Uncle Sam on the Fourth of July

Veteran's Park, Nov 11, 2017
Veteran's Park, Nov 11, 2017

A Note From Uncle Sam

This has been my 12th year of "Have Your Picture Taken With Uncle Sam" in the Old Poway train park, and it has been quite a ride. This year I have written a kind of year by year history of the journey, which can be found at the bottom of this page, or take this link.

Sample Picture Pages

Each photo has a unique Web address printed on it, like this:


This Web address is designed so that only the person with the print can access that picture online. However, you can share the Web address with friends or relatives in distant places so they can access your picture as well. Just remember, in the URL all of the letters are always lowercase.

The Web page for each picture has different size pictures for different purposes, all easily downloaded for email, Facebook or for making additional prints.

Here are some example pictures from the last few years.

Images from 2018

budwin.net/sam/c8mff7   A friend from my old job.
budwin.net/sam/6dtp4y   The Princesses
budwin.net/sam/usmw3j   The Princesses, pointing
budwin.net/sam/cztsyy   Lowell
budwin.net/sam/7cebsu   My family
budwin.net/sam/3wdbux   Matt
budwin.net/sam/s7zim9   Suzanne Emery

Images from 2017

budwin.net/sam/w5ewmv   My beautiful sister came to visit
budwin.net/sam/u3mf9a   The Poway Princess Court
budwin.net/sam/dknxwj   My family, with Vernon
budwin.net/sam/jaqdp8   My sister again, with her husband and my wife
budwin.net/sam/h9n28f   Suzanne Emery!
budwin.net/sam/gn88gy   Lowell
budwin.net/sam/xesqxc   Vernon goes insane and tries to strangle Uncle Sam

Images from 2016

budwin.net/sam/btu2xk   Poway Princesses
budwin.net/sam/4uddzc   Poway Princesses (pointing)
budwin.net/sam/sk6atg   Lowell, a personal friend.
budwin.net/sam/65676b   Suzanne Emery, Poway treasure
budwin.net/sam/hjv5qv   Bob Meyer, the street organ guy
budwin.net/sam/fap7dd   My family

Images from 2015

budwin.net/sam/n9ftr7   Poway Princesses
budwin.net/sam/hxk8us   My family
budwin.net/sam/qxt693   Lowell, a personal friend, with family
budwin.net/sam/hnxzpa   Suzanne Emery

Images from 2014

budwin.net/sam/xbxtst   Tricorner revolutionary soldier
budwin.net/sam/mufdjz   Poway Princesses #1
budwin.net/sam/hf3xmv   Poway Princesses #2
budwin.net/sam/uvhz5c   Poway Princesses #3
budwin.net/sam/73sesd   Poway Princesses (all)
budwin.net/sam/fkvu3t   Poway Princesses (pointing)
budwin.net/sam/jh7tpb   Erik, a personal friend
budwin.net/sam/yxuzc7   Suzanne and Bob Emery, with condolences to Suzanne
budwin.net/sam/wejwih   Lowell, a personal friend, with friend
budwin.net/sam/9w2s6w   My family
budwin.net/sam/sm2whe   Scott, a personal friend

Images from 2013

budwin.net/sam/77zqpa   Bob the street organ player
budwin.net/sam/e3r7c2   Unidentified costume cowboy
budwin.net/sam/eeeew3   Scott, a personal friend
budwin.net/sam/figsj4   Lowell, a personal friend
budwin.net/sam/ijxmvh   Poway Princesses
budwin.net/sam/k37vrt   Tricorner revolutionary soldier
budwin.net/sam/n2fykk   Poway Rodeo Queens
budwin.net/sam/qupw3v   My family including my mom
budwin.net/sam/vv2guw   Park employee (Dave?)

A Partial History of the Old Poway Park Uncle Sam

Year 2004

Once when I was in Old Poway Park on the Fourth of July, I saw the previous Uncle Sam. I did not have my picture taken with him, but I hung around for a few minutes and took a couple of my own pictures. That was it. (Click pictures to expand)

[Sam 2004] [Sam-2004]

Year 2005

Then, the very next year, I saw in the paper (click to expand):

[Leo Hengeveld]

At home, I have this big felt hat that we got at the Rose Parade, and using it I would play pretend Uncle Sam at events like ball games. Becoming Poway's ceremonial guy was not really on my radar, though.

Still, I was shocked to find out that Poway's 'Uncle Sam' had died, and was keenly aware that they had empty shoes to fill.

Year 2006

Poway did have an Uncle Sam in 2006, a tall young guy, and he did his best. But people did not really warm to him.

In around 2006, I used to attend Padres games, and would wear "the hat" and sometimes more around the Fourth of July. As a camera magnet, sometimes my picture got put on the scoreboard screen. Here are a couple of pictures from that time you can click in to.


A Poway park employee saw me on the big screen once and recognized me as a Poway resident. She suggested that I might be a useful candidate for their Uncle Sam. Eventually, Suzanne Emery, the wife of Councilman Bob Emery, was called in to close the deal because Suzanne and I had met, and she was involved with the park system. So it was agreed that in 2007 I would be their Uncle Sam, and we would see how it goes.

July 4, 2007

Approximate picture count: 12 (this is a guess)

In 2007, my employer had asked me to take a business trip to Shanghai, China. Scheduling the trip was up to me, so I chose to leave on July 5, so as not to interfere with my new volunteer job. Of course this put me on pins and needles.

As in previous years, the city had a Polaroid camera, and had laid in a small supply of film. Because of the cost, they had to charge for pictures, around $1.50 I think. The park assigned an assistant, named Leslie, to take the pictures and keep things organized. The cost really reduced the number of people who wanted photos, and it was kind of a slow day. Here is a sample photo, of me with Councilman/Mayor Bob Emery. You can punch down on the thumb to get a bigger picture.


And yes, the next day I took a limo to the airport and spent the next 13 days in China. But that's another story.

July 4, 2008

Approximate picture count: 56+ (no systematic collection of pictures)

Poway News Chieftain, July 10, 2008

After the Polaroid experience, I felt pretty strongly that we should be using digital cameras and photo printers to create the prints, and told the park that I wanted to take ownership of the picture taking process. At the time I worked for HP, which designed and sold photo printers out of Rancho Bernardo. I talked to one of the design engineers, and he enlisted the marketing department to create our digital solution.

The marketeers came with half a dozen cameras (some of them very nice), and half a dozen of a new printer product called the "Home Photo Center". The HPC was a small kiosk appliance with a built in printer and a touchscreen of 4-5 inches in size. It could read almost any camera card, and you could select a picture and print it from the touchscreen.

The marketing people and their families made a day of it. They would take a picture, extract the card from the camera, plug it into an HPC, find the picture, and print it. Then, they would move the card back into the camera for the next shot. And this was done over and over, for probably more than 100 pictures. Because it was promotional, we couldn't charge for pictures, and people loved that.

But there were clearly scaling problems. It took a lot of people and a lot of equipment to take and print a lot of pictures, and being in the center of it was like being in a maelstrom. Digital cameras and printers had to be the future, because Polaroid as a whole was dying. But digital cameras and printers had to be used in a smarter, more connected way.

July 4, 2009

Approximate picture count: 189

The marketing year was great, but they were not about to repeat that, so something else had to be done. Later that Summer I bought a Canon SD430 Wi-Fi camera. It had features that can be hard to find, even today, like remote shooting, and automatic transfer of new pictures to a computer. To help the camera along, I used an HP 1000 Netbook and made a self contained (peer to peer) network to shoot and share the pictures, and used the image viewer in the Netbook to print them.

Camera batteries would only last an hour or so, so we had a pipeline of batteries and battery chargers feeding the camera, and the whole thing went down when the camera battery ran out. I don't remember how many printers we had, but it was not enough. There were lots of other niggling little problems, like the operator having to jump up and adjust the tripod a lot. But the basic system worked great. The cameraman could shoot the camera and dispatch a print job without extra help, and the speed of the process seemed to be limited by the printers themselves, not by people running around with camera cards.

July 4, 2010

Approximate picture count: 203

Ha, ha. This is the year that they forgot to get my costume. Rather than give up and cancel, I improvised. And we took and printed close to 200 pictures that year.

A lot of people wanted to take pictures with their own cameras, or with their phones. Some even asked how they might get an electronic copy of the picture that was taken and printed, but I really did not want to collect email addresses and associate them with particular pictures.

But the problem was out there. People really wanted to get a copy of the picture so they could post it to Facebook, or whatever.

[Sam-2010] [Sam-2010]

July 4, 2011

Approximate picture count: 162

Each year I try to make some improvement to the process, and the problem of providing a downloadable copy of each picture was worthy of some thought. There are issues, of course. There are a lot of pictures of little kids, so only the original subject should have the download privilege. I run a personal Web site (budwin.net) and work on Web projects from time to time.

For the pictures, the solution chosed was to hand out a paper ticket with each picture with a secret URL on it, different for each picture. For this to work, I had to print hundreds of tickets, and be able to hand them out in the correct order. Ticket booklets were printed with a hundred or so tickets in each book, bound with a heavy duty staple, with tickets to be torn off and handed out in order.

The secret code (w3vnnh in the sample below) represents a 30 bit number in a base-32 symbol set consisting of letters and numbers. There are about a billion 30 bit numbers, so it is really, really unlikely that a secret code can be guessed.

For the year 2011, the tickets looked like this:

Thanks for visiting Uncle Sam!
To get your picture, visit:
( img_1055.jpg )

After the event, there was still a lot of work to do. The pictures had to be processed into Web pages (mostly scripted) and uploaded to my hosting provider. Only when that is done can Poway's Uncle Sam relax.

Sometime in this period I also added the pan-tilt to the camera. It was an old unit from a surveillance camera, but it turned out to be easy to control using the electrical equivalent of a Commodore-64 joystick. With this and the remote shooting software, the cameraman could point and zoom the camera before shooting, without getting up out of his chair.

Along with the pan-tilt, the printing of the picture was completely scripted, so that a single double click on the image file would choose the next printer in rotation and spool the print automatically. If a printer ran out of ink or paper, it could be taken out of the rotation, while the other printers picked up the load.

July 4, 2012

Approximate picture count: 257

The next year, I again printed tickets, but a great idea was rapidly looking tired. The biggest problem was not printing or binding the tickets, it was making sure that the correct ticket was handed out. If we got out of sync, then every ticket would be wrong, so incredible vigilance was necessary, with constant checking of the image number against the ticket. The tickets themselves hardly changed:

Midland Park Uncle Sam 2012!
To get your picture, visit:
( img_1109.jpg )   Thanks!

July 4, 2013

Approximate picture count: 220

Sometimes, when you have a thorny problem, a fresh perspective can show a better way. I was talking with my son about the ticket problem when he suggested printing the ticket on the back of the picture. It did not seem possible, the printers could not duplex, and the back side of the picture was not suitable for printing anyway.

But the key feature of this idea was pure gold. If the picture and the ticket were brought together as one, ticket preparation and ticket synchronization problems all went away. It was worth working on.

In this case, the ticket is a kind of picture caption, and software that can add captions is not that hard to come by. For the tiny PC that is used to catch and print the pictures, I was able to install Imagemagick, a suite of image processing and modification programs, and program it to insert a caption on the right side of the picture with the ticket information.

This placement of the caption solves a second problem that we had just been living with. The camera we were using has an aspect ratio of 4:3, which means the picture height is exactly 3/4 of its width. However, the printer paper was 4x6, or an aspect ratio of 3:2, for a picture height of 2/3 of its width. By adding the caption on the right, I was able to correct the aspect ratio of the printed image to match the printer paper. Not a huge deal, but it means that no unexpected cropping of the top or bottom of the print would happen.

Okay, I am done nerding out. The ticket was added to the picture, and the two line caption was as simple as possible:

 Old Poway Park 2013

The only real problem with this is I don't think a lot of people realized that the second line was really a Web URL that could be typed in to download the picture, so not very many people did that.

July 4, 2014

Approximate picture count: 262

This time the caption was expanded to make it clear that budwin.net is a download URL.

Welcome to Old Poway Park - July 4, 2014
Download at http://budwin.net/sam/vp66u3/

In keeping with the continuous improvement theme, we had started bringing a bag of felt hats so that the kids, or even adults, could play a little dress-up for their picture. People liked the idea.

Here are some nice pictures from 2014 of the rig with printers and pan-tilt.

[img_1857] [img_1859] [img_1862] [img_1863]

This was the year that the Pomerado Community Band invited me to conduct the Stars and Stripes Forever. Being up close and personal with a good sized band is a unique and loud experience, and I thank the band and its leader for the opportunity and the thrill.


July 4, 2015

Approximate picture count: 304
Caption style:

Welcome to Old Poway Park - July 4, 2015!
     To download this picture go to:

Every year is different, but I can't remember any huge improvements we made this year.

The record picture count tells and interesting story, though. The Fourth of July is normally a hot day in Poway, but in 2015 it was cloudy for much of the day. This kept the temperature below 90 for most of the day, resulting in a good turnout, and a high demand for pictures.

This, plus the fact that the equipment and process were now working really well, gave us the high picture count. What we had, in fact, was a well oiled machine.

July 4, 2016

Approximate picture count: 270
Caption style:

Welcome to Old Poway Park - July 4, 2016!
     To download this picture go to:

Nor can I remember huge improvements for this year. There is a story to tell, though.

In 2016, after the Fourth of July, the MLB All-Star game was held in San Diego. While I did not go to the game myself, I scored some tickets to the "Fanfest", a floor show in the Convention Center. After a couple of days spent getting baseballs signed by famous people, I noticed people (kids, usually) going around with green foam hats that looked like wicked mohawks. They were labeled "Scotts" and were supposed to look like growing grass. Now freebies are the mother's milk of convention floor shows, and I had to get a green hat.

So I found the Scott's booth, and asked the woman there what I had to do to get a hat. She told me I had to get my picture taken. There was a place for a line, but no line (the actual All-Star game was going to start soon). On the photo stage were props: a bat, a glove, a ball. I put the bat on my shoulder, and *flash*, the picture was taken. Then, 15 seconds later, it popped into a tray for pickup, dry and ready to stuff into a pocket.


The inkjet printers have always been on the critical path at the Uncle Sam booth, and here was something that left them in the dust. I went to the back of the printer and photographed it with my own camera. The tag said "Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd., DNP Model DS40". And an Internet adventure was begun.


The DNP DS40 is a $1000 printer. No big surprise there, but it looked like exactly what I needed. Fortunately DNP has a newer, less expensive model, the DS-RX1. At around $600 it is still pricey, but the economics are pretty clear.

The HP inkjet printers are obsolete and are no longer being made. They take over a minute to make a print, and the cost for paper and cartridges is around 60 cents per print. Each year the cost goes up. If the printers were being made, they would cost over $100 each, and we need three of them to make prints fast enough.

The DNP printers are a growing product line. Not only can they produce a print in 15 seconds, but the per-print cost is 15 cents. A single media load is enough to make 700 prints, which is one reason the machine is both big and heavy. But only one DNP printer is needed.

In late 2016 I bought a DNP printer and made plans for using it in 2017. Sorry, HP.

July 4, 2017

Approximate picture count: 265
Caption style:

Poway City Seal Caption

News Chieftain, 2017 ("File Photo" is from 2016)

This year we rolled out the DNC DS-RX1 dye sublimation printer. It made 265 prints for the people that came, and did it fast enough and without complaint.

In addition to the new printer, I reworked the caption on the picture, adding a little tiny Poway City Seal to the caption. Maybe this is getting too fancy, but nobody complained about it. Nobody told me it was great, either.

In addition to the new printer, I followed through on an idea to get people more involved. I made a bunch of small white signs, intended for patriotic messages or shout-outs. Things like USMC, Vietnam, or Korea. Or Home Front, or Purple Heart. A Sharpie marker was there to make signs on the fly, to make your picture unique or special.

July 4, 2018

Approximate picture count: 264
Caption style: Same as last year.

Things that struck me this year:

When the Poway Princesses came to have their picture taken, they noticed a ratty old print that we have been using as a prop for the last three years or so, and recognized "Hey, look! It's Jackie Foster!"

The picture in question is HERE. Jackie has the sash that says "MISS POWAY". Jackie is now sort of famous, starring as a contestant on "The Voice". I am always honored by every single Princess who comes to pose with me, but to have this happen with one of them is special.

Contact Poway's Uncle Sam