Monday, December 25, 2006

the best thing I bought last year

This is the camera I bought last February. It took me some time to figure out how to use it for more than just point-and-click snapshots, and over time I have found it to be limiting in some ways. On the other hand, it's an amazing little camera. It's small (I carry it in my coat pocket much of the time), but not so small it's not comfortable in a man's hands. There are a lot of features available-- so many that I'm still learning how some things work and what they do. Zoom, and macro, and multiple shots, and a self-timer. Also, the usual settings to override shutter speed, aperture opening, etc., and a fully automatic mode that makes taking snapshots effortless. There are several settings that control how the focus is calculated and how the light is metered, which are still mysterious to me.

The limitations are relatively minor. Like many capable computerized electronic implements these days (cell phones, for instance), this one has a problem with having too many features, and not enough room to allow controlling them easily.

Overall settings are fairly easy. There's a "mode" toggle switch that sets either "camera mode" or "control mode," and the mode in turn determines what other controls do. For example, in camera mode, the Zoom ring zooms the lens in and out. In control mode (where the images stored in the camera are displayed), the Zoom ring magnifies the stored images on the viewing screen.

In camera mode, the shooting "mode" is controlled by a thumb wheel at the top of the camera, which sets the basic "context" of the other controls. I've already mentioned the easy-to-access Zoom ring at the top, which controls the magnification, and the shutter button, which is nestled inside the Zoom ring.

There are four quite small buttons (they feel especially small when shooting outside with gloves on) below the LCD screen, which bring up menus on the screen. The rocker switch on the rear of the camera allows scrolling through the menus and selecting items. Clicking the center "select" button on the rocker switch picks the highlighted item. Choices are made by selecting tiny icons, some of which don't have any descriptive text. In low light conditions, I have to wear reading glasses to see and distinguish the items on the screen.

What I found problematic was setting complicated manual shots. Outdoor, available-light, night time pictures are difficult (though the results are stunning), because one is required to set the camera into shutter speed override, turn off the flash, set the self-timer on (to avoid the wobble caused by pressing the shutter release button), then set the zoom, frame the shot, and shoot. If you turn off the camera-- or if it times out automatically to save batteries-- you have to select most of those settings again on the next shot. And all of this needs to be accomplished with the camera attached to a tripod, since there's basically no way to get that kind of picture (very slow shutter speed) in focus without the tripod. Take it from me, in the wind and cold, this is challenging. Additionally, selecting Macro mode (which allows shots to be focused as close as 1 1/2 inches) is non-intuitive, and requires clicking down on the rocker switch in shooting mode when there's no other menu options on the screen. This displays a small "flower" icon at the bottom right of the screen, and when that's displayed, a second click down on the rocker will allow setting how close the focus needs to be. This works well, but was a bit of a challenge to figure out the first time.

Those criticisms aside, I have to say this camera is nothing but a joy to use. The pictures are sharp all the way to the highest resolutions (roughly 2200x1700 pixels), the color depth and saturation are good to excellent, the default settings are useful and well thought out. This is a camera you can grow into over time. It's very simple to use out of the box, and as I have the time to read the manual and explore the available options, I learn and use those too. There are still some menu items I haven't made use of, like black & white and sepia modes, and some of the more esoteric light metering and focusing modes. It also has a video mode, which, with the extra memory card (512 Megabytes) I bought with the camera, allows shooting several minutes of video with sound (recorded through the itty-bitty microphone concealed behind the faceplate).

Having this camera has made me more aware of the "graphics" of my surroundings. When I see a pretty (or ugly) view, I now think of why it's that way, what specific graphical indicators determine my reaction? Is it possible to capture it in a photo? Many things I see can't be captured, because there isn't any camera that can capture a view as wide angled as the eyes deliver. Also, instead of seeing "content" in my surroundings, I'm starting to see "light" and thinking how to capture that in an image. Some kinds of light can't really be captured on camera (or at least not by me and my dorky little camera) because the contrasts are too extreme-- sunlight blazing through branches will either wash out the rest of the picture, or be dimmed and tamed by the light meter in attempting to resolve the dark parts of the image. I keep practicing and experimenting, though. Many things are possible.

This is a nice camera, and I'm glad I have it. There is great gratification in taking pictures, trying new techniques, and then, almost instantly, having them available in my computer. Now, stand back a little... and SMILE...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Completely Digital Post

This post is completely digital. This is about hands. This is about how hands are what we use to communicate, type, indicate, gesture, caress, point, comfort, accuse, make music, scratch an itch, pick someone for our team, and shake to seal a legally binding agreement. We give one to help someone else. We clap them together to applaud someone's achievement. One finger is all it takes to call someone on the phone-- or to insult them.

I've scanned my hands. They're strong, though not as strong as I'd like. They're dangerous-- I can use them to commit a crime, and the police can use their tracks to identify me as the perpetrator. They're all I have to protect myself, to express myself, to hold my cards, to commiserate, to agree, to wave, brush off, slap down, fondle, squash a bug. My brain takes the credit for much of what my hands do, but make no mistake-- these hands do most of the work. So here I will raise one, flat, at the end of my arm, and gesture toward you, palm out, and receive, I hope, the flat palm of your acknowledgment. High five. I'm not biting my nails.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

cleaning the can

how often does one
scrub the toilet?
often enough!
but i know if done
too often we might
be this, and
not often enough then
we're likely that!
how easily words
of observation
become words
of judgement.
to tell the truth
i want a dictionary and not
a thesaurus. oh if only
i could get home. if only
i didn't feel so ill.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

desktop, non-virtual

desktop non-virtual
Originally uploaded by jdavis.
I love this picture. It seems to express what I want to do with my blog. It is a neat picture of my workspace (at work), with handsome writing implements. It hides the computer screen and keyboard and mouse and clutter just outside the edges of the picture, and shows some documentation I've written, some hand-written notes on yellow legal paper, an interoffice envelope from HR with information for my employee review, and, in small neat print on white, several pages of program code. My life is made of words. For this I am grateful.

specialist or generalist?

Everyone loves the specialist. We love pitchers, musical virtuosos, writers of tours de force. A person who excels above others represents a single-mindedness and dedication that is rightly honored and revered. Ice skaters practice more than half of their waking hours. Musicians almost completely drop out of society and only emerge for recitals and concerts. We believe the specialist is the most evolved and self-fulfilled member of our society. Practice, practice, practice.

On the other hand, we live in a busy, demanding, and unforgiving world. We're confronted on all sides by a variety of challenges, threats, and requirements. Without a broad and diverse set of skills we will find ourselves at the mercy of others, who may not have our best interests in mind. Think of the challenges we face and overcome just to drive a car:
  • We need to be able to create and manage our finances well enough to actually acquire a car.
  • We have to learn to drive.
  • We need to be able to navigate the complicated government bureaucracy known as the Division of Motor Vehicles.
  • We need to find, evaluate, and ultimately purchase insurance.
  • We need to maintain a source of funds in order to add fuel when required.
  • We need to clean and maintain and repair the vehicle as required.

Other examples are plentiful-- think of the kitchen, which requires knowledge of food storage of various sorts, cleaning techniques, decorating, cooking, appliances, etc., etc. A functional home and life require a dizzying diversity of skills to maintain and thrive. Anyone who dares to stop paying attention to all the details does so at their peril.

So what do we have here? A dichotomy? We are motivated to excel in our chosen specialty, and yet we are lost if we don't exercise and master a diversity of skills.

Monday, December 04, 2006

new requests from panhandlers

This will likely ruin what little karma I have, but does this headline (from the West End News a month ago) make you think of being shaken down by scruffy people downtown, for a spare dozen eggs, some toast, or a place to eat breakfast? "Come on guy, I need some stuff to make breakfast because the politicians are coming over to eat, and I don't have a frying pan or a toaster or even a kitchen, dude."

Or, maybe they're going to hold the coffee and Egg McMuffin that the candidates haven't finished eating yet, while the pols are busy glad-handing and kissing babies and asking for support.

Ok, it's one of those jokes you have to be there (in my head) to really enjoy. I'll go to bed now.

Is it possible?

I have an observation. Muslims seem to be decimating each other in many places in the world. Sunni's and Shi'ites (if that's what they're called) are killing each other in Iraq, in northern Africa, and most recently in Lebanon. Now for years (especially since 9/11/2001, but before that as well), our Western media has held up the Muslim faith as a shibboleth of arch evil-- terrorists, extremists, fatwa-shouting, AK-47 wielding, Allah-revering, Eu-immigrating, head-scarf wearing, cartoon protesting nut jobs who want nothing more than to kill me and my grandmother and bring on every sort of mayhem short of the second-coming of Jesus Christ himself.

I have another observation. In many countries with mainly-Muslim societies, there appears to be peace, prosperity, culture, tolerance, ethics, families, joy, and religious harmony. I'm not saying freedom in the strictest sense, I'm not saying unbridled greed-capitalism, I'm not saying democracy. But I am saying there isn't an endless cycle of killing and revenge and violence. Car bombs aren't going off. Mosques are not being attacked. When the pope speaks in hyperbole and conjecture, the people don't burn buildings in the street. Men and women meet, fall in love, marry, raise families. Children are nurtured, fed, educated, and allowed to mature into productive adults. There are jobs and homes and extended families. People are born, go to school, worship, marry, raise their children, work productively, retire, grow old, and die with dignity, surrounded by their loved ones. And even if that's not what they always get, it's what many, if not most, wish for. Some write, or paint, or make music.

So what the heck is going on in Iraq, and in Lebanon, and in Afghanistan? In my understanding the differences among the Muslim sects is somewhat like the difference between Baptists and Presbyterians. If I heard that a bunch of Lutherans were killing Unitarians, I would immediately think there was more to the story than that. There is more to the story than what we're hearing. Period. End of story. I do not trust our government to get us the whole story. I no longer trust the media to get us the full story. I want to know. I think we should ask. Early and often. Killing a neighbor is not something people do casually.

Unless it is. Frankly, I would rather mistrust the media than believe that. I want answers, because I have already gotten the facts.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

xmas decorations in the rain

Originally uploaded by jdavis.
Last night after work I was determined to try out my new tripod to take some nighttime pictures of the beautiful decorations in Monument Square. I tried a couple nights earlier, but it was impossible to hold the camera still enough to keep it focused.

It was, of course, raining with high winds, and thus difficult to do a lot of adjusting and testing and all. I'm going to take more nighttime pictures now that I have a tripod, and I've got some ideas how to make the pictures even better. Not doing it when I'm cold and wet and tired and hungry would be a good start!

One thing this particular picture misses is the size of that tree in the square. It's about 35-40 feet high, I think, and quite impressive. And the colors of the bulbs are great, with reds, purples, blues, and a whole bunch of teal-colored ones. There's a woman who works for the city whose job it is to design all the municipal decorations, and she does an outstanding job. Every year the city is decorated better, and there are more lights and more spaces with decorations. I'll get a bunch more pictures and post them.

See ya!

Brilliant Advertisement

Manix Lube, for your personal lubrication needs.

I don't think this is appropriate for MySpace, so I'm posting it here. I found this picture some random place on my hard drive, that I had downloaded from some random blog site. This is an award winning print advertisement for a Brazilian "personal lubricant" product. It's quite beautiful, serene, and subtle. And once you get it, it's kind of funny-- like, it's hilarious.

I'll let you form your own opinion.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Self Portrait

Originally uploaded by jdavis.
So you're looking at me, and I'm looking at you. This is as it should be! One of these days we'll meet and look each other over and perhaps decide to speak to one another.

I bought a tripod for my camera today so I could take pictures at night without a flash. This has been somewhat successful, though I don't think I got the very best tripod. After using it for only a couple of hours, I am aware of many things I'll look for in my next tripod. I guess it's always like that with "tools," where the first one you get is completely new, and you don't even know what you're looking for.

My self portrait is a little blurry, not because the camera moved, but because I moved! Oh, so typical! I like it though. It makes me look skeptical!

OK, love ya. I've got to get some things done now!

math problem

I'm kind of wondering! Would I rather go all the way with one woman, or only go halfway, but with two?

Solve for all variables. Show your work.

That is all.