Saturday, April 26, 2008

Holy Bleep

I actually said that when I opened the photograph below. Not "holy (swear word usually bleeped out)" but "holy bleep." Since I occasionally have to appear on live television, I've found that it's better not to have any words in my vocabulary that could prove troublesome should I utter them on the air.

So I really say things like "bleep" and "blank," such as "I'm blanking Matt Damon," which is Sarah Silverman's line, not mine but used here as an example. Given the choice, I'd blank Sarah Silverman. I don't think she's funny (if you've never heard of her, she's allegedly a comedienne but one who seems not to grasp that people prefer their comedy to be funny) but as far as comediennes go she'd rank high on the "to do" list. I'd totally blank her.

I went to Tampa Bay Downs, where horses with miniature humans on their backs race around an oval and where my father makes numerous trips to visit someone he calls his "short-term investment broker." Charles Schwab works on Saturdays? I don't know what he's laying his money on but it must be going well. He's offered to buy my mother a new car.

I've been wasting any extra money lately on camera equipment so I haven't asked Dad if his "broker" has any investment opportunities for me. I go to hang out with him and to try to learn how to use my camera.

My biggest camera lens doesn't get me close to the horses until they're close to me, by which time they're moving too quickly for me to get a good focus or framing on them. Why won't they slow down! Then again, instead of taking pictures of the horses, most of the venue's other patrons seem to enjoy yelling profanities at them as they pass. I would run from that too.

Photographing the horses is a hit-or-miss proposition and I can't tell as I'm doing it if I'm getting any hits at all. After a race when Dad asks, "Did you get any shots?" I answer honestly that I won't know until I look at them when I get home.

So imagine my wonderment as I click through the files and among the too-far-away, too-out-of focus or too-poorly-framed shots suddenly this fills the screen:

Yeah, that's what I said. Sort of.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sorry Again Mr. Squirrel

For distracting you from the other squirrel who wanted to steal your nut.

Which he did for a moment before you snatched it back and scurried up a branch, leaving your rival sitting nutless in a tree at the USF Botanical Garden in Tampa.

A friend wrote asking why there had been no blog entries for a week. I wrote back: "Be glad your life is more interesting than mine."

Case in point:

That's where I spent Friday night and half of Saturday. And I know what you're thinking.

Madman! What a party animal!

It's an edit suite at WEDU, Tampa's PBS affiliate. The station's regular editor was on vacation. His freelance substitute was willing to work at night and on Saturday so instead of drunken karaoke -- with me doing the karaoke and everyone else, if they're smart, doing the drinking -- we were editing a feature story about the Adaptive Golf Foundation of America.

Someone get that guy's car keys before he goes out and kills somebody!

But nobody thought to get my keys so about 10 p.m. Saturday night I got into my car and went looking for places to take more night shots of downtown Tampa. I found some.

The next day back at WEDU, peeking at the photos on my laptop, I noticed that many of the shots were blurry. Noticed in passing, of course, as my attention focused laser-like on what the editor was doing. "What? Oh, yeah, sure. That shot looks great there. Can I see it again?"*

How did that happen? Not the video edit. How could I have shot so many photographs out of focus?

I told you he was drunk.

We finished editing the story around 2 p.m. -- too late to go to the local horse-racing track to see if my father was hanging out there and too early to drive out to Clearwater Beach and wait for the sunset. Instead I went to the USF Botanical Garden to see if any butterflies would pose for pictures.

Whaddya know? They did. And, whaddya know? Most of these came out blurry too! I am obviously retarded. (My apologies to anyone offended by my use of the term -- especially retarded people unfairly maligned by the comparison. I can hear them now. "I am waaay smarter than that moron!")

When I described the problem to my brother Jim, he explained that the problem was my ISO. I don't know ISO from an ice cream cone but in this context, he must have been talking about a camera setting. He cited a tip from a book that I own -- and have read -- suggesting a different setting that would keep more of the frame in focus.

OK, he's not a drunk. He really is retarded.

The next morning I went out to try again. Every day on the way to work I cross a bridge that spans the Alafia River and I've noticed the reflections of the riverside piers on the calm water. Morning is a gentler time of day and this shows it.

While shooting out here, I noticed that when I zoomed out to the lens' widest angle, everything went out of focus. Nothing I tried would fix it. It appeared that Friday night's blurry photos had less to do with my absent-mindedness than with a problem with the camera lens. I guess that's good because, unlike my retardation, there is a cure for the lens problem. And since the lens is only a few months old, it should still be under warranty.

Later in the morning I went to "The Kitchen" where few butterflies made even a flyby. I shot a few honeybees going about their daily chores before going to the gym to do one of mine.

I was tired enough when I got home to see if the cat was up for a sleeping contest. But with yesterday's blurry photos from the USF Botanical Garden still sticking in my craw, I drove up there to try again.

Of course this time the sun was harsher and the butterflies were fewer. But more of the shots I took came back focused so that was a plus.

What's the bottom line here? I'm not a drunk. I may be retarded. And one of my camera lenses needs repair. Aren't you glad you read all that?


*The editor himself described watching someone edit as ranking somewhere on the excitement scale between watching grass grow and watching paint dry. Only with those other two the viewer doesn't have to hear the same snippet of audio repeating numerous times. The editor had a script so I left him alone unless something something demanded my attention.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sorry Mr. Squirrel

John McQuiston Photograph
I didn't mean to wake you from your nap.

John McQuiston Photograph
I had my camera with me at work one day recently when I planned to shoot the sunset. On a break I walked outside and saw a squirrel camped on a low branch of a tree. I got my camera and approached. He didn't seem to mind. Then just as I focused he jumped up and ran away. I thought it he had fled from me at first but then I saw what really spooked him -- another squirrel.

An hour or so later I went back outside (everyone else in the office had gone on a long lunch break) and found my squirrel again. His branch was higher up but he seemed relaxed enough when I snapped the first shot. Only when I moved to shoot him from a different angle did he perk up with alarm.

That went better than my attempt to shoot the sunset later. "The Kitchen" might be a good venue when there's a dramatic sky. But on a clear night I'm only going to get a glowing fiery ball with what look like water towers along the ground.

John McQuiston Photograph
I didn't color correct the photo; that's how the camera saw it. But you can see there's not enough there to make it worth the bug bites I had to endure to get it. And, yeah, I've heard of bug repellent. It works on mosquitoes but the tiny biters that chewed me up weren't deterred a bit.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Millionaires - Pt. Deux

We shot more of our WEDU story on the ironically named Sarasota Millionaires semi-pro football team Wednesday. I mentioned that at the team's last game the venue had no locker rooms and the players had to dress for the game in the parking lot. That was not a unique experience. They've had practice at it -- dressing for practice.

John McQuiston Photograph
See? I'm not making this up. We interviewed four players, including running back Calvin Williams, who also co-owns the team and who -- all 5'7" of him -- at age 31 still believes he has a future in the NFL. Then again, if he doesn't believe it, who will?

The other three players had a more realistic outlook. This is not a career move for them. It's a way to keep what may have been the highlights of their lives alive a little longer. By day, Michael Peterson does tree trimming and lawn care. On this team he is still the star quarterback whose dazzling scrambles lead his team to victories.

The players have to have their own insurance and since this isn't a paying job, there's no workman's comp if they suffer an injury. All the players said they understood that risking their limbs meant risking their livelihoods. They know the stakes are higher but wanting to play outweighs the danger.

Ronnie Fincher pointed out that people could get hurt in car crashes or other accidents. He would know. In his job, the 38-year-old married father works as a Sarasota firefighter.

We plan to follow Ronnie and perhaps Michael (called "Mike Pete" by everyone on the team) through part of a regular workday. This will draw the stark contrast between their ordinary lives and their unusual "hobby," as one player called it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Solicitation Tees Me Off (a.k.a. I Had Too Much Time on My Hands)

(sent to


I live in the (our development's name) community near your franchise on Causeway Boulevard in Brandon, Florida. When I went to get my mail this evening, I found guest passes from Planet Beach Scotch-taped to almost every mailbox in our mail kiosk.

Solicitation is not permitted in our development. Don't worry, though. As you can see in the attached photo, I collected all but a handful of them and disposed of them before they littered our community.

I am sure that it took your associate "RS" even more time to tape the cards in place than it did for me to take them down. I would prefer not to have to do it again; but I will. Please save us both the effort -- not to mention the costs of printing your snazzy cards -- and skip our community next time you send someone out to canvass neighborhoods.

Your help in this matter is appreciated.



John McQuiston Photograph

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Good Evening

John McQuiston Photograph
I played piano for more than an hour tonight. Just noodling around. I also went to the gym and drove to Isabel Avenue to try to catch the sunset with my camera. We didn't get much of one but it was worth the short drive from the gym to "The Kitchen," which is the nonsensical name of the county-owned preserve along Tampa Bay that offers the best venue near me to see sunsets unobstructed by power lines, light poles or buildings.

I've been telling myself that I need to reallocate some of the time I spend at the gym to more creative endeavors. I don't want to give you the impression that I'm a workout freak but I do spend an hour or so at the gym 4 to 5 times a week. I'm sorry to say I haven't been that devoted to my guitar, piano, video making or picture taking -- combined.

That needs to change. Working out is good for the body and the brain but it's more artistic pursuits* that enrich the soul. I'd have recorded some of the music but I haven't been able to get my new super powered, super cool and (relatively) super quiet new computer to record audio or play MIDI (computer music) files properly.

So you're spared that. But if the Flash plug-in in your browser works, you will be subjected to my attempts over the weekend to photograph bees and butterflies at The Kitchen. I include the sign not only to prove that I'm not making that up but because it stayed still enough that I'm reasonably confident that I got a clear focus on it.

* Note that I am pursuing art. I'm not saying I'm anywhere close to catching it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Millionaires

Saturday we began shooting another story for WEDU's A Gulf Coast Journal. I first typed "we shot another story..." but most of these stories are not one-shoot deals.

This one's about a semi-pro football team called the Sarasota Millionaires. They were playing in St. Petersburg against the St. Pete Sharks. The public athletic complex that hosted the game was only about 30 miles from Raymond James Stadium where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' home games happen but the gulf between semi-pro football and the NFL is immeasurable.

It was immediately obvious, however, long before kickoff. The complex has no locker rooms so players on both teams dressed at their cars in the parking lot.

The Millionaires' nickname is ironic since no one will get rich playing on the team. In fact, the players have to pay a fee to the team!

A husband-and-wife co-own the franchise. Bethsaida Williams runs the team; Calvin Williams is a running back on the team. He's 31, which makes him older than most of his teammates but far from the oldest. Calvin told me one guy is 39 and another is 42.

I teased Calvin about the "C" on his jersey. "Is that for 'co-owner?'"

"No," he said. "It's for 'captain.'"

"That must be one of the perks of ownership," I said. "They have to make you a captain." I was kidding but Calvin was serious in his denial and insisted that he had to earn his playing time.

The team's starting safety, Mo Harris, graduated from Sarasota Riverview High School in 1999. That means I probably saw him play when I reported sports for WFLA in the late 90s. Mo later played college ball at Eastern Michigan but, unlike some of his younger teammates, he's not hanging on to an ever-diminishing dream of playing for pay.

When I asked him why he was out here, he said simply, "I've always played football" while shaking his head as if he didn't quite know himself. But I understood. With any luck so will people who watch the story when it airs. We'll do on camera interviews Wednesday before the team's practice. While the photographer shot the game, I tried shooting still shots. Luckily, the story's success did not hinge on my ability to capture action with my camera.

(The slide show below works in Firefox. It may not show up in Internet Explorer.)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Project Cure

As promised, here is the most recent edition of WEDU's monthly magazine A Gulf Coast Journal.

The story I produced is the one about the retired husband and wife neurosurgeon and nurse who volunteer for an organization called Project Cure. It comes about 14:50 into the show. (The first story in the show runs more than 12-and-a-half minutes.) To skip forward to there, press the play button. The running time will display. Then you can move the slider up to any spot in the show and play it from that point.

Yes, I realize that the opening montage of shots of African hospital patients set to music that dissolve with no explanation to the person at the storage space may not make sense. The opening narration was one of the parts that did not survive the story's editing.

I had written: "A child lying sick in an African Hospital does not have access to the wonders of modern medicine that we do. But in some poor countries that is changing. And the road to better health care in places like this begins very close to home."

Then we were supposed to go to the shot of the story's subject, Judy Kraut, at the storage space in Sarasota County, the "very close to home" where the road to better health care in developing countries begins. I might have opted to shorten some of the soundbites later in the story to preserve the voice-over introduction but those decisions aren't mine. It's their playground and I'm grateful they include me in the games.

Shooting Spot

John McQuiston Photograph
The coming summer rainy season often give us spectacular cloud formations. This isn't one of them. The point of this photograph is to show what may be a good vantage point near my home to shoot sunsets and sky shots.

Tucked at the dead end of Isabel Avenue in Gibsonton, a county-owned conservation area abuts Tampa Bay. A large mound of earth rises as a perch from which you can spy the horizon. The preserve also features a wide variety of trees and other foliage with man-made structures nowhere in sight unless you're standing on the hill.

John McQuiston Photograph
I saw honey bees. Unfortunately, the point-and-shoot camera I had with me couldn't capture them. I'm lucky that it shot anything. Its LCD screen went on the fritz and now I can't control any of the camera's settings and I have just a small viewfinder to frame shots.

But next time I see a promising sky, I know where to take my real camera to try to get shots of it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The April Fool

Just for April Fool's Day, Annie vomited on the dining room carpet. Actually, the cat doesn't need a special occasion to puke, sneeze or scratch on some part of my house. Goodness, does she require a lot of work for a low-maintenance animal.

Annie went through a phase recently during which she refused to eat unless I held the food in the palm of my hand. When I related this to my brother Jim he told me that I was going way too far to accommodate my whiny, unsociable and sickly little cat and suggested that I was stuck with a defective pet. OK, he didn't suggest it; he came right out and said, "you have a bad cat."

Later that night, with Annie sitting on my lap, I shared Jim's comments with her. Her retort, clearly expressed with one glance? "I didn't exactly hit the lottery when I got you."