Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

There, I Fixed It!

I don't know if this qualifies as a redneck repair since we didn't use any duct tape or cardboard.

Two weeks ago while making gordita shells for our family's Fiesta Pachanga, Sylvia broke the handle on her mom's tortilla press.
(We managed to get through this disaster--don't you worry about that!)

Looking at it, I saw that the handle snapped at the raised part of the top flat where it applies all the pressure--a recipe for disaster when using cheap aluminum sand-castings.

A steel handle was part of my repair plan from the beginning, because I LOVE gorditas. I looked through our scrap metal collection and also scoped-out new stock at Home Depot, but every option involved too many cutting and/or grinding operations and I didn't want to spend 5 hours and eight dollars fixing a $12 tortilla press.

As with all of my "cheap" fixes, I let the item sit in plain view for a week or more and waited for inspiration.
On Monday I walked past it on the way to the garage and that's when I spotted my 7/8" wrench, still new-in-package:
Drill one hole, cut one part off the wrench, and do a little grinding--Done!

The thickness and length were perfect, as was the dog-leg design that was going to be the main consumer of fabrication time and effort had I used any other materials.
My drill-press and bench grinder got some action, and my brother's high-speed cutting tool and carbide drill bits saved us a lot of time. It was tool time!

To be honest, at a fair $10/hr labor I could have just bought 2 tortilla presses, but they would have broken their crappy handles eventually. The wrench is going to endure.
Factor-in the current cost of gasoline and I think we came out WAY ahead, provided my fix lasts through a few gordita dinners.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blood Sweat And Tears

Proceed At Your Own Risk

The very essence of any rodeo is danger.
If some cowboy wasn't inches or seconds away from getting seriously damaged, why would anyone bother to watch?
Man vs Beast, in all it's primal glory.
(Not to slight the girls--I've seen several get knocked off their mounts at the charreada and it was only luck that let them get back up instead of going to the hospital).

The main point is that it's a dangerous sport for all concerned.
And there is a rich cultural heritage that deserves to be maintained.
If we ban rodeos, what's next? Not being able to smoke in bars?

In this series of photos we start AFTER a horse was so uncooperative that it took almost ten minutes to get to a point where the ride could start.
(I would have said "Screw him" by then and gotten the show moving along, but this is the Charreada).

Someone opened the gate an inch to "help" and the horse used his big muscled butt to knock it wide open, much like Tim Duncan in the low post.
Keeping with the Spurs references, Mayhem (Ginobili) ensued:
Remember the color of the rider's shirt.

How much of the charro can you find?

I was glad to see him still in one piece, trying to stay alive:

What happened next was around 15 minutes of unsuccessful attempts to get this crazy-ass horse down the chute out of the ring:
Seeing the poor thing bleeding like this was sad and pretty much bummed everyone out at the time, but as I recall the events while looking at ALL of my photos, that horse was an asshole who nobody should have tried to ride and he nearly killed a man.
It was a fair fight, and despite a little blood the horse won.

Just so we don't end on a sour note...

This is my favorite shot of the day:
I had already taken a bunch of pictures of this miniature horse "backstage" but when the little boy rode him out during the opening ceremony I felt there was something extra special that needed capturing.
All of my other takes are cool and tell part of the story, but this one is the best by far because of his smile.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boys And Girls And Lassos

More from the Charreada:

The SA Stock Show & Rodeo is a huge well-oiled machine.
Everything happens according to schedule, and it's very impressive.
The Charreada is anything but.
Things happen when they happen and nobody gets their panties in a bunch over delays.
Kind of charming and certainly true to it's roots, since everyone is there to have fun instead of trying to win big money.

The young girls are the true daredevils--the intermingling patterns they ride are more dangerous than trying to stay on a bucking horse or steer (most of the time).
All the more amazing when you finally notice that they ride side-saddle!

I got the impression after 2 visits that only teenage girls ride--no children or adults.
But males of all ages, from 6 to sixty-six it seemed, are on horses and throwing loops of rope.

More to come...

Technical Detour:
At the very beginning of the day I took off my favorite 50mm lens and used the 55-200mm zoom throughout.
When you're stuck ringside during the action, a zoom is the only way to go.
What surprised me a little upon seeing the photos is how much I still really like this lens, after not using it hardly at all over the last year. There's a smoothness to it's pictures that is very pleasing to my eye, yet when things get gritty it manages to hang in there and capture that contrast.
For an inexpensive zoom lens, it performs well enough for my needs and the results remind me so much of the 50mm's that they sometimes seem to be a matched pair.
(Sony's curved aperture blades are surely a big part of this).

I'm hoping that the 35mm F1.8 that I plan on buying next will exhibit the same qualities so I can extend my range into tighter spaces and maintain a consistent "look".

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Charreada

It's been four years since our last (and first) charreada. I want to go every year at this time, but it never seems to work out.
Today I got up early despite working last night, and also DVR'd the Spurs' first playoff game just so we could go.
Last time I got some decent photos so I wanted to see if I would get inspired again.

And just like last time I ended up behind the scenes, down in the dirt with the horses and the flies.
Instead of being invited into their world I just acted like I belonged there and boldly went wherever I wanted. be continued

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Flash Modifiers

This is what I've been doing lately, besides yardwork

Last week I built a new grid for my main flash.
My last one was a great first attempt, but over time I found that the straws I had used to focus the flash into a smaller circle (instead of blasting the whole room) were too long, resulting in too much of a good thing by far. Full-choked light wasn't as useful sometimes, so I wanted a wider pattern.
I had my brother run it through his bandsaw to shorten the whole thing, and it pretty much exploded into tiny pieces all over the driveway. This was a surprise, since the same modification had worked fairly well on a grid for my smaller accent flashes.
I made a new one with 1/2" straws (vs 1") and it works much better for me. Also used balsa wood instead of frame mat-board since it's much easier to cut and sand, saving mucho time in construction. Balsa is fragile, but in this box form with all the straws filling space (and glued together) it's very strong, yet light.

I used the grid to light the main petunia and a minimum of surrounding foliage:
I like it when the light starts to dim just outside of the main subject, so surrounding items don't compete for attention. Grids are great for that.
In this case, after a few exposures I added my other two accent flashes to the foliage and white blooms to add some spice.

After that project got me back where I was before, I jumped right into the next one.

A softbox is a light modifier that, much like using a white umbrella with your flash, spreads the light out and therefore softens it. Shadows have less of a hard edge to them. Like the difference between direct sunlight and overcast.
Unlike umbrellas, there isn't any stray light spilling into the rest of your "studio", and they are also easier to get into difficult angles like straight up or down.
I started by going through my stockpile of old microphone stands and booms and came up with the perfect setup.
Then I found a sheet of new black foamcore for a dollar.
Cutcutcut, glueglueglue.
(Using a self-healing cutting mat really helps--Thanks Lisa!)

The inside walls are reflective (using foil) and for now I have some material from a white linen napkin to spread the light:
As with all of my DIY light modifiers, this has a good friction-fit when mounted to the flash.
No velcro or rubber bands for me, if I can help it.

Finally found some feeder mice locally today, so Candy got to come out of her habitat and socialize before dinner:
The softbox was around 15" away, and you can hopefully see how all of the "specular highlights" ( = relections of the light source) are long and smooth instead of being pinpoints of over-bright ugliness like you can get with bare naked flash.

I used a 2nd flash unit behind a blue gel to hit the wall behind this scene, and appreciated the quick artistic freedom that small flashes can furnish when I decided to make the right side fade a bit darker.

Candy was her usual twisty/grabby/snakey self, so I ended up having to partially disassemble the 8-string bass's stand to pry her loose.
I should have been ready for this, since right before her last feeding she somehow managed to get Sylvia's car keys stuck on her tail.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

My Second Car

Also my mom's last car.
Since she knew that I would end up with it sooner rather than later (my brother drove pickups and rode motorcycles) I was allowed input.
Besides, we had similar tastes--I was driving a '77 Monte Carlo, she had loved her '77 Pontiac Bonneville--we both liked mid-size General Motors cars with V8s, rear-wheel drive, and automatic transmissions.

As sick as she was, the thought of spending more than a few hours on a car lot (or 5) filled her with dread. My suggestion was to point out cars she saw on the street that appealed to her, and then I would gather some (pre-internet) intel on them. Once we decided on the model we would decide on a dealer and go make the deal as fast as possible.
Several neighbors had Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes, so we saw some variety of them.
Chevy had an SS version of the Monte Carlo at the time which was pretty NASCAR for a woman her age but she was still interested, especially since it was MY dream car.
Too bad they only came in black that year, and the whole point of the new car was to get rid of her black Dodge Mirada.
Texas sun + black car = sweat and discomfort.

So we decided on the Olds:
I had noticed (in parking lots) that some Cutlasses had vertical grills of two different styles, but that those from GUNN Oldsmobile @ 410 and Broadway had much better looking ones that were entirely 1/2" squares that looked a LOT better, so this is how we picked the dealer.

Once on the lot, a few colors were attractive to her but we both kept coming back to white. Not only is it 20 degrees cooler inside on a sunny day, but it's also more visible to other drivers at night--and I do a lot of driving at night.
We looked at one, but a quick scan of the window sticker revealed a weak powertrain.
By this time Gary had come outside the dealership and attached himself to my mom, so I went off in search of more white Cutlasses.
The third one had a 307" V8, and with a 4-barrel carburetor!
We took it for a test-drive, then were able to get my mom into Gary's air-conditioned office.
She had plenty of car buying savvy, so the trade-in negotiations took little time.
After low-balling on a financed price, she whipped out her checkbook and asked if the same price was okay if she paid in full.
She was very tired and sick, you see, so it was "Yes" or we walk, Gary.
Played him like a cello, even though he WAS a nice fellow.

The car was a real pleasure for us both as we spent too much time driving to hospitals, and was our game chariot when we finally saw our Cubs playing the Astros in a doubleheader in Houston. I kept it spotless and gassed etc for her, and even made tapes so she could enjoy her first car with a cassette deck.

When it became my car, I started by pulling off the rubber trim strips that protected the doors from parking lot dings. They ruined the clean lines of the body, and luckily were affixed with foam tape! Instant improvement in looks.
When my brother and I were getting ready for a trip to Colorado Springs to fly our first BIG rockets, I took the Olds to our mechanic in Universal City to get an oil change and otherwise check it over for the long drive.
They were also a big Goodyear Tire dealer, and showed me a damaged tire that wouldn't survive the drive.
Should have seen the look on that guy's face when I said "Okay, give me 4 of your 70-series (fat) Eagle STs, and how about putting them on a set of these American Racing® aluminum mag wheels?"
As a longhaired metalhead (who probably had a can of beer in my hand and was smoking in the waiting room--the '80s if you recall) it was nice to suddenly get the "Yes SIR!" treatment for a change.
I then took her to a brake and suspension shop and got a set of Monroe gas shocks plus some stiffer springs by TRW.
Goodbye Mushy Ride!!

Over the next few years I built a pretty killer sound system for that era, and my brother found me the computer chip that went into the Olds 442 version of my car.
The new chip meant that if you really put your ankle into the gas pedal, emissions and gas mileage programming went out the window.
Combined with my other mods, this car took-off like a rocket and could hold that speed in curves and corners.

It was a sweet "driver's" car, with that perfect combination of performance and comfort. I had installed a nice aftermarket steering wheel that was smaller and felt better in your hands, which added to the already responsive handling.

Around '95 some woman trying to "make" a yellow light nearly killed me in this car--peed blood for a week--but I still drove it in semi-wrecked condition with lots of plastic taped over the openings for another 5 years.
Eventually sold it as a parts donor after leaving it parked behind a friend's house for a few years with the windows gone.
Very sad end to a fine ride.

As much as I love my current Dodge Dakota and the Monte Carlo that was my first, this 1985 Oldsmobile was the great love of my life when it comes to cars.
My only regrets were that nobody made a decent dual-exhaust system for it when I had the money. I was all ready to make this final upgrade for the extra horsepower and external sound quality, but nobody stepped up to the plate.
Whenever I watch the show Overhaulin', THIS is the car I wish they would restore for me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Bad Year For Wildflowers...

Not nearly enough rain over the winter and into spring, so the dazzling displays we're used to aren't happening.
I've seen small patches here and there, but nothing special.

This is from last year:

But I have hoses and desire, so growing stuff around the house is still part of the plan.
I laid some sod today in a part of our lawn that's almost recovered from a state of pure dirt several times only to get lost again to drought.
Fertilized, watered, and cut the rest of our grass in the last week and it's getting greener every day.

Since moving here, I have grown and harvested (and eaten!) Anaheim chiles, jalapenos, serranos, and banana peppers--all from seeds! Most of my potted crops lasted at least two years, but only the jalapenos were a huge success when it came to cooking because...they're jalapenos!
Instead of seeds I started with seedlings from Home Depot this year, at the bargain price of $1.68 for 4.
These things are growing so fast and strong that I'm done fooling with seeds despite the satisfaction of coaxing life from the tiny flakes of heat.

They have tripled in size already and...are those blossoms I see?

Flowers = Food

In previous years I would be lucky to get fruit by late July.
Looks like I'll be making fresh salsa before June.

Since they are in pots I've been bringing them inside when the temps get into the 40s at night, like they have this week, to keep from slowing their progress. And this batch will stay in the pots.

Next year is another story.
I really hope to have put in a small backyard garden by then.
No big plans--just the Holy Trinity of TexMex cooking: Peppers, Onions, and Tomatoes.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Whole Lotta Towin' Goin' On!

When we moved here in 2003 I got most of our stuff across town in a 1990 Mazda that I bought from a band member for cheap. It was already pretty far gone at that point, and after the last load I parked it in the garage and never drove it again.
It was like a big set of shelves, and the cab was my filing cabinet.
Us men can be like that, and we totally get that our ladies don't understand.
The girls have their own strange ways, and we keep quiet about them too if we're smart.
Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago and a guy shows up at the door wanting to buy a metal desk currently in our driveway, to recycle it.
Told him no, and as I was closing the door I barely noticed that his shirt said "We Buy Junks Cars" (verbatim). Luckily the gears turned quickly enough to get a cash offer for my dead Mazda:
Here's The Recycle Man's assistant helping get the POS Mazda out of my life.

What's amazing is how quickly you can go from having two pickups to none!
Within a few days I was trying to return books to the library and didn't get very far at all.
Managed to limp back home and diagnose the problem as a failed water pump:
Greg the tow truck driver was the BEST one ever!
Gave me tips on how bad towers might wreck my brake lines if they use hooks instead of straps on the rear-end. Stuff like that.
A real pro.

As for the repairs, the final product is great but the process and pricing included a little too much ass-rape for our tastes, so we are in search of a new place to take our vehicles.
We really liked the former manager who was all about doing right by the customer--this new guy is "by the book" and the third chapter gets yucky.
Recommendations gratefully accepted.
MedCenter part of town if possible.

As I'm typing this there are still a few pesky bits of gravel that need to turn loose of my shoulder blades.
Some jealous dillhole (or random asshat) wedged a beer bottle under the band's truck so that the front driver's side tire would get to experience explosive decompression.
A nice loud pop, followed by steam in my face since it was almost raining.
Then the Ford Ranger settled quickly to the ground.
Nobody else in the band was sober enough or smart enough to change the tire, so I had the privilege of ruining a favorite shirt and adding some character to my best jeans.

At one particularly frustrating point when the Ford's jack wouldn't go high enough to do the job I yelled "Don't we have Triple A?" but it turned out I was all alone at the time, so my question went unanswered.
Thanks, guys.

Our Dodge Dakota's jack kicked serious ass and was the only thing that got me home before 5AM from a club that's only 1.2 miles away. Thought I had an easy drive until the real world fish-slapped me.