Blog: 2009-12

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A couple years ago, I was alone on Christmas Day, and was just walking around town with a camera, enjoying how everything had slowed down, and also looking for takeout.

There was warm yellow light coming from a McDonald's, of all places. I was vegetarian, and wouldn't like the idea of eating McD's on Christmas anyway, but I glanced in the window as I walked past. There seemed to be a private holiday party going on, with smiling and laughing people, who I guessed to be the extended family or immigrant community of the franchise owners.

They must've noticed someone walking past on the deserted street, because they looked and were gesturing for me to come in, like an inclusive Christmas moment. I smiled back and gestured that I had to go somewhere, as I kept walking. I appreciated their gesture, but I didn't want to accept the invitation.

News Shooters

One day, while I was learning photojournalism, I was shooting a protest over the visit of a controversial foreign dignitary. There were uniformed local police, suited diplomatic security, and at least one undercover. In the large and diverse crowd of demonstrators, there was one attendee who stood out especially, and I snapped his picture a couple times as he wandered through the crowd, seemingly engaged in some experience and perhaps wanting to be seen and stand out, yet disconnected from the event and everyone else. I further suspected that he was under the influence of narcotics, or mentally ill.

A bit later, there's a big commotion, and the same guy is trying to run and screaming in hysteria (something like "They're gonna shoot me!," though I don't remember what), sounding like a child. He gets grabbed by police and is being brought rapidly to a wagon, with one of the suited guys seeming to take command.

The first thing I learned about news shooters that day: I thought I was fast and scrappy, but -- when need be -- they are faster and scrappier. At the same instant that I was registering that something was happening, and was tracking the activity with my long lens while constantly assessing what was happening and what I should be doing... a bunch of professionals had somehow teleported from where they were scattered throughout the crowd, and were running on the heels of the security who were handling the prisoner. They were getting close-up shots with wide lenses, held above or anywhere they could.

The next thing I learned was immediately after. I recognized my favorite Boston-area photojournalist -- someone who had a good sense for humanity and beauty, as well as for clever compositions. She had been one of the lightning-fast shooters who got right up to the police and prisoner in the moment. Now she was standing on the vantage of a curb nearby, watching what was going on with the prisoner, but not shooting. And she had a pained, worried look on her face, I guessed out of concern for the prisoner, who seemed mentally ill and now was in diplomatic security trouble.

I thought that photojournalists were supposed to be able to understand and tell stories, while keeping some professional distance. Perhaps this photojournalist's capacity for empathy and caring is what helped her to make the images that originally caught my attention.

Year-End Donations

 [headshot photo of cute, smiling 4 year-old] For lots of people, money this year is tighter than it's been most years. Still, if the credit card companies, insurance companies, and governments have been robbing you blind, end-of-year donations are one good (and possibly tax-deductible) way to exercise self-determination in how your money is used.

In recent years, I've donated modest amounts I could afford to a few causes: Brown University, the ACLU (if they haven't peeved me too much that year), and misc. others.

This year, in addition to all the other worthy charities out there, I'd like to suggest that people consider donating to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. You can click that link, and my photogenic niece will shake you down for a donation.

(Photo is from the MDA site.)

Labeling Rechargeable Battery Sets

 [photo of Eneloop AA batteries being labeled] When I was a photographer who used NiMH AA battery-powered strobes a lot, I made a point to keep each battery in the same set for its lifetime, so that all batteries in a set would wear and charge evenly. Here is my new, very simple, labeling system.

Basically, each battery gets a label, and each label contains three pieces of information: a unique ID for the set, the size of the set, and the sequence number within the set.

The unique set ID is the date the label is made, in YYYYMMDD format, with an alphabetic "serial number" appended if it is after the first set ID christened on this date. (We should not have any trouble remembering how many battery sets we've labeled that same day.)

For example, if I were to label a single set of 4 AA batteries today, I would label them:

  • 20091219 1/4

  • 20091219 2/4

  • 20091219 3/4

  • 20091219 4/4

If later today I unexpectedly labeled another set of 4, they would be:

  • 20091219b 1/4

  • 20091219b 2/4

  • 20091219b 3/4

  • 20091219b 4/4

Note that the "a" on the first set of a day is optional, and is implied if no letter serial number is present.

If tomorrow I decide to split the first set of 4 into 2 sets of 2, they might get relabeled as:

  • 20091220a 1/2

  • 20091220a 2/2


  • 20091220b 1/2

  • 20091220b 2/2

Note that the unique ID on a label is sometimes a good indicator of when I bought the battery, which might be relevant to battery life, but it doesn't necessarily reflect anything near the purchase date.

Side note on labelers: I do NOT recommend the Brother P-touch PT-1280 labeler shown in the photo. I got it to replace my PT-65, mainly so that I could use the white-on-black tape. However, in addition to the drawback I knew about -- that the TZ tape used by the PT-1280 is more expensive than the M tape used by the PT-65 -- the PT-1280 also has the drawbacks of suspiciously wasting lots of extra tape for horizontal margins, using AAA batteries instead of the more economical AA, and taking more space to store. I had intended to sell the PT-65, but I will probably either sell the PT-1280 or keep both and use the PT-1280 only for the occasional white-on-black labels.


 [photo of challah bread in retail packaging, price reduced from $7.99 to $3.99] In its ongoing investigative series on the shadowy challah bread industry, the ChallahWatch news team has uncovered that Harvest Co-op marks unsold $7.99 challah down to $3.99.

In breaking news, the price of Shaw's lousy challah has increased from $3.99 to $4.19.

 [photo of Shaw's challah bread, priced at $4.19]

An alert ChallahWatch reader also recently reported seeing several loaves of $7.99 challah sitting unsold at Harvest, after all their other local bread had sold out.

If you have have any information about challah in the Hub, contact the ChallahWatch Tips Line.

For earlier ChallahWatch reporting, see 2009-07-15.

PLT Scheme Quicksearch in Firefox

 [screenshot diagram of typing 'plt event' in Firefox location bar and getting search results] So that I can search my local copy of PLT Scheme documentation easily from the Firefox location bar, I added a Quicksearch bookmark, with the properties:

  • Name: PLT Scheme 4.2.3 Documentation Quicksearch

  • Location: file:///home/neil/.plt-scheme/4.2.3/doc/search/index.html?q=%s

  • Keyword: plt

Then I can search for, say, "event" by typing "plt event" into Firefox.

You'll of course need to change the pathname for your particular account's documentation directory. If you don't have such a directory, try require-ing a PLaneT package, then go take a break for 15 minutes while PLT does a one-time rendering of all the documentation.

Windows XP, allSnap, Donation-ware, Holidays

When one must've been a terrible person in a prior life, and been sentenced to use Windows XP in the year 2009, this earthly burden can be lightened by installing a tool like allSnap.

Also, this holiday season is not a bad time for us to look around at any donationware or shareware we use and value, and send the developers a few dollars. Or send a nice note to developers of some of our favorite Free, open source, or lowercase-free software.

CD-ROM Drives Hang Windows

This effectively cost me two hours of productivity today, so noted for future Web searchers...

On an IBM ThinkPad with Windows XP, attempts to access either the internal DVD/CD-RW drive or an external USB DVD+/-RW drive were hanging the desktop so badly that Windows couldn't even shut down.

A person-of-interest in the investigation was DLACTRLW.EXE, which Windows was unable to kill.

Turns out the problem went away when I uninstalled the Sonic disc-burning software and related packages that I believe were value-added parts of the ThinkPad packaging of XP.

I suspect that the cause involved the fact that I'd disabled a lot of annoying nonstandard ThinkPad value-added stuff, to try to get close to stock XP plus only the necessary ThinkPad hardware drivers. In that case, I suspect that a dependency on something that was removed would be the likely culprit.

Earlier to... 2009-11

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