A R C H I V E S   O F
The Reluctant Blogger

© 2008 Henry Kisor



A U G U S T,   2 0 0 7



Aug. 31: Royal red hands

The latest embarrassing catch at WikiScanner (described here August 26; see the entry below): the Dutch royal family. Heh, heh, heh.

Aug. 30: Sunsets No. 11 and 12

This Lake Superior sunset was taken on a heavily overcast evening August 26, the sun barely able to punch through the clag. A larger (10.1 megapixel) version is here.

This one was snapped August 29 when the western sky was as red as it’s been all summer. For the 10.1 megapixel version, click here.

Aug. 28: Fly Mommy

The other day a pilot friend sent me a bunch of aviation pages from old Mechanix Illustrateds, and this ad from 1968 was one of them. I am absolutely taken with it. Not only is the cheerful sexism of the marketers of the time oddly charming, but so is the whole idea of an Oedipal pitch to the air traveler.

And who wouldn’t feel nostalgic about American Airlines’ pre-deregulation message? If you can’t make it out, it reads:

“She only wants what’s best for you.

“A cool drink. A good dinner. A soft pillow and a warm blanket. This is not just maternal instinct. It’s the result of the longest Stewardess training in the industry.

“Training in service, not just a beauty course.

“Service, after all, is what makes professional travellers prefer American. And makes new travellers want to keep flying with us.

“So we see that every passenger gets the same professional treatment.

“That’s the American Way.”

Now today, if they just don’t spill Coke in my lap or hit me in the eye with that bag of peanuts, and get me there on time without wondering if they will get me there at all, I’ll be gratified. And surprised.

Aug. 27: Scramble!

Pentax K10D, SMC FA-J 75-300 at 300mmm, TaV, 1/750 f11, ISO 400

Yesterday I was sitting on the sand with Hogan and a camera with long zoom lens, watching hundreds of Canada geese riding at anchor off the neighbor’s beach and waiting for him to come out with a bucket of cracked corn.

The neighbors are industrial-quality wildlife feeders. Every creature of the forest from black bear to red squirrel and including deer and skunk makes a nightly beeline for their property. Deer bed down in our back yard to digest their dinner. So far we haven’t seen any bears or wolves, but we know they’re out there and that our land is in the middle of their migration path, just as the Low Countries are in Germany’s.

At the beginning of summer only a few geese, maybe a dozen, visited the neighbors’ beach each day. But as the season deepened, squadron after squadron of honkers joined up to make an air group, then two groups, and now there are more geese than there were dive bombers in the whole Pacific Fleet of World War II. This afternoon I counted 263 honkers floating quietly a few yards offshore while waiting for the neighbor to amble out with the feed.

It was fun to watch them bobbing every which way, politely ignoring each other, then, when a gust of wind came up, simultaneously swinging so that all faced into the breeze, like tall ships at anchor.

By and by they started swimming in a long, loose column away from the beach, even though the neighbor had not yet appeared. Just as a lone kayaker rounded the point a hundred yards east, the geese all did a war-emergency-power, balls-to-the-wall takeoff to the west, and I snapped the photo above.

A larger, 10.1-megapixel version is here.

Aug. 26: Wikichecking

“Don’t use Wikipedia,” many Grundyish librarians and researchers warn. “It’s inaccurate and it’s dangerous.”

Nonsense. As a writer I must do a lot of research, and I almost always start with Wikipedia. No other online encyclopedia contains so much information about so many subjects, or is so easy to use.

Note that “almost always start with Wikipedia.” No scrupulous journalist or historian ever trusts just one source. If Wikipedia tells me something is an interesting fact, I try to find two other sources to corroborate it. (Often a Wikipedia entry lists those sources, which can be a big help, but not if they are also Wikipedia entries. That’s much too self-referential. Sometimes a trip to the library to look things up in a fusty old printed book is necessary.)

Last Friday a Slate magazine article recapitulated recent news about how corporations and politicians alter Wikipedia articles that affect them, often entering what might charitably be called self-serving untruths.

For instance, somebody from Exxon cleaned up the section on the effects of the Valdez oil spill, cheerfully adding that “six of the largest salmon harvests in history were recorded in the decade immediately following the spill.”

The Slate piece also reports on an interesting new site that helps smoke out the fakers: Wikiscanner.

This clever site correlates IP addresses of those who edit Wikipedia entries with their sources — which can be corporations, the CIA, a next-door neighbor who has it in for you, even yourself. It’s a great way to assess the reliability of a Wikipedia entry, and ought to be in the toolbox of every writer or researcher who Wikisurfs for information.

The Slate piece also mentions that Wikipedia catalogs some of the audacious hoaxes contributors have perpetrated, including one that particularly tickled my funnybone — the 1843 war between Canada and Upper Michigan. [8/27/07: That page, along with all the other archived Bad Jokes and other hoaxes, is gone. Perhaps there were so many hits after the Slate article appeared that Wikipedia deleted them in alarm, fearing that such pages would only encourage vandals. What a pity. Evidently online encyclopedians have no more sense of humor than their print comrades.]

Aug. 25: The incredible shrinking lake

“New record low for Lake Superior!” shouted Minnesota Public Radio yesterday, perhaps picking up a slightly overenthusiastic but otherwise accurate report from the Duluth News-Tribune.

Not quite, but very close, and most likely inevitable.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers‘ measurements, the lake’s running mean level for the month fell to 600.4 feet above sea level on August 23. The all-time record low for August is 600.5 feet, set in 1926.

But because of small fluctuations in the lake level from place to place, thanks to variations in air pressure as well as in local rainfall and river flows, the Corps of Engineers doesn’t recognize a single day’s level, even the running monthly mean, as a record — only an average. We’ll have to wait until the August 31 report to see if the 1926 record indeed is officially broken.

It does seem, according to a cautious report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued August 15 and described on Science Daily August 23, that the September and October lake level records likely will be broken.

If the present extreme drought continues through the winter, with insufficient snowfall and high air temperatures preventing the lake from freezing over (hastening evaporation), then the all-time low of 599.5 feet, set in March and April 1926, will at last topple.

Aug. 24: Sunset No. 9

This Lake Superior sunset, snapped a couple of days ago, is a bit unusual — at the same time storm clouds are clearing in the west, a fog bank is rolling in. No, the clouds didn’t do our drought any good. They just dribbled onto the beach, barely wetting the sand, like an old man with a recalcitrant prostate. (Excuse the inelegant simile, but it perfectly describes what’s going on up here.)

For the 6.1-megapixel version, click here.

Aug. 23: Water, water everywhere, but . . .

As weather calamities go, droughts get little ink or air time, unlike the floods that today are drowning much of the Midwest. Droughts don’t result in stories about tragic drownings and videotape about amazing helicopter rescues. There just isn’t much drama to a drought.

But they’re still painful for the people they affect.

Just 200 miles north of the raging torrents and swamped viaducts of the central Midwest, Upper Michiganders are beginning to feel the ongoing extreme drought in the the western Lake Superior area — see the map in the August 17 entry of this blog below. Maybe the national media is so far ignoring this story, but the local press is beginning to notice.

Just yesterday a fellow named Fred Fisher, who writes a lively and literate column called “Off the Beaten Path: A Flatlander’s Guide” for the weekly Ontonagon Herald, enumerated the consequences of “this brutally dry summer.”

Lack of rain has harmed gardens, he wrote, and low water in the rivers is “barely enough to float a trout.”

The woods are so dry that at least a dozen forest fires are “burning all across the U.P., including the massive, twenty-eight-square-mile Sleeper Lake fire north of Newberry that will still be burning until they have significant snowfall in that area.”

One of the many consequences of the drought is the almost record low level of Lake Superior, mentioned on this blog several times since January. Harbors have become so shallow that incoming ships must dock half laden and make more runs to bring in the same tonnage. This of course drives up the cost of the products that depend on the ships’ cargoes.

The public marina at Ontonagon is almost deserted this summer, the water being barely four feet deep, resulting far less tourist boat traffic.

“Throw in record high gas prices,” Fisher added, “and it has been a very tough summer season indeed for Ontonagon County businesses.”

And for the ordinary homeowners who depend on wells for their water supplies — they’re fast running dry.

Yesterday’s Houghton Daily Mining Gazette bannered the drought on its front page, quoting a livestock farmer: “It’s been brutal. There’s been no re-growth on pastures, no re-growth on the hay fields; there’s not going to be any second crop on the hay and we’re already feeding the hay that we should be saving for winter.”

Supplementary crops have been damaged, too, the farmer added. The dry weather has stunted grain development in oats, barley and other feed crops.

In a separate story, the Gazette reported that UP blueberry farmers are also hurting — yields are way down, and only those who are able to irrigate their fields have managed to keep their heads above water, so to speak.

Aug. 22: Another reason I prefer trains

. . . is that you can keep an eye on your luggage all the way. (I know, I know, you can’t take a train to Italy, but still.)

Aug. 21: This story needs no comment

…except for a weary sigh.

Aug. 18: Return to the air

Yesterday, on my 67th birthday, I flew my airplane for the first time since June 21 . . . and experienced a kind of rebirth.

I had driven back to Evanston from the Writer’s Lair in upper Michigan for some routine business, including exercising the 48-year-old Cessna 150 two-seater to keep her engine and controls limber.

I had not really thought about flying during the last two months — there’s quite enough in the Upper Peninsula to keep me occupied. Besides, the stiffness of age and a chronic bad back have been hindering easy entrance into the tight cockpit of the 150, which was designed for training lithe young men and women, not toting portly old parties hither and yon.

Even though this little airplane is important to my mystery novels — I rehearse every flight Deputy Steve Martinez makes in the sheriff’s airplane to make sure I’m getting things right — I’ve been thinking lately about at last selling her and salting away the Private Pilot certificate. That, at least one friend of mine has said, would be the sensible and mature thing to do.

Tugging Old Five-Eight-Five-Niner-Echo from her hangar at Wilmot, Wis., and boarding her yesterday required more grunting and groaning than usual. But when the airplane lifted from the runway into butter-smooth early-morning air, her engine singing gaily, my spirits soared with her.

Every literary cliche of flight and freedom coined by Saint-Exupery, Markham, Magee, Gann and all those others crowded my mind. Flight is special, and it is vouchsafed only to those who care deeply.

I won’t bore you with the details of the flight. But I will tell you that I’m going to keep that airplane a bit longer, even if I have to use a greased shoehorn and a stout winch to get into her.

As I drove home to Evanston, I felt ten years younger.

Aug. 17: Dry enough for you, eh?

(For a larger version of this graphic, click here.)

“Dry enough for you?” a fellow on the elliptical machine asked the other day at the fitness center in Ontonagon, the little Upper Michigan town where I spend my summers. “We need rain,” said a woman on the stairstepper. The usual weather pleasantries of small-town America, I thought at first.

Indeed it has seemed awfully dry. In mid-August the leaves of some of the deciduous trees are already turning red and falling. The tall grasses along the highways have browned out. The U.S. Forest Service has posted high fire danger warning signs all over.

I hadn’t thought about it much, not until coming across the following passage this morning on AgWeb, a farmers’ web site (the serendipities of Googling!). The important local stuff is in bold:

“NOAA’s Drought Monitor says an impressive band of 2- to 4-inch rainfall totals, with locally higher amounts, fell in the Midwest, especially from eastern Nebraska to Lake Erie. ‘In fact, drought was nearly cut in two across the Midwest, with a lingering area of moderate drought (D1) arcing across the region at the Indiana-Ohio-Michigan triple point. However, parts of the upper Midwest and the upper Great Lakes region continued to miss out on the rainfall,’ they add.

"As a result, extreme drought (D3) was introduced in parts of central Minnesota and expanded in the upper Great Lakes region. In Michigan’s upper peninsula, May to July was the driest such period on record in Newberry (4.49 inches, or just shy of 50 percent of normal) and Ontonagon (5.10 inches, or 52 percent). From June 1, 2006, to July 31, 2007, Ontonagon’s precipitation of 29.54 inches was just 73 percent of normal.”

If this keeps up, it seems more than likely that a new record for low water will be set for thirsty Lake Superior in the coming months. There might also be a plague of wildfires. Last week one east of Newberry in the central U.P. burned for many days.

All this could be grist for a mystery novelist who uses the U.P. as a setting, but I’m hoping it won’t be.

Aug. 14: The true measure of Karl Rove

The sharpest, most honest, and (in my opinion) most persuasive commentary on the departure of Karl Rove from the White House came from Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic Monthly yesterday. It contained none of the pissing-down-both-legs “evenhandedness” of the timorous Washington newspaper punditocracy. And Sullivan, for crying out loud, is a conservative.

Aug. 13: Bad news for book lovers

“Bookstore sales fell again in June, dropping 6.6%, to $1.13 billion, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau,” reports Publishers Weekly Online today. “Sales declined every month in the January through June period, resulting in a 4.6% drop in bookstore sales at the midway point of 2007.”

And compare that with “the entire retail sector, [whose] sales were up 4.0% for the first six months of the year and were ahead 3.8% in June.”

That’s a steep drop on top of a long-term trend (about 2 per cent a year) in the decline of numbers of printed books sold in the marketplace.

Most non-best-selling writers like me fear that more and more print publishers and bookstores will rely on the blockbusters — the Harry Potters and the John Grishams — to keep their heads above water, and will give the back of their hands to the “midlist” books that don’t make a lot of money right away and may take years to return a profit.

Is there hope elsewhere? Will books in electronic form supplant printed and bound volumes? Will online retailers carry the water for bricks-and-mortar shops?

Maybe, but there is plenty of evidence elsewhere — and not just in the book and newspaper industries — that suggests younger generations are no longer absorbing text the way their elders have. Sales of literary fiction in particular are sharply down over the last couple of years.

Among writers, anecdotal evidence abounds. The library group I spoke to last weekend was an elderly one — mid 60s to 80s — with the only attendee in her 20s the library tech who set me up with the sound system. I wasn’t surprised. This is the way it is everywhere, and the trend has been slow but inexorable.

Years ago, when I was a young book editor-about-town, the Chicago area had several wealthy organizations devoted to supporting local literary folk — the Friends of Literature and the Friends of American Writers in particular. But the young socialites who formed the vanguard of the groups grew old and dropped away, and now both institutions are gone.

I’m not smart enough to predict what will happen a decade or so hence, when the baby boomers — apparently the last generation of Americans to be comfortable with printed literature — begin to die off.

You have a guess? If so, let us know.

Aug. 12: Have projector, will travel

Yesterday Debby and I delivered our Powerpoint-and-reading dog-and-pony show at the annual Land O’Lakes Friends of the Library author breakfast at the Gateway Lodge in Land O’Lakes, a crossroads town in far northern Wisconsin right on the Michigan border. A good time was had by all — including, for a change, me.

I’d expected rural small-town library enthusiasts to be somewhat, well, small-town and rural. They were, at least in the friendliness department, but they were also knowledgeable and sophisticated, judging from the questions they asked. And not all of the queries came from “summer people” who winter in Milwaukee and Chicago. Some of them came from a fellow writer. Land O’Lakes, I concluded, is a remarkably hip outpost of civilization in the wilderness. (And with remarkably tasty cuisine.)

I was pleased also because the PowerPoint presentation went swimmingly. Debby and I had done it once before with a borrowed projector, but this time we brought along our own equipment — and we had practiced extensively.

Because I’m deaf, I speak like a dumptruck rather than Demosthenes, and can be hard to understand. But with my words appearing on a screen, superimposed on photographs I’ve mostly taken myself, and with Debby — a longtime children’s librarian with an enticing voice — reading from my books, nobody misses a thing. And the visual graphics help keep them awake. PowerPoint can be an enervatingly boring business tool, but with the right pictures it can be remarkably effective.

I’m looking forward to taking the show on the road again next month at the library in Ontonagon, Michigan — the town and county that inspire my Porcupine County novels — and when Cache of Corpses appears this fall, at bookstores and libraries in the Chicago area. You’re all invited.

For the first time, pitching my books is fun, because I’m confident at last that I’m getting through to folks.

Aug. 11: The weekly bird shoot

Lindbergh the Lone Eagle hangs around our beach daily, but never pays a visit at the exact same time of day, so it’s difficult to capture him with the camera. Yesterday afternoon he sat atop a snag long enough for me to creep across the sand with a 75-300mm zoom lens and take his portrait.

After a languid interval Lindbergh launched himself into the air and soared away.

This great blue heron is also a frequent visitor, but only early yesterday morning did I spot him in time to drop the coffee and sneak a quick grabshoot through the trees. Pity he was watching the gulls instead of saying “cheese” to me.

Mallards are also another common sight up here on Lake Superior, but their flight is so rapid that one has to be quick to capture them on the wing.

We’ve watched this brood of mergansers all summer — they are nearly grown now — but only yesterday was I able to get a good shot of them as they paddled by close inshore, snorkeling for minnows. The big one in the center with the feathery crest on the back of her head is the mama.

Aug. 10: We're becoming Flyover Land

The organized insanity called Homeland Security has now resulted in foreign airlines bypassing the United States entirely for some transglobal flights. Here is what Patrick Smith’s latest Ask the Pilot column on Salon.com has to say in the matter:

“‘Air New Zealand Offers Round-the-World Routing Avoiding the U.S.’ That was a recent headline from U.K.-based Business Traveler magazine. For the past several years, fliers bound from Australia and New Zealand to Europe by way of U.S. stopovers have been raising a ruckus about security policies that require all passengers, even those merely in transit to other countries, to clear U.S. immigration formalities — a process that includes fingerprinting, photographing and baggage rechecking. Air New Zealand has responded with the launch of a service from Auckland to Europe with a hassle-free transfer at Vancouver, British Columbia, eliminating its long-standing Auckland-Los Angeles-London route. Air Canada is following suit with a nonstop Vancouver-Sydney flight, bypassing its traditional layover in Hawaii, which, in the words of the magazine, ‘will enable global travelers to avoid the United States.’ What have we come to?”

Americans, wake up and sniff your armpits. Every day the world likes us less and less.

Aug. 9: Has the e-book arrived at last?

Today’s New York Times Circuits section carries an interesting article about the state of the art in e-book readers, mostly cell phones and PDAs, but also noting a standalone device made by Sony and arguing that the technology is slowly advancing to the point where it is almost cheaper to buy and read in e-book format than paper-and-covers format.

For me, however, the real news comes near the end of the article. Early adopters of e-books, it says, have been male science-fiction fans and electronic gearheads, and their reading reflected their enthusiasms. But now romance novels are becoming hot sellers. This means the female reader — women buy many more books than men do — is migrating to the e-book. And that in turn suggests e-books are on the verge of breaking through into the mass market at last.

This is fine with me. What’s important is the text, not the means in which it is delivered. Toni Morrison is Toni Morrison, whether her words appear on a glowing screen or on restful paper. All else is marketing.

There is one thing, however, that e-books (at least in their present form) are unlikely to replace: the vast lineup of old friends on shelves in one’s library. Often I’ll pass by, spot a title I especially liked, and pull it down to reread a passage that gave me great pleasure. Not easy to do with an e-book, which has a limited memory compared to a wall of books.

Or I’ll admire the design of the jacket and the typography as well as the paper and the binding. As a tactile artifact, the printed book looks good, feels good, and even smells good. Can one say the same of an e-book reader?

Other people’s libraries reveal much about their intellects as well as their tastes. One can stand in a stranger’s living room, scan his shelves, and come up with a rough-and-ready assessment of his mind and character. Can’t do that with an e-book if you can’t get your hands on it and run your eyes over the stored titles — and there’s a limit to the number of books that can be stored on an e-book reader.

Maybe I’m just showing my age, but I’m not yet persuaded that the e-book will replace the bound one anytime soon.

On the other hand, I can see how an e-book would be a boon for the traveler. No need to pack a dozen heavy books for an extended trip — just download a few titles and replenish them online as needed.

I’m not going to spend $299 for an e-book reader, not just yet. But I’ve got a birthday coming up, and . . .

Aug. 7: A brush with the Grim Reaper

One of the more vexing aspects of retirement, especially for a terminal hypochondriac who keeps a well-thumbed Merck Manual on his nightstand and WebMD and the Mayo Clinic in his browser toolbar, is feeling the increasingly hot breath of impending mortality. Is that cough the first sign of the Big C or just a virus? Is that hangnail a harbinger?

It began with a mosquito bite ten days ago (hard to escape up here in the UP), followed by a slight fever, a slight headache and slight nausea. Family members have had Lyme disease, so I went to a local country doctor the following Tuesday for a test for that and West Nile. He duly ordered the tests. Better safe than sorry.

But when he palpated my belly he thought the spleen was a bit enlarged — and he also found an abdominal mass. “Could be any of twenty things,” he said. “Could just be fat.”

To say that “abdominal mass” was ominous is the understatement of the year.

Doc sent me to the local hospital the following day for blood, pee and poo analysis, plus chest X-rays and a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis (”state of the art machine,” he said, and so it was).

Unfortunately he was out of town for the rest of the week so he wouldn’t have the results until his return Sunday night and couldn’t give them to me until Monday afternoon (that was yesterday).

This meant five days and nights of stewing, of rapidly persuading myself that the apparition with the scythe at last had me on his visiting list.

I was going to die. Of that I had no doubt.

Wednesday I haunted the medical Web sites, seeking information on what could cause abdominal masses. As Doc said, lots of things can, but it appeared that few of them did so in a benign way. I ran several what-if scenarios through my mind, carefully calculating to the third decimal place the all too brief time I had left on Earth.

Thursday night I lay awake wondering if I would be brave enough to stand up to the discomfort of surgery and chemotherapy.

Friday night I planned the sale of my beloved airplane and the disposition of the contents of the hangar.

Saturday night I rearranged all my other assets so that my widow would inherit as much as possible. If I couldn’t cheat Death, maybe I could thwart the tax man.

Sunday night I devised the memorial celebration, to be held in a local tavern with everyone in Ontonagon County invited. There would be an unlimited bar, catered Finnish cuisine, and successive readings from St. Augustine, Kahlil Gibran, Albert Camus, William James, Anne Lamott, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Jim Harrison, Don DeLillo, Mark Twain and Dave Barry. The evening would end with a midnight trip to the beach and the launch of my corpse in a flower-bedecked, twig-filled, gasoline-soaked wooden canoe into the waves of Lake Superior, followed by flaming arrows and thunderous cheers. People up here know how to party.

Monday afternoon, after a long hour in the waiting room, Doc laid the results on me, starting slowly from the top with the blood, pee and poo tests.

Normal. Normal. Normal.

Followed by the chest X-rays.

Clear and clear.

At last came the specifics of the CT scan.

Normal. OK. Satisfactory. All right. Negative. Nothing to be concerned about. Capital. Top-drawer.

That abdominal mass? Who knows? Possibly just muscle (I do a lot of crunches to help my aching back).

But I’m a little too chunky. Prescription: More exercise.

Some people might think that last was a crushing anticlimax but I was free — free at last, free to fret again another day.

Last night I celebrated with a second glass of merlot, which is about as rumbustious as I get these days.

Pity, though. That would have been a hell of a memorial celebration. At least it’s all planned.

Aug. 5: GPS for canine jailbreak artists

When I was a kid in the 1950s, my family had two beagles. As everyone who has ever owned (or was possessed by) beagles knows, they have one mission in life: to escape the back yard and put as much distance between it and them before they are at last recaptured.

Of course Rufus and Marcus were well tagged. As their tails rapidly wagged into the distance, we knew we’d get calls from Glenview and Winnetka miles away from our house in Evanston to come get them.

Garmin's Astro(Our present dog, Hogan, is a Lab mix and a homebody who prefers his own territory. Thank goodness. We are just too old to go haring off across town after escaped dogs.)

If Global Positioning System satellites had been around in the 1950s, we would have been the perfect customers for Garmin’s coolest new item, the $600 Astro. It consists of a GPS transmitter for a dog collar and a hand-held receiver for the dog’s owner. The first unit radios the dog’s geographic coordinates to the second unit. The range is five miles, or about the limit of Marcus and Rufus’ wanderings.

Today’s New York Times’ business section has an article on it and other new GPS devices for pets.

On the Garmin website the Astro is ostensibly marketed just for hunters and their pointers and retrievers, but it would be suitable for owners of all breeds whose hearts lie in the artful jailbreak.

Hmmm . . . maybe it could be fashioned into an ankle bracelet for a teen-age human out on a date? Or perhaps a suspiciously errant spouse who claims to be working late at the office? Naw. . .

Aug. 4: Sunset No. 8

Pentax K10D, Pentax SMC-DA 18-55 at 18mm, 1/350 f13, ISO 400

Even an ace professional photographer might come away with a mundane shot when there’s a cloudless sunset on Lake Superior, but these mare’s tails of high cirrus drifting in from the southwest last night would make an expert out of even a small boy with a disposable Kodak. The kayakers add scale and human interest. (They’re my lady friend and our chum Tina Davidson.)

This shot is now the desktop background on my Mac Mini. (For the full 10.2-megapixel version, click here.)

Aug. 3: Gulls No. 3, 4, 5 and 6

So I was noodling around on the beach yesterday morning shooting the ubiquitous gulls with the Pentax K10D and a 75-300mm zoom lens I haven’t used much because, at its greatest magnification, it’s hard to hold steady without a tripod. But the K10D body has built-in shake reduction — and it works, most of the time.

These shots of an immature adult Ring-billed Gull (you can tell it’s a youngster by the mottled feathers) all were taken at 1/750 second at f11, ISO 400, with a little software post-processing to sharpen soft edges.

The third one seems the best. But a little more work with the software ought to punch up the second and fourth photos with more contrast and a deeper blue color.

Learning nature photography with good high-end amateur equipment is one of the unexpected joys of retirement. Nothing keeps a geezer out of the gin mills better than a costly new camera with lots of levers and buttons to master.

Aug. 2: Setting moon at sunrise

Tina Davidson, a frequent guest, captured this setting moon over the Writer’s Lair as the sun rose behind her on Lake Superior this morning. She’s about the only one in these parts who gets up early enough to enjoy these sights. (Well, I do, too, but I’m too bleary-eyed to go outside until after the second cup of coffee.)

Aug. 1: New Cache page on website

New pages with the descriptive jacket copy of my upcoming Cache of Corpses and a few authorial blurbs are now up on my web site.