2008.01.31

Something Else I like about Dreamhost

16.22.17 - Mark

I've hosted my various sites at Dreamhost since December 2004, and despite some hiccups and screw-ups (some more serious than others, but none of them lingering) I've always been happy with the service I'm getting. For about $120 a year I get more than enough resources for my various personal projects (and have taken to hosting some stuff for friends and family for free under my account) especially since some of it's insanely easy to set up using Dreamhost's control panel. It's hands down better than some of the small hosts I've known, and easier to use than some of the other big hosts I've used. To top everything off they (and by extension my websites) are carbon neutral too. I'm convinced that they're hard to beat if you want some personal web space to play with.

Plus the user friendly tools they offer are always useful. The latest one I've found really has me happy - an online flash video converter and player. I've thought about setting up a streaming flash video player for my videos for a while, but the process of converting my files to flash video files was a little intimidating, and I'm not a big fan of flash in the first place so setting up a player wasn't very appealing either. But since Dreamhost will do both, I'm actually getting it done (Even the converting is enough to make me happy). I still need to queue a few of the videos and add the player code to the site, but I'm going to try and have streaming videos up by the end of the weekend.

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Icy Mountain

00.42.39 - Mark

I saw a comment online today (and I forget where) wondering if High Dynamic Range Photography was cheating or cheesy. I don't think either is a fair statement. Yes if you browse flickr for HDR photos then yes there's a lot of dreak - ugly over processed uninteresting photos, which, yes, probably fall into the cheesy category quite well. On the other hand, there's also plenty of well composed, planned out, carefully executed HDR stuff that is excellent. Yes, you can achieve some of the same results with simpler methods, but sometimes you can't. I've spent 20 or 30 minutes playing with HDR files trying to get great results, only to give up and turn to a single exposure that captured the shot just as well (and with out the signs of post processing)

The nice thing about HDR, and maybe one of the reasons that it's caught on, is that its a software problem and not a hardware one. What I can do in camera with my S3, and do well enough for printable results is limited compared to what a high end DSLR with premium optics and a full frame sensor can do in camera. HDR by merging and blending images lets you extend past what you can do with the camera hardware. Layer stacking is a similar example. Is it "cheating"? Only if you want to be a stuck up prick and call it that

A photographer who knows what they're doing can produce great images with any camera they arm themselves with - it doesn't matter if they made it out of a shoebox, electrical tape, and a pinprick, or if it's an example of precision European engineering. The tool is only as good as the user, and I suspect that there are a lot of people that skipped Photography 101 before buying a DSLR. These same people, who tend to argue that the cameras they buy are smarter then they are, are out there seeking out ways to take cool looking photos and the wide ranges allowed by HDR makes an easy target (as a guess these people also lean towards the overuse of photoshop to correct their photos)

It's kind of like "Grunge" graphic design. Some people did it well and created some amazing work, and then a slew of imitators popped up and were imitating without any foundation knowledge of what they were doing and drove the style into the ground. It's not the technique or style's fault that it's misused/overused/horribly distorted, it's the "artist's" fault.

Or we could just incite the long tail and agree that these things will find their own markets. Some people obviously like extreme HDR work with little scraps of reality clinging onto the image, while some people will use it to good effect, and others still will hold true to conventional photography or other random techniques.

Personally, I'll still shoot what I think is fun, and what I think will work, and when things turn out well I'll continue to post them here or on my flickr account and be satisfied. Speaking of HDRs:

Ice at Pilot Mountain HDR

Icy Mountain - View Large (2815 x 2106)



Pilot Mountain back in December. It's only been in the last few weeks that I've sat down and processed a large chunk of photographic back log, and part of that was getting a copy of photomatix to use instead of photoshop's HDR tools (which aren't that nice) or layer masking and blending (which is what I had been doing to decent effect) This one is a photo that wouldn't have worked nearly as well as a single exposure.

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2008.01.28

LEGO

15.10.44 - Mark

Today's odd bit of trivial is that LEGO Bricks turned 50 years old today. While I'm not a full fledged adult fan of legos, I had countless small lego kits (and a couple of big kits) as a kid, and while I would keep a model around for a while they inevitably got recycled into the big box of legos for use in other creations. Of course, that was the fun of LEGOs. Even into high school I would spend hours each week digging though my lego box and building models - then of course playing with those creations. I still have the big box, but it rarely gets used anymore. The first set I can remember having was the Super Nova II which would have been around 1991 - and it still has some of my favorite pieces, and I remember driving my parents crazy over the Deep Freeze Defender. I used to look at the weekend circulars before my parents even woke up to see if any stores had legos on sale and tried to figure out how much the set would cost with taxes, and if I could afford it with how ever many weeks allowances I had saved up. I think my parents eventually gave up and called it close enough so I would stop obsessing over the set, then I spent hours building it in the living room with my brothers. It was a fun set (and like all the other sets was eventually recycled into the box). The last sets I clearly remember getting for me would have been a rock raiders set or maybe a Town Space Port set around 1999, so I've got nearly 10 years of lego sets.

Since it's the 50th birthday I dug out the old box, and I've got tons of specialty pieces. I sort of wish I had more regular brick pieces to do more brick models and buildings with, but legos are still amazingly fun to play with.

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2008.01.25

Night Pilots

00.16.11 - Mark

Night PilotsI've been meaning to try and do some long exposures with traffic for a long time, but Monday night coming back from the Piedmont Photography Club in Winston-Salem Monday night there was a full moon, so on my way home I pulled off onto an overlook of Pilot Mountain and took a few 15 seconds exposures. Some of them I'm going to try and blend, some are alright as standalones. The 15 second maximum exposure of my S3 really isn't enough to do really great long exposure photography, but it's sort of workable. Still it's one of those limits I've been really running into lately. I know that you can take great photos with a homemade pinhole camera and all that, and I'm still really happy with the Canon S3's (Hell, I've bought two of them, and I've sold 3 friends on them, 4 if you count the asshole that stole my first one) but I can think of a lot of cool things I can do with a DSLR I can't do with what in the end is still a point and shoot.

Night Pilots - View Large (2816 x 2112)

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2008.01.23

Back when stuffit didn't suck...

23.44.07 - Mark

There's used to be a reason Mac software developers used to always archive their programs with stuffit. Back before OS X came to town with it's cool unix underpinnings, stuffit and .sit archives were the only effective game in town for bundling up Macintosh files. Back then you couldn't find a mac that didn't have some version of stuffit, and any power user usually had a few copies and a dozen aliases for it on their hard drive. It used to be a friendly reliable application that somehow, as soon as OS X came into town, turned into an absolute monster of a program.

The makers started nagging users for the software, begging them to download and pay for the latest version. They started introducing new archive formats into an already crowed (and long established) field. You can't even download it unless you give them permission to spam you with shitty software notices.

I don't remember the last time I didn't have to fight with stuff it to expand a file, let alone the last time I desired to make a stuffit archive.

Betweens zips and gzip, and tarballs in OS X's unix roots there's no need for sits anymore. Any remainging advantages sit files had could easily be passed off to an installer package or a very competent disk image file. yet, for some bizarre reason, people still release macintosh files as Sit archives, and every time I need those files, I end up fighting with stuff it to work.

Please, developers, give up on stuffit and stick to the standards. Apple's DMG, the cross platform ZIP, or the unix-y tar.gz etc. It's a real hassle when I have to install / run truly horrible software to install you software, and I'm getting to the point where the stuff it files aren't worth it

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2008.01.20

Bird House Abduction

23.45.22 - Mark

Two for one special on photos today, but same subject in the same photoshot, but two very cool photos. One of my favorite things to do with a camera is light painting and manipulation. I don't do it that often since my Canon S3IS doesn't do the best with long night time exposures (a side effect of not being a DSLR), but I try. Anyways the photos:

Radioactive Bird FeederBird Feeder Abduction

Left : Radioactive Bird Feeder - View Large (2112 x 2816)

Right : Bird Feeder Abduction View Large (2112 x 2816)

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2008.01.19

Stuck in the middle

18.35.04 - Mark

One of the only things I don't like about photography is how bipolar it makes me feel. One day I'll be feeling great about my ability with a camera. I'll have a photo that gets great compliments, and it even if it doesn't it's something moving and powerful and that looks amazing. It may even print well and I can sell a print or 30.

Then some days I feel pretty low end and hackish. I start seeing what other photographers are doing - taking photos I want to take - but doing it far better than I can. People with the time and patience and ability to get exactly the right photos and then processes them into a refined gem to my injection molded transparent plastic toy. And some of that's before you get into details like better equipment.

Then I start thinking about it rationally and dissect the photos I'm admiring. I realize that those photographers probably take as many photos as I do, and then sort out the good from the bad, and play around in photoshop just like I do, and then post the best of the best online.

And then I try new techniques, and experiment, and start creating some cool images that someone notices and comments on, and...

The whole cycle repeats itself. Combined with some equipment envy (a good DSLR kit would be very nice) it's a pretty infuriating cycle.

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2008.01.17

Lines in the Gardens

20.35.32 - Mark

Taking Pictures of gardens in the winter time tend not to yield the best results. Dead things but their very nature don't photograph well, but one thing I really like about this image is being able to see the way the walking paths merge and divide. I should probably trim up the right side some for symmetry, but I'll do that if and when I try printing it. I'm looking forward to spring when some of the plants start coming out of their winter stasis.

Renoylda Gardens in Winston Salem, NC

Lines in the Gardens
View Medium (4375 x 1024) Suitable for your High Definition viewing pleasure.
View Massive (11527 x 2698) Suitable for Excessive Definition viewing pleasure

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Computer Merit Badge Circa 1969

00.00.00 - Mark

The Boy Scouts of America have had Computers Merit Badge since 1967, and the old book is pretty amazing. Beautiful fonts, weird photos, even some really neat looking projects. Not everything is horribly inaccurate (considering it predates the Altair 8800 and the personal computer revolution by over 5 years) Even some of the original requirements are still in the modern version! I'm going to have to look for some other old requirement books for merit badges, I'm sure there's some neat stuff to dig up. Here's a PDF of the book (mirrored copy from Dave's Old Computers)

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2008.01.14

Test Prints

23.23.23 - Mark

Panoramic Test Prints

I've been wanting some high quality sample sized prints of my panoramas for a while, but between the inflexibility of non professional photo labs (read: big box store photo kiosks) and some technical stupidity on my part (said photo kiosks don't understand CMYK color, and for some bizarre reason that's what photoshop saved the samples as) but I've sorted out the details and had these printed off as two 8x10's (I'm just waiting for walmart to claim I'm ripping off a professional photographer)

I've also got a small order for large prints at snapfish, but that's because the price was right (40% off). I'm unsure of the quality however. I had problems sending off high resolution files, and they specialize in cheap so we'll see how they do when that order shows up in a week or so...

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2008.01.13

Giving into Twitter

00.34.25 - Mark

I've been more or less ignoring Twitter since it's start up buzz at SXSW last March, partially because I didn't see it as being useful, but also because I'm a big fan of keeping control over my content. Getting onto facebook several months ago to keep in touch with some friends started to show me the usefulness of "microblogs". When my cell phone got upgraded to a text messaging plan a few weeks ago I started a twitter account (maybe the last geek on earth to do so...), and I've started playing with twitter. I'm really starting to like it. Sort of.

Being able to send off short what I'm thinking kind of messages is great, and sometimes I have something I want to share without writing out a lot of detail (or filler content) For that purpose Twitter is great. I need to upgrade some code, but I'll probably tie my twitter account into this site, and I'll be even happier.

What I don't like is seeing this rehashing of the A blog is this, a blogger is that, here's a commenter, and over on that stone tablet is a list of things you now can and can't do. I've seen this same useless diatribe in Are you Twit or Twerp and the 10 Commandments of Twitter (both via Dave Slusher)

I've sat through insanely boring meet ups at blogging / new media conferences where a handful of orating idiots argue definitions and language, and use, and whatnot for hours on end and three things happen. 1) Nothing is decided or agreed upon 2) Nothing useful is said 3) Everything is ignored by everyone (especially by the general public, and except the orating idiots)

Rather than pay attention to stupid arguments over usage and language, or the seemingly regular attempts at analyzing twitter from the outside, I'm going to use a free online tool in a manner that suits me.

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2008.01.10

More Natural

23.25.39 - Mark

I've been posting a lot of edited photos recently - panoramic photos, HDRs, things that needed correction in Photoshop. Here's a reminder that I can still take good photos that can be pulled right from the camera. I don't shoot a lot of wildlife photos, but I don't turn down a chance when it presents itself. Once of my favorite things to do it run out to Pilot Mountain, hike out to the eastern side of the mountain, lay down in the sun, and try to shoot the hawks that nest on top of the big pinnacle. This Heron was a fun, unexpected subject. He usually flys away whenever I have my camera, and I think he migrates south for the winter, but he hung around for a few minutes letting me take a few videos of him in addition to allowing me to shoot a bunch of stills before flying away (I posted an edited video of him a few weeks ago)

Blue Heron in Mount Airy

Blue Heron - View Large (2816 x 1584)

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2008.01.09

A Year of Rating Stuff

22.10.20 - Mark

For the last year I've been rating the books and movies I've read or watched (and then bothered looking up on Amazon) and I just entered the last book I finished (Scalzi's The Android's Dream) and I skimmed over the 25 books and 100 or so movies I've rated in the last year and started thinking about how I actually rate them.

Books I tend to rate higher. I'm using an 10 point scale (5 stars in half star increments) and I tend to rate high. The lowest rating I've given was 3 stars to William Gibson's Spook County which was lower than the 3.5 I gave to Children of Men (the book, not the movie) which is off because I liked Spook Country a whole lot more than Children of Men.

I think part of the reason is I was comparing Spook County to other Gibson works that I love, and felt that Spook Country wasn't hitting the same pace. In a similar vein I was comparing Children of Men to the movie. The movie was amazing (and is one of the few that I've bought since getting Netflix) but the book was slow and had a lot less action, I'm not the type who likes reading scenes that take place in Bed and Breakfasts. The other part is that I have a low tolerance for bad books if something is less than average - like the books you're forced to read in High School English class, or ill advised college textbooks that get selected because there was a great sales pitch from the publisher - I don't finish it.

To an extent the same is true with movies. If I managed to sit though the Dukes of Hazzard with out massive brain damage I'd probably rate it under 1 star (I've got the common sense to walk away when it's on) but I've got a higher tolerance for bad movies that only eat up an hour or two of my life (I managed to walk away from The Fast and the Furious 3 - Toyko Drift more or less unharmed and it got 2.5 stars) Overall though, I rate movies more on enjoyment than cinematography or story, or plot, or acting. Snakes on a Plane (which got points for campiness) is a whole different beast than Helvetica (a smart visual documentary about fonts) and they don't have anything in common with The Last King of Scotland (which had great acting) but I gave all three 5 stars.

Something to think about if you ever look at my ratings.

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2008.01.08

Twinges of Guilt

23.56.21 - Mark

Viacom has put The A Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report back on the air, and while I love watching both shows, I kind of feel bad about having them on. The Writers are striking for a reason, and while it doesn't make a lot of difference to me it does to them.

It also kind of feels like the studios are being *&^%ing hypocrites. Consumers sit though endless advertisements, news stories, and movie trailers claiming piracy hurts the guys (like say, writers) who don't get wildly rich and famous when a movie or TV show makes it big, yet here they are screwing the writers by going on with the show.

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2008.01.07

Icicles at Mabry Mill

21.48.21 - Mark

This panoramic was a total pain in the ass, from being so cold the day I took the image series, my fingers went a bit numb, to taking forever to save when I was editing. Not to mention having to digitally edit out another photographer I was shooting with or the fact that it wasn't exactly being level when I stitched it together (hurray for the measuring tool and rotate canvass commands in Photoshop).

Despite being a tough photo to assemble, I love it. The icicles dripping off the waterways to leaves on the ground, the old buildings matching the leafless trees. Just beautiful. I'll be printing up a couple of these when I get around to ordering some large prints.

Icicles at Mabry Mill

Icicles at Mabry Mill
View Medium (3677 x 1024) Suitable for looking at icicles.
View Massive (8848 x 2464) Suitable for counting the boards on the drying rack in the background.

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2008.01.04

Some people

00.07.16 - Mark

Somedays I'm amazed at the stupid things the local paper does on it's blog. Some threads they let dangle on into full blown flame wars with border line libel material (which they then inserted into the print edition), some times they'll kill a thread because it got too popular (and leave out comments they disagree with), other days they ask random questions and hope for an intelligent response like the latest post "Leap Year Babies!".

I'm fond of weird dates and offbeat holidays, but they're asking what leap year babies do for their birthdays (Feb. 29) It's a neat question, it even caused me to look up when leap year babies are considered a year older (most celebrate on February 28th, some pick their own date to celebrate, but the law says their legal birthday on non-leap years is March 1st)

However you really have to question why you would be asking a small audience (we'll be generous and say 1000 people read the blog) for a statistical minority (all things being equal - 1 in 1461 people) to step forward and describe their birthday plans two months in advance.

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2008.01.02

Let's try this again.

00.45.56 - Mark

Every once in a while I get it in my head that I'm going to do something useful with my flickr account. This tends to result in a bunch of photos being uploaded over a day or two, followed by months of casual disregard. Its not that I don't like flickr, just that I was using the limits of a free account to justify not uploading there. I'm going to try and do better because I've now upgraded to a "pro" account, and I'm not a fan of wasting money.

I've been making it a pretty regular feature to post a photo on these pages, and that will continue since I like doing it, but this isn't a photo of the day sort of site. Life aggregator would be a good term since I've been posting the movies I've watched, the books I've read, and occasional links I think are worth sharing.

We'll see if this works. I love sharing photos, but there's that feeling that posting my stuff onto flickr helps flickr (and by extension, Yahoo) and not this site (and by extension, Me)

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2008.01.01

Pilot from the Parkway

22.20.45 - Mark

Somehow I've been in North Carolina for over 5 years and have only really be on the Blue Ridge Parkway once despite being mere miles away. I'll be correcting that in the future. Still sorting out my mess of photos, but for now here's a HDR photo of Pilot Mountain from an overlook on the Parkway in Virginia.

Pilot Mountain from the Parkway

Pilot Mountain from the Parkway - View Large (2806 x 1639)

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Happy New Year

01.13.11 - Mark

Let's hope it's a good one, since 2008 is already promising to be an interesting year.

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