The new SAADigital.com

For nearly a year, 500px.com has hosted my photo gallery available at SAADigital.com.  The service is quick and convenient, but only if you’re primarily hosting photo galleries and nothing beyond.  500px cannot support associated blogs or a more flexible photo + text platform that a separate, user-controllable content management system (like WordPress) supports.

Going forward, I will be maintaining both a photography gallery and photo blogs, all hosted off of SAADigital.com - which is now running off of my regular web hosting service using the WordPress CMS.  Now, I am in full control over not only what content gets posted, but how much “extra” content I can publish along with it.  In this case, it’s the incorporation of blogs alongside my photographs.  Groovy!

I also decided to start a SAADigital.com Photography page over at Facebook to increase my social media outreach.

Stop by and take a look.

 

Desert photography

Desert landscapes at sunset

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take a trek out to the desert with a local photo buddy around sunset, and it seems like no matter how long I live in the southwest, the brilliant hues of red and orange that cut through the warm, dry desert air at sunset will never get too old to appreciate.

Take the following shot for example, and note the brilliant sunset colors blanketing the king of all cactus, the Saguaro.

Desert photography

Minute before sunset and after a short walk on a dirt trail, the desert landscape is ripe with photo opportunities as the sun, low in the sky, illustrates just how perfect lighting can be out here.  Armed with my Nikon D7000 digital camera and just two lenses (the Tokina 12-24 and Nikon 80-200 f/2.8), I was ready to pick out everything this warm and calm desert evening had to offer.

Desert photography

I also had an opportunity to borrow a lens from my shooting partner, the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 Micro.  Instantly, I fell in love with the lens – from its relatively small size, instant focusing and tack sharp optics, this lens is definitely a must-have for any serious macro photographer.   Check out a few shots I got with this beautiful lens.  The first shot is probably my favorite – these colors are amazing!

Desert photography Desert photography Desert photography Desert photography

I did a little post-processing on these shots, but not much.  Colors literally burst off the digital frames shot with this lens, and the detail it captures in these southwestern desert features is nothing short of amazing.  The lighting was just right, too, to bring out the best that the southwest desert has to offer.

Penny

Effective K-9 fostering – and life lessons

Recently, I moved in with my fiancée and not only started my life with the woman I love, but also began learning what it takes to nurture and care for scared, neglected and abused animals that are considered man’s best friend.  Through this process, I’ve learned a few things.

PattiOur first dog is named Patti, a small 9-pound white poodle mix, and she is a rescue – and has the most adorable little dog face that you’ve ever seen.  She was found nearly 6 years ago wandering around in the snow in Washington State.  She spent her first few years of life enduring abuse and neglect at the hands of human dregs, and Patti’s life was forever changed.  She is a fiercely smart dog.  She wants to be loved.  She wants to be unafraid.  My fiancée adopted her 5-years ago.

She isn’t exactly a lap dog.  She will jump up on the couch for some pets, but she is also never afraid to go find a comfortable spot in the corner and lay there, looking at you with her little puppy dog eyes.  We think she is around 7 years old, but the excitement she feels when we take her for a walk, or the joy she gets when we are suckered into giving her belly scratches, is never limited by age.  This simple love makes all the difference.

She is a loyal little pup and determined not to let her 9-pound stature effect her type-A personality.  At daycare, she will often pick the biggest pillow to lay on despite her 80-pound K-9 companions vying for the same pillow.  Though her previous abusive owners instilled a sense of fear within her of other human beings, she exerts the outgoing nature that she so badly wants to put on display all the time with other dogs.  With K-9s, her true personality shines through.

Over the weekend, we adopted another rescue, Penny.  She is a white boxer mix with big pit bull eyes and loves to lay next to you as you’re watching TV or doing work on your computer.  She is very inquisitive, but also quite reserved.  She is fearful of men who Pennystand, perhaps because of her first owners who abused and neglected her.

Simply kneel down close to the floor and she’ll come walking over to you for some love and attention.  Like Patti, she wants to be loved by her human pack, but she also wants to love her new family.  She wants to feel safe and secure.  She needs the comfort in knowing that she’ll never be left outside to fend for herself, abused or neglected.  Dogs need to feel a sense of companionship just like humans.  And like humans, it takes time to establish that bond.

She is adventurous, too.  On the first day we got her, she put one of her paws down on the first step leading into our backyard pool.  Both my fiancée and I were in the pool encouraging her to explore the water.  Her willingness to break through her comfort zone came in batches.  First, she’d walk up close to the water, then back up.  A few seconds later, she’d walk a bit closer, then back up once more.  Soon, Penny sniffed the water, then held one of her paws over the water and slowly made contact.  Next, she finally submerged one of her paws until it hit the first step.

It is this comfort that she felt with us, even on the first day of her living in a new home, that encouraged her to take that first step into an environment that is new and exciting.  She wants to explore.  She wants to have fun.  She wants to be a dog!

Through fostering dogs, I have learned how similar people and their K-9 friends are.  2-legs or 4, we all need a pack – we need to feel like we belong to a caring and loving family.  Dogs need to be praised when they do something good, just like people.  They need our support and undying love and attention.

Dogs, like people, need encouragement to step outside their comfort zone.  The trust you build with your pet is the foundation of your relationship with them.  Whether taking that first step into the pool, or finally eating that delicious treat out of your hand, a rescued dog’s damaged trust in human beings is the lifeblood of their future with you and their new family.

Find treats they love and reward them when they do good (sit, come, stay, shake, etc).  If they aren’t influenced by food, they might just be too nervous yet to trust you giving them tasty rewards.  Instead, find their favorite pet spot (chest, belly, etc), and give them pets as rewards instead.  Show them the love that you want to be shown by your own family.  Even though they have 4-legs, they possess the same wants and needs of their human family members.

They need to feel loved…just like you.  Contact your local dog rescue and give a K-9 the warm and loving home that they deserve.  What you will learn about life might just surprise you.

8-lowres

New spring flowers planted!

I’ll admit it – I am a sucker for photographing flowers.  Between the color that these guys offer and the detail that a good macro lens can pick out, these are some of my favorite subjects to photograph.  All of these flowers were picked up for cheap at Home Depot.  Nothing special with the arrangements, and pretty easy to plant.

Take a look at a few of my nicer shots that I took after planting this afternoon in harsh mid-afternoon light.

9-lowres 7-lowres 6-lowres 5-lowres 1-lowres

 

650x366_03211412_spring-2014-planting-forecast

The spring weather outlook according to AccuWeather.com

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a meteorologist.  Weather is an earth science that had captured my fascination from a very young age.  Science was my best subject in grade school, and my dream was to attend Penn State University and pursue a meteorology degree through one of the few major universities with such a program.

Long story short, I went into computer science and information technology instead, but that has never stopped me from nerding out on weather and meteorology when I get the chance.  Long-range forecasts have always peaked my interest.

According to AccuWeather.com, this spring will bring fairly normal weather to wide mileage throughout the United States.  Damn near the entire state of California, along with the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas will see worsening drought conditions.  Overly wet weather will plague the eastern part of our nation’s mid-section and the north, once again, gets the proverbial shaft with cold weather and a delay in significant ground thawing.

As Accuweather points out, the colder than average weather in the north will affect farming leading into the spring.  Still frozen solid in many areas, the ground conditions may negatively impact the ability for some northern farms in the upper midwest to plant new seeds , especially Ohio.

I couldn’t live in the north.  I just couldn’t.  I hate the cold.  Motorcycle-riding season is comfortably counted using the fingers of only one hand rather than both.  I live in Arizona – drought or no drought, this is the place for me.  It’s warm.  It’s usually sunny.  I can take the motorcycle out for a ride on almost ANY day of the year and be relatively comfortable without heated clothing.  It’s nice.  As far as colors on a long-range weather map, give me red any day.

 

Chalkboard with Math Problem

8 life lessons that I will never forget

Growing up, I had a particularly lofty expectation about professionals in the working world – heck, about the world in general.  I thought that high level executives were the best in their field.  I thought perfection was a critical element to success.  I thought my competition would be my greatest limitation.  I was fearful of what the world was about to hoist upon me.

After releasing myself into the wild nearly 12 years ago, I quickly began to realize that I had nothing to be afraid of.  My assumptions were largely wrong.  In fact, quite wrong.  Managers are often promoted beyond their capability, and it is tough to find truly talented and dedicated people in this world.  The competition is not tough.

In truth, it is not hard to look good.  As my dad used to tell me as a child, “showing up is half the battle”.

I have learned a lot in the last 12 years of my life about not only being a professional, but working with other professionals.  And without further ado, below are the 8 most interesting life lessons from my humble existence in this world that I’ll never forget.

My Lessons Learned

  1. I’ve worked with a wide variety of people with different educational backgrounds – from PhDs to high school graduates.  In that time, I learned that those with college degrees are not necessarily smarter, wiser or more prepared to intelligently confront problems than those without higher education.  They tend to be more confident in their ability to think, and I admire confidence.  But many times, problems need more than sheer confidence to solve.  Problem-solving takes rational thought with a solid foundation in reality, and experience is often the best way to compile the necessary understanding to confront complex problems.
  2. Those who insist on prefacing their job title with “senior” (ie: Senior Software Developer, or Senior Product Buyer) are often quite a bit less productive and capable than those below them.  Too often, the true definition of “senior” means nothing more than someone who managed to keep a job in the same industry for a long period of time and is not necessarily an indication of  skill or capability.
  3. A person who holds a different opinion than yours does not necessarily make him or her right and you wrong (or vice versa).  Type-A personalities are confident in their ability to make decisions, right or wrong.  Their opinions often come across as gospel, and those around them may interpret these opinions as such.   Certainly, all rational opinions should be taken seriously, but I have found that Type-A opinions are neither more nor less credible than others.
  4. It is always easier to critique the work of others than to create the work yourself.  Remember writing term papers in high school or college?  Unless you are a gifted writer, coming up with a well-crafted original piece is not easy.  But read a term paper of one of your fellow classmates and their mistakes often jump off the page.  Same concept for new ideas or proposed solutions.  Try not to be discouraged when your thoughts get struck down by others, because criticizing others is far easier than coming up with a sound and original thought.
  5. Contrary to popular myth, we are not all created equal.  Some of us are naturally more gifted in athletic abilities, math or public-speaking than others.  Some of us were born to be an astronaut.  Others were born to drive a garbage truck.  Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses make us very different and unique people.
  6. Unfortunately, very few people have a concept of money and how much they spend on trivial and unnecessary pleasure items.  Like my last article discussed, the morning Cup-of-Joe keeps people at work YEARS beyond when they could have retired and started to enjoy life more fully.  What about that cell phone plan with unlimited data, cable TV, expensive car or house, those season tickets to your favorite sports team?  All of these items cost a good chunk of change.  Ironically, these same people lament the fact that retirement seems to be a goal that keeps getting more and more distant into the future.  People have the right to spend their hard-earned money however they see fit, but understanding how lifestyle choices effect retirement is a concept that too few understand.
  7. Nobody is better than you; then again, you are not better than anyone else, either.  Drive up next to an expensive car like a BMW or Mercedes, and the driver might look at you as if you are downright inferior.  And why?  Because they are driving a car that put them further into debt than the one you’re driving?  Some people have a 5 foot vertical leap.  Others can downhill ski faster than lightning.  Good for them, but ask yourself a simple question – who cares?  Have you ever mumbled under your breath “I wish I could do that”?  If so, all that you have done is willingly put yourself down.  In the greater scheme of life, it does not matter who downhill skis the fastest, or jumps the highest, or drives the most expensive car or walks around with the biggest arms.  Who cares?  Focus on your life and your immediate goals.  Never be envious over someone else and their situation because it rarely helps to improve yours.
  8. I am convinced that people’s IQs drop about 10 points in the driver’s seat of a car.  I have witnessed very smart people drive as if they were completely out of their minds.  Rolling over curbs, speeding up and slowing down in rapid succession, changing lanes suddenly and without signaling (generally right in front of someone else).  These are smart people, but when behind the wheel of a car, they turn into clumsy and unaware drones in control of a 5,000 pound death machine.  The larger problem is few people take driving seriously.  Understanding and following the rules of the road are a thing of the past.
Starbucks

Is that morning Starbucks worth another decade of working?

During my commute into work every morning, I ride by a Starbucks coffee shop whose drive-through line not only wraps around the building itself, but out into the main road.  Each morning, cars line up outside of Starbucks anxiously awaiting that $5 to $6 cup of coffee only to commute to an office or work place that likely already has coffee available.

Starbucks FrapaccinosA few dollars a day may not seem like a big deal, but over time that cost adds up tremendously.  Your monthly cable television service or high speed Internet follows the same principles.  Multiply an average of $5 for a morning cup of Starbucks coffee over 20 working days, and you quickly spend $100 every month on coffee.  That is probably the cost of your cable television service as well.  Oh, and what about that cell phone plan with unlimited data?

Spending money vs. Saving money

Human nature dictates that we want immediate satisfaction.  Buying “stuff” makes us happy, and we like happiness.  We get a raise or bonus at work, and we proceed to spend that extra money on items or services that bring joy into our lives.  But,  how many more years are our spending habits keeping us at work for the sake of this temporary joy?  Shouldn’t several more additional decades of life free of listening to bosses drone on about mission statements, profits and additional overtime be far more satisfying?  Why doesn’t early retirement make us more happy than temporary enjoyment derived from “stuff”?

Take a minute and estimate how much money you save every year and how much you spend.  Be honest with yourself and your current situation.  Then, think of it in terms of retirement, and remember, the more you spend while young, the longer you work when you are old.

Mr. Money Mustache wrote a cleverly simple blog post that reveals just how easy retirement truly is.  Sure, the more you save the earlier you can retire.  But paying attention to the percentage that you are saving every year is the first step towards ensuring your most productive years of life are not spent in an office.

How would you like to retire by 45?  If you saved about 50% of your income since you were 30, then 45 would probably be a reasonable age at which to quit the rat race.

Save 50%?!?  Are you crazy?  How could anyone save half of their income every year?

Look at where your money goes and calculate the true happiness derived from those expenses.  Your $100/month cable television service – do you NEED that?  Is there content that you watch that you just can’t possibly miss?  If so, ask yourself this question: is watching those “can’t miss” television programs worth another 5 or 6 YEARS getting yourself up at 6am every morning for work?

Is it really?

Invest those unnecessary expenses

What if you invested that $1,200 annual cable bill into the stock market instead of spending it on cable television service?  According to Fool.com‘s calculations using historic stock market rates of return, that $1,200 invested in the stock market will turn into $2,841 after 10 years.  Or after 40 years, it climbs to a whopping $37,691.

What if you permanently kill your cable service and invest that same $1,200 every year?  In 10 years, your investments turn into $22,713.  After 40 years, your nest egg turns into a $479,642 stockpile.  Is 40 years of cable television service worth almost a half million in lost wealth?

Remember that $5 Starbucks every morning?  That adds up to another $1200 a year.  Combine the value of cable and your morning cup-of-Joe and you’re treading in the neighborhood of $1 million in lost wealth over 40 years because of these temporary pleasures.  $1 million!

Your salary does not matter.  Whether you earn $100,000 or $50,000, think of your savings in terms of your yearly expenditures as a percentage of your salary.  Many families live off of $25,000 a year and save the rest.  This makes retiring early on a $50,000 salary possible if 50% is invested every year.  It is possible, and it happens every day.  The trade-off?  No morning Starbucks.  No cable or satellite television.  No $40,000 car.   You trade stuff for quality of life.

Most people do not need a lot of stuff.  They buy stuff because it provides temporary happiness.  I was just as guilty as the next person when it came to spending more than necessary on extraneous items that only provided temporary enjoyment.

I eventually realized that I am not looking for temporary enjoyment.  I want permanent bliss!  When I am 45, I want to wake up on a Monday morning at 8am and look forward to a day walking through the park with my lovely wife, or riding my bike around town, or throwing my camera in the car on the spur of the moment and taking a leisurely trek out to the mountains on a photo expedition.

Whatever it is I want to do, I want to do it…on Monday when everyone else my age is working.  Or perhaps Wednesday.  Heck, any time is good for me.

How about you?

Food and Farm Livestock Identification

Why is Vegetarianism a moral lifestyle?

The beginning of the new year ushered in the beginning of a personal health experiment: eating completely vegan for at least a month.  This means cutting out all meat and dairy (including honey) and eating a diet free of animal byproducts.  In doing so, it got me thinking more about the vegetarian diet and why it is consiTexascalfbrutality (1)dered to be a moral way of eating.  Vegetarians only cut out meat.

I understand that animals are kept in truly horrid conditions at meat farms.  The animals that we eat routinely stand in their own feces, are beaten with hammers and pitch forks and are often injected with growth hormone to promote unnatural growth of muscle (meat).  Vegetarians do not eat meat as a way to protest the unsanitary and deplorable conditions that animals are kept in during their often short and painful lifespans.

Vegetarians eat dairy, however.  Many dairy products, like milk, cheese and eggs, come from cows and chickens kept in these very same unsanitary conditions.  Cows on dairy farms are kept alive until they can no longer produce a sellable product and are often slaughtered.  The conditions that these animals live in are one in the same as the cow that produced that deliciously-seasoned New York Strip that vegetarians will pass on, but order a salad topped with cheese and a dairy-based dressing.

Investigations have found incredible animal cruelty throughout the country, such as MercyForAnimals.org’s report on an Ohio dairy farm and the merciless beating of livestock, or another investigation into a Pennsylvania dairy farm that included dead chicken corpses littered throughout cages that housed other egg-producing chickens.  Another investigation documented cruelty of animals at an Idaho dairy farm, and these investigations only scratch the surface of what truly goes on at dairy farms throughout the country.

The conditions of animals at dairy farms are well documented, just as they are at meat farms.  Why, then, is eating dairy any more moral than eating meat?  Is eating the byproduct of an animal before slaughter inherently better than eating a byproduct of an animal after slaughter?

My intent with this post is not to change the minds of vegetarians or pass judgment on the dietary choices of others.  My interest is one of pure curiosity, and certainly an interest prompted by my vegan experiment started at the beginning of 2014.

Is vegetarianism a moral lifestyle?

The Biltmore Estate

Visiting the Biltmore Estate, North Carolina

Over my Christmas vacation to see my brother and family out in North Carolina, we had the opportunity to see and tour the amazing Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.  The architecture was artistically excellent and every room had meaning to the late George Vanderbilt, who inhabited the mansion that took the majority of his inherited fortunes.  The new Nikon D7000 camera got a lot of work.

The Biltmore Estate
© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f.1,4

The home itself was large and expansive, a room for virtually every purpose (including an animal-studded room used to keep and showcase George Vanderbilt’s collection of guns available to him and his many exclusive guests for hunting.

Seriously, this estate is stupid big.

The tour includes more than just a walk through the home itself.  Surrounding the huge house is hundreds of acres of land owned by Vanderbilt with luscious gardens that, unfortunately, were not in bloom during our visit (Winter, 2013).  However, a conservatory on the estate is still maintained that houses a large collection of impeccably-maintained flowers and plants that gave Vanderbilt’s guests a unique and colorful walk through a wide variety of plant-life.

Flowers in the Biltmore Conservatory
© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f/1.4

The photo opportunities were amazing.  Stroll a little ways past the conservatory and you’ll get to choose from a variety of walking paths through Vanderbilt’s scenic landscape, which includes ponds, streams and a waterfall.  Scenes like this were typical:

Stream near the Biltmore Estate
© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f/1.4

Of course, I could not let this opportunity pass by without letting my lady friend capture a darn good picture of me showcasing my “rustic” look.

My rustic pose on the Biltmore Estate
© Steve Adcock / Taken with my Nikon D7000 and 50mm f/1.4 by my lady friend

I highly recommend a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC to anyone interested in architecture or nature, or experiencing how George Vanderbilt recklessly spent through his inherited fortunes.