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Welcome Home, Boots

This is our latest foster dog, Boots. He’s about 12 years old and very sweet. So far, he’s been very well behaved. Lola wants to keep him.

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Blog

Canon Pancake

While I was shopping for cheap zoom lenses for my cheap DSLR the other day, I came across several reviews praising the Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 wide-angle pancake lens. Several reviewers claimed it was one of the essential first lenses to buy for a Canon camera. At only $130, it was hard to pass up, so I ordered one off of Amazon.

I gave it a try today and I like it. It’s a nice all-purpose prime lens. Prime basically means that the focal length is fixed and it doesn’t have the ability to zoom. The nifty fifty that I have is also a prime and you have to do your zooming with your feet. I actually don’t mind this and feel like it makes you a better photographer. You have to be thoughtful and deliberate when you frame your shots instead of just zooming and clicking.

As you can see in the photo above, it’s a very small lens, which makes it great for travel and doesn’t take up much room in your bag. I wouldn’t really consider this a true wide-angle lens, but it comes fairly close to replicating the same visual area that you see with your eyes, which is is fairly wide compared to most cameras. In the photo below, when I took the camera away from my face I saw almost the same thing with my eyeballs.

Molly in her COVID office, sitting at the “temporary” desk that I built for her.

This lens is nice for close-up portraits.

It works well in low light too. I took this selfie in my basement stairway, which is like walking into a bomb shelter.

I feel like the lens comes fairly close to the look of actual 35 mm film photos. For example, this shot of Molly tonight with her Total Wine & More haul.

I think I’m done buying lenses for a while. If I buy another, the next on my list is probably the final recommendation from the Wirecutter’s The First Canon Lenses You Should Buy article, which is the “The kit-lens upgrade” Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM.

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Blog

Bed of Ashes

We had a chimney sweep come by today and clean out our chimney and fireplace. We burn fires at least twice a week, sometimes more, and it had been two years since the last cleaning. He said things looked pretty dope and we could probably go three years between cleanings as long as we continue to burn hardwoods like oak and almond. Pine and other soft woods leave behind a lot of creosote.

Since we had a fire last night, we didn’t get a chance to clean out the ashes before he came. I asked him if it was bad etiquette to leave the ashes in the fireplace before a chimney sweep visited. He said it was absolutely fine, although he asked for a trash bag so he could dispose of the ashes.

After he took away all the ashes, we were left with a barren fireplace. When we first started having fires we thought this was a good thing. We would clean out all the ashes weekly so that the fireplace was so fresh and clean. But after each cleaning, we started noticing problems. The fire wouldn’t stay lit. The smoldering logs would leak smoke into the room. The fireplace just didn’t seem to work right.

Eventually we figured out that it was a good thing to keep a lot of ashes in the fireplace. This ensures that there are always hot coals immediately under the logs, which keeps the fire burning hot. Without it, the logs just hover in the air and smolder on the grate.

Tonight, we had a hard time with our hovering logs.

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Canon Zoom Lens

Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens

I enjoy photography as much as the next dork with too many hobbies, but I’m far from a camera snob. For the better part of the last decade, I’ve only shot with an entry-level Canon Rebel. First the T1i and then more recently the newer T7i, which I bought used on Craigslist. I probably would still be shooting with the T1i, but the video quality isn’t really up to the task of making modern YouTube bangers. The Rebel is a pretty nice DLSR camera, but it has a crop sensor that captures a much smaller image than your old fashioned full frame 35 mm film camera. This hasn’t slowed me down a bit.

I only use two lenses. The first is the wide-angle Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6. The other is the “nifty fifty” Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. Both lenses cost a combined $425, which is a fraction of most Canon full frame lenses. The nifty fifty I use for up close portrait-style photography. The wide-angle I use for everything else. If someone asked me on the spot what the mm size or aperture of either lens was, I wouldn’t have a fucking clue. I’d have to Google it.

I’m also not ashamed to admit that I almost always shoot in auto-mode, unless I’m trying something fancy. It’s hard to fuck around with manual camera settings while you’re chasing around two small kids and trying to day drink.

After only shooting with two close-range lenses for the past few years, things have started feel a little stale and I decided it was time to expand my tool kit. It’s laughable that I don’t shoot with a zoom lens yet, so that seemed like the next logical step. I consulted my favorite Wirecutter article, The First Canon Lenses You Should Buy, which previous led me to my other two lenses. The good folks over a the cutter recommend the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L for a zoom. It gets great reviews and at $600 it’s priced pretty nice compared to some of Canon’s other “luxury” zoom lenses.

I almost pulled the trigger on this lens when I noticed deeper into the article that the Wirecutter also recommended a budget zoom – the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6. This lens retails for about half the price of the EF lens, but includes image stabilization and a longer range zoom. It’s made of plastic and doesn’t capture as sharp of images as the EF, but Amazon routinely sells these babies used for only $130. To me, it was a no brainer to give the EF-S a test drive before committing to the $600 version.

When my used EF-S zoom lens arrived today, I handed it to Molly and she immediately took the picture below from our front window of our neighbor’s roof about 100 feet across the street. We were both impressed with the long range and crispness of the adjustable zoom (note: I’ve lightly edited these photos in Lightroom).

The zoom lens handles portraits pretty well too, as you can see by this handsome image below.

I also took the lens on our family walk tonight to McLaren Park and shot a few pics. I was impressed with the ability to focus on an object in the foreground yet bokeh the background. You can see the tall grass in the foreground below is fairly crisp compared to Wilce rolling away blurred in the background. He was probably 200+ yards away from me when I took this photo fully zoomed.

The colors and darkness levels of this lens aren’t quite as nice as my other two lenses, but the ability to zoom super far away kind of makes up for it. I was on the opposite hillside when I took this pic across the valley.

The sharpness isn’t fantastic either, but still pretty good considering the zoom distance. I was about a hundred feet from Molly when I took this shot and it still looks decent. The extreme bokeh in the background is pretty sick too, brah.

Young Wilce from about 50 feet away.

View of Prague Street from McLaren Park.

In all, I’m really happy with the lens and think it will be a nice addition to my current basic toolkit of a close fixed lens and wide angle zoom. Most importantly, it’s gotten me interested in taking photos again.

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Blog New Music Projects What Up Mang

Offshore Country

Offshore Country is a film about What Up Mang‘s attempt to record a country music album while floating on a boat 30 miles off the coast of California. It was a complete failure.

Here’s the backstory…

About two years ago, a few of us dudes took a weekend fishing trip to the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. While we were out there losing our minds and slaying fish, we mostly listened to a Spotify playlist I made called Central Coast. The playlist was partly inspired by country-ish tunes I heard on the central coast radio station KPIG. It was a lot of John Prine, Todd Snider, 80’s/90’s Hawks & Doves / Old Ways / Harvest Moon-era Neil Young, etc. All the good stuff.

That heady combination of California sunshine, sea air, endless Modelos, and the Central Coast playlist really altered our DNA. We started talking about a plan to come back to the boat to record a What Up Mang album of California country music. We’d call it “Offshore Country.” Scott owned a banjo, I’m from Cinci-tucky, and Bartlett never wears underwear, so it was our destiny.

The Offshore Country idea was discussed often in the ensuing months, but little progress was ever made. Finally, while camping in Big Sur about a year later, we buckled down and wrote a few demos for the album (including Jonny’s “I Get Lost”). This was the motivation we needed. Soon after, we booked a return trip to record Offshore Country.

Fast forward to November 2019. Scott, Bartlett, Matt, and I met in Santa Barbara and set sail on Scott’s boat, the Hale Kai, back to the Channel Islands. Armed with little more than 3 unfinished demos, this would be both a writing and recording studio session.

We spent two days and nights aboard the boat, bouncing island to island. We wrote, recorded, and drank around the clock, only taking breaks for fishing, swimming, and eating. We anchored offshore a few times and paddled surfboards to the islands. We dove off the roof of the boat into the chilly Pacific. Bartlett became one with the seals and snorkeled in the shallow kelp forest off of Sant Rosa Island. It was a magical weekend.

Upon arrival back at Santa Barbara Harbor, we now had another half dozen or so demos in the bank. Our plan was to get together again soon on land and finish the those songs in the studio. This was November and nothing has happened since then. Everyone got busy with their own lives and did’t have time to record bad country music. By the time the pandemic hit, it was obvious we weren’t going to finish the album any time soon. During quarantine boredom, I decided that I should try to mix down what we had already recorded and use those songs in the video you are watching here today.

Is this the best music What Up Mang has recorded to date? Definitely not. It’s pretty clear from our output that we ain’t no country musicians (most of the songs we wrote didn’t even sound like country). But that’s not the point. The point is that we went out on the ocean for a few days, played some music, and had some good times with friends. That’s all that you can ask for these days.

-Jimmy

Offshore Country What Up Mang

Watch Offshore Country on YouTube

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Blog

Santa Cruz Island

Scott, Jonny, Jeff, and Jimmy off the coast of Santa Cruz Island – Spring 2018

Like many people, I’ve been closely following the news about the Conception dive boat fire that killed 34 people off the coast of Santa Barbara earlier this month. This unspeakable tragedy hit especially close to home because I’ve also spent a few nights sleeping on a boat in almost the same exact location.

The Conception dive boat at Santa Barbara Harbor as seen in Small Craft Advisory

Last spring, Jonny, Jeff, Scott and I went on a weekend fishing trip to the Channel Islands National Park, which includes Santa Cruz Island. Like those aboard the Conception, we spent our nights sleeping on our boat anchored off the shore of Santa Cruz Island. I don’t specifically remember seeing the Conception that weekend, but it’s visible in Small Craft Advisory, a short film I made about our trip. You can see it in the background of Santa Barbara Harbor (starting at 0:12).

Scott takes frequent overnight trips to the Channel Islands and said he’s anchored next to it several times. Scariest of all is Jeff, who has actually gone on one of the chartered scuba trips and spent the night on the Conception.

The author at Santa Cruz Island – Spring 2018

We’re planning to return to the Channel Islands in November for another overnight boat trip so we can write and record the next What Up Mang album on the boat. Out of caution, we’ve already discussed rotating night watchman duties during the trip.

Here’s the film we made if you’d like to see what it’s like out on the Channel Islands. It’s beautiful and dangerous, among other things.

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Blog

Ludwig Questlove Breakbeats Drum Set

Wilce’s first time playing the Questlove Breakbeats drum set

I must be insane because I let my five year old convince me that we needed a drum set. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. In reality, I think I wanted a drum kit just as much as he did. I’ve actually been looking for a small “apartment-sized” kit for Smoothspin Studios for a while. Something mainly for recording, but also for the occasional basement jam session. I don’t have a ton of room in the studio and I didn’t want something that was outrageously loud. I even briefly considered building a kit around a 16-inch floor tom that I would used as a kick drum. I ultimately settled on the Questlove Breakbeats Drum Set by Ludwig. It’s perfect for what I need. Here’s how Questlove describes it:

“I wanted to build a device that was apartment-friendly and compact for the street musician; but also something that was quality-sounding. A gritty, raw, ‘break-able’ kit for gigging in clubs that you can fit in a cab. Breakbeats by Questlove does it all.”

The Questlove Breakbeats Drum Kit

I found this set used online at the Guitar Center in Seattle. It was about $350 including tax and shipping, but only included the kick, snare, tom, and floor tom. It didn’t come with the bracket to attach the tom to the top of the kick drum, so I’ll have to get one of those. Jonny was generous enough to loan me an extra hi-hat, cymbal, stands, and kick pedal he had. He even threw in a free lesson for Wilce when we went to his house Sunday to pick up the hardware.

Jonny teaching Wilce how to hold his drum sticks like Charlie Watts

Since the kids will be hammering on these things, I also ordered a set of Evans mute pads which fit on top of each drum and muffle the sound. I’m not sure they live up to the reported 95% volume reduction, but they’re better than nothing.

Evans drum mute pads promise a 95% volume reduction

Here’s a little taste of how the drums sound. It’s worth noting out that I’m an awful drummer and haven’t had a chance to properly tune any of the drums yet. I just tightened up the heads a little bit with a pair of pliers because I don’t even own a drum key yet. I had to order one off of Amazon tonight.

The author testing out the Questlove Breakbeats drum set in the studio

I’m really happy with the quality and sound of the Breakbeats kit. I hope my neighbors like it too.