The Newtown Pentacle

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finally shunned

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It’s National Water Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Continuing my week of presenting photos of non horrible subjects, today here’s a few shots of the moon. One will state this unequivocally – getting an ok shot of the moon is hard. The thing is moving across the sky a lot faster than you think it is, and from an exposure triangle point of view – it’s about half as bright as the sun and set against a background that’s darker than Satan’s beard. You need to account for the rotation of the earth, as well as the orbital pathway which the satellite itself is racing through. Then… you’ve also got the issue of trying to fill the frame.

I like a challenge, of course, but lining up all the gear you need to accomplish the shot (tripods, lenses etc.) and doing the exposure math first is a real bugger. It ain’t exactly “click” and then I got it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The moon without environmental context is challenging, and if you’ve got it once you’ve pretty much conquered that mountain. Setting exposure for the moon posed against the landscape is another bannana entirely. The “proper” way to do it, and the manner in which a lot of those shots you see from Jersey City showing the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan skyline with a perfect looking moon and sky behind them is basically “exposure stacking,” meaning you do two or more shots and then combine them in photoshop. It’s a variation of the technique which is used for product and macro shots where you move the point of focus around in the frame across multiple exposures to compensate for depth of field blurriness and then combine them into one super sharp image.

Without exposure stacking, you get something like what you see above, with the moon taking on the appearance of a dim midnight sun.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Getting the moon’s aura is one of the hardest things to capture, at least for me. The light frequencies of the aura are operating at the very edge of human visual perception as it is, and you need to catch just the right weather conditions for it to be visible to the camera. Were the moon static… you’d be able to just do a long exposure and institute the exposure stacking technique, but with my equipment catalog there’s just a few seconds available to me before the motion of the planet and the satellite “smears” the shot.

There’s a relationship – mathematically – between focal length, aperture, and sensor size. If you were to google the term “astrophotography” you’d find that it’s quite a speciality and there’s all sorts of techniques and specialized gear involved. Intriguingly, there’s actually mechanical tripod heads which can track the movement of your celestial target and keep the camera aimed at it, but that’s not the sort of thing I can justify investing time and treasure in.

As it turns out, in the midst of writing this post, a nicely written and quite descriptive piece – discussing astrophotography related technical matters, techniques, and device settings – from lonelyspeck.com, appeared in one of my RSS feeds.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If anyone reading this is interested in diving into trying to photograph the night sky, and you’re on the eastern coast of North America or in particular New York City, the disadvantages are both anthropogenic and naturally generated environmental in nature. “Dark sky” as it’s known, doesn’t exist here due to light pollution. There’s all sorts of vibration in the ground from traffic and subways, and the oceanic influence on the air means that there’s always a certain amount of humidity creating atmospheric diffusion. The best nights for shooting the moon in NYC are the worst ones to be outside – when it’s wicked cold and utterly clear.

You’ll need a “bright lens” and a sturdy tripod, and I’d recommend a shutter release cable of some kind so you don’t have to touch the camera which causes shake and vibration. Additionally, autofocus should be avoided, do it manually. The moon isn’t terribly contrasted, color wise, and your camera’s autofocus will just hunt back and forth seeking something to lock onto.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 22, 2017 at 1:00 pm

whisper more

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It’s National Crunchy Taco Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has two surviving memories from early childhood. The first involves being imprisoned in a playpen while my mother vacuumed the garishly colored (typical of the early 1970’s) carpet of my parent’s bedroom, and I must have been two or three years old. The other is sitting on my grandfather’s lap at the conclusion of a family dinner during the Nixon administration, an era when the family meal typically concluded with coffee and cake. I remember Grandpa grabbing my little kid hand, which was grasping a cookie, and then helping me dip it into his black coffee.

To this day, I’m still a black coffee guy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The aforementioned cookie wasn’t oatmeal raisin, instead it was something which members of my family refer to as an “Ida Cookie.” My Dad’s oldest sister, and the de facto matriarch of clan Waxman, was named Ida and she was a well practiced baker. Aunt Ida would routinely show up at everyone’s house with pounds and pounds of baked goods. Nearly everything she baked was designed to be quaffed with hot caffeinated beverages, and for one reason or another, if she had overlooked something to the point of it nearly becoming charcoal, we would all fight over possession of that particular cookie. “Char” was big with the family.

Ida also made amazing apple cakes, pies, and especially variants on the cookies. The most highly prized item she offered was something called a “raisin rock,” which was often shattered by knives rather than sliced.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our Lady of the Pentacle has been sharpening her baking skills in recent years. It started out when one of her advertising clients, a nationally known brand, required the production of example foodstuffs for marketing purposes but had no budget for doing it “the right way,” which in advertising speak means hiring a chef and a food stylist. Accordingly, Our Lady built up her skill set and began manufacturing items such as the spread seen above. I’d occasionally wave the camera around at her creations, although she did most of the photography, and we puchased a few low end umbrella lights to augment the process.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

noncommittal way

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It’s National Ravioli Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s been so gray and cold for the last few weeks, I think it’s time for an injection of warm colors, and a break from the photos of intensely ugly things which a humble narrator normally presents. Don’t worry, next week this – your Newtown Pentacle – will dive back into the hellish reality which we’ve created for ourselves, but for right now… flowers, and puppies, y’know – the good things.

That’s a happy, busy, and quite buzzy bee above, whose countenance was recorded on the north – or Greek – side of Astoria last summer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Greek, that’s what a certain part of Greece looked like the last time I was there. Specifically, it’s a village house in Crete, during the early spring. The problem with waving a camera around in that part of the world is that there’s just too much light. Controlling the amount of information hitting the camera sensor is quite an endeavor at that latitude.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Closer to home, specifically my own porch, and an example of the domestic bounty which Our Lady of the Pentacle promulgates. Similar issues with an abundance of light are encountered in the shot above. Heavily saturated images like the one above are difficult to develop. The original raw shot was just a blob of brick red, and it took a bit of kajiggering to arrive at something that more closely resembled reality.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sunflowers terrified me as a small child. My next door neighbor, a Polish holocaust survivor named Mr. Klein, was a prolific gardener who used his back yard plot to grow vegetables and fruit. To keep pesky kids like myself from jumping his fence in pursuit of an errant baseball, Mr. Klein planted an impenetrable hedge of sunflowers along his fence.

Cannot tell you how many times a young but already humble narrator stood there in terror, transfixed with loathing, staring at the wall of rotting sunflower heads swarming with bees. One still has dreams and night terrors related to this.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

half way

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It’s National “Eat like an Irishman” day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin with, apologies for the weird half post some of you received yesterday. One hit “publish” accidentally, instead of “save draft.” An effort has been underway of late to try and focus the production of this – your Newtown Pentacle – onto a mobile device tablet (specifically an iPad) and as any user of an iOS device will tell you – it’s a temperamental beast. Photo development and “heavy lifting” chores are still handled through my desktop, of course, but one of my winter projects has been to not sit at my office desk quite as often. I like the ability to set up, research, write, and so on at coffee shops and bars with wifi. Unfortunately, there are occasional technological bumps such as yesterday’s, so there you go.

It’s all about freedom. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Freedom is something which seems to be on my mind at the moment, probably because of the trash fire that’s burning in the Oval Office at the moment. I’m not entirely sure that Team Trump actually understands what the Government is meant to do, incidentally. Let’s take a refresher course:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Establish Justice” is generally interpreted to mean the presence of some sort of law enforcement, open access and obeyance to the rulings of the Judicial Branch. Once the Judges have interpreted the issues of the day through the letter and intent of the law and issued a ruling, you have to live with it. “Insure domestic tranquility” is related to the Justice bit, but it’s also been interpreted to mean that the Government is there to quell internal strife and create a stable environment in which a free people can go about their business. It’s part of the reason that the States aren’t allowed to create tariffs or tax barriers between each other, and that interstate trade is administered over by the Federal rather than local state.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Provide for the common defence” refers to the administration of State militias and a common Federal military (back at the end of the 18th century, that largely meant the Navy). Jefferson and the rest lived in an era when individual European nobles held standing armies, and they foresaw what would happen if an “Army of Georgia” got into a fight with the “Army of Massachusetts” somewhere down the line (which as it turns out, was the Civil War). Common defence is on steroids now, covering most of the Western Hemisphere, and has been for the last 75 years. All enemies “foreign and domestic” are mentioned after the preamble, when the Constitution begins to get into details, and that language is included in the oath which both our President and military personnel take when entering service.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Promote the general Welfare” has been interpreted a lot of ways over the centuries. It’s involved railroads and trade deals with foreign nations, the expansion of civil liberties, deepening of harbors and rivers, the regulation of what can sold as foodstuffs, even the creation of the Interstate Highway System. It also means setting standards for schools.

The reason that the “administrative state” exists is because of the excesses witnessed by our ancestors. Tuberculoid pork and tainted beef being pumped full of dye and preservatives? That’s how the FDA and USDA came into existence. Corruption at the docks? Waterfront Commision. Pouring industrial waste into rivers and lakes? EPA. The list goes on, but there’s a reason all of these agencies exist.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

“Secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” means that we aren’t supposed to burn down the house in the name of political exigency. It also means that we are meant to keep the ship afloat in the name of there being a future for Americans yet unborn. If you haven’t read the Constitution of the United States of America, and most Americans haven’t, I’d suggest giving it a quick scan this weekend.

It’s no “fifty shades of gray” or anything, but it’s definitely worth a look.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 17, 2017 at 1:30 pm

well on

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It’s National Artichoke Heart Day, in these United States. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does not want to deceive you, lords and ladies. A humble narrator often thinks about subjects both arcane and nebulous. A recent bit of pondering involved finding a way to hide things in plain sight, although my thoughts did not venture into the realm of nefarious or dubiously legal character. In Hollywood movies, there is a concept called the “Macguffin” – which is an object of desire that drives the protagonists and plot of an action movie. It’s the Lost Ark of the Covenant, the Maltese Falcon, the jewel called the Pink Panther. The Macguffin itself is less important than the events and characters surrounding it, of course. Where would you hide a Macguffin in modern day NYC?

I’m thinking the fleet of green Boro taxis would work. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Manhattan and its fleet of yellow cabs are relatively contained. Close the bridges and tunnels, monitor the shorelines, and you’ve created a closed box to search systematically in. The infinity of Brooklyn? The vast tracts of Queens and Staten Island, or the “attached to the continent” borough of the boogie down Bronx? Now you’ve got an intractable problem in finding the Macguffin, with open borders to other counties. The Boro cabs are largely individually owned, and do not return at set intervals to a central location in the manner of the yellow taxi fleets, which complicates locating them. Further, they are dispersed geographically, unlike the yellows.  

The green cabs, due to their meters and other electronic components are able to be found on a GPS map, of course. Saying that, there’s a lot of turf to cover and you’ve only got so many cops. Additionally, once you shut the engine off and park the thing, it’s just another one of the hundreds of thousands of vehicles in NYC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Nefarious purposes notwithstanding… let’s say the Macguffin is a box of pastry prized by the gendarmes, and not some dirty bomb or other claptrap. A box of donuts, for arguments sake. Would it be possible for the Cops to catalog the contents of every single cab? 

One can report that, based on apocryphal reports offered by those involved with the trade, narcotics and other illicit goods are commonly moved about the City by taxi and car service rather than by private vehicle. Criminal elements amongst us know everything there is to know about forfeiture laws, and the building of RICO cases by association. The favored methodology for moving “weight” is not to have a known gang member carry the stuff (a kilo of Macguffins), but rather to find an innocuous courier whom the cops will not notice nor suspect. In my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, it was common for the mob guys to employ Orthodox Jews as paid couriers for cash and dope for exactly this reason. They blended into the background, just like the Boro Cabs. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a note – something about living in Trump’s America has been causing my conspiratorial theorizing to go into overdrive. Hasn’t been this attuned to the hidden and obscured since the late 1980’s. Paranoid wonderings and obscure connections just seem to blossom these days. A box of donuts isn’t just a box of donuts anymore, instead it’s likely something sinister and laden with more than just too much sugar and fat. We live in a bigly country, and donuts are great again. 

I wonder if I could move a box of donuts through the City, undetected, using nothing but green cabs. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 16, 2017 at 2:22 pm

bubbling steps

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It’s National Egg Cream Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has always had an odd dream, inspired by that old television series “The Wild, Wild, West.” The two leads of the show lived on a train which carried them to their adventures, specifically in a sleeper car that had been modified for their usage. One has always wondered about the specialized rolling stock which might be attached to the end of a subway train. I’ve seen some of MTA’s more esoteric kit over the years – their work trains, a specialized unit which analyzes the tracks, once or twice I saw the actual “money train” shooting by on an express track. I’ve always desired a private sleeper car on the Subway. This would be selfish, and more than I deserve or could afford, so it would need to operate like a hotel. 

So, here’s my idea: we attach a car to each and every subway train that has blacked out windows and a custom interior, whose doors only open with a key card swipe. There can be several types of these private units, used for a variety of purposes which currently elude officialdom on the surface. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A certain percentage… say 70%… of these Subway rooms would be luxury units (the LUX line). The State would list availabilities for these units on AirBNB type sites, and found within would be all the amenities expected at a high end hotel. The walls are lined with mahogany panels, the floor lushly carpeted. There’s a king size bed, a heart shaped hot tub, and a commode with fine finishes. Naturally, there’s a mini bar as well. 25% of these short stay residential cars could also be set up as dormitory style hostel cars (the ECON line), designed for students and European tourist cheapskates. 

The remaining 5% would take its interior design cues from either 19th century slave ships or Soviet era army barracks, and these could function as homeless shelters – accomplishing the “out of sight, out of mind” policies of both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo nicely. The Mayor doesn’t take the train, and neither does the other guy. 

Alternatively, should Riker’s Island ever get closed down and cleared of jails so that the real estate guys can develop it, a couple of cars on each train could repurposed to serve as mobile jails. This would be the “DFPS line,” named for the Mayor, our very own Dope from Park Slope. The big guy would probably love this, as it would completely eliminate NIMBY’ism from the creation and placement of homeless shelters. “It’ll only be in your neighborhood for 3 minutes…”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On a non sarcastic note, I finally filled in one of the two holes in my photographic catalog of NYC’s Subway lines with a shot of the Times Square Shuttle, as seen above. I just need to get to Brooklyn to get a shot of the elusive Z and then I can move on to other things. Perhaps, someday, when this current cold waste has retreated…

Go have an egg cream, lords and ladies.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 15, 2017 at 2:25 pm

important sidelight

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It’s National Potato Chip Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Any part of the urban landscape which the voracious minions of the Real Estate craze sees as “having a large footprint” is in danger of being consumed by it. Supermarkets, factories, warehouses, and in the case of today’s post – gas stations. One has noticed over the last few years that filling stations with a small bodega have largely replaced the “gas pump and mechanic” style facilities. These latter versions, which host a larger number of pumping units than their forebears did, now seem to be disappearing as well. There’s a few left in the “central core” of NYC, but this non municipal infrastructure seems to be disappearing as well. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Used to be… not too long ago… back when I was a boy… how sick one grows of using these phrases. Cab drivers have told me that they are often forced to travel long distances to fill their tanks these days. Forget about “normal” vehicles, of course. What are we going to do when all that’s left in NYC are apartment buildings? 

Pictured above is a gas station on Northern Blvd. at Steinway/39th Street, where one can witness – around 3:30 in the afternoon, an armada of taxi cabs filling up before the shift and driver change at 4 p.m. Here in the Astoria and Sunnsyide sections of LIC, there’s still a few gas stations left, but this one – so close to what would be the development site described in the Sunnyside Yards decking proposal – would clearly be wiped away.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of the reason that the yellow cabs fill up in Queens is that there are so few gas stations left in Manhattan. The taxi industry used to be based along Manhattan’s west side, until a real estate craze there in the 1970’s and 80’s pushed them out. They relocated to LIC, largely, where the same process that pushed them out of Manhattan is now playing out. 

That’s one of the few survivors in Manhattan, below 96th street, pictured above. It’s at the northern edge of Hells Kitchen, adjoining the Hudson Yards development site. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 14, 2017 at 1:16 pm

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