Joseph Hallenbeck

Anno Domini 2010

December 03, 2010

A Return from the Southwest

Filed under: Wanderlust

Angel's Landing Hike

I just returned from a month-long road trip around the southwest. After six long months at Jewel Cave, a few weeks of camping in the frigid nights of a desert winter, waking to gusting winds, and traversing three-thousand miles of the American west, I feel a renewed vigor for returning to work.

I notice that film equipment never fails to break right before a big trip (when I toured Ireland in 2008 my auto-focus on my telephoto lens broke). This time I not only broke my tripod immediately before the trip, I discovered that my flashgun wouldn’t fire on the second day. I lugged the useless flashes around for the remainder of the trip.

Carlsebad Caverns Stalagmite

My current plans: I have two short stories I began developing in the southwest that I want to complete over the next month alongside the final touches on Sunset Office Cleaning’s website. After that, a move to Missoula, MT where I hope to find inspiration amongst the mountains and the people there.

September 21, 2010

Dust in the Camera

Photo with Lens Dust


  • Nikon D80 with a 35mm lens (52mm equivalent)
  • Shutter Speed 1/6s
  • Aperature f/22.0
  • ISO 100
  • Filter Circular Polarizer

A friend and I went out to St. Onge, SD last weekend to capture some photographs of the old abandoned buildings out that way. After a hundred shots, I got home, unloaded them into Adobe Bridge and found this massive spec of dust on every photo. I checked my filters, checked each lens. Took a dozen practice shots. I found no dust on any lens, filter, nor saw it in the view screen. Which left only one place: the sensor.

Now they say you shouldn’t try cleaning the sensor yourself. Supposedly, you can break it with just a casual touch. I don’t have the money to replace the camera, nor the money to send it in, so I chance it. I lock the shutter open, take a small bulb-brush and, holding it just above the sensor, begin to gently blow on the sensor. I close the shutter. I take another test shot. Camera works. Dust is gone.

A pity. There’s a giant hunk of dust in every one of those photos. And quite a few (like this one) turned out pretty good. Guess it’s time for photoshop.

August 27, 2010


Filed under: Journal

Right now, I’m finishing my work with Sunset Office Cleaning and I hope to see their website live by the end of September. After that, expect some remodeling around here. I’ve decided that this particular site attempts to focus on too many of my activities at once. Ergo, I’m going to break into a sequence of sub-domains with each site focusing on a particular aspect of my work: web design/development, print design, photography, and writing. (I also hope to increase my output for Drifting in the Sea of Nihilism once the site development is done.

Speculation continues as to where I’ll be come October. I drew a list of places to move to, work to do, but all of it hinges on a lot of unknowns right now.


Last night, I took my first stab at cave photography while on a caving trip with two friends into Jewel Cave. Out of 61 shots taken that night, only two felt “okay.”

JECA Wild Caving


  • Nikon D80 with a 35mm lens (52mm equivalent)
  • Shutter Speed 1.3s
  • Aperature f/11.0
  • ISO 100
  • 2 Vivitar 283s with a firefly 2 flash

Jessie Ketchum models on the canyoning portion of Jewel Cave’s Wild Caving Route. A slave flash fired by Vicki Bierwirth from below lights the corridor beyond Jessie while a secondary flash, held at arm’s length from the camera, provides fill for Jessie. I would’ve liked a secondary assistant, and perhaps a third flash to light the fifteen foot pit that Jessie is straddling. A more active pose, perhaps with Jessie moving towards instead of away from the camera, would have enhanced the composition.

JECA Wild Caving


  • Nikon D80 with a 35mm lens (52mm equivalent)
  • Shutter Speed 1/60s
  • Aperature f/8.0
  • ISO 100
  • Vivitar 283 with a firefly 2 flash and on-camera flash

Again, Jessie sits on the canyoning section of the route, but this time looking upwards. I instructed Vicki to aim the vivitar at the ceiling above Jessie while an on-camera flash provided fill light. Although I like the effect of the lit ceiling, the on-camera flash gives Jessie a flattened look and failed to properly light her, leaving her too dark against the lighter ceiling. I used photoshop to highlight Jessie out of the foreground and lighten her, but this only further reduced the depth of her shadows.

August 10, 2010

Hitting the Road Again

Filed under: Journal

Ploughshares says “no” to “Model Crow.” So once again, I’m off to the market to see where else this story might go. I discovered (to my chagrin) that many publications close their doors to submissions through the summer months, so although I sit on a nice stack of poems and stories ready for the slush pile, I’ve no where to send them.

In the meantime, I concentrate on my website work. I began the process of splicing together Sunset Office Cleaning’s design and setting up the proper style sheets that will display their website brilliantly across the net. Once this is off my plate, I hope for some more opportunities through the coming winter months to continue to expand my repertoire.

Full Moon

Photos of the moon seem to rarely turn out. They’re either out of focus, too bright, or too dim. Last night I climbed up Little Devil’s Tower in Custer State Park and after fidgeting with my telephoto for some time captured one good image of the moon.

Above is the result. I took this cropped shot of the moon on my Nikon d80 using the Nikkor 18-200mm zoom lens fully extended to 200mm, a 1/60s shutter speed, f/11 f-stop and set on ISO 100. The result is my first sharp image of the moon.

July 21, 2010

Summer Update

Filed under: Journal

Amongst caving, hiking, and all that fun under the summer sun, I somehow find time to update this portfolio. A quick update on what’s going on right now:

  • Drifting in the Sea of Nihilism celebrates one month of persistent updates! (consequently, I also celebrate twenty-five years of avoiding death).
  • My short story “Model Crow,” is beginning to make the rounds to magazines. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping someone picks it up.
  • I retooled large sections of the portfolio to reflect my growing push towards graphic design in web and print media. This includes updated resumes, an expansion of my photographic samples, and the inclusion of sketches and additional design samples.
  • At Jewel Cave National Monument, I’m starting to wrap up the first draft of our 2011 newspaper! Its been a good summer, with a very exciting team of talented writers to work beside.
  • Speaking of JECA, my season will come to a close sooner than I expect. September 18 will see me returning to either fulltime writing, or some new job. I’m currently looking for either a winter season position (hopefully with publication related duties) or a fulltime design position somewhere in the north-western quadrant of the U.S.


I discovered webcomics back in high school, but my love of comics went a long ways back. I’ve collected comic books since grade school, loved Bill Waterson’s Calvin & Hobbes and Gary Larson’s Farside. I recall wanting to be a cartoonist in the third grade, and now it seems I’ve started to make that come true. Yesterday was the launch of Drifting in the Sea of Nihilism: Experiments in Comicking, my first stab into the world of webcomics. Drifting will update on Tuesdays and Thursdays following two separate storylines and possibly more as I continue to hone my skills at the craft (which are rather crude to say the least).


VLP USD Dakota Hall 212 414 E Clark, Vermillion, SD 57069-2390

In other news, my time in the lovely city of Seattle is at an end. I elected to return to my post at Jewel Cave National Monument for another exciting season of leading visitors through the cave. Monument staff have already asked me to do a follow up of last year’s Jewel Cave Scout Ranger Booklet in the form of a new publication: The Jewel Cave Jr. Spelunker Booklet.

February 06, 2010

The Dogged Philosopher

Filed under: Philosophy

This week I would like to announce The Dogged Philosopher, a new website and blog  I developed to showcase my philosophic writings, various literary essays, and discourses of a more political nature. The Dogged Philosopher will be updated multiple times a week (time permitting from other writing projects), so please bookmark it and check it regularly if you would like an insight into my thinking or additional examples of my research work.

As of late, I became greatly concerned with justice. Not the particularities of certain virtues, but the general systems and movements we make as individuals to navigate through our judgments as we pursue happiness in our lives. In the past, we looked to the wise to find our solutions, but following wise men fell out of favor. Culture still exists and still informs our acts. Yet for many, Hegal lays broken on the ground as the masses trod about making one ethical paradigm shift after another until they muddied the river and no one really knows what Culture was trying to inform in the first place.  Wisdom, once already obscure, becomes even cloudier when everyone claims equal right to it, and whether Buddha was happier than the salary-man or the NGO crusaders becomes a matter of opinion rather than truth.

In the end, we have a solid sheet of artic ice that holds firm above a chaotic sea of ever shifting ethical systems that ride the tides of political and economic currents. It reasons that we could easily live life atop the ice – accepting the dictates of Culture. Whether we would be happier, applying ourselves to the universal or thrashing about freely in the frigid waters remains an active debate. The result is a mixture of systems containing volatile combinations of contradictory values, judgments, and self-induced hypocrisies that when realized become the source of much angst and fervent existential searching. We contend ourselves with deciding whether to behave according to Culture, some counter-Culture, or some private-ethic. Furthermore, since we no longer expect that those around us appeal to the same Culture or Counter-culture we learn in our business, friendships, and relationships to assume the stances that contradict our own for the benefits of reputation.

Concerning justice for reputation, in the second book of Plato’s Republic Glaucon addresses Socrates and lays out a case damning justice as practiced only for the “sake of the rewards and popularity that comes from a reputation for justice, but is to be avoided because of itself as something burdensome” (999). He asks Socrates to prove that justice is of the first or second type e.g. a “good we welcome, not because we desire what comes from it, but because we welcome it for its own sake” (998).

Nevertheless, Socrates seems to falter in his defense. In detailing his hypothetical city, he advocates renouncing the stories of Homer and Hesiod in order to

…persuade our people that no citizen has ever hated another and that it’s impious to do so, then that’s what should be told to children from the beginning by old men and women . . . The young can’t distinguish what is allegorical from what isn’t and the opinions they absorb at that age are hard to erase and apt to become unalterable. For these reasons, then, we should probably take the utmost care to insure that the first stories they hear about virtue are the best ones for them to hear (1017). Persuading the people of a falsehood seems hardly just and while children may accept that no citizen has ever hated another as truth there will come a time in which they realize the lie. What should become of them then? Seeing that one bit of Culture was false will they discard the rest of Culture and set off on a rickety raft into that chaotic sea no longer trusting the wisdom of old men to differentiate truth from falsehood? We awaken from an age that took Socrates’ advice, and now the children of that age stumble about dabbling in one Culture after another. They assume vices or virtues for a short time, cast them off like a cloak, and assume a new set.

This begins my inquiry. I should like to salvage justice from my doubt. Like Socrates, I would like to defend justice as something desired for its own sake and not its reputation. Nevertheless, I am dissatisfied with Socrates’ defense and feel he inadequately refutes Glaucon. Furthermore, today it feels difficult to appeal to Culture to inform our actions. There exists too many accounts in our history where Culture was wrong and yet left to our own devices I am uncertain if our movements amount to more than randomness or a mixture of solipsism and hedonism.

Works Cited

Plato. “Republic.” Plato Complete Works. Ed. John M. Cooper. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1997: 971-1223.

I am excited to announce that my first professional publication for the National Park Service is now available. I got a call yesterday saying the print copy of the Jewel Cave Scout Ranger Activity Booklet is back from the printers and is now available at Jewel Cave National Monument. My copy is still in the mail, but if the test prints indicate anything, the final print will be one of the highest quality free publications the park service offers. If you are a scouting or youth organization planning a visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota, please take time to visit the cave and inquire about the publication. The booklet covers the history of the area, the formation of the cave, and the role that the National Park Service plays in its preservation. It is a full color print with beautiful photographs of the cave, cave explorers, and surrounding flora and fauna. Did I mention it is a free publication?

In other news, these past months have been extremely busy for me.

In January, I made the move to my new residence in Seattle, WA. and continued to develop my personal creative projects. I finished editing a collection of seven poems, which are now making the rounds to publishers. Two short stories (“Lapis Lazuli” and “Centaurs with Newspapers”) will soon join the poems in the ethereal void between my desk and the trash bins of editors. I am would also like to announce that I am starting construction of a website for Alt.Real, a weekly webcomic launching in March 2010.

January 22, 2010

A Statement of Purpose

Filed under: Journal

My experience in blogging indicates that without some statement of why the blog exists or what the blog will cover the blog will gradually sink into a meandering journal of the author’s random thoughts. I know this, because I have blogs filled with my random musings. Let this one be different. Let it focus more on informing others rather than introspectively informing myself. What might you find here in future entries?

  • Announcements relating to my upcoming publications, current writings, and work.
  • A highlight of my photographs and artwork
  • Short essays on philosophy, travelogues, and art reviews