Tag Archives: snow

Chilled to the Bone

Frozen evergreens in Bavaria

The temperature here is approaching record lows for the day and the media is stirring up the panic about freezing pipes and school closings and traffic snarls. Makes one miss the days when the weather report said “it’s going to snow tomorrow and temps will stay below freezing throughout the week. When we come back from the break, Joe Smith will have the latest sports scores.” Instead, we get sensationalized reports designed to evoke fear. Ah the good old days. It doesn’t help matters when the power company does rolling blackouts because they say the power drain is too great (which is a complete fabrication since Texas has the most robust power grid in the country).

I have lived in Houston since 1977 (aside from 9 years in the army and 6 years in Arkansas) and I have seen all kinds of weather from hot to hotter. I have always said that Houston has a 9-month summer, a 2-month spring, a 3-week autumn and a 5-day winter. Even in that 5-day winter, it has gotten bitter cold at times; there has even been snowfall. Usually once every seven years, about a half-inch of snow might accumulate—not enough for a snowman, but good enough for a short snowball fight.

Perhaps that is why I love travelling where snow falls. Last month, I spent four days in Philadelphia where I got to enjoy snow and, a few years ago, I was in Chicago for the first snowfall of the season and on occasion, I can manage to be in Little Rock when its annual snow fall happens. This is not to say I can’t handle the heat, quite the contrary, I have been a Houstonian long enough to acclimate to almost any climate. I went to Las Vegas in the heat of July (and it’s a dry heat that will suck the moisture out of you real quick) and I have been buried in the snow in sub-zero temperatures in Germany.

When I was in the army, I was a medic in an infantry battalion and my job was to provide medical coverage for training exercises. One time I was covering a night fire exercise in my two-and-a-half-ton (deuce-n-half) truck after installing a cab heater. Only medical trucks got to have cab heaters so our IV fluids (and our butts) wouldn’t freeze. It was scheduled to get to 20 below that night and the platoon leader had taken the necessary precautions with a warm up tent for the troops and other steps to prevent cold-weather injuries (except, of course the most obvious one which was to cancel the fool exercise and go home). After I had been sitting in the cab with the heater going and reading my book (there wasn’t much else for the medic to do if no one was hurt) someone came up to the truck. I opened the door and stepped down to the running board. In just that amount of time, the moisture in the fabric of my trousers froze so that they frosted and crackled as I stepped down to the ground. It was so cold that a cup of water thrown into the air would freeze before hitting the ground.

Another time, I was covering a field training exercise and I was in a squad tent with 6 soldiers when the snow began. As a medic, I had a thermal blanket in my medical kit that I wrapped up in inside of my sleeping bag which kept me toasty warm that night. It was so cold that night that the diesel fuel in the stove froze. The next morning, we literally had to dig our way out of the snow. Only the very tip of our tent was visible sticking out of this huge mound of white powder.

I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I would probably get tired of snow if I lived somewhere that dealt with large amounts of the stuff on a regular basis, but speaking as a Houstonian, I just love snow. Give me more snow. Bring it on! But please don’t turn off the power when it happens. It’s just cold weather. It happens every year. There is no need to panic about it so just chill out.

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Picture Perfect

With the recent snow, I noticed something that I had been thinking about for some time. Pictures are being taken left and right these days by everyone. I was taking pics of the snowstorm at lunch Friday and this couple came out of the restaurant I had just left and both pulled out cameras and started taking pictures too. The guy had a camera phone (I think it was an iPhone) and the lady pulled out a small digital camera. It seems everyone has a camera these days.

As a photo hobbyist, I tend to take a lot of pictures (some may say too many) and I appreciate others pictures as well. I have a very nice Nikon D-80 with which I do my serious photography. I also use a Canon Powershot A40 and I even shoot film on a Canon EOS Rebel G. I even have a vintage Canon AE-1 Program that I shoot as well. In case you can’t tell, I like Canon. I got the Nikon because it uses SD instead of CF memory (and because my wife wanted a Nikon).

Even though I shoot film occasionally, I do not get prints when I get the film developed. I opt for the photo CD and print the pics I want on my photo printer at home. It’s cheaper and gives me more control and less prints to file away (and trust me, there is little more annoying that boxes of pictures that have never been indexed or put into albums gathering dust in a cabinet or closet somewhere). I still have several old prints to scan so they will be available and indexed in digital format. Every image I have shot is now digital. It makes things easier.

With the advent of digital photography several things happened. One, you no longer have to worry about the expense of developing all of your pictures. You can pick and choose which ones you really want to have printed and discard the rest. Two: you no longer have to worry about running out of film—at least not in the traditional sense. In the old days—and younguns you may not understand this—you only had between 12 and 36 exposures (old-time term for picture on film) per roll of film. If you ran out of film, you stopped taking pictures, so you really had to pick and choose your shots and take great pains to make sure it was right. Worse still was that you couldn’t know if it was a good picture until the film got developed—which back in the day could take a week or more, so you took pains to make sure the lighting was right and it was in focus. Three: pictures look a lot better now with the improved optics and resolution. Four: the price of the equipment plummeted so anyone can get a camera.

Photographers used to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on cameras, lenses, flashes, tripods, meters, lighting equipment etc to take their pictures. Those who wanted to take snapshots of their vacations still paid a pretty penny for the camera and the film and the processing. Only the “good” shots got taken and most people only had one camera. Then Polaroid made instant photography and more people got cameras, but they were still relatively expensive. Even the cheap plastic 110 film camera couldn’t become “must-have” technology, despite a huge marketing campaign. Film and processing were still price hurdles most people didn’t want to make.

But with Digital, well, now we’re talking. Since the price of electronics fell into the basement, a digital camera can be had for as little as five bucks. Even a 10-year-old can get his hands on five bucks—and they do, trust me. They only thing you need besides the camera is a computer with which to view and/or print the pics—and you don’t really even need that. Most printers now can print straight off the memory card or even right off the camera itself. So, cameras are dirt cheap, memory is dirt cheap and prints are cheap. Now—the camera is must-have technology.

I credit the cell phone for it really. When cell phone started featuring cameras, many people at first thought “why do I need a camera on my phone?” But they quickly started using it. Even though the picture quality was terrible (even worse that the pictures those old plastic 110 film cameras took) people took pics. With today’s phones, the image quality is better than even the average hobbyist might have taken back in the day with a nice camera. Couple that with the price of dedicated digital cameras and it is even more accessible. Camera phones have come a long way since Sprint introduced it back in 2000, but a dedicated camera still has better optics and better image resolution.

Kids all seem to have either a camera-phone or a digital camera with them at school. Social networking sites are loaded with pictures kids take with their phones. The internet is crammed full of pictures. In fact, there are too many pictures. Since there is no more issues with developing and printing costs, people just snap away. With the availability of cheap huge-capacity memory, no one ever seems to run out of space. Some people use SD memory like a film package. They take the pictures until the card is full, then the file the card away and buy a new one.

The sad part is that since there is no real expense to take a picture now, people take photo after photo after photo. Sometimes, they don’t even try to figure out the lighting, they just snap away until they get one that they like—and then they don’t delete the bad ones. They just post all of them. Have you ever seen some of these Facebook albums? I know they are your friends. Heck, they’re my friends too; but some of them are loaded with hundreds of pictures of the same blurry or washed out or dark thing. Come on, people. Pick the good ones and delete the rest.

But do continue clicking away. Photography is capturing a bit of history that—someday—you will want to look at again. Just be careful what you shoot. Some things no one wants to see.

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When Houston freezes over…

And the snow fell. The news had been predicting it all week, but their record being what it is, no one really believed it would. It was too early in the season and it was too warm. Even if it did manage to produce a flake or two, it would melt immediately, because it was not cold enough to accumulate. But snow it did.

The morning saw nothing but the cold air as I drove to work. I had to go in early, so the traffic was lighter than usual for my commute. After I left my meeting, I passed a window and noticed the parking lot was wet, but there were no flakes falling. I went to my cubicle and started working and heard others entering the office and mentioning how it was snowing. Well, not wanting to miss the first snow since 2004, I ran outside and saw…nothing but rain. Are people so enamored with the idea of snow that they confuse old fashioned rain as a snow?

Back at my desk, I ignored the next few comments I heard, but then, after I had been there for about 20 minutes I heard someone mention that it was coming down pretty good. So I checked again. This time I did see snow. One snowflake fell amid the rain. I even stood there for a couple of minutes just to see if it would crank up a little, but nothing. On Facebook, my friends were all commenting on how much it was snowing in the part of the city they were in. I was jealous.

Later, about 10 or so, I saw someone walk in with obvious snow all over their jacket so I looked outside and there it was. Real snow falling in big flakes. As I worked I kept looking out the window to see if it had stopped, and it did for a while. But then it started up again with a vengeance. I tried to take a picture of it. Did you know it is almost impossible to get a good picture of falling snow with a camera phone? When lunchtime came around, a coworker and I decided to go to eat and the snow was falling heavy then. It was snowing so hard, that the grass was actually catching and holding the snow. It accumulated on cars and trucks and pretty much everything but the road (which is a good thing since no one in Houston knows how to drive in snow).

After lunch I even enjoyed a snowball fight and saw a miniature snowman sitting on a bench. Sadly, the snow stopped falling around 3:00 and the sun eveThe Snowmann came out which pretty much finished off the snow that had managed to stick. On the way home, I noticed several people sledding down a hill—an activity alien to this city—on the remnants of the snow. The traffic was non-existent. Rush hour looked like late night as far as traffic was concerned. I suppose a lot of people took off work early to avoid driving in the snow during rush hour. I’ll wager my commute was better than theirs. My wife, a school teacher, did not get to take a snow day much to her kid’s dismay. The first snow in 5 years and the students all were trapped in class.

So the snow is gone now. The cold is still here, though, and there is a freeze warning in place for the area tonight. The heater is on and the blankets are on the bed, so we are prepared to snuggle down and enjoy the early taste of winter. It helps get us in the Christmas mood. The sad thing is that it is unlikely in the extreme to snow again this year (or the next 4 or 5 for that matter) but at least we did get to have some to kick off the Christmas season.

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