June 2012

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Congratulations are due to Democrats and various big government liberals now that the Supreme Court has now given its approval to the most controversial parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Of course, none of this would have been necessary if the Democrats had been honest enough to pay for affordable care with a tax plan instead of the silly mandate scheme we’re all going to be stuck with. It’s the equivalent of some city deciding to build a new baseball stadium and promising citizens it won’t be paid for out of tax dollars, only to require every citizen to buy a season ticket.

Now, since our elected leaders never worry about the consequences when power passes on to the other team, in a few years when the Republicans are in charge, I don’t want to hear any complaints if there’s an oil slump and they decide to prop up the petroleum industry by setting a 50-gallon per month minimum fuel purchase requirement, with just a tiny penalty/tax if you fail to meet it. Also, there will be the requirement for poor, young, inner-city men and women to buy contraceptives or pay a fine, which is totally not to be confused with a eugenics program. And then there’s the Homeland Security requirement for every American to buy an AR-15 and shoot at least 1000 rounds of ammo per year…

(Headline allusion explained.)

Photographers like to tell amateurs that “your camera doesn’t matter.” What they mean by this is that if you want to take nice pictures, you probably shouldn’t get too hung up on the technical differences between cameras. For a broad range of photographic subjects and conditions, the pictures you take with a $5000 digital camera aren’t that much better than those you’d take with a $500 camera, which aren’t much better than what you’d get with a $125 camera.

That’s not to say there aren’t any actual differences in digital image quality, but unless you know how to look for them, they only make a difference in extreme photographic situations. For an amateur like me, the biggest photographic limitation is not the quality of the camera but my own skill and experience.

Still, every once in a while one of those extreme situations comes along. A couple of days ago I went out with a bunch of my coworkers on what we’re calling a “team-building exercise.” It looked something like this:

I decided to see how good a picture I could get of one of the clay pigeons being hit by the pellets from the shotgun, and when I got home and loaded everything into Lightroom, I found this:

I think that’s a pretty good picture. It could be better, but it does a nice enough job of capturing the violence of the shotgun blast blowing apart the clay pigeon.

Probably the trickiest part of getting a shot like this is the timing. If you’re shooting a basketball game, you can see the ball heading for the hoop, and with a little practice you can time your shots to catch the ball as it hits the net. But in this case, I had no control over when the shooter pulled the trigger, and once he or she did, the shot reached the clay in less than a tenth of a second, far too quick for me to react.

The only way I could get a well-timed shot is to put the camera in automatic mode and fire off a burst of photos as the clay neared the top of its arc (which is where people tend to shoot it) in hope of getting lucky and catching it at the right moment. Since my D200 camera body can take 5 shots per second, I figured I had a fair chance of one of the images catching something good.

The clays are about the diameter of a DVD disk, and this one was about 80 feet away from me when it got hit. This is a close-up crop with only about a 2-to-1 sensor-to-image pixel ratio at this size. If my camera had less resolution, the image wouldn’t be this clear.

In order to freeze the action this way, I needed an exposure of about a thousandth of a second. That comes with a trade-off in tolarance for distance errors in focus. At a slower shutter speed, my focus wouldn’t have to be as accurate. That’s a problem because the clay was such a small target against the background that the autofocus couldn’t find it quickly. Fortunately, my camera can autofocus in a locking mode, so I can press a button to set the autofocus on the grass where all the clay debris is landing. Then I just follow the clay up from the thrower and hold the shutter button to take a bunch of pictures at that distance.

If I’d had a lesser camera, such as a compact pocket camera, I still might have been able to get that image, but it would have been grainier, I would have had a much harder time setting up manual focus, and it would have taken the photos a lot slower, meaning it might miss getting one like this. On the other hand if I had a better camera, such as the new Nikon D4 body (I want) with the latest 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens (I want, I want, I want) it could have taken that photo at a higher resolution, with less grain, at twice the frame rate. And I think the D4 autofocus is fast and accurate enough to follow the clays up into the sky as they leave the thrower, so I wouldn’t have had to fiddle with the manual focus.

On the other hand, reading back over this post, I realized I have inadvertently concealed one pro-tip which I used to make that picture, and which you can use to get better pictures too, regardless of which camera you use: Take a ton of photos. I have about 120 boring images of clay targets in the sky, and maybe 20 slightly less boringimages of tiny little bits of debris scattered all over the frame. The photo above is the only image that gives a real sense of the moment of impact.

I just bought a new laptop computer, and now I’m looking for a backpack with a padded laptop compartment, so I don’t break my new toy in the first month. So as I’m looking on Amazon and reading reviews, I notice that a lot of laptops are labeled “Checkpoint Friendly,” meaning they open up easily so they can be scanned at the airport.


When pundits first started complaining that TSA searches were a way to teach the population to be submissive, I thought it was an overreaction. I thought the TSA’s search policy could be explained by panic and stupidity. Now I’m beginning to wonder.

I mean, what’s next? See-through clothing so they don’t have to pad you down? Transparent car trunk lids, so the cops don’t have to ask you to pop the trunk? Houses pre-wired for bugging by the FBI? An increase in sales of douche and enema kits so our odor won’t offend when we get strip searched?

I’ve been exchanging email with a few people about my upcoming dash to the coast at the end of the month. I have tentative plans with a couple of people, and for a little while it looked like Jamison Koehler was going to put together a blogmeet with some other DC bloggers, but that fell through because he’s going to be out of town.

It does look like I might make it a little further north than originally planned. I had been planning to reach New Jersey by crossing the Delaware river at Philadelphia, but now it looks like I’ll be driving to Newark and taking the Garden State Parkway down past Atlantic City to Avalon, if that makes any difference to anyone.


I used to do consulting that required the occasional trip to Picatinny Arsenal just outside of Rockaway, so I have some vague memories of the area.

In about a month I’m going to take another road trip out to the east coast. I’ll be driving from Chicago to the Jersey shore, and then on the return trip I’ll probably swing south through Virginia and Kentucky on my way back to Chicago.


The last time I made this trip, my wife and I met up with fellow blogger Mirriam and her great family outside of Washington. I haven’t made any specific plans yet, but if any of you are somewhere in that general area (the route on the map is just a rough guess) I think it might be fun to meet up. My wife and I will be on the move, but we’ll have to stop for food, drinks, taking pictures, sleep, and bathroom breaks. We might as well say “hi” while we’re at it.

Email me if you’re interested.