Randolph Engineering Aviator

Like a few million other guys my age, I grew up with the legend of American Astronauts. But, even though I respected guys like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin it was the Mercury and pre-Mercury guys like Chuck Yeager and L. Gordon Cooper who really got me going.

Cooper was regarded as the best pure stick & rudder guy of the Mercury era and he held the record for lowest heart rate during take off of any of the Mercury or Gemini astronauts. Now, maybe that just meant that Cooper was dumb but it always seemed like seemed like tough & unflappable to me. More than anything, the guy just looked like an American pilot and I’m sure Cooper very much saw himself as a pilot first and an astronaut second.

Anyway, the man had style.

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And, the thing is, I needed new sunglasses. Like needed…like I lost one of my go-to shades. I looked around for a current version of the cheaters Cooper wore back in the day and I came up with Randolph Engineering.

What? Sunglasses that are made in the US?

I know; totally crazy. I’ve owned French sunglasses, Italian sunglasses, German sunglasses and doubtlessly many pairs made in China. But, unless I had (and surely later lost) an old pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers from back in the early 80s I’m pretty sure I’ve never owned a pair of US-made shades until now. Who knows? Maybe Ray-Bans were already made off shore even back then.

Sure, I could have maybe scoped out a better deal online but I decided to go old school and cruised over to the local Randolph stockist right here in the West Val. The optometrist owns a pair of Randolphs himself and said that he brought the line in because he thought the idea of US-made sunglasses was cool, as do I.

There are a lot of options but I chose to ignore most of them and confined my choices to frames: flat black, matte chrome or bright chrome. The black, even though it’s my default color choice in everything except cars, kind of hid some of the contours of the frame. The bright chrome rocked out loud but since I do not I passed on those shiny beauties. The matte chrome shows the frames off nicely so I snatched them up.

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The Aviators fit me beautifully and they fairly scream quality as well as faultless fabrication and assembly. You can truly feel the pride of the people who made them and that’s worth a lot to me. I was a bit uncertain about the straight temples but my doubts evaporated once i slipped them on.

It got me wondering, why do they make curved temples when straight is so dang comfy?

Randolph makes the Aviator in three sizes and I found the middle size to be just right. My final justification for the buy was the fact that the Aviator can be used with prescription lenses. Someday, but not today, I’ll need prescription lenses to navigate the highways and byways of California and when I do I’ll be set with my Randolph Aviators.

The more I think about it, the better value the Randolphs are. When you factor in the US manufacture and the lifetime warranty they cross into the realm of how do they manage to sell them for the price? In fact, I may end up with another pair if I’m not careful.

If you find yourself short a pair of sunglasses, do yourself a favor and check out the Randolph Aviators. I am digging them and I’m a very hard man to please.

 

 

Randolph Engineering Aviator

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Photos of mine have been captured by Elickr’s Explore algorithm a handful of times. Each time I wonder why for a few moments before I remind myself that a computer program can’t see photos, derive possible relevance, think about or consider what the photographer may have been thinking about when the shutter was pressed.

That makes me think, why would anyone care whether one of their photos made it into Explore? I can’t come up with a reason that a photographer would be motivated to try to get his images into Flickr that could possibly relate to the quality of his photography.

After all, who could possibly aspire to impress a computer’s programming?

It’s easy to imagine one possible motivation residing in a miniature version of Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame, and I know some photographers who are looking for just that. At the same time, I can see Flickr’s motive in developing and refining the Explore algorithm. I don’t browse the images in Explore very often but when I do I see lots of close-up photographs of birds and a lot of huge landscapes with surreal or at least very dramatic color.

The photos in Explore are nearly always conventional in the extreme. The occasional unusual photo (unusual either in subject or execution) nearly always strikes me as something that made the algorithm experience the computer-software equivalent of bemusement, for a mere fraction of a millisecond. Today there’s a simple photo of a miniature figurine of a lion. I can imagine the data chain inside the algorithm wondering silently to itself, is that miniature lion really alive?

That question got me thinking about just how unlikely it is that the algorithm will ever be able to judge truly interesting let alone good photographs. Think of the objective differences between an Ansel Adams photograph of Yosemite National Park and the millions of other images captured from the same or similar vantage points. Now think about how you would go about creating a program that recognizes artistically good light and a well-seen composition. It’s hard enough for a human viewer to get a sense of what the photographer was trying to achieve and so wholly arguable as to how well that effort or vision was achieved. The genuine wonders of artificial intelligence notwithstanding, identifying good photography is going to remain a real problem for Flicrk’s algorithm. I’m sure the folks at Flickr are doing their best but it’s not very good.

This brings me to the photo of mine that found its way into Explore.

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Crap, even I don’t like this one all that much. I took it about twenty minutes after the sun fell behind the foothills. I had been out looking for an oak I photographed back in April. Somehow, I couldn’t find it even though I though I was certain about where it was. Obviously, I wasn’t. As I hustled through the canyon, trying to beat the coming darkness, I spied this huge tangled mass of an old tree and looked at the road go on beyond it.

As I did I thought to myself, that old oak knows exactly where that road leads; toward autumn. So, I turned around and snapped this. Yes, I kept the branches of the tree on the right in the frame intentionally.

Now thousands of Flickrites have viewed it and hundreds have faved it.

Yay.

No, I’m not upset this photo is in Explore.

Yes, it’s nice that so many people are seeing it (I suppose).

But, in the end I am far too selfish to care what a bunch of people who don’t know me think about one of my more marginal photos. I’m trying, in my way, to be a better, more aware, more sensitive and more creative photographer. It’s doesn’t matter to anyone other than me if it happens. Maybe in some backhanded way having this image in Explore has rekindled that singular clarity of mission.

It could be that Flickr algorithm is better than I thought.

 

 

 

Flickr’s Explore Algorithm & “Good” Photography

Downtown Los Angeles & Beyond

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This was an unusual day when it came to light. There was great distance visibility. But, there was also a good deal of moisture in the unsettled air. The result was a kind of soft-clarity that tended to obscure details and one’s sense of distance. It was as if the very far and the not so far away had been drawn into each other.

With winter on its inevitable approach, this photo reminds me of the kind of light that comes with the cooler and sometimes moisture-laden air of the season. It’s always been a difficult season for me to look forward to, but I’m working on it.

This was taken just beyond the Cobb Estate in the foothills above Altadena, CA.

Downtown Los Angeles & Beyond

Untitled 1: On the San Gabrielino Trail

2010 was the last year before the start of the Great California Drought. That year, heavy downpours drove mud and debris down from the foothills through what are ordinarily dry, or nearly dry, river beds all the way to the Hahamongna basin.

The San Gabrielino Trail above JPL is an odd one, unless you’re from Southern California. Toward the bottom, near where this photo was taken, it’s a strangely disquieting mix of the suburban and natural worlds. There’s an asphalt walkway that gives way to a broken concrete one before direct contact between foot and mother earth finally takes over.

I caught this view through the chain link fence that keeps the locals out of the river bed on the lower part of the trail. I stood there for a quite a while, pointing my humble Panasonic LX3 between the links of the fence. I didn’t think much about the image until days later.

Maybe it’s my envisioning of the massive flow of water that came in the days and weeks before the image was taken. Maybe it is my wonderment at the idea the trees had withstood that muddy onslaught. Maybe it’s the little touch of vibrant green. I’m not sure but I always enjoy this photo when I come upon it.

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Untitled 1: On the San Gabrielino Trail

The Schaeffer Fire, Bonnevile Salt Flats, US 395 & the Sherwin Range

Smoke from the Schaeffer Fire
Smoke from the Schaeffer Fire

The Schaeffer Fire had been burning for well over a month by the time I caught this image on the road to US 395 west of the Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns in Inyo County. There were no fewer than three wildfires fires burning in California at the time (mid-August).

Bonnevile

When I was a kid I was fixated with the land speed record attempts that took place at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. I was around eleven when I finally got a chance to see the place for myself. Much to my delight my father even took our 1966 Pontiac Bonneville (no kidding) out on the flats for a few high speed passes.

Those, indeed, were the days.

I took this photo with my father’s Argus C3 on that trip way back in the early 1970s. The negative was buried somewhere in a box of over 6,000 images left behind by my parents. Most of the images were out-of-focus castoffs, but there were a few gems among the rubble.

I’ve not been back to the flats. I’ve learned that the salt on the flats is thinning, but no one is quite sure why. It makes me want to go back to that day when the salt was flat and thick and dustless and I sat beside my father, speeding across the horizon.

395 south toward Bishop
Looking southwest toward Bishop near US 395
Sherwin Range at sunset
The Sherwin Range at Sunset

It never fails to amaze me how often the humble iPhone 5 ends up seeing duty when a better camera would have been more suitable. Just a few minutes earlier the light was even more spectacular and the lenticular clouds were nearly luminous.

The Schaeffer Fire, Bonnevile Salt Flats, US 395 & the Sherwin Range

Thinking about cameras & a quick review of the Road Runner Bags Camera Strap

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about cameras.

Me? I love a good used camera. First of all, they’re cheap. I bought my Nikon D300 for $200. I mean, was there ever a better value in the history of the world? Second, I tend not to worry about used cameras. I always make sure the stuff I bought has seen some actual use. That way any bumps and bruises are easier to regard as marks of character rather than evidence of carelessness on my part.

The sad news is that my Fuji X100 gave up the ghost; very disappointing. Or, to channel our 45th president; sad. If I were given to complain (and I am) I would say that it’s pretty dang disappointing that Fuji is unable to fix what they regard as a professional camera that’s little more than a handful of years old. I ended up in the funny spot. Fuji could either ship back my pretty much useless X100 or I could pony up some cash and they’d sent me a brand-spankin’ new X100T.

Fine, fine, fine…here’s my credit card number.

Thing is, I knew I wasn’t going to keep the X100T. I’m kinda soured on the Fuji thing at least for now. Eventually, I may get myself another small mirrorless camera with a 1″ or m4/3 sensor but for now I’ve decided to simply toggle between my aforementioned D300 and a battle-scared old Panasonic LX3.

Sure, I used to own an LX3 (and later and LX5 and an LX7) but this little camera has me enamored for some reason.

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The mighty LX3 and its new Road Runner Bags strap in olive & black…yes sir!

This little camera rocks hard. I picked it up well-used over at Fred Miranda for $55. Nearest I can tell the little fellah has over 100,000 clicks on the odometer and it works perfectly. Heck, I even bought a second Panasonic battery for it; yup, I’m going all out. The neat little Leica lens is quite sharp over its entire range and the focus and metering are spot on. If Panasonic would upsize this exact camera with the same zoom range and a 1″ sensor I’d buy it.

The cool olive & black Road Runner Bags strap was supposed to be for my repaired X100 (sniff, sniff…) but I put it on the LX3 out of spite for Fuji. Like another favorite company of mine, Courier Ware, Road Runner isn’t much on self-promotion. The strap doesn’t even have their name anywhere on it…just a small label that says, Handmade in California. The webbing that Road Runner uses is very smooth on the skin and their form-follows-function-factor is admirably high. Road Runner Bags is a neat little company. All their stuff is made right here in Los Angeles and they certainly did a fine job with their first camera strap. I’m hopeful they’ll continue to work on more bags and straps for all the two-wheeled photographers out there on the streets and trails of Los Angeles.

Check their website out today and buy something.

Anyway, I enjoyed the Fuji because it was so easy to bring along. I disliked the Fuji for the same reason everyone else did. It was rather fussy, sometimes inscrutable, and the focusing was always marginal and then it got worse. How does that even happen? I also found the X100 rather fragile feeling. I don’t know if Fuji got it right with the S or the T or the F. All I know is Fuji’s naming convention for the X100 series is going to be tough for whatever follows the X100F. I’m not off Fuji forever; then again, maybe I am.

I can’t quite get my brain around how some folks are able to get along with an iPhone as their sole camera. Of course, I wear a wrist watch. Still, I do see the appeal to less is more when it comes to cameras. With the departure of the X100 and now the sale of the X100T I’m left with the LX3 and the D300.

Both of them suit me just fine.

Thinking about cameras & a quick review of the Road Runner Bags Camera Strap