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The Best Lens Options for Your Pentax DSLR

So if you are like me, you own a Pentax DSLR. You love your camera but the lens selection is paltry compared to Canon or Nikon and of course you hear photographers tells you that there isn’t the good glass to go with Pentax.  Even many local camera shops don’t have a great section despite them selling a lot of Pentax K-3 and K-5 IIs cameras in the last year.

So what do you do?  First of all you take a look around online and see what is there.  If you are reading this page, there is a good chance that you are doing just that.  To help you with your search, I have listed around 25 lenses that would all make great additions to any photographers bag.

If you have no idea which lens you want to purchase, ask your local camera shop for advice or check out this video from Pentax.

Ricoh has more about the available Pentax lenses here.

So the next time someone tells you there are not great lenses for the Pentax cameras, remind them of what is out there.  There is some amazing and professional quality glass for your camera.

Each link on the post goes to Amazon.com which offers you some purchasing options and price for each lens.  Since lens price is often moving, it’s easier to check them out there.

Normal Lenses: In photography and cinematography, a normal lens is a lens that reproduces a field of view that generally looks “natural” to a human observer under normal viewing conditions, as compared with lenses with longer or shorter focal lengths which produce an expanded or contracted field of view that distorts the perspective when viewed from a normal viewing distance.

Pentax 35mm DA L F2.4 AL

Pentax 35mm DA L F2.4 AL

This versatile Pentax 35mm DA L F2.4 AL Lens is considered a standard, normal focal length lens for the Pentax DSLRs it was designed for, but it’s a great lens to own, even if you only have one lens. This 35mm lens (equivalent to 52.5mm in 35mm format) is ideal for family photos, portraits, landscapes and a lot more. The fast f2.4 maximum aperture helps you get pictures even in low-light situations, and it provides high-resolution images with edge-to-edge sharpness. An aspherical lens element helps to compensate for spherical aberration to maximize image quality, and PENTAX Super Protect (SP) coating helps repel dust, water, and grease–making the lens easier to clean.

35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

The 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens for Pentax DSLR Cameras from Sigma is the first entry into Sigma’s Art series of professional lenses, with an emphasis on artistic expression and the creative potential of the lens. With a bright f/1.4 maximum aperture, floating inner focusing system, and Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) you’ll have quick and accurate control over the artistic effects achieved by the lens’ high quality elements.

For wide angle photography, this 35mm lens and its circular 9-bladed f/1.4 aperture ensure excellent brightness and blurred background (bokeh) effects. The Super Multi-Layer Coating reduces flare and ghosting and provides sharp and high contrast images even in backlit conditions.

The lens’ Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) and floating inner focusing system ensure that you experience quick, quiet and precise autofocusing whenever you need it. Adjust focus using either autofocus (AF), or full-time manual focus, without having to switch camera modes or change settings – just flick the switch from AF to MF.

For greater build quality and strength, all metallic parts and the new Thermally Stable Composite compound material (TSC), are housed internally. Its brass made bayonet mount has both high accuracy and durability, and a special treatment is applied to its surface giving it greater strength and making it highly resistant to long-term daily use.

Pentax smc DA 50mm f/1.8 Lens

Pentax smc da 50mm f1.8

The smc DA 50mm f/1.8 Lens from Pentax is a fast and inexpensive f/1.8 lens for cameras with a Pentax K mount. Mounted to a camera with an APS-C sensor, this lens gives an angle of view equivalent to a 76.5mm telephoto lens–ideal for portraits. The wide f/1.8 aperture makes this an essential lens for working in low light, and it also delivers beautiful bokeh (the out-of-focus portion of a photograph). This lightweight (4.3 oz) lens is very compact–just 1.5″ (3.8 cm) long.

Pentax Normal SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4 Autofocus Lens

Pentax 50mm f/1.4 Lens.png

A standard lens for Pentax autofocus cameras with a bright f/1.4 aperture.  The SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4 is an excellent choice for lowlight handheld photography, and effectively becomes a brilliant short telephoto portrait lens when used with your Pentax DSLR.  The Pentax Super Multi Coating process provides the highest possible transmission of light.

Portrait Lenses: a prime lens with a relatively high aperture and usually a means for softening definition in taking portraits

Pentax 55mm f/1.4 DA* SDM Autofocus Lens

Pentax 55mm f/1.4 SDM Lens

The Pentax 55mm f/1.4 DA* SDM Autofocus Lens is a compact and bright short-telephoto lens of the highest order, made exclusively for Pentax digital SLR cameras.  In a stocky housing ready for harsh conditions, you’ll get a bright f/1.4 aperture-worlds away from the experience you’re used to with more common zooms-that opens up new creative doors to you as a photographer.

This lens was born to shoot between f/1.4 and f/2.8, and comes with a 9-bladed aperture diaphragm which shows up as perfectly round when you stay between f/1.4-2.8.  Shoot dramatic portraits with bright point light sources behind the subject, and you’ll be dazzled with lovely diffuse, circular out-of-focus highlights that make everybody look better.  Beyond portraits, this lens works well any time you would use a moderate telephoto focal length.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens

Sigma 85mm f/1.4.jpg

When you need a medium-telephoto standard lens for everything from portraiture to sports, the fast Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens for Pentax Digital SLRs is a great solution. This large aperture beauty is designed with an SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass element and a glass mold element which yield first-class, sharp image captures with high contrast.

The 85mm f/1.4 has Sigma’s HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) which provides fast, accurate and quiet autofocusing. The exterior of this lens is EX-finished which translates to a superior build and optical quality, enhanced handling and appearance. It comes with a petal-type hood to block out extraneous light. A dedicated hood adapter for cameras with an APS-C size image sensor is also included to expand the length of the hood for blocking out extraneous light more effectively.

This fast f/1.4 lens is great for capturing fast moving images, allowing you to use faster shutter speeds, and is what you want when shooting under low lighting conditions. This highly efficient lens has a nine blade circular diaphragm for creating pleasant out-of-focus highlights (bokeh) which is a major asset to portrait and wedding photographers.

Short Telephoto Lenses

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Lens

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 ART lens

The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Lens for Pentax is a wide-angle to normal-length zoom lens that features a fast, bright constant f/1.8 maximum aperture. It is specifically designed for use with APS-C-sized sensors and provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 27-52.5mm.

The lens integrates four aspherical elements into its construction as well as five Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass elements to help minimize various aberrations and distortions throughout the zoom range as well as provide greater image sharpness and clarity. A Super Multi-Layer Coating has also been applied to lens elements to reduce surface reflections, lens flare, and ghosting to produce images with higher contrast and color fidelity. The lens barrel design is constructed from a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material that is akin to metal in texture and resistance to temperature and environmental changes while also remaining lightweight and compact. An internal focusing and zooming mechanism also helps to maintain a compact and consistent overall length and non-rotating front ring also better enables the use of circular polarizing filters. For control of focus, a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) is used to ensure fast, precise, and quiet focusing capabilities that are well suited to continuous shooting and movie recording.

This lens is part of Sigma’s Art line; deeming it well-suited to creative image making due to its large, constant f/1.8 maximum aperture and ability to produce aesthetic bokeh by way of a nine-blade circular diaphragm. The range of focal lengths it covers, from wide-angle to normal-length, is nicely situated for everyday and artistic shooting applications.

Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8ED AL [IF] SDM Lens

Pentax 16-50 f/2.8 lens

 

Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8ED AL [IF] SDM Lens is a high-quality bright f/2.8 lens. This lens brings together advanced optical technologies, including aspherical elements, special optical-glass elements, and original lens coatings. It offers a versatile ultra-wide to medium-telephoto zoom range, and can be used as the ideal standard zoom lens in a wide variety of applications, including landscape, snapshot and portrait.

Walk Around Lens

I love a good walk around lens.  There are times when I don’t know what I am going to expect when I go out with my camera .  I could be shooting wide or long.  The quality may not be as good as a prime but sometimes you need more versatility than you need sharpness or low light performance.

Pentax SMC DA 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 ED AL (IF) DC WR Lens

Pentax 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 WR Lens

You may already have this lens.  It’s offered in some kits as an alternative to the 18-55 lens.  If you have the option of getting it, make sure you do as it is well worth the price.  If it doesn’t come in a kit, you may want to consider picking it up.  It’s got a decent range, is decently sharp, and is weather resistant.  It offers a focal length that is equivalent (in 35mm format) from 27.5 to 207mm. This wide coverage is ideal for a variety of telephoto applications, including portraiture, sports and scenery.

The image circle in DA-series lenses is designed to perfectly match the 23.5mm x 15.7mm size of the CCD used in Pentax digital SLRs to optimize camera performance. This design also contributes to a drastic reduction in size, weight and production cost compared to 35mm-format counterparts with similar specifications.

Pentax DA (DA-Star) zoom lenses come equipped with the SDM System, which assures smoother, quieter auto-focusing operation by using a built-in supersonic motor. Like all Pentax lenses, this lens is treated with smc coating for maximum light transmission, sharp definition, and high contrast images.

Tamron AF 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO 

Tamron 18-200mm Zoom Lens for Pentax DSLRs.jpg

The Tamron AF18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO is a high power zoom lens designed exclusively for digital SLR cameras using the more compact (APS-C) digital size image sensors. The focal length of this lens is equivalent to approx. 28-300mm in 35mm format.

Designed as an “all-in-one” lens, it will meet almost all photographic opportunities without changing lenses.

The 18-200mm zoom lens realizes an MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) of 1.5′ (45 cm) over the entire zoom range by the employment of a new optical/mechanical design configuration. Since the maximum magnification ratio at f=200mm is 1:3.7, you can enjoy close-up photography easily and conveniently.

Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro HSM Lens

Sigma 18-250mm walk around lens for Pentax DSLR

The 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro HSM from Sigma is an incredibly versatile lens that is a real jack-of-all-trades lens you can carry in any situation. With a focal length spanning from a wide-angle 18mm up to a 250 mm telephoto zoom, with macro capabilities to boot, Sigma’s 18-250mm could easily be your camera’s first all-in-one lens, or a great replacement for several smaller lenses that you’re looking to consolidate.

Sigma redesigned the optical and structural design of this lens in order to achieve a relatively compact size, at 4.0″ long, as well as a close minimum focusing distance of 13.8″ for macro photography. Their Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) construction maintains the structure of the lens, with little variation despite changing temperatures. The lens also incorporates a brass-made bayonet mount, to further reinforce the lenses durability and resistance to wear and tear over time.

The minimum focusing distance is the same throughout the focal length of the entire zoom range, and provides a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2.9. As an added benefit over fixed focal length macro lenses, the size and framing of subjects can quickly and easily be adjusted by rotating the zoom ring. For even further convenience, at each focusing distance on the side of the lens barrel, the maximum magnification ratio is also displayed.

For high image quality, you know you’ve got to have high quality glass, and Sigma has incorporated their Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass element into the 18-250mm. In addition to the SLD element, three aspherical lenses, including a double-sided aspherical lens, have been used in the lens’ construction–offering excellent correction of color aberration, for better clarity and quality of images throughout the zoom range.

A Super Multi-Layer Coating has also been employed to reduce flare and ghosting with this lens. This makes it resistant to strong incident light, such as backlight behind a subject, providing sharper, high contrast images even shooting into a light source. To prevent internal reflections from occurring, the included petal-type lens hood can be attached in order to block out extraneous light.

For a lens that offers a wide-angle to telephoto focal length, and the ability to zoom-in with macro photography, Sigma’s 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC Macro HSM made for Pentax cameras is more than a match. Whether you’re on a macro product shoot, a walk in the park, or have a wedding to go to, this lens will help you shoot high quality images in any situation.

Pentax smc DA 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 ED SDM Lens

Pentax smc 18 270mm lens 1 1358880197

The Pentax smc Pentax-DA 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 ED SDM Lens is an all-encompassing zoom lens, featuring a 15x zoom rangefrom a wide 18mm to a long 270mm (equivalent to 27.5-414mm in 35mm format). Benefitting the long reach of this lens, two extra-low dispersion elements have been incorporated into the lens construction to help reduce chromatic aberration and improve overall image clarity. A minimum focus distance of 1.6′ across the entire zoom range also makes this lens an effective tool for macro and close-up work.

Telephoto Lens: In photography and cinematography, a telephoto lens is a specific type of a long-focus lens in which the physical length of the lens is shorter than the focal length. This is achieved by incorporating a special lens group known as a telephoto group that extends the light path to create a long-focus lens in a much shorter overall design. The angle of view and other effects of long-focus lenses are the same for telephoto lenses of the same specified focal length. Long-focal-length lenses are often informally referred to as telephoto lenses although this is technically incorrect: a telephoto lens specifically incorporates the telephoto group.

Telephoto lenses are sometimes broken into the further sub-types of medium telephoto: lenses covering between a 30° and 10° field of view (85mm to 135mm in 35mm film format), and super telephoto: lenses covering between 8° through less than 1° field of view (over 300mm in 35mm film format).

Pentax HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR Lens

Pentax 55-300mm f/4.8 WR Lens

The HD Pentax-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR Lens from Pentax is a portrait-length to telephoto zoom lens that provides a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 84.5-460mm. This extensive zoom range is complemented by the inclusion of two extra-low dispersion glass elements, which work to minimize chromatic aberrations and enhance overall image sharpness and clarity. A high-grade multi-layer HD coating has been applied to lens elements to help minimize flare and ghosting for enhanced contrast and, additionally, an SP Protect coating has also been applied to the front lens element to effectively protect it from dirt, oil, and finger prints.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM

Sigma 70-100 f/2.8 lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM for Pentax is the second generation of large-aperture telephoto zoom lenses incorporating Sigma’s OS (Optical Stabilizer) anti-shake system. It offers the equivalent of shooting at shutter speeds 3 to 4 stops slower than without OS, thus allowing handheld telephoto zoom shooting even in poorly lit conditions. Its HSM ensures quiet and high speed AF as well as full-time manual focusing.

It features a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 that remains constant throughout the zoom range, making it incredibly valuable when shooting in low light situations such as weddings or other events. It is also great when shooting fast-moving subjects such as sports, when fast shutter speeds are needed to capture fleeting moments. The 70-200mm f/2.8 is fast and versatile and at a length of 7.8 (19.8cm) will be a tool that seldom sees the inside of your camera bag. The lens comes with a petal-type lens hood plus an adapter to extend its length for users with APS-c cameras.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro AF Lens

Tamron 70 200 lens

 

The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro Lens is a telephoto zoom lens that has a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 which remains constant throughout the zoom range. It also offers an excellent “close-focusing-distance” minimum of just 3.1′ (0.95 m) throughout its entire zoom range, with a maximum macro magnification ratio of 1:3.1 at f=200mm. When mounted on an APS-C sensor size digital SLR camera, it provides a focal length equivalent of 105-300mm.

The advantage that the Tamron has over the Sigma is cost.  While it lacks image stabilization, your Pentax camera has that built into the body which means that you don’t need it.  This lets you save the money and still get great performance in that distance.

Sigma 50-500mm F/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Lens

Sigma 50-500mm lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

This Sigma 50-500mm F/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Lens for Pentax covers a lot of ground. The 10x zoom can be used on everything from landscape and portrait photos to sports action and wildlife photography. It uses 4 Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass elements for optimum color correction and sharpness through the entire zoom range, and a Hyper-Sonic Motor (HSM) provides quiet and high-speed auto focusing. The Optical Stabilization (OS) system allows you to use the lens even off a tripod to capture sharp, clear photos.

This 50-500mm lens is designed for use with Pentax DSLR cameras–with an APS-C-sized sensor, the effective zoom range is approximately 75-750mm in 35mm equivalent.

While around $500 more than the Sigma 150 to 500, it is slightly sharper so keep that in mind when you are considering which one to get.

Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Autofocus Lens for Pentax

Sigma 150-500mm lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

This Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Lens for Pentax is for digital SLR cameras with a Pentax K lens mount. It is an ultra telephoto zoom lens ideal for nature, wildlife, or sports photography. This zoom range translates into an equivalent range of 225-750mm when used with digital SLR cameras with an APS size sensor.

The OS (Optical Stabilizer) system minimizes image blur caused by camera shake, and offers the equivalent of shooting at a shutter speed 3-4 stops faster. This allows handheld telephoto zoom shooting even in poorly lit conditions.

The use of the OS (Optical Stabilizer) system, HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor), APO apochromatic design, three elements of SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass, and multicoated optics all enable this lens to provide a high level of performance throughout its entire zoom range, as well as versatility. A rear focus system insures quick, convenient manual focus and a non-rotating front barrel.

The improved DG lens design corrects for various aberrations. This lens is specially coated to get the best color balance, while cutting down on ghosting caused by reflections from the digital image sensor. The lens provides the utmost correction against lateral chromatic aberration, which is a serious problem for digital SLR cameras.

Pentax SMCP-DA* 300mm f/4 ED (IF) SDM Autofocus Lens for Digital SLR

Pentax smc DA 300mm F4 ED IF SDM

The Pentax SMCP-DA* 300mm f/4 ED (IF) SDM Lens is a high-quality telephoto lens that is designed for exclusive use with Pentax digital SLR cameras. It offers a focal length that is equivalent (in 35mm format) to 450mm. This wide coverage is ideal for a variety of telephoto applications, including portraiture, sports and scenery.

Pentax DA* (DA-Star) zoom lenses come equipped with the SDM System, which assures smoother, quieter auto-focusing operation by using a built-in supersonic motor. When mounted on the K10D digital SLR camera body, the focus mode is automatically switched to SDM-assisted auto-focusing. When mounted on older Pentax digital SLR camera bodies, the conventional autofocus mode using a camera-mounted motor is selected.

Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO Autofocus Lens

Sigma 500mm f/4.5 lens for Pentax DSLR

This Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO lens is an Apochromatic ultra-telephoto lens with a fast f/4.5 maximum aperture, and it incorporates two ELD (Extraordinary Low Dispersion) glass elements to reduce chromatic aberration to a minimum. Internal focus enables responsive and fast autofocus speed.

The improved DG lens design corrects for various aberrations. This lens is specially coated to get the best color balance whilst cutting down on ghosting caused by reflections from the digital image sensor. The lens provides the utmost correction against lateral chromatic aberration which is a serious problem for digital SLR cameras.

By adding the optional Sigma APO teleconverter, you can use this lens as a 700mm f/6.3 MF ultra-telephoto lens with a 1.4x EX teleconverter, or as a 1000mm f/9 MF ultra-telephoto lens with a 2x teleconverter.

Macro

Pentax smc Pentax-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro Lens

Pentax DA FA Macro 100mm f2 8 WR

 

Optimized for DSLRs and compatible with film SLR cameras, the smc PENTAX-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro Lens is constructed with an aluminum housing and 6 weather seals (thus the WR designation) so you can shoot in almost any environment without risking internal damage to the lens. Optical elements are treated with the Pentax Super Protect multi-layer coating to lower surface reflection, reduce ultraviolet rays, and deliver clear, high-contrast images. Plus, the configurations of its optical elements produce crisp, sharp images with no flare and ghosting. It also features a “Quick Shift” focusing system which allows you to easily switch between manual and AF modes.

Achieving life-size (1:1) magnification, this macro lens is ideal for the close-up photography including, but not limited to, nature, technical, medical or product applications. It is also great for portraiture. Its 8 rounded diaphragm blade configuration assists in producing out-of-focus areas of your images with a pleasing look.

Wide Angle Lens: The terms “wide-angle” and “telephoto” are based on the different angles of view they provide when compared with a normal lens. A wide-angle lens captures a wider angle of view than a normal lens does. There is no single wide-angle lens, but rather a variety of lenses that give wider and wider angles of view, some of which are classified as super or ultra wide-angle lenses, and the widest of all – fish-eye lenses. Lenses considered to be wide-angle include the 35 mm, 28 mm and 24 mm varieties, with the 28 mm being the “standard” wide-angle lens. Super wide angle lenses then take over, and run from 20 mm to about 13 mm.

Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC J Autofocus Lens

Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens for Pentax DSLR cameras

The Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC lens offers a super-wide zoom solution to digital cameras, and was exclusively designed to suit the characteristics of digital SLR cameras. The super wide-angle capability of this zoom lens (equivalent range of approx. 15-30mm when used with a Pentax digital SLR camera makes it a very powerful tool for both indoor and landscape photography.

Man Flies Drone Through Fireworks, The Results Are Spectacular

Someone needs to do this during the PotashCorp Fireworks Festival in Saskatoon.

So if there is intelligent life out there, why hasn’t anyone contacted us

It could be we are in a remote part of space that no one cares about.  We are the Moose Jaw of planets.

The Americas may have been colonized by Europeans long before anyone in a small Inuit tribe in far northern Canada realized it had happened. There could be an urbanization component to the interstellar dwellings of higher species, in which all the neighboring solar systems in a certain area are colonized and in communication, and it would be impractical and purposeless for anyone to deal with coming all the way out to the random part of the spiral where we live.

There are a lot of interesting hypothesis of why we haven’t had our first contact.  The following is the scariest.

There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location.

This is an unpleasant concept and would help explain the lack of any signals being received by the SETI satellites. It also means that we might be the super naive newbies who are being unbelievably stupid and risky by ever broadcasting outward signals. There’s a debate going on currently about whether we should engage in METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence—the reverse of SETI) or not, and most people say we should not. Stephen Hawking warns, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Even Carl Sagan (a general believer that any civilization advanced enough for interstellar travel would be altruistic, not hostile) called the practice of METI “deeply unwise and immature,” and recommended that “the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.” Scary.

A new report shows nuclear weapons almost detonated in North Carolina in 1961

Eric Schlosser has a new book out about how close the U.S. came to blowing off it’s own eastern seaboard during the Cold War

At the height of the Cold War, the Air Force feared that the Soviet Union could launch a surprise attack on the United States and destroy all of our air bases, and we’d have no way to retaliate against the Soviets. So the Air Force came up with this idea of having about a dozen B-52 bombers airborne 24 hours a day, with nuclear weapons on board. That way, if we were attacked, those dozen planes might escape the destruction on the ground, head to the Soviet Union, and blast the Soviets with hydrogen bombs.

The planes were sort of an insurance policy. They were meant to deter the Soviets from trying a surprise attack. But this Air Force program, called the “airborne alert,” also posed some serious risks for the United States. The B-52 was designed in the late 1940s–and it wasn’t designed to be flying 24 hours a day. So the airborne alerts put enormous stress on these aircraft. It really wore out the planes and made them more likely to crash.

Nobody realized, at the time, that some design flaws in our nuclear weapons made them vulnerable to detonating in an accident. There was an illusion of safety. In the book, I explore the safety problems with our nuclear arsenal. We were putting planes that were at risk of crashing into the air over the United States with nuclear weapons that were at risk of accidentally detonating. The airborne alert was finally ended in 1968, after a B-52 crashed in Greenland with four hydrogen bombs and contaminated a stretch of the Arctic Ice with plutonium.

How close was this to detonating?

Well, for most of the Cold War, there was no code or anything that you needed to enter. All you needed to do was turn a switch or two in the cockpit to arm the bomb, and then release it. There were mechanisms on the weapon to prevent it from detonating prematurely and destroying our own planes. There were barometric switches that would operate when they sensed a change in altitude. There were timers that delayed the explosion until our planes had enough time to get away. The Goldsboro bomb that almost detonated was known as Weapon No. 1. As the plane was spinning and breaking apart, the centrifugal forces pulled a lanyard in the cockpit–and that lanyard was what a crew member would manually pull during wartime to release the bomb. This hydrogen bomb was a machine, a dumb object. It had no idea whether the lanyard was being pulled by a person or by a centrifugal force. Once the lanyard was pulled, the weapon just behaved like it was designed to.

The bomb went through all of its arming steps except for one, and a single switch prevented a full-scale nuclear detonation. That type of switch was later found to be defective. It had failed in dozens of other cases, allowing weapons to be inadvertently armed. And that safety switch could have very easily been circumvented by stray electricity in the B-52 as it was breaking apart. As Secretary of Defense McNamara said, “By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted.” That’s literally correct, a short circuit could’ve fully armed the bomb.

I interviewed McNamara before he passed away. The Goldsboro accident occurred just a few days after he took office. He wasn’t an expert in nuclear weapons; he’d been head of the Ford Motor Company. And this accident scared the hell out of him. It would have spread lethal radioactive fallout up the Eastern Seaboard–and put a real damper on all the optimism of the Kennedy administration’s New Frontier. And this wasn’t the only really serious nuclear weapons accident that the United States had. There were others that were dangerous and yet kept from view.

So yeah, try not to think about this thought by Schlosser before you go to bed.

Any country that wants nuclear weapons has to keep in mind that these weapons may pose a greater threat to yourself than to your enemies. These weapons are complicated things to possess and maintain, especially if you keep them fully assembled and ready to use. If you’re only going to put them together when you’re about to go to war, then there’s a higher level of safety. But if you keep them fully assembled, and mated to a weapons system, and ready to go, then there are limitless ways that something could go wrong.

The weekend that was

On Friday evening we headed to the cabin for what we expected was going to be a wet and miserable weekend.  It was but we had a good time.

Oliver was quite sick on Friday morning which meant that Wendy took the day off.  His daycare has a thing about vomitting kids…  They picked me up at work and we were off to the lake and got in there in decent time.

I am nursing an incredibly sore hip so I hobbled in and went to bed.  The boys took Maggi for a long walk and swim in the lake and I was awoken by a wet dog looking to warm up with someone.  Saturday I picked up Oliver’s flu and felt horrible.  Wendy delegated the job of packing Oliver’s stuff to Mark and he didn’t pack any socks and underwear for Oliver so off to Regina we went.  18km of really soft and sloppy roads were not a lot of fun to drive but we made it to the highway.

The rain kept falling the entire time we were in Regina and the road was a slippery and muddy mess by the time we got back to Cymric.  It was a long slow drive back to the cabin where I managed to lose control once.  Not only that but we realized it was going to rain all night and into Sunday. 

I woke up on Sunday morning to a gift of a photography book by Tom Ang, A Walkable City by Jeff Speck, a Black Rapid camera strap, and an podcast attachment for my iPhone.

Here is Speck speaking to TED.

So yeah the drive home was brutal.  The car was covered in mud and it was hard to keep it on the road.  For those who feel that Saskatchewan should be converting more highways into gravel, I respectfully disagree.  The sand base of that road makes more slippery then ice when wet.  So yeah, let’s pave the entire province. 

Father’s Day Giveaway from Ford!

With Father’s Day almost here, I have a cool giveaway for readers of the blog for Father’s Day compliments of Ford Canada.

Here are the rules.  Leave a comment with your real name and email address.  Tell a story about driving with your dad (or step-dad or uncle or father figure), tell us a little about the car, the place, and why it was memorable.  It can be meaningful or funny, you pick.

I’ll do a draw from the contestants and you will win….

  • Ford Genuine Parts Bar Stool with Backrest Constructed from heavy gauge 1” tubular steel frames with lustrous chrome plated finish. Commercial grade vinyl covering screened on the underside so designs will not scratch off with use. Thick foam padded seats rotate on a 360 degree swivel. Easy assembly required. Recommended for indoor use only. Dimensions: Seat – height 30” Seat Diameter- 14” Backrest Height: 42”
Gp stool
  • Ford Genuine Parts retro metal and wood sign.
Ford v8 blue
  • Ford ball cap

Winners will be notified by email on Monday and Ford will ship the prize anywhere in Canada.  I am looking forward to reading your stories!

The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas

I am surprised at the scope of this but at the same time not surprised they the NSA is doing it.

The National Security Agency is secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the surveillance is part of a top-secret system – code-named SOMALGET – that was implemented without the knowledge or consent of the Bahamian government. Instead, the agency appears to have used access legally obtained in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to open a backdoor to the country’s cellular telephone network, enabling it to covertly record and store the “full-take audio” of every mobile call made to, from and within the Bahamas – and to replay those calls for up to a month.

SOMALGET is part of a broader NSA program called MYSTIC, which The Intercept has learned is being used to secretly monitor the telecommunications systems of the Bahamas and several other countries, including Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya. But while MYSTIC scrapes mobile networks for so-called “metadata” – information that reveals the time, source, and destination of calls – SOMALGET is a cutting-edge tool that enables the NSA to vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation in an entire country.

All told, the NSA is using MYSTIC to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people. And according to classified documents, the agency is seeking funding to export the sweeping surveillance capability elsewhere.

The program raises profound questions about the nature and extent of American surveillance abroad. The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran. But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.

“The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States,” the State Department concluded in a crime and safety report published last year. “There is little to no threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest.”

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, the program is a serious – and perhaps illegal – abuse of the access to international phone networks that other countries willingly grant the United States for legitimate law-enforcement surveillance. If the NSA is using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s relationship to the Bahamas as a cover for secretly recording the entire country’s mobile phone calls, it could imperil the longstanding tradition of international law enforcement cooperation that the United States enjoys with its allies.

“It’s surprising, the short-sightedness of the government,” says Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice who spent 16 years as an FBI agent conducting undercover investigations. “That they couldn’t see how exploiting a lawful mechanism to such a degree that you might lose that justifiable access – that’s where the intelligence community is acting in a way that harms its long-term interests, and clearly the long-term national security interests of the United States.”

Happy 14th Birthday Mark!

While the rest of the world celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday this weekend, we are celebrating Mark turning 14 at the cabin.

He has been saving up for a DLSR camera for months.  When I upgraded my Pentax K-x, he thought I traded it in for a new camera.  Instead I took it upstairs and have been saving it to give him for his birthday.

Pentax Kx DSLR camera

After having the camera’s sensor cleaned, I bought him a new 16 GB memory card and cleaned all of the lens up perfectly (if you don’t have a Lens Pen, you are doing it all wrong).  

Wendy and I had bought him a a new Roots sling camera bag and placed the camera in along with some of my older lenses.  Along with the camera, I gave him this 18-55mm lens that came with the camera, a really sharp manual 50mm lens, a Pentax 100-300 lens, and a Takumar-F 28-80mm manual lens (that to be honest, really sucks) but it will give him a macro to play with.  I have an older Sigma 70-210 lens that I may give him as well but I am awaiting a replacement for it.  Until then he can borrow it.

We also tossed in one of those Eneloop battery chargers and some amazing Eneloop XX batteries (best recyclable batteries on the planet) and a National Geographic magazine

Mark and his Pentax K-x

To celebrate his birthday we are heading north from the cabin for a long nature walk along the shores of Last Mountain Lake where we will hopefully get some shots of some birds and someone can test out his new camera.  I expect you will see some photos of the day as soon as we get back into the city.

Mark blogs about his birthday here.

Global cities gather in Toronto for summit and to launch the World Council on City Data

This is cool and nerdy at the same time.

The University of Toronto’s Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF) is welcoming cities from around the world to the inaugural Global Cities Summit in Toronto, where the World Council on City Data (WCCD)will be launched on May 15th at 12:30 pm.

This new global entity will build an international platform for open, globally comparable and ISO standardized data for participating cities from around the world.

The creation of the WCCD is an evolution of the last seven years of successful work for the GCIF in developing globally standardized data for cities. The Council’s development has been spurred by the approval of the very first ISO Standard on city metrics, to be published as ISO 37120 on May 15, 2014 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Geneva.

The Council will coordinate all efforts on city data to ensure a consistent and comprehensive platform for standardized urban metrics. It will act as a global hub for creative learning partnerships across cities, international organizations, corporate partners, and academia to further innovation, envision alternative futures, and build better and more livable cities.

“ISO37120 is a milestone for cities. The Creation of the World Council on City Data is a pivotal next step in building a reliable foundation of globally standardized data that will assist cities in building core knowledge for city decision-making, and enable comparative insight and global benchmarking” said Professor Patricia McCarney, Director of the GCIF at the University of Toronto.  “In a world where city data is exploding and big data is escalating, we are now moving forward in building the WCCD as an open data platform on global city metrics.”

The Global Cities Summit is convening global leaders from the world’s cities, businesses, UN and other international agencies, universities, planning and design professionals, on May 15th and 16th in Toronto. The Summit is the inaugural meeting of the more than 255 GCIF member cities from 81 countries. The event will be an opportunity for cities and their partners to learn, share, and exchange experiences across a wide spectrum of big ideas and innovative solutions for cities under the theme: Getting on Track: Sustainable & Inclusive Prosperity for Cities.

The WCCD will be launched in Toronto at 12:30 pm on May 15th, 2014 at the Global Cities Summit at the Sheraton Centre Downtown Hotel. The Council has invited a select group of cities – including Shanghai, London, Toronto, Dubai, Haiphong, Amman, Makkah, Chicago, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Helsinki, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Makati, Minna and Bogota – to come to Toronto to help launch the WCCD and become Foundation Cities of the Council.

These cities, represented by senior delegations including the Mayor of Makkah, Saudi Arabia, are now arriving in Toronto to be part of this launch tomorrow.

Foundation Cities of the WCCD will help develop the vision and drive the new Council agenda forward together with other partners: private, public and academic. Foundation Cities will help define the mandate for the WCCD and develop the first five years of programming on city data, analytics, visualization, publications, city awards and recognitions. The headquarters of the WCCD will be located in Toronto and the Council will host a platform for cities and will build a knowledge network for cities globally. 

“Here in London, we really welcome joining the WCCD,” said Andrew Collinge, Assistant Director of Intelligence, Greater London Authority. “There has never been a time where it’s more important to understand how we as a global city compare with other cities so we can learn from them and actually use data to address challenges that are facing all of our cities.”

London Mayor Boris Johnson said London’s biggest challenge is the boom in the number of people living in London, with the city’s population projected to hit 10 million by 2030. Access to data from other cities will be critical to dealing with this growth.

“That’s a lot of people who will need jobs and homes and a quick and convenient way of getting from one to the other,” he said.

Other cities voiced their excitement at joining the WCCD.

The City of Barcelona is “very interested in this initiative, having been nominated European Capital of Innovation by the European Commission” says Manel Sanromà, CIO, Barcelona, “Barcelona believes deeply in the value of collaboration and standardization.” 

“It will be my pleasure to join you and participate in the launch of such an outstanding initiative,” says Mohammad Jaljouli, Advisor at the Executive Council, Dubai.  “At The Executive Council, we believe in the importance of this major milestone towards building city standards, and we look forward to adding value to the ongoing efforts in this regard.”

Along with the launch of the Council, the Summit will announce a new international standard on city indicators using the GCIF framework that has been developed through the International Organization for Standardization.

ISO 37120 Sustainable Development in Communities: Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life is the first ISO standard on city metrics. Foundation Cities will be the first to pilot this new ISO standard.

This new ISO Standard marks a critical turning point in the world of city data. ISO 37120 provides cities and stakeholders with an opportunity for a standardized approach to city metrics, and a global framework for third party verification of city data.

The WCCD is being established in this critical new space, where ISO 37120 creates the impetus for a reliable, transparent and open data platform.

Saskatoon was thinking of taking part but because of our Mayor’s strong grasp on the economy, we will do it our own way.  Another “tremendous opportunity” lost.

What would the USAF do if Godzilla ever attacked

Someone asked the USAF how they would respond to an attack by Godzilla.  They replied.

Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe

Another incredible interactive feature from the New York Times

Against the decaying skyline here, a one-of-a-kind engineering project is rising near the remains of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster.

An army of workers, shielded from radiation by thick concrete slabs, is constructing a huge arch, sheathed in acres of gleaming stainless steel and vast enough to cover the Statue of Liberty. The structure is so otherworldly it looks like it could have been dropped by aliens onto this Soviet-era industrial landscape.

Busting the Mattress Racket

I have been emailing and texting this post to everyone that I know is buying a new mattress or bed so I thought I should post it here.

Is there a more maddening industry? They confuse us with silly product names (the Sealy Posturepedic Crown Jewel Fletcher Ultra Plush Pillowtop or the Sealy Posturepedic Crown Jewel Brookmere Plush?). They flummox us with bogus science (“pocketed coils”? “Microtek foundations”? “Fiberlux”?). And they weigh us down with useless features (silk damask ticking?). It’s like buying a used car, and almost as expensive — I’ve seen mattresses going for $7,000. What’s a consumer to do?

The secret to mattress shopping is that the product is basically a commodity. The mattress biz is 99-percent marketing. So just buy the cheapest thing you can stand and be done with it, because they’re pretty much all the same. And that’s all you need to know. But do read on — the world of sleep products is quite fascinating, and I’d like to share it with you.

A couple of years ago Wendy and I bought a 2 inch think memory foam mattress topper.  Our mattress was starting to wear out and instead of getting a new one, we got one of these.  For $100, we get the best sleep we have ever gotten.   The only bad thing is that the dog likes to sleep on it now and won’t get down.

Lessons Learned

A couple of years ago my Gmail acct was accessed by someone in Hungary.  I am not sure how they got in but I changed my password immediately.  I lost several thousand email messages.  I implemented a difficult to type and guess password, used two step authentication and started to change up my passwords frequently.

Over time I got careless.  I hated two step authentication and instead of a hard to type password, I used a much easier one.  A sports team.

A couple of weeks ago I realized that I had become careless and “calgaryflames” was not a good password for my email.  I saw this post by Khoi Vinh and realized that I needed to up my game but never got around to it.

Yesterday on the 5:15 p.m. Saskatoon Afternoon roundtable, I mentioned that I was a Calgary Flames fan and realized that I needed to change my password again.

As I got home last night, people asked me if I was deleting tweets.  I wasn’t and decided to see what was going on and I could see tweets disappearing in front of my eyes.  My first thought was that Twitter was having a server error but then I realized that no, they were being deleted rapidly.  I tried to log into Twitter and could not.  That wasn’t good.

I checked my email and that was locked as well.  After getting that unlocked and my old access back, I was able to have my Twitter password sent to me.  

By that time, all of my tweets except for two retweets were gone (those two retweets disappeared last night).  At the same time I realized that my blog was hacked as was two other social networks.

I have backups of my blog and I restored that database.  By that time I kind of noticed emails were missing.  Basically some of the messages that I had that were filtered a certain way were deleted.  It also looks like some searches were done and then the messages were deleted.  I have asked Google to see if I can get those back but from what I have read, they are gone.

Gmail does log IP addresses that log into the service but those are dead ends.  When I searched them, they lead to an anonymous offshore IP service that hides IP addresses.  You know if case you have to hack someone’s account.   If you searched for “password” in my email account, that would have given you all of my passwords or the ability reset passwords.  That is what screwed things up for me and gave them the keys to other services.

Everyone wants to know if it was just random or if someone was looking for something.  I don’t really know but my feeling is that they hacked the password, looked around, saw a lot of boring stuff, deleted some crap, and left once I started to freeze and re-access somethings.

Did they find anything interesting?  No.  Things I hold in confidence are actually stripped of identifying information and forwarded to a secure account.  Traces of which are deleted from my email system.  So what they found are social media passwords (doh!), XS Cargo flyers (yawn) and recommendations from Amazon on what I need to read next.  

So to avoid this from happening to you, here are the steps you need to do to keep your data safe.

  • Set up two-step authentication on all accounts that provide it
  • Use Diceware to create secure passwords for all your email accounts
  • Create a unique email address for your most valuable log-ins
  • Use a good password utility to create unique, strong passwords for every site you visit
  • Create fake security-question answers
  • Freeze your accounts with all three credit agencies
  • Don’t let Web sites store your credit card info
  • Hide your Who-is listings if you own your own domains
  • Set up WPA-2 encryption on your wifi router
  • Never click links in email
  • Prepare ahead of time for identity theft or hacking

The Sinkhole of Bureaucracy

This is incredible.  All government employees who retire in the United States have their paperwork hand processed in a giant mine underneath the surface in Pennsylvania 

That process now takes, on average, at least 61 days. That’s the same amount of time it took in 1977, according to a federal audit from that time. Many state retirement systems, which also handle large loads of employees, do it much faster. Florida takes 47 days. The California teachers’ retirement system takes 23. Texas takes two.

Those three process their files digitally, not on paper. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has been trying — and failing — to do the same thing here.

The first time, work began in 1987. Years passed. About $25 million was spent, according to the Government Accountability Office. But within the government, officials started to worry that it wasn’t working.

“The reports [from the contractor] just asserted that they had written X lines of code. . . . For an executive, that’s just invisible; you don’t know what it means,” said Curtis Smith, who oversaw retirement processing from 1989 to 1994. He was a longtime federal employee with a PhD in English literature, supervising a massive technology project.

“I had no idea [if] they were making progress from month to month. And I just sort of took it on faith that they could make it work,” Smith said. “And they never did.”

In 1996, two years after Smith left the government, officials finally pulled the plug on that project. Then, in 1997, the government tried again.

First it tried revamping the system in-house. Then it scrapped that plan and hired contractors. After years of work, the system the contractors built was supposed to be ready by early 2008.

But by 2007, there were concrete warnings that it again wasn’t going to work.

“Every time we would do what I would call a stress test, we would come up with abysmal numbers — like an 18 percent success rate,” said Robert Danbeck, who was overseeing the project. The root of the problem, he said, was that the system had trouble synthesizing information from so many sources and calculations based on so many laws. “We would go back and look at what caused it, and it was always just so many pieces, trying to tie things together.”

Danbeck quit. In early 2008, the system went live.

Then it broke and was eventually scrapped, after more than $106 million had been spent. In the mine, the files continued to move on paper.

Contained in all those failures, experts say, is a very brief history of the federal government’s recent troubles with information technology.

A recent study by the Standish Group, a firm in Boston that researches failures, found that only 5 percent of large federal IT projects in the last decade fully succeeded.

Of the rest, 41 percent were failures, canceled before they were turned on. The reasons often echoed the problems in the mine: Federal officials either tried to buy a technology they didn’t fully understand because they lacked the technical skill, or they didn’t test what they were getting until it was too late.

I love reading the reports on how long it will take to synchronize U.S. military accounting systems. Some estimates say 100 years which is another way of saying that we have given up and aren’t even trying any more.

Name brand mattresses are a scam

It doesn’t really matter which mattress you buy, they are all the same

Here’s the lowdown: Mattress makers rename identical products for each different retail store. Different labels, exact same guts. Why? Obfuscation. It’s hard to shop for the lowest price when you can’t compare apples to apples. Lucky for you, they’re all subtle variations on the same apple—not only within each brand, but even among different brands.

The heart of an innerspring mattress is the coils. Otherwise it’s just foam, cotton, quilting, and stitches. But the big-name mattress makers (with some exceptions) all get their coils from a single company, Leggett and Platt, for their highest-end mattresses down to their lowest. This is akin to every single car on the market, Lamborghinis to Kias, using an engine made by Ford. Except that mattresses are far less complicated than cars. In fact, they’re so simple that there’s no real difference among them at all.