The joys of home ownership. Off topic? Not for me...

Quick quiz: When is plumbing most likely to fail?

Oh, that's easy. It would be either the day of or the day before any major holiday. 

I was reading an old novel by Hemingway trying to figure out why I think his way of writing is so much more reader-accessible than many modern novelists when I heard a shout from the back of the house. B. was calling for me to help her...... and there was the sound of rushing water. I glanced at my watch which is something I do at the start of every homeowner drama. It was 11:00 pm, the plumbing witching hour.

I loped down the long hallway, through the master bedroom and into the master bath. B. was standing in her robe trying her best to turn off the hot water in the shower. She moved aside and I gave it my best shot. Turning the knob on the hot water side had no effect on the flow; the steaming, scalding water was gushing out of the shower head at maximum intensity. The bathroom was filling up with steam. 

I trudged out to the curb on the far side of the front lawn, carrying a flashlight the batteries for which I had replaced just the day before (dumb luck? Abject paranoia?) and pulled the cover off the ancient shut-off valve for the entire house, turned it off and then jogged back into the house to make sure my fix worked on the immediate problem. Yes, the flow was quickly subsiding and finally stopped altogether. It was helped along by opening the exterior,  lowest lying valve for the outside garden hoses.

I called my favorite plumbing company and left a panicky message with their answering service. They promised a call back at seven in the morning. 

Even through we're not entertaining in our home on Thanksgiving day we are preparing side dishes like mashed potatoes and stuffing, pies, etc. to bring along to a family gathering. With the water shut off we wouldn't be able to shower, wash dishes, or even flush the toilets. The horror!

We tried to get some sleep. B. is better than I at dropping off to sleep quickly. I have one of those horrible brains that dives into the worst case scenarios and my defensive approach is to start thinking about all the plan "Bs" I can think of while putting off getting any rest at all. 

I was working on the idea of learning everything there is to know about home plumbing by first light and then going out and buying the needed tools and replacement parts when a thought hit me. 

There is a certain logic to plumbing and I wondered if the hot and cold water were on separate lines and, if so, was there a way to shut off the hot water while leaving the cold water running. I crawled out of bed as quietly as I could and headed for the dining room table to fire up my laptop and see if there might be a solution. Hunched over the laptop in the one pool of light in the house I tried to couch my query in the most straightforward way for the search engines...

It turns out that most showers have a turn off valve somewhere nearby. Not in our 50 year old house. A bit more Googling informed me that the hot water heater is the actual nexus of all things hot water in a home. A bit more research let me know that turning off the cold water intake valve and turning the water heater to "pilot light" would disable all the hot water ----  including the terroristic shower ---- while preserving full function for the cold water. We could flush! We could rinse stuff! We could fill pots of water and boil it on the stove for ..... sponge baths. We could maintain a tentative grasp on civilization.

Many of you already know this kind of stuff. I've tried hard not to learn it because owning tools and being handy is a nasty, nasty rabbit hole to fall into. I won't recount the story of the tree saw I once bought but I will note that it cost me about $1600 in medical bills after five to seven minutes of use. And it was not a gas powered or electrical type of tree saw. Just an old mechanical one. I want to be good at what I want to do most --- which is photography. I don't own plumbing tools for the same reason I have never owned a lawn mower or a weed whacker. There are people who can do these things for me and also reduce my risks of either screwing up everything ( try repairing your own lens or camera some time) which ends up costing me much more money, or injuring myself, or someone else. This leaves me more time to do the things I like.

The phone rang at 7:00 a.m. on the dot. It was the dispatcher. The plumbing company asked about the specifics of the problem and I told them as much as I could even though I don't have a clue about the names of the parts involved. They promised to have a plumber at the house between 8:30 and 9:00 this morning. 

B. insisted I go to swim practice. I'd been looking forward to one more session in the pool before the two days off; inflicted by the holidays.

The plumber from Clarke Kent plumbing got to the house at 8:30 and was out getting parts when I got home. The shower was fixed and the hot water heater re-ignited by 10 a.m. and we were back in the business of domestic tranquility. I did ask him to take a look at our old turn off valve. The one up near the street. The pre-historic one.  That's our next project and I think we'll get on that before the first big freeze. We've decided to become more proactive homeowners. 

The swim was good. The post swim coffee outstanding. And our total bill for parts, labor and knowledge was a modest $300. I could have spent a day of time, more $$$ than his invoice on tools and parts and still not had the gusher staunched by end of day. Hire experts. It's more fun to type than to skin my knuckles doing something I have no clue about and less talent to work with. 

Our plumber saved the holiday. Now to investigate why these home repair emergencies only happen at night and right before, or on, the holidays. Right?

At least the raccoons have not moved back into the chimney.....


Ah. The ancient Nikon 20mm f2.8 D wide angle lens. Maybe it was the adapter.... Maybe it was the operator.... A bad shooting day?

A friend gave me a lens. It's the Nikon 20mm I mentioned yesterday. After a long day of accounting and chasing down vendors so I could pay them in a timely manner --- I decided to put the lens on an adapter I have and to walk around the downtown area taking random photographs. I came back with nothing spectacular or even very good. But I did come back with some thoughts about the lens and maybe an appreciation of how far lens design has come since the 1990s. At least where wide angle lenses are concerned. 

I used the lens, with adapter, on a Leica SL. It's a camera famous for the thin glass stack on the imaging sensor which is supposed to give better edge performance with Leica's huge selection of legacy lenses that were designed to work best on the more forgiving medium of film. Seems light rays hitting film emulsions tangentially aren't degraded in the same way they are when interfacing with the pixel wells in digital cameras. The thin stack wasn't enough though to bring this lens into the excellent or stellar category.

Like most lenses of just about any in the modern, multi-coated era of lens design the 20mm has a sharp central area and only really falls apart near the corners. At f2.8 the performance overall is mediocre to just good. At f5.6 and f8.0 it sharpens up, increases its contrast and looks decent. On all the images I took there was vignetting in the corners. In the very far corners the vignetting was massive and dense. Sure, you could crop but why not just start with a fully corrected 24mm lens in the first place?

One thing the lens has in quantity is distortion. And the distortion is not the easy to correct barrel distortion but the more pernicious mustache distortion. With a lot of patience and some talent in post production one could go a long way toward correcting it but..... again....there are better options at hand. 

At f8.0 the lens is capable of high sharpness in most quadrants of a frame and the trick is to use a camera with a good manual focus magnification feature. If you punch in as far as you can you can make images come alive with detail. But careful focusing is critical even when considering the vast depth of field the lens and aperture provide. 

The pros of the lens are: that it can be found for not much money. Samples are rampant at around $200. The lens is very light and very small compared to more modern (and more corrected) lenses. The focusing ring on my samples was smooth and had a short focus throw which is really neither a plus or a minus.

The negatives include that the focusing ring is hardly damped at all and feels different than most manual focusing and AF lenses with nice focusing rings which provide some tactile feedback. MF was definitely an afterthought on these lenses. But the flip side is that a short focus through and a very light MF construction probably increases the autofocusing speed a lot. The "cons' also include the fixed vignetting and the geometric distortion. Which largely disqualifies this lens as a choice for serious architectural photography. 

In a side-by-side, quick test I have to say that the Panasonic 20-60mm kit lens is better when used with any L mount camera because both vignetting and distortion are corrected in camera, via software. If I needed good technical performance at 20mm I'd grab the zoom first. But really, if you hang out at 20mm a lot then something like the Sigma 20mm f2.0 Contemporary might be the best choice for overall optical performance in the system. I owned the 20mm Art f1.4 Art lens from Sigma for a while and at most of the wider apertures the vignetting is bad enough to show through even with in-camera corrections. I'd rather have a better corrected lens with a more modest aperture. I could never really divine the value of the f1.4 aperture on a such a wide lens...

On the other hand this lens does have a lot of character. If you have an editorial use for the lens it could be fun. I'm withholding final judgement on this lens until I have the opportunity to shoot it on a sunny day and until I have more experience with it on the various L mount cameras. 

some might suggest that the lens adapter may be responsible for the vignetting but it's not a hard, mechanical edge as a physical blocking would cause and there is photographic detail if you take the time to correct for the vignetting in post. 

It was a fun distraction from an otherwise busy and fussy day. 

f5.6 at ISO 12500. 

ISO 12500. 

 I am looking forward to using this lens in good light.
I think the color rendering can be quite nice. Some of that is 
down to the camera....