Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dreams vs. Reality

   I don't feel comfortable saying that traveling to Japan has been a dream of mine. It is true that I worked extensively towards this trip that will be coming up in a little less than 2 weeks. But is it a dream of mine?

   Forgive me if I am wrong, but I do not believe dreams come true. When you have a dream, it is just that, a dream and nothing more. You wake up and perhaps you vaguely remember that dream, as fantastic as it may have been, but eventually throughout the day you forget it. Likewise, try to recall that dream in exact detail a month from now. Chances are you probably can't. So... a dream?

   No, for me it was a goal. Something I wanted to do very badly and a goal I will be fulfilling in a few days. I don't believe in this "dreams come true" stuff. To me that means that you are waiting for a miracle, and as CCR would say, "Someday never comes."

   I have never waited for things to come to me because I knew they wouldn't. I learned early on not to say, "someday," and instead say "when I." That's how I live my life. I do not want to say, "Some day my dream of traveling somewhere will come true." No, that's leaving too much to some power that has never shown any control over my life. Instead I learned to say, "When I fulfill my goal of traveling somewhere..." like that I have fulfilled many goals and will continue to fulfill more.

   I refuse to finish school "someday" I refuse to allow my life to travel on some predetermined track until the day I die never seeing what was down that left fork.

   Take control of your life, it is yours and you only have one. The decisions that you make today are what will fulfill or destroy your goals... and sorry, but dreams will never come true.

   There are no excuses. You have kids? That's not a show stopper. No one saw your kids and said, "Oh sorry, your goals are done." You are sick? You are poor? You are an orphan? These are excuses, learn now that these things may be hindrances, but are not complete road blocks. Instead embrace the difficulties. Save slowly and include your kids in that trip around the world you have always wanted to take. Perhaps it is more difficult, but only you make it impossible. Take that sickness and teach people how to cope with it.

   Whatever you are passionate about, whatever you want, set your sights on it. Think critically, make a game plan, then execute. Sometimes it will take you far longer than expected. But it is not nearly as long as never achieving that goal.

   Be sure to check here for many blogs and videos about Japan starting June 9th. I will be attempting to upload one video a day. If you are interested in travel, food, cultures, or Japan, this will be a great way to see all of that without ever needing to spend a dime. Or perhaps it will make you want to spend a dime on travel. I can't guarantee that it won't but in all honesty, I hope it does.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Longest Month of My Life

   I am officially naming May 2014 the longest month of my life so far.

   Around 5 months ago I bought my round trip ticket to Tokyo Japan. When I did, I was excited to say the least, but I knew that the actual trip was pretty far off still. I was okay with that and for a time the months passed unnoticed at a comfortable pace. I went to school, I came back, I did my homework, I went to work, and so on. Like this I completed each day the same as the next and passed the time not thinking much about how long I had until my trip.

   But... can you hear it when something you have worked so hard for is finally nearing you? Or perhaps you can see it, feel it, taste it, smell it, I don't know. But when that train that is carrying your hard work is nearing the end of the dark tunnel that is waiting... things start to change. Seconds become minutes which turn into hours and from there days feel like years. The closer it gets, the more the world feels like it has stopped turning.

   As of writing this post I have 16 days until I can finally board my plane. If this month has felt long, these next 16 days will feel like an eternity. I try not to think about it because I don't want to be just sitting in waiting. I try to keep my mind occupied with meaningless things but the thought invades my mind all the time. I am constantly thinking of what I will pack, changing my mind about this and that from one hour to the next. I can't help it.

   Am I excited? I can't explain what I feel right now. I have been excited about many things before. Nothing has ever felt quite like this. I am excited, but that is not the only thing I am feeling. There are other emotions as well.

   Worry is one of them and for many reasons. I am worried about the usual things of course. How much or how little to pack, how to find the place I am staying at and so on. But the worry extends beyond that. I am worried about my family for one. I have taken it upon myself to be a strong person for my family. I have always wanted to show them that I will always be their support if they needed it, and in the end I will do the dirty work they cannot. I will be the bad guy, or the good guy, when they have no heart to do so and I have always tried to be the voice of reason or sensibility regardless of whether they listen or not.

   My role within my family is a complicated one, but it is one that requires me to be within arms reach. I see myself as a shield for them from everything outside or at least I try to be. I think they deserve this. However, I feel like their shield will be half a world away from them for a month. Don't get me wrong, I know my family will not completely fall apart in my absence. I do not lend myself that much importance or think they are that dependent on me. It's in the back of my mind though, this feeling of  not doing my job or my duty. What good is a shield without someone to protect? Without my family I truly am lost.

   I will miss my family. I will always worry about them. Now on my trip, and forever in the future, until the day I die my duty will never be fulfilled. It is not something they ask of me, nor something they expect of me. None of them have ever told me, "This is your role." In fact at times they probably wish this shield had a slightly softer side. For that, I must apologize to them. That is a side they will always have to struggle to see.

   I am torn of course. On one hand I have my wants and wishes but on the other I have my self-appointed sense of duty to my family. When my mom reads this I will know her response. She has always wanted us to have strong family bonds (in which she succeeded) but never so strong that it holds us back from the things we want in life. For me at least, I listened to both teachings all too well. I have a very strong bond with my family, but a strong desire to do things that will eventually take me far from them. The question there is, how far can a rope be stretched?

   You might be thinking to yourself, "Don't worry, it's just a month!" But it is not that simple. This month in Japan begins something far bigger for me in the future. To put some sort of simplicity to this, I have one life to live and a whole world to see.

   It will be tough, but I will cope and my worry will be as minimal as possible. My family is strong and we always take up the slack for each other when we need it. I know that my worry is for nothing.

   This helps a little, writing about it openly like this, I think. Before I started my first blog, I spoke to someone who has been very important to me about my plans. They told me that a blog should be open, truthful, and honest. I have always thought of myself as an honest person. I do not lie even when I probably should. In my writing, I try to express my raw thoughts as best as possible and I think I am fairly good at that. So, by extension, I have tried to keep my blogs posts as open and honest as I can. In doing so I think that, at least tonight, it has proven to be a good way to expel some of the emotions that plague the human brain from time to time.

   My month in Japan will certainly be interesting, I can tell you that.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Photo Basics: Shutter Speed

   If you have not read my other Photo Basics post about Aperture, please go read that one and come back.

   Shutter speed, for me, is something I am always keeping an eye on. Light changes when you are outside. A cloud could move in front of the sun, a subject may move into a shadow or out of it, or it could be much later in the day than when you first started shooting. When you are not in control of the light, you have to rely on what you do have control of. You have control of your camera.

   However, you only have control of your camera if you have gotten out of your automatic settings. If you have not done that then you have no control over anything except when you take the photo. Once you are in your manual setting you are in control of aperture, shutter speed, and many other settings. It's a whole different ball park once you have changed that dial to "M" and these "Photo Basics" posts aim to help you out in that regard.

   Previously I said that changing your aperture will brighten or darken an image, but it also effects your depth of field, or how much you have in focus. So what if you like what you have in focus or out of focus but it is still too bright or dark? Well you have other controls to get the exposure right without having to change your aperture. Shutter speed is one of them.

   Shutter speed is denoted as a fraction. When you look at the back of your camera it will usually say something like 1/100 or 1/1000. If you remember all the way back to 5th grade math you will remember that the more numbers in the denominator, the smaller the fraction actually is. Same is true for photography. First let me explain what your shutter is.

   When you put your eye to the viewfinder of your camera, the image you are seeing is what the lens is seeing. So in essence you are looking through the barrel of the lens.

But not quite. 

   What you are actually seeing is the image after it has hit a series of mirrors inside your camera and then reflected back into your eye. These mirrors are in the shape of a pentaprism and that part is quite complicated and not really of importance to this post. However, one of these mirrors is important, or rather where it is placed is important. There is a mirror directly behind your lense, this mirror is sitting on your shutter. The shutter blocks light from hitting your sensor(or film) inside your camera until the moment you hit the "shutter button" and take a photo. (This is far different for mirrorless cameras and they use an infrared electronic shutter but that is new technology and something to learn later. If you are a technology nut like I am this is incredibly fascinating stuff.)

   So when you do hit that shutter button what happens? Well for one you hear a little "click" from inside the camera and then you have your image. (Unless you're shooting film then you have your exposed piece of film which needs to be processed into a negative then developed... but you get the point.) That "click" is your shutter flipping up out of the way so that light may enter from the lens and into your camera and onto your sensor. (edit: 4-15-15 I don't know what I was trying to say here but that's not exactly what I meant. This made it sound like your shutter and mirror are one and the same which they are not. You mirror flips up out of the way and then your shutter slides out of the way of the sensor to allow light to hit it.) As a result, you cannot see anything from within the viewfinder for a split second because that mirror on your shutter is no longer reflecting light into your camera's pentaprism. This is called viewfinder blackout. It's less cataclysmic than it sounds...

   How long your shutter is out of the way depends on that fraction we spoke about earlier. That fraction represents a fraction of a whole second. So 1/100 is a hundredth of a second, 1/1000 is a thousandth of a second and so on. So how does that time determine how bright or dark an image is? Well since 1/100 of a second is longer than 1/1000 (1/1000 is the smaller fraction of time.) then more light has time to flood into your camera making an image brighter.

   "So Alex, why would I ever want a faster shutter speed?" Well for one thing, if you are in a very bright situation you want a fast shutter speed because then too much light will hit your sensor and make your image bright white. But beyond that it depends on your subject.

Fast moving subject slow shutter speed

   When you have a fast moving subject, and you choose a slow shutter speed, the subject will appear to streak across the frame. This is called motion blur. Sometimes this is bad, and sometimes it is good like in the image above. I used a very slow shutter speed with my camera on a tripod to make the merry-go-round appear to be going 100mph. That brings me to the next point. With night shots you want a longer exposure, at times your shutter speed may have to be longer than a full second. This is impossible to do without setting your camera on a tripod. Our hands are always moving whether from breathing or just being unsteady, this motion will transfer to your camera in a longer exposure.

Fast moving subject and fast shutter speed freezes motion
   Then you have fast moving objects which you do not want to be blurred in the frame. Such things as sports shots require the action to be frozen in time. The only option available to you is to shoot with a very fast shutter speed. However, this also requires a lot of light. If you are in bright daylight, chances are you will have no problem getting a very fast shutter speed and properly exposed image. But things like high school football games are usually played at night with stadium lights that are great for our eyes, but horrible for cameras. In this case you will also need a lens capable of a very large aperture to allow more light and counteract the loss of light from a fast shutter.

   It's really a lot less complicated than it sounds. With the invention of digital imaging it has become far easier to learn proper exposure by pure trial and error. Simply look at your scene, determine if you want a lot in focus or a little, figure out if it is a bright scene or a dark one, then guess a shutter speed and aperture combo. Once you take a photo you can determine from there whether it needs to be brighter, freeze more motion, freeze less motion, and so on. You can also use the camera's light meter as a general guideline. True mastery of your craft however means knowing how light works and being able to correctly capture a moment in time as it happens.

Hey everyone, did you like this post? Did you hate it? Did I miss something or do you still have questions? Please leave me some feed back. I enjoy answering questions, that's why I write posts like this. Also, is there something you would like me to cover or something you would like to see in the future? I have plenty of ideas on what I would like to write about, but ultimately my blog is for the interest of my readers. So if you have an idea please tell me, if you have a question, perhaps it will be a big enough question for me to write a whole post about. As always be sure to share this blog with everyone you know. Until next time, whip out your camera and make a scene!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Rain

Warning: This post has audio. Best listened to with headphones but on a mid to low volume. Some portions will seriously hurt your ears if up too high. 

(Took off autoplay on the video for the sake of my other posts so if you want to hear the rain audio I recorded in surround sound click play on the video at the bottom.)

   If I've said it once, I have said it a thousand times, I love the rain. Plain and simple, pack your bags  we're done here.

   Ok... so I lied. But not about loving the rain!

   Although I really don't like to drive in it...

   I am often a bit too overcritical of Texas. In fact I find it a bit boring and uneventful at times. If you have read some of my other blogs, you would probably have guessed I am a bit more of a city person than anything. Though Texas may have some of the biggest cities, San Antonio being one of them, more often than not they just don't feel much like the big city. Even if you disagree with me, all but a few cities in Texas are tiny little towns. Between those there is a bunch of nothing really.

   There lies a point that is arguably good and bad. On one hand, I do love to get out into nature full on sometimes. The thrill of fresh air, a harsh sun beating down, animals doing their animal things. (Stop thinking that way you pervert.) It's all very nice to be right in the middle of it sometimes. In some areas you really have to take a drive to even realize that nature still exists. Here though that's a little less of a fact and a lot of land in Texas is not really developed except the occasional farm or ranch. Even those need to be closer to the cities, if not on the outskirts.

   On the other hand, it is definitely not something I love to see every day all day long. In some small towns, as I am sure is the case with many in the U.S., that is really all you have and to top it off a lot of that is just desert. I had enough sand in my childhood to really jade me toward the desert. I do, on occasion, wonder about the ecology of it but I like to think about the desert from a distance. My hometown was in far west Texas and if you have ever driven from San Antonio or Austin to El Paso, you will know that there is nothing in between except cactus and sand. To be fair there are very nice, small, mountains but generally you're not stopping your 8 hour drive to go on a hike.

   But as I sit here with my window open, smelling the fresh rain, listening to the thunder roll and the water drop and pool up... I begin to understand what I would miss about this place. Texas is very interesting in its storms. First there are the pure thunder storms. I don't know if this is a common occurrence (I'm sure it is) elsewhere, but here it happens quite often. Thunder... just plain thunder, a sky of dark clouds, and a fast but cool wind. Often it doesn't even rain at all and the temperature is just amazing.

   Rain though... that's where Texas really steals my heart. Even in some of the rainiest parts of the state it is sometimes quite a rare occurrence. Naturally when rain comes, everyone is glad. No one really has a definite clue when the last rain storm was, but everyone knows when we are due for one. It's like an instinct passed down from somewhere long ago, and when it happens, the mood seems to be a little lighter.

   It's quite a violent thing really, these rain storms. Accompanying this storm is usually winds, lightning, and thunder (not to mention the damn humidity the next day...) but for all its violence there is some beauty wrapped up in it. Mother nature must be the only one entity capable of such raw power, destruction, violence, and yet in all of it be able to deliver such beauty.

   What is this beauty one might ask? I don't really know. What is beautiful about a painting or a kiss? Can you really say? What is so beautiful about a child being born? The very act of child birth is violent in nature and yet because of that very nature it is somehow beautiful. I cannot say why I feel this way about the rain. It's many things that are really nothing. It's the smell of wet dirt and grass. It is the sound of water droplets falling on leaves and puddles. It is the sound of a car driving past on the wet pavement. Perhaps even the sigh of relief that you can't explain but comes after a long drought. Lightning that flashes and reminds us that we struggle every day to harness that type of power. Thunder rolls with more ferocity than a stage full of percussionists and rocks the walls of the home you feel so safe in.

   Yet in the end, for all the destructive and beautiful power of nature, the world still turns. Rain clouds move on like a visitor just passing through and in its wake it leaves bull frogs to croak and fresh green blades of grass to spring up like soldiers at attention.

   Then it is over. As quickly as it came, quicker did it go. A fleeting beauty, one we may never control.

   In Texas we see all of it. From the long dry drought to the torrential rain that I love so much. If I ever leave this place, I know there will be rain elsewhere. Perhaps more... maybe less... But it will never be like a Texas storm. Something about this place is really special and I can't place my finger on it. That's the thing I will miss most about Texas....

The rain.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Almost a Death Scene

   I made a new vlog. Hopefully the quality is better this time.

  As a vlogger I follow would say, "This is a laundry vlog," meaning it's not something to watch, but rather something to listen to while you are folding your laundry, picking your nose, watching paint dry, whatever. It's a story about a time I almost died. Check it out!

Also, I will be in Japan next month! I hope to share my experiences with anyone who reads my blog. I will take a lot of photos, of course, write lots of blogs, and most importantly, show a bunch of videos. If you want to see a new culture, see Japan, keep up with what I am doing, be sure to look for these videos/blogs starting June 9th 2014.

If you think my story time videos are boring, please tell me how I can improve my videos or tell me to ditch the story time videos completely. I am new to this stuff so it is all trial and error. The videos from Japan won't be as boring I promise.

Attack of the Finals!

   Next week is finals time and holy crap do I hate this part of the semester. This is the part where you have to remember crap from months ago.

   Studying is an interesting affair. It's not so hard because of the actual material for me, that's the easy part. It is having to fight with myself to actually study that's tough. I don't know how I get any studying done at all. Half the time my mind is on games, a quarter of the time it is on food, and the other quarter is actually on what I am looking at. (Probably less.)

   Whatever happened to take home or open book tests? I liked those, I wish I was back in middle school. Stuff was so much easier then.

   To all those going through the gauntlet that is finals, good luck to you! As for me, I am pretty confident I am ready. What about you guys? Are you ready? Are you going to bribe the professor?

I wonder what's for dinner....
My brain on finals week

Friday, May 2, 2014


Zio's Pepperoni Chicken
   I am just going to put it out there. I'm not a big fan of Italian food. I said it. To me one pasta is just like the next pasta and tomato sauce at the end of the day is just tomato sauce. I love cheese, and in Italian food only the most mild of cheeses are used. I love these cheeses but as a fat American who loves cheese I need far more of the stuff than the little pinch they put in a lot of Italian food. Did I mention my bad experience with sausage yet? Yeah, when you order sausage from an Italian restaurant, you'd expect something other than an over sized sausage link but you would be sadly wrong.

   So as you can tell Italian food is never really first on my mind when thinking about dinner. That's not to say that the stuff is bad, but it is just not my favorite. Zio's restaurant is a little different though.

   To be fair, I am sure that Zio's is not an authentic Italian restaurant and may not be a proper representation of Italian food. I get that. It is, however, damn good. I get the pepperoni chicken. This scrumptious piece of food porn is made up of pasta, marinara, bell pepper (I love bell pepper), onion, chicken, pepperoni, black olives, cheese, mushrooms, and red pepper flakes.

   There are probably two things you are thinking about that ingredient list. One, you must have said to yourself, "Holy crap that sounds like a blessing from heaven hand delivered to us mortals by one-thousand hand picked Angels." You will be pleased to know that you are 100% correct friend. The next thing you must be thinking, ironically, is, "That sounds like heartburn from the deepest pits of hell." There too, you would be correct. My only advice for that is make sure to stop by your local pharmacy on your way to Zio's.

   Honestly though, this stuff is really good. It's a huge bowl and they don't skimp on anything. Except cheese, but that's just me. They put a great amount of everything but not too much and there is a lot of chicken which is pretty surprising. I wouldn't doubt it if someone told me they put in a whole chicken breast, it really does seem like it. Usually when you order stuff like this I imagine the cook in the back telling the waiter, "Wait! I forgot the damn chicken!" and the waiter saying, "Damn it Bob! Just throw in those three pieces let's go!"

   Anyways Zio's really is good. If you're one of those who thinks all Italian places should be authentic or burn to the ground, I really don't know what to say to you. My palette is not at all that refined. I'm just an uncultured American after all, cut me some slack here! But for the rest of my uncultured brethren, I can confidently say this place is really good.

   As for prices, it's not too terrible but it's not cheap either. On this particular trip it was my Momma and I. The bill came out to a little over $30. I can see the bill growing quite quickly with a few more mouths.

   On this particular trip our waiter seemed a bit full of himself. He wasn't necessarily rude, but he didn't have the warming, "I'd like to help you," sort of attitude. My mom is a talker, and when she asked him questions you got this feeling we were talking too much from the very first word, and by the end of the question we might as well have read him all of Gilgamesh in one sitting. Every other time I have gone I haven't felt this way, so don't be too worried about it. Other than that the only other gripe I have is with the bread. It's always very plain (It is meant to be dipped in an oil and herb mix) and very doughy tasting. Only slightly too, like as if they had left in the oven for 15 more seconds it wouldn't taste that way.

   So that's it, those are the ups and downs of Zio's. I like it enough to return every once in a while and I am not a big fan of Italian food. If you are a fan, and don't expect it to be hand delivered from Italy, then I think you will feel the same way about it. I suggest the pepperoni chicken! But what do I know?

Thanks for reading this blog post! Really, I appreciate every single view I get and every comment means a lot to me. It makes me imagine that I am not writing this for myself! Although if I must be honest, even if I was the only reader, I would be writing anyways. Since you are here though, please check out my other blog posts. I write about all kinds of stuff so make sure to share this blog with everyone you can and be sure to tell me your views on any of the things I talk about!

And of course, even if you are just sitting down having dinner with family or friends, remember to whip out your camera and make a scene!
Two of my 4 sisters and my one and only Momma!