Sunday, July 5, 2009

Something NEW from AutoFX

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for an update.

I have been trying to figure out how for nearly a week exactly to write this. I want to tell you about the newest addition to the Auto FX stable: an update to its highly successful Mystical Tint, Tone and Color line.

I have been trying to work out where to start. Why? Because it’s daunting, that’s why.

This is a freaking HUGE program. We’re talking 60 individual filters spanning everything from a “genuine blow you out of your socks” Portrait set, to a single stroke HDR component set.

There are filters that add a perfect blending of light and atmosphere like “Afternoon Sun” to an utterly astounding…and I choose those words very deliberately because I mean STUNNING set of Smoothing filters.

So you see my quandary. Where do you start? There’s no way to cover them all here.

Let me start this way: go DIRECTLY to and download the demo and play around…oops…I mean make a meaningful examination of these filters. The demo allows you to load your own photos. But you can’t save your work, which is a bit of a bummer. Many companies let you have fully functioning software for a month. I would guess that once you see what this set does you’ll have no problem buying it.

Once you start working with them – indulge yourself and go deep down the rabbit hole to start blending different effects to achieve some amazing graphics.

The image at the top was a relatively uninteresting black and white shot. This shot encompasses several filters. There’s my absolute favourite: “Afternoon Sun” blended with three other filters to achieve a wonderfully lit, perfectly shadowed image.

The great thing…I mean the REALLY great thing…about these effects is the way they work together. You can stack them, change their layer order, work with their opacity until you get the precise effect you are aiming for.

If you do Portrait work, you will be fighting to get your wallet out for the Portrait filters alone. These eight filters were designed in concert with working portrait photographers and it goes light-years beyond any other filter set available.

Enhance hair, eyes, smooth skin…even enlarge features on your subject.

This set alone more than justifies the price if you do portrait work. The time saved and the glossy pro effects will pay for the whole set within just a few uses.

As with other AutoFX software, it’s not plug and play stuff. You’ll have to take some time to sit down with the manual and learn how to use it. But we are talking time and money well invested.

Here’s an overview:

COLOR EFFECTS: There are sixteen of these designed to add new dimensions to every photo. The star of the set for me is “Afternoon Sun.” It’s a lighting effect…it’s a mood setter and it will blow you out of your socks when you apply it to a black and white photo. A sample is at the top of this column. It HAD been a relatively uninteresting black and white. Afternoon blew it into a whole ballpark.

TINTING: These are six filters that add subtle touches to your image. Used properly, they will create a professional sheen on your shots. You really have to take time to look these over and learn how to use them properly.

TONAL EFFECTS: These blow contrast magic all over your work. The star of this set is High Key Blast. This trendy treatment is being done badly all over the place. This filter makes it easy to achieve something amazing. Add a little grain and you will be astounded at the effect you can achieve in just a few keystrokes. There are eleven of these filters.

There are two filters: a Polarizing filter and a Graduated Filters.

There are four Sharpening filters.

There’s way too much to summarize in a review or ten reviews.

This is a five star offering, a blessing to working pros, artists and photographers.

It’s not cheap: the full version is $249 USD and an upgrade will run you $129 USD. But these are professional quality effects and if you’ve been kicking around Photoshop as long as I have, you know you get what you pay for.

Is it worth the price? Have a look for yourself. The demo’s free. At least you owe it to yourself to take a look at this set.

Cliff Weems of Auto FX told me they are working on an update to Mystical Lighting which, as I have said before, is one of the most useful filter sets anywhere.

We’re looking forward to seeing this one too.

So go.

Go now.

Download the demo.

Have I ever steered you guys wrong?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Danger is Not My Middle Name #12

My Middle Name is Not Danger #12

“So what does the ‘G’ stand for?” I asked.

I was sitting in a bar on the ship, the phone pressed to my ear, enjoying an overpriced scotch.

“Who is this?”

“You know who this is,” I said. “I know you know…and I know you know that I know. I think we both know exactly.”


“What does the “G” stand for?” I demanded a little more harshly than I needed to.

“Greta,” she said.

It was the same slinky voice I’d heard in my office on Day One of this whole caper. I knew it belonged to the skirt who came in to hire me to follow Gerald. Remember her? Cool manner. Killer eyes. Legs that went all the way to her hips…
“G stands for Greta?” I asked.
“Is there something wrong with ‘Greta?’” she asked, that familiar pre-pissed tone working into her voice.
“Nah, Toots,” I said.
“Don’t call me Toots,” she said. Then: “How did you get this number?”
“It was on a scrap of paper in a torn open bag under my bed.”
There was a pause during which more than the long distance connection crackled.
“Was there anything else in the bag?”
“No,” I said. It occurred to me that Bogie would probably use as few words as possible in a situation like this, to flush out information. I determined to do the same.
“Where’s Jennifer?”
“Dead. Probably.”
Another pause.
“And your subject? Fitzroy. Where is he?”
“Dead. Probably.”
“What happened?”
“Tunnel. Slimy stuff. Undead creatures. Long sword. Bad bad sounds.” I was kind of proud of that summary.
“Do you mean there was a fight? And that Jennifer and Fitzroy…died?”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“It’s a ‘probably,’ Toots,” I said. I was striving for the right ‘tired hero’ tone. I was thinking of Bogart in the Maltese Falcon. By a sheer act of will, I was able to keep the lazy “s” sound out of my ‘voishe.’
“You’re certain there was nothing left in the bag?”
“Yeah,” I said, working a little more gravel into my voice, since it was all working so well.
“No golden disc?”
“Gee let me think,” I said. It had been a long day spent running away from undead monsters and getting my room torn up and getting chewed out by my room steward. “Wait a minute. You mean a GOLD disc?”
Her voice was eager now. “Yes. A gold disc. Quite ornate.”
“Hmmm….” I pondered.
There was another pause.
“Well?” she prompted.
She called me a name that started with the letter “a” and finished with the letter “e” and had an “sshol” in the middle. I will leave the rest to your imagination.
“You’re the only one left,” she said. “It all comes down to you, then.”
She didn’t sound very happy about it. That made two of us.
“Listen carefully,” she said.
“Two things have been stolen. The first is a disc, gold in color. About five inches round. This is an item of legendary power. It’s critical it be recovered in the shortest time possible.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“You don’t need to know that,” she responded.
“Okay.” I said, easing into my tough guy personae as easily as I’d used to put on a cheap suit. “But I want to know. And something else, Toots, If you decide I don’t get to know, I walk.”
There was a pause and then: “In the hands of the right person, it controls the Stokers. We’re not quite sure how exactly. We need to study it. Fitzroy was bringing it to us.”
The tough guy thing was working: “Okay, sister. And the second item?”
“I’m not your sister,” she said, speaking slowly and verrrry clearly.
“Then you’re ‘Toots’ to me,” I told her.
“Sister’s fine.”
“So what was the second thing?”
A sheet of paper with instructions on how to find the companion disc. It says “Seek the worshipping stone angel in a place of learning.”
There was still another pause as I thought this over.
“I hate that,” I said. “They never say: Look at 3425 Elm Road in the brown dresser on the second floor. It has to be all this “Seek the worshipping angel crap.”
“These were written a long time ago,” Greta said. “In the mid 18th century, I should think. They needed to write cryptically so their true meaning would not be found out.”
“Uh huh,” I retorted quickly. “Where is this angel?”
“Glasgow,” she said. “In the chapel at the University of Glasgow.”
“And what am I supposed to seek there?”
“A silver disc.”
“What does it do?”
“I’d rather not tell you. If you don’t know, they can’t make you tell them.”
“Who ‘they?’”
She was silent again and I didn’t need her to draw me a picture. After a moment she said “Good luck, Sam.” Then she hung up.
“Not a problem, Toots,” I muttered into the dead phone. “I always wanted to go to university.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Danger is Not My Middle Name #11

Danger is Not My Middle Name #11

“What the hell are you DOING?”

The voice sliced through my preoccupation with the scrap of paper like a knife. I turned and saw Marlon, our cabin steward, standing in the doorway, surveying the damage.


For a moment, Marlon looked flummoxed. Then he rephrased: “What the hell are you doing, sir?”

(They teach Princess staff to be polite.)

Marlon stood there surveying the damage, quivering with dismay and the keen desire to put everything right. Immediately. I had the sense I was in the presence of a worker ant.

“There was this other worldly creature that drifted through the walls,” I explained. “It was looking for what was under the bed.”

Marlon inched closer to me. I suspected he was trying to smell my breath, which considering the stress I’d been under tonight, wasn’t a good idea.

“A creature, sir?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Drifting through the walls?”

I nodded again.

Marlon looked at me with skepticism, which was completely understandable under the circumstances.

“If you say so, sir,” he said softly. “If you give me ten minutes or so, I can clear this mess up.”

He stood there, looking at me expectantly, almost as though I hadn’t just told him a supernatural being had ransacked my stateroom.

I nodded once and left. As soon as the door closed, I heard many sounds of things being firmly put back in place along with Marlon’s soft but distinctly hostile muttering coming from within.
I went to the only place I could think of where my people resided: the Internet Lounge and collapsed into a chair, all the better to examine the note.

Across from me was the same couple I’d seen at breakfast a few days ago.

The man was sitting behind a closed laptop, eyeing his wife, who was frantically typing on the keyboard, totally ignoring him.

“I thought you said five minutes,” he said. His voice held out no hope at all that this was going to be the actual case.

“I have just a one more comment to make,” she said, without looking up or slowing her typing.”

“You said that ten minutes ago, Sheree,” he replied with a sigh. His voice was full of resignation. No anger. Just resignation. He must be married, I thought.

“Flickr’s like that,” she said. “You know that.”

He said “Uh huh.”

“And I need to buy another 1,000 minutes,” she said.

He said “Uh huh.”

He saw me looking at them and half smiled and winked. I winked back, hoping it wasn’t like some gay thing.

Then I unfolded the note.

There was a sequence of numbers and the letter “G.”

I didn’t graduate in the top 84% of the Ray Hunker Correspondance School of Detection for no reason. I knew what the numbers had to be within just a few minutes. It was the one thing overlooked by the creature. It had to be a phone number – a phone number I was supposed to protect with my life. Why?

WWBD? I asked myself. (“What Would Bogie Do?)

I went to a telephone and dialed.

When the voice on the other line said “hello” – I nearly swallowed my tongue. I knew precisely who it was.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #10

Danger is Not My Middle Name #10

My body was having a difference of opinion with itself.
Legs: “Holy crap. We gotta get out of here. Let us run, okay? Right freaking now!”
Heart: “Holy crap. We’re gonna die. But I’m up for a run if the legs are.”
Mind: “This makes no sense at all. How can a creature step out of mist? We should go have a closer look and figure this out.”
Legs and Heart: “Are you freaking cracked?”
Mind: “I fail to understand what the problem is…”
‘Male Orbs’: “I’m hiding. You guys just let me know when it’s over.”
In the end no one did anything. I stood there. I don’t think I could have moved if I’d wanted to. My feet, silent because they knew they had the ultimate say in whether we went anywhere, were rooted in one spot, like lead weights.
And the creature moved quickly. It’s feet didn’t touch the ground, although some form of legs still seemed to set it’s course. It moved quickly – but didn’t seem in a hurry. As it drew nearer, I saw that the black was not so much a body as black mist swirling around the creature.
I can’t describe it to you, other than to say it was “otherworldy.” There seemed to be an upside down “U” that kept folding in on itself – and the contents of this “U” and the area immediately outside of it were in a constant state of motion. There was something in there looking out – but I had never seen anything like it before.
My chest tensed and my lips moved soundlessly. Dimly I realized you were supposed to yell at moments like this – or show yourself to be bigger than the ghost…or vampire or…was that bears? No sound came out of me because there was no sound that would have been louder than the pulsing blood pounding in my ears.
Vaguely I was aware that the thing was holding me in place with as much effort as I would exert to keep a baby still. It had no need to hurry. It came up to me and stopped just a few inches from my face. I was aware of a breeze on my face and some dark dread dead smell.
Is this how I go out? I wondered. Is this how I would slide into the Big Sleep? Is this how I would be sucked right off the mortal coil?
The creature paused for a moment and I knew I was again being studied by something much more powerful than myself. Then it drifted past me and through the wall.
How did I know it was making for my stateroom? I just did.
I tried moving my feet experimentally. They cooperated. My mind was excited about this because it thought we were now going directly to the stateroom to have a closer look at the mystery creature. My legs and heart were incredulous that we were even considering something so colossally stupid. They thought with every protesting tensed sinew that we should be going the OTHER way.
But the instant I could walk – I made a bee line for my cabin. I’d already deserted my friends. I’d already run away from one fight. I could feel my loins girding anew (or maybe it was the male orbs peeking out to see if the coast was clear) and I made tracks for my room.
I tugged against the door – but it was held tightly closed, like it was fused to the frame. I considered throwing myself against it, but I knew I would get an owie on my shoulder for no good reason. The door wasn’t moving.
It sounded like there was a gorilla in there, tearing the place apart. Glass shattered, furniture crashed – the walls vibrated with the sounds of violence from within.
Then it stopped and there was the sound like the dying breath of old man and the door was no longer held fast. It opened so easily that I stumbled against the wall.
My cabin had been torn apart, the bed completely turned over and an empty cloth bag…a very old looking cloth bag…lay on the floor, ripped open. A fragment of paper was under the bag. I took it gingerly in hand and read what was written there.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #9

Danger is Not My Middle Name #9

Jennifer pushed me hard up the stairs. My ordinarily unflappable partner was moaning with something that sounded suspiciously like terror. The stairs felt slick and even smaller than they had been before.
“Holy crap,” I muttered, guiding myself along the stairwell by running my hand along the wall in the pitch blackness. The wall was also covered with that viscous, sticky coating.
“Listen, Diamond,” puffed Jennifer, struggling along behind me. “I need to go help Gerald…otherwise those things will…they’ll…”
“Suck the life right out of him and leave a lifeless husk behind, an unclean thing destined to become another creature of the night?” I offered hopefully.
Pause. “Yes. Something like that.”
I nodded – and then realized there was no way she was going to see that in the darkness so I muttered something like “okay.”
“If we don’t come out of here you need to look under the bed in the stateroom, understand? And you need to keep it safe.”
“Keep what safe?”
“Never mind. And if you see either Gerald or me in…in the night….under absolutely no circumstances are you to let us into your room. You understand me? If it’s me I won’t come to you unless it’s daylight. If I come to you in the night...don’t look into my eyes and don’t…”
Her voice cracked into silence and statement hung in the air between us, crackling with everything she didn’t say.
“Holy crap,” I whispered again.
“When you get out of here – you need to get back to the ship. Don’t wait for me. Don’t wait or Gerald. GO!”
She shoved me hard and I took four steps at once, nearly tripping over my own feet . Arms pin wheeling wildly, I managed to regain my balance. My breath was coming in agonized gasps and I wished I had brought my inhaler. But a private dick with an inhaler? One of these things was not like the other. You never saw Bogie with an inhaler. Or George Raft.
I ran upward. There seemed to be a thousand steps. In the end I ran directly into the door so hard that stars flared in front of my eyes. My hands clawed for the handle. Below me I could hear the sounds of fighting, heated snarls and all too human sounds of exertion. But it was all far away.
What would Bogart have done? He would have gone back down there and kicked some undead ass. Concluding with every step that I wasn’t Bogart, I ran to the bottom of the hill and congratulated myself because I hadn’t peed in my pants. Much.
I waited there for five minutes that felt like five hours. My pseudo girlfriend and the guy I was supposed to be following were probably getting torn to pieces inside there – their lifeless husks would soon be twitching back to undead life.
I suppose I should have felt guilty. If I was in a movie – I would gird my loins, slam through the door and rescue Jennifer from the scuttling advance of the head vampire guy in just a nick of time, feeling her warm body fall into my arms in a surrendered swoon.
But this wasn’t a movie and those things scared the snot out of me. So after several heated arguments between my mind and my heart, my mind (ever the self-preservationist) won. I sighed and made my way back to the ship alone, really alone, for the first time. If they had won or even survived, Gerald and Jennifer would have been here by now.
I made a beeline for our stateroom. I needed to know what was under the bed. I guess I fixated on it, having failed at everything else.
I was walking down the outside deck to our stateroom, thinking that I may have been the only one to survive the night…well…survive the night with actual blood and stuff…when I saw a dark cloud of mist appear half a ship away. Then I saw the creature step out of the mist and start shambling slowly and purposefully toward me.
“Holy crap,” I breathed. Again.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #8

Danger is Not My Middle Name #8

He came out of the darkness at us like a moving shadow.
As he moved into the weak light I stifled an unmanly sound. The light glinted briefly on something in his hand. The man was Fitzroy, the guy we had been hired to follow.
His face was tight with tension and surprise. His lips were drawn into a bloodless line, his eyes narrowed and in his hand was an ornate but very business-like blade, halfway between a sword and a dagger. As he saw us the sword moved in a blur of motion toward Jennifer’s neck. She didn’t move.
He froze.
“Jennifer?” he said.
“Gerald,” she responded. Her tone made me think of the way you’d greet a relative with a chronic sinus infection who was settling his sweaty butt down beside you at the dinner table.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed.
“Everyone has to be somewhere,” she said.
“Figured that all out yourself, huh?” he responded. Ooooo…hostile, thought I.
There was something between these two, the tension crackled in a way that made me, okay, just a little jealous. Jennifer was, after all, my pseudo girlfriend and I wasn’t at all sure I liked her talking to this sword wielding man of mystery.
But at the back of my mind, okay – and rocketing to the front of my mind – was the idea that we were hundreds of feet underground, in the nest of something undead and really dangerous.
“Maybe this isn’t the place for banter,” I said.
Both heads swiveled to regard me like I was a hairy bug that fell into their oatmeal.
“Sam D. Diamond,” I whispered by way of introduction, since Jennifer was obviously no going to do the honors.
Gerald laughed mirthlessly. “I know who you are.”
“…you do?”
He snorted. Not a good sound. “You’re the worst tail on the planet.”
“No he’s not,” Jennifer said.
“Thank you, Jennifer,” I said, drawing injured pride around me like a cloak.
“Shut up,” she said.
I was about to pierce her with my rapier sharp wit when what little light we had flickered and dimmed. As it faded, I saw a whisper of movement. Gerald’s sword was a blur in that fraction of a second and as the lights went out entirely, I heard a meaty thud on metal sound and a soft cry…then the papery sound of something falling.
Jennifer’s hand was on my back, pushing so hard I nearly fell over.
“We need to get out of here,” she hissed. “And we need to go right NOW.”
There were many sounds. Imagine furious paper, whipping itself into a storm. That’s what was boiling up the stairs. There were snapping, snarling growling sounds too.
I turned and ran, slipping and falling upward, knowing those things, whatever they were, were coming faster than we could escape.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #7

Danger is Not My Middle Name #7

It stank in that passageway. I won’t even describe what it smelled like in case you’re eating. I’ll just try to explain that it stank like something undead and decaying would stink after three or four days in the hot sun.

Jennifer gagged beside me.

“Breathe through your mouth,” I whispered. “I used to have to change my baby brother’s diapers. It’s the only way not to puke. Trust me. As a matter of fact--”

“Shut up,” she hissed back, coquettishly.

So I lapsed into a sulky silence. If I were Bogart, it would have been called a manly-yet-deeply-injured silence. So I decided to sulk in a manly manner. I was wondering if teasingly asking Jennifer if she had her cranky panties on would help or hurt me when my mind jumped tracks to a completely different train.

Was this passageway designed for humans? It felt wrong. The stairs were too narrow, the tunnel too tight. The angles were wrong in ways I cannot describe to you. The walls were slick with something wet and sticky at the same time.

The light was murky as a politician’s heart, but some things could be made out. I saw a white sphere perched precariously on a narrow step before me. My foot barely touched it and it teetered uncertainly for a second and then, in slow motion, slid off the stair and rolled downward, sounding like two garbage can covers being slammed together by an angry gorilla in the silence.

We stopped and stood very still.

“Idiot,” hissed Jennifer in my ear, still playing hard to get.

We both heard the slithery sound in the living darkness before us at the same time. We froze. Then we heard it again.

Much closer.

Something was coming our way and in the narrow passageway there was nowhere to hide.

Danger Is Not My Middle Name #6

Danger Is Not My Moddle Name #6

We watched as our subject came into view. He moved slowly past the front of the Unfinished Church, almost a shadow himself. As he appeared, the creature on the wall froze and it made me think of a huge bug trapped in the light. But there was an alertness about it…a predatory focus…even from my vantage place at the bottom of the hill I could feel intensity rolling off it.
Maybe our subject, the occult investigator codenamed “Fitzroy” felt it because he stopped as well, frozen in place. It was a strange tableaux, the scuttling wall thing was just a few feet above him.
Abruptly Fitzroy moved around the back of the building.
Then the shape on the wall slowly crawled down. When it reached the ground it disappeared from view.
“Holy crap,” I said.
Jennifer was silent.
We waited a few minutes more and then crept around the back of the church.
There was an area marked off with worn looking caution tape, but there was a stench rising from somewhere inside the building. The scent of something undead. As we grew closer, we saw a door slightly ajar.
Jennifer moved toward the doorway.
“You’re not seriously thinking about going in there,” I said.
She paused and looked back at me, her face puzzled.
“Well…yeah,” she said slowly. “It’s our job.”
“Don’t you watch horror movies,” I hissed. “People who follow the creepy monster down into basements wind up with garden trowels in their foreheads.”
She looked at me one moment longer, shook her head, and went through the door.
I thought about it. I am reasonably sure my heart moved into my throat. I could feel it pulsing there. Then, telling myself I was a moron, I followed her down into the dank darkness.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #5

Danger is Not My Middle Name #5

The beautiful girl and I are on a hill at the foot of an unfinished gothic style church, which looks a little like it has a sad face on it. The wind is a live thing swirling around us. There are only a couple of hours left until darkness – something that really seems to bother Jennifer. We are lying on our bellies and very suddenly I see something so horrifying that I have to suppress a very undetective-like scream.

I will tell you what I saw in a minute…right after I explain how we got to be here in the first place.

There are a lot of things I feel guilty about in my life. But there are three big ones. The first: telling my aging father that if he didn’t keep the lid securely capped on his newly purchased memory stick that the information would fall out. The second involves a burning bag, a misunderstanding about some goats and a small but really annoying Scottish terrier and the third has to do with a girl, a quart of Newfie Screech and the careful application apple sauce.
But I didn’t feel guilty for staring at Jennifer Jonas’ gams. They were long and shapely, the kind of legs that went all the way up to her hips. She was leaning forward, getting ready to do some talking. Her face was serious and she chewed on her lower lip in a manner that could have betrayed nerves…but was starting to look really hot.

“You’re staring at my legs, Diamond. Stop it,” she said.

“…what?” I responded quickly.

“I am going to have a conversation with you. Something serious. And you are staring at my legs.”

“Well…they’re nice legs,” I said. Rakish was failing me now. Even my fedora seemed to be drooping – which is not a good thing when you’re a dick like me. I could only see her eyes, her legs, those full lips and my mind was wandering into its happy place.

“…going to get killed. A long and painful death.”


“I said that unless you focus, you are going to get killed. It will be a long and painful death.”

“Oh,” I responded quickly. “Alrighty then.”

“Are you focused?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, trying to summon a crooked yet charming smile to my lips.

“Really?” Her voice was like silk, with an underlying purr to it.

“You’ve heard of Bram Stoker?” she asked.

“Yes,” I lied.

“Who is he?”

“Lead singer for the Rotting Maggots?” I guessed.


“Fullback for the Green Bay Packers?”

She sighed. “No. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula. You have heard of Dracula, right?”

“Everyone’s heard of Dracula,” I responded sardonically. “He invented lasagna.”

“No.” She started to speak. But I silenced her with a finger pressed against her lips, so the rest of her words sounded like “yummmfp.”

“Dracula. Transylvanian vampire.”

She nodded. “Yephh,” she said.

“I know who he was, toots,” I said. I took my finger off her lips, even though it wanted to stay and die there.

“Don’t call me toots,” she said.

I shrugged. Was there a club or something?

“Stoker’s book wasn’t fiction,” she said.

I first sniffed and then kissed my index finger, which had been pressed to her lips, even as I waggled my eyebrow her way.

“There are vampires out there?” I asked. “Undead blood suckers?”

She frowned at me and then shook her head. “No. Not like that exactly. Stoker led a very ordinary life. As dull as dishwater. Then one day he comes out with this story. Where did that story come from?”

I shrugged. So she was loony tunes…what was that to me? My heart was having a wild party inside my chest because she had allowed me to press my finger to her lips and hadn’t even thrown up a little bit.

“He was a researcher into the occult. He was a member of a small group of men, determined to find out if occult stories were based on truth…or lies.”

“Uh huh,” I responded, nodding my head slowly. Definitely loopy. That could work for me, I thought as I began scheming.

“He found vampires, Diamond,” she said.

“Sure he did,” I responded reassuringly. “Probably in an old castle, surrounded by bodies and a hunchbacked minion.”

“You’re being a jerk,” she said, refusing to pout, which made me just a little sad. She actually was doing a fairly credible job of starting to look seriously pissed.

“Real vampires aren’t anything like that. But how could Stoker communicate what he had learned to his colleagues? There was no internet…no fast post…no way to publish a text book. So he wrote Dracula and included codes and symbols only his colleagues would recognize.”

“Bram Stoker did that?” I asked.

She nodded eagerly.

“Would that be called the B.S. Code?” I observed wittily.

She sighed again and looked up at me with very tired looking eyes.

“I don’t know why I am trying to help you. But I am going to try one more time. We call the creatures he found “Stokers” since he was the one who uncovered their first nest. They don’t drink blood. They drain life. They must drain human life to live.”

“Like that face sucking thing on Star Trek?” I said. Star Trek, the TOS (The Original Series to the mundanes) was familiar ground. I could hold my own here with anyone. “Everyone thought she was just this hot babe Kirk was going to bag and—"

“Sure, sure. Whatever,” she said with a dismissive wave of one slender hand. “The point is that the Stokers are real. They exist. The group Bram Stoker belonged to, called the Keepers, is real. It exists. The man we are following is one of the key Keeper investigators. His code name is Fitzroy.”

“Uh huh,” I said, slowly processing the information. She seemed pretty level for someone who was totally animal crackers. Hot…but nuts.

“He’s going to a place called The Unfinished Church in Bermuda. It’s a gothic ruin now. We know he’s meeting someone there. Someone or something. It’s the next port we put into. We’re following him there.”

All of which goes to explain how I came to be here, standing on a windswept hill, somewhere in St. George, Bermuda, tracking the undead.

Jennifer was crouched down beside me, her body warm against the cold night and I—

“Stop it, Diamond,” she said.

“Stop what?”

“What you’re thinking. Knock it off.”

I was about to lie and claim complete innocence when we both saw something so impossible we were stunned into silence. We watched breathlessly as a dark form moved somewhere in the murky darkness. The form was big and dark, crawling down the wall of the deserted church, like a large loathsome spider. And I DO mean that it was crawling DOWN the wall of the church toward the ground in complete defiance of gravity.

“Holy crap,” I said softly.

“Yeah,” whispered Jennifer. “Holy crap.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

Danger is Not My Middle Name #4

The sun is beating down on me like a thousand tiki torches held just a few inches away from my skin. I’m looking around me, making an effort to look everywhere except at the subject – so whenever my eyes would ordinarily pass over him, I shut them tight. It’s the old ‘if you can’t see me, I can’t see you’ strategy. It’s a little something I picked up in the Ray Hunker Correspondence School of Detection of Des Moines.

There’s a guy beside me. Curly hair steadily crawling up his forehead. His chest is covered in hair too (maybe he’s a bear?) and while he sleeps there’s a little trickle of drool running a little rivulet down his chin. He’s snoring softly.

I do what the tourists all do. First I turn down the thirty-seven offers from various service staff to fetch an over-priced drink. Then, I stare at a single twenty-something in a very brief bikini walking slowly around the pool, pretending she doesn’t know every mug in the immediate vicinity isn’t imagining a moving violation with her. She moves like a cat, if this cat had a body designed by teenage boys and a face so beautiful it makes your eyes ache. I cover my interest by scratching my belly, which I suck in as far as possible as beach bunny girl saunters by.

Even our subject is entranced. I see him undressing what little she is wearing and then something happens. Her eyes meet mine and she half smiles. What do I see there? An unspoken question? It’s certainly not the standard “oh…it’s just YOU” dismissal I have come to expect. I look around me casually. Can it be?

Only the drooling sleeper and I are in this direction so there’s a pretty good chance she is actually smiling at me so I half smile back. I hold off on my sexy bedroom eyes because I hardly know her and have no idea how much unexpected white hot desire she can stand.

I need to switch gears here...much as I hate to divert your attention from a pretty girl to cat puke. It’s important. Trust me. I once had a cat (for about four days) that made these wet sounding compulsively belching noises just before horking a hairball onto the carpet. I hear one of these nearby – which I ignore since I am still looking at Blonde Bunny Babe, totally forgetting I already have a girlfriend, which I don’t. Not really. Actually.

A voice near my ear surprises me so badly that I nearly swallow my tongue.

“Do it now,” she says.

She? Who she, I wonder.

“Do what?” I ask through barely moving lips – another skill I have Mr. Ray Hunker of Des Moines to thank for.

“The narcolepsy,” she says. The “She” (in case you haven’t been following this tale) is Jennifer Jonas…a fellow dick, operating under cover of being my girlfriend as we track the mystery man on board the ship.

“…what?” I ask. The Bunny Babe is still looking at me. I am only foggily aware of anything else on the planet. A pretty girl is smiling at me and I’m not even wearing my fedora at a rakish angle. Holy crap!

“Fake an attack now, while everyone is watching .The medical officer just came on deck. He’s watching you.”

“Right now?” I ask. Bunny Babe is going to think I am a geek. No. She’ll KNOW I’m a geek. Damn damn damn.

“Yes. Now.”

I sigh and breathe one word “No.”

“Time for your medication now, darling,” says Jennifer in a way too loud voice.


“Do it NOW,” she hisses, and spills half a glass of ice water on me. My body wants to jump out of the chair, arms waving, legs jerking. Beach Bunny Babe, who has the body of a goddess and the reaction time of a sloth, is still looking at me. But then so is everyone else. I fall back against the cushion and try to lie still. I don’t make little mewling noises as the ice water passes through the trunks. I am, after all, a pro. Instead I lie perfectly still, like a man in a coma.

Jennifer slaps at my cheeks a little too hard and I make a show of slowly coming back to consciousness. Being a trained observer – I notice three things:

1) Beach Bunny Babe is gone.
2) So is our subject and
3) The sleeping drooling guy is dead.

It is number three that concerns me the most. I can tell he’s dead because he is no longer snoring and the little river of drool has been replaced by a tinier river of blood. His head is at a near impossible angle. I point and Jennifer follows the direction of my finger.

She takes a sharp intake of breath as she puts the pieces together.

Then she reaches down and lifts a wallet out of a bag beside the body. She grabs my arm and together, with a parting nod at the medical officer, we exit the pool area.

“Did you see the…ummm….subject leave?” I ask.

Jennifer shakes her head. The movement is tight.

“Did you see what happened to…y’know…the dead guy?”

Again she shakes her head.

“This just got a whole lot more dangerous, didn’t it?” I say.
This time she nods. She holds her lower lip between her teeth.

“I think now is the time to tell you some things you need to know,” she says with the air of someone who has made a decision to step way over the line. “These are things you should have already been told. Let’s go back to the stateroom. These are things you really need to know, Mr. Sam D. Diamond.”

“The ‘D’ stands for ‘Danger’ you know,” I lie.

“Uh huh,” she responds, trying hard not to be too impressed. “Hurry up. I don’t think we have much time before it kills again.”

“It?” I ask.

She nods. “It.”

Danger is Not My Middle Name #3

The first thing I feel is some kind of nail being stuck into my temples. The pain is razor sharp, like a cleaver. The next sensation: I feel myself being rocked gently back and forth. Am I in a cradle? I try to re-construct the last few moments.

Stand by bar, hat at rakish angle. Check.
Undress a hundred women with my bedroom eyes. Check.
Watch the subject like a hawk. Ummm…check.
Follow the subject into the night. Check? Check?

I don’t remember anything after walking through the doorway – just this enormous explosion of light in my head. Did I walk into a door…again? Did an astroidette come down from outer space and smack me? Was it one of those damn undead bloodsucking orchids? I thought they were an urban myth.
Something cool is pressed to my forehead. It feels good and it seems to draw the pain out of my head. I try to open my eyes, but they won’t cooperate, so the end result is me wiggling my eyebrows like Groucho Marx.

“Are you awake then?” It is a businesslike female voice.

“Unnnngh,” I respond. It’s the best I can do. My words get lost somewhere inside the fog in my brain.

“You took a nasty blow to the head,” says the voice. Is it English? Irish? I did very poorly at accent identification at the Ray Hunker Correspondence School of Detection, incorrectly identifying a female German prison guard as a rich Italian heiress.

I try to open my eyes, but wind up only wiggling my eyebrows. Again.

“That looks ridiculous,” she says.

“Unnnngh,” I say again.

“You just watch your tongue, mister Diamond.”

I feel fingers picking at my eyes and my instinct is to bat them away. But my hands still haven’t quite caught up with my brain and they simply flap around like birds on a strange street drug.

She, for I am now reasonably certain it is a she, slaps my hands away and pries my eyelids open. Something crusty that you don’t need to know anything more about, falls to the ground and I am looking into soft green eyes, framed in a purely female face direct from some heavenly cloud. My heart does a happy double beat.

“We may not have much time,” she says. “You are on board the Grand Princess cruise liner.”

“Unnnngh?” I ask.

“Oh. Good question. I brought you here. As for as anyone else is concerned, we are lovers, sharing stateroom C327. Stop leering like that. It’s disgusting.”

“Unnnngh?” I ask

“Me? I am Jennifer Jonas. Your…client hired me to follow you in case something like this happened. I told them you have a sleeping disorder – that you can conk at any second. Now that I think of it, you’ll have to remember to do drop to the ground in a dead sleep at least once or twice…preferably in the buffet line or a crowded theater.”


“No. I didn’t see who hit you. When I came upon, you were already down, lying in a pool of your own vomit.”


“Oh for heaven’s sake. It’s just an expression. ‘Came upon’ simply means ‘saw.’”


“I am a private dick. Like you. Only much better.”

“I worked in a dentist office for three years. I understand you perfectly. Now go to sleep. You’ve had a concussion. Rest.”

There’s a matter of fact nurse vibe happening here that I am finding very sort of…never mind. I close my eyes and drift off.

The next morning my girlfriend and I (a thing which excites me tremendously because I have never had an actual girlfriend, although I once held hands with Nancy Antel in a darkened theater for three full minutes because she thought I was someone else) go up to the Horizon buffet for breakfast because our subject does.

We watch him and he has no idea. We’re pros. We are the wind. Breaking.
We are sitting beside another couple. They have the cabin next to ours. He is a dazzlingly handsome man who is looking with patient tired eyes at a drop dead gorgeous woman. Her attention is fixed on a laptop screen.

“It’s still fifty freaking cents a minute,” he says.

“I know,” she responds. “But this is flickr.”

The man spreads his hands wide in a “so what” gesture.

Interested as I am in this discussion, I have to leave. Our subject moves outside to the deck chairs.

I nod once to Jennifer and follow him, taking the chair just a few down from him. I make a show of stretching and laying my towel out…looking around me as I slip off my shirt and suck in my stomach. Once seated, I nonchalantly snap a shot of my feet with my camera – so I look like any other tourist. It’s touches like that that make me a pro.

I have no idea that in five minutes, someone is going to die.

Danger is Not My Middle Name #2

Fort Lauderdale is full of old people. Fat ones, thin ones. Most of them wear bright track suits – though you only ever see them shuffling. They never jog. The men lean on canes or walkers, looking like slightly confused lizards while their wives take care of the hotel arrangements. Being a trained observer, I see that the men don’t talk much, and when they do, their mouths are usually full of food – with is just gross. I also noticed the women can’t seem to shut up. They all talk at the same time in strident tones guaranteed to make my head ache.

Ain’t that just like a dame? I think to myself with a sardonic grin.

I am leaning with my best devil-may-care abandon against a bar. My fedora is on my head, like I was born wearing it. My trench coat is grey. One hand rests in my pocket. People are probably wondering if I have a gun in there. Nah. Just my tootsie roll.

I look like a private dick because that’s what I am. Like I said: secrets are my business. I am a proud dick. I am a good dick…so good I just heard you snicker. Spooky, huh?

I am standing in the Airport Ramada. I have just finished a half pound cheeseburger and as I study my quarry, I am trying to burp through my nose so as not to attract unwanted attention. Since the burger had onions in it, this is making my eyes water. I am pretty sure this never happened to Bogie.

I’ve reviewed the file given to me by my mysterious green/blue eyed client. My instructions are clear: follow him. Report back via phone or internet each day. Describe exactly who he is with and what he does.

“You want to tell me why you want to know, toots?” I’d asked.

“Stop calling me that,” she’d replied.

“Why’s that, toots?” I asked. I could tell she enjoyed the banter on a level she wanted to keep private.

“I don’t like it,” she said, coyly.

“Whatever you say, toots.”

She’d rolled her eyes at that. Pretty eyes, I noticed.

“Who is this man, toots?” I inquired.

“I’d rather not say,” she replied.

“Why do you want him followed, toots?” I inquired.

“Look. I really don’t like that name,” she said. “I know you think it’s cute—“

“Nah,” I said, exuding with boyish charm like a junkyard dog exudes mean. “I just call them like I see them.”

She waited and I waited. Then I added “Toots.”

She shook her head and opened her mouth. I think she was about to say something soft and tender – but chose not to give in too easily and drew her lips together in a tight pale line…not a good look on her.

“I’d rather not tell you anything about him,” she said finally. The words were like ice. Playing hard to get, eh? I thought. “I don’t want to prejudice your opinion.”

I sighed wearily, like this was an everyday occurrence.

“I’m a pro,” I said. “That’s why you hired me.”

“No. I hired you because you were the first private eye I saw,” she said.

Still playing coy, I thought. Okay. Two can play at that game. I opened my mouth to ask another question but she held up her hand.

“I have a dossier for you,” she said, passing me a sealed eight by ten envelope. You’ll see a picture of the man I want you to follow. I’ll need daily reports. Sometimes two a day. We…I want to know where he is, who he’s with, what he does. I do know that right now he is booked onto a cruise crossing the Atlantic Ocean, with stops in Bermuda, Ireland, Scotland and England.”

“I’m not sure I have the time available,” I started, thinking that two can play the ‘coy’ game.

She was glaring at me openly now.

“Fine,” she said in a voice that sounded as cold as an accountant’s Christmas card. She took the dossier away and thrust it into her briefcase. The check and the cruise line ticket followed.

All of which goes to explain how I wound up here in Fort Lauderdale, a shamus in a trench coat, shadowing a guy in a track suit.

He was not as old as the other people in the room. But he was old At least 40. He got up from his table, wiped his mouth with a napkin and headed for the door. Pulling my hat down over my eyes, I followed him into the night.

As I stepped through the door my head caved in and the pavement came up and smacked me hard in the face. All the lights went completely and resolutely out.

New Ways to Present Travel Images

I have been trying to come up with a new way to present travel photos. I really hate the old "Aunt Hazel and I went on a tour through the potato fields of Idaho and only took 6,345 pictures. Here they are in no particular order."
The last trip, Sheree and I took through the Amazon -- I blogged every single day. This trip I want to try something different. So here it is: a travel story featuring one photo a day. The only rule: the images all have to be taken on this trip.
So here goes nothing. I present a new project called "Danger is Not My Middle Name."
I’m the guy you bring your secrets to. Dirty secrets and family secrets. The kind of secrets you only whisper to a lover when the lights are out. Secrets are my business.

My name is Samuel D. Diamond. I tell pretty girls that the “D” stands for ‘Danger.’ But it really stands for “Delbert” – which is why I only use the initial. My first name isn’t really Sam either…and my last name is something you couldn’t even pronounce which is why I changed it to “Diamond.”

I’m a private dick – and save the clever comments. I‘ve heard them all.

My office is in New Orleans, a single sweltering box above Ray’s Boom Boom Room on Frenchman Street. The rent’s cheap here because when Ray has a band on, the “boom boom” sounds make it impossible to hear. Ray’s a friend of mine. Even though he doesn’t know it. I paid him his first months rent a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been here ever since...guarding the secrets of anyone who will pay me…even though no one has actually hired me yet.

But when she walked into my office, I could see secrets written all over her. She was sleek like a panther is sleek with blue eyes that invited the unwary to enter them and disappear forever. I could already feel my heart doing a slow fade. So I made a point of looking away with an air of affected disinterest. Make her wait for it, I thought cunningly.

“You must be Mr. Diamond,” she said in a voice that begged for more conversation, just so you could hear it. Just so you could be warmed by it in places better left unmentioned.

I didn’t answer. I just flipped my fedora back so she could get a gander at my eyes. I was Bogie. She was Lauren. She hid her flush of desire well. To a casual bystander, it would have appeared as though she didn’t feel the heat at all. But like I say, she wanted me. I’m pretty sure. .

I fixed her with my number ten grin – which usually causes hearts to melt and underwear to fire through the air…sometimes even someone else’s. But she simply looked back at me with those glittering green eyes.

“You must be Mr. Diamond?” she asked again. She pretended to inject a little irritation onto the question. Coquettish little thing, I thought.

“I am,” I said, keeping my voice several octaves lower than ordinary. I tend to squeak when I am get hot and bothered, which doesn’t fit at all well with the “Danger is my middle name” image. Neither does the fact that I am a recent graduate of the Ray Hunker Correspondence School of Detection of Des Moines – which is why I keep my framed diploma (which was a ten dollar option but I figured what the hell…) in the desk drawer.

Being a dick is still much better than my old job as the assistant to the assistant security director at Cavalcade of Value Shopping Mall in Seligman, Arizona.

“I need your help, Mr. Diamond,” she said.

“Help is my middle name,” I quipped cleverly.

Confusion flickered across her face. Then she shook her head, as though to clear away the cobwebs.

“The job I need you to do is dangerous.” Her eyes flickered over mine and I was glad I was sitting down. “I want you to follow a man. He’s going on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. You’ll have to go to Europe, I’m afraid.”

A single tear spilled out of her eye and rolled down that delicious apple cheek.

“Will you help me, Mr. Diamond? Please?”

It’s not often a pretty girl will even talk to me, let alone say “please.” (There was Ingrid Johanssen from my Dungeons and Dragons game several years ago. She asked me once to “Please pass her the attack dice” just before she kicked my butt back into the seventh ring of Argamoth. But she looked like the seventh level cave troll she was playing and I don’t think she ever liked me much anyway.)

Why was I thinking of Ingrid? I smacked myself in the forehead for being so goofy and when my vision cleared, I saw that look of confusion on her face again.

She had placed a cashier’s check on my desk. There were a lot of zeros there…and a ticket for a cruise.

“You bet, toots,” I growled. “Danger is my middle name.”

Monday, April 6, 2009

Marrying Words to Images

I am getting very interested in the marriage of words and images. Some mediums, like flickr, allow you to take as long as you like to discuss your image. Some people do it with poetry. Some explain the settings of their cameras. Some write stories.

The image to the left was taken at church this past weekend. Kids were doing a "God Rods" presentation -- which involves dance and performance using thin wooden sticks.

They danced to this heart-rending song called "Arise, My Love." It's about God, gently telling Jesus to come back after the crucifixion. I was really weeping at the end of the presentation. (Hey...real men cry, y'know.) I wanted to be able to present something of what I felt using the image and a narrative. So I compensated for the truly horrific white balance in the church and set my shutter speed very slow to capture the motion of the praise the kids were giving. I used Alien Skin's Bokeh to blur the edges and placed the main "character" directly into the upper left Dynamic Point on the Rule of Thirds.

Then I wrote what is below to accent the image:

“So he’s like ‘I’m going to Jerusalem and I am gonna ride through the streets on this way cool donkey, man.’

And I’m all “Cool, dude.”

Then he looks at me and he’s all “But it’s like totally bogus. They are all gonna be waving palm branches and stuff…but in the end they are gonna nail me up on a cross.”

And I’m all “Yeah, whatEVER, dude.”

And he’s all serious like “No. I mean it, dude.”

And I’m like all serious too because he’s like the Absolute Cool Chill Dude, telling people to be nice to each other and love God and stuff.

But he’s all of a sudden looking at me like I am totally stupid.

So I look back at him and I’m like all “Really? Like they are really gonna crucify you, dude?”
And he smiles, sort of sad-like and just nods his head.

I’m all “DUDE! If they are gonna do that to you, like DON’T GO!”

And he just keeps smiling and I’m getting all upset and stuff because I think he’s like talking straight and I’m crying and I’m hoping he’s wrong but this dude is like NEVER wrong.

He’s quiet like and when he’s quiet it’s like he’s all about me figuring it out for myself and whatnot. (Which is something I find like TOTALLY irritating most of the time.)

But I can’t like, you know, figure it out and I’m all “Are you nuts, dude? It's a freaking no-brainer. If they are gonna kill you and you know it...DON’T GO!”

He gives me this kind of hug and I’m like totally fried by now and he holds me close and I like (and don’t take this the wrong way, dude) but I like don’t want to let him go because he’s the Total Cool and he looks all of a sudden kinda small in front of all those other people and I sort of want to keep him safe.

And I’m thinking like “Whoa dude…those big hat guys really hate you. I mean they HATE YOU.” And as I am like thinking that, he looks even smaller and he’s never really looked small to me before and I have been hanging with him for like three years now.

So I hug him tighter because I am like “Someone really needs be totally tender to him right now.” And that like kind of breaks my heart some more.

After a while he lets me go and touches my cheek and my heart is all melty and I am crying and I don’t know why and this whole thing like totally sucks.

“Please,” I say. (Now I’m all soft and blubbery.) “Please. Don’t go. We can still get away, dude. Why are you doing this? It’s like totally bogus.”

And he’s all smiling at me and he looks happy which is total and complete whackedness because like the dude is gonna seriously die. And he freaking KNOWS it.

He says “I am doing this because I love YOU…and because I have to.”

So I go "DUDE! You don't have to like do this for ME."

He just smiles all warm at me and walks away. I am thinking that this seriously totally absolutely sucks.

I am standing there like in a total puddle and I think I should like be saying SOMETHING. But I can't think of like a THING to say not even something that would sound kind of lame like "I love you" but wouldn't actually be lame because like...well...I do.

I watch him get onto this donkey and I then watch all the people waving palms and yelling and whatnot, like thousands of them, like he’s some military biggie or something. I'm all like "He knows they are going to kill him in just a few days and he's like totally cool with it."

He looks over his shoulder at me and waves goodbye. Then, like, I totally lose it.

The idea here was to create a juxtaposition that would allow me to add the myriad of feelings I was having to the image. I hope you enjoyed it.

Sheree and I are headed out to the UK with stops in Bermuda, Scotland, England and Ireland in two days. We're in the frenzy of pre-trip bliss.

I am looking forward to wonderful pictures, great people...and a ton of stories to share with you when I get back.

Be well...and Happy Easter to all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Soft Goodbye...

This morning I stood alone in an empty warehouse and my heart broke just a little.

We, Sheree and I, started our special events company in 1983. The province was in the midst of a recession in the oil patch. Many people thought we were nuts offering a luxury product at a time when most companies were cutting back. But we didn’t know how to spell “impossible,” and so we forged ahead, leaving our secure jobs as radio reporters to start our little company.

In 1983, when we opened our doors, the Police were on the charts with “Every Breath You Take.” Hardly anyone had even heard of the internet and I knew everything worth knowing because I was 25. Sheree and I envisioned an office building perched on some prime real estate with a statue of a unicorn in the courtyard.

That was thousands – literally thousands – of shows ago. We did murder mystery weekends and ran the first murder mystery clubs in four locations over Alberta. We did game shows and medieval feasts and children’s theater. We were courted by Edmonton’s elite. We did casinos and conventions and corporate events. Hundreds of creative people (actors, writers and set designers) have passed through our lives – sometimes reappearing and sometimes sliding off into the abyss of the world, never to be heard from again.

Show business isn’t all that glamorous. Not when you boil it down its essence of the nuts and bolts of details. The audience sees the show. They don’t see the hours of planning and casting, driving and packing, setting up and taking down. They don’t see the late nights or hear the conversations in the van after the show on a long starlit road trip. They don’t know that a cast of performers is always an outsider and that winning the audience over becomes a dance you do over and over again.

The audience doesn’t know that sometimes casts that go out to event after event become tighter than family – and that other casts break apart like a glass ornament on concrete because there is nothing at all holding them together. The great performer’s secret? The audience holds the ultimate power. They can make the performer’s spirit sing with a standing ovation or break you into a thousand pieces that require hasty re-assembly before the next show.

They don’t know that sometimes, after a grueling Christmas season – or a convention where everything has to be PERFECT, that we go into a state that is way beyond tired and is impossible to define other than to say that our spirits ache and throb with complete emptiness because there is absolutely nothing left to give. The stress does damage that requires a literal healing. I guess you’ll either understand that…or you won’t.

So after all these years, Sheree and I decided to cut back on the scope of what we did at our little company. We shut our office, cleared out our warehouse and re-opened in a much smaller place. We kiss high rent, property taxes, soaring insurance bills and killer utility costs goodbye.

We want to travel more. Photograph more. Spend more time together…because who knows when will be the Last Time with the Precious Other?


As I stood in that empty warehouse, listening to echoes of 15+ frantic Christmas seasons and hearing whispers from the hundreds of people who crossed our paths – I felt my heart break just a little.

Sheree, in typical Sheree fashion, capped our time in our suddenly empty office/warehouse by shooting a stunning image. It seemed fitting somehow that she would end our time here this way, with something creative, sparkly, intelligent and beautiful. (I simply can’t look at it without a lump of an indefinable “something” forming in my throat.) It appears at the top of this blog with her permission. Wonderful, huh?

I just watched her work, very much unable to speak because I had no idea at all what to say. So there I stood with my hands in my pockets, fighting a nasty cold, trying hard to keep out of her way, but wanting so much to be close to her.

“It is just a building,” I tell myself. “It isn’t who you are. It’s just a place where you’ve spent a lot of time.”


It feels a little bit like a death. And, truth be told, a little like a betrayal, although I would be hard pressed to express who or what I have betrayed. It is a building…only a building. The future looks bright and intensely foggy at the same time.

We’re booked for lots of events right now. We have money in the bank. But what does the future hold?

When I thought about how I would visually portray this mish-mash of feelings right now – I thought of an image I took on Coney Island in New York some years ago.

It is one of my favorites – and I took it on the fly. It spoke immediately to my heart and it whispers softly to me now. There is the aspect of walking away; of being alone and not alone at the same time. I love that the man is old – and still wants to go out on the beach by himself to have a look around.

I hope that will be me: always wanting to have a look…always open to seeing something beautiful and hopefully seeing something remarkable.

And that is what I think about, standing in an empty warehouse, with a heart that is breaking just a little.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Undead Bloodsucking Orchids from Outer Space

My wife looked at me and asked me if I wanted to go with her to an orchid show.

"Do I want to?" I asked.

Sheree (my much better half) sighed and waited patiently. A hundred excuses came to mind, but when I looked into those clear blue eyes, I realized that an orchid show with her would be much better than sitting at home. So I went.

I hated it.

I don't like flowers and I have seem SO many freaking flower shots on flickr that I could cough up a petalball. But I decided to make the most of it. I took out my camera, sucked on my teeth (a thing I do when I am asking myself what the hell I am doing where ever I happen to be while I am sucking my teeth) and looked around for something that poked the creative muse.


I decided to settle for something...anything...even distantly interesting.


So I sighed and started shooting.

I didn't even cut the images off my card for three weeks. When I did, it was to get at some other pictures I had taken that I WANTED to work on.

Then one afternoon, I started poking at the stupid flower pictures. Have you ever done that? No idea what you were going to create...just...well poking at the things. I took a LOT of orchid images that night. I started thinking about orchids. I started thinking in terms of opposites.

How about vampire orchids? Hmmm...the idea made me smile.

I have been having a wonderful time ever since then playing with these pictures.

The one at the top of the blog is a composite, built inside Photoshop, and was built almost entirely out of plug-ins. The planet is done with Flaming Pear's Lunar Cell, the stem is a photo I took of a flower my wife had hanging around the house. Linking it to the planet is a simple star.

The motion was added using Alien Skin's Motion Trail. The only actual photo is of the orchid. The entire process took me about thirty minutes.

This one was even faster: I shot a close up of one of the fricking orchids and turned it upside down. The trail of dust was done FINALLY using Alien Skin's Fairy Dust plug-in from one of the all time BEST plug-in sets: Mystical Lighting. (This one is difficult to use...but well worth the investment of time.)

I am currently doing a series on my flickr site featuring these images, coupled with shots we took on the trip to Brazil. It's written as a Sherlock Holmes story with a twist toward the absurd. Here's the link if you want to know more:

So what's the point of this blog?

Three things, I think.

1) There's always something to photograph, even in places that otherwise really suck.

2) Plug-ins can do very cool stuff very quickly. It doesn't negate the skill of the user. I am all in favor of long as I can get the exact effect I am looking for. It's true that sometimes you need to spend as much time learning plug-is as you did learning some aspects of Photoshop.

3) You can get wonderful results if you try HARD to look at something from a completely new viewpoint.

I really appreciate the emails, folks. Don't sweat it, okay? Sheree and I are about two weeks away from the next trip (this one goes to England, Ireland and many places in-between) and we are in the process of moving our company from one place to another.

We're very busy.

But I still think about all you folks. Often.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bad Ideas and How to Avoid Them

The other day my wife, who ordinarily gives jaw-dropping gifts, gave me a new toothbrush. It was a battery powered jobbie that does the heavy tooth stroking for me. Not only did it clean my teeth with a minimum of effort from me, but it also played the classic Queen hit "We Will Rock You."

It's a clever idea. Each time I bend the toothbrush against my teeth Freddie Mercury starts singing. In my mouth. And since my mouth is usually closed while brushing (to minimize dripping white crap all over my shirt) it sort of sounds like he's singing from a great distance. The words are muffled and there's just this boom boom BOOM rhythm in my mouth.

I am sure some genius somewhere in the vast toothbrush industry rushed breathlessly into a bigger Someone's office with this idea: people could brush their teeth and listen to music at the same time. (I can only assume said genius has never heard of a radio or an iPod.)

It's a cool idea that turned tragically stupid in execution.

There are a lot of things like this. Not far from where I live, the desperate Allies in World War II launched Operation Habukkuk -- an idea to build battleship firepower into iceburgs. This turned out to be a disaster because they forgot that iceburgs melt and there wasn't a lot of combat activity where the polar bears live.

For years the US government was working in a plan for "Dehydrated Water." Think about it.

Why am I talking about Bad Ideas?

We all get them.

Think about the last Great Graphic you were working on. If you are like me (and who isn't?) you spent several hours chopping and selecting, re-coloring and filtering what was essentially a piece of crap to start with -- all the while trying to convince yourself it was, in fact, under all that drool -- an amazing graphic.

Nah. Remember the David's Ten Rules of Photoshop created here in this very blog? One of them is "Thou shalt not attempt to pass off thy poop as art for yea verily, poop is poop."

Here are Five Tips for Avoiding Wasting Effort on a Bad Idea:

1) HAPPY ACCIDENTS are rare. This is why they are called "accidents." We're talking about trying to do something, when something else happens and it's way cooler than your original idea. They happen, of course...but don't depend on them. You'll know with half a second if this works or not. Don't waste your time trying to talk yourself into the notion that it's good when it's poop.

2) HAVE AN IDEA BEFORE YOU START. Every good image has an idea behind it. They are good ideas because the creator and the graphic hold hands and become greater than the sum of their parts. You should have some plan for where you are going. Try doodling on paper, rough out the image and jot down some ideas that might work.

3) THINK ABOUT IT. We are often in situations where the clients or deadlines are hanging over us...or we're putting pressure on ourselves to produce "something." We tell ourselves that as long as we are actively working, this is a good thing. Not true. Take some time to THINK.

If you launch into a visual without clear vision, you are going to get poop.

4) FOLLOW THE TRAIL. Almost without exception, the good stuff I have done is a direct result of getting excited about a GOOD idea and refining it. Photoshop lets you work on multiple layers so if you mess something up, you can delete the layer and try again without ruining your whole image. Like a detective following clues, you need to follow the trail of processes that lead to a finished graphic.

5) GET EXCITED WHILE YOU WORK! Bland people turn out bland stuff , otherwise known as "poop." Excited people create new trails and new ideas. Having been both, excited is MUCH better than bland. Trust me.

You may be wondering why there is a ship's prow at the top of this blog. That ship took us down the Amazon River. And I remember thinking that this ship could take us anywhere. We could see ANYTHING. We were on a journey. In the graphic, I'm not showing any of the surrounding countryside. The journey is the thing.

Jump onto the boat, steer around the bad ideas and set a course for the Cool Stuff.
In the immortal words of one of my childhood heroes, Stan Lee, "Nuff Said."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stuff I Think About

Here's some stuff I have considered over my past 51 years and Really Believe Is True:

1) There's no hand signal for "I'm sorry." We have MANY ways of accusing...many ways of insulting with a single hand gesture. But none of them says "Whoops. I'm sorry. My mistake."

2) AC/DC hasn't done an absolutely COOL album since Back in Black.

3) Once musical artists or writers hit it big, they usually sit back and churn out poop for a really long time.

4) Advertisers lie.

5) When children laugh, they REALLY laugh.

6) Most of the photographs I take for no good reason suck.

7) The government ultimately gets its cut of my matter what I do. So there's no good reason to lie.

8) Libraries are awesome places. Always.

9) Marriage to the right person is a blessed thing.

10) Most people take themselves WAY too seriously.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Where Have You BEEN?"

Thank you all for the emails. I know: I was posting every day and I haven't been on in over a week. I really felt I should be posting every day, since that's what I promised I would do before we left. But it turned out I couldn't do that -- so I came up with a new blog each day.

It was quite a lot of work. By the time the images are processed and I have stopped fussing with the copy, several hours have slipped past.

SO -- we are now in the process of moving our office, shutting down some aspects of what we do and beefing up others. I am busy getting my magic house in order -- and of course, Photoshop, always Photoshop calls for attention.

I had previously posted about six blogs a month. I expect that's what I will go back to.

Sheree and I are off on a Trans Atlantic crossing in early April. I don't know if I can blog that one the way I did the Amazon. But I will keep you posted.

Here's a suggestion: in the upper right hand corner you will see a box called "Subscribe to this blog." It doesn't cost you anything -- but whenever pearls of wisdom drop from my keyboard, you'll get a notification.
Isn't that image cool? It was taken about midnight in Venice...about two spits away from St. Mark's Square. I love travel.
I love photography...and Photoshop.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Travel Blog #21: The Last Morning

We return to the boat after our caiman hunt. It's well after midnight and we are tired. Time for something quick to eat and then one last sleep in our stateroom.

Our bags have vanished and we will see them tomorrow at the airport. We have kept only the basics: an extra pair of underwear, the iPod, the Palm Pilot and our cameras. Just the same life necessities the settlers had.
We have several hours before we have to go to the airport, so we are off the ship and headed for the Mercado Market. This was reputed to be one of the largest outdoor markets in the world, built when Manaus was a fabulously wealthy city.

It is only a few blocks away from where the cruise ship is docked. We get off the ship and walk through the terminal. A tour guide taps me on the arm. I know what's coming. This guy is going to ask me if I want a tour. Usually the answer is at least a marginally excited "maybe."

"Would you like a tour?" he asks, oozing charm and credibility in equal parts. These are the hallmarks of a really great guide.

I do a quick internal calculation. I sigh. We have only a few hours and there is no way we can make this work. I shake my head. "I'd like one...but we are going home in a few hours."

I had expected to be blown off instantly. Instead he smiles and asks if we need directions. I ask where the Mercado Market is and he gives excellent and detailed instructions. At the end he stops and puts his hand on my shoulder.

"Keep one hand on your wallet all the time," he says softly. "Manaus can be...what is the word? Hungry."

It sounds more sinister than it was. But it still gives me a little thrill.
We venture into hungry Manaus, happily taking pictures.

We learn the Mercado Marketplace had a fire and most of it is being rebuilt. This explains the clustered huts against the fence. There are hundreds of these selling cheap sunglasses from China, knock off purses, t-shirts, fruits of apparently infinite variety.
There's meat and ripped off movies. There are clothes and shoes and nuts.
One lady specializes in selling combs. That's it. Just combs. This image makes me smile because there is something so interesting about the textures and colors...the expression on her face. This image, despite the clutter, pleases me each time I look at it. It makes me think of Brazil, like she knows a secret she's keeping to herself but she doesn't mind smiling at a stranger. That's Brazil to me.
Inside a building is a meat market. I don't think I would buy here. It's like a buffet line for flies. But the merchants watch us arrive with a distant interest and when we start taking pictures, some of them are entertained enough to pose.
Others, like the man working on the grinder wheel, look up for just a second and then, after learning we are not customers, go right back to what they were doing in the first place.
It is an affable indifference, but indifference all the same.

I see a man with the most unusual eyes.
He is regarding me from the side of a stall. I am not sure whether he is a merchant or a customer. But I know I want his picture.
I have found a smile and slight nod to be a great universal language. I wave my arms around the surroundings and shrug in a "Holy Crap this is cool" gesture.
He smiles back and shrugs. I assume this means "Sure, fella. Whatever..."
I hold up my camera. He shrugs again ("Sure. Take the picture. Knock yourself out, Guy.") and I take his picture.
I don't like doing it this way. The poses you get are too stiff. It's much better to talk with a person, get to know them a little and then take some candid pictures that show a little more of the heart.

This man is a fishmonger. He was utterly charmed by Sheree. He looked her straight in the eye and made dozens of little slices into the fish without once looking down or losing a finger.
Yes. He was showing off.
Yes. It was impressive.
When he was done, Sheree smiled at him (this can be a devastating event for the average unprepared male) and he laughed. Here he is.
I am checking my watch. I don't particulary want to, because whatever news it is going to give me will be bad. Every minute drags us closer to the airport and the seven hour flight from Manaus to Miami. It's a cruise boat charter so you KNOW it's going to be cramped and functional.
I allow myself to get distracted for a minute. I stop and photograph a stand selling exotic fruits. The colors are amazing, but the owner walks up and asks me in broken english not to take the pictures. I smile, wondering if he is in the witness protection program or something. But I delete the images.
When I look up, Sheree is gone.
Not good.
About thirty seconds later I become aware of a hostile presence. She is standing by a phone booth glaring at me. We have agreed on at least seventy six previous occasions to keep one another in sight. So she stands there, glaring. So I take her picture. It's entitled "You Idiot." This is her serious face. Could you tell?
It is time to get back to the boat and wait for the bus to whisk us away from Brazil. We arrive in Miami at about midnight and plan to pick up the vehicle we have reserved. The plan is to drive through the night and wind up somewhere near Key West by morning.
I choose to think about Florida. I am not looking forward to the flight and I viscerally resist the notion that our trip is almost over.
But sitting here now with it all behind me, the trip has gotten only better in retrospect. I remember wonderful sunrises and sunsets. I remember people who became good friends as travelers often do, for that precise space in time. I remember the people of Brazil with whom we crossed paths for just a few minutes, from Vincent to the "comb lady." I remember the Amazon and bugs that moved through the jungle. I remember Eni and the hefty guy with stick legs who walked through the jungle with us. I will always remember ziplining...
I hope you have enjoyed taking this trip. I really wanted to share it with you...even though I have no idea who you are or where you live or what you're about. Thank you for reading and thank you for your comments and your emails.
I am now looking forward to April when Sheree and I will make a Transatlantic crossing for the first time. We're going to Paris and Ireland and a number of ports in between. We'll finish that trip in Southampton visiting with a photographer friend and his wife we know from flickr who has offered to show us his corner of the world.
We are relocating our office and wrestling with all the decisions that have to be made. I am painstakingly learning my new BlackBerry Curve and setting the groudwork for a much more efficient company.
So we can travel more.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Travel Blog #20: Magic. PURE Magic


E t h e r e a l. We have eaten and the sun has sunk below the horizon.

Some of our companions will complain that there was no electricity, that the food was prepared over fire – and so is unevenly done.

We’ll skip past these people because I am getting tired of writing about them…and they are not at all travelers. They are tourists. The meal was wonderful. End of story.

As we ride in the canoe, darkness comes so fast, that I have the notion it was there all the time, lying in wait like a silent crocodile. Sheree and I are sitting in a canoe and I can see a struggle on her face. She will begin to lower her hand toward the water and then pull it back. She wants to feel the Amazon. But this is a foreign place. And we know the water is full of life. No one knows what could be in that water. But she wants to touch it.

I understand this, and yet I sit in the canoe and watch her.

Eni is standing at the front of the canoe. He has stripped down to his underwear. Maybe it’s a bathing suit. But I don’t think so. He stands there, legs spread for maximum balance and shines a large handheld searchlight over the water.

He is looking for a ruby glow reflected back in the light. A ruby glow means there is an alligator looking back. I look at Eni and the rapt attention he is paying to the slow playing of the light over the water and find myself thinking, not unkindly, of a terrier, looking for prey.

“It’s warm,” whispers Sheree beside me.

I look and she shows me her hand, dripping with the Amazon waters.

“It’s like a bathtub,” she says. The familiar wonder glints in her eyes. I have seen it so many times in our travels that my heart skips a beat. I was blessed to be here. But more, I was blessed to be here with her.

“Put your hand into the water," she says. "It’s okay.”

She wants me to feel what she has felt. It is a desire that is so completely and uniquely "Sheree." She selected the Amazon, researched it and then drew me into the trip, even as she invites me to dip my hand in the water now. I dip my hand in the water and smile at my mate.

The water is warm. I feel the heat around my skin and find myself thinking of the way coffee is made: hot water runs over crushed beans and becomes something greater than the sum of the individual parts. It isn’t water. It isn’t bean. It is something that is the synthesis of the combination of both. It is a new entity.

Perhaps it is simply my admittedly overactive imagination, but it feels as though my hand is touching a source of life itself. In this water live countless fish and predators and creatures beyond what I can imagine. And it is as warm as a tepid bath.

We cruise along the river and there is that ethereal feeling again. I sit in my place in the canoe thinking “I am on a canoe cruising down the Amazon. We are hunting alligators. And I know, because of personal experience that the Amazon is as warm as bathwater.”

Suddenly we see ruby reflections in the searchlight. Eni jerks his light madly to attract the attention of the driver. The driver obligingly points the boat toward the shallows. There are several “false alarms.” We go rushing into the shallow waters, searching for the ruby eyes. But in the end they always disappear.

Is Eni fabricating these “sitings of alligators?” I wonder absently. I certainly would…the people must feel they are getting their money’s worth. On the heels of that thought: “Does it matter even a little bit? I am on a canoe on the Amazon. The only light is from the searchlight…and that ethereal moon above us. Does it matter at all if we find a single caiman?”

I tell myself the answer is “no” and settle back into my seat, allowing my had to trail in the water, watching our guide standing at the front of the boat, looking for alligators.

I remember that I am flying back to the States and that tomorrow this will all be far away from me. This thought is instantly banished. This is not a time for sad thoughts. It is a time for eternal notions because I am gliding over the place where dreams are born and where life was conceived.

We come alongside another canoe. The guide on this canoe has captured a caiman about two feet long. They agree to share their alligator with us.

I have the vague sense Eni is offended that he was not the one to catch the alligator.

He asks if anyone wants to hold it. I put my hand up. Eni smiles and puts the small animal into my hands. It is passive. I am surprised at how passive it is. There are sharp teeth and a jaw that can exert tremendous pressure…even at two feet.

It is so soft on the underside and so hard on the top. I can feel it’s heart pounding under my fingers. This creature is absolutely still. It is completely aware of it’s surroundings. It’s reptile brain has accepted the fact that it has been captured…and that it’s fate has moved out of it’s own hands and into the hands of strangers. I have the idea that it accepts it’s fate either way.

But holding that small Amazon animal in my hands is mystical in a way I cannot describe.

The animal is passed from hand to hand and examined by wondering eyes and finally returned gently to the water. Eni seemed to understand it perfectly.

I was so blessed to be there.

And tomorrow we fly to Florida for four days on the Keys.

Tomorrow we leave mystical Brazil and the Amazon.

I suppress a sudden wave of absolute black sadness and concentrate instead on the moment. I try as hard as I can to impress on my heart and mind the magic of where I am and where I have been over the past two weeks.

Memories of Devil’s Island and the lovely people of Boca. I think of our tablemates who thought a moose singing “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” was hilarious. I think about the people I have met and the things we have seen moments they have shared. I think about Eni….and the eyes of the people of the river and a hundred other things.

I have been a part of the magic around me. I have entered into it...and it is so impossibly difficult to consider leaving it behind.

The Amazon will be there as it has been for thousands of years and it feels as though it will be here for a thousand more. In a few weeks the Pacific Princess will be back with someone else in our stateroom. Something about that bugs me.

I am broken and blessed at the same time.

I have been there and back again, like Frodo.

Tomorrow, we have the morning in Manaus. Oh, Brazil. I will miss you. But I'm not gone yet.

Nearly...but not yet.