The Mission

August 9, 2008

I’ve had a darkroom since 9th grade.  (That’s not my darkroom above, it’s an attempt to dry some negatives in my study).  With the advent of digital photography the darkroom has been abandoned, but in the intervening years I took approximately 20,000 photographs, most of which never saw the light of day.  The negatives, however, were developed, dried and stored, and are now being digitized.  Slowly.  Agonizingly slowly.

My Nikon Coolscan V ED negative scanner takes about 2 minutes to turn a black and white negative into a 25 megapixel digital image, and about 5 minutes to render a color negative. The results are pretty impressive:  The scanner will capture every nuance of the negative along with every freakin’ scratch, dust speck and fingerprint I happen to leave on it.  So I have to clean – and usually re-clean – each strip before inserting it into the scanner.

Not even that is enough for my old negatives.  Kodak recommends storing your negatives “in a cool, dry, dark place”, and now I understand why.  Under not-so-ideal storage conditions, the film emulsion will retract from the acetate backing, basically leaving you with a mess that sort of resembles a web built by a spider on acid.  Most of my negatives going back more than 20 years look like this:

With a little experimentation and before I start scanning a group of negatives I’ve learned to soak them in a very weak and lukewarm Photoflo solution, then squeegee and dry them .  The emulsion, after wetting, tends to swell just enough so that the cracks all but disappear.  This is the result:

This is an impressive improvement but to my chagrin this is also meticulous work.  Emulsion – especially wet emulsion – is notoriously fragile and great care must be taken not to damage the negatives further.  So my project, which I thought would take a year or so, is now consuming the better part of most evenings and there is no end in sight.

To date I have only dropped two strips of negatives on the floor.  I’m sure that more will follow.


On Bicycles

July 7, 2008

The social popularity of any one particular athletic activity is fleeting at best.  It used to be that baseball and softball were so popular in Western New York that there weren’t enough diamonds to go around; today the number of leagues continues to decline.  I remember when racquetball was greatly in vogue; today the former Waterfront Racquet and Fitness Center is a post office. Recreational soccer reached its apex about 10 years ago and its numbers are slowly declining.

In this decade bicycling has picked up considerable steam, and in particular, this year there is no end to the number of articles and blog postings giving credence to its popularity.  It too will have its heyday, and then taper back down to the diehards as the next sport du jour gets press time.

I’ve been a serious cyclist for most of this decade.  My desire to cycle has to do with my inability to run long distances anymore – too many knee surgeries.  Cycling is therefore merely therapeutic for me, never meant to be a means to save fuel costs.  In fact, I would argue that consistent cycling is more expensive in the long run because

  • good bicycles, which you’ll need if you bike a lot of miles, are not cheap; and
  • the extra food that you consume because of your increased metabolism will bite your pocketbook as much as a tank of gas will.

Nonetheless, we may soon be reaching a tipping point where the popularity of cycling will induce changes to transportation infrastructure that will further encourage cycling, such as biking lanes or just wider, smoother shoulders on roadways.  As its popularity continues to increase I can only hope that drivers start paying a bit more attention to whom they share the road.  I mentioned this before:  I have no desire to become road kill, so vigilance is a very important part of my exercise.

I do not get a thrill from sucking exhaust and dodging traffic, so my trips take me into the back roads of Wales, Holland, Aurora, Colden, Cowlesville, Sheldon and other small country towns where I breathe fresh air, enjoy the scenery and take on the hill climbs.  I have no desire to commute to work on bike, even less desire to ride a long, flat street from one suburb to the next.

Biking will never save me money nor help me reduce my carbon footprint.  It will keep me fit, that’s all.

About Photographs

February 24, 2008
Brazilian FlowerI have taken roughly 10,000 photographs since my interest in photography dawned at age 14. My early photographs are catalogued, and I am ever thankful I did that as my brain would never have been able to remember all those faces or places.

None of my post-marriage photographs are catalogued and virtually all of the prints are still in the same envelopes the film processor mailed to us. We look at them only rarely.

Today I am in the process of taking that huge photographic archive plus my parents’ collection and digitizing them all, using a Nikon Coolscan V ED negative scanner. The resulting 6000×4000 pixel images (in JPEG format) take up on average about 25 megabytes apiece on my hard drive. Eventually, the resulting 250 gigabytes of digitized photographs will become the archive of my family and me. Losing that archive to a hard disk crash is not something I want to consider, so everything will get backed up to one or two different media, hopefully a media that will not be too obsolete in ten years.

And that’s a problem. Each new digital format means that some old format will no longer be supported. Floppy disks are essentially gone. Non-SATA hard disks are obsolete. CD ROMs, with their 720 MB limitations, are destined for perhaps the Smithsonian, but not the average person’s home. Even DVDs, which were introduced in late 1996, are bound to go the way of the Dodo as Blu-ray discs replace them as the recording medium of choice.

Each new generation of ever-denser but not necessarily longer-lasting media means that my archive will have to be converted again and again. Unless my children see merit in what I am doing, my last conversion will take place shortly before I die, and roughly ten years after that my photographic collection will be gone. In a sense I miss the days of silver halide and B&W prints which, when stored carefully, have a shelf life of a hundred years.

My life will have been defined by about 2.5 trillion bits. In the not so distant future, some genealogical member of my family may whittle it down to this:

  • Born:
  • Married to:
  • Died:

Management 101

October 4, 2007

I’m taking a management course. My first assignment was to make a list of 10 personal lifetime objectives. Here is what I came up with:

  • Start exercising regularly
  • Go out on a date (with my wife) at least once a week
  • Get back to more volunteerism
  • Finish rebuilding my bathroom
  • Rebuild my kitchen
  • Build a workshop
  • Build a grandfather clock
  • Go on a few exotic vacations
  • Continue writing my blog
  • Read everything and anything

I am not interested in shopping per se; I am not interested in personal wealth, so “getting more stuff” didn’t pop into my mind. So many goals were about “building” something that it’s obvious I have this need for tangible personal accomplishments. There’s probably some psychological pathology defining some inadequacy in my life that drives me to do this.

This was not at all easy to do. Maybe, when I was younger, I might have included things like “find a mate” or “get a honkin’ great stereo”; but for the past couple of decades my goals have simply been to try to learn and do as much as I can with the time I have to do them.

Neither my hands nor my brain are ever idle.

Worth a Thousand Words

July 16, 2007

Roosevelt Lake Bridge

This is a plug for The 716, a local photography blog at which I have camera envy.

Once my kids are done with college (and I’m done paying tuition) I am re-investing in a digital darkroom. My chemical darkroom has been closed for well over ten years, my Canon AE-1 film camera still functions but who uses film anymore? And all my lenses don’t fit any of the newer, prosumer camera bodies.

The stumbling block is cost. I am not going to sacrifice quality for economy, and want something to last pretty much the rest of my life. Then there are those 10,000 or so negatives I’ve got neatly stored in my basement, just waiting to be digitized, cataloged and Photo Shopped.

I started pricing the cameras and digital darkroom of my dreams:

  • Canon Power Shot SD850 IS – $400
  • Canon EOS 30D Camera Body – $1,000
  • Canon EF 24-70 mm f2.8 Zoom lens – $1,200
  • Canon EF 70-200 mm f4.0 Zoom lens – $600
  • Canon EF 2x Teleconverter – $300
  • Sandisk Extreme III Compact Flash 16 GB – $400
  • Nikon Coolscan V ED Film Scanner – $600
  • EIZO 24” Wide Screen LCD Monitor – $1,300
  • HP Photosmart B9180 Printer – $700
  • Adobe Photo Shop – $650

This shopping cart holds over $7,000 worth of technology (not including any frames for those photographs that I actually print!). My choices are not arbitrary but I am sure that in 4 or 5 years they will all be different as the technology advances – but the replacements will probably all be around the same price.

My dream is to take a few courses, get back the knack I had for framing interesting photographs, and create a pictorial of the life around me.

This may remain just a dream for a long time to come.

Beautiful Buffalo Summers

June 2, 2007

Weather June 2, 2007

Too hot to write and too hot to read.  Ain’t it great?

It was as unpredictably warm and muggy for this year’s Tour de Cure as it was cold and rainy for last year’s.   The ride I chose – thirty miles – was flat and uneventful and there did not appear to be many riders who struggled to complete it.  But I’ll be drinking water the rest of the day trying to re-hydrate myself.  That is, until I get over to the Hellenic Festival, when I’ll switch to Ouzo.  Kudos to all the volunteers at the Tour de Cure who looked after us.

Two weeks from today is the Ride for Roswell, another charity event worth the participation.  Throughout the year Western New York has myriad charity events requiring physical activity of some kind – walking events like Relay for Life, an incredible number of running events, biking, and it seems a golf tournament a week.

Check out Buffalo Rising‘s event calendar, which is just crammed with all sorts of summer activities; and the website several detailed articles on a wide variety of things we can do this summer.

I love this area and especially this time of year.  As much as my grass needs a little water I do not regret the sunshine we’ve gotten this past month.

House Cleaning

May 28, 2007

Decrepit HouseMy House



I have two gutter-cleaning products that I recommend: Streak Getter, which I found somewhere on the Internet, and Krud Kutter which I purchased at Lowe’s. Both work about equally well. All it takes is a sprayer, a rag and some elbow grease followed by a water rinse. My streaked, gray gutters are nearly as white as when they were put on the house, 10 years ago. It’s clear that over time, tar and debris from the roof shingles greatly discolor the gutters, and the years do a number on the siding as well.

After the gutters were done, out came the vinyl siding cleaner, Olympic House Wash. This did not work very well when following the directions (spray on, wash off with a hose) but by using a rag and hand-washing the siding after spraying it on it all ended up much cleaner. What a difference!

I know that many homeowners will hire crews to do this kind of work, and many other homeowners won’t even bother to ever clean the exterior of their home; but to some of us it’s a labor of love. I needed a long weekend to get psyched to do the work, but the result is a noticeably brighter exterior.

Now I need to find a good cleaner for the brickwork on the front of the house, and maybe those pesky building inspectors will stay away for a while.