Live Blog 2017-06-08 – James Comey Testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee


Former FBI Director, James Comey

* 09:55 Awaiting Comey to enter the chamber, Testimony scheduled to begin at 10am *

* 10:03 The chamber is packed with spectators, reporters, photographers, and politicians *

* 10:04 Comey is entering the chamber and taking his seat *

* 10:05 Senator Burr is opening the discussion. He is reminding his colleagues of the closed session coming in the afternoon, and to reserve questions about classified information for that venue. *

* 10:07 “Today is your opportunity to set the record straight” ~Senator Burr *

* 10:11 Senator Warner is making opening remarks *

* 10:11 Senator Warner is recapping what we already know and what we are still investigating *

* 10:12 “We are here because a foreign advisary attacked us here at home … our presidential election” ~Senator Warner *

* 10:13 “We must find out what the Russians did… and why they were so successful” ~Senator Warner *

* 10:14 “The way in which you were fired by the president was shocking” ~Senator Warner *

* 10:15 “There’s a lot to investigate” -Senator Warner *

* 10:17 “Think about it… The POTUS asking the FBI director to drop an ongoing investigation” ~Senator Warner *

* 10:18 “Disparaging our country’s top law enforcement official as a `Nutjob`… the president suggested that his firing relieves his pressure about Russia” ~Senator Warner *

* 10:19 Mr. Comey is now under oath *

* 10:20 Mr. Comey offers introductory remarks *

* 10:21 “The explanations, the shifting explantions, confused and concerned me” ~Mr. Comey *

* 10:21 Comes says the president was very happy with Comey’s service as director of the FBI immediately prior to his firing *

* 10:22 “The administration chose to defame me and the FBI… Those were lies, plain and simple.” ~Mr. Comey *

* 10:23 “The FBI is honest, the FBI is strong, and the FBI is and always will be independent” ~Mr. Comey *

* 10:24 “Do you have any doubt that the Russians attempted to interfere with the US Elections?” ~Senator Warner. “No doubt” ~Mr. Comey *

* 10:26 “When the president requested that you `let Flynn go?` Was the president trying to obstruct justice?” ~Senator Warner “Flynn was in legal jeopardy… I don’t think it’s for met to say if my conversation with the president was obstruction of justice” ~Mr. Comey *

* 10:28 Senator is asking about the Steele Dossier – Comey is unable to answer in an open setting *

* 10:35 Senator is asking if Mr Comey has any doubts about the Senate committee’s ability to complete the investigation. Mr. Comey is confident that the investigation will continue and be successful *

* 10:36 Senator Warner is asking about the January meeting at Trump tower *

* 10:38 “I was honestly concerned that he [POTUS] might lie about the nature of our meeting” ~Mr. Comey

* 10:42 Senator Warner is asking about the nature of the patronage mentioned by POTUS *

* 10:44 “I really look forward to working with you.” Mr Comey’s account of what was whispered in his ear by POTUS in the blue room *

* 10:45 “The statue of justice has a blindfold on because you shouldn’t be peeking out to see if your patron is pleased” ~Mr Comey *

* 10:46 “This is a very disturbing development… I need to document this and preserve it.” ~Mr. Comey *

* 10:48 Senator Risch begins talking and thanking Mr Comey for his service *

* 10:54 Senator Ricsch is digging into the specifics of the President’s words about “hope” *

* 10:54 Senator Feinstein begins questioning Mr. Comey *

* 10:56 Comey continues to reiterate that it is not for him to determine obstruction of justice by the POTUS *

* 11:10 “The timing of your firing stinks” ~Senator Wyden *

* “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.” Mr. Comey *

* Comey says that the US intelligence community is in agreement about Russian hackers influencing the election. *

* 11:42 Comey refutes POTUS’s claim that he initiated dinner with POTUS. *

* 11:43 “I never initiated a conversation with the President” ~Mr. Comey *

* 11:45 “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” ~Mr Comey’s understanding of the POTUS’s request regarding the Flynn investigation

* 11:52 Senator Lankford says that the president has informed 6 billion people that he is not fond of the Russia investigation

* Senator Manchin says his constituents have sent him over 600 questions they want answers to from Mr. Comey *

* Senator Manchin asks if the president ever asked questions about the findings related to the Russian investigation. *

* 10:56 “We remain that shining city on the hill, and they [The Russians] don’t like it” ~Mr. Comey *

* 10:58 “Release all the tapes, I’m fine with it” ~Mr. Comey *

* 12:04 “Do you believe there was collusion between Donald Trump and the Russians?” ~Senator Cotton – “That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting” ~Mr. Comey *

* “I’m between opportunities right now” ~Mr. Comey *

* 12:27 “There was an explanation [for my firing] I just don’t buy it” ~Mr. Comey *

* 12:29 “I’m not going to sit here and try to interpret the President’s tweets” ~Mr. Comey *

* 12:35 Senator McCain just said “President Comey” out loud. Things to come? *

* 12:38 “I’ve had a lot of conversations with humans over the years” ~Mr. Comey He’s alluding to “that thing” being a promise of loyalty that POTUS requested, but Comes denied. *

* “We are grateful to you [Mr Comey] for your service to this country.” ~Senator Burr *

Abstract Guilds of Craftsmen

AdobeStock 110127005

While driving back from lunch with a friend the other day, a crazy idea hit me about the nature of day-to-day activities for information workers in the 21st century. I turned to my passenger, who has endured building software with me at two companies thus far, and asked rhetorically “Why do we get up every weekday morning and drive to an arbitrary building filled with desks to practice our craft? What value could this noisy and distracting structure possibly add to the grand scheme of things?”

We don’t build physical widgets, treat sick people, or serve customers in any capacity. We ferry bits and bytes around to where they ought to go and potentially accomplish amazing things on both incredibly small and incredibly large scales. There is no inherent physical nature to either our inputs or outputs. On any given day we might slice and dice more information than the sum of knowledge that previous generations ever imagined – let alone had access to. It isn’t even a remarkable task anymore to pull in petabytes of data, crunch some algorithms over it, and spit out meaningful conclusions in nearly real-time.

What do we even call ourselves? The list of titles I’ve held for essentially the same type of work over the past decade is wildly varied – Engineer, Developer, Programmer, Architect, Tech Lead, Chief Interactions Liaison… (ok I made that last one up.) As a student of Uncle Bob Martin’s wise musings, I’ve decided on “Software Craftsman” as the best way to describe what I do and how I seek to accomplish meaningful results. The Software Craftsmen of the world are a loosely organized guild of creators, inventors, and problem solvers – the likes of which the world of just a generation ago had never seen. We’ve given up on trying to explain to non-technical folks what exactly we do, but know it is our responsibility to educate our fellow non-geeks in the best ways to interact with us so that we can together accomplish great things.

Back to my original point, though. With our varied expertise, breadth and depth, why does it make sense to work for an arbitrary company that just happens to be within a 30 minute drive of where we hang our hat? Sure, there are a laundry list of practical reasons, healthcare, regular income, a steady stream of work, vacation, societal conformity, healthcare again. These outputs are generally associated with spending 45 hours a week at an arbitrary building full of desks, but none of them are inextricably tied to the experience.

In software, we often organize reusable parts into interchangeable abstractions. Traditionally, we might think of a paycheck as an output, but a better abstraction would be a stream of income. A stream of income isn’t necessarily a check addressed to John Q. Developer that arrives like clockwork on the 1st and 15th (unless you work at a startup, where sometimes it doesn’t arrive at all). We could structure a stream that arrives in a less granular way where income arrives based on the successful completion and delivery of a product or project. We could implement a SaaS model in which the stream of income arrives only based on who is subscribing to the software currently.

The duplicate mention of healthcare was no error at all, especially in America where we spend more than all other developed nations on healthcare and have the poorest results. The cost of healthcare obtained outside of a traditional employer will cost you more than the mortgage on a nice three bedroom house. That’s worth repeating to yourself quietly as you realize this cost will also increase much faster than inflation. While worthy of its own series of blog posts, this is a reality that supports and furthers the 20th century giant-corp employment model.

While having a steady stream of work might seem to be a tall order in other industries, just browsing the myriad open source software projects being actively developed on Github puts that notion to bed right away. If you get bored in this industry, it’s your own damn fault. Connecting this stream of work to a stream of income is a trickier task, and often involves skills that are highly irregular to pure technologist. My advice to technical folks is to partner with someone with business savvy, as it is nearly impossible to play both sides of this coin effectively.

Vacations are what you make of them. I’ve spent what should have been a weekend at the beach, instead sitting in the trenches at a keyboard & cases of red bull with fellow Software Craftsmen sliding sideways across the v1.0 finish line with our hair on fire. To me, that feeling accomplishment from shipping high quality software is tantamount to any weekend at the beach. I’d trade a weekend of R&R at an all-inclusive resort for an all-night Hackathon pretty much any day of the week. That’s not to say I don’t disconnect from all things electronic on a regular basis. My wife and I have spent the past couple of years rebuilding my Grandfather’s “Walden cabin” on a river in the mountains of southern Virginia where there is no internet access or even cell phone access at all. Unplug regularly to recharge, you ironic human.

In the coming decade, I expect we’ll see a different kind of outsourcing than we’ve ever seen. We’ll see folks in the IT industry outsourcing themselves, building abstractions between the traditional brick & mortar employer and themselves. This transition may not be completely unlike the shift from brick and mortar shopping to an electronic marketplace of work. This new landscape excites me, and I look forward to the efficiencies and freedoms these new abstractions will bring. We’ll be able to form loose connections with experts in our network and reconnect as needed to continuously accomplish meaningful work.

Curation of Dependencies

Reading an article from a former colleague, Proliferation of Depencencies got me thinking about how we manage dependencies today. There are inherent risks to blindly taking on a dependency to solve a single point need.

Dependency chain npm


The tendency toward adding a dependency rather than writing code seems to be accelerating, at least from my observations.

The recent snafu with npm is a good example of how dependencies can be a risk. When Azer Koçulu removed all his npm modules, thousands of applications were suddenly unable to build. A situation that never should have happened due to namespacing, curation, and thoughtful dependency taking, it was a wake-up call to the node community. Many projects were dependent on a single package ‘left-pad’ that was only a couple of lines of code.

Taking a dependency on someone else’s code that isn’t part of a core language framework, especially for 3-4 lines of code, is an unnecessary risk. Alternatives to consider are to write the code directly into your project, or fork the dependency you’re considering taking.

The broader consideration is around how to curate an ecosystem such as npm. Languages and code bases with a benevolent overlord such as the Linux kernel, Microsoft’s .NET CLR, or Google’s Go have the benefit of a tie-breaking entity to minimize dependency sprawl. OSS projects without a strong advisory and curation group have a higher risk of dependency sprawl.

While a Swiss Army knife solves problems, a Swiss army chainsaw can make a mess.

Ten years ago, today, I lost my mentor, but his teachings were timeless

Reach for the Summit, Mt Rainier, 2011
“Reach for the Summit, Mt. Rainier, 2011”

Twenty-four years might be considered a long time for a mentor-ship, but this one was unique, and started way back in 1981.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the principles and rules I had gleaned over those 24 years would continue to mature and gain new relevance during the years to follow.

Learning / Technology

I can trace my career path back to a single day, July 12, 1986 when my mentor presented me with a hunk of metal, silicone, and glass that would keep me busy for the next 30 years and counting. That Commodore 64 is still in my closet, and the last time I fired it up, it booted up just like it did all those years ago. He somehow knew that putting me in front of this strange new machine would alter the arc of my life and career in so many interesting ways. I’ve always had a stubbornly inquisitive mind, and this was the perfect way to channel it.


He taught me to be loyal, fiercely loyal, to family – which can mean your blood relatives or close friends who you consider family. Their safety is your responsibility, and it’s your job to do whatever it takes to protect them from any harm that might come their way. On multiple occasions, he would tell me, “Take care of your brother. Long after I’m gone, you two will have each other and I expect you to look out for each other.” As an infantryman in Vietnam for two tours and as a Policeman in my home town for 33 years, he was a walking example of making sacrifices of self to protect others.

Do the right thing, even when no one is watching

So many times I’ve kept myself out of trouble by remembering his words to behave “as if people are always watching what you do, and they have a camera to take pictures as evidence.” Simple as this is, this perspective has kept me on the right track many times.

Reach for the Summit, but…

When I was very young, he gave me a pewter Ram with a motto that he subtly encouraged me to follow. The meaning of “Reach for the Summit,” has changed for me over the years as I have learned it applies not only to “Charge the hill,” but also to “Charge the right hill,” and “Don’t charge the hill if it is a volcano.” Several years ago I was leading a hike on Mt. St. Helens in Washington with a couple of colleagues from Microsoft. As we neared the top, I took a hard look at the situation and realized that “Reach for the Summit,” also included re-assessing the situation during the ascent and altering the plan if necessary – even if this includes not actually reaching the summit. I had under-budgeted on water for the team, and we got a late start on the mountain due to unforeseen circumstances. When I saw that reaching the summit was indeed possible, but only at the expense of the safety of my team, I made the call to turn back. In the end, we all made it safely home, and that’s more important than reaching any summit.


Others may be more skilled, but don’t let them outwork you. Once you’ve set your mind to accomplishing a goal, you keep chipping away at it. Whether you’re slow or fast, as long as you’re moving toward your goal, you’re on the right track and every day you get closer to achieving what you set out to do. Getting discouraged is fine, but push past it. Oddly, he passes this along to me as a lesson he learned from the opposing force in the Vietnam War. While his side was under orders to fight the Viet-Cong, he respected the way they leveraged their persistence as a strength and were able to evade a more powerful army. “Know your enemy,” as Sun Tzu might say. There is much you can learn from them.


They say that time heals, but this is patently false. If someone truly made a mark on your life, there’s an indelible scar left when they’re gone and you’re never quite the same again. What time does do, is to help those scars feel less painful, and to make the voids feel less empty. Scars remind us of where we came from, and that makes them pretty important. Seldom a day has gone by in the past ten years when I haven’t thought of my Dad and how he somehow prepared me for challenges I would face, even years after he was gone.

In 2006, he checked 10-42* far too soon, but left me with a lifetime of advice that I’m constantly reminded of.

* (10-42 is a law enforcement term for end of watch)

Hiking Buffalo Mountain in Floyd County, Virginia

Buffalo Mountain is a great short hike in Southern Virginia. I find it hard to believe that I had never been there until yesterday.

Buffalo Mountain

Buffalo Mountain from a distance – Photo by Bob Smith

When I was a kid, my family spent a bit of time in Laurel Fork at a cabin my Grandfather built himself in the 1970’s. On the drive there, and from the top of the hill behind the cabin, you can see a tall rock face on the horizon. Just five miles away, and something I had seen hundreds of times, I didn’t know the name of this mountain until one of the locals asked if I had hiked it.

The tallest thing in several surrounding counties and I haven’t stood on top of it? This must be remedied in short order.

On a previous visit to Laurel Fork with my wife, we tried to locate a trailhead just by casually driving in the direction of the mountain. We got within a couple of miles, but there wasn’t a proper trailhead. We could get there just by following a topographical map, but crossing private property in Confederate Battle Flag country is not something I would recommend.

After more research than should have been necessary, I found the correct name (by mistake I was looking for “Bull Mountain”) and this post with plenty of great info.

Getting there

If using GPS, you can plug in this address to get you most of the way there, then enter these coordinates to get you to the trailhead.

Buffalo Mountain Trailhead Parking

Trailhead parking lot on this foggy day

There were a couple of routes to the top that I explored. The route I took up is the more travelled and better maintained route, so I’d recommend it for at least the route up. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous on the way back down, just follow the ridge-line, don’t fall off a cliff, and you’ll find the parking lot again without much trouble. The route up is marked with red blazes and the route back is somewhat well marked with pink surveyor flags.

Note for hikers with dogs

If you have a fawn-colored pup that even remotely could be mistaken for a deer, make sure you bring an orange blaze vest of some sort for them to wear during hunting season. The season had just opened a week prior and I forgot to bring anything, so Lina got to wear this stylish grocery bag.

IMG 5634

Lina with stylish MacGuyver’d anti-hunting target device

Unfortunately it was very foggy on this day and nothing to see further than 50 feet or so. Fortunately this is the perfect excuse to go back one day soon.

Check out my track here on GaiaGPS.

Additional photos

Trail market

Trail marker

Foggy Trail

Foggy Trail

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Foggy view from the summit

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Summit Marker

Lina and I walking toward the cliff side

Lina and I walking toward the cliff side

Stay on the trail - probably good advice

Stay on the trail – probably good advice

Hiking back down on along the ridgeline trial

Hiking back down on along the ridge-line trail is a bit overgrown – and perhaps not actually a trail

Old power-line pole

Old power-line pole

IMG 5653

Downed Tree

Park Info

Park Info

Hiking App recommendations

For travel in the US, I recommend either TopoMaps or GaiaGPS if you have an iPhone. Outside the US, GaiaGPS is the best option I’ve found as it was perfect for my ten day tour of Iceland’s Ring Road.

Z28 Project – Step 1: Find a donor car

Z28 Project - Step 1: Find a donor car

1994 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 with *extra special* T-Top package

I have been looking for a donor car for my Z28 project and finally found this beauty last weekend. After a ton of wrench time, I’ll be shoe-horning the LT1 engine from this into my formerly V6 1994 Camaro.

There’s an interesting history with the blue car. The previous owner summarized it well in this email he sent me before Tim & I went to pick it up in Lancaster, SC.

“It was sold by a Methhead to a crusher but when they went to load it over onto the crush pile the crane operator told the yard manager that it sounded like it ran great when they drove it in. The manger got in it cranked it up and did some burnouts in the lot with it but just pulled it back in and told the crane guy to load it over as it was so nasty and ratted out on the inside. I happened by the yard (friends with the manager) and saw the car being craned over. Asked about it and was told it ran great. After they set it down I went over and turned the key and it fired right up. Idled a little high but not rough. Ran a minute or two then throwed a check engine light, o2 sensors most likely. Put it in gear and it went right in and locked up ready to go. No smoke out the pipes, no leaking fluids. Figured the driveline was going to be all good and would work in my sons 1964 Impala so I bought the driveline with an option to keep the whole car if I wanted. While I was gone somebody came and cut the battery cables on it and stole the battery out of it. Shows 133,000 on the odometer but no idea if that’s original. Planned to pull the wiring harness and strip it of the Vats and other stuff I did not need, keep the ECM and the rest of the harness and pull the rear end, trans and motor and give the car back. Meanwhile my son bought a 2001 Mustang GT and though that he would just keep the 400 small block in his 64. Put it up for sale and a guy said he wanted the whole car cause he was doing a v6 swap and needed the K member and other stuff like brackets. Sent me some earnest money so I bought the body on his say so. Backed out on the deal so I still have the car. The car is truly trashed on the inside. The body is not worth anything in parts except the hood, front valance, fenders, and possibly the door skins. Of course it has a huge bow in the top where the crane grabbed it. There is a video up on youtube of it being cranked and running, if you still want to look at it I can get you the youtube link. I will send you some pictures tonight if I can. For the price you can’t go wrong. There are going to be a bunch of little things you are going to need if you do a swap from a v6. Things you don’t think of but when you start putting it back you find that there is a difference here and there from the v6 to the v8. Brackets and supports and hoses and lines and clips and you name it. With this deal you get the whole shebang to pull what you need, when you need. When finished you can take whats left and get a 150.00 or so back for the crush weight. It will need four tires and wheels to load but it will drive on the trailer. The wheels on it are sold and two of the tires are non usable anyway. As far as parts missing the hood catch and the support hardware is gone but it is still hinged and in place and none of the hood damaged. Other than that it’s complete. It’s taking up space that I need so if you want it come and get it this week and you can have it for what I have in it which is x. If you get y back after crushing whats left you got x-y in a 4l60e, an LT1 and a disc brake rear end and the 150 mile an hour dash for the v8 instead of the v6 speedo. And it is a true Z28 to boot!”

…and after a new battery, here it is running before the swap begins

How to get your stolen iPhone back

Kate iPhoneFound

Ever have that sinking feeling that your phone is not in your pocket like it should be? It’s not a fun feeling at all. They are expensive little buggers and we all depend on them a little too much in our day-to-day lives. Besides, it’s a real pain to get one replaced, even if the cost was not a factor.

Tonight my fiancee’s iPhone was stolen. She inadvertently left in on a shelf in the bathroom and 30 seconds later when she realized where she had left it, it was gone. I’ve done this before a couple of times, so I could understand why this might have happened.

We were out at VBGB in Charlotte with our friends Lane and Louanne, when Kate runs up to me with a concerned look on her face and says “Chris, my phone is gone.” At first, I assumed it was just misplaced. The bar was crowded, noisy, and we had been enjoying some beers, so I asked her to double check all the places it might be. She had already checked the obvious places: her purse, around on the table, all her pockets, and where she had set it down in the bathroom. When she mentioned bathroom, something told me it had been stolen. It was just a hunch, but it proved to be correct later on. Once I verified that the obvious places had been checked, I set down the beer I had just poured, and headed for the front door to be able to see everyone leaving the bar. We share a free application called Find My Friends on our phones that lets us find each other using GPS at any time. I highly recommend installing it and connecting with a trustworthy friend, for the situation I’m describing here.

Before I walked off, I told Kate, “I will track down your phone tonight. It just may take bit.” By the time I got to the front door, I had pulled up her phone’s location using mine and knew that it was still in the general area, but could not get a close enough gps fix to see whether it was still at VBGB or if it was in the next building to the south, The Fillmore Music Hall. When the GPS resolution improved, it became more likely that the phone had moved out of VBGB and to the south of us somewhere in the NC Music Factory complex. I had not acted quickly enough to identify the thief as they left the bar, but I was going to narrow down where they might have gone. I locked her phone remotely and put it into “Lost Mode” so that it could not be used for any purpose other than me being able to track its whereabouts on planet Earth. The battery on her phone was less than 50%, so I worried that it might run out of juice before I was able to track it down. As luck would have it, the battery remained charged long enough for me to determine which building it had been taken into. I spent around 15 minutes walking around the NC Music Factory complex, ruling out places that the phone was not likely at, and in my search, honed in on the Fillmore Music Hall. Over the past four years living in Charlotte, I’ve been to Fillmore probably a dozen times for various shows, so I knew the layout inside fairly well.

Once I was 95% certain that the phone was inside, I started formulating a plan to get inside and identify the person with the phone. The problem was that there were tickets required to get into the show, and I did not have one. Sometimes just explaining your situation to the right person, and letting them how much of a help they could be to you is all that is necessary to get folks to bend the rules to help you out. I quickly explained the girl taking tickets that my Fiancee’s phone had been stolen, and that the person had taken it inside Fillmore. She explained that she couldn’t let me in without a ticket, but one of the other ticketing people had an extra, which she gave me. With gratis ticket in hand, I walked through the door, determined that I wasn’t leaving without Kate’s distinctive black & white & black iPhone 4. She previously had an all white Otter Box cover on her phone, and when the rubber portion of the cover started to fail, I gave her a black one I was no longer using. Instead of replacing the white plastic portion of the case, she kept it with the two mismatched tones since she thought the contrast looked good. Looked good? It looked great, since it made the phone distinctive and recognizable at a glance.

The band was an Eagles cover band playing “Take it Easy” when I stepped inside to the fairly large crowd. They weren’t half bad, but I was here on business, so I started profiling the crowd for folks who might have stolen the phone close to a half hour ago. The GPS fix I had on her phone wasn’t great, but would tell me what side of the building the phone was on and occasionally get a strong fix when the phone went outside on smoke break. The couple of times it popped up outside, I headed over to see if I could pick out anyone with that phone in their hand. I knew they might have it concealed, so when I got close to it, I would send a loud chime noise to the phone and try to hear it or see someone react to the noise of the stolen phone in their pocket or bag. There was one guy who didn’t seem to be there for the music at all. He had a small bag on his shoulder that looked peculiar and for someone who did not smoke, he went out to the smoker’s area a couple of times. He was also there by himself, which seemed slightly odd. Surely, I’ve gone to tons of concerts myself and thought nothing of it, but I think it’s more common to go out to see live music with friends. He also seemed to stay just ahead of me as soon as he realized that I might be following him and he was moving progressively towards the door. I lost sight of him, but again stood at the door, the only exit from Fillmore. Five or ten minutes later, I see him exit the building and I follow him out. Before I confront him, I need to know that he’s the guy, but I’m waiting on the GPS location to update to its current position. If it moves out of the building, I will have a high degree of certainty that the phone is on his person. Kate notices who I’m following and runs some clever interference. Her acting skills as “drunk girl that just won’t get out of the way” kept him still long enough for me to confirm that I was wrong, and as weird as he was acting, he wasn’t the person who had stolen the phone.

I wasn’t having much luck when I was inside Fillmore, but knew that as soon as the phone left the building, I would see the “stolen phone dot” on my screen move, and could try to identify the thief. Though the location of the phone bounced around Fillmore for the next 15-20 minutes or so, it never left the building so I just stayed there watching the door. Then another kink in my plan came up. All my efforts to find the stolen phone had run the battery in my phone down to a critically low level. I decided the trade-off of going to the car and charging my phone made the most sense at the time. While it was charging, I had Kate call Verizon and report the phone stolen, then the police to open a report and request an officer to come out. I left a couple of friends watching the door while we went to the car for battery juice and once we got the reports filed with Verizon and the police, we went back to relieve Lane from “watching the door for folks leaving with stolen phones” duty. About the same time an ambulance arrives along with a fire truck. At some point Kate looks over at me and says, “wouldn’t it be ironic if the person who stole my phone had a panic attack and had to leave in an ambulance.” We both had a good chuckle about how ironic that would be and didn’t’ think of it again. I send Kate inside Fillmore to double-check with the barkeeps that her phone had not been turned in. While she’s doing this, the phone starts to move. It’s moving in a vehicle and faster than I can follow on foot and I don’t have car keys. I’m stuck waiting for Kate (who clearly does not have a phone at this point) to return from inside Fillmore. As soon as I see her I grab the keys and run to the car.

Pulling out of the music factory on two wheels isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do with a cop right across the street, but what can I say? I was on a mission. Luckily he either didn’t notice me, or didn’t think I was being reckless enough to stop me. I knew the phone had gotten on I–277 and then jumped on I-77 south, so I followed that route initially. As we drove along in pursuit of the stolen phone, I continued to verify the location as it changed and moved away from us. Eventually it settled on a spot and remained stationary for a couple of minutes. I wasn’t sure exactly what was in this location, but I knew I was going to get there as fast as safely possible to find out.

As we get closer, what has happened hits us both at about the same time. The location is Charlotte’s main hospital… The phone had left with the ambulance Kate had jokingly remarked about earlier because it was sitting in the Emergency Room at that very second. CMC-Mercy is a large hospital that I only know from a charity event I helped with last year so it took us a handful of minutes to find parking. It took a few more minutes to navigate to the emergency room area, but eventually we tracked it down. I noticed a security guard at the desk just inside the door, so I walk up to him and begin to explain the situation. While I’m doing this, Kate recognizes someone from VBGB further down the hall. I asked Kate if she saw her phone, and she thought she did. I pause my conversation with the security guard and start walking towards this individual. Like I mentioned earlier, Kate’s phone & case is fairly distinctive and I see what I think is the phone in this person’s hand. As I get near her I say “Nice phone, where’d you get it?” Before she can respond, I snatch it out of her hand and confirm it is indeed, Kate’s phone. Her friend starts with this song and dance “Hey, how do we know that’s your phone?” which Kate immediately squashes with “Hmm, well I just unlocked it.” Her friend then proceeded to babble forth nonsense about how they were on their way to turn the phone into lost & found at the hospital.

SRSLY???!?111? The lady “found” the phone at VBGB, but didn’t think it was important to turn it in to one of the barkeeps in case someone is looking for it. She takes the stolen property from this location to another location, and again, does not report it, attempt to look for its owner, or turn it in to the lost & found at Fillmore. She leaves the location and as soon as I take the phone our of her hand she has a sob story about how she was trying to do the right thing. Her friend yelling obscenities and having to be restrained by the Hospital security guard did not help her case that she was “just trying to do the right thing” Since I removed myself and Kate from the situation, it was not possible to get identification of the thief that night. We had the phone, it wasn’t worth letting the lady’s crazy friend escalate the situation to violence if it could be helped. We filed a police report and I’m going to go see the magistrate next week to get warrants issued, surveillance tape subpoenaed, security guards subpoenaed, and correlate hospital records of the person admitted with the license plate of the car the their left in to get a positive ID.

I’m glad my Dad – a detective for the Greensboro Police Department – taught me a few problem solving skills that allowed me to successfully return the phone to its rightful owner.

  1. Persistence pays. If you let yourself become laser-focused on solving a problem, your chances of solving said problem increase significantly.
  2. Keep a clear head, and use all resources available to you. Anger and fear will not help you in the heat of the moment, turn these off temporarily.
  3. Be Confident. Act like you’re supposed to be there and no one will question what you’re doing.

So I can honestly say that I successfully tracked down the people who stole Kate’s iPhone, snatched it out of their thieving hands, and sent them to the hospital. [Though I never touched the thief).

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes in court. 🙂

Kate’s side of the story
is a fun read.

Be Smart with HDR Pledge

Unnecessary High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing is bad for photography, bad for America, and makes kittens everywhere very sad. Don’t let you or your friends become the Thomas Kinkade of the photography craft.

photo by densaer

We are uncovering better ways of processing
photos by doing it realistically and helping others do it without “adding too much cowbell.”

While HDR can be a useful tool in some cases, it is not appropriate in every case.

I pledge to:


  • To use caution and common sense when considering HDR processing
  • To understand that any bracketed set of photos I or my friends take could become an HDR.
  • To understand and practice proper guidelines whenever I or my friends process photos.
  • To never, ever leave any set of bracketed photos unattended.
  • To make sure any HDR that I or my friends create “just for fun” is properly and completely extinguished before moving on.
  • To properly extinguish and discard of HDR images I have created in the past.
  • To be aware of my surroundings and be careful when operating equipment that could create HDR.
  • To speak up and step in when I see someone in danger of HDR’ing an image.

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Chris Ballance –

*Leave a comment if you would like to sign the pledge.