All posts by Tom Dills

Postcard From Selma, Alabama

The Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River in Selma, Alabama

We made it to Columbus, GA on Sunday night, our first night out, and traveled today to Ruston, LA.  On our way we realized we were passing through Selma, AL and decided to stop at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the Selma Interpretive Center.  We also walked around town a bit and stopped by the Brown Chapel AME Church.  I’ll refrain from additional commentary for now but it was quite the moving experience.

A Quick Visit to Southport, NC

Sunset over the harbor in Southport, North Carolina

Kathy & I made our return trip to Southport, NC this past Thursday & Friday to get our second round of the Covid vaccine.  Kathy fared pretty well (so far) but it really kicked my butt.  Not unusual I suppose, but I had been very optimistic that my experience would be a non-event.  Not so.

Fishing trawler “Cape Point” in the marina at Southport, North Carolina

The weather this time was conducive to spending time in town and having dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants there.  We spent a little time walking around after dinner before finally needing to escape what I can only imagine were sand fleas.  Pesky little buggers who like to get in your hair and other places you don’t want bugs.  Yuck!

Rickety dock in the harbor in Southport, North Carolina

We depart on Sunday for our latest road trip – a journey to the Southwest through Texas, southern New Mexico & Arizona with a return via parts of Route 66.  We should be gone about 3 weeks and I’ll likely be posting my “postcards” as we go.

American Fish Company restaurant on the waterfront in Southport, North Carolina
Container ship transiting the Cape Fear River enroute to the Atlantic Ocean from Wilmington, North Carolina
Homes along the waterfront in Southport, North Carolina
Fishing pier in Southport, North Carolina
Downtown Southport, North Carolina

Lens Insecurity?

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

Years ago I was at a photo seminar, and the presenter – either John Shaw, Tony Sweet or Bob Krist (I think it was Bob but it was a long time ago) mentioned that he thought we were looking at our digital files too closely.  He referred to the fact that in the film days, looking at our negatives or slides under a loupe only gave us about a 10-25% zoom factor, and that if it looked sharp under a loupe it was probably sharp enough.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

I’ve always heard (and practiced) that sharpness with digital files is best evaluated at 100%.  That was especially true back in the days of Unsharp Mask in Photoshop.  But now that we have newer, higher-resolution sensors, I’m not sure that needs to be the case any more.  Once in a while I look at my photos think that they don’t look as crispy sharp as they should.  Is it the lens?  Is it my technique?  Is my new whiz-bang camera a piece of junk? Is it my eyes?  Am I looking too close?  But the finished digital files and prints come out consistently good, so it hasn’t been too big of a worry.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

A couple of weeks ago I was aimlessly wandering through my Lightroom catalog and looked at some of my recent photos taken with the Fujinon 16-80 f4.  Although I’ve been consistently pleased with the lens since I got it, I convinced myself that some of them looked a little soft, especially at the edges and the corners, and I wondered about the lens.  So I went back and sorted my photos by camera and lens, looking at photos I’ve taken with some of my older lenses including my primes, and found that they all look really good but all about the same.  The primes are more consistently sharp, but that is to be expected.  That is a good reminder to use my primes more!

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

I often reminisce about the Fujinon 18-55 f2.8-4 that I sold to my son along with my old camera bodies, referring to it as “the lens that made me decide to go with Fuji” when I moved away from Canon gear.  He graciously agreed to lend it to me for a week or two, so I have been using it to take some walking-around-the neighborhood photos.  But you know, as good as it is, it isn’t significantly “better” than the other lenses I own.  I do love the more compact size, as it is closer to a prime weight-wise.  But it isn’t significantly better image-wise.  But then I remembered that old saying and decided to back the zoom off to 50%.  Lo and behold, they all look pretty darned good!  So I’m wondering – am I looking too close?

In case anyone wonders, I wrote off the 16-55 2.8 years ago as being too heavy and too expensive, regardless of how highly rated it is.  It would be defeating the purpose of downsizing from the heavy Canon gear.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

Another thought I had was about monitor resolution.  I’m using a good but old ASUS Pro Art monitor that I’ve had for about 8 years.  It’s nothing fancy, especially compared with the newer 4K and 5K monitors out these days.  Is it possible that my monitor is not able to sufficiently resolve the files, or that a newer better monitor would show that detail better?  Or would I be just as perplexed as I am now but several hundred dollars (or more) poorer?  It’s new territory for me, but if anyone has insight I’d love to hear it.

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

In the mean time, I’ll keep my zoom at 50% and be glad that the finished output still looks excellent!

These photos, by the way, were all taken with the 18-55 and in-camera JPEGs with the stock Fuji Velvia profile.  No adjustments in Lightroom other than output sharpening.  For whatever that’s worth!

Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens
Testing my old Fujinon 18-55 Lens

Shadows, Lines and Angles

Lamp Post – St. Augustine, Florida

I finally finished up processing photos from our recent Florida trip.  I didn’t have an interesting story to go with them but they are pretty interesting on their own.

Lake Placid, Florida
Historic Downtown Parking Facility – St. Augustine, Florida
Historic Downtown Parking Facility – St. Augustine, Florida
Tiles – St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos Fort in St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos Fort in St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos Fort in St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos Fort in St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos Fort in St. Augustine, Florida

A North Carolina Ghost Town

Abandoned looking downtown in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

We were only gone from home for a little over 24 hours, but I came back with a number of stories.  This is the last one from our vaccine quest.

Abandoned looking downtown in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

On our way home from Southport, we decided to stop for lunch in Whiteville, a town just off the main route.  The Chef & The Frog, by the way, was excellent.  On our way there we passed through the town of Fair Bluff.  I had seen a billboard promoting their “Depot Museum” and wanted to stop.  As we entered the town it was clear that the place was nearly deserted.  The main street was almost completely devoid of shops.  A former car dealership sat empty with parts of the building on the verge of collapse.  Directly across the street was a building marked as being the Municipal Building, but it was boarded up and silent.  Urns along the sidewalks contained plants that appeared to be reasonably well cared for, or as well as could be expected for late winter.  Farther up the street a gas station was open, and a pizza shop showed signs of life.

Former car dealership in Fair Bluff, North Carolina
Abandoned looking downtown in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

So what happened here, I wondered?  As it turns out, Wikipedia summarizes the events leading up to the situation we came across:

“In 1999, Fair Bluff experienced a 1-in-100 year flood event.

In 2012, the Police Chief of Fair Bluff Marty Lewis was arrested, tried and convicted for selling and delivering oxycodone and possession with the intent to sell and conspiracy to traffic while acting as police chief. He was sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison and fined $100,000. On April 9, 2015 Marty Lewis filled an appeal of his case. On November 3, 2015 the verdict was unanimously affirmed by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, leaving in place the 90 to 117 month prison sentence originally imposed. Lewis will not be eligible for parole before November 2022.

In 2016, the town was devastated by flooding on the Lumber River caused by Hurricane Matthew, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of residents. As of June 2018 the rebuilding effort was still underway but several hundred residents who had fled rising floodwaters never returned and a number of businesses remained shuttered.

In September 2018 Fair Bluff was flooded again by the impact of Hurricane Florence, again forcing evacuations and leaving the downtown area under water again, and devastating the town for the third time in under 20 years. After Florence, many buildings in the downtown area of the town lay abandoned, with no plans to reoccupy or fix the buildings.

The population was 951 at the 2010 census but is believed to be lower following the two disasters, some estimates going as low as 450 people.”

Old building that appears to have possibly been a railroad building in Fair Bluff, North Carolina
Old building that appears to have possibly been a railroad building in Fair Bluff, North Carolina

That pretty much explains it – a town with a troubled past and cloudy future.  But they do have a very nice train station.

Train station in Fair Bluff, North Carolina now used as a museum
Train station in Fair Bluff, North Carolina now used as a museum

New Shoe Syndrome and Other Thoughts on the Vaccine

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

I’ve gotten a few questions about our experience with scheduling and actually getting the vaccine, and thought it might be helpful to share a few thoughts.

The Process: I’ve mentioned previously how frustrating the registration process is for many of the county and health agency websites.  Kathy & I are fortunate to be registered with the two major health providers in our area, so we were able to use our login credentials to access those sites, which likely led to a slightly better experience.  We ended up with the Moderna Vaccine through Novant Health.

We were fortunate to find any locations at all on the very first morning of our eligibility.  The fact that the one we found was 200 miles away was no big deal for us.  We have the flexibility to go wherever we need to, and it was easy for us to make the trip.

The vaccination  site was in the parking area of a community college near Wilmington, NC.  The approach was well marked, there were National Guard personnel directing traffic into several lines, checking to confirm appointments and providing forms for completion.  The one glitch was that we had pre-filled everything online, but they still had us manually complete paperwork with the same information.  Taking the paperwork pre-filled and printed would not have helped.

We arrived at about 10:40 for an 11:00 appointment, and although the lines looked long, we queued up and were directed to the actual vaccination line promptly at 11:00 (not due to any process on their part, it just happened to work out).  We sat in our car until someone came around, asked us a few more questions, explained the process and handed us each a card with confirmation of our follow up appointments for the same time and day of the week in four weeks.  Shortly thereafter two nurses came up with the vaccine, plunked each of us in the arm, wrote the time on a paper stuck to the windshield, and told us that after the prescribed waiting time we would be released.  We rolled out of the parking lot at 11:30.

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

The Vaccine: Did we have any concerns about getting the vaccine? None.  We feel strongly that the vaccines have been adequately tested, we trust in the scientific validity of the data and believe that getting the vaccine has a much lower level of risk than not getting it.  Everyone makes their own choice, but we feel that in order to do the kind of travel we want to do, more states, countries and companies will require a vaccination than not and we don’t want to be left out when the time comes.

Train station in Rowland, North Carolina

Side Effects: None really, but it surprises me how hyper-aware we become when we’re looking for something.  I call it “new shoe syndrome” because of how when we buy a new pair of shoes we spend days paying attention to every little twinge or pinch.  We recently bought new tires for the car, and for the first few drives I paid close attention to the sound, feel and ride.  After a while you forget about it.  We stopped at a restaurant for lunch, and while there a guy came in wearing a really strong cologne.  Strong odors like cologne and smelly air fresheners always bother me, so when my throat got a little scratchy I wrote it off.  No big deal.  Our arms hurt for a few days, especially while we slept.  But my left hip is often sore anyway, and since I got my shot in my left arm, I just spent more time on my right side!

Dilapidated building near the train station in Rowland, North Carolina

Eligibility: We’ve read about people gaming the system by falsely answering the questions, crossing state lines to states with more favorable rules or otherwise getting the shot before they should have.  Kathy & I waited for our group to be called, answered all the questions truthfully and lucked into an early appointment.  Could we have waited?  Sure, but why?  Everyone who wants a shot will eventually be able to get one, so it really doesn’t matter when we go.  Could we have gotten an appointment closer to home?  Perhaps, but once we got our appointments I stopped looking.  I read somewhere about local appointments now booking out into May or June, but it doesn’t matter any more.  The owner of the restaurant we had lunch at told us that someone called him the other afternoon to say that they had 15 Johnson & Johnson shots that were going to expire at the end of the day and to send along anyone who needed them.  That happens too, you never know.

I don’t really have a lot to add.  If anyone has questions I’ll be happy to answer them as comments or emails.  Ultimately everyone is going to make their own decision and have their own experience, but I’ll help where I can.

The Photos: These photos are from the town of Rowland, NC which is on the NC side of the NC/SC line near South of the Border.  They are in-camera JPEGs taken using the Kodachrome 64 recipe from Fuji X Weekly.  The conditions were less than ideal for Kodachrome and look a little warm/brown for my taste, but I’m not sure I got the white balance right.  I’ll try them again under sunny skies and see how they look.  I also shot in RAW and will process those my usual way for comparison.  It’s an interesting look and I’ve been enjoying playing with them.

An I-95 Landmark: South Of The Border

The 104-foot tall “Pedro” welcomes visitors to South of the Border, a tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. Pedro contains 4 miles of wiring, weighs 77 tons and is said to be the largest neon sign east of the Mississippi.

Anyone who has traveled I-95 up or down the east coast has seen them.  Endless billboards, counting down the miles to Pedro’s Place – South Of The Border at the NC/SC line.  Sayings that these days might trouble the Easily Offended, but meant and usually taken in good fun.

YOU NEVER SAUSAGE A PLACE!

(YOU’RE ALWAYS A WEINER AT PEDRO’S!)

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border

Growing up in western Pennsylvania, my family vacationed in the mountains of North Carolina, where my dad was from.  On the one occasion I can remember when we went to the Outer Banks, we drove across North Carolina to the coast.  I don’t remember how we got back, but we never went that far south.

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. The Sombrero Observation Tower is over 200 feet high and its glass elevator gives riders a full view of South of the Border’s grounds as it glides to the top.

Kathy’s family, on the other hand, made an annual summer vacation trek to Florida from Ohio.  Back in the 60s, there was no I-77, or at least it didn’t go as far as it does now, so the preferred route was the PA Turnpike to somewhere in eastern PA, probably Breezewood, then over to I-95 to Florida.

So imagine, riding down I-95, July in North Carolina, 3 kids in the back seat of a Volkswagen Somethingorother with no air conditioning, Day 2 of a 3-day adventure, tired, hungry and bored.  Those signs looked like an oasis to a person dying of thirst in the desert.  The closer they got, coming from either direction, the higher the hopes.  Seeing the signs for miles and miles, until as the border approached, the Sombrero-topped observation tower and the 100+ foot tall Pedro statue loomed on the horizon.  Three kids silently willing dad to take the exit.  But he drives on by, hopes dashed for another year.

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border

So on our trip out to Bolivia, NC this past week, Kathy realized a lifelong dream – I took her to South Of The Border! 🙂  And it was about what we expected.  We had an average lunch served by an enthusiastic but largely ineffective waitress, prepared by what I imagined to be a single moody cook, preparing each meal in the order in which it was received.  The interior of The Sombrero Room Restaurant, while clean and cozy, looked like it might have been salvaged from a former Chi-Chi’s.  We didn’t go into any of the shops, but they looked to be filled with the kinds of things we call “mommy-can-I-gets,” to tempt gullible kids (and their parents) into leaving some of their money behind for Pedro’s safekeeping.

South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. The Sombrero Observation Tower is over 200 feet high and its glass elevator gives riders a full view of South of the Border’s grounds as it glides to the top.
South of the Border tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border

The place evidently attracts a crowd during peak tourism season – it’s been in business and growing steadily for 70 years.  There is something for everyone – a gas station, truck stop, motel, two restaurants, a convenience store (actually two), a campground and more shops than I can count.  Not to mention the observation tower and 100 foot Pedro!  But on this grey chilly Thursday in March there appeared to be more employees than guests.  It’s certainly attractive – clean and colorful and large enough to make it impossible to miss and almost as impossible to ignore.  I’m sure many strong-willed dads continue to resist the pull of the place, but many more likely succumb to the wishes and requests of their passengers.

The 104-foot tall “Pedro” welcomes visitors to South of the Border, a tourist attraction along I-95 at the SC-NC border. Pedro contains 4 miles of wiring, weights 77 tons and is said to be the largest neon sign east of the Mississippi.