Saturday, December 31, 2011

Final Simple Assessment 2011

Man in a BoxA simple assessment of personal milestones and deliverables.

Photography

I started the year off a member of a 365 photo-a-day group. I had grand ideals, hoping that by applying a little personal self-discipline that I could improve both quantity and quality of my photography. I had collected a fair amount of gear, built around the E-3 and the E-P2, and it was beginning to sit around more than it was being used towards the end of 2010.

I managed to keep it up until mid-year (July), at which time my daily publication became erratic, and I dropped out of the 365 group. In total I published some 1,400 photos to my Flickr account, with a smattering to Google directly. Although I failed to achieve the goal of a photo specific for every day of the year, it did serve it's overall purpose of getting me to photograph far more often, and of far more varied subjects. I'll carry this on into 2012 and beyond (see below).

Blogging

This has been a blow-out year for me with regards to blogging. Up until 2011 my output was tapering off, year-over-year, to the point where 2010 had the fewest entries with 73. Before 2011, 2007 had the highest number with 199. This year, including this entry, I've written 405 entries, double 2007's. Speaking of number, earlier this year I passed 1,000 entries on my blog. This entry represents 1,100 total entries.

I started 2011 with the intent to blog at least once/day in parallel with my photography. I intended to tie the two together, showing the daily photo in each blog entry and weaving a bit of a story around it. Like the 365 day photography project, the 365 day blog entry became erratic towards mid year.

If you look at the raw numbers to the side you'll see that many months have more entries than days. And that's because I wrote multiple entries on a number of days. But you can see where the counts tapered off towards July, with the lowest number in August. This follows the same trend with my personal photography.

When I look back on that period I remember being tired and what appeared to be something of a personal burnout. It's hard being creative, especially uniquely creative. Many bloggers don't write nearly as much, only writing when their personal muse moves them. I choose to push myself if for no other reason than I needed the practice in writing.

Politics

This year saw the rise of Occupy Wall Street (#ows) and all the other parallel movements around the country and around the world, including Orlando. My wife and I attended the kick-off march from the Chamber of Commerce down to City Hall that Saturday, October 15th. My wife was in her wheel chair and I was pushing here around, with an E-1 and an E-3 dangling from around my neck and bumping into my ribs, chasing the body of marchers up and down Orange Avenue. I managed to get a few photos as well as this short video at City Hall.


We Are The 99 - Occupy Orlando from William Beebe on Vimeo.

More importantly Occupy helped me get a bit of my old life back. It helped re-energize what I had let fallen fallow, my need to engage with society for the good of society. Twenty-something years of trying to get the girls through the Orlando school system and into college had taken a lot of my time and energy, and I had grown inward and a bit selfish in the process. The Occupy movements knocked a lot of that detritus off and got me thinking and acting outwardly. While I only followed the Occupy movements for several weeks (when it became clear that the majority just wanted to camp out), it motivated me to re-join the ACLU and join the NPPA (National Press Photographers Association). If you're doing citizen journalism and you're in the thick of things like Occupy, then you owe it to yourself to join NPPA. Whether you're a member or not, the NPPA has your constitutional back covered so you can cover what's important to you and society.

2012

This past year, with my increased blogging and photography, has been a practice lead-up to 2012. I firmly believe 2012 is going to be a pivotal year, and I wanted plenty of momentum coming out of 2011 and into the new year doing both. I've already begun to think about several themes around which to weave my entries.

In addition to photography in general and technology (primarily Linux), I want to concentrate more on central Florida, primarily politics, the economy, and the environment. I might throw in some other subjects for a little variety, but 2012 is significant for the presidential election and the so-called end-of-the-world date of 12-21-2012.

Or at least those are my plans. Let's wait and see how the new year unfolds and what I finally did, at the end of 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Late Lunch

One of the reasons for carrying a camera like the Pen is because it's small, discreet, and non-intimidating — everything a full-blown DSLR isn't. So when the Wife and I went out for a late-afternoon lunch at the local Chipotle (where else), I started to practice discreet "street" photography with the E-P2 and the Panasonic 20mm. The key to this kind of photography using this kind of camera is to hold it in a non-photographer stance, meaning you don't call attention to yourself by lifting the camera up to your face, or putting on the V-F2 and focusing with your eye like, well, a DSLR.

The Dining Family

Instead I hold the body non-chilantly down around my chest, and just far enough out to see the screen out of the corner of my eye. If I'm standing near something like a waist-high wall, I lean against it casually and make sure the lens is pointing out, then reach over with my thumb and trip the shutter. I can do that one-handed because I have fairly large hands.

Over the decades of using classic film SLRs I have learned how to see with both eyes open, and to integrate what I see in such a way to better frame and capture the decisive moment, as well as be aware of what is happening around me. With that personal capability I use the E-P2's back screen as a simple framing aid out of the corner of one eye while depending on the Pen's autofocus to get the focus right. The M.Zuiko is an MSC lens, meaning it's wonderfully silent while focusing as well as being reasonably quick. The only sound the camera makes is the low shutter sound, and with the noise of people and music around me it's sufficiently drowned out that no one pays attention.

If none of this technology works and the photo comes out blurry or poorly exposed, then I calmly accept the fact and move on.

Pervasive Computing

One of the little items that caught my eye was the number of iPads around the store. I don't mean iPad-like, or table-like, I mean iPads. I counted at least four, and one of them was in an elaborate cover with a Bluetooth keyboard. In the not-too-distant past I would have seen a lot of notebooks on the tables being used while the patrons ate and talked, but I'm now seeing them replaced with iPads. And why not? They're a lot smaller, lighter, last a lot longer on a charge, and they do what everybody was doing with their notebooks anyway — reading email, sending texts, surfing the web, and playing games (like the woman above). I'm watching an on-going shift in personal tech, to smaller, lighter devices such as the iPad. I can't provide absolute evidence, but it looks like the iPad is also taking over a bit from the smartphone. If anyone had a smartphone out, it was sitting next to the iPad, unused, like the example above.

Yellow Hibiscus

The M.Zuiko 45mm is also a nice little close focusing lens. It's closest focusing distance is a half meter (about 1 2/3rds feet). It's close enough that I was able to fill the frame (sensor) with this image of a yellow hibiscus blooming in the back yard this evening. In spite of the fact that the sun had well set when I took this, there was still enough twilight left to back-light the flower and allow me to close the 45mm down to f/2.8 before taking the exposure. In this instance I moved the focus square over to the lower right corner where the stamen is located. The composition, orientation, and lens aperture gave me a nice plane of focus across the flower to pick up just enough detail in reasonable focus. I wanted something of the afterglow of twilight about the flower. I processed it as black-and-white, then gave it an Ambrotype (24) tone via Silver Efex Pro.

When I'm not busy giving myself ulcers worrying over the technical capabilities of my gear (or the supposed lack thereof), I tend to relax and have a lot of easy fun with the setup.

Edit 1 January 2012

I screwed up. The restaurant portraits were taken with the Panasonic 20mm. I carry it and the 45 with me, one on the body, the other in a pocket. Only the bottom photo was taken with the 45mm.

Contrasts and Transformations

Orlando is a central Florida city with over 200,000 occupants (as of 2010 according to the U.S. Census). While the Great Recession might have slowed down the growth and thus the construction business, lately there's been a long solid series of projects popping up around the city, such as road projects on and around the 408. Going into 2012, my meta-project is to better document how Orlando is growing, how it has grown, and how the various sections within the city compare and contrast with one another.

Over and Underpassing
End of the Road

These were taken late morning at the I-4 and 408 interchange, right before Division goes underneath the 408. The upper picture has the Sun Trust building sandwiched between the 408-to-I-4 exit above, and the main 408 below. The lower is the start of that 408-to-I-4 exit, with another unfinished ramp start on the left. The 408/I-4 spaghetti junction has grown quite large and complicated over time, with several other junctions (408 and 417, Turnpike and 429) getting just as complicated. And surface streets are popping up too. There's the newly completed President Barack Obama Parkway that now runs from Conroy to where Metrowest Blvd used to dead end.

Somebody thinks we need all this additional infrastructure, in spite of the fact that (according to NPR), the U.S. is now exporting more finished petroleum products (gasoline and diesel fuel) for the first time in 60 years. That's because we're not using nearly as much gas as we did during the peak of 2007, right before the Great Recession really took hold.

And the drop's been pretty precipitous. According to one NPR article we're going to see the same level of gas consumption this coming January we had in January 2000. Twelve years ago. Even though our national population has grown by 30 million since then (Orlando's population grew nearly 30% between 2000 and 2010), the relentless rise in gas price combined with the relentless loss of jobs has pushed our national consumption downward at an ever accelerating rate.

And the decline in consumption will only get worse if, as predicted, Iran's shenanigans in the Strait of Hormuz to cut 1/6th of the world's oil supply results in $5/gallon gas over here. Pure economics will push us even further to be more thrifty, and thus push our consumption down even further that much faster. That means fewer cars of all types (conventional gas, hybrid, even EV) traveling fewer miles.

I guess one question to ask is, are we building new roads and overpasses, chopping up Orlando even more, for dwindling traffic? I know we need the jobs, but what kind of long-term planning is that? Those projects will be finished soon enough. But we can't keep building more empty roads, especially if taxes from gas and tolls decline due to another spike in gas.

2012 is going to be an interesting year.

Technical

Photos taken with the Olympus E-P2 and the M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8. Post processed with Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Can't Tell The Players Without A Scorecard: Florida Politics 2012

I'm the Decider. At least I am in my own little microverse. Most of the time. Today I have decided to track all the Florida federal senators and representatives of both parties. They all need to be kept an eye on. As time goes on I'll use this list to track their use and abuse of power at the federal level. As for the state senate and house, I don't see much use at the moment. They're a rubber-stamp for Scott (or is Scott a rubber-stamp for them? Who can tell?).

Florida Representation as of December 2011
Governor, Federal Senators and Representatives Only
NameElected OfficeParty Affiliation
Rick ScottGovernorRepublican
Jennifer CarrollLieutenant GovernorRepublican
Bill Nelson Sr.SenateDemocrat
Marco RubioSenateRepublican
Sandy AdamsHouse (Orlando)Republican
Gus BilirakisHouse (Palm Harbor)Republican
Corrine BrownHouse (Jacksonville)Democrat
Vern BuchananHouse (Longboat Key)Republican
Kathy CastorHouse (Tampa)Democrat
Ander CrenshawHouse (Jacksonville)Republican
Ted DeutchHouse (Boca Raton)Democrat
Mario Diaz-BalartHouse (Miami)Republican
Alcee Hastings Sr.House (Miramar)Democrat
Connie Mach IVHouse (Ft. Myers)Republican
John MicaHouse (Winter Park)Republican
Jeff MillerHouse (Chumuckla)Republican
Richard NugentHouse (Chumuckla)Republican
Bill PoseyHouse (Rockledge)Republican
David RiveraHouse (Miami)Republican
Thomas J. RooneyHouse (Tequesta)Republican
Ileana Ros-LehtinenHouse (Miami)Republican
Dennis RossHouse (Lakeland)Republican
Steve SoutherlandHouse (Panama City)Republican
Cliff StearnsHouse (Ocala)Republican
Debbie Wasserman SchultzHouse (Weston)Democrat
Daniel WebsterHouse (Orlando)Republican
Allen WestHouse (Orlando)Republican
Frederica WilsonHouse (Miami)Democrat
C. W. Bill YoungHouse (Indian Rocks Beach)Republican

Florida has 25 representatives at this point  in time, only six of which are Democrats. It will be interesting to see how long that imbalance lasts, especially with the insane antics the Republican party is currently performing as part of its 2012 Political Theater. And of course, due to the census, Florida is supposed to add two new seats to the federal house. That is, assuming the shenanigans involving re-drawing of district lines by the Republican controlled state house will ever finish and see the light of day.

2012 is going to be an interesting year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nifty 45

Rex Max 1

Rex Max 2

Simple Mandevilla

It's still a lazy time to hang around the house and do all those house chores, inside and out, that have accumulated of late because of work and my bum knee. The knee is actually healing, and I'm able to get out and Do Something Useful, like raking up bag after bag of leaves that have fallen and continue to fall as our extended fall season continues. We really don't have a real winter in central Florida, we just have a very short spring, a long hot summer, and a mild fall that runs from November to March. I've actually gotten some of my best fall foliage photos in early December up in Tallahassee.

Max and Ruby like to hang with me in the back yard while I work; it's a dog thing. I've had Labs do that since I've had Labs going all the way back to when my wife and I first married nearly 30 years ago. So in between filling trash bags with leaves I grabbed the E-P2, quickly mounted the M.Z 45mm, and went back out to grab a few shots of the Old Man watching over his little domain. The mandevilla was a nice bonus with the sun behind the trees and the fence, but the still bright enough to cast a nice soft light over everything.

I closed the 45mm down a stop to f/2.5 because I think it's nuts to shoot wide open with any lens unless you have to or you're just playing around for the effect. One stop down is quite reasonable and helps produce a nice balance between subject sharpness and subject separation from the background. It also helps to make sure that enough of the subject is in reasonable focus.

All taken with the M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8. At f/2.5, ISO 200, camera chosen shutter speed. Post processed in Light Room and Silver Efex Pro 2.

Love this lens.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Driving In Orlando

The Wreck

On the way home from a doctor's appointment on Orange Avenue, I happened to pass this interesting wreck on Conroy at Conroy and Turkey Lake. There lay the red Isuzu up on its passenger side, pointing in the opposite direction of travel on the edge of the west-bound lane. How it would up that way is anybodies guess, but I have a theory that the Isuzu was turning onto Conroy from Turkey Lake, and for some reason the driver swerved and then lost control, causing the vehicle to spin and then flip on its side. I have no idea what the state of the driver of the Isuzu is, although I certainly hope the driver wasn't hurt. I have no idea how long the wreck was here, but the lack of highway patrol or ambulance leads me to believe the driver is in reasonably good shape.

The image was taken with the E-P2 and the new M.Zuiko 40-150mm 'R' zoom lens. I'd been stopping to take test images on the way back, and this is just another. The sun was close to setting, I wanted to shoot at 150mm maximum, and I also wanted to stop the lens down around a third of a stop, f/6.3. I wanted to see if I could finesse the lens and control chromatic aberrations, which I've noticed with the lens wide open. So I cranked the ISO up to 400 and let the E-P2 pick the shutter, which it did at 1/800 sec. This gave me a reasonably steady platform, which I needed using a lens with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 300mm.

As I mentioned in the last article, this lens is a bargain, and frankly a good bargain. It won't match the Zuiko Digital 50-200mm I own, but then it shouldn't; the ZD 50-200mm is nearly two stops faster at the long end, has a heck of a lot more glass, and is a pretty stellar performer in its own right. And it's about five times more expensive than the 40-150mm. You do get what you pay for. But for general utility usage, such as photojournalism on a budget, you can't beat this lens, and other lenses like it.

It does sorta motivate me to think about the M.Zuiko 75-300mm 1:4.8-6.7 zoom lens. I've been seeing more and more positive work done with this lens, especially wide open, and I've also noted the price has dropped a bit. There's something to be said about having a 300mm (600mm 35mm equivalent) in the arsenal. The only problem is that, again, from what I've read, you need to shoot in bright light and somewhere around 1/1000s if you want to minimize motion blur on your part. That means bumping up the ISO to 400 or 800. I have no problem using either ISO, as the E-P2 produces excellent images from ISO 800 on down. And in this age when getting close to get the photo can get you clobbered, pepper sprayed, and/or arrested just for being too close, then lenses like the 75-300mm become excellent candidates for citizen journalists. I just wish the blasted thing weren't so expensive, or if it's going to stay this expensive, I wish it were environment resistant like the newly announced M.Zuiko 12-50mm. In fact if the 75-300mm had electric zoom and weather seals like the 12-50mm, all for $750 (the price it's currently dropped to), then I wouldn't hesitate to purchase one at that price.

I guess in the mean time I'll use the 40-150mm and crop. I can drop the ISO to 200, and I've got a little bean bag I can use to rest the E-P2 and 40-150mm on to minimize movement.

Edit

Yes, this is 2011 entry 400. I've written twice as many entries as the next highest count year, 2007. I suppose I could have written something momentous to match the occasion, but then it wouldn't have fit in with all the other entries. This is after all a personal weblog (what 'blog' was corrupted from), so it should read like one. If you want magnificent, inspirational writing, you should probably go elsewhere. Really. Just like I'm an amateur photographer, I'm an amateur writer, with all that that implies.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Breaking the Rules

M.Zuiko 40-150mm from the front
E-P2 with VF-2 and the M.Zuiko 40-150mm 1:4-5.6 'R' zoom lens

There should be no doubt in anybodies mind that I am firmly and forever an amateur photographer and will remain one for as long as I carry any kind of a camera with me. There's no getting around that. Whatever opportunity I had to develop into a paid commercial photographer has long since passed.

And with that realization comes another realization, that I don't need heavy expensive equipment for my style of photography. I just need something that's reasonably flexible and Good Enough. By any measure you care to honestly use, µ4/3rds cameras in general and the Olympus digital Pen series in particular are very flexible and more than Good Enough for me.

The new M.Zuiko 40-150mm 'R' turned out to be something of an epiphany for me. It is an example of something light, cheap, fun, and more than Good Enough. I got it over Christmas and from what I've used of it so far it's the kind of lens that can travel with the E-P2 and a few other M.Zuiko and Panasonic µ4/3rds lenses for a tight, compact, lightweight yet complete kit. And all of it is designed to work with the µ4/3rds E-P2 body. No more adapted regular 4/3rds lenses, no more adapted manual focus 35mm lenses. I've experimented with all of that over the past year. All of those adapted lenses were fun under certain circumstances; more importantly they helped me to make an informed decision as to where to move for the future.

I want something that matches my needs and my style and my budget, not somebody else's. I've finally got the nucleus of that type of system building around the E-P2. I've got all the big glass and bodies I need (probably more than I really need), and I don't need any more. The µ4/3rds may grow a little more, but not by much. I need a wide angle lens, something around 12mm. That might be filled with the M.Zuiko 12mm, or I might wait and get the announced 12-50mm in January. The latter sounds better to me because it comes with macro capability as well as a decent 4:1 zoom range.

In gambling or investing they say never bet more than you can afford to loose. Photography is a little like that: never buy more than you can afford to loose. All of the digital equipment has reached the point where I can easily photograph just about anything, without going broke buying equipment. The Pen series is in the comfortable spot. That means if it breaks I can afford to replace it. If something newer and better comes along, I can afford to replace it. Finally, it's inexpensive/cheap enough that I can afford to really enjoy it without worrying about breaking it.

Edit

This is blog entry 399 for 2011, and 1,094 for the all-time entry.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas with the Critters

This was the first Christmas day when neither of the girls were home. All we had were a collection of Labs and cats to keep us entertained. And for the most part we stayed in the house and entertained ourselves with the various gifts we'd gotten each other. My wife was very pleased with the Nook Tablet I'd gotten her, and kept remarking how easy it was to use compared to the Nook Color I'd gotten her last year. I'll put a review of it up on thewsreviews in short order.

All of these except for the first were test shots taken with the M.Zuiko 45mm and the 40-150mm R lenses on the E-P2, under various lighting indoors, out, and mixed.

You see these sharp claws?

Ruby the Elf - Test 45mm

Fuzzy Head - Test 45mm

December Hibiscus - Test 40-150mm

I'll be doing more detailed personal reviews of the three lenses I got in December, but for the now let me say that the two new Zuikos were light and whisper quiet. And for what I paid for the 40-150 R ($160 on sale this month), I have to say that the 40-150mm R is an incredible bargain considering how good it is. From what I can see, it combines the best qualities of the original 40-150mm 1:3.5-5.6 and the second generation 40-150mm 1:4-5.6. The lens formulation of the R version has indeed changed with regards to the second generation 4/3rds version of this lens, and it's 30 grams lighter to boot. It's a great lens to have in the bag, especially when you need a quick reach out to 300mm equivalent.

More to follow.

And above all, Merry Christmas to everyone, both two and four-footed.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Day Before Christmas Eve

Kitteh and the Christmas Tree
Lucy fascinated by the Christmas tree

The day was split between work and just getting ready for the weekend and Christmas. I had my two doctor appointments for my knee today, a morning acupuncture session and an afternoon physical therapy session. While riding around I had a chance for a few oddball photographs, and then the photo above with Lucy.

Lucy has been fascinated by the Christmas tree ever since the decorations went up and the lights were turned on. See sits in a chair facing the tree and stars at all the shiny bobbles and lights. So far she hasn't tried to climb into the tree, but I've watched here batting at the decorations on the lowest branches. This is the first year she's done this.

This was taken by setting the focus zone to the very far right, over the back of her head. I then held the camera out to the side at arm's length behind Lucy, just checking that the green focus area lit up around her head and pressed the shutter. I was able to get a reasonable composition. I just wanted to somehow capture this moment, any part of the moment. And I think I did.

Architecture 1
Architecture 2

During a run for lunch, I stopped at a sub shop close to the house (I worked out of the house). On the way back out to the car I happened to look up and see the architecture against the deep blue Florida sky. I grabbed the E-P1 and took a few with the Panasonic 20mm attached. During processing I used Silver Efex Pro 2 and the low-key processing. I was trying to capture as much of the tonal range as possible with the contrast kept as low as possible (believe it or not).

I like the E-P2 for the simple fact that when anyone sees me taking a photo with it they think I'm some sort of crazy tourist, and then immediately dismiss me. I like this camera with its small pancake lenses. It's relatively small size and it's non-DSLR shape allow it to hide in plain sight.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Seasonal Blimp Migration

Blue on Blue

The DirecTV blimp returned to Orlando this week and moored in the big empty field at Excutive Airport next to the 408. The blimp and crew are here for a couple of Christmas basketball games, then they're heading on to other cities around Florida and up the east coast.

Blimp Read Starboard Broadside

This year the DirecTV's skin had been completely refurbished with all-new decaling over the outer surface. When I last saw this blimp, it's nearly-five-year-old former surface was peeling badly, especially around the bow. This new covering, while using the same basic color scheme, is simpler, with the mid-blue continuously covering both sides and across the dorsal side of the blimp. The ventral is now a solid darker blue, with cyan areas on the lower bow and stern. This is fundamentally a reverse of the earlier color scheme. The cleaner design along with the new livery makes for a handsome looking aircraft.

Blimp Head-on Mooring


I was met by Airship Bill again, and it turns out he's actually part of the airport staff. He came out to tell me about how to be safe around the blimp. The winds this afternoon were a bit brisk and there was a bit more movement of the blimp than usual. Even though the blimp is moored at the bow, it's not tied down anywhere else. Anyone around the blimp, such as noisy photographers or mechanics, need to be aware of the big ships movements and either get out of the way (like me) or else pay attention and walk back and forth with the blimp as it moves (like the mechanics).


Blimp Starboard Engine Head-on

I learned a bit more about this particular aircraft today. The engines are Lycoming piston engines (what type I didn't ask, sorry), one mounted on both the port and starboard sides. In order to make sure that enough air flows back and across the engine for cooling, there's a special ducted fan attached to the shaft, right behind the prop and sitting inside the cowling. This blows sufficient air back into and across the engine for proper operation.



Blimp Decal Detail

The decals that form the livery on the blimp are sized and cut such that they'll fit across the inflated skin of the blimp. They're attached by strips of adhesive on the edges. The decal sections are solid pieces, but are created with innumerable holes spaced regularly across the entire surface. This allows the decal to expand and contract along with the blimp without undue ripping or tearing.

Blimp Rear Starboard Fins and Rigging

For the rigging, the surface attachment points are epoxied onto the surface of the blimp, then the decals are applied to help them blend into the overall surface, especially from a distance.

Blimp Mooring

And this is what the DirecTV blimp looked like this past January 2011. You'll notice the difference in coloration, and the extensive flaking around the moor point and back across the dorsal spine.

I love these type of aircraft. They move sedately and effortlessly across the sky, at a pace that's more human scale than any powered aircraft.

Technical

The majority of these were taken with the Olympus E-P2 and the Panasonic 20mm. Two were taken with the Olympus E-3 and the Zuiko 12-60mm. You can of course cheat and click on them to find out which is which. But what I find in looking at all of these together is how the E-P2 with the Panasonic matches the E-3 with the 12-60mm, at least at 20mm focal length.

I've read more than my share of editorializing where the mirrorless cameras aren't good enough to take the place of DSLRs, and I can certainly see the need for continuing to use mine under a number of circumstances. But when I look at the color and general image quality comeing out of both bodies with their respective lenses, I can also see where, under the right conditions and executing at a reasonable pace, that an E-P2 is much preferred over either the E-1 or the E-3 that I have. And that also includes any other manufacturers DSLR.

One more observation: the crew around the blimp were far more at ease with me when I used the E-P2  than when I used the E-3 + 12-60mm. This isn't the first time I've noticed this. I've been able to "sneak" more photos with the E-P2 than with either the E-1 or the E-3. Most folks don't pay mirrorless cameras like the E-P2 much mind, especially those in security (I'm thinking of the Universal concerts I attended earlier this year).

Finally, somewhat paradoxically, using the E-P2 with the 20mm made me long a bit for the Fuji X100. After all, they both have the same equivalent focal lengths (Olympus 40mm vs Fuji 35mm), they both have 12MP sensors, and they're both built with the same general retro shape. But the Fuji lens and larger APS-C sensor combination are well renowned, and if I'm to believe what I read and see, the Fuji stands head and shoulders above the E-P2 plus Panasonic 20mm as far as image quality is concerned. And that's considering that the E-P2 is no slouch. The only thing that stops me running out and buying one is the $1,200 price tag and the long reports about ergonomic and firmware issues.

My technical skills have improved a bit over the last 12 months as well as my discrimination, and I've begun to grow tired of some of the Olympus' sensor limitations. The rigging shot above has a blown highlight (the sun reflection on the skin of the blimp) which truly annoys me. I'm beginning to get tired of blown highlights. I've learned to carefully compose in order to avoid such problems most of the time, but there are times I can't, or won't, because of what I'm trying to photograph. It's the one key issue I have with the Olympus sensor and the one thing I'd wish they'd truly fix, and that's expanded dynamic range, especially when trying to pull detail out of highlights.

Oh well. Nothing to get my knickers knotted over.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Trivial Tuesday with the Pany

There's something enjoyable about a new lens, that feeling of discovery, of what you might accomplish with the new lens that you couldn't accomplish with whatever it is you currently have. So today I mounted the Panasonic 20mm on my E-P2 and took it with me as I walked and traveled around Orlando to document a few more mundane moments of my life.

The local office finally got a batch of the new polar bear regular Coke cans today, and I was able to see what the tempest in a coke can was all about with certain diet Coke consumers who either can't, or have forgotten how to read. One version of the regular Coke can with the polar bears is white and silver, similar to the diet coke can, which is actually a lot of silver with a few spots of white. The regular can sports the Coca-Cola script, while the diet can is simply Coke in regular blockier font. Note also that the diet coke can has 'Diet' in big black script. These are all cues I use to easily distinguish one from the other.

Regular and Diet Coke from the side
Regular and Diet Coke from the top
Marketing Miscues - Regular vs Diet Coke, December 2011

Of course, if you're looking at the two cans from the top in a mixed setting, and you're in a hurry, then I can see how you might confuse one with the other. You know, with all the problems this old world has faced this year, people getting upset over how Coke labels its cans of carbonated water is just another example of the self-absorbed banality of this society.

Condiments at Papa Gios
Condiments at Papa Gios, the former Extreme Pita

The empty store-front where Extreme Pita used to be is finally filled with a Papa Gios, a place where they sell gyro wraps, pizza, and other Mediterranean fast food. They just opened as I usually head over to Jersey Mike's for a sub. But today I decided to break and order a grilled chicken gyro. It was OK, but nothing to rave about. I think I'll be back over to Mikes next time I'm walking around for lunch.

Physical Therapy

It's been over a solid month since my left knee went all wonky. I finally got a prescription to head over to Florida Hospital's physical therapy section of RDV Sportsplex. My wife goes there for her physical therapy, so I headed there myself. The doctors basically said they could go in orthoscopically and fix the tear in the knee's cartiledge, and it might work. Or I could try physical therapy, with equal or better chances for success. No matter what, procedure or not, physical therapy was the common thread in both treatment plans, so I said why not? I don't care all that much to be cut on.

When I got there the left leg was flexed, pulled, pushed, prodded, and theraputically twisted every which way. And not one twinge. I felt like such an idiot. I then went through some basic PT, was given my big rubber band, and a sheet showing what to do when I wasn't there. The knee behaved itself for the rest of the day until late this evening while out on a walk with the Labs. Then it let me know it was still thinking about me.

Under the bridge to home we go

Between the short days and the long tasks with the long commute, I had an opportunity to photograph out through the dirty windshield. The E-P2 was set for ISO 100, and the 20mm wide open at f/l.7. Those setting combined with the dusk gave me some nice long shutter speeds. I don't know why but I like the colors.

Technical

I'm still in the experimental stage with the Panasonic 20mm on the Olympus E-P2. From the little I've taken with this combination in the last 48 hours I do believe I like the color coming out of the camera and lens combination. It is different. No, this is not straight out of the camera. It's raw converted with minimal manipulation in Lightroom 3.5.

I love the way the camera and lens combination feels in my hands, more so than the E-P2 with the Olympus 17mm. Perhaps over the coming days the photographs will be more fitting of this lens. But in the mean time I'm just relaxing and having fun.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Glass, New Month Part 2

Self Portrait - First Light 20mm
The Brutal View - First light through the Panasonic 20mm

Some new µ4/3rd lenses have been delivered in time for Christmas. One of them is the Panasonic Lumix 20mm 1:1.7.

I've been wrestling with what kind of system to use. If I should sell all the Olympus equipment I currently have and purchase another manufacturer's equipment. In the end I decided to stay where I'm at. The equipment's capabilities I currently have still exceeds by a wide margin my own limited capabilities. No matter what camera brand I elect to purchase the final result will still look as good or as bad as it currently does.

I'm fleshing out my µ4/3rds system for airline travel. The two other µ4/3rds lenses I will get this season will give me all I need. The only other µ4/3rds lens I might consider in the future is a macro lens, but I can still use the regular 4/3rds 50mm with adapter if I need a macro. The larger systems will stay at home and be used when I can travel by car. Some users say they're two system users. In a way, so am I now.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What is going on with Apple?


Over the last 24 hours I've been running into this huge banner ad from Apple on a number of websites I visit. Presented here are two screen captures from Wired and Yahoo! I've soured on Apple over the last 12 months or so, after realizing just exactly the kind of limited universe Apple has in store for those who consume their iDevices, especially the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. As a consequence I stay away from the Apple store and those sites that tend to advertise Apple. Until I started to hit these huge animated banner ads.


While I'm not surprised to see such ads on the Wired site, I was a bit surprised to see it on Yahoo! Regardless, I'm now very curious as to why Apple has to advertise for the iPod touch. Has the bottom completely dropped out of iPod sales? At least that's what the press has been reporting since July here, here, and here. With the touch being the premier iPod, it makes some sense to try and boost its sales. It's the only way to buy an iPhone without the phone and consequent mobile phone costs.

The only problem is that Apple deliberately crippled the touch by refusing to use its latest A5 processor in the last iPod touch refresh (If the A5 makes mobile gaming awesome, why isn't it in the iPod touch?):
When Apple introduced the iPhone 4S on Tuesday, the company took great pains to show off the A5 processors' ability to make games "really scream," claiming twice the computing performance and seven times the graphics performance of the iPhone 4's A4 processor. But Apple did virtually nothing to the iPod touch, arguably one of the most popular mobile gaming devices on the market, except slap on a coat of white paint and knock $30 off the entry level price.

If the A5 is so awesome for gaming, why then didn't Apple upgrade the iPod touch's A4 processor?
It's a bit cynical on Apple's part to push the crippled iPod touch, but Apple's a big multi-billion-dollar do-anything-for-the-money conglomerate now, a very long way from it's hip, counter-culture, Think Different days. I miss that Apple, if it ever really existed. Now, I just don't care anymore. Just like it appears they don't.

Contemporary µ4/3rds Zoom Lens Comparisons

µ4/3rds Zoom Lens Comparisons
ManufacturerMinimumMaximum
Panasonic7mm @f/414mm @f/4
Olympus9mm @f/418mm @f/5.6
Olympus12mm @f/3.550mm @f/6.3
Olympus14mm @f/3.542mm @f/5.6
Panasonic14mm @f/3.542mm @f/5.6
Panasonic14mm @f/3.545mm @f/5.6
Panasonic14mm @f/4140mm @f/5.8
Olympus14mm @f/4150mm @f/5.6
Olympus40mm @f/4150mm @f/5.6
Panasonic45mm @f/4175mm @f/5.6
Panasonic45mm @f/4200mm @f/5.6
Olympus75mm @f/4.8300mm @f/6.7
Panasonic100mm @f/4300mm @f/5.6
I love charts. I guess that comes from being a combination engineer and bean counter. My day isn't complete until I've created some chart somewhere, preferably as a spreadsheet using Excel or whatever equivalent is handy.

I was motivated to do this chart to your right by all the moaning and groaning coming from the Great Photography Forum Commentariat about how Olympus is releasing all these slow zoom lenses for µ4/3rds. So I meandered over to the Micro Four Thirds Lens Produce page and cobbled up the chart to your right.

Allow me to outline a few quick notes.
  1. I've only included the zooms, not the primes. The primes are a good stop or more faster at their given maximum aperture, but then they're fixed focal length lenses.
  2. I've not included every single iteration of a zoom. For example, Olympus has three versions of the 14-42mm 1:4-5.6. This is a chart about zoom types or classes as much as individual zooms. Oh, and Panasonic has two in that range.
  3. This chart includes the announced but not-yet-delivered Olympus 12-50mm and covers several Pansonic X series lenses.
Ignoring duplicates, there are currently 13 native µ4/3rds zoom lenses spanning focal lengths from 7mm to 300mm (that's 14mm to 600mm in 35mm equivalents). That's a greater than 40:1 focal length range, which is pretty good, all things considered. Unfortunately, according to some, the lenses are slow. None of the lenses made by either Olympus or Panasonic are particularly fast. The fastest are the 14-42mm kit zooms that are fastest at 14mm and f/3.5. That's a third stop faster than f/4. And those f/6.3 and f/6.7 speeds are 1/3 to 1/2 (respectively) slower than the "stock" f/5.6 everyone seems used to. Folks, physics is physics. If you want small and light then you get small and relatively slow. If you want fast then you get huge and expensive. You have a clear (some would say stark) choice now.

What I didn't include, because I didn't feel like looking them up, were the dimensions (size and weight) of all the lenses. That would have been real work. And then you the reading audience would have wanted to compare them with the closest 4/3rds and/or competitor lens, and well, that would have been even more work.

No, the reason for my chart is to take the heat off of Olympus and spread it evenly over to Panasonic, which appears to be as in lockstep with Olympus as Olympus is with Panasonic.

Once the Commentariat get going with their complaints about the slow maximum apertures, then they get going about perceived flaws with the lens performance. For that, I'd like to show you a photograph by Bryce Bradford, a rather excellent photographer who has gotten to like µ4/3rds rather much these days.

M.Zuiko 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 Sample
M.Zuiko 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 Sample
By Bryce Bradford
E-PM1, 300mm, f/6.7, 1/1000s, ISO 400

When you click on that photo selected the full size and look at the head of the robin. Note the crisp detail around the eyes, bill, and neck ruff.

I have the OM 300mm 1:4.5 fixed focal length lens. That lens is almost as large as my ZD 50-200mm. I've used it, even with the E-P2 (with suitable adapters). The 75-300 zoom is only a stop slower but about five times lighter than the OM 300, and from what I can see, the optical quality of the M.Zuiko is superior to the older OM 300mm. The only reason I don't own one is that at the time of its initial release it was $900. At that price I felt it should have had environmental sealing, like the newly announced 12-50mm will have.

If you're not hung up on weather sealing like I am, based on the excellent IQ I've seen from this lens, and considering that the price has now dropped to around $750, the Olympus 75-300mm is at least worth considering. And if you feel the need for a "better" lens for APS-C or larger sensor cameras, go to a store where they'll let you hold one of those little monsters and think about carrying that largish lump of metal, plastic and glass around for more than five minutes. The Pen system might not be perfect, but it's certainly pointing in the right direction of small and efficient photography.

As for myself, Santa is bringing me new µ4/3rds gear for Christmas; an Olympus 45mm lens, another Olympus 40-150mm R zoom, and a Panasonic 20mm lens. I might even break down and purchase an E-P2 kit with VF-2 and 17mm that Amazon is showing for $700. That's less than the cost of the E-P3 body only. I've been going round and round about what to invest in and after looking and holding for some time now I've decided to continue to invest in the µ4/3rds system, with some equipment from Olympus and Panasonic.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What Hath Olympus Wrought?

M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm SilverIt's been 24 hours since Olympus announced their latest µ4/3rds lens, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 zoom with macro capabilities. And based on comments coming out of mouths of the commentariat you'd have thought that Olympus has delivered a lens that's dead on arrival. Being the contrarian that I am, I think they're all full of it.

Let's do a quick run down of this lens' capabilities:
  • Dust and splashproof, similar to 4/3rds HG (High Grade) and SHG (Super High Grade)
  • Macro capability, 1:3 (roughly), 8 to 20 inches closest focusing
  • Electronic zoom for smoother zooming capability during video capture
  • Mechanical zoom for stills
  • Fly-by-wire manual focus
  • Extremely quite autofocus (MSC, Movie-Stills-Compatible)
  • $500 suggested price.
  • Max aperture range 1:3.5 (12mm) to 1:6.3(50mm)
  • A weight of 211 grams
After listening to all the forum monsters moan and groan about its "obvious limitations," especially compared to the 4/3rds Zuiko Digital 12-60mm, you're left to wonder why Olympus released this so-called turkey. Especially when Olympus could have "obviously" released a µ4/3rds version of the 12-60mm.

I own the 12-60mm and use it quite extensively. I love that lens. But that lens is big and heavy and requires a decent sized body, such as the E-1, E-30, E-3, or E-5 to work comfortably with it. Let's do a quick side-by-side comparison of both lenses key features.

Olympus Lens Comparision (µ4/3rds 12-50mm vs. 4/3rds 12-60mm)
Versionµ4/3rds 12-50mm4/3rds 12-60mm
Length83mm99mm
Diameter57mm80mm
Filter diameter52mm72mm
Weight211g575g
Cost (New)$500$900

The last two specifications, weight and cost, are real standouts for me. This is the first µ4/3rds lens that comes in at what I consider a fair price in comparison to its regular 4/3rds equivalent. Yes, the 12-50mm is 1 stop slower (1 1/3rd at 50mm) than the 12-60mm, and doesn't go out to 60mm. Boo-hoo.

Here's what I've discovered using my copy of the 12-60mm, which I purchased in December 2008.
  • I usually stop the 12-60mm down one stop for best optical performance, which means I operate the lens from f/4 to f/5.6. That slots neatly into the max aperatures of the 12-50mm (1:3.5 to 1:6.3). And here's a little secret: f/6.3 is only one third stop slower than f/5.6. And I would be willing to spend good money that the 12-50mm's optical performance at max aperture is as good, if not better than, the 12-60mm stopped down one stop. And the 12-60mm ain't no slouch.
  • The 12-50mm is almost 3 times lighter (2.73 to be exact) than the 12-60mm. That's a really nice weight, especially for a small sized  µ4/3rds system. This lens would make an excellent walk-around lens mounted on any of the E-Px series of digital Pens.
  • That cost. The more speedy you want a lens, the more glass you need, and the more elaborate the lens formula. There are folks who feel the 12-60mm is too slow for a zoom, and so purchase the SHG 14-35mm 1:2 zoom, for a mere $2,500. If you think that Olympus charges too much, then you need to look at the Nikon and Canon equivalents for equivalent amounts of money.
Based on what I've read about the lens so far, and comparing that with my experiences using the 12-60mm, I've come to the conclusion that the 12-50mm is going to be another stand-out lens for Olympus, just like the 12-60mm. The complainers and arm-chair lens designers not withstanding. I'm looking forward to the release of this lens in mid-January, and I will probably be one of the first to own a copy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Searching for God

Spirit of Joy

You're looking at the Spirit of Joy Evangelical Lutheran Church on Rouse Road, just north of the intersection of Rouse and East Colonial. I don't know how long this church has been here, but I've passed it coming and going to work when I take the Rouse Road exit off the 408.

This church is unusual in that it's right up on the road, across the street from a 7/11 store and gas station, in the midst of heavy traffic on East Colonial. It's unusual compared to many other churches that are hidden away in the suburbs, surrounded by landscaped properties. This church, with its simple but effective face, is right up there in the middle of urban life.

I think of this church and all the ways that we, as Christians, approach religion in America. We're keen to make sure our politicians, especially our Presidents, are Christian. Yet we keep our churches segregated and isolated, except for the interesting differences such as Spirit of Joy. As Christmas approaches its inevitable final days all I see and hear is the secular side of it, the buying for gifts, Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, nothing about the reason for this holiday, the birth of Christ.

I don't mean putting up nativity scenes either. I mean really understanding what Christmas should mean, which is totally counter to our blind consumerism this time of year. I think of all this while we still struggle through the Great Recession and I think of all it has hurt.

What triggered all of this was sitting in front of the HDTV and watching a trailer/ad for "The Darkest Hour", a science fiction/horror movie about alien destruction from above. On Christmas day. Or another about a woman being abducted by a serial killer. On Christmas eve. What have we finally turned into? Is there anything left worth salvaging?

We're lost, individually and as a nation. Our secular leadership can't help us. Our religious leadership can't help us either. And I have no solution that doesn't come across as glib, sanctimonious, or cynical.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Recovering? We're Not Even Close

Former Chevy's Fresh Mex, West Oaks Ocoee
Closed Chevy's front entrance

This past Saturday I dropped the two Labs off at a PetSmart for their sorta-monthly grooming. I say sorta-monthly because it takes four to six weeks for the Labs to reach a point where a certain head-turning aroma begins to waft up from their yellow bodies. When I can tell they're around without seeing them then it's time for a bath. And being close to Christmas I didn't want stinky dogs to ruin the occasion, so I was doubly motivated to drop the characters.

On the way back out of West Oaks I drove through the section of the mall property where there used to be a Toys-R-Us, Chevy's Tex Mex, and Border's stores. Over the last twelve months I've watched the Toys-R-Us and then the Borders shut down. On the way out I stopped and captured a few photographs of this now out-of-business Chevy's

Former Chevy's Fresh Mex Empty Interior, West Oaks Ocoee
Looking through the dirty windows at the empty interior

It has been a long harsh slog these past five years in the section of town around Ocoee. I've watched one major store after another shut down and move out. The Toy's-R-Us moved to the Mall at Millenia, right across from the Home Depot and into the empty building where Expo used to be before it went out of business. Border's had been dying a slow death since around 2006. The store at West Oaks was closed in March, and Borders finally closed everything this past September. With the demise of Chevy's there are now three side-by-side large stores sitting out in front along West Colonial. I have no idea what the state of the larger mall is anymore.

It's a shame it all turned out this way. My wife and I used to take our young girls to eat at Chevy's (and at a Don Pablos that used to be around the corner before it closed and moved out). After dinner we'd go to the Toys-R-Us and window shop, picking up some little item for the girls. Then we'd go over to Borders for mom and dad to pick up something to read. Oddly enough we didn't spend that much time in Best Buy (and to this day I still don't unless it's something I really need and I know is in the store).

As the years wore by the traffic grew thinner, both out front and in the mall. With the real-estate bust and the continuing high unemployment, 'edge' businesses such as these continue to shut down all over Orlando.

As for Chevy's, there's just two stores left in Orlando. There's no telling how long they'll be in business before the entire chain leaves, just like Donatos and so many others.

West Oaks Mall Borders Closing Store Front
Borders Closing in March 2011

Exit - Store Closed
Closed Toys-R-Us


More Toys 'Я' Us construction
Constructing new Toys-R-Us at Mall of Millenia September 2010, where the Expo used to be

A Bit of Wiimote Magic on Fedora


A followup to the prior post about using the Wiimote away from a Wii. As I just wrote it appears to work with the Asus Transformer Android tablet. Now I wanted to work with it on the old Dell Latitude D630 running with Fedora 14. I won't go into full detail about what to install on Fedora, except to say in general terms to pick up the Bluetooth driver and utility packages, as well as wmgui to be able to check out operational features in some detail.

I was a bit surprised to note that the nunchuk didn't show up on wmgui. I have no idea what that means. The application did show the motion sensors (three-axis accelerometer) and the tuning fork gyroscope (MotionPlus). I have the source and some USB debugging tools, so I can look a bit to find out if the data from the nunchuk is actually coming across. Since I'm fairly new to this it will probably take me longer to figure this out than someone who is "skilled in the art." There's a lot of DIY information about using the Wiimote, and it appears for the Sony Motion controller as well.


The Dell notebook doesn't come with built-in Bluetooth, so I had to go to a local Best Buy and pick up the only one they stocked for $30. I could have mail-ordered an equivalent for half that price, but I could have added in shipping and waited for however long it would take to get to me. I also wanted to be able to take it back right away if it didn't work. Geeks are too often penny wise and pound foolish.

Once I got the tiny dongle out of the package and plugged in, the USB and Bluetooth drivers under Fedora sensed it and allowed for wmgui to begin to work with the Wiimote. This is basically an end-to-end checkout of all the hardware. Just like with the Transformer, I now know that all the bits I'm currently working with seem to work correctly, quirks notwithstanding. Now it's on to more interesting work.

Checkout of the Asus Transformer Tablet

This is a simple smoke test to see if several technology bits I'm interested in would work with the Asus Transformer and its Android load, v3.2.1 (Honeycomb). Those technology bits are Nasa's WorldWind SDK and the late-model Wiimote with built-in Wii MotionPlus.


Getting Nasa's WorldWind running on the Asus was extremely simple. The downloadable bundle comes with pre-built APK's in the examples/WWAndroidDemo folder (WWAndroidDemo.apk). All you have to do with the Transformer is plug it into your Android ready developer system and side-load the APK onto the device. In this case all my work was done on my Fedora 14 system.

The README.txt file in the root folder has all the directions for loading the apk file. I chose load WWAndroidDemo, so I simply ran: adb -d install examples/WWAndroidDemo/WWAndroidDemo.apk, then ran the WWAndroid Demo under Apps. Easy-peasey. This was the simplest way to test this lashup before investing any significant time and energy, and I was very pleased to see it work.

I don't know what is happening with the first screen shot from the Transformer (all these screen shots were made on the Transformer, not via ddms), as the screen is completely black. Need to look at the source of WWAndroidDemo, I guess.


One of the features I was surprised to see enabled in the demo is the two-finger 3D view. We're looking at the Florida peninsula with Orlando and Canaveral sorta in the middle. Shifting from 2D to 3D was very smooth, very fluid on the Transformer.


One of the tests I was very interested in was the resolution of the underlying map data. From what I saw it's not too high, but that's not such a big deal at this point in time. I do need to see if I can get higher-resolution map data, though, for further down the road. In this screen shot we're looking at Orlando International Airport. You get much better and clearer views via Google Maps and Google Earth. But then again I'm just getting started with Android WorldWind...


Finally, I installed WiimoteController 0.65 beta by Cre@ions from the Android Market. I wanted to see if I could get a late-model Wiimote with built-in MotionPlus to interact with the Transformer via the Transformer's built-in Bluetooth. As you can see above it does. At least all the buttons work, both on the main controller and on the numchuck. I've tried to do this in the past with my HTC myTouch 4G, and it wouldn't work (and you're warned it won't work on the application's website, but I had to try anyway).

Having 'passed' both of these simple tests, I feel a lot more confident in digging into the underlying hardware and software and working on my own mash-up, as it were.

I've also gotten the Wiimote to work with Fedora 14 and the Latitude D630 by using a USB-to-Bluetooth adapter (more on that later), which allowed me to test and exercise other Wiimote features.

Bottom line is I have two very different platforms, one Linux/notebook-based, the other Android/tablet based, that nominally run WorldWind and can interact with the Wiimote. And I can use the Linux system to support development on the Android tablet. The only thing to do now is buy a Sony Move and see how far I get with that under Linux and Honeycomb on the Transformer.

Linux might not be the prettiest or hippest OS to run on hardware, but when it comes to having something that's fully open, extremely flexible and as inexpensive, you won't find anything better than Linux. And for a lot of what I personally need, I seem to have hit a sweet spot with Fedora 14, which is why I'm loath to mess around with it at this point in time. If it ain't broke...

Friday, December 09, 2011

Mornings

Morning has Broken

I've been telecommuting since Thursday. I've still got the bum knee, and working from home reduces the stress and strain of driving cross town to work, then clomping up four floors to my office (even if I do use an elevator instead of the stairs). Destinations such as a kitchen area and bathroom are a lot closer at home than in an office building. I can't wait until the 15th and my official audience with the orthopedic surgeon. I can't believe this has been going on since my trip to Detroit before Thanksgiving.

Right now I'm the only two-legged creature in the house. It's not that you can say you're alone when you have two Labs and three cats to keep you occupied. I've been sleeping out on the La-Z-Boy lounger in the back of the house these past weeks because it can keep my leg and knee at a proper angle, and I'm close enough to the kitchen and the freezer to grab ice packs for the knee. But I still have to rise and shine each morning and go to work at my home desk, just like I would at the regular office.

And the Labs, being the opportunistic little characters that they are, love to pile into the sofa and snuggle into my blanket and pillow when I get up. Max, being the alpha, is sitting where I was sitting. I can't blame them. It's warm and has my smell on everything, and they are the devoted little pair.

A Moment of Catemplation

Cat's are different in this regard. They'll flop bonelessly down anywhere that's warm and soft. The only time I see them is when they want to come over and be seen. It's not unusual to wake up in the middle of the night and find one curled up on top of me as I lie under my blanket, or to have one walk across my chest, purring, early in the morning. Cats are better than any alarm clock I've ever owned.