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About Me and This Web Site

About Me

About This Web Site

About Photography

About Travel and Culture

About Technology

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About Me

Who is this Ted Marcus anyway?

I was born in Southern California, where I’ve lived all my life. I graduated from Palos Verdes High School (class of 1977— I am the composer of the Sea King March). I have a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from the University of California, Irvine (1981), and a Juris Doctor (law degree) from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles (1985).

Obligatory picture of Web site owner

Ted at The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles, California, December 2014. Thanks to my good friend Tim Williams for the only picture on this Web site I didn’t take.

I sort of fell into photography at a rather early age, and decided I liked it. Strangely, it’s the only “visual art” for which I seem to have any aptitude at all. I have no talent whatsoever for drawing or painting, and can barely draw a straight line without mechanical assistance. Photography classes have been helpful, but what I’ve found most useful is going out and doing it. And then carefully scrutinizing the results, with the aid of a trashcan (later replaced with a “Delete” button).

I’ve also been involved with music from an early age. I play the tenor saxophone in the Peninsula Symphonic Winds, a community band. I have also written music for my high school, college, and community bands over the years, some of which I have now published. My other Web site, tedmarcusmusic.com, is a catalog of my arrangements of classics for adventurous concert bands and small wind ensembles.

It should be apparent from the content of my Web site that I like travel very much. Far-away destinations are great, of course; but I particularly enjoy discovering and photographing places close to home in Southern California, preferably using public transportation to reduce the destructive effects of horrible traffic on both myself and our beleaguered planet. I take most of my trips alone. Though I’m not enthusiastic about solo travel, if I could travel only when a suitable companion is available I’d seldom get to go anywhere. Photography helps to make going alone a more enjoyable experience, both during and after the trip.

You also should not be surprised that I spend too much time with my computer, including a fairly active on-line social life, taking and processing photos, and working on this Web site. When I’m not communing with the computer, I often enjoy listening to Internet radio, classical music, and musical theatre cast recordings.

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About The Web Site

Is this Web site appropriate for the whole family?

Although I have designed this site for grown-up readers, it includes none of what is often unfortunately termed “adult.” There is nothing prurient or indecent, as that would not be relevant to what this Web site is about. There is no violence, as I much prefer violas and cellos. The pictures include neither concupiscence nor birthday attire. Indeed, there are practically no pictures of people at all.

There is also no obscene or vulgar language. That’s not because I find it inherently inappropriate or offensive, but because I don’t want my site blocked by those imbecilic filters that purport to shield Web surfers from “offensive” material. Though ostensibly intended to protect the precious innocence of minors, filtering software increasingly “protects” American library patrons of all ages because its use is a mandatory condition for receiving federal funding. Filtering is also ubiquitous in American workplaces, and increasingly common in Internet cafés and public access kiosks.

So is there any offensive material here? That question is impossible to answer. I describe this site as Travel and scenic photography with irreverent commentary. The phrase irreverent commentary means that when I feel it’s appropriate and relevant, I’ll paint barbecue sauce on any sacred cows I encounter (as I’m doing right now). Given the vacuous combination of “political correctness” from the Left and “Family Values” from the Right encouraging everyone to take offense at any substantive statement, I would be disappointed if something here didn’t offend someone, somewhere, at some time.

Is this Web site appropriate for young children? That’s another impossible question I can answer only by suggesting that young children probably won’t find it very interesting. But to use an inherently undefinable term much loved by pontificating politicians, there is nothing “harmful to minors.” Unless you believe (for example) that it’s harmful for children to know that their Christmas toys are made in Chinese sweatshops rather than in Santa’s North Pole workshop.

The closest trademarked Motion Picture Association of America rating that might apply is Parental Guidance Suggested. But that’s true of any Web site, including those specifically intended for children. Many of those sites exist primarily to inculcate into young minds the Values of voracious and conspicuous consumption. No responsible parent should leave such guidance to companies that sell filtering software for profit, to groups and individuals that appoint (or anoint) themselves Righteous Guardians of Family Morality, or (particularly) to pontificating pious politicians pandering for re-election.

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What’s a Travel Photo Essay?

Contrary to John’s Gospel, in the beginning are the Pictures. The words come later. After I get over the peculiar blend of excitement and disappointment from the first viewing of my raw camera files in Adobe Bridge— or previously, slides on a light box— I choose a relative handful of the most interesting images. That usually works out to between 10% and 15% of what I’ve shot. Then I spend however long it takes in Photoshop to prepare the final versions of those pictures. When I’m done with that, I can start assembling the pictures into a Travel Photo Essay.

My approach is perhaps the opposite of the usual way to write travelogues. Rather than illustrating a story or journal with pictures, I’m “illustrating” a set of pictures with words. My goal is to make the Travel Photo Essays a “total experience” that shows off my photography, but is also informative, opinionated, and possibly thought-provoking. I’m also mindful of the need to make pages “interesting” to the search engines that bring nearly all my visitors. I’m still telling a story; but it’s a selective story about the places and the pictures, with inevitable constraints.

While I do hope the Travel Photo Essays help your travel planning, if you’re reading them for that purpose they are in no way comprehensive guides. As an American worker with very limited vacation time, what I’m able to visit and photograph is necessarily (and frustratingly) limited. With the possible exception of locations very close to where I live in Southern California, I also can’t revisit most places to keep material current. But I do make updates when I find out about significant changes, such as when Waikiki’s Kodak Hula Show became the Pleasant Hawaiian Hula Show in 1999, and then No More Hula Show in 2002. Or when the tallest building in Los Angeles (and in California) was demoted to second-class status.

I include what seems likely to remain relevant over time. I generally avoid mentioning hotels and restaurants. Because those establishments are inherently subject to frequent changes of ownership, management, and/or quality, I have no way to assure that what I might say about them remains current, accurate, and useful. But when I do mention them it’s on the What’s New page, whose entries get archived after about a year.

Travel Photo Essays are not scholarly treatises. My main informational sources are the guidebooks, articles, and Web sites I used in preparing for my trips. But I always end up spending more time than I expected on supplemental research. Guidebooks often contradict each other on details. They’re clearly not scholarly treatises either; and they often seem to be updated less frequently than the year on the cover might suggest. They also lack much of the information I’m looking for, so I try to add useful information that I didn’t see in the guidebooks. I selectively filter facts to fit my pictures and opinions. But if you notice something factually inaccurate, please let me know.

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A Personal Approach

Over the years, some well-meaning readers have suggested that I need to make my Travel Photo Essays more “personal.” They would like to read first-person journals of what I did, saw, ate, and felt, and see some selfies and snapshots of my family enjoying our travels. The suggestion has merit, as there are some excellent travelogues of that sort— along with many more not-so-excellent ones of apparent interest only to the family and close friends of Jason, Tiffany, and Grandma. I’ve never felt any desire to either take or share selfies. And my trips are most often solo, which tends not to be conducive to family snapshots.

However, the article about my first cruise is a first-person narrative, as that was the only way I could write it. And the Travel Photo Essay on Alcatraz describes in some detail how the sight of those cellblocks made me think about the Bush administration’s abuses of “detention” and torture. Those thoughts strongly colored my experience there in October 2008, just before the election that replaced Bush with Barack Obama.

That said, I think my Travel Photo Essays are quite personal, even without selfies. They reflect what I find interesting, including information and observations you might not find in guidebooks. For example, I’m fascinated with the origins of place names; so that information is prominently featured when I can find it. The Hawaii essays notably include the pronunciation and meanings of the mellifluous but often tongue-twisting Hawaiian place names, or at least the ones for which I’ve been able to find meanings.

While I do my best to capture in pictures what’s beautiful and inspiring, I often give my writing an irreverent tone. If I think something is overrated or excessively hyped, I won’t hesitate to say that. I enjoy questioning sanitized official history, casting a skeptical eye on “sacred” institutions and heroes, and ridiculing absurdity when I encounter it.

My essay on the cathedral of conspicuous consumption known as Hearst Castle offers an appreciation of Mr. William Randolph Hearst somewhat different from the official hagiography dispensed to visitors. My page on the Santa Barbara Courthouse contrasts that delightfully exuberant expression of civic pride with the oppressive new courthouse in Los Angeles where I served jury duty the year before my first visit there.

The discussion of the California Missions in San Diego, Santa Barbara, La Purisima, San Luis Obispo, Santa Inés, San Luis Rey, and San Juan Capistrano obligingly genuflects to the official Catholic history of selfless Franciscans enduring hardship to bring the Indians the loving gifts of civilization and salvation. But then I note that the Indians rioted and burned down the missions because the Franciscans (and the Spanish military) enslaved them as laborers, decimated them with European diseases, and systematically eradicated their culture as a royal edict demanded. The Missions and textbooks perhaps understandably ignore the prevalent belief during the “Age of Exploration” that God put indigenous people in the Americas specifically to serve as slaves for the white European Christians who would eventually “discover” the New World. I also debunk the Founding Myth of Los Angeles, and explain the real history of the famous “Mexican marketplace” on Olvera Street.

My pages on the very beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula, where I grew up, consider the snobbery that’s as much a part of the scene as the stunning coastal views. In describing the very impressive renovation of San Diego’s once-decrepit Downtown, I wonder about the fate of the former inhabitants of the demolished flophouses. And I express amazement at how the federal government— with its supposed mandate to protect “Family Values”— could run a national park called Grand Teton, the English translation of which would surely merit an indecency fine if broadcast. (Parents and Puritans need not worry, as I don’t provide the translation.)

Just as clouds can make a blue sky more interesting and dramatic in a photograph, I think opinionated irreverence is much more interesting than the uncritical sunniness of so many newspaper and magazine travel articles. They have to please advertisers, but I don’t. And I think it gives readers a better and more interesting picture of me than any of my execrable attempts at self-portraiture.

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Why aren’t there pictures of people?

Although pictures of “natives in their native habitat” are a mainstay of travel photography, I have very few pictures of people on my Web site. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I dislike being photographed, so I tend to assume that people I encounter while traveling feel as I do.

The second reason is a legal one. There is rather little I can do with a picture containing recognizable people unless each person signs a “model release” giving me explicit permission to publish, sell, or otherwise use the picture. Some photographers can approach strangers, warm them into posing for excellent pictures, and then persuade them to sign a legal document. But I can’t do that. So any pictures of people that I do take will remain locked in my file cabinet, where only the dust bunnies can see them.

There are a few pictures of people on the Europe Through the Front Door pages. When I took them, more than 40 years ago, I was a teenager who had never heard of model releases. I also couldn’t imagine that anyone other than a very few friends and relatives would ever see the slides. Those pictures aren’t for sale.

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What’s with the meters and kilometers?

That is, of course, a question only an American would ask. The World Wide Web is supposed to be “world-wide,” as the name suggests. The metric system is the common standard everywhere in the world, including the United States. But most Americans are unaware that the use of the metric system has been legal in the United States since 1866, and that Congress passed a law in 1988 making the metric system “the preferred system of weights and measures” for trade and commerce. Or that the cherished “U.S. customary” or “English” units are officially defined in metric terms. I have thus consciously chosen to use metric units throughout my Web site. But I use the American spellings for them, which should be sufficient proof that I am indeed a good, loyal, patriotic American!

It’s an oft-repeated myth, which I had previously repeated here, that Liberia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and the United States are the only countries in the world that do not use the metric system. In reality, every country in the world has officially adopted the metric system. But the actual implementation of the metric system varies among countries. Most countries have legally mandated the use of metric units, though some of them might still retain a few non-metric units.

Other countries have partially implemented metric units, often through a “metrication” process that once had momentum but has since halted or stalled. For example, in Britain and Canada products are labeled in grams or liters, weather reports specify temperatures in Celsius degrees, and speedometers and odometers in cars read in kilometers. But people still express their height in feet and inches and their weight in pounds (or sometimes stones in the U.K.). And Britons buy their milk and beer in pints. Australia and New Zealand have gone much further in converting everything to metric units.

In the United States, the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 declared a “national policy” of increasing the use of the metric system. But as Congress chose not to include any sort of mandate to replace “customary” units with metric units, the momentum toward metrication it embodied soon stalled. The aging signs showing both miles and kilometers on some Interstate highways are a vestige of that period.

The pressures of international trade in a metric world have gradually led American manufacturers of common products to adopt metric units. Wine and spirits are now sold in milliliters or liters, as are bottles (but not cans) of soft drinks and water. Prescription drugs have long been dosed in milligrams, with liquid and topical medications packaged in milliliters or grams. Grocery products have long been labeled in both ounces and grams; increasingly, imported products are packaged in round numbers of grams that yield oddball numbers of ounces. And nutrition labeling is entirely metric.

There is real but slow momentum for voluntary metrication in the U.S. It would seem the only way to quicken the pace is for us as individuals to advance the metric system one inch (2.54 centimeters) at a time by using it ourselves.

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Why are the pictures so small?

An enjoyable Web experience includes pages that load and display in a reasonable time. Although fast “broadband” Internet service has become more common in the years since I started this Web site, not everyone has it (especially in the United States, which is well behind many industrialized countries in Internet access and speed). So I’ve selected picture sizes that should let the pages load acceptably fast with a dial-up modem connection.

The small images on the main pages are 120x180 or 120x153 JPEG files, depending on how I’ve cropped the original full-sized scans. I originally tried to keep them under 5 kilobytes, but my newest pictures are larger than that. Adobe Photoshop isn’t as good at creating small JPEG files as Paint Shop Pro, which I used for the first six years of this Web site. The small images should provide a good idea of what the picture looks like even you don’t choose to look at a larger “magnified” image. The larger images originally were twice the size of the small ones, usually 240x360 or 240x305. But I started making them a little bigger over the years. The most recent ones are 288x432 or 288x367.

The images should be just large enough for enjoyable viewing at all the common screen resolutions without taking unacceptably long to load. Please take some time to look around— and tell your friends, too! But this also means the images are nearly useless for anything else. That’s entirely intentional.

I put a lot of effort into taking the pictures, processing them in my “digital darkroom,” and assembling them into what I hope is an attractive and interesting Web site. If you like any of my pictures enough to want them for something other than viewing here, I’d be glad to sell you a file or print that should meet your needs. You need only let me know what you’re looking for.

You can sample 19 of my pictures at higher resolution. They are specially cropped to enjoy as “wallpaper” background for your computer or smartphone screen. Seven of the images are in three standard screen sizes, 640x480, 800x600, and 1024x768. Eight are formatted for wide screens, 1440x900 and 1680x1050. Four are optimized for Apple iPhone and iPod screens. They all discreetly advertise this Web site. You can download them for personal use.

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Why doesn’t the color of the pictures look very good?

There is nearly infinite variation in the way monitors and video hardware render color. Every one is adjusted differently, often according to the user’s taste or the amount of light in the room. Some people don’t even change the settings that came from the factory. So I can only create each image to look as good as possible on my calibrated display, and hope it still looks good when you view it.

If my pictures don’t look good on your screen, you can start by using the page I’ve prepared to help you adjust your monitor. But that will only get you so far. To display images properly, with the best color fidelity, you’ll need to calibrate your monitor with a colorimeter. I discuss what that means in a review of one such device.

All the pictures are JPEG files with 24-bit “color depth,” allowing up to 16,777,216 different colors. The pictures will thus look best if your video display is set for 24-bit or 32-bit/16.7 million colors (“True Color”). Since most of the pictures actually use far fewer colors than that, they should also look acceptable on a 16-bit/64 thousand color (“High Color”) display.

If you have your display set for 8-bit/256 colors, or if you have an ancient computer with a 16-color VGA monitor, any full-color images will probably look pathetic. Your browser will attempt to simulate the thousands of colors in an image by breaking it up into dots or blobs of the colors it has available (a process called “dithering”). The result is a coarse and ugly rendering that’s particularly inept with small images at 640x480 resolution. If you have video hardware that can’t display more than 16 or 256 colors, there’s really nothing you can do other than replace it.

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What fonts does this site use?

I have chosen fonts and colors that I consider easy and pleasant to read, and that display the pictures at their best. But like any other matters of aesthetics, those choices necessarily reflect personal taste and judgment and may not please everyone.

I use Microsoft’s “Vista fonts” (first included with Vista and Office 2007) throughout these pages. Most text on Travel Photo Essay pages is white Candara on a black background. I use a black background to maximize the contrast and impact of the pictures. Most text on these Commentary pages is in Constantia, on a robin’s-egg blue background that I find much more comfortable for extended reading than the usual bright white. Links are in Corbel; page headers are in large bold Calibri. Monospaced text is in Consolas.

If you don’t have the Vista fonts— phones, tablets, and Apple computers usually don’t have them— the CSS style sheets specify alternatives from the older Microsoft “core fonts” (which I used until April 2007). Most text is in Trebuchet. The footers at the end of pages and other special text are in Georgia. Links are in regular Verdana; page headers are in large bold Trebuchet. Monospaced text is in Andale Mono. If you’re using a phone, tablet, or an old computer that doesn’t have those fonts, the style sheets provide additional common alternatives. If you’re still using a truly ancient browser that doesn’t support CSS, the text will display in whatever default cuneiform, hieroglyphic, or Phoenician font your browser is set up to use.

Whatever your opinion of Microsoft, their Web fonts are pleasing and better optimized for readability on computer screens than the ubiquitous Times New Roman, Helvetica/Arial, and Courier. That’s why the core fonts have become popular and appear on many Web sites. I think the new Vista fonts are even more appealing, which is why I changed over to them.

There is one caveat, however. The Vista fonts are specifically designed and optimized for LCD monitors and the ClearType sub-pixel rendering that makes text more comfortable to read. The Vista fonts can look blurry or “blocky” on CRT monitors (although they look very good when printed). Other fonts, including the older Microsoft “core fonts,” don’t have this problem.

A reader informed me of the CRT monitor problem several months after I converted this Web site to the Vista fonts. I decided to keep the fonts because, as best as I can determine, most people who actually have them installed are using LCD displays. The typical user of Vista and later gets that operating system pre-installed on a new computer, since Microsoft allows no other choice. Those new computers most likely came with new LCD displays. For a number of very good reasons, rather few users of older computers are upgrading them to newer Windows versions. So I don’t think the incompatibility will affect many users. And as CRT monitors are no longer manufactured, any compatibility problems with Web sites using the Vista fonts will diminish over time.

Microsoft uncharacteristically made the older “core fonts” freely available for download in both Windows and Macintosh formats from 1996 through 2002. That encouraged their widespread use, to the benefit of all Web users. Microsoft has included those fonts with versions of Windows since XP, and with versions of Internet Explorer and Office released since 2002. Apple even includes them with Macintosh OS X. They’re now ubiquitous on the Web. If you somehow don’t have the “core fonts,” you can download them here. (Microsoft’s licensing terms specifically permit free distribution of the fonts in their original packages.)

Microsoft acted in more typical fashion with the Vista fonts, making them officially available only to purchasers of Vista and Office 2007 (and subsequent versions of both Windows and Office). But presumably because they expect the fonts to have widespread use, they provided a standalone viewer for PowerPoint files and a “compatibility pack” to let old versions of Office read the current XML-based file formats. Both included versions of the Vista fonts. Microsoft “retired” this aging software in April 2018.

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