Black Hole of Calcutta

The basement where I worked – Gaithersburg, Maryland

People like to trash federal government workers all the time as being underworked and overpaid, undeserving of even the smallest things… like basic office supplies, clean and healthy working conditions, safe drinking water, a living wage, and many other aspects that we all take for granted in an office-based work environment. But they have no idea just how difficult some of those federal government agencies are to work in, like my former employer.

This is the basement hallway in the 60-year old building where my cubicle was located for the last six years of my career before I retired. If the image looks dark, that’s because it was; budget cuts at the time were so extreme that only two lights illuminated the entire length, from one end of the long building to the other. Many of the offices on this hallway – most of which were crammed to four times (or more) of their designed capacity with cubicles – had similar levels of illumination in them; i.e., almost nothing. Of course there were no windows.

Sound levels were so loud that they were just below the OSHA levels for required ear protection. The plumbing broke at least once or twice per year, flooding most of the hallway and offices with raw sewage, which required the replacement of everything that it touched. The drinking fountains were unusable for months at a time; sometimes because high levels of lead were discovered in them, sometimes because they were saturated with other contaminants.

We didn’t have a break room, and had no place where we could wash dishes or utensils if we brought our own lunch. Trash – even food waste – was only collected twice per week, which got rank and attracted vermin. The janitorial service was laughable.

I could go on and on. I only continued working in such bad conditions because I was so close to retirement.


Photo info:
Basement hallway where I worked
Gaithersburg, Maryland
April 2013
Apple iPhone 4S

Godspeed, Astronaut Michael Collins

Apollo 11 astronaut, Michael Collins – Photo credit: NASA

I just learned that a childhood hero of mine, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, has died today of cancer at the age of 90. I remember watching the Apollo 11 moon mission on a black and white television at a friends house when I was 8-years-old, and wondering what would happen to Michael Collins if the Lunar Excursion Module Eagle didn’t make it back to the Command Module Columbia, where Collins was patiently waiting for his crew mates to safely return. Later I read his 1974 memoir, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, and was even more impressed with him.

Even though he eventually left NASA and became the Director of the National Air and Space Museum, and later became the Undersecretary of the Smithsonian – he was always quietly competent and didn’t seek the limelight, qualities that I greatly respect.

I last saw him in person at the Newseum in Rosslyn, Virginia, during the taping of the 30th anniversary special that was hosted there. The video from that event is below.

I had always hoped to see him one last time – which sadly was not meant to be.

Godspeed, Michael Collins.

Rainy Day Goodness

Edge of pond — Poolesville, Maryland

I don’t normally like going on extended walks outside on rainy days, but took exception on this occasion and found a beautiful scene worth recording. And? I think it’s not too bad for an iPhone shot. One thing I’ve found over the years… digital imaging technology sure has advanced since the dawn of this century.

I was brought up on film; I had my first Kodak box camera when I was just a kid, graduated to 35mm when I was in high school back in the 1970’s, stayed with that through college, and kept with it professionally through several jobs in the creative field — which I exited in the early 1990’s. But I still shot with film for years, until finally seeing digital images that appeared cleaner than film for the first time back in 2000.

Then came a rapid succession of digital cameras over the past 20-years — Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Leica, and culminating with several models from Sony.

As of this writing, I still have a full-frame Sony camera, but I rarely use it — preferring instead to shoot with the camera included with my mobile phone. It’s true that the best camera is the one that you always have with you, and with the incredible computational power in the smart phones of today, beautiful images are well within the reach of everyone.


Image info:
Edge of local pond
Poolesville, Maryland
October 2020
Apple iPhone SE2