06 July 2014

What the Hell is Wrong with Us?

I found this blog post last night. Let's not get into how or why I stumbled over this, but it's simply not right.

From milkboys.com...here is the full URL: http://milkboys.org/why-is-a-kid-whos-a-first-time-nonviolent-offender-sent-to-a-death-row-high-security-prison/ :
     Last year, a group of teens in Utah entered a home and held two people at gunpoint with the intent to commit robbery. The youngest of the boys, 16-year-old Cooper Van Huizen, provided his father’s guns to his cohorts but did not use them himself. In the end, the boys left with a cell phone, a bag of marijuana, and $10 cash. The victims were were terrified but physically unharmed.
     Under a plea deals, two of the older boys, are serving 210 and 180 days in jail respectively after admitting guilt to second-degree felony counts. The two other teens are awaiting sentencing. In March, after his case was removed from juvenile and sent to adult court, Van Huizen took the same plea deal as the first two teens. The defence attorney told his parents they would petition to reduce the charges to misdemeanours after he completed his probation. They were also told it was very likely he would not have to serve any jail time as he was a first time offender.
So what happened?
     On May 7, Van Huizen appeared before the same judge that sentenced his co-defendants. In a move that surprised the defence and prosecution, District Judge Ernie Jones deemed the plea deal illegal and “too soft” for his crimes. He sentenced the first time 16-year-old offender to two 1-15 years to Utah’s maximum security prison.
Unitah 1 is the highest security building in Utah’s state prison system. It houses 93 inmates, including gang members, sex offenders and those serving on death row. Inmates spend 23 hours a day in a solitary cell, with a single window allowing natural light. Reports from prisoners in Unitah 1 have included round the clock victimization, suicide attempts, rotten food and “every kind of psychological, social, and verbal dehumanization known to man.”
     The inmates now include first time, nonviolent offender, 16-year-old Cooper Van Huizen.
There are a lot of news stories about this. Here's one:
And another:

Cooper is NOT innocent. But to place a 16yo boy, who has never committed a crime before in his life, into an adult maximum security prison, is an abomination. All too often, we place teenagers in adult situations. Every study ever done shows that teens' brains are not developed to the same extent as adult brains.

I just think that rational adults need to protest against adult treatment of juvenile offenders. Yes, there are exceptions. But this isn't one of them. I am asking you to please help in any way you can. I've asked two other blog and Facebook friends, Michael Bowler and Michael Hamar, the first an author that works with incarcerated youth and fights for equal rights for juveniles, and the latter a local attorney who works with activists to help. I'd like to ask you to sign the change.org petition asking the judge's superior to intervene and help. You can find the petition here:

PLEASE!!!! Do you want YOUR teenage child sent to an adult maximum security prison for a moment of indiscretion when, especially, his "co-conspirators" received sentences an order of magnitude below this? Please try to help Cooper. If you know lawyers, if you know anyone in the ACLU, if you know anyone in Utah...and SPREAD THE WORD!!!! PLEASE!!!

03 May 2014

Whole Lotta Water Movin' On!

The James River is raging! Over flood stage (but not by much). Still the river is "closed" unless you have a permit, and a WHOLE LOT OF WATER IS MOVING DOWN IT!!!
I've been wanting to take a picture like this for a while. But this isn't how I wanted to get it. The view you see is the Bosher Dam. The dam is upstream of the falls of the James. Normally, you can see a drop of about 12 feet, and "it is what paddlers ruefully call a 'drowning machine.'" Now, about 3 feet of drop is visible.

Here is what the National Weather Service's graphs show:
That's a lot of water, folks! And if you want to see how much, click here, and look for the "##.#kcfs" part, that's HOW MANY THOUSANDS OF CUBIC FEET OF WATER ARE MOVING ALONG numbers!

I took this picture from the Willey (pronounced "willie") Bridge. This a mile-long, four lane, divided bridge (Rt. 150) over the James River, connecting south Richmond to western Henrico County.
I drove out onto the bridge with the intent of stopping in the emergency lane, hopping out (wearing hi-viz, see below), take a few pictures, and depart, hopefully before a cop showed up, or someone ran into me. I chickened out. It was rush hour, so I pulled over, and with a preset camera, shot the picture through the passenger side window, and beat feet outta there!

Then I went down closer to Pony Pasture and saw this, so I stopped to take more pics!

The dog didn't fair much better, but at least he had a leash to pull him in!
Then I went on down to Pony Pasture so you could have a SELFIE! HAHAHA

01 May 2014

It Was the Best of Times...

...it was the worst of times.

12:30PM, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. PAYDAY!!! I decide to use my lunch hour to explore upgrading my poor old mobile phone to a newer model. Believe me, it had reached its TERRIBLE TWOS! I've already done a bunch of research online, and have narrowed the choices to a Samsung Galaxy S5 or an HTC One. Off to the closest Verizon store (only 7.6 miles away according to their website). I arrive and am greeted by a gentleman carrying what looks like a fortified iPad. He asks my phone number, pulls up my info, and informs me I will be helped by the next available representative. There's a lot of aimlessly wandering people in this store. I wonder how long this will take. It takes almost 20 minutes. Sheesh. But a nice sales person asks my phone number, then insists on seeing identification. I guess you can't talk to a Verizon sales clerk unless you are positively ID'ed. We discuss the features of the phones, and finally get down to the nitty-gritty. How much to walk out the door with a new phone? $200 for the phone. I get that. But somehow we wind up at $360, including a $30 "Upgrade Fee". Excuse me? You want me to pay $30 for the privilege of paying you more money?! I think not. The sales clerk says she'll ask the manager if they can waive it, especially if I buy a case/charger/screen protector bundle for $69.95. I was going to buy a case anyway. But no, sorry, it's the end of the month, our budget won't let us waive the fee. OK, bye. Amazing that they let me walk out the door over $30, which to them is fricking PEANUTS! I left on principle.

5:08PM, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Verizon store near my house. Same greeting and I'm told it will be a 25 minute wait! EXCUSE ME?!?!?! You have so few sales people that I have to wait TWENTY FIVE MINUTES? Where's the manager? Right here! But she can't do anything sales-wise, she just manages. What a useless position. As well as the doorman. How about cutting the wait times and make the doorman with the armor-plated iPad earn his living?

5:28PM, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. A sales person ID's me, and we get down to business. I decide on the Samsung, it just feels better than the HTC. Now the brass tacks: How much to walk out the door? By the time we're done, it's $48. I'll pay for the phone over 2 years, and while that negates the $50 rebate, for some odd reason, Verizon knocks $10/month off the payment for the phone so it's only a bit more than buying it outright, and I can upgrade again in a year (instead of two) if I so desire. We have to wrangle the data and access plan, but my bill, phone included, will only go up about $4/month. The $48 is for a case, and a special "tempered glass" screen protector. I generally don't like those things, they typically screw up the touchability of the screen, but he insisted that this new "tempered glass" works exceptionally well. OK. It's only $18. We futz around for a while getting the phone activated and start the downloads of the apps I already own. After an hour and fifteen minutes, I head home, happy with the purchase. Of course, now I'm on a limited data plan (1GB/month, my average over the last 2 years is about 500MB/month, give or take a bit), and I get a message that over 50% of it has already been used! In the 15 minutes it took the salesman to get the phone activated and connected to the store's Wi-Fi, it has automatically downloaded over 270MB of apps and data from the cloud backup! (The plan is pro-rated and we're almost halfway through a billing cycle.)

6:45PM, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Nothing like an evening spent setting up apps, logging into accounts, and getting everything arranged on a new phone. I like the feel of it. When I'm convinced I have everything off the old phone, I move its SD card to the new phone for extra storage. Now it's time to put some security on this thing. The Samsung has a fingerprint reader. The reviews said "meh", but I thought I'd try it. You swipe the spot on the screen a few times, it tells you "OK", and you enter an alternative password, so I pick a doozey. I won't need it, right? The fingerprint scanner lets me in after no more than 2 or 3 swipes - it takes some getting used to, I guess. Then it's time to bundle this thing up in its brand new Otterbox case, with special Tempered Glass screen protector. Now to play some more. Except...the fingerprint reader will simply not accept my fingerprint. It doesn't see me swiping at all! I should have known better than to buy the damn thing, but the salesman assured me that this Tempered Glass worked! I use the alternative password. Takes about 4 tries to get it in, even though I see the proper characters being typed into the box. Finally I am in, and decide to hell with the fingerprint scanner, so I turn it off, and choose "Password" as my screen security. I don't put in a tough one, c'mon, it's a phone, not Fort Knox, right? But it takes about 6 tries to get the passwords to type in twice the same way (we're talking 6 characters here, it's not rocket science). But this Tempered Glass protector is just screwing me up. I get the password in twice the same, and I'm good to go.

10:45PM, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. The damned thing will NOT unlock. The password simply will not work. I take the Tempered Glass screen protector off it, but no dice. Whatever I saw and thought I typed in as a password (6 characters, remember?) is not being accepted. And to make it worse, it's counting down to "Factory Reset of phone"!!! WTF?!?!?! "4 more tries before..."..."3 more tries before...", yeah, you get the picture. I had no choice. Wiped the damn thing clean. EVERYTHING. All apps, all data, the SD card.

11:00PM, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Bed time. I can't sleep. Too pissed off. Too keyed up.

8:00AM, Thursday, May 1, 2014. At work. Sitting in the data center with the AC repair tech. Time to play with the phone. Again. I reactivate it, and before I can get the damn thing attached to work Wi-Fi, it's downloaded a bunch of stuff again! By the time I get an email program configured, I've now used 75% of the monthly allotment and it resets on May 17!!! Now I'm really unhappy, and decide to do something about it.

5:00PM, 1 May 2014. Back at the Verizon store, and unfortunately more than a little worked up because the manager is assuring me that they can't do anything about the lost data. Refund me for the Tempered Glass? Sure. Add data or give me credit since I'm sure as hell not leaving until you do. She hands me off to a guy who within 5 minutes has refunded my money, added a $15 credit to my account to cover any data overages between now and the 17th. I also got $11 for trading in the old phone.

6:00PM, 1 May 2014. Home. Stopped by the Food Lion and got my contribution to tomorrow's cookout at a friend's house - bell peppers and an onion. Came home and sliced it all up, added 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, some adobo spice and olive oil. We'll grill them tomorrow with the steaks and potatoes. With the Maker's Mark!

Oh, I turned off the "Wipe the phone" feature!!!

23 April 2014

#GlobalSelfie (and how to use Fill Flash)

I think this is a cool NASA project, #GlobalSelfie. I decided I was going to go a step further and make a self portrait. What, you may ask is the difference between a selfie and a self portrait? In my mind, a selfie is a moment in time, a glimpse of someone. Nothing special, just a blip. A self portrait means a bit more, I think. To me, it's intended to show a person in their environment, perhaps tell something about that person (even when that person - me - generally hates to have their picture taken).

Yesterday, the official Earth Day, was cloudy and spitting rain when I got off work, so I ditched. I had in my mind what I wanted to do, and decent light and no rain was necessary. Today was perfect, and because I had to be into work at 6:30AM, I was getting off way early. Late afternoon light - perfect. I headed for one of my favorite spots in Richmond - James River Park at Pony Pasture. Here's the result.
Here's how I took it:

This is along the James River. I am facing more or less eastward with the sun coming over my right shoulder. I used a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L set to 27mm, and Aperture Priority with the f/stop set to f/22. I let the camera choose the rest: the shutter speed was 1/50, ISO 400. I used a circular polarizing filter to bring out the blue in the sky and add contrast to the clouds, as well as take some of the glare off the water in the river (which was roaring along at about 6.3 feet - a couple of feet above normal pool of about 4 feet). The interesting part about this photo is that I can be seen! That was accomplished by using fill flash. I knew the camera would try to meter for the large amount of bright sky. And if I metered for me, the sky would be blown out with no pretty blue and puffy white clouds. I put my Speedlite 430EX on the 6D and turned it on. On modern cameras with a newer flash, that has a TTL or ETTL mode (meaning Through The Lens exposure metering), the camera will fire the flash and expose the scene properly by measuring what comes back to it. It's a good way to bring out a subject when lighting is not ideal, or you want nice backlight which generally flatters subjects of portraits.

Here's a few pictures for comparison.
 (above) Just a normal shot. See how dark I am? 27mm, f/18, 1/60, ISO 400. Because of the brightness of the son on my head, shoulder and butt, even the sky is a bit bright.

 (above) This time, things stayed almost the same with 27mm focal length, f/18, 1/60, ISO 1000. Wait a minute! ISO 1000? Why? Because I set Exposure Compensation (often called Exposure Bias when you look at EXIF data) to +1.3 stops. Doubling the ISO to 800 is 1 stop, another 200 is about .3 stop. This causes the camera to brighten (or darken if you wish) the picture by however much + or - EC you dial in. This brought out a little more of my face, and helped maintain the blueness in the sky. 
(above) Now I've added the fill flash. Note that the sky and water are nearly perfect, and I can be seen! For some reason I closed the aperture 1/3 stop to f/20 (all these high f/stops mean deep depth of field, from just in front of the camera out to infinity - I manually focused just before infinity ∞). Shutter speed was 1/60, ISO 400 (no EC this time), at 24mm with Flash. PERFECT!!!

Side note: All the pictures with me in them were taken with an infrared remote trigger. It sure beat scrambling over the rocks between the camera and the boulder

Even many less expensive DSLRs and some point-and-shoot cameras can do fill flash. On the DSLRs with a pop-up flash, pop it up and it usually functions as a fill flash, firing when you take a picture and metering the return to properly expose the scene. On the point-and-shoots, get out the book (ARGH, READING?!?!?!) and see if there is a "forced flash" or "fill flash" setting that you can turn on. Oh, and you can use it to just make a picture better when you take it.
(above)  f/22, 1/80, ISO-800 (+1 stop EC, trying to bring out the trees bark patterns), focal length 42mm
(above) f/22, 1/40, ISO-400 (interesting that the camera, with +1 EC lowered the shutter speed, and the ISO because of the flash), focal length 40mm, flash

OK, this got long, but here's two I took just because they were pretty.

And if you'd like to see EXACTLY where these pictures were taken, and you have GoogleEarth, download this JamesRiverPark_GlobalSelfie.kmz file and choose "Open with Google Earth".

18 April 2014

Cavers and VAR! A Great Weekend!!!

What a WONDERFUL weekend!!! 230-odd cavers gathered at the RASS Field Station for the Spring VAR meeting.
We'll start out with the "leaving selfie"
I made some new friends, renewed old ones, and had an absolutely great time. Since I signed up to work at Registration on Friday and Saturday, I hung around the Field Station, but that's OK, it was really a lot of fun!
The empty field on Thursday afternoon when I arrived. See the moon?
Here it is a little later. We're talking about 5:30PM here.
The bat symbol is an unofficial but universal symbol for cavers.
You'll see them most often on car bumpers. We can easily tell that
someone is a caver by this sign. And RASS now has a flag! Salute, all you cavers!
This was the Registration tent before the crowds hit. I was too busy playing
traffic troll (the gate traffic director) to get any pics!
Many cavers decorate their cars with multiple stickers
proclaiming their affiliation with the caving community.
The field started to fill up. There's also the "back forty" (more like 10 more acres,
this is close to 16 out here) that held campers.
No rubbish! It's nice to be able to work and drink! I started in on the beer about noon Friday!
A front blew through and after some sprinkles, the sky was rather pretty.
This is my man cave in the back of my Xterra. It got cold at night, that fluffy down
sleeping bag came in handy!
Easy-peasy breakfast. Pre-cook some bacon. Throw it in a freezer-grade Zip-Loc® bag, then crack a few eggs
into the bag. You can add cheese, spices, just about anything you put in an omelet. Then dunk it in a pot
of boiling water for a no-clean-up meal that can be eaten out of the bag!
I hung around the campground on Saturday, and the primary activity there was a vertical workshop. In caving, this is called Single Rope Technique (SRT). This is where cavers learn and hone their skills on caving ropes, used to rappel into and climb out of vertical caves. Rigged in trees, there are pulleys and devices to lower someone who is having problems.
A rappel rack allows a rope to be locked off for climbing
and released to lower someone.
Some of the skills that were being practiced were "single rope pick-offs" where a caver who becomes incapacitated on rope is rescued by another caver who "picks them off" the rope and takes them to the bottom until a better rescue can be mounted. 

(simulation only!)
Being kicked in the chin is better than dying!
Dénes (DAY-nesh) is having way too much fun hanging around
waiting to be rescued!
This is an example of a carabiner that you DON'T want to use again!
Inner Mountain Outfitters came up from Georgia to supply us with any
caving gear and fashions you could want. Please visit their website for any
camping/caving/rescue needs you may have!

This is the company I worked for (on the side, going to caving events) until
the founder sold it a few years ago so he could actually retire!
We now interrupt our regular programming for a SELFIE! YES! I was there!
We feed everyone dinner on Saturday night! Here's the set up for cooking 50 pounds of spaghetti!
The start of the sauce!
35 more cans to open, and there sits the peanut gallery with the
chief cook (Billy) on the far right!
He did get into gear, though, and made 30 gallons of sauce.
With meat. And another 5 gallons of vegetarian!
LOTS of bread. And see all those Red Solo Cups? Oh yeah, BEER!!!!
We also laid the fire for later on.
It's a little excessive. See below!
People actually do go CAVING at VAR! (Stolen pictures)
Christopher, a young man (15yo) with Down Syndrome, plays Frisbee
with some other cavers while waiting for dinner. Chris and his 3
brothers and sisters and parents, went to Island Ford Cave and had a blast!
When they get back...DINNER IS SERVED!

Painting with GARLIC BUTTER! My favorite artwork!
There was spontaneous entertainment!
Followed by a presentation...really interesting topic - anthropological significance of caves by Mayans in the Yucatan.
The intro to Kristen.
Kristen, in native dress. Neat presentation, I learned a lot. I always enjoy that!
 After the presentation, we had a FIRE!
This is how you melt marshmallows when faced with a CONFLAGRATION!
Sunday morning was the VAR Business meeting. BOOORRRRRING!!!
The rest is anti-climatic.

And yeah, I made it back home in one piece, lest I not be writing this! Here is the AFTER SELFIE!
Gotta love that wind-blown sweaty hair look! 120-odd miles with the windows down, the radio off, just
cogitating about my life as I drove home. It was a wonderful weekend in all respects.