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British Isles trip, part 10: Gadfield Elm Chapel

Date: Mon, Sep 8, 2014

Link to photo dump.

Now, here's one thing that you have probably never seen or heard of, even if you have traveled extensively in Great Britain: It's the oldest extant LDS chapel in the world. The tour company we were with is based in Utah and caters to a primarily Mormon clientele, which is why this place was on the itinerary.

Here's something you don't see every day: a security system that lets in only Mormons (or those willing to spend some time Googling answers to the questions). I could open the lock without Internet access. Could you?

(Evil Me thinks that one of those should be trick question: "How many wives is a man allowed to have?")

I just loved the pure Britishness of this road sign.

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Date: Sun, Sep 7, 2014

I'm thinking about making my first trip back to Vegas in mid-November. (The annual blogger thing in early December wouldn't work as well for me.) Who's gonna be around? Any specific dates I should shoot for or avoid?

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British Isles trip, part 9: Stratford-upon-Avon

Date: Sun, Sep 7, 2014

Link to photo dump.

We spent two nights at the hotel in Stratford--famous as Shakespeare's home--though, somewhat oddly, nothing in the town itself was formally a tour stop. Instead, we simply used the town as a base from which to visit other sites in the region.

On the second day, we had the evening free. Dad wanted to rest in the hotel room, and the rest of my family was off doing laundry, shopping, looking at the Shakespeare sights, etc. So for the first time in the trip (this was Wednesday, August 20, day 5 of the tour), I had the chance to go off and be by myself for a while. My introverted personality can only handle so much of other people, and it had literally been 24 hours a day of togetherness. I had heard from several people who had been to Stratford before that a stroll along the Avon river would be beautiful, so that's what I decided to do.

The solitude felt great. The weather was perfect. The river was indeed as beautiful as promised. It had enough other people around to feel alive, but few enough that I didn't feel that I was battling a crowd (as was so often the case at the tourist sites), and I could easily exclude them from the pictures I wanted to take.

I didn't have any plan as to where I would walk--and, in fact, I got lost on my way back to the hotel, trying something that I thought would be a shortcut. I think I walked an extra mile because of that shortcut, because it got me turned in a different direction than I thought I was going. But it was that pleasant kind of lostness, where you don't have any schedule to keep, and the geography is such that you can't get too lost. It was, all in all, a glorious, refreshing, utterly delightful evening--one of my fondest memories of the whole trip.

I took a ton of photos. I've tried hard in these posts to be highly selective, showing only the handful of my best shots, with the photo-dump link for the oddball who wants to look at the rest. Here, though, I admit that I had a hard time selecting, because I liked so many of the pictures. I'm sure that a lot of that is just the extremely pleasant sensation of reviving memories of how happy I was feeling that evening, which is something I can't really share with readers.

But I can share with you a little bit of what I saw. The church you see in some shots is Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried. The cemetery you'll see surrounds that church. (Shakespeare's tomb is inside. I did not go there.)

Finally, here is one photograph that I took purely as an homage to Nina, who has taught me so much about the art and techniques of photography, both explicitly and by silent example. In fact, this is as purely a Something Beautiful-typeimage as I know how to make. You might say that Nina likes rust. See, for example, here. Or here. Or here and here. Or here, here, and here. Or here, here, here, and here. Or here, here, here, here, and here. You get the idea. Anyway, if the image below showed up in the gallery of SB, and I hadn't seen it through my own viewfinder, I'd think, "Yep, that's a Nina picture, all right."

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British Isles trip, part 8: Oxford

Date: Sat, Sep 6, 2014

Link to photo dump.

Our main stop in Oxford was Christ Church. Lovely place, obviously. That afternoon, however, I just wasn't feeling the photography thing, so I took only a few shots.

After our time there, we had a couple of hours to roam the city. But it was raining, so we ducked into a museum around the corner from where our buses were going to pick us up. It was the Ashmolean Museum, which I had never heard of before. It had an impressive array of ancient Egyptian artifacts. But since I'm still a 12-year-old at heart, I only took a picture of the two statues of the guy fondling himself.

And you thought that only started with Major League Baseball.

By the way, if you thought YOU had a name that people tend to spell wrong, consider the plight of this chap:

"No, no. It's D. J. E. D. D. J...."

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British Isles trip, part 7: Stonehenge

Date: Fri, Sep 5, 2014

Link to photo dump.

It has become very difficult to take good photographs of Stonehenge unless you (A) get a special permit and can go sometime it's closed to the general public, or (B) are willing to violate their rules.

A couple of years ago, because of growing numbers of tourists, they built a new visitors' center about a mile away. You can get to Stonehenge only on one of their shuttle buses, which bring limited numbers of people at set intervals. You buy a ticket with a specific shuttle departure time. They're still in the process of tearing down the old visitors' center, in an attempt to restore the area surrounding the stones to something more like its natural state. Worst of all, there is now a path around the stone, partly paved and partly not, which defines the closest one is allowed to approach--and it's not very close.

I think the day is not far away when your camera will interact with you in this manner:

"I see that you're trying to take pictures of Stonehenge. Would you like to choose from a menu of stock photos, all of which are superior to the crappy ones you have managed so far?"


*makes selection*

"Excellent choice. Would you like me to digitally place pictures of your family members in front of the stone?"


"Please select which of your ugly children you would like in the photo."


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British Isles trip, part 6: Ceramic poppies

Date: Thu, Sep 4, 2014

Link to photo dump.

The photos here are of the most beautiful thing I saw on this trip. It's a large-scale art installation at the Tower of London, titled "Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red," by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper. It commemorates the start of World War I a century ago. When finished, it will consist of 888,246 ceramic poppies in the space that used to be the moat around the Tower of London--one for every British military fatality during the war. The Tower of London is a fitting space for this installation, as it was a staging and training facility for the troops of that era.

The "flow" of poppies originates from a window near the northwest corner of the wall:

To the left as you face it (east), it continues down the length of the north wall...

...and around the next corner (note the location of the blue tarp for orientation).

To the right, the poppies flow around the northwest corner, and southward along the west wall.

Finally they spill over the south wall.

Even in its unfinished state, the installation is simply breathtaking. It is incredibly beautiful, yet terribly sad. It is simultaneously symbolic and horrifically literal. Nearly a million deaths just among the British troops--never mind all the other nations' losses, and all the civilian deaths, and all the wounded, and all the ones rendered homeless, displaced, impoverished, and psychologically devastated. And for what? For one of the stupidest, most pointless wars in history, the only important lasting effect of which was to set the stage for the even more ghastly World War II. You still hear it called the "great" war. I think the word in that phrase should always be rendered with quotation marks.

We humans aren't wired well to really grasp large numbers, like those in the hundreds of thousands or millions. That is, I think, part of what makes this installation so effective. The viewer--or, at least, this viewer--is overwhelmed by what that number means when translated into enumerably separate objects. Your focus can shift from the vast "sea of red"

down to a small, more comprehensible section,

and then even down to a single flower, and wonder who it might represent. Who died, and where, and how, and why, and who was left behind to mourn the loss?

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

--John McCrae, May, 1915

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British Isles trip, part 5: Tower of London

Date: Wed, Sep 3, 2014

Link to photo dump.

I've been really chatty with previous posts in this series, so I think today I'll just put up these pictures without further comment.

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British Isles trip, part 4: London

Date: Tue, Sep 2, 2014

Link to photo dump.

London is one of the biggest, oldest, and most interesting cities in the world--and we saw about 0.0000001% of it.

I'm saving shots of the Tower of London for tomorrow. This is a sampling of the rest of what we saw.

The first two pictures are the gorgeous Natural History Museum. That these photos convey anything at all of its beauty is miraculous, considering that they were shot through the window of our tour bus--which is, sadly, the only way we saw the place.

One of the best things that the tour company did was hire local tour guides at our major stops. They were all absolutely first-rate. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of this chap in London, but he was a fount of knowledge and a sheer delight, too. [EDIT: My wonderful sister-in-law reminds me that his name was Patrick.]

That last shot is technically pure crapola. But it serves me well as anaide-memoir,to use a phrase my girlfriend taught me just the other day.

It had been a rough day. Dad woke up too sick to go sightseeing with us, and just stayed at the hotel to recover. I cut my touring short at noon, after the Tower of London, to go back to the hotel and check on him.

That afternoon, having convinced myself that Dad was safe to leave alone for a while, I looked around on Google Maps to see what interesting things might be within walking distance of our hotel that I could go out and see on my own. I was greatly surprised to discover that we were just one block away from the north perimeter road around Heathrow Airport, and that one of the two main runways was just a bit over 200 yards from a fence that looked like one might be able to get at on foot.

After dinner, I convinced my brother to go explore with me. We found our way between fences and buildings and got right up to that perimeter fence without being arrested, and watched a bunch of planes land. The very first one that came, as shown above, was one of the new Airbus A380 double-deckers, the largest passenger jet in the world, which I had never before seen in person.

One of the most-touted features of my new camera is its supposed superiority in low-light situations, so I was eager to try it here, and delighted that my very first shot was actually usable, even if a little blurred. (That plane was still moving really fast, and it was hard to frame it--especially shooting through a chain-link fence.)

Everything about the situation--having a little unauthorized fun adventure after a tiring and worrying day, having it with my big brother, seeing that model of plane for the first time, having my camera be reasonably successful in a technically challenging situation--it all just made me glowy and happy. That's why I like this picture far out of proportion to its aesthetic merits.

For the photo geeks among my readers, the camera chose ISO 1600, f3.5, and 1/160 second here.

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PokerNews article #29

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2014

This one is about the problem of two players agreeing to "check it down" against a third, who is already all-in--a form of illegal collusion.

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British Isles trip, part 3: Windsor Castle

Date: Mon, Sep 1, 2014

Link to photo dump.

Just about everything that could go wrong, in terms of interfering with good picture-taking, did go wrong at Windsor Castle. It was cold, windy, and intermittently rainy. The crowds of people were impossible. We had flown all night and then gone straight from the airport to the castle, with no stop at the hotel for either sleep or freshening up, so I was cranky and sleep-deprived. Worst, you're not allowed to take any photos inside, where all the goodies are.

Not surprisingly, then, I have no photos that I'm proud of. Still, here's a sample of...

What We Saw

N.B.: I won't keep reminding you of this, but you can see much bigger versions of any photo by right-clicking on it and opening in new tab or window.

Windsor Castle is stunning in just about every possible way. It's simply enormous--far bigger than you would ever think by looking at pictures. It's gorgeous. It's impeccably maintained. It's stuffed to the gills with the most obscenely ornate and expensive art and antiques. Its centuries of history ooze from every stone and furnishing. I would love to be set loose on its ground for about a week--with nobody else around--to take it all in and make some nice photos. Alas, that's not the circumstances I had. Not even close.

The only reason I have even one interior picture is that I snapped it before hearing the announcement that no inside photos were permitted.

Before I forget, let me mention that the staff here, and just about everywhere else we went, were absolutely first-rate about going out of their way to be helpful to our situation, which was usually one of us three kids (we're all in our 50s, but I still think of us that way collectively) pushing Dad in a wheelchair. He doesn't usually need it, but he was only three weeks out from major surgery when we flew to London. Frankly, it was a minor miracle that he was recovered enough to go at all. He needed the chair less and less as more days passed and he visibly regained some strength. But when we showed up anywhere with the wheelchair, the staff didn't wait for us to ask for help; they would assertively approach and escort us behind cordons to the lifts. (I actually got to see some cool stuff that's off-limits to the general public as a result of this, but obviously I couldn't whip out the camera at those spots.) Much gratitude to the employees at all the places we went who were so courteous. Windsor Castle was our first exposure to this kind of special treatment, and though the staff at the other sites came close, nobody else quite rose to the exceptionally high bar the people at Windsor set in this regard. Centuries-old buildings are intrinsically nightmarish for accessibility, but they did everything in their power to get us everywhere they could, without us even asking for the assistance.

I leave you with what I think is an amusing video clip of part of the changing of the guard. As you'll see, I unexpectedly found myself in the way of the regiment and had to scramble a bit to get to where I was just barely out of their marching line. In fact, that's really the only reason this video is worth sharing.

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British Isles trip, part 2: The selfies

Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2014

No sooner do I tell you how I'm going to do posts in this series than I violate the protocol.

This is just a quick assembly of the selfies I took for posting on Twitter day by day, along with whatever I wrote about them when posted. They were taken with my cell phone, not the good camera. They were just silly shots to remind my friends that I was going places and seeing things.

August 18: I haven't mastered the "destination selfie" like @BJNemeth, but here I am at the Tower of London this morning.

August 19:For today's selfie, you have to guess where I am. NO HINTS!

August 20:Selfie-upon-Avon. (Today's tweet sponsored by Wm. Shakespeare.)

August 21: Liverpool selfie. Like Paul, I'm the cute one.

August 22:The city of York formally expelled me for violating this ordinance.

August 22:The City Council of Leeds commands you to litter.

August 23:Today's selfie comes from the shore of Lake Windermere in NW England. I call it "Duckface with duck."

August 24:Today's selfie comes to you from the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

August 24: Bonus selfie to induce envy in golfers.

August 25:Today's selfie is from the top of Edinburgh Castle.

August 26:Today's selfie is from the ferry from Scotland to Northern Ireland. It guest-stars my 91-year-old father.

August 27:Today's selfie comes from Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland. It's one of the most amazing natural sights I've seen.

August 28:Selfie with sister on tour bus in Dublin. Flying home tomorrow.

August 28: Selfie with sister, s-in-law, brother, and father, last dinner of our big trip. (B-in-law sick, stayed at hotel.)

OK, that's all of them. I'm really not as narcissistic as that series makes me seem, taken in all at once. They were just for funsies. After this post, I disappear behind the camera.

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British Isles trip, part 1: Introduction

Date: Sun, Aug 31, 2014

From August 16 to August 29, 2014, I was touring the British Isles (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland) with my 91-year-old father, my brother and sister-in-law, and my sister and brother-in-law. It was organized by a tour company in Utah called "Fun For Less." There were a total of 87 people, plus two tour leaders. Travel was by motor coach, except (obviously) for the trip from Scotland to Ireland, which required a ferry. We started in London and ended in Dublin.

I had a wonderful time. I have not spent so much time with my family since the three of us kids were all still living at home. It was a pleasure and honor to be with them all.

We had signed up for the trip back in January, so we had a lot of lead time. In February, I bought a new camera specifically with this trip in mind. I had become frustrated with the technical limitations of my old one, and wanted a better tool for what I felt was a growing ability to find aesthetically pleasing photo opportunities--as well as to simply document what I knew would be the trip of a lifetime. After spending a lot of time considering the bewildering options available, I bought a Sony NEX-3N. (See reviews here.) I was heavily influenced in this decision by David Pogue's ongoing cheerleading for Sony's innovative push for much larger sensors than most of its competitors use; see, e.g., here.

I'm glad that I bought the camera that far in advance of the trip. It took those several months of intermittent experimentation before I felt reasonably comfortable that I could intelligently select among the myriad of options for a given photo situation. I still have not come close to wringing all of the potential from this instrument, however. Most notably, I take pictures in RAW+JPEG format, but I don't even own software that will open the RAW files. The camera will automate HDR imaging, but I have not even looked at those pages in the owner's manual. In short, I still have a lot to learn. However, I have zero doubt that the Sony is allowing me to take much better pictures than I could with my old pocket-sized Nikon point-and-shoot.

At many places in our recent travels, there wasn't much that I could do creatively, because of constraints of lighting, crowding, and, most of all, time. Trying to compress five magnificent countries into 12 days of sightseeing meant that there was barely time to seethings, let alone absorb them. Taking time to, e.g., dive into the camera's menu to turn on the fill flash setting, in order to reduce facial shadows on family members, meant grumbles of impatience from other people waiting to take pictures in the same spot before the bus left again.

All of which is a long way of getting at this point: Despite more sophisticated technology than I've had before, the majority of my pictures still ended up being basically the same touristy snapshots that a billion other people have taken before--though probably with less spoiled shots from camera motion, errant exposures, etc. There were never more than a few images in any locale in which I feel any pride of originality; often the number was zero.

Here's how I've decided to present things. First, I'm going to use this blog rather than Facebook because it gives me more control over the formatting, and because, frankly, I just don't trust Facebook to keep everything fully under my control in future years.

Second, each stop of our trip will be a separate blog post. I'll do a lightly edited memory-card dump to Picasa, and include the link for the rare reader who wants to look at all of the pictures.

Then the post will be divided into two parts. "What we saw" will be the best selection of my quickie, touristy shots, just to convey a sense of what's there. When there are one or more special shots that I went out of my way to capture, those will be under the heading of "What I saw."

I make no claim that the latter will rival Ansel Adams or otherwise be of great artistic merit. But they are ones that please me, because the final image bears some reasonable similarity to the what my mind's eye saw before I clicked the shutter release, and because the images are, to the best of my amateurish ability, actual compositions, rather than just depictions of a thing.

All of the posts will be accessible via the "British Isles trip" label. I hope you enjoy looking at them half as much as I am going to enjoy editing and assembling them--but be patient, this process is likely to spread itself out over two or three weeks, and maybe more than that. I have a lot of photos to sift through, digitally tweak, arrange, comment on, etc., while I'm getting back to my badly neglected real work--you know, the stuff that keeps the bills paid.

For my poker-minded readers, I apologize in advance for commandeering this space for something that has nothing to do with poker for the next while.

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PokerNews articles #27 and #28

Date: Sat, Aug 30, 2014

I'm back from my two-week trip to the British Isles. While I was gone, published two more of my series:

Chopping blinds


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Post deleted

Date: Fri, Aug 15, 2014

On August 13, 2014 I put up a post with updates to a post I did on May 9, 2009, about difficulties I had with an advertiser. As part of settling that old dispute, I agreed to remove the newer post, leaving instead just this marker of having done so. The 2009 post now has a dated addendum with further details.

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