Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Requiem for Radio Shack



We’d been all over town trying to find a new gaming headset for my son and his unusually large head. It’s harder than you might think: most headsets grip his big head like a vise. We’d bought and returned four uncomfortable headsets already. On the way back from yet another failed mission, we passed by a RadioShack. “What the heck,” I said as I turned in. “We’ve tried everywhere else.”

It had become a sadly typical scene: RadioShack, the electronics store of last resort. It’s not a sustainable business model. The retailer has faltered for a long time, and looks like it will finally throw in the towel after 94 years.

Getting its start in amateur radio, and having not yet lost the space between Radio and Shack, the chain always had a defining, high-volume and high-margin product line. For years it was hi-fi, and then it was computers, and finally it was cell phones. But now phones are a commodity product, and nothing replaced them at the center of RadioShack’s business model.

RadioShackLogoI’ve bought a few things at Radio Shack over the years. I suspect you have too; the stores used to be everywhere. Their battery club first brought me in the door when I was about 12. A free, fresh 9-volt battery every month to power my handheld electronic head-to-head football game? Yes please. That’s how I became acquainted with all the gear Radio Shack carried, from diodes to audio cables to calculators to computers. Radio Shack’s TRS-80 computer was respectable for its day.

When I needed a 1/4″-to-1/8″ adapter for some headphones? Radio Shack. A universal remote control when such things were new? Radio Shack. Patch cables to connect my cassette deck to my computer so I could digitize my old radio airchecks? Radio Shack.

My wife and I bought our first cell phones at RadioShack. And remember how every Christmas the front of their stores were crammed with radio-controlled cars? One of the last gifts from my wife before my marriage ended was a big radio-controlled 1967 Chevy Impala. That was fun. The car, not the marriage ending.

But that was more than 10 years ago, and until my son’s headset adventure I’d had no reason to step inside RadioShack. Most of us didn’t, apparently, because now here the chain is, at its end.

The clerk at RadioShack listened to my son tell his tale of headset woe, and guided us to a short aisle with a small selection of headsets. He opened a couple boxes and let my son try them on right in the store — which was just enough for us to learn that this stop, too, would be a bust. At least we wouldn’t have to bring a product home just to return it later. And so with that, I walked out of RadioShack for the last time.

Ring things

Ring things
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E, Ilford Delta 100

Hothouse flowers


Just before Christmas I toured Oldfields, the grand mansion on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I loaded my Pentax ME with Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800, clipped on my 50mm f/1.4 lens, and took a bunch of photos inside. When I got them back from the processor, only a couple pleased me. On the rest, the colors were off, or I muffed the focus, or the image was very noisy. Bleh. Meh. Grumble, snarl, snort.

The IMA also boasts a greenhouse that I gather grows all the plants that decorate the lush grounds. You can also buy plants there for your garden. I caught the greenhouse open, so I took a tour. I had much better luck with my camera in that light.

Hothouse flowers

That’s not to say I didn’t have to do some tweaking in post to improve contrast and color. It’s just that these photos could be made better, and most of the ones I took inside Oldfields couldn’t.

Hothouse flowers

I have no idea what any of these flowers (or plants, in the case of the leaves above) are called. But it’s always nice to see lovely flowers in Indiana in December.

Hothouse flowers

The Superia X-tra 800 renders reds, blues, and greens pretty well. Not as nice as Ektar 100, but I couldn’t have made these photos with Ektar in this light.

Hothouse flowers

I’m not as impressed with how this film handles oranges and yellows. These flowers are a lot hotter in this photo than they were in real life.

Hothouse flowers

The Superia X-tra 800 never gives me good definition on yellow objects. These petals are just yellow blobs.

Hothouse flowers

I’m interested in trying other higher-speed color films for available light work. Which do you like?

Through the window

Through the window
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800

Shooting Ilford Delta 100


I was disappointed with the photos from my first roll of Ilford Delta 100.

As much as possible, I want to get the photo right in the camera. That didn’t happen on a single frame of this roll — every shot was at least too light, and several were washed out. Still, after considerable Photoshoppery many nice images emerged. I was astonished by how many. Not this one, however; it’s the worst of the lot. This photo has an interesting ghostly quality to it, but that’s not what I was going for.

Blown out to the max

I used my Nikon F2AS and my 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens for these photos. The F2AS’s meter is dead on accurate and wonderfully sensitive, and I had ISO dialed in correctly. On the next roll I shot, however, my batteries were dead, dead, dead. Perhaps weak batteries are to blame for these misexposures.

Fortunately, most of the time detail was not lost, it was just hidden. This photo is the poster child.

Arches (unprocessed)

I adjusted brightness and contrast considerably and got this, which looks much more like my memory of the scene.


I took this photo looking up while standing in my driveway. It’s my favorite shot from the roll — I like the crisp tree branches against the mottled gray sky.

Barren and stark

On the day I shot my Canon T70 in the park near my home, I brought the F2AS, too. If you look through my T70 gallery you’ll see some of these same scenes in color.

Ring things

Bringing these shots back to life in Photoshop revealed good contrast and decent tones.

Shadows 2

I started this roll on my trip to Rose-Hulman back in October. That day was sunny, and the campus is heavily wooded, leading to lots of light/dark contrast. I couldn’t fix a few of those shots, but this one of White Chapel turned out.


I did a lot of Internet searching for user experience with Ilford Delta 100. Reports varied. Some people call this a surefire, can’t-miss film. Some say that it offers high contrast with little in the way of middle tones; one fellow in some forum called Delta 100 “chalk and soot.”

A few reports called Delta 100 fussy in processing. I sent this roll to Dwayne’s, as I do with almost all of my black-and-white film. I get great results from Dwayne’s when I shoot Tri-X or T-Max. Now that I think of it, I got blown-out highlights from a roll of Kentmere 100 that Dwayne’s processed, too. Hm, maybe weak batteries weren’t entirely to blame. Perhaps Dwayne’s is set up for best success with Kodak black-and-white films. I’m guessing wildly here.

This experience has me thinking again about processing my own black-and-white film; maybe I can learn what chemical soup is best for each film I shoot. Or maybe I should just stick with T-Max and Tri-X. I know what I’m getting with those films.

Recommended reading


Here are the blog posts I read and liked best this week.

Stephen Dowling gives some solid advice: ditch the zoom lens on your SLR for a 50mm prime and zoom with your feet. You’ll learn a lot about your camera and do better work. Read 52 Photo Tips #2: One camera one lens

Someone who writes as Ludica reviewed a book this week that debunks the theory that we are born with the specialized ability to process grammar. Turns out our brains might be even more incredible than that. Read The Language Myth

Tuesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Heather Munro honored it by sharing photos of Stolpersteine, literally stumbling-stones, inserted into sidewalks all over Europe to remember where many of the victims lived. Read Stumbling stones into the past

I don’t know the name of this author, but she tells a story of reporting a crime committed against her 35 years ago — how it felt to have the police listen and take it seriously, and how it may have opened a vein of healing for others victimized by the same person. Read He wrote it down.

My friend and colleague Scott Palmer wrote a well-balanced piece on why debates on secular vs. religious belief systems are always doomed to fail. Read Reasonably Unreasonable Beliefs


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