VOTE, dammit

I blame the Democrats. It’s all their fault.

Here comes another Election Day. Nobody cares. This time, it’s a bunch of judges, county commissioners, prothonotary (?), recorder of deeds, township supervisor, and a bunch of other offices for which we feel unqualified to vote. So we don’t. Over the years, the voter turn-out has declined to almost embarrassing levels. No, actually embarrassing levels.

When we pick a new president, over 50% of eligible voters turn out. But when it’s a mid-term and we’re only voting for Representatives in Congress or Senators, or – worse yet – when it’s an off year and we’re asked to pick local officials, 35% or fewer turn out. This is completely backwards, since the local and state officials have much more impact on our personal lives than the President ever will.

VOTE

RINO

When I turned 18 in 1972, I duly registered to vote (and registered for the draft). Being young, stupid, and apolitical, I registered as a Republican. Why, I can’t tell you. I had a choice of two, and that’s the one I picked.

Also, at 18, I was far more of a liberal than a conservative, although some of the conservative policies were attractive. In truth, I may have been representative of the huge middle – the Silent Majority, a pure centrist. While I wasn’t all that sure of my own politics, I know I wasn’t a hippie, but nor was I sporting a crewcut by any means.

It was a presidential election year – Richard Nixon was running against George McGovern, two candidates who couldn’t be any more dissimilar. I had a vested interest in this election, since the Viet Nam conflict was ongoing and the draft was still scooping up American kids to send over there. I had to vote McGovern.

Since then, in every presidential election, I have voted only for the Democratic candidate. There hasn’t been one Republican that I wanted in the White House, and yet I was a Republican the whole time*. Looking back over the presidential candidates during my voting adulthood (below), I still agree with that sentiment.

But while I and everyone else was focussed on the presidential races, a group of very determined hard-right Republicans were taking over state and local government. State houses, assemblies, senates, and state governorships went Republican, one after the other. It was masterful. By 2010, Republicans were in position to redraw districts (gerrymandering) to ensure that Republicans would continue to hold those state houses. And immediately, they (Priority No. 1) passed tax breaks and subsidies for their wealthy patrons, (Priority No. 2) began chipping away at women’s rights, and (Priority No. 3) severely cut or discontinued programs to assist the poor and or education budgets. Regardless of the words they say, Republicans show their true priorities by what they do. They tried to convince us that public school teachers were the true enemies of democracy and that public sector unions – all unions – were destroying our way of life (the way of life that we largely owe to unions).

taliban

This excerpt from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom is brilliantly simple, simply brilliant. It says everything I see in the Tea Party.

PATRIOT, SPELLED M-O-R-O-N

In 2008 we elected a black man to the White House. Immediately, the Tea Party came out of nowhere to make fools of themselves. It was about taxes, they said, at a time when taxes were historically low. Okay, so that couldn’t have been the reason for this “grassroots” Koch-fueled uprising. Wonder what it could be?

Sheep

Regardless, the Republican officeholders from 2000 on have been dishonest, disingenuous, hardly fiscal conservatives, and absolutely hawkish. (Witness John McCain, of all people, who never met a conflict he didn’t want to fully engage.) The LAST thing they were was “Republican,” in the true sense of the word. When I saw a wave of Tea Party idiots elected to Washington, I’d had enough. In 2011 I changed my registration to Democrat. I was too embarrassed to be associated with the R word.

(If they can’t take having a black President, wait until we elect a WOMAN. Their heads are going to pop.)

There is only one reason that the United States is being taken down by right-wing radicals: Democrats. If Democrats would come out and vote in significant numbers, all traces of the Tea Party could be erased from public office within a four-year cycle. It starts at the local level, it centers in the state house. Democrats have until 2020 to turn things around, or the voting districts already drawn will ensure another TEN YEARS of Republican control. Yet voter turnout, especially in the meaningless local elections, remains pathetic. As if it meant nothing.

NEED ANOTHER REASON TO VOTE?

One party is busy attacking your rights. One party is actively trying to take away your right to vote. One party wants to shut you out of the electoral process, and thereby hopefully win back the White House. The Republicans.

By not voting, you’re helping them take away your vote.

* Here are the choices I faced every four years of my adult life. Looking at the Republican v. Democratic candidates, there is no wonder that I voted Democratic every single time.

  Republican Democrat Independent
1976 Gerald Ford
Bob Dole
Jimmy Carter
Walter Mondale
1980 Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
Jimmy Carter
Walter Mondale
John B. Anderson
Patrick Lucey (ind.)
1984 Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
Walter Mondale
Geraldine Ferraro
1988 George H.W. Bush
Dan Quayle
Michael Dukakis
Lloyd Bentsen
1992 George H.W. Bush
Dan Quayle
Bill Clinton
Al Gore
Ross Perot
James Stockdale
1996 Bob Dole
Jack Kemp
Bill Clinton
Al Gore
Ross Perot
Pat Choate
2000 George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
Al Gore
Joe Lieberman
2004 George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
John Kerry
John Edwards
2008 John McCain
Sarah Palin
Barack Obama
Joe Biden
2012 Mitt Romney
Paul Ryan
Barack Obama
Joe Biden

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In Chip We Trust, Part II

As President George W. Bush famously said, “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again!”

The phrase he was looking for is, of course, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. ” Commander Scott had it right in Star Trek, but Mr. Bush was obviously not a fan.

I’m a fan. I’m a fan of Star Trek since its very first airing almost 50 years ago, and I’m a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles since their first trip to the Super Bowl in the 1980 season. Like every other Eagles fan, I’ve learned to live and die with this team. A win ensures a positive frame of mind for at least a week. A loss is painful for several days, and some losses (Cowboys) are more painful than others.

Every season makes me wonder, what’s wrong with Philadelphia? How is it that every other team in our division has won multiple Super Bowls, and the high point of our millennium is just getting there. Andy Reid will forever be the greatest coach in Eagles history because he GOT US THERE. Didn’t even have to win, because we don’t set the bar that high, just getting there defines greatness.

I drank the Buddy Ryan KoolAid®. Loved his defense, loved his bluster, loved his intimidation. After I realized that it was all just hot air and that his teams would never actually win anything, I thought it was time to move on.

So I drank the Ray Rhodes KoolAid®. Ray blew into town unexpectedly, talking about rape and sodomy, and had two good years full of promise. He was the toast of Philadelphia until the two following and disappointing years revealed him as mortal. Time to go, Ray.

I did NOT drink the Andy Reid KoolAid® until sometime in his second year. Reaching the NFC Championship game, in this town, is historic. How quickly we get hooked on the KoolAid® – after the third straight trip to the NFC Championship and the third straight loss, we fans were seriously considering asking Coach Reid to leave. Yet each year of his (eventually) four NFC Championship games was written in the books in ink – he was setting Eagles history every year.

The problem with Coach Reid was that the KoolAid® wore off, and Reid stayed too long. He lost the team, he lost the fans, and he lost his job.

Bring on the fresh KoolAid®, because we never learn!

Here comes Chip Kelly, the most sought-after coach ever to come out of the college ranks. 31 NFL teams were trying to recruit him as head coach (the 32nd team had just won the Super Bowl, so they were set), and the Eagles and Jeff Lurie won the lottery. Chip was the saviour, the can’t-lose coach that could resurrect an Eagles team that had flat-out quit. The results were instant in his first year – 10-6 and a playoff game (loss). Excellent start, and the hype must be true.

His second year… again 10-6, but no playoffs. But he had excuses.

In the offseason, he drove us all crazy with personnel moves that made no sense, but in the preseason games, the Eagles showed incredible promise – enough that several professionals (Joe Banner, sports journalists, and me) saw the ultimate prize on the horizon. The upside to this team was limitless. Kelly was a genius, misunderstood by all of the cynics.

I wrote that this team would go 13-3.

But somewhere between the preseason and the opening game in Atlanta, the team turned into the Bizarro Eagles, totally unprepared to take the field. They lost that first game, and lost it badly. No spirit, no fire, no desire. Inexplicable, but here come the Cowboys, and a win would wipe away the stink.

They lost to the Cowboys. At that point, I thought the season was over, the team looked that bad. I thought, if they lost to the Jets they could easily go 0-7 into the Bye. But they beat the Jets and the KoolAid® kicked in again.

Then they lost to a really bad Redskins team, and we were looking at the number one draft pick in 2016. Again, the Eagles just lay down like dogs.

Wins against the Saints and the Giants and another sip o’ KoolAid® had me believing that they were on a run. The Panthers were undefeated, but they were the worst of the undefeateds, with four of their wins against absolutely pitiful teams. They could be taken.

But, no, the Eagles lost to the Panthers. The season is over.

In the 7th game of the season, the Eagles still look unprepared. The defense was getting better each week, but the Panthers’ ground game was too much for them. Again I’m watching the old bounce-off non-tackles, instead of solid wrapping up. The offense still doesn’t have it together. You watch the Panther receivers catch pass after pass, and you realize that these are “average” NFL receivers, while our guys have the ball bounce off their chest, off their hands. Our guys are apparently below average.

At this point, the Eagles cannot finish better than 8-8 (9-7, asks the optimist?). That makes this year a flat-out disaster. The KoolAid® pitcher is empty. I’m already looking at the offseason and counting the players that need to be upgraded.

I don’t think that Coach Kelly is going anywhere. He’ll probably have at least two more years to prove himself. But that’s exactly what he’s going to have to do – prove himself. He no longer gets a pass, no longer gets the benefit of a doubt. Show me something, give me a reason to cheer.

Otherwise, I’ll be sitting in my La-Z-Boy wondering how I could have been fooled so badly. Again.

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The Genesis of an Addiction – or – How Did I Get Here?

It’s time.

I decided to redo my website from the bottom up. TFrog.com is an evolutionary product which has undergone incremental changes over the past two decades. From my first “website” as an AOLer to my very own TFrog domain, there have been generations of my website, but the last redesign was basically put up in 2007. Since then, I find:

(1) The photography pages were full of Flash slideshows, and where Flash was a wonderful thing not so long ago, it is now almost deprecated. Android and Apple phones and tablets will not show Flash, and that’s probably a good thing, since it’s a security risk. So all Flash elements had to go, being replaced by HTML only (and maybe a little javascript).

(2) Bowing to the times, I concurrently created a parallel universe, designed to display on phones, tablets, and other devices. While I believe that the photography pages are still best viewed on a traditional monitor, I live in the real world. You can now see all of the tasty bits on your smartphone.

WHY

Why Real World Lens Tests?

When I was considering the purchase of a new lens, I did my due diligence, searched the internet for information, reviews, and sample photos. More often than not, the samples that I found were beautiful, professionally processed images that convinced me to spend a good bit of money on that lens. When I started shooting with my new lens, I was disappointed that my pictures did not measure up to the samples I’d seen.

The purpose of my Real World Lens Tests is to show the results that a dedicated amateur can get with each of these lenses. I present a good range of images, several of which link to full-size, straight-from-the-camera JPGs, so my fellow amateurs will know that they can get the same results as I do, before any post-processing work is done. “You, too, can expect this level of photos or better if you buy this lens.” In a lot of cases, the images shown have been edited mildly for sharpening, levels, and saturation, and some have been cropped. But the out-of-body JPGs are untouched by human hands.

But how did I get here?

There was a time, believe it or not, that I did not have a camera with me at all times. Lenses are important to me now, to be sure, but it’s not the lenses that got me to this place. It was a succession of cameras, and the first one WAS NOT MY FAULT.

Part of the process of rebuilding this website involved going back in time – to the beginning, the genesis of my obsession with photography. We don’t have to go back all that far, either.

Pentax K1000I will only briefly mention FILM (old folks, explain “film” to the youngsters, please), and only to say that my wife was taking a filler course in Black and White Photography toward her college degree. For the course, she bought a Pentax K1000 – all manual, all the time – and even learned to develop film in our basement. I picked up the Pentax and couldn’t put it down. Over a thousand dollars was spent in having bad, bad photos developed. (Old folks, explain “developed” to the youngsters, please.)

olympus_d360lWhen DIGITAL was born, I jumped on an early Olympus D360L (released in 2000). This camera took photos at a stunning 1.3 megapixels, or a best 1280 x 960 (a size that is barely adequate today on Facebook). As I recall, the memory card it came with could hold all of two photos at best quality. The camera was slow, downloading photos took forever, and it took 4 AA batteries and ate them like candy. I know, because I still have the camera. And I wish I could go back in time and re-take every one of those photos with modern equipment. As a digital camera, it made me want to keep using film.

s1_isMy second digital was the Canon S1 IS (IS = image stabilization, not quite as universal then as it is today). Oh, how I loved that camera. Issued in 2004, the S1 was a “superzoom” camera with a 10X optical zoom (the equivalent of 38mm to 380mm) PLUS digital zoom (which one should never, ever use). This little handful took excellent photos, packing 3 megabytes (or twice the size of the Olympus’ best setting). After a month shooting on automatic, I read the user guide, switched over to manual settings, and never looked back. And I was never without that camera.

s3_isEventually, my beloved S1 developed a zotzed display screen. I found out that this was A Thing, that Canon had issued an advisory on it, and that I was supposed to send the camera in for free repair. It turned out that the parts needed to complete that repair had run out, so Canon’s new “repair” was to replace the S1 with a refurbished S3! No complaints from me. I just went from 3MP to 6MP, and from 10X zoom to 12X. But by that time, I had a new love.

rebel_xtIn all of my reading, I found myself lusting after better resolution, more clarity, more vivid photos. I wanted a DSLR. At the end of 2005, I picked up the Canon Rebel XT (the 2nd in the Rebel line), an 8MP beauty with an 18-55mm kit lens. Coming from the S1, I was mightily impressed with the quality of photos from the XT. Within 6 months, I had bought a 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens and the Canon jewel 50mm f/1.8. To these, I later added the 100mm macro lens. I think my photography improved over the years, and I was eventually asked to shoot a wedding. A very special wedding. And not long before that wedding, some IDIOT (could have been me) left the XT outside on a rainy night. The camera was soaked and nonfunctional. A brick. Luckily, it dried out over the next 24 hours and returned to normal, but I was convinced that I couldn’t go shoot a wedding with this one camera.

eos_50dSo in 2009 I bought the Canon 50D, the newest release at the time in the next level of Canons. Somewhat larger than the Rebel, the 50D fit my hand like it was built for it. Now I had 15MP, a much faster, cleaner, and more capable camera. With this camera, I upgraded the old 18-55mm kit lens with the 17-40mm L series lens, and most recently upgraded to the 70-300 L series telephoto. I also added a Speedlite 580 flash unit, which is wonderful, and a real Manfrotto tripod for the heavy lenses (as opposed to the plastic KMart tripod of my earlier days).

Now here’s the thing.

It occurs to me that all of this digital activity took place in the first decade of the new millennium. From 2000 to 2010 I bought a succession of cameras that eventually got me to where I am now. And my “new” camera is 6 years old. Are the glory years for semi-professional digital photography over? Where is the new camera that’s going to make me NEED to buy one?

Even in the lineage of my EOS 50D, it seemed that Canon was bringing out a new model almost every year through that decade:

10D (2003)
20D (2004)
30D (2006)
40D (2007)
50D (2008)
60D (2010)
70D (2013)
…?

Today, toward the end of 2015, the 70D is still the “new” camera in this line. The professional series has seen releases only every 3 to 4 years, so a long time between models is nothing new. And the Rebel series has continued unabated. But improvements are incremental – there are no great leaps in digital photography.

And through all of this, Canon has kept churning out lenses. And lenses change even less often than camera bodies. The 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens today is the same as it was five years ago. (And still the pick of the litter.) So I think it’s still important that folks thinking about putting out $1,600 for a new lens should see REAL photos from those lenses, not polished and made-up professionally processed images.

And that’s why my Real World Lens Tests.

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Why TFrog?

The truth will out.

Purple TreefrogWhen I was in junior/senior high school (think 1960s, early 70s), I would draw a cartoon character that was a frog. Purple. A treefrog, actually. Purple treefrog. PT. The cartoons were of a rather …uh… baudy nature, as befits a teenage male of the time.

The PT cartoons were also populated by smaller characters called PIPs. Where PT was meek, mild, and unfailingly polite, the PIPs would say what really needed to be said.

I must have had a thing for treefrogs, because I started to collect all things treefrog. And it must have been a healthy collection by 1978, because all of Jean’s friends and family got her a kitchen ensemble that was all of a frog motif for her pre-wedding celebration. A frog creamer. A frog clock. Frog salt and pepper shakers, etc. More of a cartoon frog motif. But green frogs, not treefrogs, but still frogs.

When my kids were very young, I would give Jean a break by taking them to a mall and then going on a Frog Hunt. As we wandered through the stores, if they saw anything that looked like a frog, they were to sing out. Extra points for TREEfrogs. My collection grew.

In 1993 I bought a new Ford Mustang LX 5.0 hatchback, blacker than black. Within a year, that Mustang would sport the vanity plate TFROG. I even had a motorcycle with the plate 3FROG (although what No. 2 was, I have no idea).

A family member once asked what the license plate TFROG meant, and an unnamed nephew chimed in, “Because he couldn’t afford a TBird.” Silly boy. One, I’m a Mustang guy, and the TBird of the day was an overweight slugmobile. And two, there is no two.

Somebody once pulled up alongside me at a red light and yelled over, “What does TFROG mean?” I thought, sure, we could sit here for a few minutes while the light turned green and folks behind us started honking while I laid out my life story. But in the end I just said, “Got me. Guess it was the next license plate sent out of Harrisburg.”

I was out tooling around in my 1993 Mustang GT convertible (CFROG, of course). At a light, old guy behind me got out of his car and walked up to my door. “Are you a CFROG,” he asked? “Why, yes. Yes I am,” says I. Uh, no. He meant “seafrog,” as in scuba diving. Not even close.

(Years later, while working in Bryn Mawr, a new hire pulled into the parking lot in a yellow Mustang coupe. On the back was the license plate FROG. That’s the one I first wanted, but it was taken. What are the odds that I’d meet up with the taker?)

– – – BREAK – – –

When we first had computers, the web as we know it did not yet exist. Much like computers still shown in Hollywood movies, our screens had nothing but text. As for the Internet, there were three basic components:
email (goes back to the early 70s)
FTP (the ability to transfer files from one computer to another)
and usenet – public discussion groups for every topic (from about 100 in 1983 to over 100,000 eventually)

That was about it.

To get to the internet, most of us needed an “internet service provider” (ISP). Early on, I tried out CompuServe and Prodigy (they both sucked). Our slow modems would dial a phone number, then squeal and squawk as it tried to connect to a server on the other end. If successful, we would log on and check our mail and read and post to discussion groups. That was about it.

1989 – Tim Berners-Lee invents the “world wide web.”
1990 – Tim Berners-Lee invents the first browser.
1992 – Microsoft releases Windows 3.1 (AMAZING – I swear it was still using Netscape Navigator)
1993 – dwight buys a new 1993 Ford Mustang LX 5.0 hatchback, blacker-than-black
By 1995, that Mustang had the vanity license plate TFROG on the back.

After a frustrating period with Prodigy and Compuserve, I eventually decided to try AOL. In 1995, AOL already had 3,000,000 members and the world wide web was exploding. I asked for the username “tfrog” and was amazed when AOL said it was taken and suggested “tfrog54”. (Wait… there were already another 53 tfrogs out there?!?) Well that wouldn’t do any good, so I picked “tfrog93” (to honor my 1993 Ford TFROG, of course), and an internet legend was born.

AOL sure didn’t make it easy, but eventually I found where they were hiding the newsgroups (“usenet” – see above). Two discussion groups were especially important to me:
alt.sports.football.pro.philadelphia-eagles, and
rec.autos.makers.ford.mustang (or RAMFM)

Even now, 15 years after leaving AOL, tfrog93@aol.com is still all over the internet. Go ahead, Google it. I’ll wait… Some of the faceless strangers in that group of miscreants became actual friends to me. We shared a great deal of automotive info and opinion, but there was also a desire to “protect” the newsgroup from interlopers. Usually, some fool Honda driver would stop by to tell us all how he smoked some Mustang GT. “Was it parked?” There would be a lot of back and forth insults and put-downs leading up to Flame Wars (a more demanding version of The Dozens or Yo’ Momma). Ah, good times. But I digress…

An AOL member page was the first “website” for TFrog93. This would later move to Homestead and become more of an actual multi-page website. A brief flirtation with Google Pages went nowhere. Then I bought the domain www.tfrog93.com (yes, still mine; tfrog.com was taken at the time), paid a host, and put up my first real designed-by-me site. The Internet Archive (the Wayback Machine) has a snapshot of the site from 2004, nothing earlier. And it sure wasn’t much in 2004.

The last major redesign of the website was in 2007, featuring a host of topics and interests. No cohesive theme, mostly about the Mustangs, the Eagles, and then whatever else I had pictures of. My interest in photography hadn’t yet fully “developed,” but, as a website, the website was out of control.

Meanwhile…

www.tfrog.com was owned by Treefrog Consultants. I kept checking on it, as the domain was due for renewal within the next year or so, and come renewal time I found that the owner had NOT renewed it. The domain became publicly available, and I jumped on it! It cost a little more than the usual domain registration, but it was exactly what I wanted and now it’s mine. I OWN A 5-LETTER DOT COM DOMAIN. So I had www.tfrog93.com point to www.tfrog.com, and I continued to grow my site.

Eventually, my music and my photography took over tfrog.com and the long-gone Mustangs are fading. But if you want to know, “Why TFrog?,” now you know.

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