Vivian Maier – Street Photography

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It’s become fairly clear to me that taking good photographs is a technical challenge.  One has to understand a camera beyond the automatic settings.  Beyond that, though, is the art of photography: 

  • finding a worthy subject
  • framing it suitably
  • timing the moment to capture the need or inspiration
The purpose also plays a role.  Certainly personal remembrances are a major reason for photographs, but sooner or later, the intent is that they be shared.  They’re not as satisfying without the tale of what it was or others’ feedback.

I recently learned of Vivian Maier, a nanny who apparently had no friends but who had a passion for walking the streets of Chicago (and other places) beginning in the 1950’s.  She was known to take pictures by her employers but she never shared them with anyone.  100,000 of them.  Imagine that.  A full adulthood of taking photos and keeping them stored in boxes that no one saw.

At the end of the post is the story of how her photos were found and are gradually being released and possibly brought to prominence.  There have been other photographs who have done similar work, but I’ve found hers to be quite satisfying, in both the subject matter and the voyeuristic aspect of wondering about this very private woman who wandered about at the edge of each scene.

Following are some samples, and like any photograph, each becomes an instant in time that is preserved, in this case for 40-50 years later. Certainly, Chicago was an urban city, but what strikes me is that so much activity would now be contained indoors due to air-conditioning.  Still, the dress styles, the activities, the chiseled faces, the unknown thoughts of those pictured... It’s just interesting... as well as a woman’s ability to insert herself into the scenes and capture the moment.  Taking photos of strangers takes a certain personality and confidence, or, perhaps a non-threatening unobtrusiveness.  The latter is difficult when you’re holding a sizable camera.




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Following is a video of a biographical sketch of Maier and the young man, John Maloof, who came across her film, recognized its potential and is gradually making it known.  By one report, 90,000 of her photos remain to be processed.  A documentary is also forthcoming.


Links with sample pictures:
Artsy - Vivian Maier 
http://www.vivianmaier.com/
http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/
http://www.vivianmaierprints.com/index.html

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L5P

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My photography group went to Little Five Points, home of Variety Playhouse which is my favorite concert venue.

Unfortunately, it was an overcast and chilly day.  L5P, as it’s called, is an eclectic area and dresses itself accordingly. 

Some comments can be seen by hovering above the photos.

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I found Channel Zero to be amusing.  Reminds me of all the cable channels I wish I didn’t have to pay for.

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Amongst all the interesting details, I really should have taken a picture of the main strip for the purposes of this blog.  Well, this will at least give you an idea.

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It’s almost like this back side of a building is a test wall, or a place to empty spray cans.

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The Vortex is a major draw in the area, known for their great burgers.  Its entrance is iconic.

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Then, we have Fun with Photoshop.

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Below is a neat sign that is tucked around on the side.  Below is probably close to what it looked like before fading in the sunlight.  Thanks again, Photoshop.

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Below is a light above tables near Little Five Pizza.  Looks a bit like a hive.

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And, lastly, in the absence of odd characters to pose for amazing pictures, we come to the suitable end. 

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This is brought to you by the wonderful folks who “occupied” Atlanta and other cities.   They’re anarchists, and phrases such as “... the next round of rebellion could be more fierce and nihilistic than the last one which was hopelessly naive and painfully nonviolent” will certainly invite the sympathy of the masses.

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Imaging USA

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I’ve always enjoyed going to conventions.  Years ago, Comdex came to Atlanta, which at the time, was one of the more relevant “new computer technology” shows around.  I’d come home with a bag of freebies, a T-shirt or two, and a general “wow” factor of appreciating life in a digital age.

Fast forward, and my photography Meetup group posted for free passes to the trade area of the Imaging USA convention in downtown Atlanta.  The show is for professional photographers and includes a wide variety of photography and photography business related classes.

Well, I wouldn’t pay for those, but I’m happy to go look at “stuff.”

There’s something both exciting and numbing when you venture in to find a colorful array of booths and things, neatly arrayed in rows.  The problem is, that despite the cheap convention carpeting, it’s a lot of walking on concrete.  It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes.  Enough so that when entering and finding fantastic wall displays of photographs that were juried by the Professional Photographers of America, I only gave them half the time they deserved because there was so far to go.

An Irony.  Kodak used to be synonymous with photography.  Now they’re pushing into commercial printing and packaging.  Digital printing seems a natural follow-up to the vanished film market, and they’ve abandoned photography altogether.  Their cameras are done and they’re selling document scanner and photo-kiosk assets.  It’s good that they’ve found a focused business, but... why are they here?


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Well, because despite instagrams and Facebook and texting photos, consumers still want printed products.  The Expo section of the convention made that abundantly clear; the show was primarily to enhance professional photographers’ businesses – ie, making a profit.

The traditional framed photograph is challenged.  Many of the exhibitors were showing various means to supplement income via any manner of use of photographs.  On metal.  In books.  On cards.  Art prints.  Folios.  Wedding books.  Announcements.  On cell phone covers.  Kindle covers.  Footballs.  Baseball bats. Aprons. Pennants.  And the list goes on.

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Some software vendors were there also.  Disappointingly, Adobe, who is a full sponsor, was not there.  But other software companies were, including Topaz Labs and Nik, not to mention others who specialize on the business side of photograph management.  Below, an demonstrator casually explains his company’s software.

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I found the station below to be interesting.  Digital displays for photographers to find out information about Canon products...  To be fair, it isn’t just cameras.  There are all sorts of printers and other hardware, but...

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... I much prefer the hands on experience.  Canon did a nice job of having their various models on display where people can actually pick them up and try them out.  Well done.

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On the other hand, Nikon took all of their cameras and put them in glass cases.  You had to start a discussion to be able to check them out.  Not as cool.  That said, they did have several of their top tier lenses set out on tripods.  I was happy with my entry level lenses until I tried one of these.  Completely unfair.  And, at $10,000, that was probably my last touch.  The focus control was amazing.

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Nikon also did the big screen approach, but at least they had a seating area.

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There were multiple vendors of actual cameras and related gear.  These were fun to sort through and may have had some outstanding deals if you knew what you were looking for.  I didn’t, and I didn’t have the cash anyway.  Imaging USA advertises to its exhibitors that 90% of the attendees purchase something at the store.  Sorry!  Maybe next year.

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And, with seating like the below, I didn’t even buy a drink.  Seriously, there was extra room in the venue... set up more chairs and tables.  No carpet required.

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But, I didn’t come home without some things.  A few lens cleaners, some literature, a car charger for USB equipment, a bunch of pens...

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My interest was largely on mirrorless cameras – a trend of building cameras that look and feel like cameras of old, without all the DSLR size and trickery.  We tried some of these out, including Panasonic’s DMC-G5, which was pretty amazing, and Sony’s NEX 6.  Overall, I like these cameras, but they haven’t fully arrived until they figure out a better intuitive balance for changing settings between mechanical dials and software menus. Soon, though.  Soon.

See ya next year.

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My Computer Evolution

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I found my receipts for my first computer, a Gateway 2000, which resulted from a thorough search of vendors in Computer Shopper magazine, a phone book of a magazine that came out monthly primarily with ads for companies that tailored computers in seemingly infinite varieties though using a very limited number of variables.  In other words, the cases looked different.

I had intended to buy a formidable Gateway 2000 tower unit with a 486 Intel processor. However, when I called to place the order, the service person said, “Well, that’s now $300 less than our advertisement, but for the same price, you can get our 486dx250...” Something about clock doubling and 30% faster.

Well, duh.  Faster = better!

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Click it and it will expand.

Some highlights: 

    • $3,290.  Ouch!  And it didn’t even include a fax/modem, which would cost me a couple hundred bucks for each of the next several evolutions of modem speed.
    • MS DOS 5.  Living life on the cutting edge. (That’s Microsoft’s Disk Operating System...)
    • 15” Monitor – truly state-of-the-art for 1992.
    • Windows 3.  Ain’t that cute.  Bill Gates was just a millionaire then.  DOS booted first. Then you started Windows.
    • Hard drive:  200MB. 
    • RAM: 8 MB – Ram was $200/MB in those days.
    • Manuals – yes, there used to be printed manuals for hardware and software.
    • Disks – lots of them.  51/4”, though that computer also had the newfangled and vastly superior 3.5” “floppy disks” drive.  It might take 10 – 15 disks to install a program.
    • Included Microsoft Word – which would be quite the professional benefit for getting ahead of the workplace curve, which was stuck with IBM’s DisplayWrite at the time.

My computer today has some ungodly stats, and it’s already 2.5 years old.  Intel i7 2.80 GHZ processor, 16 GB Ram, 1.3TB hard drive... whatever.  It cost half of the Gateway (less given inflation) and it was still more than I had to buy.  But, I still hold to a general opinion of buying the best I can afford and letting it run a longer useful life.

Between the two computers were, hmmm.  Well, that Gateway tower had tons of space in it, and I upgraded it quite a bit.  It made me feel all technically proficient and everything to add a sound card, replace video cards, upgrade the power supply, connect CD drives, tweak the software...   Later, there were 2 Hewlett Packards and a locally made machine.  Maybe there was another. 

Eventually, the frustration and the cost to keep my computer current with video games drove me to platform game systems. Plug the game in, it works. Bingo!

    • Nintendo > Nintendo 64 > GameCube > Wii
    • Xbox > Xbox 360 > Xbox 360 whatever-it-was I bought because it was “better”

Well, that idea of a “static” system didn’t work so well, did it?  Looking back, instead of saving me money, I was now upgrading both computers and gaming systems.  You’re welcome, kids.

I like the computer that I have now.  It does the things I want to do very capably.  That said, I won’t be surprised when I have to upgrade again.  The expanding capacity and low cost for data ($70 for a 1 TB hard drive) is kind of like the nation’s debt limit.  Keep spending and when you hit a barrier, just boost expand the limit.  There’s no need to spend more wisely or, in context, code more concisely.   (Kids, just think a bit about a 200 MB hard drive, on which I could balance the checkbook, write documents, AND fly a large number of World War II aircraft using a joystick.  Efficient coding...✓).

The nature of computing has changed.  Desktop PCs were king, and then R&D went into laptops.  That was the growth area and continues to have great traction.  Today, it’s all about portability with pads and cell phones.  Rightfully so.

My iPhone 4 does vastly more than my first computer.  Or, my third, for that matter.  It’s already old.  Do I need a 5?  Well, no.  And that’s an interruption to my purchasing history.

That history shows that I’m a sucker for more = better.   Advertisers know this, like AT&T’s current fun-with-kids spots asking kids whether two things are better than one (talk and surf at the same time).  But the iPhone 4 does everything I need well enough.  Would I like a better camera?  Well sure.  Would I like it to be faster?  Of course.

But here’s the thing.  The phone is built for a short term use.  The games I play are meant for playing a few minutes at a time.  All the apps are function specific where I get what I want and quit.

The pads are interesting.  They’re certainly bigger and suitable for aging eyes, but their attraction remains their portability – not their inherent usefulness for projects that take time.

And that’s why I like PCs.  (Don’t rule me out for a iPhone 5s, though.  Maybe.)

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The Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan

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For what is evolving into a “Timeline” (thanks, Facebook) of things thought, experienced or encountered, I’d be remiss without mentioning this fantasy series which has been a touch point for my family for many years. 

The Wheel of Time is a fantasy series, not the name of a specific book.  It encompasses fourteen books.  Thick ones, too.  Plus a prequel.

This adventure began around 1992, when I bought my wife the first book, “Eye of the World,” for Christmas.  She enjoyed it, and I read it and enjoyed it also.  So, we picked up the second book which was already published.  Very soon, the third came out, and it was obvious that this would be no “mere” trilogy.  It would soon become clear that the author had no idea how long the series would be either.

Although by that point Jordan was an experienced writer (having written Westerns and historical fiction), the third book began a trend wherein his writing style moved from an engaging narrative to descriptive.  In the former, things happen.  In the latter, things are described at length before anything happens.

Description is important in any story, and the world he created was inhabited by more “lands” and types of people than any other series I’ve read.  It’s natural, then, that each should be defined by particular traits, cultures, and styles of dress.  By book five or so, an entire paragraph might be spent on the color, texture, and craftsmanship of a person’s gauntlets, with more paragraphs about the rest of their clothing.  I exaggerate only a little.

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Still, the first book introduced characters that remained of interest, even if, book by book, they essentially stood up, rotated one seat to the right, and sat down again.  I might have been more satisfied had each book knocked off one major bad guy.  Instead, when one was finally killed off, darned if The Dark One didn’t bring him back.

Fans would say I’m not being fair, and they’re right.  The societies, the personalities, the struggles, the humanity of what would become a gazillion characters, back histories, the omnipresence of the lurking evil that will fight the good... it’s the stuff of an epic tale.

By the second book, I was speculating that this might be the best fantasy series, ever.  At its end, I’ll say that it was the most richly detailed.  The wealth of Jordan’s creativity is considerable, evidenced by keeping an audience who found that  the central character, Rand, that very man from prophecy who will defeat The Dark One, becomes unswaying aggravating and unlikeable through 70% of the series.  His sanity and pleasantness returns, but he never regains any charm.  By the end, I don’t really care if he lives or dies saving the world.  Just do it, please.

Jordan passed away in 2007, and the last book was passed on to another fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, to complete.  Only, Jordan left so many hanging threads that it became necessary for three thick books to complete the story.  Why not?  After 11 books, you’re pretty well committed.  And Sanderson would have been the wrong writer for the project if he had tried to end it other than he did.  And he was the right person for the job.  After eight books of hoping that the author would return to movement in his story rather than additional pieces, Sanderson came as close to that as possible.

“A Memory of Light,” the final book, gives a sense of the immensity of the remaining variables to be settled when it opens with a 60 page prologue.  This final book has all of the fights that have been brewing for the 20+ years of this series.  As welcome as that is, it’s a tiring read.  As is expected, things go from difficult to grim to worse before getting to its expected conclusion.

Did the book unravel all the hanging threads?  I don’t know, and I don’t care anymore.  Sanderson sufficiently handled all the major ones, and if there are lesser ones that were not seen to, then I’ll leave it someone else to comment upon them.  As I was working my way through the book, it’s telling that I was never disappointed that only x pages were left before this (briefly) great series would be over forever.  I was eager to be done with it.

On a positive note, this was a great introduction to Brandon Sanderson.  He has a very creative mind that balances all the elements of good fantasy.  “The Way of Kings” is a promising intro into his own (likely longer than a trilogy) series that hopefully will not overreach as The Wheel of Time did.  And one of his earlier books, “Mistborn,’ (highly recommended) will be in theaters later this year.

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A Christmas Tree Tangle

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Some years ago... seven?  eight?  We purchased an artificial Christmas tree.  My wife’s sinuses were regularly aggravated when we brought in a “live” tree, and my wallet was offended at the relatively costly expense for a disposable product at a time of year in which money is in high demand.

We found a (fake) Fraser tree that we liked.  Good height at 7.5’, great width, a lot of limbs, sufficient body and spacing to allow a multitude of ornaments in various sizes, and a 50% after-Christmas discount (as I recall).

And, it was pre-lit.  Clear bulbs.  1,100 of them, with at least 15 strands. It’s a serious electrical load.

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And then came the objections. Kids you know.  “It doesn’t smell as good.”  Correct.  “I like colored lights.”  White is a color.  “It’s just not the same.”  Blah blah blah.

After the first Christmas using it, it struck me that the likelihood of this thing working the following year was pretty dim (pun accidental but acceptable).  The tree disconnects in three sections.  You fold the limbs, and you put the sections back in the box from which it came for year-long storage.

Right...

That’s the goal anyway, because these things take up quite a bit of space.  So, you squeeze it down a bit, you put it in the box, the box tears at the corners, the walls swell as if pregnant, you close the flaps as far as they’ll allow, then you step astride the box, sit on the flaps and squeeze with your thighs.  Okay, you could probably do something less perverse sounding, but flipping it on its side and standing on it is more likely to damage it.

The box, of course, does not return to original square angles, but, all said, with a little effort, it’s nothing short of a miracle to get the rascal back in.  Flip the box on end, place the flaps against the wall so that they can’t open... done.

And each year, repeat.

This can’t be a very caring practice for the strands of lights.  I have ample experience of working with lights for decorating the outside of the house that have not been abused nearly to that extent.  And they often don’t work.  So, crushing them within a box year after year can’t be a good thing.

Eventually, a strand of lights doesn’t work.  Wait, now it does.  Then it doesn’t, again.  You try to fiddle with some bulbs, but... there are so many, you don’t know which lights are on the same strand.  Aside from that, the metal limbs are actually quite pokey, and they scrape and puncture your arms and hands as you try.  It’s just not worth it.

Fast forward.  Two strands don’t work.  No, make that three after the tree is decorated.  Thanks.  You dress it up with a couple of extra strands of red lights.  Not bad... sort of a candy cane look.  It’ll do for this year.  But you know it’s just going to get worse.

So, what do you do?  Toss it and buy another?  I can’t find a 7.5’ 1,100 light tree on Google.  There’s a 12’ one.  Or I can buy a skinny 7.5’ tree with up to 500 lights.   It’s not the same, plus these things cost hundreds of dollars. 

Why don’t I just remove all the lights?

So I do just that.  It takes two evenings, and it’s quite the tangle.  The wires pride themselves on getting snagged on mini-branches, after all.  So, wire clippers definitely help to section a strand in 2’ or so lengths for easier removal.  (Safety advice: wear long sleeves and gloves that allow dexterity).

But I have an engineering degree. And I’d always been curious how these things were put together.   The only clasps were wire bands around the leads around the trunk, and then there are small plastic clips adjacent to just the lights near the ends of tree branches. 

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They’re hard to see unless you get up close.  I’d never even noticed them before.  These, too, are easier to snip than to persuade off of each limb.  The process takes time, but ultimately the pieces fill two trash bags.  On the “green” side of things, I do net one usable extension cord that was wired onto the trunk of the tree.  Go me.

So I try to imagine the manufacturing process behind these things.  And for that matter, the squishing of sections so that they fit in the shipping box. What manner of machine might do this?  I come up empty. 

Don’t know something?  Google it.

Nada.

So I have to imagine that they’re done manually, and the mystery of how they’re lit, folded and placed into the box will remain a mystery.

But I’m satisfied.  I have a quite usable tree that can be decorated with a variety of colors to make a particular kid happy, and, although I didn’t fathom the manufacturing secrets, I did find some help on another manufactured product.

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Good People Brewing

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With Atlanta having two craft breweries for a number of years (with additional ones of late), I was surprised to find that Birmingham, AL already has three.  Given an opportunity...  off I go to Good People Brewing.  I’ve sampled their beer at area restaurants, but I was unaware the brewery was large enough to visit.

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The first surprise is how differently Alabama and Georgia view breweries.  In Georgia, you pay admission, usually get a souvenir pint glass, and are allowed up to a certain amount of ounces of beer during the tour.  These are typically during very limited hours.

In Birmingham, breweries are bars.  No admission.  No free pint glass.  No legally prescribed limit on how much beer you can sample.  It’s a bar, open late afternoons and evenings, perfect for an after-work visit.
The second surprise was the space.  Atlanta breweries seem to be in industrial parks, with ho-hum concrete and metal buildings without any innate construction character.

Not so here.  The space is a former mattress warehouse, with a fantastic curved roof.  That’s not exactly friendly for heating and cooling, but it makes for a great space.

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From the outside, it’s rather non-descript.  Upon entering, you first receive all the needed instructions:

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Well, okay then.   The arrow leads to... pretty much everything, but mainly the bar.

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The split kegs hanging as lighting fixtures are a hoot.  But it’s clear that this was constructed with an after-hours destination in mind.  There’s space for a band, utility spools for tables, and ample “space.”  No food is served, but a street vendor was camped outside this particular evening.

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There are no dividing walls, here, and, to my knowledge, there wasn’t even a tour.  However, that doesn’t stop anyone from watching employees at work.  Good People purchased a canning line last year, and several employees were tinkering with the line to get it canning.

Overall, the brewery now makes about 15,000 barrels per year, and their canning line has helped them gain entry to shelf space.

Now, the beer:

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The below is the Snake Handler, a pretty darned tasty IPA. So good that I might scout out some in a store during my trip to bring home with me.
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I also tried the Coffee Oatmeal Stout, a worthy beer, full of malt flavor.  But the Snake Handler really, really stood out.

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I’ve had their Brown Ale and Pale Ale in restaurants, which were okay.  I was pleasantly surprised with the two beers above as I came with average expectations. 

For those so inclined, they sell the requisite brewery stuff, of course.

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Their website has a flashy entrance, but at present, the links are broken.

Their facility also remains somewhat speculative.  After moving in, the city decided to build a new baseball stadium for their AA team across the street.  There remains a possibility that paradise may yet again be replaced with a parking lot.  Hopefully, the two are allowed to coexist.  It makes sense.

And, finally, some humor.

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