Sunday, May 27, 2012


The telephone rang Sunday afternoon, and the caller ID said it was a cell phone in Pennsylvania.  I didn't recognize the number.  For just a moment, I considered not answering.  I was about to leave the house and had my camera bag in hand.  But I picked up the phone anyway.

"Hi, Ed, this is Patty."  My heart sank.  Patty is Karl's ex-wife, and the two of them are some of my oldest friends.  This call would not be good news.  Karl passed away on Friday after a long fight with lung disease.  He was a few years older than me.  He was one of those larger-than-life characters who lived to the maximum.  Loudly passionate about the people and causes he cared about, Karl spoke whatever was on his mind, holding little back.  We had intense arguments sometimes, but always as friends.

We first met over 40 years ago when I was a sophomore in college.  Karl rode his Triumph Bonneville back and forth between Pittsburgh and Clarion in order to visit his girlfriend.  The bike was a typical Triumph of the period, that is, notoriously unreliable.  It had recurring electrical and ignition problems, leaving him stranded on more than one occasion.  He traded it for a Ford Pinto, and we learned the intricacies of having a German-made engine in an American car, as well as a practical introduction to metric tooling.

We went camping and trout fishing.  Karl moved from Pittsburgh to Grove City and eventually settled into a tiny house near Jackson Center.  In the summer, we swam and fished in a pond across the road.  In the winter, I went cross-country skiing through the strip mines.  He met Patty and they were married in late fall.  I was married too, and while we didn't get together often, we were still close friends.

In the early eighties, both my marriage and my job fell to pieces.  I was emotionally and financially wrecked, less than a hundred dollars from being homeless.  Karl said there was a job opening where he worked and offered me a place to stay in an unheated bedroom at his farm house.  I was glad to have it.  I told Patty that it was the lowest point in my life, and that she and Karl helped me get through it.  That's a debt I'll never be able to repay in full.

Karl wasn't a saint.  He drank and smoked to excess, both leading to health problems later in life.  Even after his doctor told him to quit drinking and smoking, he continued for another two years.  His lungs were ravaged and he looked far older than his years, shuffling around the house while tethered to an oxygen generator the last time I visited.  Shortly later, he received a lung transplant and did better for a time, but his marriage came apart. 

Patty told me that he'd spent most of the last couple of years in the hospital and a nursing home.  I know he hated that.  Last week he had a series of strokes.  When the doctors told Patty there wasn't any hope, she and her daughter elected to turn off the respirator.  Karl was gone in a few minutes.

Losing a friend hurts.  We know it's inevitable, yet the emotional impact is no less painful.  We think there will be another chance to talk, another opportunity to sit at the table over a meal, or just spend some time together, but that may never happen.  When Karl and I last talked, we argued, and that's something I truly regret.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

This is weird!

I like fooling around with some of the software filters in the Olympus E-PL3, and this 'high dramatic tone' filter is a favorite.  It give a faux HDR look to the photos, almost a preview of what I can do with it in Zoner Photo Studio.  Lately, I've been taking pictures of things with lots of contrast or texture in order to experiment.  The shot above was taken with the software filter.

This is the result of running the above image through the Zoner software for HDR tone mapping.  Where did all that red come from?  It looks like a contour map of Mordor!  I can only describe it as an accident, but I can't decide if I like the result.  I took some shots along the shoreline of one of the ponds, and in those photos some of the plants are red!

For comparison, here's an unaltered JPEG taken from the original RAW file. 

Just for fun, here's a panorama from Centennial Park yesterday as some rain clouds rolled it.  This was a series of 50mm shots stitched together in Zoner.  Click through to see the original.  It's purdy.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Where do we go from here?

Storm Clouds over AA

Most of you know that I work for American Airlines in Tulsa.  AA applied for bankruptcy protection on November 29, 2011.  While my job is secure - for now - what the future may bring is more problematic.

My union, the Transport Workers Union, has been in contract negotiations with AA for about five years.  Airlines are governed by the Railway Labor Act in order to avoid service disruptions during negotiations.  Basically, it prevents the unions from walking off the job and it prevents the companies from locking them out.  And that introduces a far greater problem.  There's no incentive for an airline to come to an agreement since the union cannot strike and the National Labor Relations Board hasn't released a union to do so since before the Clinton administration.

We had our last 'negotiation' with AA in 2003.  The company offered terms and flatly stated that we could accept them or they'd declare bankruptcy.  It was like having a mugger hold a gun to your head and call it a negotiation.  I took a pay cut that totaled about 20%, lost vacation days and holidays, had reduced sick time, and more. My family took a direct hit that severely impacted our finances.  As soon as it was over, AA management began awarding themselves annual bonuses even as the company lost money.  That was salt in the wound.  Looking back, the real heyday of CycleDog was when I was riding to work regularly in order to save money.  Well, that, and trying to lose a ginormous belly.   

Presently, we're engaged in voting on a 'consensual' agreement that is only marginally better than the terms AA laid out before the bankruptcy judge.  One co-worker aptly described it is as the difference between a sh!t sandwich and a sh!t sandwich with mustard.  While it doesn't involve direct pay cuts, the increased amount we pay for medical insurance will have the same effect, and the meager pay increases of 1.5% will very likely be offset by medical costs as well.  Hundreds, possibly thousands, of AA workers will lose their jobs.

There's a lot of anger and frustration here driving people toward voting against this contract proposal.  I fully understand that, and in my darker moments, I can even embrace it.  But I have to protect my family as best I can.  I'll probably vote to accept this POS.

Even with this, it's not over.  The company may offer an early out incentive that initially appears tempting.  Qualified employees may receive about $40K to leave.  They'd give up all seniority and recall rights.  But here's the kicker - AA is trying to get rid of retiree medical benefits too.  I've been pre-funding that since I hired in back in 1987.  It was supposed to cover the time between retirement and my eventual Medicare, but if it's removed, I simply cannot afford to retire early and pay for medical coverage too.  It would be the equivalent of a 75% pay cut, and that's not enough to live on right now.

So if the job doesn't go away, I may turn into one of those old farts we describe as retired-in-place.  Don't misunderstand me.  I actually like my job and I'm very good at it, but it's the rest of the BS that goes along with it that is really annoying.  Who knows?  I may be back on the bike riding to work again in the near future.