Saturday, December 20, 2014

SOLD OUT! Book Signing at 2nd & Charles

Manager Kim from 2nd & Charles stopped by for a photo op with the few remaining books.

It was a busy day at the 2nd & Charles Book Store in Woodbridge, VA, for both me and the employees. Again, I had a wonderful time talking to the patrons and selling my books. All gone until the next shipment arrives on Monday. Still time to get one or two as Christmas gifts.

Pop Collectibles drew heavy traffic. I have no clue what this fad is about.

I found it a bit of a challenge competing with the table of Pop Culture collectible figures just three feet away. I've never heard of them, but apparently they're popular among some. So it was books versus bobbleheads!

Even this did not faze the ardent collectors. Within minutes it was buried behind shifting Pop boxes. 

I think we both won at the end of the night. If they had one of an author sitting at a table, or writing a book, I'm sure I would have purchased it. All in good fun!

See ya next time. Thank you 2nd & Charles and staff! Vic

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'Beautiful Nature' in the Making

Tentative cover design for "Beautiful Nature." I'll probably change it before the book is completed.
It's been seven long years of trekking through the trails of Northern Virginia--from Prince William Forest Park to Conway Robinson State Park--and now I'm ready to complete the photo tabletop book, which I am simply titling, "Beautiful Nature."

Full-page images of a few of the many beautiful trails I've walked along several times.
I've seen a lot of interesting things along the way, and I've had some incredible experiences that I hope I can convey in the captions for the photos. That's been the biggest challenge. I'm not a fan of photo books with no captions at all. But I also don't want to just state the name of the creature or plant or the location where a shot was taken. Instead, I am going to write about why I like each photo, and what was going on at the time that I took it. Like, how did I stumble upon these lizards and turtle? Creatures that hide so well you're lucky if you spot any in an entire summer.

And what was it like discovering these unique mushrooms? If you're a fan of fungi, you're going to love this book. To walk through miles of green and brown and then discover one tiny spot where a single bright-red mushroom has made its home is quite exciting. At least to a nature photographer. It's like an alien to the surroundings.

Remember the seventeen-year-cicada orgy of 2013? From the moment the millions hatched to a single ant carrying away the wing of a deceased adult, I was there to document it all.

And the seasons. The wonderful seasons. They're all covered in the book. Many are displayed in two-page spreads where you can immerse yourself into the beauty of it all.

Finally, what held the completion of the book back by two years: the lack of cumulative snow in Virginia. It wasn't until the winter of 2013 when there was enough to obtain some truly awesome shots. And then it seemed as if  the snow would never stop! My wish for snow came true a few too many times.

Brown leaves interspersed among dark trunks in a peaceful winter scene at the Brentsville Nature Trail.
I'm hoping to complete the book by the summer of 2015. Until then, enjoy hundreds of these nature photos on your TV along with relaxing music in my DVD, "Calmness of Woods." Your purchase helps cover the cost of making these images possible. Vic

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Only Dumbasses Buy Expensive Cameras

I recently overheard an acquaintance talk about how she wished she would have added more lens attachments for her costly DSLR camera to her Christmas wishlist, and I thought, you only take pictures of your baby. And you choose to do that with your iPhone. So it got me thinking about all the people I see, mostly amateur photographers who really have no need for a DSLR, walking around with these $1500-$3000 monstrosities. If you're one of those people, or you are thinking of becoming one of those people, I'm here to tell're an idiot. Seriously, though, you can be reformed.

I have been photographing subjects, nature, and landscapes from the moment the first Epson digital camera debuted back in like 1997. I believe Casio was the first one on the market. These took low-resolution, 640 x 480 images. It wasn't long before pixel counts doubled, then tripled, and quadrupled. Today, almost any digital camera you purchase has the ability to take photos large enough to print decent 8" x 10" prints.

Shot with an old two-megapixel digital camera. Good enough for the web, yes?
The problem is the mindset, the belief that you must buy an expensive camera to achieve top quality. And some manufacturers have suckered people into that way of thinking. Here, buy this shell camera for $1200, then add a $700 telephoto lens so you can shoot maybe 8x or 12x. Then buy another expensive attachment so you can achieve wide-angle shots. Oh, you'll need a large accessory bag for all those components, too. Have fun hauling all that weight around.

The truth is, you don't need any of that. There are mid-range-priced digital cameras that will get the job done above and beyond what you would expect. Some are referred to as "bridge" cameras—cameras that have more bells and whistles than your typical point-and-shoot, but, apparently, less than a DSLR. But many have more capabilities than their expensive counterparts. Like my new Panasonic Lumix FZ200, which has the ability to shoot optical 24x zoom (not digital zoom) and maintain an aperture of F2.8 all the way through. That means it lets in more light through the entire zoom range so the shutter speed can be faster. This results in sharper images at full zoom. Like the one below.

24x zoom on the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. Notice the wide-angle shot in the top left corner.
Typically a manufacturer will release three models each year: a low-end, a mid-range, and a high-end. I always go for the mid-range model because it's usually several hundred dollars less than the high-end model, and has more manual controls than I'll ever need for my photographs. And I've never been disappointed.

Your best choice for a camera should match your usage. If you're only going to take photos for the web, any camera will do. Seriously. Even that near twenty-year-old Epson is sufficient enough for the web. But if you want to experiment a little further with your photography, just make sure the camera has manual overrides on Aperture and Shutter and Exposure. Look at the dial on top of the camera. If you see an A, S, and M, that means you can set the aperture (the F-stop) and the shutter speed at whatever you want. Invariably, those cameras will also allow you adjust the exposure as well. Then look for zoom capabilities. Ignore the digital zoom number (unless you like pixelated pictures) and only pay attention to the optical zoom number. It's not hard to find cameras that will take excellent photos at 10x-12x zoom in good lighting.

Cameras with manual Aperture and Shutter Speed controls allow you to take more creative shots.
As with any device, it's how well you use it that will determine the quality of your outcome. You can't expect to shoot handheld in near darkness and achieve sharp images without a flash or tripod. This even goes for the expensive models. So take some time to learn how to compose and light your subjects, or how to adjust the controls for the various lighting situations you will encounter. Digital photography is cheap. Just take multiple photos to get it right, and soon you will be able to predict what manual adjustments you'll need to make for various scenarios. Some cameras, like my new Lumix (which I got on sale for $297 on Black Friday), allow you to store those settings for future use, or already have "scene" settings dedicated to them. I have stored settings for nighttime photography, action photography, and everyday shots. Then I can just concentrate on composing and shooting.

I know some of you will be holdouts. You'll continue to believe that you need to spend several thousand dollars to achieve the finest, most exquisite shots of your dog, your flowers, or those tree-covered mountain ranges on your trip to the Amazon. You'll make comments that allude that you can "tell the difference" in the photo quality. Let me guess, you own a mac, too? You purchased a $2000 mac so you can type words for a document, search the Internet, and occasionally edit a video, perhaps. My eight-year-old $700 HP PC has produced two broadcast-quality videos (one aired on PBS), edited hundreds of thousands of photos, produced three published books, designed websites, and has paid for itself quite sufficiently. But, that's another story.

Save your money, do your research, and enjoy taking pictures!

Order the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Washington Post covers 'People Who Need To Die'

Washington Post, Dec. 7, 2014, Prince William Extra section

Wipe that smirk off my face. Ha ha. Sarah Lane from the Washington Post covered my new book with an excellent feature story for the Prince William Extra section. I had waited a couple of weeks after the interview to see if they'd run it, then I noticed a spike in Kindle sales for the book this morning. It pretty much told me to haul down to the gas station and grab some papers, 'cause something must be causing it! Special thanks to Cindy Brookshire and Kathy Moya from the Write By The Rails group for helping me for the piece. Read the full piece here.

I also had a wonderful time signing books at the Deja Brew Coffeehouse in Haymarket last night, where I had great conversations with some terrifically talented people. Special thanks to Tom Nichols for plastering the shop with large posters of my scruffy face all over. When I saw the one above the men's toilet, I knew I had arrived.

Deja Brew Coffeehouse Men's Room (which is super clean!)

Next book signing is Dec. 20, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the 2nd and Charles Book Store in Woodbridge, VA. See ya there! Vic

Awesome folks who came to Deja Brew just to get copies of my book. We'll be in touch!

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas in Old Town Manassas

Every year Manassas recreates its Old Town Christmas charm with lights, banners, and window displays. Check out and share the gallery of photos I've started for the festivities.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Portable Writing Devices and You

The NEC Mobile Pro 790 with a makeshift case from a DVD holder.

Though the keyboard on my home PC is where I'm best able to crack away at a story, sometimes I need to go remote to unearth that muse. For me, it is usually outside sitting in my car on a sunny day. A laptop would be too cumbersome. A tablet, too small. So I put to good use this circa 2001 NEC Mobile Pro 790 unit I purchased on ebay years ago. It features instant-on (no booting up), Windows CE versions of MS-Office, an SD card slot, and a backlit touch screen. Yes, well before tablets there were devices with touch screens. The case you see is a DVD holder with the sleeves removed and velcro added to hold the unit in place. Zip it up and I'm on the go!
The Dana.
And here is yet another crazy device. The Dana. It features a full-sized keyboard and a narrow touch screen. You can view about five lines of text at one time. And the battery life....very long. Like days. Unfortunately, the screen can be very hard to read unless the light hits it right. But the keyboard it awesome. It also features two USB ports on the back and SD card slots to transfer files back to the mother PC.

So tell me in the comments below what your favorite writing tools are. What works for you? Vic

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Prince William Times Covers 'People Who Need To Die'

Cover of the November 26, 2014 Prince William Times
Just ran out to Walgreens to get a few copies. I'm on the top center of the front page with the quote, "They really do need to die." Too funny. The full article is on page A3 under the header "Murderous Impulses." Gotta like a sense of humor. Please note that there is a misprint on the dates and times for the upcoming book signings. They should read December 6, 4-10 p.m. at Deja Brew Coffeehouse in Haymarket and Dec. 20 at the 2nd & Charles Book Store in Woodbridge from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Thank you Tara Slate Donaldson! Read story below or on Prince William Times.

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Book Signing at Prospero's Books

Image by Robert Jinks
Photographer Robert Jinks stopped by and took this picture of me at the Nov. 8 book signing for People Who Need To Die at Prospero's Book Store in Old Town Manassas. Quite a perspective on the whole process. Visit Robert's site and enjoy his wonderful photography at

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Signing at Deja Brew Coffeehouse

Come to the Deja Brew Coffeehouse in Haymarket on Saturday, December 6, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. to receive a signed copy of my new book, People Who Need To Die. Location: 5311 Merchants View Square, Haymarket, VA. See you there! Vic

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Making of Die Glocke

The Die Glocke, or Nazi Bell, for Robert F. Dorr's cover for "Hitler's Time Machine" was created with several programs. The shape itself was modeled in an old 3D program called Raydream Studio. Here are the steps:

A profile line is carefully drawn on the back wall and swept around a center axis. Bezier curves are applied at specific points to achieve a smooth edge.

A square rod is created and duplicated to form three rosettes where holes are desired.
A Boolean algorithm subtracts the rod intersections with the original shape. You can see vertical rods were also created and subtracted to create the bottom holes. Now light can appear to shine through the bell.
Three rings are made by combining concentric circles and removing the centers. Then they are positioned on the shape. You'll notice a flat disc and torus have been added on top of the bell shape.
A cast iron texture is applied to the bell, and a swastika banner created in a graphics program is applied around the center to blend in with the bump of the cast iron so it looks as though it were painted on. Yellow spheres with a glow are placed inside the Glocke, and an overlay of beams is added on top of the rendered image.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

'People Who Need To Die' at Prospero's Book Store

Come to Old Town Manassas and visit Prospero's Book Store on 9129 Center Street for your copy of my "People Who Need To Die." Or, save yourself the drive and order it on in Kindle or paperback now. Enjoy! Vic

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Haymarket Beat Covers 'People Who Need To Die'

Thank you Katherine Gotthardt and the Haymarket Beat for your article on my book.

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