Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Twas the Night Before Christmas at World Disney World Resort

I would like to say Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to the readers of my blog!

Whether you arrived here by searching for something on the internet or you're a regular reader of what I write, I appreciate your support throughout the year and the nice emails that people have taken the time to send me from all over the world.

2011 was a hard year for many people.  I hope that 2012 is better, and that the world can take a pause, get itself back on track, and that we can all have more to be happy about.  

To spread some holiday cheer, here's a short video from Disney about the "Night Before Christmas".  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Review: Apple TV, streaming your photos from your computer, and much more!

This is another one of my "real world" reviews where I provide feedback about what a product does for me in every day use, and what I like (and/or don't like) about it.

The latest great thing to enter my family's life is Apple TV.  Talk about a magic little black box!  This is the best $99 that I've spent on home entertainment in a long time.

You can search the internet for all kinds of exhaustive technical reviews of Apple TV that detail every feature and specification of the device, but that's not what you'll find here.

What you'll find here is a short article about why this product impressed me, and why I hope that Apple continues to build on this platform in the future for home entertainment.

Let's get some essential links out of the way right now:
  1. Link to the Apple website for all the information about Apple TV
  2. Link to the Remote app in the iTunes store for your iPhone and iPad
And now the background information on why I went out and bought Apple TV...

Problem:
As anyone who has tried to do it knows, streaming your media (photos, music, movies) from your computer onto your wireless network and around your house for watching and listening on your stereo and TV's is a giant pain in the neck.  I've been trying to find an easy way to do this for years, and every approach that I've tried ends up running into problems or limitations.  I've tried stand alone software to do it, Windows Media, Player, and other mechanisms, and every one of them had a problem that made the solution fall short.

The Digital Living Network Alliance was supposed to make this a lot easier, and it has in some respects....but it still falls short because its standards are not keeping up with the expanding technology that it was meant to work with.  I'll give you a perfect example of this....

My blu-ray player can stream photos from my PC to my TV using the DLNA standards.  Although the streaming was painfully slow, I did eventually get this to work and was thrilled to finally see my photos appearing from my computer on my widescreen high-def TV.  Or so I thought.

One night when looking at photos using this setup through my blu-ray player, I noticed that all of the photos from one of my cameras were not showing up.  The problem?  The DLNA standard only streams photos up to a certain size.  So, advanced cameras that produce large image files are out of luck with DLNA devices.  The photos will not get streamed.

Damn.  Back to the drawing board.  After doing more research on this, I was not able to find an easy and cost effective way around it, so I gave up.  To this day, I'm amazed that someone didn't come along and solve this problem before Apple.  Companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Netgear, Sony, etc, are all right in the middle of this dilemma, but none of them offered a holistic solution.  So, as has been the case in the past, Apple came along and kicked them in the butt and offered up a great solution.

Solution:
I went to the Apple website and read all that Apple TV can do.  It can stream photos, music, video, internet content, etc, through my internet connection to my TV.  Plug it in, and go.  I wondered if it could really be that simple, but knowing Apple I figured that it probably was, so I went to the Apple Store and bought one.

I bought it home, took it out of the box, spent ten minutes setting it up, and my photos appeared from my computer on my TV.  I was blown away at the ease of it!

I then tried to access my iTunes music library from my couch using Apple TV to play it through my stereo.  It worked.  Easily.

I also tried to access my Netflix account to stream some HD content through Apple TV.  It worked.  Easily.

After installing the Apple Remote app on my iPad and iPhone, I can now control Apple TV and my music streaming, etc, from anywhere in my house.  Fantastic!

There are other set top boxes that also handle these functions, namely those from Roku.  The issue there is that I'm not sure how tightly integrated they are with iTunes or the iPad/iPhone.  I doubt that Roku would be able to harmonize with the Apple iTunes entertainment paradigm as easily as Apple TV does.  This is why I purchased Apple TV.  I wanted an easy environment to handle all of these things seamlessly.

What doesn't Apple TV do?  For one, it doesn't stream content from services like Amazon Streaming and Hulu Plus....yet.....but Apple could probably add those services in the future if they want to.  Apple has to walk a fine line between working with their competitors to make their own Apple products more appealing, but they can't cross the line too far and let their competitors sneak too far into Apple's domain.

In summary, for $99, Apple TV is hard to beat for the specific purposes that I mentioned above.  I encourage you to visit the Apple TV website to see if it's a match for your needs.  If not, then check out Roku as a next option, but as I cautioned above......I don't think Roku will work as nicely with the Apple iTunes environment.

In any event, the main benefit of these boxes is to liberate your photos, music, and videos from your PC in an easy way, and I can say for sure that in that respect Apple TV highly succeeds!
 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Treasure trove of iconic Corbis photos

Below is an interesting video from CBS News that discusses the massive historical photo archive of Corbis that's stored underground at an Iron Mountain facility in Pennsylvania, USA.  I thought people might be interested to hear what's in this massive photo archive, how it got there, and why.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gobble This Up!

I saw this just now and I had to put it up here.  I cracked up laughing when I saw this Thanksgiving cheese ball recipe. This little guy looks so cool, I don't think I could eat it!

Just a note to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!  If you're traveling over the holidays, I wish you safe journeys!

Gobble This Up: Thanksgiving Cheese Ball
http://blog.cookingchanneltv.com/2011/11/23/gobble-this-up-thanksgiving-cheese-ball-recipe/

Monday, November 21, 2011

An important CNN article to read: "Have they gone nuts in Washington?"

I have a pretty optimistic viewpoint in general.  Not many things get me down and you won't see me filling this blog with post after post of complaints because that's not what I'm about.  But today I'm downright depressed, and I'll tell you why.

I keep up to date on the current happenings with the debt crisis because it will have a profound impact on my family's life for probably a decade or more to come.  As I've watched this crisis unfold over the period of the past few months, I absolutely cannot believe the level of stupidity that exists in our government today.  Almost every major politician is a complete moron. Listen to them speak.  Morons.  Listen to their points and counterpoints as they argue with each other.  Morons.

Most people will say, "Isn't that the way it's always been"?  My answer would be no.  There's something more going on here.  The sheer recklessness with which these people are operating is beyond comprehension.  I don't proclaim to be "Mr. Politics" or anything like that, but what's happening here is something that I (and many other people) have never seen before.

To read what I'm talking about, read this editorial piece from David Gergen on CNN.com today:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/21/opinion/gergen-reckless-congress/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

David hits the nail right on the head with this statement:  "It's difficult to remember a Congress that has put the nation at so much at risk in the service of ideology and to hold onto office. Partisans on both sides are grievously failing the country".

The principle of compromise for the common good that this country has always operated under is completely gone these days.  

You can look at this from any viewpoint and it's a disaster.  The reputation and well being of our country is faltering.  The finances of millions of Americans are in ruins.  People who were counting on retiring in a few years now have to scrap their plans and find a new way to get by.  People (including me) saving for college for their kids have seen those savings accounts decimated which will alter the types of schools that my kids can attend in the future.  Unemployment is soaring.  Companies are faltering.  This is an absolute disgrace.

And President Obama, a man that millions of people (including me) thought would be able to bring this country and its politics together when he was elected, has completely and utterly failed as a leader.  I certainly don't expect Obama to fix the economy on his own, but I do expect him to be a leader...which he has not been.

Like him or hate him, Donald Trump said something that's very true today.  He said that if President Obama was so worried about the Supercommittee succeeding, then he would have chaired the committee himself to guide it through these troubled times.  I couldn't agree more!  But instead, Obama was completely hands off and let the committee go down in flames.

So, yes, this depresses the shit out of me because there's no light at the end of the tunnel.  All of the Republican candidates running for President are idiots.  If Obama wins again, the deadlock will be even worse because Republican resentment toward him will be out of control.

So who the hell can we vote for?  I have no answer to that question......and what I'm afraid of is that nobody else does either, and that we're in for some real, long, hard times.
 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

An update on the Cape Wind project

In my previous post at this link on the topic of the wind farm project off Cape Cod called "Cape Wind", I railed against the people opposing this project because it represents such a milestone for major U.S. alternative energy projects and it will be a real shame to see it defeated.

The people opposing this project are short sighted and naive, it's as simple as that.

But what makes matters worse is the fact that the government compounds the stupidity of the project's opposition by slowing the project's progress to a crawl.  This sentence caught my eye in the article:  "The FAA has reviewed Cape Wind for eight years...".  Seriously?  Does the Federal Aviation Administration need to take eight full years to review flight patterns over this proposed wind farm site?  Eight years?!

Here's a link to an article in USA Today with more information about the status of the project:
http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/story/2011-10-28/cape-wind-aviation-ruling/50977156/1

At this rate, alternative energy in the U.S. will catch on when we're all gone and the animals roam the earth freely once again.  The U.S. government is one of the biggest obstacles that exists to alternative energy, and any politician who says otherwise is a liar.  Did you know that the U.S. government still subsidizes the oil companies?  Exxon/Mobil made $50 billion last quarter alone.  Why do they need to be subsidized?!  Seems like they're doing just fine to me without anyone's help...

The U.S. government needs to step in and for once make a difference in a positive way.  These alternative energy projects should be given an express path to approval.  They save energy and create jobs.  The government should mandate that all new construction obtains some percentage of its energy supply from solar panel installations.  Etc, etc, etc.  The government has the power to do all of this, but they do none of it.

As long as projects like Cape Wind continue to receive this type of intense opposition, alternative energy in the U.S. will remain nothing but a joke and we'll continue to rely on oil for the bulk of our energy.  The government needs to stand up for what's right and the opposition to these projects needs to clear out......for the good of the country and the environment.
 

Friday, November 4, 2011

The whole world is watching and the power of social media is in your hands

It has slowly gained momentum over the past 2-3 years.  In 2011, it absolutely exploded.  Everywhere you look social media is impacting people on a daily basis.

Finally, the "little guy" has a voice.  Anyone can speak out about anything, any time, and get local or global attention on their cause if their message is supported by others and spread using social media tools.  Most importantly, social media is being used to expose and correct government, social, and corporate injustices around the world.  This is perhaps one of its most compelling uses.  As I said, it gives the little guy a voice.

If you watch the news (and your favorite social media sites), there are countless examples of global change going on at all levels right now that would have been impossible without social media.

Governments in Egypt and Libya have been toppled.  Syria is probably soon to follow.  All because the world connected through social media and saw the cause of the citizens of these countries, and it fueled the fire that was already burning.  Ruthless dictators must go, and social media gives the citizens their chance to make it happen.

The Occupy Wall Street movements have brought unprecedented exposure to corporate greed, and social media spread the protests globally and they've caught on in other countries as well.  It has shed light on global corporate greed in a way that's never been done before....from a grassroots level.

Let's look at things from an individualistic consumer viewpoint, and how we interact with some of the companies that we do business with and how social media has changed the playing surface...

Netflix, in one of the greatest corporate blunders in recent memory, went to change its entire business model in ways that completely angered and alienated its subscribers.  Netflix clearly has no understanding of its customer base or what they want.  What did people do?  They hit Twitter, Facebook, blogs, news outlets, etc, with a massive social media campaign that literally pounded Netflix into submission and forced them to reverse direction on their business model.  Individual people.......affecting the business model of a major corporation in only a matter of weeks.   Netflix was ruthlessly punished by the very customers that pay for its services.  People canceled their subscriptions by the tens of thousands to voice their opinion to Netflix.  Great!

Or, how about bank debit card fees.  Certain banks announced recently that they would soon be charging monthly fees to use their debit cards.  Social media to the rescue!  After just a few weeks of very public outcry and rage, the banks backed down and reversed decision on their new fees.  Score another win for social media.

Social media tools will force people, corporations, and governments to begin to act in a more socially conscious way whether they like it or not.  All of these institutions are being stung by citizen and consumer backlash through social media, and don't think for one second that they're not worried about it.  They are.  It will change things, and it already is.

Use social media to your advantage.  If you feel wronged by a local company, politician, major corporation, etc, hit the social media tools and let people know.  Spearhead a movement to force change for the common good.  Right the wrong.

And on the other hand, if you have a positive experience let your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc, know about that too.  Point them to the people and companies that do responsible business.  Reward the good, and punish the bad.

The whole world is watching.  Let's use social media and work together to make it a better place to be.  The potential for everyone to do this....now....is here.
 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good old innovation at work



You want to see something cool?  Check out the video above about what these people who run JP Aerospace did for a fraction of the cost of what the major aerospace companies are spending to do basically the same thing.  Their JP Aerospace blog is located at this link.  Look at the photos in their blog post from October 24th.  Fantastic stuff!

I really like to see these types of stories.  People thinking of out-of-the-box ways to get amazing things done that big, bloated, hierarchical companies can't achieve with ten times the resources.

Way to go JP Aerospace!  I hope these experiments lead to great things down the road!
 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The story of the Walt Disney World Railroad

Did you ever wonder where the trains that run around Disney World as part of the World Disney World Railroad came from, and why?  As with most things Disney, there's an interesting story behind it.

The video below provides history and footage of Walt and the Disney trains and how they came to be.  Many people don't know that Walt Disney had a lifelong love of trains and that he even had a scale model working railroad in the back yard of his house in California that he used to take people for rides on (it's shown in the video).

On a side note, the person narrating the video (Disney Historian, Jim Korkis) has a great book out called "The Vault of Walt" that's filled with tons of historic Disney information like that found in this video.  It's a fascinating read that provides a lot of insight and anecdotes about who Walt Disney was, what he was all about, and why he was driven to do the things that he did.  Very good read...

Enjoy the short video!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dark Secret Of Digital Photography - Rob Sheppard

Every once in a while I post a link here on my blog to what I think is an exceptionally good article published in one of the major photo magazines that will help people.  This is one of those times!

Here is a link to an article called "The Dark Side of Digital Photography" by Rob Sheppard.  It's one of those articles that cuts right to the point of how to easily and effectively improve the quality of your images during post-processing in photo editing applications.

Specifically, this article deals with an effective way to handle the dark areas of your photos, and why you should do it to improve the overall quality of your images.  It's enlightening reading, and it contains several example photos that match up with the simple technique (sliding one slider!).

Additionally, Rob makes some comments that I agree with about the "expose to the right" technique in digital photography.  I never really brought into that concept and I'm glad to see someone of Rob's status in the photo industry debunking it to some degree.  He makes it clear that this photography exposure technique might get you some benefits in some limited situations, but you'll often end up losing more than you gain.

Understanding tonal range and balance in your photos is a critical concept to improving the quality of your images.  Having an easy way to help with achieving that balance is great!  This is an effective article on how to understand and achieve that balance....easily.  Check out Rob's article.  It's time well spent...
 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Apples and Autumn

"Apple Orchard"

Nothing says "autumn" to me more than the smell of an apple pie baking in the house, a slight chill in the air outside, the first fire of the season in the fireplace, and the colors beginning to change in the leaves.  All of those things are happening at about this time, so the autumn season has begun!

The photo here was taken on a recent apple picking trip that we took with some of our extended family to a farm near our house.  We hit the picking season just right because the trees were filled with apples that were perfectly ready to be dropped into pies, cobblers, and other good desserts.

I gave this photo a selective color treatment because the background was very green and intense and was distracting from the apples in the foreground....so I got to thinking of just trying a few ways to highlight the bin of apples in the foreground and this is what I came up with that worked out nicely.  It also seems to make the photo a little more timeless for some reason, which black and white often seems to do.  A little drop-shadow around the edges completed it.

Another approach to this photo to emphasize the bin in the foreground would have been to partially desaturate all of the colors in the photo except for the apple bin, which is a technique very often used in commercial photography to isolate the main subject in a color photo.

Anyway....I digress.  One other food thought before I leave.  Apple cider donuts!  I can't even tell you how delicious they were at the farm where we picked these apples.  They were the best that I've ever had.  Piping hot straight out of the cooker with a little sugar on them and into our mouths.  I couldn't stop eating them!  Just that one smell alone says "autumn" to me.  I'm halfway thinking of driving back down there just to get some more!

I hope you enjoy whatever activities you're doing to ring in the autumn season.  It won't be long until the first below-freezing nights are in the forecast!  :-)
 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Photo Carousel #12: "San Angel Inn - Mexico Pavilion in Epcot"


"San Angel Inn - Mexico Pavilion in Epcot"
Here's my next Photo Carousel entry, "San Angel Inn".

One of the things that I've started to do lately is take photos of the cool places that my family dines while we're traveling.  I realized that eating is an important part of traveling, yet I rarely take photos of the restaurants that we stop at along the way.  This is a pretty big gap in the overall group of photos from any given trip because a lot of good times are shared.....while eating!  If you don't have a few photos of those dining stops, some of those memories can sometimes slip away...

With that in mind, on our recent trip to Disney World in Florida, I photographed each restaurant where we ate.  Some of the pictures are just casual snapshots to capture a moment, but the one above took a little bit of work to get right (and the subject deserved it).

If you've ever been to the Mexico Pavilion in the Epcot theme park, you can appreciate the work that went into it.  When you first enter the pavilion, there are displays of Mexican art and culture, and after you view that area and walk through the crafts section of the pavilion where artists are working on souvenirs, you enter a different (and dark!) world.

It takes your eyes some time to adjust to the darkness, but when they do you'll realize that you're standing in the center of a recreated Mexican town market with craft and artwork vendors, souvenir stands, people standing around shopping and having fun, and in the back....there's the San Angel Inn restaurant.

Off in the distance there's a scaled replica of a Mexican pyramid like those that you'll see at the Chichen Itza historical site in Mexico.  There's also a ride that has its entrance on the left side of the pavilion called "Gran Fiesta Starring the Three Caballeros".

This area is a visual feast, and it's so well done that it's easy to quickly forget that you're in Disney!  At the back of the pavilion is the restaurant in my photo above.  It's a large restaurant, but if you're thinking of going here for lunch or dinner, be warned that you absolutely will not get in without a reservation.  Plan ahead!

From a creative perspective, I was trying to capture the overall mood and size of San Angel Inn.  I feel that this photo does that by using a layered approach of showing the dining area in the front, the pyramid in the middle, and then beyond that is the background wall painting with the volcanoes.  The dining area where the tables are is somewhat more intimate and slightly darker than it appears in this photo.  I over-exposed this shot intentionally to show the detail in the seating area better, but you can still get the idea that each table is candlelit and relaxing (i.e., no overhead lighting).

From a technical perspective, the shutter speed for this shot was slow (about 1/25 second) to gather enough light from the dark scene to create a useful photo.  I didn't use flash because that would have ruined the mood of the photo.  Hand-holding was out of the question due to the low shutter speed, so I propped the camera on a railing and used the self-timer to steady it while framing the shot as best as I could.  There was nowhere else to put the camera, and that's why those two chairs are blocking the low part of the shot.  I couldn't reach over the railing to move them.

For me personally, this shot succeeds because it really captures the mood of the San Angel Inn and I think it conveys the thought of this being a relaxed place to sit and have a meal.  Because of the effort that I put into it, this photo turned out to more than just a travel snapshot.

Going back to the point that I made at the start of this post about capturing memories, just seeing this one photo reminds me of the mood and atmosphere that night at dinner, and the great time (and food!) that our family had there.

On a side note, if I do humbly say so myself, this photo blows away the official Disney photos of this restaurant that appear on their website at the links above!  Maybe I should sell it to them!  :-)
    

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: Disney Imagineering Field Guides

As I mentioned in the post at this link, I really like to learn about all of the details that went into designing the Disney parks, rides and attractions.  The level of detail is amazing once you start to find the little things that are hidden all over the place.  The tiniest little details were all put there for a reason.....to bring a smile to someones face who happened to notice them.

I read the great book by John Hench mentioned at the link above that discussed this topic in an overall fashion, but many people don't realize that there are a few other books that discuss the details and effort that went into designing the parks in deeper detail.  These books are called "The Imagineering Field Guides", and there's one of them for each park (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios).

The guides are filled with all kinds of interesting facts about how the rides and parks turned out the way they did, and most importantly why.

For example, in the Magic Kingdom edition they talk about the design and construction of Cinderella's Castle and why it ended up at the exact height that it did. It's 198 feet tall.  The reason Disney chose that height is because any building in Florida that's 200 feet or taller is required to have a blinking red aircraft warning light on top of it.  Obviously Disney didn't want a blinking red aircraft light on top of their centerpiece castle, so they made it as high as they could (with a little room to spare) so that they could keep their design and not have to spoil it with a red blinking light.  The same consideration went into Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, and the other tall ride structures in the parks.

If you're a Disney fanatic and finding out those types of little facts is interesting to you, then these are the books for you!  I've had more than a few good laughs and "Aha!" moments while reading them.  Things that I always wondered about since I was a kid are explained here for the first time.

The books also show a lot of interesting photos and sketches about how the parks and rides were originally conceived versus how they turned out.  In some cases they're almost exactly the same, and in others there were key design changes made along the way.  Those design changes are explained as well.  Interesting stuff....

These guides are inexpensive and well worth the money to get some more insight into the terrific Disney design principles.  If you decide to purchase them, watch out!  They're going to make you want to go to The World to check the parks out all over again!  :-)
   

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pathways #4: Stop looking, and begin seeing...

Everyone around the world enjoys Coke...
Wow!  Has it been six months since my last post to my Pathways series???  I completely lost track of time over the summer as I've been traveling about and enjoying the outdoors.


I've received some nice emails from people around the world on this series, so I want to continue to put these posts up here to communicate some of the key things that I'm learning while I continue to develop my photography skills.


I enjoy the emails that I get from people all over the world about this blog.  They remind me of how connected we are and how the internet has made the world a much smaller place.  It also reminds me of the power of search engines, because I've done nothing to promote this blog over the years, but I get a regular number of hits to it every day and the web traffic reports show me that people are spending time to browse around the site at the content I've written.  That's great!


With that in mind, this is my next post in the series...


This post is about details.  Seeing details, photographing details and enjoying details.  One of the things that I wrote about in my last Pathways post at this link was about finding photographic subjects that really interest you and ignite your passion for shooting.  This is is critical for improving your creativity (and therefore your photography) because when you're shooting things that you really like, you'll be more interested in how you ultimately represent your subject.


Once you find the subjects that ignite your passion, the next step is to study them to see the details that lurk below the surface so you can bring those details to life to show your subjects in a deeper and more thorough way.  To show things that others might not even notice, but that you see and enjoy.  If you're passionate about your subject, this will come naturally.  As David duChemin said in his terrific book "Within The Frame", to improve our photography we need to "stop looking, and begin seeing".


Prayer offerings to wish the climbers success...
I had a chance to practice this on my recent trip to Nepal.  The trip was a very long journey, but when I was in the villages near Mount Everest, I spent a lot of time absorbing the details in the local village.  It was easy to get wrapped up in the process, and I started noticing details all over the place that made excellent photo subjects.


In addition to capturing the standard photos of the area around Mount Everest, these photos posted here of the finer details serve to enrich my presentation of what the place is all about and what goes on there.  Anyone can point their camera at Mount Everest and take a postcard photo, but what about all of the other details all around it?


So how do you "stop looking, and begin seeing"?  I think that developing the ability to "see" starts with slowing down.  When we spot something that interests us photographically, especially if we're rushing during travel, we tend to jump right to the process of firing off many shots to try to capture the moment and then we move on.


A cautionary sign about drinking the local water...
Instead of rushing around to grab shots, I would suggest slowing down a bit.  Think about what originally drew your attention to the scene and how to emphasize that aspect of the scene.  Is it a grand scene that should be photographed with a wide angle lens to show its grandeur?  Or, is it a smaller detail in the scene that should be picked out with a telephoto lens.  Is it color?  Shape?  Texture?  How can you emphasize it?


When you slow down and start to think like this, you will begin to "see" your subject and what's going on around you much more effectively and naturally.  You'll find that the process of discovering great little details starts to become second nature in your photographic process.  Additionally, your photography portfolio of a particular subject will be better/deeper and your photography skills will certainly improve.  Try it out the next time you're out shooting.  I'm sure that you'll soon see great results in your photographs!


Interesting wiring for light switches on side of building...
On a side note, I have to confess something and tell you that I've never been to Nepal, I've never seen Mount Everest, and none of these pictures were taken there.  I was just kidding about that part of this post.  All of these photographs were taken at Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, FL USA near the Mount Everest roller coaster attraction. 


I waited to mention this until the end of this post because it serves to make my point even better.  There are interesting details all around you that you might be walking straight by in your rush to get somewhere or do something else.  This is especially true at Disney!  Slow down.  Look around.  Enjoy the details.


It also serves the other point in this post and my previous posts about finding something that you're passionate about and truly "seeing" it.  


I really enjoy going to Disney World, so much so that I've been there with my family 5 times in the past 10 years.  You could say that we're passionate about Disney and the fun that we have there.  


Typically I've rushed around Disney shooting photos all over the place, but over the years I've missed many great pictures like these here that expose the detail and effort that went into designing and building the Disney parks.  These are the details that make Disney much more than an ordinary amusement park.  The attention to detail in the parks is truly amazing, and it's a labor of love by the Disney designers that should be enjoyed and appreciated by visitors to their parks if you're interested in this type of thing.  On our last trip, we slowed down and appreciated the small details more than ever...


In closing, it's irrelevant where I took these photos.  I included them here with my story of going to Nepal as a humorous way of making my points about slowing down, thinking, and truly "seeing" your subject so that you can bring the details to life.  Have fun, but go slow!  Your photography will thank you...
   

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Oktoberfest 2011

Me enjoying a beer in Wurzburg, Germany
UPDATED 9/20/11:  Here is a link to a short photo essay at Time.com regarding the history of how Oktoberfest came to be.

It's not going to be long now before the cold starts to arrive, then comes Indian Summer, and then all of a sudden you'll notice that you need a light jacket before you go outside.

For the past few days near where I live in New York, there's been an early autumn snap of cold in the air.  The heat on the first floor of our house went on both mornings of this past weekend.

On one hand it was soothing because I like the smell in the house caused by the heat when it comes on for the first time in the autumn as I sit drinking my morning coffee.  But on the other hand, it gives me an anxiety attack because it reminds me that fall and winter are coming, and I still have a ton of outdoor house chores to do before winter!!!  But forget that for now....This post is about Oktoberfest!

I work for a German company, and I've had the opportunity to travel to Germany several times on business over the recent years.  In addition to seeing my friends and colleagues over there, I get to eat some really good food and drink a lot of excellent beer!

Although I've never been to Europe at this time of year when the giant Oktoberfest celebrations are going on (especially in Munich), perhaps one day things will coincide and I'll get to experience one of these memorable festivals.  My wife has been to one, and she said it's quite the scene to see!  But since I'm not in Germany, going to an Oktoberfest in my area is the next best thing.

Enjoying a Warsteiner on my way home...somewhere over London.
Now is the season for these festivals, and some of them are great family events.  In addition to....beer....they have delicious food, many craft vendors, and German and Bavarian music.  Hunter Mountain, Bear Mountain, West Point, and Belleayre Mountain in New York all have festivals, although the one at Hunter Mountain needs more German beer!  I don't think that Budweiser and Bud Light really belong in multiple taps on the Oktoberfest beer wagons!  I plan to check out Bear Mountain or Belleayre this year for a change of pace.

The nice thing about these festivals is that they act as a milestone in the change of seasons.  Shortly after enjoying them, the autumn colors start to arrive in the trees, the first delivery of wood for the season is dumped by the delivery guy on the driveway (which I then have to stack!), and the fireplace is lit up for the first time as we settle into autumn....

Warm sunlight, an open door, and a menu I couldn't read...but the beer was good!
I encourage everyone to get out and enjoy an Oktoberfest celebration and the beginning of the change of seasons near you.  It's a fun family activity to see the crafts, eat the food, experience some different types of music, and of course for the adults.....drink good beer!

If you know of good celebrations in the Northeast U.S., post them as a comment to this post so that Google will pick them up and others can find them as well.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 - Ten years gone by....

As I wrote in my blog post at this link last year, I dedicate this post this year with my best wishes to everyone, everywhere, who was affected by 9/11.

I can only hope that the people in this world can eventually find a way, somehow, to work toward a coexistence that's peaceful enough so that an event of this type never occurs again.  

Through photography, in the last year or so I've developed what I would describe as a significant interest in "the world".  I read a lot of photography and travel books, magazines, and blogs.  Through this material and the photographs within, something was sparked in my brain to want to learn more about all of the different countries and people in the world, and what makes them what they are.

As I read through these books and look at the photos, I'm learning much about the world and its people and why things are the way they are.  How thousands of years of history have shaped the people and countries on this planet.  I don't agree with a lot of things that many people in this world do, but at least now I'm beginning to understand it better.

Perhaps if we all took a little more time to study the world and the people around us, we might begin to reach an understanding of each other that would some day lead to something closer to the peaceful coexistence that I mentioned above.  I can only hope...

This year my kids began asking more sophisticated questions about 9/11.  They want to understand what it's all about, why it happened, and why so many people died on that one day.  It also helps them to understand things like why they hear "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" on the news every night...

My wife and I do the best we can to answer their questions in a way that they can understand that doesn't scare them, and we've let them watch some of the 9/11 television specials this year.  I think they're at an age where it's important for them to learn these things.  Without letting it become overbearing on them, I think it's OK now for them to learn on a more complex level that there are good people and bad people in the world, and sometimes the bad people do some really terrible things.

As I write this on the eve of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, I'm very sad.  I sit and stare at the 9/11 specials on TV.  Just absorbing them.  And after ten years, there's some part of me that still finds the whole thing quite difficult to comprehend.  But I maintain my hope that I wrote about above that some day, somehow, the world will become a better place to be.  The future generations deserve better than this....

Now that the 9/11 Memorial in New York City is open and almost complete, I will go there with my wife and kids some day soon to see the park, the memorial fountains, and the new One World Trade Center building.  I'm sure it will be a very emotional visit.

And from this day forward, I will no longer call that area "Ground Zero" anymore.  It deserves better than that.  I will call it what it used to be called.  The World Trade Center.
 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/11: The Photographers' Stories

(Peter J. Eckel/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
I have a personal connection to 9/11 that I wrote about in my blog post at this link.  For that reason, I'm probably likely to read a lot of news stories and photography stories about it as the 10th Anniversary approaches.

I found a good article today on the Popular Photography website at this link called "9/11: The Photographers' Stories, Part 1—"Get Down Here. Now".

It's a four part article (all four parts are at the link above) that tells the story of 9/11 from some of the photographers who documented it.

It's definitely worth a read...
 

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Photographically Speaking" by David duChemin

If you read this blog, you know that I'm a fan of David duChemin's books and photography.  He speaks a language that I can relate to about understanding the many aspects of photography and improving my photography skills.

He has a new book coming out soon called "Photographically Speaking", and the video below offers a glimpse of what it's a about.  The sentiments expressed in this video are very similar to my thoughts about photography, which I guess is why I relate to what duChemin is all about.

It should be a good read...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why do we accept such pathetic mediocrity in our politicians?

In one of their songs, the band Gov't Mule has the following lyrics:

"We're at a place in history where the bar is at an all time low
We've applauded mediocrity till there is no lower we can go".

Those lyrics are so true these days.  Every time I watch the news and see the moronic things our politicians are doing, I'm stunned at how stupid, clueless, and totally disconnected most of them are.  It does indeed seem like the bar is at an all time low.  I don't know where these people come from.  Not to mention that they still haven't learned not to send half naked photos of themselves on Twitter, but that's a whole other story...

I don't have to speak at length about the debt debate that took place within the last month.  It was so disheartening to see that our elected officials can't put aside partisanship and posturing long enough to do something right for our country for the long term.  Instead they took us to the brink and made a bad economic situation even worse.  They should all be voted out of office in the next elections, but they probably won't be because by then we'll probably have settled into the "life goes on" mode that we normally fall back into once the fury of political unrest dies down. That's how these people stay in office.

So let's get to one specific person who epitomizes mediocrity and the bar being at an all time low:  Michele Bachmann.

About a month ago, Bachmann made some completely idiotic public statements about same-sex marriage and the gay/lesbian lifestyle.  She basically said that the gay lifestyle deserves no recognition and some other ridiculous things that were even worse.  You can find her comments just by searching her name and the word 'gay' in Google.  Then the press dug up some undercover recordings that profess to show that a clinic that she and her husband run attempts to "cure" people of the gay lifestyle.  What?  I heard the recordings, and they were quite bizarre and creepy to say the least.  I'm sure you can find them by using Google.

What the hell?  How does a person running for President of the United States get off making comments like this, especially in these technological times where they know everything that they say and do will end up going around the world on social networks almost instantly?

I'm not going to say in print what I think she is.  As I was watching this on TV, I just sat there stunned and it left me thinking of the lyrics above from the Gov't Mule song.

So, what happens next.  The Iowa State Fair, where they were conducting a straw pole of the GOP candidates to see who the front runners are.  Guess who won.  Michele Bachmann.

She was subsequently taken to task in every interview that I saw with her, and she tried to back-peddle and explain her way out of her comments.....which only made her look 100 times worse.

I'm telling you....I just don't understand this.  Why does the U.S. public tolerate, and actually further endorse people like this?  She should be stripped of her current office, run out of town, and never be elected to any public office ever again.  People should not forget the things that she said, or the misguided things that other politicians say either.  These are the people who WE are choosing to represent US.  I certainly don't want her representing me.  She's a complete embarrassment.  

I absolutely cringe at the thought of Michele Bachmann being President of the United States.  This country should be able to do so much better than her.  If she ever makes it to the 2012 Presidential election, please don't vote for her.
 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: The best apps for reading effectively on the iPad

I'll give you the punchline to this post up front...

All you need for great reading on the iPad are the following apps:
iBooks, Kindle, Zinio, Feeddler, Zite, and Flipboard.

Now read on to find out why...

This is another one of my "real world" reviews. You can talk about every feature of each app that I list here for a long time. But instead of doing a feature by feature review, I'm simply going to talk about why they work effectively to make reading on the iPad a great experience.  An experience that has, in fact, led me to go paperless for most of my reading.

In order to set yourself up for reading effectively on the iPad (and to make it more fun!), you first need to determine what it is that you want to read. Books? Magazines? RSS feeds? All of them? The reason I suggest this first step is because there's no one app that does all of these things, so if you have broad reading tastes then you'll want to get several of the apps on my list to get the job done right for you. I'll cover these content sources one by one below with my recommendations.

Books:

If reading books is your pleasure, use the iBooks and Kindle apps. There are other book readers out there (like Google Books), but they simply don't compare to iBooks and Kindle.

If the cost of a new book is one of your primary concerns, then always check the price of a new book between Kindle and iBooks. I've found that Kindle is almost always less expensive than iBooks in the US.  If you don't have a strong preference for which one of these readers that you use, buy your books from the least expensive choice.

Cost aside, both Kindle and iBooks offer a lot of similar features and some other unique ones as well that may help you to pick one or the other as your primary reader.  For sure, the format of the ebooks for both readers will be around for a long time, so you don't have to worry that your books will suddenly become obsolete.  eBooks are here to stay.

Some (but not all) of the key features of iBooks:

  1. Seamless experience between the iBooks store, your library, and the reading experience.
  2. Capability to store your books in 'Collections' to organize them by topic.
  3. Capability to import and read PDF's like any other book.
  4. Built in one-touch dictionary and/or search for a highlighted word or phrase.
  5. Fully searchable content.
  6. Capability to bookmark.
  7. Capability to select fonts, font sizes, and sepia or white page color.
  8. Capability to highlight text and add notes to highlighted text.
  9. Many classic books from famous authors (e.g., Charles Dickens) are free!

Some (but not all) of the key features of Kindle:

  1. Kindle eBooks are typically less expensive than iBooks.
  2. Capability to select fonts, font sizes, and sepia, white, or black page color.
  3. Built in one-touch dictionary and/or search for a highlighted word or phrase.
  4. Capability to highlight text and add notes to highlighted text.
  5. Fully searchable content.
  6. Capability to share your highlighted items with the Kindle community for the book you're reading, and have their highlighted items appear in your book as well.  I guess you could call this "social reading".  I'm not entirely sure of the major benefit of this, but it is unique to Kindle.

Have eBooks totally replaced paper books in our house?  No.  I still buy print books when there's a likelihood that I'll be referencing a book frequently or it's an art-book like a large format photography coffee table book that needs to be seen in all of its large format splendor.  But other than those two exceptions, almost all books that we buy now are electronic because the benefits of eBooks far outweigh the paper versions....especially being able to take your whole library with you anywhere that you go!

Magazines:

If you're a big magazine reader, then use the Zinio app. Zinio has over 4,000 magazines available for online subscription and/or individual issue purchase, and the price is always the same or less than the print version of the same magazine.

The nice thing about reading electronic magazines is that the publishers often add extra interactive multimedia content to their electronic versions.  Even if it's just live web links that have been added within the text, just having that is better than the print version. But often, there's much more than that. National Geographic, for example, adds video, audio interviews, and slide shows to the electronic version of their magazines. Obviously that's something that you can't get in the print versions, and it makes for a much more interactive and enjoyable reading experience.

On top of that, here are two other great things.  First, there's no clutter. You don't have stacks of old magazines hanging around. Second, your entire library is searchable. So, for example,  if you remember an article about traveling in Australia that appeared in National Geographic but you can't remember when you saw it, simply search and you shall find!  I rarely use the back issues of my paper magazines for just this reason....it would take too long to find anything by flipping through the pages of so many paper issues.

All of my magazines are now electronic.

RSS feeds:

If you look in the Apple App Store, there are a lot of RSS readers out there.  Some of them are free and others can cost up to $5 for an ad-free version. If you subscribe to a lot of websites and/or blog feeds, a good RSS reader is essential for easy reading.

You could just use Google Reader to read your RSS feeds, but I'm going to give you a much better strategy here....

First, definitely use Google Reader to subscribe to your feeds to keep them all in a central location.  The reason I suggest this is because all of the most popular RSS reader apps will interface with your Google Reader account to pull in your feeds from Google, so if you centralize all of your feeds in Google Reader then you'll be impacted minimally if you change your RSS reader app down the road.

Second, don't use Google Reader for RSS reading.  It's downright clunky at best, and it can be confusing at worst when you're trying to find new feeds instead of ones that you've already read, etc.  As with all of the Google tools (Gmail, Calendar, etc), Reader is outdated and in serious need of a total overhaul.

Third, download the free version of Feeddler to actually read and process your feeds from your Google account.  Feeddler is a fully customizable RSS reader that you can set up to manage and read your feeds the exact way that you want to.  Want to see all new items from all of your feeds since the last time that you opened the app?  Want to go back through items you've already read to find something that you want to reference again?  Want to mark something as a favorite and have that mark synchronized with your Google Reader account for future reference or to share with someone?  All of these things are no problem for Feeddler to handle.  And there's so much more.  It really pays to spend some time exploring this app.

Feeddler makes managing my feeds and getting through new RSS items as easy as I think it can possibly be.  There are other apps that are similar to Feeddler (most notably Reeder), but for some of them you have to pay for the full version up front, while Feeddler is free if you're willing to have some banner ads on the bottom of your screen.  If you don't like the Feeddler banners then you can buy the full version for $5 and get rid of them.

Customized Magazines:

This is where the fun starts....

Zite and Flipboard have both revolutionized the concept of creating a personalized online magazine that gets updated daily with content of your choosing.

Both apps offer you the capability to have many sources of news content sent to your virtual magazine (including pulling in content from your social media accounts and RSS accounts if you want), but Zite takes it one step further with the fact that it begins to "understand" the articles that you like and mark as favorites, and it will load your magazine daily with more content of that same type.  Flipboard does not do this, and therefore it's more of a simple news-pushing type of app.

Both apps have curated content in which editors select the best and/or most popular news stories from a large variety  of topics and news sources.  All you have to do is include the sections you want in your magazine, and you're done.  It's updated daily with the latest news.

Both of the apps feature elegant but different interfaces, the capability to email links to articles, include social media in your magazine, mark items as favorites, and post to your social media tools.

The reason that I use both of them instead of just one is because they both offer slightly different content sources, so when I use them both I get a very good cross section of topics that I'm interested in, instead of using just one and missing some key news areas that I like to follow.

So, in a nutshell real-world sort of way, the information above explains why I believe these apps are just about all you need for reading on the iPad.  I'm sure the latest and greatest apps will come along to knock Zite and Flipboard off their popularity pedestal, but I think that iBooks, Kindle, and Zinio are here to stay for sure.  They are very solid at what they do, and they deserve their strong and loyal user-bases.

I hope you'll spend some time to fully explore these apps to learn all that they have to offer.  Enjoy your reading, and I hope you find this post useful!
 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Vinylmations

Uh-oh.  I ran across this picture today in the Disney Parks Blog and it got me thinking, "Who's this little guy?".

As I read the article posted there, it seems like Disney is starting out what I'm sure will be a hugely popular collectible series called Vinylmations!  You can read all about them at this link and you can see them in the Disney Store at this link.

Disney fans are going to go bonkers for these things, especially those who like Mickey Mouse.  All Vinylmations are in the shape of Mickey, but the sky's the limit with regard to the artwork painted onto the Mickey form.  They have tons of these little guys....and I'm sure there are many more to come.

Well, it looks like this will be another thing that will suck money out of my pocket on the next trip to Disney!  I wrote in this previous post here on my blog that I just started collecting Disney pins, and now this comes along!

I give up....At this point, I think that I should just turn my bank account over to Disney.  :-)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Travel and Review: Fire Island Lighthouse, NY (with photos)

I took a recent day trip out to Long Island, NY to go to Robert Moses Beach and the Fire Island Lighthouse.  This is a relaxing way to spend a beach day in this area, so I thought I would put up a quick post about it for those who might be interested...

There are two large beach complexes with various parking fields in this area, all accessible via Ocean Parkway.  If you're driving from west to east on Ocean Parkway, the first you'll come upon is Jones Beach State Park and the second is Robert Moses State Park.  I don't need to repeat a lot of the information available at these links to explain these two state parks.  Suffice to say that there's more than enough information there for you to read....

In a nutshell, these two massive beach complexes each have their own personality.  Since Jones Beach is the first complex on Ocean Parkway that people come to (and thus the most accessible), the primary ocean front parking fields tend to fill up fairly quickly on any given summer day.  Spillover parking then goes to the non-primary parking lots, which require a short walk to get to the beaches.  Jones Beach tends to draw a younger crowd than Robert Moses, and when combining that with the crowd levels that can swell there (especially on weekends!!!), it can be too much for comfort for my beach-going tastes.  We only go to Jones Beach when I take the day off from work and we go on a weekday.  Weekends should be avoided unless you go early in the morning before the crowds get there and then leave when the crowds start to swell too large.

To avoid some of the crowd levels at Jones Beach, I take the extra 20 minutes to drive further down Ocean Parkway and over the Robert Moses Causeway to the Robert Moses State Park complex.  You'll drop some of the crowd just because of the extra drive time and the beaches here are typically a little less crowded than Jones Beach.  Robert Moses also tends to be a little more family oriented but still obviously draws its fair share of young people.  Some of the beaches at Robert Moses are designated as radio-free zones.

We typically park at Field 5 at Robert Moses, which is the eastern-most field that's right next to Fire Island Lighthouse.  The nice thing about this field is its proximity to the Lighthouse, which allows you to take a little walk on a boardwalk through a nature preserve to explore the Lighthouse and the museum at its base.  Additionally, it's nice to park at Field 5 because if you take a little walk east up the beach from the parking field the crowds drop off dramatically.  Be cautioned that if you walk far enough east and the beach becomes isolated enough, you'll probably bump into some nude sunbathers.  Whether or not that bothers you is up to you to decide!  :-)

If you do go to Robert Moses and you park in Field 5, I would recommend spending about 90 minutes out of your day to walk to the Lighthouse, climb to the top, take some photos of the great views, and explore the nice museum at its base.  It's easy to spend even more time than this while there because there's plenty of history in the museum about Fire Island Lighthouse and lighthouses in general, as well as a gift shop and nice staff that will be more than happy to engage you in a conversation about the history of Fire Island Light.

Depending on where you live and how you go home, a stop in Freeport, NY for dinner is a nice idea.  Specifically, there's a street on the waterways there called Woodcleft Avenue that has a long line of waterfront restaurants and bars to choose from.  I've eaten at several of them and they're all pretty good, although I wouldn't say any of them are "great".  The dinner crowd starts to pick up around 6:30pm in this area and by 7:30pm it starts to get pretty crowded, so make sure you get there before then if you don't want to wait for a table.

With all of this being said, click on the photo below to see a few pictures from a recent day-trip that I took to Robert Moses State Park and the Fire Island Lighthouse with my family.  Enjoy!

Fire Island, NY

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Travel and Review: Newport, RI (with photos)

Castle Hill Inn, photographed from Newport Harbor
I've been going to Newport in Rhode Island for vacation since I was a kid when my parents used to take our family there.  Thirty years later, I now take my family there, and it's a relaxing and enjoyable trip.

My impressions of Newport now as an adult are echoed by the same types of memories that I have of Newport as a child.  As soon as I make the right turn off the Newport Bridge and drive toward America's Cup Avenue on the water front, a wave of relaxation comes over me every time and stays with me the entire time I'm there.  Good stuff.... 

The general vicinity of activities in Newport is encompassed within a couple of square miles, but the core of the primary activities that you'll probably do is located in an area of just a few square blocks along the Newport water front of America's Cup Avenue and some of the surrounding blocks in that area.

What to do:

Let's get some information out of the way up front in this post with the following links for good things to do while you're in Newport:
  1. Fodor's profile of Newport
  2. Newport Chamber of Commerce
  3. Whale watching out of Provincetown
  4. Whale watching out of Barnstable
  5. Sailing on the custom 50' Flyer catamaran in Newport Harbor
  6. Information on touring the Newport Mansions
  7. The beautiful Cliff Walk hike above the coast alongside the mansions 
  8. Fort Adams State Park
  9. Visit Castle Hill Inn to relax on the lawn with a drink overlooking Newport Harbor.
  10. Shopping in the quaint shops on America's Cup Avenue.
  11. Cape Cod is within an easy drive of Newport, and this might merit adding some extra time to your vacation if you want to explore the Cape while you're in Newport. 
  12. Going to the beaches, although this is not my primary choice of activity in Newport. 
  13. Enjoy a few pints of Newport Storm IPA beer!  :-)
That should keep you busy!

I've found that three full days in Newport is a good amount of time to strike a balance between activities and relaxation, especially if you're traveling with kids. That would generally mean an activity in the morning, a break for lunch, and an activity in the afternoon.  If you're not traveling with kids (who get tired eventually) or you want to add some time on Cape Cod, then four days is probably better.

The Elms mansion....definitely a must-see activity!
Of all the activities above, I can particularly recommend the Cliff Walk, sailing on the Flyer catamaran, and touring one or more of the mansions.  These are classic Newport activities that everyone should experience.  If you go to the mansions, then try to see The Breakers, The Elms, and/or Marble House.  These are the best of the mansions and they offer an incredible glimpse of the wealth of the gilded age and the lifestyle of the rich and famous in Newport at that time.  Every time I see these mansions I just stare at the beauty of them.  What craftsmanship and extravagance!  There's a bathroom in The Breakers that actually has hot and cold running sea water in the bathtub!  And the ballrooms are magnificent...

A note about the beaches.  Newport has several beaches to pick from (Easton's Beach, 1st Beach, 2nd Beach, 3rd Beach) but I would say that Newport isn't exactly known for its beaches.  First, they can be rocky and have a lot of shells.  Second, due to the geography of the region, there's often a lot of seaweed that washes into the coves where the beaches are located.  Don't get me wrong.  The beaches are OK, but if you're looking for beautiful wide sandy beaches with crashing waves, Newport is not the place to look for that.  You would need to go out onto Cape Cod for "better" beaches...

Where to eat:

The outdoor section of The Black Pearl.  Good food, great location!
When it comes to dining, the water front wharfs on America's Cup Avenue are packed with restaurants to choose from.  Most of them offer some kind of outdoor dining with views of Newport Harbor in addition to their indoor seating.  I don't think I've ever had a bad lunch or dinner in Newport.   Many of the restaurants have been in their current locations for a long time, and that's a good indicator because competition on the water front is fierce.  If any of the restaurants were truly bad, I'm sure they would close quickly.  One note....If you're headed out to the water front for dinner on the weekend in the summer, make sure you get there by 5:00pm or you'll be waiting for a long time to get a table.  Weeknights are a little better for seating, but not much.

Some of my favorite restaurants include those at the links here:
  1. The Black Pearl
  2. The Gas Lamp Grille
  3. The Barking Crab
  4. The Red Parrot
Where to stay:

Store fronts on Thames Street
There are many different types of accommodations in Newport.  Right in the center of town by America's Cup Avenue and Thames Street there are quaint Victorian bed and breakfast inns and a few larger hotels (Marriott, Hyatt, Newport Hotel).  All of these book up early in the summer for the prime summer weekends, so unless you plan ahead you might be prevented from getting a room in these areas simply because they're all full.  The other issue with staying in the prime areas of town is the cost.  All rooms in these locations are over $200/night, and some of them are a lot more.  The Hyatt on Goat Island is one of the most expensive hotels in Newport.

If you're OK with staying 5-10 minutes outside of town, then the Holiday Inn Express at this link or the Courtyard Marriott at this link in Middletown are perfectly viable options.  In fact, I just stayed at the Marriott and it was nice, clean, convenient, and had a good indoor/outdoor pool.

In summary:

The shops and restaurants along Bowen's Wharf in town...
As you can tell from this post, I really enjoy visiting Newport.  It's a bit on the expensive side and I wouldn't put it on my list of places that I need to go every year for vacation, but every 2-3 years I go back there for a few days and I always enjoy it.  It's like re-reading a good book or watching a good movie that you've seen before.  You know what it's about, but you still love reading and watching them again.  Newport is like that.  It doesn't change at all over the years and has been kept up nicely, and it's always ready for a return visit.  It's consistently a fun, relaxing, nice way to spend a few summer days.  Enjoy!