She was truly a lady.

091114_Shania.jpgOur neighborhood is poorer as of yesterday with the passing of Shania, a lovely and charming Siberian Husky who shared her two bedroom, two bath, 1 1/2 garage home with my good friend (and best "man" at my wedding) Eileen Cantin.

Eileen writes in an email giving us the news: "Shania was an ambassador in the neighborhood, and a quiet greeter to anyone who came for a visit. She was a sweet companion who was much loved. She will be missed. Together she learned with Eileen after their buddy Silver died that life goes on in wonderful ways and good memories are a special gift."

Included with her message was this photo, which I took this past Saturday as we took a walk in the woods near Shania's home.


New iPod Shuffle - Apple gets a clue

At the much-awaited September 9 Apple announcement, newly-minted organ donation cheerleader Steve Jobs and Apple surprised pretty much nobody by revving up the iPod line. The Nano muscles up in ways that will surely keep it at the top of the music player heap, and the Shuffle gets a right-sizing and pricing correction.

While not the top of the line, the iPod Nano is the real flagship of the iPod fleet, and it was given a huge boost in value with the addition of an FM tuner, pedometer, and video camera with microphone not to mention the most appealing new feature, a $20.00 price drop on the 16GB model. The addition of a camera has been rumored several weeks since photos leaked from a Chinese aftermarket manufacturer of new Nano skins with a hole on the back that could be for pretty much nothing other than a camera lens.

With the broadest range of upgrades, the Nano was the star of the show. The iPod Touch would have been had it gotten its long-rumored camera. (The MacBreak Weekly guys seem to think this is a temporary design glitch and the photo-capable Touch will come soon.) But it may be that the first item from the event to cause me to open up my wallet will be the less-sexy iPod Shuffle. Here's why:

I posted back in March (here and here) when the new button-less shuffle first came out about my misgivings on the design. While I think it is undeniably slick, the proprietary headphones with inline controls and $79.00 price tag has held me back up to now. Though I've made peace with the headphones, it's hard to spend $79.00 on a 4GB shuffle when, for only 60 bucks more, you can get all the navigation interface mojo and video playing goodness of the 8GB Nano. But now, in addition to pretty new colors to choose from, I can now choose to get a 2GB Shuffle for $59.00. I think this is smart.

Really, how many people need 4GB in a shuffle? The shuffle is a playlist based music player. You don't really need a huge chunk of space for your whole music collection in this type of player. At four gigs, it's doubtful that battery would last long enough to continuously shuffle through all the music through even once. Two gigs makes a little more sense. I'd load a Shuffle two or three podcast playlists, and a couple or three music playlists, and one or two audio books. That's probably only a bit more than one gigabyte of media.

When you buy a shuffle, you just know you are handing Apple one of the largest, if not THE largest, profit margins for any hardware product they sell. But a $59.00 price tag makes this easier to swallow than $79.00.


Prognostication From A Dark & Smelly Place

I should probably start this entry by stating a few things that I am NOT. I am not an oracle or a psychic. I am not a Canon fanboy and am not in the Canon inner circle or connected with the company in any way. I am not a Canon evangelist or a Nikon detractor. (I have a spreadsheet calculating the cost/benefit of a switch to Nikon to prove that.)

Recently, a mole at Best Buy revealed new UPC product database entries had been created for the Canon G11, S90, and 7D. That a G11 was eventually coming is a no-brainer. The "G" series has updated on a more-than-annual basis for years.

The S90, on the other hand, is thought to be a much more counterintuitive development. I have to take other web posts at their word on this, since I do not follow developments surrounding this type of camera. But, if we accept that the S90 prediction was either based on fact or an exceptionally lucky guess, the 7D gets added credibility, as well as a blogospheric tornado of speculation on it's specifications.

To amalgamate the myriad estimations of 7D capabilities, the new camera will most probably:

• be anywhere from 12 to 21 megapixels.
• have one, or perhaps two, digic IV processors or debut a Digic V.
• do HD video up to 1080p.
• have a 3.9 framp-per-second shooting rate.
• or, maybe, 8 fps.
• or 5 fps. Who knows?
• slice.
• dice.
• chop.
• make julienne fries.
• cost about $2700.00 (body only).
• or around $1700.00.
• have built-in pop-up flash. Or not.
• employ an APS-C 1.6x crop sensor.
• Oh, never mind. It's full-frame.
• have 15 focus points.
• No, make that 19 focus points.
• why not one meeee-lee-uhn focus points?.
• give you oral pleasure.
• ISO 50 to ISO one meeee-lee-uhn.
• have weather sealing comparable to EOS 1D MkIII.

The preceding list, delivered with tongue causing a rug burn on the inside of my cheek, goes to show how useless any speculation, including my own, truly is. As the old saw goes, "Anybody who knows isn't talking, and anybody who's talking doesn't know."

But what the hay? Speculatin's fun.

I went on record with an email to my friend Ron Wise over a week ago with the following predictions for the 7D:

• 16-ish MP with one or two sRaw modes
• up to 1080p video
• motor at least 6.5 fps
• 1.3x crop
• "real" ISO ratings to 6400, with "cheats" up to 25K
• one CF and one SD card slot

As I read this a week later, I find I still agree with myself. Nothing there is a particularly earth-shattering or out-of-the-box prediction with the possible exception of the 1.3x crop. I haven't seen that prediction anywhere else on the web. And like every other prediction out there, I pulled that out of a very dark and smelly place. But it still sounds right to me. And here's why:

I think Canon has realized (or should realize) that the advanced amateurs at whom the 10D thru 50D series has been aimed are just about played out on 1.6x crop sensors. Nobody who has shot with or even looked through a 5D has not pined for a larger sensor. Another 1.6x sensor is not going to excite like an upgraded 1.3x sensor would.

Also, as I recall, the 10D debuted at about $2000.00, and the 50D is now listing for $1199.00. That's at least a 40% deflation in price in a relatively short few years, which has to cut deeply into profit margin. If, as some have suggested, a 60D is also about to be released, the expectation will be for a big boost in features at the same price, or an incremental improvement for at least a slightly lower price. Video capability of the Rebel T1i notwithstanding, the current 50D is a significantly more solid-built camera with many more features than the Rebel for not a lot more money. Canon surely wants to introduce a new pro-sumer toy that can command a larger profit margin. 1.3x crop on the sensor will help with this.

Releasing a 60D simply does not make sense to me. Releasing a 60D alongside a 7D would be market-diluting lunacy.

The sleeping giant through all this 7D rumoring is the surely-impending update in the 1D line. But lately I've been wondering if it is still going to be a "line" at all. Without a doubt, the Nikon D3 is the camera to beat right now. And Nikon has apparently abandoned any kind of crop sensor on it's pro cameras. Would this not put pressure on Canon to do the same?

I suspect we have seen the last EOS 1DS camera. The next pro camera will be full-frame and the APS-H sensor format will go by the wayside for pro Canons. That's another reason I think the 7D will be 1.3x crop. It will essentially fill the niche that will not be filled by a successor to the current 1.3x-crop 1D MarkIII (at least in my fevered imagination).

Were I CEO of Canon, engineers would have been tasked many months ago to design a camera with the fullest flexibility for any pro shooting situation. Need to shoot a full-bleed magazine cover or a portrait suitable for extensive retouching and uber-large reproduction? Shoot 25-30 megapixels with motor speed of around 5 fps. Shooting a fast paced sporting event where most of your work will display half-page or less in print or on the web? Drop down to about 12MP resolution and crank away at 10 or 12 fps.

Essentially, to regain it's competitive leg up, Canon should strive to deliver a camera that combines the Nikon D3 and D3X into one machine, and do it at around the price of the D3. In today's economy, few professionals have the luxury to specialize only in high-end commercial work at the expense of fast-paced editorial photography. And top-line cameras should not force professionals to pay top-dollar for a "specialist" SLR.


But wait! There's no more. . . Billy Mays

The world got a little bit quieter last weekend as verbally boisterous info-mercial pitchman Billy Mays succumbed to an apparent heart ailment. By all accounts, Mays was quite a nice guy (but then, few people get negative reviews after they pass away). That said, I can't personally say I will miss his yelling at me about Oxyclean or the Awesome Auger.

It does kind of make me feel bad about the joke I made a couple of weeks ago about how the gadget I'd most like to see Mays hawking would be an electronic device that automatically mutes my television whenever a loud, obnoxious voice comes on.

Anyway, rest in peace (and quiet), Mr. Mays.


AppleScript To The Rescue

090701_script.jpgI'm posting an AppleScript I just wrote which I hope might be useful to some people who listen to podcasts in iTunes. Paste the script text shown below into a Script Editor window and save it as a compiled script in the iTunes Script folder. After you re-launch iTunes, you will be able to invoke it from your Script menu in iTunes. The purpose of the compiled script is to skip forward 30 seconds in the currently playing track. Some folks may have other uses for it, but I find it very handy to jump forward quickly when certain podcasts go into "commercial mode."


tell application "iTunes"


set _playhead to bookmark of current track

set bookmark of current track to (_playhead + 30)


end tell


I'd like to refine it further with voice recognition algorithms so it will automatically skip forward 2 minutes any time Leo LaPorte says "Go to Meeting," "Audible.com" or "Drobo," but I confess that is beyond my skill level at this point.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to plug a great place to find other scripts that extend the capability of iTunes in many unique ways, Doug's AppleScripts for iTunes, a fine site run by Doug Adams.



Oh, what a difference a daylight balance makes.

Simon_tungstHere are two more HDR's from last Saturday night, this time of the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, part of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, IN. In the case of the photo above, I set the white balance on the camera to the Tungsten setting, although often I will set the white balance with a gray card based on whatever weird lighting is on the scene.

Compare that with the version shot with daylight balance below. Both look pretty good, and it's a matter of preference, but I like the heightened contrast between warm and cool colors, as well as the deeper blue sky, in the tungsten version.


The software I use to create and tone-map HDR's, Photomatix, does allow adjustment of white balance, but I find that setting rather limited in the range of adjustments. Therefore, I always consider doing multiple exposure series at different white balance settings.

HDR with a little "Strobist" thrown in

East Gate-westate
Last Saturday evening, my friend Ron Wise and I did a little exploring on the campus of IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapois) for some HDR opportunities. I actually had an assignment from the University for some general photos of a few select campus buildings and some sculpture art on extended loan from museums.

One shot on my list was "East Gate/West Gate" a very large (about 25 feet tall) tubular structure that almost looks as though it could have been inspired by and M. C. Escher illustration. One of my acquaintances, who shall remain nameless, described it as "two ampersands in a coital entanglement." (Actually, that's a paraphrase on my part to avoid usage of a certain 4-letter verb which often doubles as an adjective.)

Anyway, where the client was no doubt visualizing a standard daylight photo, I wanted to explore this unique shape under night lights.

The result is at the top.

The building in the background is University Library, and an HDR image preserves detail in the lit interior as well as the exterior shadows. The metal of the sculpture did a good job of picking up the other light sources in the area, but with the camera still on the tripod, I added pops from a gel-ed Vivitar 283 to put some color into the image. Ron was pressing the shutter release and watching to be sure I didn't venture into the frame as I held a Pocket-Wizard-fired Vivitar 283. For these exposures, I used a much shorter shutter speed to capture mostly just the light from the flash and not a lot of ambient light.

I hit it from all four corners in separate exposures with both a red and blue gel, and also with a full CTO, which was effectively white light since my white balance was very close to Tungsten light. In post production, I layered two exposures with the blue gel at camera left and two with the red gel at camera right into a single image with the "Lighten" blending mode. This varied the colors from red to purple to blue. The flash image was layered over the HDR to impart the color onto the sculpture, again with the "Lighten" blending mode.

UPDATE: Here is an interesting video that gives a little information about the East Gate/West Gate sculpture, created by artist Sasson Soffer (1925-1973), and shows the process of moving it to it's current location by helicopter. It includes an interesting aerial tour of downtown Indianapolis.

Welcome Back, Steve

Steve Jobs, his razor stubble, and his black turtleneck will soon be returning to Apple's Cupertino Campus according to recent business news reports. That's not a surprise, as a late-June return date was announced at the time he went on his self-imposed hiatus. What IS a surprise is the he will be bringing with him a replacement liver.

My first gut reaction is some squeamishness. Not at the thought of swapped internal organs, but at the thought that investors may feel deceived about the severity of Jobs' health difficulties. Last we heard, it was a "hormone imbalance" and/or a "nutritional problem." It sounded like he needed rest and herbal tea, not an organ transplant.

I hate to say it, but I feel Apple may be lucky to elude SEC scrutiny over this. Especially after the last year, where Wall Street ran completely amok with opaque investment vehicles, deceptive and irresponsible loan practices, and probably outright lies to shareholders, the government and the public at large, we need transparency more than ever.

I respect Jobs' privacy and am sympathetic with him to the extent that I wouldn't want certain aspects of my health condition made generally known. Keeping a lid on this is understandable from a business standpoint, as there are always unreasonably wild stock price fluctuations every time Steve gets so much as a sniffle. It doesn't bother me that he kept personal health issues personal (especially since I'm not an Apple shareholder), but some investor-type people take this kind of thing seriously. Too seriously, perhaps.

While the possible appearance of deception may be troubling, it may also have been one of the smartest things Jobs could do for Apple to step down for half a year. Just as the L.A. Lakers' Kobe Bryan recently had the chance to prove he could steer his team to a national championship without Shaq, Apple has had six months to show they can run their business without Jobs calling every signal every day. Several new computers have been unveiled since Jobs stepped aside. Prominent Apple application suites like iLife and iWork have been updated and the development of the "Snow Leopard" operating system has proceeded apace and is on schedule for fall release. And, just a couple of weeks ago, a new iPhone was unveiled and sold a million plus units in it's first few days on the market.

The only possible clinker was the iPod Shuffle released back in March (which I previously discussed here and here), but just because it doesn't appeal to me doesn't mean it does not have a market.

The important thing is, Apple has shown it will not become the equivalent of the Scarecrow without a brain should Jobs disappear from the scene. Maybe now there won't be a massive selloff of stock the next time Steve has a hangnail.


Color Me Any Color - Yeah, Let's Gel!

I've stumbled across a few references recently on the web about ways to attach gels to portable flash. Most of the methods discussed are rather rough, referring to rubber bands or gaffer tape. It thought I'd share a way I've found to easily and securely attach gels to my Vivitar units.

090619_gel_1a.jpgThis simple, easy, and cheap method comes courtesy of plastic name tag holders. These are readily available at office supply stores, and many of you have probably packratted away a few of them already if you ever attend or work at seminars, sports events, or other credentialed or "managed access" events. The one's I've used measure about 3 1/4" by 4 1/4". Some have clips to attach to lapels or pockets, others have lanyards. It doesn't matter which you have, because we are only using about the bottom two thirds of the holder anyway (uncut and cut-down tag holders seen here).

090619_gel_3a.jpgFor the Vivitar 285/285HV (seen amber-gelled at right), you will want to cut the holder's height down to about two inches. Try to cut it for a rather snug fit so it does not want to slide out as you hand hold the flash in different positions or, heaven forfend, if you use the flash in the hot shoe and turn the camera vertically. Different holders have different degrees of "flex" so I can't give a precise measurement that will work with every tag holder.

Now, just cut some gels to fit, slide the holder into the diffuser/filter holder built into the 285/285HV, and you're good to go. The gels will be less prone to wrinkle and allow unfiltered light leaks, your gels will last longer, and no tape or rubber bands are needed.

I nip off the corners of the gels so they better fit in the rounded corners of the typical name tag holder. Think of it as releasing your inner Commander Adama.

If you cut the tag holder slightly too narrow and it slides out too easily, or if the holder begins to get some wear on it, a couple of thicknesses of Scotch Magic Transparent across the bottom (as I did on the 285HV gel holder above) should restore sufficient friction to keep it in place without causing you any noticeable light loss. And, sorry, but freebie sample gels are really not large enough for this method. You just may have to shell out for a few actual gel sheets.

090619_gel_2a.jpgMy preferred flash is the Vivitar 283, and this same method works with the 283's accessory lens/filter adapter. I have about six of these and if you don't have one yet, they are available on eBay for ten bucks or less. While you're at it, pick up a lens kit LK-1 (also around ten bucks) so you can concentrate the light where you want it and compensate for some of the light loss from the gels (see red-gelled 283 with "L. Tele" lens at left).

Gel holders for the 283's lens/filter adapter need to be cut to about 2 3/8", but again, this is a guideline. Cut it slightly large, test fit, shave a little more off as necessary for a snug fit.

Are you gellin'? I am SO gellin'.


But what about poor A-Rod?

Sarah Palin, continuing her dogged attempt to stretch her fifteen minutes of fame into 2012, last week expressed outrage at a joke made by David Letterman. Letterman had unleashed a quip implying that, during a Yankees game attended by members of the Palin family, Palin's daughter had been impregnated by New York third-sacker Alex Rodriguez.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with that joke, surpassing any offense to the Palin family, is that it's just not funny. In an apology by Letterman on Monday night, he called the joke "coarse," which I would characterize as an understatement. I think it was an honest mistake on Letterman's part to assume the daughter attending the game was famed unwed Palin mom, Bristol. (Poor Bristol. All she got at home was "abstinence only," so she and Levi didn't know they needed to roll on Mr. Trojan EVERY TIME.) Even if it had been Bristol at the game, the joke still wouldn't have been funny, but it at least might have had some relevance. In fact it was a different weirdly-named Palin daughter who was at the game, and she happened to be 14 years old. That effectively turned Letterman's jibe into a joke about statutory rape, and that's never funny.

In response to the apology, Palin said, "Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's right to free speech."

Good job, Governor. It should have been a simple "apology accepted," but you were able to turn it into a morsel of patriotic red meat national defense rhetoric for the right-wing. Keep that up for three more years, and they might actually remember who you are in 2012 after all.

The person I feel sorry for most in this fiasco has been the one most ignored: A-Rod. Granted, he's not exactly the poster boy for marital fidelity, but he's done nothing I am aware of to warrant being painted as a connoisseur of jailbait.

Hey, Dave! How 'bout some love (and an apology) for A-Rod?


Giving new meaning to "rudderless"

The Republican Party is in serious trouble, therefore we are ALL in serious trouble.

I gave very serious consideration to voting for John McCain in '08 (compared to having given no serious consideration AT ALL to George W. Bush in '00 and '04). I did this mainly on the grounds that I thought a heavily Democratic congress needed the counterbalance of a Republican in the White House. But as the campaign wore on, the economy continued to worsen, due in large part to policies authored by Republicans like former McCain economic advisor Phil Gramm.

In the supposed masterstroke of the McCain campaign, a dingbat former beauty queen was chosen as running mate. And as election day neared, I could not escape the perception that Obama was young and agile, and McCain was old, inflexible and ineffective. After all that, I just couldn't bring myself to pull the elephant lever.

But I stand by my initial logic. Everybody knows the Democrats will destroy the country if left unchecked. Just like the Republicans did from '01 thru '06.

So I'm pullin' for the Republicans. I really am. But it's not looking good.

This is brought home by a Gallup poll released last week that showed that 47% of Republicans could not name anyone they perceive as "speaking for their party." Think of that. The winning candidate among the minority party is "none of the above."

John Dickerson of Slate.com points out that it's perfectly normal for a party to find itself with no clear leader after being shellacked at the polls as the GOP has been in '06 and '08. Just look at the Democrats in '94.

But the problem for the GOP goes deeper than a mere leadership vacuum. The top four people GOP faithful named as "speaking for us" ranked in inverse order to any sense of reason or logic. In a virtual tie for number one was crackpot, bomb-throwing radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh and occasionally ethically-challenged blowhard Newt Gingrich with 10% each. Both are better suited and better paid to speak into media microphones than in the well of the Senate, so their claim to party leadership rings hollow.

Next up with 9% is the smirking, fear-spreading, warmongering, shooting-friends-in-the-face-ing Prince of Darkness himself, Dick Cheney. One of the least-loved figures in a disgraced administration, Cheney inexplicably keeps finding microphones in his face. One wonders how many Republicans really perceive him as a leader and how many "just saw him on the television last night." Ranking even below Cheney is John McCain (6%). He is a welcome voice of reason in the Senate, but if his showing in the '08 campaign is any indication, his party leadership chops need a lot of work.

"Other" and "Nobody" combined for a total of 31% of Republican respondents, which beats the top 3 combined. Factor in "No Opinion" (29%) and you have a filibuster-proof majority.

Names that surfaced in the poll which actually make some vague sense as party leaders were former Governor Mitt Romney, Representative John Boehner, and the guy who theoretically IS the leader of the GOP, party chairman Michael Steele. Steele and Romney each got 2%, and Boehner got an asterisk, which denotes "less than 0.5%." By the way, this puts Boehner in a tie with George W. Bush in the poll. Make of that what you will.

Especially now that one party has a death grip on the reigns of power, we as Americans NEED a viable opposition party to foster debate and critical thought on the vital initiatives before us today. But sadly, right now the Republicans probably would be hard-pressed to muster the votes to get anchovies removed from the congressional pizza order. And this poll seems to indicate the self-identifying members of the party are, at least for now, selecting as leaders those who will only take them further down the path of destruction.


The Vivitar 285HV is better than the old 283, right?

If you read my last post, you know I'm in the midst of a "Mission to banish AA's." Experimentation is ongoing, and results will be reported in a day or two. I've already gotten a result that surprised me with the AA Alkalines that is causing me to reconsider my testing method.

In the meantime, a question that might rightly enter the mind of a reader would be, "Why do you use the old Vivitar 283 and not the 285HV, which is readily available new?"

This is a question I have been asked more than once while on assignment. Simplest answer is that 283's are what I have. They last nearly forever, and when they die, more lie in wait on eBay and in used departments of your better camera shops, both brick-and-mortar and online. I think I've owned at least two of them ever since my sophomore year of college. At one point, I had seven of them in perfect working order. These days I have four that work flawlessly, one that works "well enough", and three on the autopsy table for spare parts.

The 285HV is a very good flash. Always has been. I've owned several over the years, but only have one right now. The venerable Strobist has recommended it highly, and I agree. It has the distinct advantage of being a currently (or at least very recently) in-production flash unit, so I assume there is a warranty on new units, and repair and replacement is easier without resorting to eBay.

Another very important advantage to the 285HV is that it has a much safer sync voltage right out of the box. Very important note here: Only the newer 285HV models have the lower sync voltage. Older 285 (non-HV) models you may find on the used market most likely have sync voltage in the 300V range and can and probably will send your 40D or D40 to an early grave, or at least in for an expensive repair.

Two other significant advantages to the 285HV are the zoom head and the variable manual power settings. I will discuss both and indicate why, for me, the 283 is still the better option.

Zoom head: A three position zoom head on the 285HV adjusts the beam angle to cover 35mm, 50mm, and 105mm lenses (based on full-frame SLR viewing angle). This is pretty handy. The 105mm (Tele) setting gives you extra reach for subjects viewed with long lenses at a distance, which is sometimes a necessity. The 50mm (Norm) setting is good for efficient bouncing from the ceiling or from an umbrella. The 35mm (Wide) setting is gives good coverage for general use and prevents vignetting. This setting closely mimics what you get with the 283 with no modifier.

To get the same functionality from a 283, you need the lens kit LK-1 and the Lens Filter Adapter, which holds the LK-1 lenses. Extra accessories are extra dollars, although both are readily found on eBay for about 10 dollars each, sometimes less. The advantage is that the Lens Kit has the ability to vary the angle of coverage to a far greater degree, from 20mm to 135mm. If I need wide coverage, I'm probably bouncing from the ceiling or from an umbrella, but I often use the 85mm or 135mm lenses to increase the reach of a unit placed on a stand in the back of a room or to concentrate the light and allow surrounding areas to go dark (useful for lighting up a speaker in a dark room while still allowing his/her PowerPoint slides to remain visible in the image).

The added flexibility overrides the disadvantage of having to buy and carry extra accessories, in my view.

Variable power: You know, it's nice that the 285HV, unlike the 283, has variable power built-in, but it has LAME variable power built-in. You get 1/2, 1/4 and 1/16. Dat's it. Hummingbird shooters or others interested in extremely short flash duration probably want to tune it down lower than 1/16. Maybe LOT'S lower. And how did 1/8 power get thrown under the bus, anyway?

Again, the 283 is proves to be more flexible, but also at the expense of another accessory. The Vari-power module VP-1 (find it cheap on eBay) allows continuous adjustment of power from Full to 1/64 power. The downside is that, frankly, this is a rather poorly designed accessory. While useful, it has no clickstops or other capability to "lock-in" a power setting. It's just a dial that rotates freely and can easily get pushed higher or lower if the flash is hand-held (not so much an issue for lightstand use). Also, in my tests with several different 283's, you don't actually get 1/2 power at the 1/2 power setting. You need to go down near to 1/4 power to reduce the power by half. So watch your image preview/histogram or use a flash meter to test power settings, and don't assume that adjusting from 1/4 power to 1/8 power is a one f/stop adjustment.

Brave 283 hackers can use various Radio Shack potentiometers or resistors to gain control over the power setting as well. That's fodder for another post.

On thing I dislike about the 285HV: I don't use the color coded auto modes very much, but sometimes they are the handiest way to easily and automatically fill in the foreground of a multiple light set-up. The 285HV gives you 4 modes to choose from. At ISO 400, the corresponding apertures for these modes are 4.0 (yellow), 8.0 (red), 16 (blue) and 22 (purple). Blue and Purple are pretty much useless if your working distance exceeds about 4 feet, so that leaves Red and Yellow. Yellow requires f/4.0, which is just a bit too wide for my taste. 5.6 gives me just a bit of extra depth of field and is more comfortable for me. My next option with the 285HV is red mode, which calls for f/8.0. That's not bad, but the red mode consistently overexposes with my unit, so it's more like f/11. That's a 3 f/stop jump and dumps a LOT more flash power, leading to longer recycle times and more dead batteries.

Behavior of my five 283's is consistent across the board, but I have no way to be sure if my sole 285HV is normal or "special."

The 283's bottom two modes are f/4.0 (yellow) and f/5.6 (red), and are both consistent with their respective apertures in exposure. This is my personal preference, but "red mode" on the 283 is a better fit for the way I work than any mode on the 285HV.


Mission to banish AA's, part I

I truly HATE AA batteries.

I frikkin' hate them with a PASSION.

The treehugger in me hates them because I have to collect them in a milk jug and unload them for proper disposal at a special recycling event that only happens twice a month in these parts.

I hate them because they cost money. And any and all cost savings are vital in this economy.

And most importantly, as a professional photographer, I hate them because the performance sucks. I get approximately 30 to 40 good flashes with decent but far-from-stellar recycle times before the flash unit begins to slow to an annoying degree. I hang with a set of batteries for 20 or 30 more flashes to get my money's worth or until recycle times begin to put me in serious danger of missing a "money" shot. Then I break out another 3 dollars worth of batteries, fumble with an awkward exchange, and start all over.

The Quantum 1 battery is an obvious solution. Quality flash performance for about 120 to 170 flashes (or perhaps MANY more, depending on how you flash) and then take it home and recharge practically for free. But there's that awkward cable going down to your belt. It gets pinched in my rotating flash bracket. It ends up caught on the petals of my lens shade and is visible in the picture. It beats AA's, but still has it's annoyances.

In a "There's got to be a better way" Google search, I turned up a pre-wrapped, pre-wired five-AA NiMH cluster intended for radio control model airplane servos. I found a pair of such packs rated at 6V and 2300mAh on eBay for about $15 including shipping. Even if this works well, there will still be days I need to use the Quantum 1 for extended shooting without fussing with battery swaps, but I thought these units would be worth a try for shorter, lighter assignments.

A little research in RC model forums confirms my assumption that the five cells in this cluster are 1.2 volts each to make up the 6V usually found in a set of four 1.5V AA's. Obviously this cluster will not fit in the usual battery compartment on my Vivitar 283's but a Quantum style "battery replacer" module can't be hard to whip together.

I'm going out on a limb a bit by posting a blog entry on this experiment which, for all I know, will be an abject failure. But hey, the failures teach us too, right? This will be the first of at least two and possibly three posts on the subject. My immediate challenge now will be to find a way to charge the packs and adapt them for use in the Vivitar 283 (should be easy enough) and to test the performance. If that goes well, I will document a mod I'm planning to the 283 that will allow quick and easy transition from powering the flash with this battery pack to powering it with the Quantum 1.

I may then follow with a couple of related posts on topics like "Why the 283 and not the 285, which is readily available new?" and "OK. You've convinced me to go with the 283. How do I keep it from destroying my digital camera?"

Stay tuned.


Battle of the Lightweights

Let me put one thing out right in front. I could not care less about beauty pageants. I was briefly interested earlier this year when a student at the local University of Indianapolis, who by all accounts is a fine young lady, was named Miss America, but I moved on to other things pretty quickly.

In spite of my professed apathy, I could not help but be fascinated, in a gory-car-wreck sort of way, by the controversy surrounding Miss California USA and Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean. What's strangely fascinating about this is how it caused a number of political and social lightweights to flex their meager head-shake and chuckle inducing muscle.

In one phase of the Miss USA pageant, Prejean was asked about same-sex marriage by "celebrity blogger" (now there's a job description we didn't need) and lightweight #1 in this saga, Perez Hilton.

Let me say now I could have happily gone to my grave having never heard of Perez Hilton.

Hilton, who is gay, loudly blogged about Prejean's opposition to same-sex marriage rights. I tend to disagree with Prejean, but she has every right to her views. But shrill denunciation like Hilton's only drives me to be more supportive of her right to expression.

Lightweight #2 is Prejean herself. (Sorry to pile this on after your runner-up finish in Miss USA, Carrie, but your not even the #1 lightweight in your own story.) Prejean, could have just ignored Hilton, but instead went out of her way to stake out for herself an acre of moral high ground on the gay marriage issue. That all but assured that anything risque or embarrassing in her past would almost certainly come to light, which brings us to . . .

Lightweight #3: Nik Ritchie. He is the proprietor of the aptly named blog thedirty.com. Ritchie's forte seems to be publishing amateurish photos of scantily-clad women and then engaging readers in deep, philosophical gender-related questions along the lines of, "Ya think those are real?" and "Would you do'er?" Nik did us the "public service" of publishing at least two topless photos from a fashion shoot done when Prejean was 17 years old. I checked them out. She's hot. There's a teasing glimpse of the side of a breast, but this is nowhere near porn.

Ritchie recently tried to boost his journalistic cred by openly defying a cease and desist order demanding he remove Prejean's photos from his site. Sorry, Nik, but these aren't the Pentagon Papers. You're still a lightweight.

I was so fascinated by this story that I forgot to check last Monday if Prejean had actually lost her crown over the photos. The final authority on the matter was Donald Trump, and the Donald has decreed Prejean shall not lose her crown, which I think is probably as it should be. On one hand, if she had ever looked down the business end of a Nikon with no bra on, and she clearly has, she was lying by not disclosing this to pageant officials as contractually required. On the other hand, the photos are pretty tame in my view, with no fully-visible "naughty parts" and a cutesy "girl next door" pose and expression.

The Donald is no lightweight. In fact, there's more gravitas in his ample toupee than in the total combined body mass of the other three people mentioned thus far. And I believe he was smart not to dethrone Prejean and thereby grant her instant martyr status among right wing conservatives. Quite simply, the story goes away faster if she stays right where she is, and the last thing we need right now is a junior Ann Coulter.

Sarah Palin briefly vied for the spot of Lightweight #4 by pouring her derision on "the liberal onslaught of malicious attacks" against Prejean for her views. She went on to congratulate the Donald for letting Prejean stay on as Miss California USA and for standing up for her first amendment rights. Palin and the rest of the far right must learn to accept that mere disagreement with their platform does not constitute an "onslaught." Palin also failed to cite any actual abridgment of Prejean's constitutional rights. The First amendment guarantees free speech. It does not guarantee the right to be heard, agreed with, or liked.

No, Sarah, I've award the Lightweight #4 slot to Shanna Moakler, co-director of Miss California USA, who resigned in protest of Prejean keeping her crown. Moakler wisely seems to have stayed clear of the semi-nude photo debate. She is a former Miss USA and went on to be a Playboy centerfold, which I guarantee you was a lot more than "semi-nude." Moakler aspires to make a bold statement on gay marriage rights by walking away from the pageant which allows a person holding contrary views on the subject to keep her crown.

I feel certain this "statement" was already drowned out by the several states which have recently legalized same-sex marriage to one extent or another. I presume Moakler will now return to her sizzling acting career, which numbers 20 movie and TV guest roles in the last 13 years. Good Luck, sweetheart.


And now, I remind you of something best forgotten.

Recently, while poking around the iTunes Music Store, I was reminded of something best forgotten. So I thought I would remind you of it as well.

The Sci Fi channel "re-imagining" of the series "Battlestar Galactica" just had its finale last week. The just-ended series was of course a remake of a series from 1978, which was at it's core an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of "Star Wars," the film that had re-written the definition of "blockbuster" the previous year. Well, long before the latest incarnation of Galactica, but shortly after the original, a bastard child named "Galactica 1980" was brought wailing into the world. As much as the Ronald D. Moore's new version of the series raised the bar set by the original, "Galactica 1980" lowered it much, much farther.

Even though the "Galactica's" original Vipers looked too suspiciously like the "Star Wars" X-wing fighter, and the Cylons were little more than chrome-plated imperial stormtroopers, the 1978 series transcended rip-off status because it had at it's core a very intriguing concept: Humans, just like us, having been vanquished by an evil faceless empire, embark "on a lonely quest. . . a shining planet known as Earth."

Richard Hatch and most of the rest of the original cast never found Earth. The characters in the new series, guided by Moore's hand, did find Earth at the conclusion of a brilliantly crafted, four-year-long saga. (That's not really a spoiler.) In "1980", Lorne Greene and a scaled-down replacement cast also found Earth. They looked out a porthole one day and said, "Hey! Check it out! It's Earth. Let's take our flying motorcycles down and have a look."

The iTunes store has offered the original "Battlestar Galactica" series as video downloads for several years. I have several of these episodes in my iTunes library. But only recently has the iTunes store made "1980" available. I can't tell you how much I have NOT waited for this to happen.

I was inspired to write only my second review on the iTunes store, the text of which I share with you below:

Absolutely, POSITIVELY do NOT spend more than $1.99 on "Galactica 1980." And only spend that much if you download the final episode, "The Return of Starbuck" and none of the rest of this awful garbage.

The only purpose of this series was to try to make "Battlestar Galactica" into a series that was more appealing to kids (it aired opposite "Wonderful World of Disney" if I remember right). Oh, and to also to make it extremely CHEAP to produce as the rapidly withering udder of the Galactica cash cow was nearly dried up for good.

Everything that made season one of "Battlestar Galactica" worth watching was ripped out like so many discarded fish entrails in "1980." Many of the special effects in "Galactica 1980" are an ongoing continuity error as we see "two-seater" Vipers in close-up cockpit shots, but single seat versions in all the (recycled) "open space" special effects shots. That alone show's the network's and producer's assessment of the viewers' intelligence level.

Apparently, people with some actual respect for the Galactica's founding concepts and possessing an iota of creativity staged a commando raid and took over the studio just long enough to produce "The Return of Starbuck." After that, with quality threatening to propogate, ABC rapidly made the decision to bury Galactica for all time. (Well, at least until 2003.)


OK, so maybe it's Form 1, Function 0

I may owe Apple a bit of a mea culpa for yesterday's post. I still think the inline controls that require OEM head phones or the purchase of new (and not yet available) third party headphones with built-in controls is a dumb piece of design. But I may have been wrong about the lack of fast-forward/rewind.

I just found this Apple tech article, which was posted yesterday and says, in part, "When rewinding or fast forwarding an audiobook, you will hear a brief audio snippet that lets you know where you are in the book." So this indicates the fast-forward and rewind are possible, but still sheds no light on HOW it is possible. My guess at this point is double click and hold for FF and triple click and hold for rewind. That would be roughly analogous to current iPod behavior, but this is only a guess as I still have not found the procedure explicitly stated anywhere.

Still sounds harder than it should be, but at least it seems to be possible.


New iPod Shuffle: Form 2, Function 0

A while back I opined that Apple shareholders should sit tight and relax even though Steve Jobs has "gone fishin'" until sometime this summer. Apple has a deep bench, I said. Don't worry. Be happy. Things are in good hands.

But then I took a look a the new iPod Shuffle.

I'm a big fan of the shuffle. I actually have three of the original "Wrigley's Spearmint" shuffles from a few years back. I've gotten moderately geeky with smart playlists in iTunes to easily create a selection of podcasts to load on a shuffle to keep me entertained and informed as I drive or walk from job to job. And since they probably have a current street value less than 20 bucks, I don't worry about a shuffle getting lost or stolen, as I would with a late generation Nano or Touch.

The new model gives us a feature I've long pined for on a Shuffle: the ability to load and play multiple playlists. It's very cool they've finally found a way to allow selection of playlists on an iPod with no LCD display. But as cool as that is, there are other design decisions that I find much more suspect.

OEM headphones only (at least for now) - Third party manufacturers will probably step in here, but with the controls built into the headphone cord, we are currently limited to Apple-made earphones. Two MacWorld writers (Christopher Breen and Dan Moren) reviewing the device say Apple's 'phones just fall out of their ears. With me, they stay in OK, but for some reason my ears start to ache after only an hour or so of listening. After some trial and error, I found Skullcandy in-ear earbuds, which are comfortable for hours and hours of use. I actually go to sleep most nights with these phones in and have no discomfort at all. So as long as it's Apple earphones only, I'll have to say "pass" on this new Shuffle.

No fast-forward/rewind? - I have no "hands-on" with this iPod yet, but I've read multiple articles and looked at the Apple website and their "guided tour" video. The in-line headphone control does, in an ingenious yet less intuitive way, carry out all the functions one would need on a shuffle EXCEPT. . . fast forward and rewind? I see no reference anywhere to how I can scrub forward or backward in the currently playing track. As I said, I play a lot of podcasts on the shuffle. If I'm distracted and miss part of a spoken word audio program, I just press and hold the "rewind" button for a few seconds and listen to the passage again. This is important to me, and is probably important to any podcast or audiobook fan. But if the new shuffle can do this, it is so far a mystery to me how it's done.

So, first glance, the score for the new shuffle is Form 2, Function 0. Was the previous generation shuffle really so big and ungainly that it needed this degree of shrinking and sleeking? I don't think so. This slicker new design seems to come at the expense of ease of use, simplicity, and one (at least to me) vital function.

This new device was probably in development well before the Steve Jobs hiatus, but I can't help but think this is a product he would not have let out the door in it's current form.


Misused photography terms that bug me

I try to keep my impulses to correct other people's grammar and diction on a pretty tight leash, but there are two words in the photography world that I hear misused a LOT. And it bugs me.

Sorry, but I am about to vent.

"STROBE" - Arguably the best photo lighting blog on the 'net is the STROBIST blog. I'm not knocking anything about this blog. At all.

Except the name bugs me.

The Strobist has a built a great brand and appears to be living the dream of a monetized blog. It would be stupid of me to suggest or for the Strobist to ponder changing the name. But he's not talking about strobing.

"Strobe" is short for the word "stroboscope." This, by definition, means a series or short, bright flashes of light at intervals which can be used to record movement of an object, or to make a rotating object appear to be stationary, such as with an automotive timing light. There is a rather famous photo of a golf swing recorded with strobe, with the club seeming to make a sort of peacock fan around the golfer. In the 1970's, strobes were also used to illuminate the spastic gyrations of dancers wearing hideous clothing in places once referred to as "discoteques."

So, what the strobist writes about is "portable electronic flash photographic lighting." But, of course, "Portable Electronic Flash Photographic Lightingist" would be a crappy name for a blog, so forget it.


"PRIME" - In recent years, photo related internet discussion groups and forums have lit up with discussion of the pros and cons of fixed-focal length (non-zoom) lenses, which way to many people insist on calling "primes." There is such a thing as a "prime" lens, but most lenses people refer to as primes, aren't.

The prime focal length, as I can recall from Joseph Costa's Advanced Photojournalism class back at Ball State University, is the lens focal length which will closely reproduce a person's normal field of vision. That is, objects viewed through a prime focal length lens do not appear to be closer to the viewer or farther away. You can calculate the prime focal length for various film and digital sensor formats thusly:

Square root of ((width of sensor/film format squared) plus (height of sensor/film format squared))


Prime focal length for 35mm film or FX (full-frame) digital sensors (24mm x 36mm):

(24*24) + (36*36) = 1872, square root of which is 43.27mm. Of course, 50mm is generally considered to be "close enough" to prime for this format.

Prime focal length for APS-C digital sensors, such as Canon 40D (22.2mm x 14.8mm):

(22.2*22.2) + (14.8*14.8) = 711.88, square root of which is 26.68mm. Sigma markets their 30mm ƒ/1.4 lens as a "prime" for this sensor size. Personally, I'd lean toward the Canon 28mm ƒ/1.8, since it would be usable on all EOS cameras.

So, a 50mm on a Canon 5D or Nikon D3/D700 would be considered a prime lens. The same lens on a Canon 40D or Nikon D300 would not be a prime, but a short telephoto. Likewise, a 28mm/30mm lens on a Canon 40D/Nikon D300 would be a prime, but on the Canon 5D or Nikon D3/D700 would be a wide angle.

A 300mm, although not a zoom, is also not a prime lens unless you happen to be using it on an 8"x10" view camera.

I can actually accept using "strobe" as a slang-ification when referring to single-pop flash lighting. I've been guilty myself of making reference to "strobing the IUPUI natatorium for a college swimming meet."

But I have to hold the line on "prime."


Pylons and Sleestaks and Dinos . . . Oh my!

If you are in roughly the same age bracket as me (mid-forty-ish), "Land of the Lost" was probably part of your Saturday mornings as a kid. This 30-minute show hit the airwaves when I was about 9. This is the age when cartoons start to become a yawn, and in the early 70's, Saturday morning "kidvid" started an awkward transition into more live action shows. To throw out a few titles, "Run, Joe, Run", "Westwind", "Shazam!", "Isis", "H.R. Pufnstuf", "Lidsville", "Sigmund & the Sea Monsters", and "Land of the Lost". Production values on these shows generally ranged from 'bites hard' to 'total suckage.'

Those last four titles I mentioned were all produced by brothers Sid and Marty Krofft and were probably the best of a bad bunch. And "Land of the Lost" was the baddest of the bad. And by "bad", I mean what passes for "good" in this context.

I caught a few of the old episodes of "Land" on cable several years ago. And brother, they have not worn well. The nostalgia center of my brain wants to remember this show as a shining achievement rising high above the rest of the Saturday morning schlock. But face it, fellow forty-somethings, the dialog sucked,the special effects sucked, and the acting sucked (or was at best intentionally very campy).

But I mean all that in the best possible way. Producing a show like "Land of the Lost" for Saturday morning in 1974 was an exercise in insanity. The state of the art of special effects at the time was nowhere near capable of creating believable live-action footage of actors interacting with dinosaurs, especially on a per-episode budget that probably wouldn't cover the cost of lunch on the set of a prime-time drama of the day.

But they did it anyway. The Kroffts attempted what they had to know was impossible, and that is often the Genesis of genius.

While the producers may have skimped on acting talent and been hamstrung on special effects, they deserve credit for laying out the dough for quality writers. "Star Trek" and science fiction fans will know some or all of these names: David Gerrold, Margaret Armen, Larry Niven, Ben Bova, D.C. Fontana, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon. And even if the acting and production fell short of potential, there were smart science fiction concepts in play and a well-developed and consistent "universe," although writing and continuity slipped noticeably in the last season.

Well, people, get ready for a not-so-routine expedition. "Land of the Lost" is back. Or it will be this June at a theater near you. Depending on what you want this movie to be, the fact that Will Ferrell is in the starring role is either very good news or very bad news. I would describe Ferrell as highly talented, but his appeal to me personally is uneven at best. The "More Cowbell" skit on Saturday Night Live? Genius. "Kicking and Screaming" and "Blades of Glory"? Not so much.

If you wanted "Land of the Lost" re-done in serious mode with state of the art CG special effects and script treatment worthy of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark, this assuredly won't be it. I suggest you try getting your dino fix by renting "Jurrasic Park" again.

Based only on the trailer on the official site, it appears to me Ferrell may be hitting the right notes on this one. There's a Marshall, there's a Will, and there's a Holly (although they aren't father, son, and daughter this time around). There are dinosaurs and Sleestaks. There's a "greatest earthquake ever known." There are three moons and monkey people. We can see giant walnuts, giant mosquitos, and it appears the characters kill a giant crab in self defense and eat it with a squeeze of juice from a giant lemon. Concepts from the original show such as the Lost City and the Sleestak Council of Skulls seem to be present as well. The cast listing for the new movie at imdb.com lists a Chaka, an Enik and no less than 26 Sleestaks. Possible references to specific episodes of the original show are suggested by the viking ship visible in the trailer, and characters in the cast that include two "Tar Pit kids" and an "Astronaut."

Don't see any pylons, skylons or light crystals yet, though. Hmmm. . .

"Must see" movies are few and far between for me these days, but 2009 promises at least two of them so far: the re-boot of "Star Trek", and "Land of the Lost".

(NOTE: click the picture at the top of the post and you will be taken to the full size image file. This is the downloadable wallpaper image from the official site modified to fit wide screen laptop-style screens - 1440x900 pixel size. Right-click it and enjoy.)


Big doin's at PocketWizard

There was some chatter on the Paul C. Buff forums recently that PocketWizard would make a big announcement soon. Like I usually do when I hear such a thing, I religiously checked their website for several days and when I keep seeing same old same old day after day, I gave up checking one or two days before "THE EVENT." (Seriously, I must have pinged the Canon website for 60 consecutive days, but gave up on it exactly two days before the 5D Mark II announcement.)

The event in this case is the announcement of the MiniTT1 transmitter and FlexTT5 tranceiver radio flash triggering devices. The news here is that these units allow TTL flash operation over wireless RF channels, which will be much more reliable than the about as expensive but dicier infrared wireless systems marketed by Nikon and Canon. For starters, this system is for Canon only, but Nikon-compatible gear is on the way. I won't re-hash features of the units here, as they are covered very well at the Strobist blog.

Personally, I've never been particularly happy with the consistency of results I've gotten with TTL flash equipment. Being an old hand (a VERY old hand) with manual operation of Vivitar 283's, I'm more pleased with the results I get working in "old school" manual. Therefore, I nearly said "big deal" at the news and went on with my day.

But, fortunately, I read on.

These units have the capability of operating in what is called "Hypersync" mode. This is of high interest to sports shooters like myself because it MAY allow using higher flash sync speeds with studio flashes triggered by these units. The power of my AlienBee's B800 units are "just enough" for some of my arena lighting situations, so the ability to cheat the shutter speed upward to cut out a little more ambient light could prove huge in certain situations, such as the IUPUI Natatorium (below).

The manual for these units says mileage may vary with different flash equipment and different cameras. Therefore, I will need to finagle a test situation to figure out if I can squeeze, for example, 1/400 or 1/500 sync speed with my Canon 40D (1/250 stock sync speed), but every single click upward on the shutter speed is a win-win in helping to cut back the ambient light to eliminate ghost imaging in arena situations. And if I read the manual correctly, it will work my my existing PocketWizard Plus II's. This is extremely cool, as it will keep the cost of adoption down by only requiring me to purchase a MiniTT1 transmitter. I may be interested in a FlexTT5 tranceiver later, but that can wait since my interest in TTL operations ranges from limited to non-existent.


Dear Canon: Your AEB sucks.

I've been an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography enthusiast for about a year now. Having now done hundreds, or may be even thousands, of bracketed exposure sets, I'm always on the lookout for ways to reduce the tedium of this exercise. Auto-exposure bracketing would seem to be the answer, but, if this post can be seen as an open letter to Canon, Inc., I would have to begin it thusly:

"Dear Canon,

Your Auto Exposure Bracketing sucks."

For cameras other than the EOS 1D's, (like my 5D and 40D) one can set bracket inervals up to two f-stops for up to 3 exposures. This is sufficient only for what the book I consider to be the Bible of HDR imaging calls "MDR," or medium dynamic range. It's sufficient for many of the images I have taken (including the one that serves as the banner to this blog), but certainly not all situations. The pro-level Canon 1D mark III will do up to 7 exposures at up to 3 f/stop intervals. That's much better, if you can afford the price of admission.

I was frustrated enough with the lack of Canon bracketing options that I looked into Nikon cameras. (Switching to Nikon is not something I would seriously consider for multiple reasons, but I looked anyway.) Sadly, Nikon's AEB features didn't strike me as being much better. The Nikon D300 and D700 (to name the only two cameras I have looked at), do up to 9 exposures at up to 1 f/stop intervals. Bracketing over the 9 stop range would be great, but the 1 f/stop interval limit would not be my preference. I've found that 2 f/stop bracket intervals is quite sufficient for HDR work, and the 1 f/stop intervals from the Nikon would fill up my card with a lot of data that I would never use.

There are a few possible workarounds to this:

One option would be to connect the camera to the laptop via USB cable and control it that way. I suspect the brackets could be automated, either in the Canon EOS Utility software or via other means using the Canon SDK (software development kit). I "applied" to receive the SDK last Friday, and haven't yet been notified if I will be one of the "cool kids" and be granted download of the kit. Another open question is whether I will be able to figure out how to actually make the SDK do something more constructive than take up hard disk space. I am a scripter (using AppleScript), but am by no means a software engineer.

But even if I can get an SDK solution to work, I'm not sure at all that I want to lug a laptop around while I shoot, which I sometimes do in inclement weather. Seems to me that would just be a different kind of hassle, not a solution to the the problem. So let's leave this idea aside and proceed to. . .


This is something I just learned of recently thanks to the This Week in Photography podcast. Arduino is a small circuit board that can be programmed from your computer when connected by a USB or serial cable and running a programming environment on Mac, PC, or Linux. I was briefly enthused by this idea, described here, which makes use of software, called Bracketmeister, engineered by a highly skilled photographer named Joergen Geerds (his blog, his portfolio). But then I realized that it operated the camera in "Bulb" mode, which means shutter speed accuracy at speeds shorter than 1 second would be dicey at best, if even possible. Many of my brackets run up into the 1/8th second range, and there is one lighted bank sign on the Indianapolis downtown skyline that is so bright it can take up to 1/60th second to keep it from burning out. (Thanks for that, Fifth Third bank.)

The Arduino board is interesting to the budding electronics geek in me and I will probably mess with it at some future time for another purpose, but it does not seem like the preferred solution for my bracketing needs.

Another possible solution I know I am not the first to think of would be using iPhone or iPod Touch as a handy, portable device for camera control. But my understanding is that these devices are "locked out" of any kind of tethering operation with non-Apple devices. And again, this would probably require programming chops I do not possess, this time with the Apple iPhone SDK.

So, for now, it looks like I'm limited to counting the clicks on the shutter speed wheel in the dark. The best approach I've found thus far is to use a combination of AEB and manual adjustments.

Here are the particulars: My cameras are set to vary the exposure settings in 1/2 stop intervals instead of the default 1/3 stop interval. This gives me the most exposure variation "per click." I first determine the minimum shutter exposure that I plan to use for my brackets by reducing exposure until the brightest area of the image no longer flashes a highlight warning on the LCD. Then I set up AEB at 1.5 stop intervals, and slow the shutter speed down by 3 clicks. This gives me a 3-exposure set with my pre-determined minimum exposure at the low end. This is not yet a high enough exposure range, of course. So I then slow the shutter speed by 9 more clicks of the Tv wheel and do another 3 exposure set. This results in 6 exposures at 1.5-stop intervals for a 7.5 stop range.

That's still more clicks than I like to count, and results in touching the camera on the tripod more than I would like. But it does yield the broadest exposure range for least tedium of any method I have found so far.

Quotable: Feb 16, 2009 edition

My wife, Diane, and I made up our own quotable yesterday as we were driving around.

"He who hesitates . . . screws the person waiting behind him at the traffic light."


This ain't peanuts: Today's quotable

The recent testimony before congress, or should I say deliberate NON-testimony (taking the fifth), of executives of the Peanut Corporation of America brought to my mind a line from the movie "Silverado."

"We're gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a first class hanging."

We seem to have a tradition of relative wrist slaps for corporate "white collar" criminals in this country. I hope these peanut executives, along with Bernard Madoff, set a new precedent. If guilty as alleged, all these men have destroyed lives with their callous disregard for ethics and decency toward their fellow human beings (although I classify Madoff and Co. among "humans" with some reservation).

Such persons deserve to be in an environment that will forcefully broaden their appreciation for the concept of justice, not to mention the diameter of their rectal apertures.


Not quite early enough

We had a refresher coat of snow yesterday, so I thought I'd get an early start to try to take advantage of it for some photography. Seems I didn't quite start early enough. It was amazing how backed up traffic can get even at 6:40 AM. The route I can usually drive with only two or three stops today made me wait through at least 7 extra stop light cycles, costing me a good 10 minutes. It would have been nice to have that extra 10 minutes at my destination, which was one of my favorite views of the Downtown Indianapolis Skyline on the West side of the Canalwalk.

This photo is an HDR stitched together from 5 images and was shot with my Canon 40D and 24-105mm f/4.0L IS lens. The snow looks pretty fresh, but there were some footprints and the canal walk was probably plowed off yesterday. I'd love some fresh undisturbed snow, but the timing for that is rather unlikely for the sunrise view I prefer.

I'm pleased with the image overall, but I'd have liked to have been there a little earlier when the street lights were more in effect. Also, the sky was completely lacking in any kind of cloud activity, and that would have really added some pop and texture.

Click the play button below to take a tour of the image.


Night classes in failure

bo•nus |ˈbōnəs|


• a payment or gift added to what is usual or expected


Where can I sign up for some night classes in failure? There seems to be big money in it these days. Maybe I've been on the wrong career path all this time.

As a skill, failure is versatile. It's not just a career choice. It's a way of life and can be adapted to almost any profession.

The New York Times reported on January 29 in this story that 18.4 billion in bonuses had been paid out to employees of financial services businesses based in New York. This estimate is based on income tax collections, and comes from the New York State comptroller, who has the decidedly Soprano's-esque name of Thomas DiNapoli.

18.4 Billion.

With a "B."

That's enough to bail out General Motors AND Chrysler (at least it was the first time they came groveling).

Heck, if you could get someone to kick in another 4 billion (pocket change, if you think about it), that would be enough to build a new football stadium equivalent to Indianapolis' newly opened Lucas Oil Stadium for all the other 31 NFL cities.

And these bonuses were paid out to workers and executives in an industry that, by about every imaginable measure, has exhibited failures of galactic proportions in FY '08. (I wouldn't blame bank shareholders for thinking that "FY" stood for something completely different these days.)

I can imagine that maybe some of these people did carry out their jobs in a sharp and industrious manner that kept their institutions floating in the toilet bowl instead of being flushed all the way to the sewer. By the same token, a twenty-win season is a great thing for a Major League pitcher, but if his team loses 100 games, no bonus.

. . . With a "B" . . .

On a more local failure front, former Indiana University Basketball head coach Kelvin Sampson has again managed poke his head above the waters of newsworthiness by appealing the sanctions levied against him by the NCAA. As you may recall, Sampson parted company with IU after what appeared to be an additional two years of recruiting violations on top of violations during his tenure at the University of Oklahoma for which he was already on probation. One could rightly argue he should have walked away from IU with nothing more than a referral to a proctologist specializing in boot removal.

But no. He walked away with a cool $750,000.

That's three quarters of a million.

That's more money than many Hoosier fans who work hard and play by the rules will make take home in their entire LIVES.

Oh, and he also got kicked up to the pros. He's now an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks, a ball club which, by the way, has exhibited in recent years a more than passing familiarity with failure.

With failure becoming not just a trend, but a career opportunity, I am making the following template available to business writers (and possibly also sports writers) to save time as they report our current continually-unfolding financial crisis:


(name of executive) resigned today from (his/her) post at (company name). (last name of executive) presided over record losses at the provider of (name of widget or service) during his (number of years of "service") years in the office of (alphabet soup job title).

In appreciation for leaving the company in mere shambles instead of total bankruptcy, for urinating on the executive suite carpet only a little bit, and for showing enough restraint not to detonate a nuclear device in the lobby of corporate headquarters,
(last name of executive) will be paid enough money to feed Africa.


From the "be careful what you wish for" department:

All winter, I've been hoping for a pretty snow to allow me to take some landscape and architectural photos around Indianapolis. So far, all we've had is a couple of instances of lame snowfall that had turned to brown slush before I could get out to shoot.

Finally, today, 12 frikkin' inches. It's good lookin' snow. . .if you can get out of your driveway to shoot it. Below, my lovely wife Diane brooms snow off her car as I shovel out the driveway.


Below, a decorative garden angel which stands about 18 inches tall, is barely head and shoulders above the snow.


And now, here I am flinging powder. I'm guessing my Dad will be shaking his head at my lack of gloves in this shot. In response, I can only say I have the same aversion to gloves that some men have to latex prophylactics. I just can't FEEL the shovel.


Our destination was Washington Square mall, where we wanted to get some walking in, as we are both sticking to New Year's resolutions to lose weight. I thought to myself before we left that pulling back into the driveway will feel something like cruising down the Death Star trench, with deep snow on both sides. As we returned home, I said, "This reminds me of when I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home."

Diane actually GOT that reference. Yes, I think I married the right woman.

Saved From Myself

I can't say enough about Disk Warrior. On the surface of it, it seems like a pretty simple tool, and one might find it easy to dismiss it by saying to oneself, "Hey, this thing costs me a hard earned Benjamin, and it pretty much only does one thing, rebuild disk directories." Maybe. But it only took about the second time a borrowed Disk Warrior CD saved my tuckus for me to echo the words of Will Smith from movie "Independence Day."

"I got to get me one of THESE!"

Since I bought my copy a few years ago, I've brought disks or missing folders back from the dead at least a half dozen times. I've taken my Disk Warrior CD to the homes of friends and family members with ailing Macs and walked away a hero at least that many times. Like Macs, it just WORKS.

But as good as Disk Warrior is, Alsoft Tech Support is even better.

A while back, I had a disk fail to mount after what appeared to be a graceful restart. Out came Disk Warrior, and for the first time in my experience . . . it failed. The error message that followed the unsuccessful attempt suggested I contact Alsoft Tech Support. "No promises," the message indicated, "but they may be able to help."

After exchanging a few emails, I ended up on iChat with Marc from Alsoft. I didn't expect a lot and thought I would soon be running a very slow command line tool I found a month or so ago that recovered a lot of photo files I mistakenly deleted over my network. But after pasting a half dozen or so Terminal commands sent to me my Marc, the disk mounted. All data was intact.

I'm usually pretty good about keeping stuff backed up, but the irony in this case is that this disk contained the files I recovered after my network delete mishap, and they had not yet been backed up.

A big hats off to Alsoft and Marc for saving that body part where the Good Lord split me.


Quotables - 1/27/2009 Edition

"Darling, Everybody's broke these days. Or if they're not, they pretend to be."

A line from "Double Harness", a 1933 (depression era) film that is all too relevant today.


Apple without Jobs? S-e-e-e-elll ! ! !

If Apple shareholders take the attitude summarized in the title of this post, I think they are not only missing the boat, they're also completely missing the pier.

Much breathless speculation has been seen and heard in all manner of tech and financial media as tea leaves are read in the light of Steve Jobs' announcement that he is taking a voluntary hiatus as the guru of Apple, Inc. And according to one graph I looked up, Apple stock appears to have hit a 52-week low because of, or at least roughly coincidentally with, the news that Jobs may have for the last time prowled the corridors of the Cupertino campus like one of the cats after which he names his OS's. Alan Greenspan famously referred to irrational exuberance. This seems to me to be irrational pessimism.

To think that Apple would collapse without Steve Jobs at the helm both gives him too much credit, and not enough. It gives him too much credit because it is not he and he alone who conceives of and designs products like the iPod, iMac, and iPhone. He is the guiding force, but it is not as if he is the sole functioning brain in a hive of drones.

It gives him too little credit because one need only take a single look at the rapt gaze and trickles of drool at the mouth's of attendees at any of Jobs' keynote speeches at MacWorld Expo and World Wide Developers' Conferences to know that Jobs has a forceful, charismatic personality. He has also had over 10 years at the helm of Apple to shape the "culture" (to use one of those corporate buzzwords I hate so much) at Apple, and has no doubt availed himself of every opportunity to do so. Jobs has certainly coached a deep bench of executives, and anecdotal information indicates that any Apple employee whose skin does not display a rich, ruddy tone resulting from faithful exposure to rays emanating from the golden aura of "the Steve" are escorted out of the building without benefit of sunscreen.

He also commands respect, and deservedly so. Apple's product line is surely roadmapped one to two years out, and any future CEO who makes an abrupt lurch away from the course set by Jobs will do so at the peril of losing the faith and morale of Apple's employees and the loyalty of its customers.

(If it sounds like I stole the previous two paragraphs from Alex Lindsay in this week's episode of the MacBreak Weekly podcast, it's only because he seems to have come to almost the exact same conclusion I did, though he may have stated it more concisely.)

I'm certainly no Apple insider, and I don't have a crystal ball looking into the future of the tech world. It would be extremely difficult, though not entirely impossible, to make the case that Jobs' departure would be good for Apple. ("Stepping out of the father's shadow?") But I would bet good money that any report you may have read portending doom for Apple should he not retake the reins. . .was written by someone using a PeeCee.


Recent Quotables

I like to log for myself and share with others when I hear good quotes. Here are two I've come across in the last week or so:

The first one is a bit of a a paraphrase, and I wish I could be more specific on the source, but I'm 99% sure it was referenced by someone in a podcast I listened to recently. I just can't remember which one.

"An optimist is one who believes we live in the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist is one who fears the optimist may be right."

This second quote is food for ironic thought from a 19th-century French philosopher named Auguste Compte, and was referenced on Garrison Keillor's Jan. 19 edition of The Writer's Almanac:

"Everything is relative, and only that is absolute."

THIS JUST IN: from tonight's presentation of "Dr. Strangelove" on Turner Classic Movies and spoken by the character of U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers in one of his three roles in Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film), as General Turgidson (George C. Scott) scuffles with the visiting Russian Ambassador:

"Gentlemen! You can't fight in here. This is the WAR ROOM!"


Dawn of a new day, a whole new ball game . . .

. . .fill in your favorite cliche´ here.

I only watched about an hour and a half of television on January 20, 2009. Well, two and a half hours if you count the last half of the interestingly-timed presentation of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" on Turner Classic Movies. (I was in the room but only half watching as I have seen it at least twice before.)

The 90 minutes or so that I purposely viewed was the same 90 minutes an estimated four million people attended in person. You probably watched it too, either because you wanted to or because the only other thing on television was a rerun of "Judge Judy" on some unaffiliated local TV station.

History was made. History of such a nature that I don't even have to mention what it was, do I?

I've never been a tremendously optimistic person. I'm not especially gloomy, either. Seems to me most things even out over time and there's no sense in getting too high or too low about anything. But the coarsely woven tapestry of hopes and optimism that hung on my wall at the beginning of this young century was knocked slightly askew on that gloomy autumn day in 2000 when a one-vote Supreme Court majority handed George W. Bush the Oval Office. It was then violently cast on the floor on September 11, 2001. (Not Bush's fault, but it was on his watch.) From there it was pretty much relegated to doormat status as the remainder of the Bush administration unfolded. (Cheesy metaphor? Sure. But it's better than the toilet bowl analogy I sent to my wife in an e-mail yesterday.)

As far back as my very first post to this weblog, I swore to myself and my readers (both of you) that this would not be a political blog, and please don't rush to infer a political affiliation from the above paragraph. Both of the predominant political ideologies and parties seem to me to be deeply screwed up, each in their own unique way, and I pledge allegiance to neither. But suffice it to say that, as of yesterday, a President whose values ran counter to so many of my own has been supplanted by a President whose values run much more in parallel with them.

Our new President hit all the right notes in his inaugural address. We were promised yesterday that the face America shows to the world will no longer be that of a torturer, an invader and occupier, or a warrant-less wiretapper. We were offered hope that our economy can and will recover, but also had our expectations tempered, and were warned of hard times, hard work and hard choices ahead, probably for a long time to come. Conciliation and an "open hand" were offered to those abroad who, justly or unjustly, may have felt wronged by the past administration, yet known enemies were warned that any attempt to wreak destruction on our people and property will be met in kind.

Whether Barack Hussein Obama can live up to the promise evidenced by his obvious intelligence and thoughtful, inspired oratory is an open question. Whether the American People will give him the time and a fair chance to do so is another. He is already hemmed in on one side by his most ardent supporters who expect too much of him, and on the other side by hardcore McCain/Palin partisans who will pre-emptively condemn his every move as another step in a march toward socialism.

As an aside, I was very pleased he used his full middle name, "Hussein," and not just "H." in the swearing in. That should be a finger in the eye of those who sought to use his given name to pander to irrational fears of the unenlightened and xenophobic during the campaign.

In any case, all I can say at this time is that I no longer feel the urge, in my occasional correspondence with persons in Europe or elsewhere overseas, to tack onto the end of every e-mail, "By the way, I didn't vote for him."