Saturday, April 24, 2010

Team Support

I train solo, but when I go on a ride like the one I’m doing Sunday, it’s what’s called a supported ride.

That means that along the way we’ll have rest stops stocked with food and drink, and volunteers to cheer us on. It means we’ll have a route sheet, and turns along the way will be marked with bright arrows so we don’t get lost. It means we will be passed at several points along the way by a “sag wagon,” a vehicle that patrols the course carrying spare inner tubes, a tire pump, and some basic tools for field repair, plus a first aid kit and a radio to relay messages back to ride HQ. It means that at the end of the ride there’ll be a fat lunch, and on nine out of ten supported rides a crowd of people right at the finish line to cheer you on and congratulate you just as if they knew you and had watched you train. Sometimes they hand out medals to the finishers.

I could ride that far by myself (and sometimes have), but it’s a lot nicer to do it supported.

In life, there are solo rides and supported rides. Sometimes you get to pick which way you ride. Sometimes life picks the ride for you.

For folks who have sat in a paper gown in a sterile office to hear a doctor pronounce a diagnosis of cancer, the uphills are steeper, the descents more treacherous, and the ride a lot longer than any I’ve ever had to put up with on two wheels.

The least we can do for them is to give them a supported ride.

Cancer is a lot more than pills and prevention and physicians, treatments and therapies and tests. It's not all research and remissions and recovery rates. Those are all fine things too, and I’m on their side. But outside of the clinic, there’s life to get on with.

People who happen to have cancer don’t stop having families who love them (and look to them for support); they don’t stop needing to pay the rent or grocery bills; they don’t stop loving baseball games and milkshakes. People with cancer are often treated to mountains of paperwork and fights with insurance companies.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a course sheet, some markers along the way to help you decide which way to turn, waystations stocked with food and refreshments and people to cheer you along? A cancer-fighting sag wagon?

Along with many great organizations that are searching the roots of cancer’s causes and trying to find therapies that knock out cancer without taking down the patient in the process, you can find groups that offer non-medical help: patient advocacy, family support, financial aid, counseling, information services, education.

When I ride out of Davis on Sunday, on a 107-mile road to Santa Rosa, over hill and dale and through Napa Valley—mostly upwind—I will be riding to support four nonprofit groups that provide some of these services to folks with cancer and their families. I’ll be on a supported ride, but I’m hoping my ride makes it easier for some other people to find the support they need on their roads.

When I make a pitch for donations, I always try to calibrate the seriousness of my request. I’m not going to make this out to be some life-or-death thing, for me. To be plain about it, I would have gone on this ride whether it was to help out against cancer or not. And when I signed up for the ride, my registration fee already covered the cost of the ride—the support teams—plus a contribution to the cause. So I’ve already got some skin in the game, and I’m not under any obligation to raise more just so I can ride.

Having said that, I’ll add: I’ve got six easy names that I can write on the dedication wall at the start of the ride—an uncle, a friend, a friend of my brother’s, a couple of people I have worked with, and, reaching all the way back to my college days, Dad. That’s six people off the top of my head who have needed the support of a strong team as they fought cancer—six people in my immediate circle, without trying too hard to remember others, without having to name celebrities or friends of friends. I’m more than happy to support this cause.

(I bet you know someone too who has been able to benefit from some support against cancer.)

And: You don’t have to give any money. I always feel with events like this that half the goal is raising funds, but the other half is raising awareness—not talking people into thinking they should drop everything and take this up as their life’s prime purpose, but reminding them in some small way of the good that goes on around all of us, mostly unnoticed, while we go through our daily routines. Sometimes when a lot of people do some easy, small things, the effect is better than when only a few people strain and struggle to do huge, difficult things. If you have read this far, whether you give any money to the campaign or not, you have helped me raise consciousness, and I thank you.

If this is a campaign you can believe in, I would be honored if you made a donation. You can add money in my name at, or you’re welcome to give on the campaign’s generic donation page. (Like I said, and I will emphasize: I don’t owe them any more money. I’m not working on commission.)

While I’m at it, I also have to give a plug for an even longer ride my brother’s going to be doing this summer, a two-day ride that stretches to nearly 200 miles. This ride is also for a very good cause. In 30 years, putting together a lot of small donations from folks like you and me, the Pan-Mass Challenge has raised $270 million to help fight cancer. If you’re looking for a place to send some money, you don’t have to give anything for my ride at all. Try giving to his:

(There are many other fronts in the fight against cancer. I’m not promoting this one or that one as the only important way to engage. These are just two I happen to be connected to.)

It will be my pleasure to ride this Sunday—although around Mile 70, I may be rethinking that platform—and after riding part of this route solo a few weeks ago, I’ll be glad that this time I’m on a supported ride. As I ride, please feel welcome to help me support others.

Many Thanks!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Autograph Hound

This camera dates to about 1925, which would make it my grandfather’s—one he would have used as a young man.

The camera came fully loaded. It uses large film (116 size), so you get good resolution. And you can manually set focus, aperture, and shutter speed, so you don’t have to rely on a computer to pick automatic settings that can come out wrong and ruin a good picture.

The little hole in the front cover is a tripod mount for when you’re taking a vertical-frame picture. Later on I figured out why “Kodak” is upside-down here, although I might have designed it differently.

Notice the little widget up and to the left of the main lens. More on that in a minute.

Once you have picked your subject, you’ll want to focus on it. This is accomplished by setting the catch into the correct notch on the focusing scale.

The Ilex f/7.7 Anastigmat lens indicates the age of the camera. Kodak used a series of different lenses on the same basic camera model, and they were using these lenses in the mid-1920s. (Anastigmat indicates that a certain lens distortion has been corrected with advanced optics.) The little lever with a knob at the end of it in about the 8:00 position on the lens is the shutter release.

You can set shutter speeds from permanently open to as fast as 1/100th of a second. The shutter is tripped and timed mechanically, with springs and bearings. With this camera, you’ll never need to replace a battery.

I haven’t tested it, but I suspect the threaded fitting next to the manual shutter release is a receptacle for a cable release, similar to what you’ll find on more recent Kodak models.

The lens is wide open at f/7.7, and it tightens down to f/45.

(That’s focal length ÷ x , for those who aren’t familiar with the terminology. It describes how wide the lens opens—how much light gets in—and determines how forgiving your focus will be. This lens has a 130mm focal length—i.e., the front part of the lens sits 130mm in front of the film—so f/45 means your lens aperture will be a little less than 3mm in diameter. At f/7.7, the opening will be nearly 17mm wide, or .66 inch. More light will get in, but your foreground and background will be less clearly focused than when you use a tighter aperture. With a modern compact camera that uses—let’s say—a 35mm lens, the same f/45 would be less than a millimeter across, but its characteristics, both for focus and exposure length, would be roughly the same as they are for the identical f-stop on any other lens, long or short. A “fast” lens today might open up as wide as f/2.8 or even f/1.4, letting in a lot of light so you can take really fast shots, letting you freeze motion. The great landscape photographers of yesteryear had a little clique they called the f/64 club, because when you shoot with such a tiny aperture, your focus is brilliantly clear. You wanted to know all this, right?)

Remember the doohickey attached to the upper corner of the lens? It took me a while to figure out. It’s the viewfinder, to let you see what the camera is pointed at. Here I’m looking into it at some objects on a table (a toy camera and the case for this camera), with a ceiling light hanging overhead. Everything is left-right reversed, or up-down, depending on how you prefer to understand it.

The round opening lets in light, which bounces off the back of (I presume) the prism at a 90° angle. You look into the +-shaped opening to see the image. It’s not a really exact way to frame your shots, but it’s better than a blind guess.

This is what the film sees.

A distinguishing feature of the Autographic cameras was this stylus and the special film rolls they used. The film itself is standard 116-size film, which you can still buy today, but it was wound in with carbon paper sandwiched between the film and the standard black-paper backer.

After you take a shot, you flip open a little door in the back of the camera and use the stylus to write on the heavy backing paper. That presses the carbon paper against the film, leaving a black mark on the film. When the negatives are printed, those words written in black show up in the prints as white lettering.

For its time, this was a convenient camera to carry on a trip, or to a family outing, or just about anywhere. It’s lightweight and can be carried in one hand, though it’s too big to slip into a pocket. It sets up fast and gives the photographer good control over exposure, but it doesn’t have a lot of fussy settings that will take forever to get right. And compared to making your exposures on eight-inch by ten-inch glass plates coated in light-sensitive gel, shooting on Kodak film is a snap.

(See how I did that?)

The Autographic was replaced later on by other similarly convenient collapsible cameras, like Mom’s Kodak Tourist from the late 1940s, each succeeding generation refining the mechanisms, improving the lenses, tightening up the machining standards. Keep in mind that a large part of Kodak’s mission in producing cameras was to sell lots of rolls of film.

And then in the 1950s Leica released the M3, a revolution in convenience: It used 35mm film, which meant the camera could be about a third the size and weight of one of these bellows-style cameras, and it featured interchangeable lenses to let photographers switch quickly to adapt to different shooting situations.

That pretty much was the end for medium-format cameras like this one, except for a small cadre of “serious” photographers who appreciated the larger frame size with its corresponding higher level of detail and resolution.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Frugal, Wealthy, and Great Beer-Drinkers

Back in the day—before the Internet, before radio, almost before photography, certainly before air travel—when you went on a trip overseas, you didn’t Tweet about it; you didn’t post a travelogue on Facebook; you didn’t put up a slew of pictures on Flickr or Pixagogo or your personal blog pages. You kept a diary—maybe, if you were diligent—and when you came back, you no doubt would chat about the trip with your friends and family. In your trunk you might have packed some souvenirs from exotic locales. Unless writing was your profession, that was about it for sharing.

For a few, however, there was a more permanent way to record impressions from overseas: If you could afford the cost of publishing your memoir, you could order up a private edition, not for general circulation but to pass around to entertain and edify your friends. It was the equivalent of a latter-day slide show, but more portable.

I come from wordy stock. My father’s middle name was Ormsby. His mother’s grandmother, Mary Amanda Bateman by name, was married to a fellow named Edwin Samuel Ormsby, my grandmother’s grandfather. They lived in Emmetsburg, Iowa, but in 1889 they took a five-month trip to Europe. [E.S. Ormsby, born in 1842, would have been 47 on this trip, a well-established citizen and sometime Mayor of Emmetsburg. I do not know the date of Mary A. Ormsby’s birth, but her eldest child was 26 by the time they took this trip.]

When they got back, she published her blog, to the tune of 113 pages of lively narrative, dotted with details about the places she had seen, the people she ran into along the way, some of the stories that today might be scribbled on the backs of postcards, and the other miscellaneous learning one acquires through travel.

Some of the details of specific places have evolved over time, but the experience is immediately familiar to anyone who has taken a long trip to a foreign land.

The following pages are chosen pretty much at random from her story.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A Little Pocket of Charm

Angel’s Flight, a charming tiny tramway near the heart of Los Angeles, recently reopened after a hiatus of several years. Looking back on a day when children played in neighborhoods lined with gingerbread houses—when every morning was summer vacation—here’s a book written to memorialize Bunker Hill back when Angel’s Flight closed the first time, in the 1960s.

Many of these illustrations will get richer when you click on them to have a look at the details painted into them by an artist who loved a neighborhood he knew was on the brink of vanishing forever.