August 31, 2005

Preseason, no more

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For the last three weeks, I've been more stressed than usual in putting out my sports section. You see, for three weeks, I had no local sports to cover, really. Teams were practicing, but games didn't start until this week.

Each week I normally have a minimum of four, but preferably five or six articles in my sports pages. My mission became seeking out more human interest stories instead of play-by-play, and that can make for good reading, but it's hard to dig those stories up, especially for three weeks straight.

But I've made it through, and our next paper will be full of sports action. In the meantime, though, I did stories such as one about a local college student transferring from one college to another to improve his draft prospects for baseball, how players prepare for football, and how coaches prepare for football.

And this week, I put out a 16-page insert section about the upcoming fall season for the two schools in our coverage area and their five sports. I wrote everything, took all the photos, identified all the kids, and layed out the pages. That was done last week, since there's no working ahead on that. The coaches often don't have but two weeks of practice by that time, and getting rosters from them can be tough.

But when all the work is done, it sure is nice to hold the finished product in my hands and get some of the newsprint on my fingers as I peruse the pages.

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Magnitude and minutiae

Today's a breezy day here in Virginia. Gray clouds scoot across the sky, parting to reveal blue sky or brilliant white thunderheads. Yesterday there were tornadoes on the other side of the mountains. They were spawned by the remnants of Katrina.

It amazes me that what destroyed much of the Gulf coast and what continues to wreak havoc on New Orleans has such a strong reach.

At the same time, I have a minor cut that runs from the base of my pointer finger across my palm to the outer edge of my hand. I got it two weeks ago playing on a rope swing at the river. Turns out the rope wasn't all rope, but also metal cable. The cut bled a little, but in general it wasn't as bad as a paper cut. I cleaned it out when we got home, and I even went and got my tetanus shot updated.

Before you think I'm putting my cut hand on the level of Katrina, I'm not.

Two weeks ago, I could peer some fractions of an inch into my sliced palm. Now roughly half the cut is healed back to where you really can't tell I was hurt. There's no scarring, and I'm amazed that our bodies can heal so well. We could never devise such a system ourselves without studying how the body heals, yet we have a God who cares enough about us that he's built our bodies to repair themselves.

Our brightest engineers can't stop up broken levees, and our most knowledgeable weather experts can celebrate only that they came within 15 miles of predicting where the hurricane's eye would strike.

The physical, emotional, and psychological wounds from Katrina won't heal so well as my hand. Those of us outside that part of the country can see the damage, but we don't understand the smells, and the helplessness of having nowhere to go for daily conveniences.

Meanwhile, we know that God created everything we know, and we know that it is He who permits storms such as Katrina that confound us in breadth, power, and destruction. That he is so powerful, yet so attentive to us, should actually be a comfort to us.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I called. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears.

2 Sam. 22:2-7

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August 25, 2005

Barn fire

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Here's three photos from Saturday morning's barn fire. A morning fog complicated the exposure settings for me. I had to use a lot of fill flash, although I didn't use it for any of these shots. (I have one other shot that I might post later that did use fill flash.)

The top photo is what was on our front page of the newspaper, two columns wide (kinda small). It's three firefighters using their pike poles to pull the tin roof out of the way so that they can get water on the fire.

082505 Fire02.jpg

Next is a shot of a firefighter running away from the barn as a large beam falls right where he'd been standing. It ran on the inside jump page. I made the photo while quickly walking backwards and shooting from the hip (or chest, probably more accurately). It's one of a series of shots.

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Last is a shot that didn't run in the paper of the wall on the far end of the barn collapsing. This time nobody was standing too close when it fell.

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August 23, 2005

Book Review: Knowing God

Knowing God
Knowing God
by J. I. Packer
286 pages, with index

The gist:

From current Christian publications, you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you. But our line of study makes the present-day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being--that is, learning to know God in Christ. (Emphasis mine.)

As Packer moves through three main sections (Know the Lord, Behold Your God, If God be for us), he redirects the readers' focus from the earthly and temporal to the godly and eternal. His emphasis falls not on a specific attribute of God, but on an entire range of attributes. As such, we see a God that is the only true God, the God Incarnate, unchanging, majestic, wise, truth, love, gracious, judge, wrathful, good, severe and jealous.

The last section focuses our view that this God is for us. In this section, we see how God provided not merely expiation but propitiation for our sins. Chapter 19, which is entitled "The Sons of God" paints a beautiful picture of our adoption as sons of God. Not only did God provide salvation through Christ his son, he has accepted us as children through Christ's work. Another chapter looks at God as our guide. Packer notes that all of us, at some time or another, will miss the road that God has laid out for us. Thankfully, as Packer points out "Our God is a God who not merely restores, but takes up our mistakes and follies into his plan for us and brings good out of them."

My take:
As Packer states, so many well-meaning believers short-change themselves or their brothers in Christ by focusing on only some of God's attributes or on some aspect of the Christian walk. At the end of the section entitled "Behold Your God," Packer seems to allude to such people when he talks of God's jealousy and references the Laodicean church in Revelation 3. "How many of our churches today are sound, respectable--and lukewarm?" Packer says, calling for revival.

If one wants to know what is going on in a room, one will scan from side to side, using his or her senses of sight, smell, sound, and touch to get the full picture. A person looking through a telescope at one part of the room while wearing ear and nose plugs will not get the entire picture of what's going on. The same is true in knowing God.

By emphasizing only part of God's attributes, we present an inaccurate picture of Christ. So often, it seems, pulpits are full of God's judgement, wrath, severity, and jealousy. What does that, by itself, do to inspire worship? We need also to see God as the only true God, who is immutable, majestic, wise, loving and gracious.

Packer's book serves as a wake-up call to that fact. When we study Knowing God in that light, peripheral issues to the book that could distract people, such as the use of numerous Bible translations and Packer's questionable associations, will fade away and we will gain from the experience.

Previous book reviews:
Report from Engine Co. 82

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August 21, 2005

Barns, boats and batteries

Yesterday we enjoyed a three-mile float trip on the Shenandoah River, not far from home. Darla's cousin and her cousin's husband joined us as we paddled two kayaks and a canoe on the trip, which featured the group's two men swinging into the river on a rope swing. Along the way we stopped for a shady snack time on a small rocky island. When we reached our takeout point, we carried the boats up to the area where we'd parked our truck.

I got in to pull the truck out for loading, and was greeted with a great ker-chunk and then nothing. After a few seconds, that was followed by some odd clicking noises, and I could see the clock reset and the radio on an AM station. We quickly determined that the battery was dead, although I'd not left anything on. Thankfully we had jumper cables in the other car, which was three miles away at the put-in point.

Two of our four hitched a multi-part ride to get that car and bring it back. After a good 30 minutes, they returned and we jumped the truck successfully. Following that, we made a 30-minute drive straight to an auto-parts store. A test of the battery there said to recharge the battery and re-test it. We gave another try at starting the truck after reaching the store, to no avail. So they took the battery inside to charge it, and they couldn't even get multiple chargers to accept the battery. That all fit with the employee's guess that a battery cell had died. As a result, I bought a new battery and everything works fine now.

Before our river expedition, just before the alarm clock went off, our local fire department was toned for a barn fire just outside of town. The two men of our group rose early, grabbed cameras and went to the scene, where we spent at least an hour getting photos. I'll post some as I get a chance. The barn was full of round hay bales, and it was a total loss when the fire department arrived on scene.

Typically such a fire is started by spontaneous combustion within the bales of hay. They are a pain to fight, since fire smolders for so long inside the bales. Usually local departments move the smoldering hay out into a field and spread the bales apart, where they're not threatening anything. The fire department wets the pile down and goes home, leaving it to smolder for an extended period of time. They may get called back out if it flares up again.

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August 18, 2005

Fueling frenzy

79-cent gas? Remember the days? Joy and her readers at Karagraphy do. The simple memory snapped Joy out of her so-called blog sabbath.

Joy's not alone in her mention of the price of petrol. It seems like it's all that's on the news. And forget small talk about the weather, now it's the price of gas. Truthfully, I'm weary of the chatter.

The fact that relatively few years ago the price was a third of what it is now is the major stumblingblock that perturbs people. How can it jump so high, so fast? they say.

It's easy to get indignant about the prices we're paying now, but it's actually a complicated topic. In fact, I don't have a complete opinion on the topic, so I've got a few points to consider. My points here deal specifically with oil as an energy source; starting down the road of alternative fuels, such as electricty, synthetic gas sources, and hydrogen would get too complicated in this topic.

  • I'm in favor of a free-market economy. Sellers should have the right to sell their goods at the price the market will bear. That's simply the law of supply and demand. As long as we buy gas at $2.50 or whatever we're paying for it, why shouldn't the suppliers charge those prices?
  • With the majority of our oil coming from OPEC member countries, are we dealing with a true free market? After all, they decide how much of their supply to release so that it will impact the prices they can charge. Think of it this way: if Ferrari made as many cars as Ford, they couldn't charge such premium prices. Thankfully for most of us, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota et al do make plenty of cars so that we can afford to buy them (secondhand, anyhow). OPEC, though, creates a monopoly on the oil supply (thanks to America's hesitancy to tap into its own supply).
  • If America would look within its borders for crude oil, it's little secret that plenty of oil is there for the taking. We know that the Gulf of Mexico and the tundra of Alaska have plenty of oil. Pulling oil from those areas would have to drive prices down in the United States, but we've hamstrung ourselves by paying so much heed to the environmental lobby.

    I would think that modern technology could make oil production in both the Gulf and Alaska much more productive and safe than it has been before, although I've not devoted the time to study it out. I do know that the Alaskan oil fields in Anwar pose little threat to humans, and likely, the ecosystem. Having been within miles of the Arctic Circle, I know that it's barren wilderness as far as the eye can see.

    News reports show that American refineries are woefully inadequate, thanks to the environmental lobby. So even if we did drill for new oil within our border, the refineries wouldn't be able to keep up.

  • As for producing oil, how is it that we're still paying more per unit for bottled water, soft drinks, and so on without complaining about it? Water is a renewable resource. Everyone knows where to find it, and those places aren't hard to get to. Oil, on the other hand, is hard to find and hard to get to. Sure, modern technology is making it easier to find, but that technology is not cheap. When oil is found and "mined," a lot has to happen before it's gasoline for our cars (especially if you're in California). While I may prefer to pay $0.99 per gallon of gas, it does makes sense that it cost more in relation to a 12-pack of Aquafina. Even at $2.50, unleaded gas is still not as expensive as bottled water.

  • While I favor the free-market economy, how do we keep the quickly rising gas costs from triggering inflation? If the rising prices were in the sweet potato industry, who would care? But oil is crucial for the production and distribution of everything that we buy from new socks to paper towels to lawn equipment to electronics and so on. If it costs companies more to produce the goods, they will have to raise prices. Consumers, who are paying more for their own transportation, will have to pay more for their groceries and household needs. The dollars they take home from work won't go as far.

Sure, the increase in gas prices makes a dent in finances, but maybe next time you pay for a drink somewhere, you'll be glad that gas doesn't cost $1.69 for 16 ounces.

Posted by JRC at 10:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005


I rarely lack local sports events to cover, but this time of year is the slowest. Our summer baseball league finished up a couple weeks ago, and the high schools are several weeks from starting their seasons.

Weeks like this week provide a challenge: fill the sports section with sports news, even though there's little live action going on. It takes a lot of leg work to do so, but this week, at least, I did it.

I did a story about a local college baseball player who transferred to another school last week to increase his chances in the MLB draft, a story on the upcoming season and the realigned district, a story on some local racers, a feature on some football players in preseason practices, and a story on one of the high school golf teams. (Golf is the only high school sport in progress.)

I had good photos for the golf story and the football feature, and I had some file photos of the baseball player. One secret for laying out a newspaper is to use photos wisely.

Next week, the sports schedule is similar. I won't have games (other than golf) to cover, but I'll be busy tracking down the stories I'll need. On top of that, it's time for the county fair (which everyone helps cover), and I'll be working on a special high school sports preview that's due in a few weeks.

I'm in the doldrums of sports news this time of year, but I guess I'm realizing that while doldrums sound boring, they're not. It takes a lot of work to get out of the slow period and back into the current.

Posted by JRC at 03:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

Cool pool


In an attempt to get victory over a geocache that had eluded me several months ago, Darla and I went for a short hike a week ago. The area is narrow mountain pass with a stream bubbling through it, reminiscent of Jones Gap SP in SC. We had the whole area to ourselves, which was an added bonus.

After scrambling up a steep incline to the well-hidden cache, I rewarded myself with a dip in the nearby swimming hole. Since I'd been in the area before, I came prepared.

The water was chilly, but it felt nice after the hike in. The pool itself was probably about chest deep close to the little waterfall. I was too cowardly to get that much of myself wet.

Today is probably warmer than last Friday, and I'm thinking a repeat visit sounds good. Instead, I'm headed out in an hour to do an outdoors story on a nearby state park along the Shenandoah River. I don't think I'm getting in the water, but it does appeal.

Posted by JRC at 01:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

How close is too close?

I figured out what caused my camera to malfunction at Saturday's fire. It wasn't the rain; it was an all-too-close lightning strike.

Early during the 45-minute, rain-sodden photo shoot, I lost the use of the LCD screen on my Nikon dSLR. I continued shooting, but thought some other things were funny. Hours after the fire, the LCD came back, but today when I went on a photo shoot, I had extremely intermittent usage of autofocus. I switched to manual focus, but was concerned about the continued problems.

After an afternoon meeting, I sat down with the camera to figure out what was going on. I searched the web fruitlessly, cleaned connection points, and so forth -- all to no avail.

Since I was desparate, I took out the camera manual and turned to the troubleshooting section. Nothing there was helpful, either. However, the next page somehow caught my eye.

At the top, I saw "A note on electronically-controlled cameras." Reading on, I caught a glimmer of hope.

In extremely rare instances, unusual characters may appear in the control panel and the camera may stop functioning. In most cases this
phenomenon is caused by a strong external static charge...

At some point during the fire, a tremendous clap of thunder rumbled through the mountainside scene. (I couldn't tell you when it happened since I was so focused on making pictures.) I saw no flash at the time, but the bang resonated so loud that I remember looking to see if the house was still intact.

After that second sentence in the manual about the external static charge, I knew that the lightning strike--however close it was--had caused the problem. I'm amazed that the camera continued taking and saving images after that.

To fix the problem, all I had to do was read and try the primary solution (which I'd already done without success) and the secondary solution. With a small-pointed utensil, I pressed a reset button that I'd never known existed under a panel on my camera, and I was back in business once I set the camera's date and time.

Suffice it to say the lightning strike was a little too close for comfort. At least my camera knew it.

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August 08, 2005

First in

081105 Fire02.jpg

As promised, here are a couple photos from Saturday's fire. Tomorrow is our deadline day at the paper, but as it stands, this will go on our front page as the main art with a short story about the storm that caused the fire and the fire itself.

Since I was on the road, prepared for covering some storm-related emergency, I was close to the scene and was the first to arrive. That's a wierd feeling, especially at this since it was remote and no bystanders were around.

We were actually on the road to meet my parents and grandmother for dinner when we had this detour. It was pouring rain, and I was in a short rain jacket, which didn't do the job.

When all was said and done, I was soaked to the skin on the bottom half and dry, but smoky-smelling on top. My shoes were a mess since the dirty yard, while looking solid, actually wasn't. I sank ankle deep in mud in one spot.

FWIW, many times when I post fire photos, I'm using some of my lesser images, because of copyright issues. (Because the best go in the paper.) That's the case here. The first photo is similar to but inferior to the one that will likely be on the front page.

A few interesting notes:

  • In a strange twist, it turns out that I parked on the shoulder of the driveway to the house my editor rented earlier in his tenure at the paper.

  • This was not the first time I'd been first on the scene of a house fire. Years ago, in Taylors, Dad and I followed a column of black smoke to a burning house while the fire department tried to sort out an incorrect address. That was on a Sunday on a dead end. We got parked in and were late for evening church.

  • This was Darla's first time at a "working fire." Back in our teen years, I responded in the middle of the night to a house fire one house behind and over from Darla's. Her older brother and parents were out and we talked, but Darla slept through it all on the far side of the house. (Darla's mom was the one who noticed the fire.)

  • For some reason, likely because of the moisture from the pouring rain, I couldn't review my digital photos after the first few shots. I shoot with all-manual settings (except focus, usually), so this was a challenge not unlike shooting with film. It was made even tougher since my viewfinder got so cloudy that I couldn't always tell my focus. Thankfully my lens hood and my careful camera usage kept the lens completely dry.

August 06, 2005

Teaser, twice

Here's a little narrative of my last two days, with the promise of pictures to come.

Yesterday both Darla and I had the afternoon free since we already logged our 40 hours. So we went off geocaching to Fridley's Gap, where I scrambled up a steep hill to the cache. It was nice to log a find for one that I'd previously been unsuccessful in finding. The real reward, though was taking a chilly dip in the pool at the base of a small waterfall just feet from the geocache. I knew that opportunity was there, so I came dressed for the occasion.

Pics to come, maybe.


Saturday afternoon, we were on the road during a violent thunderstorm. Because of the storm, I had my radio scanner, camera gear and rain gear in the car when the tones went off.

It was for a house fire in an area in which I'd seen lots of lightning strikes as we drove. I was not far away, so I headed that way. Indeed, heavy fire was eating away at a log cabin. And I was the first one there. Nobody seemed to be home.

Soon a volunteer firefighter appeared in his personal truck. A little later the chief arrived. Several minutes went by before the fire engines arrived and could start fighting the fire. In the 45 minutes I was there, I took over 135 pictures and got drenched in spite of my rain coat.

Pics to come.

Posted by JRC at 11:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 05, 2005

Come and gone

In spite of my best intentions to celebrate at the time, my second blogiversary came and went a couple weeks ago without a mention on the blog.

It was two years ago that we announced that we were moving from NY to VA for me to take a job at the newspaper. Since that first post, I've made 260 posts (counting this one) and had 336 comments (not counting blog spammers).

My main purpose in blogging is to keep distant friends and family informed about our lives, but I've also used my blog as a way to make myself write, since that's part of my livelihood. I've thought of starting a more focused blog (or blogs), but I haven't pursued that considering how infrequently I post here.

Considering those things, I'm going to take a page out of Bet's blog and ask who's reading this. Even if you're a lurking, silent reader, step out and leave a comment so I know who's reading.

I'm interested in who you are, where you're reading from, how you found this blog, and how you read my blog (web browser, RSS feed, etc). Why do you read my blog? What would you like to see or not see on it?

Posted by JRC at 12:15 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack