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Chatham 36th annual Sweetcorn Festival

by Brandon July 19, 2009 02:08 PM

Sweet, sweetcorn!

Cross another local activity off my “things to experience” list. This year, I finally attended the Chatham Sweetcorn Festival.

For those of you not familiar with Central Illinois, Chatham (pronounced chat-um) is a town south of Springfield on Illinois 4. Many of its residents work in Springfield, which is a short drive away.

The Sweetcorn Festival started as a small food/beer/entertainment local summertime celebration by the Chatham Jaycees. Today, it’s a large festival that draws thousands of people. The main attraction, if you couldn’t guess, is the corn. I don’t know a lot about agriculture, but corn appears to be a pretty popular crop in this part of the state. My neighborhood in Springfield is surrounded by corn fields. This festival seems like an excuse to pluck some of that tasty corn and combine it with some food and drink that isn’t quite as good for you. If so, it’s all the excuse I need!

This year’s event was held July 17 and 18. I should add that the Sweetcorn Festival is much more than eating corn and drinking beer. In fact, many events take place during Friday and Saturday. One of the most notable ones is the cow chip throw, which gained some national notoriety on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien" in the mid-1990s. If you don’t know what a cow chip is, do some searching online. I don’t think I should be the one to break it to you.

I went with a few friends this year on Saturday, the 18th. This year’s location was “South Park,” as one of my former Chatham-resident friends put it. We arrived just after 7:30 p.m. The weather was surprisingly cool for a mid-July day, with some people wearing hooded, zip-up sweatshirts. It was our first time there for each of us, so we wandered around a bit while making our way to the ticket stand. The ticket concept works just like the Taste of Downtown. You buy food/drink tickets at a booth and use them at the vendor of your choice. The main courses (corn, burgers, brats, hot dogs, pork) were served in the large “food tent” with other vendors selling beer, funnel cakes, kettle corn, etcetera on the festival grounds. Other attractions included kids’ play areas, a climbing wall and various vendors selling their wares along the south end of the festival grounds. A stage at the west side of the grounds served as the main entertainment area. You can read more about the Sweetcorn Festival on the SJ-R’s site.

The band playing that night was The Station, who last played the Sweetcorn Festival 10 years ago. You can catch them often at Marly’s Pub downtown. They played a combination of original music and covers. Two of the covers were Pink Floyd songs, which instantly gives them bonus points in my book. You can read a little more about The Station here and buy some of their music at CD Baby.


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Entertainment | Food

Screen Protector for my 50D: Part 2

by Brandon July 7, 2009 01:55 AM

My blog post and my YouTube video for installing the GGS LCD screen protector have had a lot of views over the past few days. Thanks to all who read the blog and watched the video!

This is the second part of the story. In the first post, I showed you how to install the GGS LCD screen protector and gave a comparison of how it looked before and after on my Canon 50D. This time, I?ll show you my Canon 50D (with screen protector) compared side-by-side with my girlfriend?s camera, the Canon Digital Rebel T1i(Canon 500D). While it?s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison (I don?t know anyone else with a 50D), I think it will be close enough. I?m not a pro reviewer, after all smile_regular

In the photo below, you?ll see the 50D and the T1i sitting beside each other while indoors. The sample image, taken with the T1i and the EF-S 10-22 mm lens,  is displayed on both cameras. The image is nice and bright on both units when viewed indoors. The only light source for this room was the outside window.

Side by side comparison of Canon 50D with the GGS Screen Protector vs Canon Rebel T1i sans screen protector

I took the cameras outside just a little after 4:40 p.m. The sun was bright and there were a few scattered clouds, but not enough to affect this test. Looking at the photo below, I think you?ll agree with me that images on an LCD screen are hard to see whether or not the GGS LCD screen protector is installed. The sample image may not be perfect, but I can tell you from looking at them in person that they were both hard to see in the sunlight. The LCDs on both cameras are at their default brightness, by the way.

Outside side-by-side comparison of the Canon 50D with screen protector vs the Canon T1i sans screen protector

Because neither LCD was very viewable in direct sunlight, I decided to get another shot of them. This time, I turned my back to the sunlight and shaded them with my torso and head, just like anyone else may do when trying to review a shot on a bright day. In my opinion, both images look good. You can see some reflection from my T-shirt on the 50D with the screen protector. I didn?t get a shot of me holding the T1i against my T-shirt, however. From my experience in comparing the two cameras, my guess is the T1i would also show the reflection, maybe just not as prominent as the 50D. On both cameras, you can discern the tree, horizon, sky and clouds in the display image.


In the final picture, below, both cameras are compared again. This time, no image is being displayed on the LCDs. Here, just like the video from the first post, you can see the 50D with the GGS LCD screen protector is more reflective when no image is displayed. Concentrate on the green grass in the background of the display image. Look at the T1i next. While both screens are clearly reflecting the table, you cannot see the grass with the anti-reflective coating on the T1i?s screen. This result could have a little to do with the angle at which the comparison image was shot, but I think you?d definitely see grass on the T1i if it also had a screen protector installed.

Side by side comparison of the 50D with screen protector vs the T1i without screen protector. No image is displayed on either LCD.


Installing a LCD screen protector on your digital camera, like the GGS LCD screen protector, may introduce some unwanted reflection. I thought the amount of reflection was negligible, though, when I viewed an image both indoors and outdoors. If you?re considering a LCD screen protector for your camera, keep your eyesight in mind and think about how much this might bother you. I have good eyesight and wasn?t bothered at all. The main thing to ponder, though, is how you use your camera and if you think you are accident-prone enough to scratch or crack your LCD screen. If you only take the camera out at holidays and other special occasions, it might not be worth it. If you find an excuse to drag your camera everywhere, like me, it may be worth the price. I bought this $9 accessory to possibly save myself an expensive repair in the future. I?ve weighed the pros and cons and will keep the screen protector on my 50D for now. If I decided to remove it, or if it saves me from a nasty scratch, I?ll be sure to post about it.

Thanks for reading my posts about the LCD screen protector. If I helped you make a decision on whether or not to purchase one for yourself, please leave a comment!

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The 2009 Taste of Downtown

by Brandon July 5, 2009 02:35 PM

This weekend, there was only one place in Springfield where you could stuff yourself with food from a dozen restaurants, all within one city block. That would be the 2009 Taste of Downtown.

This year's Taste of Downtown, organized by Downtown Springfield Inc., coincided with this year's Fourth of July and Abraham Lincoln bicentennial celebrations. For those of you who have never attended, the Taste of Downtown brings together various restaurants from the downtown area on the block of Fifth Street between Washington and Adams streets. While there, you can sample cuisine from each of these restaurants for about $4 to $5 each. Certain streets downtown are blocked off during the event, so you may have to drive around a bit to find some parking. Luckily, Downtown Springfield provided a map (PDF) of this year's layout.

Upon arrival, make your way to one of the tents labeled 'Tickets.' Here, you can buy food tickets (one ticket per dollar) and get wristbands for those older than 21 who wish to drink alcoholic beverages. Next, find your way to your favorite restaurant's food tent and try something new, too, while you're at it. Depending on the crowd, you may either get your food right away or wait in line for a while. The area with the food tents can be very crowded, so keep that in mind if you don't like masses of people. If you can brave it, though, you'll be in for some really great treats.

This event wasn't all about food. Three stages for live music were available as well. We went Friday evening and caught part of (Grammy nominated) Bill Kirchen and Too Much Fun at the stage just north of the food tents. Many tables and chairs were set up around the National City Bank building, providing a great place to sit, eat and be entertained. There were also several play areas available for kids, including some huge inflatable play areas near Fourth and Monroe streets.

The Taste is usually held a few weeks later in July, but I liked how it was moved earlier for the Fourth of July celebration. There were many other events and tents nearby, too. We saw a blacksmith and some other Lincoln-period demonstrations going on around the Old State Capitol grounds.

The only bummer about this weekend was Saturday's weather. We were lucky we decided to go to the Taste on Friday evening. We got to enjoy our food in a cool overcast. I've been to this before, in blistering heat, so Friday's weather was a nice change. Saturday?s weather shifted from drizzle to rain all day, unfortunately. I didn't get a chance to go back downtown to the Taste, but I can only guess attendance was lower. (If you went Saturday, leave a comment and let us know.)


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Entertainment | Food | Springfield

Screen Protector for my 50D

by Brandon July 4, 2009 03:54 AM

GGSScreenProtector I?ve been the owner of a Canon 50D for a few months now (and I love it!). While it?s not hard to use, once I got used to it, it?s definitely a big step up from what I previously had. I recently bought a screen protector for the LCD on the back of the 50D and thought this would be a good chance to post a how-to video documenting the installation.

A few weeks ago, I went a little nuts adding all sorts of digital camera accessories to my Amazon cart. The GGS LCD screen protector for the Canon 50D happened to end up in there. Something like this was on my mind when I initially bought the 50D, though, because I knew I?d be bummed if the LCD on my new toy got scratched up. The LCD panel on the back of the 50D is very durable in its own right, but I thought if the LCD does get scratched (I could see this happening on a shirt button, for instance) or cracked, then it?s probably a costly repair and time spent waiting on the repair to happen. More likely, though, I?d just put up with it and get mad every time I had to stare at it.

If this $9 accessory can save me money for a repair, or at least a temper tantrum over some stupid scratch, then it?s well worth it. Some of the facts that made this particular LCD protector stand out from others were:

  • It?s made of glass. This isn?t a disposable piece of adhesive plastic that gets air bubbles and has to be replaced after a few months.
  • The fit. You order a GGS LCD protector for your camera model. The screen protector fits the LCD perfectly. Plastic adhesive covers may require cutting to fit.
  • The manufacturer claims it?s removable and reusable.
  • Looks good on the back of the camera. It?s hardly noticeable.
  • It was only ~$9 (note: bought from Amazon seller EasyPhotoAccessories)

I found a great Flickr post of someone installing a GGS LCD protector on a Nikon camera. I wish the model for the 50D included a protector for the top LCD, but that one isn?t as scratch-prone IMO. 

Below is a video I made of my installation process. I did some before-and-after comparisons so you can see how the GGS LCD screen protector looks. The video was shot on a Canon Digital Rebel T1i (500D). Apologies in advance for the poor-sounding audio in some parts of the video. I sounded like a dork in those and decided to redub those sections.

It was a cloudy day when I shot the video above, so I?ll compare the LCD screen-protected 50D of mine to my girlfriend?s Rebel T1i when I get the opportunity to have them both out in the sunlight. Stay tuned!

EDIT: Part two has now been posted!

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My Videos | Photography

'The Producers' at the Muni

by Brandon July 1, 2009 01:07 AM


After living in Springfield for almost seven years, I can still say there are plenty of things I haven't done. One of those things, recently checked off that list, was seeing a production at The Springfield Municipal Opera, Springfield's outdoor theatre off of East Lake Drive.

I'll break this post up into two parts. The first part will be about the Muni?what I thought about it my first time there and how Saturday's performance was cut short. The second will cover the show we saw.

 The Muni:

I first heard of the Muni in 2003, not long after having moved to central Illinois. Why did I wait six years to see a show there? I have no aversion to live theatre. In fact, I've been a fan of it since attending over a half-dozen shows in London during my three-week stay there in the summer of 2000. I've also seen several shows at the Fox Theatre, UIS, The Hoogland Center for the Arts (read about Rod Blagojevich Superstar!) and the Theatre in the Park at Lincoln's New Salem. Despite all that, going to the Muni was something I just never got around to doing until this past weekend. Hey, you can't have all your fun at once, right? I like to space it out.

Anyway, a bit about the venue. The Muni is an outdoor theatre that has been a part of Springfield since the 1950s. It's open during the warm (sometimes hot!) summer months and generally features several shows during the season. It is located off of East Lake Drive in the southeast part of Springfield. Getting there is simple, so you can't make any excuse about getting lost. From I-55, you just take the Stevenson exit and head South (that would be the opposite direction of Dirksen parkway). You'll pass CWLP and drive over Lake Springfield on a two-lane bridge. The Muni will be just a few miles down the road on your left.

Parking is first come, first serve in a grassy field on the Muni grounds. I saw parking near the entrance that appeared to be reserved for handicapped and the elderly. There was also a golf cart shuttle helping older folks back to the parking lot (it's a little hilly there). The volunteers directing the parking were mostly teens (I bet they were thrilled to be doing that) but I had no problems getting a spot. Leaving is a mass exodus, so be kind and let someone go ahead of you at least once.

The Muni is built on a hillside and is surrounded by trees. The grounds include a picnic area outside of the ticket office. Inside the main entrance is a snack area with tables/chairs and a large building where you can buy popcorn, drinks, ice cream and candy for pretty reasonable prices. We got a bottled Mountain Dew, bottled water and box of popcorn for about four dollars, which is a lot cheaper than what you'd get at a movie theatre. If you're not up for candy or popcorn, their food rules are pretty lax. Many people bring their own food in coolers or pick up something on their way. I only saw one set of restrooms (there may be more?). The restroom line during intermission was pretty long, so if you gotta go, go before the show!

Seating and tickets are divided up between assigned seating and lawn seating. We were lucky enough to get seats near the middle of row B on Saturday night. A word of warning regarding The Muni's seating policy: seats are first come, first serve, even if you have a ticket for it! Maybe row B is just cursed, but there was a couple who had the exact seating assignment as us. They got an usher (I guess they weren't ones for confrontation) who verified their tickets were duplicates of ours. The usher, just a kid, got his manager, who seated them somewhere else. We had the same problem Sunday night (see below for why we went twice). Whoever runs the ticketing for the Muni needs to get their act together. Some of the people who had to be re-seated were border-line pissed off. I guess I can't blame them. I'd be unhappy, too, if my seats near the front were gone before I got there. Despite the issues with tickets, the prices weren't bad. Our two seats were $12 each. Lawn seating was available for $8. The Muni also does family nights where kids get in free with a paid adult. See the Muni's ticket page for more info on seating and where to buy. If you're sitting on the lawn, bring some blankets and folding chairs.

BRING AND USE BUG SPRAY. You will need it. 'Nuff said.

About their photo/video policy?There is no mention of audio, video, or photographs on the Muni's policy page. I also checked the Web page for the performance, but found nothing. Maybe this varies from show to show? Because I dabble in photography, I thought it would be fun to snap some photos for the blog while I was there. I had the point-and-shoot camera Saturday, but brought my Canon 50D Sunday night. Here's where the story gets interesting. Before the show began each night, the announcer (not a recording) said no audio/video recordings were allowed because of the agreement with the copyright holders of The Producers. Photographs weren't mentioned, so I presumed they had no issues with photography. Several other people near me took snapshots during the performance on Saturday, too.

On Sunday, when I had the big camera, I walked into the concession building with it hanging from my neck. As I was paying for my food, a guy near the register (didn't catch his name) said, 'Hey, you know you can't take pictures during the show because of the copyright.' I replied I was there the evening before and only audio/video recordings were announced as not being allowed, along with the fact many other people had cameras. He came back with a modest 'Well, no flash photography, which I see you don't have a flash?,' but then changed his mind again and said "no photography." Weird, I thought, and went back to my seat.

If the Muni has copyright issues with a show, they need to make an effort to clearly identify it on the Web site and in the announcement before the performance. People, like me, who photograph for fun and really enjoy local shows like this don't want to see the venue get in trouble, but, come on?this isn't Broadway and I'm not trying to sneak photos of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. I've posted some pics from the show below. If the Muni really has a problem with this, then I'll gladly help them out, but I didn't record any audio or video, which was the only restriction that was announced. Out of the dozens of volunteers there, this one guy, who didn't identify himself, was the only one to say something and he didn't sound too sure of himself when it came to still photos. I re-read the program for last weekend's show tonight. Page three says no flash photographs, audio or video recordings?so, according to their rules, I'm in the clear! In fact, you can see a ton of photos at Donna Lounsberry's SmugMug gallery. I really wonder, now, why this guy even brought it up.

Lastly, check the weather. The Muni's rain/weather policy is listed on its policy page. The weather Saturday was a lot less than ideal for an outdoor show. It was a very hot, humid day. We were sweating as we waited for the show to begin. Even after sundown, the temperature held steadily for most of the performance. I really felt for the actors. Sweat poured from their faces and drenched their costumes. Despite the heat, they did an absolutely fantastic job. Almost one hour into the show, the wind began to pick up and flashes of lightning grew closer. The lights suddenly went out, followed by the show announcer informing the audience that they were halting the performance because of weather. By that point, the wind was blowing around props on the stage. We waited in the car for 30 minutes before the Muni called the show. Many had left before that. When we returned Sunday night, we lucked out and got tickets just two seats down from where we were Saturday. Wouldn't you know it that someone else had duplicate tickets, too? We got there early, again, and were able to keep our seats.

I hope you found some useful information in my ramblings above and I hope you don't think I sounded too critical. My girlfriend and I both enjoyed the Muni very much. The grounds were nice, clean and the staff was friendly (even the 'camera guy'). We both look forward to going back. I just hope they fix their seating assignment problem and clarify their policies a bit.

The Producers:

This past weekend's show was The Producers (or, Gus Gordon as You've Never Seen Him Before?not me, at least), a Mel Brooks musical adapted from the 1968 film of the same name (just read the link!).

If you didn't read the link, here's a short, spoiler-free synopsis: once Broadway-hit producer, Max Bialystock (bee-allee-stock) is a washed-up has-been whose days of fame are behind him. His latest production is a huge flop. Later, at his office, he's visited by a nervous, timid accountant named Leo Bloom who has come to examine Max's finances. In a creative-accounting epiphany, Bloom realizes a producer could potentially make more money on a flop than a hit. Bialystock perks up instantly at this and proceeds to try and convince Bloom to go into business with him. Bloom has secretly wanted to be a Broadway producer from an early age, but is too timid to make the move. Only after returning to his dull job does Bloom find the courage to do something bigger with his life by joining Bialystock. Now as partners, their only tasks ahead are to find the worst script, director, and actors in order to produce a sure-fire Broadway flop. What could go right?

I can easily say this was one of the best performances I've seen in Springfield yet. The Producers was a laugh riot the entire time. I've never seen the movie nor the live musical before. The story was interesting throughout and never dragged on. The pit orchestra sounded great and the music was well mixed with the vocals. All the actors, most of them local to the Springfield area, did a fantastic job. The show has some mature content in it, so consider that before bringing your younger kids. Anyone in their teenage years (your kids have already seen/heard far worse on the Internet, trust me) or older will love it. We saw both young and old at each performance this past weekend.

Gus Gordon, more commonly known as the chief meteorologist at WICS, played the part of Max Bialystock. I've heard for many years that Gus was very involved in theatre. It shows. Seeing the man play a character like Max is worth the ticket price alone, because Max is such a far cry from the mild-mannered weather man we're all used to. Gus played the part with skill and grace. He ad-libbed like a pro during a wardrobe malfunction on Sunday night. No, stop it, not that kind of wardrobe malfunction. Below is a video of what Gus has to say about playing the character Max Bialystock:



The other lead male role, Leo Bloom, was played by Joey Cruse, a senior (I believe) at UIS. When he first appeared on stage during the scene at Max's office, I thought to myself, 'this guy looks familiar.' It turns out I was right. My girlfriend and I first saw him in A Period of Adjustment last year at UIS. I found some pictures of the performance posted online, but there are no good ones of Joe. He did a great job portraying the nerdy, timid accountant Leo Bloom who goes on to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a Broadway producer.

Some of the other performers definitely worth mentioning are Rich Kuschel as Franz Leibkind, Sean VanAusdall-Rose as Roger De Bris, and T. J. Grasch as Carmen Ghia.

(Spoiler alert!) Franz, author of the worst musical in the world as according to Max and Leo, is a closet Nazi who dreams of showing the word the 'true' Adolph Hitler in Springtime for Hitler. Rich's portrayal is hilarious. The 'Der Guten Tag Hop Clop' scene was probably my favorite of them all. Sean, as Roger De Bris, is the worst director Max and Leo can find. He also happens to be the gayest. In order to hire Roger and further their plan of failure, Max and Leo give Roger permission to make Springtime for Hitler as gay as he wants after the 'Keep it Gay' scene. Sean's scenes were over-the-top funny every time. T. J. as Carmen, Roger's 'common-law assistant', stole the show several times and always got great laughs with his dialogue ('Yessssssssssssssssss') and floating around the stage.

If you're looking for something to do this holiday weekend, I'd highly recommend you see The Producers at the Muni. It's a great show and is something you shouldn't miss. You can read a pro review at The State Journal-Register. The remaining performances are July 1-3 and July 5.


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Entertainment | LOL | Springfield