My Photos

As a portfolio of sorts, I've taken many of the photos I've take over the years plus new ones and put them in an on-line "portfolio." It's been my "COVID" project of sorts, working more at both composition and post-processing. Preently featuring animals, places, people, macro/closeup, concert and iphone photographs.

Presidential Prediction 2020

 I've had a number of election cycles accurately predicting the results.  As a refresher to my methodology, leftists vote left, rightists vote right, and that squishy middle "independent" or "moderate" voter makes the difference in the results.  So it's that segment we're after, right?  Like, $18,000,000,000 of marketing worth this year?  That's like, the life blood that keeps networks, newspapers and special interests in business.  Good thing they have no self-serving motivation in all this politicking.

Gallup says 31% of Americans are Democrats and 25% are Republicans.  Pollsters.  What do they know?  I figure by unscientific means that it's more like 45% of the population is locked in by each party allegiance regardless of their "independent" posturing.  That helpfully narrows our target audience to a tidy 10% upon which I can thrust a single DECIDING FACTOR.  

Which of the candidates would our truly "independent" voter want to invite to their backyard BBQ?  That's it.  This isn't just for dinner; it's entertainment.  There are other guests.

With that in mind, no one really wants a political discussion, or God forbid, an argument, at their party.  No one is looking for hand-outs, either.  No one is looking to hear how awesome or successful someone else is.  It's about the meat and sides, sprinkled with beverages of choice.  The event is more likely to focus on that grand fish story... the recipe for that pecan pie... horseshoes... humor... the book someone just read... the sport that's in season... and whatever else that doesn't test whether everyone will remain friends when the night comes to an end.  

Let's recap:

2008 - McCain's grumpy old man persona or Obama's fresh face and free stuff for everyone congeniality?  I also self-servingly reviewed prior elections on this post regarding BBQ theory, and, of course, aced the analysis.

2012 - Romney's 2D cardboard cut-out manner or Obama's silky voice, broad smile and sports talk?  Even Obama's emerging condescension (or is that being Presidential?) was a clear favorite Mr. Ho-Hum.

2016 - Hillary looking down her long nose at the deplorables (and everyone, really, that would attend a  BBQ) or Trump's reality-TV populism?  Admittedly, the methodology led to a Trump prediction in a landslide, and given the polling at the time, I figured that was the end of my BBQ forecasting.  But it worked, and here I go again. 

So here we are at 2020.  Trump vs. Biden.  

BBQ conversation: Knowing what we know... Trump is the unfiltered cigarette blowing smoke in everyone's face.  Some people like it; the vast majority don't.  You never know what Trump might say, but, you know that despite his limited vocabulary he'll repeat himself enough that even his strongest supporter and harshest critic can agree that he used very few words.  How the message might be better expressed is another issue, but he's to the point.  

Mr. Biden, in BBQ terms, will use a lot more words to accomplish about the same result.  The problem there is that when he speaks most forcibly, he uses someone else's speech and fails to give them credit.  And if the words are his own, you can flip a coin on whether he said what he meant to say.  He can't keep it straight either.  The self described "gaffe-machine" has outright lied throughout his career.  If that's too harsh, then fine.  He's claimed a lot of accomplishments that never happened.  This can be kind of fun, though, even if the "fun" is laughing at a person and not laughing with him.  

What if both Trump or Biden were to give us the silent treatment?  Biden is looser and smiles a lot.  Trump can't help himself from making ugly faces.  Advantage: Biden

Making others comfortable:  Trump is a bit of blowhard.  Mr. Biden is a bit of a wallflower, in comparison.  You're not inviting both, obviously, so it's a decision between someone who demands being the center of attention or a guy who just seems to have always been there, not bringing much attention to himself, much like the tenure of his political career.  You don't ask him about his accomplishments because you already know he would just have to make something up.  But he's a nice guy!  It may be helpful to look how each fits in the role of  bringing "life to the party," and here we have opposite approaches.  With this we'll have to go with photographs and hope they're not #fakepics.  

Granted, they're "Trump Steaks"

Possibly the strongest argument for Biden here.

Why you have a running mate.

Clearly, the political handlers have embraced my methodology

Advantage: Biden.  Ah, the joy on his face.

Politics:  Mr. Trump is an anti-politician.  Mr. Biden has been a politician for nearly half a century.  Do you even want a politician at your BBQ?  The method demands you choose, and I pity you. For my apolitical BBQ, advantage: Neither.

Off-work attire: BBQs are casual affairs.  Let's compare and contrast.

Let's not.  Slam dunk to Biden.

Covered Dish: Mr. Trump provided fast-food for the Clemson Tigers football team when they visited the White House to celebrate their national championship a couple years ago. Sure, the government was closed down, but the cuisine perhaps speaks to Trump carrying a bit of financial debt when he could as easily paid for professionals to deliver a meal more worthy of the occasion.  Still, BBQ people aren't snobs, and look how happy he is about it.  It turns out the football team does.  Maybe he knows people better than I'd guess. 

Mr. Biden, he's smart enough to bring something home-made rather than store-bought, but the question is who he'll get to make it for him.  It might be good, or, it might not, if the person he asks is sick and tired for covering for him.  Still, while Trump opted for quantity, Biden will spring for both quantity and quality.  While he's considered one of the least wealthy politicians with an estimated $9M net worth, this doesn't include the off-the-book riches his son has netted, so, for a good BBQ, it's reasonable to assume a briefcase full of cash can happen, enough to surprise the hosts with some coolers of beer.  Advantage: Biden.  C'mon.  No one wants McDonald's for a friggin' party, and Mr. Biden has a career of spreading other people's money around. 

Sports: But the sports thing, otherwise known as "things to talk about."  Mr. Trump wanted Clemson to visit, and he was probably excited about meeting Dabo, Trevor and the team.  And he's known to like a variety of sports through the years, from boxing to baseball.  He was also insistent that sports should be played, rightly or wrongly, and, indeed, sports are being played.  

Mr. Biden?  "Sports are probably not going to happen."  Weasel words.  Football matters.  Baseball matters some.  Basketball... matters to the players I guess. He might be a better fit for whatever the ladies at the BBQ talk about, but... what do they talk about?  I don't know.  It's my BBQ.  Advantage: Trump

Adult beverages:  BBQ?  or BBQ and beer?  Well, it's usually the latter.  Regardless of whether you want an alcoholic beverage, your guests likely will.  Mr. Trump, it seems, is a tee-totaller.  

In 2009, at Obama's "Beer Summit,"Mr. Biden drank a Buckler, a non-alcoholic version of Heineken.  Oh, for appearances's sake!  C'mon, Joe.  This was an easy win for you, and then you go and drink that.  Like your political career, being unremarkable works for you because in this case, your competitor dislikes other people who drink and is a sure-fire bet to be stand-offish about it.  Advantage: Biden, though he doesn't deserve it.

The ladies: You might want to plan your BBQ on a fall day.  You don't want the women in attendance to be too fetching, and the cooler weather will invite layers.  Why does that matter?  Well, you never know if Mr. Trump might be looking for his next wife.  He's about due, right?  There's some unpleasant (or worse) history there, but he managed to survive it in the last election cycle.  

And as awkward as that might be, you're far more likely to be keeping an eye on Mr. Biden.  He might be sniffing your wife. Or your daughter.  Or your granddaughter.  Advantage: Trump, a giant one frankly.

And sadly, in this "how low can you go" contest, it's the Creepy Joe factor that cements the BBQ decision.  The bully in the room?  We know what he's about.  However, we've all seen one too many movies where the "nice guy" turns out to be a mass murderer.  Creepiness loses.  Despite a string of small victories, once again, in a polling upset, the BBQ methodology says Mr. Trump gets another four years.  

How many weeks or impeachment attempts it would take for America to catch it's breath is another question. But should it work out, it's not the Russians, it's not voter mail fraud, it's not the Post Office failing to get the absentees in to the jurisdictions on time, it's not whatever poll station mayhem might occur on voting day.  It's that squishy "moderate" that's being told every other minute by every editor, celebrity, or social media platform to get out and vote.  It's not just the "moderates" that are influence here, but also the occasional voters.  The bombardment of reminders to vote (Democrat, because everyone should vote Democrat) has risen to the point where the people who sometimes vote have put off planning their next brisket cook to do their civic duty.  And maybe you see the catch.  These are BBQ people who were "too busy to vote" in other elections, because they rightly or wrongly lean to a self-centered approach to life that puts a lot less weight on the influence of government in their lives.  They're the same type of people who hang up when a pollster calls, if they bother to answer at all. And, importantly, they like to watch their fires burn, not their cities. 

For those who enjoy more erudite reading, I offer some quotes by G. K. Chesterton, a man who was thoughtful and lived in a time when thoughtful things brought thoughtful discourse to society.  Maybe they will redeem this post. 

“Men are ruled, at this minute by the clock, by liars who refuse them news, and by fools who cannot govern.” – “The New Name,” Utopia of Usurers, 1917

“When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.” – Illustrated London News, April 6, 1918

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” – Illustrated London News, April 19, 1924

Postscript.  Why did "W" get two terms?

Gibbs Gardens

This was Round Two for getting used to the new Sony mirrorless.  Gibbs Gardens is located in N GA with seasonal blooms.  I was maybe a week late for prime tulips.  Click any picture for a much larger image (then hit "back" button).  Generally, it's worth it.

Spacing was due to the coronavirus.  All admission tickets were on-line presale, and visitors drop their pass into a bucket, thus resulting in no touching.  Very few people were there, and social distancing was no problem.

Japanese Garden

Tree color wasn't optimal as Spring was just arriving.  The overall tint is more representative of the pine tree pollen which rains on the south this time of year.

This was a good focal depth experiment.  I didn't hit it just right.  Lesson?  Take the time to zoom in on the picture result for verification...

At end of the day, and rare sunlight changed the way the tulips looked.  I took similar pictures earlier, which may have been better, but I butchered the controls.  Glad I figured it out when I did rather than after returning home.

Bonus pix:

I never would have guessed that of our three cats, the plain brown one would be the most photogenic.

Bird feeder on the deck.  Didn't spend a lot of time on this.  Plan to spend a lot more.  It's a fun challenge.

Our deck is littered with tulip poplar droppings.  Time for a macro!  Lesson now learned twice... even when viewing closely, zoom in on the picture to make certain the focus is where you want it.  I just missed the tip of the cone.

Old Car City Revisited

I went to Old Car City back in 2013 (2013?!), with my Nikon D90 and a friend's wide angle lens, which made more of the opportunity than I could have possibly asked.  Equipped with a Sony mirror-less with a superior lens but with less a wide-angle, I returned recently to found out what I didn't know about my new camera and partly to spend time with a friend (just as Covid isolation was deemed a good idea).  There's a clear difference between playing with settings in one's home and actually shooting.  I learned a lot so it was worthwhile.  I was also less interested in the subjects, and post-processed a lot less... because it takes time.  Compare to what I did those years ago. 

Click any picture to enlarge.  It's worth it (and the back button to return).

Generally speaking seven years has made a difference.  The patina isn't quite what it was, and the "wild abandoned" is gradually taking its toll, in this trip particularly with the amount of undisturbed straw on the vehicles.  Also, the thrill of discovery was lacking.  That said, happily I also found an area that, if I'd seen it before, it hadn't been partially flooded.

Tool - Live at State Farm Arena

First, it should be known that I hadn’t listened to Tool until the release of 2019’s Fear Innoculum, which arrived after 13 years since their previous release. There’s a whole new generation of music fans between those releases.   Take six Sinatra albums in 1962 and jump musically to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run or Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti in 1975.  Music hasn’t changed that much, but still, that’s a gap. 

So I missed Tool when they were in their hey dey.  Maybe I listened to the wrong stations or didn’t have the right friends to recommend them or maybe I heard them and didn’t like them.  Regardless, I love (most of) their latest album.  It’s been the soundtrack of my life driving to work, on business trips (I can see the Rockies when I listen to them), a holiday trip through the Carolinas and most visits to the gym.  In other words, I haven’t listened to much else (I took a day for retro Christmas songs, I know).

The cell phones come out.
 Their genre description seems to be prog metal, which can be debated by others.  Alt metal?  Whatever.   The sound production values of Tool Innoculum are off-the-charts good, especially when played loud. Some might argue that the songs are too long, but… I just listen and enjoy – figuring out they rhythm counts, enjoying the ample aural space for each of the instruments, the transitions within each song… And, as it turns out, the lyrics are pretty good as well. And, again, it sounds good loud.  It doesn’t hurt the ears.

I was working on the deck on a project and playing Fear fairly loudly and my wife walks out, listens briefly and asks, “Are you angry?”  No, but compared to much of my music, I can see why she would think that.  Later, she would say “I kind of liked it.”  I would say, now that I’ve listened to most of their releases, that this release is less angry but more elegant and captivating… if you invest yourself in listening to it.  I didn’t take an immediate liking, but it drew me in over time, which is the hallmark of a great album that will endure well beyond its season.

I missed their concert in Denver by a day back in October, when I arrived for a business trip.  I doubt I could have or would have wanted to pay a scalper’s price had I been there a day earlier, but I was “that close” to seeing them.   At the time, their tour plans were incomplete, but, some weeks later, they announced for Atlanta.   I bought a ticket, barely.  The arena sold out within an hour.

Fast forward a bit.  Merch.  $45 for a T-shirt, all black.  I just don’t have that many places to wear a black T-shirt.  Money saved.  I see other people with posters.  As it turns out, Tool prints 750(?) posters for each stop, the poster unique to the venue/date.  Those sell for $60.  They sold out before I got there.  Why?  Listings on eBay showed them selling for $300 the following morning – and selling.  Next time (and there will be one) I’m getting there early, buying at least two, keeping one, and selling the other to pay for the ticket and the remaining poster.  Maybe buy more if there isn’t a limit…

I’ll go ahead and point out that at this point, there’s a certain vibe about the venue pre-show.  It’s not like seeing Eagles or a band that everyone has heard.  There’s a certain “you have to be a member in the club” to “get” Tool’s music.  And there were many who do, from all ages and walks of life.  There was a shared positivity which is difficult to express, but it was there.

If there was a negative to the evening, it was the opener, Author and Punisher.  The name fits.  He wrote the music sounds, and he punished the audience with it.  I’ll applaud that there is an audience for about everything, and I did see a guy with the artist’s T-shirt (it’s a guy with keyboards, not a band). 

Moving on.  Tool opened with the title track of Fear Innoculum, the opening notes now as familiar as opening the door to my house and as inviting as a “Welcome Home” sign.  Am I overstating this?  No. The music doesn’t suit the vast majority of people, I’m sure, but it hits me the right way.

The band was aggravatingly fuzzy to the eyes as they remained behind a shimmering curtain, which reflected additional lighting for color tones and moods.  But, seeing the band… not a help.  As it turns out, the curtain didn’t really matter.  The band, and especially the lead singer Maynard James Keenan, pretty well kept to the shadows.  And to emphasize the point, while the lighting was at times wondrous and the background videos interesting or ponderous, there were no video close-ups of the band members.  If you want to really “see” the band, buy the VIP seats.

Audience interaction?  Minimalist at best.  After the first song, Keenan, acknowledging that there was an audience, greeted the crowd with “Supposedly Atlanta.”  The applause was polite, but probably restrained in case there was more to follow.  And then, “Atlanta.  Work on it.”   Okay, then.

The band resumed with “Ænima,” one of two shout-along songs for the evening (the other being “Forty-Six by two.”   I can’t say I love the song as much as others musically, but the lyrics…

Some say the end is near
Some say we'll see Armageddon soon
I certainly hope we will
I sure could use a vacation from this
Bullshit three ring circus sideshow of
Here in this hopeless f***king hole we call LA
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away
Any f**king time, any f**king day
Learn to swim, see you down in Arizona Bay
And on it goes, the hilarity almost lost in the heavy posturing of the music.  Upon further consideration, Keenan could have said worse things about Atlanta…

The band remained obscured through the next three songs (which I would have captured, but photos were prohibited until the final song of the encore), and then they finally unleashed “Pneuma,” one of my favorite songs from their new album.  Also, it’s fair to say the light show was unleashed as well, moving from shifting tones and crude animations to an animated fiery backdrop and the introduction of an ample number of 70’s era lasers.  “Pneuma” delivered a transitional punch into the sweet spot of the set list, literally everything until the main set was done. 

“Pneuma” isn’t a word that I’ve used outside of air powered tools, and I was surprised to find that there is a standalone definition:
Pneuma: (in Stoic thought) the vital spirit, soul, or creative force of a person.
Gotcha.  So, the metaphysical then.  Let’s check out a snippet of the lyrics:
We are spirit bound to this flesh
We go round one foot nailed down
But bound to reach out and beyond this flesh
Become Pneuma
We are will and wonder
Bound to recall, remember
We are born of one breath, one word
We are all one spark, sun becoming
It’s the kind of lyric that serves as a reminder to figure out what the lyrics are.

Meanwhile… “Descending.”  This is another song from their latest album, and one that they haven’t been playing at every stop.  It’s about 11 minutes long, and after the seven minute mark, it  demonstrated the power of the electric guitar in a cavernous space.  Clear, ringing, engulfing.  Speaking of the audio, for a stadium show, it was pretty good.  The music was heard cleanly, and at times, was excellent.  The vocals… not so much unless you knew all the words.  I don’t.

From a staging standpoint, the guitarist and bassist are out front on the wings, with the drummer on an elevated stage between and behind them.  Keenan switches between two elevated stages located on each side of the drummer, in the shadows.   When singing, you might catch sight of him against the backdrop, or, more casually when he sat on the edge of a platform, swinging his legs as he sang “Forty-six by Two.”  Otherwise, he’s in full Gollum mode, bent at the knees and lurking behind the action.

The Tool song, but a different rendition by some talented kids.

If there was a disappointment, it was the encore.  “Chocolate Chip Trip” began the set.  While visually entertaining watching drummer Danny Carey work a large gong, the “song” is mostly electronic gibberish with a bit of drumming included.  The “song” is also an unsightly appendage on Fear Innoculum, in no way supporting the tone of the album.  It’s not like Carey needs a solo spot anyway.  He demonstrates his prowess on every song, and he and his drum set are the only consistently spotlighted action on the stage, the rest in shadows and fairly stoic.  Still, if you’re going to do a drum solo, especially on the heels of RUSH drummer Neal Peart’s passing, make it a legitimate drum solo.  “Invincible” followed and was solid, “(-) Ions” was filler, and “Stinkfist” was an adequate closer at best.

As a last laugh, ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” served as the exit music when the house lights were raised.  Which was funny, actually.  In any case, I look forward to seeing the band again, especially as I learn more of their back catalog.

  • Fear Innoculum – Fear Innoculum
  • Ænima – Ænima
  • Parabol / Parabola – Lateralus
  • Pneuma – Fear Innoculum
  • Schism – Lateralus
  • Jambi – 10,000 Days
  • Merkaba – shortened ( ) – Salival
  • Vicarious – 10,000 Days
  • Descending – Fear Innoculum
  • Forty Six & 2 – Ænima
  • Chocolate Chip Trip – Fear Innoculum
  • Invincible – Fear Innoculum
  • (-) Ions – Ænima
  • Stinkfist – Ænima

Robben Ford Live at City Winery

Robben Ford... When my concert buddy asked me if I wanted to go see this show, I recognized the name, knew he was a guitarist and was otherwise without any recollection of where I had heard of him or any of his work.

A little research helps the decision making.  A blues and jazz guitarist, at times playing with Miles Davis, George Harrison, Dave Gruisin and others, the guy has not only persevered but gathered ample acclaim in his career, which has included approximately 40 solo albums plus others in various groups.

Still, other than a brief look at a YouTube video, I wasn't prepared for this show other than trusting my concert buddy's judgement.  No regrets.

Despite the expectation of a lot of blues guitar, the evening was decidedly jazzy in its selection of tunes.  The nice thing about a foursome with drums, bass, guitar and sax is that it can go both ways easily.  What you can hear and see in his music is, well, I'd want to say effortless, but we know that's not true.  But it does have a practiced efficiency - the notes, the pitch, the rightness of the chord and note changes... it's all very crisp and shines through regardless of the style he plays.  His style isn't so unique identifiable like Carlos Santana, for example, but you can hear that it comes from an internal place that is tried and true.

Whichever genre was played, Ford's band rose tot he occasion, with frequent solos by the saxophonist and bassist, particularly.  This was their first show of 2020 after a few months off.  You could tell they were still feeling some things out, and a look over his past shows that he never offers a "greatest hits" package when touring.  It's a mix, and he has a deep well from which to choose.

No full set list has been published, but some included "Star Time," "Lovin' Cup," "Cannonball Shuffle," "Baby Please Set a Date," the humorous "High Heels and Throwing Things" (referring to a person, not necessarily their actions in context), the excellent "Fool's Paradise," and "Black Night" which offered an extended solo, some of which is in the clip below.  The playing far exceeds the professionalism of the video...

Rollin' Golden Pub - 2019

For six years we've met monthly in a parking lot, enjoying a "tasting" of beers the members of the Rollin' Golden Pub (RGP) have found in our travels and chosen to share.  2019 has a dual tale of our regular tastings as well as one that I have already summed which was our first group road trip for the express purpose of drinking beer, or, beers.  At their sources.  Portland, ME, we salute you.

In addition to that recap, we also have data.  Including the appetizers we brought with us, the offerings of 13 breweries, one bar, one "greek inspired pork sausage" hot dog lunch spot, and an airport terminal farewell, we enjoyed 81 beers, of which all but five were from Maine.  There you go. 81.  Yep, it's true. Stretch that out over three days, and that's still a lot of beer. 

But, concerned public, we must remind you that 1) no driving was involved 2) all four of us are in the business of managing risk and 3) when we say "tasting" we trust that you understand that the implied quantity is significantly less than a full pour.  Why?  We're still here to tell the tale.  Click the logo below for the full list:

As beer rating sites (Beer Advocate, Rate Beer) are falling out of favor with the voting public due to slow entry into the mobile app wars and/or clumsy interfaces online, we're moving our metrics to the Untappd app.  All things considered, the ratings are somewhat questionable as the ease of rating invites people to rate beers which they know nothing about, whereas BeerAdvocate, for example, very much included a vino snobbery in the ratings and reviews.  Still, we work with what we have. 

Our 81 beers averaged a 3.95 out of 5.0, which equates to a 89 (B+) were it a test score.  That's actually low by RGP standards, but this wasn't a curated "tasting."  This was a "pour us what you've got" tasting, which, in other words, means Portland is a quality beer scene!  For reference, linear regressions, careful analysis and dart throwing resulted in the following scales when Beer Advocate switched their rating methodology a few years ago (and have since returned to their original number scoring).  In any case, for Untappd and RGP use, this still works:

Okay, Portland was the vacation.  Then there's our day job, the grueling life of insurance professionals desperate to escape conference calls to show up at the appointed hour for those monthly escapes in a parking lot.  We were actually down substantially on a percentage basis from past years, with only 14 tastings, our lowest since the year we began.  These included 61 beers with a 4.47 average Untappd rating, our highest ever.  So, call it a quality over quantity year, but, seriously, there hasn't been a disappointing year yet.  Still, a 4.47 vs. the 3.95 at the city with the highest breweries per capita... you can see the value of curated selections.   win-win.

2019's RGP menu can be seen below:

Notables:  The return of Westie XII, 19 beers (31%) from Tree House, and Top 25 Beer Advocate US beers by style:  #6 King Julius, #14 Pliny the Elder, #15 Juice Machine, #19 Double Sunshine and #22 Dinner (Portland trip).  Each of those also placed in the top 25 beers in the world, as well as the Westie XII. 

The only thing that might be improved was.... weather.  The RGP is a perfect tailgate event, and too many tastings were either cold or wet.   Or, hot, even.  In any case, our January 2020 tasting is already in the books and down the road we go! (not literally)