Making of a Christmas Card, 2016

This year was a bit unusual in that I actually had two competing ideas for a card, and I was able to do them with a minimum of stress. The first idea was to get some pictures of Christmas lights at night, and I actually brought the tripod with me into work, and went out shooting afterwards at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. I did get some good stuff there, but in the end, I decided to go with my second idea.

I’d gotten a “Table Top Studio” kit the previous Christmas. Essentially, it’s a small square tent with white nylon sides to soften the light coming from the included pair of quartz lights. It came with four backgrounds: red, white, blue and black, and I decided to pick up a small snow globe and photograph it.

My initial thought was to use the red background, because red’s a Christmas color. I shot a number of frames. The snow globe lights up and has a small impeller to stir up the glitter inside, so I shot a a number of pictures with the globe both on and off.

I found that the moving glitter didn’t really read as glitter (or snow) but rather as noise.

I also decided, more or less for the heck of it, to try it with the white and black backgrounds:

I found I really didn’t like the black ones at all, and the white ones were underexposed and the white background was wrinkled, so I decided to shoot a few more with more exposure. I also got the idea to hide the bottom of the background with some fluffy cotton, to make it look more like snow. I shot both red and white versions:

The cotton balls in both are a little too obvious, but I figured that would be easy to fix in Photoshop. The red one was more in line with my original conception of the shot, but there was something about the white one that I liked. The red one was a little cleaner; the white one had some color casts that needed cleaning up. The snowmen in the white one were a little easier to read, and the reflections of the lights on the globe were a little less prominent on that one too. It would also take less ink to print. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to go with the white one, and took it into Photoshop.

All these steps took a lot less time than it usually does. The photography took maybe 45 minutes, and I had the Photoshop work done in less than an hour.

Next, I imported the picture into the card template in Pages. This was a little ticklish since I had to rotate everything 90°, because the template is designed for horizontal pictures. For the text, I used Museo Slab, the same font I use here for headings. I ended up choosing golden text with red rules above and below.

All in all, pretty simple, but I’m pleased with the result, more so than I was with last year’s card.

Final Result

Final Result

Merry Christmas everyone.

The Perfect Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

We just finished putting up the Christmas tree. It’s always a lot of work, and it’s always nice to bask in the glow of the lights when it’s done. This year’s tree isn’t perfect, but it is pretty nice.

I remember growing up, my Dad always picked out the family tree, and he had a well earned reputation for picking out a Perfect Tree. Our trees were always much nicer than the Charlie Brown trees my cousins had.

So when he died, my two brothers and I all felt strongly that we had to live up to his reputation, and none of us was willing to cede responsibility for getting the tree to the others. So off we went, the Three Wise Men — or is it the Three Stooges? on a bitterly cold December day to find The Perfect Tree. It took forever, because of course, there is no such thing, and even less so 36 years ago when shaped trees were less common. It took nearly an hour for the three of us to agree on one. It was a great tree though.

Nowadays, it’s just me. I still like to get a nicely shaped tree, but it’s easier now, because trees are more likely to be nicely shaped, and I have less enthusiasm for standing around a windswept tree lot trying to find The Perfect Tree. But every time, I always think of Dad.

Goodbye EX-500

I just got rid of my first motorcycle, a 1987 Kawasaki EX-500 the other day. It had been taking up space in the garage for a decade and a half.

I’d been interested in motorcycles for a long, long time before I got the bike — privately. My parents were very opposed to motorcycles, and I was pretty conservative in the way I manifested myself, so I think it was a shock when I actually got it. (I think my relatives have gotten over being shocked at anything I do).

I started buying motorcycle magazines in 1986 or so, and by 1987, I’d decided on the EX-500 — sporty, but a good beginner bike. I put down my money in the spring of 1987, intending to pick up the bike after taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course.

It was a disaster. I bombed out of the course. In hindsight, it didn’t help that the instructor was a screamer who just made me tenser when I screwed up. At the end, I came home from that weekend convinced motorcycles were not for me. I called up the dealer and cancelled the order, rather to his disbelief.

And yet… over the next few weeks, I found that it really was something I wanted to do. I still found myself looking at bikes hungrily. So I found another instructor who gave me one on one instruction, found that it went well, and called the dealer back, found that they still had the bike, and picked it up in the mid-summer of 1987.

It took me a while to get comfortable on the bike. I remember doing a lot of practice on Green Lodge street, where there is no traffic. Then I started taking it out on the side roads in traffic, and started to get comfortable.

This was all on my learners permit, which restricted me to daytime operation within the state. I had jury duty scheduled in early fall, so I couldn’t make the appointment until after that was over. In the meantime, I practiced circles and figures eight for the license test, and got so I could do one in a fairly tight area.

Finally, I had my appointment in early October. The inspector had me do a circle and figure eight in an area about twice as big as the areas I’d been practicing for, so I whipped through them confidently. He then told me to go down the road half a mile and come back, and as I did, I could see him in the rear view mirror go inside to do the paperwork. I had my license.

That October was when I first developed my liking for night rides, since I could now ride at night. It wasn’t until the following year that I really started to get into riding. I got better at it,  and got more confident. I developed that awareness of other vehicles that motorcyclists have. And I found I really enjoyed it.

The ride that sticks out in my memory was a trip out along the Mohawk Trail in July of 1993. I got to Mount Greylock at the end of the day, and took the road up to the summit. To the west, the sun was setting. To the east, the full moon was rising. It was awesome.

By the late 1990’s though, the bike was getting unreliable. It developed some sort of intermittent electrical problem that left me stranded a couple of times. I took it to one place to get fixed; the problem came back. I took it to a second place to get fixed; they said they found it, and I was just about to pick it up, when they came back and said it had died on the owner while he took it on a test ride. They got to the root of the problem, but I never fully trusted it again.

I was coming back from a short ride to visit my aunt when the end came. I was 90 seconds from home, when the car ahead of me stopped short. I slammed on the brakes, and was just congratulating myself for making a good emergency stop when I heard the squeal of brakes, and got tossed over the handlebars, breaking my collarbone.

The bike sustained enough damage — broken windscreen, mirror, and other scuffs, that it wasn’t worth fixing, especially given its past issues. So I got a new one, and the EX-500 has been sitting in the garage ever since. I wanted to be rid of it, but couldn’t figure out how. Dealers didn’t want it, and there weren’t any local junkyards.

I got a little more serious about this fall, and started looking online, and finally found a page that suggested Kars4Kids. I’d heard their jingle on the radio, of course, but didn’t realize they dealt with dead bikes too. I called them a couple of weeks ago, and asked them about it. “Sure!” they said. I told them the bike was damaged. “That’s OK”. I told them it had been sitting in the garage for 15 years. “Wow” they said, but they’d still take it. Great. So I put some air back in the rear tire so I could move it, and got it out from under all the accumulated junk. Last Wednesday, I wheeled it out to the street, and when I came home, it was gone.

So, Trump.

It’s been a couple of weeks since the election, and my two readers have both asked me what I think about it. I came down with a cold the night before, and spent Election Night shivering in bed with the chills, as I watched the unfolding disaster, and spent most of the time since recovering, which sounds metaphorical, but isn’t.

For the first week, I was too ill and too upset to read much of the news. I’ve been about 10 – 14 days behind on Twitter for a while, and spent most of the past week catching up. It was hard reading all the pre-election certitude in the cold hard light of hindsight.

I’ve never been so sorry to be proven right. I was saying a year ago that Trump scared me, because I saw very clearly what a weak candidate Hilary Clinton was. In July, I wrote, “Hillary Clinton feels like Martha Coakley writ large; people will find a reason not to vote for her.” She seems unauthentic, doesn’t seem to be intellectually honest, and never defined herself well enough for people to vote for her; she relied on the belief that Trump was clearly unsuitable.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Trump won fair and square. It doesn’t matter that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump; in our system, the states elect the president, not the people. And there are enough states with enough people that the economy has left behind that have spoken. There have been protests of the election, but to my mind, that’s wrong. You don’t protest free elections, and that goes double if you didn’t vote. I felt sick enough to work from home Tuesday morning, but I still voted.

Next, I’m hoping I’m wrong about him. I’d like to be proven wrong, because the better he does, the better we do. One of the columnists in the Globe wrote, “I don’t want Trump to succeed. I want him to fail spectacularly.” I get what he’s saying, but I hope Trump manages to pivot away from his more extreme positions. and perform reasonably. My Uncle Kip claims that we’ll see a different Donald Trump, and I hope he’s right. So far, I haven’t seen it.

Finally, I’m seeing a lot on Twitter about opposing every move he makes. I despised the Republicans for doing that to Obama, and I’ll despise the Democrats if they do that to Trump. To my mind, the duty of an opposition party is to fight the policies they oppose, find common ground where they can, try to influence the president by providing an alternative, and remember they are Americans first and partisans second. President Obama seems to be taking that to heart, and I hope other members of his party do as well.

The thing that dismays me is that people either couldn’t see his character issues, or saw them, and decided they were OK. There are a lot of people who should have known better, but voted for him anyway.

What truly scares me is the outright fascism his victory has enabled. All the little neo-Nazis and white supremacists are crawling out from under their rocks into the light of day. It’s become more acceptable to be racist in public. I’m seeing reports of people being harassed just because of who they are. I worry about people like my friend Rami, one of the nicest, friendliest people around, getting hassled because of his name and appearance.

Trump hasn’t helped with his statements or his actions. He did make a point of telling people to “Stop it”, but then he’s gone on to appoint Stephen Bannon and Jeffrey Sessions to important posts. He’s still leading with his mouth. He still doesn’t seem to think through his actions. He still seems, well… nuts. And he’s already in line to be the most corrupt president ever – witness the foreign governments lining up to stay at the Trump hotels, and the settlement of the Trump University case.

Unfortunately, he also has a Republican Congress to back him up, and the Republicans in Congress so far haven’t shown any inclination to put country above party, or to consider the people their actions affect. I’m hoping there may still be enough institutional decency left – or at least, enough institutional protectiveness of their own prerogatives – to prevent the worst of the abuses.

I suspect that the way it will play out is that it will be Amateur Hour for the first six months or so – he is inexperienced in government, and doesn’t seem to be surrounding himself with good people. He will attempt to bully his way around, and manage to offend enough of Congress that he will engender opposition within his own party. As his policy initiatives become clearer, the media will find people who will be hurt by them, and allow them to tell their stories. The biggest advantage Obamacare has right now is that there are already a lot of people dependent on it. After a while, he’ll realize that if he wants to get anything done, he’ll need more experienced hands to help him, and hopefully, get rid of the strident right wingers.

In the end, it will come down to his willingness to be bound by the rule of law. If he recognizes that, while it won’t be great, we’ll be OK.

Five Years of tedohara.net

I noticed last month when I renewed my domain registrations that it’s been five years since I first set up this site. I meant to say something on the actual anniversary, but it slipped my mind.

I initially set up the site because I was concerned about my job. I felt uncertain about the company’s prospects, and was unhappy with the commute, and felt that as a web developer, I’d be more credible if I had my own site. I wanted to be able to show off my CSS and JavaScript skills. To my mind the actual content was secondary, though I figured I’d have some web development posts.

I knew from my own browsing that I wanted to use WordPress, but it took me a nearly a year to get to find a host and actually get going. I’d say it took me several months from thinking “I should do this,” to actually starting to look into hosting companies, and then a few months of frustration of looking at hosts casually, to a couple of months of thinking about it more seriously, to a month or so of trying to decide, to actually pulling the trigger on DreamHost.

I requested the domain on a Thursday night, August 11, 2011, and the domain became reachable on the internet the following day, with a ‘parked’ site. I spent Friday night setting up emails and excitedly exploring the DreamHost control panel, and finally that Saturday morning, I downloaded and installed WordPress and made my first post.

My First Post, using the stock Twenty-Eleven theme and imagery.

My first post, using the stock Twenty-Eleven theme and imagery.

I knew I wanted something more custom, so I quickly customized the header images. Still, I knew I wanted something less generic looking, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I also didn’t know how to implement what I wanted once I figured out what I wanted. I initially thought I needed to write my own theme, but stumbled upon child themes, and figured out how to implement what I wanted over the 2011 holidays. The present theme debuted New Years Eve of 2011.

As I said, initially, the content was secondary to simply having a site, though I did want to focus some on web development. Over time, I’ve done fewer work related posts, and it’s become more of a place where I can show off my pictures, talk about things I’ve done, or simply spout off about something. I do try to post something at least once a month, but otherwise, I post when I have something to say.

I’m under no illusions that many people are reading this. I’ve long suspected it’s basically my sister, my mother (hi Mum!) and occasionally my dive buddies, and when I finally installed Jetpack in May, the stats tend to back this up. My post “I Expect My Leaders to be Grownups” did get some notice, chiefly because I @ replied to something Marco Arment posted to Twitter with a link to the post, and he retweeted it to his 100,000 followers.

Still, it’s nice having my own site. It gives me a place to talk about things if I want, and a place to post my photography. It’s also nice owning a domain name, as it allows me to create sub-domains and create email addresses at will. And I agree with Marco Arment that it’s best to own your online identity.

So what’s next? I tinker with things periodically. A few weeks back I switched the sidebar from the right to the left, and I’ve been experimenting with adding Twitter support. I switched over all the imagery to retina quality over the past year. I’m aware that my current theme is getting long in the tooth, but for better or worse, I like the way it looks, so I’m not sure what to do. Right now, I’m leaning towards creating a version that keeps the basic colors and typography, but is more responsive, handling both larger and smaller sizes better.

Stay tuned.

July 4th on the Charles

I spent Fourth of July watching the Boston fireworks on the Charles from my kayak. Without a doubt, it’s the best way to see the fireworks.

I’ve done this a couple of times now; Charles River Canoe and Kayak rents boats from their Brighton and Kendall Square locations for the event. The first time couple of times I did it, the atmosphere was very relaxed, and there was a lot less security. I remember one year seeing a couple of guys on a raft made up of office water cooler bottles, and people on floating rafts; after the marathon bombing, security was tightened up. The last time I did it, in 2013, all boats had to be anchored by 7 and there was a Coast Guard boat with a big black machine gun on the front deck patrolling the river.

This was the first year I did it in my own boat. I put in from Herter Park, just downstream from Charles River Canoe and Kayak, around five-thirty-ish, and got to the Mass Ave bridge a little past 7. There were already a bunch of boats there, some of them fairly large. Boats were required to anchor by 8:15, but I felt like a motorcyclist among a bunch of SUVs with all the boat traffic, so I waited until nearly 8 to anchor. I wanted to be able to move if a boat did something stupid.

Once I anchored, there was nothing to do but wait. Fortunately, the weather was gorgeous: clear, not humid, not too warm. There was enough wind to raise a little chop, but it kept the bugs away. It was really nice just sitting there in the boat. We were treated to a spectacular sunset:

Sunset, July 4th

Sunset, July 4th

This year, the concert and fireworks were on network television. I’ve been to years both with and without the network, and I much prefer it when network TV isn’t calling the shots. This year, they played the 1812 Overture fairly early, with a small display of fireworks, and then there were 90 minutes of filler country music until the main show at 10:30, timed to end just before the 11:00 news.

But, oh, what a show it was. It made the wait worthwhile. Not only did they shoot them from the barge, but they launched sprays of fireworks from the Mass Ave bridge itself, and I was close enough to the bridge to feel the heat from the fireworks. There were jets of fireworks flying up from the length of the bridge, with sprays of light in the sky beyond. It was magnificent.

Finally, though, came the finale, and then it was time to up-anchor and head back. It was kind of cool kayaking in the dark, part of a stream of boats heading upstream. Each boat had at least a light, and several of us were adorned with a number of glow sticks. I’d been worried about pulling out of the river, but I found the exit pretty easily, and was able to get out without a problem. All in all, a wonderful night.