Thursday, April 30, 2009

New equipment compenstates for old camara's shortcomings

My new Nikon D90, ordered from Abe's of Maine, and new Sigma zoom lens from Amazon, pictured here with its lens hood and extended fully to 500mm.

Because I'm so scared of the things I take pictures of, I recently purchased a new Sigma 150-500mm lens to go with a newer, faster, better Nikon D90 camera. This way, I won't have to get so close to the things that could hurt me.

The lens was the largest supertelephoto that I could afford, and it will come in handy when shooting wildlife, space shuttles and rockets. My 18-200 is fully capable, but won't reach those faraway objects.

Low light has been the weakness of my introductory model Nikon D40. Being a copy editor, I take a lot of photos at night. The new D90 handles the lack of light fairly well, or so I've been told. The truth will be in the pudding.

But seriously: They better work because I'm broke now.

Photo | Just a tree's shadow on the wall

Last night, I took what has become this week a ritualistic walk as the sun went down. (I'm taking a break from all the running.) A tree's perfectly cast shadow on the outside wall of one of the apartment buildings caught my eye.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Photos | McDonald's, a family restaurant - for sandhill cranes

On my way to the mall to pick up some new running shoes, I saw a daddy, mommy and baby sandhill crane chowing down on the grass outside a McDonald's in Viera. Above is the mother and her little one.


The mother watches the father stroll through the parking lot, likely trying to be a barrier between his family and the hungry people who go to McDonald's.

Mother and chick. The mother is alert because some happy child has just walked out of McDonald's and is screaming at the birds.
Wednesday was the second time I've seen this family. The first time was about a month ago, when the youngster was less than half of this size.

My presence started to ruffle a few feathers, so I left.

Three planes fly overhead, scaring crap out of me

Head for cover.

Out last night for a stroll, I spotted three planes zipping through the twilight. They were identical and speedy. It wasn't normal.

I started to panic. I thought of 9/11 and the 4/27 threat a few days ago when the president's backup plane scared New Yorkers. Were these Gov. Charlie Crist's planes in an attempt to put fear into Brevardians?

Then I remembered that Brevard County doesn't have any tall buildings worthy of a terrorist strike - or a photo op, for that matter - so I chilled out.

They were on a course for Orlando anyway, so I suddenly didn't care.

Photos | Another day, another sunset, another post

The water level at Melbourne's Lake Washington is quite low. The fire risk is high. We certainly don't want to see a repeat of May 2008's wildfires, which destroyed 36 homes in Brevard County. And of course, in August, the water would have been 10 feet over my head after Tropical Storm Fay dumped 2 feet of rain.

Sunset watchers got an unexpected fire-twirling show. Actually, other than this guy's family, I was the only one watching.

A jetplane crosses my camera's field of view.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

As crime worsens with recession, even heron turns gangster

Caught in the act underneath the Melbourne Causeway.

I snapped a photo of this big bird just after it tagged the concrete supports of the Melbourne Causeway, clearly marking its own turf. How do I know the heron did it? It's a great blue heron, and that urban artwork also is blue. There's no denying that.

The underside of this bridge attracts the worst riffraff, including the drunken fishermen who were there last night while I was taking photos - and myself, of course.

More words could describe the heron and its misdemeanors, but in a new strategy on The Offlede, I'll be posting fewer words and more photos. My writing has stagnated in the past few months, and the best way to improve it is to cease it - at least for a while, as I re-energize, read a few books and take photos with some new equipment that is en route.

I know you don't read all that I write anyway, so we both win. Right?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Running down a dream - because I should be sleeping

Melbourne Causeway_0011
The Melbourne Causeway, photographed at sunset, a more appropriate hour for a 5K run than sunrise. For this photo, I stood under the highest part of the bridge. It slopes down on both sides, making for an interesting race course.

I run every morning. Of course, my "morning" is the early afternoon, when it's bright and hot and I've had time to eat my cereal, drink my tea and read a chapter of a book. It's certainly no 8 a.m.

So when a co-worker asked me a month ago to join FLORIDA TODAY's team for the Melbourne Art Festival Flamingo 5K, the insane start time of 8 o'clock was the only pitfall. It didn't matter that it was my first competitive road race - a difficult course that tracks up and down the Melbourne Causeway twice. Running five kilometers isn't a problem - uphill or downhill - unless it's at a time when I'm usually asleep.

Saturday morning came, and I lined up with other runners supposedly similar to my speed. Five years ago, when I was playing baseball, I could run a mile in just more than five minutes. Since then, I've gained 50 pound and lost 50 pounds. My speed isn't what it used to be, but I figured I could run one mile in about seven minutes.

The race started. For a quarter of a mile, I ran in front of a FLORIDA TODAY co-worker I lined up with. But in another quarter of a mile, he zoomed past me. He was gone. I was alone in a pack of strangers.

Partway up the causeway, the one-mile clock showed that I was holding an approximately seven-minute-mile pace. I was passing more people than were passing me. But my breathing was heavy. I knew it wouldn't last.

At the halfway point on the beach side of the causeway - where runners turned around and headed back up the causeway - I missed my only chance for water. The three people handing out cups were not enough. I did not want to wait in line.

The last half of the race was the most horrific. Not for my rapidly decreasing stamina, but for my eyes. I saw hundreds of people trailing me. There were 70-somethings, 7-year-olds and men with harnesses carrying their 7-month-olds, their bald heads bobbing with their fathers' hard steps on the pavement. That's what made it horrific. Can't that cause SIDS?

I reached the top of the causeway for the second time and saw another terrifying sight: My co-worker had already reached the mainland, beginning the last stretch of the race. My legs kicked into overdrive.

In the last half-mile, runners broke down. They started walking, panting, trying to catch their breaths. Why stop now? "A little more, a little more," a runner beside me said. I quietly told myself the same.

Spectators cheered for everyone. "Great race, guys!" they said. "Keep it going. A little more."

I could see the finish line. Then, I saw my co-worker. Just as soon as I wondered how I caught up to him, I was passing him.

I crossed the finish line at 22 minutes and 3 seconds, a per-mile pace of 7:07. It was good enough for 12th place in my age group and 105th overall, out of nearly 1,500 runners. And our FLORIDA TODAY team was ninth of 44. Not bad for my first time.

But the best thing? Free stuff. A T-shirt. Crackers and cheese. Bagels. Wraps. Bananas. Grapes. Chips. And for those who like to drink after a 3.1-mile run at 8 o'clock in the morning, beer. I chugged four bottles of water.

I could do another 5K, especially if it's at a more reasonable hour. The only expense would be a new pair of shoes: The ones I used Saturday were missing most of the heel (left), which makes my first 5K a more impressive feat.

I returned home at noon, when I usually start my day. I picked up my morning routine: cereal, tea, book. But something was off. To restore normalcy, I went out and ran another 3.1 miles.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Programming note | Offlede's new slogan reflects reality

capitol lightning_0322
An old shot from that lightning storm over the Capitol in Washington, D.C. This one didn't come out so well.

The Offlede's old slogan, "Striving to be the second best," never really made sense.

When I created it, I was trying to be funny and have it relate to the blog's main title in some way. But it didn't apply to my posts, so I decided to make a change.

"Offbeat blogging in a journalist's off time" is not sexy or funny, but it's genuine and still relates to the concept of an "offlede" in newspaper journalism.

As you've probably gathered, I do not follow the hordes in my trivial pursuits. That's part of living the life of a recluse and nocturnal copy editor. I tend to do things that other people don't and do them at strange times of the day. The accounts on The Offlede tend to be a direct result of my scatterbrained self.

My interests take me off the beaten path - both physically and psychologically. That will be reflected in the posts in the days to come - and now by the blog's slogan, too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

All in a morning: meteors, space station, Venus, moon, lightning, raccoon, explosion and my first Fla. sunrise

Moon, say hello to Venus.

The celestial couple in conjunction.

Traffic across the causeway picks up as night turns into day.

At dawn, they appear closer.

The sun is about to join them. The storm clouds in the lower left provided lightning while the moon was rising.

causeway_vert_0137I'm not an astronomer. I have little knowledge of the subject of astronomy.

But I've been fascinated by the night sky since I was a child, and the interest has continued into adulthood.

After I heard that the Lyrids meteor shower was to peak before dawn Wednesday in the eastern sky, I looked into whether any other astronomical events were happening.

Luck would have it that there were.

A not so rare yet mystical sight was the near occultation of Venus and the moon, also in the east. That's when the moon passes in front of the planet, eclipsing its light.

The West Coast witnessed the full occultation Wednesday morning. We East Coast people just saw the two heavenly bodies get pretty snug. Venus trailed the moon as it rose. (I guess it's more accurately described as a conjunction.)

But that's OK. Seeing the two brightest natural objects in the night sky hanging up there next to each other was a sight to behold.

Additionally, the International Space Station - even brighter than Venus - was to pass through the northern sky. It happens several times every few weeks in Central Florida. It wasn't anything special, but with all of the events combined, I thought I'd find something to photograph.

But as I've mentioned before, photographing stars - especially shooting stars - is difficult to do in this neck of the woods.

In Maine, where I was raised, the clear night sky is pitch black. Here, lights from the cities create too much noise to allow for a good exposure.

I pulled my car into a park along the Indian River near the Pineda Causeway in Palm Shores, a small town just north of Melbourne. A sign said the place was open only during daylight hours. I decided to take my chances with the police.

But the cops were no bother. Instead, the streetlights and a raccoon that inched alarmingly close were my greatest worries.

But the raccoon continued on its way, and a transformer nearby blew, showering sparks onto the roadside below. That effectively put me in the dark, as the streetlights went out after the explosion.

Then, scenarios raced through my head. And I was back to worrying about the cops.

What if the sheriff's deputies came and thought I was a photographer who hated streetlights and shot a transformer (with a handgun) to put them out?

It was plausible that I would get blamed because I was the only one around. It didn't matter if the cause of the explosion was just an overload. I would be arrested and become the scapegoat.


No, that wouldn't happen. I was overreacting, I thought.

Then, I heard sirens.

I jumped into my car and raced toward home.

After getting a mile, I realized the improbability of my arrest. I also realized that I was just hearing things. I turned back.

I tried to no avail to photograph a shooting star. I saw several, but none were ever within the view of my camera.

Better luck next time.

I didn't even bother looking for the space station as it made a one-minute, streaking visit across the Florida sky around 5:30 a.m.

Instead, I focused on Venus and our natural satellite, the moon.

As the moon rose, a small thunderstorm formed over the distant Atlantic Ocean. Bolts of lightning looked as though they were shooting from the crescent. Unfortunately, they were so faint that it was impossible to get a photograph.

I stared at the sky for hours.

I took photos.

I got spooked a few times by birds that squawked or landed in the river.

By dawn, it was obvious that I had to stay for my first full Florida sunrise. As a night worker, I usually sleep through it.

I was tired, but even though I didn't get photos of most of the things that happened Wednesday morning, I was happy.


What was unseen becomes seen.

What was dark becomes bright.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is the sun going down on newspaper flicks?

I usually like to photograph sunsets with a large body of water in the foreground. For this, I had to settle for the parking lot and its trees. Below, I found several small bodies of water on the pavement.

Sometimes, good things happen when we least expect them. And on an otherwise cloudy day in Central Florida, I wasn't planning to see a spectacular sunset.

But the sun poked through and lit up those clouds just as I was getting home from the movies last night. The only bodies of water near the parking lot of my apartment complex were the puddles created when it rained earlier. I snapped a few shots.

sunset_0004The movie I saw was "State of Play," a political scandal-murder mystery about newspaper journalism in Washington, D.C. Many of the scenes in the movie brought back memories, such as the one at Ben's Chili Bowl in Adams Morgan.

An increasingly familiar scene at newspapers these days was near the end. The main character, a reporter played by Russell Crowe, writes his big front-page story, hits "send," and suddenly, the page is being printed (about four hours after deadline).

Where's the copy editing, huh? I noticed at least one mistake as the camera focused on the computer screen when the story was being typed. But no. Copy editors are being laid off nationwide. And because the reporter already busted deadline, there's no time for quality control.

Either that, or Hollywood just doesn't find copy editing that sexy. (Filmmakers have no idea.)

In the movie's final sequence, the camera follows the printing process from a negative of the front page, to the plate, to the press, to the paper, to the sidewalk box. Many film critics are wondering whether this will be the last big Hollywood piece to romanticize a dying medium, an "artifact," as The New York Times put it. As people who like to make up words would say, the genre is "sunsetting" along with its source material.

If future newspaper movies are anything like "State of Play," however, I'd rather not see any more. It wasn't at all interesting, suspenseful or action-packed. Crowe may play a mean gladiator, but he's less than believable as a fierce reporter.

I was expecting a better film. But sometimes, our expectations - when we have them - let us down.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cute children, pretty dogs, old people and vets drink tea, protest government spending their cash and ruining their lives

Best of both worlds: child and dog. In this case, the critter's owner held up the dog for easy petting. This place was a zoo, I tell ya.

I'm punned out. There are just too many plays on words that can apply to this week's bevy of protests nationwide that follow in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party.

It all started Wednesday, tax day. Protesters pulled out their signs from the Clinton era, fetched some teabags from their kitchens and headed to four locations in Brevard County to rail against high government spending. It ended Sunday - at least for now - with a mass "tea party" in which community members and public officials gathered at a local park pavilion to let their voices be heard. They called it the Brevard Tea Party.

It has been a great exercise of free speech for everyone who isn't happy with Barack Obama's methods in heading up the response to the economic crisis. But it's downright difficult for a copy editor to write headlines that play with words typically associated with tea. My headline for this post was going to be, "On a Grey day and in a steeped tradition of citizens blowing off steam at their herb-smoking government, tea drinkers attend party, boil president alive, whistle in approval of others' signs about high spending, find a little ceramic animal in a box, get hot for the next presidential election - all while probably forgetting to send in their tax returns this week | Sponsored by Lipton," but it was too long.

Instead, I'll explain this story through photos, the only real reason I attended the protest Sunday at the Wickham Park Pavilion in Melbourne. And it was only a half-mile from my apartment, so there was little inconvenience.

While I was at the protest, I ran into my old roommate (you know, the guard dog trainer), who also was there to take photos. He has this blog called The Transmission Line, and I'm sure he'll eventually share his political opinions there.

But in the tradition of The Offlede, this post will be devoid of bias - unless it's through innuendo about questionable protesting ethics.

So, let's do this. ...

Don't spend my hard-earned Kibbles 'n Bits. Or I'll poop on you! A pair of Pomeranians were watching the show from stage right, under the pavilion. This was the most vocal one.


I like this photo, so I'm running it large. His flag says, "Don't tread on me." Where have I heard that?

According to the FLORIDA TODAY reporter at the scene, 2,000 people attended the tea party. I'm suspicious. The seats were full, yes. There was some overflow, yes. But 2,000? IIIIII dunno.

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, a Brevard County Republican, brought Obama's gigantic stimulus bill to the party, providing much booing fodder for the crowd. Here, he greets constituents just outside the pavilion, where I spent most of my time. Posey, by the way, introduced that bill to make future presidential candidates prove their native residency.

This boy was piggybacking on a woman I assume was his mother. It would make an interesting medical or psychological venture to study the developmental effects of imposing protests on young children. Old saying: Don't drink the Kool-Aid. New saying: Don't drink the tea. Unless it's Earl Grey; that stuff is good.

Back to the cute girls and the dog. Children wielding political signs is questionable. Kids waving American flags is unquestionably acceptable, right?

The first photo of this post was of her sister and the dog. So I had to round things out with a photo of just this girl, too.


Is that teabag standard issue?

This is the view looking underneath the pavilion and out the other side.


At least she's not saying the Washington Nationals rock. And by the way, I would have spelled "rocks" in this case as "rox" just for the effect. But then again, a blogger such as myself probably would have taken her photo just to point out her wayward spelling.

Answer: See sign in above photo. Also, I take this as a personal attack.


The guy in front looks quite irritated that he happens to be color-coordinated with that sign. Listen to the Pomeranian: I'll poop on you!

This man buys his tea at Publix. Hmm, that would be a good business story idea: What has been the impact on grocery stores of these tea parties? Also, it looks like this guy came all the way from 'Bama for this protest. Or is that "Obama?"


Must be a journalist.

Did you ladies dress like that for church, too?

George Washington and Betsy Ross. Unfortunately, the flag has too many stars for their time period.

Busiest table at the event.


Hard to argue with this one.

Time to go. Beat the traffic, as they say.