slider

Harling’s

It’s 8:45 on an early fall evening at the slanted-T intersection of Westport Road and Main Street. A few pedestrians straggle here and there, while southbound Metro buses regularly pull up to the spotlight and turn toward Westport or continue on toward the Plaza. Based on Yelp recommendations and a recent ink article, we’ve decided to come experience Harling’s Tuesday night no-cover jazz for ourselves.

Having found the second-story window neon beer signs referenced by the Yelpers and the ink article, we locate a once-white door labeled “3941 A” and head upstairs. A few folks are sitting at the bar, a few more are seated around a table, and one girl sits by herself looking out on Main Street with her back to the rest of the bar. After ordering $2.75 bourbon and “cokes” (RC Cola from a two-liter, actually), we grab a table by an open window and look out on the streetscape ourselves as the band slowly assembles, unfolds their music stands, and lays out their music. Because we’d heard rumors that Harling’s has no (or, at least, severely underperforming) air conditioning, we had decided to wait until temperatures had cooled down for the season before our foray.  Our decision seems like a wise one: we feel a perfect, slight breeze come in through the window while the band now tunes and takes a few stabs, in fits and starts, at what must be a new addition to its repertoire.

Once they get through the new piece to their satisfaction, Clint Ashlock and the New Jazz Order pause a moment, adjust their music, then launch a wall of sound through the bar with an uptempo rendition of “Love for Sale.” The band, 16 or 17 strong tonight, including trumpets, trombones, saxophones, electric guitar, upright bass, and drums, barely pauses for the next hour, pouring its jazzy big band sound into the bar and out onto the street below. The band members all appear young–college age to early 30’s–and their youth seems to add vibrancy to their interpretation of a genre of music that is often written off these days as the irrelevant soundtrack of a dying generation.

An hour flies by. The band takes a well-deserved break, and we have to head home to prepare for the demands of work tomorrow. But with its cheap drinks, great live jazz, and a divey Midtown authenticity, you can bet we’ll be back at Harling’s on another Tuesday before long.

(Notes: If you want to check it out for yourself, New Jazz Order plays at Harling’s most Tuesday nights. There is ample parking along Wesport Road across Main Street and in the Thriftway store lot just south of the bar. And be aware that the rumors that Harling’s may have the most foul-smelling bathrooms in the city are well-founded.)

Kansas Statehouse Renovations: Rotunda

My post with behind-the-scenes photos of the Kansas Capitol Building renovations was pretty popular. Well, the interior renovations are now nearing completion, and this past week the interior of the dome was re-opened. I took my camera in for a couple of shots. (You may notice that not all of the construction equipment has been removed yet.) Click on the photos to view the full-size versions.

 

New Photo Website

I recently decided to move my photography-related posting, galleries, and ebook information to a separate website, which can be found here. I plan to start a couple of new blog series on the new site, including one focusing on the “behind-the-shot” information about various photographs I’ve posted, as well as one highlighting the work of photographers I look to for inspiration.

I Wrote An eBook

This is fun for me to announce. Over the last few months, I’ve been writing a short ebook, and I finally published it on Amazon yesterday. It’s called From Point & Shoot to DSLR: A Compact Guide to Transitioning to an Interchangeable-Lens Camera. It’s intended to familiarize new DSLR owners with the use of the various DSLR camera modes as quickly as possible.

More details are available on the dedicated ebook page at my photo website.

First Week With The iPhone 4S

It’s now been a little over a week since my new iPhone 4s arrived, so I wanted to take a few minutes to share my impressions of the phone so far.

Physically, the phone is nearly identical to the iPhone 4. I really like the form factor of the 4, so I was glad it was retained for the 4s. The only issue I’ve had with the phone physically is a few small scratches on the front glass. I was under the impression that the glass was difficult to scratch, so this was a disappointment, but I added a screen protector to prevent any further scratches.

I definitely needed more than the 16 GB of memory by 3GS had, so I opted for the 32 GB version this time around. While there is a 64 GB version available, I didn’t think I would need that much more memory within the next few years, especially with the availability of cloud services such as Google Music.

Siri is one of the major selling points of the 4s, and this voice command feature does deliver. Two critical things here make Siri significantly more useful than previous voice command features on phones.  First, the use of servers to help Siri process the commands seems to really help the recognition as well as the understanding of natural language commands. This means that you don’t have to find the “magic words” for Siri to understand what you want. Second, using Siri for calendaring, reminders, asking directions, searching for geographic locations (including stores and restaurants), and checking traffic is actually faster than using the phone manually to complete these tasks. Another nice feature is the incorporation of voice recognition into the keyboard for any instance requiring text entry. It’s kind of interesting to ask Siri a variety of questions or request a variety of tasks to determine the parameters of its natural language understanding.

The other killer feature, for me, is the much-improved camera. With its 8 MP sensor, decent LCD flash, and basic editing functions, the camera has finally eliminated the need to carry a separate point-and-shoot. The maximum aperture was said to be f/2.4, which means that you should be able to get some bokeh (basically, blurred background) in shots of close subjects. As this test shot I took shows, you can:

 

With an improved camera, more storage, pleasing aesthetics, and a useful voice command feature, the iPhone 4s has been a quality upgrade so far.

Scotty Cameron Putter Refinishing

As I mentioned on Twitter last week, I picked up a used Scotty Cameron Laguna 2 putter at a second-hand sports store at a pretty good price. The Pro Platinum finish on the putter was looking a bit worse for wear, so I decided to refinish it a bit to get it into playing shape.

 

I started with 60 grit sandpaper and worked my way down to 3200 grit to get most of the Pro Platinum finish off and give it a good shine. I then applied Birchwood Casey cold bluing and torched the putter for about 5 minutes with a propane torch and some 10 W 30. Finally, I redid the paintfill. Here are the results:

I’m satisfied with the results for playing purposes, but if I decide to resell the putter I’ll either sand and refinish it again to further refine the finish or else send it away for refinishing by a professional.

Golf Club Value

Early in my golfing career, my bag was filled with “value” clubs. In fact, my first set was an “all-in-one” set from Wal*Mart with irons, woods, driver, and putter all contained in a bag that came with the set. With a cost of ~$100, this set was a good way to learn the basics of the game and figure out how interested I was in further pursuing the game.

Within the first couple of years, several clubs in the set suffered various mishaps. The heads of the three and five woods snapped off the shafts (in the case of the three wood, the head flew farther than the ball on that particular shot). The inset in the putter face came loose. The strap on the bag began showing wear.

I chalked up most of the mishaps to my limited playing ability. As I bought replacements for the damaged clubs and filled out my bag with sand and lob wedges, I stuck with the lowest-dollar replacements I could find. Not surprisingly, another fairway wood met the same decapitation fate as its departed older brethren.

Over the last few years, as I’ve devoted more time to improving my skills, I’ve also looked to upgrade my clubs. My bag now contains clubs by Titleist, Callaway, Cleveland, Nickent, Ping, and Cobra. I’ve found that there is a real difference in the performance of these clubs when compared with the low-dollar, store-brand knockoffs that used to be in my bag. I’ve found the same thing with the bag itself.

That’s not to say that I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on my clubs. I’ve found a few different ways to obtain name-brand clubs for low prices, and because of the better performance of these clubs, I feel that my current set has given me more value for the money than my old clubs did.

* I bought many of my current clubs, including my Titleist irons, off eBay. Many people will warn you against eBay, for good reason. Counterfeit clubs abound, and I’ve received some myself. However, there are many clubs you can buy for good value off eBay with little chance of the clubs being counterfeit. As one should expect, the vast majority of counterfeit clubs on eBay are the latest, most popular clubs. By targeting older clubs or less popular manufacturers, you can greatly reduce your chance of receiving counterfeits. For instance, my Titleist irons are a ~2003 model and thus are old and unpopular enough to avoid counterfeiting. I’ve also bought a couple of Nickent hybrids. Nickent is a quality club manufacturer that is not very well known, and therefore their clubs are not as attractive to counterfeiters. Less-popular club configurations, such as a high-trajectory draw-bias driver, are also less likely to be counterfeit.

* Dick’s Sporting Goods runs periodic clearance sales where you can save substantially on clubs that are a season or two old. Keep your eye on their clearance rack for discounted prices on fairway woods, drivers, hybrids, and wedges that can bring the price down to 25% of the original price or lower. The best value is when they run a clearance sale on top of the already discounted prices.

If you’re looking to upgrade your clubs as your game improves, keep these sources in mind for finding good values on name brand clubs. There is a very real difference in the performances of these clubs over nominally cheaper alternatives, and with a bit of patience and searching, you can put together a solid bag at a modest premium over what you’d pay for a set of knockoffs.

HP Touchpad

During the recent HP Touchpad firesale, I was somehow able to get an order through on the CompUSA website, and my 32 GB Touchpad arrived last weekend. I’ve now been playing with it for about a week (and I’m currently using it with the HP Bluetooth keyboard to type this post).

I had no great desire or perceived need for a tablet at the usual price point. I have an iPhone and a netbook, and I didn’t perceive enough differentiation between the iPhone and an iPad to justify spending several hundred dollars on a mostly-redundant device. However, the $149 price for a 32 GB Touchpad made it worth to buy and try out, and so far I’m glad I did.

My initial impressions of the device are that it is much easier for quick, casual web browsing or e-mail than either the iPhone or the netbook, especially in front of the TV. It’s also nice to use in the morning before work when I don’t want to wait a few minutes for my desktop computer to startup. It performs beautifully for photo viewing, and sites like Google+ also work well on it.

Unlike Apple, Palm and HP encouraged independent development, and therefore the Touchpad and WebOS have a nice selection of homebrew tweaks, patches, and applications available. These are most easily accessed through the Preware app, which I installed on my device the first night. I proceeded by installing most of the recommended speed tweaks, which did seem to make a significant difference in the performance of the Touchpad.

I did encounter a couple of issues. After my first update and installation of many of the homebrew tweaks, my Touchpad began entering restart cycles wherein it would start for a couple of seconds, then the screen would seem to enter standby mode, and a few moments later the Touchpad would reboot or restart, only to repeat the process several more times, until it finally just stayed shut down. I reinstalled the latest version of WebOS through the WebOSDoctor program on my desktop, resintalled most of the homebrew patches, and the Touchpad has been working fine since then.

Another issue I’ve encountered is time drift with the Touchpad clock, i.e., it will gain or lose several minutes an hour. I downloaded and installed Clock Sync from the HP App store, which syncs the clock every 2 hours. While the time drift problem seems to still occur, the time is at least being reset every 2 hours now (as long as a WiFi connection is present).

So far, the Touchpad has been worth it at this price point. The ease of use and portability–along with the ever-increasing reliance on cloud services–means it will probably be my preferred on-the-go device. It seems that for me and many others, the main barrier to entry into the tablet market has been the price. HP undoubtedly undershot the mark with their clearance pricing (I would guess that pricing at ~$175 for the 16 GB and ~$250 for the 32 GB still would have cleared their warehouses, albeit not in a single weekend), so it will be interesting to see whether other manufacturers will now use this information to try to use their pricing to cut into Apple’s dominant iPad market share.

Website Redesign

As you may have noticed, there have been a number of recent changes around here. I changed the main part of the website to run under a WordPress installation, which should make it easier to update/redesign. I also changed the blog theme to incorporate some new bells and whistles, such as featured posts and social media sharing options. Finally, I’ve worked to consolidate my photo galleries/sharing so that there are now two places to find my photos: on the website gallery and at Google+.  I’ll be using my Google+ public stream to share photos in a similar manner as I did on the “old” Tumblr site. You can find an RSS feed for the Google+ public stream here. Alternatively, you can add me to your circles on Google+.

Kansas Statehouse Renovations

I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the ongoing renovations of the North Wing of the Kansas capitol building and took a few photos during the tour.

This will eventually be the main entrance to the capitol for visitors once they leave the visitors’ center:

This will be a dining area for visitors adjacent to the entryway:

This is a view near the top of the dome of the scaffolding that currently fills the dome:

If you liked going up the old stairs to the outside of  the inner dome, you’re really gonna like the temporary stairs:

There are four of these beams that extend across and out of the dome to provide support for the outside scaffolding:

This will be a new committee room on the fifth floor:

This is a view of the State Library stacks from the new second-level mezzanine:

Here is a view of the second floor hall on the north wing with the terrible paint intact. Compare it with the south wing image, where renovations are complete.

This is where Nic Cage and Jon Voight will scramble down at the climax of their search for our priceless state antiquities:

Sadly, the following statement was a lie. Although there was a floor, there was no hole and no danger: