It was Labor Day in 2009 when I became aware of just how bad things have gotten in the US.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’ve been naïve.  I’ve been a student of free speech and the political landscape of the US since high school, but Labor Day was the first time I have come into contact with a violation of my civil rights in a very real way.

Our office had a loaner 5D Mark II, and I took it for the weekend for a test drive.  I’ve had a fascination with the Houston light rail since they started laying track, and shooting it with the 5D seemed like the thing to do.  So my friend and I were standing on the platform when an angry homeless guy came up to us and starts harassing us for change.  I look to my right, and there was a Metro Police Car.  I waved at him hoping he would keep this guy moving who was now becoming belligerent.  I’m usually not so nervous in these situations, however, I did have $3500.00 worth of camera  strapped around my neck.  The cop yelled out something:  ”NO PICTURES OF THE TRAIN!”

Could he actually be serious?  After several calls to the Houston Metro Police Department, I come to find he was.  However, it seems there is no law on the books prohibiting photography of a train.  Nevertheless, Homeland Security has endowed local police departments nationwide with violating the first amendment rights of would be train photographers by harassing them and/or detaining them.

When I hung up the phone, I knew for the first time, I wasn’t dealing with some rogue cop or an over zealous police captain, I was dealing with the New American Police State.  The kind of police state they warned us about in speeches on Veteran’s Day when I was in elementary school.

It turns out, my experience isn’t unique in any fashion, except I might have gotten off easy.  Last February in New York,  Robert S. Taylor of Brooklyn was taking photos for fun in a subway station. Police saw him and cited him for unauthorized photography, even though the crime doesn’t actually exist.  Taylor states that charge was dropped, however, they also charged him disorderly conduct.  Ironically, Taylor works for MTA.  He was off duty at the time. More recently, on the other side of the country in California, Andrew Cichowski was taking pictures of the Diridon train station in San José.

I was taking a picture of the barbed wire fence, I heard someone shout “TURN AROUND SLOWLY!” I said “excuse me?” confusedly, and then slowly turned around. To my surprise, two police officers were staring at me. They asked what I was “suspiciously photographing industrial stuff for…” After about 30 minutes, they realized I wasn’t some sort of strange train terrorist, but were still asking me questions. A third officer and third and fourth squad car then arrived. Eventually, they copied the entire contents of my CF card to their police laptop and two flash drives, I told them they could have a copy of the photos as long as they didn’t sell any of them. They smiled and promised not to.  Aside from this being a terribly obnoxious waste of time, it was an interesting experience, and I’m now very likely on some sort of terrorist watch list for being a suspicious photographer…

Just today, someone posted the image at the top of this article which is a sign on a train in Chicago.  It asks citizens to call 911 if they see any suspicious behavior, and it explicitly lists photography and video as one of those suspicious activities.  So where does this leave free citizens who wish to maintain their Constitutional rights?  It leaves us with the burden of asserting ourselves I’m afraid.

Sometimes, the only way to keep a right is by exercising that right.  Therefore, take pictures whenever possible of everything possible, especially of trains, planes and buses.  We must report any police officers, security guards or other so-called officials who attempt to infringe upon our rights to their superiors and watch dog groups such as the ACLU.  Become locally active in photography groups in your area and most importantly, talk about these issues.  Post your experiences online using blogs and social media.  Above all, write your mayor, congressman and senators and tell them if they are incapable of stopping these attacks on our civil rights, we will elect someone who will.

The bottom line, there is now a real threat to the rights of free citizens everywhere, and no one is going to rescue you.  If you want to enjoy the freedom to use your camera when and where you want, you’re going to have to fight.  It’s up to you.

Other sites to check out:



The following video is the final response to what began as a question of fairness that developed into an investigation of the integrity of the Pacifica radio…

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Shopping for someone who shoots video or stills either professionally or on the side, is a daunting task.  Buying camera gear for someone is a bit like shopping for a teenage girl.  The type of gift is as important as the name brand.  Get the wrong thing or the wrong name and you can expect an instant request for a receipt.  Most gift givers concede defeat almost immediately and go for a gift card from Best Buy or Walmart.

However, if you want to do something more personal this year or impress that special someone with a gift that will say, “I care about what you do and want to support you”, then this gift guide will help you make the right choice.


No matter what they shoot, everyone needs storage, and too much is never enough.  All you need to know is what kind of camera they use.  This is easy to find out, because most shooters LOVE nothing more than talk about their camera.  Trust me when I say you don’t have to worry about arousing suspicion as much as you do about being trapped while they go on and on for hours about why their’s is so much better than everyone else’s.

  • SD Card: For those using Canon and Panasonic video cameras, SD Card 16g: no less than Class 6 $44.
  • Compact Flash Card: For those using Canon DSLRs (5D Mark II or 7D) you’ll need a compact Flash Card.  You can a 16GB card anywhere from $33 to $100.
  • Sony Pro Duo: These memory cards are sold in various sizes:  2GB to 32GB and are essential for those using Sony prosumer cameras.    They range in price from $10 to $100.
  • Memory Card Reader: These devices read all of the afore mentioned memory cards and plug into the PC or Mac via USB connection.  The range in price from $12 to $30.
  • Patriot Flash Drives: Boasting a 200X transfer rate, these little drives are great for video or boosting your memory performance when editing.  They  range in price from $11 to $50.
  • Western Digital My Book Essential: These portable hard drives are awesome.  They’re built for video and easy to take with you wherever.  They range in size from 500 GB to 2 TB with prices ranging from $50 to $200.


  • ikan Cheese Stick Jr: The Cheese Stick Jr. is a simple metal block that contain all of the standard production industry threads (1/4-20, 3/8-16, and M4-.7) which makes your production set-ups easier.  They retail for $50.
  • The Leatherman Multitool: This all in one gadget replaces an entire tool box and is a must have for any shooter.  They range in price from $30 to several hundred depending on the model.
  • The Zgrip iPhone Jr: This  device allows you to mount your iphone on a handle providing more stability for shooting video with an iphone.  $69.
  • White Balance/Grey Cards: These cards are available from a myriad of different companies.  Essentially, they establish a standard for setting white balance to ensure you’re color balance is accurate.  They range in price from $5 to $30.

Bags and Case

If they complain about their current bag, you might inquire as to what they would ideally like.  Key fishing questions include hard or soft case and backpack or sling.  You’ll need to know what and how many things they want to fit into the bag or case.  Standard brands are Kata, Pelican, Porta Brace, Petrol Tamrack and Lowepro.  These range in price from $20 to several hundred depending on size and manufacturer.

Prepaid Premium Memberships

  • Netflix: Even if they already have a Netflix account, they can apply your gift card to their existing account.  Plans vary from $13 to $40 depending on how many videos you get at a time.
  • Smug Mug Premium Membership(you should be a member of smugmug to make this happen).    Smug The web address for
  • Vimeo Premium Membership: Vimeo was created by filmmakers and video creators who wanted to share their creative work.  To purchase a premium account for someone, yYou need to be signed in to your own Vimeo account, which you can create for free. Then, you simply go to that person’s profile page and you will see a “Gift Plus” button that, when clicked, will guide you through the rest of the process.
  • Filmschool On Demand Prepaid Tuition: Filmschool On Demand provides filmmakers with an education in the filmmaking process and business side. Their classes are taught by industry veterans with years of experience in production, development, distributions and marketing.  If you know someone who has always wanted to make a film, but they were baffled by the business side of the business, then a paid tuition for Filmschool On Demand will be a priceless gift.  Right now you can get a coupon for 40% off FSOD. When placing your order, use the code: ikan.

Magazine Subscriptions

Although print media isn’t as relevent as it was ten years ago, trade magazines are still a great way to stay up to date with industry.  Subscriptions to ICG, American Cinematographer, POST, HD Video Pro or Digital Photo Pro, The Hollywood Reporter or The Daily Variety will all be a most welcomed gift.

iPhone Apps

Is there anything the iPhone can’t do..?  If you’re not aware, there have been production applications available for the iphone for well over a year.   You can find them all at itunes.  Here are just some of the proffesional applications to choose from.

  • Pro Prompter Software: For iPhone or iPod touch Price $9.99
  • The Cinemek Hitchcock: For iPhone and iPod Touch:  $19.99is a mobile storyboard and pre-visualization composer designed for Directors, DPs or anyone who wants to visualize their story.
  • LlamaSlate: This wonderful app gives a clap or beep to mark the beginning or end of a take.  I can also input the quality of each take and then go back in the edit and check what I thought at the time.
  • Screenplay: is a $2.99 app for the iPhone, and has all the basic functionality of Final Draft: It offers formatting, scene elements, auto-complete character names, pagination and scene re-ordering.
  • f/8 DoF Calculator: f/8 comes with presets for more than 800 camera models from Canon, Casio, Epson, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, Konica, Kyocera, Leica, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Ricoh, Samsung, Sigma, and Sony.

Training Videos

Training videos are great gifts provided you choose a subject in the person’s area of interest.  Also, don’t make the mistake of buying someone a video for beginners if they are an expert and vice versa.  Here are some great training DVDs.  Google search the titles for information on where to buy.

  • Learn Canon 5D Mark II Cinematography by Philip Bloom.  If you shoot video then you don’t want to miss out on this opportunity to learn from one of the pioneers of D-SLR cinematography.
  • Learn 2 shoot Great Video On Your Canon 7D by Philip Bloom.  This DVD takes you through all aspects of shooting video with the Canon 7D in video mode.
  • First Light Video Introduction to Editing with Final Cut Pro Training DVD. This DVD is designed to teach editors how to work in Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing suite. The training outlines the basics of editing.

Gift Certificates

If you’re still at a loss, you can get a gift card from a store that specializes in camera gear.

  • B&H Video Gift Cards range from $30 to $200.
  • Filmtools gift certificates range in price from $20 to 1000.
  • Adorama sells gift certificates for however much you want.  Some include free shipping.


On November 22, 2009 Americans around the country will gather to rally against this unconstitutional, private bank.  The Houston Area Liberty Campaign, in conjunction with Young Americans For Liberty – UH Chapter, the Harris County Libertarian Party and Restore the Republic held the End The Fed Rally in Houston from 2 to 4PM, Sunday, 11/22/09.

Jake and I attended the event where there was a variety of speakers from congressional candidates to chiropractors as well as a key note from Ron Paul.   I was particular struck by the diversity of the attendees, that spanned ages, races, political affiliations.  This was an ecletic group of people who were brought togeather by a common purpose, that is to pass legislation authorizing Congress to audit the Federal Reserve.

This event comes on the heals of a Congressional vote  on Thursday 11/19/09 that approved legislation introduced by Congressman Ron Paul to audit the Federal Reserve for the first time in the central bank’s 95-year-history.  The audit will investigate the Federal Reserve monetary policy specifically how much the central bank has lent and will lend to specific banks.  Fed Chief Ben Bernanke and other key members of the Obama administration, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, had vigorously opposed the move.

Two Cameras at the Crossroads: 5D Mark II or 7D

Two Cameras at the Crossroads: 5D Mark II or 7D.

Check out my latest blog post that details my paranoia in deciding which way to go:  5D Mark II or 7D.



These are just some of the words from Leo Gold from 10/22/09.

This is my membership renewal from the Pacifica Foundation.  On it, it reads:

“When you renew your membership to KPFT you help us to promote peace through everything we do by presenting news, music and VIEWPOINTS that help us to understand more about our world and the people around us, because understanding creates compassion, and compassion creates peace. ”

What has taken place over the past three weeks has not been the rantings of some rogue radio announcer spewing his hatred for all those who don’t see eye to eye with him.  No, every word that Leo Gold said has been backed up by the staff at KPFT and therefore by Pacifica.  They back him up, they support him, and they endorse him.

For these reasons, I will not be taking part in something “special”, and I ask you to stand with me in opposition to this hypocrisy by boycotting KPFT and Pacifica.  The terms of this boycott are simple.

Do not renew your memberships or make any financial restitution for KPFT or Pacifica until such time a time that they regain their integrity and make peace the priority for not only those they agree with, but especially for those with whom they disagree.





The boycott we called for against KPFT is working! I’m told by an inside source working (volunteering) for radio station KPFT 90.1 in Houston, are readily falling short of their financial goals. We’re getting to them now! Please continue to call KPFT and issue an IOU pledge of support that you promise to pay if Leo Gold is removed from the airwaves. Our actions are working, please check this website for more information soon.