Saturday, May 30, 2009

RSC2009 Arrival Day in Florida

A nap took care of the sleep deficit (1.5 hours last night) and a nice walk around the lake allowed me to capture some pretty scenes in the beautiful late afternoon sun with puffy clouds. There is a photo group on Flickr for the conference, so I'm uploading my quick hacks (not my usual editing tools) onto that for now.

I'll load a few of the images here, but see the full stream on FLICKR.

Lucky me ... this is the view from my room at night.

Pretty Hibiscus plants grow at the Swan end of the tunnel to the Dolphin.

Tunnel from the Dolphin end facing the Swan.

Pretty lake facing the Disney Boardwalk.

These fellas are a hoot. The one on the right eventually fed that bug to an even bigger bird ... no idea how that works.

This lighthouse is a dock for the Friendship boats.

Beautiful white sand beach at the far end of the lake, across from the dance hall. Belongs to a very nice resort.

A Friendship pulling a 360 to dock at Epcot.

The boardwalk entrance near the Swan, with the dance hall in the background.

Count the Brain Farts

One -- left "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut on the plane as I arrived at Orlando. Will be buying Nick a new copy, not least of which so I can finish reading it.

Two -- checked out camera equipment ... lots here, batteries charged, three nice lenses, good to go .... except my 16GB memory card is sitting in the computer's card reader at home. Luckily, I have 10GB on three older cards available. And the G10 has its 16GB card intact. But my shooting style will be morphing a bit ... *sigh*

Stay tuned ... I'm betting that my brain's flatulence has not yet run its course ...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Florida Haiku

Off to Orlando in 8 hours ... thought up this reflection of what it will be like ...

am I in oven?
water from body and sky
Florida in June

Can't wait :-)

Old Joke Haiku

I thought about calling this entry "Mourning Haiku" as a play on the title of my last entry ... but this haiku is funny in the sick way and I want to save that title for the day when I can come up with something that can touch the soul ...

screaming passengers;
peaceful ending for old man
asleep at the wheel

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Morning Haiku

Hmmm ... maybe I'm getting addicted to the art form, but here is a haiku that popped into my head a moment ago:

bear grunts in distance
loon answers plaintive whistle
morning has broken

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Bleeding Heart -- The Spring Garden

I love watching the garden come to full bloom in spring. My tulips are finished and mowed into the grass once more, but my French Lilac is in full bloom (covered) and the Bleeding Hearts are some of my favorites. They don't last all that long, but they look amazing, especially on a day like today where there is soft rain and perfect light. The Ostrich Ferns have control of much of my garden now, having wiped out all of my Astilbes, but the Hostas, Bleeding Hearts and Lilies of the Valley are fighting the brave fight. A few shots from today ...

The Bleeding Heart plant that has become completely dominated by the Ostrich Ferns has begot a pair of child plants in the main front garden, and they have come into full bloom this year.

Remember to click on each image to see the larger version ...

I have tried for years to truly capture the beauty of the French Lilac. Here's my best yet, aided by the tiny water droplets from today's misty rain.

Here's a shot of the Lilac from a low angle against a neighbour's Red Maple. Very nice, but there was a tiny bit of wind movement, so not as sharp as I would have liked.

Ah, the Lily of the Valley ... a pretty little ground cover that blooms these tiny white bells. It is slowly spreading, and when it reaches the Ferns' area, a battle royal will ensue for dominance of the garden. Stay tuned about 5 years from now :-)

Another angle on the bleeding hearts ... yes, I can never get enough of a good thing.

While I consider the Ostrich Fern an evil weed, there is no denying their inherent beauty on days of soft misty rain ... they add a lush greenery that is pretty hard to come by any other way.

But let us not forget the stunning Honeybell Hosta, a rain catcher extraordinaire ...

See the rest of the series in my gallery.

For any techies out there, these were shot on the Nikon D300 with a Nikon 300mm F4 AFS and a TC17e teleconverter for an effective focal length of about 750mm. Since it was raining and the light was soft and low, I was forced to shoot from tripod, a Feisol 3471 and Markins M20L ball head. It is nice to remember now and again how sharp a pro lense can be when shot from a tripod.

Passion Haiku

Can passion conquer the soul, leaving one helpless before the siren?

Someone I know has passion of such intensity for all things nature. Today is her birthday and I am sending best wishes in the form of haiku that explores such joy to be tapped at will ...

wandering rapture;
sunny skies, soft winds slaking
unquenchable thirst


difficult ascent,
spectacular scenery;
great effort requites

And when the well runs dry ...

trail into rapture
joy absorbs quiescent mind;
food for angry bear


freshly slashed tree bark;
ominous, but less so than
wrist-watch in droppings

Happy Birthday :-)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Pool is Ready!

Well, sort of. The water is perfect ... crystal clear and clean, you could drink it. But ... the water is 62 degrees today ...

A few images in case it is hot where you are and you don't have a pool ... my apologies, but the cruelty of this really appeals to me :-)

iPhone -- Death and Resurrection

My iPhone suddenly went wonky late last week, with the battery unable to hold a charge for more than a few hours ... dead by mid-afternoon unless it received another charge. I eventually called Rogers wireless to ask for a replacement and the young lady told me that it sounded like hardware but that I had to do a full restore of the software before she could send me a new one. I agreed to try that -- with no expectation of success -- and call her back today.

Well ... the phone is still holding its charge this morning, and that's with wifi on again 24/7 ... I am *really* pleased that this was just a state machine issue with the battery circuitry. Of course, it's a little disconcerting that these things are this fragile at times -- the MAC commercials make it clear that Apple can do no wrong and here they go shaking my image of the universe as we know it :-)

Anyway ... if your iPhone starts behaving really wonky, just try the backup / restore operation. You'll be very glad you did.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nick's year in the UK draws to a close ...

My eldest has finished his third year of his English honors degree at Leeds University in the UK and is only a few weeks away from his tour of the mainland until mid-August, when he returns to Leeds to attend a huge music festival with some of his new life-long friends. Lucky f*ck ...

Meanwhile, he and a close friend are consuming everything they can by the great poets, and he pointed me to some of his favorites by William Butler Yeats, which I though I might share on here.

A Coat

I MADE my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes
As though they’d wrought it.
Song, let them take it
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

HAD I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek ... the perfect movie?

I saw Star Trek tonight for the second time in 8 days. I was moved by it the first time, mostly because it was such a perfect rendition of the story (I was raised on the original series), and so I wanted to see if I felt the same way again.

I did.

The casting is perfect ... every actor fits the role perfectly, and none are so typecast as to be a burden. For me, the closest one to this line is John Cho, as I am a big fan of the Harold & Kumar movies. But I think he rose above ... the "advanced hand to hand combat" scene on the drill at planet Vulcan doing most of that work in my opinion.

The retconning of the original story line is handled deftly and even subtly. I was amazed at what I picked up on this viewing ... I was something like 1/3 of the way through last time before I even *realized* that they were retconning in the first place. The whole plot is based upon the creation of singularities from "red matter" and the passing through these event horizons by several key players ... Nero and Spock.

Later on in the movie, Spock Prime (played by Leonard Nemoy himself) is able to explain to Kirk how things have changed and Nero (the villain) is able to confirm to Kirk that he was a great man on the original time-line. This moment tweaked me for a moment, but then I realized that Nero had lived most of his life in the original time-line 129 years in the future, while only spending the last 25 years in the modified time line.

The love interest between Spock and Uhura adds massive spice to the story, and the choice of Simon Pegg to play Scottie could not have been better. The line "I like this ship .... it's exciting!" with a huge smile on his face really completes the creation of the original crew.

One of the best aspects of the movie is how each of the crew is given some moments of brilliance ... Chekov (Pavel Andreievich) performs the very last second rescue of Kirk and Sulu, Sulu proves to be a brilliant pilot and excellent swordsman -- saving Kirk's life at one point, Bones is older and almost immediately becomes chief medical officer through the death of the original, and so on. Scotty is done the best, as he is under punishment in a remote outpost and Spock is able to bring him back to his former glory in one quick moment by showing him the equation he invented for transport across vast distances and to ships moving at WARP.

My son found that last point to be a little too far off of Canon, as this concept has not appeared in any of the series before ... but I am not so picky. Retconning is a time-honored method for rejuvinating older works and these changes really work ...


Anyway ... enough musing ... I think this movie is as close to perfect (for Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike) as any I have ever seen. Just see it. You are nuts if you miss this one just because there has been so much Star Trek done before.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Katie Melua in Ottawa!

Unbelievable ... incredible ... really, really, really, really good ...

Ok ... now you know how my evening went last night :-)

Katie Melua was in town and played at a small venue called the Bronson Centre Theatre. Nice little place, room for 900 people, although the balcony was closed. Bummer, as it would have been a great viewpoint.

I was fortunate to share the evening with someone whose company has no trouble competing with a concert like this. We started with a terrific Ethiopian meal and got so absorbed in conversation that we were almost an hour late leaving the restaurant. So instead of being there to line up before the doors opened at 7, we arrived around 7:45 ... duh :-)

Of course, the place was packed to the gills ... a few scattered open seats through the center block of the seating, and some blocks at the very back. So we walked to the front and scanned all of the seating. Curiously, some rather nice seats were open in the third row stage left. We sat down and realized that these were excellent seats, assuming of course that the acoustics were any good at all.

We needn't have worried ... the acoustics in there are stunningly good. The sound quality easily matched or even bested the Civic Center for me, a place in which I've seen a lot of concerts (Alice Cooper, The Rankins and Chris DeBurgh to name three.) But I like intimate theaters, having seen the Tragically Hip in the Brockville Music Hall some time ago. About the same size and the intimate ambiance is really special.

So after a while, a young fellow walks onto the stage carrying an acoustic guitar ... he plays something and makes a quip that I cannot remember. Someone way in the back of the audience shouts out "who are you?" and he instantly responds with "nobody", drawing a nice chuckle. After his next song, he announces that his name is Pat Robitaille.

His set was simply magical. Jackie and I looked at each other in shock after his first song. And then he got even better! His voice is strong and powerful, Jackie hears Jim Morrison in it, I hear John Mayer. He does something with his mouth that is reminiscent ... in the end, perhaps he's a blend of both of those styles and voices. But the power is unmistakably Morrison. Totally dominating.

What really blew me away is his ability to loop his own voice and other effects on stage. At one point he sang a nice riff at different tones, looping each on top the other, and cleverly adding a deep thumping bass track by thumping on his guitar into his DSP ... it was magical for me because it smacked so strongly of Queen. He sang some verses with that combined loop running in the background and I was captivated. A remarkable performance.

He performed for quite a while ... at least 6 or 8 songs. We were both really impressed with him and I have to say that I immediately checked him out on iTunes. That's where I ran into some initial doubt, as his CDs do not seem to have the same power and presence as his live performance. So I plan to acquire his music more cautiously than I thought I would ... but I'm still going to go for it. If you get the chance to see him, DO NOT HESITATE! His presence reminds me of Serena Ryder, so if you like her, you will like Pat. No question whatsoever.

Edit: I went to his web site and listened to a few of the free MP3s he has up there, after which I went to iTunes and listened more closely to the clips they have from his CDs. Once you get used to his penchant for using two microphones to provide a clean and manipulated version of his voice in many of his songs, you start to appreciate his voice again and I ended up buying all his CDs.


And then it was time for Katie to appear ...

She walked quietly on stage carrying an acoustic guitar and turned out to be quite chatty, talking between almost every song. She's small and sweet and was dressed rather earthy with her hair kind of blasting out to the sides. A really cute look that added to the stunning quality of her voice.

That all comes across pretty well in the video, which includes 36 minutes of highlights -- including 9 Million Bicycles, If You Were a Sailboat, Crawling Up The Hill, Spider's Web, and several others. It opens with Pat's opening song called Leonard Cohen, I think.

Note that the link above is an MP4 and should play in the Quicktime plugin on most machines. It's also the best way to see the concert from beginning to end, since I had to pull some tricks to get the YouTube versions to split into 4 parts and keep each under 10 minutes. Part 4, for example, is sped up by 10% to fit ... and someone posted a comment within minutes telling me so ... luckily for me, I'm rather oblivious to such tiny details and I am happy to listen to it either way.

I didn't shoot too many images at this concert as the lighting was very, very dark. But I think lots of video of Katie makes up for that.

Note that the video is slightly better on the YouTube versions and the streaming works better ... go figure ... so choose the format you like the best ... long version for convenience (you can download it and keep it, I only ask that you don't post it back to another site ... post a reference here instead please) or short versions so you can dabble and move on ... also note that the audio is pretty good, as the Canon G10 has an excellent microphone, so please turn up the volume :-)

Katie was in *perfect* voice for this performance. Her guitar skills are really something, but it is her voice that holds your attention throughout. We both felt that her emotions really come through when singing live.

That was especially noticeable at the piano, but unfortunately the piano was back stage left and was partially blocked for me by the large front left speaker on the stage. Jackie was completely blocked, but very fortunately, the seat beside me on the right opened up after the intermission and she was able to get a much better view there. However, no pictures and no video at the piano. Sorry ...

Ultimately, the concert was a smash in both our opinions. Both artists were superb, and the venue was a great choice. I have seen concerts with ten times the audience or more that simply could not measure up to this. These two are the bargain of the century and I urge you to get out and see them if they come to your town.

Katie's CDs are all superb. (I think Pat's might be an acquired taste, but we'll see.) I think some people will not find Katie's studio performances as easy to connect with because of the band masking some of her pure emotion. But she is very accomplished and her writing is brilliant. I love her cover of "Blues in the Night."

Also, the production values on her CDs are top notch. You should hear her stuff on my car stereo ... an Alpine iPod deck with Infinity Reference speakers at four corners, a pair of Honda tweeters in the dash and a 10" subwoofer in a box at the back powered by a an amp pushing over 300 watts RMS into 2 ohms. In other words, it fills the car very nicely and her music is some of the best I have for loud playing. (I actually like to hear and feel the music without ear-bleed.)

Anyway, I can heartily recommend all three of her CDs, and I plan on acquiring her new live CD/DVD, which will no doubt be quite a bit better than my own ... but not as cheap :-)

Edit (yet again): Katie told us the story about the mathematician who disputed her lyrics in 9 Million Bicycles, stating that we know within certain error limits exactly where the Universe ends. Lots of activity ensued and she actually re cut the song to demonstrate that the original was much better. I did not originally include the story here because it is captured in my video (have you watched it yet?) ... but I had NO idea how funny the new version was. I burst into peals of laughter and you just MUST see it too ...

And another edit: I found a blog that reflects her activities pretty well, at least from the perspective of one fan.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Songwriters Night at the Rainbow Bistro

This last Wednesday, the 13th of May, was the first songwriters night at the Rainbow Bistro, a blues bar in the market area of Ottawa. Nice place, with a small but very well equipped stage and a pleasant atmosphere (boisterous bartender :-)

The evening was put together by Chrisophe Elie, who is also playing the Ottawa Bluesfest later this year. He played third, the headliner's position I suppose.

Jill Zmud, from Saskatoon (not that far from my home town of Winnipeg, in prairie terms at least), opened the evening with quite a long set. Her voice gave me the Norah Jones vibe when she was pushing some power, and then reminded me of Sarah McLachlan when singing more softly ... at one point she even had a low note that smacked of Tori Amos. A very nice mix of tones. I won't comment on her lyrics as I'm much more of a voice-as-instrument kind of person, but her songs came from her experiences in Saskatchewan and she was able to entertain with some nice stories as well. She's putting together an album here in Ottawa (more at this blog.) As a confirmed female vocal aficionado, this one's on my list.

After a short break, Peter Voith took the stage. He uses his own mike and wires so it takes a moment to set up and tear down. It certainly gives him some power as he really belts out his material, which I quite enjoyed. He is getting married soon and seems to draw a lot of inspiration from his relationships, to great effect. Of the three, his guitar work was the strongest, showing all sorts of range and some incredible power at times. I could not place his voice for quite some time ... eventually Jill and I chatted and she mentioned that she got the John Mayer vibe from him and that clicked with me. Of course, his voice is missing the twist that permeates John's voice -- which I also like by the way. I suppose it's a darkish voice with a bit of breath in it. Smokey might be the right description. I also detected a young Neil Diamond vibe here and there, but without the edge Neil has in his voice. Anyway ... sounded good to me. Peter then left the stage and a longer break ensued while he tore down and a suitable intermission was injected.

When Chris took the stage, the other equipment was in place again and the sound was more subdued, both voice and guitar. But Chris has a seriously driving style to his guitar, constant power ... turned up to 11 if you will. His CD (Deepest Shade of Blue) is in fact much less driving, but then he's got a full band backing him up. His voice was really hard to place, but the heavy political bent to his songs (he sang about both the middle east and Darfour in a fairly short set) and the fairly distant presentation (he holds back a bit from the mike) reminds me a wee bit of Dylan. But by far the strongest vibe I get from his voice is James Marsters ... I know that will sound weird as few people have heard James sing, and most of those only heard him on the "Once More With Feeling" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I kid you not.

Anyway, check Chris out on iTunes. While you're at it, check out Peter as well. Yes, I bought an album from each of them. Jill's not up there yet, but I'll post again when she is.

So ... a fun night. Great music from all three singer-songwriters in a nice bar on a fairly quiet night. The only unfortunate note for the evening was that there was so little audience to see the show. I'm sure it was the Wednesday factor coupled with the fact that this was the first songwriters evening. As I mentioned at the beginning, Chris occupied the headliner's spot, which means he got the thinnest audience of all as people had started to leave (he went on near 11:30pm ... a bit deadly on a Wednesday night.) So does this again prove that nice guys finish last?

I do hope they give it another shot so more people can see it. I had a great time ... I just wish I were more of a drinker ... the half-cut guy who preferred to face the audience and dance suggestively all evening sure seemed to be having fun :-)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

F200EXR versus F31fd -- battle of the giants MKII

My last blog entry analyzed the noise characteristics of the F200EXR and the F31fd in response to some pretty rampant speculation that the F200EXR was either less noisy or had "better" noise, whatever that might mean.

Since then, DPReview finally published their review of the F200EXR and directly compared the two cameras at 800 ISO. The reviewer concluded that the F200EXR was not in fact better than the F31fd in this area, but was definitely still the class leader:

The F31fd was, for a long time, probably the best performing compact camera we'd encountered for shooting at ISO 800. Fujifilm promised the F200 EXR would improve on that performance, but doesn't appear to have quite delivered the goods. The F31fd is clearly producing a cleaner image and one that does a slightly better job of retaining fine detail. There's not a lot in it, though, so we'll now look at how the F200 EXR stacks up against a modern camera.

Of course, this is serious pixel peeping, but so be it.

Interestingly, this comment only served to harden the resolve of certain fans of the camera. They continue to push the mantra that the F200EXR has less chroma noise and retains details better. And they continue to push the rather elusive "better" noise theory, especially chroma noise. But the word "smoother" is making an appearance now and again.

So I thought I'd analyze the images from DPReview. After all, the last set of images I analyzed perfectly agreed with the reviewer at DPReview. The F200EXR has not improved on the F31fd, and in fact does not even quite tie it at higher ISO. So let's see what 800 ISO in good light produces ...

Here are the two images from DPReview ... note that I did not process the noise at all, but I did try to equalize tone and color ....



And here are crops from the two of them ... F31fd on top ...

Although there is a bit of chroma noise on the dark parts, it's not rampant and is pretty hard to see at web and small print sizes. I can't see it, but others with better eyes might be able to.

Note, though, that if your monitor has not been hardware calibrated, you may have a wacky white point and be seeing far more than is visible in a print or on a properly calibrated monitor. I.e. more than what is really there ... this has come up a lot recently on the Fuji Talk Forum, and there isn't much we can do about the fact that some people are quite opinionated about noise and tone yet clearly have crappy monitors ...

Now I'll run Topaz Denoise on the two images (same settings) and see what it produces. Topaz Denoise is a very modern noise reducer that tends to produce magnificent results but takes at least 10 times as long to do it as Neat Image. I use Neat Image for most images, but when I want a really great result, I use Denoise. One thing it is really good at is restoring edge integrity.

The crops after Denoise ...

And after equalizing the sharpening of the F200EXR half (in the bottom) ...

So ... what do I see? The color blotches are gone in the F21fd (top) half ... and the edge integrity is excellent. The F200EXR has some trouble maintaining edge integrity because of the high (and strange) luminance noise it generates. After sharpening, the problem is actually worse, indicating that one will have to be careful with the F200EXR images in post processing.

And finally ... after NR ...



There is noth much between these two ... I think either one does a fine job. Those who would put the F200EXR on a pedestal for its noise characteristics should try printing both large to see what they get from them. I haven't done that, but I would bet that the F31fd is easily as good, and probably better where edge detail is concerned.