Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Herbie Hancock Rocks the Zoo

I have to travel a lot for my new job, but one of the perks of all of that travel is that sometimes I'm in the right place at the right time. On Wednesday, June 20, that place was Seattle, with the opportunity to see jazz legend Herbie Hancock, who performed at the Woodland Park Zoo.

The "Zoo Tunes" concerts are an annual fixture in Seattle, although I had never been to one before. I sure picked the right one to start with.

Seattle vocalist Greta Matassa opened the show. I have heard Ms. Matassa's music on KPLU before, and so was thrilled that she was the opening act. I purchased one of her CDs (Favorites from a Long Walk) and had a chance to talk with her after the show. She will be performing in Bellingham in July and I intend to take the entire family to see her. If you've never heard her before, you owe it to yourself to check out Greta Matassa.

Herbie Hancock played with a quartet consisting of the amazing Lionel Loueke on guitar, Nathan East on bass, and the incredible Vincent Colaiuta on drums. Hancock alternated between grand piano and a collection of synthesizers, including one that he wore and played like an electric guitar, trading licks with Loueke.

The evening's selections included some new stuff, including "Stitched Up" from his latest album "Possibilities" and "Canteloupe Island". He even performed a portion of "Maiden Voyage" on solo piano. But my favorites of the evening were "Watermelon Man" and "Chameleon", with Hancock getting into a great funky groove.

About the only piece missing from the evening was "Rock It". What an absolutely incredible evening.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Race Day

To say that Sunday at the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland was considerably drier than Saturday would be an understatement. It did drizzle a bit in the morning, but nothing like Saturday's downpour.

The morning started with the big cars on track for a Champ Car warm-up session. I stayed completely dry under a truely waterproof rain poncho that I had purchased the previous evening, and kept my camera completely dry thanks to the addition of some gaffer's tape to help secure the Lightware rain cover.
The warm up session was followed by the weekend's second Atlantics race, which proved to be an exciting battle. The race was eventually won by Canadian rookie Kevin Lacroix.
But of course, I had come for the main event, the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland. The race marked a number of firsts, including the first standing start for a Champ Car race. It also marked the second year in a row in which the race was run entirely under green—there were no yellow caution periods. (The start of last year's race was waved off, so the first lap was run under a yellow flag, but the remainder was all green flag racing.)
Justin Wilson took an early lead and appeared to be running away from the field. But after the first series of pit stops, Sebastien Bourdais began to catch him.
I headed to the pits to photograph the second round of pit stops from the pit wall.
By the third stint, Bourdais had built a sizable lead and remained ahead to the checkered flag. I took this photo several laps from the finish. Sebastian Bourdais is chasing Dan Clarke into turn number 2. Notice that the same image is being displayed on the Jumbotron screen.
I must admit to being totally unenthusiastic about another win for Bourdais. I was much more excited about the second and third place finishers. Justin Wilson came in second and rookie Robert Doornbos was third.
I've got one other thing to report about my weekend in Portland. I rented a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens for the weekend from I also borrowed a Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM lens from my friend Jay Solomon. I had previously used the 70-200mm lens to shoot some of the CAD Camp events. I assumed (correctly, I might add) that the 70-200mm would be too short a focal length for most of my shooting situations at the race. I've been considering purchasing the 100-400mm lens, but was unsure about the push-pull zoom function (as opposed to the twist zoom of the 70-200 and other similar lenses that I've used in the past). I am happy to report that I found the push-pull operation of the 100-400 lens to be quite easy and in many ways preferred it for this type of shooting.

I also HIGHLY RECOMMEND I had reserved the lens several weeks in advance and called at the beginning of the week to confirm my rental and to provide payment information. The lens arrived as promised on Thursday, packed in a custom Pelican case inside a cardboard box. When I returned home after the race, I packed the lens back into its case and returned it using the pre-paid mailing label provided. The total cost of the rental, including insurance and shipping, was $90. This is a great way to try out lenses prior to purchase, or to get your hands on a specialty lens that you wouldn't otherwise buy. LensProtogo was a pleasure to deal with and I look forward to trying out other lenses in the future.

You can view a more extensive selection of photos on my Flickr site.
Click here to view as a slideshow.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Wet and Wild

I made my annual trip to Portland to photograph the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland, once again accompanied by my friend Elliott Fine. This year, instead of camping at the race track, we decided to stay at a hotel. That turned out to be a very good decision for several reasons.

First of all, I attended my daughter Clarice's school play on Friday evening beginning our drive, so we didn't arrive in Portland until nearly 3am, much too late to begin pitching camp. Second, it rained on Saturday's practice and qualifying sessions, making a nice dry, warm hotel room a welcome asset.

It didn't rain that hard on the Saturday morning qualifying session...
...but by the time the Atlantics cars took the track for the first of their two races of the weekend, the rain was coming down pretty hard. Quite frankly, I don't know how these guy can see where they're going in the rain. It's not just that the rain is falling from the sky, but when an open-wheel race car speeds across the wet track, the car throws water from the track back into the air in a "rooster tail," further increasing the amount of moisture in the air. The driver of the lead car might be able to see where he or she is going, but the drivers close behind that car can bearly see a thing.
We were pretty surprised that the Saturday afternoon Champ Car qualifying session happened at all. By the time that session started, it was pouring and there was lots of standing water on the track.
While it made for some amazing photos, the photographers around the track probably got wetter than the drivers. We not only had to contend with the rain, but were blasted by the spray every time a car went by.
I had actually planned ahead, having purchased a rain cover for my Canon digital SLR and lenses, although I'm not 100% satisfied with the product I chose. I bought a Lightware RC100 rain cover from B&H Photo (the store from which I purchase most of my photo gear). The cover has a drawstring that cinches one end of the cover around the end of the lens. But I found I needed to add some gaffer's tape to keep this from sliding back from the end of the lens. The rest of the cover closes with velcro, which makes it easy to get your hands up inside the cover to adjust the lens. But the cover is quite long, much longer than my longest lens. The extra length actually got in the way. Again, some tape helped mitigate this problem.
But the end result was that my camera still got quite wet, so wet in fact that several of the lens' functions stopped working. By mid-afternoon, I could no longer adjust the ISO setting when in any of the camera's manual modes, and lenses would no longer auto-focus except when the camera was set into programmed modes.
I was also soaked all the way through in spite of wearing a supposedly waterproof jacket. Thanks to our nice dry hotel room, however, all of these problems were easily resolved at the end of the day. I hung up my clothes to dry and used a hair dryer to dry my shoes. But Elliott suggested the cure for my camera. I removed the lens and turned the open body face down over the keyboard of my laptop while we went out for dinner. The warm air gently rising from the computer dried things out nicely. By the time we returned from dinner, all of the functions were once again working properly.

You can view a more extensive selection of photos on my Flickr site.
Click here to view as a slideshow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Touring the Midway

One of the nice things about doing two CAD Camp events back to back in nearby cities is the opportunity for some down-time. We took advantage of the 1-hour trip from Phoenix to San Diego to get into downtown for some site seeing.

My son may be the pilot, but I still have a love of plane and boats. What better way to spend a Wednesday afternoon than touring the USS Midway.

It didn't take much convincing to get Starr and Teri to join me.

The deck of this 47-year old aircraft carrier is absolutely huge. It truly is like a floating city, and they have done an absolutely incredible job converting the ship into an excellent floating museum.

There's a great collection of aircraft on the 1,000-foot long deck...virtually one of every type of plane that ever landed there. I particularly enjoyed hearing first hand from a former crew member what it was like to guide returning planes in for a landing.

We were able to join the final group of the day for a tour of the bridge and flight control. If anything, we didn't have enough time to see everything before the ship closed for the day.

We concluded the day with a nice dinner at a harborside restaurant. Matt Murphy and I each enjoyed our drinks.

There are more photos of the Midway on my Flickr site.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Torah Restoration

The weekend of June 1-3, sofer Neil Yerman came to my synagogue in Bellingham, WA as the scholar-in-residence for the completion of the restoration of our Torahs. The weekend began with a Friday night service and continued through Saturday morning and Saturday evening Havdalah service.
On Sunday afternoon, congregants joined Mr. Yerman on the bima to compete the restoration of the last of the congregation's three Torahs by writing the final letters on the parchment Torah scroll.
Mr. Yerman explained that a Torah must have 304,805 letters, and if even one is missing, it must be replaced before the Torah can be used. But if there is a tear through the name of God, then that entire portion of the parchment scroll must be replaced and all of the text in that portion rewritten by hand.
Mr. Yerman fashioned quills primarily from turkey feathers.
Throughout the afternoon, congregants came onto the bima. Then, Mr. Yerman guided their hands as they each wrote a letter on the final portion of replaced parchment.
Our Rabbi Cindy Enger had the honor of writing the final letter to complete the restoration of the Torah.
The congregation's 70-year old Torah is now fully restored and will eventually find a home in Congregation Beth Israel's new synagogue when it is completed in 2008.
I was quite gratified to have been able to take part in this historic event and also to be asked to be among three photographers who recorded the event for the congregation.
One of my photos was even published in the JTnews as part of the paper's front-page story by Emily Weiner.

You can view more photos of the Torah Restoration Weekend on my Flickr site.
Click here to view as a slideshow.