Scott's Thoughts

The Setup

When I get a chance, I enjoy watching how someone else works on their computer. It’s great to pick up tips and tricks that the user in question might not even consciously recognize they’re using because they are so ingrained in their muscle memory. I also really enjoy finding out what software they use (particularly for Mac OS X or, to a much lesser extent, iPhone) because I always like to try new tools and hopefully find something that works better for me. Oh, and gadgets. Mmm, I love gadgets.

The Setup is a site dedicated to asking people about their setups: hardware, software, gadgets they carry, etc. I thought it was a fun “bunch of nerdy interviews” (as they call them). Recommended.

Nikon D3s

nikon_d3s

Holy moly. Not only does the new Nikon D3s shoot at incredibly high ISOs (according to rumor, anyway) like ISO 102,400, but it can apparently also shoot 720p video at that ISO. While people are largely bitching about it not doing 1080p, I think they’re missing this point. The video coming out of the camera at this ISO is going to be quite a bit better than natural eyesight would have seen the scene in person. Amazing.

Personally, I don’t really care about video in my SLRs, so I’m not lusting after this camera because of that feature, although I can totally understand why video pros do. Sooner or later this video/photo convergence is probably going to have to revolutionize the actual shape of the camera. While I find the SLR form factor to be the most satisfying for shooting stills, I don’t particularly like it for shooting video.

Still, pretty exciting stuff. I’m looking forward to the official announcement and really hoping that some new lenses, particularly fast primes, are announced with the D3s. When the D3 was originally announced, it was accompanied by the 24-70 f/2.8 remake that I bought and love. Come on 35 f/1.4 for FX!

Maurice Sendak tells parents to go to hell

So freaking awesome!

Reporter: “What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?” Sendak: “I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate.” Reporter: “Because kids can handle it?” Sendak: “If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it’s not a question that can be answered.”

(Via Daring Fireball.)

“No Tweaking, No Cropping”

While I understand the sentiment in this post, I can’t get 100% behind the anti-Photoshop part.

He can’t believe the addiction to computers. He told us to go out and shoot. Don’t go near the computers, just pick up a camera and go shoot. He told us he had wired the machines so they would give us an electric shock if we touched them. No PhotoShop….no tweaking, no cropping.

I think that’s a great idea to get someone super-focused on shooting more—something I should really do, BTW—but it’s not realistic. Most of us today shoot in RAW, which is just that: too raw for actual use. Sure, you can look at the captures to see how your technique is, and if that’s the whole exercise, then sure, ignore Photoshop and friends.

But every RAW file needs tweaking: color balance from the camera might be off and they all need some capture sharpening. I think de-emphasizing the computer is fine, but statements like this go too far. That said, I’m not there, and perhaps there’s context I’m not privy to. After all, they’re in a photo workshop, not a Photoshop workshop, so maybe that’s just the rule of the day to get them focused on the camera.

Ainsley Turns One

We started out wondering if we should bother having a party for Ainsley’s first birthday. After all, she’s just one, and it’s not like she’ll remember it. And she certainly doesn’t need (nor can our house really hold) a bunch of presents. But we couldn’t pass up the chance to get folks together and show off our little one.

Ainsley and Mom

But we have a really small house. We decided to just invite folks with kids (sparing those without kids any possibility of guilt over not coming to a kid’s party). Nice and simple. Then we got a lot of RSVPs of people coming. Man, it’s great that we’re all getting together, but remember the small house thing?

We ended up moving the Airstream from its perch in the backyard and setting up rented tables and chairs and really hoping for a nice day. Well, we were in luck; it turned out to be a nice day with blue skies. And it really was great to see everyone. Thanks to everyone who made it!

Happy Birthday, Ainsley!

On another note, holy cow, I can’t believe it’s been a year! Val counted 12 teeth in Ainsley’s mouth today, and she’s showing off new skills daily. Unbelievable. Val keeps lamenting that we now have a toddler instead of a newborn. Everyone tells you how it flies by, and they’re 100% right—it really does.

Photos on Flickr.

“Editing Images” Not The Plural of “Editing An Image”

A somewhat overloaded and often confusing term when talking about photography is “editing”.

Editing a set of images is the act of reducing that set to those photos that you plan on working with further. These images are often referred to as “picks” or “selects”. A final edit is the reduction to just the images that are the final result of a shoot or larger photo project.

Editing an image is the task of doing some post-production task on an image that changes it’s presentation in some way. For instance, cropping, rotating and changing the color balance is editing an image.

The question, “What program do you use to edit your images?” is vague and something like it usually starts this conversation.

Helmet Cam Footage of Skier in Avalanche

Amazing footage of a skier getting caught in an avalanche and rescued:

Avalanche Skier POV Helmet Cam Burial & Rescue in Haines, Alaska from Chappy on Vimeo.

(via Laughing Squid.)

More GF1 Impressions

I’ve ridden with the camera twice now, and have also gotten to walk around with it a bit, so I’ve got some more impressions. Certainly, I’m still forming opinions and finding things as I work with the camera, so here are those thoughts that have occurred to me over the last few days using the GF1.

  • It seems to tend to underexpose. Not in all circumstances, so I’m still trying to figure it out. When it does, it’s noticeable—say 2/3-1 stop under. Exposure compensation is easy to use on this camera, so it’s easy enough to dial out when it happens. One theory is that the camera is trying to protect the highlights from blowing. I’m shooting in raw, so I’m less concerned about being fanatical about that since I can recover a slight overexposure in Lightroom.
  • It has fairly noisy shadows, starting at ISO 800. Combined with the first point, this means that if I don’t get more data on the right of the histogram and rely on post to fix an underexposure, I’m going to have to be more heavy-handed on the noise reduction.
  • The noise is uglier than the Canon G9’s that I’m accustomed to. Don’t get me wrong—the quality of the pics is generally higher than the G9’s, but the noise I tended to see had a structure that I found more pleasing. The GF1 seems to have at least 1 stop more headroom before the noise gets objectionable though.
  • It’s nice to have more choice in aperture. The G9 maxed out at f/8 while the GF1 with the 20mm f/1.7 goes to f/16 in 1/3-stop increments, so there is more flexibility. I was shooting in some landscapes bright sun and it helped tame the bright light as well as the DOF benefits.
  • The 20mm f/1.7 is a gem compared to the lens on the G9. Fast and sharp while shooting wide open.
  • The camera in Program and Aperture Priority modes tends to favor opening very wide with this lens, sometimes even to the point of taking the shutter speed uncomfortably low. It’s easy enough for me to shift the shutter speed up, but I expected a camera that’s ostensibly a P&S to play it safer on the shutter speeds.
  • The RAW files tend to need more work than I’m used to, but they have a lot of data, and really pop once you put that little bit into them.
  • So far, I love the handling. It really feels solid in the hand, and the controls are easy enough to use, even with bike gloves on.
  • AF performance is great. The G9 doesn’t even come close.
  • I got to shoot for a couple of minutes with a buddy’s G10 at the same time I was using the GF1. I’d say the G10 wins points for having exposure compensation as a nice dial on the top deck and the live histogram on the LCD is nicer on that camera. The G10’s controls were very intuitive, but coming from a G9, that makes sense. The GF1 felt as solid and more responsive in general. The LCD on the GF1 is way nicer.

That’s it for now. My Flickr photostream has some pics from the GF1. More to come.

Clik Elite Camera Back Packs

Just yesterday I was out riding with Shane after work, and it was the first time I took the new GF1 on a ride. I'd liked to have taken more pictures, but I haven't bought a new pouch to wear on my chest, as I normally do with the G9 (the GF1 is just barely too big). So that means that I had to take my whole CamelBak off and dig through it to get to the camera, which I find means I take a lot fewer pictures.

We were riding at Long Ridge and Saratoga Gap right near sundown, and it was unbelievably pretty out. I was happy to have brought the camera, but in tandem for wishing for better access to it, I also wished I had my SLR along.

Sun in the Canopy

This morning, Brian emailed me to share a link link to a company called Clik Elite that is making hydration packs and accessories for "adventure photographers". There are backpacks of various sizes, but also chest-mounted camera attachments that look great. The backpacks have camera compartments as well as camera storage, which is nice, although the integration with a chest-mounted camera is really attractive.

I'll definitely be looking at these. I hear that REI is carrying them, so I'm going to head there and see what they have. I'm thinking that the Compact Sport and the Small Rangefinder Chestpack would be a good start, if that backpack can at least carry the Nikon D700 with the 24-70 f/2.8.

Finally, an HD Helmet Cam!

This looks sweet. Mine’s a few years old, and definitely not a nice integrated camera like this one is. And getting HD would be sweet. Maybe after they shake out the bugs and card sizes are a bit bigger….

GF1 In My Hands

I have my GF1. Oddly enough, a local camera shop got it ahead of Amazon—well ahead, apparently, since Amazon isn’t supposed to get the 20mm kit I pre-ordered for some time. Initial impressions, with ~50 shots of random crap:

  • Build quality is excellent, but not over-done. It’s a nice package. It’s a little bigger than the Canon G9, but not so much so that I’d put it in another category. I have a case that I use to store the G9 on my CamelBak while riding—the GF1 fits in it without the 20mm lens on, but not quite with. Pretty close, though.
  • The rear LCD is amazing. It updates very quickly. It think it might be even better than the one on my D700. I’ll have to look at them back-to-back.
  • The menu system is pretty good. In general, I like the G9 menu system better, but that could be because I’m used to it.
  • The camera reacts very quickly. It’s a much more agile handling camera than the G9.
  • The focus modes are a nice surprise. It has a “lock, then follow” mode that works very well with the baby running around.
  • The _f_1.7 lens is nice. Leads to a nice bright image on the LCD, even in low-light conditions. I haven’t shot enough to tell how sharp it is, but that’ll take some time.
  • The shop I bought it from didn’t get the optional EVF in stock, so I’ve still got my order placed with Amazon. This camera cries out for it; I keep feeling like I should put it up to my eye, even though I rarely did that with the G9.

More to come….

Snow Leopard Printer Driver Installation is Cool

Uncia uncia.

Image via Wikipedia

I just needed to use a new feature of Snow Leopard: automatic printer driver installation. Bottom line: very cool.

I wanted to print something in color at work—something I haven’t done before. I hit “print” on the document, and the printer dialog automatically detected the color printer we have here (via Bonjour), and I selected it. As soon as I did, Snow Leopard detected that I needed new drivers, downloaded and installed them automatically, and I was off to the races. Very smooth process.

More on the iTunes Maximize Button

TUAW has an article that mirrors the earlier thoughts I posted here. They also have a command to force iTunes to go back to the 9.0 (not linking the green maximize button in the title bar to switching to the mini-player):

defaults write com.apple.iTunes zoom-to-window -bool YES

Nice.

Testing Ruby: Rspec, Cucumber, Webrat, Oh My!

Sorry in advance. This is a rambling post, of mostly my own notes from the weekend messing with a bunch of new-to-me technology surrounding Ruby development.

Intro to Serrano

Serrano is the name of a project I originally started when Rails first came out. (Really. There wasn’t even a Rails mailing list back then and when I requested one, DHH responded that he wanted to keep things in the IRC channel. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access IRC from work without breaking policy, which is a real career-limiting move in a security company.) Anyway, Serrano is a walled garden community site that my friends and I use daily as a means of communicating, but it was also a project I could use to learn Ruby and Rails.

I haven’t deployed a new update to Serrano in a couple of years, and let’s just say that the code isn’t pretty, although it’s been really stable. It was written by a Ruby newbie back when most of today’s Rails idioms didn’t exist, and updated to some new techniques a few times since then, usually when I wanted to play with a new Rails release.

Now I want to add some features and update Serrano to the latest Rails (2.3.4) after some time away, but it’s kind of hard. The tests I did have weren’t complete, and some are completely broken. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing at the moment, having not paid attention in awhile, so I need a safety net before I go breaking shit.

So I thought I’d take the chance to bite off some testing frameworks that have been on my radar, but I haven’t taken the time to learn how to use. Serrano is going to be a good test project again, as I intend to use this stack of testing tools to cover it well enough to aggressively refactor it into good health using the more modern techniques that have emerged since I stopped developing it.

Rspec

Rspec was all the rage at RubyConf and RailsConf a couple of years back, and I even wrote a few specs for Serrano that I’d put in while playing with it. Rspec is a BDD (behavior driven development) tool that helps one test the behavior of code. I got the specs I’d written back up and running pretty quickly (along with the existing Test::Unit tests I’d written way back when) and got them all passing. It looks like Rspec has come a long way since 2006 or so when I’d played with it, so I looked around for resources on it.

The Pragmatic Programmers have The Rspec Book in beta and I’m a fan of their books, so I plunked down the credit card to get the PDF to learn from. Turns out there is a whole stack of testing frameworks out there now, and this book is about a lot more than just Rspec. Seems like a lot of stuff to learn, but I’ve got a jones to get this project healthy, so I might as well bite it off.

Webrat

Another layer of this stack of testing tools is called Webrat. Webrat is a Ruby API to simulate user behavior in a web-based app without having to script a browser. Seems like a good goal, so I installed the gem. Or I thought I did.

Turns out I kept having trouble installing Webrat. I’ve been using the new beta of JetBrains' Ruby IDE RubyMine over the weekend. (As you can tell, I’m all about trying out the latest shiznit in Ruby-land right now. Maybe it’s just to get comfy with the new stuff prior to RubyConf.) RubyMine’s gem attaching feature kept looking like it was installing it, but it failed. I tried from the command line and got this:

    ld: in /opt/local/lib/libz.1.dylib, file is not of required architecture
    collect2: ld returned 1 exit status
    make: *** [nokogiri.bundle] Error 1

Nokogiri is a Ruby library for XML which Webrat depends on, and I got the same error when trying to manually install the Nokogiri gem. The libxml2 installation on my machine needed to be recompiled for 64-bit under Snow Leopard. This was fixed by installing the Snow Leopard version of MacPorts, followed by libxml2:

    sudo port install libxml2

After that, the Webrat gem installed fine.

Misc. note about RubyMine 2.0 Beta: You can turn off the the (extremely annoying, IMO) spell check that tries to check the spelling of all your variable and method names, by going to Settings –> Intentions and unchecking “Spelling”. I didn’t think of the spell check as an intention, but I guess that’s how it’s implemented.

Cucumber

Last up (I hope) is Cucumber, which is a way to specify acceptance tests in plain English, backed by small bits of Ruby to make the statements executable. Sounds fancy—maybe too fancy if the faint sound of alarms going off in my head are to be believed. We’ll see how this goes. There are a set of basic acceptance tests I run through manually before deploying a new Serrano build, and I hope to get those running soon with Cucumber. (It’s true that I haven’t released a new build of Serrano in a long time, but I use Serrano all the time so I have the tests of critical features down pat.)

RubyMine has built-in support for Rspec and Cucumber, although I have a slight problem running Cucumber scenarios from the built-in scenario runner, so I’ve been using the shell for that. I posted a query to JetBrains about it. I have a feeling I’m using a newer version of Cucumber than they developed against.

Anyway, I’ve got my development environment all set up and it seems to be working. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about having such a deep stack of apparently quick-moving technology targets at the core of my testing, but I’m willing to keep an open mind. RubyMine looks to be a winner, although it does wear its “beta” status proudly with a few bugs.

Just to make sure that I have enough new stuff that I’m working with, I moved the project from using Subversion to my GitHub account awhile back (although it’s a private repo since the code is in no shape for public release at this point), so I’ll get to sharpen my Git chops and exercise RubyMine’s Git integration. That means updating the Capistrano recipe I use to deploy Serrano to production, since it works with my SVN repo. Whew! Hopefully I haven’t bitten off so much that I can’t get it done. We’ll see soon enough….

The Original Olympus Pen Half-Frame Camera

This article is a wonderful account of the original Olympus Pen camera and its creator, Yoshihisa Maitani.

This Guy Got 2 Panasonic GF1s!

Not many people can take a picture of a GF1 with a GF1, but this guy did. I just want my one!

Down With Stienstra’s Negativity

In an article that purports to be focused on the best trails to ride in the Bay Area, Tom Stienstra somehow sees the need to get at least two unnecessary references to trail conflicts in there. Such a short and not-particularly good article didn’t need the negativity—there have already been plenty of words spilt about the conflict.

Recent TV Pilots

It’s no secret that I love good TV. Unfortunately, that’s rarely found on the big networks these days. San Francisco Chronicle/SFGate TV critic Tim Goodman is one critic whose taste seems to match well with mine, and he had several picks these past couple of weeks. Here are my thoughts on the shows I’ve seen.

Modern Family

This is a pretty standard network sitcom: a look into the frequently funny lives of a few families, each with its own “modern” take on the definition of family. I found it to be funny in spots, but not compelling enough to make a season pass.

Cougar Town

Its overt sexuality, especially in the context of women “preying” on younger men, is certainly brash for network TV, and I thought it worked. Courteney Cox still has great comedic timing in my opinion, but she shouldn’t have had whatever surgery she had that stretched her mouth and eyes like that; she was an amazing looking woman that didn’t need it. I’ll get the next episode or two before deciding whether or not to keep it, but it looks positive so far.

Glee

Fox’s new show, which some have been billing as a musical even though it’s not what I’d traditionally consider one, has been really surprising. I figured it was a hyped-up made-for-TV High School Musical clone, and was ready to write it off, even though Goodman thought it was great. I shouldn’t have doubted him. While I thought the second episode was a seriously weak follow-up to a superb pilot, the third episode brought the quality back up. I’ve got a season pass to this one, and would recommend it strongly. Make sure to get the HD version and crank up the volume on the sound system for the musical numbers— with its top-notch production quality, Glee is a lot of fun.

FlashForward

It’s getting compared to Lost for good reason: it starts with a catastrophe that leaves more than a few questions about what the hell happened. The pilot has a lot to set up, and still hits the ground running at a furious and entertaining pace. This one’s a keeper.

RubyMine 2.0 Beta

I’m a long-time IntelliJ IDEA user, and sorely miss it when using other languages and environments that don’t have such a nice, sophisticated tool. When programming in Ruby, I tend to use TextMate (with the Ruby bundle) and the command line. They work fine, of course, but I always miss IDEA.

JetBrains have been working on a Ruby IDE called RubyMine, but the 1.0 version didn’t seem too solid when I tried it out. They just announced the 2.0 beta version, and I’ve played with it a few minutes and immediately bought it (at a 20% discount during the beta period, BTW). It’s so nice to have a solid set of tools for Ruby, and all the keystrokes and shortcuts that I’m used to from programming Java.

Like I said, a few minutes was enough to pry the money from my pocket, but it’ll take a few hours to see if it lands a permanent place on my dock.

Notes on Tools for Blogging

Since kicking off this blog reboot, I’ve been looking for ways to streamline the act of writing for the it. To that end, I’ve tried a few different tools and techniques, and not quite landed on anything I love. If anyone who reads this has some suggestions, I’d love to hear about them.

Setup