Here are a few of my interests. The colored lines link to text below, except "Writing", which is a separate page:
Note: these are external links - you may wish to bookmark this page first.
I've been known to dabble in poetry a little. Sometimes poets are classified in "schools", based on their styles: Frost, Poe, Dylan, etc. I would be in the "Charles Kuralt School": nice, tight rhyme and meter, good workaday poetry, designed to convey some everyday thought. Nothing deep. Here's a sample.
This poem was originally published on the editorial page of the Manassas Journal Messenger, in reply to a really bad poem someone had written to the paper, which bemoaned the fact that kids were being taught computer skills in school. That writer feared the machines would somehow take control of kids' minds, and have their evil way. My letter to the paper was dated January 21, 1987. I wrote it on a TRS-80 Model III in PowerScript (my, how times have changed!). This version, with minor wording changes, is dated 6/17/2001.
If e're you met a programmer,
I'd like to make a bet,
He had a grin from ear to ear
And no doubt has it yet.
What makes a person revel so
To toil on a machine?
What fascination can it have,
And what woe can it mean?
A programmer's an optimist,
A can-do sort of soul.
In her world all is possible,
No matter what the goal.
The bugs crop up, and glitches,
And snafus by the score,
But none will be insoluble,
And none will bar the door.
If today that world's too small,
More memory's the fix.
And if it seems a bit too slow
Just buy some speed-up tricks.
And if today the cost is dear,
It will cost less tomorrow.
Is it any wonder then
They tolerate no sorrow?
Computers, though, are simply tools,
Just like a saw or drill.
They are a means and not an end,
And have no evil will.
They can be used for good or bad,
Like any other tools
They serve us as our skills demand,
Both geniuses and fools.
And yet some people fear them still
As if they were demonic.
They say we'll all forget to think,
Addicted to their tonic.
Just push a button, so they say,
And we replace ourselves.
Electric bytes will relegate
Us human souls to shelves.
Some people also fear a wrench,
Or screwdriver, or nail.
They do not understand their use,
Or worry they will fail.
Perhaps they tried to use them once,
And found it wouldn't fly.
Perhaps they fear it will be so,
And so they never try.
Some people fear they'll be replaced
By siliconic bleeper
That's smarter than they'll ever be,
And willing to work cheaper.
Well, I've machines that work for me --
They are my bonded peons.
I'd want no job that they can do --
Such tedium takes eons.
I wonder, though, of what's to come.
These kids with their computers
Are learning all is possible
For patient troubleshooters.
Will they be crushed to find the world
Is not so trim and neat,
Or rush right out like optimists
And make me obsolete?
I occasionally doodle. In high school, I realized a ball-point pen was not producing results that looked like published work. Jeff McNelly (Pulitzer-winner for political cartoons, and created "Shoe"), whose career was launched at the Richmond News Leader, was once interviewed by a radio station WRVA, and I called in to ask what media he used. "Ink and brush", he replied. I bought myself a bottle of india ink and a few small sable brushes, and tried it myself. I liked the ragged lines it produced. Occasionally, the mood has hit me to do some art, and some of that has been published. A caracarture I did of myself (39 kB JPG) and stuck on a bulletin board at Virginia Tech's WUVT made it onto the station's Music Changes Survey, and another un-flattering depiction of the UVA commencement made the Collegiate Times editorial page. A couple of pieces of art I did for the Reston Dirt Riders, called "All Tricked Out and No Place to Ride?" (66 kB JPG) and Northern Virginia Trail Riders were used repeatedly for posters and t-shirt art. Finally, I did one of a square-wheeled motorcycle (191 kB JPG) for a newsletter I produced, which the American Motorcyclist Association published in their national magazine.
My favorite ride is a 1971 26" Schwinn Typhoon, or rather, it was that model when new. Today, it is Humma Hah, a one-of-a-kind machine with a special history. Humma Hah is a Laguna Indian phrase, used to start their legends. Literally, it means "long ago," tho' I prefer the translation "once upon a time."
This machine is one of the original mountainbikes. When I converted it for that purpose, in the early 1970's, we did not yet have that name for the sport. Gary Fisher and his buddies were downhilling Schwinn Excelsiors on Mt. Tam (click here for picture*, 51 kB JPG), the Crested Butte crowd were climbing mountains on cantilever Schwinns like mine, and I was in Virginia, banging down trails or BMXing my bike (2 JPGs, 146 kB total), breaking things, and ruggedizing it.
I'm especially proud of the handlebars. I kept breaking handlebars. Working with "The Unicycle," a bike shop in Blacksburg, VA, they gave me an old set of european commuter-bike bars (almost straight), I chopped them down (to reduce the stress-inducing moment arm), filled the bars with polyester resin (prevented the buckling at the stem that caused the failure), and those bars have survived ever since. This bike may be the first mountainbike to have straight bars, and is almost certainly the first to have solid bars.
Other mods included the front caliper brakes, more recently the rear V-brakes, a longer seat post, a better seat, heavy duty Schwinn front wheel, heavy spokes in the rear, and an altimeter cyclocomputer. How many cruisers have one of those? How many cruisers need one? The silver powdercoat finish, decals, and clearcoat are by CyclArt, a well-known bike refinishing shop that also runs the Vintage Bicycle Association. The original color was red, but I repainted it silver when it was only a few years old.
The bike is singlespeed. Wanna go faster? Pedal faster. Wanna climb a hill? Pedal harder. No, I didn't join the new "singlespeed movement", I just never really joined the gearie movement. I've ridden that way since I was 5 years old. It builds muscle.
These days, to preserve the bike for its next 30 years, I mostly road ride it or ride it on the relatively smooth C&O Canal Towpath. I try to average 70 miles a week. The bike has done a number of "centuries" (rides of a hundred miles or more). I did a 130-mile solo ride in college, a 140-miler in 2000, a 152 mile epic (drafting two roadie friends) in 2001, and a number of solo and organized centuries since. I rode Solvang in March 2001, 104.4 miles and about 5900 ft of climbing.
Most of the photography I do these days is utilitarian, lab documentation sorts of photos. For example, I have a 10/30-power trinocular inspection scope, the "third eye" adapted for a camera. I do enjoy getting a little "artsy" with a camera when the opportunity arises, though.
I got really lucky with this photo, which I call "One Day at Dulles International Spaceport" (32 kB JPG). The glide-test shuttle "Enterprise" was on a tour of the US, and had just landed, behind schedule. The Concorde had delayed departure, but took off just before the 747 carrying the Enterprise landed, a big dissappointment as I'd hoped to get both in one picture. But just as the 747 stopped in front of us, I looked to my left and saw a vaguely Concorde-shaped dot on the horizon, and realized they were setting up a fly-by. I set up the shot and caught it perfectly. I've seen one other version of this episode, caught by an employee of the airport from the tower deck.
The shot above was with a Canon AE-1, Kodachrome slide film, with a cheap Quantaray 80-210 zoom. The lens was unreliable, and locked up totally about two shots later. That was the day I realized what good equipment is worth. Rather than fixing the lens again, I bought a higher-quality zoom to replace it.
I've always enjoyed existing-light photography. Many of my better shots are taken of lights or lighted objects in a dark setting, using timed exposure (generally a wild guess) and a tripod or a steady hand on a camera braced against a handy surface. Frequently, a flash does not have the range needed to illuminate the subject, illuminates the foreground too much, causes unwanted reflections if the subject is behind glass, and is an annoyance to others trying to enjoy the view. In museum settings, the existing lighting often enhances the colors of the subject, and makes a prettier, warmer-toned picture than a flash would.
I retired my ancient Canon AE-1s and F-1 when Canon went to EOS and abandoned the older lens system. I'm a Nikon man now, with a Nikon F4 and D70. But the camera I had the most fun with, and took many of my best shots with, was a Practica Nova IB, a stone-axe little 35mm SLR with external photocell metering. That little toy cost $62 new in about 1972, but served me brilliantly.
Sure! You should have seen Simba the Wonder Cat do his stupid pet trick routine. He begged, shook hands, rolled over, grabbed a ball or stuffed toy between his paws, walked on his hind legs, and danced, all on cue. Who needs a dog? I hoped that if I could ever get him to shoot that ball thru a basketball hoop from the three-point line, I was going to call Letterman. Alas, Simba passed away.
Simba's successor, Tocho, can do the beg and shake tricks. He'll lie down on cue but has not learned "roll over" or any of the other advanced tricks. However, he does have a published story in Analog magazine.
Training cats is actually pretty simple once you get past a critical point. You see, all cats understand the training process instinctively: they use it themselves to systematically train their owners. Don't believe me? Then you've obviously had little exposure to cats. The key is making the cat realize that you are the one doing the training and the cat is expected to learn the behavior. Training gave Simba a special relationship with me: he knew I was the alpha-lion, so he minded me and tried to butter me up.
After that, its just Skinner-box psycology, and I took something like 20 credit-hours of psych, plus Simba taught me a lot more. Psycology, and kibble treats.