Coming home after a week of holidays in my home country (Happy New Year, btw!) I found yet another reminder from Natmag Rodale to remind me that a regular reader like me doesn’t usually lapse the renewal of a subscription (yadeeyadeeya).
I promised myself to try to be more clear and straight-forward this year (no, that’s not really true, but in this particular situation I really did want to), so I sent them a mail – again! – that didn’t really leave any room for misunderstandings.

But to get on a more positive note, I copy-pasted this list from here and decided to give it a go myself… It’s a list of to-dos / want-to-dos (italic) / have-dones (bold) which apparently is circulating in blogolonia, so I can’t leave it undone.

  1. Started my own blog
  2. Slept under the stars
  3. Played in a band
  4. Visited Hawaii
  5. Watched a meteor shower
  6. Given more than I can afford to charity
  7. Been to Disneyland/world
  8. Climbed a mountain
  9. Held a praying mantis
  10. Sung a solo
  11. Bungee jumped
  12. Visited Paris
  13. Watched lightning at sea
  14. Taught myself an art from scratch
  15. Adopted a child
  16. Had food poisoning
  17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
  18. Grown my own vegetables
  19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
  20. Slept on an overnight train
  21. Had a pillow fight
  22. Hitchhiked (unfortunately no one picked us up, so we ended up calling someone to pick us up anyway *LOL*)
  23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
  24. Built a snow fort
  25. Held a lamb
  26. Gone skinny dipping
  27. Run a marathon
  28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
  29. Seen a total eclipse
  30. Watched a sunrise or sunset (over and over again…)
  31. Hit a home run
  32. Been on a cruise
  33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
  34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
  35. Seen an Amish community
  36. Taught myself a new language
  37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (do you need money for that, really?)
  38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
  39. Gone rock climbing
  40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
  41. Sung karaoke (unfortunately for me and for everyone around, except for the guys at my bachelor’s party; they loved me singing I’m a barbie-girl all dressed up…)
  42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
  43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
  44. Visited Africa
  45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
  46. Been transported in an ambulance
  47. Had my portrait painted
  48. Gone deep sea fishing
  49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
  50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
  51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
  52. Kissed in the rain
  53. Played in the mud (every self-respecting kid should’ve!)
  54. Gone to a drive-in theater
  55. Been in a movie (hmmm… does a tv commercial count? Otherwise it’ll have to be italic, because I would definitely like to give it a go!)
  56. Visited the Great Wall of China
  57. Started a business
  58. Taken a martial arts class
  59. Visited Russia
  60. served at a soup kitchen
  61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies (I guess this also counts for other kinds of cookies?)
  62. Gone whale watching
  63. Got flowers for no reason
  64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma (don’t really have a choice when your better half is a research scientist…)
  65. Gone sky diving
  66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
  67. Bounced a check
  68. Flown in a helicopter
  69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
  70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
  71. Eaten caviar
  72. Pieced a quilt
  73. Stood in Times Square
  74. Toured the Everglades
  75. Been fired from a job
  76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
  77. Broken a bone
  78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
  79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
  80. Published a book
  81. Visited the Vatican
  82. Bought a brand new car
  83. Walked in Jerusalem
  84. Had my picture in a newspaper
  85. Read the entire Bible
  86. Visited the White House
  87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
  88. Had chickenpox
  89. Saved someone’s life
  90. Sat on a jury
  91. Met someone famous
  92. Joined a book club
  93. Lost a loved one
  94. Had a baby
  95. Seen the Alamo in person
  96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
  97. Been involved in a law suit
  98. Owned a cell phone (doh!)
  99. Been stung by a bee
  100. Ridden an elephant

I figured I wouldn’t be writing anymore this year, but I just couldn’t let this go by unnoticed.

Being a graphic artist and a photographer I read (or page) through a lot of magazines and photographs (hence my interest in the National Geographic contest, and e.g. (little) projects in Photoshop and Lightroom).

So… The past days in between all the courses of food during the christmas holidays I was reading through the Esquire (American edition). Great magazine, for most part.
When I came to the end of the January issue I ran into this spread:

Esquire, January 2009 issue

Esquire, January 2009 issue

For those of you who don’t know what a spread is: it’s a left and right page in a magazine. So whenever you open a magazine, whatever you have in front of you is a spread.
Don’t mind the quality of the scan (the guy looking like a freak isn’t due to the bad scan, he really looks like a freak ;) ).

Now, I always thought that a quality magazine has quality graphics, quality editors and people who are able to produce graphically pleasing and responsible images. And usually this is the case in Esquire. However, this time… I don’t know if it was the stress to get everything out and mailed before Christmas or what, but what you see here is a plain awful butcher job. A very poorly executed example of copy-paste-rotate.
And they even took the head from the same spread. If anything in the graphic editing land is a big no-no, it’s that.
I’m sure the photographer shot 1000 pictures on this shoot and sure, that particular head on the left version of Adam Rapp  may have looked a bit funny, but the mask could’ve been at least turned so that it looks as believable as on the right page.
And the person who did that, and the poor masking / cutting / pasting job, should get a boot up his behind.

Oh, and happy holidays once again!

It’s been a bit quiet.
I guess Christmas does that. Sleep long, do nothing… You know…
It’s gonna be quiet until after new year, I think, since we’re off to Holland for a week.
I wish you all great holidays and best wishes for 2009.
Be careful with fireworks!

Best wishes!

Best wishes!

In addition to the previous post in this blog I also wrote NG a mail in which I noted this particular picture. To be honest I hadn’t really expected any reply to it, so I was positively surprised when I found not one, but TWO mails in my inbox this evening (GMT+2). One from Public Relations (see below) and one from Chief Researcher Marilyn Terrel (see her two comments in the previous post).
They both basically had the same content:

Hi,

I read your blog post about the National Geographic photoshop story. I work with National Geographic wanted to provide you with the official statement on the matter:

The International Photography Contest from National Geographic has sparked unparalleled interest from photographers around the world, with some 220,000 submissions this year worldwide. The rules of the competition clearly state that no altered images can be submitted. It has come to our attention that one of the Viewers’ Choice Award winners of the English-language competition might be an altered image. When we asked our panel of photography experts to review it, they believed it to be questionable. To give the photographer the benefit of the doubt, we asked him to send us the source negative, which we have not yet received. For now, we will remove the image from the Web site until the matter is resolved.

Here’s a link to Rob Covey’s blog post on the issue as well. Rob is SVP of Content Development and Design, National Geographic Digital Media.

http://ngm.typepad.com/ngmcom_feedback/2008/12/photo-contest-c.html

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best,

Ashley

So… It’s gone… For now.
Until the photographer can dig up the original negative or the original RAW file.
Let’s see. I’m gonna be kept posted (or so they said), so maybe this will be continued.

So there I was, paging through the winners of the 2008 National Geographic photography contest and when I came across this one I started wondering…

National Geographic Places winner

National Geographic Places winner

Something just wasn’t right, but it took me a while to put my finger on it. And then it struck me: the reflection is not a reflection. The clouds continue in the water, they don’t reflect in the water!

Here’s a reputable institute like National Geographic, organizing a yearly reputable Photography contest with reputable photographers as participants and judges. And they allow a photograph made in Photoshop to win a category? How wrong is that really?

The photographer just shot a picture of a sky (I hope, at least, pictures of a sky are so easy to come by through other means these days, I surely hope he won’t be caught on both cheating AND copyright infringement…) and a picture of some water with some boats on it and combined them in Photoshop.
It’s a gorgeous image, you have to give him that, but National Geographic should never have allowed this to go through in this category. As per their rules for entry:

Minor burning, dodging and/or color correction is acceptable. Hand tinting is acceptable, as is cropping. Fish-eye lenses are acceptable. High dynamic range images (HDRI) and stitched panoramas are acceptable only if the combined parts are all made around the same time. For more information, please read Director of Photography David Griffin’s comments on image manipulation. Any changes to the original Photograph not itemized here are unacceptable and will render the Photograph ineligible for a prize.

NatMag Rodale Limited being the publisher of Men’s Health. And being annoyed can’t be good for one’s health, now, can it?

Gonna do without pictures this post, but I’ll picture you a scene…
(I, too, need to vent from time to time).

It started in June last year.
I decided to get a gift subscription for my sister’s birthday for a magazine called Country&Living. I went online, signed up and ordered the subscription.
When I got my credit card invoice, I noticed that they had charged my credit card twice for the subscription. Twice £54.
So… I contacted them, told the girl I got on the phone what happened and she told me they’d reimburse it to my credit card. That was easy, right?
Wrong.
When I got next month’s credit card invoice there wasn’t a reimbursement from the subscription I ordered. So I contacted them again. I told the girl on the phone what was going on and that I was supposed to get that money back and she said she’d look into it and call me back. I gave her my number and guess what…? She never called me back.

So I contacted them again. This time I asked straight for a supervisor, because all this was taking way too long. So the supervisor I got on the phone was really helpful and told me that they’d take care of it and reimburse the money to my credit card straight away. So everything was right in the end, right?
Wrong!

When I got next month’s credit card invoice there wasn’t a reimbursement from the subscription I ordered. So I contacted them again. And asked for the supervisor again.
And told them that this apparently wasn’t working, and that I’ve been waiting for my reimbursement now for over two months and that my patience was running out. Then, surprise surprise, this supervisor told me that unfortunately they didn’t reimburse to foreign credit card holders (foreign being non-UK, this magazine / publisher was a UK version). I asked him why his customer service staff and his colleague supervisor whom I’ve been speaking to in the past two months didn’t know this, to which he didn’t really have an answer.
He said that the only thing he could do was write me a check that I could then cash back home.
So… I figured that would be ok, even if Finland stopped using checks already way back in the previous century. But that made everything finally alright, right?
Wrong! Goddangit! WRONG!

They sent me an obscure personal check, worth £54 and there was not a single bank in Helsinki that would cash it for me without me having to pay at least € 90 administrative and coverage costs, because they had no clue whether or not the check was covered. So I would end up having to pay more for cashing the check than that it was actually worth.

So I contacted them again. Asked them why they couldn’t send me a bank check instead of a personal one, like every normal company that’s still working in the stone age, and does accept credit card payments, but refuses to reimburse to credit cards (can you sense I got a bit impatient?). I did apologize to the girl on the phone, and told her that I realized that she couldn’t help it, but this thing had been haunting me for four months now and no one seemed to be willing to co-operate (and she accepted my apology and understood, luckily). So her supervisor wasn’t in this week and she would leave a message and have him call me back if I would give her my number, which I did.
And guess what, surprise surprise, he never called me back. I was smart enough to get his name this time, so when I contacted them – again! – I told them to put him straight on the phone.
The guy was an arrogant bastard, excuse me my french, and he wasn’t at all helpful. I explained the situation to him (I don’t think I sounded impatient at that point), but he just told me sorry, company policy, I can’t help you. He didn’t even TRY to come up with a satisfying solution. I told him that the personal check didn’t work and why it didn’t work, and he just bluntly told me that it was not his problem, but mine.
I told him that he couldn’t expect me to pay more for cashing a check than the value of the check and he said again that he couldn’t help me. I asked him to send just plain GB £ cash in an envelope and he said he couldn’t do that. Company policy. Then I did get impatient and I told him that he was seriously refusing to try to solve a problem that was created by them in the first place. That I had been patient with them for close to five months now and that my phone costs were probably already as high as what they owe me.
You know what the a** did? He said “Sorry we can’t help you” and hung up.
The stupid a** hung up on me! (Dang, I get fuming still when I think back of it!).

So I blew off steam for a couple of days and called back again.
I pretended it was the second time I called (didn’t ask for a supervisor) and got a really nice guy on the phone who actually listened to what I had to say. In the end I did tell him what had gone on all the time already (except for last the conversation with the supervisor) and he, too, told me that they weren’t authorized to refund to foreign credit cards. But he ended up trying to find a solution with me, instead of just keeping on telling me that company policy didn’t allow this and that.
So then he offered me a subscription to one of their other publications (why hadn’t I thought of that myself??). It ended up being Men’s Health (not because it’s a great magazine, but because it was the best of all bad choices). I only got 9 issues, because that was what I got for £ 54, but hey… This issue seemed to be solved. So if only I could return the check that they sent me, if I still had it.
I did, as a matter of fact. I thanked the guy for his help and complimented him on his great service and I sent the check back accompanied by a letter to the supervisor in which I wrote that they all could learn something from the guy who helped me, including himself, and that this guy should get the supervisor job, because at least he had some tact in helping people (yeah, I know, I was a bit irritated ;) ).

Anyway… We’re 9 issues further now.
My “subscription” ended. And since it was basically shoved down my throat (lacking any other option of getting my money back) I had no intention of renewing my subscription.
So the first reminder came.
“Dear Men’s Health subscriber, yadeeyadeeyadee, so you can renew here, £ 70 for 11 issues.” I figured if I didn’t react to it, my subscription would end.
Then the second reminder came.
“Your subscription to Men’s Health is coming to an end and you haven’t replied to our previous reminder. Yadeeyadeeyadee”. I still didn’t react.
So the third and fourth reminder came.
“Despite our earlier letters we haven’t received your instructions to renew. It is very unusual for a regular reader like yourself to let your subscription lapse.”
Regular Reader? Regular Reader my a**!!
So I wrote a mail to the subscription department, saying

“Dear Sir, Madam,
Even though it’s very unusual for a regular reader like myself to let my subscription lapse, I did. And intentionally so.
So please stop sending me any reminders for renewing my subscription.
Note in your administration that subscription number 0000636XXX is and will remain unrenewed.
Thank you.”

And even then, reminder number 5 came.
“Your subscription to Men’s Health has been suspended. Yadeeyadeeya.
To show our good faith, I have asked that a copy of the next issue is reserved for you, so renew the subscription and you won’t miss an issue”.

Well, Rodale… Let me tell you where you can shove that next issue!
Subscription number 0000636XXX is and will remain unrenewed and we will never do business again!

I had to get something small from the local camera store…
And I walked out with…

Myeah… dream on…
But it was there for real. And it looked massive, heavy, but oh so sweet.
And if the price tag had only shown one zero less, I would probably have walked out with it and forgotten all about the small thing I had to get.

Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 / 400-1000mm f/5.6

Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 / 400-1000mm f/5.6

Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 / 400-1000mm f/5.6

Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 / 400-1000mm f/5.6

But yeah, at € 16,000 I would’ve kind of maxed out my credit card, so I decided to let it pass this time.
*ahem*

But it was purdy.
Oh, and I did get my sync cord in the end. That was only € 29 :D

So… I’ve never been a real big fan of politics… Most of the times it’s boring, hypocrite and below the belt.
And people are ALWAYS trying to find something dirty about other people just to make them look bad. Take for example Holland’s current prime minister.
No one knew he had a sister, but recently the dirty little secret came out… He DOES have a sister. Her name is Janine Petra Balkenende, and she’s in the kind of business no prime minister would want to be associated with…

Janine Petra Balkenende

Janine Petra Balkenende

Janine Petra Balkenende, up close

Janine Petra Balkenende, up close

Okokok… I’ll ‘fess up…
It’s not true… I made it up… Balkenende may have a sister, but I wouldn’t know it…
This is just a little playing around in Photoshop.

I DO know, though, that had Balkenende been this hot, I would’ve voted for him… HER! :D

by Don McLean. Well, really by me, but we needed some music to go with it ;)
And it was the first thing that popped to mind.
It wasn’t really such a starry night at all, since it was raining, but well… Sometimes we can help, can’t we? (no filters were used here.)

D200, ISO100, 6 min 39 sec @ f/27, Tamron 28-75mm

D200, ISO100, 10 min 39 sec @ f/27, Tamron 28-75mm