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Archive for the ‘Equipment’ Category

Donald and the D3X

Feb 27

In Equipment, Friends at 10:38am

Man, does Donald have a face made for a D3X….

Shot at 1/4 at f8, D3X and the new Nikkor 50mm 1.4. Long time since I used a 50, and this thing is sharp, sharp. SB900 off to camera right, Tri-grip diffuser, 5 minute portrait session. Aperture priority at minus 2 EV, no comp dialed into the flash. The 900 has the dome diffuser off, and is zoomed to 200mm, which gives it a little punch and gets it under the brim of cowboy hat. Donald remains one of my favorite people. We were talking about women yesterday (What else is there to talk about, except photo gear, and then only for a couple of minutes. Then we go back to discussing women.) He and his honey spin on the dance floor every Friday night in downtown Santa Fe. I have a standing invite for dinner over at their place, and I’m gonna take him up on it this summer.

We were talking about how much our women mean to us, and how having one special woman in your life makes it all worth it. Though he did say, his eyes twinkling, “Joe, if the Lord ever invents anything better than women, I’ll take a dozen.”

Speaking of women, let’s talk women with cameras for a moment. (Now here’s a great discussion, right? Women and gear in the same sentence. Yikes! My wife works for Nikon and is a terrific shooter, and knows the gear and tech side of things as well as anybody. I always tell Annie I knew she was the right woman for me the first time I ever went into her refrigerator and the butter compartment had no butter but was filled with AA batteries. That’s the girl for me!)

Stacy Pearsall is a truly talented shooter who was military photographer of the year twice (first woman ever to do it) and is being featured now on Oprah. She is retired from active duty, and has taken over the directorship of the Charleston Center for Photography.

She is married to another great shooter, combat cameraman Andy Dunaway. Check out their work and their site. Between the two of them, they have, I think, about 5 or 6 Iraq tours, in addition to previous conflicts. As is common with military shooters, they are versatile, adaptable, and come back with coherent, story telling, beautiful imagery out of situations most of us wouldn’t even lift our heads up to look at. (If we did, we’d be looking for an exit.) Speaking of versatility, a few years ago Andy, went from combat camera to Washington DC for a stint as Rumsfeld’s photog, where he applied his skills tailing the former Defense Sec.

Annie and I are working on teaching together down at the Center this spring. It’ll be good to see them both. More tk….

A Monster of a Camera…

Jan 10

In Equipment at 10:43am

Remember in Jurassic Park, when there would be the distant thud of the stalking T-Rex, and the water glass in the jeep would tremor? Or in Saving Private Ryan, when they felt the earth shake well before they saw the tank?

That’s kind of the way I feel about the D3X. It’s out there. You can hear the distant rumble. A monster of a camera.

I can’t really comment on the camera intelligently (regular readers of this blog are saying to themselves, “Uh, Joe, tell us something we don’t already know.”) cause I’ve had it in my hands for precisely one shoot. I can say a couple of things….

It feels and acts exactly like a D3, except slower, due to the size of the files it is pushing. My D3’s are buffer upgraded, and even shooting NEFs on consecutive high, they rock and roll. The D3X is, well, more suited to a waltz.

The files are eye popping. I was looking at them on my bedraggled Macbook Pro, and I felt like an extra in a horror movie. You know the ones, where the mirror in the bathroom starts morphing and making eerie, groaning sounds? Mr. Movie Extra gets ridiculously quizzical, and like a curious cat, cocks his head to the side and stares at the wacked out mirror, which is obviously not supposed to be moving or muttering guttural, satanic curses. Instead of running, he stays rooted in front of his reflection, eyes getting wide, his jaw going slack, and then little slurpy things with yellow eyes and seventeen rows of razor sharp teeth explode outta the mirror and bore through both his eyeball sockets like evil little wood chippers and feast noisily on his brain matter. Of course, they don’t find much to chew on ‘cause anybody stupid enough to stare at the mirror instead of running hasn’t got much of a meal up there in the first place.

That didn’t happen to me. Though I have to admit, when a D3X NEF finally boiled to the surface of the screen, I cocked my head, my eyes got wide and my jaw slack, just like in the movies. My standard for detail has always been Kodachrome 25, and the D3 zoomed past that pretty handily, and now this thing gives you a file that is like frikkin’ Stargate. Who knows what’s on the other side of this?

Hadda give the camera back. Probably a good thing, cause lawdy, lawdy, the files positively gave me the vapors, and I don’t wanna like my pictures that much. I never wanna be seduced by all those pixels to the point that I confuse a detailed picture with a good picture. All this technology (which is fantastic, and I love it) is like the Sirens on the rocky shore–come closer, wayfaring photographer, we will drown you with more pixels.

We got pixels aplenty. What we need at the camera is a beating heart and an ability to see. In terms of being a shooter, I’ve always figured I’m like the frikkin’ plumber—when the valves are popping and the waters are rising, sometimes I get the call cause I’m a halfway decent problem solver. But you know, how fancy a wrench do I need? As Magnum shooter Donald McCullin once said, “I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.”

Here’s where I see this camera playing huge. Most of the covers of LIFE, Sports Illustrated, Time, or Newsweek— what I would call the newsstand magazines— I’ve shot over the years were shot 6×7 medium format. As opposed to the Geographic, which has historically let a cover evolve naturally out of a coverage, those magazines often specifically assign a cover, either the subject or the theme. For those kind of jobs, portraits, illustrations, what have you, it was time to drag out my Mamiya RZ Pro II system. (Which I sold a year or so ago, before it turned into rust. Thank you Equipment Lady!)

The detail of the D3X for me, obviates the need for a medium format approach to just about anything I would tackle. (Note I said, “I would tackle.” I’m not out there shooting DeBeers campaigns, much to my chagrin. The studio, still life, beauty, car shooting crowd are most likely very intrigued by this camera. It opens new DSLR doors. Shoot huge files, and couple this monster machine to Nikkor glass. Schweeeet!) And, here’s where the technology gives us a gift we didn’t even know we wanted—the D3X, just like its cousin, the D3, has a 4×5 aspect ratio you can click in. That’s not too far off from my old 6×7 cover comfort zone. For the cover job, the job needing excruciating detail, the set of pictures that needs to leap off the page, this camera will be an astounding tool. Maybe, just maybe, if I ever get another crack at one of those pictures inside a yellow border, I just might use this camera.

Can I say a word or two about my aforementioned “bedraggled” Macbook Pro? This poor computer has been through it. It’s been in deserts, the woods of Northern Spain, knocked around in production vehicles from Istanbul to Berlin to Rome to God knows where. When I have tethered to it, at least twice I have yanked it off its platform and seen it fall to the floor. It has dents galore, and the CD drive slot has been pried back open with a Wave tool, and it keeps working. At this point, when I turn it on, it screams, “Yo, Adrian!!!!”

But it still turns on and works. An amazing machine.

Lighting, Roberto, the Pain Chisel…..okay. (As fearsome as he looks, he’s real easygoing.) The background is chrome diamond plate flooring, two 4×8 sheets butted together. Had a bear of a time lighting it, cause my first idea of lighting the wall behind it and having that light wrap around and grace the chrome with blue highlights didn’t work out at all. I mean at all. Nada. Zilch. Bad idea. Brain glitch. All the little photons collectively said, “You zink we will do zeese for yuuu? Hah! We fart in your general direction!”

Plan B. I just lit the diamond plate like I would light a regular background, and instead of getting specular highlights, which I feared, I got a reasonable spread of color, pretty even across the board. Live and learn.

Did 4 SB800 units for the background, and then winged two more units, left and right, behind and to the sides of him, continuing the edge of blue around his body. The diamond plate flashes were Group A, and the wing lights were Group B. Right about at Group B position is two Lowell Omni lites, barn doored so that just a sliver of directional, hot light gets to the chains. That gave us some rattle and motion. The camera was set at 1/6th at f/11. All pix made on Lexar 8 gigger UDMA cards.

Up front, I lit Roberto overhead with the Lastolite Ezybox, with an SB900. This thing has become a favorite solution. It just rocks as a hot shoe flash delivery system. Bango, directional, contained, soft light. What a nice gift of a piece of equipment to make location life easier. “Candygram for Mongo!”

The low fill is an SB800 with a warm gel, and a Honl 1/4″ grid spot on it. Kim Weber did the makeup and the uh, hair. She was great chatting with Roberto (turns out they had mutual friends) and getting him camera ready.

Some oil for sheen, chains for good measure. Tattoos like crazy. Tough guy. Big. Powerful. A subject to match the camera.

Its Alive!

Dec 19

In Equipment, Upcoming Events at 4:54pm

Yes, indeed, the Dobbs Ferry Workshops are alive once again. I’ve gotten pinged a bunch over time about reviving them, so we contacted our old studio building back on the Hudson and they said come on back. We will have a classroom/studio room, and the run of this old funky factory building down by the train tracks and the river. Great setting. Lots of peeling paint. Dingy hallways. Loading docks. Photog’s dream.

They will run Jan. 19, 20, 21, 22 and 24. We will have breakfast and lunch, snacks, free parking and multiple models, all days. Class size is limited to 12. Fee is $350 for a 10-11 hour day. We will go hard all day, showing examples, shooting demos, working big flash and small flash. Participants get time behind the camera as well as time gripping for shoots and moving gear. We will talk about light all day.

Bogen Imaging and Adorama have stepped up big time to help us out, and we will have toys galore, from big AC power packs to Elinchrom Rangers, Octas, beauty dishes, umbrellas, soft boxes, flats, panels, long throw reflectors, Skyports, c-stands. The whole deal.

We will use SB800 and 900 units, and craft i-TTL solutions that will rival the big flash solutions, and show how to move fluidly between big flash and small flash, and mix the two.

Beauty of working in Dobbs is how close it is to NYC, either a 35 minute train ride (we will pick you up at the Dobbs station, and drop you at end of day) or 45 by car from mid-town Manhattan. And the building is big. And we can move around, and move fast. We had a great time when we did these a few years back, and then we kinda let ‘em go when we moved the studio a bit north to CT.

But they’re back and they’re alive. Hit Lynn with an email at lynn@joemcnally.com, or phoner at 203-438-4750. She’s got details and class lists going.

You can also view the workshop announcment here, or download a PDF version here.


I thought Jeff (jsnyder@adorama.com) was gonna shoot me when I posted all this stuff and told the world to give him a shout. (But then he wouldn’t wanna hurt an old person.) Typical Jeff, though, he scrambled all the below together, so now you can go individual and get the pieces, or the entire kit, and save $25 and get free shipping. Bob Krist is also very relieved, cause he thought he’d have to start staffing up at home and putting all this together to ship out, and that would interfere with him watching Oprah every afternoon.

The entire kit listed below is SKU# JMLKE, in Adorama’s system (Though, it’s so new that it isn’t yet on their website- So if you’d like the entire kit, please contact Jeff Snyder directly at jsnyder@adorama.com; the same goes for the Westcott umbrella and Morris bracket).

FREE SHIPPING AND a $25 SAVINGS if purchased as the “kit”, vs individually





STCIM2500BK HARDIGG STORM IM2500 CS – BLK – 1 $120.95








MTH-202 MORRIS BRACKET – 1 $27.95

Still Bouncing Light….

Nov 17

In Equipment, Lighting, Seminars & Workshops, Stories at 7:24am

Out here still trying to get caught up to my life. Running behind everything, per usual. Hit Penn State on Friday, and did a small lighting workshop in the afternoon, and a lecture Friday night. The program at PSU  is driven by John Beale, veteran photojournalist from the Pitt Post Gazette, and Curt Chandler, who has forged alot of new ground in multi-media, both at the Post Gazette and at the Penn State program. Great school, great students, all of whom benefit enormously from the real world stuff that John and Curt bring to the party. Visit was orchestrated by my wife, Annie Cahill, from Nikon. It’s great to go with her to places where she is so obviously revered and see the fruits of the 80 hours a week she logs, the emails she returns, and her steadfast, disciplined, relentless professionalism. She brings it, 24/7. By comparison, I’m a non-stop goofball.

Nikon supports the Penn State phojo program, so it was fun couple of hours mixing it up with students and small flash. Sarah, a photo/theater arts major was volunteered to be a subject and turned out to one of those smile machines for whom it is impossible to look bad in a photo. Per usual, she was cringing at all her pix, and my standard response to someone as effortlessly wonderful in front of the camera as she is to remark, “Oh, so if you think you take a bad picture what are the rest of us supposed to do? Put a bullet in our brains??!!”

Used white light flash with incandescent balance to push the look into the cool realm, given the blue seats. Used overhead 3×3 Lastolite and fill bounce off the gold reflector sheet that comes in the Lastolite kit. Zapped a backlight snooted courtesy of Honl. Simple. Fun. About a ten minute portrait or so, with all our yakkin’. Michelle Bixby, another student lens lugger (who was just published in USNWR) volunteered as a subject, which was great cause she gave the folding theater seat a run for its money the way she kind of did a transformer type thing to get all her legs and arms into the frame.

The big upside for us of course, was that John swung a couple of shooting credentials for the Penn State-Indiana football game on Saturday, which, given the blue and white football fever of State College, Pa., is kind of like dialing up a couple of front row seats for Obama’s inauguaral. It was way cool. I hadn’t shot a football game in about 20 plus years, so the rust was pretty thick, plus the fact that even when I was doing it as part of my living I wasn’t very good at it.

Last time I shot, of course, it was all manual focus stuff, and the dividing line between the men and they boys (and trust me, I was one of the boys) was the ability to follow focus. I was a contract shooter with SI at the time, and I saw up close magicians like John Biever, Walter Iooss, Heinz Klutmeier, Johnny I, and Manny Milan just knock it back game after game. You could hang these guys upside down with one eye closed and a bug in the other and they would still be able to fine tune the focus on a 400 or so. Biever especially, had radar. (I think he might have had a contract on the side with Lockheed, when they were developing stealth systems.)

The lenses sucked, too, by comparison to what we have now. I had a 300mm f4.5 that was sharp when you shoved it to critical focus and all, it just took about a week or so to get it there. I put it to my eye once and watched a critter make its way across one of the interior lens elements. It looked like a little inchworm, swear to God. Called NPS and told ‘em there’s something alive inside my 300 and they said it wasn’t just possible, it was highly likely. I used that puppy in the rain constantly, and there was no aqua-techie, Kata raingear and stuff like that. I didn’t want to use it after that, cause with my imagination I kept seeing this eyeball sucking, multi-fanged squiggly thing like the ones in Aliens poppin’ outta my eyepiece, boring its way into my skull and chewin’ up all my inside wiring. Yecchhh!

Anyway, did all right as a first timer in a long whiles. Was shooting the 200-400 f4 which is a non-stop wonder of a lens. The D3 fears not the rain and the gloom cause ISO 1600 looks like frikkin’ Kodachrome. The shot above is a ISO 3200 frame, cropped in half. Crazy. Nice fillip on the D3 is you can program DX crop into your function button, so if the action is on the other side of the field you can add reach to the lens with one flick.

Me and my honey at the ball game. Annie manages to pull off radiant, beatific, even, in a downpour wearing a garbage bag. My face looks like they just used it for punting practice.

Photo courtesy of John Beale…


On the way home, over the sounds of the rain drumming and Faith Hill on the country station, we heard…. the sound of a tire rim on concrete? Oh, yeah, Annie’s Honda was skating all over Rt. 80 for a minute while we pulled over, to find that Honda made their jack a tad too short! Wonderful. Maxed out, I still needed another at least half inch to push on the spare. Hmmmm…..no wood block. If I was still shooting a Nikon F, I coulda used that, but wasn’t gonna get medieval with one of my D3′s, and then remembered I had a c-stand! Pulled out the turtle base, put the jack on it, and changed the damn tire.

One of the reasons the blog’s been up and down is I am crashing, late of course, the final writing on my new book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, Big Light From Small Flashes. It’s been kicking my ass. Almost done though, and should be out in about a month or so.

In it, we’ll cover…BRIDES IN THE WOODS! YIKES!


As Donald said that day, “Joe, where the hell is Israel?”





Rollin’ with The Pride of Midtown

Jul 2

In Equipment, Lighting, On Location at 9:27am

That’s what the 54 house calls themselves. They are unquestionably the most popular and photographed firehouse in NYC. Literally millions of tourists are spread around the world, at home, with pictures of this house and “the guys.” In terms of runs, they are the busiest fire company in all of NY.

The guys are incredibly patient and easygoing about the constant stream of pedestrian traffic that flows in front of their doors, and the resultant, endless requests for photos and a smile. They are a great bunch. I got to know a few of them right after 911. One of my friends is Rich Kane, the driver of 4 truck. Rich is a veteran firefighter, good guy, terrific photog, and resident firehouse sex symbol. Mike Corrado of Nikon is also his good friend (they shoot a lot of sports together). So a few weeks ago, Mike, Rich, Brad and I got 4 truck together with a D700.

Strategy wise, it’s good to do this with a ladder truck and not an engine, cause as you will see, the up top ladder gives you a base of operations and a sturdy, extended platform to hang your rig off of. The gear needed to do this:

4 Bogen Magic Arms, each with 2 Bogen Super Clamps; 1 heavy duty Gitzo monopod; 1 SC-29 cord; 1 D700, 1 14-24mm f2.8; SU-800 trigger; 3 SB800 flashes; Justin Clamps; gaffer tape; gels; ball head; metal cable lanyards; zip ties; Pocket Wizards. (Couple notes later about ball head and PWs.)

Okay. Get what you figure will be the main light positioned first. That pretty much is standard placement, something on the dashboard, affixed with a Justin Clamp, and a warming gel. The flash from here, muted and adjusted properly, simulates instrument panel glow, at least in theory, though these shots have been done so often, everybody knows a strobe is down there. Okay, first result.

Would you let this man drive a fire truck? Hmmm….

Okay, one light is not enough. The cab of the that truck is large, and black. More punch is called for, or the driver will look like Dracula on a high speed run to the blood bank.

Had the notion I could maybe hide a light behind and somewhat obstructing the rear view (which is okay, given the way Richie drives:-). This light got a heavy red gel, and then some gaffer tape treatment, and a series of zip ties to make sure it didn’t go missing during a run.

All the while, you have to finesse camera placement and angle. I’m racked out to 14 mil on the zoom and the camera is upside down for convenience sake. (Hey, it don’t know.)

First few tests showed we had to bury a third light in the cab, filling the passenger side just a touch. Again, trying to avoid the big black hole in the photo type of deal. But, the system is running CLS/TTL so the 3 receivers have to see the impulse from the SU800. We hot shoed it–no go. This is where the SC29 is invaluable. Pop the SU trigger onto the 29 cable and hook it to the camera, then run that puppy out along the monopod, lock it into place with another Bogen Super Clamp, and boom, the strobes see the signal and you still have full wireless TTL. I could have locked the strobes into SU-4 mode and popped ‘em with PWs, but then I’ve got 3 units to ratio manually, and I’m crawling all over the truck, sometimes in the street off a run. Rather play with the values from one source, the SU800, and program strobe punch from there. It’s talking to the camera, and vice versa, so there will be a natural variation to the feel of the light as the truck zooms from light to dark areas of the street.

The camera’s out there, right? I’m pretty nervous, cause NYC streets ain’t exactly the autobahn. More like a donkey cart trail. Lots of bumps. But then I relax. It’s Corrado’s camera! I use the Manfrotto Hydrostatic Ball heads pretty religiously, but opted here for the Really Right Stuff system, cause I was unsure of whether I would go horizontal or vertical, and the RRS L bracket seemed to make sense. Mistake. (It’s the little things you don’t think of , ya know?) The L bracket I had for my D3 didn’t configure to the bottom of the D700. Man I had to give that set screw a pretty good, well, screwing, to get it to lock and then it was still kinda fragile looking and cattywampus. That’s where more zip ties and cable lanyards came in. I didn’t want the camera disappearing under the wheels of the rig, or, worse, flying through Richie’s windshield. (In the interests of safety and given the fact this was a live fire vehicle, Mike, Richie and I rehearsed getting the clamps and the monopod off the ladders. We got it down to about 30 seconds, within limits in case of a call.)

I tell ya something that saved me. The big LCD in the back of the D700. I had to check angle and exposure periodically, out in the street, and looking at a small, dark monitor whilst standing on the bumper and arching backwards hanging onto the wiper blade of the truck would have made for a long night. Also, perfect type of shot for full frame. Nuff said.

If you notice the background to some of these production pix, you’ll see it is a memorial. Engine 54/Ladder 4/Battalion 9 lost 15 men on 911. It was a rough time. Firehouses are resilient places, though. They bounce back. Lots of banter. They hang together and love each other like brothers, and just like brothers, cut no slack and take no prisoners when it comes to dishing out grief. If you are short, or bald, or have a big nose, and maybe are packing a few extra pounds, it’s well, noted. The operative phrase here is, “Don’t limp.”

Especially true for probie firefighters, who join the house and have to jump to for everything during the course of their probation. One of the things I did that night for the house was shoot new head shots for a bunch of the guys. We had a recent addition to the house in front of my lens, and see the shadowy figure in the background, high on the truck, bucket in hand? It is called, no mystery here, “bucketing.”

He smelled the prank and stayed dry. But a firehouse is not for the faint of heart, or the easily damaged. Guys will be guys. A veteran of the department I know pretty well used to go fishing to pass the time. To do this he would affix a dollar bill to a well worn wallet and attach the wallet to fishing line, crack the firehouse door, slip it out on the sidewalk and see what he could reel in. Most folks got a laugh and appreciated the joke, though he did say there were some interesting reactions when he did this at a house right next door to a methadone clinic.

Probie’s get lots of attention. Witness the power sit up. At some houses I’ve heard about, the competitive and eager to please new guy is told it is a strict house workout routine to push out sit ups while being restrained via a towel over the forehead, held by another guy. Invariably, the towels slips momentarily over the fnugys eyes, while he continues to try to power through the situp. While blinded by the towel, another firefighter, usually the biggest guy in the house (one house had a guy so big they called him “double date”) strategically locates himself in a squatting position over the hapless probie. He of course is buck naked. The towel intentionally slips and the new guy does an accelerated face plant into a butt crack. This is called fun.

Back to the streets. Had lots of misses, but a couple of real good hits. The other reason to work with 54 house photographically is that their zone includes Times Square. Talk about Friday night lights! The streets are almost daylight bright, except it’s neon.

I’m in the cab behind Richie, driving the camera with a Pocket Wizard. Lots of frames, cause you never know. You’re making what is hopefully a series of educated guesses. And depending on lots of variables to hopefully tip your way.

I can’t comment all that intelligently on the D700 (Pipe down right now, Mike. Corrado will read this and shrug and say, what else is new?) because I had it in my hands for only a few minutes until I put it at the end of a pole and hoped for the best. But, strategically, it was a great solution because you have the bright LCD, 12.1 megapixel FX (full frame) CMOS sensor, terrific metering system…in short, a package that gets most of the way to D3 in a smaller, lighter body. That played huge in my head as I watched the camera dropped into space on the end of a boom pole that was waving around like a swizzle stick.

We’ve made big prints of these shots for the house, though, as one of the guys riding in the truck commented, “Oh, yeah, that ‘s my wife has been asking me for, big prints of Richie Kane driving the truck. She’ll be so pleased.”

They’re a good bunch, and I certainly represented myself better that Friday night than I had in our most recent encounter. I had gotten one of those contracts, you know the ones, that tell you they are not going to pay you any money, but they are taking from you all rights to your intellectual property, in perpetuity, in the known and yet to be discovered universe (I tell ya, the reprints rights on the moons of Jupiter are going to be a gold mine, hang onto those.), for all time, yet again, and furthermore, and by the way, we own your house, too. Instead of fire bombing that particular publication, I went to Times Square and stripped down to my u-trou with a couple of pithy things written on sandwich boards.

Just when I’m at my most undignified (a not infrequent condition) 4 Truck rolls through Times Square. “Hey Joe–what the f^%%$#(*&^%%k are you doin’?” Oh well….

Hey there’s links like crazy to the D700 and SB900 out there. Those links will give you more technical skinny than I can. I just feel lucky we have tools like this. I mean, I started with a Nikkormat, and then my first motor driven camera was an F. As Marty Forscher used to say, “you can hammer a nail with that camera.” True enough, but that wasn’t what it was for, was it?

Availability is always an issue in the early days of stuff. Got a call yesterday from Jeff Snyder, who I mentioned in my blog yesterday. Jeff is one of us. He is in the trenches, shooting and experiencing all the ups and downs of shooting that we do, so he is, IMHO, the real deal. He is just about single handedly responsible for taking his (relatively) new posting at Adorama and using it to catapult that operation more into the forefront of our industry. Witness the Sportsshooter site. More on Jeff and Adorama in a day or so. But he advises contacting him direct via his email—jsnyder@adorama.com. He’s like the man behind the curtain, pulling levers, making connections and working his butt off to get gear to people.

More tk……