Bob's Basement

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

The Photo that Nearly Got Me Killed

Several years ago my wife and I entered the Leavenworth Half-Marathon; we had recently both lost weight, and we wanted to do something big to test our new-found health. Because the half-marathon takes place in the Fall, I knew that the leaves on the trees would be changing colors, so I brought my DSLR camera and tripod with me.

On our way back to Seattle after the marathon, we passed by several groves of trees on either side of the road that were displaying a dizzying array of radiant colors. As we approached a road that was announcing a new housing development that was coming soon, I thought this would make a great place to take photos - especially before the developers cut down all of the amazingly colorful foliage to build houses.

As we turned off the main highway between Leavenworth and Seattle, we stopped on a newly-graveled road that led to the future construction sites. To the east of the road was a veritable wall of brilliantly-colored trees, while to the west was an unfenced field with the run-down remnants of a farmhouse and barn.

I got my camera gear out of the car, while Kathleen settled down in the front seat of our car to take a quick nap. I walked along the gravel road, and I stopped periodically to set up my tripod and take a few photos.

Nature did little to disappoint me; it seemed that everywhere I turned I was surrounded by an eruption of vibrant color. My only regret was that I wasn't a better photographer with skills that could capture what my eyes were actually seeing.

I had been careful to stay on the road as I took my photographs for no particular reason; there were no fences that prevented me from crossing into the woods or the nearby field - I simply felt no need to leave the road to line up any of my camera shots. In hindsight, I suppose that I didn't want to track a bunch of mud back to the car.

After a half-hour or so, I had satisfied my inner shutterbug, and I packed my equipment to leave. As I walked back to the car, I realized that if I walked into the field on the west side of the road, I could line up a photo with the barn in the foreground and the grove of trees in the distance.

I have to be honest - there are hundreds if not thousands of photographers who take endless numbers of barn photographs, and that's simply not my style. But on this one occasion, I thought this particular arrangement might result in a decent photo or two. With this in mind, I set down my camera bag in the middle of the road near our car, and I walked a hundred yards or so into the field near the barn.

I set up my camera and tripod, then I lined up a shot, and I set my timer to take a single image. As I heard the shutter click, I happened to notice someone walking towards me from the general vicinity of the dilapidated farmhouse. As the person drew nearer I realized that it wasn't Kathleen, but the stranger waved to me and I waved back cordially. I turned to look at my camera when the stranger's voice was suddenly audible, and I heard him yell, "What the @#$% do you think you're doing!!!"

At that point, I realized that the situation was going to be bad.

Very bad.

As he walked up to me, he swung his arms widely in the air as he screamed a tirade of expletives that made little sense, punctuated by occasional moments of clarity when his threats of beating me to a pulp were all-too intelligible and disturbingly believable.

My would-be assailant drew to a stop within inches of my face, and he continued to hurl fiery verbal spitballs of ill will as I stepped back instinctively. I apologized profusely for whatever it was that I must have done, to which my aggressor shouted that I was trespassing. I apologized again, and I replied that this was my fault entirely; I had seen no signs nor fences to indicate that the property was privately owned. I hastily explained that I thought the land was unoccupied prior to the commencement of the impending development project, while my infuriated companion continuously mocked my every word.

In my former career as a technical support engineer, I had dealt with more than my fair share of angry and unreasonable customers, and I was drawing on every ounce of experience to try everything within my power to diffuse the situation, but nothing seemed to work. My assailant continued to scream at me as I said that I would take my things and leave. As I reached for my camera, my belligerent host screamed, "Don't you touch me!!!", and he jumped back several feet. I explained that I was simply going to pack up my camera, to which he angrily responded, "It's on my land!!! It belongs to me now!!!"

Up to this point in the conversation I had been on the defensive. (Or more accurately, I had been in retreat.) But once he mentioned keeping my camera equipment, I switched gears and strongly remarked, "No - this doesn't belong to you, and I'm taking it with me."

My sudden change in tone prompted a different reaction from my antagonist - he demanded that we call the development company so that I could explain why I was trespassing. I agreed to his terms; after all, I probably was trespassing, even if I had done so unwittingly. But I also thought that whomever I spoke to at the development company would have to be able to participate in a more reasonable dialogue than my enraged escort.

As the two of us walked towards the farmhouse, I had no intention of actually going inside his derelict dwelling. (I've seen too many horror movies for that.) But I suddenly remembered that I had left my camera bag sitting in the middle of the road, and I changed course to recover it. As I did so, my hostile host shouted, "Where are you going???"

I explained that I was going to retrieve my camera bag, but I was now near enough to the car for the shouting to wake Kathleen. As she sat up in our car's front seat, my unwelcome companion suddenly noticed her, and it visibly dawned on him that he was outnumbered. (Even if neither Kathleen nor I were ready to provoke an all-out fight.)

Despite his earlier aggressive stance, my would-be attacker now backed away rapidly, and he yelled at me to leave as fast as possible, and he demanded that I call the property company on my own so that I could explain why I was trespassing. (I agreed to make the call, but of course I never actually did.)

As Kathleen and I drove away, it took a while for the adrenalin to burn off and my nerves to mend. Once we had arrived home safely, I looked through my collection of photos from earlier in the day. I had a few nice photos of colorful leaves, but what I really wanted to see was whether the solitary photo for which I had risked life and limb was worth the potential hazards that I had endured.

I will let you be the judge... here is the actual image:

I think this is the last time that I will try to photograph a barn.

Posted: Aug 30 2013, 19:53 by Bob | Comments (0)
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If You Listen to Liberals About Education, You Are a Bad Person

Earlier today I saw a link to an article by Allison Benedikt titled If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. With a catchy title like that, I couldn't resist following the link in order to read what the author had to say about parenthood.

Before I continue, I should point out two important facts: 1) my children's formative years were spent in a mixture of both public and private education, and 2) at the time that Ms. Benedikt published her editorial piece, neither of her children were old enough for school, so any of her admittedly-judgmental opinions were made from the relative safety of someone who has never had to face the harsh realities about the topics which she was discussing. Ms. Benedikt's self-admitted ignorance at the hands of public educators provides little evidentiary support for her thesis statement, and unfortunately she is too blinded by her own hubris to realize it. No - it is not the well-meaning parents of children in private school who are bad people, it is self-righteous and judgmental people like her who are bad people.

I vehemently disagree with Ms. Benedikt's overall premise; it is not the parents who have realized that public education is a failing system who are ruining one of our nation's most-essential institutions – our present educational system is ruining itself. Most parents with school-age children are all-too-aware that public education is depriving their children of knowledge that is necessary to succeed academically. A perfect example is when the overly-vocal and seldom-intelligent actor Matt Damon abandoned his idealistic rhetoric demanding public education for everyone else and placed his own children in private schools. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Ms. Benedikt will be faced with the choice of whether to sacrifice her own children for the sake of her principles, or to choose what is best for her children based on her maternal instincts.

I also passionately object to anyone who insists that I should not turn my back on any failing system and subject my children to a negative environment in the hopes that the system will improve for future generations. My children are not a social experiment, nor am I willing to gamble with their lives. I do not care if Ms. Benedikt and her ilk intend to fix the schools of the future if the methods to achieve those goals cheat my children in the present.

By the way, each of my three children started in public school until my wife and I realized how poorly they were being educated. After three failed attempts with public schools, we moved each child into private school for their primary education to give them a better foundation, and then we returned them to public schools for secondary education. This system helped each of our children immensely, all of whom have now graduated college and embarked on successful careers.

Without getting deeper into an unintentional political rant, this private versus public school debate illustrates much of what is wrong with most socialistic policies; many "public" institutions fail because they become so weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy that they can barely serve their primary purpose. Public education is not failing because parents are pulling their children out; public education is failing because we do not pay our educators enough, and we do not provide adequate resources for our schools. While it is true that our taxpayer dollars are simply not paying enough to take care of all society's educational expenses, we also have a system that is so top-heavy with needless bureaucrats and inundated with policies which occupy entirely too much time. As a result, our nation is not seeing a sufficient return on investment. What's more, the measures that the Department of Education has implemented to standardize education and hold teachers accountable for their results have been complete failures.

But that being said, here are a few of my grievances with the various excuses that I have personally heard from public educators:

  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to teach your children everything; parents need to be involved, too." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement - parents MUST be involved in their children's education; this should always mean that parents are involved in their children's studies at home, and this might mean that parents should volunteer at their children's schools if that is possible. But I have seen this statement used as a cop-out by far too many public school teachers who wasted our children's valuable classroom time with unnecessary endeavors and sent our children home with a mountain of homework after receiving no classroom instruction, thereby leaving the parents as the sole educators. If this is to be the case, then why do we need teachers? Why shouldn't I just homeschool my children and dispense with the transportation to and from school so my children can meet with a disengaged educator?
  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to personalize education for your child." The implication here is that your child is left to fend for himself or herself academically. This is a classic example for one of the primary causes of public education's many failures: people are individuals, and everyone learns differently. In our society we are REQUIRED to accept everyone's individuality – it's what we call DIVERSITY. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, whether you are a man or woman, which religious beliefs you embrace or reject, etc. Everyone is a distinct person, and we must accept their uniqueness – which SHOULD include each child's learning style. But apparently our societal adoption of tolerance and diversity does not extend to public school educators, who appear to have adopted "sink or swim" and "one size fits all" attitudes toward individualism. How barbaric and antiquated can these "teachers" be?

I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'd like to discuss one final point – as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Benedikt's children are not yet old enough to attend school, which prevents me from taking any of her self-righteous drivel seriously. In my opinion, her lack of personal experience in this matter disqualifies her from passing judgment on parents who actually have to decide what is best for their children; close-minded and emotionally detached fools with no personal stake in this debate should be ineligible to weigh in on the issue.

Posted: Aug 29 2013, 09:35 by Bob | Comments (0)
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You Know You're From Arizona When...

Note: A friend had reposted the following list on the Internet... I love these kinds of lists, because they always provide you with a chance to laugh at your surroundings in a way that only someone with intimate knowledge of the area can appreciate.

You Know You're From Arizona When...

  1. You can say "Hohokam" and no one thinks you're making it up.
  2. You no longer associate rivers or bridges with water.
  3. You know that a "swamp cooler" is not a happy hour drink.
  4. You can contemplate a high temperature of 120 degrees as "not all that bad, after all it's a dry heat."
  5. You have learned to expertly maneuver your vehicle under any traffic conditions using only two fingers; a skill usually learned initially in July.
  6. You know that you can make sun tea outside faster than instant tea in your microwave.
  7. You have to run your air conditioner in the middle of winter so that you can use your fireplace.
  8. The water coming from the "cold" tap is hotter than that from the hot" tap.
  9. You can correctly pronounce the following words: "Saguaro", "Tempe", "Gila Bend", "San Xavier del Bac", "Canyon de Chelly", "Mogollon Rim", "Cholla", and "Tlaquepacque", "Ajo".
  10. It's noon on a weekday in July, kids are on summer vacation, and not one single person is moving on the streets.
  11. Hot air balloons can't fly because the air outside is hotter than the air inside.
  12. You buy salsa by the gallon.
  13. Your Christmas decorations include a half a yard of sand and 100 paper bags.
  14. You think a red light is merely a suggestion.
  15. All of your out-of-state friends start to visit after October but clear out come the end of April.
  16. You think someone driving while wearing oven mitts is clever.
  17. Most of the restaurants in your town have the first name "El" or "Los."
  18. You think six tons of crushed rock makes a beautiful yard.
  19. You can say 115 degrees without fainting.
  20. Vehicles with open windows have the right-of-way in the summer.
  21. People break out coats when the temperature drops below 70.
  22. The pool can be warmer than you are.
  23. Most people will not drink tap water unless they are under dire conditions.
  24. Monday Night Football starts at 7:00 instead of 9:00.
  25. You realize Valley Fever isn't a disco dance.
  26. People with black cars or have black upholstery in their car are automatically assumed to be from out-of-state or nuts.
  27. You know better than to get into a car/truck with leather seats if you're wearing shorts.
  28. Announcements for Fourth of July events always end with "in case of monsoon..."
  29. You have to explain to out-of-staters why there is no daylight savings time.
  30. When someone asks how far you live from a location, it's always in terms of minutes/hours, not miles.
  31. Your biggest bicycle wreck fear is, "What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the pavement and cook to death?"
  32. You can say "haboob" without giggling.
  33. You realize that asphalt has a liquid state.

Ah, so true, so true... ;-)

Posted: Aug 28 2013, 09:52 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Thinking Backwards about the Environment

I mentioned to my wife the other day that the question of ecological conservatism is backwards from a political perspective.

The typical definition of Liberals versus Conservatives is that "Liberals" (who are often called "Progressives") are rushing forward in the name of progress (sometimes foolishly) while "Conservatives" are fighting hard to preserve what is already there (sometimes like a stick in the mud; just as stubbornly and just as stupidly).

These two points of view will often fight vehemently against the other on issues simply because they feel that they "have to disagree," and not because they actually disagree. Preserving the planet is one such example - I think that most of the arguments that I hear from one side or the other are more often about disagreeing with the opposing position than about the actual issue.

But here's where it gets really strange: when it comes to saving the planet, somehow it is the "Liberals" who want to conserve, and it is the "Conservatives" who are rushing forward in the name of progress (often foolishly) and irrevocably damaging the planet.

But there's an interesting wrinkle in this debate which is often overlooked within the church: many Christians are Conservatives, and as such they join their fellow Conservatives when it comes to fighting issues like ecology. But according to Scripture, Christians have been charged with taking care of the environment, so they should really be trying their best to preserve the planet. So why do most church-goers seem to be fighting against environmentalism?

As I mentioned initially, this whole situation is inexplicably backwards; it just doesn't make sense to me.

I'll get off my soapbox now...

Posted: Aug 14 2013, 16:20 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Saints or Sinners / Snacks or Snafus

Over the past few years I have sat quietly and watched a lot of people argue across a myriad of political issues on Facebook. There are people who love portions of our government and its policies, while others detest them. The current scandal-of-the-day is that some see Manning and Snowden as heroes, while others consider them traitors.

I have tried my best to keep my silence, because the last thing that anyone needs is another person adding their opinions to a cyber-sphere that is already saturated by divisiveness, ignorance, and paranoia. But eventually an issue arises where I simply cannot remain silent; sometimes our government has unquestionably gone too far.

With all the dangers and terrors in this world from which we need protection, how is it possible that German Kinder Eggs must be banned by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act?

Somehow I am sure that Communists are to blame. ;-)

Posted: Aug 10 2013, 09:55 by Bob | Comments (0)
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