Most Epic Procrastination Ever

This is a story that I documented years ago, because it was frustrating and funny at the same time. Someday, David will be famous for his ability to turn a situation around for his benefit. After reading this, you will probably understand why!

In 2009 David had some homework to complete on a Thursday, because it was due on Friday morning. He was not yet 8-years old.  At the time my work schedule allowed me to pick him up at home and take him out to look for trains – along with doing his homework. Generally this method worked well; we both love trains and it was a way to keep him engaged. I tried to help him work at his own pace, while setting the goal that the work needed to be completed. The key with him is to maintain his flow rather than forcing my own. But on one particular Thursday, his flow became so funny that I started taking notes. It started when we got trackside in Seattle, at 2nd Ave S. and S. Horton Street at around 5:30pm.

Kurt: “Okay, now that we’re trackside let’s do some homework.”

David: “Not yet. I want to eat first. I want Burger King.”

BK is a mere block away from where we were shooting video. So we watched trains for awhile, went and got our food (Angry Whopper meal / Kid’s Plain Cheeseburger Meal) and went back to Horton. After eating our food and watching a few more trains, it was time.

David: “Not here. I want to do homework at Holgate.”

So we headed that direction, just in time to have a massive freight train go through the crossing. We parked along the side of the road and I shut off the truck.

Kurt: “Okay let’s get started.”

David: “No, not here.”

Kurt: “Why not?”

David: “Because we’re not at Holgate.”

He was right. I had parked on South Lander Street by mistake. So we headed north to Holgate and parked.

David: “I can’t work. The sun is in my eyes.”

Kurt: “Turn your back to it. This is where you chose to do homework.”

David: “…But I need to go to the bathroom.”

There isn’t a public restroom for miles in SODO. No parks.

Kurt: “Then we’ll need to go to Georgetown, mister. There aren’t any public restrooms around here.”

David: “Okay, I’ll start working on it. Can we play at the park after I do homework?”

Kurt: “Yes we can.”

So we headed south to Georgetown.

David: “Where’s my board?”

He was referring to the piece of wood he uses as a tabletop while sitting in the truck.

Kurt: “It’s behind the seat.”

David: “I can’t work without my board.”

We were almost there, so we parked the truck near the Georgetown Playfield. on a side street. I dug out the board from behind the seat. David looked down there and saw something else.

David: “I’ve got Hot Wheels down there.”

He tried to dig a bunch of stuff out.

Kurt: “It’s not time for Hot Wheels; it’s time for homework.”

He managed to dig something out anyway.

David: “Look…what’s this?”

He pointed a Potato Gun at my head.

Kurt: “I’ll tell you after you do homework. DON’T point that at people, mister. Even if it’s a toy.”

David: “Why? It’s not even real.”

Kurt: “Because it’s still not okay to point toy guns at people. Bad habit.”

David: “Where’s my pencil?”

He had managed to lose his pencil between Holgate and Georgetown.

David: “I don’t see it anywhere, Daddy. Did I throw it out the window?”

Kurt: “I really don’t know if you threw it out, mister. Here’s another one to use.”

I pulled another pencil from the visor.

David: “But my pencil had a Tiki eraser on it. I want that one.”

Kurt: “There are no choices here. That pencil is lost and I have another one.”

David: “Okay. What are you writing Dad?”

Kurt: “Nothing mister.”

I documented some more of our conversation on the back of an envelope. Then I went silent and looked out the window for the next 15 minutes, while David completed the three final pages. Total time involved to finish that last 15 minutes worth of homework?

1 3/4 hours.

Most Epic Procrastination Ever!

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Replacing The Sky

E9 Final

Located in Deer Lodge Montana, this EMD E9 was a locomotive that pulled passenger trains for the once-mighty Milwaukee Road.

Bankrupt in 1985 and ultimately absorbed into the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Milwaukee left behind the legacy of a scrappy continental railroad that chose to do things their own way – along with miles of artifacts across the Western landscape. Depending on who you talk with, the demise of the Milwaukee Road was due to bad management or changing times.

Probably a lot of both.

In 2012 I read a blog post about editing interesting photos that had uninteresting elements (tried to find the article again but no luck). The case in point was a picture that the writer had taken of the Cyclone Roller Coaster on Coney Island; it had an interesting perspective, but because of overall lighting the sky was mostly blown out and had no detail. In the post he talked about how he could edit out the sky and replace it with something with more character, like dramatic clouds. The project got me thinking that in my archives there had to be a few shots that could be edited in the same way.

And the E9 shot was the first one I thought of.

The reason was this: the original photo was well exposed on the nose of the locomotive, but suffered from a very bright sky behind it. Not surprising, since the photo was taken with my camera phone. In any case it seemed like a good candidate to merge a couple of photos and make a good one. Adding to the fire was a fundraising campaign being conducted by the Cascade Rail Foundation, to bring a historic Milwaukee Road locomotive to their restored railroad depot in South Cle Elum WA.

I thought maybe I could create something to donate, so they could sell and benefit from the proceeds.

The biggest hurdle I had was trying to get rid of the old sky. Initially I first tried by changing the sky color to one hue and then setting the color to transparency; that didn’t work, mainly because it only made the locomotive transparent while preserving the color I wanted to remoe. I also watched a tutorial video on Youtube, where the person used the equivalent of an eraser to get rid of the stuff he didn’t want. That technique seemed to work for him but didn’t allow me enough control around the edges between the sky and the locomotive. I tried different file types and two different editors. Each tool had a different hurdle to overcome. Help Files for each program – GIMP and Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 – weren’t much help at all. I was either using the wrong verbage to search solutions, or didn’t know what I was doing.

But I sure knew what I wanted.

In the end – after nearly a full afternoon of trial and error – I was finally successful with the following steps:

  1. Change sky in train picture to a single color
  2. Open the cloud picture in GIMP
  3. Open train picture as a “Layer” over the cloud picture
  4. Use the GIMP “Fuzzy Selection Tool” to select the entire sky in the train picture.
  5. Choose “Color To Alpha” to remove the color from the train picture.
  6. “Flatten” image to merge the two layers together

After that I converted the photo to black and white using Pixlr-O-Matic, using one of the filters with extra contrast. The resulting image was then saved as a JPEG file at 360 dots per inch (dpi) to allow for larger prints.

Sure, if someone looks really close at the outline of the locomotive, a trace can be seen between the train and the sky. I mentioned it to a couple of people; one person said, “I see it, and notice that kind of thing in edited photos, but yours doesn’t bug me.” Phew. In a later revision I went in and softened the line.

16x20s of this improved train picture were ordered and looked great!