Bye bye, Facebook

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Aug 182012
 

I finally deleted my Facebook account yesterday after weeks of struggling with the decision. At the end of the day I just don’t trust Mark Zuckerberg to make the right decisions about my privacy. I’ll miss being voyeur to my friends’ lives, but I’m already sleeping better knowing I’m off the site. If you’re a friend who wants to contact me, you can do it through the Contact page on this site, or send an email to jj at zzmail dot me.

StarDot NetCam XL

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Jul 272012
 

Just got my new webcam, the StarDot NetCam XL. What an impressive device. Got it up and running and hooked up to this website in about one hour. The device updates the image every 30 seconds and ftp’s it to my web server. The NetCam’s not cheap but the engineering and thought that went into the product are first rate. Highly recommended.

Click here to see the latest image from my webcam.

Click here to learn more about the NetCam XL.

My Current Airplane

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Jan 132012
 

Here is my mistress, Mooney N3833T, a 2008 Mooney Acclaim Type S featuring the BMW Design Works special edition paint scheme. By far the fastest and most beautiful airplane I have ever owned. It sports 310 turbocharged horsepower and cruises comfortably at 220 knots (253 mph). I absolutely love flying this beast.

Mooney N3833T

Mooney N3833T

Mooney N3833T

Mooney N3833T Cockpit

Mooney N3833T Cockpit

Mooney N3833T Panel

Jul 312011
 

I purchased my first airplane in July, 1999, in Napa, California. It was a 1980 Piper Archer II, N2535U, with only 900 hours on it. Since Archers are often used as trainers and entry-level aircraft, it was extremely unusual to find one nearly 20 years old with such low time. The plane had only one previous owner and was always hangared, so it passed the pre-purchase inspection with flying colors.

I didn’t take nearly as many pictures of this plane as I should have. Pity. The seats were upholstered in a disco burnt-orange crushed velour, and the panel was truly retro, having never been upgraded by the original owner. Nevertheless, the aircraft was in tiptop shape and I really enjoyed it during the short time I owned it.

In May, 2000 I traded the Archer for a 1998 Mooney Encore. The pictures below are from my final flights in the Archer: the legs from Sheridan, WY to Willmar, MN, and then from Willmar to Flying Cloud airport near Minneapolis, where the Mooney was waiting.

N2535U in Sheridan, WY. May, 2000.

N2535U at Flying Cloud Airport. May 2000.

N2535U Sails off into the Sunset. May, 2000.

N2535U 1980 Piper Archer II Interior

N2535U 1980 Piper Archer II Interior

N2535U 1980 Piper Archer II Panel

N2535U 1980 Piper Archer II Panel

Apr 042011
 

I cracked out my Nikon Coolscan 4000 ED over the weekend to digitize some of my old 35mm negatives from back in the day. This weekend’s project: A trip to Oahu, Hawaii my sisters and I took back in April of 1980. During that trip I shot over 300 frames using Kodacolor II ISO 100 and 400. At that time, one month shy of my 16th birthday, my addiction to photography was clearly in full swing.

Easter, 1980

Easter at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, 1980

My goal was to see how quickly I could batch scan 300+ negatives at a decent resolution for archival digital storage, while restoring the color to something recognizable given that the negatives probably faded a bit over the past 31 years.

Pineapple Plantation, Oahu

Pineapple Plantation, Oahu

My software tool of choice was VueScan by Hamrick Software, running in 64-bit mode on Mac OS X Snow Leopard. VueScan is quite simply the best software for driving my Nikon film scanner, especially since Nikon’s software, Nikon Scan, was never very good to begin with and Nikon stopped making film scanners and software about 2 years or so ago. One great feature about VueScan is that it has embedded color profiles for dozens of color negative and slide films. All you need to do is reference the film type etched on your negatives against VueScan’s film type database, select the corresponding profile, and 8 times out of 10 you’ll get acceptable results right out of the box.

Waimea Falls Dive, April 1980

Waimea Falls Dive, April 1980

Since my negatives are so old, I also enabled VueScan’s features for restoring colors and fading. This jacked up the contrast and saturation of my scans, but made them much more usable without the need for further post-processing in Photoshop. This aspect of the workflow is important because I have 6,000 more negatives in my library that I’d like to scan someday, so ideally I want a fast, single-pass solution for cranking out so many scans.

The next question: How big should each scan be in terms of pixel resolution? VueScan has different pre-defined scan resolution settings for different needs. At the top of the heap is the “Archive” setting, which cranks out 5,600 x 3,600 pixel scans with the Coolscan – big enough to print billboards with disk space requirements to match. I chose the “Edit” setting, which is one notch below the “Archive” setting at 2,800 x 1,800 pixels, but still big enough to make 8×10″ prints, which for these old shots is good enough for me. I saved the files as uncompressed, 24-bit RGB TIF files. These files came to about 15.5Mb apiece. I could have saved as JPEG files at roughly 5.5Mb apiece, but I found through trial and error that with these old negatives the JPEG compression really jacked up the colors.

Old Man at Waikiki Beach, April 1980

Old Man at Waikiki Beach, April 1980

Once I got everything figured out I started scanning. Every image in this post is a straight scan, no post-processing. Not too bad for such old negatives.

My sisters and I in Oahu, April, 1980

My sisters and I in Oahu, April, 1980

(The reason I’m standing so funny is because I was recovering from a dislocated right hip I received in a car accident almost a year earlier.)

Using my Coolscan unit with the SA-21 strip film feeder plus the VueScan settings outlined above, I scanned 301 negatives in about 15 hours, spread over 5 scanning sessions in 3 days. That works out to about 20 scans per hour… not too bad. This means my remaining 6,000 negatives will require about 300 more hours of scanning, if I decide to do it myself. Is it worth it, or should I delegate to ScanCafe?

Mar 082011
 

I was checking out local photography courses here in Denver the other night and I came across a curiously named one-day seminar called the “NIK Workshop.” I had no idea what NIK was so I clicked the link.

It quickly became apparent that NIK was some sort of software used for retouching digital photos. When I looked at the before and after samples on the page I was completely blown away. I’ve been engaged in digital photography and workflow for over 10 years and I had never heard of NIK, yet here was a product that was performing miracles in color, lighting effects, sharpening, converting to black and white, and all the other stuff that I’ve struggled with in Photoshop for all these years.

Completely intrigued, I went to the NIK Software website and downloaded a trial copy of Viveza 2, an extremely versatile tool that makes it easy to adjust lighting, exposure, contrast, detail (they call it “structure”) and much more in all or part of your image. What’s more, Viveza seamlessly folds your adjustments across the image so that even if you make a local change in one corner, the rest of the image still looks right.

Within 30 minutes I had my own pair of before and after photos, a recent sunset shot I took in Bora Bora. Last week I spent over an hour futzing with levels, curves, saturation, etc. in Photoshop CS5 on this very same image, but was never quite happy with the result. After only 10 minutes in Viveza 2, I created the masterpiece I was looking for. Check it out:

Sunset - Before

Sunset - Before

Sunset - After

Sunset - After

Pretty stunning! And all this with no selections, layers, layer masks, or any of that other nonsense that makes Photoshop powerful… but a pain.

Here’s a portraiture example. The first image is OK but not really very flattering or interesting. The background is blown out and the subject is slightly underexposed… looks like a typical, mediocre, amateur backlit portrait:

Portrait - Before

Portrait - Before

Here’s the same image after 5 minutes with Viveza 2. Now we’re talking! The background no longer looks washed out… I was able to recover a decent amount of detail and color in the water. At the same time, I brightened the model’s skin tones to make her almost glow against the background. It almost looks like I was using fill flash and umbrellas. Much better!

Portrait - After

Portrait - After

I can’t believe that in all these years I’ve never heard of NIK software or their products. I purchased the full suite and it has completely revolutionized my workflow and re-energized my creativity when retouching photos. I find it especially useful for salvaging poorly-lit or uninteresting portraits, but it’s great for landscapes and other subjects as well. It works like magic, the way I always wanted Photoshop to work. Highly recommended.

Mar 062011
 

Been experimenting with time-lapse photography lately. I use my DSLR along with the Giga T Pro intervalometer to do the trick. Here’s one of my first efforts, 12 hours looking out my guest bedroom window, compressed to 20 seconds. Took one shot every 15 seconds, 2880 total, yielding a nice, smooth result: