Friday, April 26, 2013

Halligan's Special Seasoning & Gourmet Rub

In October of 2012, I had the distinct privilege of meeting Robert Halligan II. Bob was the leader of a photo walk at La Jolla Cove as part of Scott Kelby's annual Worldwide Photo Walk experience. An easy-going fella, he was joined by his lovely wife Kathy, several friends and a cadre of strangers who would soon become lovely acquaintances—photo walks have a marvelous way of creating that effect on people! 

Bob on the "working end" of the camera!
I was working at Nik Software at the time and had attended a couple of photo walks in the past.  They're almost always fun and free software never sucks. I offered to bring a couple of raffle prizes for attendees. Being our most recent release HDR Efex Pro 2 seemed to be the hot ticket, but I also gave away a copy of the ├╝ber-flexible Color Efex Pro 4.

Construction took 7 months.
During the course of the walk Bob and I talked a bit about his background as a restauranteur and an independent financial professional with LPL Financial. I was particularly struck by his stories of opening up his own restaurant in Pacific Beach back in the '70's called Halligan's 4 Fish.

It sounded like a terrific joint that I just missed by a few years (having moved to PB back in early 1987, my house was only a few blocks from Halligan's). The famous Eleanor Widmer—notoriously a tough-minded food critic from the San Diego Reader—even gave it high marks.

Opening Night!
Bob and I talked a number of times after the photo walk and one day he stopped by the Nik office in Mission Valley with a gift for me:  A zip-lock bag with some of his special seasoning, a recipe nurtured and improved on since his restaurant days. It smelled wonderful and I couldn't wait to try it on a London Broil the upcoming weekend!  He confided that he was retiring from financial services soon, and it became clear that he still had fire in the belly for the food business. Bob gave me a couple of additional recipes and, with a twinkle in his eye asked me to let him know what I thought. He was pretty sure I'd like it...

He wasn't kidding! I rubbed the seasoning into the steak, covered it with cling wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for a day.  Pretty simple, especially for a Neanderthal like me. What emerged from my grill was a steak that somehow had deliciously been transformed into meat that was far more moist and delicious than I'd experienced before. Bob was a genius! 

As time went on and he kept me supplied with his seasoning, Bob mentioned that he was interested in selling the it in retail stores and online. Naturally I offered my wife Kim's design services for graphics and a website, and mentioned that I'd be happy to help him set up a blog and shopping cart as part of the website.  In February 2013, Bob again swung by the Nik office and we called the good folks at GoDaddy. In about 45 minutes, we had transferred his domain, purchased a hosting package and shopping cart, and installed WordPress. In the meantime, Bob worked with Wells Fargo to establish a merchant account and also swapping recipes with a seasonings formulator out of the Midwest to handle production and packaging. This thing was coming together!

Bob wanted to create a brand for his seasonings that exuded high-quality, yet positioned it for everyday use and versatility. Kim did a great job on the label design and the overall site design. The learning curve with the site in terms of hooking up the back-end pieces was moderately steep since I hadn't done it before, but relatively quick. I never hesitate to call live tech support to get advice from the Pros, so I think the GoDaddy people were getting to know me by name after awhile. We had some issues with the nameservers which wasn't our fault, but in other cases it was helpful to call for clarification and best practices. Overall, GoDaddy gets high marks for service.

The site went live in early April.  You can read the story of Halligan's, pick up some great recipes from his blog, and of course purchase the products. Bob reports sales to friends and family are steady and he's already in talks with several meat shops in town (even a restaurant or two). At just $4.99 for a 4oz. package, it's an easy sale. Bob and his wife pack and ship the seasonings from their house to yours. I'm confident the versatility and taste will keep people coming back for more—give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Laguna Mtns PCT Training Hike

Sunday, April 14 - 5:30pm:  I wanted to write this post while I'm still conscious. Sitting at the computer isn't too much of a strain, but the two balls of meat at the end of my legs are throbbing incessantly, reminding me that merely standing up would be painful.

Just 3 hours off of a 2-day backpack trip, I'm more sore and have more blisters than I can literally ever recall in my life.

It all starting out innocently enough: Two gorgeous weekend days on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), mostly downhill from the Burnt Rancheria campground in the Laguna Mountains to Lake Morena back down at desert altitude. About 22 miles.

We would be self-contained, carrying tents, sleeping bags, food, stoves, and water in our 35-45lb. packs, but it all seemed to fall into place. One of our ASMs (asst. scoutmasters) would take the drivers & cars down to the rendezvous point at the end of the hike (and bring them back to the start). We were committed. ;-)

The point of the trip was to continue training for our mondo Philmont Scout Ranch trek taking place starting in late July for 9 days in Northern New Mexico, near Cimarron, NM

Then reality set in: The original campground was closed on Friday night, despite several assurances by government officials.  This prompted us to camp at the Laguna/El Prado campground, some 3 miles downhill from our original starting point.  The crowded campground was a bit noisy and the ground was a bit "slopey" there, but most of us reported getting some sleep.

On the trail.
Our legs were fresh the next morning so the uphill climb was merely, *ahem*, invigorating. Then the downhill stretch came into play. Dave, the hike leader, had met the night before with some of the ASMs to re-route us to a new campground for Saturday - Cibbets Flat campground - then downhill on Sunday winding by Kitchen Creek Falls to the cars at a new location - Boulder Oaks off of Old Highway 80. I was familiar with some of the latter area having motorcycled through it a lot over the years.

Rest stop.

I knew the downhill portions were going to result in sore knees and quads, and probably some blisters, but didn't think too much about my toenails. I had left them a little too long and my big toes were smashing into the front of my boots just enough to be a real problem. I had purchased some high-tech teflon powder for my socks and toes to keep the blistering to a minimum, but these mostly failed. I'm going back to sock liners.

Just what you want to see...
We arrived in Cibbets Flat about 4pm after nearly 13 miles on the trail - long day!  My favorite sign was the one about avoiding "unexploded ordinance."  We'd also passed a lot of hikers who were planning to hike major portions of the PCT as well as trail runners traveling fast and light.

Arriving in the afternoon gave us plenty of time to set up camp, relax, eat dinner and commiserate about our various injuries before retiring. I think my head hit the sack at about 7:30pm and other than a couple of twists and turns in the mummy bag I didn't wake up until dawn!

On Sunday, the plan was to do an easy 8 miles down to the cars with a side trip to the Falls. The state of my feet though made this segment anything but easy. The toenail on my right foot was in miserable pain, while my left foot had a massive blister on the sole behind the big toe and a pinky toe looking a bit like hamburger. It was going to be a long day. ;-/

Video: On the trail!

On these hikes, we designate a pace-setter (hike leader) and a navigator. The rest of us just fall in line. So... with the rapid recovery of the boys after the previous day, they set a torrid pace coming right out of the blocks. Several of us old guys were hard pressed to keep up, probably resulting in the additional knee pain I'm feeling right now!  The sights and skylines over the desert were beautiful however and compensated somewhat.

Ethan showing off his bouldering skills.

Meal time at Cibbets Flat campground.

Gorgeous coastal desert vistas.

After a short side-trip to Kitchen Creek Falls (which I passed on), in the end we made it to Boulder Oaks Campground. Everyone was relieved and talk quickly turned to milkshakes and hamburgers in Pine Valley. As usual, Major's 50's style Diner did not disappoint!

Trailing down towards Kitchen Creek.

Coming away from this, it's clear that if Philmont is to be enjoyable for Ethan and I much more training is needed. Stamina wasn't a problem, but making sure the feet are in good shape over the long haul will be critical. It will come down to simply putting training miles on our bodies *with pack weight* as often as possible.

Dave memorializes the trek.

Me and Lewis on the trail.

Da Boys.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Hot 'lanta Aquarium Scenes

One of the great things about traveling for Nik Software over the years was being able to visit so many cities here in the U.S. and around the world.  This past January, I cruised over to Atlanta for the Imaging USA show (sponsored by the Professional Photographers of America).  Our hosts treated the exhibitors and vendors to a reception at the Georgia Aquarium which houses 120,000 animals, representing 500 species, in 8.5 million US gallons of marine and fresh water. When it opened in 2005 it was the world's largest aquarium. The whole joint was quite spectacular.

Each of the images was processed with Lightroom 4 and the Nik Collection by Google (click that link to purchase the entire Nik Collection for 15% off, or just $126.65). Enjoy!

Alien Jellies on the Move

Dolphin Curiousity

Entering the Galaxy

Neon Fish

Multi Frog

Painty Fish

Pop Photo Fish
Hotlanta Curves

Coca-Cola Rocket

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Nik Collection by Google

Valley of Fire. Dawn. HDR Efex Pro 2.
About a week ago, Google announced the new Nik Collection by Google product. Having worked as the marketing and sales manager for the past 6 years at Nik Software - which Google acquired back in September 2012 - this was a welcome event. So many people - pundits, pros, and enthusiasts alike - had predicted the demise of Nik, so  releasing a new product was somewhat of a vindication (and validation).

Nik Collection Logo - can't wait to see this on a T-shirt!
The Nik Collection sports a single installer for all 6 products, believe me a welcome enhancement! The products, which function as plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom and Apple Aperture, are now Windows 8 compatible and no longer have product keys.  I can tell you as a former employee, the #1 customer service call we received was related to product activation/product keys. At the time we first implemented the activation system, I was a big fan. After all, putting on my sales manager hat, I very much wanted only people who legitimately purchased the software to be using it. Later on, it became apparent that the "real world" was messy and that a lot of people were truly annoyed with activation.  I'm glad Google killed that.

Valley of Fire. Dawn. HDR Efex Pro 2. Color Efex Pro 4.
 Two other pieces of big news here:
  1. a steep drop in the retail price of the product. Formerly $499.95, the Nik Collection by Google is now just $149. Wow! 
  2. free updates for anyone who has purchased and registered a Nik product in the last 5-6 years. Basically what this means is if you only purchased one product in the past, you are eligible to receive ALL six products free of charge.  (tell your friends).  
 Nik sent an email out to every registered customer to this effect, but a lot fell into spam traps. If you're a registered user, just send a message to and they'll straighten things out promptly.

Valley of Fire. Mid-day. Silver Efex Pro 2.
If you're looking for info about each individual product, you can deep link into any of the following:

Dfine 2 - Best-in-class noise reduction, renowned for its one-click simplicity.
Viveza 2 - Selective editing of color and light. You'll use this on almost every image you care about, no kidding!
HDR Efex Pro 2 - Ridiculously cool high dynamic range software that allows you to create amazing images with looks as natural or as surreal as you like.
Color Efex Pro 4 - Nik's flagship product sporting 55 unique filters that solve common photographic problems, extend creativity, retouch skin, and much more.
Silver Efex Pro 2 - The world's leading black and white software. The original and still the #1 choice of pros. 'Nuff said.
Sharpener Pro 3 - Incredibly powerful and flexible output sharpening tool.

Yours truly, shot by Suzie.
To read more about each of the products, click on the product name above. To get a 15% discount on the Nik Collection by Google, click here.  And... to see what you can achieve with these tools, here are a few of my favorite shots from the last few months. Cheers...

Kevin Young using the ColorChecker Passport Target. Valley of Fire. Color Efex Pro 4.

Valley of Fire. The Road. Mid-morning. Color Efex Pro 4.

Bridge near Torrey Pines, San Diego. Sunset. HDR Efex Pro 2.

"Plaster Blaster." Mid-day. Color Efex Pro 2.

Canada Fishing Trip 2012. Night. ;-)  Color Efex Pro 4.

Canada Fishing Trip 2012. Son Ethan & my Dad. Color Efex Pro 4.

Valley of Fire. Mid-morning. Susie. Color Efex Pro 4.

Kelby WW Photowalk. La Jolla Cove. Mid-morning. Color Efex Pro 4.

Kelby WW Photowalk. La Jolla Cove. Mid-morning. Silver Efex Pro 2.
Thanksgiving 2012. Kim & Etho. Mid-day. Color Efex Pro 4.