Making of a Christmas Card, 2018

Most years, I tend to get rather frantic trying to figure out what I’m going to put on my card  that year. In 2013, I recorded this sequence of steps, and it’s pretty accurate for most years:

  1. OMG, I have no idea what I want to do, and it’s already December 8th (or 9th, or 10th. Sometimes as late as the 13th). Increasingly frantic as time goes by.
  2. Do I really want to do a card this year?  In the middle of this phase, I tend to get a card from someone saying they’re really looking forward to my card this year. Oh crap.
  3. I get an idea, but I’m not sure I can pull it off. Or more precisely, I don’t think I can pull it off, but I’ll give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, go to Plan B. If I can think of a Plan B.
  4. A false start. Or two. I suck, and the idea is looking less and less promising.
  5. I start to figure out the mechanical details of how to pull it off.
  6. Hey, this is starting to look like something!
  7. Done! I did it! Now the purely mechanical chores of laying out the card, and printing them. Yes, my printer does still hate me.

This year, though was different, because last Christmas Eve, we had a storm the night before, which left everything under a coat of ice. 

Besides the hedges, I also got some pictures of the bows my mother put on the front railing. As soon as I saw this picture, I made a mental note to save it for this year:

Ice covered bow and greens

It turned out the picture required very little in the way of retouching, which was good, because my ancient copy of Photoshop has given up the ghost under the most recent version of macOS.

I’ve been printing my cards on quarter fold card stock for ages. I started using it over a decade ago because I was having difficulty getting cards through my printer, so I wanted to be able to get two small cards per sheet. I bought a new printer a couple of years ago, though, and production has been easier. So I decided to go with half fold stock this time, giving me a larger card.

I never know what to put on the inside of these cards. I generally put a holiday message printed on the inside, and add a handwritten note to each one, (hoping that the recipient can read my writing.) Most years, it’s the same message, just updating the year. But I had more room to fill this year.

The latter part of this year has been pretty crummy — starting in July, nearly every non-work moment for several months was either rainy, or devoted to chores. I haven’t had much chance to take the motorcycle, bike or kayak out, and I only went diving a couple of times this summer. But then, I was looking through my photo library, and realized I really had done some cool things this year – Bonaire in January, England in May, the balloon festival in June, and a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard. So I decided, since I had the extra space in this year’s card, to put some pictures and text of what I’d done on the inside. Since the front was a horizontal picture, I had the additional fun of trying to lay it out in Pages sideways.

Inside cover of 2018 card
Inside cover of 2018 card

As it turned out, the printer was less cooperative this year than last. For some reason, I could not get it to print two sided, meaning I had to print the two sides in steps, and apparently there is spilled ink inside it, as a fair number of cards were spoiled until I rearranged the layout so that if there were any smudges, they would be on the back of the card.

In hindsight, I think the quarter-fold layout works better for home-printed cards, both because it saves on printing time, but also because the smaller card size gives you cards that feel stiffer, even though the stock is the same weight. Nitpicking, I think I lightened up the picture a little bit too much. I may carry forward the idea of inside cover photography though. Here is the final result:

2018 Card cover

Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas in Rockport

I first became acquainted with Rockport, a small town at the tip of Cape Ann, as a diver. I was certified at Old Garden Beach, and spent nearly every Sunday for the first couple years of diving in either Rockport or Gloucester, and gradually became familiar with the area, but I never spent much time in the town center.

Eventually, after a few years, I decided it would be fun to visit the town at Christmastime, and ever since then, I’ve gone back nearly every year. They put a big tree in the center of town, and the are a lot of small crafts-y type shops in the town center.

We paid our annual visit today, this time with my mother, sister, and sister-in-law. Before heading into town, we stopped at Halibut State park, where we took a hike down around an old quarry, and ended up at the overlook over the ocean. We wandered around for a while, then headed into town.

The there was a “Maker’s Fair” today; we had to park about four blocks up, by the train station. We poked into a couple of stores, and I picked up some stocking stuffers at Tuck’s Candy store, then stopped into one of the restaurants for lunch. We probably should have moved on when they told us they couldn’t sit us by the harbor as they had a large party coming in; as it was, the service was slow, and by the time we were done it was getting dark. 

When we got out, I got a couple of pictures of the Christmas tree. The iPhone XS automatically shoots in high dynamic range, which helps even out the exposure for both the lights on the tree and the tree itself. Then we did a quick tour of the shops on Bearskin Neck, and then called it an evening, taking the long way back in order to see the Christmas lights along the way. It was a good day.

Rockport's Christmas Tree
Rockport’s Christmas Tree

The Case of the Dead Drone

I took my drone out for the first time in a while last Saturday. It also turned out to be the last time.

I haven’t had the opportunity to do much shooting with it lately. The weather has been crappy, and the dry days we’ve had have been occupied with yard work. I’ve also been discovering that a lot of the area around here is restricted. Finally, at the end of the day last Saturday, I decided to take it down to the playground and just play with it.

The playground is at the end of a street, and is at the edge of some wetlands, so there are woods all around the non-street sides. Further down the street, there is a sewer road running through the wetlands.

Despite the cold, I had a good time with it, and despite being late in the afternoon of an overcast day, got some decent stuff. I got video circling the playground, then followed the sewer road. I followed the loop of the road around the block, and then crossed over the brook, through the woods, and found myself, rather to my surprise, flying over the ruins of an old barn that burned down in 1982. At that point, I switched over to stills, and got some pictures of it, plus some more stills of the area around the playground.

The end came about stupidly. I was flying at fairly low altitude rather quickly down the street. I’ve found that flying low and fast gives a really good sense of motion. The area above the street was clear; no trees; no wires. At least, there were no wires until it reached the playground, and the wires crossed over the street. I didn’t see them, and flew right in them. The drone caught, hung, then dropped to the ground, shattering its propellers  and spat out its battery.  Happily, it didn’t seem to have done any damage to the wires.

The other day, I carefully charged the battery to see how it was, and it seemed OK, and running the motors, they seemed to be running OK too, so I was cautiously optimistic when I went back to the playground to try it out again with a new set of propellers.

Unfortunately, as soon as I started it up, it was obvious that  it wasn’t going to work. The propellers made a buzzing sound; looking more carefully, I realized one of the arms — its a quadcopter — was bent, and the propeller was rubbing against the body.

At this point, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I really enjoy flying it, and I like taking aerial pictures, but I live in an area where a lot of the air space is restricted. I have to make a call just to fly it within my neighborhood. Eastern Massachusetts has a lot of helipads and small airports, and they all have to be notified when you want to fly nearby.

In addition, I never really got the hang of editing video. I put together a video of Medfield State Hospital that came out well for a first try, I thought, and then I forgot most of what I’d learned about iMovie because I wasn’t immersed in it.

I’ve already had to repair it once this year after it had been attacked by an osprey in Wellfleet Harbor; it ran me over $300, because the insurance I had taken out on it had expired. DJI had given no notification that it was about to run out; had they, I probably would have renewed it, but because of this history, I didn’t take the insurance when they offered it when they sent it back. I’m not sure I want to spend another $300 plus on something that I can’t use very much. On the other hand, it’s really fun, so who knows?