Monthly Archives: December 2012
Safety Features that Frighten Me
Honda has a new safety package on some of their cars. The ads go something like, “Sooner or later you’ll be driving when you’re on the verge of falling asleep. Sooner or later you’ll make a sudden swerve across several lanes of traffic. Sooner or later you’ll be driving and not watching where you’re going. Our car has technology to make it safer to do those things! Yay Honda!”
Already there are people out there, who, when the moment comes to make a life-and-death decision, will, because of this technology, be more inclined to choose death. Death for themselves and for those around them. Death for me, perhaps. Some of those people will choose death anyway, but now, with the assurance that their car is looking out for her, a teenage girl will veer across four lanes of traffic and be represented at her prom by a table with her photo on it, with candles and little mementos. Elsewhere, some guy is going to decide to cover an extra hundred miles while his wife sleeps in the passenger seat, confident that his car will wake him up, and he will leave his children orphaned.
This technology is part of a larger, encouraging trend towards cars that drive themselves, that plan ahead long before the desired exit, pull over when the human monitor is asleep, and talk to each other to warn of obstacles and negotiate safe passage. Steps like the ones Honda has introduced are valuable in reaching that goal.
But these intermediate steps? I don’t want them on the road with me.
Open Letter to Yontoo
Tonight I came home to discover that whenever I looked at this site, it was wrapped in advertising. Yikes! I was relieved to discover that it was ‘only’ on my machine; I had unknowingly inherited a browser extension that turned Safari into a giant billboard. Panic gave way to annoyance.
The creator of this extension is called Yontoo. They suck. But you can be sure that I didn’t run a Yontoo installer recently. Something else I installed did me the favor of sliding that sucker onto my machine. Tonight I wrote Yontoo this message:
How can I find out how you [sic] software was installed in my browser? I certainly didn’t ask for it, but obviously at some point when I thought I was installing something else, I got your stuff too. I want to know who to yell at.
Merry Happy and Whatnot
It’s been rainy here lately, downright Portlandic (do you feel the ’90’s?). The other day I stepped out onto my front porch to discover the poinsettias there bejeweled with glistening drops of rainwater. In the spirit of the holiday, I thought I’d share. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.
Click the images to biggerize them. I think my favorite is the middle one.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Our Kitchen, Filled With Treats
This is Why We Don’t Get You Nice Things
It was Sunday, and while I’m not an avid sports-watcher, I have come to enjoy listening to a game on the radio while I putter about. And by “radio” I mean iPad with the Tune-in app. (I came close to buying a cheap radio for the garage before I realized I probably already had one.)
Due to the geometry of house and WiFi station, when I’m outside I need to keep the iPad elevated to get the signal. So I propped it up where the fence attaches to the house, double-checked it for stability, and set to work on the gate. Fast forward to when I was working on the pier that the gate latches against. Apparently the vibration caused the iPad to slowly scoot to the left, unobserved by me. As I attacked the wood with the sander I heard the clatter behind me. I turned with my heart in my throat and saw the iPad, face down on concrete, six feet below where it had been, the sound of the broadcast still coming from its dinky speakers.I allowed myself a moment of hope. If it was still working, perhaps it had miraculously survived the fall. Gingerly I picked up the fallen gadget. As you already know from looking at the pictures, the iPad was now an exPad.
Had I purchased AppleCare with the iPad, I would have been able to get a free replacement. In general I’m not a big fan of warranties on solid-state devices, however, preferring to simply not break them in the first place. Which is a perfectly workable theory except when I do break things.
Happily for me, I work with a group of people who are, shall we say, ethusiastic about iPads and whatnot. A co-worker had an iPad substantially better than mine, that she no longer used because there’s one out now that’s even better yet. She was willing to sell it to me for a (relative) song, and now I have my retina display (which is sweet). And, oddly enough, AppleCare.
Turns out my 24-105mm zoom has pretty nice bokeh as well. I was using it as a macro lens, and actually stopped it pretty far down to get more depth of focus. When you get that close, however, there’s only so much you can do. The pros use a technique called focus stacking to overcome this difficulty – they take a series of pictures with focus at slightly different distances from the front edge of the product to the back, and combine them together with electronic magic, taking the in-focus portion of each slice. The high-end shops actually have servo-controlled gizmos that move the camera a tiny bit at a time between shots. I saw an animation of an iPod photo that had fifty-something individual slices.
Photoshop has the tools for focus stacking, but taking the slices would have required far more effort than I was prepared to put into the project today.
Looking for my New Team
Since the KHL seems to be the preeminent hockey league these days, I need to adjust. My dilemma right now: Do I pull for Lev Praha, the team from Prague? It seemed automatic until I saw Slovan Bratislava in the standings. Slovakia’s pretty cool; it wouldn’t be hard to root for them.
The Slovak team has way more history; Lev Praha was founded this year, Slovan dates back to 1921. Not a lot of names I recognize on either roster (Why the hell is Zdeno Chara playing for the Czechs rather than the Slovaks?), and should the NHL start playing before the KHL completely eats its lunch, those names I do know will be back here in North America.
But if I were an enterprising sports network, or a desperate one, I’d consider banging out a contract with the KHL, and bringing more than just a token couple of games over here. It might be too late to really make bank on this labor stoppage, but it seems a safe bet that another will come along soon enough.
I looked in the KHL shop, and you know what you can get with Slovan’s logo on it? Nothing. A big, fat, zip. Which makes me really want a Miroslav Satan sweater. (He’s the only name I recognized at first glance, and he’s also the only player on that team’s injured list.) Anyone in Bratislava who can hook me up?
Edited to add: The league does have a Che Guevara hockey shirt, which appeals to me most because it’s their best effort at capitalist exploitation to date — but we can’t underestimate the impact of Che in a hockey helmet. Viva La Hockey!
Yet one more addition: I might have to root for Kazakhstan! Because it’s Kazakhstan! The only thing that cools my enthusiasm is that less than half the team is actually from there.
I just saw an ad for the home release of Total Recall, a recent remake of a shitty movie based on a pretty good story.
The words “Better than the original” drifted in block caps across the screen, superimposed over running, shooting, and explosions. Apparently, ‘better than the original’ was high enough praise from one reviewer to get the words plastered over the screen. “Better than a sharp stick in the eye,” is the colloquial translation. I expect watching the movie is also better than drinking battery acid. So, it’s pretty good, right?
A Wee Bit of Happy News
It was a tough day, overall. I’ll go into details later, maybe. But here’s a happy story, even if it’s a few years old. It’s the story of Popsicle, a puppy found wrapped in a plastic bag in a freezer.
Popsicle was saved, and went on to be awesome. So, yay, Popsicle!
The Revue is out, and while I’m represented as a photographer in this issue, I’m prouder of my poem. I think it’s pretty good. I got permission to share it here. This Revue was about food, drink, and entertaining, and included recipes. The goal of the editor was to have a poem for each recipe. Being a helpful sort of guy I looked over the recipes and the title ‘Drunk Chicken’ whispered sweet nothings in my ear.
So I wrote this (reproduced with permission of the publisher):
shoots her gun in the house
“You’ll break the eggs!”
Drunk Chicken don’t care.
She’s got more.
Fuckin Rooster gone, long gone
Out in the yard
shouting to the rising sun
“I banged Henrietta last night!”
Drunk Chicken don’t care.
Not so you can tell.
Deep in her nest
Drunk Chicken looks right and left
takes a swig of rum
pulls from the twigs a bullet
strokes it, whispers its name.
She kisses it, as gently as
a drunk chicken can
and puts it away.
Six ordinary bullets
Rooster don’t deserve the special one.
Topology in Bars
I’m in a bar right now, and it’s not crowded. Nearby a group of maybe ten people has collected. They are clustered around a table, wedging in new arrivals rather than annex nearby unoccupied tables and pull them into the party.
Why not spread out? Why not bring in tables so that all involved have a place to set their glass? Let me tell you a little more about the group.
This is a gathering of geeks. ebay, if clothing is an indicator. (This group is indirectly responsible, then, for the recent debt I incurred. I forgive them.) Tech workers of varied ethnicity, having drinks and appetizers.
Two of them are female. The other nine (I’ve counted now) are all working to minimize the distance between themselves and the the non-Y-bearing nucleus of the group.
Only it’s not so simple. Allow me to expand on that theorem. The males (hereafter referred to as ‘dudes’) are actually competing for the closest eye contact with the females (or, ‘chicks’). Dudes don’t just want proximity, they want attention. This leads to a kidney-bean shaped cluster, as the value of space drops dramatically once out of the peripheral vision of the two chicks. Good thing, too; otherwise my little island of tranquility, directly behind the chicks, would be impinged upon by careless geek elbows.
One of the two chicks just shifted her posture inward, slicing off a section of the kidney bean. The isolated bunch immediately began talking about football.
The Wanting and the Having
The other day I went online to learn more about neutral-density filters for photography. The idea is that sometimes there’s too much light, and to manage the light you can crank your lens down, limiting your creativity, or you can essentially give your camera sunglasses. I came across an article by an Australian bloke (rhymes with ‘guy’) who liked to use very very dark filters (“Black Glass”, he called them), to take super-sweet photos of running streams and things like that, using exposures that lasted minutes. A side effect of the technique is colors that reach out of the picture and slap your face.
I was distracted from my original goal of looking at less extreme ND filters, and found myself looking at cameras. The leap from filter to new camera is tenuous at best, but by God I made it.
The day before I had been looking at lenses that were pretty cheap with pretty impressive performance numbers. The catch: they were manual focus. My camera doesn’t have the parts that older cameras have to help a photographer tweak the focus. Auto-focus is so good these days that the extra cost of adding a split prism or whatever just won’t resonate with the typical purchaser.
But there’s another way to get good focus with old-fashioned lenses or practically opaque optics. Live View. Crappy little digicams have had live view for a while now, but for reasons I won’t belabor here, high-end SLRs have only recently gained this power. What it means is this: you can see the picture you’re about to take on the screen on the back of the camera. You can zoom in on the image, choose your favorite eyelash, and adjust the focus until it’s perfect.
My camera, snazzy though it is, doesn’t have Live View. For almost the same reasons, it doesn’t shoot video.
So I started pining for Live View. I have a lens that can really benefit from manual focus, and I plan to substitute pinholes for black glass. The Want took root in my soul.
Flashback: Several years ago, during year zero of the Muddled Age, I was sleeping on my cousin’s sofa in Bozeman, Montana. Let me tell you, there are things to photograph up there. I borrowed his gear for a visit to Yellowstone, got exciting results, and Cousin John set me up with my own rig while I basked in the euphoria of good beer and a few nice photos.
John is a Canon man, and he likes his toys. He filled up a shopping cart at B&H, I said “go”, and shortly thereafter I had a DSLR and three lenses. It’s worth noting that although he likes the high-end stuff, the camera he chose was entry level (though I couldn’t even tell that at the time). The main investment was in the glass, and those lenses have determined my course ever since.
I told anyone who would listen that the Canon 10D was more camera than I would ever need. Perhaps the Gods chortled. The 10D was all the camera I needed for many years, but through a series of events that could not be anticipated but must be appreciated, I began taking a lot of pictures, and I started to feel limited by my camera. No one was more surprised than I was, and no one was more pleased.
My upgrade was a big jump: 10D to a used 5D I bought off a coworker. Canon’s wacky numbering system goes 10-20-30-40-50-7-6-5-1. I think there’s a 60, too. Not all those numbers are available anymore. Anyway, I went 10D to 5D and it was a huge jump, and, gratifyingly, my pictures improved. I wasn’t just buying gear for the bragging rights.
Back to now: Honestly, I’m not feeling that limited by the 5D. It can take a pretty picture or two. But the 5D mark II has way more pixels, and Live View, and video. The person who sold me her 5D had just bought a Mark II. Now there’s the Mark III, out last spring to great excitement. It is a ridiculously awesome piece of consumer electronics. The biggest improvement over the Mark II: it’s much better in low light.
I started following Mark II’s on ebay. They are still manufactured, largely because people who have studio lights don’t need mark III’s most compelling feature. I have lights. I’m getting better at using them. Mark II is enough. Mark II is enough. Mark II is enough.
But you know what? I shoot other places than the studio. Sometimes I don’t control conditions and I have to adapt. A more versatile camera gives me more options. I spent ridiculous hours doing ‘research’, weighing the 5D Mark II, the 5D Mark III, and the brand-new 6D, which has some intriguing features. This research happened over the course of several nights after the light of my life had gone to bed, and resulted in what must have seemed a fiat to her: we need a Mark III. (Yes, “we”.) I haven’t hit the ceiling on the camera I have, and I was calling for a new one. A really expensive new one. I tried to play it cool, but inside I was a knot of commercial lust.
A funny thing happens when I relate this story to the folks around me: “At least you actually take pictures,” is the almost universal response. That I do, that I do. But I still feel something of the poseur when I indulge myself this way. I get good shots with the 5D I already own. It is for my own pride that I feel I have to develop my abilities to warrant carrying a prestige item like the Mark III. I can’t feel proud of owning it, that’s just a matter of spending money. That sucker’s in the mail now, and I better do something to justify holding it.
Also, I check the shipping status roughly every fifteen minutes. I’m giddier than a schoolgirl on free pony night.
There’s not much of today left, but if you get a chance pop over to Java’s Bachelor Pad and check out Harlean Carpenter (who is a fiction), the Christmas Cutie for December 5. The photo was taken by yours truly. We weren’t expecting to be honored over there this year, but Christmas came a little bit early. Hooray!
Oh, Yeah, that NaNoWriMo Thing
Welp, it’s December, and that means another NaNoWriMo under my belt. It was pretty obvious early on that my goal was simply getting my butt into a chair and writing every day, rather than entertain any hope of creating something worth reading. I thought it might also be a chance to interact with some like-minded folk here in the South Bay, and I did a little of that, but not much.
There might be a writing group coming out of it, however. I got a few people worked up on the local message board before I vanished from sight. I need to follow up on that.
I averaged 2500 words a day while I vomited up my November novel. The paragraph that took me over 50K was one in which Cliff Brooks fell from an improbable height, bounced once, and lay still. Killing Cliff Brooks is a local tradition. Before his body was even cold I had turned my attention back to Munchies, and a 600-word-per-day productivity.
Last few days, I haven’t been executing on that. Tonight I’m dedicating my hours to the written word, and I’m still not making progress. But as soon as I’m done with this episode, I’m on it. Really.