2011 – Day 4(ish) of the 9 Days of Christmas Cards

I’ve previously written about my 2011 card when it first came out. After taking a couple of years off from being wholly focused on Chico or Northern California, the 2011 card was based on an inside joke with a friend during a long-ago karaoke night.

Although my friend had moved on to greener pastures when it came time to shoot this card, thankfully Autofry was still around (although it too has since moved on to whatever counts for greener pastures among industrial food machinery).

Despite my griping, I ended up using one of Costco’s templates for the card design. I generally think it worked out OK, although I’m bummed that there’s no high-res version of the card that could be saved electronically for my records (although I suppose I could scan a print digitally).

Christmas Card 2011 preview

Autofry and I hope you ‘ring’ in a merry 2012.

The 2011 card is unique because my friend Marcus only shot one photo on his cellphone. Compared with other years, I only had one option with this card. Thankfully, it worked out.

Again, I’ve written more about the 2011 card here.

By the numbers:

1 — Number of pictures taken for the card.

1.6 — Miles traveled to The Maltese for principal photography.

8 — Onion rings visible in the photo (they were delicious).

2010 – Day 3(ish) of the 9 Days of Christmas Cards

OK. I missed a couple of days because of work and because … I was mailing this year’s card to friends and family. Thankfully, I’ve already written about two of the three days so it should be fairly easy to catch up.

I haven’t yet written about my 2010 card, which was the first year that I almost didn’t do a card. In December, I was still recovering from two medical scares from the summer and fall. I recall not having a lot of enthusiasm for the project, especially if it entailed physically making the cards as in the first two years. Despite this and other challenges, the 2010 card turned out to be one of the more whimsical designs that I’ve created.

I definitely sought about creating a playful card. My first concept of depicting me placing the star atop the Christmas tree didn’t come together because the images didn’t look great. The best pic of that shoot on Dec. 14 came out too dark:

This was the best pic from my initial effort for the 2010 Christmas card.

This was the best pic from my initial effort for the 2010 Christmas card.

So, I went back to the drawing board for another concept. Thankfully, it came together fairly quickly once I had the idea of “popping” into the card from an unexpected angle and located the needed headgear (from Wal-Mart). As I pondered how unbreakable the unshatterable ornaments were, I bought a pair of wearable reindeer antlers with a mini Santa hat.

I tried a couple of different places to shoot the primary image, including Woodstock’s Pizza. The images were just OK, but it did produce this fun, if a bit blurry, “Christmas buddy cop” pic with my friend Heather.

The Christmas buddy cop pose

The Christmas buddy cop pose

Eventually, I think I went back to my apartment to shoot the main pic with the Cybershot. My primary concern is that I wasn’t happy with my hair. Given my medical issue, my hair decided to go on a temporary vacation. At the time, I was worried that it was a symptom of a far larger problem, but thankfully the hair grew back (for now).

The 2010 card

The 2010 card

The primary pic turned out pretty dark, but Photoshop was able to salvage something usable over the neutral background of the hall last seen in the 2009 card. If you look closely, my ability to “cut out” the ball on top of the cap was pretty limited. I hopefully know how to fix that now.

When it came time to finishing the card, I think I used the text tool in Photoshop to add the seasonal message. I’ve looked at the card templates at places like Costco and online with iPhotos/Photos. Although I’ve ended up using templates over the years, I generally don’t like how they leave a limited amount of space for the photos. At the same time, the photo cards I received from other friends and family looked presentable and perhaps a little more professional than my earlier, artisan efforts.

This was the first year that I used Costco for my cards. I realized in 2009 that Costco was fairly economical for their standard-sized photo cards to the point that it was cheaper than my printing out the photos separately and pasting them on cardstock. It also saved a lot of time — I could have 50 cards and envelopes ready in a day when I would take me considerably longer to make the cards myself. The only real downside is paying for the annual membership, but I’m fairly strategic on when I renew so I only have membership when I really need it (every December).

Despite the difficulties, the 2010 card got out of the door (although they were probably late). I liked the main image so much that I usually use it as my avatar online at least once or twice whenever I’m feeling in the holiday spirit.

By the numbers:

1.94 — miles traveled for the card (although I ended up using pictures shot in my apartment.

3 — days before Christmas when I shot the primary photo for my card.

14 — number of pictures taken for the 2010 card:

The photos of the 2010 Christmas card

The photos of the 2010 Christmas card

2009 – Day 2 of the 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Continuing with my look back on nine years of Christmas cards, 2009 marks the second year and the final year of doing entirely homemade cards.

While the card production was simplified from the first year (no elaborate cutting), the main image was a bit more complicated as it featured me twice.

The theme of the card was intended to convey passing the spirit of Christmas on to others. What turned out has been described as “creepy” by a dear friend because of the black gloves in the picture (although the right glove is dark blue even if it didn’t come out that way). That was certainly _not_ my intention, but my hands weren’t photo-ready that year and I needed to improvise.

My previous blog entry on the 2009 card doesn’t go into too much detail, but I used Photoshop so I could play both giver and receiver of the tiny tree. It’s nice that retailers sell trees of all sizes — I decided to use trees sized as lawn ornaments for the card. This was my first deviation from doing holiday cards focused on Chico or Northern California, but time was short that year and I still incorporated a personal touch to the design.

I again used the family Sony Cybershot for photos. I set it up on a tripod in my apartment facing a hallway wall that I thought had sufficient light. I abstained from using the flash, especially because I wanted the Christmas lights to stand out on the tree.

My “noir” look.

Unfortunately, the light in the hallway wasn’t sufficient (at least for my camera and my personal technical ability). I turned on more lights around the hallway (which opened into the kitchen/living room) and arranged a directional light on the “set.” A friend liked the noir look of one of my test shots.

I primarily focused on getting the left side of the card right — making sure the angle and presentation of the tree was correct. As the test shots below indicate, it was difficult to get everything _just_ right (especially when working with a camera timer) but I eventually got a shot I was satisfied with.

I also tried to hide the power cord connecting to the tree’s lights. I was only partially successful, as one can see a power plug hanging from my coat sleeve.

I changed coats and gloves to shoot the right side of the card. I was worried about the shadow that the arm cast against the wall, but I was pretty confident that I could use Photoshop to edit out the shadow.

After getting my shots, I used the computer to compose the primary image. I attempted shot a neutral background as a canvas, but the final product doesn’t particularly reflect that. I remember the image came together pretty quickly as there were only really three elements. That said, doing any sort of cutout of a pine tree is a painful experience (one that I’ve repeated in the 2016 card).

The 2009 Christmas card.

The 2009 Christmas card.

For the last time, I printed out the image as prints at a local store. I switched up the white cardstock for red for a little more visual pop.

I also used a printer for my message “Spreading a little holiday cheer… and wishing you a Happy New Year.” Although it was a bit tricky to align everything correctly, I liked the clarity of the printed text although I missed the personal touch of the handwritten cursive of the previous year.

I used a glue stick to attach the photo to the card. It was time consuming and I strove to make sure the image was centered correctly.

I earlier wrote that I eliminated folded cards after 2008. My memory may be hazy — I seem to recall a fold in the 2009 card because I wrote on the inside of the card. However, I think the fact that I didn’t have a great message for the card’s interior was a key reason for moving away from folded cards.

The other reason for moving away from folded cards also included the realization of the relative economy of photo cards purchased from a warehouse store, but that’s a story for the 2010 card.

By the numbers:

0 — miles traveled to photograph the card (this was the only year so far shot entirely at home, although 2010 comes close).

3 — Trees included in the lawn decoration set.

5 — Days before Christmas when I photographed the card (again, not really enough time to get everything done).

18 — photographs taken for the 2009 card.

Day 1 – 2008 – The 9 Days of Christmas Cards

Christmas Time is here and I’m starting my annual effort to spread a little cheer. For the past nine years, I’ve been making my own holiday cards. While I’ve generally tried to follow a theme of Northern Californian elements, sometimes I’ve focused on some aspect of my life or followed whatever fancy suited me that year.

2016 will be a bit different … but mostly the same. I’m back in Utah, so the “local” theme now applies to the Intermountain West instead of Chico. Some other things that are staying the same — I shot on location this year as I did 87 percent of my previous cards AND I’m working to make sure they get to people’s mailboxes before Christmas.

To help encourage me to make my deadline, I’m doing a countdown to look back at the eight previous editions of the card culminating with the online debut of my 2016 card. I’m (unintentionally) timing this to end on Dec. 23, which will hopefully allow enough time for the new cards to arrive in the mail and for me to wrap up this holiday special before St. Nick arrives the following day. Aiding my card quest is the fact that I’ve written about four of the eight past editions of the card (to keep things fresh, I’ll be adding some pictures from years past and add some recollections).

In all the cases, I try to do something new and something fun. Sometimes the cards are planned months in advance while others come together very quickly. Procrastination rarely helps the execution of the cards, but sometimes inspiration drops a good idea on my head like Santa and a bag of presents down a chimney.

I wanted to give this to you for Christmas …

I wanted to give this to you for Christmas …

Without further ado, here’s a look at my 2008 Christmas card…

I previously wrote about my first card just after it came out and blog posts around the time detailed my creative process in developing my first Chico Christmas card.

The first card was probably one of my most ambitious ones in terms of execution. I loved the giant (functional) wooden yo-yo at the Bird in Hand store in downtown Chico and thought it would make a great sight gag.

In order to pull the gag off, I needed the front of the card to isolate the yo-yo, letting the joke reveal itself when the reader opened the card.

Inside of the 2008 Christmas card.There was a decent amount of stenciling and cutting to get the front of the card properly show the toy. After everything was cut, I needed to glue the photo of the yo-yo in the exact proper place or the illusion wouldn’t work.

I also chose a heavier white cardstock to help with the presentation (I worried that regular paper was too flimsy). If I recall correctly, the weight became a bit of an issue because the cards were right on the cusp of being too heavy for a single, first-class postage stamp. I remember not wanting to take the risk and bought a little extra postage to make sure everything go to their destination on time.

This first card was a lot of work and cost a decent amount of money (photos, paper, crafting supplies, postage, etc.), but I liked this initial effort. I wasn’t super happy with my handwriting as a key element of the card itself despite the homemade touch of it. Future cards wouldn’t feature handwritten elements (although I still pen a general message to every recipient). This is also the only folding card that I’ve made in the series — the 2009 card was still mostly handmade, but then I discovered the economy and efficiency of photo cards from a certain well-known wholesale retailer.

By the numbers:

0.71 — miles traveled to shoot the card.

5 — number of days before Christmas when I shot the principal photography (obviously not enough time).

13 — photos shot for this card on my family’s Sony Cybershot that I received from my sister. While I’m excited to share photos from upcoming cards, this one’s pictures don’t have a lot of variation to them (aside from trying to find the best angle and camera settings). Here’s a look at the thumbnails:

Here's a look at the 13 shots I took for my 2008 Christmas card at Bird in Hand in Chico, California.

Here’s a look at the 13 shots I took for my 2008 Christmas card at Bird in Hand in Chico, California.

Turning the voting kiosk into a photo booth OR How I stopped worrying and learned to love the ballot selfie

In just over 24 hours, the grueling 17-month-long election cycle will grind to a merciful halt. Even after weeks and weeks of ceaseless discussions, debates and squabbles, there are still some issues that haven’t been analyzed to death. One of those issues is the ballot selfie.

For those needing an explanation, the ballot selfie is where a voter takes a self-portrait with his or her ballot primarily to show who he or she voted for. In years past, it generally wasn’t an issue because people generally don’t take standalone cameras with them into the voting booth, much less wait for the photos to be developed and then converted into a format that can easily be broadcast to others. It became more of an issue in the past decade as nearly everyone now has a camera on their smartphones and can share anything with the tap of a screen.

States have conflicting laws about whether these self-portraits are permitted. USA Today publshed a breakdown, showing about two-fifths allow them, while two-fifths ban them and the rest is a muddle. For example, California law doesn’t currently allow them (despite a last-minute appeal by the ACLU), but a law overturning the ban will go into effect next year. Conversely, Utah allows selfies.

When I first heard about the issue about two years ago, I was generally opposed to allowing such photos. I theorized that the photos could provide proof in any sort of vote-buying arrangment. Such a thing could undermine the integrity of a secret ballot.

At the same time, that’s merely a theory. At least one federal court has ruled that it’s not a compelling reason to abridge a person’s First Amendment rights to express themselves in this manner. That makes sense — under strict scrutiny, a government needs to be able to show a compelling reason for a narrowly tailored law that abridges a constitutional right (and that the proposed law is the least restrictive means to accomplish this compelling purpose). That said, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not 100 percent certain that strict scrutiny is the standard here.

In any case, my concern about any hypothetical vote buying diminished when I thought about some of the practices around voting. Of note, if a voter incorrectly marks a ballot, I know some states allow the voter to return the mismarked ballot and ask for a clean one.

So, it’s possible for voters to take a photo of a ballot marked one way and then to ask for a clean ballot and cast their votes as originally intended. Given that possibility, it would be a pretty inefficient and unreliable way to manipulate the system. (Note: there may be ways around that, perhaps by checking the ballot receipt.)

Theoretically, someone could take a photo of a blank ballot prior to filling it out and subsequently  use Photoshop or a basic redeye tool and virtually mark the ballot as they see fit.

With those potential safeguards, I reached a measure of peace about the ballot selfie. Ideally, people use these photos to show they are engaged in civic participation, something we generally need more of in this nation.

Then again, there’s the old adage: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.” We’ve certainly seen a lot of family and friends prove this saying on social media during this election cycle and posting a ballot selfie may only provide additional confirmation.

I’m tempted to take a ballot selfie myself Tuesday, but I would have to obscure my actual choices. It’s professionally unethical for me to disclose who or what I voted for and that suits me just fine (especially after what I mentioned about people proving themselves the fool).

In any case, Tuesday is the big day. If you haven’t already voted, this is your chance to have a say (balanced against others, of course). I’ll see you at the polls.

Monday Tuesday Karaoke in Utah

Richard plays a saxophone cover of 'hello' during karaoke night at Keys on Main in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.Richard plays a saxophone cover of “Hello” during karaoke night at Keys on Main in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016.

It’s been interesting getting used to a different karaoke scene. Back in Chico, I knew where I could go out and sing every night of the week, even when it wasn’t practical to go.

Since I moved back to Utah nearly three months ago, I’ve gone out to karaoke four times with last Tuesday being the latest. Part of my challenge is that I now work most evenings, except for Monday and Tuesday. The pickings have been relatively slim, but I’ve still been able to find some gems.

Although my sample set for testing is limited, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the performers in Salt Lake City. Conversely, I was disappointed by the general unprofessionalism of the karaoke night I found in Provo on Monday. I’ve also been happy to take advantage of late-evening runs on the TRAX light rail and FrontRunner commuter trains, although it does end my evening at around 11:30 p.m.

Beginning with a Twist

My first time getting back on the karaoke horse was last month at Twist, located just north of 400 South and Main Street in Salt Lake. It was in what could be described as a small street or alley, so I didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to the establishment. The entrance was raised and set back from the street. Patrons have to walk up some broad, shallow steps and past an enclosed patio to enter the restaurant.

Inside, the establishment was divided into three areas. The main serving area was the top-most level with the bar and kitchen. I didn’t immediately see the karaoke setup, so I headed down the stairs to a basement that included a smaller bar area and bar games, including pinball.

The basement area was too small to host karaoke so I headed up a second set of stairs and discovered a mid-floor that housed some restrooms. As I made my way around the space, I thought that it seemed a little risky to have so many stairs in an establishment that caters to people drinking alcohol, especially with the restrooms on a mid-level. Thankfully, some of my concerns were ameliorated when I discovered a second set of restrooms on the main floor — there really wasn’t a reason to go down the stairs unless a patron was partaking of games in the basement.

When I reached the top of the second set of stairs, which ended near the back of the business, I could see the karaoke setup. I didn’t immediately see the karaoke host, so I moseyed to the bar and waited, somewhat distracted by the large projection screen hanging over the opening to the basement.

The evening was off to a slow start, which is unfortunately pretty predicatable for most karaoke nights. Thankfully, the night eventually started and I was able to pick up a mic and have some fun.

My setlist was a mix of songs that are particular favorites and one Fourth of July song because the holiday had just passed. I warmed up to the karaoke host when he was surprised that he had Los Cadillac Fabulosos’ “El Matador” in his library. He was eager to sing it himself on a future night.

Here are the songs that I picked for that night:

  • “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO.
  • “El Matador” by Los Cadillacs Fabulosos.
  • “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles.
  • “Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” by Flight of the Conchords

The set up was basic — the by-now common laptop connected to a sound system. I don’t remember where the flat-screen monitor was on a stand or a table top, but it was an average situation with no serious demerits.

The crowd began to trickle in. Many of the first people to sing seemed like regulars and their friends. A couple of the regulars seemed to be fairly talented and I found myself thinking about the quality of performers possibly being a little higher in Salt Lake than relatively small Chico.

It was fun to sing again, although I’ve gotten a bit self-concious about singing after watching a recording I made at a live concert where I’m heard singing along with the crowd on a song. This self-conciousness has extended to when I sing along with the radio in the car. It’s not enough to deter me from singing or staying away from challenging songs, but it’s a good reminder that I’m still a rank amateur and these evenings are just for fun (especially when singing difficult tunes, like “El Matador”).

All too soon though, I noted I had to catch the light-rail back to my car before the system shut down for the night. As much fun as it is, I definitely I don’t want to be stranded away from home for the evening.

Unlocking Keys on Main

About three weeks ago, I stopped in a place across from Gallivan Center on Main Street that advertised karaoke on Tuesday — Keys on Main. As with Twist, I didn’t have a good idea of what to expect but the evening was ultimately a success.

The evening got off to a slow start — I guess it would be more noteworthy if a karaoke night actually started on time. There was a small group taking turns singing, so there was already a modest rotation by the time I added my name to the list.

As with Twist, there seemed to a handful of regulars joined by a small group of others. So far, I haven’t really seen a place since I’ve returned to Utah that was hopping. That’s probably because of the day of the week — two years ago, I went to a place off of Highland that eventually got crowded, but it was on a Saturday.

Whatever the crowd, the regulars were definitely solid singers. One fellow named Richard even brought a saxaphone to play Lionel Richie’s “Hello” as a solo and then joined Millie as a duet called “Millard.”

The set up at Keys was as professional as Twist and DJ Wes ran a pretty tight show. Instead of being casually set up in a corner of the bar, Keys’ karaoke set up on small stage that also accommodated dueling pianos (which were actually keyboards that were turned off, much to my disappointment). I definitely like having a stage to perform on, but any place that isn’t cramped or awkward is OK.

My song selection was based on tunes that I like singing, but haven’t had a chance to sing in a while.

  • “Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons.
  • “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen.
  • “Here For a Good Time (Not a Long Time)” by Trooper

Some of the songs have generally gotten a good response (like Queen), while others are just fun, like the Trooper tune. After I sang “Here for a Good Time,” a couple of guys said they really enjoyed it and wanted to know the artist. They were interested to learn that it was a band from Canada, which they reasoned why they didn’t know the song.

Again, I had to leave early so I didn’t get stranded. One patron was generous enough to offer me a ride to the train station, but I had plenty of time to get back to Salt Lake Central Station.

Disappointment in Provo

On Monday, Aug. 15, I decided to finally check out the limited downtown Provo night scene. While I’m happy to live in downtown, there’s only three late-night spots on Center Street and I have had no real compulsion to visit any of them. For example, City Lights looked appealing on the outside, I was turned off by photos of interior’s light wood paneling that screams family basement from the ’70s.

I’m not going to say which establishment I visited because what I found might get them in trouble (although there may be enough context clues for someone to take a big guess and figure it out).

I was pleasantly pleased when I first entered the business. It felt a bit like a dive, but I prefer places that are comfortable and a little lived in. I was excited when I heard somone singing on a back stage. The crowd seemed pretty diverse, although tending to be on the younger side. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise considering what I was expecting from Provo. 

I grabbed a beverage and headed back to see if I could sign up for a song, even though it was getting late. I stopped in my tracks when I saw that the karaoke host was using YouTube to play the karaoke tracks. I politely waved at the karaoke host when he looked my way, but I decided I wasn’t going to try to sing that night.

I’m generally positive about karaoke tracks on YouTube … at home. It’s exciting that several karaoke music companies post their music videos to YouTube. It can be great fun to do YouTube karaoke at a house party.

However, a professional karaoke event is not a house party. Some things that people can get away with at a house party can’t fly in a place of business. For example, playing a stereo or watching a football game is generally OK at home with a small group of friends. At a local business, the owner needs to have a license or face fees from licensing groups.

The main problem with YouTube is that it is generally licensed for private, personal use. I don’t know if Google has a YouTube that’s available for commercial use.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter as the KJ handled YouTube in an amateurish way. The YouTube status bar was often visible during performances and autoplay would automatically start another (unrelated) video after the singer was done.

On top that, the KJ would scramble to mute the sound when an ad came up. Overall, I wasn’t impressed with the host. He was obnoxiously enthusiastic and interacted with performers to the point where it was distracting. Toward the end of the evening, he jokingly cursed at the audience for not being engaged.

But seriously, YouTube karaoke could be trouble

I am not a lawyer, but my impressison is that karaoke hosts generally need to use tracks licensed for commercial use — they can’t just download them from iTunes. There may be some winking at these restrictions (I don’t know how many karaoke hosts or regular people who can vouch for every song in their library). However,  using YouTube as a core component of a professional gig seems like an invitation for trouble, especially if a licensing group does decide to look closer at an establishment or KJ.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. When I shared my concern online, one friend who’s a KJ responded: “Very unprofessional and they could get into some trouble if the right people found out.”

Back to Keys

I returned to Keys on Main last week. It definitely confirmed that the singers that I though were regulars were indeed regulars (although there was no sax that night and some people I thought were regulars were not present). The crowd was also about the same as before — filling less than a quarter of the seats in the large space. I don’t know if they anticipated more people — there were song sign-up slips on most of the tables, so perhaps there was a time when the place gets busy.

I drove into the city that night, so I didn’t have to worry about catching the last train out of town. I did have to watch my beverage intake and limited myself to one, which is for the best in more ways than one.

When it came time to pick songs, I stayed towards the tunes that I like singing and usually get the best reaction.

  • “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C.
  • “The Distance” by Cake.
  • “Africa” by Toto.
  • “Lights” by Journey

I was surprised to find that I haven’t sang “Africa” in a few months, considering that it became such a favorite in Chico. I started off with “Graduation,” explaining that I usually sing it at the end of the school year, but didn’t get to during the spring.

A couple of song choices were dictated by the fact that the songs I would’ve preferred to sing where either unavailable or unplayable. I would’ve rather sang Cake’s cover of “I Will Survive,” but “The Distance” was OK. I jumped to “Lights” when The Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough” wouldn’t load (which is a shame given that the band was just ending what will likely be its last tour).

All in all, the Monday Tuesday karaoke scene isn’t too bad. It’s not hopping like it was most nights in Chico, but it’s something that can get me out of the house every once in a while. I don’t know if I’ll be making the trip every week, considering the time and distance involved (especially with curling league starting on Mondays), but it’s a nice option.

Provo smokestacks before and after


Click to embiggen

It was certainly interesting to watch the demolition of the Provo smokestacks Sunday. Although I’m new to the area, I can certainly understand at least a small portion of what it’s like to lose landmarks like the duo that towered over the skyline for more than 67 years (77 years for the older stack to the north).

In the end, the stacks were practically in their birthday suits after having asbestos-laden paint stripped off of their structures a few weeks ago. While children waved glow sticks that looked like the towers of old with the branding of “Provo City Power,” the actual towers were bare, aside from a column of numbers stretching up the side.

I was excited to cover the event. It was great that the Daily Herald was able to have a reporter, photographer and online staff on the site. We were able to focus on our particular strengths — I reported while Issac Hale shot pics and Phillip Morgan captured live video of the moment. I’m bummed that I forgot that the Provo Mayor’s Office already suggested the #provosmokestacks hashtag and initially went with the shorter #provostacks tag. Hizzoner’s recommendation carried the day on Twitter and the posts using the tag were fun to browse through.

I also got to be a bit of dork and talk about the smokestacks before the event and later during a live, online interview with Assistant Power Director Scott Bunker (who was a pleasure to speak with). Although I’ve done radio broadcasting for years, I definitely saw room for improvement in my presentation.

We were able to cover the event from multiple angles and I was happy to shoot slow-motion video of the destruction. If you watch the top of the northern stack on the left, you can glimpse a small cloud emerge as it falls to the ground. Although the stacks were last used for power generation in 2000, it seems oddly fitting that they funneled either smoke or dust in their dying moments.

Before I left the Provo Recreation Center to write up the story, I snapped a final photo of the view without the towers framed to match a shot I took earlier in the morning. Using the Juxtapose.JS tool, I created the graphic you see at the top of this entry. It’s interesting to see just how much of an impact the old smokestacks had on the Provo skyline. One can only wonder what views we will see in the years to come.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 2.17.44 PM

Last call for Google’s Picasa photo service

A screen capture showing Google's Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

A screen capture showing Google’s Picasa desktop software running on a Windows 7 computer on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

After years of languishing behind projects like Google+ and Google Photos, Picasa is finally going to the great software and Web service cemetery beyond the clouds. Google announced last month that Picasa was being retired, and the end begins March 15 when the company stops support of the Picasa desktop app. Picasa’s online Web albums will be changing starting May 1.

I’m writing today so people may have the chance to download the Picasa’s free software for Windows and Mac before it’s taken offline. Although I started with Picasa’s Web service, the desktop software has become an invaluable way to quickly sort images and do some basic editing (although the editing tools are closer to Instagram than Photoshop). Although Google is seeking a single service that works on mobile and desktop, that solution isn’t ready today.

At first glance, Picasa is a tough sell as it was first developed when software companies were determining how to bridge software that resided on local computers with cloud services. Picasa was both a desktop app (that Google initially acquired) and an online photo service and it could be hard to explain the difference between the two to others. The two services even had different Web addresses — the app was available at picasa.google.com while the Web service was available at picasaweb.google.com.

A screenshot shows the desktop software at the top of this blog post. Readers may contrast that with a view of the Web albums below.

Here's a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Here’s a look at the Picasa Web Albums service as viewed in Google Chrome on March 10, 2016.

Compared with modern applications and Web services, both versions of Picasa look a bit dated but they were still generally effective.

When it came to sharing photos online, Picasa Web Albums made things simple without the clutter of other photo-sharing services, like PhotoBucket. You could embed individual Picasa images on other sites or share slideshows of entire albums. These features are not currently available in Google Photos.

The biggest advantage of Google Photos is that it can store all of your photos at a usable size (Google+ Photos had a pretty small image size limit). I’ve found it extremely convenient for locating and sharing individual photos, but I’m less inclined to share whole albums. To be fair, I didn’t choose to share many albums with Picasa Web Albums, but I miss the ability to view other’s public photo profiles and share my own.

Ultimately, I’ll likely miss the desktop software most of all, especially when it came to processing screenshots. As someone whose personal computer is a MacBook, it’s easy to take cropped screenshots with the Command-Shift-4 keyboard shortcut. On a Windows PC, it’s initially easy to take the screenshot with the PrtScn key, but then you have to go to an image app like MS Paint, paste the screenshot into the image, crop it and then save it.

Picasa for Windows allowed users to skip a couple of steps. When Picasa was running, the PrtScn key captured the desktop directly to Picasa (alas, no secondary screens). With the image already saved, it was easy to go into Picasa, edit and crop the image and export it from a bitmap to a JPEG or PNG file.

The rest of the desktop app’s tools were straightforward. You couldn’t cut out or easily modify smaller elements of an image (something that had me running to Photoshop a couple times last year). The tools were useful for basic photo editing and caption information was saved in an IPTC format, which saved a lot of time for work. Users could also add text to an image, which saved me a lot of grief when I was working on my Christmas cards.

As much as I liked the desktop software, it could get a bit difficult to manage images, especially as it tried to cope with updates from other developers. For example, it was great that Picasa was able to read Apple’s iPhotos image database, but that advantage is practically wiped out when the image database splits up images by date (instead of albums or something more useful).

Ultimately, it makes sense for Google to let go of Picasa as the desktop app was last significantly updated more than four years ago. It will also reduce some of the confusion of Google’s image programs (which will still include Google Photos and the Snapseed mobile editing apps). I hope Google Photos will pick up some of the features of the Picasa services. Google Photos offers some incredible advantages, especially with facial and object recognition, but I think it has some ways to go before it can be a suitable replacement for Picasa.

Is Google Photos the future?

Is Google Photos the future?

Vital discussion on media consolidation not aided by false quip

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but it and 5 other companies really own 90 percent of _all_ media?

Yes, Comcast is a huge conglomerate, but does it and 5 other companies really own over 90 percent of _all_ media?

It is ironic that a letter to the editor about media literacy would contain a wild, unsubstantiated claim about the media. Both the Enterprise-Record and the Chico News & Review ran a letter from Richard Sterling Ogden promoting a community radio program focusing on media literacy. Unfortunately, both copies of the letter ran the claim that “Six corporations own over 90 percent of media…” This claim has been floating around for years and, as far as I can tell, it’s a bit of easily repeated hokum that doesn’t have a scintilla of proof.

It’s frustrating when these unfounded and demonstrably false claims are repeated without any verification because it can diminish otherwise valid concerns about media consolidation. Because I loathe to see inaccurate, feel-good noise drowning out valid, useful information on the Internet, I often respond whenever I see this unproven claim repeated and taken as gospel (Here’s an example from Business Insider). What follows is generally what I post.

The simplicity of the statement “six corporations own over 90 percent of media” is its undoing because “media” could mean everything, including print, radio, broadcasting, recorded music, cinema, pay-TV, online media, etc., in every country across the world. Six corporations may have their fingers in many of those categories, but not all, and not in all countries.

Even if you generously narrow the definition of “media” to just the United States, one can quickly deduce that there’s no apparent merit to the claim.

For example, of the 1,774 full-power TV stations in the United States, about 20 percent of them are public television stations. Public television stations are licensed by various schools, colleges, non-profit entities — not, as far as I can tell, the nefarious six corporations.

The remaining 80 percent is less than 90, even if the rest of them were owned by these corporations (which they’re not). Yes, most TV stations air programming from broadcasters like Disney-owned ABC, CBS Corp. or Comcast-owned NBC, but the actual stations are owned by different companies. There are only about 79 stations owned and operated by the sinister six — that’s just 4.5 percent of the total number of stations. Again, 4.5 percent is not 90 percent.

The linked table itself acknowledges that the six companies control 70 percent of cable networks. I don’t have the time to verify that claim, but it’s not necessary because 70 percent isn’t 90 percent.

I could do the same thing for radio stations, newspapers and news websites. When you add them all up, I don’t think you’re going to get to 90 percent.

Ultimately, people who decry the potential for mass manipulation shouldn’t engage in it themselves.