A Pre-Refurb Peek at Music Hall

cmhmn01At the end of this year’s May Festival, Cincinnati’s Music Hall will close for extensive renovations. The Cincinnati icon, which first opened in 1878, will open again in the fall of 2017. I knew I ought to attend at least one more performance there before the closing and working in part of the May Festival has been in the back of my mind. A number of things lined up Friday that made attending the first night of the MusicNOW Festival possible and attractive. I may still try to make it back for the May Festival but the pressure is off and I had a most enjoyable evening.

MusicNow, the brainchild of Bryce Dessner of The National, was first held in 2005. Although The National was formed after he moved to New York, Bryce is a Cincinnati native and frequently involved with the city’s music. An Australian tour prevented him from attending this year’s festival but one of his compositions opened Friday’s concert and another was premiered on Saturday.

cmhmn02cmhmn03With about an hour to go, the lobby was pretty empty and I grabbed a couple of pictures. There are a number of large chandeliers in the building with one of the most impressive hanging in the center of the lobby..

cmhmn06cmhmn05cmhmn04I used some of the extra time to head upstairs. On the second floor, I snapped pictures of the upper level of the lobby and the balcony of the main concert space, Springer Auditorium. The third photo is of the Springer Auditorium Gallery. The seats in the foreground are about where I sat to watch Big Brother and the Holding Company in October 1968. This was the performance that was paused while Janis and the band watched the Beatles on the Smothers Brothers Show.

I believe that 1968 show was my first at Music Hall. Many, wildly diverse, have followed. If Big Brother is at one end of the range, Andrés Segovia might be at the other. He was solo and acoustic when I saw him in 1982. So was Bruce Springsteen in 1996. But Bruce was 47; Segovia nearly 90. That little old man and that little old guitar on the big old stage remains one of my most memorable concerts and a great demonstration of the wonderful acoustics of that big old space. There were numerous Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concerts that included a variety of soloists; several performances of the Nutcracker ballet; the Kinks; John (not yet Mellencamp) Cougar; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and others I’ve temporarily forgotten. But my purpose in going to Friday’s show was not to trigger old memories. I wanted to firm up my impressions of the building in anticipation of next year’s changes. It was standing at the back wall of the Gallery and looking at the distant stage that prompted the most ancient memories then not-quite-as-ancient memories just followed.

cmhmn07My seat was a last minute pay-what-you-want bargain. From the left side of the second row the visuals consisted largely of orchestra member’s ankles and partially obscured profiles of featured performers but the audio was fantastic. The Kronos Quartet performed first followed by violinist Jennifer Koh with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. After an intermission, the quartet and orchestra performed together. Mandolinist Chris Thile closed the show. He performed, like Segovia and Springsteen, solo and he even stepped in front of the mic to do a couple of songs completely acoustic. Not suprisingly, it sounded great from a few yards away but I almost bolted from my seat to see if he reached the rear of the audtorium as well as Segovia had. I didn’t. I wish I had.

cmhmn08The Cincinnati Opera has put together a rather nice Music Hall Renovation FAQ in which they specifically mention that “The large chandelier in the auditorium will be restored.” I don’t know if that means the others will not be but it does raise the question. I hope that’s not the case although if only one can be saved, this is certainly the right one.

Bye Bye Bell

cbtSome might remember 2014’s Bye Bye Four One Two Five blog post in which I bid farewell to a long held telephone number and a couple of Cincinnati Bell services. For roughly six years preceding that post, I had relied on CB for my mobile telephone as well as my home phone and internet connection. That had to change because the company was bailing out of the mobile business. When I made that post in October of 2014, I had switched to Verizon for my mobile service and had simply dropped the seldom used home voice service. The only service I retained with CB was an internet connection. In the last paragraph of the post I expressed happy surprise that the internet connection was the same price alone as it had been bundled. That didn’t last.

For the first year, my internet-only bill was $35 per month. It then went to a perfectly acceptable $36. Five months later it jumped to $48.54 which was neither acceptable or ignorable. There were, I soon learned, two components to this roughly 35% increase. One was a significant but not quite outrageous jump in the service rate from $36 to $39.99. The larger piece of the increase came from the addition of a $7.99 equipment fee and accompanying $0.56 state tax. Through on-line chat and a subsequent phone call I was able to verify that this was, as I immediately suspected, a monthly rental fee for the nondescript ADSL modem I had been using free since 2008. I was also told that I could neither buy the modem outright from Cincinnati Bell nor supply my own. As the representative looked over my account, she uttered the phrase “wireless internet” and I told her I did not have CB supplied WiFi which she shrugged off and so did I. I guess I had already decided to run away fast rather than pursuing specific issues.

Cincinnati Bell’s current flagship product uses fiber-optics. Called Fioptics, it is not yet available at my address although I doubt its availability would have materially changed things. My service was a copper wire product called ZoomTown 5 Mbps. The service is often described as “5/1” to indicate 5 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. These are marketing friendly “rounded up” numbers more precisely described as “Download up to 5 Mbps. Upload up to 768 Kbps”. There is also a ZoomTown 2 Mbps or “2/1” product. Although I have seen download speed as high as 4.47 Mbps, recently observed download speeds have all been under 1.33 Mbps. Observed upload speeds have always been around 0.66 Mbps which is close enough to 768 Kbps to keep me happy. It happens that the only record I have of speeds near 5 Mbps (the 4.47 reading) is from before switching off voice service but I have no evidence that the slowing coincided with the switch.

My most charitable interpretation of this is that Cincinnati Bell made a couple of small errors. It seems quite possible that somewhere along the way I was accidentally switched from the 5 Mbps service to the 2 Mbps service. It is also quite possible that I was somehow supposed to have a WiFi router from Cincinnati Bell but that someone forgot to actually provide it. If that were the case, then I could press Cincinnati Bell and get a fancier modem/router for my $7.99. If an accidental service reduction had actually occurred, then I could press Cincinnati Bell and get it switched back or I could arrange for my billing to be changed to match the service I was apparently receiving.

I might have merely grumbled and moved to get the errors corrected had there not been at least a little bit of competition left in the local internet market. There is, so instead of expending energy trying to get Cincinnati Bell to correct its errors, I switched to Time Warner Cable. Three things led to the switch. For one thing, TWC allows customers to supply their own modems and provides a list of compatible products. Secondly it’s cheaper. I’m starting with a 2 Mbps plan which should be the equivalent of what I’ve actually been getting from CB. The CB rate is $26 per month (although I’ve actually been paying more) and the TWC rate is $14.99 per month. Yes, I had to spend some money up front but I’m getting nearly twenty bucks ($8.55 + $26 – $14.99 = $19.56) back every month. If I should decide I want more, TWC lists 6 Mbps and 15 Mbps plans that are both cheaper than CB’s 5 Mbps plan. The third reason to switch is that TWC hadn’t pissed me off in years.

Getting the new service should have been quick and easy. It wasn’t although neither was it exactly horrible. When the condominium I live in was built in 1997, all units were pre-wired for Time Warner Cable. I subscribed to TWC for a couple of years before going to DirecTV in 1999. The DirecTV installation made use of the TWC cabling and was working fine when I canceled my subscription in favor of over-the-air TV in 2009. An appointment was made and a technician arrived right on schedule. However, after doing a LOT of testing, he told me that there seemed to be a break in the internal cabling and that someone else would need to come out to fix it. I would be contacted within a week.

I let two weeks pass then called. Someone had entered a placeholder appointment for a couple months in the future then dropped the ball. A more qualified tech arrived less than two days later. He looked things over and, rather than pulling new cable as I expected, simply completed the one connection the previous tech had missed. Bingo!

While both services were connected I checked their speeds using Ethernet (not WiFi) and found the Time Warner connection delivering essentially what was advertised:nsttwc

Cincinnati Bell, not so much:nstcb

I know those rates seem pretty pitiful to many. They are the minimum offerings from the two companies but they are sufficient. One might think that, as a feeder of a blog and website, I am a heavy Internet user. Nope, heavy Internet users are families streaming movies to multiple TVs while playing World of Warcraft with friends in Walla Walla, Washington. I certainly wouldn’t object to more speed but I have what I need for less than a Skinny Vanilla Latte Grande per week.

The opening photo shows a detail of the 1931 Cincinnati Bell Building in downtown Cincinnati.

Bock Again

cbf16_01It was cold and cloudy for the 24th Cincinnati Bockfest Parade. It was, however, dry so a friend and I braved the 40-and-falling temperature to walk beside the merry participants. It was my friend’s first exposure; my fifth.  The cold seems to have kept some observers away but it had no noticible affect on the size of the parade itself. I think a few past entries were absent (e.g., the whip lady) but I doubt that temperature was the cause and there were compensating new entries to keep things interesting.

cbf16_02cbf16_03Proving that the temperature was not a deterrent to everyone was this this wading pool accompanied group wearing shorts, T-shirts, and water wings. Some Red Hot Dancing Queens gathered in front of Arnold’s, Cincinnati’s oldest bar and traditional parade starting point. The Dancing Queens instantly became one of my all time favorite parade groups when I saw them on their second outing at last year’s Northside 4th of July Parade.

cbf16_05cbf16_04I failed to get a picture of parade Grand Marshall Mick Noll and barely caught Schnitzel the goat pulling the ceremonial keg of bock beer. That’s 2015 Sausage Queen, Elyse Lohrbach, in the Caddy. Her reign ended Saturday night when the 2016 queen, Rachel Appenfelder, was chosen.

cbf16_06cbf16_07It’s always good to see perennial favorites Arnold’s self propelled bathtub and the Trojan goat. I personally prefer the original motorized tub (two paragraphs back) although I’m sure the new model is both safer and more reliable.

cbf16_10cbf16_09cbf16_08And now some of the new entries. In case you haven’t noticed, the parade is a real showcase for certifiably groan-worthy puns. Here we have “Whatever Floats Your Goat”, “Bocktor Seuss’ Whodeyville”, and “The Empire Strikes Bock”.

cbf16_11cbf16_12That cluster of Red Hot Dancing Queens in front of Arnold’s had grown to full strength when the parade stepped off. The fun that these gals have is truly contagious and there is no known cure.

cbf16_13I normally probably would not post this blurry picture of a float that has appeared in previous parades but I really need to this time. The 185 year old Rabbit Hash General Store was destroyed by fire just three weeks ago but, as the sign says, “You Can’t Keep a Good Town Down”. There were no injuries and there is some insurance but it isn’t really enough to rebuild the store. A GoFundMe campaign, accessible through the Rabbit Hash website, has been established.

cbf16_14We got inside Bockfest Hall which is something I did not do in either of the preceding two years. I guess that was our reward for dealing with temperatures that not everyone wanted to deal with. In the warmer and brighter 2014 and 2015, when the end of the parade reached the end of the route, the street outside the hall was filled withe people trying to get in. Of course getting in didn’t mean getting to see or hear much. The reduced crowd was still a very big crowd. I snapped this picture over to to of that crowd and only later realized that it contained the previously miss Grand Marshal. That’s Mick Noll in the blue hat at the photo’s left and Christian Moerlein’s Greg Hardman in the top hat on the photo’s right.

The following links lead to evidence of my previous visits: 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015

Trip Peek #35
Trip #61
Sweetheart Cruise ’08

pv44This picture is from my 2008 Sweetheart Cruise trip. This was my first time joining the annual (weather and other stuff permitting) cruise organized by a small group of Missouri road fans. The name comes from its proximity to Valentines Day and the fact that it usually includes sweethearts Kent and Mary Sue Sanderson. This particular cruise ran north along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Hannibal then crossed over and returned through Illinois at some distance from the river. There were lots of bald eagles and pelicans to be seen on the way to Hannibal with the area around Lock 25 near Winfield, MO, where the picture was taken, being one of the hot spots. The second day featured some Sanderson childhood memories including a look (from the outside) at the Lustron house that Mary Sue remembered her father assembling after it arrived on a truck. Weather was fine for the two days of the actual cruise but I did encounter snow on the way home which prompted me to move from two-lane to expressway much sooner than planned.

Two aspects of this trip, one good and one bad, were photo related. On the good side was the move to posting 800 x 600 pixel photos after more than eight years of sticking with 640 x 480. On the bad side was the failure of a memory card containing lots of snowy National Road pictures on the third day. I’m sure they would have looked marvelous in the new larger format.


Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

My Gear – Chapter 19
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40

DMC-ZS40I knew within a week of purchasing the Panasonic DMC-FZ70 that I’d made a mistake. When the camera was not quite six days old I set out on a short road trip and used it for several of the pictures posted in that trip’s journal (It’s a Wanderful Life). It performed flawlessly and recorded some fine photos. My mistake was not in buying a bad camera but in buying the wrong camera. The FZ70’s quality seemed good and it was certainly quite capable. There was simply no slot for it in my personal arsenal.

It’s nearly as big as my Nikon D5100 and, while it is good, it’s not as good. Anytime camera size was not an issue, the Nikon would win. The only place where the Nikon did not fit and the Panasonic did was in a fanny pack and even there it was bulky and awkward to extract. Technically usable as my “concert cam”, it wasn’t nearly as convenient or discreet as the FZ8 had been.

As my buyer’s remorse grew, the Consumer Electronics Show opened in Las Vegas and with it came some new camera announcements. A pair from Panasonic caught my eye. The 20.1 MP Lumix DMC-ZS100 would list for $700 and the 18.1 MP Lumix DMC-ZS60 would list for $448. Of course pixel count wasn’t the only difference but either seemed more than capable of satisfying my desires and both were priced well above my target zone. Neither was actually available with the January 5 announcement but they were available for advance ordering on Amazon. I placed no order but did put the ZS60 on my wish list in case some money fell into my lap.

The most important thing those camera announcements did for me was make me aware of predecessors. The ZS60 was a direct replacement for the almost identically sized ZS40. There were several improvement, of course. Some were definitely desirable but none were necessary. Prices began to slowly drop on the discontinued camera and I pulled the trigger at $212 or 47% of the original $450 MSRP.

I could have had the more desirable all black model for about $40 more but could barely justify the $212. Aside from aesthetics, which can go either way, pros prefer black cameras for the same reasons snipers don’t care much for shiny gun barrels. Although the model I purchased is called silver, it is predominately black and the parts that aren’t are mostly more gray than silver. There are indeed a few bits that could create a glint but that’s hardly an issue when the area around you is likely to be filled with glowing smartphone screens.

DMC-ZS40aThis is the right camera. It’s about three times as thick as my Samsung Galaxy S4 and actually smaller in the other dimensions. Equally important to me is the eye-level viewfinder. It is electronic, of course, which means its on the course side and a little sluggish but not terribly so. In terms of speed, it’s probably a little slower than the FZ70 but significantly faster than the FZ8 and FZ5 I used for years. Yes, I would like the better low light performance of the ZS50 or ZS100 but the difference in prices makes this the right camera for me for now.

DMC-ZS40bWhen I purchased that Lumix DMC-FZ5 in 2005 it was a real change for me. To that point I had refused to own a camera, or much of anything else, that used proprietary batteries. I had also stuck with products from “camera companies”. During the previous forty-plus years of semi-serious picture taking I’d owned Olympus, Nikon, and Canon cameras. Even my 100% price driven first digital was from a company, Agfa, known for film and cameras. My concerns were considerably lessened by the Leica lens on the FZ5. As I said in the FZ5’s My Gear post, digital cameras are “made of electronics and optics” and those are fields where Panasonic and Leica excel. The FZ8 also had a Leica lens but not so the FZ70. I can’t prove that my perception of the Lumix Vario lens on the FZ70 being slightly inferior as anything more than my own prejudice but the ZS40 makes the question meaningless. My latest purchase has a Leica 30X (24-720mm) lens that somehow fits itself inside that 1.34 inch body when power is off.

Another thing that changed with the the FZ5 purchase was form factor. The Canon compacts that preceded it had been small flattish cubes when power was off and the modest zooms parked. The FZ5’s shape was more like a SLR with the long-throw lens protruding from the body even when fully retracted. With the ZS40 I’m back to a small cube that slips easily into pockets.

There are a couple of features on the Lumix DMC-ZS40 that I wasn’t looking for and would not pay extra for. One is a built in GPS receiver that supports in-camera geotagging. For some time, I’ve been geotagging my photos after-the-fact via software and the tracks recorded by a Garmin GPS. The only negative I see with the in-camera unit is reduced battery life. For that reason, I’ll likely have it turned off most of the time but I can certainly see using it for some away-from-the-car geotagging. Wi-Fi is also built in which allows using online services to store photos or post them directly to social media. I have doubts that I’ll ever use it that way but it’s possible. It also allows me to transfer pictures between the camera and my phone or laptop and that does seem like something I might have a use for someday. The camera can be used as something of a wireless SD card reader meaning I could use it to get photos from my DSLR to my smartphone. It’s not something I’ve been itching to do but having the capability does make me go hmmm.

Movie Review National Parks Adventure MacGillivray Freeman

npa_01 On Thursday I made a nighttime visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center. It wasn’t the first but they’re not at all common. Most of my visits take place in the light of day. A new IMAX film had premiered at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. On Friday it would open in about forty theaters across the USA. A handful of theaters were permitted to hold screenings on the day in between. Cincinnati’s Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater was among them and, by accident or an act of kindness, I was invited to be among those attending.

Immediately after seeing National Parks Adventure I sent a Tweet calling it spectacular. “Spectacular” is a word that fits virtually all Omnimax presentations. The screens that wrap around the viewers are huge. Quite often so are the subjects. Mountains, canyons, oceans, and starry skies are popular and fitting. National Parks Adventure is certainly spectacular in the immense-scale grandiose sort of way naturally associated with the word. There are plenty of mountains and canyons but early in the film I was struck with not just the size of the images but of their beauty and technical quality as well. I believe it was a shot of mountains reflected in a lake that first triggered the thought that many of the images I was seeing did not require a five story dome to be spectacular. Printed on flat and comparatively tiny pieces of paper, scenes from the movie could yield a very impressive coffee table book. Even six inch postcards made of images from the film would probably be stunning. I can’t quantify the difference or even prove it exists but I thought the images in National Parks Adventure had sharper focus, more vivid colors, and better composition than those of any of the many Omnimax features I’ve seen.

Stunning visuals are the reason that Omnimax theaters exist but a little story telling never hurts. National Parks Adventure tells a couple that help put things in perspective. Some historical perspective comes from the inclusion of old photos and some well done recreations. Without getting in very deep, the movie offers glimpses into some of the threats to our nation’s natural treasures and into the role of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt in protecting them.

Size perspective is provided by following three friends as they visit several national parks. The trio is not plucked randomly from tourists at a park entrance. Renowned climber Conrad Anker leads the group which includes step-son Max Lowe and family friend Rachel Pohl. Max is a photographer and Rachel is an artist. Both are experienced climbers. As you might expect, the group climbs just about everything from seemingly bare rock faces to vertical sheets of ice. They also go biking, hiking, skiing, and probably do some other things I’ve forgotten. This is, I assume, the “adventure” of the title and it is all captured beautifully by an IMAX camera that is often high above the adventurers.

I could ramble on and on but I’m even less qualified to review movies (This is my first attempt.) than to review books and CDs. Using the universally accepted “a picture is worth a thousand words” exchange rate and assuming 24 frames per second, the movie’s trailer provides the equivalent of 171,360,000 words.

npa_02Cincinnati Museum Center is a founding member of the seven theater Giant Dome Theater Consortium which was a major supporter of the film’s production. Not only did that allow them to be one of the theaters hosting advance screenings, it undoubtedly played a role in having one of the film’s stars, Rachel Pohl, in town during the opening week. Following Thursday’s screening, she was introduced by the museum’s Vice President of Featured Experiences and Customer Services,  Dave Duszynski, and happily — nay, joyfully — answered a number of questions from the audience.

npa_05npa_04npa_03On Friday morning Rachel rappelled down the front of Union Terminal, a.k.a. Cincinnati Museum Center, to draw local attention to the film. It’s pretty obvious that the happy adventurer seen in the film is not an act. Her artistic side gets all the attention at RachelPohlArt.com. On Saturday, Rachel put her recently obtained fine arts degree to use working with even younger artists at the Children’s Museum inside the Cincinnati Museum Center. Sorry I missed it.

omnifilmThe Lindner Family Theater will be temporarily closing this summer as part of a $212 million Museum Center renovation. Older films will be shown as part of the classics series but this is the last new film to be presented before the closing. It is anticipated that when the theater reopens after a couple of years, it will be with a new state of the art digital system. That means that National Parks Adventure is probably the last new film to be shown here ever.

My Gear – Chapter 18
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70

DMC-FZ70My gear had been stable for quite some time. The most recent newcomer was a Garmin zūmo 220 in January of 2012 and the newest camera a Nikon D5100 acquired the preceding September. The way the image capturing devices in the lineup were used had developed into something a little different than what I originally anticipated but it was all good. The D5100 is small for a DSLR but it’s still pretty big. When I’m carrying it my primary intent is, more likely than not, to take pictures. On the other end of things, my mobile phone is almost always with me and can be used when I’m not planning to take pictures but an opportunity — or need — appears. In between was a Lumix DMC-FZ8 originally purchased, back in July of 2007, to be my main camera. It went into service as the “big” camera in partnership with something more pocket-able. But the FZ8 fit into a belt bag and, while too big for a jeans pocket, into jacket pockets rather easily. After a DLSR started filling the big camera “I’m definitely taking pictures” role, I came to think of the FZ8 as a smallish camera that was easy to have with me when I thought I might want to take a picture. It became the workhorse camera for concerts and presentations where I wanted to grab some decent photos but did not want to be obtrusive.

It was a comfortable situation but it couldn’t last forever. In September the FZ8 died and I immediately became painfully aware of just how much I’d come to depend on it. On one hand, improvements in technology made smartphone photos equal in quality — in certain situations — to those of the Panasonic camera. In fact, although the spec is often misleading, my Samsung Galaxy 4 has nearly twice the pixels of the FZ8, 13 MP to 7.2 MP. But in terms of usability there is no comparison. There are few things more obtrusive or less stable than a smartphone held out far enough to compose a photo on its brightly glowing screen and very little as frustrating as trying to do it in bright sunlight. I even dug out the old Nikon Coolpix 3200 just to have a small camera with an eye-level viewfinder but that was far from satisfactory. I can hardly blame the decade old Nikon, though. I had become accustomed to higher quality images and, more importantly, less shutter lag. The 3200 was usable as a stopgap but it was a rather poor one.

There was no great urgency but I did start looking about the Internet once in a while for a replacement for the dead FZ8. The problem was that low priced cameras with eye-level viewfinders were pretty much a thing of the past. Offering only LCD screens for framing photos make them closer to a smartphone than to my idea of a camera. The latest in the line of FZ8 successors was the DMC-FZ70 which originally listed for $399.99. While that was very much in line with what I had paid for my FZ8 and the FZ5 it replaced, I had bought those as primary cameras and I wasn’t comfortable paying that much now for what would, from the very beginning, be an auxiliary to a Nikon DSLR.

The camera is no longer available from Panasonic and I’ve found postings about it being discontinued dating back to July of last year. Apparently there were bunches of these in the pipeline because even today I can find plenty of them for sale on line. Prices range up to $325 despite the last price on Panasonic’s website being $299.99. Panasonic may have lowered the price around the end of November because that’s when I noticed prices from some sources starting to dip below $300. On a day in mid-December it occurred to me that some brick & mortar stores might have the camera available to look over. I quickly learned that Best Buy carried the camera but was obviously closing it out. The store nearest to me had none left but the next nearest did. The closeout price was a wallet tugging $150.

At $400 the camera specs are impressive. At $150 they are almost unbelievable. Topping the spec sheet are the 16.1 megapixel sensor and the industry leading 60x (20-1200mm) zoom lens. Other impressive numbers are the 100 to 3200 ISO range (1600-6400 High Sens mode) and 4 to 1/2000 second shutter speed. Unfortunately those aren’t the camera’s only big numbers. Its 1.34 lb weight is about twice that of the FZ8. Its 5.12 x 3.82 x 4.65 inch dimensions are 15% to nearly 50% larger than the FZ8. I feared that size would be a problem and holding the camera in my hand in the store did nothing to alleviate that fear. The bargain basement price did.

Of course what the bargain basement price really did was cloud a problem not eliminate it. The FZ70 did fit into my belt bag but getting it in and out was nowhere near as easy as popping the FZ8 in and out and getting it into any of the jacket pockets that had held the FZ8 was simply impossible. For many people, the Panasonic DMC-FZ70 would be the ideal camera. Sadly, I’m not one of them. As I write this, it remains in my possession but its spot in the rotation has already been taken by another Panasonic camera. I’d love to make someone a very good deal on a very good camera and may soon actively pursue doing that on eBay.

My Gear — Chapter 17 — Garmin zūmo 220

Ohio Predictions

ghd2016_01If I’d had any confidence that I would actually attend a Groundhog Day event this year, I might have posted a canned article last week and saved the Happy Imbolc piece for today to be fleshed out with the latest news. But the truth is that I wasn’t sure I would make it to Buckeye Chuck‘s dawn pronouncement until just minutes before I was on the way. I was noncommittal when I went to bed on Monday. If I woke up in time and in the mood to go, I would, but I set no alarm clock and told myself that sleeping through the whole thing would be just fine. I awoke at 4:04, four minutes past what I had decided was the ideal departure time. There was slack in that ideal time but I waffled for a few minutes before finally deciding to go. I hit the shower and then the road and reached Marion, Ohio, right about 7:00. The photo of Buckeye Chuck in his cage was taken at 7:03.

ghd2016_02The gathering in Marion isn’t nearly as large as the one in Punxsutawney but it is respectable. Radio station WMRN has been offering localized groundhog predictions since the late 1970s when Charlie Evers started sharing those provided by groundhogs in the neighboring woods with listeners. That led to a naming contest that produced the name Buckeye Chuck and Evers was instrumental in getting the Ohio legislature to proclaim Buckeye Chuck the state’s official groundhog in 1979. The original Buckeye Chuck was present today, patiently posing for photos. Evers has moved on but is still a force in the area with a show on radio station WWGH.

ghd2016_04ghd2016_03A WMRN Groundhog Day tradition is providing free ground hog, in the form of Spam sandwiches, to everyone present. That’s Buckeye Chuck’s current partner and translator, Scott Shawver taking the first bite of his. I had my own which I consumed with less ceremony but possibly more enthusiasm.

ghd2016_05ghd2016_06Broadcasting from the stage near Buckeye Chuck went live at 7:15, just a few minutes before Shawver bit into that sandwich. Sunrise was at 7:41. The time in between was filled with the reading of a couple of proclamations, including one from Marion Mayor Scott Schertzer and assorted banter from Shawver and co-host Paul James. When they began wondering about who had come the farthest, I thought I might be in the running but the first question, “Anyone from out of state?”, turned up a couple from New Jersey. They visit a different groundhog each year. Last year it was General Beauregard Lee near Atlanta, Georgia, and they have been to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania “many times”. Clouds continued moving steadily on and by the time the sun popped over the horizon the sky was pretty much clear. Buckeye Chuck saw his shadow, an indicator that six more weeks of winter should be expected, instantly.

ghd2016_07The mildly disappointed crowd dispersed rather quickly although some took advantage of the daylight to get a better view or a better picture of Buckeye Chuck while Shawver and James wrapped up the program. I dawdled a bit before walking to the car. Deciding to drive to Marion was as far as my morning planning had progressed. Just before climbing into the car, I asked the only person standing nearby if he knew of a good place for breakfast. “No,” he said with a laugh, “I’m from Cleveland.”

ghd2016_08Scanning signs and storefronts as I drove back through Marion,I spotted a likely looking place near the center of town. I took the photo as I left. The street in front of Baires Restaurant was completely empty when I arrived. A guy at the counter and another in a booth were drinking coffee and chatting with each other when I entered. Service was somewhat slow but the lone woman on the business side of the counter seemed pretty busy in the cooking area so I didn’t think too much of it. The first person to enter after me was a fellow on a walker. As he worked his way into the seat next to me and against the wall, I asked, thinking it might be easier, if he would rather sit where I was. “This one’s got my name on it,” he laughed and he meant it. He pointed to a small brass plate on the back of the swivel stool marking it as his regular seat. The cook/waitress immediately appeared with his grapefruit which I had noticed her preparing earlier. My food arrived as I chatted with my new neighbor and learned that the restaurant normally opened at 8:30. It was not yet a quarter past when I entered and what I took to be slow service was more than I had a right to expect. Now that the place was officially open, a number of people entered with new folks greeted, usually by name, by those already there. As I paid my bill, I joked with the person I now realized was cook/waitress/owner about me busting in early and she grinned. “Oh, you’re alright.” In case there is any question, I had sausage & eggs.

ghd2016_10ghd2016_09One of the reasons I had been so nonchalant about possibly sleeping through Buckeye Chuck’s emergence was that I had a Plan B. The day’s big event at Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, where I’d watched a groundhog named Rosie make her prediction in 2013, was aimed toward a much younger crowd and was scheduled for a comfortable 10:00 AM. I hadn’t even thought about it after starting toward Marion but I got curious as I was about to select “Home” on the GPS, and tapped Boonshoft instead. When I did, I realized that, without the breakfast stop, I probably could have worked in both Chuck and Rosie. Since it made the time to home only slightly longer, I proceeded to the museum. The last load of attending school children were about to climb aboard their bus when I arrived. Rosie’s appearance had taken place more than forty minutes earlier but I coud see the official result. She agreed with Chuck.

Not many did. Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring as did all the other U.S. groundhogs on my short list consisting of Staten Island’s Charles G. Hogg, Illinois’ Woodstock Willie, and Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee. The only groundhog of note that I found agreeing with Chuck and Rosie lives in Canada but not all Canadians are of the same mind, either. In Ontario, Wiarton Willie sided with the Ohio rodents in predicting more winter while Shubenacadie Sam claims an early spring is on the way in Nova Scotia.


imbolc2016As stated in last week’s post, I had no plans to be awake at 4:30 AM Thursday. That was when Imbolc, the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox, occurred this year. Neither did I have plans to assure that I was asleep at that time but that seemed the most likely and it is indeed what transpired. I didn’t miss it by too much, though. The picture at left was taken at 5:22, a mere fifty-two minutes past Imbolc. Admitedly I can’t prove it but I strongly suspect that the view from my bed was pretty much the same at the magic moment as it was less than an hour later.

Happy Imbolc

gknob2010Groundhog Day has long been one of my favorite holidays. In fact, attending America’s biggest Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, was among the first things I did with the newly available time that retirement brought. The photo at right was taken at 4:58 AM, February 2, 2010. Sunrise was more than two hours away and the temperature was four degrees Fahrenheit. I had a good time and I’m glad I went but the experience did not lead to plans for an annual return. Standing outside in pre-dawn single-digit temperatures is something I prefer to discuss in past tense only.

I credited my original fondness for Groundhog Day to a belief that it had no religious connections and was basically folklore that had been adopted by some Pennsylvanians largely to promote silliness. While both of those claims are sort of true, there is more to it. I started to doubt the “no religious connections” when I discovered that America’s Groundhog Day shares its February 2 date with Christianity’s Candlemas. But sharing a date doe not a connection make and there are no direct ties apparent between Groundhog Day and any of the three events (presentation of the child Jesus, Jesus’ entry into the temple, and Mary’s purification) Christians attribute to the day.

February 1 is also a day recognized by Christians. It is the day that Saint Brigid of Ireland is reported to have died and is celebrated as her feast day. Before Saint Brigid was born (in 451 they say) a Gaelic festival was celebrated about this time to honor a goddess also named, perhaps by coincidence though probably not, Brigid. I have to say “about this time” because man-made calendars had not yet taken over and feast days were not yet tied to specific numbers on pages. Brigid’s was associated with a point halfway between Winter Solstice and Vernal Equinox called Imbolc which happens near the beginning of what we call February. In 2016 it occurs at 4:30 EST February 4.

Without donut shops and corner diners, it isn’t clear where ancient Irish farmers gathered to talk about the weather but it’s a safe bet that they did. Around Imbolc, the coming spring would have been a big topic. Farmers without donut shops and cable television are quite observant of their environment and they no doubt noticed that bright clear days in the middle of winter were usually a little colder than cloudy ones. With Imbolc being the most “middle of winter” you can get, giving some special significance to the weather on that day was likely fairly natural. That’s about as close to science that the groundhog and shadow story gets.

I’m guessing that making a determination at sunrise was also fairly natural. Even if those early farmers were capable of determining Imbolc’s exact moment — and I’m not saying they weren’t — in those years when it did not occur during the daytime they weren’t about to get up in the middle of the night to see if the sun was shining. The crack of dawn probably seemed about right.

So there really are no direct connections between Groundhog Day and religion and there is plenty of silliness in its fairly recent (1887) use to bring fame to a small Pennsylvania town but its timing is firmly linked to the workings of the solar system and there is a tiny bit of logic in it being a day to make weather predictions. If nothing else, the days around Imbolc are most likely the coldest of the year meaning there’s a good chance that it’s all up-thermometer from here.

My 2010 Punxsutawney visit is here. I will, as usual, celebrate Groundhog Day on Tuesday by consuming pork sausage at some point. I have no plans to be awake at 4:30 Thursday to observe Imbolc.

Mobile Friendlier

dgcdeskFor something that did not even register on my radar a month ago, the concept of mobile-friendly websites has grabbed a lot of space on this blog in the young 2016. The first post of the new year led to me realizing that mobile devices should not simply be ignored. The second post discussed a little of what I had learned and described the first steps taken to be mobile-friendly. And this, the fourth post of the new year, is a report on reaching a milestone on the road to mobile friendliness.

dgcmobileThe milestone I speak of is having a home page that passes both Google and Bing mobile friendliness tests. That’s it at the top of the article in desktop (actually laptop) view and at the left in smartphone view. It is the biggest change to the website’s front door in at least fifteen years. It retains most of the flavor and function of the previous version but is simpler and scales down a lot better. About the only things missing are the RSS feeds from Route 66 News, Roadside America, and American Road Magazine and the randomly selected road trip photo and link at the page’s upper right. Both came with a lot of overhead and I don’t recall anyone ever complimenting me on either. I personally really liked the random picture thing, however, and have kept it alive with a “Done Deeds”-“All Trips”-“Random” menu item. The Google ads also seem to be fairly high in overhead and, although I’m hanging on to them for the present, I will be keeping an eye on them and they could go missing.

The new home page and a revised FAQ page went live just ahead of this blog post. The FAQ page explains that the individual day pages for all ten of the “Decent” (personal favorite) road trips have been updated as have the individual day pages for all trips taken since the start of 2008. The cover pages for all road trips were updated in advance of the January 10 2016 on the Small Screen post. The remaining day pages will be updated in reverse chronological order and will hopefully be taken care of in the next couple of months.

tlistmobileThere are a few pages that may never be truly mobile-friendly as Google and Bing see things. Among these are both Oddment and Road Trip index pages. While changes have been made to make text on the pages readable on mobile devices, the table displays overflow smartphone screens in all directions and require zooming and/or panning to view. There are schemes, using pop-ups and such, to make tables slimmer and more mobile-friendly. I don’t really like any I’ve seen and am firmly of the belief that the conversion effort would not be justified for either of these tables. While they might not be officially mobile-friendly, and I have no quibbles with either Google’s or Bing’s criteria,  they seem quite usable on my smartphone and I don’t consider them overly unfriendly.

ccollagemobile1The Clickable Collage is another page which is not officially mobile-friendly. Containing a single photo from every completed road trip, it allows the individual photos to be clicked to access the journal for the associated trip. It was formerly available through a link below the randomly selected photo at the home page’s upper right. It is now reached through the “Done Deeds”-“All Trips”-“Collage” menu item. Although I don’t expect everyone to experience the same memory stimulation I do when viewing the collage, I have to believe that it is most impactful when seen in its entirety. Of course this is best done on a full size (whatever that is) screen where the total view is also actually usable. Making this collage fit a small screen by forcing it into one or two very tall columns just seems wrong and more irritating than impressive. It is clearly not a natural fit for smartphone screens but it can, like those index pages, be viewed and used by panning. It can also be zoomed to fit but, while this view of the full collage might have a little of the impressiveness of the big screen version, the tiny pictures are neither clear or tappable unless you have eagle eyes and pencil-point fingers.

All Oddment pages contain a table of photo thumbnails and most of these tables are too wide to fit a smartphone screen without zooming. Modifications have been made so that text on the pages is readable but the tables remain a problem with no ready solution. The most recent Oddment was published in December 2012 and no more are anticipated. Like the index and collage pages, Oddments are not totally unusable on mobile devices but they are undeniably not mobile-friendly. It is possible that some future development or insight will allow them to be made officially mobile-friendly but no such changes are currently planned.

I believe that this blog can now return to regular programming. The remaining daily journal pages will eventually be coerced into friendliness and there might be a few mobile device oriented tweaks as time goes by but I think I’m done talking about it. I just want to be friendly — and mobile.

ADDENDUM 25-Feb-2016: All planned mobile related edits have been completed. I will continue to monitor Google and Bling mobile friendliness reports and respond as appropriate to any issues they identify.