Monday, December 31, 2007

The Last Day Of The Year

What do you do on the last day of the year?

Some folks go out on New Year's Eve to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Others stay home and watch Dick Clark do that for them. What do you do?

I don't have any real plans for New Year's Eve. Every year, I just "play it by ear." Often my family will gather at one of my in-law's home during New Year's Day. But this year, nothing has been planned, at least not yet.

At the end of the year, I do often look back to see what I've done for the year. This year has really "flown by" for me. I can't believe how quickly 2007 has gone by. I was busy with weddings as usual, but not much else has happened for the year.

The typical things were purchased for the year: a new car, new camera gear, lots of guitars came in and out of my home (I buy and sell these a lot it seems!) But nothing really stands out for 2007.

So what's in store for 2008? I'm not sure. A Nikon D300 has already been purchased for the 2008 wedding season. It will supplement the two Fuji S5 cameras. I don't expect to buy another new car in 2008, but you can never tell! My wife's car is starting to go and we are hoping to stretch it out another year, but you can never tell when these things require immediate attention! As for guitars? I'm rather satisfied with my Epiphone and Goodall guitars right now. But again, you can never tell...

Bookings for 2008 continue to keep coming in. That's a good thing. Many of these are referrals and that's great! But I'd like to see some more "new" clients too from the internet. Besides word-of-mouth advertising, the internet is where I find most of my new clients. It's also a challenge to get new brides to meet with me because they have absolutely no idea if I'm a good photographer or a bad one. Referrals often know my background already because their friends or relatives have told them all about me. But new clients don't have a clue at all about me. So gaining them as clients is always a big "victory" for me! I am always excited when a new client comes to me from out of the blue and books me!

Here's wishing you all a Happy and Prosperous 2008!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

"What Kind of Photography Blog Is This Anyway?!"

Many of you may be wondering why I write about more than just photography. After all, many other photographers have blogs and all you see are samples of their work. Week after week, you see what they've shot at weddings and other assignments. It gets them more work when potential clients see how popular they are as photographers and can see the kind of work they do. So why? Why in the world would a wedding photographer write and post photos about things like Guitars and other non-photography related topics?

Well, I figure it this way... I've been shooting weddings a long time. A lot longer than perhaps many of my competition out there. I started in 1990. So next year, I'm entering the 18th year since photographing my first wedding. After so many years, I've come to learn that what sells my clients on my work is not just my work. It's also my personality and how I approach weddings and work with my clients. Sometimes it's just how I approach life too!

Often clients have said, "Wow, Russ... you are so laid back when it comes to weddings. You don't seem to worry about anything when you were working at our wedding." You know what? It's pretty much true. I don't really worry as much as other photographers. Maybe that's just because I've encountered so many kinds of things at weddings that it just doesn't phase me anymore. But it could also be that I'm comfortable at weddings. It's a natural thing for me now.

The same thing can be said about how I approach my blog. I'm comfortable with my work and don't rely on just my blog to get me business. Sure, it's good to see some of my work here, but I think it's also important for my potential clients to see what else drives me. I have other interests besides photography too.

Guitars and playing guitars is up on the top of the list for my recreational activities. I've been playing guitars since I was 10. That's a long time! And, my enthusiasm about guitars and music is still very high. I just plain like it! So it's natural for me to talk about what I like to do.

Forensics is another topic I like because I used to do that type of work. It's just a part of me. So why wouldn't I want to share that as well?

So while my fellow photographers show you their latest weddings, you'll get to see other things here. Sure, I'll post about weddings and I'll talk about photography. After all, I like this too! But don't be surprised to see me talking about other things I like as well. It gives you a better picture about me and what drives me.

Of course, you could say that music and guitars are also creative outlets. I think maybe that's why so many photographers like music and play instruments as well. Or perhaps they are artists. It's just a natural creative outlet for people like us.

So there you have it. Expect to see posts about more than just weddings and photography. It's just the way it is! And don't worry, I'll post a picture or two of SOMETHING as well. :)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Epiphone AJ-500R After Years of Owning Taylor Guitars!

If you have followed my years of buying and selling Taylor guitars, you know I've gone through a LOT of guitars!

Not counting other brands... here are just the Taylors I've owned so far:

2003 Taylor 414rce
2006 Taylor 614ce
2006 Taylor GSMSe
2003 Taylor 314ce-L4
2006 Taylor DDSM
2006 Taylor 110 with K&K Pure Western Mini Pickup
2007 Taylor DN3 with K&K Pure Western Mini Pickup
2007 Taylor GS8e (with Cutaway)
2006 Taylor GSMC with K&K Pure Western Mini Pickup
2006 R. Taylor – Style 1 – Engelmann Spruce / East Indian Rosewood with K&K Pure Western Mini Pickup

So after playing all these fine guitars, always looking for the best sound and woods, I decided to try an Epiphone DR-500R. I was shocked! It sounded good! But I had read a bunch of reviews from other Epiphone owners who had the AJ-500R and they seemed to really like it. So I decided to sell the DR-500R and get an AJ-500R to see what all the fuss was about. Now I know.

Let me tell you, that the first playing of the guitar was only so-so. Sure it had a lot of bass and was actually quite bright too. But it was lacking in the midrange as far as complex overtones and fullness. Not to fear because I had already ordered a Colosi Bone Saddle for it and I was planning on replacing the cheap plastic bridge pins for brass pins (I don't really think these add much sound difference, but I like the convenience of using these for fast and positive string changes.) I also glossed the entire guitar except for the neck by using Scratch-X. I had done a similar thing to the DR-500R and found that the guitar will fully gloss up nicely. I took off the pickguard as well. Didn't even need a hairdryer... just pulled it off slowly.

In addition, I added in a K&K Pure Western Mini pickup system to the guitar. I had to drill out a larger hole in the body to accomodate the 1/4 inch jack. And I added the strap button to the heel of the neck which I took from the bottom of the guitar after replacing it with the K&K jack. I replaced the silver jack/strap button with a Gold one which I had purchased directly from K&K.

I strung up a fresh set of Elixir Phosphor Bronze Nanoweb Lights as well.

The sound is now DRAMATICALLY different than the stock guitar. I raised the action (which was very fast out of the box) to give it a better chance for more bass (which it did.) The sound is now very full and even across the entire frequency spectrum. The clarity and brightness I associated with the many Taylors I've owned was still there on this guitar. But what I got was a bass that none of my Taylors or R. Taylor was able to give me. Whereas I liked the sound of the GS guitars best from Taylor because it had the best bass of all the Taylors I've owned, it still could not compare to the chest thumping bass I'm now getting out of this Epiphone.

The downside of this guitar? Well, it's not the prettiest woods I've seen. In fact, it's kind of cheap looking! The top is not quality Sitka. The Rosewood, although even looking, does not have that fine quality I've seen on my Taylors. Glue is evident in the insides of the guitar. It's just not made anywhere as nicely as any of the Taylors I've owned... including the 110.

But this Epiphone plays very nice and sounds fantastic. But it's never going to win any contests for its looks. Don't get me wrong, the guitar looks fine... it's just not up to the caliber of woods that you'd associate with a high-end guitar.So am I planning to buy more guitars in the future? Probably. But I'm actually very happy with the sound and playability of this Epiphone. I never thought I'd be happy with a guitar in this price range, but WOW! This thing is an incredible buy. I'm happy with it and actually quite proud to play it as my main guitar now.

I still have a Goodall RCJ (Custom Jumbo) which of course costs almost 5 times what this Epiphone / pickup costs. It is by far the better guitar. But for something that cost 1/5 of that... this Epiphone is the better value. And, although it sounds totally different than the Goodall, it's a good compliment to it. I'm shocked... and very happy!

Monday, December 24, 2007

One More Day To Christmas!

Hard to believe that it's almost Christmas! This year has really "flown" by!

Like many families, we are spending time with family. I recall growing up, our family (on my dad's side) would get together every Christmas Eve... rotating each year from each of my aunts and uncle's homes. And early in the day, my family would all go to my dad's company's Christmas Party.

As kids, my brother and I would go to my dad's company and ride on the forklifts (we weren't supposed to, but we'd do it anyway) and we'd climb the stacks of boxes in the warehouse. We'd look forward to the party that day at the factory because there would be lots of food and games. I recall the company played "BINGO" and there would be prizes given away to all the winners of the game. Even if they did not win, the employees there would still get something. Everyone had a great time.

Then later in the day, we would all go to our aunt or uncle's home (whoever's home it was for that year's rotation) and all my cousins would have a great time.

Now, after being married and having a daughter of my own, my family spends time with my wife's family. My brother spends time with his wife's family. My sister is in California and my mom is in Florida. So my family has gone our separate ways during the holiday. But that doesn't mean we don't call each other to wish each other a Merry Christmas. We may not be together physically, but we are there with each other in spirit.

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

What Kind of Friends Do You Have?

I've often said that I have more women friends than men friends. Everyone who knows me, knows that.

I'm not sure why that is. Often I just feel more comfortable with my female friends than with some of my male friends. Perhaps that's because I don't do a lot of the things that other men often do. For instance, I don't watch sports (often) and I don't keep track of sports statistics. So I can't talk intelligently with other men when they discuss Sunday's football game, or debate which player will be the next MVP (most valuable player.)

Now that's not to say that I'm also well versed at the topics that women discuss either. But I'm not intimidated by anything they discuss! I know some men will shy away whenever some women discuss topics that are too "personal" and will excuse themselves and leave. Not me. I'll hang in there and it doesn't bother me one bit. I may say, "That's more than I needed to know!" But you won't see me turning all red and leaving.

How does my wife feel about the fact that I feel more comfortable with women than men? I don't think she cares! She knows. In fact, I'll have lunch with a bunch of my women friends and not blink an eye. They often call me up and say, "Hey Russ, a bunch of us girls are getting together for lunch. Wanna come?" Surprised? It doesn't surprise my wife one bit. And she doesn't worry about it either.

Perhaps that's why its so easy for me to be a wedding photographer. Often, I'm hanging out with all the ladies during the wedding day. I'm with the bride as she's getting ready. I'm taking photos of the bridesmaids when they are helping her get ready. I'm not shy one bit being there. Don't get me wrong... I don't take photos while the girls are changing. I step out of the room when they do that. But once the dress is on, I'm back in there. It's my job to document pre-ceremony events.

Gary Fong, one of the world's most famous wedding photographers is the same way. He says that most of his best friends are women as well. Maybe that's the key to being a great wedding photographer! You have to have lots of women friends!

So what kind of friends do you have?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nikon D300

Nikon D300

Fujifilm S5 Pro

The Nikon D300 is the next camera in my camera kit. For 2007 weddings, I used two incredible Fuji S5 cameras and kept a Nikon D70s in my camera case as a backup. Based on the Nikon D200 body (I had two of these the year before), the S5 offered dramatically better low light capability over the D200's. But the new Nikon D300 has improved on the D200's low light capture and has also increased its ability in other areas as well.

It's a fast camera. Able to capture 6 frames per second with its standard battery or 8 frames per second with its optional "super" battery. Focusing is faster too, especially in low light. At 12.3 megapixels, large prints will be a piece of cake.

I'll be using the D300 alongside the two S5's for 2008. With these three cameras, next year's weddings will be a lot more efficient!

The new camera will be here next week. That will give me several months to practice with it before wedding season!

Monday, December 17, 2007

"That's Not Work!"

During the winter months, I often don't take many photos. Why? Because there just aren't many weddings happening during those months in the Chicago area! Something about the cold weather and the sloppy, messy snow just doesn't make for a nice wedding day, so brides wait for at least the Spring.

So what do I do during the winter months?

Well, I line up business for the coming months by meeting with as many potential clients as I can. I'll spend time on the phone answering questions, I'll meet with clients in my office to show them my sample albums and discuss their weddings, and I'll do a bunch of research on new photography techniques and new equipment.


Isn't it?

Consider that the average phone call from new brides looking for a photographer lasts perhaps 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Yes, sometimes brides can talk your ear off! That's because they are excited about their upcoming wedding and they are looking for the best photographer they can find within their budget. Do that enough times and you'll seriously think that maybe this IS work!

What about my appointments? Often these last 2 hours or more. What?! What do you talk about that lasts that long?! Well, we talk about my background and expertise (what qualifies me to photograph weddings.) And then we talk about their wedding... what is the bride looking for... And we review my sample albums. Then, if everything looks good and the bride decides to book me for her wedding, we need to fill out a services contract and go over all the details about that. Also, we go over expectations on her part and my part. There's a lot of pre-planning that happens right there! The next thing you know, it's 2 hours or more.

Don't forget about the drive time! It takes me 20-30 minutes just to drive to the office and then another 20-30 minutes to drive home.

Do that enough times in a week and now you might start to think, "Maybe this IS work after all!"

A photographer's work doesn't stop with just a click of the shutter release. We do a lot more things behind the scenes that people don't realize.

How about training seminars, research for next year's equipment to improve on quality and efficiency, accounting work to keep the books right... things all other businesses must do as well. Isn't that work?

So before you think, "Hey, you don't work during the winter months!" Think again. I'm still working. I'm just not shooting!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500R

This is my new Epiphone Masterbilt DR-500R dreadnought guitar.

What? Not a Taylor? Not a Goodall? A LOWLY Epiphone?!

Wait just a minute... this may be an Epiphone, but it's not what you might think it is. Epiphone is a division of Gibson and has been since 1957. But Epiphones have always been the lower-priced versions of their Gibson counterparts because they aren't made here in the USA. Cheaper labor, perhaps cheaper parts... you get the idea.

So here we have these Masterbilt (yes, it's spelled that way) guitars which are made in China. Do they compare to the Taylors? Yes, and no. The wood quality is nowhere as good as what is on a Taylor. The workmanship, although pretty good is not up to speed either. You can see glue marks along the insides of the guitar. No way you would see anything like that on a Taylor.

But the sound... well, that's comparible! In fact, I think this Epiphone might even be better sounding than the Taylor DN3 dreadnought I had! The Epiphone has really rich bass that I can definitely feel when I strum it hard. It's warm sounding, but wait... it's also got good brightness too! This guitar ROCKS!

The nicest part is the price... it's just a fraction of the Taylor DN3! I can seriously say that if you want a guitar well under $500 that is made with a solid top and with solid back and sides, this should definitely be on your list to check out!

The most popular model in this line is the AJ-500R which is the Advanced Jumbo body shape. But if you want a dreadnought, check out this DR-500R.

By the way, the finish on these guitars are satin. But not on mine... anymore! I took Meguiar's Scratch-X (a car finish rubbing compound) and took out all of the satin. This guitar is now fully 100% GLOSS! I had done a similar thing to the Taylor DN3, but could only achieve semi-gloss on the Taylor. Not so with the Epiphone! The satin finish on this guitar can be fully glossed!

I tried to show some of this gloss on the photos here. But in person, you have to see it to believe it! Wow!

Monday, December 10, 2007

James Bond and Star Trek Trading Cards... What Are THESE Worth?

Back in the 1960's while the average boy in grade school was collecting baseball cards, I was collecting these: James Bond - "Thunderball" cards and Star Trek cards!

Like baseball cards, they included a stick of that extra hard chewing gum... you know the gum that was awful tasting and got hard after about 3 chews!

So what are these cards worth today? I have a bunch of these 1966 James Bond cards and 1967 Star Trek cards. Unfortuanately, they are not complete sets.

I'll bet I used a bunch of these cards in the spokes of my bicycle too. We used to put cards in the spokes by clipping them with clothes pins to the front and rear fork of our bicycles. That made the bikes sound like motorcycles as we pedalled down the street. Back then, we didn't have all the fancy toys that kids today have. We had to improvise.

My brother on the other hand, collected baseball cards and cards from the TV series Batman. He still has a bunch of them. Today, cards are big business, but back when we were kids, we just collected them because it gave us something to spend our allowances on! I also used to assemble plastic models too. I remember making everything from model cars, the USS Enterprise from Star Trek, and the Lunar Module (the Apollo space missions were big back then!)

I'm still surprised I have all this stuff. What have you kept from your childhood?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The BIGGEST MISTAKE A Bride Can Make Regarding Photography

What's the biggest mistake a bride can make when it comes to wedding photography?

Ask any photographer who has been working professionally for a while and I'll bet the answer is: "Choosing a photographer solely on price over the phone."

I know I get a lot of calls that start out with, "How much are your packages?" I often cringe whenever I hear that because I know this bride will not be coming in to see what I can truly offer her. I can honestly say that no bride who has ever led with that question has ever come in to talk to me in person. Not only will she not be able to see the quality of my work in my albums, but she won't be able to see if my personality fits with hers. She's looking just for a price and that's it.

So if I were to say, "My packages start at $500" would that mean she will be coming in to see my work? I doubt it. I'd be too cheap and that might throw a red flag up that I'm not a serious photographer. So if I were to say, "My packages start at $2000" would that mean I'm a profesional? I could simply be over inflating my prices... So you see, what difference does it make what the photographer says on the phone?

Of course, you may have a limited budget, so you really can't go above a certain price. That's reasonable. But often you'll find that if you "weed out" certain photographers who quote over your price, you might not be able to discover what he can really do for you within your budget.

Any photographer who is offering a full-service business knows that there is a lot more work done before and after the actual wedding than simply photographing the wedding. Shooting it requires perhaps 8-12 hours (depending on the wedding.) But add in the time for pre-wedding consultations, post wedding consultations, post-production Photoshop computer work, getting prints made, designing a professional looking album and other administrative work and you are easily into 30 to 40 hours for one wedding. No way can a part-timer do this and hold down a job as well. Of course if the photographer only accepted a few weddings a year, it's possible.

Is it necessary to hire a full-timer instead of a part-timer? Well, no. Some part-time photographers can do a great job. But many have to juggle your wedding around their full-time job and that can be a real problem sometimes. You may find that they are not able to offer certain services that you might like. Can they give you a professionally designed album? Are all of their images fully Photoshop corrected for color and exposure? Can they offer special retouching if necessary?

Too often we hear the horror stories of brides receiving poor photography or worse yet, no prints or albums from the photographer after the wedding! So choosing the right photographer is critical to avoid these problems. Looking for experience, reliability and a good reputation may be worth more on the long run than simply looking for the right price.

So before eliminating any photographer who may be slightly over your budget, I suggest meeting with the photographer, explaining what you can afford and what you would like to receive and seeing what he can do to accomodate your wedding. Often you will find that by modifying some of the packages offered, you can get the photographer to work with you at the price you need to stay within. Everyone wins in this situation!

Friday, December 07, 2007

How Bad Was The Lighting in the Gym?

Original Shot with "Auto White Balance"

Corrected Image using Adobe Photoshop CS3

High School Basketball

I attended the opening game for my daughter's high school varsity basketball team. We won!

These kids play with a lot of spirit and I was impressed by a lot of their moves! Both teams were great and it was nice to see so many parents and kids attend the game. The school mascots were out there too! It takes a lot to want to wear these outfits all night long...

Lighting in the school's gym was awful though. The sodium vapor lights make everything an amber color. Even with color correction done, it's hard to eliminate that amber cast.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Album "Spreads"

Today's albums are pretty large. The most popular album I have right now measures 11x14 in size. That means that when you open the book, a panorama page measures 22 inches wide by 14 inches tall! That's huge!

The images above are typical of what you might see when you open my albums today! Be sure to click on the images to see a larger version. Just imagine a vertical line right down the center of the second image. That's where the album would fold in half.

Record Album Art

Back in the days of the 12 inch LP vinyl "Records," album covers were really important because it helped sell the records. Not to say that today's CD's cover art doesn't help sell, it does... but there's something about a big 12" album that really catches your attention.

Take a look at the previous posts on the Boston LP's. That artwork just grabs your attention.

Whether a photo or drawn art, album covers ruled! Perhaps that's why so many people still have LP covers hanging on their walls! I suppose the same thing could be said about having large photos in your wedding albums (notice how I related this topic right back to my business...) Having large prints in your wedding albums make a big difference in the presentation. Perhaps that's why so many of my current clients have chosen the huge 11x14 albums!

"Don't Look Back" - Boston's Second Album - 1978

Guess what I found? Yes, it's Boston's follow-up record... "Don't Look Back."

This one is a standard LP, not a picture disc. Sounds fantastic, but not much to look at. The cover art was cool though!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Boston - 1976 Picture Disc

Back in the 70's "Picture Discs" were really popular even though they sounded awful! The vinyl used on these records was not designed for playback purposes and so you could hear all sorts of pops, clicks and hiss.

These 33-1/3 LP's ("Long Playing" Records) were made for their novelty appeal as display items, but of course you just HAD to play them to make sure they were really pressed with the actual album music as it claimed. Sure enough, playing this record yielded Boston's hits from the album like, "More Than A Feeling," "Peace Of Mind," and "Foreplay / Long Time." Side Two looks just like side one, but the songs from that side are the remaining songs from the record.

The original packaging is shown on the second and third image in the series.

Going through some of my old stuff, I found this album again. It still had the original shrink wrapping!


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New "PhotoBook" Albums

The "PhotoBook" is a new album option that can be used for "Parent Albums" or "Brag Books."

What's a "Brag Book"? Well consider a duplicate of your wedding album in a 4" x 4" size or a 4" x 6" size! Put that in your purse or briefcase and bring it around to show off your wedding! THAT's a "Brag Book"!

These cool albums are available in the following sizes:



The albums have "wraparound" photo covers and all the pages are gloss. Like other "flushmount" albums, the photos in these albums run edge-to-edge on the page and you can have panorama pages as well. These are priced right too!

If you have booked a 2008 wedding with me and would like to add these albums to your wedding package, just let me know! Past clients can order these as well.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanks for all the Referrals!

I figured it would be rather slow for bookings for 2008 due to the holidays this past week... but NO! This week alone, I have had several referrals for weddings for 2008 from my past clients and also from wedding vendors I've worked with in the past!

Thank you all SO MUCH for thinking of me and for referring your family, friends and clients to me!

I have found that to succeed in this business, a solid referral base is necessary. Sure, new business is necessary as well. But it really is working with these referral clients that make being in this business so rewarding. It's just a confirmation to me that I'm doing something right.

Thanks again to everyone!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like many families here in the USA, I'll be with my family as we thank the Lord for the many blessings we have had this past year.

Here's wishing all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Shopping on the Day After Thanksgiving

How many of you do this? Several years ago, I started doing this and I've been doing it ever since.

I had always thought that you'd have to be really nuts to want to stand outside in the cold at 4 AM or earlier to get the first dibs on shopping. What's the appeal? But then I found out from my nieces and nephews that the sale prices are really good and that most stores only offer specials until perhaps 12 noon. Not being one who really paid much attention to the "After Thanksgiving" sale ads that come out on Thanksgiving day, I had no clue.

But now I rush out on Thanksgiving Day and purchase several copies of the Chicago Tribune just to get any coupons and ads that are in there. Our family has found that sometimes, certain stores will put in a discount coupon that saves even more money and that pays for the $0.50 cost of the paper and still saves you a lot of money.

My favorite place to go on the day after Thanksgiving is Best Buy. Yeah, I'm a sucker for electronics and software. But the last couple of years, I haven't found many sale items that I really needed. Some of the people wait in line all night long to be the first into the store. I can't do that (and refuse to) so I often go around 5 AM. Most of the time, that's too late to get any of the "super" deals that only have a couple of units per store. Maybe this year, if the weather cooperates, I can try getting there a little earlier. Yeah, I'm nuts!

Anyone else into this yearly madness? We make a game out of it. My daughter and I go to Best Buy and my wife goes to other stores. We keep in contact via cell phone to see what we've all got. We don't expect to get lots of stuff, we just want to see if we can get a few items at a good price. Then we get back in time for breakfast and we are done for the day. That's usually around 8 AM. If we pick up one or two things really special, we're happy with that. Some folks go crazy and get all upset if they don't get some specials. We don't care. We're out for a good time and that's what makes it worth doing. Take the fun out and I don't think I'd want to do it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

American Girl Dolls

When my daughter was growing up, she liked playing with her American Girl dolls.

For those who don't know what an American Girl doll is, you must not have a daughter! Based on the American Girl books, each of these dolls have some historical significance because they come from various eras in American history. For instance, Kaya is an Native American Indian and Samantha is an early 20th century American doll. Others include Addy, Felicity, Josefina, Julie, Kristen, Kit and Molly.

In Chicago, there is a huge American Girl store downtown. I recall going with my wife and daugther to visit the store. Of course we'd walk out with over a hundred dollars worth of dolls or accessories on each visit! Yeah, these dolls aren't cheap. But they are well made.

For a guy, you wouldn't think I'd be so interested in these dolls, but you can get caught up in it. The displays at the store are top notch and you would not believe how many moms and daughters (and yes, dads too) are always at the store! Inside the store is a theater for a live action play that is put on about the dolls. There's also a small restaurant in there as well. And let's not forget the doll "grooming" section... dolls are placed on little barbershop chairs and hairstylists are there to fix up the dolls! Amazing!

My favorite doll is probably Samantha. You can see her on the left in the photo above. To the right is an Asian doll from the "Just Like You" collection. Back when my daughter got hers, I believe these dolls were called the Today dolls... but I may be mistaken.

We had always wondered why there wasn't an American Girl doll and story about a Chinese girl. We had figured out a story line for it... An American Girl whose family helped build the railroads in America. We weren't the only ones who thought of this because my cousin told us about the same idea she had.

Well, today, there's a "friend" of a doll from the 1970's, and she's a Chinese doll. Well, she's not the main character and she's not from the era of building the railroads, but I guess she'll have to do. The 70's doll's name is Julie and her Chinese friend is Ivy.
If you ever get a chance to check out the American Girls store, do it. I'll guarantee you'll be amazed at the displays there even if you might not be into dolls. It's done up right! :)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Give This A Try!

Want to test your eye-hand coordination when using a mouse?

Click here.

My best time (as of this post) can be seen in the image above.

What's your best score? Post it in the comments section here if you try this game.


Ever seen "composite sketches" like this before on TV?

In the past, a sketch artist would be called in to draw a picture from the descriptions given to him/her from victims and witnesses to a crime.

And not too long ago (and still used by some agencies) a composite sketch kit called an "Identikit" was used to help witnesses try to remember what suspects looked like. Numerous transparencies were laid on top of one another to make up the final face.

Today, computers are often used to make the "sketch" with a program called "FACES." Choices are made as to hair style, eyes, nose, frown lines, lips, etc. It's a very fast way to make the sketch. In the hands of a skilled person, a "sketch" can be made in just a few minutes with the right description.

I put these composites together rather quickly, but you get the idea. This is a powerful tool to help catch criminals and also to help with missing persons. The sketch of the two men are the same except for the eyes and the spacing between the eyes. Makes him look different, doesn't it?

I recall going to the post office when I was young and seeing all the "wanted" posters of criminals posted there. Some had actual photos and others had composite sketches. Today, I don't see these in my post office. So I asked, "Whatever happened to all the posters?" They still have them! They just post it in the back rooms now where the public can't see them. Wonder why they do that?!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Guitar GTG (Get Together)

All Photos by Jim Wallace

On Saturday, a group of fellow guitarists gathered to play some 70's songs!

This time we had more than just guitars playing... we had bass, dobro, harmonica and percussion!

Among some of the best songs played was "Ventura Highway" from the group America. Wow... we had everything from harmonized vocals to dueling guitar solos! Yeah, we sounded pretty good! Time to cut a demo! Special thanks to Jim Wallace for taking all the photos so that I could concentrate on playing bass! :)

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Who Writes This Stuff?" - Part Two

Back in August, I wrote about some really strange fortunes I've been finding in Fortune Cookies lately.

But I had to share this one with all of you too!

Last night, my wife and I went to one of the Asian food markets here in the Chicago area and we bought a bag of sunflower seeds thinking they were shelled. After looking more closely at the bag, my wife discovered that they still had the shells on and so she was rather discouraged. I thought it was a waste of money since I have no intentions of cracking the shell off these small seeds just to get to the "meat" of the seed. Too much work.

But all was not wasted because this is what we read...

"Crack the shell with your teeth, eat the seed and spit the shell. Be cautious don't eat the seed without spitting the shell!"

Who writes this stuff?! That statement alone made the purchase worth it! LOL

Edit Note: After trying some, these actually aren't too bad! Nice Licorice flavor to them, but it's just too much work for me to crack the shells. Plus I'm a lousy spitter too...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Voiceprints - Spectrograms

Known Sample



It's been a while since I've posted something related to Forensics!

Have you ever seen a "Voiceprint"? It's actually called a Spectrogram and it is NOT admissible as court evidence. Like Lie Detector tests (Polygraph exams) the Voiceprint is not something that the courts rely on. Still, attorneys ask me all the time if I can identify someone based on a voiceprint.

The Spectrogram is basically a graph showing three variables... the X axis is time, the Y axis is frequency and the darker parts of the graph show the intensity, or volume. That's about as basic as I can put it without getting too technical. Can you tell which sample, Q1 or Q2, was spoken by the person who spoke the control sample, "This Is A Test?" The samples and control were created on the software I use for audio enhancements and voice analysis. It's the same software used by various law enforcement agencies including the FBI.