Max

On one hand I have been nothing but quiet on the internet front lately but in general I have been nothing but. Finalizing details of a new album of music and moving into how to package it as well as writing, and searching for new material for desktop posts it’s just been a lot of behind the scenes work at play lately.

It hit me though that I have a few new wallpapers as well as a new 50ft Radio mix completely ready to go so I thought I would start a few new posts off with this lovely, minimal image shot while on a weekend camping trip with the family. We made a stop at Max Patch which is a famous spot along the Appalachian Trail to soak in the view and Its impossible not to take photos like this while there. The landscape is a unique patch of grassy land at high elevation giving visitors a really lovely 360 degree view of the mountains around the space. Links below for a wallpaper, enjoy!

Core, A Keyboard Story

It has been ages since writing about any new gear on these pages. At one point I realized I probably wasn’t adding much to the bloated conversations on tech and new things in general and slowed my pace to more or less zero. One more opinion just didn’t really seem all that relevant somehow, but today I thought it would be fun to jump back into this space and gush about a new toy that I am excited by and found myself totally in love with at first click. A mechanical keyboard.

I know I am pretty late to the game, and for ages I wrote off the trend as little more than another thing geeks could geek out about, a needless accessory, but this past winter when I was visiting Seoul I made the mistake of casually walking up to a hearty section of mechanical keyboards in the tech section of a bookstore thinking to myself “oh hey, lets see what all the fuss is about,” as I approached the table. It took all of 30 seconds to fall for the charm and addictive feeling of the clicky keys tapping away underneath my fingers. The subtle joy of the experience lingered in my mind for quite some time.

My casual brush with those keyboards planted a seed in the back of my head that slowly grew into enough of a curiosity to poke my head into a few user forums and watch a handful of YouTube videos to listen and learn more about this close knit group of keyboard lovers. Through this I discovered the many different switches, keycaps, build styles, and layouts available. Part of my initial distaste for mechanical keyboards was their size. I move around a lot and rarely have time to sit down in one work space for too long so I wanted something portable so I could put it to use while on the go.

Once I started to pay attention to the different layouts and varieties of keyboards available my interest peaked quite a bit. The 60 percent keyboards seemed small and portable enough for the most part and they do have a layout similar to what I’ve grown used to over the years on MacBooks but overall they were still a little big for a casual every day carry scenario where it would need to live in my backpack most of the time. What really hooked my imagination after learning more about them were the little 40 percent boards which were unique in a way that sucked me right in.

Tiny, adorable, but still fully loaded. The fact that most of the functionality lay behind modifier keys and layers seemed a little confusing at first but the more I thought about it the more I felt OK with it. I use a lot of shortcuts when using my MacBook and I have for years so what would be the big deal in learning a few new ones for less used keys like numbers and some punctuation.

Many keyboard lovers seem to consider these tiny wonders an outlier among the wider cinematic universe of mechanical keyboards, as thought they are maybe more of a novelty or strictly for light usage. While I could see that being true for the type of people that are the core demographic of this world, I myself found a perfect match in these tiny boards.

My needs personally are to have something well suited for writing posts, journal entries, emails, and other longer form writing. I am perfectly happy not having a row for numbers or function keys and the few odd punctuation marks used fairly often like apostrophes, question marks, etc. are not really all that difficult to get to and my fingers have adjusted to finding them when I need them.

Let me take a step back, I should mention which little keyboard I picked up, the Vortex Core. The Taiwanese manufacturer has a glowing base of happy users of their Poker line of 60 percent keyboards and when I stumbled across their adorable and affordable little prebuilt Core I knew I had found a perfect way to jump in, especially with its current cost which is quite a bit lower than they seem to have once been.

So how does it feel to use it? I adore it. Typing with a mechanical keyboard is like taking the side of my brain that needs something to fidget with while I think and feeds it with entertainment while I focus on writing. The feeling makes me want to write more because it’s such a joy to use and I find myself getting lost in the feeling. While reading about these before picking one up I kept seeing reviewers teasing the company for its slogan but I adore it, “enjoy your feeling,” its perfectly apt for a mechanical keyboard product and captures everything I love about it.

I will say this about the 40 percent style layout as it stands on many keyboards, I can’t for the life of me figure out why they could not have designed these one key space wider and included the apostrophe and question mark keys. While I have quickly gotten used to the new shortcuts I still wonder, as creative as this community feels to me why are there not a wider variety of PCB boards from different creators pushing possible layouts in more directions. The closest I have come across to what I would want in a perfect world are in the “ortholinear” keyboards which use an aligned grid of mostly single spaced keys, a layout I am curious about because of its flexibility, but I’m not sure how far down this rabbit hole I want to allow myself to go in.

It’s a hobbyists dream for sure and I completely understand the addiction some people have to having fun with the many different choices out there. Worth noting here also is the programability of the Core which is there, hiding on different user definable layers, but I have not thought of a reason just yet to experiment with this so I can’t offer any comments on this part of its functionality.

Which brings us to the little details about the Core, and perhaps mechanical keyboards in general, that I love so much, starting with the switches. Based on everything I have read what I really wanted was a version of this board that had Cherry MX Clear switches but had to compromise and get Brown switches instead. Both are whats considered a tactile switch meaning there is a second component of the switch aside from the spring which gives it a subtle, tactile bump as a key press is activated. The clears offer a slightly heavier feel and a little more resistance than the browns which is why I wanted them because I like the idea of having a little bit more weight to the keypress.  I like the nuance of the amount of pressure it takes to trigger the key so I am able to clack away quickly or type more gently when I need to be a bit quieter.

The sound of the Browns are just enough to be satisfying and give a nice, almost hypnotic ambience to the typing experience that I quite love. The reason I ended up with browns  because I could not find any Cores in stock with clear switches anywhere, most likely because they seems to be among the most popular switches overall for a lot of people and initial stocks must have run dry.

Then there are the keycaps. I like the vintage looking cream/beige colors and love that they took advantage of this being a prebuilt board with default settings so they could sneak in a cheat sheet for the modifier/fn keys on the front edge of each key. I hear there are versions of this set that also have the third layer of hidden keys labeled with additional punctuation etc. but again, I find myself quickly remembering where things are overall and the more I use it the quicker I get using it. They have a nice solid feel to them and just a slight texture that I like quite a lot.

My favorite part of this board in general though is the size, I am able to store it conveniently inside an old wireless mic bag for safe keeping and keep it around with me everywhere I go. Really, if it weren’t for these tiny bezel-less keyboards that are so easy to travel with I don’t think I would have ended up buying into the idea.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend this keyboard to anyone that does not like shortcuts or has trouble with them. It is almost guaranteed to frustrate if that’s the case, but if your like me and don’t mind this, I can happily give a glowing recommendation for this fun little keyboard. You can find them for under $100 now which is a heck of a deal considering the cost of components in general when building your own keyboard and the quality of its build straight out of the box.

Have any questions? I’m no keyboard aficionado but I would be happy to help if I can, feel free to leave a comment below if that’s the case. At this point I am only still writing because I love using this keyboard so much I don’t want to stop, the gentle clack underneath my fingers is such a weirdly visceral joy. It’s hard to fully explain but it sure does make typing feel good. I love that. Enjoy your feeling and I will see you next time.

Tiny Shrine

Traveling with a toddler can be a challenge, especially as a photographer. Finding a moment to sneak off and take photos is tricky because I have to balance my guilt for leaving family behind for what feels like a selfish endeavor and my creativity which doesn’t always flock to me at the flick of a switch. In my experience it takes me time to find a rhythm among the shutter clicks and in prioritizing time with family it has been harder to find my way to that space of mental clarity. It is something that I have been fighting a lot with in the past couple of years. My wife, YoungDoo seems to be clairvoyant behind a camera though and has managed to mold her creative focus around the challenges of being a mother but I think that I have come to the conclusion that we have different means of finding inspiration.

Her creative visions come fluidly through inspirations found in her surroundings, wherever she is and I have no idea how she pulls that off. With me, I need more room to get lost in my head and get comfortable with whatever space I am in. It takes time for me to see beyond the anxious pressure I put on myself when I walk around with camera in hand /with intention/ to shoot. This is touching on ideas I have been writing a lot about lately and have been chipping away at an article of sorts that needs a closing before I can post it. Thats the hardest part of writing is it not? Sticking the landing.

Waiting Outside

I’m sure I mentioned it already but bikes and Kyoto are a match made in heaven. The city is largely flat and you can get anywhere in the city with little to no effort by bike. I was apprehensive about this fact for some reason while we were there so we only took out bikes made available for us once which I look back on and regret. Maybe it was just that I love taking subways and trains places and the trains in Kyoto are charming and affordable so it was hard to resist.

Bikes littered the city though, at least the more traditional parts of it. It was hard to go anywhere without one zipping by and if your ever there I highly suggest you consider it as a key mode of transportation. What better way to see a city than to take it slow? Enjoy the photo? Wallpaper links below!

Kurama-dera

We did our best to balance our time in Kyoto, leaving plenty of space for simply traveling between places or taking the long way somewhere. This did send us to the wrong spot once or twice including our attempt to make our way out to this beautiful temple in mountains just outside of the city. It’s a beautiful place to visit and because it was the off season and we arrived at the end of the day there was hardly anyone there at all. Even with only a short time available to us to explore the cliff dwelling temple we were able to soak in some of the misty charm and glow of the complex and its many vistas, temples, and steep pathways. It was a beautifully calm place, as was the tiny town at its entrance. This image is but a tiny, perhaps common view but it quickly brings back fond memories. Links for a wallpaper below!

For Tomorrow

Looking through photos I took in Japan four years ago I find it impossible to believe that it has been that long since traveling there. I had to recount the years a few times on my fingers just to triple check but its true. This could be because my life has sped by exponentially faster and faster as big shifts swing with a wider circumference as I get older. The weight of that spin and its billowing momentum makes me wonder if there is any way to stop a year from going by without it feeling like an abrupt cut in a film with a lazy caption reading “one year later”.

Or, lets look at this in a more optimistic light. Maybe the reason looking through these photos I feel as though it were just yesterday because the trip left that much of an impact on me. After a lifetime of curiosity I had finally made it to Japan, maybe just for a short time, sure, but I do remember it fondly. The movement of Kyoto, the taste of each thing we ate, the color of the walls and the feeling of dodging raindrops with a large plastic umbrella bought at a 7-11. Memories from this trip have been surprisingly sticky in my mind, especially when digging around through photos taken while there. My heart lights up a bit as memories start to flood in, holding loosely onto one another in a wave of “oh yeah, I remember that!” moments.

The photograph here felt like a good place to start in sharing some of these visual memories with anyone stopping by. I have a few cropped already and will continue to share and dig through them until I feel like I have run out of interesting things to post from the trip. The photo here today taken at a temple in Kyoto feels apt somehow as I start to notice my own hopes, prayers, and dreams start to neatly pile up around me. Tonight, sitting here in silence on any one random winter night, I find myself again considering an ongoing theme in my personal thoughts going into this year about time and its passing and find connections and metaphors everywhere I turn.

Or, lets look at this in a more, “hey, John, I’m just here for the wallpapers, wheres the link?” Oh, right. Ahem, links below, stop back by soon, lets see what momentum I can get going in 2018 shall we?

The Grand Staircase

Of all the strange, backwards, unexpected things that happened last year politically in the U.S., there was one that hit me on a personal level and left me feeling a subtle but deep sort of melancholy that has been hard to shake. That was the seemingly arbitrary act of shrinking one of the last vestiges of the untamed American west by such a dramatic amount. I am referring to the large cuts to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This truly humbling stretch of land is seemingly endless and beautiful, mostly untouched and free to explore in a way unlike many of the other National Parks available out west are.

Growing up I was caught up in the romanticized idea of the grand American west, southern Utah in particular, I was lost in the magic of Desert Solitaire, a book by Edward Abbey about living as a ranger at Arches in the late 1950s, and the impossibly beautiful photography of so many great photographers who’s lives work focused on the region such as Michael Fatali, I have always held this region close to my heart throughout my life through not only the stories and photographs of others, but ones from my own father as well. He would talk about his own trips west before there was as much of an impact from tourism in the region. Back when Moab was a smaller, more local town, Arches was a hard to access hidden beauty, and Mount Zion was more lightly visited. The last vestiges of the untamed west would slowly, but of course not entirely, start to fade as time pressed on.

Even within my lifetime I have seen a lot of change as camping and adventuring has become increasingly trendy which has caused more and more comforting amenities to start popping up to make it easier to access some of the most beautiful spots in this constantly evolving land. Amenities that seem nice on the surface but in some ways detract from the experience as a whole.

Among my favorite things about traveling in the region is the infinite quiet of the vast tracks of land and the ability to find yourself standing in a spot where you very well may be the single only person to occupy that land for dozens of miles. It’s a beautiful, unique feeling and part of the reason that the last few times traveling out there by car I would go in the winter to avoid the crowds of the busier vacation months.

Which brings us back to Escalante. This monument was (and yes, still is) an immense tract of land that is largely unsullied and difficult to access. There are not many truly wild, protected lands in the U.S. left and this area was set up as a protected land for a reason. If I’m remembering correctly, it’s protection was always somewhat controversial for locals in the area and of course it would be, I understand how it must feel to some, but some things are worth protecting for future generations to enjoy some of what previous generations were able to cherish and enjoy are they not?

Shrinking this monument by this mind boggling amount was a political maneuver in an endless series of actions which appear to do little more than arbitrarily tear down prior legacies, but I digress. I am not inherently a political person and have gone most of my life with this side of living it drifting along in the periphery of my mental space but even I can see that things are being shaken for little more reason than to take advantage of the chaos that follows. I look at the direction things are headed and hope we can figure out a way to come back together as a whole. This is much more than simply “us vs. them”, surely we are better than this.

But you know what, thats not why I’m here writing today. I will leave the political side of this for those who know and understand more about the politics of it. I’m here to tell my small perspective on the changes at the Grand Staircase by writing about why it means so much to me personally.

This monument is among my favorite places to visit while traveling west because I am able to feel some of the same excitement as generations past. Exploring a land with such minimal human impact is something to be cherished as it leads us to unexpected places and moments of genuine beauty and awe. The joy of driving what felt like forever down a long dirt road into the middle of scarcely occupied canyons and desert made me feel like the world is infinite. It has always made me feel as though there was still so much to explore and I felt the solitude of that place consume me, humble me, and empower my imagination like few places can.

There was one trip there with my brother that I often remember, I think it was my second time visiting. We had driven into the monument late one night, after driving in from Zion. There is an unmistakable high you get when traveling somewhere mostly unknown and this was no exception. We were following mostly paper maps and vague directions at the time as we found our way down unmarked dirt roads in the dead of night with little more than the beams of our headlights to track down an unmanned camp area where we could stay the night for free. (One of the perks of BLM land and part of the reason I so often sought it out while traveling out there, free places to camp, great for budget trips). We set up the tent in the dark several meters away from a cliff edge and called it a night. While we slept we had an unexpected couple of inches of snow fall on us and we woke to a beautiful sight, a canyon covered in the stillness and quiet of a fresh, white coat of snow coupled with the beauty of a cold orange and blue sunrise. Thinking back I can remember the brisk, thin air of winter in my lungs and the quiet beauty and excitement of that moment. Here are a couple of photos of that morning from whichever iPhone was sold in 2009, well before instagram and the like.

This little campground near the town of Escalante in the Grand Staircase is one I had remembered and visited on my own during a different winter outing which I took to get away from the world I knew and venture out on my first solo trip West. A spot that subtly set in motion a chain of events and world travels that changed my life forever. In fact, it was at this camp spot that I took this photograph:

It is an image YoungDoo and I hold dear because it was the catalyst for our meeting each other on Flickr so many years ago (11 years now!?). A photograph, among others, that caused us to discover each others work as artists and still stands today on Flickr as a sort of digital historical marker in our lives as it was the first interaction we had with each other.

I only just remembered this fact while writing this tonight and it really choked me up when I realized this place was partially responsible for everything I now hold dear to me in my life. An arbitrary fact, sure, but one that helps me respect and understand the value of having places like these to explore and share in our collective lives. The Earth is only so big and it gets smaller each and every day as we continue to grow as a global society so protected spaces like these are immensely important to us now, more than ever. They give me hope that one day my daughter Milla and future generations have spaces to explore as we did during our time here on this planet as well. It all connects.

Now that subtle melancholy I mentioned when I started writing tonight is starting to feel a little more like sadness and, well, I’ll drink to that. Heres to the great unexplored places in our past, present, and future, the ability to explore them, and the hope that we don’t fuck up things too much before future generations have their turn to explore what god has given us to appreciate and care for.

Please don’t read into this post too much, I’m not interested in getting too political here on 50ft. I wrote this to share my perspective and a couple of stories. I have respect for others point of view on the matter as well but this site has always been a place for me to vent and share my experiences with others and thats all this was, one persons point of view among many.

More information on the monument can be found here, and here.

A Little Something

I always like to give away things this time of year as way of giving back to everyone that has shown their love and support for the site, even if in a small way. I couldn’t quite raise the extra money needed to get what I wanted to have made this year so I decided to pack up three five envelopes full of the latest five images included in the 50ft Print Club series and send them off to three of you at random.

I figure the fair way to do it is have you leave a little comment below on this post, anything at all, your favorite emoji would work just fine. Then sometime around Christmas day I will pick three randomly and ask for your address to mail them off to you! Simple enough right? Don’t forget to leave your email in the comment field, it’s not listed publicly and of course I never use emails from comments otherwise. Thanks so much, good luck!  🙇

While Winter Whispers

One of the reasons I love winter is because it is such a great time for music. The cold, subsequent raise in time spent inside, and shorter days causes music to take on a different feeling altogether. We start to feel more sentimental and introspective in the winters stillness. At least in regions that have a significant winter I guess. Suffice to say, seasons cause us to contemplate life differently whether we realize it or not.

One of the tale tell signs of this time of year being upon us outside of the chill outside, is the emergence of holiday music reigning over the airwaves as if holding us hostage. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually love all the classics, digging back through lesser known b-sides and unique takes on holiday music is something I always enjoy this time of year but sometimes its nice to break away from the endless rinse and repeat that we hear while out living our lives this time of year and that’s where Lullatone come into play.

Lullatone is a project by Shawn and Yoshimi Seymour who are based in Nagoya, Japan. I have followed along with Lullatones output since waaaaaay back in 2003 or so when I came across their first album on a small indie electronic music label called Audio Dregs while working at a college radio station. Their music defines the word charming by using a minimal approach to production, melody, and scope. It is simple music that always manages to bring me joy when I listen along.

Which brings us back to the winter and more specifically an EP of songs they created during the winter of 2014 called While Winter Whispers. It is part of a series of seasonal releases in which they did their best to capture the essence of the different seasons. The music is sentimental and heartwarming, the perfect companion for cold winter months. I recently rediscovered the EP because YoungDoo started using it as Milla’s sleep time music.

I love the way they describe the music:

“Here are some songs we made for winter. We think they might make a nice soundtrack for:
-watching your breath come out like little clouds
-catching a cold
-revisiting a book you’ve already read (or were supposed to have read at school)
-warming your hands on coffee mugs
-pulling a scarf all the way up to your nose
-soup
-“old people hobbies”
-hibernating”

Easily worth your time to check out this release as well as their entire discography if your into it, the music is available on most streaming services as well as BandCamp. To learn more about them check out their website which details the work they do with music, as well as listen to years of their output. www.lullatone.com

Speaking of which, this year they have been making little “one-minute concerts” that I have thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. The world could surely use more of this kind of subtle joy so I wanted to share a few here in this post as well as an embedded version of a cool music App they made with another artist. (If your reading this in the main timeline, follow the jump below to see them.)

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To whom it may concern,

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