Monk versus Oldfield

Many years go, Pastor John would refer to Thelonious Monk in one context or another. I was not familiar with Monk and sometimes wondered who he was and what his role in music might be. I wondered if he was an aphorism, much like Dad’s reference to Barney Oldfield, who came up often when I was a young man and learning to drive.

I had not thought about either much until a few days ago (about a week, in fact). A favorite reviewer of audio equipment, the Audiophiliac, mentioned Monk in a music review. I streamed his suggestion (Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington) a couple of times on Spotify and was sufficiently intrigued to find a copy of the CD and purchase it.

The disc arrived today. I ripped it to ALAC (lossless Apple) and pushed it to my iPhone. I’ve been listening to it this afternoon. The material is not typical Monk (much to the chagrin of the critics of the time) but is Monk doing his thing interpreting some of the standards of the time.

The material is familiar to anyone who likes music. The recording was remastered in 1987 for this particular disc. I find it amazing that this was recorded in 1955. I was two-years-old. I’m going to enjoy this recording quite a lot. If you like jazz standards, it is worth finding a copy.

Fujinon XF 35mm F/2 Lens

This compact Fujinon 35mm f/2 is one of my favorite lenses.

I bought the Fujinon XF 35mm f/2 WR lens some time ago. I don’t recall exactly when I purchased the lens, but it was sometime after I bought my X-T1. As Fujifilm released their compact series of lenses, they received very good reviews. They are fast. They are compact. They are well-made (mostly metal and glass with plastic where it makes sense). They are weather resistant (like the X-T1).

There are plenty of very technical, pixel-peeping, jargon-filled reviews on the Interwebs. I think those reviews are interesting, but then I am an engineer and I like technical analysis. My short review is not like those. That is all done and I can add nothing significant to that content.

What I can do is share some of my experience with this particular lens on the X-T1. I carry it a lot (hence all the dust). It complements the small form-factor of the X-T1 well. It is excellent optically. It focuses accurately (for the most part) and quickly. It is also very quiet.

I found this on morning walkies Sunday and had to have an image.
A number of the images on my weblog were made with the Fuji 35/2. Some of my favorite images (think the pepsis wasp) were made with this lens. Some of the characteristics of this lens that I like are:

  • It will focus to about a foot, which is close enough to work as a light macro lens.
  • It has good contrast.
  • It is small and light.
  • It is fast enough to provide separation between the subject and the background.
  • The out of focus portions of the image are quite pleasing.

There is only one thing that I don’t think this lens does very well. It will sometimes miss focus, especially when close in. That is a limitation of the system and not a fault of the lens. The Fujinon 35/2 is not a true macro lens. The focusing sensors will sometimes target the background behind a close subject. When I miss this in review I am disappointed when I return to the computer and begin working on the image.

The solution is to check focus in the field after making the capture. The alternative is to use manual focus (which the X-T1 does very well) with the split screen and focus peaking.

The split-screen capability of the X-T1 operates by presenting a small portion of the center of the image, enlarged, adjacent to the full frame in the EVF. This is perfect for use with manual focus, either when operating the Fujinon lenses in manual mode or when attaching legacy manual focus lenses to the camera via an adapter. (I have a large collection of legacy glass that can produce beautiful images.)

This boy is the victim of a couple of bad spinal disks. However, in the water, he’s just a dog — his land-gear left behind.
Focus peaking is an algorithm in the camera firmware that detects the sharpness of the image and highlights sharp areas in the EVF. Focus peaking was a feature of my first mirrorless camera (a Sony NEX-5N, that I loved and used a great deal) and was a requirement when I started looking at the Fujifilm Finepix cameras. Fuji knows how to do focus peaking just as well as Sony.

Although my intent is not to review the Fujifilm X-T1, those points are salient because the Fujinon 35/2 works with the camera as a system and this system works well for me. It is a good system.

To sum up, I really like the handling of this lens on the X-T1. With a compact lens and relatively small body, the combination is light, handles very well, produces excellent images, and is a joy to use. The X-T1 and 35/2 fit into a small bag and there is room for extra batteries, extra memory cards, and a couple more of the compact Fujinon lenses. But, those lenses are a topic for another entry.

Vortex Diamondback Binoculars

I bought this pair of Vortex Diamondback binoculars a couple of months ago. They are very good at the price point.

A decent pair of binoculars is an appropriate part of an outdoorsman’s equipment. They are useful in so many situations where a better view of a distant object is needed. That could be birds or other wildlife or a more tactical situation.

I have a couple pairs of Nikon binoculars. I spent about a hundred bucks for the pocket set and a couple of hundred bucks for the compact pair. They worked reasonably well a few years ago when I wore contact lenses.

However, I gave up on contact lenses because my eyes just do not tolerate them well. It is too dry and I could not keep my eyes wet enough. After discussing this issue with my eye care provider, I gave up and went back to regular spectacles.

I muddled by with the limited eye relief (the distance between the eyepiece and the eye) for a couple of years. But earlier this year I decided that I like looking at and identifying birds. After a little research, I chose a pair of Vortex Diamondback binoculars and bought the 8×42 version at the local outdoors store.

Magnification greater than eight times does not work well with handheld optics. We move too much and the field of view will not be either stable or clear. I think that eight magnifications are actually a bit much (I prefer seven magnifications for handheld optics). But I could not find this model in a 7x version. Regardless, they work well enough.

The eye relief is sufficient for my application. I get a full field of view with my eyes and eyeglasses. The field is bright, contrasty, and sharp. They work.

The objective diameter is only OK for night viewing (only 42mm) and is not the best for astronomical application. They work well enough if they are what you have, but a larger objective would be better for that application.

They are mildly susceptible to flare (loss of contrast and ghosting) if a bright light source is in the field of view or if the sun shines on the objective lens. The flare presents as a bright area on the opposite side of the field of view. It is not awful and is consistent with binoculars at this price point (about two hundred bucks). I can live with it.

One of the great offerings of Vortex is the warranty. It is a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty on the units. I am not particularly hard on my things, but I can tell you that I dropped my binoculars already. It will happen in the field.

The next step up in this line (the HD version) is one of the Audobon recommended binoculars for bird watchers. They are about $500 on the street. They are the same magnification and objective size (8×42) and I think they are worth a look. I might buy a set of those later this year and keep the current set in my SUV for those time I do not have my pack with me. I know that I reach for the pocket Nikons now and again when I am driving and see something in the distance I cannot identify.

The paracord lanyard was something that I put together. I hang my binoculars from a Grimloc on either the shoulder strap of my pack or the crossbody strap of my Versipack. I also use a paracord loop to trap the eyepiece cap.

I can recommend the Vortex Diamondback binoculars for general field use. They are reasonably powerful and optically good enough for a budget-priced optic. They have enough eye relief to work with my eyes and eyeglasses. I will keep my set and sell the Nikons.

New Skins

New boots arrived Monday. It was time to rotate out an older pair.
My new boots arrived Monday afternoon. The older pair were finally at the point I decided to retire them. Most of the tread is gone from the Vibram soles and the upper has lost much of its support.

This has to be the tenth pair of Merrel Moab Ventilator boots I’ve worn out. I wear out a pair or two of the three-season boots every year. I wear out another pair of the wet/cold-season boots every year.

I walk a lot. These are decent boots. At their price point, they are difficult to beat. They fit my feet well. They provide some arch support. They are reasonably grippy on the surfaces I encounter. They are cool enough on hot days and perfect on warm days.

I keep two pairs active much of the time. I rotate them so they have a chance to dry after a walk. After about six months the older pair is retired and a new pair brought into use. They break in after a week or so. Then I work both pairs until the older pair is sufficiently worn to retire it and bring a new pair of boots into rotation.

I don’t particularly like new boots (until they are broken in). But they are necessary and these work for me.

MOLLE Generation 2 Three-Day Assault Pack

This is my MOLLE Generation II 3-Day Assault Pack.
This is my MOLLE Generation II 3-Day Assault Pack.

About a year ago, I bought a surplus MOLLE Generation 2 3-Day Assault Pack. I wanted a pack to use as a day-pack so I could carry some water, a few emergency supplies, a camera, and repair materials for geocaching. I have come to love day hikes. I love geocaching in more remote areas — those that are more difficult that park-n-grabs.

I did some reading before selecting a surplus pack. I did not want to spend a lot of money, at least not initially. I know that military packs are developed to meet specific requirements, but I also know that materials are top-notch as required to stand up to the rigors of combat use.

From many perspectives, this is a great pack. There’s lots of room in the main compartment and a separator to keep the plastic stiffener apart from the contents of the main compartment. The main compartment is zipper closure (with a weather flap) and the zippers are high quality. You can put a lot of stuff in the main compartment. I keep a 3-liter Camelbak in there as well as a cover if I start out cool or think it might turn cool. There is much room left over.

There are two additional pockets on the front of the pack, a large compartment with zipper closure (and weather flap) that could hold food or necessaries that are too large for the smaller front pocket. I can put a couple of bushcrafting books in there and have room for some additional things.

The smaller front pocket is velcro closure (good velcro too) and has room for all of my geocaching tools, replacement logs, and plastic bags. I could keep a decent size pocket notebook in there as well.

The straps are thin but wide. I would say they could be good for loads up to 20 pounds or more, depending on your tolerance for discomfort. I get tired of the straps after five miles with a 20-pound load.

This is where the shoulder strap for the MOLLE Generation 2 Assault Pack attaches to the pack.
This is where the shoulder strap for the MOLLE Generation 2 Assault Pack attaches to the pack.
I’ve learned a lot using this pack over the last year. I carry my load a little high. I don’t like the load hitting me in the ass. So the straps are fairly tight and the bottom of the pack sits in my lumbar regions, just above my hips. Because of that, the insertion points for the end of the straps poke me in the back. For short hikes this is just annoying and I can ignore it. For anything five miles or more, it’s uncomfortable. I suspect that if I was wearing the FLC and plates, that the straps would not dig my shoulders or poke me in the back.

I’d also like a separate pocket for my Camelbak. I know they are tough, but I’d like my water separate from my other gear.

The MOLLE is wonderful! There are tons of pockets that can be added to MOLLE-equipped gear. I like have cubbyholes to put things instead of a dump into the main pocket. So, my replacement pack will have MOLLE and I will use surplus MOLLE pouches to add pockets to my new pack.

There are many things about the MOLLE Assault Pack I like. But I need a pack that is comfortable to wear with the loads I carry. This one is not going to work for me.

The Americans

Cover of The Americans and inside view.
Cover of The Americans and inside view.
I ordered a copy of The Americans by Robert Frank a few days ago. It arrived Monday afternoon. The Girl and I needed to evacuate the room so that housekeeping could do their thing, so we drove over to the Denny’s at 50th and Slide for a break.

It was a good break from working on my report. I needed a bite, some coffee, and some time away from the hotel. She napped under my table, while I drank my coffee and made my first pass through Robert Frank’s The Americans.

The Americans is classic street photography. Many of the images are grainy, meaning they were probably shot on Kodak Tri-X, underexposed, and/or push-processed to enhance the film speed. Many of them have a raw quality that comes from either the subject being unaware of the photographer or just not caring that they are being photographed. The captures are all interesting and remind me of my favorite form of photography — wandering around and watching for the image to jump out at me. Once I spot something interesting, then I set up the shot and make the capture.

I can recommend The Americans without reservation if you have an interest in photography in general, street photography in specific, or what normal life looked like in the mid-1950s. You will not be disappointed by these classic images.

Porlex Coffee Grinder

Coffee GrinderAnother of my favorite simple tools is the Porlex Mini Stainless Steel Coffee Grinder. I bought it a year ago to go with the Bodum Personal French Press that I reviewed a few days ago. I’ve used it enough now to have figured out how to use the tool.

The design is clean and simple. It’s a bean bowl (top) below which is housed the grinder (ceramic burrs) and a catch bucket at the bottom. The catch slides off the body of the grinder so you can dump freshly ground coffee into the brewer. (I use a French press for now.) A stainless steel handle connects to the mechanism via a pentalobed nut. Once beans are loaded into the hopper, the “wrench” is slipped over the nut and then grind away. It takes me a couple of minutes to grind a serving of coffee while the pot is on to boil. The handle is long enough to provide sufficient leverage for easy grinding.

Setting the grind is a bit “fiddly.” (I love that British colloquialism!) Once set, the grind has been consistent for me (so far). I have no idea how long the unit might last in daily use, but I’m going to find out.

There is a strong “rubber band” with a slot to hold the handle when not in use. The unit fits easily into my travel kit. I much prefer to buy beans and grind my coffee on demand. The burr-type grinders produce a better grind than the “chopping” machines. (I had one of those and gave it away.) Ceramic burrs last longer than steel (so I’m told).

I like this unit. The design is simple, clean, and there aren’t many moving parts. It’s small, compact with the removable handle, and there is enough leverage to easily grind coffee. As I said, I like this unit.