I’ve slowed down posting here because I’m writing pretty furiously elsewhere. More specifically, I’m approaching the middle of the draft of a novel. I’m only mentioning this now for two reasons.

First, I think novel writing is somewhat like pregnancy in the sense that you don’t really want to announce anything until you’re out of the more uncertain period of time. I’ve gotten to the point in the draft where I’m writing to find out what happens as much as I would if I was reading it, and that gives me some confidence that I’ll finish it. (more…)

June 7, 2012 in writing


There is probably more reason to disguise the name of the Banco Chinchorro than there is Spearfish, but it’s somewhat harder to find something to rhyme with. We ran across the Chinchorro reef on our travels this past December. I say “travels” because it sounds much better than “on our cruise” which is actually the truth. There is no reason at all to sully a post about something so close to perfect with a defense of cruising, but I will note that the cruise did open up a whole area of the world to us that we’d probably have not located otherwise. It was worthy for that alone, but the food was really not so bad either. And we were on a boat for 10 days. That’s obviously good.


May 25, 2012 in travel Comments (3)


Today’s blog post is brought to you courtesy of my pilfering wikipedia. Sometimes that seems like a rather bad way to drum up something to write, but actually looking back over my recent posts, they all boil down to this at some level. I guess the value to these posts, if there is any, has to do more with the narrow of focus, the pointing, and less with any original information. Sometimes, I think that if you look long enough at almost anything, and poke into its roots, you’re likely to find something that will fit into the category of “there’s more here than meets the eye.”

Those of you who know my family, know that we play a whole lot of gin.


May 15, 2012 in stuff Comments (4)


I have never been exactly sure what makes running an ultramarathon seem like a good idea, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the urge people have to climb mountains or head to the bottom of the sea. Soon after I started running in my late 20s, mostly to avoid medication for high  blood pressure and depression, I ran across a story about the Arkansas Traveler 100 mile race. I was astounded that the human body could really take running 100 miles without stopping for sleep and rest. At the time, putting together 3 consecutive miles at a running pace was a feat for me. A few weeks later I found myself telling my sister-in-law about the Traveler while we were running together in Arkansas over memorial day weekend. I heard myself say “crazy” in my description, but I realized on that run that I really meant “awesome.” Within a few months, I was training for a 100. I’d seen the mountain, realized that I wanted to climb it, and eventually did.

There are mountains and then there are mountains, though. (more…)

May 1, 2012 in running Comments (15)


Since I’m already on a roll with romanticizing a place I’ve never been, I might as well share sagardotegi (pl. sagardotegiak): proof that Basque people have a lock on the perfect way to have dinner.

A sagardotegi is a Basque cider house. For a minute, let’s pretend that you’re a 16th century Basque landowner. In the late winter or very early spring, you and your landowning buddies might get on your horses and visit one (or possibly more) sagardotegi early in the day with the mission of buying a bunch of apple cider to fill your cellars for the rest of the year. The cider, freshly fermented over the winter, is stored in massive casks in the ciderhouse. Cider is not nearly as tasty without food, so collectively your group brings a whole bunch of steak from your freshly slaughtered cows. You hand the steak over to the owner of the sagardotegi when you arrive, he hands your bunch some cider mugs, and then the fun begins. (more…)

April 20, 2012 in travel Comments (1)


Allow me to direct you on an imaginative journey. Close your eyes. Okay read this first, then close your eyes. Imagine, yourself sitting on a snow white beach looking out over a cobalt blue ocean. The sky above the ocean rivals the stunning blue of the water and is filled with cotton-ball trade wind clouds. It looks like it could rain. It always looks like it could rain. It’s hot. The temperature is in the upper 80s during the day, though the humidity makes it feel warmer, and at night it cools only a few degrees. The island is an atoll, and is shaped like a boomerang. At only 10 square miles, you can walk it’s circumference in a morning. When you’re taking your stroll around the island (slow stroll, of course. It’s hot and there isn’t much to rush for) you run into friendly people — mostly native Tuvaluans, but occasionally a westerner. A small prop plane takes off from the small airport at the middle of the island. That means it’s either Tuesday or Friday, the only days the flight connects the island and Fiji — 700 miles away. This is Funafuti, the largest island in the nation of Tuvalu, a south Pacific island chain. (more…)

April 19, 2012 in travel Comments (2)

photography: making prints

This is part four in a series which began here.

You have a few negatives and now you’re ready to make some prints. It’s worth stating that prints made in this way are substantially different from those made on your printer or 1-houred from Walgreens. When you’re making contact prints, each is unique and bears the mark of the process which made it. That uniqueness is part of the charm of these, I think, but you have to get accustomed to the fact that it’s impossible to make two identical prints. It also takes a whole lot longer. I usually pick three to do in one printing session. Your level of patience and efficiency will influence this.

When you’re deciding which negatives to print, particularly at first, pick the best exposed ones — they’re much easier to print well. When you hold the negative up to light, you should be able to easily see the subject and it shouldn’t be mostly clear (underexposed) or very dense (overexposed).

Now we’re ready to print so go ahead and turn your bathroom back into a darkroom. (more…)

April 17, 2012 in photography Comments (0)

photography: developing film

This is part three in a series which began here.

I’ll confess, developing film has always seemed like a chore to me. Maybe it’s because it tends to happen in the evening after a day of shooting (fun) and involves lots of waiting and looking at a timer (not fun) and the magic all comes right at the end. You might consider a glass of wine to make it more bearable, but wait until after you’ve loaded the film into the canister. You’ll want to be very sober for that step.

If you’re coming from the world of digital and have never (or can’t remember) how developing works, you can think of it as being something like the initial post-processing work you do on your digital photos. Things like water temperature, ratio of developer to water, amount of agitation, all make changes in how your negative turns out. This makes it a little more precarious. Once the film is developed, it can’t be developed again. When you print later, you’ll screw up a print now and again, and there is really nothing lost other than the paper and your time. You can always print the negative again. If your film isn’t developed right, though, you lose the images. I’d suggest two things to deal with this (if you’re coming from the land of digital) burden. First, make notes for each roll developed including water temp, time in the tank, developer ratio, and anything that doesn’t go as planned. You really should do this when printing too, but it’s imperative if you’re going to develop much film. Second, learn to embrace the precarious in your process as it does good things for your photography. Magic doesn’t happen if there isn’t a chance for loss.

Let’s develop film.


April 12, 2012 in photography Comments (2)

photography: exposing a negative

This is part two in a series. Part one is here.

Ansel Adams devotes an entire book to each of the photographic steps, but he was trying to help you become an excellent photographer (and printer). My aim is much humbler: sharing with you how cool making photos using a wholly material process can be. With that in mind, I’m going to skip anything related to subject selection, form, etc and stick to the process of actually making a negative. First we need to take expose some film.

1. Load your camera with film. If you bought the Holga, it has instructions. If you have a TLR, there are a bunch of video how-to’s here. In general, loading and unloading film should be done in a shaded spot.

2. Find something nice to shoot. Medium format is vastly slower than your digicam, so you might want to start with a thing that doesn’t move. Definitely skip people. HP5+ is fast (sensitive) film, so to avoid extremes in aperture or shutter speeds, pick a cloudy day if you’re shooting outside (which you probably should be).

3. Meter the scene with your digicam. This can be done in a bunch of different ways, but here’s a quick one: Set the ISO on your digicam to 400 (that’s the ISO of your film). Pick “aperture priority” on your digicam and set it to a reasonable aperture — maybe f/8 if you’re shooting a landscape sort of thing. Half-press the shutter button of your digicam while looking through the viewfinder. You’ll see the aperture (f/8 or whatever) and a film speed — probably 1/250 of a second or so if you’re shooting outside during the day. Now set the dials on your film camera to f/8 and 1/250 and take the shot. If you wait and the light changes appreciably, just meter again.

One caveat: your digicam probably has a top shutter speed in the 1000s, but most older medium format cameras top out at 1/500th of a second. If your digicam is telling you that you need a speed faster than your film camera can handle, you need to stop down the aperture — if you’re at f/8 try f/12 or even higher. Also, if you get an old enough film camera, the speed and aperture settings may be slightly different than the scale used in your digicam. Just round to the nearest shared number. And don’t sweat it, film is forgiving.

4. Repeat steps 2-3 until the roll is finished. I get 12 shots for a 120 roll with my camera, but don’t be surprised if you get some other number. One interesting thing to note: on my Seagull camera, it’s quite possible to make two exposures without advancing the film because advancing the film and cocking the shutter are two different tasks (no fancy crank that does both for me). You’d think this would mean I’d end up with double exposures all the time, but actually double exposure fears causes another problem. If I can’t remember advancing the film before I make an exposure, I go ahead and advance it again. I have tons of negatives with empty frames because of this. See all the fun stuff you miss when you don’t use film?

5. Unload the film. It’s best to do this out of the sun. Lots of videos which show you how to do this here. If you don’t plan on developing the film in the next 24 hours or so, put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready — it slows down the deterioration of the exposed film.

You now have an exposed roll of film and you’re ready to get to the magic stuff. Next post: developing your roll.

April 11, 2012 in photography Comments (2)

photography: a project

Photography is magic. I don’t mean snapping some photos with your digital camera and hooking it up to your computer while you surf the web. I suppose there is some magic there too, but it’s certainly more muted. What I mean is putting some light sensitive celluloid in a camera and taking a photo, developing that film, then taking the negative, passing light through it, and making a print. This process is, undeniably, magic. There are secret formulas, rituals which must be performed exactly, and if all goes well, things appearing where there was nothing before.

If you haven’t ever gone from idea to print with all the steps along the way, you should. In particular, you really ought to do this if you’re a digital photographer and have never touched film. Digital photography is a wonderful thing, but photography is magic and you really should experience that.

In the next few posts, I’m going to give a recipe for making some really nice medium format contact prints for less than $150. The cost is largely dependent on how much of the stuff you have laying around, and how resourceful you are but my guess includes the price of the camera.

Here are a few photos of some I recently printed, and here’s a scan of one. They’re small — printed on 5×7″ sheets of fiber-based photo paper (as opposed to the plastic-covered kind). I like to leave them unmounted. The fiber paper has a tendency to curl when left unmounted so the overall impression they give is intensely material — the opposite of digital photos viewed online.

So, what I’m offering is a recipe. Like making a marinara sauce, there are many other ways of doing this. Like my marinara sauce, though, it’s pretty good.

Here’s what you’ll need. I’ll adjust this list if I run across more things.


1. A medium format camera. This is the most expensive item, of course, but it’s probably not as expensive as you think. If you’re shooting to stay under the $150 mark for the project, you can get a Holga 120N from Amazon for $30. You’ll be making contact prints, so the quality of the lens is almost irrelevant. If you want to spend a bit more, you can get a genuine TLR-style camera from ebay (or craigslist) for $60 — Seagull branded ones are common and cheap. That’s what I do all of my medium format photog with these days, and they work just fine.

2. A roll of 120 film. Use HP5+ and be done with it. Buy an extra roll to practice loading the film tank.

3. A light meter. You probably have an SLR (digital or otherwise) if you’re reading this far, so use that. Set the ISO to 400 (that’s what your film is rated).

4. A dark room with running water. Bathrooms work perfectly. If you have a window, wait until it gets dark and hang up a blanket over it.

5. A film tank.

6. Something to measure liquid. I use a graduated cylinder, but that’s because I have one. I used a measuring cup for years.

7. Four plastic trays capable of holding 20oz of liquid and at least 8×10″. Disposable ones work just fine.

8. Developer. You can use it for both film and paper. Trust me.

9. Fixer.

10. A thermometer. A meat one will work just fine (that’s what I use).

11. A timer. A watch will work, but a timer app on your smartphone is better.

12. A red party-bulb and a lamp to put it in.

13. Some sheets of 5×7″ photo paper. I highly suggest getting fiber based (as opposed to resin coated). I tend to buy these in packs of 100 because its vastly cheaper, but smaller quantities are fine for checking things out.

14. A simple glass frame like this. You’ll use this as a makeshift easel for printing. You just need the glass and back — you can toss the clips.


I posted links to places online to illustrate what you’re looking for and an approximate price. When you’re ready to buy the photo stuff, make sure to check if there is anyone locally that still sells wet darkroom materials. If you can find a store that does, they probably need your business more than amazon does.

Next time, making a negative.

April 10, 2012 in photography Comments (6)

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