Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chuck the Writer Receives Inspiration and begins "The Project 3"

It was more than ten years ago when Greg Loescher, the editor of the music magazine Goldmine, recommended my name to his publishing company as a writer for a new line of music collector's guides.

My first guide, Warman's American Records 1950-2000, was an instant hit (the "Warman" was Eliot Warman, the author of an antiques collectibles guide; the publishing company branded his name on several different collectibles guides, similar to Hoyle authoring several books on card-playing games). Between that book and its 2004 sequel, I sold over 10,000 copies - a respectable number for a trade publication.

I also embarked on a self-promoted "Warman's World Tour," which involved me setting up book signings at various Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores throughout the Northeastern United States (and a few Chapters bookstores in Canada).

While the thrill of being a published author is still a wonderful feeling, there were factors that eventually caused me to leave Goldmine and the publishing company, factors that I will choose not to repeat in this blog.

Flash forward to July 28, 2009 - and more specifically, last night.

As I'm drifting off to sleep, my subconscious mind starts thinking about those books, and how much excitement I felt in creating the text, rustling up the photographs of rare and expensive recordings, and the excitement of seeing the volumes in print. Would I ever go back to that publisher and do it all again? Not a chance, I mutter to myself as I start to drift into dreamland.

But then inspiration hits.

Who says I can't put together my own book - in this age of self-publication and online publishing companies, what's to stop me from assembling a new book on an entirely different topic? Maybe not music collecting, per se, but something involving materials I've created in the past?

All I have to do is rustle up the materials - if I stored them in the proper archival location - and maybe, just maybe, if all the stars are aligned properly, I might be able to put something of my own together.

And at that moment, I drifted off to sleep.

They say that our dreams are vibrant while we are asleep, but that once we awake, we only remember a small fragment of those dreams. At 3:00 a.m. I woke up. Those fragments were still there in my mind.

I quickly went from my bedroom to my home office and checked my archive discs.

Both DVD storage discs were still accessible and contained all the materials I needed.

This morning, I began work on what I will now refer to as "The Project 3."

Wish me luck.

I may need it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chuck The Writer Shoots the Waterfalls at Poestenkill Gorge

Of the four photos I wanted to submit to the Altamont Fair photo competition, one of the quartet just didn't grab me. Try as I might, I could not get a decent capture of the Oakwood Cemetery waterfall without climbing down a very unsafe ravine.

I wanted another waterfall shot, if for no other reason than I used the title I had originally assigned to the Oakwood Cemetery waterfall shot - "Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls" (Psalms 42:7) for the title of the photo - I needed another waterfall shot, without having to traipse all the way over to Buffalo.

What to do ... what to do ...

Solution - Last year I purchased a book that was written by the Rensselaer County Land Trust, and it featured hundreds of locations throughout the area. I ended up choosing the waterfalls at Poestenkill Gorge, right in the heart of Troy.

Saturday afternoon - sun was beating down like crazy, the UV index must have been above infinity. I had to climb down a very rocky and uneven path, until I came to the base of the Poestenkill Gorge. And staring right up at me was the waterfall, cascading over dark black shale rock.

Up with the tripod. Out with the D700. And with all five of my lenses, and with the nerve of someone willing to stand on the last semi-anchored rock with a $3,000 camera and hard-to-replace lenses, I got some fantastic shots of the waterfall. Although the trend now is to get rivers and waterfalls with long exposures, to give them a mystical, otherworldly look, I chose instead for an instant capture, with the goal of expressing the power of the waterfall as it splashed on the rocks.

So this photo - along with my captures of the RCA dog statue in downtown Albany, the D&H railroad bridge in Slingerlands, and the midnight shot of the park benches at Washington Park in Albany - will be my entries for the Altamont Fair photo contest.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chuck the Writer Gears Up for June 2010

I've had a love-hate relationship with Hamilton College. There were times when it was the most wonderful place in the world, and there were times when I felt like I was as out of place as the second trombone in a string quartet.

But over time, I've mellowed in my appreciation for the college. Two years ago, I sat transfixed to the TV set as the Hamilton College women's lacrosse team beat Franklin & Marshall on the CBS College Sports network, winning the NCAA Div III lacrosse title, Hamilton's first NCAA championship award.

I've returned for the 5th, 15th and 20th reunions (missed the 10th for reasons that completely escape me right now), and for the 20th I even hosted an Alumni College event (when former students return to the campus and show what they've learned).

Sometimes on long drives through the New York State Thruway, I'll absent-mindedly switch my radio dial to 88.7 and listen for about half an hour to WHCL, the college radio station. And on occasion, I'll even stop at the college and pick up a souvenir shirt or watch a basketball game on campus.

Next year my 25th reunion at the college will take place. This is a significant milestone, without a doubt. I'm hoping to host another alumni college, I'm hoping to meet up with old friends, and I'm hoping that any painful memories I had from my time at old Ham Tech are completely erased by the positives out there.

The 2010 reunion is less than a year away. If I'm going to do an alumni college, I'd better get started on the project right now. As opposed to pulling an all-nighter and cramming like crazy - which is how I got through most of my classes at old Ham Tech.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Chuck the Writer is Getting Into CTRL

There's a new web-based 5-minute TV series, produced by NBC, called CTRL.

Here's a link to the episodes via Hulu.

The show is based on a 2008 Sundance film festival entry, in which a nebbish office worker discovers that, thanks to an accident involving spilled tea on his computer keyboard, now gives him the power to control life with the same control-function keys as used on the stained keyboard. [CTRL]+[Z] sends him back in time (a few minutes per keystroke), while [CTRL]+[B] initiates the "Bold" function - not to bolden the characters, but to make him more bold and assertive.

Of course, this is a comedy, so nothing on the keyboard goes exactly as planned. Sort of like the old joke about the guy staring at the magic mirror and saying, "Make my lovemaking equipment so long that it reaches the floor," and suddenly his legs disappear.

But it is worth watching, so take a look and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chuck the Writer Assists on a New Writing Project

Robert Bradley is an expert in the history of professional basketball. He's the head person behind the Association for Professional Basketball Research, an organization similar to the SABR people who chart baseball's history.

So when he contacted me the other day and asked if I had any information on the Continental Basketball Association standings for his upcoming book project, and if I could help him out...

I couldn't pull up my statistical data fast enough.

I was able to get him the standings for the last ten years of the CBA, and then followed that up with statistics from the United States Basketball League, the Premier Basketball League, the Eastern Pro League - and this morning, I e-mailed him the scores from the 1947 New York State Pro League semifinal playoff round between the Albany Red Devils and the Cohoes Mastodons. And you think today's team names are goofy??


This is what research is for. It's similar to tracking your family tree, discovering your genealogy. Only in my case, it's involving the rediscovery of professional sports that had long since passed into the mists of the diaspora.

Just for example, here's a piece I wrote on Barney Sedran and Marty Friedman, the "Heavenly Twins," two basketball stars from the early history of pro hoops. In fact, at 5'4", Barney Sedran is the shortest professional player ever inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chuck the Writer loves this song "United Breaks Guitars" by Sons of Maxwell

This is absolutely funny. And it's great. And it's ironic.

Here's the deal.

This musician, Dave Carroll, from the band Sons of Maxwell, was on tour and was waiting for his United flight to take off, when a passenger on that plane looked out the window and said that the plane loading crew were tossing guitars in the air. Apparently one of the guitars that was being tossed - and later damaged and broken - was Carroll's acoustic guitar.

He spent some time trying to get United to fix it, and went from call center to phone jail to runaround.

However, Mr. Carroll didn't let it stop there.

He wrote a song about it.

And he made a video for it

And he shows off his busted guitar in the video.

And I'm posting it right here because I want you to watch this - it's just that great!

And don't get me wrong - I'll fly United more than I would any other airline (and my wife, who loves Southwest, thinks I'm nuts for my brand loyalty), but if United ever damaged my camera equipment in transit, I better get some replacement and not just measly $50 travel voucher!

Go Dave Carroll! Power to the people!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chuck the Writer FINALLY GOT THE D700!!!!

I scrimped. I saved. I went without.

But on Friday, I was able to finally realize my goal.


From 2005 to the present, I worked with a Nikon D70 camera. I actually purchased this camera to replace my Nikon Coolpix 800, which I had owned since maybe 1999. At the time, the Albany Patroons were coming back to the CBA, and the camera I had just wouldn't work with action photography. So I bought a D70 from my local Ritz Camera and went from there.

Since then, I've used the D70 for four CBA seasons and two Premier Basketball League seasons, and have captured maybe 30,000 photos over that span of time. I also used it for various nature and outdoors photography.

But over time, I saw that my D70 wasn't as powerful a camera as I originally thought. I couldn't get the ISO above 800 without lots of grain. The kit lens that came with the D70 was barely adequate for my needs. In other words - I could go up to bat and hit a single, maybe a double, but the other batters were hitting home runs.

I had fantasized about acquiring Nikon's top-of-the-line D3 camera, but where the hell was I going to come up with $5,000?

Last year, however, out came Nikon's successor camera - the D700. It had the huge FX sensor like the D3, I could crank the ISO up to above 6400 (and maybe higher), and all my lenses would be completely compatible, meaning I didn't need to invest thousands in lens replacement.

The D700 retails for $3,000. Still way out of my price range.

But then came a Nikon rebate. That dropped the price to $2,700.

Then B&H Photo in New York City offered a D700 for $2,000 - factory reconditioned.

After a couple of calls to B&H to guarantee that the camera would be there, I hopped a Greyhound bus and rode down to New York City. I had to hurry - not only was it 4th of July weekend and I wanted to photograph the fireworks at the Empire State Plaza, I had to get to B&H before the place closed at 2pm. For those not aware of this, B&H is predominantly operated by Satmar Hasidim, and that means no work on Shabbat. So the place closes at 2pm and doesn't open back up until Sunday morning.

Got down there. Traded in my F/1.4 lens that I never use. Handed over whatever cash I had squirreled away. And all that, plus some wiggle room on one of my credit cards, and the salesperson opened up a cabinet, pulled out a box that said RECONDITIONED NIKON D700 and put it in a basket. "The only thing you won't like about this camera," he said to me, "is you won't want to stop using it."

Well if that's the only caveat...

Rode back home on the Greyhound. Poured through the operations manual like I was cramming for a midterm final.

On Saturday morning, I tested four of my five lenses on the D700. My F/1.8 action lens worked great. So did my E-series F/1.8, my Kiev wide-angle and my Kiev Fisheye. Even though the latter three weren't computer-based lenses with CPU connections, the D700 has a special command that allows the user to input data about those lenses so that the camera can meter properly. Wow...

Saturday evening. 9:15 pm, I'm on the roof of the Eagle Street parking garage, armed with my new D700, the Kiev fisheye lens, and the cheap-ass Quantaray tripod that I always fear is going to topple over in a stiff breeze.

So did my new camera pass the test?

You tell me....

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chuck the Writer's Latest Trivia Target - the Sea Unit

Competitive team trivia is just that - competitive. Everybody talks trash before the event starts, we all cheer if we get the right answer, we all grumble when the answer is horribly wrong, and in the end we congratulate the winning team, chat for a while, and go home.

Unfortunately, in the four-plus years I've played competitive team trivia, there have been a few sour apples that have really made team trivia less of a fun event and more of a grit-your-teeth-and-hope-the-guy-isn't-parked-near-your-car-afterward event.

Don't get me wrong - I talk trash just as much as anyone else. And if the host says that "Street Academy" is in the lead, and I hear a chorus of boos and groans, that's respect, man.

Unfortunately, some teams mistake respect for taunting.

With that, I'll introduce you to Dave. Dave is the captain of a trivia team originally called "See You Next Tuesday," and is now known as "C-Unit." For purposes of delicate sensibilities, I will rebrand that team as the "Sea Unit," rather than promote their purile pubic pecadilloes.

If Dave's team gets in the lead, he'll come over and start talking trash in the middle of the game at me. "We got you beat, Street Academy! You can't beat us, Street Academy!"

Hmm... A team of one (me) against a team of four or five (them).

I first met Dave's team over at Old Chicago, when his team scored a victory one week. I half-jokingly suggested they might have called a friend to get the answer, and Dave flew into a rage. "I had that answer, Street Academy, I knew that answer, you didn't know it, get over it!"

Oh... kay...

A couple of weeks later, I ran into the team at a trivia game at Recovery Room. I was in the lead at that time. Dave comes over to my table, and starts trying to chat me up - and while he's talking, he's helping himself to the french fries on my plate!

We talked afterward about keeping some decorum, and he agreed to tone it down.

That was until last night.

I was in second place, with a chance for the win, and the final question was "Strom Thurmond once ran as a third party candidate in an election that saw which person elected President?"

I didn't know the answer, so I was trying to calculate how old Strom Thurmond would have been to have been considered a successful candidate for a presidential election. Meanwhile, Dave runs up, slaps his answer slip on the host's table, and then starts shouting across the bar at me, "I got the answer, Chuck, you don't have the answer do you, or else you'd have brought it up already, I got the answer!"

Which completely threw my train of thought off the track. I calculated that Strom Thurmond, who was so old Methusulah once called him Pops, would have been a successful candidate in the late 1940's or mid-1950's, so that would have been either Truman or Eisenhower. I hedged my bet and figured he might have been in one of the two Eisenhower elections.

No such luck. It was Truman. So I lost the $50 bar tab - and the grand prize that night, which involved tickets to a Def Leppard/Poison/Cheap Trick concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

So at this point, Dave and the Sea-Unit team are now on my shit list. You better have your "A" game every time I see your team at trivia, because rest assured, I don't care if I come in 19th in a field of 20 teams - as long as your squad is in 20th place right behind me.

Or worse - in 21st.