Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mac Tips That I Use All the Time

Here are some Mac tips that I use all the time: 

I use external keyboards all the time.  These keyboards are designed for Windows machines, but they work fine for Macs.  Let's say that I attach an external keyboard to my Mac laptop, so I can use an external monitor rather than my laptop's screen.  I show my usual setup in the photograph below -- I have a MacBook Pro and its screen on the right hand side, and a much larger 25" monitor and an external keyboard on the left.  I use the larger monitor and external keyboard at my home office far more than my laptop by itself.  Set up this way, the laptop screen serves as a second smaller monitor, which I can use to show menus, additional windows, etc.

The only change I have to make is upon setting this up, I need to switch the option and modifier keys on the external keyboard.  I do this by going into System Preferences -- Keyboard -- click the modifier keys button under the Keyboard window -- select the external keyboard (NOT the Apple internal keyboard) -- and switch the option and command keys so that they work the opposite on the PC keyboard.  This makes the PC keyboard's option and command keys match the placement of the same keys on the Apple keyboard.  A bit confusing -- if this works, then the PC's keyboard on the left botton will work as follows, just like an Apple keyboard: ctl, option, command.  I often use the keyboard shortcut cmd-X and cmd-Y to cut and paste text.  Once I've set the keyboard up I will test the PC keyboard to make sure that cmd-X and cmd-Y work as they should.  

Here's a huge tip.  I often buy new Macs or have to update or upgrade them.  I have various Mac operating systems and cloned hard drives of old machines that I want to use to test or start up a new or old machine.  Let's say that I have a Mac mini that runs Snow Leopard, but I have a separate hard drive that runs OS 10.8 Mountain Lion.  One of my Mac Minis has two hard drives in it, and sometimes I want to run Mac using the Snow Leopard drive.  I could go into System Preferences and choose Startup Disk, then restart my machine.  However, I've found that this method almost never works -- most of the time the Mac will use the same startup drive that I am trying to switch out of.  

This method works much, much better. Attach the second startup drive that you want to startup with using USB or Firewire.  To choose this startup drive, upon starting up, hold down the option key (alt key on PC keyboards). This will bring up a screen that gives you a choice of startup drives.  Just choose the startup drive that you want, and this method works most of the time.  

Put your Mac to sleep: 
Using a Windows keyboard: hold ctrl + F12 for a couple of secs, then the shutdown menu will appear.
Using a Mac keyboard: Command (⌘)–Option–Media Eject key (⏏)

See the hidden home Library files:
Note that you can't see the Library (hidden ~/Library folder) in your home folder (as it is hidden by default starting with OS 10.7 Lion). This is the best way to change this (but beware, it is fairly permanent: You can type in chflags nohidden ~/Library in Terminal to make it appear permanently

A less permanent solution to this problem is as follows:
Choose the Go To Folder command, in the Finder’s Go menu, then type ~/Library and click Go to view the folder in the current Finder window.
To display the Library in a Finder window : hold the Alt (Option) Key and use the "Go" menu to show "Library" in the drop down menu.

Do a find only for files in a certain window or folder: Open the folder. If the search bar is not there already, then right click in the upper taskbar area and choose to show the default set. The Search window should then open and one of the choices will be that window.

You get the message: The operation can’t be completed because an item with the name “.DS_Store” already exists."  This is a pain in the butt, and I often get this message when I am trying to copy a folder to another hard drive.  Here are some solutions: 
a.  Choose the  original folder, right click and choose "Get Info," click on the lock at the bottom right of the Get Info window (enter your admin password), then choose "Read & Write" for everyone and all other users under Sharing and Permissions.   Then click on the tool wheel at the bottom and choose " apply to enclosed items" in the folder. This might take a long time as all files in the folder will be revised to allow all users to read and write to it.  

b.  I've seen another tip:  

Do you have your Finder preferences set to show all hidden files? Use Tinkertool to do show hidden files.  Remove the .DS_Store file that is causing the trouble.  I have not personally tried this solution yet.  Tinkertool is a free Mac utility that lets you see hidden files on your Mac.  Don't remove or mess with hidden files unless you are a fairly expert Mac user.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Weekly Series Part Seven: Shark Diving in San Diego

I spent two years as a graduate student in Applied Ocean Sciences at the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.  This was approximately 1988.  Macs were still in their infancy, but I had started with the original Mac in 1983 and used a Mac (SE?) while I was at Scripps.  I used Word 5.1a, which did everything I needed it to and which I wish were still around.  Lately I have been trying to find a way to convert all these Word 5.1a files, which I could convert to newer Word format files using Word X for the Mac.  With Mac's OS 10.7 and 10.8, which did away with the Rosetta emulator allowing Power-PC-based programs like MS Word X to work, I have lost the ability to open my old Word 5.1a files.  I am seeking someone who can write me an Applescript to open all those old Word 5.1a files on my last Snow Leopard machine.  Those files just need to be opened in Word X and then saved.

Back to the story.  I was not a very good graduate student.  The Applied Ocean Sciences program was for engineers interested in oceanography.  I had graduated from Stanford with degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering, which is why the faculty at Scripps were interested in having me attend the school (and become their slave).  But to be honest, I always knew that I was not that great an engineer.  I was fine at software stuff, and I had even spent a year as a software analyst in Silicon Valley after getting my masters degree in mechanical engineering (computer science specialty) at Stanford.  But I was just not that brilliant at doing stuff in the physical world, which is what Scripps oceanographers wanted.  I had come to Scripps already a serious underwater photographer, and I had had a portfolio and photographs published in those old, now-deceased, but great publications Sea Frontiers and Underwater USA.  Remember those magazines?

I had envisioned spending my time at Scripps by somehow combining my interest in underwater photography with oceanography.  Unfortunately, the reality of being a graduate student is that you need to find an adviser to fund you.  All advisors have their own specialties and interests -- and no one at Scripps was interested in what I wanted to do.  My first advisor wanted me to work on a gravity meter.  My second advisor was more interested in underwater optics than anything having to deal with marine natural history.  And I was unfortunately completely and totally fascinated by marine life rather than the physics of water. 

The field of marine biology is a tough one.  {It’s not as fun as it used to be, and there is little money available.}  One fellow student at Scripps finally received his doctorate, after eight years of hard work.  His job prospects are dim; every job he has applied for has had a minimum of 70 applicants, and as many as 200.  
Nowadays, many marine biologists seem less concerned with natural history than their predecessors were.  Scientists in the old days had many mysteries to solve.  Where did eels go to spawn?  Where did sea turtles spend the first two years of their life?  What exactly were these strange life forms trawled up from the deep?  Good science is no longer so simple.  Most marine labs have turned to biochemistry and other laboratory-oriented research -- research areas that can yield quick results and are good candidates for research funding.  Field biologists are few and far between, and their financial situations are often dire.  

In some ways, natural history photographers have taken over the role filled by old-time naturalists/scientists looking to represent and explain the big picture.  While a modern research scientist may be forced to spend months and years studying a very small issue, I have the luxury of presenting my work without the burden of proof he or she must bear.  The fact that I catch something on film makes it valid, and sometimes valuable.  

 I visited a man named Howard Hall, who lived in a suburb of San Diego.  He had written a book called Successful Underwater Photography, which was my Bible back then.  This was the first book that I had come across which explained how to take good underwater photographs with the equipment available those days.  It was a deceptively simple, very clear book -- and I am sure that dozens if not hundreds of underwater photographers got their start with that book.  Howard was just starting to think about doing a one-hour film on California's marine life; and he invited me to join him shark diving off the San Diego coast.  I immediately accepted, and had a great time when the day came, getting my first glimpse of wild sharks, and having a 6-foot mako shark pass me by very closely.  I was excited, thrilled.

The only problem was that the next day, I ran into my advisor at Scripps.  I had missed a meeting with him on the day of the shark dive and had completely forgotten about it.  When he asked why I had missed the meeting, I naively told him the truth -- that I had gone shark diving instead.  I innocently thought that he would be as thrilled as I was.  Of course he wasn't.   That was pretty much the end of my time at Scripps. 

I spent more time in San Diego, and I worked as an assistant diver on Howard Hall's film Seasons on the Sea, which went on to win all kinds of awards.  I spent many more days diving with the blue and mako sharks off the coast of San Diego.  Marty Snyderman and Bob Cranston had a business bringing divers on these shark dives, and I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along on some of them and get in the water to shoot once in a while.   (Thanks Marty and Bob!  Marty -- see, I am giving you credit for being the first San Diego shark diver guy.  Bob, I know you don't care about getting credit and just want to be in the water). 

One of my first-ever assignments was for an advertising agency who wanted me to photograph a menacing shark near a diver. 

After the shoot, I wrote an article for PDN -- Photo District News.  I probably have that article and the ad in the files somewhere and will post a scan here if and when I find it.  Here's the text to the article (which I found in my computer files as a Word 5.1a file -- thanks Word X and Snow Leopard!).
Reading this article brings me back to those old days.  I was just starting out as an underwater photographer, and I had a pretty high opinion of my photographic abilities back then.  It seems that all budding serious underwater photographers think that they are the bomb if they bring back a few decent images.  I have lost track of how many egotistical young divers have approached me armed with some underwater images that they call "abstract".  By taking these "abstract" images, they consider themselves "artists."

I have my own view.  I think that you are a technician, someone who might be able to take technically decent images that are in focus and have the correct exposure, as a serious beginner.  Some folks never get past being good technicians.  You see their photos all the time -- they love their own work, but it is missing that spark; it's usually a straightforward documentation of an animal.  Photographers who become serious will move beyond the technician stage, and by shooting more and more (and these days, shooting thousands of images on one subject) will usually get a few images that have that "spark" and which are special.  I'd venture to say that few photographers become true artists.  The artists are the experts who have mastered the technique -- it is second nature -- and know their subject matter so well that their best image blow your socks off.  They know their subjects, the environment, and their gear, and are able to produce mind-blowing images that say something about their subject or that moment in time.

Blue shark on a longline, off Baja Mexico.  The fishing of sharks, often only for their fins, can be incredibly wasteful.  Divers now rarely see blue sharks off the California coast, almost certainly due to overfishing of sharks.

Back to the story -- this was written in 1988 or so.  Those were the days of the Nikonos V camera, 36 shots per roll of film, plenty of sharks off San Diego,  Kodachrome 64 film,  "rush processing of film".  Some things never change.  As far as I can tell, BCs haven't really changed in 30 years.

The image from that shoot was published a bunch of times.  Here are a couple of covers.  

Swimming with Sharks
Photographing Sharks for a Medical Advertisement

When Ellen Walton at the Frank J. Corbett agency called me, I thought that this would be just another standard stock sale. She had learned of my work in marine wildlife photography through word-of-mouth after scouring through the submissions of several stock agencies which specialized in natural history material. Walton, however, was looking for a very specific type of photograph, and none of the submissions from the agencies quite fit the bill. She mentioned that she had to paid hundreds of dollars in research fees without finding a shot that would work. This was not surprising to me, considering her description of the desired image. Her agency wanted to use a shot of a photographer with a menacing, large shark, to serve as the centerpiece of an advertising campaign for OptiRay, a medical solution used in cardiac imaging technology. The slogan for the campaign was "There's Always a Safer Way to Get a Great Picture."

Ms. Walton requested stock images that might fit her criteria. I sent her a selection of my stock photographs of sharks and divers along with a note letting her know that I had the resources available to conduct a shoot specifically for this job. Living in San Diego, I had made the acquaintance of a group of divers who regularly took tourists out to see and photograph open-ocean blue sharks, a relatively common predator, and one of the few species which has been documented to attack man. Blue sharks are fairly predictable animals, and although they are certainly dangerous, they don't get quite large enough to crush a man in their jaws, and their teeth, although razor sharp, are short and stubby. In contrast, a mako shark has long, slender teeth. Mako sharks are not as common as blue sharks, and they are much harder to photograph than blue sharks. The difference in their teeth structure is crucial. Jeremiah Sullivan, a diver and photographer in San Diego, developed a working shark suit in the 1970’s, specifically to protect against attacks by blue sharks. Only four or five of these suits were ever made, with a cost of $6000 each. The suits are made of stainless steel links woven together electronically into a tight mesh. The mesh covers the diver's entire body and allows enough flexiblity to swim and move around in. The stainless steel mesh works by spreading the point of impact of a shark's tooth into a more generalized area. I've been bitten several times since first trying on the suit, and it really works! Even a large eight-foot shark can bite my arm with no blood or bruises afterward. A mako shark's teeth, in contrast with the blue shark's, would probably tear right through the steel mesh. No one has ever been attacked by a mako shark while wearing one of these suits, and this is where good judgment and experience in filming large animals comes into play.

The real danger of photographing sharks in this steel suit comes with its weight and restrictiveness. To find blue sharks, Bob Cranston, the captain of the boat that leads these popular excursions, pilots his boat twenty miles out into the open ocean. The bottom here is over two miles down, and a novice diver might easily become disoriented by the endless, bottomless, three-dimensional blue space all around him. Diving in the open ocean can be disorienting due to the three-dimensionality of the water. It is easy to go down very deep, very fast, without realizing it until it is too late. There are no visual clues to indicate where or how fast a diver might be sinking. The neoprene of a wetsuit compresses at depth, making a diver even heavier relative to the water around him, and so the deeper a diver sinks, the faster he may go. This is an exceedingly dangerous situation. Only experienced divers attempt blue-water diving in the open ocean. When Bob Cranston leads groups of tourist divers out on his trips, he always personally escorts them from the boat to the shark cage during a practice dive and during the actual shark dives to make sure that his clients do not fall victim to this disorientation. Add the weight and relative inflexibility of a shark suit to the inherent problems of blue-water diving, and small problems can quickly become dangerous situations. Divers use a piece of equipment to adjust their buoyancy in the water, which effectively acts as a parachute to keep them from sinking down too fast. This is called a buoyancy compensating device (BCD), and it is an adjustable volume air bag into which air is pumped to keep the diver neutrally buoyant. The shark suit itself weighs a good 20 pounds. However, the BCD is easily punctured by frenzied sharks, and a diver could easily find himself sinking out of control, down to the bottom two miles down, with a twenty pound, $6000 stainless steel anchor, impossible to take off underwater. This is the danger, and it is not a glorious prospect. We shark divers have learned to pay constant attention to our surroundings, our depth, and the location of our buddies. Ironically, as with most things in the ocean, it is not the sharks, but rather a diver’s carelessness that leads to dangerous situations.

Ellen Walton sent me a layout showing the type of image that she wanted for the ad. The shark was very large and menacing in the frame, with a mouth full of big, serrated teeth, and a photographer in a shark cage, very small in the frame. The shark looked much like the great white shark from Jaws, one of the most fearsome and awe-inspiring predators in the world. Unfortunately, white sharks are simply not found easily. Avid divers regularly pay $10,000 and upwards for the chance to see one of these animals. The money goes toward a week on a boat along with vast amounts of chum consisting of horsemeat, tuna, and assorted guts and blood of other animals. With all this expense, there is still no guarantee of seeing a great white shark. I would not be able to provide the great white shark for Frank J. Corbett for the day rate that we had agreed upon. One of the reasons I had landed the job was that my estimation of day rate, boat rental, shark cage and shark suit rental, bait, and other expenses was less than what the agency would have had to pay to combine two photographs of a shark and photographer in a Scitex computer . I made all of this clear to Ms. Walton before proceeding. Bob Cranston had his method for attracting blue sharks down cold; by hiring his boat, I was virtually guaranteed to be able to photograph blue sharks close enough to get the composition that I wanted. The biggest problem was that blue sharks hide their teeth until they feed! Like the creatures from the movie Alien, blue sharks have jaws that actually protrude out when the shark is biting. Until the moment of impact, however, the teeth and jaws are recessed. To get the composition that Frank J. Corbett wanted, I would have to be within inches of the shark.

The actual taking of the photograph was simple compared to the vast amount of work involved in getting to the open ocean site twenty miles offshore, unloading the shark cage, putting out a sea anchor (which keeps the boat from drifting away while you are chasing a shark around), and chumming the water with bait to attract the sharks. Bob Cranston, as my model and chief shark handler, was in charge of baiting the sharks into range and keeping an eye on my back. Another diver was in the shark cage, serving as a model and keeping an eye on Bob and me. Yet another person stayed on the boat at all times to keep watch for changing weather, keep the chum line going, fill tanks, and help us out of our suits.

For equipment, I chose a Nikonos V amphibious camera with an Ikelite Substrobe 150 flash. The Substrobe 150 is a large, powerful strobe with a very wide angle of coverage, more than enough to cover the 15mm wide-angle lens that I chose. To make the shark appear as large and threatening as possible, I knew that the shark's face needed to be as close to the lens as possible. The 15mm Nikonos lens is an exceedingly sharp lens specifically designed for use underwater. To make the shark appear large in relation to the diver, I tried to shoot only when Bob was a few feet behind the shark. The Nikonos is a 35mm camera system, and so I stayed with very fine-grain films, using both Fujichrome 50 and Kodachrome 64. Kodachrome 64 is my preferred film in such situations. Its high contrast works well in the diffuse light underwater, rendering subjects sharp and crisp. Fujichrome 50 is a better choice in greenish water, as color balance makes greenish water appear bluer and more appealing. The agency had planned to use the photograph in a number of sizes, one blown up to poster size for a tradeshow, and one as a full-page size ad in a number of medical magazines.

Although we were shooting in sunny California, light underwater is always at least two stops below light levels on the surface. Twenty miles offshore in the summer, fog usually prevails, and the day of the shoot was no exception. Light levels underwater were low, and so the higher speed of Kodachrome 64 was a help. To show the shark and diver in a background of blue water, it was necessary to use strobe light as fill, adjusting the strobe output to match or just barely fill in the colors and details of the subjects, while relying on ambient light to provide primary exposure. To provide the agency with a variety of lighting situations to choose from, I varied my strobe fills and primary exposures over a wide range of exposures. Over the course of the day, I shot about 300 exposures, or 8 rolls of film. Each roll of film was exhausting and time-consuming. To change film, I had to swim back to the boat, haul myself and 100 pounds of gear onto the boat, rinse the camera and strobe off with fresh water, and change the film. While shooting, Bob and I would swim with a shark, attempt to photogrpah a large, fast-moving shark in a natural position, with Bob attempting to both attract the shark to us, point it toward my direction, and then hold a pose as a photographer. After shooting a few exposures, we would both have to swim back over to the shark cage, which had been dragged by the wind and boat for twenty to thirty yards. Swimming in the shark suits while carrying large and bulky photographic gear was exhausting, and so we would have to hang onto the cage for a few minutes to rest and catch our breath. Working hard underwater causes you to breathe hard and forcefully, and many divers are familiar with how difficult it is to get enough oxygen into our lungs to feel rested again. Our air tanks were thus rapidly depleted, and changing tanks took yet another difficult swim back to the boat and a change of gear.

Ellen Walton wanted to see the film immediately, and so the Fujichrome film was processed the and shipped via overnight courier the next day. The Kodachrome took a day longer, and the agency ended up using a dark, moody shot of a diver and shark. Out of those 300 exposures, only one or two shots fit the bill exactly, so I felt lucky. But what is luck? I believe that you make your own luck, by shooting different compositions, exposures, and hedging your bets.

Fan Mail from Kids Always Brightens My Day

I've been trying to answer letters from kids these days.  It was hard to do back when I was writing and supplying lots of photographs for childrens' books.  I still have a filing cabinet full of letters that I hope to photograph one of these days. 

This is for all the adults who think that I am mean and crochety.  I can be if other adults get in my face.  But how mean can I really be if I've lived the past 25 years with Labrador retrievers and reply to letters from kids?  And if you are a mean adult person, then don't sue me (yes, this happened) if you get in my face and then get an equal reaction from me.  Kids, I like.  Adult a--holes, I don't like and there are too many of them these days. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Places To Eat and Things to Do in the Monterey Area

Here are some recommendations for places to eat and things to do in the Monterey area. 

I live in Pacific Grove, which is a small town between Monterey and Pebble Beach.  Carmel and the Big Sur Coast are just over the hill.  I’ve put these tips on things to do and places to eat for all the folks who ask me. 



Places to Eat: from dirt cheap to more expensive:

Michael’s Tacos: Country Club Gate Center (as of 5-2015 Michael's has moved up the hill to the shopping center that has Ace Hardware and the Bagel Bakery): Hole in the wall, very informal, but good shrimp and chicken tacos, very cheap.  A good choice if you just want some decent food.  This is a local’s hole-in-the-wall with zero (actually, negative) ambience but pretty dang good Cali-Mexican food.  I go here for lunch and dinner when the other places in Monterey are overrun by tourists.  It’s in a strip mall at the top of the hill above Pacific Grove.  Dirt cheap (almost free). 

RG Burgers: two locations, one in Carmel Crossroads shopping center and one near downtown Monterey.  The one at Carmel Crossroads is less crowded and a good stop after visiting Point Lobos or Carmel Beach, or before or after a drive to Big Sur.  Great beef and turkey burgers.  My favorite is the mushroom and swiss turkey burger. (Update 9-4-15: I've stopped going to RG Burgers.  The last two times were disappointing.  One of my pet peeves is that they advertise fresh sauteed mushrooms, but use canned mushrooms -- or at least mushrooms that have been stored in vinegar.  They ain't fresh!  However, their burgers are still pretty good. 

Gianni's Pizza: a long-time pizza place in New Monterey.  Always crowded.  Great for families.  Super loud with tons of kids running around.

Taqueria Zarape, Seaside:  great taco place, no ambience, inexpensive.  Great fish tacos and carne asada tacos. 

Hula's, New Monterey: Friends of mine just love this place.  I've only eaten there a couple of times and was not that impressed.  Sorry. 

The Fishwife on Asilomar (another location is in Seaside).  Seafood with a supposed Caribbean flair.  It's decent. The location in Pacific Grove is tucked away in the woods, steps from Asilomar Beach and Pebble Beach, and has a nice atmosphere.  Popular with tourists so make a reservation.  Medium expensive.

Peppers in downtown Pacific Grove.  A longtime favorite that serves Cali-Mex food.  This place has good food, but you have to order the right thing.  I've had some great food there and also have had some pretty bad dishes there.  The restaurant is always crowded, and the wood floors and walls make the place SUPER LOUD, uncomfortably loud for me (which is really saying a lot, since I am half-deaf).  Popular with tourists so make a reservation.  Low to Medium expensive.

More expensive:

Monterey’s Fish House: great seafood and meat.  Kind of a local’s secret.  The restaurant is located in a converted small house, in an industrial area,  between used car lots and body shops.  Good hearty food, no view.   Reservation absolutely necessary.   Prices have gone up so that my favorite, the squid pasta dish, has gone from $11 to $18.  Medium to high expensive. 

Alvarado Fish & Steak House: great seafood and meat place.  Sister restaurant to Monterey’s Fish House, same chefs and cooking but a slightly different menu.  As of June 1, 2014, Groupon had a coupon for this place.  Not as crowded, better downtown Monterey location, better ambience.  My favorite is the mussel pasta.  Medium to high expensive.  However, my wife does not like this place anywhere near as much as Monterey's Fish House. 

Cibo: Italian food, located in downtown Monterey.  Good locals menu.  The kind of place you'd go with your parents. Not bad.  Medium to high expensive.

Passionfish: the premier seafood place in the Monterey area, does all the right things (like sustainable seafood and a great wine list); on all the foodie lists for seafood.  I have never been there.  Expensive. 

Rocky Point Restaurant: If you want to eat a place that has a great view -- then this is the place.  Expensive.  

For breakfast:

First Awakenings in the American Tin Cannery Outlet Mall in Pacific Grove, very close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  A local favorite for breakfast and brunch.  Great skillet platters, omelets, good coffee, etc.  Low to medium expensive. 

Loulou's Griddle in the Middle: on Monterey's Wharf #2 (which is the first wharf you usually see, as opposed to Fisherman's Wharf).  Wharf #2 is a  real workingman's wharf, and this place is the front end.  I've heard great things about it but have yet to make it there.  It serves standard breakfast fare as well as dishes like calamari and eggs. 

Things to do:

These are mainly outdoor excursions. 

From late February through mid-May, the Mile of Flowers in Pacific Grove is stunning.  You can drive it, walk it, or bike along it. 

Driving the Big Sur coast from Carmel to Nepenthe or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is always stunning.  The waterfall falling onto the beach at JPB State Park is an award-winning photograph.  Just point your camera and take the shot.  Award winner. 

Drive on the Big Sur Coast to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and hike up the gorge to a beautiful swimming hole.  One of my favorite places and hikes of all time. 

Driving or biking 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach is a great ride.  Riding a bike is free. 

Rent a bike and bike the Pacific Grove Recreational Trail, which goes through PG all the way to Seaside and Fort Ord along the coast. 

Rent a kayak and perhaps a guide, or join a group, to see otters and other marine life in Monterey Bay or nearby  Elkhorn Slough.

Relax and reinvigorate at the nearly two dozen different thermal pools at The Refuge in Carmel Valley.  This place is awesome. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium hits everything but is expensive. 

Carmel Beach: this beautiful, fine white sand beach at the base of (overly) charming Carmel-By-The-Sea is a fine place to visit.  All friendly, well-behaved dogs are welcome and can be walked or run off-leash. 

Point Lobos State Park: The crown jewel of the California State Park system.  Stunning place to take a hike.

Monday, June 9, 2014

NEVER Ask PG&E To Do an Inspection, or Use the Words "Gas Leak"

I had one of those "the world is going to hell" experiences with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) last night.  This is the company that has such faulty records and maintenance of their gas pipelines, that their old, ill-maintained gas pipelines blew up an entire subdivision in San Bruno, CA, in 2010, killing eight people and leveling 38 houses.

A house nearby in Carmel exploded recently, on March 3, 2014, due to PG&E's faulty pipeline records.  "Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s faulty pipeline records, which the utility promised to fix after the deadly San Bruno disaster more than three years ago, are being blamed in a natural-gas explosion that destroyed a home last week in Carmel." bad-5316064.php

Well, PG&E is responding to these horrific accidents by being over-zealous, like most companies do when they screw up.  I remember flying on United to Japan in November 2011.  In the months after 9-11, airline passengers were treated like prisoners.  A flight attendant came by at 2am to make sure we prisoners all had our seat belt buckled correctly.  I was watching a movie with headphones, and grumbled when I finally understood why the flight attendant was flashing his light in my eyes and speaking something I could not hear.  The guy leaned into me and said, "If you want to get arrested, just keep it up."  Wow.  I was going to get arrested just for grumbling for being disturbed?

A few months later, I got upgraded to first class on another flight.  By then, United had realized that they were losing business by treating all of their passengers like prisoners.  So, like PG&E, they overcompensated.  The captain came out after takeoff and started shaking everyone's hands and introducing himself, saying "Thanks for flying United."  Really?  I just wish that these companies could keep things moderate, rather than letting their customer service pendulums swing so wildly, from zero customer service to overly gracious.

PG&E has overcompensated too.  My wife works during the days like most of us.  We had started to smell gas or some similar odor near our guest house when walking by.  She made the mistake of calling at 8pm on a Sunday night to try to schedule an inspection by PG&E.  She spoke to someone at PG&E, said that she'd like to schedule an inspection, and said the wrong thing -- "we smell gas and want to make sure that there is not a gas leak."

Whoa -- wrong words!  The PG&E representative said "We have to send someone over immediately."  My wife objected, saying she would like to schedule an inspection sometime reasonable, during the week and during the day.  Nope. PG&E forced themselves upon us, and at 9PM, we found ourselves having to deal with a PG&E guy in our house, turning off all our gas appliances and roaming around with some kind of gas sniffer.

I was upset, but then the guy started bragging about how he was making overtime pay at night, that he was making $90 per hour, and then he said that he would have to turn our gas off and that he had no idea how long it would take to finish the inspection.  We objected, strenuously, with this arrogant jerk in our kitchen at 9pm on a Sunday night.  We repeatedly asked that PG&E come back at a reasonable time during the work week.  Nope, he said.  He had to turn off our gas immediately.

At this point, I had enough.  I told the guy to get out of our house and off our property.  After a great deal of loud discussion, we both ended up calling the police.   More discussion with the police, and the guy finally agreed to get the heck off my property and to not turn off the gas.

This was unbelievable.  We were put in a position where, late at night, a company basically forcibly entered our home and threatened to shut off our utilities so we could not cook or have any hot water.  We were unable to ask this company to schedule a better time, even though we knew there was no danger.  The leak, if there was one, had been going on for days with no ill effect.  The company would not leave our property even though we repeatedly demanded them to.  Thankfully, the police in this instance was able to mediate between PG&E and ask the company to come back at a better time.

NEVER ask PG&E to do an inspection.  Get an independent contractor (a plumber) to test for leaks instead – it is worth paying him rather than dealing with horrific PG&E.  It should be OK to ask PG&E to come turn on your pilot lights in the fall if you need this. 

Avoid these words when speaking to any company: “gas leak” and “mold.”  By uttering the word “gas leak” you will trigger the situation above, where PG&E basically will invade your house and turn off your gas (hot water, range, etc) immediately for an hour and probably longer in even the most innocuous of situations. 

Never use the word "mold" if you are ever talking to an insurance agent about your house, a flood in your house, etc.  The word “mold” will instantly invalidate any insurance claim you have, since mold indicates an ongoing rather than an emergency condition. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Weekly Series Number Six: Favorite Images From My Career

Deep Sea Anglerfish: 



After my San Blas experience, I took courses in marine biology and eventually spent two years as a doctoral student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Photography took up more and more of my time.  I convinced my friend Spencer Yeh to spend two months with me, diving every day in the cold but astoundingly rich waters of Monterey Bay.  I took my first course in ichthyology and was fortunate enough to be exposed to the encyclopedic knowledge of Dr. Richard Rosenblatt, the curator of the Marine Vertebrate Collection at Scripps.  His course was filled with the details and observations of natural history that I had been looking for my whole life.

Here is one of my favorite -- and very widely published -- images from that period of my life.  The image shows a deep-sea anglerfish along with its bioluminescent fishing lure.  It was published on the cover of TIME magazine in 1995, which was a big deal at the time.  I've included an essay that I wrote about this and other images of deep-sea fishes below.   This particular image was published on dozens of magazine covers over the years, some of which I've included below also.

You can see the TIME magazine cover at:,16641,19950814,00.html

You learn to be patient on a boat that is trawling in the deep sea.  A huge net, as wide as the side of a barn, is lowered overboard from a 200-foot long steel-hulled research vessel.  The vessel may cost as much as $10,000 or more per day for the scientist whose grant is supporting the expedition.  It may take days to lower the net to the depth being studied, to collect enough material, and to raise the net.  After all of this work and after sifting out miles and miles of water, the contents of this huge net may yield only a few globs of protoplasm.  Jellyfish and soft-bodied animals are destroyed, as are most of the fish.  If you are lucky, perhaps a single deep-sea fish is still in good shape.  Only in extremely rare instances does something like an anglerfish couple come to light.

These fishes were netted on a series of research expeditions.  The photographs were taken as the fishes were brought up, in a shipboard tank, or later when they were preserved for the Marine Vertebrate Collection at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Very few fish were alive when photographed, and none were photographed in their natural habitat.  It is the temperature difference more than anything else that kills deep-sea fish as they are brought to the surface.  Although deep-sea fish experience an enormous change in pressure as they are brought to the surface, most don’t possess a swim bladder.  The expansion of the swim bladder, due to change in pressure, is the usual cause of death in fish brought up from shallower depths.  Most deep-sea fishes are surprisingly small, ranging in size from two inches to three feet.  Their bodies are light and oily, and their bones and teeth are brittle and flexible, the better to hover motionless in the water.

The bizarre and grotesque form of deep-sea fish were once thought to be extremely primitive.  However, the photographs of the cleared and stained specimens graphically illustrate the fact that these fish are highly advanced animals that evolved in upper surface waters and were forced out of their original habitat by competition from other species millions of years ago.  As they adapted to life in the deep ocean, these creatures evolved the many features characteristic of deep-sea fishes -- light organs; oily, soft bodies; tubular eyes; needle-sharp teeth; and huge mouths and stomachs.

The Deep-Sea Anglerfish

Creep from the Deep

Life in the upper 300 feet of the ocean is blessed with life- giving sunlight.  This rich, familiar top layer of our oceans is a thin cover to an enormously deep basin averaging two and a half miles in depth.  The other 98.5 percent of the oceans has only recently fallen underneath man’s gaze, through new robot and submersible technologies, and literally earth-shaking discoveries have been made through the exploration of the ocean depths.  The region of the deep ocean is the largest living space on earth, and its inhabitants have only recently been observed and described to science.  One of the more frightening-looking inhabitants is this six-inch long ceratioid anglerfish, Melanocetus johnsoni, which was trawled up from a depth of 3000 meters on a Scripps Institution of Oceanography cruise.  Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this fish is the fact that it is female, and twenty times the size of a male!

The Environment : Blackness, Cold, and High Pressures

At 300 feet down, the deepest scuba divers can go, there is barely enough sunlight for a plant to photosynthesize, or produce tissue from the energy of light.  At 3000 feet, sunlight has disappeared completely, and fishes swim in utter darkness.  At such great, dark depths, the water temperatures are generally a constant, low 4 degrees Centigrade.  Life in the deep sea has evolved numerous adaptations to deal with the darkness, lack of food, and high pressures of the abyss.

Food is scarce down there, and so fishes have developed many ways to make themselves neutrally buoyant, wasting little energy on trying to keep afloat.  The skeletons and vicious-looking teeth are flimsy, muscles are weakly developed, and eyes, brains, gills, and kidneys are often very small.  Neutrally buoyant, they are able to hover in the sea without undue effort, luring their prey rather than chasing it. 

Living Light

In the pitch darkness of water 1000 meters deep, fishes with elaborate light sources are abundant, and the pattern, designs, and probable functions of these light sources are a lesson in evolution.  These light sources may attract prey, signal mates, render the sender invisible, confound predators, and even serve as invisible light beams.  The pattern of light organs for a given fish distinguishes the species and may be used as recognition signs.

The fish down in these depths don’t get to eat very often, so they take full advantage of every chance they get.  Should a fish encounter a potential meal, it will likely eat it, regardless of the prey's size.  Many fishes have developed huge fangs, hinged mouths, and tremendously extensible stomachs to accommodate large prey.  Deep-sea anglerfish use "fishing poles," extensions of their dorsal fin, with luminous lures that are wriggled about to attract other fish.  If the winking lure attracts a gullible fish, squid, or prawn, the lure and prey can be drawn towards the large and powerful jaws, which bear long pointed teeth.  Large female ceratioids have been recorded taking prey two or three times their own length.  They may even have teeth in the back of their throats to keep prey from escaping as they are being swallowed.

Honey, I’m Home

Encountering a mate of your own species in these dark depths can be difficult indeed, and the question of how two compatible mates meet in the vastness of the deep ocean remains one of science’s big mysteries.  Ceratioid anglerfishes are extremely rare.  Scientists report catching an average of only one such anglerfish in two weeks of trawling.  The anglerfish has developed a strategy to guarantee that any meeting between sexes is fruitful.  When a male encounters a female of the same species, he will attach himself to her with his mouth, riding along.  Gradually the male becomes a parasite of the female; his mouth fuses to her body, and blood vessels actually form between the couple.  The male degenerates into nothing but gonads and a surrounding lump of tissue -- a permanent, portable sperm supply, about one-twentieth the size of the female

Dwarf males solve many problems, not the least of which is being there for the woman all the time, every time, all night, every night.  Not only is the energy budget of the population reduced, but there is less competition for food between the sexes.  Scientists term him “an obligatory sexual parasite,” and a “dwarf male parasite.”