Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas 2015

It has been a few years since I featured the Riverwalk on our card photo, so it felt right to go back there for something new.
Last year, clued in by some nice shots from a member of my camera club, I got some pics that almost made the cut. This is a fairly new section of the San Antonio Riverwalk behind the old and re-purposed Pearl Beer brewery.
On a "scouting mission" I pulled out the camera and tripod anyway, and shot some tests in the area.
One view was better than last year's stuff so we went back 4 days later.
There was a construction crane in the frame, and on our return it was pivoted into a horrible position--so we were out of luck on what I originally wanted.

Trying to stay positive we walked around a bit, hoping that inspiration or good luck would strike.
On our way back to the car, I re-saw a scene that I liked from the previous visit, but had immediately written off as impossible. But it looked SO good, I let my heart overrule my brain.

You can only get this photo from a stairway landing that doesn't have enough room for my tripod.
And there is foliage encroaching from the top and left sides.
Plus a bright light on the right/top just out of frame.
Move the camera more than 2" in any direction, and it all falls apart.
A real prick of a shot, especially at the long exposure times needed.
Anyone walking across the attached steel footbridge will vibrate the crap out of it, leading to a blurry mess.
I had my tripod's legs folded down straight, and then held it in the corner of the guardrail.

We knew we had it as soon as I asked Sylvia to climb back up the stairs and just look at the scene from the landing. After 3 exposures we went to Mama Margie's for dinner.

Watching my new ted2 DVD. Hilarious!
Shot with my phone using the new selfie stick.
Yes, it sounds crazy for a "serious" photographer to even consider such a thing, but I foresee many situations where it'll be exactly what I need. Sometimes "toys" are just what you need, both for fun and a re-thinking of the way things can be done.

My wish for 2016's Christmas card photo is that I get it in the next couple of weeks, to take some of the pressure off.
Merry Christmas.
Happy New Year.
Thanks for visiting.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

10 Years Of Christmas Card Photos

2006, the first one. Might as well start with The Alamo, our most famous landmark. Luckily the tree had white lights so it's brightness in relation to the Alamo is as good as it can get. This year's Spurs-themed tree is very dark.

2007, Tower Of The Americas, San Antonio's other iconic landmark. We made a point to come downtown closer to sunset, for more color in the sky.

 2008 San Fernando Cathedral.
This was the only year this photo was possible because sick trees that would have been in the way were removed and not yet replaced. The fountains had just been installed, too.
Probably the best remembered picture, but it set the bar impossibly high. Sold and gifted a lot of 8x10" prints of this.

2009 The Riverwalk.
Right in the heart of downtown. To get our card photo we go all over town looking at decorations in the weeks after Thanksgiving, then return to the best spots at the optimum time to refine the composition and exposure. I put a lot of work into this project, so it's gratifying to hear that most people save the prints every year and look forward to the next one.

2010 Sneaky Santa.
One of our favorite ornaments, posed on the little silver tree in our front window.
I was looking for a change from "downtown SA at night" and having to drag a heavy camera and tripod all over the place. Super easy, and fun.

 2011 The Riverwalk again.
This was the first year the city used LED lights, to mixed reception. Under the impression that they could leave them up all year, the crews went all-out wrapping the trees almost completely. Unfortunately, the color of these first-generation bulbs leaned pretty far to the blue end of the spectrum. Then squirrels ate the wires when the weather warmed up, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lights.

2012 St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church.
Taken a couple of years earlier after Christmas Eve Mass.
I was working 60 hours a week that year, and didn't have time to search out something. Also wanted to go in a religious direction. I also took one where the tree is out of focus but Jesus is sharp, then let Sylvia choose.

2013 Little Church At La Villita.
This pic was maybe 5 years old, and is the only daytime shot.
We weren't finding anything else, then quickly ran out of time.
While printing them, the machine got stuck and wouldn't stop. By the time staff got it shut down there were over 100 extra prints that I still have. This was the year my brother Ken died right before Christmas, and I drew some comfort from this picture.

2014 Blanco County Courthouse, Johnson City Texas.
I had been wanting a shot like this for years, to get a small-town view.
Sylvia left work early so we could make the hour+ drive north in time to catch sunset. be continued

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Christmas Prep

El Potuso said earlier this week that going forward with "Climate Change" legislation--worldwide--is the best way to send a big FU to terrorists. WTF??? Like they give a shit.
I'm pretty sure he's wrong because he's the one who said it. Can we somehow vote for a polygraph on the executive branch?

In my Texas opinion, the best way to proceed is to have the very best Christmas possible--to celebrate BOTH sides of this blessed and wonderful Holiday right in the face of both those who want to exterminate us, and those in our own country who have misguided values and haven't figured out that the situation is serious.

Never seen "Old Blue" from this high of an angle.
Still looks OK for a 17 year old truck, although she let me down a few weeks ago after 2 good years so trust needs to be earned once more.

After last year's miraculous record of zero blown strings of lights, THIS year has seen every single Christmas tree, outside string of lights, and miscellaneous decoration come up with some level of failure.
Luckily, I've managed to remember where we got the lights however many years ago and they've still had the same brand/model in stock and sometimes on sale, but many many extra trips to the stores = slow progress at confounding the terrorists.

 Our new addition this year is "Bliss Lights" from QVC which are serious lasers that throw a bajillion dots of light all over your house or into your trees or on the ceiling, etc.
I could have just attached them to the included stakes and put them in our yard, but with all of the recent news stories about fuckheads stealing people's decorations I have zero interest in offering up some free "scores" for crackheads and douchebags.
These bad boys (1 red and 1 green) are securely strapped 20 feet up a tree, and tugging on the extension cord to try and steal them will only make you look like a monkey working his personal vine.
After the installation I learned enough to come up with a greatly refined plan for next Christmas that'll save me an hour of extension ladder time and contain all them wires in a single box.

Advancing Christmas lights = FU, terrorists.

THIS is what I'm talking about.
A steel Santa Claus we got on a deep discount last year @ Pier One, or the Nativity scene my mother bought in the late 1960s that I grew up loving. (Music box = Silent Night)

It's hard to decide which means more to me, and I'm glad I don't have to.

The last photo was done with my phone, tealights behind the nativity and inside Santa's belly, and an LED flashlight.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Deep Eddy Distillery

We recently took a guided tour of the Deep Eddy Vodka distillery in Dripping Springs Texas. (East of Austin on 290)

It was the first cold day of the season. I was under-dressed. 

 This is their "column distiller", which accounts for the incredibly high purity of their vodka. With the old-fashioned kettle method, you have to keep repeating the process, and at a certain point it just takes too much time. My go-to vodka is distilled 4 times. Deep Eddy claims 10x, but because this process is so much more efficient the actual result is probably at least double that. Try their unflavored version against any other vodka--straight--and you'll understand.

These big tanks are where the all natural flavors meet the alcohol.
The product doesn't spend much time there, because this tiny plant is going to top 800,000 cases this year.

 Paper labels are faster, easier, cheaper, prettier, and classic.
I hated screen printing bottles back when Ken and I owned our print shop.

 So...I only got around 3 hours of sleep the night before because it was an early appointment and a long drive. Didn't eat anything either.
This was my breakfast--all 5 flavors of Deep Eddy.
Also got to pick one of their signature cocktails, served in a mason jar type pint glass, which we got to keep. Good thing we brought snacks, then went right to a decent pizza place in town. 

 Couldn't manage one of the slushies.


LOTS of booze.
Sylvia prefers the iced tea flavor.
I like the lemon.
The Ruby Red is great, too.
Don't like cranberry, but their take on it surprised me.
The tour was very educational.
It's a company that has great values and it's going to be a big player before you know it.
All Natural flavors and super-pure alcohol equals the finest vodkas I've ever tried, and at a price that can't be beat.
Made In Texas, Y'all.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Lovely Setting

My band played a wedding last night in this event center on the Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country.
After setting up our gear I turned around and realized that maybe...just maybe...I should have brought a real camera.
On the other hand, then I would likely have shot it horizontally and sacrificed the reflection on the floor.

When viewed on Facebook--on a smartphone--it's quite effective since it fills the screen.
On a laptop or desktop--not so much.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Another Unfocused Post

This is a water-level shot of the Guadalupe River, where the whole family spent a relaxing extended weekend in August.
The house we rented was huge, and perfect.
I caught the first fish--a big Bluegill.

We ate well, drank a lot, fished and swam, played pool and Monopoly, and chilled.
There's a good chance we go back to the same place next year.

I rigged up my HD video camera on the end of a pole, with lights.
Was after underwated footage, but it just wasn't clear enough to see anything.
While taking the above photo, unbeknownst to me one of my better vaping devices rolled into the river.
After a few of us searched all over, I deduced what must have happened and found it. Still haven't gotten it to work.

Just found this shot from a few months ago.

I have been animated! 
The crew we have working on Televator's next video gave us a peek at an early step in their production process. Confidentially, out of everyone in the band, mine looks the most like me.
Don't know what the storyline is like, or really anything at all about the video.
It'll be for our song "Milk Run", which started with a bass riff I wrote while watching the Houston Rockets beat up on our Spurs a few years ago. For a VERY short time we had a TV in our practice space, but it wasn't conducive to best practices except for that one time.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

August In Texas

It's been freaking HOT, but could have been worse.
Rained once or twice this month--not at all in July--so my lawn is no longer the lush creature of beauty it was after the soakings we got all Spring. Again, could be worse.

Here's a phone photo of a cicada on our patio:
Lit with a AAA LED penlight, all handheld.
Was expecting improvements across the board when we upgraded from the Samsung Galaxy S3 to the S5, but a few details disappoint.
The S3 was a macro delight--you could jam the lens right up to something and it would focus on it. Even had a macro focus setting to tell the camera that the subject was close and to stay in that range, and possibly fine-tune a bit more carefully.
The S5 has no macro setting, but even more annoying is that at similarly close range it will focus on the subject, then snap back to a blurry setting an inch or two behind it--every damn time!
So it's capable of doing what I ask, but just doesn't want to.
I hate shit like that.

Luckily, this cicada was a good sport and stayed put while I went inside and changed phones back to the S3 for this shot.
Yes, I keep my old smartphones and use them all the time for almost everything but calls and texts.
Games, camera, discontinued technical apps, and even using one phone as a pink noise generator while I use another as an audio spectrum analyzer.
Since I have Sylvia's old S3 too, I've even been playing with the pair as a stereo 3D camera!
Testing has been positive, just haven't gotten around to building the frame to hold them.

Up next, a handful of vacation photos.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Clouds + Trees

Among the rare photos I've taken this year using a "real" camera.
My DSLR isn't getting much play time at all, but the Sony F828, with it's infrared capabilities, still gets pulled out--at least in the winter and spring when the clouds do fun things here in SATX.

For these first two, I was being lazy and just shot over our house in a generally northward direction.
The use of a circular polarizer filter instead of one of the pair of ND4 filters that usually live on the end of it's lens resulted in the different level of contrast between cloud and background sky. The 1st photo features our neighbor's pecan tree, and was shot with the sun to my back. #2 (our sycamore) was pointed a bit closer to 90 degrees perpendicular to the sun's rays, resulting in a much more pronounced effect from the CP filter. End result is darker sky, whether shooting IR of color.

I prefer #2.

This pair, I can't recall if the CP was still in the filter stack or not. Angle to the sun is too similar, so it can't be determined forensically, either.

Out of them all, it's my opinion that #4 is the one most likely to end up as a print on someone's wall.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Like An Old Friend

Zzakk's Garage used to be my #2 blog, where I would post pics of stuff that pissed me off, and go on rants.
It's been dormant for years, but tonight I decided to throw up a new post.
Then I went for a stroll down memory lane, and re-discovered the fact that my late brother Ken loved the garage and left comments often. It was nice "listening" to my brother again.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day

My father was an Air Force pilot in the VietNam war. He was shot down over Laos in 1966 a few months before my 4th birthday, and Missing In Action until 1995. Only have a few clear memories of the man, but by all accounts he was a great guy. 
Growing up, I never had a good male role model in my life. Mom's boyfriends were douchbags, cheaters, drunks, and abusers. My uncle Jim was all I had, taking me fishing and hunting for a few weeks here and there. Still miss them both more than I can put into words. 
The result was that when my mother died of cancer (I was 24) there was zero knowledge of how to be a man. Some lost years ensued (decades?) but luckily nothing happened that I truly regret. 
To my great fortune I met Sylvia not long after the dawn of this century, and she helped me start healing. 
On this Father's Day 2015 I want to thanks her dad Jesus Cantu for welcoming me into his family with open arms and teaching me the lessons I sorely needed to learn. How to love and forgive, how to keep priorities straight, to have fun without getting into too much trouble, to teach by example, to accept faults in others and ourselves--there's SO much I've learned from my new DAD. Happy Father's Day, sir.


And what are the odds that he's retired Air Force, served in VietNam, and plays guitar, too? 

Monday, June 08, 2015

Feeling Cloudy

Been stupid busy learning songs for the acoustic act I recently joined, and learning to play this big crazy beast. It's a Breedlove acoustic/electric bass, and a very different animal from what I'm used to. 
Our first show was this weekend, and it went well. 
The side effect is that by brain hurts as much as my fingers. Too many notes...

My joke is that I almost made it 40 years without ever playing a hollow instrument live. 
In fact, at the end of July I'll have been playing solid body electric guitars and basses for 40 years, so the record got shot down with mere weeks to go. 
Since the guitarist in the band bought this bass for me to use, at least I can still say that I haven't owned any acoustic instruments. 
Not that it means anything to anyone. 
Kind of like how I was proud that I hadn't been inside a movie theater for 29 years. 

I'm weird. You don't need to tell me, I've always known.  

After record rainfall the past month, we're finally drying out and getting some sun. 
Lakes that were almost empty are filling up, as is the aquifer we rely upon. The drought we've suffered from over the last few years is over. A wonderful Spring, were it not for the loss of life and devastation of property. 
A bridge we had driven across near the town of Wimberley, on our way to the wedding mentioned in the previous post, was washed away by floodwaters 3 weeks later. As were many houses and families. 
I guess you take the bad with the good, then carry on. 

On the tail of the storms, we've gotten some weird skies like today's. 
Kinda wish the contrail wasn't there, but I might like it tomorrow. 
Infrared, of course. 
Perfectly captures how I feel.  

In other news... 

For a couple of months I've been dealing with "old house" problems. 
Multiple plumbing issues, two sections of collapsed fence around the back yard, and a bathroom that lost electricity after being suspect since we moved in. 
All fixed but one leaky sink, so I'm feeling like a real man. 
The electrical problem took me a month to nail down, but I just knew that it was something butt-simple and paying an electrician would end up pissing me off. 
Once I got a helpful hint from a friend I was positive where to find the issue, and it ended up taking 5 minutes and a new part that cost exactly 74 cents including tax. 
Pretty sure an electrician would have cost a bit more than that. 

Not too scared of electricity, since I bend it to my will all the time. 
Once I had the "pleasure" of re-wiring an outlet in an old home near Houston. The polarity was reversed, and it was one of only two or 3 outlets available to power an entire rock band for a party. 
Trouble was, there was no time to track down which circuit breaker the outlet was on so I just fixed it with the wires live. What fun!  

Then there was the time I needed to get a freight elevator working again so we could get our gear out of a downtown SA nightclub at 4am. A bit tipsy at the time. 
The car was stuck on the floor above as I dug into the safety interlock mechanism. 
Took a healthy jolt of 120 volt AC, and as I started fading I also started tipping forward. 
Shook it off just in time to keep myself from plunging down the shaft. 
Fixed it. 

I had a bunch of stuff to post for Memorial Day, which I usually don't miss. 
But in thinking about what I was intending to write, a bunch of baggage and sore spots surfaced which led to the realization that I'm always mad as hell on Memorial Day. 
After more thought, the reasons I'm so angry became clear. 
By then it was too late to put it all together in time, so maybe by next year's holiday I'll be able to get it out of my system.  

Yeah, I'm all kinds of cloudy.

Saturday, May 09, 2015


We went to a wedding last weekend in Cypress Falls, near Wimberley TX. 
During the reception the sun was almost down so I went to our motel room for the camera/tripod. 
Down by the river there wasn't enough artificial light spillage to get anything worth using, but while there I was approached by a man in the dark. 

He told me I was lucky that he'd spotted me, otherwise I could have gotten "blowed up". 
Hmmm...a gay come-on done badly? 

No, it was just that I had walked right into the middle of a fireworks launch zone. 
He was nice enough to let me stay and shoot pics from closer than I've ever been before. and it was pretty intense. Every launch felt like a punch to the gut, and they were bursting right overhead. I had a lot of debris on me afterwards. 

He gave me his business card so I could send him my results, but it wasn't from his fireworks business (don't need an architect right now) and there was no website or email address. Googling and checking Facebook for the name he told me turned up nothing, either. 
When I have the time I'll track him down.

Happy Day, Mothers.

Monday, March 16, 2015

121 Months Of Views

That's right, I've been blogging right here at the same URL for over ten years!! 

Crazy, right?
Boy, the internet was a very different place back then, as was digital photography.
"Photobloggers" like me are a dying breed.
Now it's all about news, shopping, gossip, and connecting via Facebook, etc.
And pr0n.

One thing that hasn't changed is that Blogger's (my hosting site) spellcheck still flags words like internet, blogging, and spellcheck. Funny but true.

Anyway, February was a weird month for me, so I forgot all about posting on the actual anniversary and decided to do it today.

Since this post is about me, here are some selfies I took today. (Spellcheck didn't like selfies, of course).

In the backyard with my 8-string bass, using my Samsung Galaxy S3.
We're getting the S5 in 2 months, and I can't wait.
This phone has a great camera, but the newer model is much better.
This is one of the only pictures of me that shows some wrinkles on my face, so it intrigues me. People always assume I'm around forty, rather than my true age of 52. It's cool, and I'm lucky and grateful. As a joke I always say "Beer and weed keep me young" but of course none of that is true. Gets a good laugh every time, though.

At the biggest jewelry store in town. Sylvia just got a raise and wanted to celebrate with her 1st diamond earrings. It's a very impressive building and operation. If you live here, you've fallen asleep during their informative half-hour infomercial.

Over the years I've blogged less and less for many reasons, and what I miss just as much as making (NOT just taking) pictures is the writing.
Just like tonight, I pop open a beer or three and start typing. When I was in school, essays were fun and an easy A grade, but I was never much for verse so writing lyrics for my music never amounted to anything. Very frustrating!
So blogging reawakened the dormant author in me and I always enjoyed it for it's own sake. Never mattered if anyone liked it or commented on it, I just did it because it made me feel good.

Recently, my blogging led to a chance to write something that'll get seen a LOT more than anything I post here.
A young singer that I ran sound for in 2012 needed a new biography for her website, and she remembered the blog I had done during my tenure in the band: A Beautiful Mess Featuring Natalie Rose
The writing was decent, and I liked the photos. Her father was very impressed when he found it and Views of TX, and wouldn't shut up about what a great writer I was.
So over the last two weeks I spent about 7 hours working on her bio whenever some spark of inspiration (or guilt about taking too long) might strike.
It's a different breed of writing, being a weird combo of reporting and selling. Walking a fine line between truth and promotion.
I've done it in the past, usually for myself and my illiterate bandmates, but this was a far more high-pressure affair because she's definitely going to be a big star someday so good work could lead to something. Which is weird, because I could go back to doing her sound and lights anytime I wanted to. Just burned-out on traveling and running sound after being in this business since high school. I've been offered the bass job a few times, too, but don't do country music and I just want to play bass and write heavy music with Televators.
Anyway, here's her website: Natalie Rose.
Click on the "ABOUT" tab.
I emailed it to her yesterday morning and it was on the site within an hour, and she says she loves it.
All in all a good day, this special 121 month anniversary. 

Speaking of my band Televators, we're playing next Sunday March 22nd.
Some tattoo convention thing--should be a ton of metal fans in the crowd.
We play for maybe an hour, starting at 3pm.

In conclusion, thank you for visiting Views Of Texas.
It's nice to know that people spent time looking at my photos and/or reading my words.
I appreciate you.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Pound Of Reese's Cups

I first spotted this while Christmas shopping in late 2013 and apparently wouldn't shut up about it. Last month Sylvia put it under our tree for me, and tonight I finally got up the nerve to open it. 

The text on the side is the important part--2 HALF POUND CUPS! 
I love Reese's, but this is crazy.

 I'm glad they put them in plastic cups. Still in surprisingly good shape.

 An 8 oz monster dwarfs the standard size.

The chocolate/peanut butter ratio seems about right. Freaking delicious!
You just have to stop after a small fraction.
Half of the wedge I cut out is tomorrow's ration.
And careful study has shown that the choco/PB ratio is measurably different depending on the size of the cup. Rob Cockerham over at Cockeyed conducted this test a few years ago. Looks like it needs an update.

These monsters are available year 'round at Rocket Fizz stores, but their $24 price is a joke.
(They also stock the giant Snickers, York's Peppermint Patty, etc.)

Sear and Target sell it for $10 during the holiday shopping season, which represents a few $$$ saved over a comparable weight of the smaller sizes at non-sale prices.
Mainly it's about the novelty.
I'm thinking of bringing one to a SuperBowl party this weekend.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Li-Ion Vape

My Friends Mike & Amie Just opened a Vape store here in San Antonio. I'm working here on the late shift.