Ferris Bueller Had the Right Idea

Shhh!   Don’t tell anyone, but Spouse and I have taken a couple of days off from work.

A day off is a wonderful thing;  if you’re anything like me, you have it in mind to accomplish so many things, but you also want to just revel in your chance to drive in the slow lane for a change.   For us, on these days, priority one is very definitely just kind of recharging our batteries vis-a-vis the workplace.

A very close second, though, was “getting those chairs painted”, you know, the ones my father-in-law started painting two weekends ago.  The lawn furniture in question is a set of two chairs with matching table and bird bath that my Dad made several years ago, and which he and my Mom kindly donated to the People of Juniorvania.  The acquired assets were in need of a paint job and – when he and Gillian were here in late May – Harold was, as Pierre McGuire is wont to say, “a monster” with the paintbrush.  He layed down a number of difficult early coats on all of the pieces over the course of a couple of days back-breaking work, but wisely fled the jurisdiction prior to completion of the task.

Here’s a picture of Harold getting the painting party started:

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Harold Takes the Task in Hand

Spouse and I spent a couple of hours in the driveway ourselves this afternoon, gaining new appreciation for the difficult work Harold had already accomplished. With any luck, tomorrow morning will see the application of one final coat on each piece and I will happily spend the afternoon literally watching paint dry.

After the painting was done (well, actually, in between coats) we headed in to the backyard and were mesmerized by the movements of this little fellow:

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May Be a Juvenile Ruby Throated Hummingbird

I had a great time following this little guy with the camera and trying to get some good in-flight shots. It was such a beautiful sunny day that I could really ramp up the shutter speed and go full telephoto. Here’s a shot of our new friend heading in for a snack at the new feeder:

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JHB01 Looking for Clearance Runway Two Seven...

I am really pleased with some of the shots I got of this little visitor today.

We finished off the night with a bowl of fire out back (first one of the season) and a couple of beers before settling in to watch Malkin and the Penguins dismantle the Red Wings in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (turning point of the game:  for sure, Malkin’s first breakaway shorthanded in the second period.  He didn’t score, but it gave life to the Pens, especially Jordan Staal, who followed that rush up with a breakaway of his own and rang up a shorty in the process.  The Pens didn’t look back in the game and – with a few breaks and some discipline early in Game 5 in Detroit, they might not look back in the series.)  I’d like to write some more about the Final tomorrow.  For now, it’s time to pack it in for the night  and get some shuteye so I can get up early and enjoy doing whatever the hell I damn well please again tomorrow.

Home Again, Home Again

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A Spirit Air Plane Touches Down - Not Ours.

Spouse and I have successfully returned to the tiny Kingdom of Juniorvania from our vacation in the sunny south .   The Popper and Prince Henry were pampered indeed over the last few days;  on this occasion, rather than bunking in at the five-star pet hotel run by my parents, the five-star came to them.  We are very grateful to my folks for agreeing to come inhabit the local landscape and care for our boys;  what a treat for all concerned (there was even dinner on the table for the weary travellers upon our return!)… 

I will write more tomorrow about the many events of our journey.  For now, in the interest of completeness, let me report, following up on the last post, that the “eagle” was in fact an osprey, that the alligators were obligingly available, and that the zebra – unfortunately – was a no-show.

Until tomorrow; it’s been a long day, up at 5:20 this morning and shambling through various airports, clutching a passport, sixteen boarding passes and my camera, which just wouldn’t fit in the carry on at the tail end of a fantastic vacation.

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Mama Gator is Watching You
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An Osprey Fishing Over the Pond Behind 16 Green
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What the Osprey Wanted

One in the hand AND two in the bush

Spouse and I headed out today with Popeye in tow for a walk in the winter woods.  There are a lot of pretty well-known birding areas not far from the borders of Juniorvania, perfect destinations for wintry perambulations.  The F.W.R. Dickson Wilderness Area is a beautiful little plot of land that is the site of some ongoing ornithological research:

Just nearby is Wrigley Corners Outdoor Education Centre. As part of their education and research programs, they have been banding the chickadees that come to the feeders here in the park. They use a combination of bands, both silver aluminum and coloured plastic ones, to create a unique colour combination that can be easily visually identified at a distance. This allows you to follow individual birds to learn more about their behaviour patterns and movements. No two birds in a study are ever given the same band combination, unless it’s known the previous owner of a combination is deceased. Band colours are read from top to bottom, with the bird’s left leg first, then the right.

Spouse read about the area in a little book Santa brought her for Christmas.  We were intrigued by the write-up, which indicated that the chickadees in this area were known to feed from visitors’ outstretched hands.   That little incentive was enough for us to gather together a bag of seed, the snowshoes (just in case) and a pile of photographic equipment and set out for an enjoyable afternoon.

It was a terrific afternoon;  the snow was falling softly (giant round flakes), the place was virtually deserted (though we did see one other group, a man with his two young children) and the birds were very co-operative indeed.

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= Two in the Bush, Apparently
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Thanks for the Seed!

We saw plenty of friendly little chickadees, both rose and white breasted nuthatches, a couple of downey woodpeckers, a pair of cardinals, a cedar waxwing and even a couple of robins that looked like basketballs with wings.

Snowshoes weren’t necessary, so they stayed in the trunk.  I could have used some kind of a field bag, preferably of the waterproof/resistant variety in which to stow the camera and lenses.  Without this key piece of gear, I was forced to carry the camera in my hands.  I was worried about snow accumulating on the body of the camera and then melting, as it is my view that water and consumer electronics do not mix.  I was convinced I was going to lose a lens cap.  There was also a concern – not insubstantial, and based upon solid historical data – that I might lose my footing while striding along the path and go tumbling to the ground, with the attendant consequences for the camera.  I ended up cradling the thing like a football and tucking it under an armpit, even shifting it from side to side depending upon the type of terrain I was traversing and the consequent likelihood of a port or starboard side tumble, all of which felt like some kind of weird naturalist tribute to Super Bowl Sunday.

The birds are so tame, they really are prepared to come right up to you if you display any kind of intention to feed them, and sometimes even when you don’t.  I got the first chickadee of the day in my hand while crossing a boardwalk-type bridge;  Spouse and Popper had gone up ahead a bit (Poppy doesn’t like seeing through the things he’s walking on, things like grates or decks, so he had to be urged along by Spouse).  Spouse had the bag of seed, so I had nothing to offer anyone, but I noticed a little flock of chickadees gathering in the bushes at the side of the boardwalk.  I held out an outstretched palm and – in less than thirty seconds – one brave little fellow figured I looked trustworthy enough to serve as a temporary perch.

Later, when we reached another boardwalk-type area, there didn’t seem to be many birds around.  Nonetheless, we stood there for a moment, palms outstretched and filled with little piles of seed.  Within a minute or two, there was a cluster of birds that had gathered, flitting from tree to tree, that began to swoop in and feed.   After a few minutes of feeling the unmistakable thrill of feeling the tiny creatures alight on our hands, select a yummy seed and then dart back to a nearby branch, we moved on a few dozen yards.  We noticed that the flock of birds was essentially following us, the little birds hopscotching from branch to branch along the path, staying roughly a constant distance behind us.  Of course we rewarded them with some more seed.

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Close enough to touch
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Rose-breasted nuthatch in flight

Again, after a few minutes we moved along – and the birds again followed us, so we fed them more. That cycle repeated itself maybe three or four more times as we headed out of the woods and back towards our car.

I really couldn’t believe how fearless the little birds became.  I noticed that while Spouse was standing with palm outstretched feeding a group of birds that were perching in a small bush in front of her, there were at least a half-dozen birds in another bush right behind her – no more than eight or ten inches from her back – that were curiously looking on and waiting for an opportunity to join in the fun.  On another occasion, I had stopped on the path and attached my long lens in an effort to photograph the basketball-sized robins.  I had the camera raised to look through the viewfinder and was adjusting the focus on the barrel of the lens with my other hand when one little chickadee swooped in and landed first on my lens-adjusting hand, then on the lens, then hopped back to my hand.  All the while, I continued adjusting focus and I was even calling out to Spouse to get her attention;  the little bird stayed put even while I clicked off a couple of shots of his woodland friends.

Spouse and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and resolved to return with family members in tow.  For sure, we thought, our nieces would get a kick out of  hand-feeding the birds.  Even more likely to enjoy this, we think, are our parents.  But the happiest of all about today’s walk in the woods? This guy:

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Proof that dogs smile.
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A very gnarly tree and a very happy dog.

Shooting the Shootout: Dukes vs. Trojans, Saturday Night

We had a truly Canadian evening last night.   It was snowing quite hard in the early evening, starting around 6:30 or so, and Spouse and I had earlier determined that we would be attending the hockey game between the St. George Dukes (a local team in the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League) and the defending league champion Thamesford Trojans.

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Morrison goes to the backhand...denied by Walker!

Game time was 7:30;  when we rushed out the door shortly after 7, the snow was really  pelting down in great thick puffy flakes.  We brushed off the car and clambered in, trying to shake off the chill during the drive over to the South Dumfries Community Centre for the big game.  Admission was $5;  we arrived in time to hear the singing of the national anthem (not sure who the young girl was that did the honours, but she acquitted herself admirably given the suspect p.a. equipment and her understandable nervousness).  The game got under way and quickly turned into a spirited contest.

The Dukes, I am unhappy to report, did not seem equal to the task in terms of carrying the play throughout much of the first two periods.  Thamesford clearly had the better of the play but did not finish off on its chances;  by contrast, St. George scored goals on each and every one of the few chances they had and somehow managed to come away with a 3-1 lead going in to the third period before a vocal crowd of perhaps some fifty or sixty onlookers.

At the beginning of the third, Justin Harburn of the Trojans took matters in to his own hands.  He scored three consecutive goals in under two minutes.  Suddenly, there were 17 minutes left in the game and St. George was on the wrong end of a 4-3 score.  A questionable interference call produced a power play on which the Dukes counted the tying marker.  The teams traded chances thoughout the balance of the third, and Harburn – he of the lightning fast hat trick – had at least two more golden opportunities to salt away the victory for Thamesford, but regulation time expired with the clubs knotted at fours.  A five minute overtime period of four on four hockey was entertaining, and included another questionable penalty call, this one against the Dukes.   In the end, despite some end to end action and hard-hitting play, the overtime solved nothing.

On to the shootout, which Thamesford won in the fourth round to take a well-deserved road victory in to the locker room.

I took my camera and both lenses with me, as well as the monopod that Doug and T. thoughtfully got me for Christmas.   I tried to take photographs for much of the game from our seats near centre ice.  It gave me a newfound appreciation for the degree of difficulty involved in getting the shot at the critical moments in the game – especially when using long lenses, you kind of have to watch the play with one eye while (with the other) sighting through the viewfinder a target that you think might be important to the play as it develops.   Your shutter finger must be poised and at the ready, and you have to constantly be monitoring the light metering, which I found to be quite variable depending upon the position of the play on the ice.   You have to do all that while simultaneously trying to watch out for an errant puck being shot into the stands so you don’t get brained while you’re zooming in on two jokers scrapping in the corner.

Most of my results were not very spectacular, though I suppose I didn’t do too badly for a first effort.   I did find that the pictures improved when I left my seat and shot from a lower angle, through the rink glass where necessary;  this had the effect of putting the viewer more immediately in the action, as if on the ice with the players, and noticeably improved the pictures I got.

There isn’t much light available in a little community rink like that, and it was a struggle to make a sharp exposure.  I was pleased with myself for remembering to open up the aperture in addition to bumping up the ISO settings.   I tried to get too many images with the 400mm lens at too slow a shutter speed; I know that there is a general rule of thumb about not setting the shutter slower than the lens length, but I needed to break that rule to get any kind of exposure at all.   Unfortunately, even with the monopod it is impossible to get any kind of an image at shutter speeds like 1/60 and 1/80.

I switched back to my shorter lens for the shootout.  The picture at the top of this post is the game winning save by Trojans goaltender Chris Walker on Dukes forward Reid Morrison.  I don’t think Walter Ioos has anything to fear from me just yet, but at least I got the shot.  I will be back, and I will try again.  Next time out, I resolve to try and get a few reaction shots from the players and coaches on the benches.

Gizmos and Geegaws

Sometimes I don’t know why I do it. I get excited about the potential of a technological gizmo or geegaw and try to supercharge (a la Tim “The Toolman” Taylor) its capabilities with *ahem*, I believe the term is “budget-conscious” accessories. For example, about a year ago now, I was fooling about with an old Compaq Presario laptop computer (Windows 95 operating system and about as much memory as an absent-minded gnat) and trying to modify it in such a way that I could use a wireless PCMCIA card to connect to the Internet via our wireless router. The point was not to create an awesome computing and gaming machine; what I really wanted was a more or less portable tippy-tappy device that would basically be solely dedicated to blogging. Although I couldn’t justify the substantial expense involved in purchasing a new laptop for that purpose, I could justify spending a few bucks on a wireless card and a little bit of my time trying to bodge together a workable system. I did a bunch of research on the Internet about rescuing dinosaur machines and reclaiming them for limited purposes, I found a supplier for some replacement parts I needed to make the old machine operable (LCD screen, cable connecting motherboard to display) and managed to find a cheap and theoretically compatible wireless card on eBay. I bid on the card and won the auction, I ordered my replacement parts from Singapore, and when everything arrived all in one place, I took the machine apart, carefully re-assembled it and fired the rig up again.

Nothing.

After many hours of booting, re-booting, tweaking, re-tweaking, booting, re-booting and damn near booting the thing out the window, it slowly began to dawn on me that the claims in the wireless card manufacturer’s documentation that the device was “compatible with Windows 95” might not be entirely accurate. A little further research on the Internet suggested very strongly that the card was in fact compatible with Windows 95SE – but not Windows 95. I’ll give you three guesses which version of Windows the little laptop was not capable of running.

Undeterred in my quest, I moved into problem- solving mode: if the project was failing as a result of constraints related to the machine’s operating system, it made sense to try and change the operating system. I boldly delved into the world of Linux – an OS that I previously knew absolutely bugger all about – and determined that I might be able to make the thing work with a version of Linux known as DSL, which stands for “Damn Small Linux”. It was difficult to know for sure whether this would work, because Linux is an open source operating system – designed, built, and supported entirely by a diverse community of coders, not all of whose considerable nerdly skills are fortuitously paired with substantial linguistic abilities. The result is that the documentation available in relation to Linux is of immensely variable quality and – because of the many versions of the thing available – I found it difficult to have any confidence that I was getting the definitive word on any particular issue. Moreover, some of the stuff was just too damn dense for someone without professional IT skills to penetrate and digest without many hours of study.

Many hours of booting, re-booting, tweaking, re-tweaking, booting, re-booting and damn near booting the thing out the window, I came to the conclusion that the thing just wasn’t going to work, and that project was cast aside both literally and figuratively; the component parts were shoved underneath a couch in the computer room at our old house and there they remained, collecting dust, until we emigrated to Juniorvania. The whole pile of stuff is now sitting in my shop, silently reproaching me for my unforgivable hubris. Total cost for this portable computing version of the Tower of Babel: a couple hundred bucks worth of replacement parts, taxes, shipping and brokerage fees, a substantial number of somewhat frustrating hours of my time, and a minor bruise to my confidence in my own rationality. If I had just spent that money (and a little more) on a slightly more powerful, perhaps used, machine, I’d be typing this entry – about something else – on my little blogging device.

My point in reciting all of this (no doubt fascinating) history is really to set it out as a bit of a cautionary parable for myself. Why? You may recall that a few months ago I took the plunge and bought a digital SLR – a Canon Digital Rebel XTi, to be precise. Recently, I’ve been photographing some of the birds in the trees out back, but my Sigma 18-200 lens just wasn’t able to get me close enough to get the kind of pictures I wanted, so I started casting my eyes longingly around teh Intarwebs at things like this. Not having the inclination, skills and weaponry necessary to knock over a bank, and thus being economically ineligible to acquire such a device, I decided that I needed to come up with a Plan B. Behold:
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The thing arrived last Friday, and I fiddled about with it some on the weekend. This morning, I had to scramble to fit it on to the camera because I saw some deer grazing in the field out back, quite a distance away next to the edge of the woods. So far, the biggest challenge for me is focusing on the subject with sufficient sharpness to produce an image of any clarity. My initial review of this morning’s study on the eating habits of the family cervidae indicates that most of the pictures are a tad on the blurry side. I have my severe doubts about the quality of this lens – it just can’t be any good at that, um “price point”, at least not in relation to the glass the pros use. Indeed, in general it seems to me that the images produced by this lens are noticeably “softer” (even the ones that are in focus) when compared to images produced by the Sigma, and the colours seem to be somewhat less vivid.

The question for now is whether it’s good enough – or another intransigent Compaq Presario.

For now, here are a few of the first attempts with this lens that did turn out with some degree of sharpness:

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A hairy woodpecker on the suet feeder.

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Two American Goldfinches on the special feeding sock we got for them (yes, Wal-Mart LOVES us, thank you – $24.95 worth).

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Henry is underwhelmed by the performance of this lens.

Breaking News

JUNIORVANIA (AP) – Senior officials in the Juniorvanian Ministry of External Affairs and Department of Homeland Security tonight confirmed rumours running rampant in this tiny hillside country that the nation was nearly overrun earlier this evening by a hostile army of four-legged intruders bent on destroying the natural beauty of the homeland. The aliens in question have been thought to target in particular the attractive and apparently delicious euonymous plants scattered throughout the Juniorvanian countryside. Nervous residents have, in recent week, been cautiously eyeing the many unexplained footprints littered throughout the snow covering certain grasslands adjacent to the southern border.

An unidentified source within the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of being given a free Payday bar, confirmed that as many as fifteen to twenty unidentified intruders (pictured below) roamed across the lands immediately adjacent Two Deer in Back Yardto Juniorvanian borders at approximately 7:05 p.m., right around the washing up after dinner hour. In an official statement released shortly after 10 p.m., the Glorious Leadership pointed out that these obviously aggresive interlopers were quickly spotted by an alert lookout posted and trained to deal with just such a threat to national security, and that appropriate steps were immediately taken to diffuse the threat, though the local authorities declined to specify what actions in particular were deemed necessary. Although critics of government policy point out that the beasts in question appear to be harmlessly grazing on vegetable matter in the available photographs, official-looking people with expensive suits and a very busy demeanour dismissed these criticisms as helpful to the enemy and possibly treasonous. “That’s helpful to the enemy – and possibly treasonous” said Juan Gohoam, a spokesman for the Glorious Leadership and part-time cobbler. Nevertheless, anti-government sources speculate that the action plan set in motion upon receipt of the alert included opening a window and watching in quiet wonderment until the terrible beasts became bored of looking at the crazy people hanging out of an open window in the middle of winter and simply moved along.

Mr. U.R. Kidd-Enmie, Chief Padishah of the Department of Homeland Security, took the opportunity to remind Juniorvanians everywhere that although there was Deer in Back Fieldno need to panic, it certainly couldn’t hurt in the least to do so, as that would make it far easier for the government to justify the ridiculous expenditures on “security and defence related” planned by government as part of the upcoming budgetary process. “Tonight, these strange creatures spared us the intense pain of a gentle gnawing that only complete herbivores can inflict ,” he said, “but we might not be so lucky next time. We might be mistaken for a bucket of ferns, for example, or it might be rampaging dinosaurs or berserker robots that appear from within the adjacent woods.” Citizens, however, were reminded to panic an orderly and respectful manner, only in the approved and pre-designated areas, and were asked to refrain from generating any unnecessary noise, litter or unsolicited opinions. Also, the government reminded would-be panickers to refrain from breaking any of the really nice stuff we might like to use in the future, and suggested instead that civil disobedience and abject fear of extinction might best be expressed in the form of an interpretive dance or haiku.

Juniorvanian defence forces – consisting at this time largely of a fifteen year old one-eyed dog with no tail and a profound desire to make friends – remained on alert level fuchsia for most of the evening, except when yummy cookies were distributed on the living room floor, and when American Idol was on because that’s prime snoozle time.

Government officials would not comment on suggestions that tonight’s encounter was related in any way to weekend sightings of numerous winged creatures within the borders of theCardinal in the Tree country. Some commentators have suggested that the small flying intruders noted recently by many citizens may act as spies and informants for their larger mammalian masters; the Science Ministry, however, is reputed to be too busy looking up the meaning of the word “herbivore” to be able to respond meaningfully to such inquiries at this time.

There’s no business like snow business

We, um, got a little bit of snow here in the Hammer. It snowed Friday night and then again all day Saturday. I didn’t go outside when it was storming, because it was cold and not very nice out there. I did stick my head out the back door for a couple of minutes to take a couple of pictures. Here’s one from Saturday afternoon, showing the general blowiness of this model of snow.
blowing snow

I took this one late yesterday afternoon from the (open) bedroom window upstairs. Never underestimate the strength of your marriage. If your wife comes upstairs and finds you – in the middle of a snowstorm, mind you – with the windows open and struggling to get the screens back on, it is not necessarily true that you will be thrown out of the house immediately; no guarantees or warranties are implied, reader assumes his own risk and your mileage may vary. I think it’s awesome how confused Popeye looks. Though he loves the snow, I think even the Popper was wondering where the hell all this stuff came from. You can see how deeply buried Spouse’s car is if you look to the left of the fence, in front of the shed.

birds eye poppy

Last night, I poked my head out the back door when it looked like the snow had finished hurtling out of the sky. I snapped a shot of one of the solar powered patio lanterns on our deck. For reference, the portion of the lamp visible in the photo below is about 8 to 10 inches from top to bottom.

patio lantern

I took this one this morning after the TWO HOURS worth of shovelling it took to make the driveway passable. That thing in the middle, covered in the white stuff in front of the house – that’s my car. It’s buried, it’s not accessible, it’s not going anywhere until May, apparently, but it’s my car.
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So now we use these for transport.

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I have approximately seventy-seven pictures of this icicle now. This one is unique, because it shows the water droplet falling through space.

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Two Horses Fighting

smaller Quest and Somebody fighting

Spouse and I went out to the barn where Ralphie lives today. I brought along my camera and while I was standing next to one of the fields, two horses started fighting with one another. Flush with the excitement of photo-journalism, I sprung into action and got to actually use my “burst mode” (the thing that makes that cool autowinder sound) in an effort to capture the epic battle between Quest and….well, a horse whose name I don’t know. I was feeling pretty good about getting the pictures and I was admiring my handiwork on the little LCD display on the rear of my camera when the horses actually reared up at each other. I guess I’m not quite ready for Time Magazine just yet.

I bought this circular polarizing filter a few weeks back. I was given to understand that the filter would assist me to make my skies more deeply blue. I am reasonably certain that I need to rotate the filter slightly to get the enhanced colour effect, but I can’t figure out how to determine when the effect is being applied. Am I supposed to just eyeball it through the little viewfinder and notice the difference? There must be a better way, right?