A tale of two covers

Now, I know I’ve ragged about the shameful quality of Newsweek magazine’s covers over the last year or so, but this week brought another disastrous example.

And it can’t be just the financial straits of the company – they did a great job last week with the “Mad Men” cover (and the retro ads throughout the issue; just brilliant). So they are up to the job.

And Time magazine, which is Newsweek’s closest competitor, is in the same boat as Newsweek (hemorrhaging readers/ad dollars), so comparing their covers should be a pretty much apples-to-apples job.

Well, here are the first issues of April 2012 for each magazine; you decide:


Any questions? Time’s cover is minimalist but well laid out; good contrast.

Newsweek’s is a grainy picture with some helvetica condensed italic type slapped on randomly. It looks like I designed the cover – about 20 years ago. Just awful.

Which would you rather read?

Putting the chore to bed

That is to say, this year two of our three raised garden beds needed replacing.

After 10 years, the wood – just normal construction pine – was falling apart.

Learned some lessons:

  • Thought I built it out of 2x10s. Nope, 2x12s (still worked fine, but next time….)
  • Over the years, the wood stretched a bit – we had to trim the dirt around the beds to get the frame to fit. When it comes time to replace the third bed, I’m going to buy three 2x12x10(ft) lengths, and frame it out for the existing space and then just use the saws-all to trim off the extra.

Live and learn!

Without any further ado, the garden beds:

Beds before

Beds after

Review: What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw

What the Dog Saw is a collection of Malcolm Gladwell essays, all of which were previously published in The New Yorker magazine.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure why I purchased this book (via Amazon…). I’ve read excepts of Gladwell’s writings for years – he’s big with the geek set – but I don’t know if, until this book, I’d ever read a full article/book by Gladwell.

Wow. I’ve been missing some outstanding writing/content.

Let’s break that last sentence down: Gladwell, like John McPhee and E.B. White, writes in a manner that makes you ignore the writing. Nothing fancy, no need to impress, just getting the story across is a very clean, sometimes-stark manner. Herman Melville has more “writing” in any three consecutive graphs of Moby Dick than Gladwell has in the entire book.

And in both cases, that’s a good thing. Different stories to tell.

And that’s – the story to tell – is the “outstanding content” part I was referring to: While McPhee often writes about big issues (taming the Mississippi in The Control of Nature, for example), Gladstone often spins tales about weird little issues and how they came about.

Why are there only a handful of ketchups but a gazillion mustards?

Does criminal profiling really work?

What’s the story behind the birth-control pill? Or hair color?

Gladwell’s got ya covered, and always in a very accessible manner.

One of Gladwell’s basic techniques is to take something that is a basic given (homelessness can be helped/solved with basic safety-net programs; too many students per classroom are a teacher’s largest challenge), and then gradually introduce information – via studies/interviews – that slowly peck away at these so-called truths.

At the end, you’ll have a new appreciation for the issue and – to be honest – a lack of clarity about the solution. Why? Because the data Gladwell presents flies in the face of what is bandied about as reality. He presents a compelling argument, yet…

Gladwell also hones in on – as he’ll admit, often by accident – stories that come out of left field. The ketchup vs. mustard issue. His hair color story came out of an attempt to write an article about shampoo, but the direction changed. And the result is a great article.

It’s one of those books that, to some degree, you’re sorry you’ve read: Because you’ll never again have the pleasure of reading it for the first time. To me, that’s high praise.

Magnolia mess


It was a great year for all magnolia trees in the neighborhood, ours included.

This is probably due to a combination of a very easy winter, and temperatures that – for the last half-dozen or so days – have been over 80 degrees. Yeah, in March. It’s 83 degrees right now.

This picture was taken a couple of days ago, when the blossoming was at its peak. After that, the blossoms drop and create a slimy mess below/around the tree.

Today, the weather was right for putting down the first lawn treatment (yeah, again, way early this year), but the blossoms were coming down off the tree like it was snowing.

Now, I needed to fertilize the lawn, not the carpet of petals.

So – a section at a time – I had to quickly rake the petals onto the sidewalk/driveway, fertilize that area, and move on.

And then rake up all the slimy petals.

What fun.

But it beats crabgrass, which this feeding is supposed to suppress.

Photo finish(ed)

For those of you who (for whatever demented reason) have followed this blog, or know me (ditto), I think you’ll agree that I’m not a Luddite.

Sometimes behind the curve (getting a smart phone), or ahead of the curve (the first to get a Gmail account).


Let’s talk digital photography vs. film.

With automation/digital you can take blah blah a million pics for no cost some pics will be good. Agreed. Awesome.

But this digital freedom comes at a cost.

Garbage Can/Snow

Framing: By this, I mean taking the time/effort to actually take the picture that seems like a good picture. With “no roll” cameras, this sometimes goes out the window: You can take a zillion pics and (later) pic the best. But I used to go into the woods with my 4×5 view camera with 12 double-sided film holders (24 shots; less than a regular 36-shot roll of 35mm film). While I always carried extra film and a changing bag, I never needed it. Under those constraints, I took so much time to frame the pic, set the depth of field, wait for the sun to move beyond the tree … etc. Totally different. While I love that I can burn digitally through dozens of rolls of formerly physical film photographing this or that, the best pics I’ve taken – digitally – have been very heavily composed. Focus on this, not that. Make sure the fence is/isn’t in frame. And so on.

Take this sorta artsy picture of a trash can in the snow, with the shadows from the snow fence falling on the snow. Notice how the snow fence shadows line up with the ribs of the garbage can? Very much on purpose, and – to me – a better pic for making this effort.


Mode choice: BW vs color. Sure, can convert, but if you shoot – intentionally – in BW you’re thinking differently than if color. You look at light and shadows in a very different way. If doing color, more of a shades of colors, juxtaposition of yellow vs. blue and so on.

In the picture to the right, I made a very conscious decision to use a black and white – actually, infrared (IR) – camera. This picture would have been considerable different if it had been taken gray scale or in color. Might have been good, but not what I was looking for.


Depth of field: Makes all the difference in non-I’m-here-with-my-friends pics. Pic of a woman/cat/tree with just one important part in focus, the rest softer. Harder, but more powerful – less “capture the moment” snapshot pics and more of here’s what I think is important [for whatever reason]. (NOTE: both are good; just different).

In this nasturtium picture, I deliberately focused on the flower only, leaving the background/stem fuzzy: Now you look at the blossom only.

No end of roll: The best portrait pics are those when you tell the subject that there are just a few frames left, just chill … and magic. With digital, there is no “end of roll.” On the non-Luddite side, you can take a zillion pics, and three might be great, vs. one or so pics in a couple of rolls of film. Coin toss to a degree, but it’s a tool (…hey, almost end of roll, relax.) that’s now gone.

I actually don’t have that good an example of this to show right now (need to scan same): I haven’t done too many portraits, and they have not gone as well as I would have hoped. I’m more of a nature/architecture photographer.

Just sayin’


I made a couple of fixes to my at-home tools that I use to update my hosted sites this evening.

Nothing remarkable; not worth telling the story.

Except this: Thanks to the way I had architected it all, the changes – though good for me – took virtually no time and didn’t adversely affect anything.

That’s a win in my book!

But I’m a dork…