Posts tagged ‘photos’

Droid Turbo Review

I am extremely happy with my Droid Turbo phone on Verizon.  A few notes for those thinking about buying a phone:

Why Android over iPhone

  • I have been an iPhone guy through 2 generations of phones, and still love my iPad.  But I am exhausted with iCloud and Apple proprietary calendar and mail.  I don't use those tools, I use Gmail and other Google tools, and I got exhausted constantly farting with setup issues.  Things I had to use IFTTT to do on the iPhone happen automatically on Android.  And don't even get me started on duplicate photos in the iPhone/iCloud world.  Drives me crazy.
  • If on your desktop you live in the Apple world, buy an iPhone.  If you, like me, use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google drive and other such tools, it makes a heck of a lot of sense to switch to Android.  Google drive is woven into the operating system at many points.  And even better than on the desktop, Android is great at working with and recognizing multiple google accounts without signing in and out.  For example, in the photo viewer, you can view all your photos together from all your accounts.
  • The one downside is I don't use Google hangouts and Google+, and those are woven in as well.  I had to replace the text messaging app with something else (I use Chomp) but that is the great thing about Android - things that are fixed in iOS are customizable in Android (it is also the bad part of Android if you don't want to mess with that -- I would never put my wife on Android, for example).
  • As a downside, all the variation in phones and customizations mean that you are not guaranteed to get Android updates when they come out.  It depends on your carrier and phone manufacturer.
  • The ability to load up all my music for free (even FLAC files which they automatically convert online to high quality MP3) and stream it to my phone is way better than Apple's capability.
  • I think that most of the feature and OS leadership in the last 18 months has really be grabbed by Android.  Except for the fingerprint capability on the iPhone, everything in the iPhone 6 and iOS 8 was just catch up with Android.

The Good about the Turbo

  • Honking big battery.  Yes, it makes it a bit heavier and bulkier, but it is way lighter and less bulky than, say, and iPhone with a mophie battery case.  I never even come close to running out, even when I use it travelling as a GPS in the car for several hours.  You don't realize how much your interaction with your phone is influenced by battery life until you don't have to worry about it.  I can even leave the screen on bright all day
  • Wireless charging.  Awesome.  The mini-USB connector sucks vs. the iPhone connector because it is not reversible so it is much harder to insert.  All that goes away with wireless charging.  Love it.
  • Fast charging.  You can use the fast charger to blast a ton of life back into the phone in just 15 minutes.
  • Near stock Android.  I like this over the glossy custom overlays Samsung and Sony and every other company apply.  I did replace the front end with the Google Now front end, which is nearly identical but it has Google now cards on the leftmost screen, which I have come to enjoy.  Fun travelling in particular when it pops up photo sites or destinations near me.  Its news suggestions are tied into my browser history and are pretty spot on.
  • Near stock Android also pays another benefit - you will get Android updates much faster.  All Motorola phones (given Google's ownership) are early on the list of phones that will get Android Lollipop upgrades.

Things that are fine

  • The camera is fine.  Focuses relatively fast, takes decent pictures, but not as good as you might expect from the specs.  But competitive with other phones.
  • The screen is supposed to be a selling point, with its above HD resolution, but almost never can I tell a difference.  At some point, the eye just cannot see more pixel density.  It has some tradeoffs in that the higher pixel density can lead fonts on some websites to be almost unreadable (no one has really programmed for this high of a pixel density yet).  Also, the higher pixel count requires more power, which reduces some of the advantage of the larger battery
  • The screen is AMOLED, like the Samsung Galaxy phones.  It is a love it or hate it thing.  The colors on AMOLED tend to be oversaturated.   Ironically, I can live with that.  I am SUPREMELY fussy about the colors on my TV's and in particular on my movie projection system, but I don't care so much on the phone.  Certainly it makes the desktop bright and attractive

Things that are a negative for many reviewers but don't bother me

  • "Its ugly".  That is the #1 review comment.  Shrug.   I think it is fine.  Sure, the Moto X with the bamboo back is awesome looking.   But I am deeply into functionality here.  The curved back feels nice in the hand.
  • There is only a single speaker.  I have come to understand that millennials are fine listening to music on crappy tinny speakers.  I would never listen to music on laptop speakers, and especially not on a cell phone speaker.  I only use the cell phone speaker for occasional speakerphone calls.  And it is fine for that.

Things that do bother me

  • I wish it had a memory card slot.   I have 64MB which is likely enough, particularly since I have all my music loaded up online with Google play music and I can just stream it most of the time.  But I would feel better with an expansion slot
  • I wish it was water resistant like the Galaxy S5.  Wireless charging makes this even more doable since you can plug up the USB port.
  • I wish it had iPhone's awesome fingerprint scanner
  • Why do they have to design $800 electronic devices that break when dropped to be so slippery?  The edges are finished in some kind of rubbery stuff that is very grippy.  I wish they had done the back in the same stuff.  That fake nylon webbing stuff on mine is slick, though not wet-bar-of-soap slick like, say, the HTC One M8.

Illustrating Pollution Stories with Steam Plumes

Readers will know of my pet peeve on this issue.  It turns out this has come up as a viewer complaint at the BBC several times and they actually have a policy on it, though like many media organizations they don't consistently follow their own guide.

You can see many examples simply by searching google images for "air pollution".  The people riding bikes with masks are in actual pollution.  The rest of the photos on the first page are mainly steam plumes.  Note how the photographers like to catch the steam at dusk or backlit so they look dark and sortof smokey.

click to enlarge

So Much For the Patrimony

Would a visiting alien look at these photos and assume men were in charge?

Photo Diary of a Crazy Person

I am not very comfortable with heights, so these photos tend to induce a panic attack in me.

Resort with Spectacular Views

I don't like to recommend destinations that are really expensive (why get people excited about a place they can't afford to visit) but we splurged this weekend on the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona.  It is the most spectacular location I have ever seen for a landlocked (ie non ocean-front) resort.  It is almost impossible to do it justice in photos, because it sits at the end of a box canyon and is surrounded on three sides by red rock walls.    Some pictures are here in the google image result.  Expect to pay $300-400 and up for a night, though you will get a very nice room even for the lower rates, and large casitas for higher rates.  As is usual for resorts, meals are crazy expensive -- its hard to get through breakfast, for example, for less than $20 a person.  But the views and hiking and everything else here are just beautiful.

One of the things I enjoyed was the resort had a native american climb onto a local rock outcropping a couple of times a day and play peaceful flute music that echoed around the resort.  You can see a group gathered around to watch (update:  A reader was nice enough to Photoshop out some of the haze using a levels command trick he taught me a while back -- you can compare below to this original)

enchantment1 copy

It freaked me out for a while because I would here this low-volume music as I walked around the resort and I could not figure out where it was coming from (I kept looking for hidden speakers until I figured it out).

As an added bonus, the night sky is totally dark -- you are out in the wilderness about 15 miles from Sedona and out of site of any other habitation of any sort and almost completely surrounded by canyon walls.  As a result, it is one of the few places where us city folk can see the Milky Way in all its glory (below is my amateur photography (you may have to click to enlarge to really see the Milky Way, but its there).

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The restaurant there is quite good and there are excellent tables on the deck outside to watch the sunset.  But if you want a slightly different Sedona experience (though equally expensive) the Restaurant at the L'Auberge resort right in the town of Sedona on Oak Creek is terrific.  The food is great and the location on the creek is very romantic at night.  Here is the view from my table right around sunset.

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You can't get closer to the water than that!

Postscript:  If you like the idea of creekside dining but don't want to blow a hundred bucks a person for dinner, I have eaten at a much less expensive, much less highbrow restaurant that had a very similar location.  It is the Rapids Lodge Restaurant at Grand Lake, Colorado, and is a great place to eat on a trip through Rocky Mountain National Park before you turn around and head back to Estes Park.  Here is the view from our table there:

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PPS:  Other US resort views I like:  Highlands Inn, near Carmel;  Hapuna Resort, Big Island, Hawaii;  Sanctuary Resort, Phoenix, AZ (though the rooms really need an update);  Trump Hotel, Las Vegas (located right on the bend of the strip so the strip view rooms look straight down the strip at night).

Update:  In the spirit of equal time, a reader writes that the Enchantment Resort ruined Boynton Canyon.  Its impossible for me to say -- I never knew it in its pristine state.  I will say the resort itself does a pretty good job of keeping a low profile in the canyon -- no buildings that I saw over 2 stories tall, most of the old trees are preserved.

A Short Rant on Over-Saturated Photography

I was at a couple of art shows during my vacation, and saw a lot of photography.  A staple of photography are the shots of Italian allies and colorful sea villages.  I have one on my wall that I shot myself, the classic view you have seen a million times of Vernazza, Italy.  My wife observed that these photos at the shows looked different than mine (she said "better").

The reason was quickly apparent, and I am seeing this more and more in the Photoshop world -- all the artists have pumped the color saturation way up.  I had to do this a bit, because the colors desaturate some when they get printed on canvas.  But these canvases friggin glowed.  I see the same thing in nature photography.  Is this an improvement?  I don't know, but I am a bit skeptical.  It reminds me a lot of how TV's are sold.  TV pictures tend to be skewed to over-bright and over-vivid colors because those look better under the fluorescent lights of the sales floor.  TV's also tend to have their colors tuned to the very cool (blue) color temperatures for the same reason.  None of this looks good in a darkened room watching a film-based movie.  Fortunately, modern TV's have better electronics menus and it is easy to reverse these problems, and my guess is there is less of this anyway now that many TV's are sold online based on reviews rather than comparison shopping in a store.

I am left to wonder though how this new super-vivid, over saturated photography would look in a home, and how it wears with years of viewing.  Am I being a dinosaur resisting a technological improvement or is there a real problem here?

Tailgating at the Opera

I grew up in Texas and I am not sure the concept of tailgating I was weaned on was flexible enough to encompass the opera.  But it's good to try new things.  Here are a couple of photos from my first trip to the Santa Fe Opera

IMG_0728s IMG_0729s

Didn't see any cornhole games though.

Another California Coastal Commission Horror Story

This is a guest post from Gregg Stevens.  His story resonates with me in particular because he is in the same business as I am, running campgrounds.  The story begins with the proverbial tree falling in the forest.  

I used to think there wasn’t much a hole in the ground could do. The hole could get bigger, or it could get smaller. And that’s about it. But I’ve recently learned that a hole in the ground can not only suck an enormous amount of money, time and energy from a fellow, it can drive him to the edge of madness as well.

I run a small campground on a river in northern California, and one winter day a big old fir tree blew over into the water. It’s fairly common for trees to fall here on the heavily wooded, storm-battered Mendocino Coast. But this particular tree was a bit different than most. For it fell under the benevolent gaze of the California Coastal Commission.

Continue reading ‘Another California Coastal Commission Horror Story’ »

View from Above

I find these photos surprisingly compelling

Things I Didn't Know

I had always assumed the cover for the Beatle's Sgt. Pepper album was just a photo mosaic, a cut and paste of photos that was then re-photographed into the final image.  But it appears to have been shot life-size all at once.  More here.  Apparently Hitler and Jesus just missed the cut.  Can you imagine anyone even bothering with this in the age of Photoshop?

Anyone Know What This Is?

I found this picture, c. 1961, in some old photos my parents took.  From the photos around it, it looks to have been taken on a driving tour of ante-bellum mansions in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Update:   Readers identified it as Longwood, an old mansion in Mississippi, which appears to have been fixed up since this was take.n

Mixed Feelings About These Photos

I had never seen Ansel Adams series of photos from a US internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII.  I had mixed feelings about them.  Adams said that he wanted to portray the resiliency of those imprisoned, showing how they made the best of a bad situation.  And certainly I have great respect for that, and the cultural strengths we see at work are a prelude to how Japan itself was rebuilt after the devastation of WWII.

But at another level I find these photos incredibly creepy.  They look too much like the fake photos staged by Germans and Russians of various eras to airbrush the horrors of their concentration camps.   I am willing to believe we Americans were better jailers, but none-the-less I was disturbed that these looked a lot like propaganda photos.

Ridiculing the Innocent

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has a web site where he encourages the public to poke fun at the ugliest or most odd-looking mug shots taken by his officers.  He has a mug shot of the day contest, where citizens can vote for their favorite.

What do all the people pictured in these photos have in common?  The are all innocent -- by definition, since they have not plead in any court or gone to trial.

Sorry, I know he has added the reminder that these folks are innocent on that page, but this kind of public shaming and ridicule for un-convicted arrestees (part and parcel with other favorites like the perp walk) are absolutely inappropriate for the police to engage in.  It is absurd to see our Sheriff running his only little TMZ.

(Yes, I know there are private sites that engage in this, as the photos are public information.  I have always wondered why arrest records are not confidential, but that is another post.  There is a big difference between a private entity engaging in such a behavior and a law enforcement officer doing so.)

 

Joe Arpaio, Web Mogul

Joe Arpaio, I suppose seeing how Ben Quayle rode his writing gig for the Dirty into Congress, has decided he wants to compete with all manner of bottom-fishing web sites.  He has created a special web feature in a what he states is an attempt to drive more people to his web site -- the goofy booking photo of the day.

Several local lawyers, including some mental health advocates, are asking if it is appropriate for a sheriff to run online contests to vote for the inmate with the worst booking photos.  This is a great example of a situation (like video surveillance) where public officials have less, rather than more rights and privileges than ordinary citizens.  Kudos to Scott Ambrose for making a point that is seldom made, and we should remind politicians of all the time:

Arpaio says that booking photos are aired in the news media every day. A local alternative weekly even took a page from Arpaio's playbook earlier this year and let readers have fun with some of the sheriff's mug shots.

"Sheriff Joe will argue that 'I can do this because New Times can,' " Ambrose said. "There's lots of things the government can't do that you and I can."

I have another question - for what possible public purpose is Arpaio spending taxpayer money to drive people to his web site?  This is so incredibly self-serving its hard to believe, but fits right in with Arpaio's whole history of taxpayer-funded self-promotion.

PS-  I have always argued that booking photos should not be public information, as they amount to an improper punishment.  The legal system has a technical term for someone who has been arrested but has not gone to trial:  Innocent.

More Adventures in Photography

I am still trying to figure out how traditional film photographers got great outdoor photos.  I struggle with haze and a loss of vibrancy in distant photos, as if the images were photographed through dirty glass.  Maybe filters?  More vibrancy in the film (I know that drove a lot of Kodak users to Fuji)?

Anyway, I don't have to rely on film, and can fiddle around with Photoshop until I get things right.  I used it in this image to lighten some dark areas and then eliminated the haze effects by painting the whole image with a low-opacity color burn (I used to use a neutral gray for this but I have had better luck using a color with much of the blue taken out (using the RGB sliders in the color selection)).  I gave a second helping of the color burn to the buildings only, to make them pop a bit.  I try to stay far away from the contrast controls - every photo I have ever ruined started downhill with the contrast control.    Instead, I went into each of the R-G-B channels in the "levels" section and fiddled with the distributions a bit, in effect widening the distributions (only a little) to get a tad more contrast.

I think it came out pretty well -- I was at an art show with a guy selling almost this exact same photo from the exact same spot and I think mine compared favorably with his art shot.  The only thing I think might have improved it was to get morning light, but I was not going to camp out for 18 hours to do so.

Anyway, this is Vernazza, one of the five towns of Cinqueterre on the Italian Riviera, taken from the fabulous walking trail the connects the five towns.  As usual click for enlargement.

On the monitor screen, the colors are perhaps a bit over-saturated but by trial and error it looks great on paper (at least with my printer -- the color variation among printers and papers is really astonishing once you start paying attention to it).

Below, by the way, is the original digital image.  If someone can tell me what I am doing wrong (filters, camera selection, etc) to get such crappy original images, I would be appreciative.  It looks like I haven't cleaned the lens or something.  All I am using is a pretty good quality UV filter (mostly just to protect the lens) on a Nikon D50 with the stock Nikon lens.

Recent Photography

I am a terrible photographer and seem to struggle getting any good pictures.  But with a little patience and some study, my yield has gone up, though it still is well under 20%.  Just for self-motivation, rather than any sense anyone out there is interested, here are a few of my recent photos that I thought came out pretty well.  A couple are experiments with HDR photography.  As usual click for enlargement:

Cinque Terre.   The HDR process in the first one really brings out the details, but like a sharpness filter turned up too high, the image falls apart when zoomed too much.

The next one could have been awesome if I had waited, say, 12 hours for the sun to be in the right place

This is the town of Portovenere

And at night, which was beautiful but I tried a zillion exposures and could never get quite what I wanted

I loved all the little winding staircases.  I struggled to capture the romantic element that attracted me to them.  This one came out the best, but still failed to get what I wanted

A couple of views from the roof of the Milan Duomo.  I really loved walking among the flying buttresses and thought these made interesting subjects.  These are probably my favorite shots from the whole batch. They are both HDR shots.

And here are the spires on the same roof:

The Grand Canyon and Sedona

Haze seems to be my never-ending enemy of good landscape photos.  I have tried filters of various sorts.  In the shot below, I tried HDR which really cut the haze but left the tree in the foreground as a blur (due to its movement between the photos that were combined to make the picture).

Nice Place to Play Soccer

One of the perils of being a small school is that sports requires a lot of travel.   In Arizona (unlike Texas where I grew up) the private schools do not have their own prep league for athletics, but play with the public schools based on their size (e.g. 1A to 5A).  Ours is a 1A school that generally plays 2A because we get more teams to play that way.  In soccer we play 3A, which can be a tough road when a school that has barely 120 boys in the high school play schools with 900+ kids.  But we made it to the state finals last year, so we hold our own.

Anyway, last week we actually played a school within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park, just a stones throw from the south rim visitors center and the El Tovar lodge.   That was awesome - nothing like post-game parent cocktails on a deck looking at the sunset over the rim of the canyon.  (I am on the road but will post a few photos next week).

The Grand Canyon is spectacular, but there is something about looking down into it that reduces its beauty.  You only really see its real drama hiking down into it (e.g. the Bright Angel or the harder but more beautiful Kaibab trail from the South Rim).  If you want to talk about really spectacular scenery, I think Sedona beats the Grand Canyon, at least from the rim.

This week my son's team played a small school in Sedona, a pretty old boarding school called Verde Valley HS.  Its got an IB program and a lot of horses and a drop-dead location, and has been getting some popularity in this area and in SoCal.  Anyway, I have seen some nice kids fields, but this one was pretty spectacular.  Unfortunately I only had my crappy cell phone camera but here is a sample:

Layout Progress -- Staring at Grain Elevators

I had wanted to make more progress this weekend, but we had an astoundingly rare tragedy at one of our campgrounds (family got hit by lightening) so handling that had to take priority. But before that came awful bit of news, I did make some layout progress. Mostly I was tearing my hair out trying to weather a grain elevator, which turn out to be a pain to duplicate, unless one wants to paint it brand new and all white and that is never the look I go for.   They tend to be chipped, with horizontal weathered streaks as well as vertical staining. This is where I am so far. It looks better in person, but for just that reason photos are a great way to exaggerate modeling problems. In this case, I have too much of a cross-hatched effect on the tower and need to work on that.  Push comes to shove I will repaint the tower white and start over.

On the positive side, I finished my first pair of handbuilt switches using N-scale schedule 40 rail.  This was a ton of work for something they sell in the store, but the results are worth it, I think.  The switches are #8, built from Fast Track jigs, soldering the rail to PC board ties every 3-5 ties and using stained wood ties glued to the rail with Pliobond for the rest.  Rail is painted Floquil rail brown with hand-painted rust streaks.

The Last Days of the Tsars

Some really nice pre-WWI color photography from Russia.  I am a sucker for old color photos.

And People Trust Government?

I have total sympathy with those who distrust corporations.  Distrust and skepticism are fine things, and are critical foundations to individual responsibility.   History proves that market mechanisms tend to weed out bad behaviors, but sometimes these corrections can take time, and in the mean time its good to watch out for oneself.

However, I can't understand how these same people who distrust the power of large corporations tend to throw all their trust and faith into government.  The government tends to have more power (it has police and jails after all, not to mention sovereign immunity), is way larger, and the control mechanisms and incentives that supposedly might check bad behavior in governments seldom work.

Here is a great example of behavior that is inconcieveable in the private sector, or, if found at a private company, would quickly result in its extinction.

The system that Lower Merion school officials used to track lost and stolen laptops wound up secretly capturing thousands of images, including photographs of students in their homes, Web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats, says a new motion filed in a suit against the district.

More than once, the motion asserts, the camera on Robbins' school-issued laptop took photos of Robbins as he slept in his bed. Each time, it fired the images off to network servers at the school district.

Back at district offices, the Robbins motion says, employees with access to the images marveled at the tracking software. It was like a window into "a little LMSD soap opera," a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.

"I know, I love it," she is quoted as having replied.

Anyone want to be how many of the guilty in this case will be around in 5 years.  The over / under from Vegas is "all."

Post-War Devastation

We associate photos like this one with the devastation of post-war Europe.

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In fact, this is a post-war photo, but it is of Charleston, South Carolina after the Civil War.   We seldom think of such scenes as being relevent to the US, but the South was at least as destroyed after the Civil War as Germany was after WWII.   Sherman's march to the sea in Georgia was famous for its devastation, but in their letters, many of Sherman's soldiers say they were particularly ferocious in South Carolina, the state that they most associated with the war and its start  (though much of the devastation in Charleston was self-inflicted, as a fire to burn the remaining cotton and keep it out of Yankee hands spread to the rest of the city).

Full sized image at Shorpy

Coolest Stuff I Have Worked With In A While

Electro-Luminescent wire.

el-wire-light

I am a little late to the game on this stuff -- apparently hobbyists have been using it for crafting.  For example, who wouldn't want a Tron outfit?

To date, I have mostly sheltered readers from the geekiest of my hobbies: model railroading  (Yeah, I know what you are saying -- how can anyone who spends hours a day at a computer writing on arcane bits of business and economics issues possibly be anything but cool?)  This may soon change, as I am starting a new N-scale layout and I will probably inflict some in-progress photos on you folks.  To get an idea just how crazy I am, I build my own track from wood strips and bundles of rail and tiny, tiny spikes -- so we are not just talking about putting the old Lionel out on a green table cloth.

Anyway, for some time I have wanted to build a layout that is primarily meant to be run in the dark as a night scene.  So I am experimenting with a lot of technologies, from florescent paint to tiny LED's to small bulbs to get ideas for various scenes.  The EL wire turns out to be a dead ringer for scaled down neon, so I expect to use a lot in the city part of the layout.

I will leave you with a photo of the layout that probably inspired more people (including myself) into the hobby than any other  -  by the master, John Allen:

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If you get intrigued with his work, more photos are here.

I wish I had more pictures of my old work, but they seem to have been lost in a move.  All I have left is a few poor-quality, poorly-scanned under-construction photos of my first layout from years and years ago.

rr3

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Postscript: Can a hobby be geeky if Rod Stewart shares it?  He has built an absolutely stunning layout - one photo below and more herestewart-layout

And yes, the work really is his own, he didn't just pay someone to build it for him.

Cool Trompe L'oeil

Cool Picture

At first I thought the picture here was pretty lame - big deal.  Composition, not great.  Detail, blah.  But then I started zooming in.  And in.  All the way to the point I could almost play the music from the sheet music of the band in the lower center of the picture.

The Original 9/11, Except it was on 9/16

This was a bit of history I never knew:

wall-street-bomb

"Wall Street bomb." Aftermath of the explosion that killed dozens of people in New York's financial district on September 16, 1920, when a horse wagon loaded with dynamite and iron sash weights blew up in front of the J.P. Morgan bank at 23 Wall Street. The attack, which was attributed to Italian anarchists, was never solved. 5x7 glass negative, George Grantham Bain Collection.

This is from Shorpy.com, a blog that has daily posts with really nice photography from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The photo above is actually just a thumbnail - go to the original post and click on the full size image.  All of their photos are posted in huge, high-resolution scans.