our coastal trip. Nope, this is about the adventure that is driving a high-profile vehicle in the stout breezes that frequent the environs from Pismo Beach to Monterey.

Now that we're hunkered down at the Carmel-by-the-River RV park nestled in the woods south of Carmel Valley road, it's time to de-pressurize a little. I brought some local hooch - Anchor Steam from San Francisco -to commemorate the occasion. The dogs are fed, walked, and sleeping. The kids want to play pool at the game room, but I'm putting them off until after my dinner to Tortilla Soup - prerogative of a parent, I suppose.

Earlier in the day though, it was another matter. The culprit: high winds. With a loose but alert grip on the steering wheel, I soldiered on through blasts that had me occasionally making the rumble strip sing or drivers in the next lane as nervous as Kim was! I figured that so long as I saw semi-tractor trailers and other motorhomes on the road, I was OK. Probably flawed thinking, but things turned out well enough... Up beautiful Hwy 101 through the hills around San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, San Miguel, King city, Greenfield, Soledad, Salinas and finally into Carmel-by-the-Sea, the road was sweet and the hills promised pastoral sunsets that I would not see.

Every trip in the RV yields new insights and of course new things to fix (yes, we're compiling a list). Still... I don't know how to make it impervious to the vagaries of wind except to contract with Porsche engineering... LOL

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Backgammon Lesson

So... I "taught" Ethan the ages-old game of Backgammon this evening, after wresting his psyche from that danged Nintendo DS his parents got him. Alternatively frustrating and prideful at the same time. Frustrating because he didn't want to listen to any rote recital of the rules. Prideful because HE GOT IT, and almost instantly. One time through and he understands:
  • Blots
  • Home courts
  • Counting and moving a piece one die at a time
  • The "bar"
Now... make no mistake, the subtleties still totally escape him: when to play a "back" game, when to leave a blot open (single piece on a pike), what the doubling cube means, etc.

However, I'm psyched about his gaming spirit and there's not doubt the little punk has LUCK. After all, he beat me fair and square! Can't wait for the next game. ;-)

Family Vacations

Well... we're in the middle of a family vacation, and ALL that entails. The highs, lows and in-betweens. Any parent with a pulse and/or a brain synapse "firing" knows that traveling with kids is a challenge met with equal doses of resistance, enthusiasm, and independence. Let me address each separately:

RESISTANCE: "I don't wanna go..." "Wait a minute..." Egads, will the whining never end? I mean, geez guys - we're SUPPOSED to be having fun here, but really why did I think it would be any different than the crap we see at home?

ENTHUSIASM: "C'mon dad, let's do X, Y, and Z - all at once!" Whoa - Christmas is the ultimate kid narcotic. Pretty cool stuff, the powerful mojo that Santa still wields in their little simian minds. I mean, literally this morning Etho and I were battling each other with these cool air-powered "Popper" guns firing ping-pong-sized foam balls, he whilst riding a Razor scooter and I swinging on a swing yelling at each other. Each firing away as the Santa Ana winds up here in Oxnard/Ventura were carrying the balls away harmlessly. The old man still has it, but youth and energy is catching up quickly. He'll for sure be kicking my ass by 15 if I don't watch it.


INDEPENDENCE: Ahhh... my little girl is growing up too. Emily has an independent streak if not a mile long (yet) at least a few hundred yards. Yes, like every girl her age she is obsessed with "Hanna Montana" and "Bratz" (the latter of which piss me off), but her exploratory nature never ceases to amaze. Swinging from the monkey bars like a simian. Punching Uncle Steve in the gut. And taking all her brother can dish out - with all the "cup dranish" (as my dearly departed mom used to say) she takes from Ethan, it's a wonder her psyche is intact. The old adage "that which does not kill me only serves to make me stronger" seems like it's in healthy play here in our children.


But, I digress. Family vacations: we're working on memories here folks. Implanting them so that decades from now, the lil' chillin' fondly recall the "trip up the coast" they made during Christmas 2007. If I don't think of it in these terms, I shall surely go crazy. LOL. Peace Out. (the Alaskan Winter Ale I'm sipping is going down crisply)

Ventura Pier: The Black & White Series

To me there's nothing cooler photographed in black and white than a pier at sunrise - any pier, any sunrise! Surreal and other-worldly at a long exposure, the water and mist combining in a slow motion dance of tones and shadows which take you far away and yet pull you into the moment.


Christmas Eve morning it happened to be Ventura Pier pulling me into the moment - I was rushing a bit having slept through a couple of sleep cycles on my cell phone (no alarm clock in the RV - have to fix that). I knew where I wanted to be, but wasn't sure if I could get there in time for the sunrise. I've been experimenting with the Nikon D200 and trying to do most shots in Manual mode, so I knew even if I ended up being a tad late I could "fiddle with the dials" and create a mood (how's that for tech talk?).


As I sped along a coastal side-road past the pier, I saw a parking lot with a guard shack - however at 6:20am the Gov't-manned shack was closed and - as LUCK would have it - one of the gates was open. I took that as a good sign and pressed on.


The pier was close and the steps leading up to it would be a terrific vantage point on which to capture a dreamy shot of the lights that lined the pier, the American flag fluttering at the end of those timeless planks, and the dreamy sky. No sooner, however, than I'd set up my new (old, tried and trusted) tripod given to me by Tony Corbell, positioned the camera, and began working the dials than the freakin' lights went OFF! Egads! How was I to know there was a timer set for 6:30am!! Dang - but since my motto is "press on regardless" - the shots in this post were dutifully recorded onto digital film.


It was definitely a chilly morning, and I was wearing at least 4 layers of clothing, but the best part is you just KNOW it's going to get more warm as the Sun bathes Mother Gaia in his glorious rays. The colors were brilliant and I just knew I was getting some "money shots", but then in post-processing using Nik's Color Efex Pro 3.0 I tried the black and white filter. Whoa. Now that's cool! I was hooked and promptly worked up all my color money shots into shades of gray; probably the best gray ever created. ;-)


We're moving up the coast tomorrow morning early, about a 5 hour drive to the Monterey area. Piers will definitely be in my psyche now that Ventura has captured my spirit as much as I've captured hers...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Coastal Christmas RV Trip - Day One

It's long been a fleeting dream of mine to be "filing stories" from the road - stories of whom and to whom unknown, but still... So, with my trusty Nik D200, a gently used and oh-so-cool world weathered tripod from Tony Dude, my family, a couple of Viszlas, and the good 'ol RV, we embark.

The first stop up the coast is Oxnard/Ventura where Mary (Kim's mom) lives in a small house near enough to the water. Emily and Etho (and the dogs) are ecstatic to see Mary and the feeling is returned many-fold. "Uncle Dave" and Cousin Steve, Kim's brother and cousin respectively are also about and genuinely happy to be reunited with the four tiny tornadoes. Steve's back is stouter than mine given the workout he received.

Myself, I'm a little stressed. It's a lot of work and responsibility to load the Beast up, pilot it on the 101 through downtown LA, and get everything just so. Doesn't sound hard until you layer on two bickering kids - "why I oughtta..."

The weather is definitely cooperating with clear, cool days and nights. Truly amazing. I'm also having fun with this new photo "hobby" that Tony and Laurie have hooked me on. I lack their skills at this point (and probably forever), but nonetheless am looking at the world in an entirely different way: Light, shadows, composition, artfulness and what I think I can do "post-capture" in the computer all come into play. For instance, traveling back to the RV park from Mary's house tonight, I was struck by the possibilities of these two shots: Ventura Harbor and a large statue of Father Juniperra Serra in downtown Ventura. Wide angle lens, shot on manual with a looonnngg exposure time. Love the lens flares!




The next couple of days we'll be settling in working the holiday with the kids who are beside themselves with glee and "comeupitiveness" (little punks!). Good fun awaits too (besides the photography) - the kids are getting some great gifts no doubt. I also brought up my old BB gun from when I was a kid, so it will be a blast to "plink" around a bit. Just sign this road piece "To be continued..."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warming to Mitt Romney

Warming to Mitt Romney

I'll be the first to admit that though I've historically been interested in politics, I'm pissed that everything has cranked up so early (what would Hunter Thompson say?!)

Since I met him, I've looked up to my former boss and friend Kevin Carmony. I admire him as an independent thinker, honest plain-speaker, business-savvy, and fun-loving. He's got a good blog too.

Count on KC to have one finger on the pulse and the other finger pointing towards what appears to be the right candidate for our chaotic times - Mitt Romney. The more I see and hear Mitt, the more I like him. The more I see the other candidates, the less Presidential they appear.

The National Review, a magazine of political opinion founded by author William F. Buckley, Jr in 1955, recently threw their weight behind Mitt. the publication generally provides conservative views and analysis on the world's current events.

"Our guiding principle has always been to select the most conservative viable candidate. In our judgment, that candidate is Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative..."

Look, I'll admit I'm not the most political of creatures, but like most I have my "hot button" issues. I want the U.S. to be energy independent and correct our trade imbalance; I want us to take a serious look at the effectiveness of the UN; I believe we need to control our borders and deal with the illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. - probably by over-hauling our lame paralyzed immigration and naturalization service; I want the U.S. to resolve Iraq and re-constitute our warfighter policies around the new world order of Terrorism, doing what it takes domestically and internationally (including secret sh*t) to prevent the senseless jihads; I want us to assist the poor, but not through give-outs; I want to facilitate a health care plan that doesn't break the backs of the American tax-payer (already stretched to our limits); and, I want the U.S. to continue to Dream Big (as in disease control, space exploration, life improvement). We are the greatest nation currently running on this Earth and I see no reason why democracy can't sustain for another millennium.

I'm not asking for much, am I? LOL. Well... what I am asking for is an honest leader with a strong moral compass, clear thinking, and a desire that the U.S. remain a strong country for generations. Is Mitt the man that can make that happen? I'm one of I'm sure many Americans watching closely.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

BMW F800GS

BMW F800GS

DATELINE: Long Beach Motorcycle Show, December 2007

Holy cowhead! What a cool day - up shortly after dawn on a Sunday, rolling up the highway with my son Ethan towards the motorcycle I've been dreaming about for months - BMW's new F800GS dual-sport bike.

Etho and I had to wait for 20 minutes or so to get into the convention center, but then it was a beeline towards the BMW stand. And there it was... in charcoal and black, looking bad-ass. Only a couple of folks hovered around that early, so we had basically unfettered viewing, analyzing, dream-comparing, sitting, weighting/unweighting, drooling... ;-)

First impressions: much more dirt capable with the 21" front, chain drive and tall stance. Thin. Efficient. Controls all where they should be. Can't wait to see it with bags. I should probably just quit dreaming and slap $500 on it down at SD BMW with Gary Orr. The smile on my face (see Etho's pic) says it all!

Close at hand was a very nice blue 2008 R1200GS which of course I had to sit on and dream on too, but my thoughts were elsewhere (about 8-10 feet away). Every manner of current BMW was there - literally something for everyone: The HP2 Supermoto was pretty danged cool, as were the phalanx of wicked K-1200s and the street-focused R-1200 models.

Etho and I dutifully trucked around to all the booths in both show halls (the 2nd one being devoted exclusively to custom bikes and vintage bikes). Some highlights:
  • Ducati had a nice booth, but not the quality of "umbrella/booth gal" that I expected from our Italian friends. Lots of people with accents though
  • Touratech was near the BMW booth, and had some really great, gutsy bikes on display like refugees from their latest catalog. My best buddy Rod will love the fully loaded KTM 950 Adventure on display. Talked briefly with a woman who has been riding the globe with her husband for 5 years on BMW bikes. Unbelievable their stories. Read more at www.2ridetheworld.com. And, if you appreciate the accomplishment, donate to their fuel and tires fund via Paypal.
  • There were lots of touring and rental companies, but the "wheelie-training" school took the cake. Might have to try that (on their bikes!).
  • The vintage exhibit was awesome - bikes from 1903 onward, including a very nice Vincent and 1923 BMW R bike.
  • The "Condor" bike stand booth - very cool "parking" aid for your bike: drive in and no side or center stand required!!
  • The "head shop" booth - which greatly interested Etho in his current Skull & Crossbones fascination - was not appreciated. I had to renew myself by talking to the folks at the Christian Riders Association.

  • Ran into Larry Stonestreet, an acquaintance from waaaay back in my SD BMW Club days. Larry had pretty good things to say about (what he'd read and heard about) the F800GS. I asked him to say "hi" to B. Jan Hoffman of the Airheads for me.
  • The Ural booth had some very interesting and rough-and-tumble sidecar rigs going, based on the airhead motors. Cool videos too of a Ural w/ sidecar climbing some tough skree fields. Fun!
  • Stunt riders galore out back in the parking lot. Front-wheel stands with 180 degree turns are the shizzle. OMG!
  • The 3-wheeled "Can Am Spyder" cycle looks amazing.
All-in-all, a great day to breathe in the fresh air of a new bike in my future (hint!).