Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fujifilm FinePix X100...

When Debbie and I first planned our imminent vacation (back in December), I decided that this time I was going to bring along a point-and-shoot camera.  This thought came from two things: the desire for a decent camera small enough for me to carry everywhere on the trip, and the evolution of digital cameras to the point where a great camera could be made in a very small form factor.

So I did my research, not having kept up all that much with camera development.  I settled on a camera that was due for release in March, but had been extensively previewed and reviewed: the Fujifilm FinePix X100.  It looked like everything I wanted: high-quality, well-constructed, small, and simple – but capable of some very fancy photography when I wanted it.  I placed my pre-order, happy to wait until March.  That would give me plenty of time to get familiar with it before our vacation.

Then came the earthquake.  Amongst the more trivial of its effects was the delay of shipments on my camera.  Until yesterday, I still had no idea when it might show up.  Just a few days ago, Debbie and I discussed an alternative plan: I'd buy a readily available, less expensive point-and-shoot camera for the trip, and she'd use it for her dog shows afterwards. 

But yesterday afternoon I got a very nice email: my camera was being shipped, and should arrive on June 8 (next Wednesday).  They couldn't have timed this much more closely – I'll have the camera for just two weeks before leaving on vacation! 

I've got some practicing to do...

Chaparral Morning...

Debbie and I slept in a bit this morning; I didn't get outside with the dogs until dawn brightened the eastern sky.  The valley was gorgeous – wisps of mist here and there, as the evening humidity hit its peak. 

The normal summer cycle out here in the high desert chaparral is for high humidity at night (often 100%) and extremely low humidity (usually under 5%) during the day.  The transitions, both at night and in the morning, are extremely fast, driven by the sun's power disappearing at night and reappearing in the morning.  One result: it's common for us to see these beautiful morning mist and fog effects.

Our yard is full of things to see, hear, and smell.  The palo verde tree in our front yard is erupting into bloom.  Wildflowers, especially monkeyflowers, are out all over the place.  Because of our winter rains, all the native plants are showing very strong new growth.  I see manzanitas with as much as 5 inches of new growth, a very large amount for them.  The mosses on the rocks are still tinged with green, leftover from the rain last week.  That won't last long, though – another few days and they'll look like black paint on the rocks. 

The pines we recently trimmed look very different than they did.  Now the lowest branches are 20 feet or more high, and there are elegant trunks in plain sight.  The biggest impact, though, is that the hillside formerly hidden behind the pine branches is now fully exposed to view – a lovely vista of Mother Nature's art, with rocks that a sculptor would envy, a half-dozen mature manzanitas shamelessly displaying their red trunks, deep green ceanothus bushes, and splashes of wildflowers here and there.  The dominant wildflowers are the pale orange monkeyflowers, in perhaps a dozen bunches covering a total of about 100 square feet.  Lovely things, they are.

And then there's the early morning smells, one of my favorite things about the chaparral.  In the morning there's usually a gentle downhill breeze, with cool, moist air drifting down to the valleys.  Many of the chaparral plants – but most especially the sages – have sharp and distinct smells.  In the main, these are pleasant and attractive smells.  They are at their absolute best on these early mornings, being carried to my nose by the wafting air, and enhanced by the high humidity.  This morning they were superb.

As usual, the three brown dogs were fully absorbed in the odiferous universe.  They never saw the covey of quail running away, about 50 feet to our west.  Nor did they see the baby rabbit hopping frantically up the hill from us.  Racer, focused on a pine cone he captured, completely ignored the smells.  He saw both the quail and the rabbit, and went on full alert very briefly – just long enough to decide that the pine cone was more fun.

Debbie's “down the hill” in Bonita today, competing with Miki and Racer in an agility meet.  Just talked with her on the phone; she saw lots of wildlife today on the drive out of our valley.  She also had news that seems more important to us now that we're soon going to drive several thousand miles: the price of gasoline at the Steele Canyon 7/11 has now dropped to below $4 a gallon ($3.99, to be precise).  It's been a while since we've seen that...

Whatever Happened to the Successors of...

...the minstrel poets of my youth (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Joan Baez, etc., etc.)?

I'm sitting here in 2011 listening to Joni Mitchell's Clouds, an album I first listened to over 40 years ago, in the late '60s.  So far as I'm aware, there's nothing like that sort of poetic music, with meaningful and thought-provoking lyrics, being produced today.  Am I just unaware of it?  Or is it really that much out of fashion today?
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on every one
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions that I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

My parents thought of Joni Mitchell as radical, and would not let me play her albums in our house. I had a record player (with a tube amplifier and electrodynamic speakers!) set up in an old chicken shack that we converted to an electronic workshop for me. There I could play all that radical music, like Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and (gasp) Three Dog Night!

Steyn on Weiner...

Classic Mark Steyn piece.  A sample:
It's the political class doing all this relentless "work for the American people" that's turned this country into the brokest nation in the history of the planet, killed the American Dream and left the American people headed for a future poised somewhere between the Weimar Republic and Mad Max. So, if it's a choice between politicians getting back to work for the American people or Tweeting their privates round the planet, I say, Tweet on, MacDuff. Tough on our young college ladies. But, as Queen Victoria advised her daughter on her wedding night, lie back and think of England. Download and think of America.