Monday, January 31, 2011

January Final

408 (31/365)
Olympus E-P2 with OM 50mm 1:1.4
1/2000s, f/8, ISO 400

I said when I started this that there would be a motley collection of images to come parading across these posts, that they'd probably look like crap. This post's image shows I'm keeping my promise.

When I left work today I drove south on Alafaya and then turned right onto Lake Underhill and followed it to Andes. I wanted to drive slowly enough to make sure I didn't miss anything on the way home, and Andes is the back road into the Executive Airport holding area for the blimps.

I got to the area, but it was empty. I felt a bit forlorn, which is a silly emotion to feel about a blimp not being there, but there you are. As I was driving back down Andes and under the 408, I happened to look up and see the dramatic light and shadow playing on the expressway as sundown approached. I liked it.

I used to look for scenes like this when I was in art school. I loved to draw in charcoal and pastels on fine toothed paper. This takes me back a few decades.


This is my 43rd entry for the month of January. There's only one other month that has more entries: April 2006. Nearly five years ago. Back then I was writing heavily about Linux and its various distributions that I liked, the high and getting higher cost of gas, how Microsoft was so bad, and how Nokia's 770 was terrible.

Looking back five years it pains me to believe I wrote what I wrote in the way I wrote it. It's too late to remove it; I'm sure that there's a copy in some internet archive somewhere. But I doubt anyone would care enough to go digging it up.

The discipline of forcing myself to shoot at least one photo a day and then write at least one entry a day has actually been therapeutic. After a half-century of stupidly painful self-awareness, I'm finally learning to actually leave it behind. I no longer worry about what to write about; I just keep to the schedule, take the photograph, and then work to turn a photographic sow's ear into something approaching a silk purse. The critics be damned.

So, more of the same for the rest of 2011. The 365 project group I'm a part of has weekly themes. Up to this point I've ignore them, but I think I'll start following them now. This week's is bokeh. I get to work on my blurry technique. It should be fun.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lucy Daydreams

Daydreaming (30/365)
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 50mm 1:2
1/50s, f/2.8, ISO 400

Anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics to our animal friends, such as my Lucy, is frowned upon in the scientific community. That's because it's based on an unprovable assumption, that animals can experience emotions that match our own.

I do believe through personal observation of my Labs and cats, as well as other pets and wild animals, that they experience emotions every bit as sharp and sophisticated as our own. It is the height of species chauvinism to assume they do not. To assume they do not gives us license to kill them indiscriminately; if they're not like us and can't feel like us, then it makes it easier to treat them with indifferent cruelty, without consideration or conscious.

I like my animals and the mysterious ways they live. That they should choose to live with me is perhaps the greatest mystery of all.

Kiki's Mexican Restaurant

I'd be remiss if I didn't write a little about the last local restaurant I ate at before leaving El Paso.

Kiki's Mexican Restaurant
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/30s, f/5.6, ISO 640, +0.3 EV
Kiki's is another local restaurant with gobs of atmosphere and great food to match. The dish I almost ate was Machaca with Chicken. The Machaca has the distinction of appearing on the Food Network's "Best Think I Ever Ate" segment. Food Network showcased Machaca with Beef.

Kiki's Chicken Machaca
"Chicken Machaca"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/10s, f/3.2, ISO 640

I say "almost ate" because there was so much food I didn't eat it all. I didn't realize how much food was there. If I'm ever at Kiki's again I'm going to ask for a half portion.

El Paso/Juárez Scenic S View
"El Paso/Juárez Scenic S View"
Olympus E-P2 with OM 50mm 1:1.4
1/60s, f/4, ISO 1000

At the end of the meal I drove up the Scenic Drive that looks south over El Paso, the Rio Grande, and into Juárez. In the night it all looked peaceful and prosperous. I would have liked to have seen this view during the day, but the conference and the flight out of El Paso kept me occupied during the daylight hours. Again, if I'm ever in El Paso, maybe I'll be able to better plan for something like this during the day.

The Eyes of Ruby

Even though I'm resting I'm watching you... (29/365)
"Even though I'm resting I'm watching you..."
Olympus E-1 with Sigma 30mm 1:1.4
1/30s, f/1.6, ISO 100

One of the consequences of travel for long periods is that the animals get anxious that I'm not around. When I return, the younger ones like Ruby stick to me like velcro for a few days until their confidence that I'm home finally returns. So Ruby follows me around the house and out the door into the yard and back in again. Wherever I stop, she takes up a position on the floor or part of the furniture and stays there watching until I move again.

Photograph was taken with the Sigma 30mm opened to f/1.6. This is as close to wide open as I feel comfortable using. I have tried wide open with this lens at f/1.4, but I have never been satisfied with the results. Nothing appears to be in sharp enough focus wide open. When I say sharp enough, I'm not talking resolution so much as acutance. There's enough around Ruby's eyes to give a decent spot for the observer's eyes to easily rest on.

This is probably the last photo I'll take with this E-1. I'm shipping it up to my younger daughter for her to use in her final semester as an undergraduate art student. I'm going to miss the E-1. I'm in the process of looking for a replacement, in the same condition I got this one. But it's being donated to a good cause; a young kid with a budding talent that's miles ahead of her old man's. Maybe this time she'll do better than me, and not give up like I did when I was her age. She's a good kid; both my girls are good kids.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Were They Thinking?

Many digerati were all aflutter over brazen raids conducted by the FBI against those who allegedly participated in last years DDoS attacks against certain financial-service companies who refused to do business with Wikileaks. Operation Payback, as it was called, included members of 4chan and /b/, as well as other "anonymous" participants who felt it was the Right Thing To Do.

An unknown (but apparently guessable) number of the Operation Payback participants used LOIC, or Lower Orbit Ion Canon, an interesting open source network attack application. While it can be useful by itself, it's real power is in numbers. According to an Ars Technica article;
In the attacks on the financial-service companies, thousands downloaded a tool called LOIC—or Low Orbit Ion Cannon—that joined their computer to the group attack on the target of the moment. However, the tool did nothing to hide a user’s IP address, making it possible for the target website to hand its server logs over to the authorities to track users down by their IP addresses.
So much for anonymity. The Wikipedia entry for LOIC notes that "well-written firewall rules can filter out most traffic from DDoS attacks by LOIC, thus preventing the attacks from being fully effective." Quoting again from the same Ars Technica article:
The denial-of-service attacks attempted to shut down the websites of Visa and MasterCard—which would have had little effect on the credit card giants, since few people ever visit their homepages. However the attack on PayPal focused on the interface used by online merchants, and reportedly caused some slowness, though no outages, to merchants for several hours.
What we have here are bunch of clueless cyber poseurs who're guilty for pulling the "cyber equivalent of a campus sit-in."

And so, in our current over-criminalized society, where nearly everything we do is illegal and demands the ultimate response, the FBI and its friends across the water in Great Britain swung into action and conducted a series of jack-booted raids on a bunch self-important amateur cyber protesters.

I haven't a care for either group in the story up to this point. What I do have a care about are the testosterone amped FBI agents who have more firepower than sense and the full authority of US law to use it in just about any way they deem appropriate. The cyber protesters are nothing to loose sleep over; the FBI, on the other hand, are now a living nightmare.

Which leads us to the individual who started this whole mess in the first place: Bradley Manning.

There's an article on Wired that reports that the Army commanders were warned not to deploy Manning to Iraq. And they were told why in no uncertain ways. Instead, they elected to ignore the warnings because they needed his skills, and they were short-staffed. And once they deployed him, then forgot all about him. Until he strolled through the cheese-cloth security at Forward Operating Base Hammer and released all those lovely cables to Wikileaks. You would have thought after Ft. Hood that the Army would have learned to pay better attention. This is just one example showing they didn't.

The question isn't what were any of these fine folks thinking, the question that needs to be asked is if they were thinking at all. I'm afraid of the answer. The actions by all these unthinking groups is creating a perfect storm of unintended consequences, one of which is the continued and accelerating erosion of our Constitutional rights in the name of national security and safety.

And you know what old Ben Franklin had to say about that.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Going Home

Fly the Paranoid Skies
"Fly the Paranoid Skies"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/30s, f/2.8, ISO 400

The trip home from El Paso was probably the worst airline trip I've ever experienced on any airline, and that includes the old AirTran from the mid-1990s. My trip home started out poorly on Thursday, when I tried to check in 24 hours before my Friday flight. I wound up in group 6, the last group to board the aircraft.

On my way through El Paso security, I was chosen by some of TSA's finest to be both irradiated and patted down. Apparently the fabulous irradiation machine thought I was wearing a necklace, so that they had to check around my neck just to make sure. I have no idea what a guy with a necklace could do to an aircraft, especially one packed to the rafters as the one I flew, but it must be pretty bad.

Of course, I wasn't wearing one.

On final boarding I was pulled aside "randomly" to have my computer bag checked one more time. I guess they wanted to make sure they hadn't missed anything. That action calls into question the competency of their screening crew, but just about everything they do these days calls into question their competency.

I managed to find space in the overhead bin to stow my one alloted piece of carry-pn luggage. The flight was completely full, allowing me to become truly close to my fellow passengers.

Landing at DFW and waiting for my connection back to Orlando, I came across the large dark ad you see at the top. The sneaky, slightly paranoid look helps set the tone. It reminds me of a system that uses its citizens to spy on one another.

Just another signpost on the winding road to the eventual loss of our constitutional freedoms.

The Power of the Olympus E-1

When I traveled to El Paso this week I took two cameras with me; the Olympus E-P2 and E-1. I had planned to use both equally, and had brought the E-1 body in case I was going to be in something adverse, such as dust or blowing sand. Except for being a little on the chilly side, the weather in El Paso has been, for all practical purposes, perfect. For no good reason other than laziness I used the E-P2 for the majority of my photography. Today, however, after the conference I attended all this week had ended, I followed the El Paso Mission Trail and visited some of the historical Spanish missions on a mini-photo expedition. The weather was clear and bright with no clouds in the sky. I took the E-1 with me and gave it pride of place over the E-P2.

Mission Ysleta
"Mission Ysleta"
Olympus E-1 with Zuiko Digital 50mm Macro
1/3200s, f/4.5, ISO 100, 

The first mission stop was the northern-most Mission Ysleta. The photo was taken with the E-1 and 50mm macro. All photographs were taken raw. Lightroom 3.3 converted the raw images straight to JPEG with no other adjustments other than to modify the size for the web. I have discovered I much prefer Adobe Lightroom's JPEG engine over the aging JPEG engine in the E-1. That shouldn't be surprising; there's an eight year gap between the E-1 and the current version of LR, so the state of the art in JPEG conversion and generation should have advanced a fair bit over that period of time. It has and it shows.

The detail is clear and sharp. The colors are superb. There is wonderful texture across many surfaces and a broad range of luminance from the roof at the upper left to the cast shadows. Over the course of the trip I took many other photos with the E-1. With very few exceptions, nearly all of the images came out of the camera and went through Lightroom with no post-processing manipulation except to resize. When I did play with them at all it was for personal tastes, not some flaw in the camera.

Do Not Forget Me - Mission Ysleta
"Do Not Forget Me"
Olympus E-1 with Zuiko Digital 50mm Macro
1/2000s, f/4.5, ISO 100

Mission Ysleta
"Potted Cactus - Mission Ysleta"
Olympus E-1 with Zuiko Digital 50mm Macro
1/1250s, f/4, ISO 100

Mission Ysleta
"Christ and the Virgin Mary - Mission Ysleta"
Olympus E-1 with Zuiko Digital 50mm Macro
1/30s, f/2.2, ISO 100

The one key factor in all the photos shown is the use of a High Grade Zuiko Digital 50mm Macro lens as a regular taking lens. In order to make this camera's sensor really sing you need to put good glass in front of it, which means High Grade or Super High Grade if you can afford it. While I used fairly high shutter speeds on the first three images, the forth was taken hand-held at 1/30s with a camera that does not have in-body image stabilization.

What I appreciated more than anything else was the ability to capture the El Paso light and El Paso color I saw all around me, a color set that includes whites, blues, and earth-toned pastels. You don't see much of that in the city proper, but get away from El Paso and you begin to see these colors, and more. I'm certainly no master with the E-1 (or any other camera for that matter) but my confidence in the E-1 was boosted significantly today. And once again I have to say; not bad for an eight year old camera. Not bad at all.

Update 23 July 2011

One of my two E-1's with the Zuiko Digital 12-60mm and the SHLD-2 grip.

E-1 glamor shot #3

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Equestrian

There is a large bronze statue of a Spanish conquistador on his horse that towers over the public entrance to El Paso International Airport. Over the course of the past week I've been experimenting with different ways to photographically interpret this statue, trying different angles and times of the day. It's a bit funny to look over the series as a whole; when I first got to El Paso I used the 9-18mm to capture a wide view of the statue. But as the week progressed I slowly started to "creep up" on the statue until I created the final image you see below.

The Equestrian, View #3
"The Equestrian, View #3"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 40-150mm Mk II
1/800s, f/7.1, ISO 400, 150mm

I'm going in reverse chronological order; the photo above was taken this morning right after sunrise. I post-processed in Lightroom 3.3 using Color Creative - Yesteryear 1 and B&W Green filters. I then added a little highlight recovery for some added highlight details and fill light to recover details in the shadows. I like this one for its apocalyptic tone, especially with the horse staring down at you.

The Equestrian, View #2
"The Equestrian, View #2"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 40-150mm Mk II
1/320s, f/7.1, ISO 200, 119mm

This was very similar to the first with regards to composition, but it was taken in the late afternoon. It has the most post-processing manipulation. I like some of the effects, such as the details on horse. The sky was darkened by darkening the blue color channel.

The Equestrian
"The Equestrian"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm
1/1000s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 10mm, -1 EV

This last was taken when I first arrived in El Paso on Sunday, with the ultra-wide zoom. There was the one long wisp of clouds in the sky, and I tried to incorporate that into the overall image. It's the least manipulated of the tree in post processing; the blue sky was saturated a bit and the overall image lightened just a smidge.

There's a lot to consider in these three photographs, above and beyond technique. The images were all created with the E-P2. The upper two images were taken with the nearly-all-plastic regular Four Thirds 40-150mm 1:4-5.6 telephoto zoom, while the lower was taken with the SG 9-18mm 1:4-5.6 ultra-wide-angle zoom.

I don't give the 40-150mm enough respect, and it's a shame, because I deliberately choose not to use the lens. In the process I loose a creative tool. One of the lessons learned on this trip is that if the subject is of mid-distance, and if I use a fast enough combination of ISO and shutter speed and stop the lens down from wide open (f/5.6 at 40mm, f/7.1 at 150mm), then the combination is capable of producing excellent results.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dining by the Cemetery

"L&J Inc. Cafe"
Olympus E-P2 with OM 50mm 1:1.4
1/640s, f/4, ISO 640, -1 EV

Tonight, after another long day at the conference, my friend and I took I-10 west into El Paso proper and had a great meal at L & J's Cafe. Once more, Yelp was a great help in determining that it was a great place to eat, as well as provide clear directions to get there. This time, I managed to pay attention and drove us both there without any mistakes.

Concordia Cemetery
"Concordia Cemetery"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/30s, f/2.8, ISO 640, -1 EV

And just like I'd read, it was "The Old Place By The Graveyard." Concordia Cemetery looks to be pretty large and pretty old. The section above is dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers. The last time I saw something explicitly dedicated to the Buffalo Soldier was when I was at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. I'm going to have a half day to myself tomorrow; I'd like to come back out and see if I can explore this section.

The Musicians
"The Musicians"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/8s, f/4, ISO 1000, -0.7 EV

L & J is a small neighborhood bar and restaurant with huge personality. It was packed when we got there, and it stayed full while we ate in the back. The people were warm and friendly, and were there to have a good time. While we were waiting for a table in the restaurant part, three musicians entertained a good portion of the bar with some pretty good music. One of the bar's patrons stood up and introduced the musicians, saying he wanted to let everyone know he'd opened up a new business next door, and this was his way of saying hello. After listening for a few minutes I asked him if I could take a few photos of the musicians while they played, and he said no problem. In a bar full of unknowns, it always helps to ask.

Green Chicken Enchiladas - L & R Cafe
"Green Chicken Enchiladas"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/15s, f/2.8, ISO 1000

We both ordered green chicken enchilada's, which the waiter said was one of their specialties. It might not look like much, but it was great, and like last night, we cleaned our plates. We only had to wait 20 minutes (the place is popular and it was packed). Once seated, the waiter was friendly and fast. Oh, you need to order chips as an appetizer. Instead of salsa, you get their green chili sauce, which was quite tasty and a bit on the hot side.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

El Paso, Day 3

Evening Meal - Forti's Mexican Elder Restaurant
"Evening Meal"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/13s, f/2.8, ISO 640

Today was another long stay at the conference. After it broke up for the day, my compañero del viaje and I decided to find a real Mexican restaurant (or as close to real as you'll find in Anglo Texas). Since I have a pathetically primitive cell phone, it fell to my compañero del viaje to use his iPhone 4 and Yelp to find Forti's Mexican Elder Restaurant.

Searching Yelp - Forti's Mexican Elder Restaurant
"Yelping About"
Olympus E-P2 with OM 50mm 1:1.4
1/20s, f/2, ISO 640

Yelp gave Forti's an excellent rating, and even provided real-time directions on how to get there. The application knew when we missed two turnoffs, and managed to get us to the restaurant in spite of my bad driving. I am Officially Impressed.

Once there we were quickly seated. The service was fast and when it was delivered, the food was excellent. I had the chicken enchiladas platter with red sauce, and my friend had the carnitas platter. We both cleared our plates.

Espresso Machine - Forti's Mexican Elder Restaurant
"Espresso Machine"
Olympus E-P2 with OM 50mm 1:1.4
1/30s, f/2, ISO 640

I loved the atmosphere within Forti's. After all the chains, it's great to find a really good local place to eat in any city or town. I just wish I had more time to try more places like Forti's. But not to worry; tomorrow night we dine next to the graveyard.

A Morning in El Paso

Barbed Wire Morning
"Barbed Wire Morning"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 50mm + DMW-MA1
1/2000s, f/2.8, ISO 200

I got up early enough this morning to see the sunrise touch the foothills behind Ft. Bliss. As I was driving near the airport, trying to find a clear spot that didn't have something man-made blocking the view, I came across a chunk of real estate closed off by a wall topped with concertina wire. The photo sort of took itself.

I'll try a different spot tomorrow morning. And maybe more later today when I get a chance. But this one stands alone.

Monday, January 24, 2011

El Paso, Day 2

Early Morning Breakfast (24/365)
"Early Morning Breakfast"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/8s, f/2.8, ISO 200, 

Day one of the conference. I'm still on eastern-standard time. Woke up and showered by 5:30am El Paso time. Packed up my bags, checked out of the Wyndahm. Walking out in the parking lot, it's still night-time. There's a brilliant half moon glowing in the western sky. It takes your breath away.

Drove down to a local Village Inn and had one of their ultimate skillets for breakfast. I had an iPad with me (a loaner from work), and the Village Inn had a working hotspot (like they do in Tallahassee). Sitting alone I ate my breakfast in silence while I cruised the news sites on the iPad. Paid for my breakfast and headed out the door, back to the airport and the conference.

The dawn was just beginning to break, and the mountains behind El Paso were bathed in the most beautiful pink light I think I've ever seen. I didn't know where to stop, so I slowed down, the better to enjoy the sight as much as possible before it was cut off by the Wyndham. Now that I know what's coming, I intend to try and capture something of that morning light tomorrow morning.

The Rental
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/30s, f/2.8, ISO 200

Today's proceedings ran from 8am to 5pm, with a 20 minute break around noon. Not enough time to eat lunch, and I didn't feel like eating at the Wyndham's restaurant. Instead, after going back to the Microtel and checking my mail, I went out a bit to try and capture some of the waining light. While I was walking around my partner at the conference walked up on his way to a local 7/11. I told him it was better if I drove him, so we hoped in and went down the road to the closest. He picked up a few supplies.

That's a silver Toyota Yaris sitting outside the 7/11. That's the Budget rental car. It was the cheapest thing Budget had. Cheap is the operative word with this car. The doors clank closed like my old Chevy Nova. Locking and unlocking any door means reaching around to each door individually. Accelerating means listening to the engine rev its little heart out. There is no automatic light cutoff when you turn the engine off. Instead a long annoying beep greats when you shut car off, until you remember to turn the lights off. While it's an automatic transmission, shifting is sloppy. The dial cluster (speedometer primarily) is in the center of the  dash instead of directly behind the steering wheel. And to think I once considered buying this thing.

Tales from DFW

I was too tired to write much Sunday. Because of that I forgot to mention the great lunch I had while waiting at DFW for my connecting flight to El Paso. My connecting flight was from gate D21, so while in that part of the terminal I at the Reata Grill.

I had their Tamales and a cup of Tortilla soup. The meal was delicious. The soup had chunks of chicken and avocado in a broth that had a touch of lime. I ate every last spoonful. The tamales were excellent as well. They were served with just a touch of sour creme on top and a sprinkling of pecans. I even enjoyed the small garnish of vegetables off to the side.

Lunch Before
"Lunch Before"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/50s, f/3.2, ISO 640

I ate every last byte. I certainly intend to visit the place again when I travel home.

Lunch After
"Lunch After"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/50s, f/3.2, ISO 640

Sunday, January 23, 2011

El Paso

The Equestrian
"The Equestrian"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/1000s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 10mm, -1 EV

I finally made it to El Paso Texas, via DFW. It was a long trip with a three hour layover at DFW (courtesy of my companies desire to save money; this was a cheap flight). The following week is a conference being held right next to the El Paso International Airport. Right now I'm beat and not too chatty. Maybe more tomorrow after a decent nights sleep.

Today's image is a huge bronze statue right outside the entrace to EPIA. I think I'm going to enjoy my visit to El Paso.

Stone Ground Cover
"Stone Ground Cover"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/640s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 18mm

In Orlando, everything is covered in over-watered, over-fertilized grass. In El Paso, the ground is covered in stones.

Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 14-42mm
1/80s, f/3.5, ISO 800, 14mm, -0.3 EV

During my layover in DFW I came across this abandoned information kiosk. I can only imagine why it was abandoned.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

'Burb Porn

Fast Food Porn
"Fast Food Porn"
Olympus E-1 with Sigma 30mm 1:1.4
1/640s, f/5.6, ISO 100, -0.3 EV

Today's post title draws inspiration from The Online Photographer, "On Porn". The gist of the story (or at least my interpretation of it) is that a couple of highfalutin photographic critics with too much time and too little sense decided to deride the published work of others while corrupting the true meaning of yet another word (porn[1]) in the process. I'll let you follow the link, but I know porn when I see it, and landscapes and torn up buildings aren't pornographic, unless you drape butt-naked women all over the place. Then it's porn. Or maybe it's just art, if said butt-naked women are tastefully draped all over the place. Whatever.

But in the spirit of taking advantage of yet another artistic frontier, I have decided to create a new photographic school of expression which I dub "'Burb Porn". Burb Porn, or BP, is all about wondering around various suburban areas and taking photographs (preferably in digital) of all the crap we've built up over the land. That's it. No special talent or technique is required. Just purty pitchurs of good old fashioned suburban development. To kick things off I've taken example photos of a local Wendy's (where it just so happened I had a #6 small for lunch) and a water tower that sits nestled on the edge of my neighborhood.

Personal Water Tower
"Personal Water Tower"
Olympus E-1 with Sigma 30mm 1:1.4
1/2000s, f/4, ISO 100, -0.3 EV

No naked women here, but at least the water tower is vaguely phallic. I guess that'll have to do.

[1] Pornography or porn is the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.

Living with old tech

Babylon 5, Season 5, Episode 14
"Meditations on the Abyss"
You're looking at a frame capture from my second generation iPod playing an episode from Babylon 5 via the Netflix application.

Under normal playing conditions you wouldn't see all the soft controls, but I had them up to provide context. With the controls hidden, the view of the image is clean and covers the screen.

It is amazing what such "old tech" can accomplish. My iPod 2G is running iOS 4.2.1, and because it's just a second generation device, key features are disabled.

But that doesn't matter. I can listen to music, stream video flawlessly via WiFi, play games, surf the web, or read news sites directly, such as NPR. All that capability, and more, resting lightly in the palm of my hand.

Even old Apple technology sets a highly competitive bar to meet. I say this in the context of a review of the Barnes and Noble Nook Color I wrote. In spite of the fact that the Nook Color is two years newer, larger, and with double the computational capability of the iPod 2G, its performance was very inferior to that iPod. And even I admit that my two-year-old iPod 2G doesn't perform at the higher levels that current Apple devices can perform at.

But it's still good enough to satisfy, and still better than many of the latest Android-powered devices trying to compete with it and its later descendants in the marketplace. Well designed and well implemented technology is timeless. It stops working only when it breaks, not because it was poorly done when released and therefore easily superseded when the next version is released.

I'll keep using my old and not-busted iPod 2G until it finally dies, probably in another two years. Then I'll get a replacement, and probably another Apple device. That sentiment is representative of the formidable market inertia that Android-powered tablets and similar devices are going to have to overcome if they're going to be successful: they're going to have to be demonstrably better, and by a wide margin.

Friday, January 21, 2011

TGIF Week 3

Religious Megabunker (21/365)
"Religious Megabunker"
Olympus E-1 with Sigma 30mm 1:1.4
1/500s, f/3.2, ISO 100

A capture if you will of a major church construction project on the corner of Curry Ford and Econlockhatchee here in Orlando Fl. I'd add "sunny", but today was anything but. It'd rained pretty thoroughly the night before and into the morning, leaving the rest of the day overcast and gray. The lighting was even, the better to illuminate the subtle patterns in the concrete slab walls making up the church and lending a depressing bunker-like atmosphere to the whole structure.

Still working with the E-1, learning more and more. Biggest lesson so far is that five high-quality mega-pixels can produce remarkably good photographs if you just let it. Combine the output of the E-1 with today's RAW converters and post processing applications (such as Lightroom 3.3), and the output is nearly indistinguishable from its more advance descendants, the E-3 (10 MP) and the E-P2 (12 MP). If anything, the E-1 has broken the crazy fever I've had lately to buy the latest high-megapixel offerings from Canon and Nikon. Even after nearly eight years (mine was built August 2003), my E-1 is still remarkable modern looking and handling.

Olympus E-1 with Sigma 30mm 1:1.4
1.30s, f/1.8, ISO 100

Oh, to be a Lab, and to just worry about the simple things in life, like my next meal, my next walk, or who will be the next person to interact with me. Max has entered that part of dog's life where he's extremely parsimonious expending energy. He'll lie still for long periods on the cool floor tiles, the only indication he's even conscious is the constant arching movement of his eyes. And yet, when the time comes, he's immediately up and moving about like the wind, that big otter tail thumping walls, cabinets, and my shins with gusto.

I like how this turned out with the Sigma. I set the aperture wide enough to give a pleasant, subtle bokeh, but with enough aperture to provide crisp detail. I can't say for certain, but the Sigma seems to focus more accurately and more assuredly with the E-1 than with the E-3, and with the E-P2 ... I'm being charitable when I say that autofocus with the Sigma 30mm on the E-P2 is lethargic. It's a good thing I've learned to manually focus the Sigma 30mm using the VF-2. I think it's significant when the Sigma 30mm acts like it was purpose made to properly autofocus on the E-1.

I also processed the first two photos in black and white as a reaction to an editorial written by Ken Norton on his blog. In his editorial, Ken starts by noting a resurgence of black and white printing, then starts reminiscing about his dark room days, and segues into a rant about the excesses of Flickr ("an abomination") and the state of digital black and white ("cheapened by people who think that desaturating and cranking up the contrast is B&W photography.").

Field of Crosses (18/365)
"Field of Crosses"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/2500s, f/4, ISO 200, 9mm, -0.7EV

Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/800s, f/6.3, ISO 200, 10mm, -1EV
I spent my twenties (starting in 1974) by working in and and helping to build black and white and color darkrooms for college and commercial work. I spent countless hours learning about and perfecting techniques for producing what I considered (and still consider) excellent prints. I lived and breathed darkroom lore and technique, and melded that with all the film photography I was doing at the time (both 35mm and 120/220).

I'm here to tell you that after 30+ years have passed, I can say with absolute certainty that hell will freeze over before I'll work in another darkroom. A well-run darkroom, especially a commercial or public darkroom, is demanding of too much time and money. The processes required to develop film and produce prints are simple enough, but the devil is in the details, such as maintaining proper temperatures, keeping the chemicals reasonably fresh and knowing when to mix new batches, water quality, etc, etc, etc. And when it's a public darkroom (such as at a school) where others besides yourself can use it and depend on its proper functioning, and you're ultimately responsible... I've been there, done all that, and burned out. I have no wish to go back. As a consequence I heartily embrace the digital age.

I'd like to think these simple images would meet with Ken's approval. If they don't, well, I won't loose any sleep over it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On using the old/new E-1

Azteca Final Exterior
"Azteca Final Exterior"
Olympus E-1 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm
1/500s, f/7.1, ISO 100, 12mm
Today was the first full day I used my latest camera, the Olympus E-1. I blogged about receiving it yesterday. After updating the firmware and tweaking some of the settings in the camera, I spent every spare moment I wasn't in my office out with the E-1. For lenses I used the ZD 9-18mm, the ZD 40-150 MkII, and the Sigma 30mm. I shot RAW and processed everything in Lightroom 3.3.

The image above had minimal post processing. According the LR's history, I performed a tiny bit of cropping to remove the shadow of my head on the bottom edge, some smidgen of exposure correction, a little sharpening, and boosted black clipping to from 4 to 10 (I like my blacks black). I could have left it alone and simple converted from RAW to JPEG, but I tinker with all my images; it's part of the enjoyment I get from photography. For the most part, however, the glorious colors captured above were already there in the RAW image. I just wanted to accentuate them a bit more.

Compare the image above with the image below, taken with the Olympus E-P2 and the M.Zuiko 17mm.

Azteca Signage Going Up
"Azteca Signage Going Up"
Olympus E-P2 with M.Zuiko 17mm
1/2000s, f/5.6, ISO 200, -0.3 EV

Yes, they're different, and depending on the mood I'm in at the moment I'll favor one or the other. But to my eyes they're both great, and the E-1 most definitely holds its own. I'm very happy with the way the E-1 image turned out. I used two more E-1 images (with the Sigma 30mm) in my prior post about the DirecTV blimp.

I'm not yet ready to weigh in with gory detail on how good or bad it is compared to my other cameras (E-300, E-3, and E-P2), but I will say this; IQ wise it holds its own, mechanically its a beautiful sculpture compared to the slab-sided E-3, but operationally, you can really tell it was manufactured seven years ago. The E-1 is missing features I've come to take for granted on the E-3 and E-P2, and it's resulted in some awkward moments. It's probably time to print out the E-1's PDF manual and read it. Then work some more with the E-1. Then write something worth reading. Having loads of fun regardless.

The Big Blue Blimp Returns

Helium Source (20/365)
"Helium Source"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/500s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 9mm

The DirecTV blimp returned to Orlando this morning. I saw it while driving to work. And for a brief instance, I saw it and the MetLife blimp moored side-by-side on the open field next to the Orlando Executive Airport. I should have exited the 408 right then and there and gone over to capture that moment, but I thought they'd both be there when I drove home after work. Unfortunately, MetLife left both airfield and Orlando not long after I'd driven past. Yet again, another of Life's Lessons: act quickly when the opportunity presents itself.

"Helium Source" was one of the last group of photos taken before I finished for the afternoon. The helium to the left is being fed, through the long orange hose snaking across the field, to the blimp.

Mooring Mast and Blimp
"Mooring Mast and Blimp"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/400s, f/6.3, ISO 200, 9mm

The DirectTV is a much larger craft than the MetLife, and it shows in the scale of the gear used to service the blimp, such as this mooring mast. Compare the size and sophistication of the DirecTV's mooring mast with that used to service the MetLife blimp. The DirecTV mooring mast is built to be folded up for transport, and requires a fairly beefy truck (a Ford F-250 class) to haul it from field to field. It's weight and the fact it's pretty thoroughly tied down combine to create a strong anchor point. I've noticed it doesn't take much wind to push either blimp around and add considerable stress to the mooring mast in fairly light winds.

Helium Scrubber
"Helium Scrubber"
Olympus E-1 with Sigma 30mm f/1.4
1/250s, f/3.2, ISO 100

An important piece of gear for any blimp is a helium scrubber. It pumps the helium out of the blimp, removes everything but the helium (especially water vapor) and pumps it back into the gas bag. Helium isn't manufactured so much as it's collected, usually as a byproduct of natural gas processing. Helium is mixed with natural gas, but is not chemically bound to it. To remove helium from natural gas (which raises the potential heat energy of natural gas), the natural gas goes through a number of cryogenic fractionation steps that eventually produces 99.99% pure helium, and lots of pure natural gas as well. When you combine a scarce industrial element, such as helium, with a work-intensive process, you create a very expensive raw material. So it literally pays to reuse (through scrubbing) the large volume of helium in the gas bag.

Control Car and Port Engine
"Control Car and Port Engine"
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 50-200mm
1/250s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 69mm, -0.3 EV

The control car and engines of the DirecTV blimp help to illustrate the larger size of this airship over the MetLife blimp. The engines are considerably larger in order to handle the larger craft. The control car is also proportionately larger, and contains the control system for the display mounted on the port side.

Blimp Display
"Blimp Display"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/250s, f/7.1, ISO 200, 9mm

Blimp Display Detail
"Blimp Display Detail"
Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/40s, f/6.3, ISO 200, 11mm, -0.7 EV

The display panel is built of individual lamps.

Working on an Engine
"Working on an Engine"
Olympus E-3 with Zuiko Digital 50-200mm
1/1250s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 200mm, -1EV

It's interesting that a cage has been built around the lower third of the prop. Although I didn't ask explicitly, I would guess it's to protect the prop if the control housing "tips" towards the ground due to strong winds, especially on approach.

Ventral Fin and Rigging
"Ventral Fin and Rigging"
Olympus E-1 with Sigma 30mm f/1.4
1/800s, f/4, ISO 100

Blimps are an interesting combination of the old and the new. In the photo above, the old is the use of rigging (using modern materials) to maintain the orientation of the ventral fin relative to the body of the blimp, as well as provide mechanical control of the ventral fin's stabilizer. The "little" wheel on the ventral fin duplicates the design of the MetLife's, and acts to protect the ventral fin in case it should drag the ground.

Olympus E-P2 with Zuiko Digital 9-18mm + DMW-MA1
1/800s, f/6.3, ISO 200, 10mm, -1EV

Regardless of their size, all airships are imbued with a certain magic, a magic that's share by all aircraft. Airships have a unique grace and beauty all their on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Comments on the Incredibly Stupid Olympus E-PL2 Red Dot Catastrophe

Sigma 30mm test: Shooting the sun 2
"Sigma 30mm Test: Shooting the Sun 2"
Olympus E-3 with Sigma 30mm f/1.4
1/250s, f/16, ISO 100
I don't own an Olympus E-PL2, and I doubt I will. Not because I think it's bad or because of the RED DOT CATASTROPHE, but simply because I have in my direct possession an E-1, an E-3, and an E-P2 (not to mention an OM 4T film camera). Just how many bodies does a body need?

No, I bring this up because there are apparently a gaggle of hysterical forum trolls who are so upset over some Chinese forum images that exhibit the E-PL2 RED DOT CATASTROPHE. Well guess what. It's not unique to the E-PL2.

If you'll cast your peepers at the photo leading this post, you'll see a deliberately bad photo taken of the sun (as apposed to all the bad photos I try not to take). If you look carefully around the sun, you'll see a number of RED DOTs. If you look really close, you'll see the same regular square pattern of red dots that some of those Chinese forum photos exhibit, although not quite as distinctive.

This photograph was taken April 16, 2009, nearly two years ago. Let me repeat that. This deliberately bad image where I was deliberately trying to stress the optical system to see how it would misbehave was taken... Two. Years. Ago.

I don't know what's happening in those foreign photos with the red dots. And because I don't know I'd want to try to replicate the same problem using the same camera and lens under very similar if not exact circumstances, just to see if its reproducible. I believe this is a sensor problem, and that a bad batch may have gotten into a batch of cameras. That happens in life. If it bothers you or negatively impacts your ability to produce photographs for a living, then by all means exchange it and move on. But to demand that Olympus release a firmware update to fix the problem, as some forum posters have, is utter crap. Especially without a full engineering understanding of the issue.

I believe it's a limited hardware problem because a guy by the name of Kirk Tuck (you may have heard of him) has been evaluating an E-PL2, and while he's certainly heard of the controversy, he hasn't been able to replicate the problem with his copy. And he's certainly tried and blogged about his efforts.

Life happens, folks. If this problem is bothering you, shut up, get it fixed, and move on.