Sunday, June 30, 2013

it's a slow, slow, slow, slow sunday

It's been raining on and off all day today, starting around 11am. Several thunder showers have passed over the house, but nothing that would drive the animals to take cover. Just a lot of rain varying from light showers to the occasional, if short, downpour. So I've been playing with the GX1 today with the 20mm and learning a bit more about Lightroom. Nothing specific to LR5, just general skills.

I continue to be impressed with the output from the GX1. It, combined with the 1.7/20mm, make for a very nice combination.
Ruby's photo is SOOC, cropped and resized by LR5. I discovered that changing saturation in the menus is not actually changing saturation (although I really wish I could). It changes the tint, from dark sepia at -2 to neutral to dark blue at +2. I have saturation at -1, or light sepia tint. I love the monochrome images that come out of this camera. Maybe I could do better in post with LR5 and Nik Software. Sometimes I think the light areas could be a little brighter. But I remember it came home brand new for only $200. I can't complain.

Yesterday's photos were all taken with the E-M5. While I certainly like the GX1 and the output, the performance of the E-M5 is head and sholders over the GX1, and it should be, considering the time between their introductions. I continue to wonder if I should make the investment in the E-P5 kit (1.8/17mm + body + VF-4 2.4MP EVF). Olympus offered a kit with the silver E-M5 and silver 1.8/17mm. I would have gotten that instead if it had been offered in black.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

random acts of photography

I've been hearing about random acts of violence since I was a kid; that's over a half century for me. Later some "comedian" came up with "random acts of kindness", later followed by "random acts of art" until the meme was "random acts of [fill_in_the_blank]." For me it's turning into random acts of photography, for no more reason than the mood strikes me at that particular moment. Shapes, colors, textures, design, it can all come together at the most improbable moment.

Which is why I carry a real camera at all times, even though I supposedly have a decent camera in my Galaxy S4. While the Galaxy S4's camera is indeed much better than the camera in my former HTC myTouch 4G, it's still a crappy camera for all but emergency situations. Nothing beats having a regular camera (E-1, GX1, NEX 5N, E-M5...) for the ability to hold it assuredly with one hand, shutter release comfortably under the forefinger of the holding hand. In the case of the top photo, it helped to tilt the back screen of the E-M5 back towards me so I could properly compose even though the lens was pointing straight down.
Late at night queued up to order a supper, the cop in front is armed on both hips with gear. This particular gear group included a Tazer, his radio, and a flashlight. He had a Glock on the right hip. Did I feel safer having him around? Not really. He was an over-muscled young turk and a bit nervous. I was glad to eat quickly and leave. The police have become a negative force unto themselves, and they're to be avoided at all costs. After watching how they behaved around the country during the height of Occupy Wall Street, I'll never trust them again.
I think this is my vision of hell. To spend eternity behind the wheel in traffic on an infinite grimy highway (in this instance, I-4 west through downtown Orlando).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

sometimes all I have are the sunsets

If I didn't have Florida sunsets (and other Florida visual sights) I'd probably shrivel up and die from depression. That's one reason I like to go out for dinner in the summertime, especially after it's rained. The clouds and the setting sun's light make for spectacular light shows that lift and invigorate the tattered human spirit.

I needed today's sunset because of Chief Justice [sic] John Robert's direct assault on the Voting Rights Act and the further enabling of the war on voting that's been waged by conservative (read:Tar Party) state houses across the nation since McCain's loss in 2008. Before this there was the Robert's court decision in the Selinas v, Texas where you're essentially damned if you do and damned if you don't with regards to the Fifth Amendment. In case you've forgotten, Justice [sic] John Roberts was the little joke former President [sic] George W. Bush left behind as part of his "legacy" as president.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

the skies reflect our circumstances

We've been having a spate of dramatic weather over the past few months; heavy thundershowers starting mid- to late-afternoon, leading to rather dramatic sunsets. Lots of lightening and thunder walking across the landscape, near-tropical storm rain falling in sheets that slowly sweep across the landscape in front of you. I'd rather have the rain than the dry heat. I've seen Florida burn; 1998 comes to mind with walls of smoke that cut the Florida landscape into strange corridors, the horrid smell of burning, and red lurid light at sunset that made you think Hell had come to Disney World.

Right now it's a reminder of what's going on in this country and around the world. NSA, Syria, wholesale forest burning in Indonesia. And that's just the three top items that come to mind.

This was taken one evening while my wife and I were out for dinner. I had my Olympus E-M5 and the M.Zuiko 12-50mm zoom. This was definitely not taken straight out of the E-M5. It was manipulated a bit in LR 5, then finished in Color Efex Pro 4.

Update 24 June

Sky Fire made Explore on Flickr. I get about one/year, so this fulfills my 2013 quota.

lucy and lightroom 5

I went ahead and purchased the Lightroom 5 upgrade last week when it finally hit the store shelves. I could have gotten a copy earlier than last Friday, but I'm old fashioned in that I want physical media if I can get it. I'm not happy about getting just a digital download, especially if it costs any amount of money. The LR 5 upgrade cost $79, whether I purchased it direct from Adobe and downloaded it or purchased the physical boxed copy from B&H Photography (which I did).

I'm trying to decide if the upgrade was worth it with regards to new features, so I've been experimenting with what are some of the advertised features, such as the radial filter. I used the radial filter to darken the background around Lucy's head to better separate her head from the background. The center of the filter is slightly to the left, almost to her right tear duct. I then darkened the shadows around Lucy's head as well as desaturated the background. I kept the color the camera chose. When I tried to perform a white balance by sampling Lucy's white fur, the photo came out too blue, too cool. I don't know what's the "correct" color balance, but I like what I see and so I kept it.

Because I used the GX1 to take these photos I had the camera create both a monochrome JPEG as well as a raw file. The mono photo is straight out of the camera, with only a 16:9 crop applied.
I used the Panasonic 20mm at f/2 with the GX1.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

loosing my political naïveté

I can't add more to what has flooded the news since Edward Snowden's initial leak about the NSA's whole-sale domestic spying and other unconstitutional activities, except my own personal feelings, which are intensely against the NSA's actions. I find the whole Democratic party's participation, in particular Dianne Feinstein's, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who stupidly labels the NSA's actions as "protecting America" totally reprehensible. The only Democrat with enough backbone who has shown enough anger about the revelations is Al Gore, who called the NSA's actions what they truly are, "obscenely outrageous."

And now comes the news that the U.S. government has issued a formal indictment and a request to Hong Kong to arrest him and hold him for extradition back to the U.S. I don't know if this will do any good, but I am repeating what the ACLU sent out earlier today.
Dear Friends,

Edward Snowden risked everything to expose the secret NSA spying program which surveils our calls and emails. Last night, we learned what shape those risks would take—in a late night news release the Administration hoped we wouldn’t notice.

Snowden has been called a “traitor” by politicians and had his personal safety threatened. Now he’s been formally charged with violating the Espionage Act—the same law used to charge Bradley Manning, who provided information to WikiLeaks.

For his trouble, Manning was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day and forced to sleep naked and sheetless, in conditions even a military judge called “excessive.”

By bringing to light information that the powers-that-be would rather keep secret, whistleblowers like Snowden play a fundamental role in our democracy. We can’t just let them be thrown into darkness.

As the Department of Justice moves in on Snowden, we need to raise our voices to ensure that Snowden is treated fairly and legally, and that the massive abuse of government power, that he risked his safety to expose, finally comes to an end.

Dear President Obama

We stand opposed to any attempt to treat Edward Snowden as a traitor. Our government must also not pursue the case against him outside the ordinary course of American justice. He is entitled to the rule of law and constitutional protections that so many before us died to defend.

Snowden is innocent until proven guilty before a court of law and he must be afforded all of his rights as an American citizen. If he is brought to an American court, he must be afforded every opportunity to defend himself and convince a judge that what he did was justifiable and patriotic, even if he is charged with violating laws that themselves pose a threat to our democracy.

Finally, we say as Americans that we are tired of seeing liberty sacrificed on the altar of security and having a handful of lawmakers decide what we should and should not know. We are tired of living in a nation governed by fear instead of the principles of freedom and liberty that made this nation great.

Of all the terrible things that Snowden has to fear, he has told us: “The greatest fear I have…is that nothing will change.”


I have a feeling that nothing will really change. As a side-line observer of the military/industrial complex for the last 40 or so years, I've watched an unholy alliance between contractors and the military build gold-plated and highly expensive weapon's systems. Once those weapon systems are "programs of record," they become almost impossible to eliminate; even if they are they come back as something slightly different, defeating the purpose of killing the program. The same thing has been happening for the past 20 years in national security, accelerated tremendously by 9/11.

Representatives for the intelligence community as well as their allied contractors have painted grim pictures in secret meetings behind closed doors on Capital Hill. Because of the secrecy there has been no public debate, no one to challenge the assumptions. Because of the secrecy combined with House and Senate culpable stupidity, the intelligence community and the contractor minions have managed to get everything they want, made "legal" by having Congress and two administrations pass laws to subvert and sidestep the first, second, and fourth amendments to the constitution. Billions have been secretly spent building these systems, billions more are spent running and maintaining them, and too many pigs at this particular federal trough will keep it going no matter what, all in the name of "protecting America."

Political

I've been drifting away from the Democratic party for some years now, starting mid-way in Obama's first term as president. It was about that time I also joined the ACLU. The Snowden leaks and Obama's explicit support of the NSA is the last straw. My split from the Democratic party complete. I'm an Independent. There's no sense in going towards the Republican party since they've had an equal hand in establishing our current Dystopian States of America.

Update 23 June

Booz Allen Hamilton illustrates the current unethical linkage between civilian contractor industry and the government. John McConnell spent his career in the government, receiving a commission in the United States Navy in 1967 (I was in the seventh grade at the time). From 1992 to 1996 he served as director of the NSA, retiring in 1996 after 29 years of service. There's nothing wrong with a career in the government or the military in general. But when he retired in 1996 he joined Booz Allen Hamilton, and was employed by them until 2007 when President Bush appointed him the second Director of National Intelligence, giving him oversight and leadership over the NSA. He stayed as DNI for the next two years, bridging the Bush and Obama administrations. When he left the position in 2009 he returned to Booz Allen Hamilton as executive vice president. Today he serves as BAH's vice chairman.

During those years Booz Allen grew to become the number one contractor to the government side of the intelligence community. Call me old fashioned, but intelligence should not be doled out to civilian contracting agencies the way bombs and bullets are. The government should have tighter control, and be held more accountable because of the gross constitutional abuses that have taken place. That won't necessary stop the NSA or its sister organizations, the CIA, FBI, and DCI, but it might, if we can elect people to federal government who have backbones and brains.

References

John Michael McConnell http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Michael_McConnell
John M. (Mike) McConnell - Booz Allen http://www.boozallen.com/about/leadership/executive-leadership/McConnell

Update #2 23 June

Eward Snowden is on his way out of Hong Kong, after Hong Kong denied the U.S. request to hold him for extradition. He's left Hong Kong on Aeroflot, and according to Reuters his possible destinations include Cuba and Venezuela. I don't know about you, but Venezuela is the last place I'd want to head to if I were in the run. The Bangor (Maine) Daily News reports that Iceland may also be one of his destinations, which makes a lot more sense, considering the physical route he'll take as well as recent efforts in Iceland to offer him diplomatic asylum (they granted full citizenship for Bobby Fischer in 2005 to get him out of Japan and away from Japanese/American custody).

References

Snowden leaves Hong Kong, may head for Venezuela http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/23/us-usa-security-flight-idUSBRE95M02H20130623
Hong Kong lets Snowden leave, with Cuba, Iceland among possible destinations http://bangordailynews.com/2013/06/23/news/world-news/hong-kong-lets-nsa-leak-edward-snowden-leave-with-cuba-iceland-among-possible-destinations/

Technical

I found a digital copy of the Obama Hope poster on the Internets and then used Photoshop to simply cover Hope and add Lies to the poster. The font is Nevis and can be found here.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

tropical paradise

Rain or shine (and a lot more rain than shine due to a tropical storm out in the Gulf and headed our way), the Dr. Phillips Art Center continues to inexorably rise above the skyline and the elevated 408 expressway. I stopped by on the way home, parked, and walked about in the mist with the GX1 and 20mm lens. I'm in that mode where I use only one camera and one lens, and right now it's the GX1.
They're getting ready to add flying extensions to the zig-zag roof they've been working on since late last year. It will be interesting to see how it looks when it's finally attached. I'm kind of curious how the fly structures will be balanced. I can only imagine what the structural loads must be in a hurricane. This season's first tropical storm, Andrea, throwing wind and rain this far east while it still churns to the west of us in the Gulf, is a gentle reminder of the things to come later this year. I have a feeling we're in for a wetter hurricane season than we've seen since 2004/2005. It's about that time again. Need to check on the home generator.

Technical

Used the Panasonic Lumix GX1 and 1.7/20mm. Post processing in LR4.4 and Nik's Color Efex Pro 4. These aren't HDR processed, they just look that way. I was able to pull extensive detail out of the highlights and the shadows using a single GX1 exposure. Now that I've figured out how to do it with the GX1 I need to try it with the older Pens and especially the E-M5. What is interesting is that the GX1 has the same sensor scores as the E-P2 and E-PL1.

Monday, June 03, 2013

a prodigal daughter returns

As my wife lay crippled up with pain on her bed here at our home, our two daughters lived indifferent and uncaring lives in different parts of Florida. And yet I knew that troubling portents were afoot, as the skies over these last few days have been ominously colored towards the evening, troubled skies warning of visitations to come. Sure enough, the youngest came wheeling into Orlando Monday driving an expensive German sports car a $27/day Budget rental, the New New Volkswagen Beetle. The more masculine design, not the rounded feminine New Beetle that had the flower holder on the dash. She finally acknowledged that perhaps she owed some small pittance of time to the woman who gave her life and toiled unceasingly to bring her up in this world.

That's the nice thing about being a parent. I now know all the possible ways to guilt my children into doing just about anything.
She still drives the 1994 Volvo 940, not least because she can't afford to buy a new one. But even if she could she wouldn't buy the New New Beetle. According to her it handles horribly, has a number of horrendous blind spots, and has a wider turning radius than the Volvo. When I put 10 gallons of gas into it before we returned the car, a quick mental calculation showed it got little better than 27mpg. My Prius easily doubles that. As a trailing Baby Boomer I remember the Original Beetle and wish I still had one. It was certainly smaller and lighter than the New Beetle and the following New New Beetle. It was a true "peoples car", not the bloated expensive things Volkswagen the company sells today.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

part 2 of panasonic gx1 review posted on thewsreviews

Panasonic Lumix GX1 with Lumix 1:2.5/14mm pancake prime
I posted part two of my review on thewsreviews: http://www.thewsreviews.com/2013/06/panasonic-lumix-dmc-gx1-silver-part-2.html

Nothing changed from part 1; I still believe it's a great little camera, especially now that it's heavily discounted. This time I used it with the Lumix 14mm. Whether the GX1 + 14mm is on the same photographic footing as the Nikon Coolpix A, Ricoh GR Digital V, or Fuji X100s is open for discussion, but for about US$450 body and lens, it sure does a great job for me. And when the 14mm doesn't suit me for whatever reason, I can switch it out for something else, such as the 20mm or M.Zuiko 45mm. Such is the real power behind an interchangeable lens system.


Saturday, June 01, 2013

linux at home: running a linux mint 15 virtual machine on windows 8

Windows 8 desktop with task manager and VMware Player booting Linux Mint 15
Back in my last job I got into the habit of installing every Linux distribution when it was newly released. The primary reason was to keep tabs on the evolution of the various distributions. The secondary reason was because VirtualBox, and later VMware Player, forgave a host of sins when trying to install Linux on bare metal, not the least of which was lack of driver support for the latest and greatest peripherals that were evolving at a mad pace on their own. I quickly discovered I had far greater success installing Linux virtually than I ever did directly on a notebook or desktop computer. The icing on the cake was the rapid realization that I didn't have to wipe a drive when I wanted to install a different version of a different distribution. VMs were basically very large disk files, and as long as I had enough disk space (growing from the hundreds of gigs into the single terabytes) I could just create another VM, install yet another Linux variant, and keep on truckin'. The others were idled (stored as it were) until I needed to run them again, or eventually deleted when no longer needed.

Right now, at home, on my Samsung Series 7 700Z7C notebook, with 8GB of DRAM, a quad-core i7-3615QM notebook processor, and 1TB of disk media, I have four individual virtual Linux machines; Fedora 18, CentOS 6.4, Ubuntu 13.4, and the latest installed today, Linux Mint 15. All of these are 64 bit, have a modest 20 to 40GB of disk space allocated to them, 2GB of VM memory, and two cores. I don't have enough horsepower to run them all, but that's not my intent. My intent is to have a reasonably executing Linux environment with any one of them as needed on the Windows 8 desktop along with any number of simultaneous Windows development tools. So far that model has worked just fine for me, and I don't see it changing before I'm ready to step up to my next notebook sometime towards the end of next year.

Linux Mint 15 was released this past week. I downloaded the ISO, created a blank VM, and booted then installed Mint on that blank VM. Because Mint is derived from Ubuntu it follows Ubuntu's minimalist installation procedures, which is determine your language, location somewhere on this planet, the type of hardware you have automagically, and then to stuff everything it thinks you need on the machines storage media. You can argue all you want about not being allowed to exercise fine-grained control over the installation, but time is money, disk space is so vast and cheap these days, and I really don't have the time to screw with it much anymore. If I need something specific I'll fix it after the system is installed and operational.
Linux Mint 15 login after installation on the VM
Installing Mint 15 went without a single hitch. When it finished it booted into the primary account I'd created called, rather creatively, mint. I have all my Linux VMs set up this way; accounts and passwords are the distribution name, and they all automatically log in and behave like a regular Windows 8 desktop application when invoked. I will say that the login screen for Mint 15 is the best I've ever seen for Mint, if not for Linux in general. Starting from login and going through the general operation, someone (or a number of someones) have gone to a lot of trouble to pay attention to the details of building a solid working desktop environment. This attention to this level of detail shows in Mint 15, and I certainly appreciate it.
Basic desktop showing a well designed and laid-out Cinnamon menu
I've installed Cinnamon on several distributions in lieu of Gnome 3, and I have never seen Cinnamon look this polished or work as well as it does on Mint 15. Kudos to whatever it was they did, it works quite well.
Checking on any updates that need to be installed after the initial base install
One of the aspects of any distribution I always check is what has to be patched as soon as the base installation finished. Linux Mint 15 was no different than any other, but it surprised me in only having 30 packages to update. By contrast I've had hundreds come flowing down the internets after a base installation, and this was only after snagging a copy of the installation ISO 24 hours after its official release. And these were minor fixes and updates, not a whole-sale kernel update in the bunch.

My only real complaint is looking for release notes, especially for class 1 fixes. This isn't the first distribution that allows you to read the release notes and then not supply them; Ubuntu is pretty notorious about this as well, and Fedora can be pretty forgetful as well.
Installing the updates
Once again a tip of the hat to the engineer that designed a clean download dialog. This is reminiscent of Ubuntu, but with a bit more polish and clarity. A minor nit is the layout manager doesn't keep the upper widgets (everything from the top to the "Show individual files" toggle) tightly packed as the dialog is stretched.
Finding and installing Chromium from the Linux Mint repositories

Checking the version of Chromium, which is two major releases behind regular Chrome
The final task I performed before I wrapped it up for the day was to find and install Chrome. Linux distributions don't ship bog-standard Chrome like you would experience on every other OS besides Linux, but instead ship Chromium. That would be fine except the version of Chromium that's shipped out to Linux is usually one to two versions behind regular Chrome. I must give praise to the ease of finding and installing Chromium. It's the easiest it's ever been. But in the end I'm going to uninstall Chromium and install Chrome just like I have for every other Linux distribution I've brought up. Such is the pity considering how easy it was to get Chromium going on Linux Mint 15.

I've come to regret recommending Linux in the past, but if someone were to ask me today what Linux distribution I would recommend I'd have to tell them to at least try Linux Mint. This version of Ubuntu (as that's what it is) is directed at folks who really need to get work done. The desktop is more "classical" than Ubuntu or Gnome 3, and lacks all the distracting desktop glam effects that have accreted all over KDE. I need to dig in a little deeper and check out gcc and Java, but I was very happy when I installed the VMware Tools onto Linux Mint 15 and it executed without a hitch. It may be that in the not too distant future I'll pair down my VMs to just two, CentOS and Linux Mint. That'll give me a stable RPM-based distribution (RHEL) and a DEB-based (Debian) stable distribution that keeps up with the latest kernel and tool chain.