Another Way To See Pictures

It associates photos with one another so that if two pictures overlap, it will place them correctly spatially and you can move from one to another.

I’ve been playing around with Microsoft’s Photosynth. It associates photos with one another so that if two pictures overlap, it will place them correctly spatially and you can move from one to another.

You can share or relive a vacation destination or explore a distant museum or landmark. With nothing more than a digital camera and some inspiration, you can use Photosynth to transform regular digital photos into a three-dimensional, 360-degree experience. Anybody who sees your synth is put right in your shoes, sharing in your experience, with detail, clarity and scope impossible to achieve in conventional photos or videos.

Synths constitute an entirely new visual medium. Photosynth analyzes each photo for similarities to the others, and uses that data to build a model of where the photos were taken. It then re-creates the environment and uses that as a canvas on which to display the photos.

My synth is a bunch of photos from the Las Vegas Strip. You probably need to download a plug-in from Microsoft–so whether you view this or not is your call. It is pretty cool.

If this thing bugs you incessantly to download the plug-in (I won’t know because I already have it installed), please let me know and I’ll move the synth itself to another page.

Learning More About How Little I Know

I set out today to take shots like this, thinking it was as simple as could be. I carried my wobbly tripod and remote shutter release. It’s not that easy!

HDR image of a field on Tuttle Avenue, Hamden, CT

Mill River Hamden, CT HDR

Like many photographers, I play around with HDR (high dynamic range) photography. It’s a method of extending the dynamic range of a digital camera. Your eye can see subtle detail in very dark darks and very bright brights. A digital camera cannot. There is a finite distance between the darkest and brightest it can resolve. That range can be moved, but it’s limited.

With HDR photography a series of pictures, each with the range shifted, are merged. The new resulting image has more range than any of its component shots. The shots at the top of this entry from an open field for horses on Tuttle Avenue and the Mill River near Sleeping Giant Mountain, are HDR pictures.

100% crop of Tuttle Avenue field HDRWhen you look really closely, there are problems. I’m not sure how to eliminate them and I can’t seem to find anything about them online. This photo on the left is a 100% crop (pixel-for-pixel on the screen) of the Tuttle Avenue horse field HDR image. Since the leaves are blowing around slightly, there are strange ghostly artifacts in the trees and places where the blue sky pokes through. The original is a huge image, 12 Megapixels. There are similar problems with the Mill River shot. I’m not totally sure this would be seen in most prints–though it might. It definitely would in an oversize enlargement.

I set out today to take shots like this, thinking it was as simple as could be. I carried my wobbly tripod and remote shutter release. It’s not that easy!

The more I do photographically the more I understand great photographers are expert technicians. That’s much more important than being a great artist. I suspect my opinion is anti-intuitive for casual photo viewers.

I want to be a good photographer. I’ve got a lot to learn.

A Little Computing Advice

PCs aren’t as expensive as they once were, but for years they’ve been a whole lot faster than we need for most tasks. If you surf the web, read email and occasionally play with photos, a computer that’s a few years old is plenty fine.

If you’re thinking of buying a new computer and you don’t play games or use your machine for other really stressful things, save your money! Really.

This comes up, because I went to my friend Steve’s house last Sunday and, for an investment a little north of $100, refurbished his computer.

He says there’s a real difference. That makes me smile.

I increased the RAM from 512 mb to 2 gb. At the same time, we added a second hard drive. There he added 300 gb to his original 120 gb.

If the darned case wasn’t so anti-intuitive, the whole process would have taken five minutes. Unfortunately, it took closer to a half hour as I fiddled and fuddled, trying to get the hard drive in its bay.

I finally realized pulling the front panel off was the way to go. I’m an idiot.

Steve’s computer had slowed down. There are a few reasons for this. First, with most little utilities you install, programs like Real Play, Quicktime or Adobe Acrobat, small starter programs are also installed. They run every time you boot your PC.

These little programs sometimes check for updates and often pre-load helper files, making the programs start quicker. Each also ‘steals’ a little RAM. That makes the computer run slower!

None of these programs uses enough memory to be a problem on its own, but in the aggregate, they become leeches. Using MSCONFIG, I turned a bunch of these little applets off.

Most computers also run antivirus and spyware suites. These are real resource hogs. I personally choose not to run either. It’s the Internet equivalent of unsafe sex, but it works for me.

I’ve never cleaned a virus from a computer that didn’t have antivirus software! Most new viruses are designed to get around them anyway.

Steve’s computer was also running slower because he was doing more with it. He now loads larger image files from his digital camera and manipulates them with Photoshop. Those files are compressed on disk, but must be expanded to their real size when played with. There’s a lot of complex math involved with photos.

When the new drive formatted (a long and tedious process) and the machine rebooted, he looked at me as if I was a wizard. It was really pretty simple. I’ve yet to kill a machine while trying to upgrade it.

PCs aren’t as expensive as they once were, but for years they’ve been a whole lot faster than we need for most tasks. If you surf the web, read email and occasionally play with photos, a computer that’s a few years old is plenty fine.

Real hard core ‘big iron’ computing is the answer for video editors, heavy duty photo manipulators and gamers. For everyone else, save a few bucks and wait.

Oh – and if you really have your heart set on that quad core smoker with 4 gb of RAM and a terrabyte of hard drive space – I won’t rat you out.

Freezecam Debuts

We’re watching ‘the’ game on TV – New England vs. Indianapolis on CBS. So far, this battle of undefeated teams, both led by charismatic quarterbacks, is everything promised.

Not a sports fan? Don’t stop reading up yet.

CBS added a new feature to today’s coverage – FreezeCam. Remember when two words actually had a space between them?

I’ve tried to find as much info as I could, but there’s really not much available.

FreezeCam manipulates a high resolution, wide angle image of the field. There are enough pixels to allow zooming into small areas without the image getting ratty. It looks spectacular, though it’s probably not as amazing as it seems. Even in high definition, a television screen has significantly less resolution than a cheap digital camera.

Still, this is a major breakthrough, allowing a view of quick events happening away from the action where a camera would not normally be looking.

FreezeCam comes from Sportvision, the company responsible for many of the best sports video innovations. They provide the virtual 1st down line in football games, car tracking in NASCAR and pitc trajectory in Major League Baseball games.

I think they also provide the technology for the virtual ads behind home plate you see during baseball games. I’m considering giving them a pass on that, all things considered.

These are my type of geeks!

I’ve only seen Freezecam used a few times so far, to isolate a runner’s feet in possible out-of-bounds plays. Very impressive. It’s a gadget with a real purpose and value.

In a few years, we’ll probably be as blas

One More Planet – It Could Be Xena

Considering how long telescopes have been around and the limitations imposed by our atmosphere, it boggles the mind to think there are new discoveries – lots of new discoveries, from Earth based telescopes.

PASADENA, Calif.–A planet larger than Pluto has been discovered in the outlying regions of the solar system with the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory, California Institute of Technology planetary scientist Mike Brown announced today.

The planet is a typical member of the Kuiper belt, but its sheer size in relation to the nine planets already known means that it can only be classified as a planet, Brown says. Currently about 97 astronomical units from the sun (an astronomical unit is the distance between the sun and Earth), the planet becomes the farthest-known object in the solar system, and the third brightest of the Kuiper belt objects.

“It will be visible over the next six months and is currently almost directly overhead in the early-morning eastern sky, in the constellation Cetus,” says Brown, who made the discovery with colleagues Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, on January 8.

Yale – wow! That means some of these discoveries are being made by people who work down the block from me. I decided to drop David Rabinowitz a congratulatory note.

Before we go on – I am not shy about using email to reach out, especially when there’s more information I want. I have corresponded with Nobel Prize winners, famous scientists and journalists, producers I’ve wanted to work for… even actor/lawyer/game show host/commentator Ben Stein&#185.

Hi David,

I just want you to know, every time I read about this amazing discovery, I am pleased to see there was a New Haven/Yale connection. Congratulations on your work.

When things calm down and you get a few minutes, could you tell me how this evaded detection for so long? I would have assumed there would be some gravitational component that was seen yet unaccounted for and would have led to an earlier search. Of course my knowledge of planetary physics leaves lots to be desired.

All the best,

Geoff Fox

A few hours later, there was a reply.

Hi Geoff. Thanks for the kudos.

It is amazing that this new planet, which I am still getting used to calling a planet, was not detected before. But it doesn’t have anything to do with the orbital dynamics. It is too small to have an effect on the orbits of the other planets. So it wouldn’t show up that way.

Really, the short answer is that nobody ever looked before. For the first time, we are using a large telescope and a large digital camera to search the whole northern hemisphere for distant planets. Building the camera was a major accomplishment – it was a team effort at the Yale Physics Dept and Indiana Univ. in Bloomginton IN. Called the Palomar-Quest camera, it is one of the worlds largest digital camera – 160 Megs. In combination with the special wide-field optics of the 48″” Samuel Oschin Schmidt at Palomar Observatory, we can search the whole northern hemisphere more efficiently than anybody else.

Now nobody ever though it would be very productive to search for distant planets far from the plane of the planets — the ecliptic plane. Our competitors, in fact, mostly search only within a few degrees of the ecliptic. But because we can search so much area with Palomar-Quest, we decided to search everywhere. We started at the ecliptic, believing this would be most productive. But strangely, the most intriguing discoveries have been out of the plane. We found Sedna 12 degrees below the plane, we found our new planet 14 deg below the plane. One of the new objects reported on Friday, called 2003 FY9, is the brightest (but not biggest) object in the Kuiper Belt. It is 30 degrees above the ecliptic plane.

What makes astronomy so exciting, there is so much out there left to be discovered. Building a new instruments helps. But just looking where nobody expects to find something, you can get lucky. We still have more area to search even farther from the ecliptic. So there could even be more exciting things to find.


David Rabinowitz

Basically, the team took a succession of photos and then analyzed them for movement. From our perspective, distant stars stand still while much closer planets (or asteroids, comets and meteors) move in the sky. Look for something moving like a planet and you just might spot a planet! Or, you might just be picking out some noise in the telescope’s sensors. That’s where astronomers come in.

The picture on the left represents what you would see, looking at the Sun from this distant planet. It’s just another very bright star in a very dark sky.

To me, the “magic keys” to this discovery are both the laser guide star adaptive optics, which allows astronomers on the ground to take images as sharp as the images from the Hubble Space Telescope and the ability to have much of the grunt work of comparing images done by computer.

In any event, as more and more objects are discovered, there will be more and more controversy over what exactly is a planet? Lots of astronomers don’t think Pluto is a planet! And this new sighting, though larger than Pluto, is in some ways similar – especially its orbit.

In the meantime, the word is the discoverers are waiting for approval to call this planet, “Xena.”

&#185 – After the “Deep Throat” unmasking, I wrote Ben to disagree with a commentary he had written. We went back through three or four sets of emails, airing our opposing views. I enjoyed the discussion, and was meticulous in sourcing my conclusions. Ben also seemed to enjoy the ‘fight’ and gave back without hesitation.

Though we disagreed strongly, I have a great deal of respect for him and was more than a little pleased he was willing to engage me in this manner.

Post Atlanta Random Thoughts

I can’t believe how exhausted I was coming home from Atlanta. I’m a firm believer that travel is just as exhausting as work – and this is more living proof. From the time I left the hotel until I got home was nearly 8 hours. That includes driving, flying, waiting and even taking the Atlanta Airport subway.

I’m starting to get bugged by the TSA screening at some airports. I’ll use Atlanta as an example. Usually I would take photos to illustrate my points, but the TSA has never shown a warm and fuzzy side to me. To their mind: photo equals full body cavity search.

In order to get to the screening apparatus it is necessary to move through a long circuitous line. I was thinking ‘cattle’ as I walked it, only to hear the woman behind me blurt out just that word!

I never take off my shoes for screening, but was told if I didn’t, I would be searched. My shoes have now been x-rayed and I’ve walked through an airport barefoot. The world’s a safer place.

Exactly what is accomplished by screening everyone? Isn’t it possible to build a system that provides trustworthy people with a modicum of trust? I’ll vouch for my mom.

Why do US Senators need to be hand screened at an airport, as recently occurred? Are we really worried about them? Are we really worried about me or the elderly white haired woman with breathing apparatus and a wheelchair I recently saw being screened at Bradley International?

Maybe it’s just the attitude. There is never a doubt when you deal with some of these screeners that they know they have limitless power over you. Tick them off, pay the price.

I brought a digital camera, laptop computer, cell phone and other wired devices. Do they really know the electronic makeup of these items? Aren’t they better off knowing me – or whomever is being screened?

After arriving in Philadelphia and before boarding my New Haven bound plane, there was a problem. The plane had been ‘overbooked’ and volunteers would be needed.

Each volunteer would receive one round trip ticket for anywhere in USAir’s system plus a ticket on the next available flight – 8:15 tomorrow night, or approximately 27 hours wait.

As we got ready to leave, I noticed the seat next to me and a few others in the plane were empty. What was going on? The flight attendant told me there were weight restrictions.

That seemed very odd. Sometimes in the summer when the air isn’t quite as dense, planes don’t have enough power for takeoff. It was cool today. The wind, which had been gusty earlier, had slacked off. I just don’t get it.

I know a few pilots read my blog. Maybe one of you will explain this to me… better still, explain it to the ‘bumpees.’

On Friday I wrote about being forced to park in a more expensive lot when the long term lot was full. I mentioned this to the cashier tonight and he immediately adjusted the price down to the long term rate. My guess is this had nothing to do with me being on TV (making it an even better find, since it represents a real policy – a smart policy at an airport trying to build a customer base).

Flying from Tweed is a pleasure, and I’m glad that’s how I booked this trip.

Finally, as I left the airport I noted the Sun setting over New Haven Harbor. I drove into a nearby park, but soggy ground prevented me from getting a shot which was totally in the clear. As it turns out, I think the trees in the foreground add nice contrast.

Coming Home From Florida

On my way down to Florida I became a Song fan. On my way home, that feeling diminished.

My parents live 20 minutes from the airport so I thought leaving at 12:20 for a 3:05 flight would be fine… and it was. I had my doubts when we ran into bumper-to-bumper stop and go traffic in Lantana, two towns south of West Palm Beach.

After the traffic cleared, I took the new ramp directly from the highway into the airport. When I lived in West Palm 35 years ago this was a little airport where your bags were delivered to you outside the terminal. With all the tourist traffic, this airport is larger than what would conventionally be found in a market this size.

As you approach, a sign directs you to the red or blue terminal. Unfortunately, the signs are reversed! The first one ends with the words “all other airlines.” That’s strange.

An overly anxious skycap met our car at the curb and took my suitcase and golf bags. I carried my camera and computer into the building.

In this post 9/11 world, my carry on bags resemble the accessories counter at Circuit City. I have wires and adapters of all sorts. I also carry a laptop and digital camera. For some reason I usually escape the probing eye of the TSA. Not today.

After removing my sneakers and heading through the magnetometer, I glanced over to see the person running the X-ray machine saying something to the inspector at the end of the line. “Is this bag yours?” It was the computer bag.

My computer bag has lots of pockets, some zippered, others sealed with Velcro. He was going through every one. I offered up if he’d empty it, I’d be glad to put everything back. He looked at me with a scowl that could only be interpreted as, “Do you want to have to take your clothes off?” I took one step back and stared at the floor.

Finally he found his prey. He had been looking for a mini tripod, unidentifiable with X-ray. It was something I packed and never used.

The flight left from Gate C-1. Though that sounds convenient… and I guess it is… the first gate ends up thrusting lots of people who want to be on early, and don’t want to wait in a line, to move into the middle of the hall. That’s where everyone else is walking to the gate.

I should know. I was part of that throng.

Delta/Song uses a zone system. So your boarding pass has a designation of zone one through five. In was assigned row six on the plane and that meant zone two.

Our 757 boarded through a door somewhere around row 10. I turned left, toward the cockpit, while most people turned right.

I sat down and looked out the window. It’s good to leave when it’s gray and rainy. I also marveled at all the rolling stock airlines keep – mostly idle. I’ve never been to an airport that didn’t look like a used car lot for baggage carts, stubby tugs and flight stairs.

As the boarding progressed, a flight attendant on the PA system kept saying which side you could find seats A,B and C or D, E and F. She was right… except for those of us who had turned and walked toward the front!

What makes Song so much more enjoyable than a conventional flight is the satellite TV system. With 24 channels, there’s a lot to watch. The problems with the TV began as soon as it was turned on.

Before I get to the specifics, the system does have a few inherent faults. Song gives out earpieces that are so cheap, they literally tell you to take them home. They are the least comfortable things I have ever put in my ears.

Even with 24 channels, Song has coverage holes. They have NBC, but not ABC, CBS, PBS, or the other lesser over-the-air networks. I flew home with satellite TV during the Jets/Steelers NFL playoff game, but the game wasn’t available to me. NBC has no football.

As the satellite system came on, we were flying through a thick bank of clouds. Satellite TV suffers from rain fade and we were in the midst of clouds droplets. Reception problems were to be expected.

The picture would appear for a few seconds before tearing or distorting or just plain going to black. Sometimes an error message would pop up from the satellite receivers. Though the message buttons said to press for help or more info, and we had touch screens, they weren’t addressable from the seats, making them a source of frustration.

We cleared the clouds, but the TV system still didn’t lock in. The problems affected different channels differently – but affected them all.

After a while the flight attendant came on to tell us there was a continuing problem and she was going to reset the system. She did. It fixed nothing.

I tried to watch but it was tough to stay with a program when it would lock up. Digital lockup is worse that analog since there are no signs if things are getting better or worse.

This would be all I’d write about the TV system, except one more weird thing which happened just before the end of the flight.

I was doing something else, not paying attention to the screen, when it caught my eye. Text was scrolling across the seat back display. I was watching a computer reboot!

This did not happen with either of the two seats adjacent to me. I don’t know if there’s a computer for each display or individual computers for the different services you could be watching (there’s more than just TV to be seen).

Whatever it was, it was happening… and the computer was booting into Linux! I wish I knew which ‘flavor,’ though that scrolled by before I got my wits about me.

The rest of the flight was uneventful and I’d give Song a pass, but they did one thing at the airport that really upset me.

After around 10 minutes of waiting at the carousel, the buzzer buzzed, the carousel started moving and about a dozen bags came off. Then the carousel stopped.

There was no announcement, no excuse. We waited for another 20 minutes until the bags began to come out again.

I think I know what happened because it has happened to me before.

Airplanes don’t come and go, spread out over the day, but come and go in bunches. There were enough baggage handlers for all the flights, but not enough to keep up with the bunches. When it came time to make the decision: get an airplane out on time or get the passengers out on time – the plane won.

So, now I’m home. I’m rested. Later today I’m back to work.

As I write this, it’s snowing here in Connecticut. In Florida it will be in the upper 60s and low 70s this week. Reality never waits.

Root Canal on Tooth Five

It’s a good thing I haven’t named my teeth. Over the years I would have cried for some of them. They have been poked and prodded. Some have survived, some have died, others have gotten a makeover.

As it turns out, my teeth are numbered. I didn’t know that, but when the periodontist sent me to the endodontist, good old number five was getting the work. Number five is on the upper right (from my perspective) side of my mouth.

This all began when a pea sized bubble mysteriously appeared on my gum. I’ve had no pain, but I did have an infection. Within five seconds of seeing the x-ray, Barry the periodontist said root canal was in order. Different specialty – go down the hall to that other office.

My appointment was this morning at 10:00. A few days ago they called to ask me to be there fifteen minutes early to fill out the paperwork.

I am Geoff. However, when it comes to insurance, my drivers license, and my mom when she’s angry, it’s Geoffrey. So, Geoffrey filled out the forms.

I had met Bruce the endodontist before. He had previously renovated another sick tooth. I have no idea what he was doing in my mouth, but I had 100% confidence in him. This is the kind of thing, I suppose, you can sense in someone.

Originally from Korea, where he first became a dentist, he came to the United States and had to train again. He is bright, focused and unbelievably gentle. This is no small feat. Not every dentist is gentle – and it makes a huge difference.

I also like Bruce because he’s a techno guy. He might not admit to that, but it’s true. The last time he worked on me he took pictures of the result with a digital camera. Now his office had a digital x-ray machine with the results displayed on an LCD screen that also hosts the office’s business system.

Up high, where a patient lounging in the chair could see is a flat screen TV. Only in a dentist’s office is the remote control wrapped in clear plastic.

Much of this was wasted on me because the first thing I did was put on the mask and start breathing nitrous oxide. I don’t drink, so I can’t be sure, but this has to be a little bit of what being tipsy is all about.

As soon as the gas took hold, he gave me two injections on the upper gum. I hardly felt them. Certainly, I have never felt any injection less.

The entire root canal took a little over an hour – and that’s it. Two hours of no eating for the filling to set and I’m good to go. Well, not exactly. A root canal is always followed by a crown, so there’s more fun ahead, I suppose.

I drove home, still a little woozy from the gas. A few hours of rest and time for the anesthetic to wear off, and now there’s hardly any discomfort at all.

I am truly amazed.

The New Camera’s First Assignment

Over the past few years one of the major uses of my digital camera was to accompany Helaine and Steffie (aka – the cult members) when they went to Rick Springfield concerts. The Fuji S602Z has taken hundreds… maybe thousands of photos at his concerts.

Some of Steffie’s best were published in his calendar and tour program. She has developed a very good photographic eye.

Before they leave for the show I set the camera manually so its shutter is fast enough to reduce any motion (of picture taker or subject). Then I set the film speed equivalent. The camera looks at the light as the pictures are taken and decides how wide to open the lens.

Now they are going with my new Canon Digital Rebel and a Sigma 18-125mm f3.5-5.6 lens. The camera and lens are much better than those on the Fuji, but the lens is ‘slower.’ That means I need more light with this camera than with the Fuji.

I can make up some of the difference by increasing the equivalent film speed from 400, where it was with the Fuji, to 800 or even 1,600. I’m afraid if I up it too much there will be too much noise (though the Canon is known as a very quiet camera).

It is a quandary.

I went to the Canon Rebel forum on, a great photo site and was told to buy a different lens. Others there said there wouldn’t be enough light. I’m worried, but I think it will be OK.

The concert is Friday night. Sometime Saturday afternoon I’ll know.

What Have I Forgotten?

We’re about 12 hours from airplane departure for Las Vegas. What have I forgotten?

Most of my packing is done by Helaine. It’s much better that way since I have the same sense of fashion I had in 1967 – and that’s not a good thing. I do have some responsibilities, like my toiletries and electronics.

The toiletries are easy, because I’m taking what I use on a daily basis and just throwing it in a little bag. Everything is congregated around the sink. If anything looks like there’s not enough for a week, I just take a new one and leave the old one for my return. Brainless. I’m perfect for this.

Electronics is different, because I’m taking things I might not use everyday – things which are spread out across my home office. Do I have the right cables for the camera? The right peripherals for the computer? Forget the 10/100 PCMCIA card and forget about the Internet. Or, is it 802.11b? I took one of those adapters too… and a dial-up modem. Who can tell? The Dell laptop has a charger with the longest power cable I’ve ever seen on an electronic device. You can plug it in in a different time zone if you want.

I have 12 AA NiMH batteries and three chargers. The digital camera sucks juice like crazy. There’s also a small can of compressed air. Lately, I have noticed some dust inside the camera lens. The air gets rid of it. Is compressed air restricted by TSA in this post-9/11 era?

I’ve finished up the last of my school work, taking three weeks of classes in two courses over the last few days. As the week goes by I’ll be able to check the online bulletin board and watch my grades pop up. It is very unlike me to be early for anything – certainly not school!

My last assignment comes at 12:01 AM. I will be on Southwest’s site getting our boarding passes. With no assigned seats, getting a Southwest “A” pass is crucial.

Then it’s to bed, never letting one thought out of my mind. What have I forgotten?

Driver’s License Photo

I almost forgot to do this. The two photos are from my past and current driver’s license respectively.

There seems to be a huge difference in the width of my face, and I would have attributed it to my diet. After all, 25 pounds should be noticeable. Then I started playing around with them in Photoshop with the intention of having them as close to one another as possible to allow a good comparison.

After lots of scrutiny, I think the old style license photo was actually distorted in the horizontal – probably inadvertently programmed that way. Maybe the person who wrote the code didn’t properly use the horizontal vs. vertical ratio of the digital camera.

I remember having the operator take my picture a few times when I got it four years ago. Unlike most people, I’m very used to seeing what I look like on camera. It just looked wrong.

What was I thinking with the hair in 2000?

Whatever the case, I’m covered now until 2010.

Blogger’s note: I wasn’t sure whether ‘drivers’ needed an apostrophe before the ‘s’ or not, so I looked at the license itself. It is actually called a Driver License – singular, non-possessive. But, that just sounds so weird.

DARE Graduation

This was my 11th trip to Community School in Prospect to participate in their DARE graduation. DARE is Drug Abuse Resistance Education and it’s a program Prospect runs in the 5th grade.

It’s a program that’s not without controversy. There have been charges over the years that it has encouraged children to turn in their parents, or that it does nothing at all but cost towns money.

I really don’t know.

So, why do I go? And, why do I feel it is so rewarding to me?

First, I think the critics overstate their case. But, even without that, this ceremony has always felt like a family affair. The kids like that their parents are there for their accomplishment. I always talk about this program really means their parents know they’re starting to make independent decisions – and they hope they make the right ones.

After the awards I usually take photos with people and sign autographs. And, I always get a kick out of meeting the kids. It’s good to be in the fifth grade.

While on the stage, I asked everyone with a digital camera to take my picture and send it to me. So far, I’ve gotten… none.

Off To Chicago

I’m on my way to Chicago tomorrow morning for a few days. It’s work related, and though it’s not nefarious, I don’t think I can talk about why I’m going.

Hopefully, on my way home I’ll say it was valuable. Right now, I’d rather not be going. But, I’m going with an open mind.

As I packed, I thought about how much of home I was taking with me. I’m taking a laptop. The hotel, right in the center of the city, has high speed Internet access in all rooms and Wifi access from the lobby. Still, I double checked to make sure my modem would work should it be necessary.

I have grown addicted to email, to writing in this blog, and the web in general.

I’m also taking my cell phone. This is such a recent change in our societal norms. It used to be, if you were in Chicago, you were in Chicago… and difficult to find. With cell phones, I’m a local call, no matter where I am.

Earlier this year, while I was visiting my family in Florida, someone called from work asking me if I could be in early to be in a tease. I explained I was on the golf course in West Palm Beach.

I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. But, it’s my choice to take the phone, so I must be leaning toward good.

I’ll also be taking the digital camera, plenty of memory, and a cable to move images to the laptop. Since I’ve never really spent any time in downtown Chicago, I’m looking forward to getting as many shots as I can. Right after I get home, the camera is going to the hospital for a pixel that’s always on.

Chicago’s most recognized landmark is the Sears Tower. But, to me, nothing says Chicago more than the succession of bridges over the Chicago River. I remember seeing that image every week on The Bob Newhart Show.

Considering I won’t be home until midnight tonight, I’m leaving awfully early tomorrow. I’ll be leaving the house around 7:00 AM for the shlep to Bradley. At the moment fog and rain seem probable. In Chicago thunderstorms might show. By the end of the weekend, there’s the chance of snow.

I’ve gotta remember to pack my open mind.

The Cult Moves South

Early this morning… well, early for me usually, but I got up… Helaine and Steffie piled into the car and set out for Toms Rivers, NJ to see Rick Springfield. The house is very quiet. I’m seeing how long I’ll stay in pajamas. It could be all day (though the siren song of Dunkin’ Donuts is calling my name).

I told Helaine I’m inviting college girls over. Her thought is, they’ll ask me if I went to school with their dads!

At times like this, I really miss Ivy the dog. Ivy was never a ‘licky’ dog – overly affectionate. Ivy’s charm was her self assured, quiet manner, as she stayed by your side (as long as you didn’t move around too much). Petting a dog is therapeutic.

A just heard from Helaine and Steffie on the phone. Though the concert is later tonight, they’re at the hotel, meeting and greeting the other rabid fans (aka the cult members). Some of them are committed beyond any level I can imagine; taking in dozens of shows, across the country, every year.

It’s all mind boggling, and I’m started to come to the realization that Rick Springfield isn’t the only act that gets this kind of adulation. I remember, 25 years ago, a friend working for Barry Manilow who told me similar stories (though at a much smaller numbers). The Grateful Dead was famous for their legion of traveling fans.

As Steffie and Helaine walked toward the lobby, walking in the other direction was Rick and his road manager Ronnie. Helaine and Steffie said hello. Rick complemented Steffie on her necklace. For them the day is off to a good start.

I have given them my Fuji digital camera. Some critical functions of this normally manual camera have been preset. Tonight they will use it to snap photos and document the trip. Steffie has taken great ‘in concert’ pictures before (here and here). I hope she’ll do that again tonight and get a little more confidence as an artistic photographer.

At the same time Helaine will be holding a cell phone up, catching the music for another fan who couldn’t make the trip this time. That is dedication in action.

Nice Mention in Sunday’s New Haven Register

A few weeks ago Jim Shelton, of the New Haven Register, called to ask if I’d like to participate in a story on gadgets. Absolutely!

I’m a sucker… err… early adopter… when it comes to high tech stuff. I’m on my third digital camera, and our computer network at home has five PCs for three people (though only two could be considered close to leading edge technology). Of course, I’ve been playing with computers since 1967 and have had a PC at home since 1978 (TRS-80 Model I), so this is a deep seated illness.

The attached photo (right) was taken by Peter Casolino of the Register staff, using a Canon D1, I think. You could actually see the bulb light up above his head as he had one of those “Eureka” moments, realizng what he wanted to shoot.

It’s not a trick. That was my photo being displayed in the laptop. In this morning’s paper, the photo takes up fully 40% of the top of the first page in the Living Section.

Click here to read the article.

I know there are some people who’d rather not see their name in the paper… and others, like Saddam Hussein, who are wishing there would be a new photo to print. But for me, it continues to be fun to think anyone would value my opinion.

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