Sometimes the right tool for the job is the largest hammer you have available.

Right tool for the job is sometimes the biggest hammer you can find

For the most part, I try not to force it when working on a problem. However, after trying everything I could think of, including kicking it the tire as hard a possible and subsequently a hammer and pry bar, I was making no headway on getting the rear tires removed from my car.

I decided it was time to take a break, pop open a cold beer, and consult my favorite tome of knowledge, the inter webs. After hearing recommendations to try all of the things I had already done, I tried the advice of Eric the car guy and “beat the crap out of the tire with the biggest hammer I could find.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7PWwrcGREM?t=4s&w=440&h=235]

I had been using a sledgehammer against the tire to no avail, but the leverage and weight of the blunt end of my fiancée’s axe seemed capable of providing the necessary force. After an unfortunate mishap in which I fell backwards into a halfway-full oil pan and made a gigantic mess, the wheels finally came off with relative ease.


It is important to not use the biggest, heaviest, bluntest tool in the tool box as a first resort, but sometimes it is the only way to accomplish the task. After all, there is a minimum force necessary to break a connection that has fused in some way and the equation F = M * A is always true.

Removing the tires on my green car was a preliminary step taken before picking up an almost identical blue version of the same car for my Z28 conversion project. Stay tuned as I do a heart transplant on my 1994 Camaro.

Where I’m going, I don’t need roads

Hi Folks,

In the IT industry, four years is an eternity and as I hit the four year mark with Microsoft a couple of months ago – the time for me to move on to my next adventure has arrived.
While it was a tough decision to make, I have decided to leave Microsoft and today is my last day with the company.

Along the way I’ve had the opportunity to work with some interesting folks on various cool projects.

I’ve also enjoyed some various activities outside of the office with MSFT folks.

Where is Chris going next?
I’m off to to try on a new hat and break into an industry I’ve had in my sights for some time. In the months to come I’ll share more details on my blog.

I’ll still be around Charlotte for the bulk of my time, so don’t be a stranger.

Cheers,

//Chris

ballance@gmail.com

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.

BadHDR
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:

BE SMART WHENEVER I PROCESS PHOTOGRAPHS

  • 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.

Ballance SignatureWhite

Chris Ballance – BallancePhoto.com

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

From SAN to SEA – A journey along the west coast of America

One good road trip leads to another.

Last year I tagged along on a friend’s trip across the country from where I live in Charlotte. While my schedule didn’t allow for me to follow along past New Orleans to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and the many varied attractions along the way, it inspired me to suggest another Walkabout.

SAN to SEA

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this desire to drive up Highway 1 along the California coast. I blame Hollywood for glamorizing the experience and will report back if it lives up to the hype. Toward the end of Tim’s West Coast Walkabout last November I floated the idea of “what if we drove from Tijuana to Vancouver?” Tim was immediately on board with this random idea of an adventure and in a few minutes my plane leaves Charlotte to start this journey. We’re both photo geeks, and I’m certain we will have a wealth of things to look at and click the shutter.

We have a rough plan for how to spend the next 10 days, but expect to have lots of side trips and unexpected journeys along the way.

Stay tuned for updates.

Portland and hiking in the Columbia River Gorge

It’s no surprise that the weather has been less than cooperative today in the Pacific Northwest. February is usually chilly and rainy. However, Summer is nice here and last year it was on a Thursday.

Portland was last night’s destination after landing in Seattle and I found a great deal on a quality hotel. Hotel Deluxe is a steal at $125 a night and could easily rate as high as some $300 a night places I’ve stayed. It has a Golden Age of Hollywood motif that was renovated very well a few years ago. The plan was to take a quick nap once I got settled in and go foraging for some dinner and a good local brew afterwards. Double check that you’ve both checked your alarm AND not leave it on vibrate mode. When I finally woke at 1:30am, my mistake with the alarm became obvious.

Planning the Day
Planning the day

Oddly enough I was up and about pretty darn early for some walkabout, photos and breakfast. The rain was hit & miss so I didn’t stay out too long before packing up and heading toward Cascade Locks. I did stop by Gracie’s for breakfast and among other tasty items, discovered Sourdough Toast.

Sourdough Toast
Breakfast at Gracie’s

Walking around Portland I found a sculpture of a face that told me subtly that I was wrong.
You re wrong  Trust me

Since the weather was looking at least a little promising in the afternoon for some hiking, I jumped on I-84 and headed East.

My friend Karrie had recommended checking out Multnomah Falls along the way and I’m glad I did. The falls is tall enough at 620 feet high that I needed my wide angle 11-17mm lens just to fit it all in the frame from the overlook bridge. An interesting fact I learned is that on Labor Day in 1995 a 400 ton boulder, which was the size of a bus filled with concrete, fell from 225ft up and created a 70ft high tsunami of water and gravel that washed over the Benson Bridge. It just so happened that there were 20 members of a wedding party on the bridge at the time. I really hope someone captured a photo of that hilarity somewhere. This photo was taken from said Tsunami area on the Benson Bridge.

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls from the Benson Bridge

It would have been helpful if I had picked up this map BEFORE I ventured out today, but what’s the fun in an adventure with a map in hand? Things turn out so “predictably” 🙂

So I ended up doing quite a bit of hiking and started kicking myself 2 miles in when my camera battery died and my spare wasn’t charged like I had thought it was. Generally the battery on my T2i will last for a few hours, but when I’m composing using live-view the battery life plummets much more rapidly. The original plan was to hike to the top of the falls, but my tendency to never retrace my steps led me in another direction once I got to the top. If Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel had been along for the hike, he would have enjoyed the variety of weather the three hour hike had in store for me. Within a few minutes of each other there was sunshine, light rain, heavier rain, sleet, snow, and I think even some freezing rain. Since shoddy weather was expected, all my outer layers were waterproof. This proved crucial to my enjoyment of the day. Getting soaked through on the first half of a hike makes the second half miserable, especially if the temps are in the low 40’s F and windy. Along the path I encountered some interesting hikers, including a couple that ditched their shoes and tried to wade across the river (Brrrr!) and a hiker from Portland with a 19 month old Pitt whose pup insisted on taking the most difficult route she could find.

MultnomahFallsToWahkeenaFalls
Today’s Route

Here is a breakdown of each trail section I took.

Trail SectionDistance

Benson Bridge 0.5
Trail #441 0.5
Weisendanger Falls 0.1
Evola Falls 0.7
Trail #420 1.2
Trail #419C 1.0
Fairy Falls 0.3
Trail #420/400 0.5
Wahkeena Falls 0.4
Trail #442 0.6
Total 5.8 miles

Back at the Multnomah Lodge I stopped for some lunch and enjoyed grilled Rainbow Trout and a well deserved “Local Logger.”
Local Logger

For now, I’m holed up for the night in Cascade Falls and thinking about venturing out for dinner before a foot and a half of snow falls tonight. I’m debating picking up tire chains… just in case.

Today’s photos

Ballancio out!

An armed police officer in your car makes an effecitve security system

When I was teenager, I spent a lot of time searching through the classified ads looking for the perfect car. It’s funny how priorities change over the years, but as was typical for a 15 year old, a car was a top priority.

I had a part-time job from the time I was 14 and had been saving up for the “perfect car” for some time. Dad and I had an agreement that so long as I kept my grades high and kept a clean driving record he would match whatever I saved up when I went to buy a car. I had to leave on a school trip for the weekend and I didn’t want to lose such a good deal so I left him with my life savings in cash and went on my trip. When I got home that night, the car was sitting in the garage.

Camaro Downtown Greensboro
1994 Chevrolet Camaro

Over the years it has been a bit of a target, and most recently encountered a second serious theft attempt.

Both times, it was technically my fault for not securing the car as well as I should have. At this point, I’ve learned my lesson, and will NEVER leave it outside at night again.

We have to wind the clock back to around 2001 for the first time the car tried to go on walkabout without me. I was spending a warm summer Saturday with my brother at the water park in Greensboro. Being thrifty, or perhaps just lazy, we opted not to rent a locker for the day and wrapped up my wallet and keys in my towel on a chair by the wave pool while we rode all the water slides. I had probably gotten away with this a time or two in the past with no negative consequences, but this time I wasn’t so lucky. When we finished splashing around for the day, we went back to pick up our things. I can’t remember if Nick was missing anything, but I was a few hundred dollars lighter and missing my keys. Convinced by brother was playing a trick on me, we walked to the car and along the way I was hoping he would fess up and hand over the goods. When we go closer to the car he reminded me that he wasn’t kidding and we realized my keys and wallet were really missing. That’s when the ‘oh #*&$’ moment hit me. My wallet, keys, and probably my car were gone. We sprinted to where I had parked my car and luckily it was still there and untouched. There were still plenty of cars in the parking lot, so singling out a particular Chevrolet from all the others would have been difficult for whoever ended up with my keys It would appear they had given up and left with just my wallet. Thus began the long process of getting the two of us and my car home without the keys.

I called my Dad to see if he could bring us the spare set of keys, which of course I only had a vague idea as to their location. Why wasn’t my cell phone stolen also? I haven’t the slightest idea but appreciate my bit of luck there. After 30 minutes of Dad searching all over for my spare keys, he decides to drive the half-hour to the water park to try and help. Dad arrives and we call a locksmith who eventually arrives and accesses the situation. “The spare keys are locked in the glove box, I’m sure of it,” I say. The locksmith is able to make a key to the glovebox, but to no avail as there are no keys inside. The key has a resistor in it which will not allow the car to start unless the correct range of 15 possible resistances are fed to the engine and the locksmith cannot make this type of key. This becomes a very fortunate feature several years later. He tells us that it has to be ordered from the dealership and will cost over $200. This is concerting since I have -$300 thus far on the day and I would be able to get a new key on Monday at the earliest.

Thinking that the spare key must be at home somewhere, Dad suggests I borrow his vehicle to drive home and find it. Over the next hour and a half I turn the house upside down trying to find my spare. Dad didn’t have a mobile phone with him, so I couldn’t get any updates as to whether he had come up with some brilliant idea as to how to solve this quandary. When I can think of nowhere else to search for the spare, I give up and drive back to the water park. By now everyone had gone home and my car would have been the only one left on the lot.

When I pulled into the parking lot, my car was gone. GONE! In a split second I spotted it on the far end of the parking lot, flanked by a dozen police cars. Confused and concerned about what could have transpired during my absence, I make my way to the center of the activities surrounding my car. When Dad spots me, he walks over and stops in front of me while grinning proudly. I’m waiting for some sort of elaborate explanation as to what happened when he tells me simply, “Son, your keys,” and they jingle as they drop into my hands.

In a couple of seconds I piece together what I think has happened. My next remark was “Who was it?” and Dad gestures to the kid sitting in handcuffs in the back a police car. As I storm toward this fellow who had stolen my wallet, cash, keys, and attempted to take my car, I’m quickly yanked backwards by the collar and told, “Trust me, he has been dealt with today, you stay out of this.” The burning desire to rip this delinquent’s head off is briefly replaced by curiosity as to just how the events of the past hour unfolded.

Let’s just say that after two tours in Vietnam with the Army and a 34 year career in Law Enforcement, my Dad developed a rather specialized set of skills and he could be exceedingly convincing and resourceful when the need arose. It was a nice summer night and I had left the top down, so Dad made himself comfortable in the driver’s seat and relaxed while he waited for me to return with my spare keys. All of the cars with more responsible owners – who had properly secured their keys – slowly filed out of the parking lot as the sun set and the park shut down. As the last few cars were leaving, Dad noticed there was one truck that was entering the parking lot rather than leaving and thought this to be odd. The truck turned immediately toward my car and Dad realized what was about to go down. He reclined the seat back, so he wouldn’t be immediately visible to the approaching truck. When the truck was right beside the car, a hand came out of the window holding my keys and pressed the unlock button for the doors. I’m fairly certain the last thing the guys in the truck were expecting was an armed off-duty police officer sitting in my car, but life can be full of interesting surprises.

When Dad pops up out of the car, they step on the gas to try and get away. Dad jumps on the side of the truck and begins some “enhanced negotiations” with its occupants and demands the return of the keys while they’re flying across the parking lot with him hanging onto the side his pistol trained on the driver. As luck would have it, this technique was quite convincing and the keys were returned without further incident. Dad made the three walk across the parking lot to the nearest pay phone as he followed them at gunpoint in my car. This finally explained why my car had been moved.

Once things had settled down a bit and the rest of the cavalry had arrived, the would-be car thief asked, “Was he really going to shoot me???”

Dad replied with the question, “Do you know whose car that is?”

“No…”

“That’s my Son’s car. What do you think?”

…silence from the peanut gallery.

DrivingCamaro