Bogen Manfrotto 3021b Pro Tripod

For the last three years I have been learning the very basics of photography, as can no doubt be seen in many of the shots I have displayed here in days past. I‘ve taken countless sunset shots that could have been dramatically improved by simple compositional changes. Many “landscape” shots could have been much better if I’d known some pretty basic rules concerning the so-called golden hours at dawn and dusk.

However, my main sticking points have been a basic lack of understanding of some of the most important, yet easily overlooked, accessories and their applications.

The most important accessory I have overlooked is the tripod – until recently.

I recently purchased two things which altered my perceptions about shooting. The first, purchased about 6 months ago, was The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby. The second, bought after reading about the importance of a tripod (in the book), and after reading some recommendations on the Canon Digital Photography Forums, was a Bogen/Manfrotto 3021BPRO tripod with a 488RC2 Ball Head.

These two things have virtually revolutionized the way I have been shooting. Especially at night. Yes, I‘ve known that I needed a tripod, and yes, I’ve used a tripod before. But what I was missing before and has since been corrected, was the tantamount importance of having and using a tripod, even in situations in which I thought I  didn‘t need one. In fact, there are now almost no situations in which I don’t use a tripod.

Previous tripods had always been cheapos. Tripods that invariably lacked either stability or simply weren‘t up to the task of supporting my camera’s weight. What you trade in cost you lose in either weight or stability, and I was buying tripods which were both lightweight and cheap. Light and cheap just isn‘t a working combination for tripods.

You can have it light, you can have it cheap, and you can have it stable, but you can only pick two of those. Light and cheap = unstable. Light and stable = expensive. Stable and cheap = heavy.

As an owner of the 3021, I can be assured that my pictures are the images I intended while also knowing that I have a platform that is stable enough to trust with my camera operating in a totally hands-off manner. Previous tripods have always left me thinking that I would soon see my camera crashing to the ground if I pulled my hands too far from a “safe” distance. Now I can shoot an exposure that is several minutes long and walk away to have a conversation with a passerby.

And believe me, on a military base in the middle of Iraq, there are plenty of curious passers-by who wonder why you are out taking pictures with such a “complicated” setup. 

Al Faw Palace At Night

Al Faw Palace at Night
Al Faw Palace at Night

As the story goes, this is the palace that Saddam built following his glorious victory over Iran after the Iran-Iraq War – another victory that never happened, but hey, it makes a pretty picture.

I live about a half mile from this palace on Camp Victory North.

UPDATE: I’ve wondered since the first time I heard the stories, in 2003 about the truth behind this palace. Reader Shawn advises that this palace is actually called Al Faw Palace.

Since my arrival on this palace I’ve heard too many names for this place to be certain what it is named.

  • Birthday Palace
  • Republican Palace
  • Victory over Iran Palace
  • Presidential Republican Guard Palace
    And so on……

UPDATE: 2018-09-17: Definitely Al Faw Palace – named in honor of the victory over Iran at Al Faw Penninsula during the Iran-Iraq war. Changed the title of the post too.

A Silent Stalker

In June of 2002 my mother turned 50. My step-father called me two months before the event and asked me if I was planning to come up to see her for her birthday. I informed him that I had already put in for the vacation time, and I would indeed be in Wisconsin to see her turn 50. Gary asked me if I could keep the fact that I was coming a secret and show up at the party the night of her birthday, not letting her know that I was in town.

Always one wanting to surprise someone, I decided to play along and didn’t tell my mom that I was going up for her birthday.

As time for the party drew near, my mom started getting sick. Three days before the party her doctors told her the cause – her doctors diagnosed her with Non-small Cell Lung Cancer.

After six months of chemo-therapy and radiation she was cancer-free. She’d beaten the reaper.

Last week her doctors again diagnosed her with cancer. This time the tumor is between her lung, the tip of her collarbone, and her larynx.

She starts radiation therapy on Thursday.

UPDATE: 2018-09-17 – As I re-post the original content of Dave’s Not Here… I get to re-read it all. I have one thing to add to this post: No one beats the reaper. No one.

A Wealth of Experience

Working at this job offers me a wealth of experience. Since the day I started working here I can honestly admit that I have performed a multitude of tasks that I thought I’d never do only a few months ago.

Today, I broadened my horizons by performing a rebuild on a Compaq N610c laptop using parts cannibalized from two others. Three months ago I was deathly afraid of even loosening the screws on a laptop. Today I’m more concerned about robbing the broken to fix the not-so-broken, since parts replacement is a sensitive issue here.

My old job was in Long Distance Network Translations and I sat at a desk in a climate controlled office. In the past two months I have learned to run cable outdoors, in the rain, while crawling under a building through the mud. I have learned to put up 2 2.4 meter satellite dishes and one 3.8 meter dish. My skill-set is regularly broadened with the programming of various types of Cisco Switches and Routers.

I have learned how to install, from the ground up, a Nortel Meridian Norstar PBX (no big feat that, but I’d never done it before). I have learned to program said PBX – again, no big thing.

I have become a pirate of the highest quality, locating and acquiring parts and tools from the unlikeliest of places. In fact, today I received an Operation Iraqi Freedom cap with a Jolly Roger affixed to the front panel for my skills in piracy in support of the team.

I’m learning the fine art of building a network from the ground up, not having had any previous experience I am learning, the hard way, all the things that I need to make a proper job of a start-up network.

When I leave here in a year or three, I can’t imagine what my résumé will look like.

3rd Marine Expeditionary Force

3rd Marine Expeditionary Force did a remarkable job of not damaging a religious site when breaking into the Saddam International Airport’s Southern side.

As I understand it, the rubble in my photos below represent what was left of the Elite Republican Guard barracks/headquarters after the Marines rolled through.

Elite Republican Guard Base

Elite Republican Guard Base

Elite Republican Guard Base

Elite Republican Guard Base

Elite Republican Guard Base

Elite Republican Guard Base

One of My Selfish Reasons for Being Here

I have many reasons for being in Iraq at the moment. The first, and most obvious is debt-relief. I want to be out of debt and free.

Another of my reasons is my future. I want to live a lifestyle that requires a bit of money in the bank. I want to make one of these my home.

Call me crazy, but I crave the contact of very few people and it is a life at sea that will grant me the quiet that I crave.

The President has Left the Building

George Bush just left the Bob Hope Dining Facility a short time ago, but not before interrupting my chances at dinner.  I simulated by having a Turkey MRE.  I understand, the dinner was supposed to be a morale builder for the troops and that makes the interruption understandable, I just wish I’d known in advance, I’d have eaten something for breakfast or lunch to make sure I’d had a hot meal.

For that matter, if I’d known DURING the meal, I could have gotten pictures to post here when he left.

That’s okay, one of the guys I work with got a few shots, so when he emails them to me, I’ll post them here.

In the meantime, I think I’m going to have that bag of M&Ms that came in the MRE for dessert.

Oh, and I’m not bitter, just hungry.

No, They Don’t…

Ken Garfield, a Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News, writes that Door-to-door missionaries deserve a smile and a moment of our time.

I disagree. While I’ll agree that there is no justification for outright hostility, I also see no reason to allow them to soak up my time proselytizing to me about a faith that I’m not going to adopt in 20 minutes. While Mr. Garfield may have time to divert to the daily attacks on his privacy by Witnesses from any church, I don’t, and I didn’t when I was living in Dallas either.

When I return to the States I will be just as courteous in initially answering the door as I have been in the past, but should they not take no for an answer, out will come the hostility. I don’t like salesmen standing on my stoop trying to insist that I need some new product, especially if that product is their version of God.

Not in the News

Naturally this sort of post from Glenn Reynolds, like a lot of the stuff I post here, will never see the light of a news day. Anything that makes Bush look like a good guy is bad press from all perspectives except Fox News.

Don’t know if you’re reading, but thanks for that post Glenn.

Glad I’m not at another Site

Due to the fact that I don’t know who is reading this blog, and I know that some wives of contractors are, I’m going to keep this one vague, deliberately.

I talked to a guy by the name of Robert, with Red Sea Housing, this afternoon.  He was telling me that he’d just returned from another site where, overnight, there were 101 mortar attacks against the camp.  Throughout the night there were firefights between the military and insurgents (believed to be Sunni).  He returned at first light this morning, without incident, other than lost sleep.

I’m thankful that I’m not there, and my thoughts and prayers go out to the people that are there.