Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mama Kodak Brings Back Ektachrome

Three retro boxes of Kodak Ektachrome E200 film.
When it comes to being retro, I’ve always been ahead of my time.

And this month, I feel vindicated.

Those familiar with this blog know I’m a photographer. What many don't know is that I continue to shoot film in the ever-evolving world of digital photography. 

Sure, I own a digital camera. (I have several, in fact.) But I also own a few film cameras, which neither wild horses nor pixel-peeping gear snobs will pry from my fingers.

So you can image my elation earlier this month when Kodak announced it would re-introduce Ektachrome into its ever-dwindling film line. For me, it was as if Time Inc. was bringing back LIFE Magazine to newsstands, or that NBC was returning Cheers to its weekly lineup, or that Chrysler would once again roll out the Cordoba and its seats made of rich Corinthian leather.

For the uninitiated, Ektachrome was once to color photography what the selfie is to narcissism today – it was the height of its craft.

Kodak has made some of the best color film in history, including its legendary Kodachrome. But Ektachrome was special; it was Kodachrome with 12 cylinders under its hood. Its sudden demise in 2012 didn’t get the obit cousin Kodachrome got three years earlier. After all, Paul Simon wrote a top-10 ode to the latter.

When National Geographic photographers needed a little more speed in their film back in the day, they reached into their bags for Ektachrome 200. What they got was Kodachrome’s saturated colors and ultra-fine grain with a more light-sensitive film that allowed for faster shutter speeds.

Flip through some old Nat Geo’s, especially the ones from the 1960s. Take a look at the credit line under many of the photos. More often than not you’ll see EKTACHROME printed beneath the picture.

I haven’t shot Ektachrome in years. But soon I’ll be making some extra room in my crowded refrigerator for a roll or two. I’ve got boxes of Kodak Ultramax 400 stored away in the deli meats drawer. I like to keep my film next to the salami, capocollo and spreadable cheddar; they add a little flavor to my work.

I’ll run some rolls through my Nikon F and F3, two cameras that are a joy to operate.  They’re lookers, too. Recently, I was out shooting with my F and guy around 60 approached me. He was an army veteran who shot film in the 1980s. He asked me about my camera, staring at it all the time, as if it were a Victoria Secret model.

“I used to shoot with a Nikkormat,” he said. “I still have it at the house. Maybe I’ll dig it out and shoot a few rolls.”

No one ever asks me about my iPhone.

I’m sure a pro or two will read this piece and conclude that I live in the past. No matter. The present isn’t what it used to be and that past wasn’t all that bad. But maybe there’s hope for the future. Film is making a comeback in the Snapchat world of instant gratification. Ektachrome’s re-release is proof of that.

Even Millennials are taking to film. YouTube is filled with homemade videos of 20-somethings crowing about the used film cameras they bought on the cheap. They know they have to wait for the results of their labor. But it seems the creative magic of doing something by hand, like loading a camera with film, or advancing a frame with a level, is too much for them to resist.

Maybe patience is making a comeback, too. 

For now, I await Ektachrome’s return. Indeed, my DSLR gives nice, bright colors and the greens of summer, and makes my viewers think all the world’s a sunny day. So what. In 10 years my RAW files could become unreadable. Film is forever.

So rejoice, Mr. Simon. Mama Kodak may have taken our Kodachome away, but she’s bringing back Ektachrome. The future is retro. I’m so happy it’s a wonder I can think at all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

From Russia With Spam

For whatever reason, Russians have been spamming Scribbles.

Legendary Soviet leader and one-time Marxist propaganda leaflet distributor Leon Trotsky once observed – “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

Throughout the past month I’ve discovered that Leon was right. No matter how well we live our lives (or at least try to) war seems to find us, even in ways that have nothing to do with guns, bombs, or ballots.

I came to this glorious, red epiphany last month when I logged onto Google Analytics and discovered some curious hits to my blog and photography websites.

For some reason, representatives from a website called Secret.Google.com were visiting my sites several times a week to flip through a few pages. What’s more, Secret.Google.com was imploring me to “Vote for Trump,” even though the election had been over for days.

When I clicked the country link I learned that Secret.Google.com’s reps had visited me from Russia. One click on the city link and I discovered that my visitor was from Samara Oblast, a city of about 3 million comrades, some of whom have a penchant for hacking. 

In all fairness to the Russians, my sites have been hacked from miscreants in other countries as well – even in the good ol’ U.S.A. But none have been this persistent, this active, this intolerable.

For the first few days, I did little to address the issue. Big mistake. In retrospect, it was the first shot fired, a Lexington and Concord, a Fort Sumter, a Sarajevo, a late summer morning in Poland.

Channeling Neville Chamberlain, I decided to avoid war and monitor the situation. Soon I began noticing that my Russian visitors were clicking on my sites with growing frequency, sometimes at a rate of one hit per hour. Their army seemed to be advancing. After all, I doubt I’m that popular in Russia.

After about a week, the Russian spammers were in full recruitment mode. According to Google Analytics, Secret.Google.com was popping up across my Russian map like a smallpox outbreak in a gulag. I began to see hits from St. Petersburg, Lipetsk Oblast, Magadan Oblast, Primorsky Krai, Krasnodar Krai, and even Moscow.

Leon Trotsky 1; Neville Chamberlain 0.

I began to wonder why the Russians were hacking me? It’s not like I’ve got secrets only I, the State Department, the C.I.A. and George Soros know about. No one is going to find anything salacious on either of my sites. No pictures of naked women; no incriminating photos of celebrities; and no personal essays that begin, “You’re not going to believe this, but every word of it is true…”

I can just image the disappointment my Russian spammers must have felt after weeks of perusing my sites.

BORIS: “Ivan, my dear comrade, my Bolshevik brother from another mother, my K.G.B. homeboy, how much more time and rubles are we going to spend peeking at this stupid Amerikan’s websites?”

IVAN: “You just keep logging on every hour. Something is bound to pop up! I’m beginning to suspect this DiCesare has been spying on the Kremlin! Try decoding those hackneyed, bourgeois essays of his. There might be something, some secret message of sorts, hidden in all that Amerikan mediocrity.”

BORIS: “For the love of Lenin! How could this moronic Amerikan possibly succeed in spying on the Kremlin? When I first went to his websites I was hoping for some good, capitalist, western porn. But instead I got a boring, middle-aged Amerikan with an identity crisis! That mudak can’t decide whether to be Alexander Rodchenko or Kurt Vonnegut. Have you seen his work? It’s about as titillating as a babushka in a bikini. What a hack!”

IVAN: “Boris, have another vodka and quit your proletariat bitching.”

After a few weeks of this nonsense, I decided to end my détente with the Russians. My analytics for November were now misleading, the data a falsehood. I became red with anger. If the Russians wanted war with me, then war it will be, I said to myself during a Monday Night Football halftime show.

My first move was to go to Google Secret.Google.com to get intelligence on these mudaks. I learned that Secret.Google.com is a referral spam site set up for the purposes of self-promotion and screwing up your data. I also learned there was a way to block these spam artists in Google Analytics, which I did. A few days later the hits from Secret.Google.com stopped. Victory was mine.

I monitored my sites’ analytics for a few days and found no referral spam from Russia or any where else. Thanksgiving came and all was quiet. My sites’ analytics were flat-lining. Under normal circumstances this would be cause for concern. But I was elated. I’d rather get no hits than ones driven by spam.

Then, last week, the Russians returned, this time under a new referral spam site: o-o-8-o-o, which came straight outta Moscow. This time my hackers told me, “Google officially recommends o-o-8-o-o search shell.” Ironically, a few days later, another o-o-8-o-o hacker, this one from St. Petersburg, stated that “o-o-8-o-o search shell is much better than Google!”

I don’t know why, but o-o-8-o-o makes me itch. Maybe because it looks like a string of mosquito bites. Nevertheless, it too was zapped from my websites.

Peace had once again returned to Scribbles and my photo site. I got a few hits on my photo site from links I had posted on social media, all of which seemed legit.

Then, on Monday, I got another hit from Russia. This time the spam read:  “Vitaly rules google *:。゜゚・*(^^)*・゜゚。:* ¯\_()_/¯(ಠ)(ಥ)(ʘ‿ʘ)(ಠ_ಠ)( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)(Д)ʕ̫͡ʔ (=^ ^=)oO” 

And so my war with the Russians continues. I blocked “Vitaly rules google” and all its ensuing – and rather artistic – code. I guess no matter how many times I filter out these Russian hackers and spammers they will find a way to attack my analytics. Like Herman Melville’s unnamed narrator in “Bartleby, the Scrivener” I’m waging an unwanted war of passive aggression and losing badly.

Indeed, Trotsky was right – war will find us whether we like it or not.

Ah, Leon! Ah, humanity!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Scribbles Hits Number 3,000!

Scribbles received its 3,000 hit (page view) last week. 
Scribbles entered the 3,000 hit club last week, joining the ranks of such greats as Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, and Wade Boggs.

Not too shabby, if I may say so myself, considering this is my first year in the blogosphere bigs, with only 10 posts beneath my belt. If posts were at-bats, I’d still be enduring rookie harassment in the clubhouse.

As of press time, my 3, 086 hits (they’re actually page views) puts me 26 ahead of Houston Astros great and fellow Seton Hall alum, Craig Biggio. I’m also two hits ahead of Alex Rodriguez's current career total, but my page views were PED-free. (Who uses PEDs to click a mouse?) So you can spare me the asterisk.

I hope to surpass my childhood hero, Carl Yastrzemski, with my 3,420th hit before the All-Star break in San Diego. Come to think of it, I’d like to surpass Yaz in San Diego, perhaps on Coronado Beach, sipping on a whisky sour, as I contemplate my hairy navel.

But, then again, maybe I shouldn't get too ahead of myself. Yaz was also a Triple Crown winner. By July, I’ll be happy for a spot on the all-time hit list somewhere between George Brett and Eddie Murray. Those guys didn’t suck, either.

According to Google Analytics, my 3,000th page view came on May 17 at 4 p.m. CDT. At this point, I don’t know where it came from; I certainly don’t know who delivered Scribbles’ 3,000th hit. I can only ascertain from the data that it was someone from either the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, or the Czech Republic.

I don’t know how much of an achievement 3,000 page views in a four-month time span is, but I’m thankful for every one. Since I debuted Scribbles on Jan. 19, it’s been read by nearly 800 viewers in 30 countries, folks as far away as Russia, China, Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. If my English degree math is correct, more than half of those viewers were return visitors.

Getting followers, however, has been a challenge. Scribbles is a blog without an angle; it’s not about food or travel or photography or cars or home improvement or why Chelmsford the Cat is smarter than you.

Scribbles is commentary, observations with a shot of satire. It’s the kind of writing I like to read, my nod to Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dave Barry. Whether there’s an e-audience for that kind of writing is of little concern to me at the present time. I’m not looking to break the Internet. That’s Kim Kardashian’s job. (Perhaps her only job.) I’d rather entertain my readers with posts about life, liberty and the sometimes quixotic pursuit of happiness. 

I’ll leave the travel tips, brownie recipes and home improvement solutions to Chelmsford the Cat.

Blogging isn’t easy. Commentary is even harder. And when you’re writing during an election year, particularly one as heated as 2016, avoiding politics on your blog is like avoiding financial advisors at a chamber of commerce mixer. Lord knows I haven’t posted all of my political pieces. I’ve got more than one filed away for more than one reason. Sometimes a writer’s wisdom is the better part of his valor.

I never knew blogging one’s mouth off could amount to something akin to a full-time job without pay. But I enjoy it, nonetheless. By Labor Day, I hope to surpass the great Stan Musial, whose 3,630 hits were divided evenly between 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road.

And maybe by Christmas, I’ll finally eclipse Pete Rose’s all-time record of 4,256 hits. But don’t bet on it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Britain's Abouty McAboutface

Great Britain's R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface. Source: Google Images.
In our present-day spirit of voter shenanigans, I give you the epic saga of Britain’s Boaty McBoatface.

For Americans who believe their vote doesn’t count, who believe Washington disenfranchises them at every turn, I say unto you – you’re far from alone in your views. Just ask our neighbors across the pond.

Last week, the British government rejected the results of its own online poll, which voted to name a new $300 million polar research vessel, R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface. Conducted last month by Britain’s Natural Environment Research Council, the poll sought a democratic way to name the massive ship while creating excitement for her arrival on the high seas.

But as suggestions and votes for the ship’s name poured in online, former BBC radio host James Hand put forth the name Boaty McBoatface, and an Internet star was born.

While other names were being bandied about – R.R.S. Henry Worsley and R.R.S. David Attenborough, to name a few – R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface pulled ahead quickly and won the contest with 124,109 votes. It was as if some cheeky IT bloke at the Ministry of Silly Walks had hacked the system and hijacked the results.

In the end, however, British humour won the day by winning the hearts and minds of ordinary people on the Internet. For many of us – including myself – it seemed as if William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Graham Chapman were looking down and smiling. Other humorous names for the ship included R.R.S. Clifford the Big Red Boat, R.R.S. Ice Ice Baby, R.R.S. Notthetitanic, and R.R.S. Big Metal Floaty Thingy-Thing. One offering, R.R.S. It’s Bloody Cold Here, garnered 10,679 votes.

But despite this rousing victory for e-democracy, London wasn’t laughing. When Tuesday arrived, NERC Science Minister Jo Johnson announced that the council would select a more “suitable” name for the ship. R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface had been sunk before she ever left port.

“There are many excellent suggestions among the 7,000 names put forward by members of the public, and we’ll make a decision as to which one should be put forward for the royal warrant when we’ve had a chance to review them all,” Johnson said.

On Thursday, Sir David Attenborough weighed in on the issue in an interview with the British newspaper, The Guardian. Attenborough, the man who commissioned Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the BBC in 1969, said the council should call the vessel “something serious.”

Attenborough also joked that he was “so disappointed” that his name did not top the list. For the record, Attenborough’s name placed fifth in the poll behind It’s Bloody Cold Here.

Indeed, Boaty’s ordeal has become wrought with irony. The country that brought democracy into the modern age squashed the results of its own online poll to prevent a taxpayer-funded ship from having a silly name. Boaty McBoatface is a silly name for a polar research vessel, but the e-majority bloody well spake. Instead of backpedaling, the British government should honor the original spirit of the poll, purchase a bottle of tax-supported champagne, christen R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface, and toast the democratic system. Hear, hear!

But alas, it is doubtful that will happen. Political ego always trumps the will of the people. I’ll lay you five-to-one odds the ship will be named for some Stodgy McStodgeface. 

I’m sure I wasn’t the only American who got a chuckle out of the Boaty McBoatface story. But we shouldn’t laugh too loudly. Boaty’s nomination and subsequent victory were nothing compared to what we’re faced with this fall. If the Brits thought the R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface would be an embarrassment to their government, let them wait until November.

We Yanks will then show them what political embarrassment is really like.