The drone you see above is my second drone. It took me all of four days to crash and destroy my first.
This video (make sure quality setting is at 1080p HD) is a simple launch, ascend to tree-level, and take a look at back yard, reservoir behind us, and a pan around the neighborhood. Just this example shows the possibilities of a video drone. YouTube is full of far better videos. YouTube also has interesting compilations of drone crashes, to show how quickly and easily you can get into serious, drone-ending trouble. The oak tree in my front yard turned out to be a drone magnet, and I flew the drone into it at about 30 feet. When I cut the engines, the drone tumbled to the ground.
When checking the drone afterward, I managed to lose control of the thing, and it flew off across the street and ended up in the neighbor’s yard, severely damaged. It was then that I realized where I went wrong.
Learn to Fly
This is the DJI Phantom 3 Standard, one of the best entry-level video drones (“quadcopter”). That sweet little camera you see underneath has a 1/2.3″ sensor, shooting 12 megapixels through a 20mm f/2.8 lens. Max image size is 4000 x 3000 and it easily handles video at full HD (1920 x 1080) in framerates of 24/25/30, unbelievably smooth (jitter-free). You can download a User Manual here, if you want all of the specs on this model. Suffice to say, the results are better than you’d expect for a $500.00 pricetag.
There are many available choices in this growing sector, and even DJI offers a wide variety. Buying your first drone requires a lot of homework. Read everything you can find, including user forums, before making a choice.
I was thinking like a photographer, when I should have been thinking of my student pilot days.
This is an aircraft. Technically, it is an unmanned aerial system (UAS). The drone, itself, is the sexy bit on the right. Four motors powering four propellers, a state-of-the-art battery that provides about 20 minutes of flying time, and a quadcopter capable of flying to the FAA-limited 400 feet altitude and a WiFi-limited distance of about 500 meters.
You should be browsing YouTube videos while you’re researching which model to buy. And you should be watching any manufacturer-supplied videos and tutorials before you try to fly your new drone.
Also be aware that there are FAA restrictions in the use of airspace in the U.S.A. and some overall rules that need to be followed. Don’t think that you can just unpack your new drone and start flying whenever wherever. Do not fly within 5 miles of an airport without first notifying them of your flight. Do not fly over people (sorry, no stadium shots), and don’t even think about messing around wherever there are emergency first-responders involved. You do NOT want to be the idiot who interfered with a medical evac chopper.
There was an attempt to have all drone owners register their drones with the FAA, but we then decided that folks who fly drones purely as a hobby need not register. You can register (I did), but you don’t have to. BUT, here are the rules:
Fly at or below 400 feet
Be aware of airspace requirements and restrictions
Stay away from surrounding obstacles
Keep your UAS within sight
Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
Never fly over groups of people
Never fly over stadiums or sports events
Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
If you use your drone for business in any way (or if it weighs more than 55lbs.), there are different and more stringent regulations. Check before you buy or fly.
You’ll have to also check for any local regulations in your area. A kid crashed his drone in a playground in one local community, and regulations were rushed through to keep drones off of any public property in that borough. In Pennsylvania, there are six (only six) state parks that allow drone flying, and even there they restrict the area allowed. The FAA offers a handy app called B4UFLY, which uses your location to warn of any conflicts. Use it.
Forget flying a drone in our National Parks. Some asshole(s) has already messed that up for the rest of us. Drones crash. And they like to crash in the exact worst places. They’re also called “drones” because they make a really annoying droning sound, which impedes upon the peace and tranquility that many are looking for in our national park system. (And many other places. Be aware of those around you and be considerate.)
con·sid·er·ate kənˈsidərət/ adjective
The unsexy bit on the left is the remote controller (RC). Two toggles control the aircraft’s flight (up, down, left, right, etc.). There’s a lot covered in the manual. Take your time to digest. There are also pre-programmed flight modes that are covered in DJI-provided YouTube video tutorials. The RC sets up a WiFi link with the quadcopter and also your display device of choice.
Connected to the RC is my old HTC One M7 phone. This runs the DJI app, which is your complete interface to communicate with the drone, to control video or stills, check battery levels, and so much more. As a personal note, the DJI app is not compatible with my new HTC 10, and I was lucky to still have the One M7, which does handle the app. Before you buy a drone, make sure that the device you want to use is compatible. Manufacturers can’t keep up with all of the latest and greatest phones, tablets, etc. Again, the UAS community has a lot of YouTube videos available, including complete overviews of the DJI app.
I bought a helipad. Don’t laugh. When you’re starting out, ideally you’d want wide open spaces with no trees, no wires, nothing that could grab your drone and throw it in the trashcan. I have trees all around my back yard, so I take off and land in the center of the yard. When this particular drone is powered off, the camera hangs lens-down in the grass. Any dew on the grass will transfer to the lens, so I sprang for a helipad, just to keep the lens out of the grass. It’s also handy to take with me, so I’ll have it wherever I choose to fly.
We all know that we should always READ THE MANUAL (PDF download here), but I will stress that, in this case, you should READ THE MANUAL. When I bought my first DSLR years ago, the best advice was to go through the manual, try everything out point-by-point, then go through again. This is even more important with things that fly. I took a lazy approach to the flight part, concentrating more on the photography side, and ended up buying a second drone. Learn to fly first.
I had read (and so, have no excuses) that it is really easy to become disoriented when flying a drone. It’s one thing to fly when it’s going away from you, but when it’s coming back AT you, everything is reversed. Push left on the stick, and the drone flies off to the right. Push forward, and you’re suddenly going backwards. Practice, practice, practice, to get a good understanding of flight in all directions.
When your drone is up at 200 feet, it will rarely bump into anything. Almost all drone crashes happen at or near ground level, and a large portion involve trees.
The Phantom uses GPS in flight. This is what allows the copter to hover in place without drifting. This also allows the copter to return to its starting point, if anything goes wrong (low battery, lost signal, etc.). Connecting to seven or more satellites is a good-to-go state, otherwise pay close attention.
July 4, 1776 was not the birth of the U.S.A. It was the day that the colonists said, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” After that, grab your guns ’cause war is a-comin’.
July 12, 1776 – The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were underway, approved for ratification in 1777, and formally ratified March 1, 1781. THIS could be an official birthday of the United States of America, which, before this date, were a loose collection of 13 colonies.
September 3, 1783 – Nine years later, the Revolutionary War officially ended, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and England recognized the 13 colonies as independent. THIS would be the birthday of the United States, in my opinion. Now we were an independent entity, as recognized by the world.
June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and formalized the central federal government of the Republic. This would be the birthday for the U.S. federal government, I suppose.
Dec. 15, 1791 – The first 10 amendments to the Constitution (collectively “the Bill of Rights”) was ratified, 15 years after a bunch of old fogies in Philadelphia decided to get uppity.
Ever since, it seems, the United States has been at war with one country, group, or other entity (primarily Native American tribes) over its entire lifetime, right up to the Korean War, which ended in 1953. For a brief time, we were at peace.
June, 1954 – I was born.
I have lived for more than a quarter of this country’s existence.
I have lived under 11 of the 44 presidents, soon 12 out of 45. I was named after the 34th president, in whose term I was born. Dwight Eisenhower, the first Pennsylvania Dutch president (look it up), had a long list of accomplishments, many impressive – from establishing the national system of highways to the creation of NASA. His vice president was Richard Nixon, and his nephew David would eventually marry Nixon’s daughter Julie. But I digress.
JFK, RFK, MLK, LBJ, Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew… these are not historical figures to me; they were “current events” when I was in school. We researched the Cuban Missile Crisis in real time for class, using Time, Newsweek, and other magazines and newspapers printed on paper. The riots around the 1968 Democratic Convention, hippies, Viet Nam War protests, Kent State, Woodstock, the Cold War, all headlines in newspapers and network news of my youth.
Mine was the generation taught to cower underneath our school desks, in preparation for the day when a nuclear blast would vaporize us in about a tenth of a second. I remember exploring the fallout shelter in the basement of my junior high school, marvelling at all of the sealed drums of saltines and walls of toilet paper. (No, it would not have kept us safe from a nuclear strike OR fallout, but at least we could wipe our…uh…crackers.)
Although born in the 50s, I’ve always considered myself a “child of the 60s” (ages 6-16). These were formative years and an interesting time to be growing up in America. (White suburban America, I should point out.)
Television & Movies
The earliest movie I remember seeing was Babes in Toyland at the Lansdowne movie theater. Don’t remember anything about the movie, but IMDB tells me that it came out in 1961 (I was 7) and starred Annette Funicello, Ray Bolger, and somebody named Tommy Sands. Ed Wynn, great character actor, was the Toymaker, and a very young Ann Jillian (would have been 11 or so) played Bo Peep. I don’t remember any of the movie, the plot, or the actors that were in it, I only remember that it’s the first movie I went to see.
Movies you see when you’re young and impressionable have a far greater impact than movies you see later in life. (“Get ’em while they’re young.”) Great movies of the 1960s include (in no particular order)
2001: a space odyssey
Lawrence of Arabia
The Sound of Music
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Cool Hand Luke
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Manchurian Candidate
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Planet of the Apes
The Dirty Dozen
Dr. No / Goldfinger / Thunderball / From Russia With Love
The Village of the Damned
The Jungle Book
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Original episodes of I Love Lucy aired during my lifetime, but I was two, almost three when the series ended and went into reruns. The Ed Sullivan Show owned Sunday nights, was the leading source of entertainment, and something we waited all week for. This was the show that introduced The Beatles to the U.S., showed Elvis Presley from the hips UP, and toward the end rocked the house with a 12 year old blind kid, Stevie Wonder. It would feature acrobats, spinning dishes on poles, dancers, and a haunting little sockpuppet, Topo Gigio.
One of my early TV favorites was (The Many Loves of) Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). (C’mon – Tuesday Weld was Dobie’s love interest.) My youth was a great time to be a young TV watcher – The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the original Star Trek, and a very young Robert Loggia in T.H.E. Cat (a series very few remember). Along with Star Trek, my other favorite series was I Spy, starring Robert Culp and Bill (before he was famous) Cosby. I loved Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Avengers (when I could see it – Diana Rigg), My Favorite Martian, The Green Hornet, a very bad Batman (not a fan of the Adam West series, in hindsight). The 1960s was prime television time.
The Dick van Dyke Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Addams Family
Hogan’s Heroes (yes, Nazis were funny in the 60s)
Leave It to Beaver
I Dream of Jeannie
Make Room for Daddy
Father Knows Best
My Three Sons
My Favorite Martian
Dennis the Menace
Car 54 Where Are You?
Courtship of Eddie’s Father
The Patty Duke Show
The Flying Nun
The Real McCoys
The Jackie Gleason Show
My Mother the Car
Lost in Space (ick)
The Twilight Zone
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
77 Sunset Strip
The Mod Squad (1968)
Westerns were big in the 60s:
Bonanza (No. 1 with a bullet)
Have Gun Will Travel
Death Valley Days
and, of course, The Wild Wild West
For laughs, let us not forget F Troop
In animation, we had Tobor, the 8th Man after school, Popeye, Mr. Magoo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, Astro Boy, Jonny Quest, Underdog, Space Ghost & Dino Boy, The Road Runner, Spiderman, the original Jetsons and Flintstones (before they got cheap and cheesy) in the evenings, and a whole host of other cartoon shows beneath mention.
The very first Law & Order episode was still decades away.
Jean points out that television broke out of the studio in the 1970s in favor of the great outdoors – Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Baretta, Cannon (large man in a Lincoln, a Quinn Martin production), and the great Rockford Files.
We had four channels – NBC, CBS, ABC, and then WHYY (1963). I remember when networks would “sign off” at midnight, playing the Star Spangled Banner, before turning into a test pattern. Only Johnny Carson went a bit later. (Carson succeeded Jack Paar in 1962, so he was the first late show host I would remember.) When UHF was eventually added (along with circular antennae to augment the standard rabbit ears), we had several more channels (17, 29, 48, and later 57), even if reception was spotty at times. UHF was nothing more than reruns of broadcast series and old movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s; very little original programming. Still, two of these channels would grow up to be Fox and the CW. Although most broadcast stations would continue to sign off for the night (or go to infomercials), it was soon possible to stay up all night watching old movies, and I did. I think I saw every film ever made by John Wayne, Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford (my favorite), etc. Yes, of course, I had a crush on Doris Day and I thought that Hedy Lamarr had to be the most incredibly beautiful woman ever on the face of this earth. (Okay… Grace Kelly, the exquisite Elizabeth Taylor, and the woman who personified SEX to a lot of young teenagers, Marilyn Monroe. Let us not forget them.) I spent many a late night watching old movies. All in black and white on a 17″ television screen in the kitchen.
I did not see The Wizard of Oz in color until well into my teen years. Before then, I had no idea what all the fuss was about when Dorothy first opened the door and looked out on Oz.
When I was still very young (I want to say age 6), I appeared on a local WCAU-TV show as a pianist. The host would talk about classical music, and then I would play a short example. There was a script with the text and musical snippets, but it must be long gone by now. For my troubles, the station gave me a Sunoco-branded transistor radio, which was built to look like a miniature gas pump. No doubt, the TV station got them for free (promotional purposes), but I didn’t know or care. Loved it. (In retrospect, I’ve felt cheated ever since. Where’s the $$$? Shoulda joined the musician’s union.)
Since I was a classically-trained pianist until age 16, I was late coming to the popular music of the day. Missed the British Invasion by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but leaned toward more complex music, rather than the 3-minute, one-idea radio tunes. For a variety show in high school, I performed my own piano solo version of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas. (YouTube) Someone tried to indoctrinate me into the masterworks of a young Bob Dylan, but it didn’t take (did not care for his voice). Not long after, I was heavily into Genesis (with peter gabriel), Loggins & Messina, The Doobie Brothers. Late 60s to mid 70s was a glorious time of growth in rock, but it’s all just tailed off since then (in my not humble opinion).
I was about 16 when I first heard music in STEREO. It was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on an 8-track player in my brother’s old VW bug. The rotating drums at the end of Lucky Man was a revelation. The original Sony Walkman wouldn’t arrive until I was well into my 20s. My first car had an 8-track player (1972 Ford Pinto). Subsequent cars had cassette tape decks, and I made myself a million “driving mixes.” My son was born the same year the Compact Disc became widely available.
An older friend took me to the bar at the local Holiday Inn to hear a three-piece jazz combo. Like many a classically trained musician, I marvelled at how they could take a theme and then go off to heights unknown, without sheet music, without script, and then somehow manage to bring it all back to the beginning theme again. Ever since, I have made it my mission to be able to improvise freely, to “make it up as I played it.” Classical Gas may well have been the last piece of sheet music I ever used.
Needless to say, we did not have smartphones, CDs, VHS, or even computers. We had rotary phones (stick your finger in and rotate the dial). At the summer cottage in Maine, we had a party line – you could pick up the phone and hear your neighbor’s conversation.
For entertainment, we would actually “go outside and play.” This was unscheduled, uncoordinated, unstructured playtime with no parental or adult supervision or oversight, believe it or not. Two-hand-touch football was a standard. Roof ball (bouncing a tennis ball off of the eaves of the house) was a constant. My favorite toy was a stick – it could be anything, from a sword to a rifle. I climbed trees a lot and basically just roamed around.
For a time in the mid-60s, I would take the old Pennsylvania Railroad into Philadelphia each week for piano lessons. Noisy, windy old rail cars in an ugly dark red color, occasionally an equally ugly dark green. We lived about equidistant from both the Overbrook and Wynnewood stations on the old Main Line (now Paoli-Thorndale route), so I would walk to one or the other. Wynnewood had the stores, but Overbrook was a better walk.
When I first became aware of cars, most families had only one, and we would laugh today at what was considered a traffic jam back then. There was no trouble at all finding an open road, and “the country” started much closer to town than it does today. I was 10 years old when I was first captivated by the all-new Ford Mustang. The Mustang just celebrated its 50th anniversary year. (I think I learned about a new “rock ‘n’ roll” group called The Beatles in that same year.)
Cars in the early 1960s reflected the country as a whole – wide open spaces. There was plenty of sheet metal, with plenty of gaps. Plenty of wasted space under the hood and within the cabin. Aerodynamics and wind drag wouldn’t come into play until the late 1970s. Vinyl-covered bench seats up front (without seat belts) let you slide from side to side in the turns. This is when you could squeeze four across, with extra bodies in laps, if necessary. Safety was not a concern, and it’s a wonder that the species survived this era. More and more attention was paid to power and acceleration, while the technology of stopping would lag behind.
The Philadelphia Suburbs
King of Prussia Mall opened in 1963 in the middle of nowhere. This was only what we call the Plaza today, more of an open-air shopping center, but understand that the Plaza has since been expanded, itself. There was a J.C.Penney anchoring one end, a cheapo department store E.J. Korvette, and an Acme. Later, Gimbel’s and Wanamaker’s would come in, and the mall would be enclosed. For Philly-area folks, there was no Blue Route. The best way to get to King of Prussia was to drive out Route 352 and then take King of Prussia Road (the back way). Or take Montgomery Avenue/Gulph Road all the way out.
Exton Square Mall would open ten years later in 1973, Springfield and Granite Run Malls shortly thereafter. Malls would become THE place to be, for everything, and then fall out of fashion, all since the 1960s. Times change.
Pre-dating the King of Prussia Mall was the Bazaar of All Nations in Clifton Heights (Baltimore Pike). This was an early attempt at a mall – a collection of shops all under one roof. The shops were ultra-quirky, but so were the customers. You could get a custom t-shirt imprinted or find those special frames for wall mountings. Didn’t much like the place, but there were times when I HAD to go there, for something you couldn’t find anywhere else.
The local Blue Laws were in effect for all of my childhood. This meant that almost nothing was open on a Sunday. This grew out of misguided christian thinking, which assumed that everyone was christian and/or all christians kept the Sabbath holy. (For instance, even still, Pennsylvania car dealerships are closed on Sundays.)
One of the very few stores open on a Sunday was Wawa Food Markets (“Mama, I want my Wawa.”). Back when my weekly allowance was a quarter (that’s right, 25 cents), I would go to Wawa on Sunday and pick up the latest comic book (12¢) and a TastyKake (10¢) and three pretzel rods out of the container on the counter (1¢ each). When I was 18, I was working at that Wawa, still the only thing open on Sundays. We were busy with a constant line of customers, all buying their Sunday papers*, milk and eggs, and sliced deli. For sure, the staff had to kick it up a notch on Sundays, but it was actually fun. The only game in town.
* By papers, I mean newspapers. These were oddly shaped, folded, thin paper reading materials that we bought to find out what was happening locally and around the world (“news”). Philadelphia had two major papers – The Philadelphia Inquirer (morning) and The Philadelphia Bulletin (evening). This was before the internet, before 24-hour cable news networks. The news in these newspapers could be as much as a full day old, but this is how we consumed our “news media.” In particular, the Sunday edition (which always came out on Saturday) would be three to five times as thick as usual, crammed with articles of local interest, sections on entertainment, style, living, and all of the advertising circulars and the all-important Sunday comics in color.
The Route 104 Red Arrow line ran on tracks from 69th Street all the way out to West Chester. (Think: day trip.) The trollies were replaced by buses in the year I was born. Still, Route 3 has seen a LOT of construction over the past 60 years. But I remember when there was NOTHING between Newtown Square and West Chester, except the Dairy Queen in Edgemont. Civilization is slowly creeping westward out of Newtown Square, but it may be rethought. It seems that the young generation is rediscovering city life, leaving the suburbs/mortgages/yardwork/cummuting/cars behind.
I’m watching you, humanity, and I don’t like what I see.
Let me be clear: I don’t like people. Persons – individuals – I can deal with. People in groups suck.
We make rules, regulations, laws to deal with groups of people, not usually for the individual. But in any group, there’s always one person who is determined to screw things up for the rest of us. There’s always one yahoo.
I’m politically divisive. I don’t give a rat’s ass for anyone who would vote for a Republican with a straight face. There’s something wrong with you if you think Donald Trump was the best choice to be President of the United States.
That said, enjoy this blog. Hope you find something of interest. I didn’t.
People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, now Alex Jones… All worked very hard to bring about the environment in which a Donald Trump presidency is possible. All have done serious damage to our country. All see themselves as patriots. One is currently on a Rehabilitation Tour, almost asking for America’s forgiveness.
They embraced the conservative movement.
When it was clear that the Tea Party had taken control, they embraced the Tea Party and fanned the flames.
In 2012, they hated the moderate Mitt Romney until it became clear that Romney would win the nomination.
Of the 16 (or more?) candidates who declared on the Republican side in 2015, only the most extreme earned their attention. The ones who were “mainstream” or “establishment” were reviled. No, the more insane the better.
They appealed not to the best in us, but to the worst.
They appealed to the christians who were fueled by hate by threatening them with Muslims and blacks (always the blacks).
They appealed to the whites who feared being marginalized by threatening them with Mexicans.
They appealed to the working class by threatening them with the poor or the “urban.”
This is not America.
Yet all of these privileged white men are becoming fantastically wealthy by mining the “gold in them thar hills.” They are getting rich by accurately gauging the gullibility of the American electorate.
The poor white working stiff who was fooled into voting for Donald Trump will never be allowed into Glenn Beck’s gated community. The armed-to-the-teeth racist who is foaming at the mouth about the Jews will never be allowed anywhere near Bill O’Reilly’s home (even if he could find it).
All of these privileged white men are laughing at the rubes and yahoos who buy into their schtick, while cashing their checks and enjoying the Good Life.
That is not to say that the Left doesn’t also have their rabble-rousers. When the Sanders campaign began to take off, it was embraced by the most “progressive” voices, oddly also somewhat racist and misogynist.
It is said (by me) that when the Left becomes extreme enough, it eventually meets the extreme Right coming around from the other side.
The vast bulk of America, I believe, is still left-of-center and right-of-center. In presidential politics, it is the extremes that get all of the attention.
People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and now Alex Jones make a very good living by shouting to the extremes.
The idiots in the alt-right seem to have conscripted the image of a frog (“Pepe”) as their symbol. First of all, it’s a cartoon frog, and not all that good looking, either. Second, as someone who identies with frogs, I would point out that frogs are not inherently racist. Green frogs, brown frogs, purple treefrogs, they don’t see color. They just see frog.
Some folks see my Twitter profile image (AVI, avatar), which is taken directly from this website’s main banner image, and wonder if I’m sending out alt-right signals. NO. I am not in any way identifying with drooling morons who seem to think that a lack of melanin is enough to make them the Superior Race.
But the truth may be more disturbing.
Five years ago, I was still a smoker and had a black lab. Anyone with a dog knows that they like to go outside A LOT, but that was fine with me – I called it “smoke break.” Most evenings, our “last out” was around 9:30 at night, before we settled in to sleep.
You should know that I’m also an avid amateur photographer. On a summer evening, our back patio lights were the only game in town, and they attracted a wide variety of insects, winged or not. My rule was, if you come onto my property, you get photographed. I spent many a “last out” trying to perfect my insect close-ups. One night, Dog and I went out for a smoke break, and I almost stepped on a new visitor.
A small toad had come by, hoping to make a meal of the insects on my patio. “You come onto my property, you get photographed.” I went back inside to grab my camera with macro lens, and tried to get a good photo of Toad in the semi-darkness. Soon found out that a tripod and flash were also necessary. (Duh)
Now, I have to say that Toad was an excellent subject. She could sit for a good long time, which gave me the time I needed to fumble with my equipment. Normally, if she was out there at the 9:30 “out,” she would still be there when I went out for my last cigarette around 11:00. I took a lot of photos, trying to get a really good one. My son (also a smoker) and I got to talking one night, and we Googled up toads and identified this one as female. (No, something to do with the front legs, actually.) So I had a girl toad.
(As I type this, a deer is walking past my patio.)
Toad came by most nights, and in fact seemed to be putting on weight. As payment for our photo sessions, I would often knock down some of the bigger, juicier bugs for her – not killed them, but made them easier to catch. We became quite a team over time. She was always terrified of me, but the prospect of a full meal kept her coming around. When Fall arrived, she stopped coming by, and I haven’t seen her since.
My website’s name is derived from “treefrog,” the small, colorful frogs that have always fascinated me. I don’t have any photos of treefrogs of my own, so I use a picture of this toad. I think it’s funny.
But for those of you who question whether I’m racist, no, I just like toads.
Little by little, Google is taking over my life. And I let them, in exchange for the services they provide.
I’ve used Gmail for a long time. I also have a Comcast email address or three, but they are used less and less often, and now act mostly as spam catchers.
• every Google search I’ve ever done, every search result I’ve clicked on
• every location I’ve ever looked up on Google Maps
• every YouTube video I’ve ever watched or searched for
Google knows my whereabouts and keeps track of my most visited locations. Google has my phone number, which means that Google can now track me in realtime. And I’m okay with that.
I’m now on my second Android smartphone (the incredible HTC 10, thankyouverymuch), and HTC has jettisoned its own proprietary apps in favor of established Google apps, so now Google is intimately involved with my everyday life.
Google knows me probably better than anyone.
And now, finally, I see that my bank has joined the list of institutions working with Android Pay! I happily scanned in my credit card, entered all information, and I can make small purchases just by holding my phone near a pay terminal.
So now money is involved
And that means that NOW I have set up Two-Step Verification for my Google account.
I log in using my usual username and password, but now there’s an extra step involved in accessing my account.
First I set up a code generator. I downloaded Google Authenticator to my phone, and this generates a random 6-digit code every 20 seconds or so. I have to enter this code when asked, if I want to get into my account. Not as much of a pain as it sounds…
You can “authenticate” devices and computers. Basically, I said that I use this smartphone all the time, so don’t ask me for verification on this device. I can also do that with computers or other devices that I normally use.
As an alternate method of verification, if I use a strange computer, I get a pop-up on my phone that says something like, “Is this you?” Tapping YES on my phone allows me to use the strange computer.
Bottom line, no one is going to get into my Google account now. Unless they steal my phone, of course. But in order to unlock my phone, they have to guess my PIN or cut off my thumb for the fingerprint scanner.
And that’s a lot of trouble to go through in order to steal the $20.00 that’s available on my credit card.
Oh. In order to use Two-Step Verification and Android Pay, I agreed to use a “locked” smartphone. This was a royal pain on my last phone, so I never used to lock the thing. On the HTC 10, though, I use the fingerprint scan (either thumb) to unlock the phone, and it takes all of 0.6 seconds. Takes even less time if I pick up the phone the right way! So having the phone lock is no longer an issue. In fact, a quick press of the power button turns off the display and locks the phone immediately. Then a simple thumb press on the scanner turns it back on, unlocked.
There can be no doubt that the all-new HTC 10 is the finest smartphone available on the market today. (Go ahead, argue with me.)
It is an absolute beauty, from its chamfered all-metal body to the edge-to-edge glass on the front.
HTC touts the “24-bit high resolution audio.” It’s like there’s a bottom-firing woofer and a top-firing tweeter. The older HTC One line used to have two front-facing speakers built in, for what many believed was the best-sounding smartphone. But how many of us listen to smartphones through the speakers? When I first plugged a headset into the 10, it asked if I wanted to set up a personal audio profile (well, YEAH, duh). After taking a short test of various frequency levels, the 10 now adjusts the audio for MY EARS. (And with hearing loss in the upper reaches and a constant tinnitus, that ain’t easy.) It also recommends that I create a separate audio profile for each pair of earbuds/headsets that I use. SWEET.
The One M7 was a groundbreaking smartphone from a respected manufacturer. It had an all-metal chassis, dual front-facing speakers, and was crammed with goodies as befits a “flagship.” The One M7 was a class leader. The succeeding One M8 and One M9 would carry the same look and feel onward, and reviewers would complain that HTC was getting stale. Well, the HTC 10 puts all of that behind. Still, what was important to me was that this new HTC would carry class-leading cameras, above all else. And it does.
I’ve set up a Flickr album for the HTC 10, to show actual untouched photos straight from the camera (other than downsizing, of course). As with the TFrog.com philosophy, I will show exactly what this device can do, without any help from me, so that everyone thinking of investing in the 10 will know what they can expect.
Right off the bat, I’m amazed. The f/1.8 lens seems to be up to every situation, from full sun to low light. I took the phone on a grocery shopping trip, and it came back with photos good enough to eat. One reviewer pointed out that the photos from the HTC 10 lacked the oversaturated colors, the “punch,” of other smartphones. As a dedicated amateur photographer who has spent thousands of dollars on cameras and lenses, I will point out that the images from the HTC 10 are exactly what the eye sees. Others pump up the colors to make them attractive on social media sites, but I’m not interested. Reminds me of those tourist postcards sold in gift shops.
I can always adjust saturation and sharpening in post-processing, especially because the 10 also has a PRO mode and RAW format! In PRO, I can control many of the functions (read: screw up), from ISO to shutter speed to focal points. But my early results tell me to just keep it on AUTO. I like the 16:9 format, which spits out a 9MP JPG (4000 x 2240). The buffet above was at 4:3, and was exactly a 4000 x 3000 JPG (you’re looking at an 800 pixel version). So output from the camera is more than enough for most occasions (think a printed copy at 13″ by 10″).
The phone arrived Saturday and I write this on Monday, so I’ve only had it for a few days. But everything about the phone so far has been amazing. I’m thrilled and convinced that I made the right decision.
The back story
Back in 2013, I bought the best available smartphone on the market, the HTC One M7. Not thrilled with my iPhone 4S, I moved to Android, read up on available phones, and chose the HTC – the right decision. The display was sharp, clear, and vivid. HTC Newsfeed was a great home screen, offering news, social media, fully customizable content. The camera/selfie combo was just fine, until my main camera zotzed in year two, putting out purple garbage in other than outdoor sunny shots. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed that phone for its three years.
2014 – HTC released the One M8, also to excellent reviews.
2015 – HTC took a step backwards in the One M9, generally viewed as a disappointment.
I knew that the successor to the M9 had to be a major hit. HTC couldn’t simply “return to form,” they had to create a masterpiece to reclaim the top spot among smartphone manufacturers. And whatever was coming would be out in time for me to upgrade! I set up a Google alert and started scouring the net for any information.
Rumors abound in the electronics world, especially in mobile electronics. Even so, nothing was known as the big Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show came around in January. Perhaps we’d find out something at the big Mobile World Electronics show in Barcelona in February. No, what we found out was that HTC was not going to announce there, either, but stand by for a release from HTC in April.
The early rumors indicated that the new phone (as yet unnamed) would feature a Qualcomm chipset that hadn’t yet been invented. It would also run on a new version of Android that hadn’t yet been written. I wasn’t the only one anticipating something very special.
Enter @evleaks, Evan Blass (now of venturebeat.com), a leaker of information famous around the globe for accuracy. He pointed to a performance test that showed the new 10 as faster than all of its competition. He pointed to a third-party test of the camera, which scored the highest marks ever (tied with the new Samsung). He leaked things like the processor, the camera sensor, and ultimately pictures of the upcoming phone.
Finally, on April 12, 2016, HTC had the big reveal of the new 10. It was beautiful. Just seeing it, I wanted it. Knowing that it had the best camera available today, I wanted it. Knowing that it was the fastest, most capable smartphone available today, I wanted it. It would begin shipping on or about May 4th. But there was a catch.
I’ve been with AT&T since back in the Bell Atlantic Mobile days. And AT&T, for whatever reason, was not going to offer the HTC 10. It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to Lily (left) and set up an account for three with Verizon. But it was a celebratory moment when the FedEx man came up my front walk with a package containing two shiny new HTC 10s! “It’s Christmas,” somebody yelled.
My wife had leased a series of Ford Escapes (2004, 2007, 2010) and loved them, but it always struck me as like driving a truck. I preferred a somewhat lower center of gravity, a steadier track through the twisties, and – above all else – a manual transmission. You know, “driving.” Oddly, when Ford redesigned the Escape for the 2013 model year, my wife didn’t care for it and instead picked out a Focus SE. After playing with her new car for a week, I picked out a Focus of my own. That was three years ago, and the leases for these two expired at the end of October. In talking about our next vehicles, we decided to go with only one.
The last time the two of us shared one vehicle, it was the new 1978 Mustang II we bought for $5,000 shortly before we married. We kept that car for ten years, 110,000 miles. Our babies became young children and almost entered their teen years in the back seat of that car. Eventually, we would add a second vehicle, and then that’s how we rolled for almost 30 years now.
We decided to go with one vehicle, since rarely did we really need two, so one or the other was just sitting. But with only one vehicle, it had to be a one-size-fits-all approach.
The layout had to be flexible, whether for passengers or cargo. That meant a “utility vehicle.”
It had to be at least front wheel drive, for slippery conditions and/or snow.
The vehicle had to be efficient, economical, good looking, with a bit of fun factor.
The Focus showed that we really needed a vehicle with room on occasion – space for large loads, like a Christmas tree or an appliance or a piece of furniture.
My old Mustangs would be stopped and garaged by as little as 1/4″ of snow. This was okay when we had a second vehicle with front wheel drive, but with only one vehicle now it has to be front wheel drive. The Escape has “intelligent four wheel drive,” and I can’t wait to see how it handles the white stuff.
The interior of the Escape is very similar to the Focus, so we’re used to the layout. The seating is a bit more upright, but there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve had several trips to the grocery store by now, but not an excuse yet to fold the rear seats flat and extend the cargo room. And the rear seats fold FLAT, unlike the Focus, in a 60/40 option.
The Escape is a bit of a pig. The Focus would get an average 30mpg on its 12-gallon tank, so I usually filled up at 300 to 330 miles. The Escape doesn’t seem to get better than 24mpg, but it has a 15-gallon tank, so I still fill up every 300 miles, but that fillup costs a bit more (say, 25% more).
And while the Focus had a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine, the Escape has an even smaller 1.6 liter four, but it’s turbocharged. This is the same Ford EcoBoost engine also found in the exciting Fiesta ST, but in the larger, heavier Escape body, it’s not about to power down any quarter miles. Still, it does have surprising pickup for a tiny engine in a large body.
(The other options for the Escape are a less-powerful 2.5 liter four or the 2.0 liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine from the Focus ST.)
Major caveat – I don’t care for SUVs. I prefer my automobiles lower to the ground, a lower center of gravity, a stiffer ride. The latest Focus is a driver joy, with its European set-up and handling. The Escape is too high and too soft for my tastes.
That said, I’ve pushed this Escape on highways and back roads, and it has never failed to hold up. At speeds up to 100mph on a straight highway, the track is solid, but I wouldn’t recommend such speeds as a routine. I doubt that the Escape has the accident avoidance capabilities of a performance automobile. The Focus would enter a tight turn and then want to accelerate through it. The Escape enters a tight turn, and then I hold my breath waiting for the tires to lose grip (they never have). There’s much more of an instinct to overbrake going into the turn. I tend to drive the Escape more like a truck.
Now here’s the funny part – the new Escape and Focus are built on the same platform and have surprisingly similar specifications:
Other than height, the two vehicles are within an inch of each other. The Escape sits higher, with a higher center of gravity, so there’s a feeling that it’ll want to tip over in a tight turn (it doesn’t). Still, there’s a reluctance to dive into a corner or to apply throttle to pull through a turn.
This Escape is equipped with a reverse camera, which allows you to see what’s behind you at bumper level. VERY handy for backing up to an object (wall, curb, paper leaf bags) and for parking (of course). The two colored lines extend directly from the back bumper outward and show distance markers. Turning the steering wheel generates two white lines that show where the vehicle will go if the turn is maintained.
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:
(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 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.
I 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.)
When 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.
My 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.
Eventually, 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.
In 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.
So 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:
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.
When 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:
rec.autos.makers.ford.mustang (or RAMFM)
Even now, 15 years after leaving AOL, email@example.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.
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.
At least one person in the U.S. still drinks instant coffee. Me.
It’s not because I’m cheap (I am) or that I’m old (I am). It’s that I like being able to drink coffee whenever and I hate having to wash out a coffee pot. I bring a Thermos® of hot water to work, and I’m good all day.
Most people recoil in horror when they see my jar of instant coffee. These are the folks who will spend $4.00 for a cup o’ Joe at a Starbuck’s or the local Wawa (if you’re outside of the extended Philadelphia area and aren’t aware, Wawa is simply THE finest convenience store in the world, bar none). Both of these are wonderful, and I, too, will happily fork over my dollars in exchange for a cup, but I don’t seek them out. It is exceedingly rare that I stop at either of these shops for a cup of coffee.
The secret to instant coffee, as told to me by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (okay, it was in a book, but still, it was as if he was speaking directly to me), is to pour the water, stir, and let the cup sit for no less than five minutes. This allows the coffee time to “brew,” as it were. This is essential for instant coffee, no matter what brand, and it does make a difference. (Try it.) The other secret to instant is that you can tailor the strength of the coffee, simply by adding more or less.
For almost 40 years, I have been content with my instant coffee. I’ve tried several brands, from Eight O’Clock® to Taster’s Choice® French Roast, and currently, more often than not, I have a jar of Maxwell House® in my office. For a long time, I would even use a blend of two different instants in pursuit of a better cup. I use CoffeeMate® in my coffee, with just a dash – the merest dusting – of CoffeeMate® French Vanilla to top it off. Don’t give me Cremora®.
(Taster’s Choice® used to sell a French Vanilla Roast in a small jar, which was perfect. A teaspoon of my regular instant along with a dash of the French Vanilla was wonderful. Taster’s Choice®, in their infinite wisdom, no longer sells the small jar, but instead now packages the French Vanilla in a box of “tubules,” or single-cup servings. No thanks. I went so far as to cut open all of the tubules (20, I believe) and dump the contents into a small jar, but that’s just too much work for the little bit I got. It’s a lot of trash and wasteful packaging for a small amount of coffee. When they go back to selling this in a jar, I’ll go back to buying it.)
Up until this year, I was a smoker. Ever since high school (back in the early 70s), I have eaten one meal per day – dinner. Breakfast was a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Lunch was a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Only when I got home after work did I actually eat a meal. I really had no appetite, I ate to live. I was not the definition of healthy. People would marvel that I never ate during the day, and I was famous for ordering a cup of coffee for lunch when out at a restaurant.
The smoking has stopped, I now eat three meals each day, but coffee continues to be a constant in my life. And now my life-routine has been disrupted.
My daughter bought her mother a Keurig. Or, rather, Mom dropped some heavy hints for Christmas that she’d like a Keurig. Either way, my wife received a Keurig for Christmas.
In coordination with my daughter’s gift, my task was to buy some coffee to go along with that new Keurig. I picked out a big ol’ box of a Donut Shop decaf and some kind of a Green Mountain brew. I think these were 36-count boxes. The Green Mountain is long gone, but we still have some of the Donut Shop decaf around. And it didn’t take me very long to figure out that Keurig and Green Mountain were one and the same.
I started haunting the coffee aisle at the grocery store, standing and staring at the shelves.
Scan the shelves of K-Cups in all of their varieties, imagine that this space was full of different instant coffees – that’s how it was in the last millennium. Today’s selection of instants is a mere shadow of what it once was. With a $10 jar of instant coffee, I can drink up to 100 cups. With a $10 box of K-Cups, I get 10 or 12, and that’s not even a good week.
Early on in my brewed coffee career, I found that I preferred the bold roasts, the dark roasts. The Green Mountain French Roast was a good cup of coffee, and early on I latched onto a Peet’s French Roast – sort of a slap in the face in a K-cup. Pricey, but very, very good. I came to view the Peet’s as a treat – almost $1.00/cup (can you imagine?).
We went through a lot of boxes at $7.99 and $8.99 for 10 or 12 K-cups, and I began to think that perhaps we should look into “buying in bulk.”
About the same time, NPR had a program that dealt in part with K-cups. I don’t think that anyone, even John Sylvan, inventor of the K-cup who now regrets it, understood that there would be billions and billions of these small plastic containers being dumped into landfills every year. Now I am not an environmentally-sensitive sort (well, I kind of am, but I don’t preach it), but the mental image of all of these billions of K-cups put me off a bit.
This is a company in the San Francisco area that has purposely gone about making K-cups biodegradable and recyclable. Imagine that! At the time, they boasted that their K-cups were 97% biodegradable, while Green Mountain/Keurig promised that they were working on a solution and hoped to have it available by 2020. Also, oddly enough, Rogers’ K-cups were incompatible with the Keurig 2.0, but they happily provided a simple solution to that problem, and provided it for free – a very simple workaround that allowed their K-cups to be used in the Keurig, bypassing Keurig’s lockout. There were also lawsuits between the two going back and forth.
I like “the little guy battling the big bad corporation,” so I gave them a try.
My first order was for their Organic Coffee® brand of French Roast and Breakfast Blend. The former for me, a good, dark cup of bold, and the latter for my wife, a milder early morning cup. I thought that the Organic® brand WAS Rogers, and didn’t understand their various labels. But these were good enough that I re-ordered.
Rogers Family is also known as San Francisco Bay Coffee with a good variety. I can recommend the Espresso Roast, the French Roast, the Fog Chaser (yes, I like the dark roasts!), and I’m about to try their Jamaican Blue Mountain and Kona Blend coffees.
I now order the larger boxes of 36 or 80 counts and I easily meet the threshhold for FREE SHIPPING. Bottom line, I spend at most 50 cents per cup! From one coast to the other, it takes about a week and a half to receive my orders, and that is consistent. Also, unlike the sealed plastic K-cups, these coffees really need to be stored in an airtight container (which I prefer over the carousel K-cup holders, anyway).
Every day and all day Saturday and Sunday I drink brewed coffee. Monday through Friday I go to work and drink instant coffee.
I would not have thought of myself as one for long-term commitments. Yet I’m still with my first wife after 36 years. I’ve been with the same company for 35 years. And my last new car was bought in September of 1993. That was a black 1993 Mustang 5.0 LX hatchback with 5-speed manual transmission, the first to wear the plate TFROG.
I will never forget… When I drove the car home for the first time, I stopped to fill up the gas tank. While I was at the pump, the automatic car alarm chirped, and all doors locked. I think someone had forgotten to tell me that the car does this – 30 seconds after the door closes, the car alarm arms itself. If it weren’t for the fact that I HAD just bought the car and that the second set of keys were in my pocket, I’d have been stuck (and embarrassed) at the gas station. Lesson learned.
I will never forget… Shortly after, I was sitting at a light and noticed that the car behind me didn’t appear to be stopping. I will never forget the look on that driver’s face as he suddenly realized that he was about to slam into the back of a brand new Ford Mustang – and the profound relief displayed when he knew he was going to stop in time. I think we both had our hearts in our throats.
I will never forget… Driving too fast down a straightaway at night, only to find that the road ahead did a sudden right-angle zig-zag over a bridge. I braked, but entered the first turn way too fast. The rear tires hit gravel and the car fishtailed a little, but the front tires held and we made the turn. I understood a little better what a “performance car” was all about that night. TFrog always had massive tires, expensive tires, but for a good reason. With performance cars, you pay a lot for tires and they don’t last very long, but the combination of power and good tread makes driving an absolute pleasure. I was always confident driving that car. It also had another feature, “escape velocity.” Countless dangerous situations were avoided by a simple blip of the throttle. The car could MOVE.
I will never forget… Moving to pass a car on Route 926, I accelerated to over 70 in no time, then saw a car cresting the hill up ahead. I couldn’t complete the pass, and slowed to resume my place behind the passee. But the passee was also braking to let me in ahead of him. I basically slowed from 70 to nothing, then sheepishly tucked in behind the passee, but my brake rotors were billowing white smoke (okay, the stock brakes on the Mustang flat-out sucked). The first ten years with TFROG were all about upgrades – I didn’t simply replace parts, I replaced them with better. Brake rotors were the first, and I had PowerSlot rotors installed, and never wondered again whether I would be able to stop in time. A complete suspension makeover followed, along with upgraded cooling system, eletrical system, exhaust system… ad nauseum.
I’d never had a car that swallowed so much money. Between the upgrades and maintenance, the new pricey tires every 18 months, TFrog was an expensive hobby. The second ten years were all about just keeping the car on the road. Break-downs came at unexpected times and places, but I will say that my own driveway was TFrog’s favorite place to stop running. Even so, I ended up with two different tow truck numbers stored on my cellphone. I’ve had water pumps go bad, alternators, air pumps, and a five-year bout of transmission problems that four different shops couldn’t fix. TFrog had long ago been paid off, but repair bills (some very high) would come at odd moments, and there’s never a convenient time to have a car in the shop. I have twice had my tailpipe fall off because of age (not an attractive look or sound).
But, oh, how I loved that car. We had recently passed the 250,000-mile mark, and I drove almost all of those miles with a big grin on my face.
After 19 years, TFrog was in need of thousands of dollars in repairs and restoration. A really good show-black paint job was quoted at $4,000, alone. The right tailpipe fell off one day, and, looking up underneath, I saw that TFrog had cancer – a good deal of rust. TFrog’s days were numbered.
After a succession of Ford Escapes, Jean surprised me by picking out her next lease, a 2013 Focus SE Sedan, fully optioned. The Ruby Red color was extra, but so pretty… I played with that car for a week, read all the reviews, and decided that it was time to trade TFrog for a 2013 Focus S sedan, tuxedo black (of course), with no options. The savings in gasoline, alone, would offset the lease payments, so I was getting a de facto free car.
Of course, I miss the V8. There is much to be said about the sound, the acceleration, or just burbling down the street in 2nd gear. The Focus is an entirely different world. But with TFrog dying and an all-new Mustang due out in late 2014, I opted to lease the Focus for three years to get me through.
The Focus is a hoot. First was the amazement at seeing my average mpg go from 17 to 30+. I found myself playing the mpg game – I’d fill up, get out on the highway to go to work, and try to get the mpg above 50 (which I did on a number of occasions). If I take it easy on the accelerator and do a lot of coasting, I can average 34mpg over a tankful of gas. I don’t often end up there, but somewhere over 30mpg is the norm.
The manual transmission is … well … sweet. Shifting is carefree, even though it seems to jump out of first ahead of the shift to second. It could use a 6th gear for highway driving, but the easy clutch pedal is no struggle in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Ford has nailed the suspension and handling in these cars. For a front wheel drive car, the Focus is a joy on twisty roads. Reviewers refer to the suspension and tightness as very European, which makes sense, since the car was designed by Ford Europe.
Since this is my first new car in 20 years (Jean has had a succession of leased vehicles, on average every 3 years), I am enjoying the newness of it all. I have a good number of old Mustang parts in the garage, along with oil, rags, carnuba wax, and other things I don’t need now. The Focus is mine for 39 months, and then gets traded for something new.
The plan was to get back into a Mustang (at this writing, I still haven’t seen the new 2015 Mustang in person), but I can’t stop reading the reviews. It may be that what I really wanted was not the base model sedan with no options, but the Focus ST with no options. While the base Focus has a lively 4-cylinder 2.0 liter engine putting out 160hp (not shabby in a little car), the Focus ST has a turbocharger with an output of 250+hp, and suspension tweaks to help put all of that power to use. On paper, the Focus ST is a tick faster to 60mph and in the quarter mile than my old 1993 5.0 V8 Mustang. Impressive. And it would still average more than 30mpg.
So I debate. New V6 Mustang or Focus ST. At the moment, it is likely that my Mustang days are over, since I’m leaning Focus…
I’m on vacation this week. There’s vacation, and then there’s vacation, as most of us fully understand. When someone says they’re going off on vacation, it was usually understood that they were packing up and going somewhere special for the week (with or without kids). In the modern usage, vacation can just as easily mean taking a little time off and puttering about the house for a week.
The latter is my vacation this time.
I’m trying to remember the last vacation of the former sort. My wife has taken me to D.C. for a long weekend, we flew out to San Francisco and drove to Lake Tahoe some years ago, but that, too, was more of a long (albeit much too short) weekend. There was a time that we went up to the Finger Lakes for four (or five?) years running, with mixed results. Again, my wife asked me to meet her in Phoenix one year (she was on a business trip), and we stayed in Sedona and made the obligatory trek to the Grand Canyon. She lured me out there with the promise of a Mustang convertible rental – how could I refuse? And there was a short trip out to Seattle and Mount Ranier in there, somewhere.
But, of late, it’s been the stay at home type of vacation.
It is said that Americans don’t take (or get) nearly enough vacation time, when compared to the rest of the industrialized world (read: Europe). I suppose that if I only had one or two weeks each year, I’d want to make them something special. Fact is, as we get older, we find that we have more and more vacation time, so that doesn’t translate into a vacation-prime every time we take off. Personally, I’ve come to schedule a week off in the Spring for yard clean-up, and another week in the Fall for the annual raking of leaves and (again) clean-up. Then there’s the ‘Tween Week (Christmas to New Year’s), when it’s just “silly” to work. All of these are, by definition, staycations.
Star Trek quote:
Kirk: Ah, Mr. Scott. You’re looking well.
Scott: Aye, sir. Had a wee bout, but Dr. McCoy pulled me through.
Kirk: Were you ill?
McCoy (whispered to Kirk): Shore leave.
I think that I, too, am allergic to shore leave. When I go to work, I know what I’m doing, I’m pretty good at it, and there’s a sense that I’ve accomplished something. Left to my own devices (vacation), I have no idea what I’m doing. I wake up each day, and my first question is, “What do I want to do today?” And I’m no good at coming up with things to do. By Thursday, the week will have almost passed, and I will have done nothing – nothing to write home about, as they say. Then I’ll be overcome with wasted-vacation-guilt and force myself to go somewhere, do something, just so I can say I did.
So far, it’s Monday afternoon, and I’ve worked on my website a bit. I’m waiting for Mr. UPS to drop off a package of parts, so I can get TFrog‘s door handle replaced. I’m going to schedule a tune-up for the furnace. And I have to cut the grass, since I put it off this weekend (knowing I had nothing planned for today).
But I was reminded of the last vacation that was painful to end. We spent a glorious week in a rented shore house on Lake George, just south of Ticonderoga (the much preferred end of the lake). We had two channels on the TV, and a 1,600 foot hill behind us, which we climbed so that we could have a cellphone signal. The rest of the week was spent exploring, relaxing, hiking, etc etc etc, and the day we packed up to come home hurt. One of my last photos of the trip has haunted me ever since, a reminder of what vacation should be – a place you just don’t want to leave.