The guitar project that went wrong … then wronger

Back in the 90s when the distinction between music store and pawn shop was rather blurry, I acquired a second-hand silver sparkle Les Paul guitar that only said “Lady Luck” on the headstock and “Made in Korea” on the back of the neck.

This was a time when cheap guitars were really bad. Everyone and their brother had a beginner-level Squier or Jasmine that wouldn’t stay in tune and had the tone of a brick.

Lady Luck played well, but she had an extremely bass-heavy tone. It just never sounded good. Sometime in the early 2000s I actually tried to revive her by transplanting some nice Seymour Duncan pickups, but she still only sounded marginally better.

The silver guitar just hung on the wall for the past 15 years.

Since I’m now working from my home office at least eight hours a day, I’ve been trying to clear the clutter and make it a more pleasant, usable environment. That meant some of the guitars, amplifiers and camera gear had to go. I decided to clean up Lady Luck and put her up for sale.

I opened the back panel and squirted a little bit of contact cleaner into the crackling volume pots. The knobs got stiff. Then they froze. Then they unfroze … completely … and just kept spinning.

In the past few months I’ve cleaned the pots on an amplifier, a vintage clock radio, and another guitar. This has never happened before. I also couldn’t believe the same thing happened on both volume pots. I guess the corrosion was the only thing holding them together.

I had just rendered the guitar unplayable. Selling it was no longer an option.

The “hand wired” tone craze started a few years ago when Gibson started using pots connected to printed circuit boards in their guitars. That was actually good news for me because there were dozens upon dozens of pre-assembled pre-wired pots available to replace those PCBs that ranged from $30 with some questionable looking hardware up to $250 with vintage bumblebee capacitors.

Since Lady Luck isn’t a real Les Paul, I was worried the pot spacing wouldn’t quite be the same. I was wary of buying a pre-assembled kit. I decided to spend $50 and order an unassembled kit from Amplified Parts that included everything from the input plug to the switch. It also came with some really nice shielded wiring.

I immediately ran into a few issues. The pots and the output jack had larger diameters than the original hardware. I wasn’t excited about drilling out the holes and risking a chip in the paint, but I decided it was worth the risk.

Then I had to address the fact that the new knobs were also longer than the old knobs. I made a run to True Value for 3/8″ spacers. Unfortunately, they were out of 3/8″, so I had to pay double and buy a set of both 1/4″ and 1/8″. I ended up $20 into the project just for spacers!

The new selector switch was more of an issue. It was taller than the original switch, and it needed to be countersunk to reach through the body. Lady Luck is mostly plywood with an unknown top. The switch area was not that thick to begin with.

I finally decided that countersinking the new switch to make it fit wasn’t worth the risk of having the new switch rip through the front of the guitar. I had already replaced the switch in the 90s because the original had been snapped off when I bought it. It was clean and seemed fine. I mean, after all, a switch is a switch.

The instructions that came with the MOD kit were very clear, so it only took about an hour to put everything together. Of course, I still somehow managed to hook up the switch backwards. There were no strings on the guitar, so all I could do was plug it in and tap the pickups to see which one was active with each switch position.

I thought, it’s fine, I’ll just rotate the switch 180-degrees and let the wires wrap around. Wrong.

Assuming all was well, I got to the business of reassembling the other pieces of the guitar with the new stainless steel screws I’d picked up while I was True Value. I also decided to put the chrome pickup covers that originally came on the guitar onto the Seymour Duncan pickups. That entailed a little double-sided tape and some solder on the back, but it seemed easy enough.

The next morning I spent quite some time adjusting the truss rod, setting the bridge height, and adjusting the intonation to get the action just right. Then, the moment finally came. I plugged her in.

A very loud hum came through the amplifier.

I strummed a chord.

Nothing.

When I touched my fingers various places the hum would change tone or sometimes stop completely, but never did a single note come through the amplifier.

Did I wire something wrong? Is one of the new pieces bad? Did I ruin the pickups by putting covers on them?

This project had gone wrong when I destroyed the original volume pots. Now I was an additional $70 and 5+ hours into the project, and I had NOTHING.

I hung the guitar on the wall and walked away.

The next morning I got out the multimeter and started checking continuity. This was my first time using shielded cable with a metal sleeve. My first discovery was that I hadn’t peeled the shielding back far enough on the wire going to input jack, and it was touching the base of the prong, causing a short.

My next realization was that by spinning the selector switch 180 and letting the wires wrap around it, they were shorting to the sides of the selector switch.

I remedied this situation by rotating the switch back the correct direction and adding a little bit of electrical tape for insulation — just in case.

At this point, I was still getting a terrible hum, but I was also getting intermittent sound depending on what I touched.

I decided to yank the pots and see if I could get anything to work outside the guitar. Unfortunately during this maneuver I lost one of the $3 spacers into the body of the guitar forever.

After a few solder repairs, which included hooking the switch leads up correctly, I suddenly had sound. That was amazing news since it meant I didn’t destroy the expensive pickups when I put the covers on them.

I made another run to True Value to get another 1/8″ spacer.

I put everything back into the guitar.

The hum was back, and the sound was gone again.

The shielded cables were just touching too many things inside the guitar.

If I ever do this again, I will purchase shrink wrap or some sort of plastic sleeve to put over the metal braid. I didn’t have either of those things, so I started wrapping it in electrical tape. A few minutes later, the hum was completely gone, and the guitar was singing.

So after more than 20 years, this guitar finally plays the way it should. Now I can’t decide if I still want to sell it or if I should hold onto it a little longer.

And for any tech geeks out there who might be wondering, Lady Luck has a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates in the bridge and a Seymour Duncan SH4 in the neck. 220k-ohm resistors tie into 470pF ceramic capacitors on the 500k-ohm volume pots, and .022mf 600v MOD capacitors run between the volume and tone pots.

Resurrecting my first guitar

Did you ever visit The Golden Pawn II?

It was located on Peoria Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Apparently the building is about to be torn down.

The Golden Pawn II: It was a pawn shop … and also golden.

When my granddad took me there in 1992, it was both my first time inside a pawn shop and my first time to experience the joyous overwhelming sensory overload generated by a wall of guitars and stacks of amplifiers.

I didn’t know anything about guitars. The Internet did not exist. I had been learning on an old classical guitar I found in my dad’s closet. My knowledge was limited to what I’d seen artists playing in music videos (which I wasn’t supposed to be watching) and one second-hand Guitar Player magazine a friend gave me at school because he didn’t like the songs in that issue.

My guitar selection method began with choosing black guitars that looked cool, but quickly shifted to black guitars that actually worked when plugged in. I finally landed on a black Arbor stratocaster knock-off that looked much like the guitar Bryan Adams played in the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves music video. While the style hadn’t been my first choice, I decided that it was “cool enough.”

Sidebar: It was actually moderately difficult to find this video. When I finally did, it turns out the Stratocaster was red, and it’s clearly not plugged into anything. Definitely not as cool as I remember. Also, fun fact, Mattel re-used the Return of the Jedi: Ewok Village playset in a different box as the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves forest hideout.

Amplifier selection wasn’t nearly as complicated. The deal was whichever working amplifier — with distortion — Granddad could get them to bundle with the guitar for $100. The man was a negotiator.

I played and played and played that Arbor Stratocaster and the little Peavey Rage amp for years. Eventually the amp died, and I upgraded to something bigger, but I always held on to that guitar.

The Arbor was gigged exactly two times for two songs.

My sophomore year of high school I played Creep by Stone Temple Pilots at the Bartlesville Mid-High Talent Show. My friend Chad sang the second part of the chorus with me. As far as I know, there is no photographic evidence of that performance.

Project Graduation (ProGrad) Talent Show Dinner at William P. Clements High School in Sugar Land, Texas, March, 1996. (Thanks, Mom. Your decades of hoarding really paid off for this blog post.)

In 1996 I opened the senior talent show with The Joker by Steve Miller Band with my friend Steve Love playing the wolf-whistle lead guitar part. Then I played Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton to end the show — but not on the Arbor. The audience was really into The Joker. Unfortunately, it was my first time to encounter large-auditorium off-beat clapping, and I ended up having to stop for a moment in the middle of the song just to find the beat again. I thought Tears in Heaven went better, but feedback at school was, “You sang it too low.” Nevertheless, photos of my performance did appear in the school newspaper.

That was both the first and last time my music ever garnered any media attention.

The Arbor came to college with me, and many people took a turn on it during dorm jams and sing-arounds my freshman year. However, as time went on, it had more and more electrical issues. Eventually I was seduced by a brand new Epiphone Les Paul, and the Arbor was left in a case in the closet for years.

Having had success with the recent amplifier repair, I decided to see if I could work some magic on the Arbor.

At some point the tone pots had frozen up. Turning the tone knob equated to rotating the entire pot, which put strain on the wiring. Eventually one of the leads from a resistor had pulled loose, which was why the guitar had a terrible hum when it was plugged in and why it got put away in the first place.

As a kid I never realized the pick guard was just one big nicotine stain.

When I pulled the knobs, I realized just how much nicotine build-up was on the pick guard. I wasn’t aware of nicotine staining as a kid — no one in our family even smoked. However, I do remember always feeling like I could never really get the pick guard clean. Who knows what life this guitar had before my granddad and I came across it.

A few squirts of CRC cleaner got the pots working freely, and then it only took about 30 seconds to solder the broken lead back to the correct tab. I tightened the nuts on the pots to make sure they wouldn’t rotate again. I cleaned the 5-way switch, then put it back together.

The next issue was the bridge setup. Teenage me really didn’t have a concept of intonation. I had adjusted all the saddles to make a nice, neat straight line. As a beginner guitarist, I also had a tendency to miss the high E string when picking, so I remedied the situation by raising the high E above all the other strings — couldn’t miss it.

It’s not recommended to raise the high E above the rest of the strings, but if I had become famous, everyone would be doing it. The strings are finally level and intonated.

I adjusted the neck truss rod, leveled the bridge saddles, and put some new strings on it. Then, for possibly the first time in this guitar’s entire life, I intonated each string.

Playing her through an amplifier last night generated a brief time warp.

Fourteen-year-old me was home alone in his small-town Oklahoma bedroom, the amplifier pegged to ten, fumbling through the chords of Smells Like Teen Spirit before kicking the amp over and pretending to smash the guitar onto the mattress of his bed.

The action is nice and low. The tone comes through dirtier than it does on my American made Telecaster, but that’s what you’d expect from old, cheap electronics. It plays as well as any cheap guitar can.

Maybe someday Finn will think it looks “cool enough” to give it a try.

Repairing a 1964 Gibson Skylark GA 5T Tremolo Tube Amplifier

“Adopt a son,” was the tagline under the Instagram photo. A local music shop had a vintage Gibson amplifier listed for sale in remarkably good cosmetic shape — except for the logo.

1964 Gibson Crestline GA 5T Skylark Tremolo

I had a quick chat with Mary about the rising value of vintage instruments that veered into a promise to sell the large Line6 AX2-212 amplifier sitting in my study, and I was off to retrieve the Gibson.

The amplifier had the original speaker, the original leather handle, no tears in the tolex or cloth, and very minimal rust on the faceplate. Unfortunately, the amp didn’t play quite as good as it looked. We still brokered a deal, and I brought it home. That’s when I took the week long deep dive into vintage radio and amplifier repair.

Yes, we have gone way beyond banana bread.

The Death Cap

It wasn’t until 1969 that Underwriters Laboratories mandated three-prong plugs on appliances. Amplifiers from the 1950s and 1960s came with a two prong power cord, which could be plugged in either way. The lack of earth ground made those amplifiers susceptible to RF noise. To combat this, designers added a capacitor between the negative terminal of the power cable and the chassis ground of the amplifiers. It was well-known and accepted at the time that if a musician was touching the guitar strings and touched another reverse grounded object such as a microphone, he or she would receive a noticeable shock. The problem with having a capacitor coming from the cable to ground was that if it failed open, it would deliver the full 120 volts AC to the musician.

The “paper caps” and the “death cap” on the unmolested board.

While I wanted to keep the amplifier as original as possible, I decided removing the “death cap” and adding a three-prong power cable with ground to earth was the way to go. I also relocated the positive cable lead to run through the fuse before the switch for a little added protection of the amplifier internals.

Three strand power cable with earth ground installed.

120hz Hum

The most noticeable issue with the amplifier was a very loud hum coming through the speakers even with the volume turned to zero. A lower 60hz hum can be an indicator of poor shielding, but a 120hz hum is usually an indicator of bad filter capacitors.

From what I could tell, the amplifier internals had never been touched, so the circuit was sporting two paper-wrapped electrolytic capacitors — a Maximite and a Minimite. I didn’t have a way to test those capacitors, but it’s generally accepted that the lifespan for a paper-wrapped electrolytic capacitor is 6 – 10 years. Being 56 years old, it was a pretty solid bet that both of them needed to be replaced.

I replaced the Maximite with two modern 22mf 450volt capacitors, and the Minimite was swapped for one of the same. I flipped the amplifier back on, and the hum was gone.

A pair of 22mf 400Volt capacitors in place of the Maximite.

As a side note, if someone is selling you a tube amp and says, “It has a hum, but it still plays great,” walk away. You can’t play great battling that hum. You can’t record with that hum. You can’t perform with that hum. Also, it’s just a matter of time before the leaking capacitors fry the power transformer and cause more damage to the amplifier.

The Mysterious Disappearing Tremolo

This amplifier has a built-in tremolo circuit powered by the oscillations of a vacuum tube. When I purchased the amplifier, it wasn’t working at all. Later at home you could hear the oscillations in the 120hz hum, but it wasn’t evident in the actual guitar sound. Then I tapped on a few connections and spread some crowded wires apart, and the tremolo disappeared completely.

My online searches turned up conflicting diagrams, some indicating a 6EU7 tube and some indicating a 6C4. As I researched both, the 6C4 was noted for it’s oscillations, so I ordered one thinking I had the wrong tube. Turns out a 6C4 isn’t even the right size for the plug. I tried a new 6EU7, and the tremolo was back.

Matched Power Tubes

When I purchased the amplifier, the dates and makes of the tubes varied greatly. The schematic called for two 6AQ5 power tubes, but one was a much more recent 6005. Power tubes are supposed to be electrically matched, so that they have the same plate current and amplification characteristics. The performance of vacuum tubes can vary wildly, so matched tubes were allegedly manufactured at the same time and more rigorously tested to meet the same specifications. When I ordered replacements from Amplified Parts, they sent me a pair of matched new old stock 6AQ5 tubes that were manufactured together in France in 1963. It kind of blows my mind that there’s still parts for these amplifiers sitting in warehouses.

Does the amp sound better with the matched tubes? Maybe I’m just a auditory plebeian, but I can’t tell a difference.

With the three-strand cable, new filter capacitors and new tubes, the amp is playing well, and I imagine it should be able to handle another 50 years. However, if I get the chance to upgrade my testing equipment I’d like to take some measurement and see how far off the original values the other capacitors and various resistors have wandered.

I should also probably spend a little time working on my guitar skills, so they do justice to this amplifier.

Remote Working

I literally haven’t worn shoes in 187 days.

That was always the goal, right? A flip-flop lifestyle with cold suds, warm sun, and sandy beaches?

One out of three ain’t bad.

Until March, “remote worker” was sort of a mythical job description, held only by special computer programmers or gifted day traders. One of my previous roles as a social media manager was the closest I came to remote working, and in that role, I still needed to be in the office most days to host events or shoot photos and videos for the social posts. One day a week from home was a long way from wandering the world seeking adventure–jumping on wifi at foreign coffee houses to accomplish my daily tasks.

My first week at home I started writing a piece about how this pandemic was going to bring an unprecedented change to things like sports, movies and concerts, but it felt trite. I left it sitting in the drafts folder so long that now it seems naïve and irrelevant. (By the way, I had predicted it would all be over by July. I was definitely wrong about that.)

Aside from our trip to the hospital at the end of May to deliver the baby, we haven’t been anywhere or done much of anything.

Meet Michael Finley Facker, born May 31, 2020.

We spent five strange days in the hospital. Masks had to be worn at all times. The facility was a ghost town when we arrived. The halls were eerily empty. No visitors. No elective surgeries. However, that first big wave of Covid took hold in Houston while we were there, and by the time we left, there were people everywhere.

Since then it’s only been an occasional weekend trip to the marina, but we’ve been avoiding the pool and the pavilions as part of our social distancing. I don’t know how Covid will affect an infant, but I don’t want to find out.

He doesn’t seem to mind wearing a PFD, so that’s good news.

We had purchased concert tickets at Christmas for a show in April. In April the show was then pushed to August. In August it was canceled. The entire tour was tentatively rescheduled for next year, but I don’t know that next year will be any better.

I think that even if a viable vaccine is found by the end of this year, with all the logistics involved in manufacturing and distribution, it would probably roll out with the annual flu vaccine in September of 2021. Maybe after the election we’ll get some insight into more honest, realistic timelines.

We thought about spending a few weeks on the boat, but Mary’s big dual-monitor workstation has taken over the kitchen table. My large dual-monitor workstation has taken over the study. While her massive spreadsheets and my design work could be done on laptop screens, it would be tedious at best. The Kadey Krogen 38 doesn’t even have a nav station, so the one and only option on that boat to set up monitors would be at the one-way-in one-way-out foldout table — not ideal. Maybe as the weather cools and the cockpit becomes a viable place to work, we can spend a few days there, but between the speed of internet and hardware required, it turns out that our remote working still isn’t nomadic remote working.

There are definitely some advantages to working from home. The lack of commuting adds over an hour back into the day. We’ve cut at least 1,000 miles a month of driving. That’s only about 10 gallons of gas per week, and gas is cheap right now, but every little bit we can save helps.

For the most part work has continued as normal. I write articles, I build powerpoints, I update websites. Unfortunately, all of my photo and video work is completely gone. The added value I brought to the table with corporate portraits, executive videos, project documentaries, etc. is impossible to continue during our current circumstances. We’re running entirely on stock photos and self-shot smartphone or webcam video messages. And to be honest, I don’t think that work is coming back. Everyone has deemed iPhone pictures “good enough” and decided they can live without shallow depth of field, good lighting or high-fidelity audio.

The quality of audio/video in a Zoom or Teams call is now the acceptable business standard for the entire world. Craft your message with care because only the words matter now.

Before the baby was born, we couldn’t sleep at night due to the existential dread of the proliferating pandemic. Now we don’t sleep because the baby doesn’t sleep.

So here we are, sitting at home. Remote working. Hoping we stay employed to keep our healthcare. So far, so good. I hope everyone out there is doing ok.

When your spouse’s dream boat becomes your nightmare

It was December of 2018 when we closed on our most recent sailboat, a 1990 Kadey Krogen 38 Cutter. After ten years of sailing around Galveston Bay, this was supposed to be our “forever boat.” It was supposed to be a comfortable weekender with space for friends that would provide a great platform to cruise the Caribbean when we were ready.

Kadey Krogen took a lot of design risks with this boat. I think the flush deck makes the entire thing look like a bathtub barge, but my wife loves the look of it, so I put my personal tastes in style aside and gave it a chance. The upside to the flush deck is that it creates an incredibly large, beamy interior. Unfortunately that spacious interior is broken up in a way that leaves occupants constantly crawling around each other, feeling cornered, crowded, and always in the way. The fixed keel model is not quite as bad as the centerboard models because at least the U-shaped settee has access on both ends instead of requiring someone to scoot around the table and remain trapped in the corner the duration of a meal, but the unique galley design manages to completely block access to the companionway, the aft cabin, and all of the electrical panels at once.

On my 27′ Starwind, the galley sink was under the cockpit overhang requiring one to hunch down under the overhang in a strange position to wash dishes. It was so uncomfortable, and I hated it so much that I vowed never to have another boat with a sink under the overhang. The same goes for the entire galley in the Krogen. I absolutely hate it. I understand that there could be some benefit to bracing yourself in the narrow hallway while using the galley underway, but that idea in no way makes it worth the tradeoff of completely blocking the use of the companionway and the traffic flow of the entire boat.

Now let’s talk about that aft cabin. Mary fell in love with it because it has a queen size bed with a window to look out at the anchorage, and a big hanging closet. I will say, the closet it great. I will also say, the area under the bed provides pretty good engine access. It’s not GREAT, but it’s better than on our last boat. However, before we even started looking at boats, we agreed that we did not want a pullman berth that required us to climb over each other to get in and out of bed. The bed in the aft cabin of a Kadey Krogen is a pullman berth. It’s just turned sideways, so it’s even worse than a pullman berth because if you were to use it underway, you would literally have to change which end of the bed you had your head every single time the boat tacked. In the course of the past year I’ve gone from being so excited about that large bed and nice cabin to hating that cabin and bed just as much as I hate the galley and just as much as I hate the crowded one-way-in-one-way-out couch situation. If I’m on the inside, I spend the night pushed into the wall under the overhang. If I’m lucky enough to get the outside, I get pushed off the edge. It’s guaranteed that somebody gets woken up and climbed over at some point every night for a visit to the restroom or to take dogs out, etc.

So let’s talk about the head. The KK38 was one of the few vessels that had a separate shower stall in the head. That was on our list of things we wanted. It seemed great. All in all, over the course of the past 18 months, I think we have used the shower three times. Turns out, we didn’t really need a shower. Meanwhile, there’s no sink in the head to wash your hands. After using the restroom you have to make your way to the Vberth, galley or aft cabin to wash. Having sinks in the bedrooms but not the bathroom makes absolutely zero sense to me. I don’t get it.

Now, if the boat sailed great, and we were having exciting adventures on it, I could live with the inconvenient interior features. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t.

This issue is on me. I knew better than to buy a boat sight unseen, but I got caught up in the excitement and said, sure let’s roll the dice. The previous owner made some interesting rigging changes. The boat came with a non-original mast with a very early version of in-mast furling. Even with the entire system serviced, a brand new sail made just for it, and lessons on how to properly furl the sail in and out, it still took a half-dozen tries yesterday to get the sail out without the furler jamming up. We also have no steering lock or autopilot, so it turns the entire process into a complicated multi-person job with multiple trips to the mast to re-align the furling line to make sure it doesn’t overwrap, etc.

Another huge issue is the Westerbeke W-46 diesel. My Starwind had a Westerbeke 10-Two, and after seeing the prices Westerbeke wanted for a starter and rebuild kits, I literally threw it away and bought a Kubota-based motor. My research and experience has proven that Beta Marine and Yanmar are the two solid, affordable choices for sailboat diesels. You avoid Volvo and Westerbeke like the plague. However, we ended up with a Westerbeke motor and generator. That’s fine until something breaks, and we lost the water pump a couple months ago. It was $940 to get a replacement. The same style water pump on a Ford car engine is literally $30. I searched and searched for a Mitsubishi pump that would fit or for some other alternative. That ridiculous water pump is literally 20 percent of the cost of putting a new Beta Marine 50hp in the boat. It killed me inside to finally do it, but we had no choice.

Unfortunately, the Westerbeke isn’t through with me. While it now runs great in neutral, the transmission is screaming in gear, so I’ve probably got to tear that apart next. As I was investigating that problem I also noticed that I think we have a crack and leak where our stern tube come through the bottom of the boat. Again, not something we could have even guessed at with this boat had we seen it since it was sitting on the hard and couldn’t be put in the water before purchase. Another reason we should have walked away.

Project boats are fun when the projects are small and inexpensive. They’re not fun when they require cranes and thousands of dollars.

With any project, it wouldn’t be so bad if you at least knew you could recoup what has been spent. Unfortunately, to me, the long term value of these boats looks bleak. Of course, that’s not what the owners group will tell you. But I see the same issue with the Mercury Cougar’s owners group. From basbeball cards to beanie babies, people want to believe that what they’re invested in is worth more than it is. I think the “bargain” estate sale price we paid is actually probably not far from the realistic value of these boats in good shape. That puts us extremely upside down on this project, but at some point you have to let go of the money to hang on to your sanity.

Passive income: my experience selling stock photography

As I was contemplating the order of a seventh 1TB portable hard drive to which I planned to copy the past year of photographic adventures, I really started wondering if it was even worth saving all of these photos. Sure, the past year had been full of huge grizzly bears, rugged Wyoming landscapes and beautiful sailboats in Greece, but the highlights had already been shared on social media and public interest in buying prints had been completely absent.

I did a little research, and I thought, maybe I can put these images to work for me as stock photography. I submitted a few to Adobe Stock and submitted a few to Getty, and a few days later they were approved, and my accounts were up and running.

At this point, I realized it was going to be quite a bit of work to go back through these thousands of images to upload and tag each one, so I reached out to a very successful pro photographer friend, and his advice? Don’t bother. According to him the only people still making money producing stock were the editorial photographers covering world news and events with special connections for passes and releases.

The model and location releases are definitely the most tedious part. Submit an old farmhouse, get a request back for a location release. Submit a product shot of an engagement ring, get a request back for a property release. Shoot anything with people in it anywhere, get a request back for a model release. Of course, that is, unless you don’t. You do need a release for the Eiffel Tower or Christ the Redeemer. Apparently you don’t need a release for Mount Rushmore. Go figure.

The other frustrating part of submitting photos is Intellectual Property violations. Can’t use a photo of your own car if the make or model is recognizable in any way because that’s an IP violation. A close up of a hand holding a flaming lighter? IP violation.

So once you filter back through your photo libraries and remove everything with a recognizable place and signage, everything with people, and anything that shows the details of a car, computer, camera, gadget, gizmo, lighter or pen, it greatly reduces the number of good photos you can submit.

I still spent almost every evening for two weeks re-editing, uploading and tagging various photos and videos on Adobe Stock. I uploaded one or two to Getty Images, but I’ll be honest, their use interface and tagging system is incredibly clunky, and I got frustrated with having to upload things twice in two different places.

This entire experiment might have been over in a week if I hadn’t happened to upload a photo of Mount Rushmore just before President’s Day. That photo was licensed seven times over the course of the next week, and I swear I saw it used as part of a graphic on MSNBC.

Getting photos licensed was exciting, the money was not. Depending on the Adobe Stock subscription level of the user, when they choose your photo, it may pay out anywhere from 33 cents to 99 cents. Adobe also won’t send you a payment unless you have at $25 owed to you, so it’s a long process building up to $25 only 33 cents at a time.

After the initial success, my downloads dwindled to one or two a week. Strangely, although I had almost 200 equally high quality photos available, the same five kept selling over and over. I’ve been through the tags several time, and I still haven’t figured out exactly why.

My original theory was to tag photos with upcoming holidays, so they would be found in search and used in advertisements. That’s definitely what happened with President’s Day and Mount Rushmore. However, nothing got picked up for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter or Earth Day, and I only licensed one tree photo for Arbor Day.

My next idea was to watch the news and tag with current events. For example, I took photos and videos of hands being washed and tagged it coronavirus, covid-19, cold, flu, prevention, etc. No interest.

Then something happened that changed my entire focus. I licensed a video.

There’s no subscription service for video. If a user wants video, it’s going to cost them $79.99 per clip. Licensing one five second long 1080p video clip paid $28!

To recap, after 12 weeks, I’ve earned $46.63. That’s $15.50 per month, $3.88 per week, 55 cents per day. While yes, it is passive income, I couldn’t even sponsor a child in a third world country at that rate. You definitely couldn’t go relax on a sailboat in the virgin islands while your art sells itself.

What I have learned, though, is to focus on video. There’s much more value in a short video clip than in photographs. The other thing to remember is to focus on concepts – focus, trust, going green, self care, saving money, connecting with friends, integrity – businesses that are buying stock need it to illustrate concepts in campaigns. Nobody really wants grizzly bears or sailboats with sunsets.

I’m about to cash out and enjoy my $46.63. Maybe the next 12 weeks will be better.

Self isolation is ruff, but together we can paws the spread of Covid-19

It’s week four of self isolation. If you were wondering how long it takes me to go absolutely stir crazy, the answer is four weeks. I am great at amusing myself, but without the ability to run to the store for various parts and pieces, my projects have more or less ground to a halt.

Mary has been sewing cloth masks and donating them to various organizations and essential workers. Demand has been high and grew dramatically this week after the CDC told everyone to start wearing a mask. Details are here.

Hope everyone is staying safe.

1967 Mercury Cougar project update

I haven’t done a great job of documenting the progress on my 67. Most of the earlier projects were just so filthy that I wouldn’t have even of thought about touching my cameras. However, now that I’m home with plenty of time on my hands and in between major projects, I thought I’d take a moment to catch up. As I was editing, I realized I didn’t even touch on half the projects I’ve done over the past three years, but nobody really wants to hear about the restoration and alignment of a glovebox latch or the linkage for a shift indicator light. I hit most of the major projects, and I was even able to match up photos for some of it.

Since this car is a pretty plain-jane standard, my goal wasn’t a full restoration. I was hoping to just create a nice, usable driver. I’m hoping to start some paint and body work this year, but we’ll have to see how the world turns out after we get out of social isolation.

2020 is here

Remember when we partied like it was 1999 because it was 1999? I still remember that night, my senior year of college at Texas A&M, gathered in an apartment with about 30 of my closest friends — most of the university swimming and diving team, a bunch of us Rec Center lifeguards, and a few others that were regulars in our social circle. I spent the evening hoping that through some miracle I might get to kiss the girl I liked at midnight and wondering if the Y2K bug was going to wipe out all of our computers. Spoiler alert, neither happened.

It’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago, especially since most of the time I still feel about 25. I jumped with both feet into the newspaper industry just in time to watch it die a slow horrible death. Back then, getting your picture in the paper was a big deal. People talked about it for years. Now, nobody cares about anything except celebrity retweets, and everyone is trying to be an “influencer.” Social media brought the democratization of journalism but with a loss of quality and a loss of truth. Everyone has an outlet and is screaming at the top of their lungs to be heard over the noise, but nobody had to sit through media law 101, and it shows.

Our 2019 celebration was a far cry from 1999. I don’t know if I could still even come up with 30 people to invite to a party, much less get them out of the house after 9 p.m. anymore. We were just a party of four out on the water.

This marks our one year anniversary working on the Kadey Krogen 38 sailboat. As always, it came down to the eleventh hour as to whether or not she would be working for the trip out into Galveston Bay to watch fireworks. The dodger combing that was having fiberglass repair done wasn’t reinstalled until the evening before. Unfortunately $3,000 later, it looks wonderful, and is much stronger, but obstructs the companionway from opening and closing correctly. It will have to come back off for more repair.

I also spent the four hours leading up to when our guests arrived crawling through the bilge and anchor locker to get a pump working and to rewire two of the running lights, which quit for no reason. However, the windlass, which has been relocated and then rewired with a solenoid and up and down buttons worked pretty well. Unfortunately the chain seems to slip every fifth link or so, and I can’t tell if it’s because we have low grade chain or if the gypsy is worn out and needs to be replaced.

I know that earlier I said I still feel 25, but I may be getting too old for project boats.

Despite all the trials, we made it out onto the bay to watch the fireworks. Mary made full use of the oven on the new boat to make some delicious Hawaiian roll ham and cheese sliders, and the full cockpit enclosure kept us warm. Despite the ongoing maintenance issues, this boat definitely has some advantages over our previous vessels.

While there’s no telling what’s in store for us in 2020, we are very excited that there will be an addition to the family in May. Parenting will be the biggest adventure we’ve ever undertaken.

I also want to say congratulations to our friend’s TJ and Kayla who were brave enough to spend new years with us on the water. They’re tying the knot in 2020, and we’re very excited for their upcoming nuptials.

It’s been a wild 20 years. In 1999 I never would have dreamed I could shoot a photo with my phone and instantly send it to all my friends. I mean, I didn’t even have a phone — I shared a landline with four other roommates. I’m very excited to see what the next 20 years brings.

All good things for you and your family in 2020.

7 days chartering in Greece: Day 3 – Hydra

As we were enjoying breakfast on our third day on the boat, we watched a propane truck completely demolish a electrical/water station. The repair guys were there almost immediately to repair it. Apparently most of these Islands have water brought in by boat and stored in massive tanks on the island, so water leaks do not go unnoticed.

Our captain was not excited about our next destination, but under insistence from some of the crew we motored off for Hydra (EE-Dra). As you enter the city its surrounded on both sides by massive fortress walls with cannons sticking out.

The city had an older feel than Poros.

We did some exploring and went through the Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion, while the guys had coffee by the water.

Donkeys are everywhere in Hydra and are the main source of transportation as well as hauling goods. We saw one carrying full size refrigerator on its back.

We decided to trust the travel books and take a long walk up to a monastary that overlooks the town. The books claimed that it was about an hour walk. It was closer to two hours for us, as no one told us it was 90% stairs.

When we got to the top we took a wrong turn, after a few EXTRA steps we finally made it to the correct monastery.

There were monks actively living there. I can’t imagine how they do that walk on a regular basis.

The view from the top made it somewhat worth it.

We walked back down close to sunset, and were surprised by large amounts of loitering cats. They were forming cat gangs and digging in dumpsters. They all seemed friendly and well fed though, and we saw small piles of cat food left around untouched.

We had a lovely meal at a “tourist” restaurant. Yiannis our captain informed us that although our meals were only around 12 Euros a person this restaurant would be too expensive for most locals to eat at.

The waiter informed us that they had just picked the olives on his families farm for the season and offered us some some fresh squeezed Olive Oil. The taste was green and fresh.

As it began to get dark we began to understand why our captain didn’t want to come to Hydra. There was limited parking, but it didn’t seem to bother the hordes of boats that just kept coming into the little cove. We were med-moored 3 rows deep on both sides before we settled in for bed.

Yiannis, our captain warned us that when the wind picked up tonight at 4 am, everyone would be awake.

He was right. I woke up to the engine starting, and lines being frantically pulled in and let out. The boats in the second and third rows had started to drag anchor and be pushed into the front of our boat. Each boat had an exhausted and angry looking captain sitting out with boat poles holding other boats away from his boat.

This continued until the sun finally came up and the boats were able to leave from the outside in.

I think if we had been up all night like Yiannis was we probably would not want to ever come back to Hydra. But for me, even with the half night of sleep, Hydra was worth it. It was a beautiful old city with a different character than other places we visited.