Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bounty From The Bay Of Bengal

Chennai is a coastal city (but you already know your geography), so we get to reap the spoils of the nearby sea. Off to the fish market!

Such as it is. You can head over to the beach area and peruse what the vendors have to offer. Soak in a little of the sights, inhale a lot of the smell. It's all worth it for the variety and freshness of the day's catch.

The chaotic scene at the beach. "A kilo of shrimp for the boy!" the lady pleads. Here in India, they love the little blond children.

The seasoned vendor. The cool customer.

The queen of crab. Doing the daughter's hair, waiting on the squid customers.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Welcome To The Chennai Open

Big-time tennis rolled into Chennai city this month and we went to check it out. Sarah, the former sports biz reporter, looked a little out of place sitting in the stands like a regular Josephine fan, but she appreciated not having to file a story five minutes after the end of a match.

The event seemed eerily similar to tennis back home, complete with the snazzy luxury car sponsorship. Here's the stadium and the eager India press doing interviews, amping the excitement. Just like home.

The usual cornucopia of vendors were scattered about, this time with interesting names. Fresh & Honest. Is that to differentiate yourself from other stalls? Ouch. Feel free to go, er, whole hog or pig out at this dog stand.

The sun was beating down for early matches, a happy accident for the sponsors of the cheering signs. Or not an accident at all... Enjoying the action.

So who won? James went to the thrilling marathon final but, uhm, isn't that what espn.com is for?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Bovine Bash

In addition to thanking the sun for the bountiful harvest, Pongal is also about thanking your cow for all the hard work it gave you the past year. It's party day for your livestock. Time to paint the horns, throw some flowers on the bovine, maybe ankle bracelets and have a little parade around the village. Feed the cows a special meal, treat the beast of burden like a beauty for a day.

Here's a little herd the day after the party, just hanging out, getting a chance to pick through some trash. Sort of like cleaning up after the party. A detail of the painted horns, etc..

Chomping down. Someday this cow will have full horns to decorate. For now, you cover what's there.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Pongal Party

Pongal is a four-day Hindu harvest festival celebrated in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu. It marks the start of the end of the winter season. It's a bit like New Year's and spring cleaning rolled into one. People clean their houses, discard old items and wear new clothes.

We celebrated with a big shindig for all the consulate folks, including local staff and their families. The symbol of Pongal, a sugarcane tripod with a pot full of Pongal, a rice porridge dish. It's cooked in the sun, to give thanks for the harvest and to recognize the sun for the bounty it makes possible.

It's not a party until the ox horns are decorated. Dosas, another rice-based dish and South Indian delicacy, were also featured.

It's also not a party until something starts spinning, be it clay pots or cotton candy. Messy hands abound!

Another Indian tradition: getting your fortune told through tarot-like cards. The twist? Having a parrot choose the cards. The beak knows.

Friday, 27 January 2012


Another week, another Ford Super Duty chapter. This time, off to the Pacific Northwest to hang out with a couple of timber companies. These jobs are always educational -- and this one was no exception. It's amazing how much skill goes into harvesting trees and how much planning goes into when to cut, what to cut and how to re-forest. Their operations make the idea of a couple of guys with chainsaws and some hauler trucks look like a cartoon.

Our hero, bonding with nature. Looks at home.

A typical morning at the office. That big orange thing is called a Yarder and its job is to haul bundles of logs from the valley floor. It yanks 'em like Andre the Giant scooping up toothpicks. Their desk drawer.

Using a jack to fell a tree. An impressive show of precision cuts and then a final nudge to lay a tree down exactly where you want it (and uphill, in this case). A small boy next to some big boys. Loaded on a truck, these logs are so impressive they'd attract a crowd and thus, would be dubbed a "parade load."

Presenting the Ponsse, a nasty, relentless, forest-eating machine. It goes up grades. It chops down, measures, bucks trees to length and never takes a bathroom break. And lower environmental impact! The next must-have toy in the Hamptons?

Pretending to fit in. Burning a nocturnal retreat from another job. Goodbye redwoods!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

It's A (Natural) Gas

Our Ford shoot finished with a day tagging along with the fine folks at Pioneer Natural Resources. They run an amazing operation: a fleet of more than 400 Super Duty trucks used to help drill and service natural gas wells in southern Colorado.

Here's a nice shot of a natural gas well being drilled. All the equipment you see moves around constantly, drilling a well in a few days and then moving to the next site. A detail of the drill hole. Tough stuff.

In addition to drilling wells, Pioneer needs to compress the gas so it's able to travel through pipelines at the proper pressure. Here's what a couple of compressor units look like. If not for the camera equipment, the crew looked like convict extras from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

A little fun holding a water cooler to a truck. James again trying desperately to look like he belongs.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Mining Our Own Business With Mike Rowe

The big shoot day arrives. Time to set up and get ready to work with Mike Rowe. For those who somehow don't know, Mike Rowe is famous for his show Dirty Jobs. He's a trooper, doing stuff most folks wouldn't imagine doing -- and he does it for our entertainment. And if you have an episode suggestion for Mike, he'll gladly listen. Just make sure it's as dirty as possible. For us, he's a spokesperson for Ford, a relatively clean break from his usual bottom-of-a-chicken-coop workplace.

The sun is rising, time to get the gear out and in position. James pretending he belongs at the tough location.

Shooting with Mike. What's he like? Exactly as you would expect. Down to Earth, professional, great in front of the camera -- and just as he appears on Dirty Jobs. Hey, he's a fellow Baltimoron, we wouldn't expect anything less, Hon. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Really Big Boys

Sure, shooting with Ford's Super Duty lineup of trucks is impressive, but we're still talking human scale vehicles. Head to a strip mine and suddenly you feel like Fisher Price People next to the behemoths they use. You feel like you walked onto the set of "Honey I Shrunk The Kids." Moving 300 tons of rock in one payload isn't for some 10 items or less grocery store basket.

The really big boy. And a small boy in the foreground.

New tires waiting for deployment. About 25K each and a set of four will fill up the semi truck that brings them to the mine. Spare? Hah! Peeking under the truck. It's more like a bed, cab, shocks and wheels. No need for a body.

The truck bed open. In awe humans. The trucks in action. See how perspective is lost? Those monster machines could be Tonkas in a sandbox without a scale reference.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Boy(s) Scout(ing)

It sounds so glamorous: scouting for a big Hollywood production. Except the project isn't so big, we're not in Hollywood, and the glamor never made it onto the plane that took you to the shoot. It still beats an office cubicle. So what does a typical scout look like?

A scout usually starts off exciting: seeing where you'll be shooting, taking in all the action. Trucks! Scenery! Then you stand around and wonder how far away the bathrooms are going to be.

Then you see some other areas. And more areas. Time to check your messages because this scout is getting boring. Then you make a phone call. In the middle of nowhere. "Can you hear me now?"

Then you get a little desperate and start looking in areas you shouldn't be looking. If the road stops, perhaps you should also. Finally, you retreat to a local lunch place, starved and in need of a Dr Pepper. That's a typical scout day.