The lost gear!

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

-William Cosmo Monkhouse

As I read this poem, I can’t help but think that the author must have been thinking of an air cooled porsche (maybe, even a pre-964 Turbo). For like the lady’s tiger, they have been known to have quite the appetite for the unwitting driver.

There are many things I love doing. Nothing, however, beats driving my air cooled wonder of the 80s, as St. Louis slumbers, in the Sunday morning chill. Of course, as anyone who is wont to ride on moody tigers will tell you, taking it slow in the begining, has its just rewards. While normally afflicted by pedestrians, bicycle people, dog people and their dogs, as well as people who, evidently, learned driving online, the streets of Clayton at daybreak are bereft of hurdles, as the engine warms up, and thus lubricates the gearbox. Unlike the rapid shifting of more modern cars, barely sneaking above the idle at 1600 rpm, this sleepy tigress needs to be kept in the revs to avoid lugging the engine.


When I first started driving air cooled rear engine cars, I drove them like modern cars. Moving quickly through the gears till I was in the highest achievable gear at the lowest rpm. Turns out, not such a good thing for oil cooled cars. Why, you ask? Well, it has to do with the fact that the engines revs circulate the oil. So, low revs mean low oil circulation, which in turn is bad for your engine.


Which is all very well, but what does that have to do with the “lost gear”?
I’m coming to that. I often wondered why Porsche stuck with 4 gears on the 930 for a long time. When you drive a five speed, you figure out exactly why. While first gear is punishing, and should NEVER be downshifted into, second and third gears are great to wind up the engine. But my favorite gear of all is: fourth. It is amazingly tractable and on the expressway, is all you will ever need.


To anyone who has not driven a rear engined air cooled car without modern accoutrements, this may not make sense. But, having power to the rear wheels, is paradoxically more reassuring than slowing down. Staying in the band between 4250 and 5250 rpm in 4th, feels like the car is being stuck to the road under the burden of Mjolnir’s fearsome force. In the few instances, where I have had to take it beyond the 5300 mark (to avoid idiots), I did not feel a lack of grip, but I fear my 35 year old brakes and 45 year old reflexes on skinny tires may be overmatched.


Which brings me to 5th. Why does it even exist?


When I took delivery of this beast, I drove it as I did my previous cars and frequently drove in 5th. Did not really enjoy it, and did not realize what I was missing by quickshifting through 4th. Speaking to the engine’s tuner, I realized the error of my ways, and haven’t looked back.


Today morning’s saunter in the wild, I strayed into fifth again. This time I could objectively feel the car feel light and jitttery, like a debutante at her first dance, despite running between 3500 and 4500 rpm. Downshifting back to 4, brought back the character, the firmness and reassurance. The tires seemed to cling harder as the cars claws seemed to reemerge.


To those of you, in 4 speed air cooled cars, lusting for the magic of overdrive, I would like to reassure you that it is completely overrated and unnecessary. It’s fine for a sedan or a daily driver. Not, these tigers.

Where you are, is where you are supposed to be!

Everyone wonders: where am I? How did I get here? Why am I here? Where am I going?

I may not have the answers that you are looking for, but these thoughts often give me peace.

You are exactly where you are supposed to be. You are precisely as rich, as intelligent, as up-to-date, as lost, as located, as peaceful, as healthy and as well fed as you are supposed to be.

Not one iota more, or less.

In this finite universe, paradoxically populated by infinite possibility, we often really faced by simple choices.

Or are we?

Every choice that we face, no matter how trivial or life-altering, often reduces to a decision.

But ask yourself: are you really deciding?

Because each “decision”, each “choice made freely”, each “personal preference”, is really driven by the larger context that we DO NOT CONTROL.

Think of any decision you made. Ask yourself, if there were other things that you could have done. The answer is obvious: you did what you had to based on circumstances prevailing at the time of that decision. Even the decisions that turned out badly.

Which really means that the Universe deciding the context, drove your decision.

Which really means that the Universe made the decision.

Which is really great, because then we can stop berating ourselves over our “bad choices” and just focus on reveling on the ones’ that came through. There is NO absolute right or wrong. These are judgements created by the consequences of an action, not by the action itself. And as I showed you, we neither control the action, nor the consequences.

Because, you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you are suppose to be doing.

The only choice or decision that we get to control is: whether or not we will accept this in our minds, and focus on being happy with whatever happens and liking who we are and what we become.

I choose happy. I choose content. This way, where ever the Universe takes me, I am going to enjoy the journey.

On satisfaction.

Like any typical mid 40s person, I am often filled with self-doubt. Have I lived up to my potential? Am I doing enough? What can I do better? These, and other questions, are often the focus of my mind. But today was a good day.

As part of something at work, I was redo-ing my CV. Normally, it is a mechanical act – just busywork. Today was different. I actually looked at the CV itself. It looked good. I am sure there are better. But to me, each of those lines on my CV represented a memory, an action, a thought, an idea come to fruition. Each position over the years, a picturebook of memories; of friends near and far, of places and homes, of trials and victories.

Most importantly, it took me back to the time when the CV was yet blank. A time, when I stood at the threshold wondering where life was going to take me.

Could I have done more? Maybe.

But it is more than I ever hoped for. It is everything I dreamed of, and then some.

It reminded my that in our darkest hours when we brood on our failures, it is so important to remember the journey that has got us here to this point. And then, you realise that, this and other failures, are, were and will be, the stepping stones to a radiant future that I cannot even imagine.

The 1985 Carrera RS that Porsche never made.

Every era of 911 cars was notable for the presence of race derived or the so-called RennSport cars. Often naturally aspirated, these represented the pinnacle of Porsche’s commitment to developing true sports cars rather than supercars and hypercars. Great to drive, compact, practical and reliable, all 911s (and 356s before) have been as adept on a race track as they are as daily drivers – with individual cars often racking up the kind of mileage that an entire fleet of Ferraris would never see (or survive).

1964-5 (the birth year of the 911) as well as 1984-85 were interesting years in the history of Porsche. While in the former, the 911 had just launched to much fanfare, the 80s were a time of rededication to the 911 doctrine. In the two decades since its launch, the 1985 Carrera (911) was still an air-cooled flat six with a largely unchanged body shape. The engine had gone from a 2.0 L 130 bhp to a 3.2 L 231 bhp (204 bhp for the US), while the body had a wheelbase of 87 inches at launch (weighing 2381 lbs) increasing in 1985 to 89.45 inches in 1985 (now weighing 2756 lbs). In both guises, these were striking purpose built cars, as seen below.

A 1968 912 (similar in appearance to the original 1964 901(911)
1985 Carrera 3.2 Targa – The Secret RS

Starting in the late 60s with the R and the ST versions of the standard factory cars, Porsche launched several race oriented road cars. In the 70s, these became the Carrera, Carrera RS, Carrera 2.7 and Carrera 3.0 as well as the ultra-rarefied SC RS, RSR and RSR touring cars. In fact, in 1985, Porsche made 20 SC RS cars with the 3L engine but not with the 3.2. To this day, Porsche continues this with the R, GT3, GT3R, GT3RS, and GT2RS cars. To a classic owner, though, some characteristics of the great cars include, an air-cooled fire breathing raucous engine, a non-assisted steering with incredible feel, delightful suspension with characteristic handling (and none of the silliness of a Turbo trying to kill you), a mechanical clutch and robust gearbox (the old 901 and later the 915). All this, in a practical 2+2 body.

The Carrera 3.2 from the 80s represents the pinnacle refinement of the movement that began in 1965. Come 1989, and the onset of the modern paradigm shifting 964-bodied Carrera/911, these classic lines and characteristics would morph into what is the contemporary Porsche 911. A more modern hydraulic clutch and gearbox, twin spark ignition (an erstwhile feature of racing P-cars from the 50s and 60s), improved brakes, at the cost of a larger and heavier (and maybe, a little more ungainly looking) body. But for purists like I, nothing says the zenith of the 911 aura like a 1985 Carrera Targa – especially, this beauty that is named after my beautiful, and equally hot-headed, spouse.

This particular car started out as a grey market imported (german/ROW spec) car with the Sport package, cruise control and LSD as well as a leather interior. After a brief course in Texas, she moved to California until 2013 when she moved to the midwest. In Nebraska, another loving owner lavished his attentions on her. With the assistance of Terry Worick and Sal Carceller, significant improvements were underway. Retaining her perfectly preserved original paintwork and leather interior, her entire engine was transformed from a competent Euro Spec 231 bhp engine to fire breathing 296 bhp monster capable of humbling any naturally aspirated 964 from the next generation. Taking out the engine, a complete engine rebuild was performed.

Recondtioned heads with ARP head studs and ARP rod bolts
98 mm Mahle cylinders with JE pistons. 10.5:1 compression. Cylinders drilled for twin spark. New piston rings. Engine capacity increased to 3.4 L.
DC21 (Dougherty Racing) camshaft – subsequently replaced by a 964RS camshaft
Competition spec valves with upgraded valve seats and high performance springs with titanium retainers
Patrick Motorsports lightweight flywheel with upgraded pressure plate. Jwest Rennshift performance shifter to make the transmission much sharper.
Custom S-CAR DME MAF with enlarged injectors.
Andial splitter for twin spark
Wideband AFR
Completed engine
Installed engine with Billy Boat 1 3/4″ headers and dual inlet/outlet mufflers with stainless steel tips

In addition, with the assistance of Scott Fowler and Reid Vann Luxury Imports in St. Louis, since purchase, we have corrected all the wiring gremlins of a 35 year-old car, installed turbo tie rods to sharpen the handling. While a suspension upgrade to the car was considered, it has been currently held off on the advice of the experts at Reid Vann. The current feeling is that the handling – even with the stock adjustable suspension as well as the ride height is currently perfect and further enhancements may only result in diminishing returns.

When the rubber meets the road…

As seen on the dyno, this vehicle makes 227 lb ft of torque and 254 rwhp. This is pretty close to the output of later generations of the 964 RS, all with the weight advantage of the older body and close to the maximum that can be handled by the 915 gearbox.

A stock Carrera could do 0-60 in 5.5 sec in 1985. I, on the other hand, don’t care about what this car takes to go from 0-60. Because, when I step on it – she goes. She is not defined by numbers but by the feelings she evokes. It would seem that bats making a hasty exit from hell could not catch up, and if they could, the evil hellhound sound of this car would terrify them anyway. People have talked about using different engine management (e.g TEC3R) but I believe that Sal has built an amazing and unique unit – that is ideal for this car. Like a fine vintage, all good things have really come together in this. Similarly, people have mentioned using Fabspeed and MK exhausts over the Billy Boats – but why would I, when the evil growl from this car’s rear is a perfect match for its character.

During a recent Porsche club drive, this car had no trouble keeping up with newer 997 and even 991 cars. Unlike many tribute cars out there – 911R reproductions, 911ST, RSR Carreras etc. , this car makes no bones about what it is. It is proud to look and feel like a REAL G-modell 911 from the 1980s. It has no fake flares, no outsize tires, no tea-tray, wide fenders or slantnose. It is not backdated, like a Singer. Outwardly, it looks and feels like the perfect factory Carrera 3.2 – with the heart of a Rennwagen.

So, it sounds like an RS. It drives like an RS. It has the creature comforts that a touring car would have.

What can I say?

If it talks like an RS and walks like an RS, I would posit that it probably is the RS version of the Carrera, that Porsche never made in 1985. I represented it, as such, at the recent HCCMO Easter Concours d’Elegance, and, I think they must agree.

On Schmitt.

I was at the Porsche Cars and Coffee today – with my wife’s namesake, our red Goddess of Excess and Greed from Zuffhausen – in tow. As is wont, many people came up to me to admire her, and remember the times when the Guards Red 911 with a whale tail, was both the successful stockbroker’s staple as well as the subject of countless teenagers’ fantasy (yours truly, included). One gentleman inquired about the history of the car, and, as I recounted the name of the dealer, his recoil and revulsion took me aback. When I came home, I looked at a bunch of the online reviews, and was shocked to find out that a multitude of online reviews had bitterly ranted against the dealer – as charlatans and swindlers.

This, is the exact opposite of my experience with them over these last 2 years that I have visited with them. They had always welcomed me to the showroom, even when I was just browsing, which, in no small part, lead me to select them to list my earlier car. When it came time to move to another classic, I did not look any further. Dan Schmitt and John Sherman, at the store, looked after me and, I could not have been happier for the experience.

Still, this experience flew in the face of the revulsion of many, and got me thinking. Was I hoodwinked? Were their prices unrealistic? Had they concealed anything from me or ask me to conceal something – when I sold my prior classic? Did anyone at the dealer seem to be uninformed about the cars they were selling (a common feature of many premier new car dealers)?

The answer was a resounding NO!

Then, why this venom and anger?

I think the problem is manifold. Firstly, as Wayne Carini puts it: “It’s all about the chase!”. All classic car buyers are looking to snag a great deal. Everyone wants a pristine bargain, with a blemishless past, a rust-free interior and a 50-year old engine that drives like new. Unfortunately, if something sounds too good to be true, it seldom is. While we celebrate these classic car “scores” on the MotorTrend channel, the not so great deals as well as the ones that Wayne loses out on – seldom make the cut to film. So, to me, when someone lands up buying a classic and receives a money-pit, it really is part of the game.

Anyone who has been to the Daniel Schmitt company will know, that it is kept beautifully, as are the cars. And that isn’t cheap. Each car is carefully cleaned, periodically charged and displayed – as well as photographed and written up in a professional fashion. Plus the cost of advertising. While there may be some economies of scale, there are ebbs and flows to market forces that the classic dealer is forced to experience – especially without the advantage of subsidies from a wealthy manufacturer. As with all businesses, at the end of the day it has to be about being financially viable, i.e. making a buck. Why get upset about that?

I have dealt with all kinds of car dealers in the past. Unlike many, John and Dan are both car enthusiasts. The former is a Packard guy and, the latter likes his Rolls. Their knowledge of the car market as a whole, as well as a variety of cars that they have bought and sold, is excellent. I know, because long before I bought a car from them, I spent innumerable hours browsing the dealership – much to my family’s chagrin (Oh, Dad!). I spent a long time talking to John about cars and even tested a few. I grew to respect his knowledge of vehicles and even though we preferred different cars, I was willing to accept his recommendations.

Through all the complaints voiced on the internet, noone mentions that dealer refused to have the car checked out. As someone who has owned these used and classic cars, I can assure you that nobody can voire dire a vehicle well enough, that they can get it right every time. There will be many good eggs, but a few addled ones too. Buyers remorse is fine, but blaming the dealer for it, is unfair. They are making a living, the best they can. Most smart salespersons know that a bad sale does not help them and, the guys at Daniel Schmitt seem to be here for the long term.

Classic owners are a weird bunch. I should know, I see one in the mirror all the time. We will revel over sticking it to the dealer – if we make a killer deal, and trying to berate them – if it does not work out to OUR tastes. That is fine and dandy, but these are real people we hurt. People who have dealt with me fairly. If they wind up, and are forced out of business, then all that is left is the used car lot guys – who used to work at Wal-Mart the week before.

So, if you are in the market for a classic car and, can visit the dealership, give the guys at Schmitt.com a call. If you can’t visit, their website is actually one of the best and easiest to browse. I would always recommend that you personally inspect the car before you buy it. And please – OWN your purchase when you make it. If you get a great deal, I celebrate your success. If not so, my commiserations. But these are your actions, the dealer can only sell you something, you are wanting to buy… …even if you don’t realize that you haven’t looked hard enough!

Cheers!

DISCLOSURE: I have no personal stake in this dealer. I have sold one car and bought one car through them and the above are my personal experiences.

Pacing Myself. And why it matters!

I am a type A personality. I am driven and aggressive. I lose sight of my present in my focus to achieve a target. I have come close to destroying my mind, my body and my family when I transition to being on the chase.

Stop.

Remember that the only goal worth maintaining is preservation of my Self. The whole. The sum of all the parts that create Me.

Climbing a mountain, dying at the height of ascendance, serves no purpose.

Life is a marathon. The purpose of a life is to live. It is not to die trying. Achieve balance within before I look for victories outside. Winning a gold medal is worth it, if I have the legs to stand on the podium. Achieving balance in my body and mind is the victory on which all other victories will come. Each race I run, win or lose, is but a first in a succession of races to come.

I learn little from victory, but accumulate arrogance and pride. I learn more from my defeats. Humility, perspective, the reasons for my defeat, respect for my colleagues – both the winner and the other losers, and most important, the desire to fight and win again.

Balance in all things. Balancing my demands to my needs, not my greed. Balancing the need for rest and recovery, to prepare for the days unseen, the fights unfought, the races not run. Balancing my mind, to clear away the avarice, pride and anger, to allow strength, calm and focus replace them. Balancing my body, to rid myself of gluttony and the physical abuse of sloth, to embrace healthy consumption, restful recovery, and balanced exercise.

The best swimmers are akin to fishes as they defy the environment and slice through the water gracefully. But they never forget to breathe.

Calling 911…

As the week draws to its inexorable end, and the drudgery of the week gives way to the expectant joys of the weekend, my heart beats a little faster, as I turn in, each Friday night. Rising at the break of dawn, while my fellow city-dwellers slumber, I spring into the crisp morning air, keys to my chariot in-hand, as I break free the bonds of reality, headed to my time machine – preparing to make the run to 88 miles per hour.

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Unlike it’s predecessor, a 1968 Porsche 912 with a mechanical starter, this evil car wakes up with a surprising alacrity and a deep rumble – resembling the growl of a rabid hellhound. Ensconced in a snug, but comfortable, sport seat, I inhale the unique smells of a 1980s air-cooled car. Warming up, the engine throbs like the strumming of Satan’s bass guitar and drums, while the reliable heating system (an antithesis to it’s laughable air conditioning) braces me from the morning chill. After 5 minutes, and an imperceptible rise in the engine temperature gauge (from freezing to above freezing, I guess), I step on a surprisingly light and familiar feeling clutch, as the 915 gearbox slots into reverse. From past experience and numerous stalls, I slowly release the clutch while feeding the throttle, and the car crawls backwards down my curved driveway.

Other than the otherwise preoccupied dog walkers, joggers and (now awakened) infants, strapped into their jogging strollers, nobody else witnesses the murder of an early Saturday morning calm, as the Beast trolls the slow roll down Wydown Boulevard. Interestingly, the speedometer (which seems to start at 30 mph) is not interested in informing us of the rapidity of our progress at this point, preferring to get involved only at speeds a car like this must be driven. Bouncing from rut to pot-hole to steel plate, I gingerly negotiate the minefield that has replaced Big Bend Boulevard in Clayton. My trepidations give way to excitement as I see the exit for the interstate approach.

With a nether-worldly yawn, she goes into Beast mode, as I downshift into second and make that curve onto the 64. Since the engine is not fully warm yet, I limit my enthusiasm to shift in the 4000 rpm range, as the car effortlessly catches up with traffic threatening to merge right. Matching the speeds of cars decades younger than her, the Beast trundles down the expressway as we wait for the engine to warm up, all the while shifting up quickly to fifth. Each exit on the westbound expressway holds promise of a new route to drive, each one a different neighborhood, a different story.

Today our jaunt to the Jaguar dealership in Creve Couer, accompanied by the dated “stereo” blasting period-correct 70s and 80s pop tunes, requires us to take the right hander onto the north-bound 270. We find ourselves trapped behind ineffably confounded drivers searching desperately for acceleration to merge, while evil expressway drivers try to merge onto the exit. A quick downshift to 3rd and a tap to the throttle, into a small window of expressway space – and our peril is past. Dropping my wife off at the dealer, as she deals with the travails of her afflicted SUV, I resume my sojourn in my now fully warmed up red demon.

This time, as I merge onto the expressway, I let the engine reach its full wail at close to 6000 rpm between shifts and rapidly reenter traffic. In comparison to many modern (and much faster cars) that I have owned, the sense of occasion and involvement with each gear shift is totally different. The same kind of buffoonery in my prior 2012 Jaguar XKR would have me in “arrest-me-now” speeds – albeit without the rush that the little Carrera does in very legal speeds. In many ways, it reminds me of my hyperactive 2008 s2000, idling at 2000 rpm and redlining at 8. Even as it settles into a cruise, the pounding whump-whump of its engine is intoxicating.

I pull off the expressway and come to a stop at a traffic light at the end of the exit and revel in the sonorous rhythm of the twin exhausts – waiting for the lights to change. The change to green and the clearing of traffic ahead of me, as the mall crowd turns elsewhere, invites another ride up the wailing wall of sound as I shift at the limit, through first and second. In all of this, I don’t miss my other modern cars’ ineffective and stupid traction control, electronic gear shifts (manual or otherwise), numb power steering or pretentious preening. With its yesteryears simplicity and brute force character, like the love of my life that she’s named after, this demon has stolen my heart too. No wonder, each Saturday begins by “calling Carrera (911)”.

On Computers

Diwali 1

From Stephen Hawking to James Cameron, predicting the demise of the human species at the hands of AI is one of our favorite pastimes. If you would believe these ‘Freddie Kreugers’, the malice of AI is a malignant undertone to our close relationship with our devices. This raises the question, what are these entities that we are neglecting to anticipate?

In my opinion, humble as it is, to differentiate between us and our devices is trivial. They are no more than our handwritten script in a notebook – a representation of our own minds and ideas, inscribed on silica and gold. All computers reflect their creators, with the same linear thinking process as the one’s that made them. As modern computers move to parallel processing, another human ability, this reflects the same.

Even if there is a AI-pocalypse, it is nothing but an extension of our consciousness casting aside the shell of the pupa that our present beings rest in. With each passing generation of devices, more of our souls and spirits enter the architecture of these devices, shedding our mortal and human limitations, while embracing the limitless expanse of a virtual

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universe.

So, rather than lamenting the demise of a trivial human existence, celebrate the passage of this phase of human existence, into a new plane of being.

On my vida Leica

I am an amateur photographer – at a very basic skill level. I take, what I would kindly refer to as, populist photographs (i.e. lots of color, often oversaturated and contrast filled). I enjoy taking pictures intensely. Although I initially started with a P&S Leica V-lux, I graduated to a GF-1 with the PL25 1.4  (four thirds lens), moving to an EM-5 with a PL 14-150 zoom as well as a GH2 with the PL 45 2.8 and finally to an M9P with a summilux 50. I recently acquired an X vario that I enjoy intensely as well. Here is a group of pictures that I feel represent a bit of  everything.

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With my pictures, I usually aspire to get a perspective that is different from what anyone else can get. I’m not trying to get the best picture there is, just the one that I like best. For this reason, I usually shoot RAW (RW2, DNG, ORF whatever) and process the pictures on either Aperture or Lightroom (I really do prefer the former). I often post my favorite pictures to facebook and use that as my photo repository. My favorite subject is Alpana, my companion of these last 20 years and my two “ickles” – Lavanya and Raghav. My passion is shooting sunsets and I’ve been blessed with a west facing house on a hill with big skies.

Leica V-Lux 2.286333_111084688997990_567885_o

My journey with Leica started when I bought the Leica V-lux because I wanted to own a Leica. I knew that it was the same camera as the Panasonic FZ but there is something to owning a Leica that appealed to my inner (not really very far inner) snob. Sluggish to focus and often noisy, the camera was occasionally capable of some very fun pictures. Still works like it used to. Now given to the kids featured in this picture.

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In 2009, I started looking at everyone who had a dSLR with considerable envy. As a gadget freak, it cut me to the quick to see this bevy of delights in the hands of others. Benign elitist with more money than brains, I, obviously, insisted on buying the GF-1 with a gigantic F1.4 25mm Leica D lens. For what I spent at the time, I could have easily gotten a good mid range Nikon or Canon product, but alas…

… But not that I have any regrets. Unlike the relative small aperture mid range stuff, this lens was a beast. With a beautiful DOF control (equivalent to a F2.8 50 mm on full frame), this lens had a beautiful bokeh. One thing unique to Leica coatings is the way that shadows, particularly on skin tones are dealt with. This engenders a very special look and some very beautiful pictures. Unfortunately, the camera got lost during an adventure at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. I just hope the thief is enjoying it as much as I did.

GH2 Pana Leica 14-150

I really bought the GH2 as an afterthought. I already had migrated to the EM-5 after losing my GF-1. Reading all the reviews of the GH2’s video capabilities really made me get this camera. In a lot of ways this is more of a traditional appearing camera compared to both the EM-5 and the GF-1. The images can have a strange yellowish color to them and often needed post work to make them look like I’d seen them.

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In this picture at the Portland Japanese garden, I had the Panasonic Leica Vario Elmar D 14-150mm lens (set if I remember right to about 50mm) at F11 with 2 circular polarizers, mounted on a tripod with a fairly long exposure. I post processed this on Aperture initially. The Vario Elmar D is a lens designed for the four thirds digital SLRs and is a beast of a lens that requires an adaptor on a M4/3 body. It is strikingly sharp and has the same leica look when shooting. Always look at the way the lenses handle the shadows and you can tell.

Nikon D5100 with a 50/1.4 Nikkor 330618_163943500378775_923882697_o

My Dad insists on regularly buying a new point(less) and shoot camera at regular intervals. As an old school film SLR shooter, he often admired my pictures but wanted something simple to use. I bought him a d5100 with an 18-55 kit lens. He never uses it, still sticking to a plethora of pointless and shoots and phones.

While attending a family wedding, I took my favorite picture of my grandmother. For this particular picture, I had taken my Dad’s old Nikkor 1.4 50 manual SLR lens. Wide open, center sharpness was excellent and because of the 1.5x crop sensor the vignetting was reasonably controlled. It was impossible to focus in the dark through the VF, but being the true amateur, I used the live view mode to focus.

Nobody uses the camera or lens anymore but it showed me that non-Leica lenses were still capable of some interesting stuff.

OM-D with Leica Vario Elmar D F3.5-5.6 14mm-150mm 

When I had to replace the GF-1, I landed up buying the OM-D. Unfortunately, as a new release, the EM-5 could only be bought from Hong Kong at a hefty premium. Still, I took the plunge. The in-body IS is still one of the most amazing features I have seen. It has a wonderfully sharp sensor and pairs beautifully with the 14-150 Vario Elmar. The body and the nokton F0.95 25 mm lens in the night with ISO 1600 and 1 second handheld exposures could turn night into day.

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In this picture, taken at the Rose Garden in Portland, I managed to take the OM-D paired with the Leica zoom into the arena without bothering the ushers. While there is some crop that has been done, the picture was taken from about  a hundred yards away (we had great seats to hear but no necessarily see). The image stabilization meant that with a 300 mm zoom lens, I could take this picture HANDHELD. I’ll let the picture speak for itself.

OM-D with Olympus m.Zuiko F4.0-5.6 12-50mm

Ok. So I have pictures not taken with Leica lenses. The EM-5 comes with a weather sealed kit lens. It is clearly not as pleasing in the way it handles colors and needs much more work in post processing but it can go anywhere (including the pool), it has AF – which means the family can use it and it is small. In fact, the EM-5 with this lens, rivals most prosumer point and shoots in it’s small size.

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It is only fitting that I am putting up a picture taken by Alpana at the Legoland park. I really like the framing and colors and the picture turned out beautifully – even when printed on a 11 x 17 format. Another thing with all of the above cameras is the 4×3 arrangement of the picture. It really is better and even though I land up shooting the 2×3 frame in my new cameras, I much preferred the added height of the frame in these.

OM-D with Voigtlander Nokton F/0.95 25 mm

When I lost my GF-1, I also lost my prime Summilux 50 mm lens. In transitioning to the OM-D, I really missed both that focal length and the shallow DOF. Being a half frame sensor, most lenses for this format have depth of field effects more like compacts than SLRs. This is great for making sure your subject is in focus (because it often is) but also means EVERYTHING else often is too.

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The nokton has the usual voigtlander flaws but is superb wide open, Although mounted on a tripod, this picture was a really nice one of the vista at Mt. Shasta shot at night. I still prefer the way the leica lens deal with faces but in a pinch, this is a wonderful lens with the OM-D and it’s magical OIS.

Leica M-9P with the Summilux – M F/1.4 50 mm ASPH – the fun of  challenging dogma!

Everybody turns 40. Most men use this as an excuse to buy a Corvette to indicate that their mid-life crisis has begun.  (Isn’t it funny not only how men have crises from birth to death (Teething, weaning, terrible-twos, immaturity, teenage angst, fraternities, adjustment to grown up life, mid life crises, retirement, end-of-life crises) but also the fact that each of these is an excuse for a big ticket purchase?) So I bought the Leica that I had lusted for. The M240 had just been launched but was not widely available. I managed to get a hold of a mint M9P from a reliable Leica dealer. Having looked at a series of reviews on the “Internets”, I really preferred the pop, crackle and fizz of the CCD sensor compared to the Sony like look of the M240.

Then, it was on to lens selection. With leica lenses starting when new at at nearly $2000 for a basic prime – all the way upto $12,000 for the mighty noctilux, you really have to choose carefully. The first leica lens I would recommend to anyone would be either a 35 mm or a 50 mm lens. The reason is that these are the perspectives  that closely match normal vision. The 35 mm is on the wider side and does not really match my traditional photographic perspective. Even when shooting with my zooms on prior cameras and point and shoots, this is the focal length I would often find my preferred perspective. The way you look at the object at hand differs with the focal length. The nifty fifty is just perfect. If I need more in the shot, I step back (my feet are the best zoom I’ve had), if I need less, forward.

Keeping this in mind, I looked at a bunch of available lenses. The Nocticili (Old F1 and new F0.95) have less than razor thin DOF and have a strange stressful bokeh (less stressful than Voigtlander). The Summarit, Summicron and Elmarit lenses are beautifully sharp and have the leica look, but the king of lenses to me is the Summilux F1.4. The APO is a different beast but was too expensive and a little too clinical looking for my tastes. Moreover, the Lux 50 was the perfect starter lens for me because that is what I started out with in the first place (GF-1 with a Leica Summilux -D).

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MYTH #1: The M9 is not good in low light…

With most new cameras able to take ISO 9 million and shoot in the dark, people have often criticized the older cameras (like the M9) as being dinosaurs and limiting in the dark. My rebuttal centers on two points. Firstly, in my experience, F1.4, ISO 250-640 with a 1/15 sec exposure pretty much matches what you can see with your eyes. Secondly, the ISO boosted images are often what the camera sees, how can you compose something that your eyes aren’t really seeing. Anyone who tries to use the Ansel Adams long exposure argument, must remember that the long exposures  were for pictures he saw with his native vision and were only a requirement of the recording format. Photography, to me, is an art form focusing on recording what you see, not what the camera sees. High ISO is fine for astrophotography or forensics but takes the joy out of available light photography for me.

10497313_546075655498889_4623187452735396384_oIn this picture, I was shooting the fireworks on the 4th. Having misplaced my tripod, I had to use my forearms as a poor arms’s tripod as I sat and took this picture. With a 1/3 second exposure, there is some shake in the capitol at the lower edge of the frame but I quite like the overall picture. Again, without silly ISOs.

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A moonless New Year’s Midnight in a field in New Jersey seems a perfect excuse for a high ISO camera… … or does it. People forget that with black and white as well as using a flash, it is still possible to get good pictures with manual focusing and manual exposure cameras. Using a non-TTL flash (I’m cheap) and guesstimating the exposure, I managed to get the narrow DOF, the action and acceptable exposure in this picture.

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Sometimes, using the light that you have is a matter of position. In this picture the focus light on the lion, as well as some vignetting in post, makes for a nice picture too. The shallow DOF keeps the lion in focus but keeps the rest of the frame out of focus.

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In this picture, (kinda hard to focus), I used the light from the fireworks to illuminate Raghav’s face and vignetting in post to remove other details. I love his expression. Completely misleading. He was actually having a barrel of fun but when he’s focused on something, that is often the expression he gets.

Myth # 2: If you want to take pictures of kids in action, you need a real dSLR (preferably a waterproof one!)

Most of my SLR friends often pride their weather sealed bodies with speedy autofocus that take the action pictures. As they say, a little planning goes a long way with my manual focus, manual exposure F1.4 prime lens and rangefinder. In the pictures below, I show how fast a rangefinder can really be.

10704436_602084019898052_3536254348270443424_oUsing a combination of relatively fast exposure and some coaching of the kids, I managed to catch them as they made their jump out of the water. I love the expressions on their faces and the splash. This is a perfect example of the 50 mm perspective where objects look the way we see them.

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In contrast, using a slow exposure in this picture, I managed to just get Lavu in focus while getting a brighter overall picture. Some vignetting from the F1.4 is not a terrible thing for this picture. As you can see, the lights are on in the background, this was pretty dark too.

10661745_581726001933854_4077883327993818534_oIn the daylight, the Leica is undoubtedly king. With no real shutter lag, it was relatively easy to get a well focused picture of Lavu making the catch, although her catching style is unusual.

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This is a great example of Leica’s colors and the moment.

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I have nothing to say, this picture makes its own statement.

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This is slightly cropped to a square format but I took this sitting waist deep in water in Lake Michigan while Ragu splashes about. Another good example of the toughness of the leica.

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This is Lavu’s first picture taken with the Leica. Wide open, I helped her with focus and exposure but the framing of the shot (which really is everything) was all her. All that junk about figuring out exposures and focus speed mean nothing to me. I just chimp the frames, recompose and reshoot. I may have missed a few but the ones I have are all keepers. It’s also nice to have control over all the aspects of the picture rather than have the camera make all the decisions for you. This is, therefore, the exposure and focus that I wanted, not the camera’s suggestion.

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of… … the perfect pictures

Recently, we made a road trip to the Capital of the World. Despite having lived in New York for nearly 10 years, this was our first trip to Liberty Island. Here are some pictures of a very cold and blustery Jan 1 2015.

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In the first picture, I liked the composition of this picture for many reasons. Firstly, the light, I love how Lady Liberty’s face plays on dark and light. The contrails from the jet above, seem to emerge from the torch and finally, the details are well preserved when pulled from the shadows in post.

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This is my “spooky” picture. It shows the Stars and Stripes in the foreground with the new WTC tower in the backdrop. If you look carefully at the clouds over downtown, it almost looks like an angelic figure flying over. To add to the mischief, an aircraft over the Hudson is also seen adjacent to the WTC (albeit in a different plane). As someone who experienced 9/11, as a New Yorker at the time, those are difficult memories to let go of.

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As an immigrant to a new country and a new home, this picture of crowds milling towards the promise of America says everything. It is a wonderful place to call home. It is good to be here.

A Tale of two cities

They say that when you have a Leica, the sky is the limit. Here I present three extraordinary vistas. All three were captured because I had the perfect camera in hand at the time, I needed it. Another myth I debunked with these is my use of a circular polarizer to capture a greater sense of drama in the sky.

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This is the Chicago skyline with the Shedd aquarium in the foreground. The skies are a midwest special – really making it look like the “windy” city.

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These two pictures are taken about 15 minutes apart from my hotel room window in Las Vegas. It is almost never cloudy in Vegas but here is a cloudy evening in Vegas with a spectacular sunset. There may have been some work in post, but not as much as you would think. Most of the view is as I saw it that evening.

New York in a single frame!!!

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Many good pictures are not necessarily a matter of skill but more often being at the right place at the right time. This is a beautiful perspective of NYC from Liberty Island with the sun behind me – lighting the city. In this picture, Times Square is at the  left corner while the Brooklyn Bridge is on the right. The WTC forms the most dominant object while the Empire State looks like a lonely outcropping in midtown. The mouth of the Hudson provides a lovely contrast.  Thanks to the lens performance, the picture even printed to huge sizes retains most of the details – including window details in the buildings of the foreground.

Adventures with Vario (The real Mini M rangefinder and I don’t care what the experts say!)

One of the most controversial cameras made by Leica is the X Vario. It was correctly described by Leica AG as a mini M. What is a “mini M”, you ask? In order to know that, you need to know what is an “M”. An “M” is a unique style of photography. With an M, you want to have something compact with minimum fuss. Something with complete creative control. Something with incredible image quality and a sparkling lens. On all these fronts, the X vario checks all the boxes. The lens may be slow at F3.5 at 28mm equivalent going up to F6.4 at a 70 mm equivalent but it is enough to keep the lens compact enough to handle. Anyone who has seen the Tri Elmar M lenses or even the Vario Elmar R and D lenses, keeping these compact is often impossible. For those who want to manual focus, the experience is EXACTLY like the M with a distance scale, short throw and a center focusing patch that appears on the large rear display. It is a camera I can hand to my wife to shoot like a point and shoot or to a waiter in a restaurant to get a picture while being the adaptable tool in my hand at other times. It has excellent higher ISO performance (as compared to the M9 and even my OM-D EM-5 I) that makes up for the light transmission of the lens.

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In this picture shot during our local Holi celebration, I was able to get this to focus manually using the firelight in the foreground to light my subjects in the background. To me, this picture captures many elements of the memory itself.

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And finally…

A wiser man than I once said, “the best camera is often the one you have with you”. All the cameras mentioned above are small and relatively compact devices that are easily carried and seldom burdensome. They are often ready when the moment is right and mirror my style of photography in looking for an innovative way of storing the moment. Photography is not always about honesty but more often about injecting the photographer’s viewpoint into his camera’s viewfinder. There is no shortage of criticisms that may be leveled at my pictures but I did not take them to be critically acclaimed. I took them because it is fun taking them and I love doing it.

On death

I still remember my first childhood realization of mortality as a concept. It disturbed me intensely. I cried long and hard – more for the realization that my loved ones could die, rather than my own fate. It is only after much placating that I calmed down. Of all my childhood memories, that one is truly vivid in my mind.

35 years later, as a physician, I stare death in the face every day. I see the fear of dying writ on my patient’s faces – even the “brave” ones. As much as I see this, I have been blessed that my patients seem to have the knack of cheating death – even when all else looks bleak. Yet, despite my best efforts in some, death came for them in ways unexpected. It helped me realize that life (and death) takes its own course. Physicians only help ease the pain. Let me illustrate.

Some years ago, a patient was transferred to my facility with a suspected heart attack. I confirmed the diagnosis and took him to the cath lab. 3 stents later, he was pain free and appeared grateful that we made the diagnosis and made him feel better. As a young man, he returned to a normal lifestyle, including bicycling. Six months hence, he returned for his followup and reported non specific symptoms but a very active lifestyle. A stress test was negative for any new blockages and I sent the man on his way. Another 3 months later, I came across a police report detailing his death while driving his bicycle with no helmet. It made me question the point of it all. Why struggle with fixing hearts, when life seems so cheap?

The answer came to me later, and in Gita-esque manner. The man was predestined to meet death on that road at that time. He was doing what he must. I fulfilled my duty of making my best attempt of treating the man’s pain and allaying his  anxiety. He met his death, in his favored activity and I helped keep him pain free getting there.

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Why die?

Death is a renewal of the species. It is the essential evolutionary adjunct that keeps our species virile and robust. As a species we have outlived many long lived competitors to emerge the currently dominant species in our solar system (As far as we know!). At this time, the only threat to our dominance is from shorter lived entities like rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes, fungi, bacteria and viruses or combinations thereof. We look at them (often with irritation), much like (I like to believe) dinosaurs looking at puny prehensile mammals.

Why is dying “young” an advantage to the species? Doesn’t accepting that contradict everything that I do as a physician?

Let’s take an example of two wolf packs with 20 wolves each. In one (pack A), the wolves are of hardy stock, while in the other (Pack B), they are relatively delicate. Each pack has 10 males and 10 females. Pups (<1 year) don’t hunt and there are no old wolves – yet. Both packs are hunting well this summer. A disease affects both packs. In Pack A, their hardy constitution ensures that all the wolves survive. In Pack B, 2 pups and 2 older wolves die – a reflection of their delicate constitution and maybe poor environmental conditions. Months pass, a tough winter ensues. As expected Pack A survives but is tremendously weakened by starvation (more mouths to feed). Pack B has lost 1 more pup in the winter and 1 male. However with smaller numbers and more hunters, they did better with food. At this point, if there was to be a battle between packs, which do you think would do better, 20 starving and weakened wolves or 14 relatively intact but hungry ones?

 Fortunately, the standoff never happens. Fast forward to three years later. Pack A now has 35 wolves. Of these 8 are “geezers” (old wolves that don’t hunt) and 10 pups. Pack B has 35 wolves (thanks to better reproductive abilities in better fed females) but only 2 geezers and 10 pups. Less than half of Pack A hunts while 2/3 of Pack B catches more than they eat. A great famine and drought ensue. As expected, Pack B loses both geezers, 3 pups and 2 males. Pack A shows tremendous fortitude and loses just one geezer. However, this comes at extreme starvation and erosion of hunting ability.

A hungry pride of lions comes by and finds 2 wolf packs. After making easy pickings on Pack A, they are unable to catch up with Pack B and actually lose a young female in an ambush. Pack A’s lone surviving female is absorbed into Pack B. Pride of lions moves on.

As the instance above illustrates, the ability to die is an advantage, not a disadvantage. If you think beyond the paradigm of the individual but in terms of a family, a pack, a population, a nation or a species, the ability to dynamically keep the best features to fore, while minimizing liabilities is key to survival.

From a philosophical point of view, death is a renewal of the soul. After suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune that is our life, death is the opportunity to start afresh. It is returning weary at the end of a long day and falling asleep. It is as natural as eating, drinking, sex, evacuation and yes, birth. Yet, we view it with fear and loathing. If the soul is immortal, this body and this life are like clothes you have on today. Much like them, they are a bit rank at the end of the day and need to be laundered. Your soul moves on, the universe reutilizes your body.

What is the soul and do I have one? Is it better that the Joneses? 

No. Your soul is not some ethereal being arising from your belly button. It is not James Brown either.

It is the imprint you leave in space and time by your existence.

That is an indelible fact. Your existence is not only the proof but also a reflection of your soul. Just because you die next thursday, does not change the fact that you existed and lived Today. That is the immortal fact, your immortal soul. Whether you are moral or immoral, good or vile, dynamic or slothful, your soul is a reflection of that imprint on that part of space-time.

Do I know if my soul will be reborn? Why do I, or should I, need to know this?

I, frankly, don’t think I do. And I don’t think I care. What I do care about is making my soul the most beautiful thing I know. I live each moment, complete each action I do to the fullest. I live the dream.

If the soul is reborn, would you remember? When you wake up every morning, how much of the previous day do you really remember. Try looking and the details are pretty fuzzy when you start trying to make them out. When we are born, our souls take the information that they need from the prior existence to get things going. The brain and memory that they have to fit into is too small to carry the entire burden of memories of the last existence. And if you brought all your baggage with you, how would that be a renewal? We don’t even know why we exist, our minds lack the understanding. How could we cope with the burdens of a prior life. In an individual with infinite sagacity and peace, the ability to comprehend existence and the soul is such that they can carry the abbreviated memory of all their existences forward.

So where is the divinity of the soul?

The universal existence is divine. My soul is the space-time imprint of my part of that existence. By extension, logically, my soul IS a reflection of that divinity. In this, there is no good or evil. There is no past or present. It is just existence. Does that mean that I should be evil? Yes and No. You DON’T have to be evil. Evil is defined by perspective. In the story above, were the lions evil? They were just hungry. Was the disease evil for killing pups? You have to understand the purpose of your existence and live to fulfill it to the best of your ability. Today’s evil is often tomorrow’s hero, just as today’s hero is often tomorrow’s hated tyrant. Don’t worry about your labels, get on with your existence (and soul).