Category Archives: About This Site

Crappy Cam Blues

I want to post pictures to this page of Wyoming. The cows and horses, the scraggly trees burping up out of the river beds, the endless rolling foothills, the storms blowing in off the snowy peaks of the Big Horns, the annoying little field mouse nibbling at my power cord right now. Unfortunately, I’m having serious crappy cam troubles. The first one I got lasted for a little over a year before I made the mistake of taking it to the beach—those of you with better eyes than mine might have noticed, in the pictures I posted in late December and early January (here, here, and here), that there’s this annoying little dot in the middle right of each picture (the ones that have a light background, anyway). And the speck causing the dot appears to be on the inside of the lens—which is not at all removable, and is the size of a ball bearing. A very, very tiny ball bearing.

I decided to try to replace my crappy cam, which meant tracking down a used one on this electronic auction bay Web site I just discovered. (Have you heard of this thing? It’s totally amazing!) The new old crappy cam I bought was scuffy, but seemed to work fine. Until last week, when the battery died. And now it won’t recharge. And the camera’s tiny little LED screen on the back displays strange, cryptic messages, accompanied by sad, desperate beepings, the meaning of which I can’t glean at all, except for a general sense that the poor thing’s guts are somehow seriously out of whack.

Will it recover? I hope so. We’ll see. With luck, I’ll have some pictures here soon.

By the way, Wyoming is totally fucking amazing.

Dear Department of Homeland Security,

So I was recently looking at the usage statistics for my Web site, and I couldn’t help but notice that someone connecting to the Web via a server visited thirteen times in the month of February of this year, checking out a total of 101 pages. Wow! Thanks for stopping by! I am, of course, very curious as to how you ended up here in the first place. Were you the visitor who Googled “the design for marshmallow guns”? Or perhaps “ship stability”? “Truth in nonfiction,” maybe? Or my favorite, “don’t blame Cortázar”? However you got here, I’m so flattered that you stuck around for so long! Were you curious about my modest contributions to small literary journals? Were you admiring my photographs and drawings? Did your poking around have something to do with the security of the homeland? Or were you just bored at work? If the latter, believe me, I understand; the Web can be a very distracting place! (I mean, have you guys checked out Strongbad? Hilarious!) Speaking of homeland security, you know, maybe you can help me out with something—basically, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve never really fully understood what “homeland” means. I mean, are we just talking about the contiguous 48? Or Alaska and Hawai’i too? Do the territories get lumped into the “homeland”? How about embassies? I know, dumb question! It’s just I feel like I never heard the word before 2002, when your department was established in the first place. (You probably get this all the time, but it’s a bit creepy sounding, you know? Not quite as bad as that whole “Total Information Awareness” thing, but still!) Anyway, if there’s anything else I can help you with regarding literary fiction, please feel free to give me a call anytime. I’m sure you’ve got the number!

A Note about My Crappy Cam

About a year ago I wanted to get a digital camera, but a very particular digital camera, one I wasn’t sure even existed: I thought camera phones were awesome, but I just wanted the camera part, not the phone part. (I’m generally in favor of products that are designed to only do one thing, and do that one thing well, and for a long time, but that’s another story, and a dull one.) I thought the shitty little pictures camera phones took were great—too small for printing, only big enough for e-mailing, sending to another phone, or posting to a Web site. Totally snapshot-y, like a Polaroid i-Zone [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. I thought it was great how there was no flash, how the pictures had weird and messed-up colors, and how the camera aspect of the device itself never seemed to have anything fancy or technical about it—no options, nothing to manipulate, just a button to press to take the picture.

In other words, I wanted a camera that I would use for the sole purpose of taking pictures for this Web site. Surely if this technology existed, I thought, someone made a product that was just a crappy cam, sans phone?

A few companies made products that fit this description—although not many, and only one or two of the cameras I found were Mac-compatible. The Nickelodeon Nick Click, for example, looked promising, but the software was Windows-only. I almost got a tiny camera made by Bell & Howell [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. But the one I ended up buying was even tinier, the Oregon Scientific DS6618 [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant]. (I paid $44.95, but you’ll notice that a year later the price has dropped to $29.90.) It looks like this:

(The weird black rectangle under my left hand in the picture is the carrying case; the dangly strings are the strap.)

I found it after a lot of obsessive Googling for phrase combinations like “digicam” “no flash” “no preview” “Mac,” etc. I knew this was the camera for me when I read a completely negative one-star review on Amazon, here.

The reviewer writes: “Though it is very conveniently small and portable, you will notice that there are no other cameras this small on the market. Why? The camera can only take pictures up to 640×468 pixels. If you know anything about printing and digital cameras, that is absolutely horrible.” I thought, yes! I do know things about printing and digital cameras—and that is exactly the size picture I want. The camera, this reviewer says, makes “crappy-quality photos with a lot of noise and off-the-walls lighting problems.” Perfect! Just like with a camera phone! “The biggest problem with this camera is no LCD display,” he continues; “[w]ith this camera, it’s just hopelessly aim and click.” Yet again, exactly right for me—I prefer the delayed gratification of not knowing to what, to me, is a kind of alienating immediacy with LCD displays—and the hopeless aiming is part of what I love about analog photography. (Without hopeless aiming we have no Robert Frank, and without Robert Frank where the hell would we be as Americans?) Still more: “Lighting is horrible, and colors are all over the place.” Excellent! An opportunity, surely, for happy accidents. In conclusion, the reviewer says, “Any person who wants a quality digital camera needs to be willing to spend at least 300 bucks, not 50 bucks.” A debatable proposition, but on the matter of the DS6618, I was completely sold.

All the photographs I’ve put on this Web site in the past year I took with this camera. For a couple years before that, the pictures I’d been putting up here were ones I took with my Nikon FM3a (with a Nikkor 45mm lens). My Nikon is a great bare-bones 35mm SLR, but with the time it took to shoot a roll, get a contact sheet made, schedule a few hours in the rental darkroom, etc.—as some of you reading this may recall, I rarely updated this site more than once a month. The crappy cam and Movable Type are improvements, I think.

Oregon Scientific, as the name might imply, makes a lot of things other than cameras. I think they might have actually discontinued the DS6618 at this point; it’s no longer mentioned on their Web site. It appears to have been replaced in their product line with the DS6628, which offers 1288 x 962 pixel resolution and a detachable flash; in other words, useless for my purposes! Perhaps they never quite figured out how to sell the crappy cam. (In delusional, pipe-dreamy moments, I’ve had this idea that it could become faddish in the art world, like Fisher-Price’s Pixelvision—but that seems highly unlikely.) Beyond the surprise of how small it is, the product presumably appeals, in its wonderful shittiness, to an extremely limited market. I recommend it, though.

Still More Old

Further improvements: I’ve created a new category for drawings, and I’ve re-uploaded six old batches of them from the five years of this site’s existence before I switched from Dreamweaver and hand-coding to Movable Type. (As before, I’m still taking care to reproduce the original dates accurately; the only real difference in MT is that I’ve added titles, but I think that’s a forgivable liberty.)

I’m not totally sure about how all these old drawings look in this template, but I’m happy to’ve put them back up.

Have I Got an Act for You

Years ago, when I first started this site, I was horrified to discover, looking at my site stats, all the appalling search terms visitors had used to end up here at (I imagine most new URL owners must experience the same horror.) The search term rankings were an astounding list of orifices and organs, fluids and solids, food items and celebrities, and all the ways in which they might be perversely combined. It read like a mostly legal version of The Aristocrats.

I decided to try to exploit the Robot Exclusion Protocol (which is also the subtitle of that new Star Wars movie, right?), thinking I could just steer the perverts away. (To do so seemed to be as much for their benefit as mine; once they got here and found that there were, in fact, no photographic images of ladies doing unseemly things with bodily fluids, tobacco products, flavored gelatin, and each other, it’s not like they were sticking around very long anyway.)

For the most part, the strategy worked. But nowadays, no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, visitors keep ending up here looking for cats hanging in there. And I’m not sure which is more depressing—the stinky navel fetishists, or the cute inspirational poster seekers.

Sometimes there’s just no stopping people.

Older Uploadings

Still slowly re-uploading yet more older, pre-Movable Type-switchover things. Today’s batch is older sequences of photographs: here, here, and here.

All three of these shot with my Nikon FM3a, not with my dinky little Oregon Scientific.

Still trying to be as meticulous as possible about reproducing the exact original date and time stamp, because that is the kind of nerd I am.

More Improvements

Slowly adding older, unpublished articles from journalism classes (see categories in sidebar, right). (Dates and times of postings are retroactive to when the pieces were written.)


Okay. Think that’s done it. Finally figured out a nav bar (above) and a sidebar (right), thanks to this person; pretty sure these elements are consistent across all pages; brought back a server-side include or two, plus naked old guy loitering in the background (left); am very, very glad I’m using MovableType now; figured out how to incorporate MT’s “archive” page, called it “contents,” also brought back “about” page, called it “colophon,” in both cases borrowing from Michael Chabon (thanks for the tip, Eric!).