Frozen

Since high school I’ve loved taking photos, and over the years have fooled around with many cameras, had a darkroom in the cellar and still shoot with film sometimes. I wouldn’t call myself a serious amateur, because I’ve seen serious amateurs and they are far more serious than I – but enthusiast would be fair description.

So, I was thrilled when on my birthday, my wife handed me a gift certificate good for a day-long workshop with Adirondack photographer Carl Heilman II. You may not know his name, but you’ve seen his pictures. Heilman has been photographing the Adirondacks for 40 years in a way that only someone who embraces the outdoors can do, going wherever and whenever to capture the perfect image.

Yeah, you could learn a thing or two from a guy like that, so I signed up for his Winter Light photo tour scheduled for the middle of February. You may have noticed it’s been cold outside, so the weather was certain to be a challenge.

The first stop was at Buttermilk Falls near Long Lake. Our group took an easy trail to the icy shore where the water flowed despite temperatures hovering around zero.

We stopped at several spots that afternoon. Here on this bridge a woman in a fur paused in her Mercedes if ask if we were crazy, bundled head to toe as we scrambled around with our tripods. She may have had a point.

By 7pm we’d made our way to Saranac Lake with plenty of time to set up for the Winter Carnival fireworks. It was 12 below zero with a -28 wind chill but it didn’t seem bad until you’d peel off your mitten and screw around with your camera. Then it was cold – but that was forgotten when the fireworks ignited.

Overall, an amazing day. What did I learn? That after all these years I still need to work on my skills and knowledge, but that with patience – and proper layering – you can get great results.

Pointless

Damn, I knew it felt warmer than 6 degrees outside, and now I know why:

Capture

Thanks, Times Union!

Sure, we’re all obsessed with how cold it is outside — but does showing the temperature like that really add anything to the conversation? It’s probably OK for the newspaper to round that down to 6 degrees. That’s the way the National Weather Service does it.

What I like about weather is that it’s one of the few things we all have in common. It’s something that total strangers can bond over, discuss, commiserate about — it crosses all social and physical boundaries. It’s the glue that binds us.

So, what I’d like to know is this: what do they talk about in San Diego?

Nationwide (and death) is On Your Side

After the Nationwide commercial aired in the Super Bowl, my wife was incredulous. Not at the spot, but at my reaction. “Why would you laugh at that?!”

Why? Well, maybe it because I didn’t expect the dark turn their Make Safe Happen commercial took, from sweet and magical at one moment to dead kid in the next.

So I suppose it was a nervous laugh, but not entirely. I was also laughing at how woefully stupid it was to bludgeon us with that message during America’s national football holiday. The shot of the TV tipped over was an appropriate image; most viewers probably felt that they’d been hit with a falling flat screen.

But I admire their moxie. It takes guts to do something that reckless in front of so many people.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful ad — but maybe it aired in the wrong program. Consider the commercials for the New York State Smokers’ Quitline, you know, the ones that show horrible tumors and cancer victims. No question that they get your attention, but there are plenty of places you wouldn’t show them.

I think Nationwide succeeded in being noticed, but was it in a good way?

Snowed

The TV meteorologists I used to work with were not always comfortable with the ads we would run.

There was always a bit of squirming when they’d look at the scripts which promised them to have the most accurate and reliable forecast. No, technically we didn’t promise infallibility, but it was strongly suggested that they would be right.

So, you ask, why don’t meteorologists just tell us that the forecast is subject to a degree of unpredictability? Well, they do a little — but their bosses discourage that sort of talk from those standing in front of the green wall — and far more people see the weather promos that promise accuracy than ever actually see the weather.

Maybe more honest marketing is the answer?

Curious about what the weather might be? Turn to Joe meteorologist!

He’s been bringing you the weather longer than anyone, so he knows how many different things can go wrong with the forecast.

Count on Joe to tell you if it might snow… when it could possibly start.. and how much you may get — unless a butterfly flaps its wings in Bermuda, and then we’ll be pummeled. Or have a dusting. Nobody knows!

Hmmm. Maybe not.

Dr. Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, spoke about the forecast for this week’s winter storm, and said, “We recognize the need to work harder and smarter to produce better forecasts and to better communicate forecast uncertainty and manage expectations.”

I’m not sure how to get better forecasts, but the second part? That’s something they can start on right away.

Breaking the Ice

It’s interesting to think about what happened in the old days when the Hudson River iced over.

The river was once a major thoroughfare to Albany — indeed, the Thruway of its day — and even after trains became a thing, the river was still important for moving people and freight. But when the river was clogged with ice?

Before steam power, clearing ice must have been impossible — and even then, until the advent of massively powerful diesel engines, it couldn’t have been easy.

Fast forward to 2015.

Much is made of the crude oil shipments that come by rail to the Port of Albany, but few stories mention the final leg of the oil’s trek to refineries that begins with a barge ride down the Hudson. And it doesn’t stop for winter. In recent weeks, I’ve seen the Coast Guard icebreaker making its way up and down the river, clearing the way for commerce.

One thing about these ships plowing down the river: they’re loud. There’s no sound quite like their hulls cutting and crashing though the ice field, making their way by sheer force against nature’s best.  When it’s fire against ice, fire wins.

Screen Time

We decided years ago that our household would have one TV.

This was supposed to bring us closer together, but in recent years it usually meant bitter confrontations over who would control the remote. Evenings were the worst, especially when my wife wanted to see something and the kids wanted to play video games. Watching somebody steal cars in Vice City or kill terrorists? Not her idea of a good time.

Well, now that kids are out of the house things are easier — except on nights like Sunday when ABC’s Galavant was going head-to-head against the Patriots – Colts game. I don’t have to tell you what I wanted to see — but since I’m the world’s greatest husband, I watched the game in another room on my iPad.

So, it’s not a one TV house anymore — and the temptation to retreat into the solitude of a personal screen feels like a risk. This brings me to my advice for newlyweds: treat your house like the one with a single TV; your time together is too precious to be spent separated by your tastes in television. Marriage is not Netflix,  and you didn’t sign up for whatever you want, whenever you want it.

And hey, since we’re on the subject, a word about Galavant. I really tried to like the show, but the one episode I saw was hideous. If you need an example, watch the number “Oy! What a Knight,”  whose tired schtick was as stale as week-old challah. The jokes are about as good as that one.

Antisocial Media

Much is made of the noxious atmosphere in blog and newspaper comment sections. “See,” say critics, “this is what you get with anonymous comments.” That may be true, but people who sign their name aren’t any better.

Take Facebook, for example.

News outlets have gotten in the habit of posting stories to their Facebook site, and the posts often get hundreds of comments — many of them amazingly insulting and abusive. Here’s a sample from a story a local TV station posted about a couple accused in an animal abuse case:

comments

Let’s be clear: abusing animals is abhorrent to me, but the people in question haven’t been convicted of anything, just arrested. We’re not just throwing the accused into the stocks, but lining up the villagers to hurl tomatoes at them.

Can’t they moderate this stuff? Of course — but I’m told it would be impossible due to the huge number of comments. Filters can be set to screen bad language and individual complaints can be fielded, but a full-time commitment to Facebook comments isn’t something a local TV station can afford.

You could argue that comment abusers are violating Facebook’s terms of service and that page owners are not responsible. That might be technically correct — but if your name is at the top of the page, it’s not that simple.

How Cold Is It?

It’s so cold that the milk froze before I could get home and bring it into the house.

milk

Good Fences

There we were, me and the dogs, out for a walk one recent evening when I practically jumped out of my shoes. Two very angry dogs charged out of the darkness and came directly for us — until they reached the invisible fence line.

They stood at the edge of the yard viciously barking and snapping. Both me and my dogs were rattled and I impulsively yelled, “Fu*k you!” This was not just pointless, but stupid. Dogs don’t understand fu*k you, and if the owners heard me? That’s not the sort of thing that makes for good neighbors.

Some people will disagree, but invisible fences can be a bad idea. The way they work is that dogs wear a shock collar triggered by proximity to a buried boundary line. In theory, you should be able to train the dog (with pain, by the way) to stay on your property and turn off the system. Few people ever get to that point.

And there are inherent problems. Like if your a dog is wildly aggressive toward strangers and other dogs. Or if your dog learns that the rewards of escape outweigh a mildly irritating shock. Or if your dog is so frightened of being shocked she ends up fearful of leaving the property on a leash with you.

One dog in our neighborhood has learned that if it leaps high over the invisible line it can avoid a shock. Would you trust your fence system to keep that dog safe, ever again? No, me neither.

It takes a lot of time and skill to make that sort of training work — and it’s far beyond the capabilities of the average dog owner. Let’s hope none of those invisible fence dogs are lost or injured or end up biting someone. And if that does happen, don’t blame the dog.