Archive for April, 2009

Change indeed

Solidly in the ballpark of the 100 day mark, we have indeed started to see real change. This change causes some great room for worry, at least from the perspective of one sworn to defend the Constitution.

Senator Arlen Specter has changed party, leaving the Republicans and joining the Democrats. While Specter has stated that he will not be an automatic vote, the balance of power has certainly shifted such that a filibuster has become incredibly unlikely. Equally worrisome is the announcement that Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, a 1990 appointment by President George H. W. Bush, intends to retire.

Why do these moves, by two single members of two different branches of the federal government, provide room for worry? Each change ultimately results in a lack of effective opposition. Such a lack of opposition has proven, time and time again, to be greatly detrimental to workings of this country. Left unchecked both parties have, on several occasions, crippled the United States. The Executive Branch is now steered entirely by a welfare-liberal administration. Counting the two conservative cabinet-level members as balance would be foolish at best. The Legislative Branch has come to a similar fate, with both houses controlled by the welfare-liberal ideology. Following the first Supreme Court appointment opportunity to be given to President Barack Obama, the rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States will also likely follow the welfare-liberal ideology (rather than the text to which it should adhere).

Now, much can be said about the path that ultimately led to this end. The Republican Party has been on a self-destruct course for several years, ignoring their constituency at every turn. As it stands now the leadership is hardly worthy of the title, and the party stands fractured at every level. There exists no major platform from which one may push for a return to the principles of a conservative (or classical-liberal) movement. While the Democratic Party is by no means a cohesive unit with a singular and clear focus, the party is far more united in purpose and intent. Combine that with a leadership immensely popular within their voter base, and you have a strong platform from which you may push forward a welfare-liberal agenda.

Where we go from here will be interesting, though I fear without meaningful oversight the potential for wrong turns to result in catastrophe has risen exponentially.

Lion’s Club Tube Rental Fire, San Marcos, Texas

The cause of the fire is unknown thus far. Large parts of the building are severely damaged. Read more at The University Star.

Light Talk

For the benefit of anyone interested in off-camera lighting, but hesitant to dive into the greatness that is, I have taken a few photos to demonstrate very basic lighting in both a three light, and single light setup. Setting these shots up took less than 5 minutes, and can be done literally anywhere. If you are a photographer and you want to offer more, for less, I would strongly advise buying at least one of the wireless Strobist kits available at Midwest Photo Exchange.

This is straight out of the camera, and while the background is not completely white throughout, fixing the right edge is trivial at best. Even a tighter crop would fix the “problem” in an instant.

Ill break down this photo in this post.

I'll break down this photo in this post.

The background:

First thing first, if you have access to a white (or grey) wall, you can do almost anything. Firing a strobe into said wall will give you a perfect background for headshots, and just about anything else. You can also gel the strobe for different color backgrounds, or do the same later in post. I like taking whichever approach requires the least work after the fact, so I go for gels whenever possible.

Strobe + Wall = Background!

Strobe + Wall = Background!

Popping light into the background can also help add texture and help your subject pop out. In a single light situation, I am generally always inclined to use that light on a background surface for a different dynamic. Sure, you could bounce into the ceiling for a nice soft light – but that is not very exciting. Sometimes it is totally appropriate, but sometimes it just is not even possible (think of a black ceiling – your bouncing will not do much there). Examples of both techniques below.

Single light, into the background.

Single light, into the background.

Single strobe, bounced into the ceiling.

Single strobe, bounced into the ceiling.

Lighting the subject:

Back to the insta-studio setup. Once you have the background situated, you will need to get some light onto your subject. One of the easiest, and fastest solutions is to put two light sources at 45˚ to your subject’s left and right, and have one be providing about twice as much light as the other. You can get far more specific, but where lighting ratios are concerned, that will get you in the ball park.

If you are cramped for space, as is often the case, use a shoot-through umbrella for the main light and bounce into an umbrella for fill. The stands will be in roughly the same position, but the fill umbrella ends up roughly twice as far away as the main light. I do this often to keep both 285HVs at the same (and usually lowest) power setting so my refresh times are the same for both lights. If you are shooting AC monolights, this is not nearly as much of a problem.

Umbrellas setup as described above.

Umbrellas setup as described above.

Now all of that is easy to see in the setup shot, but for some (myself included) it helps to see exactly what each light is doing. Pay attention to the captions below (series shot at ISO 200, f8, 1/200s):

No lights firing

No lights firing

Background light only - note that some fill has spilled in as it bounced back off the umbrellas

Background light only - note that some fill has spilled in as it bounced back off the umbrellas

Main and Background Light

Main and Background Light

Fill and Background Light

Fill and Background Light

Main and Fill Light

Main and Fill Light

You have seen this already. All three lights firing.

You have seen this already. All three lights firing.

That is about all there is to it. If you seek more information, I will again direct you to because there is far more information there. This is just the tip of the iceberg. When you dive below the surface, you will come to love light. You will also start to see everything in a different way. Pretty cool!

Blame it all on my roots…

Don’t worry, I’m not going to break into song here. This is another one of my “I’ve recently made a very large/important decision and should probably let folks know” posts. Long story short, I’m changing my major – again. If you’re keeping count, this makes four. Though the total is still really only three, it will be the fourth time I’ve changed. How is that possible? I’m going back to where it all started, literally.

Eight years ago, I was a freshman at The University of Texas at Arlington. My major? Mechanical Engineering. If you’ve known me that long, you know how well that turned out. Sure, I could say I was shocked by the tragic events that occurred right at the onset of my college career. That wouldn’t even be a lie, but that would hardly provide sufficient explanation for the worst year of my academic life. The fact of the matter is I just didn’t care as much about school as I should have. I wanted a motorcycle, and I wanted new guitar toys. I spent far more time working to fulfill those goals than I did to pass calculus.

Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of growing up since then. I still have my ridiculously expensive hobbies, and I still tend to do what I can to make sure what I want is what I get. The difference is I can actually manage my time now, and usually manage to convince myself that what I know is a stupid idea is in fact a stupid idea. Oh, I also listen to my Dad a lot more at 25 than I did at 18. It would seem he’s become much smarter recently. Must have something to do with technology.

So how does this culminate in another change in my major? I can’t very well claim to know exactly what it is I want to do, but I can say that I feel a degree in mechanical engineering would give me far more options than a degree in journalism. To put it another way, there is no reason I’d be unable to write for the sorts of publications or audiences for whom I’d like to write if I had a degree in engineering. There are, however, numerous reasons I’d be unable to work on a number of other things I’d like to do if I only had a degree in journalism. What it all boils down to is optimizing my potential.

All of that said, I’ve recently (read: today) completed applications for Fall ’09 at The University of Texas at Arlington and Spring ’10 at The University of Texas. At both, I’ve declared intent to major in mechanical engineering. Since I love the Austin area, even if it is the only place on the planet in which I suffer from allergies, I’d like to finish the degree at UT. I missed the deadline for Fall ’09 applications, so I will go back to UT Arlington. Should UT Austin accept me for engineering in Spring ’10, I will only be at UT Arlington for a semester. If they do not, I will finish my degree at UT Arlington. I will be in school for longer this way, but I think in the long run it will be worth it.


Ammo, originally uploaded by Anthony J. Martinez.

Cost has gone through the roof, and availability has gone through the floor.

I have been foolishly dismissing the talk of scarce ammo as ranting and raving, but that illusion has passed.

Today, I went to find some range ammo for a few of my guns and was met with many empty shelves. There was no 9mm of any variety to be found. Prospects for the .45ACP were little better. Even calibers people do not typically carry were either completely out of stock, or very close to out of stock.

Normally things like this would not be an issue, because I’d just buy components and load my own ammo. Sadly, I can’t find primers anywhere. My reloading press is pretty useless at the moment.

Vehicle Accident, Sessom and Pleasant, San Marcos, Texas.

Sessom Wreck, originally uploaded by Anthony J. Martinez.

Wet roads and blind turns result in a four vehicle accident at the intersection of Sessom Drive and Pleasant Street. More information at The University Star.

Tea Party 2009

Tea Party, 2009, originally uploaded by Anthony J. Martinez.

Students from Texas State University speak out against the Federal Reserve while supporting H.R. 1207, a bill calling for an audit of recent Federal Reserve activity. More from The University Star.

The search is on… calling all audio/video geniuses.

For the next several hours (days) I will pour over hundreds of reviews online seeking the perfect HD camcorder for use by field reporters. If this is sounds like something up your alley, by all means hit me with whatever you know. The best bang for the buck is somewhat crucial, but at this stage it should not require one to break the bank in order to get good quality for on-location reporting.

1080p at 30fps would be nice, and the ability to take external audio is crucial. Suggestions for portable (and wireless) audio solutions to be used during interviews are also highly encouraged.

Another thing that needs to be addressed is backups. Right now we have several hundred gigs of raw HD footage, and none of it is backed up. That is not good. Backup solution of choice for a Mac Pro acting as a video workstation would be a….. ?

Happy Easter!

Right now I’m sitting in the back of my parents’ Accord headed back towards Katy after Easter with our family in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area. There wouldn’t be anything noteworthy about that normally. I’ve spent many an Easter the same way, just not in recent years. In the last five years, this is the first Easter I’ve spent at home free from any concerns about a DRB recall or some other Army issue looming overhead. Then there were the two Easters I spent in Iraq, hoping I wouldn’t have to test that whole ressurection thing out myself.

While I could accurately be called a CEO (Christmas & Easter Only), I still value the time with my family. Religious or not, I hope everyone enjoyed their families this weekend. I know I did.

Staying Busy

In order to avoid irrational behavior in the face of extreme boredom (see my actions around the ides of March, 2003, for an example), I’ve been keeping myself all kinds of busy. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to start redesigning my entire web presence, and move a few projects from the back burner to the front. Of course, some of those projects require me to use tools with which I am unfamiliar and that leads to more busy work. Lately I’ve been watching any and every video tutorial I can find on the majority of Adobe CS4 Design Premium’s application suite. Once I figure out how that all works together, things should start moving more smoothly.

This semester has been quite easy, at least in terms of low stress. Staying on the Dean’s List is highly probable, though I’m not too sure I’ll manage to maintain my 4.0. There is a possibility, but I may slip a B in somewhere this semester. In Summer 1, I will be taking ‘Writing for Mass Media’ and ‘Publication Design & Production.’ Right now, I’m also trying to decide what to take in the Fall 2009 semester. Finishing my undergrad as soon as possible is something of a priority for me, despite the massive job loss recently seen in my field of interest.

Anyhow, I’ve not blogged in a while so I figured I’d post a short update. When I settle into some kind of groove, I will post a few more news updates, but for now I’ll operate on the notion that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. If you’re interested in what is going on in the world, there are plenty of places you can find the information you seek. I’ve linked plenty of options in the recent past.

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