An Update: Reviewing a Camera Six Months After Purchase

Like many of you, I have largely been staying close to home for the last few months. Ordinarily, I would have been on the road most weekends in the springtime with my camera. But, the thoughts would start to creep in about how far I would want to drive to look for photo opportunities, how many non-socially-distant people would be around, and the eventual need to use a public restroom during a pandemic.

Duck Reaction GIF

So, most of the photos I’ve taken this year have been pretty close to home.

That’s not to say you can’t find interesting subjects in and around your own home. I was just hoping to take the camera I bought in late January for a longer test drive.

Still, I thought I would share a few thoughts and possibly gather yours regarding what I have discovered about my Nikon D7500.

Let’s start with the negatives (haha…see what I did there?) first to get them out of the way.

DISCLAIMER: I’m still practicing quite a bit just to get to know this camera, so I’m perfectly happy to take any advice you might have to offer.

I tend to use a circular polarizing filter a lot outdoors, particularly if I want to emphasize the sky on one of those crystal-clear days. Therefore, I know I will have to compensate to a degree. However, I’ve found that I’m having to do far more adjusting that I’ve had to do in the past just to get enough light into the camera to keep from having to radically alter the exposure in the computer later. In fact…

I have to do this without the filter, leaving me to wonder if I need to adjust other settings as well. Could it be the 542-focal-point system built into the camera that’s causing me headaches here? (I think it’s more like 689. Lots of squares. They might not even be related, but it was worth a thought. I think.)

This one eventually turned out well, but I had to do a lot of bracketing and later adjustments in Lightroom to get the results I wanted.

I’m still stuck in the old habits I used on my old camera for ten years when it comes to button-and-doohickey placement. Functions I once automatically reached for without looking are in different spots. Many frequently-used function settings can be saved in the camera menu, which I should probably do.

Now, for the pros:

Despite my complaints about the low-light problems when I’m shooting on a sunny day, I captured one remarkably good shot recently of a storm…at midnight.

I was using a remote shutter release to try to get a lightning strike from a distant storm. However, I ended up with something far better, in my opinion, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the camera handled this situation.

The clarity and sharpness are a huge improvement over my last camera. I have much wider range of ISO settings available, although I haven’t really encountered a situation yet where I’ve needed to bump it up to, like, a million.

Once I figure out how to make necessary adjustments, the quality is great.

Spring…

So, that breaks down my experiences with the Nikon D7500 to this point. Again, I’m still sifting through all the functions and working on finding opportunities to practice in different scenarios, but you get the picture (haha…see what I did there again?).

Thoughts?

An Observation: Outdoors Should Stay Outdoors

If you’re anything like me (my apologies and best of luck if you are), you’ve probably noticed an uptick in two activities recently: eating and cleaning. You’re probably learning a lot more about the ingredients and products you use as well. I started looking at the box on my dryer sheets one day and began to wonder if I should be using this particular scent.

Fresh, huh? You been outside lately? There’s lots of stuff out there that isn’t quite fresh, especially on trash day.

Things that typically stay outdoors aren’t always the most pleasant things, are they? Who has ever had an outside dog? They don’t always smell April fresh. In fact, they like to seek out the opposite of fresh, roll in it for a leisurely afternoon, and trot home to give your family a hug.

I live in an area where the outdoors seems to really want to come indoors right now. As the weather has grown warmer, it’s usually been flies.

flying adult swim GIF
Umm…they don’t look…yeah.

Another outdoor bug made its way into my home recently, though, that I hadn’t been expecting.

It was a Saturday night (I think). I was in the process of changing from my daytime pajamas into my nighttime pajamas. I had only stepped away from the living room for about fifteen minutes or so. When I returned to resume wearing the contoured dent into my sofa, I saw something on the rug. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, and I wondered if I’d dropped some food from my fourth snacking session of the evening.

As I looked closer, though, I realized that I didn’t have anything in the pantry of that shape, consistency, size, or that moved by itself.

Wait. It’s MOVING?!?

Shocked face GIF

I took off towards the pantry to get a fly swatter. At first glance, it looked like a night crawler. As my vision came into slightly better focus (and after I poked at it), it curled up into a tight coil.

A millipede.

bbc madagascar GIF by Head Like an Orange
Not in my house. No, sir.

A couple of scoops, some shrieking, and a flick out the front door later, I set it free to roam the neighborhood.

Those darn millennials. Thinking they can come into my house uninvited. The least it could’ve done was knock on the door or ring the doorbell. It has enough feet to do both.

Some things are just meant to stay outdoors, though. And if that’s part of what represents “outdoor fresh,” I think I’ll switch to new dryer sheets.

An Observation: Soft Kitty, Smart Kitty

I’ve had some time on my hands lately; therefore, I have overthought.

Oh, who am I kidding? I would have overthought of this eventually, regardless of whether or not social gatherings were taking place…largely due to the fact that I didn’t take part in tons of social activities in the first place. Throw in a few germs of ANY KIND during your run-of-the-mill cold and flu season and I was going to avoid the plague like, well, the PLAGUE, finding my own socially-distant activities to pass the time.

Streaming The Office GIF

So, in the course of my regularly-scheduled overthinking, I came upon something that has been mildly annoying to me for years–but fun for lots of other people, apparently–and decided to analyze it until it wasn’t fun anymore. (That’s how it works. I don’t make the rules. Sorry.)

I have always liked cats. I was around cats in my home until an unfortunate allergy that surfaced in college left me in tears (and hives) every time I found myself within a mile of a cat.

Animated GIF
Kind of like this, only with a lot more sneezing.

While I can’t help but think that some of them are out to get me (knowing that their dander and my weakness for their cute little faces are my kryptonite), I know they aren’t devoid of intelligence. They’re very smart creatures, in fact, even if they choose not to listen to people most of the time.

Which…brings me to my current overthought:

Hooman.

Somewhere along the way, someone else on the planet who thought cats were as cute as I do began to create memes about them. For some reason that I can’t quite determine, the word “hooman” began to emerge as part of the central tenet of cat vocabulary/language theory. It’s a theory that contends that if cats could speak, they would speak in terms…like that.

And it bugs me.

I’ve finally figured out why.

Sure, I’ll explain!

  1. One would assume that if a cat picked up the English language, they would do so by listening primarily to their owners, right? Okay, then. How many times a day–in normal conversation–do you refer to another person as a “human”? You’re more likely to call them by name, or perhaps refer to “people” or “a person.” You might even say “you” relatively frequently. But I can’t think of the last time I called the person sitting next to me “human” as a way of getting their attention. Therefore, they would be far more likely to pick up on the other terms before anything would have the opportunity to morph itself into “hooman” form.
  2. I know we’re living in a meme land where we assume cats can speak, but cats, in general, would probably say “meow” anyway. Why? Well, it appears to be easy for them, and it’s part of what makes a cat a cat. Plus, they’re stubborn. They’ll revert to what they know. “Meow” is familiar, and it’s succeeded in keeping cats fed and warm for many years now.
  3. As for the other grammatical errors that generally appear as part of these memes, sure, not every person speaks in grammatically-accurate language all the time. However, I’m doubtful that cats listen exclusively to conversations that mangle subject-verb agreements. Remember, they’re putting this language together based on what they hear, and conversations not directed towards the cat will likely be taking place in their presence. And, finally…
  4. Well, I didn’t quite think this far ahead. So…yeah. Overthought complete-ish.

I don’t know about you, but based on my observations of cats, they would probably place themselves more in a “cat”egory of perceived intellectual superiority above all other creatures, including their “hoomans.”

That is, until they fall off a ledge or something during a cat nap.

An Observation: Umm…Yeah…

Well, here we are.

It’s been quite a week month year so far, right? And to think, just a few months ago the upcoming election was providing the biggest mess on the nightly news. To recap–in my corner of the world–we’re dealing with a worldwide health pandemic, quarantines, a tornado, and the Tiger King.

Yeah, this really would have been enough to deal with on its own, 2020.

I’m not really sure which definition of “quarantine” to use when speaking of our current situation. As a words person, I’ve checked the definition from several different sources, and the first option listed in Merriam-Webster states that quarantine means “a period of 40 days.” Today feels like Day 412, even though we’ve only truly been at this in Arkansas since around March 14. (That’s quite a while when I factor my own cooking into the equation.)

Oxford defines it as “a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed.” Other sources have made the distinction among three common terms–social distancing, quarantine, and isolation–with “isolation” being the most confining term of the three.

Still, I always thought of quarantine as being rather strict, possibly owing to the old books I used to read and movies I’ve watched about bygone centuries. People who were in quarantine seemed to be pretty isolated. (I always pictured a little prairie girl sitting in her bedroom practicing cursive on a slate and wistfully petting a kitten. Or something like that.) Because of that definition in my mind, it seems strange to me that people who refer to themselves as being “quarantined” go hiking and walking and…outside. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, meaning that the current definition of “quarantine” is far less strict than “isolation.” It’s all a bit wordy.

Umm…yeah.

That’s where we are. Most of us have been at home, picking a new room to visit each weekend for a short getaway. (I’ll be visiting the upstairs guest room myself.)

And then along came an EF-3 tornado. (A tornado on top of everything else was a bad idea.) Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but the damage was fairly extensive. Seeing a large tornado hitting your town on television is surreal and frightening enough when life is “normal.” (Author’s Note: My neighborhood was not hit, but many homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. The community response has been swift and remarkable in helping those who lost so much.)

It feels as though everything has been upended in both literal and metaphorical storms around here. The mere fact that I have been in the kitchen should have been proof enough that strange things are afoot.

Woah.

Umm…yeah.

What do we do with all of this? I suppose we do the best we can do by following the guidelines and recommendations. I try to deal with it by using humor, although I find it in relatively short supply lately. However, I try to find something that makes me laugh every day.

Simply put, we do the best we can.

And we try not to watch Tiger King more than…three times (four, tops…I promise).

A Minor Obsession: Word Games and Other Puzzles

I have made plenty of jokes over the years about my math skills. However, I’m happy to sit down and work a Sudoku puzzle, despite the fact that I know I’ll be looking at lots and lots of numbers that I have to arrange into a logical sequence which only looks logical if you know how to work a Sudoku puzzle. (Meaning…the numbers all balance out in a way, but you don’t have to add them up; therefore, they are usually out of sequence and look a lot like trying to win a spelling bee by dividing your last name by the number 9.)

I suppose the part of my brain that makes turning complicated musical rhythms into actual music has helped shape my desire to figure things out in new and creative ways, even during the times that the puzzles start to look number-y and math-y based. Take, for example, the Rubik’s Cube–the bane of any 80’s kid’s existence.

This one’s all solved and stuff. Kudos to them.

I spent hours and hours trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube until I realized that the little colored squares were actually stickers. Sure, they never quite stuck back to the toy itself quite the same way once you peeled them off and moved them around, but I had found my creative loophole–or, in this case, loop-cube.

Okay, so the Rubik’s Cube wasn’t my forte, but Sudoku is something I can manage well. My absolute favorite games, though, are word games (for obvious reasons). I don’t get cross with crosswords (haha…see what I did th…never mind), and I enjoy a good word search.

I believe that participating in word games results in the exponential maturation of your vocabulary at a relatively formidable progression so as to create a exceedingly superior external representation of intelligence. Because, as you all know, sounding knowledgeable, well-informed, perceptive, astute, and brilliant helps you to attain a reputation as a illustrious and authoritative expert on a subject matter.

(Yeah, you learn big words. Or something like that.)

Playing those games also helps you develop your best puns and “dad jokes.” Even if expanding the ol’ vocabulary isn’t your goal with word games, everyone should have a few good puns in their back pockets.

jokes lol GIF by Michelle Porucznik
Umm…I said a few GOOD puns.

Whatever your motivations, I think that exercising your brain–be it through puzzles, games, advanced calculus–is always a good idea. What are your favorite brain games to play? Be sure to chime in and let me know. I’ll just be in a corner somewhere trying to figure out the best glue for the stickers on my Rubik’s Cube.

An Observation: Coffee and a New Camera

I’ve seen “Sling Blade” at least 147 times. I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with one statement by Karl Childers.

“Coffee kindly makes me nervous when I drink it.”

Surprised?

You shouldn’t be. After all, in my “About Me” section on this very blog, I have described that I generally tend to take my coffee in the decaf flavor. I had a doctor once tell me that I should cut back on the caffeinated variety to control things like heartburn and…well, nervousness. Mmmhmm.

I LOVE coffee, though. I love the taste, the smell, and the warmth of a good cup o’ joe.

coffee winks GIF
Right back at ya.

So, I save the caffeinated type for things like weekends. You know, when I have time to be nervous and suffer from heartburn.

I’m going to need a BIG cup, though, if I’m going to figure out all the bells, whistles, and doohickeys on my new camera. I’ll also need to stay awake to read the entire manual.

I’m supposed to “read this manual thoroughly before using the camera.” Okay. Sure.

I tried to flip through the manual on a Friday evening when it wouldn’t have been a good idea to have a cup of coffee. Why? Because…sleep. Caffeinated coffee is generally a morning delicacy for obvious reasons. So, I spent a Friday evening lethargically pressing buttons and leafing through the instructions only to give up and decide that the task was better suited for a Saturday morning fueled by my good friends at Folgers…and Green Mountain…and Starbucks.

Even with their help, though, I think I’ll be better qualified to fly a mission to Mars than ever figuring out all of the buttons on the camera. I’m beginning to think that some of them are just there to create the illusion of superiority to other models.

Perhaps it’s premature to feel that way about it, seeing as how I had ten years with my previous camera in which to learn about all of its functions.

Of course, it could also be a sign that it’s time for me to learn how to paint. I’ve heard things about some guy who teaches by video…

bob ross inspiration GIF


A Confusing Post: Writing About Confusion

Umm…who’s that guy in the middle?

Every few months (days) or so I find myself in the middle of some type of minor existential crisis (thought spider web) of sorts. They’re not necessarily serious. It’s just usually a run-of-the-mill random string of thoughts that send me off into some kind of weird tangent.

For instance, one day I was sitting at a stoplight. (I spend a lot of time doing that.) My next thought was, “Why did they choose this color scheme for stoplights?” That thought inevitably snowballed into, “Well, color is just perception anyway, based on the way our eyes and brains process the information in front of us and the way the light reflects and I’m just sitting here obeying a color scheme that was set up by human beings to encourage order. Dogs would see it differently. I mean, I think they would. While I’m here, though, why am I here? I mean, I watched a video a few days ago explaining some laws of physics related to the concept of free will and I wonder how many atoms are in my pinky fingernail and why they chose my pinky in the first place when there are so many other deserving pinky fingernails in the world and why are those people honking at me?”

Occasionally, these spirals lead to some interesting stories that I put down on paper. (Yes, actual paper.) Most of the time, though, they’re just confusing and I know more than a few people who are convinced that I’ll have myself a small stroke trying to count protons and electrons in my pinky fingernail with no scientific equipment.

Author’s Note: I’d like to remind those people that I survived my philosophy class in college–with an A–and I’m just prone to extended thinking spells. I might also point out that the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz was excited at the prospect of getting a brain so that he could think of things he’d never thought before. Thinking is a popular, accessible, sought-after hobby.

wizard of oz GIF
Dancing’s fun, too.

Now comes the part where I tell you I’m not exactly sure where I was going with all of this, because the theme here is confusion. Maybe I was just looking for some inspiration. Maybe I was looking for motivation. Maybe I was hoping for some ideas that will send me on another tangent that will help me create more interesting stories. I could also be procrastinating.

Who knows? I’m a tad confused by it all.

A New Decade/Year/Whatever: Looking Forward

I have largely avoided the debate about whether or not the new decade begins on January 1, 2020 or January 1, 2021. At least one teacher I had when I was a kid was adamant that a new decade began on a year ending in 1, so I usually went by her logic. However, unlike many other subjects, I have no strong opinions about this issue, partially owing to the fact that I’m not much of a math surgeon and most of what I say having to do with numbers should probably be reviewed by an outside source.

For the sake of this entry, however, I’m going to say that we are ending the current decade on December 31, 2019, and that we probably don’t have to worry about any Y2K type of fiasco. Moving forward, moving on…thank goodness.

So is hindsight.

Why do I say that? Well, the last decade has been interesting. Granted, it had its highlights; everyone liked “Uptown Funk” and you can buy a car from a vending machine nowadays if you’re so inclined.

A lot can happen over the course of a decade.

Still, I have to hope that something good will come of the next year and decade. 2020 is an election year, so…yeah, okay. (Skip that one. Let me check my notes.) 2020 is an Olympic year, so I’ll be expecting Simone Biles to bring home at least two dozen gold medals–possibly three. (Wouldn’t want to put too much pressure on her.) Hopefully the ’20s will be prosperous without the ensuing worldwide market collapses and Great Depression that followed the last set of ’20s.

2020 is a census year, so maybe we’ll get an accurate head count and, in turn, figure out what to do about traffic problems.

confused will ferrell GIF

Nah, maybe not. I should apply the wisdom that the last few decades have taught me and keep my expectations reasonable. Happy New Year, everyone! Let’s give 2019–and the previous decade–a fond farewell.

minions mic drop GIF

An Observation: Deck the Halls and Take a Break

In a few weeks, 2020 will be here.

2020. Who still thinks that 2000 sounds futuristic? And where are the flying cars?!?

Hold that thought.

In any event, 2020 is a census year. I’ve been asking friends what they think the count will be in our fair city this time. My current estimate is “A LOT,” based purely on my observations regarding the infrastructure–specifically, traffic.

Especially during the holidays.

I’m not just referring to road traffic, either. I made the mistake of going shopping on a Saturday and decided that I’m not doing that again unless it’s an emergency, like a sudden household chocolate shortage.

No, the shopping on a Saturday will largely stop, because I was waiting in a checkout line recently when someone decided to place their hands on me to move me out of their way BEFORE offering an “excuse me.”

dont touch me GIF
If I leave the house on a Saturday again, I’ll be wearing a huge “DON’T TOUCH ME” sign on the back of my coat.

As I looked around at all the people and all the holiday “cheer,” I decided that it was time for everyone to take a step back, breathe, and look at something nice for a few minutes.

There. Isn’t that peaceful?

We are BOMBARDED this time of year with a pursuit of perfection in our holiday plans. The perfect party, perfect gifts, perfect everything…when in reality, most of us will have a more Griswoldian experience.

national lampoons christmas vacation GIF

We need to SLOW DOWN for a moment here. (Unless you’re making a right-hand turn, which, for some reason, appears to be incredibly difficult. I suppose that’s a big reason why we haven’t pursued flying cars more vehemently.)

Seriously, though…stop and breathe. Simplify what you can. If it’s worth moving a complete stranger aside in order to create the “perfect” Christmas, trust me, it actually isn’t worth it.

A Tribute: To A Mentor

In 1997, Tuesdays With Morrie was published. The book, based on author Mitch Albom’s relationship with his terminally ill mentor, became a best-seller. Albom reflects on his reconnection and interactions with his sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who would impart his wisdom and lessons about life to his former student before eventually succumbing to ALS.

In 2007, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor named Randy Pausch was invited to present a lecture on his home campus entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The presentation, which was very simple, straightforward, and moving, was posted to YouTube and has been seen millions of times around the world. The original title of the venue
for which he had been invited to speak was “The Last Lecture,” which took on particular significance in his case; he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had been given mere months to live. The speech was adapted into a book that he co-authored as he valiantly fought his illness. He passed away in 2008.

Both of the men who became well-known for their wisdom and kindness had tremendous talents in different disciplines. Their commonality, though, was that of their chosen professions—they were teachers.

As I drove to work on the morning of November 13, 2019 and watched the sun slip above the Arkansas horizon on an unusually bitterly cold autumn morning, the somber thaw of the chill came when the searing tears cascaded down my cheeks as I heard the news about a teacher and mentor that so many could claim as their own.

Dr. Dan Ross, retired Professor of Music at Arkansas State University, had died after fighting repeated bouts with cancer.

We’d lost our Morrie Schwartz; our Randy Pausch.

Their illnesses, though, were not what defined them. Rather, it was how they lived their lives and inspired others to live theirs. The illnesses, in one of the glaring injustices of life, gave extraordinary weight to the words and actions they shared after the world knew of their conditions. It was the cruel impetus.

Dr. Ross was Dr. Ross long before the cancer came along—oboe master and teacher extraordinaire, with the wit and wisdom of a blunt and colorful standup comedian and inspirational leader all in one.

Musicians are a very close group of individuals. The kinship among us is unique in the familial bonds. While we compete against others and ourselves to work towards the elusive goal of perfection, we are also truly not in competition with anyone. We are generally appreciative and
in awe of the talents that great musicians possess. How can one measure artistry in ways that a foot race or a soccer match can be decided?

According to Dr. Ross, technique certainly wasn’t the measuring stick of a musician’s talents.

“No one will compliment you on your technique,” he would tell me. As a trumpet player—those of us he lovingly referred to by using a cheeky, PG-13 term—he focused on hearing me and my voice through the instrument. Receiving any kind of compliment for playing beautifully was the highest honor. Indeed, one of his most well-known “Ross-isms” was, “When in doubt, play beautifully.”

He told stories about picking out his “date” for the nights when he performed. He would scan the audience as they filed into the performance hall, looking for someone who he knew would need to hear his musical voice for the night. In one particular instance, his orchestral neighbor—who knew his pre-concert ritual—listened as he leaned over and told her, “I’ve found my date for the night.” She asked him to point her out, and he had chosen an elderly woman to play for during the evening’s performance. After the concert ended, he and some colleagues went to dinner when this woman—a complete stranger—entered the restaurant, walked over to
his table, and spoke to him.

She told him how much she enjoyed the concert, and then paid him the utmost compliment:

“I felt like you were playing just for me.”

Such was the magic of his musicianship and personality. His students were always told to play for the “little blue-haired lady” in every audience.

I am a music educator, but I was never part of the Dan Ross oboe studio. However, I was adopted into his extensive musical family, spending numerous Wednesdays enjoying his company for “Wingsday” and frozen yogurt with his students, receiving a Christmas mix CD every year filled with tracks of beautiful music, and helping myself to packages of peanut butter cookies from his stash when I waded through the cane shavings and eclectic decor of his office upon dropping by for a visit. If I needed advice, I didn’t have to ask, because he was offering it freely to a kid who happened to study music at Arkansas State University during just a few years of the nearly five decades he taught there.

I have to believe that the most unique aspect of my own stories about Dr. Ross is that they are not unique. Virtually every person who met him could share a similar story about his special ability to make you feel like the most important person he knew.

In 2017, he gave a video interview for ASU as a featured faculty researcher. He was explaining a bit about the gouging machines he had developed for double reed players. While it was a brief interview, he closed with remarks and reflections about his teaching career and his bouts with cancer.

“I don’t want to retire. I mean, when I go do classes—and this may sound stupid to you—but I explain to the students, ‘Do whatever you’ll enjoy.’ I said…in 2000, 2001, I had colon cancer, I had surgery, I had eight months of chemo, and at the end of all that, the first day of class, the fall of 2001, chemo doctor called me in, the first words out of his mouth, ‘You’re not gonna make it.’ Year and a half, two years at the absolute best. And my first thought was, ‘Boy, it’s been a quick trip.’ But my next thought was, ‘That’s okay. I’m still the luckiest person in the world ‘cause I got to do in life exactly what I loved the most. Not many people can say that. I love what I do.”

I say we were the lucky ones. Lucky to have crossed paths with such a remarkably gifted human being that we could call our mentor, our friend, and our teacher.

Rest easy, Dr. Ross.