Skillman Park

I drove over to Sylvan Lake in Skillman Village, hoping to duplicate my success at Van Horne Park. I saw a few butterflies, the occasional bird and bee, but my efforts were for nought. I saw no dragonflies even when I walked down the embankment and stood almost in the water.

I saw people, butterflies and a few birds, but I saw no dragonflies. But I finally had one image that I think qualifies for the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #155 – On the Water.

Sylvan Lake is not a lake. I'm not sure how or when the word lake was applied, but the "lake" is a reservoir inside Skillman Park. Birds are attracted to various fish, including brook trout and rainbow trout that live in the reservoir. Parts of the lake are more like wetlands with many grass and wetland plants attracting frogs and various insects.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 320
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 100 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 1250
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640

Sylvan Lake sits on the Western periphery of Skillman Park, a newish park created from the remnants of an abandoned and condemned former New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute. The Village Elementary (Montgomery Township) school is located on the Eastern end of the property. As the township grew, parents grew concerned about the asbestos and sewage from the old buildings. They eventually pressured the township, which pressured the county (Somerset) to clean up the property. Somerset County and put in new roads, trails, a dog park, and picnic tables. Skillman Park is a multi-use park that is maintained by the Somerset County Parks Department.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1800 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 1250
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1800 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 800
Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 500

Chasing Dragons

For John's Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #155 – On the Water I had initially planned to go whale watching in Cape May with Bhavna. I rented a Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR in anticipation of excitement. But as the long weekend neared, Bhavna had heard on the local news that the shore towns were expecting large crowds for the 4th of July weekend. I reluctantly agreed to set my focus (pun intended) closer to home when the lens arrived. Bhavna even suggested a few places nearby; Carnegie Lake, and the D&R Canal State Park Trail. Since they brought up the topic of the canal, I suggested we try canoeing or kayaking. Bhavna was hesitant. She remembered that our last attempt at canoeing was frustrating. We could not coordinate our paddling and got stuck going in circles on Lake George. If I remember correctly I paddled out and in. Despite that experience being over twenty years ago Bhavna could not be convinced to try canoeing on Carnegie Lake.

Honestly, I think I have some sort of PTSD. I am reluctant to visit many of the places I visited heavily pre-pandemic but avoided them during the pandemic. I also didn't want to see either of those places with a super-telephoto.

Inspired by Stephen Gingold and local photography David Mathre I decided I would photograph dragonflies.

On my way out to the Montgomery Farmers Market, I almost tripped the box at the front door. I guess correctly that it was the Fujinon XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR that I rented. It arrived a day late. It was supposed to come Friday evening.

In the afternoon, Shaan suggested that I visit the tiny bit of wetland near the outer edge of Van Horne Park. She knew that I had rented the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR to photograph dragonflies and had remembered that we had previously seen dragonflies and butterflies in that location.

I parked on Princeton Avenue and crossed onto the trailhead. I immediately found several dragonflies. Several prominent black and silver specimens were darting among the cattails.

At first, I struggled with the lens. It's been over almost two years since my last birding field trip. I needed some practice. The dragonflies did not cooperate, choosing to land on the concrete wall of the man-made wetlands. The butterflies were more cooperative.

Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 1600

I was ready to leave when this blue and green dragonfly darted overhead and then landed on a branch of a nearby plant. He sat still long enough for me to capture him in two different poses. Then he was gone.

Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township
Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township | Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640
Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township
Dragonfly, Van Horne Park, Montgomery Township | Saturday 3 July, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR @ 400 mm | 1640 sec at f/8.0 | ISO 640



A friend shared a link to an article by Christopher Brennan the growing trend of "data poisoning", a type of misinformation campaign that researcher Priyanka Ranade specifically targets information security professionals.

“I used to work in a cyber security operations center, and the analysts do use a lot of the cyber threat intelligence that’s out there on a daily basis,” Ranade said.

“I was reading Krebs on Security one day and I thought ‘How does he get all this information?’ He has to do research and probably has people working under him doing research, but what if they come across something that is misinformation that gets spread on these popular blogs. You have all these analysts reading it and they trust these sources.”

Oy vey!

An entertaining piece by science fiction author David Brin in response to people "..that insists on interpreting the legends of illiterate shepherds as physically precise accounts".

Now of course, it is somewhat like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. Past scholars, uncharitable toward literalist believers in “biblical inerrancy,” have calculated the needed size of the Ark, for example. Were even just all known mammal species shoved aboard, shoulder to shoulder — you’d need a hundred modern aircraft carriers.
Alas, that raises a counter question about the fallibility of a deity who had to revise His design. (Not a problem, by modern reckoning! All ambitious projects undergo revision. It is only a quandary – ironically – to the obsequiously devout, who insist on zero-fallibility, a completely unnecessary trait of a creator and, well, a hard piece of flattery to live up to!)
… instead of as the vastly subtle Creator worshipped by Einstein, who concocts a vast cosmos of stunning complexity, diversity and extant — a universe truly worthy of respect. A God who — Albert would tell us, if he were here today — must have gotten things started fourteen billion years ago by uttering the stunning beauty of Maxwell’s Equations, in order to command…

“let there be light.”


Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something. Just a week after homeowners on my street organised to protest the creation of new townhomes and affordable housing on the other side of our fence line in the wooded area behind our units, a blog post in my RSS leads me to see another perspective.

Sightline Institute has a 2018 article by Dan Bertolet in which he describes how historic preservation in Seattle often impacts the need for affordable housing options. While my townhome is no danger of being considered historical, I wonder if my resistance is more about what I would lose versus what my little Central New Jersey town needs.

Who pays when a capricious preservation ruling sacrifices 200 homes? The developers? They just move on: failed projects are built into their business model. The 200 well-off households that would have rented those shiny new apartments? They just compete for other homes in the city in bidding wars that their flush bank accounts ensure they win. But then that sequential process of outbidding steps down the housing market to lower and lower cost homes until the poorest families are left with nothing they can afford. When historic preservation cuts into home production, the people who pay most dearly are those with the least housing security.

The article includes excellent examples of the problems.


Friday 25 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1125 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 3200

On the topic of gear collecting as a hobby, Michael C. Johnston had this to say over on The Online Photographer:

It struck me that wristwatch collecting is probably as close as you can come to a purely passive or undemanding form of gear enthusiasm. It really requires nothing of the collector except that they like watches and want more than one. The only skill required is telling time.
At the other end might be guitar connoisseurship. Does it make any sense at all to collect guitars if you can't play guitar and know nothing about music?

Although I'm sure there must be non-playing guitar geeks out there, because, well, because geekery.
On the spectrum of "active skills required" (guitar geekery) to purely passive (watch geekery), photography is remarkably flexible. Being a photographer can require a great deal of dedication, visual aptitude, and skills at one end of the spectrum. But on the other, well, anyone can take a photograph—just point it and shoot, as the phrase has it. You might not get a masterpiece, but you'll get something. Anyone can participate.

With photography, you pick where you want to be on the active <—> passive scale. You can just collect gear and rarely if ever use it. Or, your whole focus can be shooting and you can all but ignore the gear.

I don't collect cameras. I use them. I don't collect cars. I drive them. I don't collect guitars. I am tone-deaf. I had a small watch collection, but now I just wear the same watch every day.

I do try my best to collect experiences.

Friday 25 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF27mmF2.8 | 1125 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 2000


When I’ve heard vinyl over the past few years, I’ve generally not been impressed. To my ears it didn’t sound better than a CD or even a good streaming service. That evening with my brother-in-law changed my perception completely. He’s been a vinyl collector for many years and has a lovely set of refurbished 1970s hi-fi separates to play his records on. The sound quality melted the wax in my ears.

What utter shite! The sound quality from vinyl does not compare well to the quality of a CD. A listener may prefer the sound from a vinyl setup but to call the sound quality is hyperbole. So what brought me to this article.

I have some vinyl recordings by soca musicians from the West Indies that are not available in the digital compact disk, or digital streaming audio or downloadable digital audio files. The Caribbean studios recorded these calypso albums long before the advent of compact discs. The market for the 1980s soca is limited. I want to listen to them, but I need a record player, perhaps one with a USB output, to digitize the audio for enjoyment on other devices.

But as I started to explain to my wife why large thin disks were arriving in the mail from Brooklyn, I realized more was going on.

When I was a teenager, Dad was very much into Hi-Fi. Over time, he had built an impressive rig. Dad would sit in the living room on the weekends, place one of his favourites on the turntable, and sit back in the “right” spot for a focused listening session. Sometimes I would join him. We sat there, both enjoying the music, the moment broken by just a few words between us.

I lost Dad in 2019. To keep Dad alive in my memory, I want to recreate those moments. Dad’s setup was the high end. He had Linn Sondek LP12, Quad ESL 63 or Bose 901 Series III, NAD preamp, Hafler DH-200 amp, Nakamichi LX cassette tape desk, and electrical power stabiliser.

After his passing, my brothers found Dad’s LP12 in storage in pieces. Termites had eaten the wood plinth, and the metal parts were water damaged. We don’t know what happened to the rest of Dad’s HiFi gear.

I don’t have the budget or space for the level of HiFi gear Dad owned, but according to HFi Setup, I fit the demographic profile for buyers of vintage audio gear, and prices are generally trending down.

…the buyer market is shrinking and not backfilling. The leading profile for vintage audio buyers is ~50+ year old males. Buyer motivation is a mix of appreciation of sonics, mid-century design style and ?nostalgia for gear they grew up with?. When I sell vintage audio gear, almost without exception, buyers are 50+ year old males — while my personal experiences are anecdotal, they represent a small snapshot of a global trend to all HiFi, not simply vintage audio.

I’ve spoken to several leaders in the HiFi world that corroborate even today, the focus market for high-end HiFi gear is male, over 50 years old. Even the contemporary high-end audiophile buyer market is shrinking precipitously. Supporting evidence, the Stereophile Magazine media kit that includes readership demographics, 99% male, average age, 47.

I don’t need expensive audio gear to recreate the moments of focused listening with Dad, and I don’t want an extensive HiFi setup. I listen to a lot of digital audio, and Apple recently updated their Apple Music service to lossless audio. My iPhone is a convenient digital audio source. Apple’s audio catalogue is extensive. Schiit Audio makes capable DACs and headphone amps with phono inputs. I think I can build my audio listening experience around that. It’s not about the gear. It’s about the memories.


My brother-in-law Dipan sent out an SMS. Come hang out in the backyard. We'll grill, make some frozen cocktails and hang out. This was fun.

The family get-together provided ample subjects to practice shooting the aperture of the Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 lens wide open. I had adapted the MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 to my Fuji-XT2, and with the 1.52 crop factor, this lens offers an angle of view similar to a 76mm lens on a full-frame 35mm camera. That's a "short" portrait lens range, and the f/1.7 produced some creamy background.

Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7 | 14700 sec | ISO 200

While hid Dad, Dipan grilled, Rahul offered up his usual cheesy smile. We chatted about the new 85" TV Dipan had bought to "hang out with your friends in the basement" room. I immediately ordered a copy of the F1 2021 racing game to be delivered. We are going to have some fun.

Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7 | 14700 sec | ISO 200

Shaan wanted me to take her portrait, which is unusual for my kids. She wanted some headshots and some full-body photos. I took all at maximum aperture.

Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1/1400 sec | ISO 200

Dipan grilled hotdogs, veggie burgers, mushrooms with a spicy marinade, jalapeno peppers, and corn on the cob while mixing up frozen margaritas.

Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 116000 sec | ISO 200

Dipan bought a new Honda Odyssey mini-van. I had warned him that although spacious and comfortable, mini-vans were boring to drive. They are young Dad cars. I know. We used to have one. He acknowledged that I was spot on, but the mini-van is what he wants for the long roads trips with Rohan, Rahul and his parents. This summer, they want to spend some time exploring the northeast - the Maine coastline, perhaps Niagara Falls, Canada, etc.

Above, Mukesh talking excitedly with Dipan about the mini-van.

Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1680 sec  | ISO 200

Bhavna was happy to be with her family. She had a rough week with sleep, and this was a pleasant distraction. I can see the happiness in her eyes.

Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 13500 sec| ISO 400
Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1900 sec | ISO 200
Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7 | 1/2700 | ISO 200
Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1/1250 sec | ISO 400

Later in the evening, we sat on lounge chairs in a circle, having those witty but deeply connecting conversations that families have. Rohan finally sat still long enough for me to capture his portrait.

Rohan | Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1400 sec at f/1.0 | ISO 400

Lens-Artists Challenge #154 – One Photo Two Ways

When I was at my sister-in-law's home last night, I noticed these flowers that she planted along the side of the hose near the garage. I thought it would be great to focus my Minolta MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 lens, which I had adapted to my Fuji X-T2, on something other than portraits of the family. Just like with the portraits above, I set this nearly 40-year-old lens at its maximum aperture.

I almost always forget to attach an image for the weekly Lens-Artists Challenge. I am either too busy during the week, don't get outside, or get too busy on the weekend, hastily post my journal for the week, and forget to attach images. I remembered this morning - Monday - so I did some quick editing in Adobe Lightroom and Luminar AI. This week's challenge is One Photo Two Ways.

The original image (below) is underexposed.

Original | Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1280 sec at f/1.0 | ISO 400

I wanted the brighten the image but still let the flowers play the central role. I increased exposure and white balance and then pulled back the shadows to darken the leaves framing these purple-pink flowers. There is some colour shifting in the flowers.

Edit #1 | Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1280 sec at f/1.0 | ISO 400

My second edit was a bit simpler. I applied a fade to the image while increasing highlights and whites just a bit.

Edit #2 | Sunday 27 June, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | 50 mm | 1280 sec at f/1.0 | ISO 400