2018 Appalachian Renaissance Faire

Thursday September 13, 2018 at 12:47pm appalachian renaissance faire, photography Comments (0) »
 Lords of Chivalry in full armor, preparing for the joust.
Lords of Chivalry in full armor, preparing for the joust.

We enjoyed the Appalachain Ren Faire again this year.  Always like seeing the Lords of Chivalry.  Had some interesting conversations and saw some cool performances.  And shooting at events like this is always a good time - here's what I got.

We're toying with the idea of making costumes for next year, because we've always thought that would be fun.


There Is Something Fundamental I Misunderstand About Photo Editors

Tuesday May 16, 2017 at 8:19am photography, post-processing, problems Comments (0) »
 Another screenshot; another What You See Is Not What You Get; another serious frustration.
Another screenshot; another What You See Is Not What You Get; another serious frustration.

Or "Why Do All Photo Editors Suck?"

Similar to a previous post, the above is a screenshot showing a RAW preview and an exported JPG of inferior quality - only this time, it's in Adobe Lightroom.

Isn't the point of a photo editor to tweak photos to the point that they're "perfect"?  If what I'm seeing in the editor is not what I'm going to actually get, the thing is utterly useless.

So, apologies to Canon, I guess - it's not DPP necessarily, it's probably everything.

Question: Why is it so impossible to simply get a JPG that looks identical to a RAW preview.

If it's not impossible, what hoops do I have to jump through (and, just as importantly, why)?


A Brief Interlude

Thursday February 9, 2017 at 5:56pm sick, photography Comments (0) »
A Brief Interlude Image

Well, was gonna play some Battletech tonight, but instead, I decided to get sick.  Really enjoying the game I'm playing with Tim - pretty bummed not to get to continue it tonight.

Our Numenera campaign is going well also - might work on that some tonight since no 'mech 'splosions.  I've got a couple of new Numenera books (Into the Night and Into the Deep) on the way.  They were supposed to be delivered today, but got shipped to Colorado Springs by mistake.  Insult to injury.  Sick, no Battletech, no new gaming books.  Hopefully I can sleep tonight and feel better tomorrow.

In unrelated news, here's a picture I took of Hannah a week or so ago. 


Micah Photography

Tuesday March 8, 2016 at 10:21pm photography, family Comments (0) »
 Micah Sleeping - exported via screenshot
Micah Sleeping - exported via screenshot

Still having some issues with Canon's Digital Photo Professional, as I've mentioned before.

But Micah is super cute.  Just over 4 months now.


Canon's Digital Photo Professional and My Image Quality Issue

Thursday October 15, 2015 at 1:14pm photography, canon, problems Comments (0) »
 CLICK TO ENLARGE: A screenshot composite of three images in Digital Photo Professional, submitted to illustrate a problem I perceieve in the program's JPEG export process.  The differences are subtle (depending on the dot pitch of your monitor), but are visible at the top of her hair, her eyes, mouth, and a few other details.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: A screenshot composite of three images in Digital Photo Professional, submitted to illustrate a problem I perceieve in the program's JPEG export process. The differences are subtle (depending on the dot pitch of your monitor), but are visible at the top of her hair, her eyes, mouth, and a few other details.

Ready The Canons

So, let me first say that I like Canon.  Quite a bit.  Especially their cameras and lenses.  I've had my EOS 40D for almost 8 years now, and I still love it.  Sure, it's a bit dated at this point, but it produces great images (at least when you don't need high ISO).  I've also greatly enjoyed using the office's 5DmkIII (it is so beautiful it makes me cry...because it's so expensive) and the 7DmkII I rented last summer was a lot of fun as well (even if it didn't quite live up to my hopes).  My 50mm 1.4 continues to impress me, and my 300mm f/4L is a thing of long-reach beauty.

Unfortunately, I have a bit of a time using the images I so enjoy making.

I first noticed this problem...maybe a year ago?  And honestly, with everything else going on, I haven't devoted large amounts of time to the post-processing aspect of my photography hobby over the last couple of years.  Not that I've ever done that much, mind you - I prefer a simple set of tweaks and enhancements, and then, done.  I'm usually loathe even to crop images - I try to get them composed right on camera.

Digital Photo Professional is a nice program.  It's simple, it's clean, and it has all of the features I would use to enhance my photos to the point that I think they're beautiful.

At least, that's what it shows me.

Comparing What-You-See To What-You-Get

The image above shows a composite screenshot, unresized but with distracting elements such as window borders stripped out.  The image on the far left shows what the RAW file looks like in the editing window of DPP with the settings I wish applied.  It looks perfect.  The center image shows a full-resolution JPEG (dynamically scaled in DPP to exactly the same viewing size as the RAW) that was exported by DPP with those settings applied.  As you can see, it is noticeably mushier.  The third frame, for good measure, shows a JPEG that has been actually resized to exactly the resolution of the scaled viewing size of the previous two frames with the same settings applied.  It is virtually indistinguishable from the second frame.

Here's the thing: I am a stickler for sharpness and clarity, and, especially for screen-view 72-dpi images, I like them over-sharp.  With lines that really pop.  When I open a RAW photo like the one above in DPP and I adjust exposure, contrast, saturation, and (most notably) sharpness, it looks fantastic in the preview window.  And I think "Wow, this image is great.  I could totally do this professionally*."  

However, when I use DPP to resize this image to about what it is on the preview screen, and I export it as a JPEG so that I can actually use it on this site, on facebook, or wherever else, the image it produces looks significantly less crisp - even with export quality set to max.  Details become mushy, and it loses the crystal clarity I was seeing just moments before in DPP.  And I think "Wow, this image really isn't much better than the smartphone pics my friends with a shred of composition sense take.  I kinda suck*."  Now, I can take a JPEG screenshot of the crisp image, I just can't get DPP to make one.  If my monitor was larger, I just might start doing that to get the images I want.  Heck, I might end up doing that anyway, and the fact that I'm considering that as a workflow strikes me as, well, completely ridiculous.

* The accuracy of these thoughts is not the issue here

Anyway, all of this makes no sense to me, and I would really like to know why it is the case.  

I am amazed at how difficult it is to communicate this.

The Ongoing Saga

At first, when I began positing this question I was hoping that I was simply doing something wrong.  Maybe I forgot to turn off the "suck" setting, or there was some step in the process I was performing incorrectly.  Now, however, I'm beginning to think the program is simply flawed and cannot do what I require of a photo editor.

I first posted this issue to the Canon Community Forum thinking "surely I can't be the only one who's noticed this" (I still think that, but evidence is lacking).  Maybe someone will tell me how to fix it, or maybe they'll just tell me to buy Lightroom.  Either way, maybe I'll learn something about what's going on.  This seems so basic...

No dice.  I got a handful of responses, none of which quite answered my question.  My last post made for "ridiculous clarity" went unanswered.

So, a few months go by and I volunteered to take some photos at our church on wednesdays for an ongoing program.  Even though the images are primarily used on a projector screen and the coordinator assured me that "whatever" would be completely fine, I like to present my best work, because it says something about me and my skills.  So naturally, this issue comes up again.  This time I contacted Canon's support via email.  Sure, I could have called them, but my foray into the support forum taught me that, simple as it seems, this issue requires some explaining.  It also requires that a person see the image quality disparity - something a telephone is ill-suited to accomplish.

So I go back and forth with Canon's email support for several messages, talking with at least 4 different people.  I explain and re-explain things - no problem, I understand how support systems work, and I don't mind bringing someone up to speed.  I am given a few suggestions that don't really solve the problem, and a couple more that deal only with tangent issues that really aren't relevant to what I'm asking. 

In the last message I sent, I outlined everything - again, for "ridiculous clarity" - just to make sure I'm being understood and the reader doesn't get side-tracked.  The response I got today told me only that, since I'm having "extended issues", "we" recommend calling the customer support line.  Yeah, reading a URL over the phone is going to be...fun.  I wonder if the poor guy just saw my wall of text and decided he'd rather pass it off than answer, but that assessment is probably overly cynical and unfair.

When I call, I might just point them to this post - that might actually be easier.  Though, I'd have to wait for them to read it.  Which I guess means the more I type here, the longer I have to wait.  If you're from Canon Support and you're reading this, I'm sorry.  I know it's not your fault.  I'd just really, really like my images to look as good as the program tells me they should, and it doesn't seem anyone else can point me in the right direction.  Help me, Obiwan Kenobe, you're my only hope, etc.


Here are the things I have been told in various correspondences.  None of them really answer the question of why a JPEG screenshot of the editor window looks better than an exported screen-resolution JPEG.

Now, my knowledge is not at all perfect on anything, and digital photography is certainly no exception.  I may be misunderstanding some aspects of how things work.  However, I am a programmer, I have studied digital photography for 8 years, and I haven't yet been told that my understanding on any of this is incorrect (and, in fact, I have tried to gently correct a couple of respondents on some things), so I feel like I'm on pretty solid ground.  

I also accept that these explanations were offered in good faith and intended to be helpful - and, though they didn't directly answer my concerns, I was most appreciative of them.  The first time I got them, anyway.  After the 3rd or 4th incarnation of the same or similar suggestion, however, I started to tire of going in circles, so I passed all of these on in the last message I sent to Canon Support in an attempt to explain what has been considered so far and how these didn't really address my problem.

So, here we go:

Non-Explanation #1: "JPEG is a lossy format, so the exported JPEG is going to look worse than the RAW preview"

Why I don't buy it: A JPEG screenshot is capable of showing the image as I want it.  JPEG as a format is not fundamentally incapable of the IQ I'm looking for.  I'm using max quality for the export.  The point of photo editor is to show you what the final version will look like.  A JPEG can look this good, and a good photo editor with the RAW file to work from should be able to produce it.  As another tangent, I have also been told I should export as a lossless TIFF and that that would look better, and it does not: TIFFs exported look virtually identical to the JPEGs to my eyes.  Even if it WAS significantly better, I don't have much use for TIFF files.  And again, a JPEG can look this good, and it should.  I've also been told, when showing RAW preview and exported images side-by-side, that a full-res JPEG being dynamically scaled down to fit the screen won't look as good as the RAW being dynamically scaled because of the format.  This I could totally believe, except that, as seen above, I see basically no difference between an exported JPEG being dynamically scaled, and a JPEG exported at the window-size resolution being viewed at 100%;

Non-Explanation #2: "The low-res JPEG is lower resolution, so it has less information, so of course the RAW file which has more information from which to sample is going to look better"

Why I don't buy it: The images in both cases are being viewed at screen-resolution - 72dpi, and exactly the same number of pixels.  Resolution alone does not account for the discrepancy.  DPP has *exactly* the same information available to it when it creates the JPEG as it does when it creates the on-screen preview, ergo, both should look the same at a given resolution.

Non-Explanation #3: "You're not viewing the files at 100%.  When you export the JPEG at 100%, it looks the same as the RAW at 100%"

Why I don't buy it: This might actually be true - I'm not terribly good at comparing 100% images.  The on-screen dot pitch is too large for me to notice the kinds of details I'm examining.  That said, this is still completely beside the point: While it would be good news for the rare occasions when I print a photo, in general, I don't want a 100% image that's thousands of px on a side, I want a screen-resolution image.  DPP can show me a screen-res image in the preview that looks perfect.  I can take a JPEG screenshot of it.  Why can't it export a JPEG that looks like this?  The case that 100% JPEGs are perfect would be completely irrelevant to my observation that scaled JPEGs are not because it is possible to have a low-res image that looks perfect.  That, and if I export the image at full size and then use Photoshop or some other program to scale it down, it doesn't look any better than when DPP scaled it, so I'm not sure the claim is true to begin with.  

Non-Explanation #4: "When you edit a file, it changes the file.  (Lots of successive) edits result in a loss of image quality"

Why I don't buy it: This seems irrelevant to my case, but ok.  My modus operandi is to open images in DPP, apply a standard set of edits, export, done.  I don't do a lot of post work, that's not what I love about photography.  I generally only edit photos once - MAYBE twice if I notice something later.  I have not edited the files enough to cause image degradation - in fact, I know for a fact the image of the boy in the chair [referenced in a previous message] was edited exactly once.  Though I know it to be true of repeated edits to JPEGs (which is something I never do anyway), I'm not actually sure the statement is accurate with respect to RAW files in the first place.  DPP seems to save the *settings* you're applying to the RAW file separate from the RAW file itself, though perhaps I am mistaken.  Also, the *kind* of quality difference I'm seeing isn't consistent with what I have seen in JPEG/image degradation, though my experience there is less than vast, and I would be hard-pressed to articulate the difference.

Non-Explanation #5: "There must be something wrong with your computer/software or your camera."

Why I don't buy it: I thought this for a while, too.  I guess it sill could be the case.  However, evidence points to the contrary.  I have observed this problem in two different versions of DPP (3.11.x, 3.13.x) on my macbook using files from my 40D as well as the office's 5DmkIII, a different version of DPP (3.14.x) on a different PC using files from both of those cameras, and DPP 4.x on still another PC using files from a 7DmkII.  I believe the problem is in the program(s) - and apparently a core aspect of it that does not change from version to version - and not in any hardware or software I'm using.

My Suspicions

I have spent some time speculating about the actual cause of this issue, since it doesn't seem there is an easy solution.  I'm wondering if that fact is why I've been given a bit of a run-around.  I passed these on to Canon Support as well.  Well, except the first one.

Possible Explanation #1: I'm insane.

Ok, this really isn't an explanation, but I'm starting to feel this way.  Except when I look at my images, then I remember that there is a problem and the puzzling fact that no one else seems to acknowledge it starts to seem less significant.

Possible Explanation #2: DPP fails to apply certain settings.

If, when viewing the RAW image, I remove the applied sharpness (and possibly contrast) tweaks, the image looks basically identical to the JPEG resulting from an export made with those settings theoretically applied.  I have also exported images with no sharpness tweaks and found that they look virtually identical to the ones that supposedly had those settings applied.  I have not done an intense side-by-side comparison on this, however, and comparing two "meh" photos is more difficult than comparing one "meh" and one "good".

Possible Explanation #3: DPP applies certain settings before scaling, and, due to how DPP scales the images, their impact is being dramatically lessened because of this - whereas, in the editing window, perhaps it is dynamically applying those settings to an image that is already scaled to the screen and so they are more visible on the displayed image.

This is just speculation, but as I have been told the 100% full-res images RAW & JPEG look the same and I have to assume this might be true, this eventuality might explain why the resized images that I want to actually use might not look as good.

Possible Explanation #4: DPP's conversion method(s) and/or resize/scaling algorithm isn't all that great.

There is an obvious lack of quality with no obvious cause.  On its face, the program simply seems to do a poor job producing images for use.  I really hope this is not the case, but no one has offered proof to the contrary.


So, there you have it.  Pretty much the beginning and end of my problem that no one can answer.  We'll see what (if anything) happens when I find time to give them a call.  Maybe I'll find out I'm wrong about everything.  I don't really care as long as I can get my photos to pop.



Achery Picnics & Photography

Monday August 17, 2015 at 12:42pm work, picnic, photography Comments (0) »
AAM Archery Picnic My coworkers shooting at flying targets.  Or firing on infantry advancing across the Scottish moors.  One of the two.
My coworkers shooting at flying targets.  Or firing on infantry advancing across the Scottish moors.  One of the two.

AAM's company picnic was this last saturday afternoon, and that was a lot of fun.  I like my coworkers, so hanging out with them is always a good time, but this year Tim also presented us with a pretty awesome activity: archery.  There's apparently a mobile service in the area that comes out with basic equipment and sets up for anyone and everyone to shoot.  We did archery skeet shooting and a ball-target competition.  I personally found it was very easy for me to come very, very close - but I hit basically nothing all day.  Still, I haven't shot a bow in more than 20 years.  It was a lot of fun, regardless.  Enough that I've even wondered if there's anywhere in my yard I could set up a target.

I also enjoyed taking quite a few photos of everyone shooting.  I'd brought my camera along, but didn't know if I'd use it.  I don't own a lens wide enough to capture any kind of "group" event, and in the past there hasn't been much of interest to look at going on.  The archery thing, however, provided a cool and interesting new subject, so when I wasn't shooting with a bow, I was shooting with my camera.  Sheri commented that I was less likely to "miss" with the latter.


Canon 40D vs 5DIII vs 7DII (ISO)

Wednesday July 1, 2015 at 1:24pm trogland, photography, camera gear Comments (0) »
Mid City Grill Taken with EOS 7DII + Sigma 8-16mm ISO 6400
Taken with EOS 7DII + Sigma 8-16mm ISO 6400

So last weekend we had our annual Trogland meetup.  As I do every year, I spent most of the meetup taking pictures.  As I did last year, I rented some gear from lensrentals.com (another great experience, btw) to test drive.  This year, I got to play with a 7DII along with the Sigma 8-16mm APS-C ultrawide I rented for my 40D last year - two pieces of gear I have been considering purchasing.

I've had my 40D now for about 7.5 years, and I love this camera.  It's a bit old at this point, and doesn't have the stats of newer models, but I love the way it works and, aside from some processing issues I've been having, I love what it produces.  I've also spent quite a bit of time shooting with the 5DIII, particularly at our company's annual members' meeting (where I play photographer), and I've now spent a solid weekend+ shooting with the 7DII.

The 7DII is a solid camera, and I had a great time shooting with it.  It's shutter is one of the quietest I've ever heard - which is great if you're shooting over someone's shoulder.  It outperforms my 40D in every way, but it still works the way I'm used to.  I also like that it has a lens focus microadjustment as I've been having some backfocusing issues with my 50mm 1.4 close at wide apertures.  It is a worthy upgrade and I may be looking to pick one up, but I'm not completely sure.

I think the main reason I'm still on the fence is the camera's high ISO performance.  I was hoping for parity with the 5DIII.  I don't have a side-by-side comparison, but it feels like the 7DII doesn't handle, say, 12,800 quite as well as its big brother.  It's definitely a lot better than what I have and it's quite possible my expectations were a little too high.  It's even possible that the 7DII does every bit as well and it's only my perceptions that are skewed.  As the 5DIII ages its price continues to come down, so at this point I'm considering jumping to that instead - though that would mean a change in the lenses I'm looking at.

As I mentioned last year, the Sigma 8-16mm is a pretty solid lens for a consumer-grade, crop-frame ultra-wide.  Images are nice and sharp, particularly at the wide end of its zoom range (where I generally want it anyway).  People do look a bit skewed at that focal length - an effect that is sometimes interesting and cool, and is somtimes a bit too "carnival fun house mirror".  In addition to the meetup (where I mostly shot people with it, for better or worse), I also went on hike out to Laurel falls and took just a couple of nature shots with this lens and the 7DII.  Those look beautiful.  If I do end up going with the crop-frame, I think this is the lens I'll end up with - unless canon makes a not-ridiculously-priced 10mm f2.8 before I get around to it...


Hooray! Pronouns!

Monday June 22, 2015 at 1:34pm little two, photography Comments (0) »
it's a boy Hooray!  Eight points!
Hooray!  Eight points!

Sheri saw this idea somewhere (on Pinterest maybe), and thought it made a cute announcement.  Bunguin the second is 21 weeks, and Hannah will have a little brother come the end of October.


At Face Value

Saturday April 25, 2015 at 8:34pm photography, geocaching Comments (0) »
Hannah on the Tweetsie Trail bridge Hannah on the Tweetsie Trail bridge; desaturated and cropped for aspect
Hannah on the Tweetsie Trail bridge; desaturated and cropped for aspect

Tweet, Tweet

Had a great time out on the Tweetsie Trail today with Hannah, doing a little caching and taking some photos.  At 3 years, she's not exactly a "stable" or "coorperative" subject, but I did manage to get some good ones.

Not All Smiles

I'm not sure why, but some of my favorite photos of her are ones where she has a neutral to serious expression.  Don't get me wrong, her smile is adorable and so rarely captured in a truly good photo that I love it when I get it (see entry below), but these are something else.  Something different.  Something real.  I just find them interesting, especially a bit desaturated and with a lot of contrast.  Maybe it's because that's not usually how you see children depicted.


A New Season

Thursday April 23, 2015 at 5:14pm family, little two, photography, geocaching, gaming, trogland Comments (0) »
Hannah on her swing set Swing, swing!
Swing, swing!

No blog entries for a while basically means I haven't had much to write about that would be interesting to anyone (not that much of what's here is, so I don't know why that would stop me).

But stuff goes on.

And hey, it's spring.  I was more than ready for some warm weather.

Bunguin The Second

The most "significant" development is the news of the eventual arrival of Little Two - Sheri is pregnant!  Hannah will be a big sister!  Coming this Halloween!

Photo Season

Now that the weather is warming up, I'm shooting a bit more again.  Still have my eye on some gear that I'd like to get pick up before Little Two arrives, but don't know what I'll be able to manage.

Some Premium Caching

Still been out caching.  Had some great experiences this year so far - actually went out hunting with a guy we met through the hobby last weekend.  That was a blast.  The AT is always fun.  I have upgraded to "premium" membership now (and Tim bought me another year), so there are a few we didn't know about lingering in places we'd previously cleared.  That just means we get to go back!  I've added a few more things to my gear pack: some rope (see: Pride Rock Hampton), a battery charger for my phone, and a walking stick.  I've also placed a couple more caches on the Tweetsie Trail, and Tony and I have plans for a series.

Games & Cons

Our D&D game is still going...I guess because it won't end.  Heh.  Actually, it continues to be pretty awesome.  I don't think I've ever run a game that wasn't pretty unweildy by this point, but this one remains solid.  Still want some variety though, and we may set it aside again in the relatively near future to play something else for a while.

I ran a pretty awesome FATE game at RuchtCon last month.  I think the card print-outs added a lot and helped out the players with aspects and rp.

Trogland 9 is fast approaching!  63 days!  I still have a lot to do for this.  Need to get the badges designed and ready for printing, and need to plan my game sessions..


Adventures Continue

Sunday November 9, 2014 at 4:26pm geocaching, gaming, photography Comments (2) »
Ring The Bell Cache at the top of the mountain.
Cache at the top of the mountain.

Cold Hard Cache

Went out hiking/caching for the first time in a while yesterday.  My usual cohorts weren't able to make it, but fortunately Robb joined me for what was probably the most arduous adventure so far.  Seriously.  The ascent was brutal, and some of the descent amounted to something I would call "leaf skiing".  We were 5 for 5 though, and I found an unactivated travel bug in the ammo box at the top.

So I've been doing this for just over a year now, and I've had some pretty great adventures with Tony, Tim, Robb, and my dad.  Think I'll probably keep it up.  I'll probably "upgrade" to a "premium" membership sometime soon.  Tony has already.  The premium membership gives you access to "premium members only" caches.  This originally struck me as unnecessarily elitist, but I've since heard at least one compelling argument for this practice: anti-theft.  Especially when the containers are nice, if the cache is easily accessible to anyone on the internet for free, it seems that they have a tendency to go missing with greater frequency. 

The 200 Mile Tabletop

My D&D game continues to go well.  In fact, those have been the only entries here on the site for a while.  Not all of the sessions have been awesome, but in general, the momentum continues, and I'm still enjoying it - which is good, because there's a lot of it left.  I've been kicking around several other campaign ideas (like I always do), but none of them have manifested the "new shiny" effect where I want to drop the current game to pursue one of them.

Steve has now joined us for a few sessions via Skype.  I've decided that that works "ok".  One of the minor problems is that the built-in laptop speakers don't have enough power to amplify Steve enough to compete with the table (read: Me and Tim) and I don't have a good speaker to use yet.  I'm wanting to get a decent bluetooth speaker anyway; just haven't gotten around to it yet.  

The bigger hurdle for me is more inherent to remote play, though.  During the course of a game I'm observing the table and trying to make minor adjustments to how I present aspects of the game based on what I see.  It's a bit difficult to read body language through a computer screen, particularly when, due to camera placement, you don't even get eye-contact.  I guess this is to say "hopefully its working out well", since I can't necessarily tell.

On Camera

So Canon's long-awaited 7D mk II has begun shipping, and I continue to read good things about it.  This will probably be my camera upgrade of choice.  Don't know when I'll be able to do that, though.  I've still got a wide angle lens and some stuff for off-camera flash on my wishlist, too.


Cameras, Caches, Celts and Coercion

Tuesday September 16, 2014 at 12:47pm photography, geocaching, celtic festival, gaming Comments (0) »
Hannah and the Potter Hannah had a great time
Hannah had a great time "helping" this potter at Sycamore Shoals' Celtic Festival

Mark (II) This One

Ok, actually this isn't about the T4 caching adventure Tony, Tim and I had on Buffalo Mountain a while back.  This is about camera gear.

Canon (finally) announced the 7D Mark II yesterday.  It doesn't exactly blow me away, but it has basically everything I want in a body upgrade to my 40D.  I would have taken a little more resolution and ISO, but this camera seems quite adequate, and what I'm reading about it is largely positive.  At $1800, it's not exactly "cheap" (at $1300, I would have called this a no-brainer), but it's not ridiculously priced, and you tend to get what you pay for.  Several reviewers are calling this a "mini 1DX" in terms of build quality and performance.

This camera is everything my 40D is, improved.  My biggest beef with my camera's direct descendent, the well-liked 70D, as well as the full-frame 6D, is that both lack certain controls that my 40D has, and both use SD instead of CF cards.  Since these don't directly play into image quality, those complaints may seem petty or even irrelevant, but I have this thing about an "upgrade" not being a step backward in any way.  The last thing I want is to invest in a new body and find myself thinking "you know, this camera is great, but I really miss X or Y about my old one...".  The 7Dii looks good; unless some design flaw comes to light after it hits shelves, it will most likely be my choice for a camera upgrade.

A Tweet Cache

Ok, this has nothing to do with Twitter - although actually, I wonder how many people have "tweeted" from the new trail. 

Back on labor day, the Tweetsie Trail finally opened - and it's pretty cool (the parts of it I've seen, anyway).  One of my favorite parts is the Milligan Depot, a rest stop near where a rail flag stop used to be.

Ever since Tony and I heard about this, we decided this was the place.  We're both Milligan alum and we've been looking for a good place to hide our first geocache, so we found a good place near the depot to make the hide.  We wanted to include a "Flat Brutus" in the cache for people to take pictures with, but unfortunately, our container isn't big enough for it (though I do have this idea of making a tiny one to put in).  The container itself is handmade, and I'm a little proud of it.  As of now, there have only been two finds, but both said it was awesome.

Sycamore Celtic

We went out to Sycamore Shoals' Celtic Festival a while back.  It was cool, although the Lords of Chivalry didn't actually joust this year.  Apparently the festival wasn't paying them, so they were there on their own, doing some promotion, training and selling horse rides, etc.  Since they weren't being paid, they didn't feel comfortable taking the chance of someone getting hurt (their operation is a bit more authentic and a bit less for-show than some).  We go most years - and it's something different and fun - but my general take is that it's an "ok" festival that could be better.

There's Games and Then There's Games

Gaming lately has been some good stuff.  We've had a few firsts lately.  I don't think I've had a "big bad" coerce a PC into healing it before, and I'm endlessly amused that our critical hit variant has actually caused a lot of trouble for one PC in particular simply because his shot was a little too good.  Also, we're planning to introduce a 5th player, our old friend Steve, via Skype.  I'll be interested to see how this works.

Rucht's group has just started a Numenera game.  The setting for this game is pretty fascinating, and the mechanics are quite interesting.  I think this is one I'll pick up at some point.  I've also heard good things about the recently-released 5th edition D&D...but I'm still enjoying 3.5.  I might eventually buy Pathfinder or 5e, but, in general, I'd rather buy a different game than a new version of something I already enjoy.

Fair's Fair

As I did last year, I entered a few photos in the Appalachian Fair this year.  Didn't get any first place ribbons this time around, but did get a second and a third (which, according to the prize amounts, is equivalent?).  Also as with last year, I didn't exactly agree with the judges on their choices, but that's expected.  I don't think I'd have given me first on any either, however - though I might have disputed some of the 2nd/3rd choices, on my behalf as well as on others'. 

The two shots that I did get ribbons on were both taken on our Vacatiaverssary trip to Myrtle Beach in July.  In fact, the 2nd place ribbon went to this shot, which I posted here already.


iPhone Pano

Monday August 4, 2014 at 1:28pm photography, iphone Comments (0) »
Highway bridges over Boone Lake iPhone 4s pano of a pair of highway bridges over Boone Lake.  Happens to be very near a geocache.
iPhone 4s pano of a pair of highway bridges over Boone Lake.  Happens to be very near a geocache.

So I have to say, I've generally been impressed with the iphone's (4s) "pano" function, wherein you can pan the device's camera and it will create an image from the entire scene.  It does a pretty impressive job of stitching photos together in real time to create one seamless image.  About the only "quality" issue is the tearing you can get from motion - either because the subject is moving or because you're panning a little too fast.  This is pretty easy to control in the latter case.  For the former, however, the process has issues if there are any significant movements in the scene (I've actually taken a single pano in which my daughter appeared twice).  Still, for landscapes and otherwise basically still scenes, it's a lot of fun.

One of the more interesting qualities of the pano photographs is how distortion manifests.  Due to the lens perspective as it moves, there is significant horizontal distortion as the processor stitches everything together, but there is virtually no vertical distortion.  The end result gives you fisheye-like curvature on horizontal aspects across the pan, but, unlike a fisheye lens, vertical lines remain straight.

Used correctly, the pano actually does a good enough job that it can be difficult to tell that what you're looking at is a distorted perspective and not simply an area from a much narrower angle of view if you're not personally familiar with the space pictured.


A Summer Break

Tuesday July 29, 2014 at 1:48pm vacation, photography, geocaching, gaming Comments (0) »
Brookgreen Gardens Night Heron Night Heron at Brookgreen Gardens aviary
Night Heron at Brookgreen Gardens aviary


Sheri & I just got back from a vacation to Myrtle Beach we took for our 10th anniversary.  This was our first trip away from Hannah, which was nice (even if we did miss the little bug).  She had a great time with Oma and Opa.  It was a great time - we got to hang out on the beach, swim in pools, visit local parks and even hang out with some friends who live out there (thanks again to De & Gryf/Ryan!). We also got to hang out a bit with my sister Jese and brother-in-law Michael in Columbia on our way back.  Basically, Michael and I talked game stuff.  They need to come visit sometime so we can play lots of games.

Also, my dad is awesome and did a laundry list of jobs around my house while I was gone, including replacing the Jeep's radiator, replacing the cover over the stairwell, putting a storm door on the front of the house, mowing the yard a few times, cleaning the garage, taking the recycling and fixing a few minor things.  He told us he was "having fun".

The Long And The Short Of It

I had debated whether to take all of my camera gear, or just my primary lens - after all, the point of the trip wasn't photography.  Ended up taking the whole bag though, and was glad I had my telephoto when we went to Brookgreen Gardens.  Got a few really nice shots of birds and insects there.

I think I've gotten better at using my 300mm telephoto.  Even with IS, you have to know how to hold it still or shots will come out blurry.  It is a nice piece of glass once mastered, though.

I haven't decided exactly what I want to do for a wide angle yet, but since neither of the ones I looked at before were exactly what I'm wanting, I think I'm currently leaning toward the cheaper Sigma lens.  It performed well, and will give me the ultra-wide I was looking for - if I plan to stay with a crop-frame camera.  Canon is supposed to annouce the 7D II in september, and I'm looking forward to seeing what it will be.

A Little Cache

I even got to do just a tiny bit of geocaching while we were on vacation, picking up a couple in Myrtle Beach State Park.  One of the two actually had two parts - one of which was hiding in plain site behind the counter at the beach gift shop.  The park personnel also seemed supportive of the hobby too, which was pretty cool.  I recently hit find #100, and Tony and I are making plans to hide one or two of our own.

Just Out Of Reach

Last gaming session of the Cyrran Reaches was a little slow.  I've once again run into an age-old problem with the way I set up games: sometimes the players just don't know what to do.  In this case, they have encountered a lot of interesting "leads", they just aren't sure how to follow up on them.  The end result is that, though they've "done" and "seen" some stuff, they really haven't "accomplished" anything in several sessions.  I guess I need to be more conscious of that.  We've decided to move the game along to a place they've been planning to go for some time.  Hopefully I can make that a little punchier while still maintaining my sandbox approach.  Next game is this saturday - I suppose we'll see.


National Camera Day

Sunday June 29, 2014 at 2:21pm photography Comments (0) »


Courtesy of: SnapKnot

So, apparently this is a thing.  I got this email through a photography mailing list I'm on saying that June 29th is "National Camera Day".  Maybe I should go take some shots?

"SnapKnot" is actually a wedding photographer site photographers can join, and couples can look them up for their services.  Not really my thing, but I'm into learning any aspect of "the craft" and I did have a good time talking to the photographer at my sister's wedding - was very impressed with his work, too.

Also, in the interest of full disclosure, they told me that if I posted the above image to my site, they'd put me in a drawing to win expensive camera stuff I can't afford as a hobbiest.  I usually ignore that kind of stuff, but the quote sounded cool, and I do like the idea of a "camera day" - so, deal.


Wide: A Tale of Two Lenses

Thursday June 19, 2014 at 10:06pm photography, photo gear Comments (0) »
A Tale of Two Lenses Sigma 8-16mm f4.5-5.6 DC HSM and Canon 14mm f2.8L II
Sigma 8-16mm f4.5-5.6 DC HSM and Canon 14mm f2.8L II

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

For some time, I've been wanting to add a nice wide or ultra-wide angle lens to my camera kit.  Usually, I look up what I want, do quite a bit of research, read reviews, examine user images, etc and then choose what seems like the best option for me.  This one, however, has been much more difficult, because what I want doesn't seem to exist.

I've mentioned this before.  What I would really like is a professional grade ultra-wide prime made for a crop-frame camera.  Something like a EF-S 10mm f2.8L.  Sorry, no dice.  Basically, what exists is a high-end canon 14mm prime (that would be "ultra-wide" on a full frame camera, but equivalent to about a 23mm on my camera body), and a plethora of "ok" ultra-wide-angle zooms (by Canon and various other manufacturers) made for crop bodies.

I'd previously been uninterested in most of the zooms.  For one, they're zooms.  I really want a prime.  For two, they all have various short-comings that bothered me: Canon's 10-22 doesn't have the best build quality, and a lot of others' offerings (Sigma, Tokina, etc) had optical issues to some greater or lesser extent.  When I discovered the Sigma 8-16, however, the reviews and user-shots seemed pretty impressive.

Compare and Contrast

I'd already planned to rent the 14mm f2.8L (if i'm going to spend the money on something that pricey, i'd better be pretty sure it's what i want), and so decided to add this Sigma lens as something to compare it to.

I realize that's a bit of an unfair - possibly "apples and oranges" - trial: one lens is a professional-grade ultrawide designed for full frame cameras, and the other is a high-end consumer grade lens designed for crop frame bodies.  Still, I feel I can fairly evaluate them on "fitness for my use".

Pros and Cons

Since the perfect lens doesn't exist, each of these has some good points and bad points:

Canon 14mm f2.8L II


- Is a prime lens (quality)

- Is L quality optics, sharpness, contrast, clarity

- Fast glass: max f2.8 aperture

- Solid construction

- Has dust/weather sealing

- Virtually no wide-angle distortions

- For full frame (if i ever choose to "upgrade")

- Quieter/Smoother focusing


- On crop body, not quite as wide: ~23mm equivalent

- Pricey

Sigma 8-16 f4.5-5.6 DC HSM


- Ultra-wide: ~13mm equivalent

- Good reported optical quality

- Solid construction

- Very affordable

- zoom flexibility


- Is a zoom lens (quality sacrifice)

- Some noticeable (but not terrible) distortion at the wide end (it's 8mm, what do you want!?)

- Slower than christmas (max f4.5 aperture, and that's only at 8mm)

- No/poorer sealing

- Vignetting or otherwise poor usability on full-frame (if i ever choose to "upgrade")

- Louder/rougher zoom/focusing

In The Field

So I received these two rental lenses yesterday.  (As an aside, I'll give a shout-out to LensRentals.com who, when they noticed I'd missed the attempted delivery, actually contacted Fed-Ex on their own and arranged for me to be able to pick up the package that same day and contacted me to let me know. Kudos for good customer service.)  I played with both of them for quite a while yesterday evening, and, I gotta say, the jury's still out.  My gut still says I like the Canon 14mm better optically, but the Sigma looks pretty darn good - I was actually pretty impressed with how sharp it could be.  Also, I like the ultra-wide abilities - 8mm is ridiculously wide.  Really lets you do some interesting things with perspective. 

If I like the Canon lens more, I'll really have to consider whether I like it $1600 more - that's about the price difference.  Usually my concern is quality rather than price, but if they're really neck-and-neck in terms of usability and results, it might become relvant.  Especially at that scale - i mean, i could get the Sigma and another L lens or possibly a new camera body for about the same price as the Canon 14mm.

This weekend is our annual Trogland Meetup, and I intend to put both of these through their paces at this event - we'll see what I think in a few hundred more shots.


Drive-by Check-in

Tuesday April 29, 2014 at 1:49pm photography, gaming, house Comments (0) »

Just a quick note or two - not too much new to write about lately.

Continuing to evaluate possible new camera gear.  Now planning to rent a Sigma 10mm 2.8 fisheye in addition to the 14mm 2.8L II.  Also, office got a nice Tamron 24-70 2.8 lens which, on the 5D, gave me some sense of what the 14mm will be like on my camera.

Gaming has continued - still trying to finish up The Zero Line.  Kind of thought we'd be done with that by now, but our schedules have been really busy.  Scheduled to wrap it up saturday.  After that, probably going back to our 3.5 game.

Our office at home is in the midst of overhaul.  Painted, now just need to get Sheri's new desk designed & built.  Also, need to get my bookcase and comfy chair.

Sum of the New Year

Saturday January 11, 2014 at 9:21am christmas, photography, geocaching, gaming Comments (0) »
2013 Family Christmas Photo 2013 Family Christmas Photo.  Camera controlled from laptop, laptop  controlled from cell phone.  Hannah controlled: barely.  Flash bounced  from left off a piece of foam board on a music stand.
2013 Family Christmas Photo.  Camera controlled from laptop, laptop controlled from cell phone.  Hannah controlled: barely.  Flash bounced from left off a piece of foam board on a music stand.

Ah, the new year.  2014 happens.  Looks like Penguinsushi.com is almost 9 years old.  Over Christmas I, once again, made the journey northward toward parentville.  Unquestionably a great time.  Tons of pictures on the Bookface (for those of you who find me there).

The Pro

I finally was able to meet Tony Vasquez, my friend Brittany's husband, who happens to be a pro photographer.  We had a great time talking.  He gave me a few tips on flash photography/lighting and post-production, and I was somewhat gratified that, during the course of the conversation, I actually did feel like I knew what I was talking about.  Since I've been back, some mention has been made of us going out and shooting together next time I'm up that way - which would be completely awesome.

Potential Gear

Christmas was also pretty good to my camera fund.  In theory, I think I have very nearly enough for my next purchase (though that's going to wait at least a while for a small myriad of reasons).  I'm still not sure what, exactly, I want to go with.  It's down to either an updated camera body, or a nice wide-angle lens.  Unfortunately, a perfect candidate for either of those doesn't exist at the moment - though there are rumours of developments throughout this year.  As of now, I'm planning to rent Canon's 14mm F2.8 L II later this spring to try it out.  I figured if I'm considering spending that kind of money, I want to be absolutely sure it's what I want.

Cold Cache

Ha! Another geocaching pun! 

So dad & I went out 2 and half times over the holiday.  Seems he had a lot of fun over thranksgiving, and wanted to do some more.  I say "and a half" because there was one time that we both went out, just not together.  On new year's eve we went out to a trail near Lake Monroe and hit 10.  Overall, we were 13 for 16.  Looking at the logs, a couple of our DNFs seem as though they, perhaps, weren't even present.   I've now found more caches in IN than TN (a condition my good friend the Llama wishes to rectify).

So Tony/Llama and I have been thinking about placing our own cache somewhere around here.  I've found some promising containers for "not-too-expensive", and been thinking about possible sites.  I, personally, am more a fan of the caches that are in parks, along trails, etc.  We still need to scout the locations, though getting permission to actually place one might be difficult.  Can't put my finger on why, but I get the general impression standards/restrictions may have become tighter in the last 5-10 years.

And A Happy New Game

Our Cyrran Reaches game wrapped up a chapter in mid-December, and it left off with 4 or 5 possible directions in which to proceed.  It has been a fantastic game, and we're planning to keep rolling with it...

...just not immediately.  See, we've been playing that game for almost a year now, and I find that too much longer than that and I start to get burned out.  I'm loving that game, but I also like variety.  We kicked a couple of ideas around and decided that we're going set up a brief interlude game: something different to play with for a few sessions before we get back to the "main event". 

We've done a lot of fantasy, so I'm planning to run a short sci-fi game for the group.  I've just actually ordered the Fate stuff I'd been wanting to pick up (I'd been planning to buy it ever since I downloaded the Pay-What-You-Want pdf and ran a game at Trogland 7), and I'm looking forward to playing some more with that.  I was talking to Sheri last night about the setting I have in mind, and she seemed pretty interested.



Thursday December 5, 2013 at 6:07pm geocaching, photography, family Comments (0) »
Joe + his D3100 Joe, lying on the floor playing with his camera
Joe, lying on the floor playing with his camera

For the first time in quite a while, we made the journey up to IN for Thanksgiving.  Was quite a good trip - great to see a lot of relatives I don't catch up with often.

Caching On

I wonder how many more Cache/Catch puns I can come up with?  Anyway, inamongst the more typical festivities, I managed to do a little geocaching - mostly to place a travel bug I'd picked up here in TN.  I think I might have mentioned it before.  I even got my dad & my brother to come along with me, and the three of us had quite a good (if cold) time.  I'm up to 12 finds, total.  It's been quite fun.

Sibling Photography

Also, spent quite a bit of time talking to my brother about camera gear and photography in general - something I always enjoy.  Joe is learning to handcraft jewelry, and wanted a camera setup to take photos of his work.  He recently bought a Nikon d3100 and 40mm f/2.8 lens that has some decent macro capability.  I, personally, would have steered him toward Canon, but that's mostly because that's what I have and I might be able to help a little more with that.  Plus we could share toys.  But he found a deal on this one, so that's what he got.

It seems to be a decent camera  We had some fun playing with it, seeing what it was capable of.  It does have higher iso performance than my camera, though I haven't tested how well it performs at 3200+.  The close-focus/macro of the lens seems to work pretty well also.  I'll be interested to see what he does with it.


Firelight Photography

Tuesday November 12, 2013 at 5:43pm friends, photography Comments (0) »
Nick Nick, while hanging out at his birthday party.  50mm f1.4 iso 3200 1/60, lightened about 1.75 ev in post.  No NR.
Nick, while hanging out at his birthday party.  50mm f1.4 iso 3200 1/60, lightened about 1.75 ev in post.  No NR.

A group of us got together at Nick & Jen's (current) place for his birthday party on saturday.  Was cool to hang out with friends - something we find ourselves doing less and less.

As I am want to do, I brought my camera along.  I didn't really have any good opportunities to take photos of the party in general (I didn't bring my flash, and we were mostly inside with relatively poor light).  When we adjourned to the fire pit outside, however, I decided to see exactly what I could pull off in that extremely dark situation - and, by extension, what I would need to do a better job.

I took a handful of shots using my 50mm 1.4 wide open - something I almost never do.  It's generally a little soft at 1.4.  It sharpens nicely somewhere between 2.0 and 2.8.  Still, I was already at "high iso" (3200 equiv.) and at 1/60.  I really didn't have anything else to open up on my rig.

These pictures actually look surprisingly good, all things considered.  They're exceptionally grainy, of course - accented by the fact that I lightened them about +1.75 ev.  I don't mind a little grain - in fact, if you desaturate them a bit, it can add an interesting feel to some images.  This is a bit much, however.  Still, the IQ is higher than i expected.

And if I had a camera body with a couple more stops of ISO, I think I could have done more.  Incidentally, I read today that the 7D mk II is supposed to be out first quarter of next year...


Fall Fun/Photo '13

Saturday November 2, 2013 at 9:38am family, photography, milligan Comments (0) »
Pumpkin Decoration Sheri, Hannah and the Pom-Pom Pumpkin
Sheri, Hannah and the Pom-Pom Pumpkin

Last weekend was some fun times.  Sheri helped Hannah decorate a pumpkin (with, I believe, 64 pom-poms), and then we went to Homecoming at Milligan.  This year was Sheri's 10th-year class reuinion (since she was a 5th-year senior).  It was a good time.

I, of course, had fun taking pictures.  Particularly at the parade, where I got to play with my 300mm.  I'm quite happy with the results I got.  I think the quality of the images is pretty professional.  So I now have really nice, candid photos of a dozen or so Millgian people I don't know.

Oh, and on a related note, my boss recently (self?) published a book, on the back cover of which is his instance of the ubiqitous bio photo.  Which, in this case, I took.

I really like autumn, but that particular season is rather abbreviated down here.



Saturday October 12, 2013 at 10:03pm photography Comments (0) »
goat at Fender's Farm got your goat
got your goat

Yeah, it's a goat.

I posted this picture because, as a photo, I actually think it's pretty fantastic.  I love the way its framed, and the perspective it gives. I've been playing a bit more with the wide end of my kit lens lately (i've mentioned before how i've been fairly impressed with the image quality of this lens, at least on my crop-frame camera) - this was taken at 28mm on it.  At ~45mm equiv, it's *barely* a "wide angle" shot, but it's a close enough approximation.  I have my eye on an actual wide-angle lens - probably my next camera-based purchase - and some of the experiments I've been doing with this lens have given me some ideas on what kind of fun i could have with a still-larger field of view.

The shot was taken earlier today over at Fender's Farm, which was stop number three on the day's crazy agenda.  It's been exhausting, but fun.


Having Been Judged

Saturday August 24, 2013 at 2:51pm appalachian fair, photography, web design Comments (0) »
 Udvar-Hazy SR-71 Blackbird HDR at the Appalachian Fair
Udvar-Hazy SR-71 Blackbird HDR at the Appalachian Fair

Doing Something

Since I've spent a few years taking pictures of pretty much everything I encounter *and* since I've spent quite a bit of money on this hobby over the last 5 years or so (and plan to spend a bit more), Sheri told me she would like to see me "do" something with this stuff.  By that I suppose she meant "do something more than just share them with your friends".  Or something.

So anyway, at her prompting, I entered a few of my shots in the Appalachian Fair.

First off, their website needs some help.  It's a bit..."dated".  Or, some might say, "in need of a redesign".  Or, others might say simply, "ugly".  That really wasn't my beef with it, though.  My issue was that their website failed to communicate clearly.  It did convey the necessary information, but there were times it seemed to be contradicting itself with respect to deadlines, and it could have been a little more specific on a few steps.  I got the distinct impression - from both the site and personal interations - that the fair just seems to assume you already know what's going on.  If you're involved with this, you probably have been for some time and so we don't need to be overly specific.  And, on the off chance you're new, they'll just let you muddle through the affair without offering much direction (or even confirmation) along the way.

I entered 4 photos in the photography section at the fair.  That was an interesting day.  I'd actually started out to enter 6, but one of them didn't turn out as sharp as I would have liked, and I could only find 4 acceptable mats at Michaels.  I might have waited till the last minute on that one, but we've had a busy summer.  That fact might have contributed to feeling of "lack of direction" i expressed above, but I would still maintain that's not all of the cause.  But I digress.

The four photos I entered were one of a tropical bird (animals), a path leading to a beach (landscape), a butterfly on a flower (insects), and finally, a photo of the SR-71 Blackbird we saw recently at Udvar-Hazy (other).

So last night, we all went out to the fair.  And yes, I still find "carnival barkers" annoying.  Not that I was going to play any of their games anyway (I'm not especially good at them), but yelling at me actually makes me less likely to bite.  I wonder if that actually works on people, or if it is, at this point, simply a cultural artifact.  Perhaps other people like it specifically for that reason.  But I digress, yet again.

We knew Hannah would want to see the animals.  She was extremely amused by the duck slide, and I think she enjoyed petting some of the others.  She also told me she wanted to pet the person in the cow costume.  She had a good time.  In the next couple of years, she's going to start demanding to go on the rides though, and then I'll be less into it.

Apart from witnessing the adorable, I was primarily there for the photo exhibit.  We haven't really been to a fair since I've been into that sort of thing, and I really like to see others' work - both to mentally critique and to learn something from their styles.  Also, I thought it would be cool to see if I'd happened to win anything, and how much I agreed with the judges.

There were a lot of cool photos there.  The exhibit wasn't huge (and was laid out a bit awkwardly for someone trying to see all of it), but it was of a respectable size. From what I saw, I was proud of my shots.  Honestly, I do think they were among the best, though there were more than a few I'd call better, and those were very enjoyable to look at.

A Fair Shot

The first place "animals" photo was of a squirrel clinging to the side of a tree, poised not unlike a ninja, staring straight at the camera.  It was a good shot, framed well,  though perhaps not razor sharp.  It had an interestingly-narrow depth-of-field as well.  I didn't begrudge that one - it was as least as good as mine.  The second-place, however, I was less impressed by.  It was a female cardinal on a snowy branch.  It was rather small in the frame, as the bird was only about an inch tall on the 8x10.  The snowy environment was interesting and did add to the composition, however, so the small subject was, perhaps, acceptable (if not my style).  There was some rather odd intentional vignetting around the entire frame, which looked like it was trying too hard to be "quaint".  Apart from the fact that I think the shooter needed about another 100-200 mm of focal length, it just wasn't very sharp.  It was a bit blurry even from a distance, and the contrast was a bit dull.  It wasn't a terrible shot, but I didn't think it was as good as mine - or another I saw, which was a rather impressive shot of a barn owl.  The third place shot was considerably better, it was of a heron skipping across some shallow water.  Taken from an angle about 90 degrees to the left, it would have been amazing.  As it was, it was pretty impressive.  I wouldn't have begrudged it second place.

The first place "insects" photo was a butterfly as well, nicely composed, though not very bright.  I think it was as good as mine or better, and the variety of butterfly was a bit less common, which added interest.  The second place insects was of a banana spider.  It was decent, though the angle of the shot and its position in the frame could have been better.  The color and contrast were great.  Sharpness was good, though the abdomen was notable sharper than its head (which was facing away).  I suppose it was superior to mine in terms of contrast between subject and background and, arguably, interest of the subject - but I think my shot was as good or better in any other aspect.  Third place was a dragonfly.  It was also a good shot, though there was another dragonfly photo in the show I actually thought was better in terms of sharpness/color/contrast, and they were framed about the same.  I didn't compare them side-by-side, however, so maybe there was something technically superior to the winner.

As an aside, they hung my butterfly picture incorrectly - vertically instead of horizontally.  I don't mention this because I think it had anything at all to do with how it was judged (it actually looks fine vertically), but because I find it amusing since the woman I gave my photos to specifically asked how that one was intended to be hung.

So, landscapes.  I don't remember the first place landscape - though all of the first place shots were good, so I'm sure it was awesome.  The second place shot was of a mountain valley filled with rocks and scrub, with a nice blue sky.  It wasn't especially interesting in my opinion, but it was technically quite good, and I'd say it deserved second.  The beach path photo I entered isn't one I think is technically perfect: it's less than sharp in some places, a bit oversaturated and without enough contrast, but it's a shot I really like for some reason.  I don't recall the third place landscape, but I'm sure it was good.  I didn't really compare the winners with mine in this category since, though I really like my shot, I wasn't prepared to defend its technical merits against the others.

And then there was the Blackbird, for which I actually got 1st place in the "other" category.  Ironically, I wouldn't have given it to me.  The second place shot in that category was of a train moving down a track, puffing smoke with some people off to the left, waving.  Interestingly muted colors.  I think it was actually a better shot, and I probably would have given it first place and second to my plane (i don't recall seeing anything else in that category that amazed me).  Of the four I entered, it was probably my least favorite.  It was a good photo and all, and it was an interesting subject, but I liked the others more.

In general, I only agreed with the judges about 50% - but that's the nature of anything artistic, right?  Also, I think my criteria were probably different.

I've Been Framed

One thing I learned from this whole experience, is that I don't like prints.  At least not 8x10s  All of my photos I consider "good" are framed well as a whole.  Forced to chop off an inch and a half from the longest side, however, and some of them become... less perfect.  (Just for the record, I highly doubt this affected the judging of the photos I entered - this is a separate topic).  I've found that I don't shoot for this sort of cropping, and I don't particularly like it.  If I'm going to do more for prints, I may need to adjust my shooting method, perhaps shooting for what I want and then, if I think it's something I might want a print of, recompsing it with the cropping in mind.  Or something like that.


New Photo Gear

Friday August 9, 2013 at 2:26pm photography, gear Comments (0) »
Canon 300mm f/4L New Toy
New Toy

New Toys

So, after saving for several years, I have, at last, been able to buy another piece of camera gear: a nice professional-grade telephoto lens.  Specifically, Canon's 300mm f/4L.  It is a beatiful lens, and so far my only "regret" is the fact that I haven't had more time to play with it.  The thing is built like a tank (and weighs a ton for it), crystal clear and gives a respectable reach.

Along with that, I also picked up a set extension tubes which are a lot of fun to use with my 50mm (though controlling the depth of field is tricky).


Prior to having bought that lens and running into the present, I've been looking at upgrading my faithful 40d camera body to something with some more expanded capabilties - particularly with respect to iso sensitivity & performance as I have found that flash tends to annoy people and I'm all too often wanting to shoot in rather dark situations.  Also looking at possibly (probably?) going full frame. 

I've got a good chunk saved toward a new camera body/kit thanks to a web development side project, but, unfortunately, the camera gear I want doesn't exist.


Here is, basically, what I'm after:

- Solid construction (at least on par with my 40d)

- Convenient controls (again, at least on par with my 40d)

- ISO 12800+ & the newest canon image processor (DIGIC 5+) at ~20mp

- A camera for which I can get a nice wide/ultrawide, preferably prime, lens

The Canon 5d Mark III meets all these requirements swimmingly.  It's a full frame, and probably the best digital camera Canon currently makes.  I have played with one of these, and it's undeniably awesome.  It's just so freaking expensive. So I suppose I should add "- cost < arm+leg" to the requirements.

The Canon 6d - also a full frame - has most of that for about $1500 less, making it somewhat more affordable.  No complaints on image quality (probably the most important thing), but it takes a couple of hits on the "controls" scale, missing some things my 40d has such as the thumb joystick and physical buttons for more controls on the top LCD.  I would miss those.  It also has a couple of other minor shortcomings, such as a 1/4000 max shutter speed, SD cards only (which seems to be an increasing trend), slower burst rate, and a few others.

The newly-announced Canon 70d is a more direct upgrade of my camera and is a crop-frame sensor, but I'm less sure on how its construction solidity compares to my 40d (i seem to remember thinking some of the later X0d models felt more "plastic-y" than mine) and it has the same controls shortcomings as the 6d, though a price tag about $800 less - its ~$1200 price tag making it almost "cheap" in the scheme of things.  I wouldn't really mind sticking with a crop-frame sensor (in fact, in some ways, I think i might prefer that), but I do eventually want a nice wide lens, and I'd really prefer a prime (such as the (pricey) Canon 14mm f/2.8L II) - though the relatively inexpensive and well-reviewed Canon 10-22mm may suffice.

The Canon 7d has the controls and features set I want - almost perfectly - though the ISO, image sensor and mp are all a (small) step down from the others.  Also a crop-frame, it is, at least as of now, about $500 more than the coming 70d.

You Get What You Pay For

...and, conversely, you pay for what you get.  The other issue here is that all of the above cameras have features I don't need and/or would never seriously use - most noteably among them: audio/video recording capability.  I'm a pretty serious still photographer, but I have absolutely no interest in video - at least, not in any capacity more than "look at this cute thing my daughter is doing", and I hardly need a thousand-dollar hd camera for that: I'm going for pure content, not quality.  I don't need that - nor do I understand why every new digital camera "must" have it.  Probably because it's a feature they can implement on a digital camera without too much trouble and still charge a premium for. 

I don't need in-camera editing functions either.  And I don't need direct print.  Built-in wifi and/or gps are cool, but I don't need them.  Built-in HDR would be pretty sweet, but also, not needed.  The 70d's flip-out screen might be handy for self-portraits at christmas, but I'd wonder about it's solidity and I don't need it - and I definitely don't need its touch-screen (i'd rather have physical buttons, thanks). I don't need a pop-up flash.  I actually don't need custom camera modes, because i don't like the "reset" that happens when the camera goes to sleep.  Not to sound "elitist", but I don't need the amateur camera modes (actually, I'd be happy with only M - though Av and Tv might be nice on occassion) OR "scene" based modes.  I don't *need* full frame, though I wish Canon (or anybody?) made a nice wide/ultrawide equivalent (10mm f/2.8, EF-S perhaps?) prime for and APS-C cropped sensor.  There are a host of other, minor features on any given camera that could go as well.

So basically, what I want doesn't exist - and, at this point, is probably unlikely to.  The 6d is probably still the best fit, though if I could find a used 5dIII for a good price I might go with that.  A 6dII or 7dII might be as close as I'll get to perfect also.  A 5dIV might bring the price of the III down to reasonable (assuming I don't decide I "need" some feature of the newer model).

It's down the road a ways anyway, but, as of now, only know I'd like a camera upgrade.  I have no idea what I'd actually buy.

Edit: Some rumours I've read suggest that Canon may be releasing some new cameras next year (including a 7d mk II) - maybe one of them will be closer.



Friday May 31, 2013 at 10:39pm gaming, trogland, photography Comments (0) »

Been very busy, but not much for the blog.  Mostly, I've been working on my current campaign (Cyrran Reaches), gearing up for Trogland 7, and playing a little with my camera.  I've also been trying to get some creative ideas for some recording projects going, but it's been a little hit or miss.


I think my D&D 3.5 game is going quite well.  Last session was a little slow, but there's been some great plot, some fun action, and some aspects I haven't addressed much in games before.  I've enjoyed developing the setting area as well, and there are a lot of possibilities for it, I think.


This year's meetup is coming up soon - we're just about a month away.  Today was the last day for pre-registration.  I built trogland.penguinsushi.com for this purpose, and I'm fairly proud of it.  Getting the meetup funded up-front this year has allowed us to do some new things with less stress.  Win-win all around.  I'll also be running a sequel to last year's Little Fears game - which was awesome to the point that I'm not sure I can possibly live up to it.  Still, it should be fun.  If I can get that together soon, I may also try to run something else on friday night.

Back Up

I've also, as usual, been playing with my camera.  I actually had a chance to play with the 5D mk III one of my coworkers uses at work...  ...and now I kind of want one.  It's pretty nice.  I would settle for a 6D though, and since that one is about 1.5k cheaper, it's a bit more likely than the former.  I'm also still wanting to get a nice telephoto lens.

Unfortunately, I also discovered my beloved 50mm prime has a bit of a backfocusing issue.  I'm not sure if it's always done this and increased experience now has me noticing, or whether it has developed the behvior recently.  On the good side, it is extremely mild - to the point that I can't quite tell if it always does it or not, and it's really only noticeable up close and at a wide aperture.  Also, if I do manage to get a newer camera, a lot of the nice digital bodies have the ability to compensate for this sort of thing.


Late Imagery

Wednesday March 6, 2013 at 3:39pm photography Comments (0) »
Late Imagery Image

Portfolio Photos

Finally posted my 2012 photo portfolio.  I've noticed that the number of photos in my galleries are steadily increasing.  I'm not sure if my standards are lowering, if I have more good pictures, or if I just like too many photos of my daughter.  Maybe all three.

Anyway, they're up on the Photo page, for any who may be interested.


Music In A Different Light

Thursday September 6, 2012 at 2:31pm music, concerts, photography Comments (0) »
 The Living Trees (pictured: lead vocals/guitar/banjo)
The Living Trees (pictured: lead vocals/guitar/banjo)

Some Local Color

Last friday I met some friends at a local coffeehouse where a local band Living Trees was playing - I was mostly there because one of my friends was playing drums with them.  They're kind of an indie/folk/bluegrass group composed of guitar, mandolin, banjo, upright & drums.  It was some interesting & enjoyable music, though the sound quality was a bit muddy and it was difficult to make out the lyrics.  The Acoustic's in-house PA leaves a bit to be desired...and the space itself is a few notches short of "ideal".  It may be for this reason that nothing really jumped out at me musically.  I'd like to see them again sometime with some better audio.

Show Photography in Bad Light

I also, predictably, took my camera along and took some photos of the show.  The lighting in there was terrible - terrible enough that the autofocus on my 50mm f1.4 prime was hunting a lot.  I shot most everything at ISO 1600, 1/200 and f2.8 - and then bumped the EV a full +2.00 and pulled the saturation down in post.  The photos are still dark and noisey, but they're not terrible.  One or two I'd even call "good".  Despite the difficulty, it was a lot of fun.  I'm always looking for new things to photograph.

Pandora's Box

I've been listening to Pandora a bit lately.  I've discovered a few more groups that I've enjoyed (particularly humourous groups like Da Vinci's Notebook, Great Big Sea, Tom Lehrer, Tripod) and some music from groups I already knew that is pretty cool as well (some stuff from The Academy Is, Iron & Wine, and some kids' albums by Barenaked Ladies).

I've been working on some recording & composition when I have the opportunity and inspiration at the same time (which is unfortunately a somewhat rare occurence).  I've come up with some new ideas lately though.


Change of Pace

Monday July 30, 2012 at 9:56pm vacation, family, photography, gaming Comments (0) »
 gentoo penguin at the Indianapolis Zoo
gentoo penguin at the Indianapolis Zoo

Vacation '12

It's been a little while since we've had an actual "vacation".  I mean, where we do "vacation"-y things.  This year, we did.

For one, we got to go to the Indy Zoo.  Sheri has been saying she wanted to go to a zoo for about...7 years?   I took a lot of cool photos, which was a lot of fun.  Also, it made me wish I had more money to spend on camera gear.

We also went out on my parents' boat and did a little water skiing.  I no longer shame my ancestors with my loss of water skiing ability.  I'm not as steady as I once was, sure, but at least I got up this time.  Last time I tried, I couldn't even manage that (to be fair, however, i'd gotten in at 3am the morning before...maybe I was just tired).  It was cool to get to go out on the lake with Justin again, too - and his boys were...amusing.

Sheri and I also got to go out for our Anniversary, which was tuesday.  Kinda hard to believe it's been 8 years. :)  Mom & Dad watched Hannah for us, and we went out to dinner and a movie.  Also, "Brave" is pretty good.

Zoo Photos

As I mentioned before, I took a few hundred photos at the Indy Zoo.  I did have a little hiccup with the ISO setting, but its effect turned out to be minimal.  Taking pictures through some of the glass was somewhat challenging, but not too bad.  The fences were worse.  I did get a basic circular polarizing filter for my 50mm prime, which did seem to help a little with some of the reflections, and it does give a nice contrast boost to portrait-type shots in general.  Like small children, animals are fun to photograph - they do interesting things, and they don't really care if you're taking their picture.  I got quite a few good shots, which I've put up on facebook.  I'm sure a couple will make it into this year's "portfolio".

False Start

I mentioned before about starting a World of Darkness game, Scarecrow.  Well...  ...yeah.  I actually have extremely high hopes for that game, but I'm just not sure now is the right time.  I'm having trouble with inspiration for it, and, as a GM, I just don't seem to be in the mood for something quite so dark.  I tried forcing it through for a while, but I wasn't getting over the 'hump' - and if I'm not excited about it, it's going to be pretty mediocre.  I'm not ok with that.  I have higher expectations for this game.  My players are generally great about giving me energy and inspiration, but they don't tend to get really excited about a game until one or two sessions in.  

I'm not sure I've ever done this before, but I have talked to the others and we've decided to postpone this game for a bit.  But seriously, I am going to run that game at some point, and it will be awesome.  I've actually got quite a bit of setting written for it already, and several plot ideas.

But for now, we're going to do something else...

Buckle Your Swash

Since I'm wanting to run something a little more "light" and "adventurous" than WoD, and I've wanted to do a maritime campaign for a long time, I think this is the direction I'm going to push for next.  Also, I've been wanting to do something with the Savage Worlds rules set, and this seems to be a perfect candidate for it.  

I'm planning to pitch a swashbuckling-style sea adventure to the group.  It'll be set in a world similar to 17th-19th century earth (with a few fantastic elements) and the PCs will be part of an expedition sailing out into unknown waters.  I expect it to be a lot of fun.


OotsCon VI, Little Fears v1.5 and Gaming Notes

Wednesday July 4, 2012 at 5:25pm ootscon, photography, gaming, social media Comments (0) »
 group shot at the Greenwood Challenge Course
group shot at the Greenwood Challenge Course

So, the 6th Annual Southeast Trogland Giant in the Playground Meetup was awesome.  Really awesome.  Thanks to Steven for the group photo here.

Meet The Press

The last couple of years my own photography has been scaled back to only the "main event" at the ropes course - those pics turned out great as usual.  Actually shot quite a bit on full manual - using my 50mm prime at 1/200 or 1/250 and f2.8.  This year I also supplemented that documentation with some Twitter/Instagram posts as a bit of an almost-play-by-play of the weekends events.  That was fun.  Probably the only real "use" i've had for Twitter thus far.

Over Capacity

We had a ton of people at our house on sunday.  Traditionally, we have had the sunday afternoon meetup-winddown at The Igloo (which is, in fact, an all-ages venue) - but many people head back to their home states/countries before noon.  This time, I think everyone stayed for this.  The count, at one point, I think was 33 people in our 1100 sq. ft. house (that doesn't have a what could be described as an "open plan").  This may not be the high water mark.  It was fun, but I think we were a bit overcrowded.  This is one of two or three reasons we're looking into non-residential facilities for more parts of the meetup - possibly conference rooms at local hotels or somesuch, if it could be arranged.

Little Fears: The Awesome

This year we had several pre-planned gaming events - and I kind of kicked off that idea by offering to run Little Fears for some people who had thought it sounded interesting last year.  By the time "sign ups" were concluded, I had 11 or 12 people who wanted to play.  The sessions I ran were completely awesome.  So many memorable moments and great in-character dialog.  I think my revised mechanics ("v1.5") worked very well, and even the character creation seemed to be pretty balanced.  Also, the "creepy" level was just about perfect - a creepy/horror game is a difficult thing to pull off.  The second session was especially successful.  Not that the first or third sessions were bad (they were really great, in fact), it's more that the second session in particular was more of a perfect storm.  It was probably one of the best sessions I've ever run.  All of the players in all of the sessions really got into it, and they played into the atmosphere and their characters perfectly.  They really made the games work.  They were awesome and I'm glad to have had the chance to run games for them.  Most gratifying, most of them even told me in so many words that they loved the games - and that is what I enjoy the most out of GMing: watching my players have a great time.

Like I mentioned before, I've been into some tangible bits for games. I got several comments on the character cards and handouts I made for this game, and I thought using crayons for them to write their names and also as their bennies/chips in the game was a nice touch as well (if i do say so myself).  Also, I liked using tokens for injury and fear in this game.  Overall, the mechanics had some pretty great physical representations.  

Game Notes

On a quasi-related note, I've been discovering recently that I don't use game notes for much anymore.  I tend to write things down in my planning as an exercise such that I don't forget the key points and have a general impression of the specifics, but I really don't use the notes I write during the session.  The basic exception to this rule is to look up a name for a tertiary NPC.  Other than that, I go off of my memory and what the PCs are doing.  This wasn't always the case - I used to rely on my notes pretty heavily, but I think as I've gotten more animated and descriptive as a GM, I've started doing more of that flavor stuff (which is the fun) just off the top of my head (which is rooted in my understanding of the setting).  I think my games are better that way, really - for the same kinds of reasons that I don't like to roll dice as the GM: I don't have to stop the flow of the action and description to reference something external to the "story" as it is unfolding.

Coming Up

Getting ready to start a new game with my local group on saturday.  I think we're going to do an urban fantasy game using the World of Darkness rules.



One Year & the Present

Saturday May 12, 2012 at 9:00am family, recording, gaming, photography Comments (0) »
One Year & the Present Image

Well, Hannah's almost a year old.  Sheri's been planning a little for her birthday party - I think we're going to have a cookout with some family and a few friends.  Turns out quite a few people are going to be out of town next weekend.

I've been doing some more with recording on the rare opportunities I get.  I think I've discovered that I get better sound and less noise by using the condenser to mic my amp than by using my amplifier emulator AUs.  This might be unsurprising.  The problem is, in order to do this, my amp has to be cranked pretty loud...   ...loud enough that I don't really want hannah in the room with me, and when Sheri's home, she's not so much a fan.  Maybe if I clean out the recording closet again...

My Star Wars game, Shards of Endor, is reaching it's finale.  Tonight's session may or may not be the last game.  (honestly, I kind of figure it'll go one more, but we'll see...).  It's been fun, and I think it's been a good length.  I'm still really enjoying it, but I think I'm just about ready for something else.

Also, I've been doing some slow and unsteady planning for the Little Fears (1.5) game I'm going to be running for some Playgrounders come the end of June.  I've been doing a lot of concept/theme/atmosphere setup in my head for this one.  I hope it comes off as well...

Also, Crackles.

Mom came down for a visit last week - to see Hannah, of course.  That was cool.  Amongst the general hanging out, we went out to Sycamore Shoals, where I did some photo shooting for the first time in a while.  That is always fun.  Seems like I don't have as much time for some of these hobbies anymore.  Guess that's due to the Rosebug.

And, apart from having been a little sick and that I'm not looking forward to tackling the yard after I'm done posting this, I think things are pretty good.


Kites, Pacing and Aspiration-to-Action

Tuesday April 10, 2012 at 2:40pm holidays, friends, photography, gaming, music Comments (0) »
Kites, Pacing and Aspiration-to-Action Image

So Sheri has this tradition of trying to fly kites on Easter sunday.  The last couple of years, it's actually worked pretty well.  Winged Deer park seems to be a good place for it.  Tony & Adam also joined us this year - I thought that was pretty cool.  We have good friends.  I think it was quite an enjoyable time - I got some good pics, too.  Some of my favorites were done with some intentional lens-flare.  There's something cozy and nostalgic about that look.  I'm not sure what it is.

Shards of Endor continued last weekend as well.  This particular session was a little unusual as the group was split for its entirety (which may be a first) and both parties were in rather tense situations - one attempting to sabotage Imperial resources, and the others discovering a particular bounty hunter was still on their trail.  The session played out in two halves as opposed to staggering events in a quasi-simultaneous fashion, but I think that was probably for the best in this circumstance - and I didn't get the impression I was losing people on either side.  The last few sessions have been interesting for me as the GM in general - I think I'm learning a bit of what works and what doesn't with this group as it relates to the kind of game I'm trying to run.  I'm starting to think that, with Star Wars, it's a good idea to keep the action moving.  That seems to work best for this particular genre.  As it's turning out though, I may be contrasting that next game with something a bit more brooding - so we may see how versatile our group can be.

I spent some time sunday night talking with a friend of mine about his musical ambitions.  I may be doing some stuff with him to help him further this goal.  We're at pretty different places with respect to how we view our musical pursuits - and what we'd ultimately like to do with them - but i always like to see a fellow creative actually doing something.  He's talked about it for a long time - and I know he's put a lot of thought into it - but it's good to see that over the last year or so, he's really starting to move forward.  I find that motivating myself.


A Quiet Late Summer

Monday October 3, 2011 at 2:00pm gaming, music, photography Comments (1) »
A Quiet Late Summer Image

Except, you know, for the occasional screaming munchkin.

I guess not much noteworthy has been going on lately.  The blog seems to have slept through september.  Here are a few points of quasi-interest on hobbies, etc:


- I have noticed that I am currently involved in a ridiculous number of ongoing rpgs - 4, to be exact - and that my social life mostly centers around them at the moment.  I guess this isn't surprising considering that most of my friends *are* gamers.

- We started our Star Wars game ("Shards of Endor") about a week ago.  This is actually the first time I've run an ongoing campaign *not* set in a swords-and-sorcery style fantasy setting.  We've only had one playing session, but I think it's going quite well so far.

- Robb has (finally) started his Changling game, which I'm having a really good time with.  A really short time, but a good time.  Our monday-night sessions seem to be playing from about 7-9pm, which sometimes feels like quitting right after you get started.  I'm hoping our actual starting time can be pushed back to the theoretical 6 as we go on.  It's also got me thinking a bit about the future of my temporarily-suspended Mage game...

- On our sunday night games: Patrick's Star Wars game continues to be fun.  I've been really enjoying the short Dresden Files game Rucht has been running and I'm hoping to have a chance to do more with the Fate 3.0 system.  We're going to be starting Pathfinder later this month (when Dresden ends) - which will mark the first time I've played in a fantasy campaign in years.


- I've tried to do a little on the songwriting front, but haven't made it much further than jotting down a few vague concepts.  

- I've spent some time fiddling around on my guitars too, but I'm feeling a little uninspired at the moment.

- I've been listening to MCR's Danger Days quite a bit lately - an album I was pretty skeptical about at first, but found that I really enjoyed after a couple of listens.  Also, Anberlin, The Decemberists and the two songs from the end credits of the Portal games having recently played the first to completion ("This was a triumph...").


- Most of my camera time has been spent pointed at Hannah, but that's probably to be expected.  She's 4 months old and exceptionally cute. :D  ...and we've recently learned she'll have some new playmates in a year or so.

- Sheri pointed out that I don't have any 2011 photos on my site here yet - maybe I'll put some up when I have a few minutes together.

- I did take some pictures at the picnic the company I now work for had in mid-september that turned out pretty good.  I think the people at the office have enjoyed them.

- And, of course, I also had fun taking pictures of the 2011 Talk Like A Pirate Party & Annual Nerf War.  Those always turn out...amusing.



Edisto Beach + HDR

Monday August 15, 2011 at 2:22pm vacation, family, photography, kubb Comments (2) »
Edisto Beach + HDR Image

So we just got back from a little mini-vacation out to Edisto Beach, SC with my sister & parents.  We don't get to do "vacation" stuff very often.  I'd comment on whether Hannah had a good time, but I think she slept through 90% of it.  We certainly loved it though.

In fact, I'm kind of bummed now that I'm back to the norm.  I don't think I was quite ready.  Maybe I needed more than a 3-day weekend.


Apart from the typical fun of a vacation, I've got a point of potential interest.  My dad & I got to talking about HDR photography (mostly asking what it was) and I, of course, had my camera and had been taking a lot of pictures.  When I pulled them all onto my computer last night, I noted one or two that I thought could benefit from this technique.  Manipulating the RAW images into some pseudo-bracked exposures, I made a couple of composites which I think turned out pretty well.  I didn't do anything particularly special, but the process at least makes the photos a bit more like what I was actually looking at.

• Ocean At Sunset

• Beach Path (shown here)


Also, I played beach kubb for the first time - which was pretty awesome.  A word of caution, however: this version has some new hazards.



4th of July

Saturday July 9, 2011 at 7:57pm holidays, photography Comments (0) »
4th of July Image

Well, 2nd actually.

Rucht & McKenna had their annual fireworks party last weekend, and, as usual, I brought my camera along.  I'd been wanting to try to get some interesting shots of fireworks for some time, and their house is located in a fairly ideal spot for attempting this: right beneath them.  Actually, I'm surprised it's not more of a fire hazard.

The day was fun, of course.  Got to see some friends we don't see often, and I took some photos of the Kubb game we played.  Robb & I actually made a point to play that weekends since we didn't get to the previous weekend at the meetup.

When it got to be time for the JC fireworks display, I hiked up to the top of the hill where I would have a clear, ubobstructed view of the sky.  You can actually see a lot of them from the street in front of their house, but I wanted a wider view with no other objects.

I found a decent place in the grass, took a guess as to where the fireworks would ignite, set up my tripod and hooked up my cable release.  Even at the widest angle on my zoom lens (28mm - approx 45mm with my cropped sensor), I still had nothing but black sky in the viewfinder.  Perfect.

I closed down the aperture as far as it would go (f22), set the ISO as low as my camera supports (100), and set the shutter speed at 'bulb'.  I'd never really done bulb exposure before, so this was interesting.  My cable release actually has a button lock on it too, which is nice.

During the fireworks show itself, I simply watched the sky, guessed when the fireworks 'blooms' would happen, opening the shutter just before this and holding it open until the blooms I wanted to capture had faded - generally between 5 and 20 seconds - so that the shooting points of light would imprint bright streaks on the camera's sensor.  

Then I waited.  

This was perhaps one complaint I have with my camera.  For some reason, bulb exposure pictures take a long time to write to the card - the time might actually be the length of the exposure, in fact - and the buffer will not hold more than one such exposure (meaning you have to wait for it to write before you can take another shot).  I'm not entirely sure why this is so.  Perhaps I simply lack a complete understanding of how the photo sensor and image processor function.  The upshot here was that I was only shooting about 1/2 the time - the other 1/2 of the time I was waiting for the buffer to clear.  Had I been shooting at 1/200 or something, it could have been constant.

Anyway, it was a great experiement and I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting the shots turned out.  I have them up in my "4th" of July facebook album here.

I have some ideas on how I might play some more with bulb exposure...


Coming Home

Tuesday May 24, 2011 at 5:03pm bunguin, family, photography Comments (0) »
Coming Home Image

A quick update for the blog:

As of this afternoon, Sheri & Hannah were released from the hospital, and both seem to be enjoying being at home.  Ally isn't quite sure what to make of the munchkin, but there are other visitors here right now so I'm not sure it really registers as odd yet.

Photos are being posted on my facebook page here - though I have really not begun to post what will be there after a few weeks. :-D

Thanks to everyone for the congratulations, well-wishes and hospital visits.  We can't wait for more of you to meet our little Bunguin.


The State of the Penguin

The State of the Penguin Image

Edit: New Photo.  The iPhone is nice, but it doesn't quite hold up to what I'm used to...

First off, we're getting close to Sheri's due-date - only about a month to go before the Bunguin's arrival.  We've been trying to get things ready as much as we can, but we don't exactly know what we're doing.  We *have* inherited a wide array of baby-related "stuff" from several friends and acquaintances - for which we are very thankful.  We also went to some child birth & infant care classes at the hospital, which were somewhat helpful and informative.

Second, I finally found a new job with a local company here in JC (I'm actually posting this on my lunch break).  Still doing web-work, though in a rather different context than before.  The position is temporary through June, after which time they'll decide whether to hire me on permanently.  It's good to have something again though.  Less stressful, especially with the munchkin coming.

Since RuchtCon, gaming has returned to its "normal" schedule.  My Sandstorm game has continued to progress nicely, and I'd say the PCs are on their way toward the resolution.  No word yet on how much longer it will go.  I'm developing thoughts on what to propose next.  Still working on several gaming projects.

I've taken a few more photos since I last mentioned it, but nothing amazing.  Still haven't posted a 2011 portfolio, but it'll come.

Other randomness...

The weather here's been warming up as we head into spring, and my yard is already ridiculous.  I've mowed it something like 1.5 times - which is to say the front yard has been mowed at least twice, and I have waged a war with the forest in the backyard which is beginning to look favorable for my side.  I did grill out for the first time this year last sunday afternoon though.

Sheri & I watched something like 30 hours of LotR extras (all the bonus features on the 3 4-disc sets) over the course of the last few weeks.  Some pretty cool stuff in there - I recommend it to any fans.

Finally bought the Red vs. Blue: Recollection and looking forward to watching that with Llama and also listening to the commentaries sometime.  I also heard that Dead Gentlemen is going to be re-releasing The Gamers: Dorkness Rising - this time with commentaries (I actually asked them why the first dvd didn't have them and they told me that they ran out of space on the disc).  That would be cool.

I also picked up a new CD, but I think I'm going to make a more specific music related post soon, so I'll save my comments on that.

Ginger and William are in town even as I'm typing, and we've had a good time with them this week.  Also, Liam is fun - and he likes me. :)

I've continued to kick around some ideas for some writing projects.  I'll defer to voltaire (by way of Dan from Fear the Boot) for how this is progressing: the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Also, I've been having a pipe dream about opening a gaming store in JC - we need one, and that would be a lot of fun...    ...alas...


A Return to Photosushi

Monday February 21, 2011 at 8:44pm photography Comments (0) »
A Return to Photosushi Image

I'm ready for warm weather again.  I'm not a huge fan of the intense summer heat, but I'd rather be hot than cold and I do enjoy being able to go outside without having to wear 3 or 4 layers or a bulky coat.

Today was one of the nicest days we've had so far in 2011, and Sheri and I decided to go take a walk around Sycamore Shoals.  I also decided to bring my camera.

Between the stress of the last 6 months or so, the cooling weather, other hobbies and a small variety of other factors, it had been probably more than 8 months since I'd gone anywhere specifically for the purpose of taking pictures just for fun.  In fact, I didn't do a whole lot during most of last year, which is kind of a shame.  I think there's some good stuff in my 2010 gallery, but not quite as much variety as the previous years.  It felt good to be out doing that again - I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy it.  I'm not sure I got much of anything good, but I had a great time just being behind the lens.  

I hope to do quite a bit more of this during the rest of 2011.  This year will get its own Portfolio on my gallery page at some point, too - though probably not until I have some more to put in it.


Up to the Holidays

Up to the Holidays Image

Well, the Blog has been neglected of late.  I guess that happens.

My job search has continued with rather sparse results.  Still looking.

Sheri & I have been trying to finish up Christmas stuff, which I think we've managed to do.  We're trying not to spend lots of money this year, but we really like giving things to our friends and family.  This has presented some challenges - some of which have been met wonderfully, some of which have been significantly more frustrating.  All in all, though, I think it's going to work out.

Apart from the more mundane aspects of my life, there have been one or two things of interest.

I've been working a bit on board game design for a couple of projects about which I may go into more detail at a later time.  Llama and I spent quite a bit of time last saturday night discussing one of these in particular and I think it has quite a bit of potential.

The two rp games I've been running have been going well.  The plot in my London 1802 game is coming to a head and I'm interested to see how it will turn out in the end.  The Sandstorm game left off for the holidays with a bit of a cliffhanger as the party exited the local wise-woman's cave to the sound of surrounding war-horns.  On a related note, I'm woefully behind in my session write-ups.  The last two sessions for each game have yet to be elaborated upon.  The synopses are really only for my benefit anyway, but I do need to take (what will now be a few hours worth of) time to flesh those out before I can no longer remember them.  I'll probably have to reference Sheri's notes as it is.

My birthday weekend was relaxing and cool.  On saturday night Tony & Adam came over and we played Dominion and watched a couple of the old Pink Panther movies (Peter Sellers ftw).  On sunday we had our last Rogue Trader session (Rucht's game) for the year and Stacie made me peanut butter birthday brownies which were *awesome*.  They even stopped the session and sang to me.  My friends are cool.  :-D

I spent this last monday afternoon shooting portraits for the Hippies.  This was a new and interesting experience for me, and I learned quite a bit from it.  I've been told the pictures turned out pretty well - they look good on my computer screen anyway.  One or two will get put into my Portfolio for this year at some point.  Also, I've discovered a poor-man's lighting solution: If you can't afford studio lights but you have a decent flash (with a pivot/swivel head), a 2'x3'  sheet of white foam board positioned a few feet away makes a pretty good bouncing surface for indirect lighting when you don't want to bounce from the ceiling or there is no usable ceiling.


At the moment, I'm taking a break.  Today we've been finishing up our christmas stuff and cleaning the house in preparation for Sheri's mom, dad & aunt who are coming to stay for the holidays.  They're supposed to get in sometime late tonight and I think our current plan is to stay up playing board games while we wait for them - probably some Dominion and Touch of Evil, which were two of Sheri's birthday presents this year.



Return of Photos and Current Gaming Projects

Thursday October 21, 2010 at 1:12pm photography, job search, jamming, music, gaming Comments (0) »
Return of Photos and Current Gaming Projects Image

Ok, so the photo gallery is back up and running - to an extent.  I actually have plans to make the photo page a bit more robust, but I haven't felt "into" working on it that much lately and I'm tired of seeing the "returning soon..." on the page. 

I've included a 2010 Portfolio on the new page, as much because the page looks much better with 3 entries than with only two than anything else.  I think there are some good shots in there, but, sadly, I haven't had as many days of dedicated shooting this year.  I'm hoping to take advantage of one of these nice fall days to do some before it gets cold...   ...we'll see if I'm motivated to actually do that or not.  It's not that I don't want to do it, it's more that I've just been...uninspired.

Speaking of being uninspired, the job search continues to be frustrating.  There just aren't enough opportunities in the area.  I've found multiple hits in various locations an average distance of 4 or 5 hours away that are pretty much exactly what I do (and I've even sent an inquiry email to a company in knoxville, about 2 hours away), but there's just not that much around here - at least, not at the moment.  Also, the things that *are* around here that are "kind of" in my line don't seem to be panning out so much.  Erg.

On more fun things - because that's what I like to talk about on this blog:

Well, I mentioned that I haven't done much photography lately and I haven't felt like working on the website, so...what does that leave? *looks at menu bar*

Robb & I have been jamming with Josh and Bill some more.  This has been lots of fun.  We've been working on the same 5 cover songs (Plea from a Cat Named Virtue by the Weakerthans, Creep by Radiohead, Jenny Says by Cowboy Mouth and Burn and Stupid Kid by the Alkaline Trio) - trying to get them nice and smooth before we branch out some more.  Some of them are more solid than others, but we're having fun.  Also, we did a rather spontenous arrangement of The Melting Point of Wax (by Thrice) during last session, and that ruled.  I really want to play some version of that song, but Thrice's drummer is...insane...and Bill doesn't think he's up to it.

On some gaming:

My Sandstorm and London 1802 games have both been going really well.  I think both have a great story unfolding and interesting characters.  Also, both have an ending in mind.  This is an oddity for me - I generally just let games go until whenever.  I don't know exactly how it's going to go down or how the parties are going to get there, but I know where the story is heading, and I know where the climax is.  I also know what will happen if the party goes completely into left field.  I'm really enjoying these games, but oddly, I'm looking forward to the ending of the stories.  It's kind of the same way you look forward to the end of a good book or movie - you want to see exactly how it ends.  This time, I know it *has* an ending.

I'm also enjoying Rucht's Rogue Trader game, though I still feel a bit off-balance in the 40k universe.  I'm a little torn this aspect - sometimes I think I really like it, sometimes I think it's not my thing.  I think my big issue is simply the weight of too much canon - it feels restricting.  I tend to like settings which the GM - and also the players - affect not only what's happeneing in the setting, but also what the setting is like.  When I run games in a given setting (almost always one of my own creation), I tend to adjust the feel and flavor of the setting based on what I think the players are enjoying the most.  This just isn't something you can easily do if you care about staying "faithful" to a published setting.

I'd like to give Patrick's Star Wars game a nod as well, though I haven't quite been "feeling" it of late.  I think most of this is my fault.  One of the cool things about this game from my perspective is that my character has actually changed considerably over the course of play.  I'm not sure if it's obvious to the other players, but it's very apparent to me.  Unfortunately, one of the effects of this change is that he has become much more introverted and reflective, which is making roleplaying with the other players less frequent than I'd like.  I'm considering how I might nudge the character out of his shell so that he's more fun to play without breaking verisimilitude.  Also, there are a couple of annoyances in this game, but again, it's my hangup. 

As always, I have multiple games in the works, on a variety of levels.  I have 3-ring binders for each of my games' notes, but I have one entire tabbed binder that is nothing but sideprojects.

I've mentioned my Savage 3025 idea before, and I've continued to refine parts of it.  I was actually talking a bit about this game with Matt over the weekend, which was cool.  I think he's the only other guy I know that has any knowledge or interest in the Battletech universe.  He also seemed interested in playing in the game whenever I get around to running it, which I think would pretty awesome.  As the date suggests to the initiated, this will be a Succession Wars era campaign, and is meant to follow a lance (a reason I want exactly 4 players) in the service of one of the Great Houses.  Despite the fact that most of my "work" on this system has been on the 'mech combat rules, I expect characters to spend as much or more time out of their 'mechs.  This is another reason why I wanted to use a mod of Savage Worlds: so that I could have a consistent system for roleplaying scenarios on both scales.  This definitely won't be a strictly combat/tactical game - the politics and roleplaying interactions surrounding any actual conflicts will be more important than the battles themselves.

Another idea I've been working on lately - and this is something I've been kicking around for a few years - is a game based around the cosmology of Myst.  This has probably resurged as a sideproject as I've just finished playing through Riven and have started Exile.  Still, the rpg I have in mind really won't have much in common with the games, which are primarily puzzlers, neither will it pay any attention to canon.  Rather, I simply wish to take the feel of the universe of Myst - microcosmic "Ages" created through and connected by Linking Books, which are crafted through a specific arcane art of Authoring - and plug in more traditional aspects of a tabletop rpg.  One of the many things I think could be really cool about this sort of game is that I'd like for the players to, at some point, begin to actually write their own Ages to explore and play in - and I have many ideas on how this could be accomplished and manifest.  I'm unfamiliar with any other game where the players can (literally) write their own settings into the universe, and this idea greatly intrigues me - enough that this is probably the project I'm most interested in at the moment.

I've also written a few pages of notes on a western game I'm calling "In the Cards".  Basically, I decided that in order to properly capture the feel of a western themed game, the mechanics should be a bit more approrpriate.  Basically, the game takes place around poker hands.  Normal tasks would be resolved via a "high card" - the player plays a card from his/her hand against the GM's draw from the deck (results "modified" by options available to players skilled in the task in question, etc).  More dramatic scenes, such as shoot-outs or heated arguments, would be played out as a slightly tweaked hand of poker - wherein each involved player invests him/herself in the scene, performing simple draw actions, and continually "upping the ante" until some dramatic moment "calls" the hand, and the final results of the conflict are evaluated based on the winner.  I also have some additional ideas on how players can hedge their bets - such as the idea of having cards "up the sleeve", which they can pull out in appropriate circumstances.

Bot has been put on the back-burner for the time being.  I will mention that it got positive reviews at Gamesplosion and I think it has a lot of potential, but I'm still thinking over some streamlining and I'm having some trouble coming up with stories to tell in such an eccentric world.  I know they're there, I'd just need to get my brain into that mode.


OotSCon 2010

Tuesday June 29, 2010 at 11:51am gitp, ootscon report, photography Comments (1) »
OotSCon 2010 Image

I'd say most of the people who might read this are already well aware (and were probably present), but this last weekend was our 4th Annual Giant-in-the-Playground / Order-of-the-Stick Johnson City Meetup - or OotSCon, as we've come to call it, believing it to be the largest of such meetups relating to the forums.

That's right, 4 years and counting. I consider this quite an accomplishment for us locals. Even more, pretty much everyone always intends to come back for future gatherings. Indy (Scott) even told me he'd rather miss GenCon than our meetup. High praise, eh? (hahahahaha I typed that out and then saw the Canadian/Eh joke. hehehe)

Anyway - it was, as always, an awesome time.

The meetup started early this year as quite a few people arrived on thursday. Usually there's one or two, this year I think there were 10 or so. I had a previous commitment for thursday evening (Patrick's Star Wars game), so I didn't meet up with them until close to midnight, but it was cool to see everyone for the half hour i was there. I met up with Reinholdt who was staying at the Igloo there, and also took Indy & ZRS back for the night (since they didn't have a hotel till the following day).

Scott, Dave & I spent friday morning relaxing. I was working on leveling my SW character, and they were trying their luck at some Super Mario Bros. Wii (which became a bit of a staple of the Igloo for the weekend). It was nice to mellow out for for a while - esp with the canadians, who are awesome.

When Sheri got home from work, we made our way over to the Hippie Hut to join the rest. Upon arriving around 2pm, we realized that food might have been a good idea at some point, so we went out to Chic-Fil-A - a place Scott had been told he should try (Aside: Scott did ask me what I recommended there - I told him to try the chicken :-D).

Friday afternoon/evening/night was spent at the Hippie Hut in the usual fashion: with copious amounts of board gaming. We did take a brief break for dinner at Main Street Pizza, where it was good to see Matt again. I officiated a game of Touch of Evil for some of the newer players who wanted to try it - I think I actually know the *rules* to that game now, instead of relying on llama to tell me what to do.

Saturday is our big meetup day - cooking out at the Greenwood Challenge Course. In the interest of Robb having a bit more time to hang out and not being exhausted, we didn't actually do the high ropes that had been so popular previous years. Instead we had some swordplay and some amusing games of Cash & Guns Live. We *did*, of course, have Kubb. It wouldn't be a meetup without Kubb.

Saturday night we met up at the Mid City Grill, as is tradition. We think we're actually included in that place's planning now as the owner knows our group comes in in late June and, i believe, asked about it specifically this year. Also, after our massive year 2 group, some of us couldn't help but notice some new paint, lighting and other decorations.

Anyway, we took over about half the place for the night, enjoyed the food and played more games. I participated in Trog(Jeff)'s 4e adventure wherein a Forum Mod, a Troll and a Noob battled a group of vicious cat-muffins. Many inside forum jokes abounded. The introduction to the scenario was even in prose. After that, he, Gryf and I sat around discussing rpg's, systems, gming and all manner of geekery. That was also a lot of fun.

Sunday was our turn to host, as is also tradition. There were quit a few people still around on sunday this year - even later into the evening. Hippie & I grilled most of the rest of the chicken and there was more general hanging out, more board games, a small birthday celebration for Reinholdt, and more Mario Wii.

On sunday night, those of us who still remained - a remnant by this time, but still a good size - went for dinner at the Crazy Tomato. I think this is the first time we've had more than one or two around on sunday night. After that, we returned to the Igloo where a few of us played a game of Ticket to Ride while the others hung out and Reinholdt continued to mercilessly sacrifice his Toad minions to insure his own survival.

So, my thoughts/reflections:

So many great people, so little time. As Trog pointed out, there's so much awesome in such a small span of time, you can't possibly experience it all. You hear other people talk about stuff and it sometimes feels like there was a whole other meetup you missed. Still, this event continues to be awesome.

Scott/Indy in particular, is awesome. Our personalities seem to mesh really well and we had a great time hanging out and chatting about all kinds of random stuff. He needs to move down here.

So I've played in a 4e game now - however briefly - and I spent a good chunk of time talking about it with Gryf and Trog. My impressions of the system are pretty neutral - there are things I like about it, there are things I don't. I certainly don't think it's "better" than 3e, but I'm not sure it's worse. It definitely has a different *feel* than previous editions of the game, and that may be where they're losing people the most.

As always, I took a lot of pictures of the weekend's festivities and posted 'em on facebook. They have garnered quite a few comments and some rather high praise from Scott, Jeff & others and, - i can't lie - that makes me feel pretty good. I'm glad other people enjoy them. :)


The Return of the EP

Saturday April 3, 2010 at 11:22am yard work, friends, ftb, gaming, photography, work Comments (0) »
The Return of the EP Image

We lost our company this morning, and that was sad. Ginger, William and Liam left around 9:30 or so. They'd been hanging out with us for about the last week. We had a great time.

They arrived here last Saturday evening. On Sunday we went to the coffeehouse at WAPC and chatted with some of the native Wataugians who wanted to catch up with Ginger since she'd been gone. On Monday we had a game night at the Hippie Hut Mk. II, complete with 3 munchkins. Cash & Guns was entertaining. Thursday Patrick ran his Star Wars game and Ginger's old character got to return for a cameo appearance in it, along with William's "Bill Redshirt". Last night we met up at Mid City for dinner and came back here for a very enjoyable game night featuring Time's Up. Much fun was had. Samara came out to join us - which was cool since it had been a few years since we'd had her around - and Rucht brought Duane who was in town and is always a lot of fun to hang out with too.

So this last week was lots of fun and games. We now return to our regular existence. I have posted some pictures on the book-face.

Well, the first mowing of the front yard for the season has occurred. It was like a small forest in places. While doing that, I was listening to and enjoying an interview with Matt Vancil (writer/director of The Gamers movies) from Fear the Boot.com, which Rucht sent to me - and now I'm passing on to anyone here who might like it. I was actually sad that the Gamers II dvd didn't include any commentaries (they ran out of room on the disc), so it was cool to get to hear Matt talk some about it. Also, he and the guys that do Fear the Boot have philosophies on gaming/roleplaying very similar to mine, and I enjoyed their articulation of some of those ideas.

Working backward toward the last blog, we had a game night over at our friend Casey's place a few weeks ago wherein we got to play another great Days of Wonder game called Small World. Tim was in town for that, and it's always good to get to hang out with him. Also, we had another awesome Mouse Guard session (which has been posted on Gaming page) on the 19th. We left off in the middle of some action & hopefully we'll get to continue that one soon.

In slightly related news, I recently spent about a week designing a new table-top rpg. It's considerably different than any other rpg I've ever played. I think it will be a lot of fun. I'll probably post some stuff about it on the Gaming page at some point, but I don't want to talk about it in any specifics yet. I intend to "spring it" on a group of players as a one-shot without any prior disclosure or explanation - I think that approach will suit this game and its setting quite well. I'll probably be trying to put that together soon.

In other gaming news, my World of Darkness game has enough foundation to get it started whenever we choose to bring it up, so I've shelved it until I have an opportunity to work it in - which may be a while. Still very interested in it though.

Now that the weather has been warming up, I've been thinking a bit more about photography again - pulling out my camera more often and looking at the lenses I wanna pick up at some point. I'll probably end up buying the really expensive one next - but that might not be for some time. I had a great time taking a *lot* of pictures of Liam this week - most of that album may be him, with other people thrown in.

Work is going alright. Business is quite good, all things considered. I'm still/again working on some systems for the next version of our model. It also looks like we're going up to OH for a "business trip" later this month. Yay rah. It'll be good to see Kedrick, Addie, little Jack and my other coworkers, but other aspects of the trip are much, much less exciting. Oh well.


New Year Happenings

Wednesday January 6, 2010 at 12:46pm holidays, friends, photography, recording, gaming Comments (0) »
New Year Happenings Image

Still trying to get back into the normal swing of things after a couple of relaxing weeks.

We had a great time over new year's with a bunch of awesome friends. We basically spent the long weekend hanging out and playing lots of games - including a midnight game of New Year's Kubb. Robb & Edie were awesome hosts in their spacious new house, and it was great to get to see Jerry, Amanda and Stacey again. Plus Llama and Tim were there, which always makes for entertainment. :) I've got some pics of the festivities up on facebook.

I've finished compiling most of my favorite photos from 2009 (and the ones that I think are "good" from a technical perspective), and have created a home for them on my Gallery page.

On a more musical note (ha!), I'm still not sure whether I'm going to make another attempt at completing RPM this year. I really *want* to, as I've been upgrading some hardware & software in my "studio", have been helping Steve record some tracks, have been streamlining my approach to the recording process and have learned quite a bit regarding the enhancement of the quality of the tracks I put down... ...unfortunately, when it comes to actual material to record, I am all but completely dry atm. I've been trying to come up with some stuff for the last week or so (albeit, pretty sporadically), but haven't had any luck. If I can come up with a few likely tracks before Feb 1, I'll probably give it a go... ...otherwise, I may sit out this year.

In other news, I'm trying to work out some scheduling get my gaming group(s) back together after the chaos the holidays generally bring regarding this hobby. I've been working on my Mouse Guard campaign, which I'm excited about. I'm intending to pick up a few other games reasonably soon as well and I'm hoping to run and/or play with some greater-than-usual variety this year.



Wednesday October 14, 2009 at 11:40am spam, video games, family, golf, food, photography, gaming Comments (6) »

Every once in a while, I see something in spam that makes me laugh. I just received this little gem:

Dear user of the penguinsushi.com mailing service!

We are informing you that because of the security upgrade of the mailing service your mailbox (shoe@penguinsushi.com) settings were changed. In order to apply the new set of settings click on the following link:


Best regards, penguinsushi.com Technical Support.

This makes no sense on several levels, not the least of which is that it's basically claiming to be from *me*.

The link, of course, while claiming to point to a non-existent folder on my server, in fact points to another server entirely where they had hoped to lure me for some reason.

EDIT: This just in: spam for russian hunting videos (*in* russian) is a new one on me...

In other news...

Not too much has gone on the last couple of weeks. Our friends have mostly been busy lately, so we haven't done much that's particularly interesting or fun. We *have* played a fair bit of Lego Star Wars.

My mom did come through on her way to see my sister in Columbia, SC. She stopped over tuesday night and again on her way back on saturday. We got to go play a little golf and had a good time talking. We also went to Five Guys for the first time (it just opened up here in JC), and have decided (like several of our friends) that they are probably the best burger place ever.

My photo show at WAPC came down on thursday (also, i've been playing with my new 50mm prime a lot), almost bought a riding mower on saturday (still waiting to see if they get back with us), Thanksgaming (RuchtCon II) is coming up soon (and I've got a fair amount of work to do for it) and I've been comparing wide-angle lenses on my photography wish list.


Photo Shows and New Arrivals

Saturday September 12, 2009 at 10:46am photography, shows, friends, munchkins, camera, birthdays Comments (3) »
Photo Shows and New Arrivals Image

Well, my photography show "opened" at WAPC yesterday evening. Some of my friends were there to show some support and hang out: Robb, Edie and Llama came and so did Larry and Kris Rosolina...and of course Sheri was there :). There were also a fair number of people from Watauga as well - some of who I had met, and some whom I hadn't. Lots of people said they really liked my pictures, which was cool. Larry and Kris suggested I look into putting some of my work into next year's regional fair or possibly some other kind of photography show. I'll have to think about that - it sounds interesting.

I think I'll put up an online version of the gallery at some point - with the photos I chose and their names (which I had a lot of fun with and got several compliments on specifically). The gallery has a lot of still-lifes, a few landscapes, some pets, some small children and one or two other random shots.

Anyway, while we were hanging out there, our friends Ginger and William Galaini became parents of little Liam Ross. We've seen some pictures already (this expediency is one of the many reasons I'm such a fan of the internet and digital cameras! :)) and he shows signs of extreme cuteness and being one with the Force. As far as we know, Ginger and the munchkin are doing ok, but that's mostly because we haven't heard otherwise...I hope that gets confirmed soon.

Not much else of note has transpired. I did get some new stuff for my camera on friday : an extra battery (needed), a cable release (yay for tripod stuff), a lens hood (say no to flare) and, most importantly, a shiny new lens. At $400 it was the least expensive of the ones on my list. It's a 50mm prime with a 1.4 maximum aperture. It's intended uses are for low-light/indoor, fine depth-of-field and portraits. I'm still getting used to exactly how narrow the depth of field is at 1.4 on a 50mm lens only a few feet from the subject - like different-parts-of-peoples-faces-being-in-and-out-of-focus kind of narrow. Still learning on it and continuing to enjoy playing with it though.

Tonight we're going to a friend's birthday party. That should be fun times. :)

Nothing else to report here. Carry on.


The View from Labor Day '09

Monday September 7, 2009 at 3:55pm sociology, milligan, photography, music, gaming, concerts Comments (0) »
The View from Labor Day '09 Image

Ah, yes. A holiday. This basically means I slept in (more). We haven't done a whole lot today. We did take Ally to walk around Sycamore Shoals - and she actually voluntarily jumped into the river!! So...maybe it's not the water that makes her dislike baths? It was quite hilarious...


I feel like I've been busy lately, but my calendar seems to disagree.

I've been trying to read some sociology lately. Dr. Beck, one of my favorite professors from Milligan, told me earlier in the summer when we were chatting at a Milligan picnic that if I ever wanted to sit in on any of her classes, I'd be welcome to. I responded by warning her that if she offered such an invitation, I would, in fact, show up. So ever since the semester started a couple weeks ago, I've been trying to make it to her Social Theory class on my lunch break on tuesdays and thursdays. I bring my laptop along and sit in on the discussions whilst going about my normal work - this is one of the great things about having a job like mine: I can pretty much work from anywhere I can get a 'net connection.

It has been very interesting. I've found that I miss having to think critically to understand things. While my job is very stimulating and requires a lot of creative thinking, it's far less taxing than reading Durkheim.

I got a call a while back from Sue Shanks at WAPC who asked me if I'd put up some of my pictures in Watauga's Gallery / Coffeehouse (Just Coffee) for about a month. I told her that sounded like fun, and since then I've gone through and selected about 25 of my pictures to get prints of and then mount in some mats and frames (where available/affordable). I've been getting the pictures printed as 8x10's, which necessitates some cropping since the aspect ratio of my camera's frame isn't the same as 8x10. For this and other reasons, I think some of my pictures look better on my computer screen than in the frames, but many of them look wonderful and I'm excited to have some hard copies and to get to share them. I've been working on getting them set up and thinking up interesting names for them (I like naming things). After the show, I'll probably end up giving quite a few of them away to people that want them.

The "show" officially "opens" this Friday, September 11th around 8pm 7pm at Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church in the gallery downstairs. I'll be hanging out there most of evening. If you're reading this, you should come hang out with me, play some games, listen to some music (no salsa, I promise) and look at some pictures.

I've been playing my electric guitar quite a bit, but haven't done much with the band in the last couple of weeks.

On the gaming front, We had a very enjoyable second Mouse Guard session last night. As I've mentioned before, I'm finding that I'm needing to tweak a few rules to my liking, but overall I love the game immensely.

I've also been enjoying Patrick's Star Wars game quite a bit - last time, we found ourselves sucked into a Bonanza episode, and actually, it was quite awesome.

I've made a little more progress on my developing rp system, but I tend to go back-and-forth on a lot of things.

Sheri and I are making plans to head to AR for Ben's wedding in a couple of weeks and then, after that, we have tickets to go see the Decemberists in Asheville on the 25th!!!


Camera Gear and Lenses

Wednesday July 29, 2009 at 12:10am photography, camera gear, lenses Comments (0) »

This is unlikely to interest many who read this blog, but I feel the need to record some current thoughts for posterity and/or later reference - mostly because i've spent a lot of time thinking over and researching this stuff, and I like to post something about anything on which I spend this much effort.

As you many know, I've spent a *lot* of time with my camera since I got it back in December of 2007. I've taken about nearly sixteen thousand pictures with it since that time, and I've greatly enjoyed learning all kinds of things about photography and how to do certain things and what works and what doesn't for a given application.

I knew before I even bought my 40D that there would be other pieces of camera equipment in which I'd want to invest in order to get the most out of it. One of the great things about having a nice DSLR as opposed to a point-and-shoot (or even a compact, all-in-one dslr) is that there is a wide array of supplementary equipment that can make your camera into the perfect instrument for many different photographic applications - and the more I shoot, the more I realize what the advantage to having this or that lens or some other accessory would be.

Unfortunately, if you're going for high quality (and if i'm going to spend much, I am), camera stuff is expensive. Really. I've been saving since they day I got this thing, and i'm still a considerable ways from having anything i'm after. Fortunately, this doesn't really bother me. It's fun to daydream about how it'll be cool if I can get this stuff someday, but other priorities dictate that I wait a while.

I have so far been able to buy one additional item for my camera: over christmas last year I was able to pick up my flash, the 430ex II Speedlite, with which I have been extremely happy. It was about the cheapest thing on my list at ~$250 (apart from things like 'an extra battery' - yeah, i told you this stuff was pricey), but it was probably the most important for the most applications. The lighting this flash gives is unbelievably better and brighter than the pop-up flash and the ability to bounce light off of walls and ceilings has all but negated problems with red-eye and harsh shadows typically experienced with built-in flashes. It's nice enough that I don't actually *hate* using a flash anymore.

So that leaves me with the more expensive stuff...

I decided a quite a while back what lenses I wanted, and I still think the array is good. Specifically which lenses make up that array are the subject of frequent change, but in general, here's what I want (I have briefly mentioned this before; a little has changed):

1. A wide-aperture lens for low light, fine depth-of-field, etc. For this one, I've pretty much decided on the Canon EF 50mm f1.4. It's a relatively inexpensive yet very well-reviewed lens, and there's little that compares with it in this price range.

2. A wide-angle lens for landscapes, indoor photography, large group shots, etc. Probably the Canon EF-S 10-22, or possibly the Sigma 10-20. Really, I'd rather have a 10 or 12mm prime instead of a zoom here, but apparently no one makes one.

3. A long telephoto for wildlife and other subjects I'm unable to approach very closely. And this one is the one for which I change my mind every few days. It's also by far the most expensive (not that the others are cheap). It's *also* the one I want the most. I generally look at all of these lenses in turn; each of them have very specific pros and cons. As opposed to the other lens types, I just don't think there's a 'perfect fit' for me that works for what I *want* and what i might be able to afford at some point.

This is the first one I looked at, and I think i've come full circle back to figuring it's the one I should save for - it just seems to have the nicest mix.

The Canon 100-400 4.5-5.6L IS
Pros: L-series (pro quality), Zoom flexibility, IS (image stabilization), good reach
Cons: Clarity/sharpness maybe not *quite* as good as prime lens, most expensive

But, there are also these:

The Canon 300mm 4L IS
Pros: L-series, Prime clarity/sharpness, IS
Cons: no zoom flexibility, shorter reach

The Sigma 120-400 OS
Pros: least expensive (but well reviewed), Zoom flexibility, IS, good reach
Cons: Clarity/sharpness probably not as good as prime lens, esp. at long end

The Canon 400mm 5.6L
Pros: L-series, Prime clarity/sharpness, good reach
Cons: no zoom flexibility, no IS

I have spent a ridiculous amount of time reading reviews and looking at photos taken with all of this stuff - which, in itself, has taught me a few things.

So there we have it, my list of expensive toys outlined and documented. Maybe someday I'll get to buy some of them. Heh.

And now, on to other stuff...



Fireworks Weekend

Monday July 6, 2009 at 12:40pm holidays, friends, food, photography, birthdays Comments (2) »
Fireworks Weekend Image

So this weekend was the July 4th holiday. We went over to Rucht & McKenna's to join in their massive party. It was a lot of fun. We got to meet some new people, which I always enjoy - especially when we have something in common. It was also really cool to get to hang out with a few folks we don't get to see much since they're from out of town.

The desserts Sheri and I brought were both big hits. This was very gratifying, but I wouldn't have complained had the other guests liked the lemon cheese bars a little *less* (i.e., if there had been even one left over).

At the end of the evening, we all watched the JC fireworks display, which is conveniently set off pretty much right behind their house. A few of us climbed up onto Rucht's roof to get a better view - which was cool. I don't do heights and I won't say I was completely comfortable the whole time, but it was fun nonetheless.

I had brought my camera to experiment with taking pictures of the fireworks - which is a bit of a tricky art. I wasn't expecting to get anything terribly good, I just wanted to evaluate what would be necessary to do it. Still, I got a few shots I consider to be pretty interesting, and I've put them up in the gallery. I do wish I'd taken some pictures of the party, but I feel a little self-conscious taking pictures of such a large group of people many of whom I'd just met.

On Sunday we went to Katie's 5th birthday party. It was intended to be a pool party, but rain and some cold weather put a bit of a damper on that. It did eventually clear and warm up enough that a few people got in, but most of us simply spectated. Most importantly, Katie had a good time, and we all enjoyed playing with her.


Weekend with Parents: Golf, Plumbing, Waterfalls

Sunday May 31, 2009 at 9:05pm family, home repairs, golf, hiking, photography Comments (4) »
Weekend with Parents: Golf, Plumbing, Waterfalls Image

Well, my parents were in this weekend - it's always cool to have them. They don't make it down here enough, really... ...and we don't make it up to IN much either.

After they arrived on friday, we went out to play some golf. I played only using 5, 7 and 9 irons and a putter. I have discovered this does not negatively impact my game - in fact, I think it makes it a bit better overall. I've decided i'm not cool enough to use other clubs, so i'm gonna stick with these for a while. Or, as Jody put it, I haven't "unlocked" the other clubs yet. I think I need to reach 200 good shots with the 5 before I unlock the 2 iron...

I think my dad fixes something every time he comes to see us. This time, it was a leak in the shower dripping into the basement... ...oh, and also our outside water spigot which seems to have developed a tradition of freezing and breaking every year, no matter what I do to prevent this. We think it's good this time though. Probably.

On saturday, we gave dad an early fathers' day present. It was a picture frame. He'd said he wanted a print of one of my photographs so I decided I'd let him pick one. Well, we got to talking and he said he really liked several of them, but asked if I had a picture of the creek from the Laurel Falls trail (which we'd hiked earlier this week on Memorial Day), but with smoother (aka "fuzzy") water. I said no, but that I could. I'd wanted to go back there anyway, since we had some trouble finding part of the trail last time. This, in turn, spawned an expedition.

The four of us (dad, mom, me and Sheri) went out to the Laurel Falls trail again with the intention of me taking a particular photo. We waited till mid-afternoon (so that by the time we got there it would be late afternoon), and then headed out to the trail. I took quite a few more pictures this time - including some slow-exposures with a tripod (which i didn't have with me on monday). I got some pretty awesome shots, I think.

We ended up hiking the whole trail which, contrary to what i'd previously heard, isn't really any easier than the upper trail: it's difficulty is just a bit more spread out (as opposed to being incredibly rough at the end). On average, I'd say the two trails are comparable.

Aside from Sheri's ankle (which has been sore for a while), it was a good time. I've recompiled the pictures that I took on monday and added the new ones to the collection in the Gallery. Dad ended up choosing the wider shot of the falls for his frame, though we got prints of two others as well (since he couldn't pick just one).

They headed back to IN this afternoon. Back to the normal routine.


Mid-March Pt. I - VBS, etc

Monday March 23, 2009 at 7:55pm vbs, photography, sick Comments (0) »


Well, despite the fact that I'm still just a *little* sickish and i'm looking at a very busy work week, i guess i finally have some time to breath.

Last week our church had VBS, which went well. This year, I got lucky. I was present only as tech support and photographer - which basically meant i set up the projector, etc every day and then went around and took pictures of the different classes. I'm not sure I took as many shots this year (as i did last year), but i think the ones i have are better - both because i now have a decent flash and because I have another year of experience. A couple shots i think are really good or interesting in and of themselves (which i might post on here at some point) and quite a few 'decent' shots that are good as a VBS collage.

I did start to get sick toward the end of the week unfortunately. Thursday and friday mornings were pretty bad, but i was feeling better by the evenings and so didn't have to miss anything fun... ...and i think i still got my work done. It really wasn't too bad. I usually only get sick once or twice a year, so hopefully this counts.


Holiday Blog, pt. III + 2008 Portfolio

Thursday January 1, 2009 at 7:59pm holidays, christmas, birthdays, family, photography Comments (1) »
Holiday Blog, pt. III + 2008 Portfolio Image

Happy New Year!

So all of our company kind of left us at the same time. We went from having 8 people in the house to 2 in a matter of a few hours. My parents & sister arrived on tuesday evening and stayed till this afternoon and Sheri's family started back to AR this morning. It was a good holiday though. It was great to see everyone, and was nice to have people come to us instead of having to travel.

We had christmas with my parents last night in addition to the hanging out and playing games typical of new years eve. I was even able to find a video stream of Time Square for the final countdown (and not a SECOND sooner). Also, today's my dad's birthday and we took him out to lunch to celebrate. Additions to the already awesome holiday loot include (but are not limited to) Paper Mario, Wii Fit, an old-but-reintroduced Fantasy Flight game called 'Talisman' (that I'm *sure* I was talking to someone about recently), an 8gb USB flash drive, dvd's of My Fair Lady and Lt. Robinson Crusoe and some more $$ to put toward my camera gear (i'm currently about 2/3 of the way to the telephoto lens i want to buy) - and my brother did this awesome oil sketch/painting of sheri & I from a picture we'd sent him.

62 of the best pictures from the festivities are up in the Holidays 2008 Gallery.


Well, I've had my camera for a little over a year now, and I've learned a *lot* since i started out. I took approximately 11,700 pictures in 2008. I'd say probably about half of those made it off the camera. I have posted what i believe to be my best work in a 2008 Portfolio Gallery. These are the pictures that I really like and/or I think are good enough to be proud of.


Say Hello to Kotoko

Sunday December 14, 2008 at 4:48pm computers, friends, photography Comments (2) »

I have a new toy.

The laptop my boss gave me to use has been sadly outdated and a bit flaky for quite some time (occasionally, the keyboard will stop reporting certain keys - namely, the enter key. inconvenient, that). I don't use a lappy for work terribly often, but there are occasions that I really do need one. There are other occasions when i'd just really *like* one.

Knowing this, for something that resembled a cross between a business-expense equipment upgrade and a christmas bonus, they let me pick out a replacement for the aging dell lappy.

So now I have a new Macbook (Awesomeness!!), and Sheri got to inherit Moro, the old laptop - which, despite its faults, is still kicking and will be cool for her. Like she said 'old lappy is better than *no* lappy'.

I've added some code to the site to play with the isight camera on this thing too - you may occasionally see a 'penguin-cam' beneath the sushi-cam. Not that you *want* to, but just because I can.

In keeping with my tradition of naming gadgets after anime characters, Kotoko is named after a minor character from Chobits

I got this new spiffy gadget on saturday when we went out to dinner with Kedrick & Addie. They're a lot of fun - it's too bad we only get to see them once a year. We do have a standing invitation to come stay with them for a weekend or something if we get a chance. They talked about having us come up sometime to hang out. Maybe go to the cincinnati zoo or something. :-)

I gave them a framed 8x10 print of one of my pictures as a christmas present, and they really seemed to think it was really neat - which was great. *I* was really proud of it, but wasn't sure what other people might think. In related news, i'm going to be compiling a 2008 Portfolio gallery of what i'd consider my 'best work' around the end of the year.


A Real Post

Tuesday August 12, 2008 at 1:12pm lawn, church, photography, friends, swimming, gaming, music, blogs Comments (4) »

Or, you know, as real as I get.

Not too much has been going on here. Watching the grass grow. No, for real. Since i strained my calf muscle, I haven't mowed the yard - which is now really, really bad. My plan is to start tackling it later today. That's gonna be rough.

Sunday was our church picnic. I took a few great pictures of the munchkins on the playground. I'm still learning how to best shoot moving subjects - a lot of my shots are a little soft. Especially the ones of Claire. She doesn't stop moving. Anyway, it was fun. Oh, and I made lemon cheese bars for it (the first time by myself :)) which were a big hit with at least a few people. There were only two left.

Ginger, Sheri, Nick and I went out to the Elizabethton city pool on saturday. That was cool. Actually it was downright *cold*. There were only a dozen or so others in the water. I think i know why. After 5 or 10 minutes you got used to it though... ...if only because you were at that point numb and couldn't feel the cold. It was a good time though. The weather's been beautiful here: very mild for this time of year. Tomorrow's high is only 78 and the lows have been near-record.

On friday we had a fun gaming session. The party wrapped up what they had been doing in the dwarven ruin and have now traveled to the city of Madrid for more fun and mayhem. That game continues to be lots of fun.

Mahto's band had a practice on monday & I went to listen in. They sound pretty good for a highschool group. I think if they keep it together for a couple more years, they could be really good. They're actually playing at a 'Battle of the Bands' this thursday that we're gonna try to go to. That should be fun. Robb and I got to sit outside & play some guitar on monday as well. I really miss getting to play in a group. We talked for a while about trying to put something together at some point, but i think we'll need to find at least one more member.

Not too much else. Calendar's pretty blank for this month.


addendum: late last night i finally finished the graphic design for sheri's new blog - you can see it here.

Some fun with HDR

Saturday May 17, 2008 at 12:35pm photography, hdr Comments (2) »
Some fun with HDR Image

This is my first attempt at the HDR technique. It's got plenty of flaws and I haven't bothered posting an image at any higher res, but i'm pretty happy with the theory and the general result. I didn't play with it a whole lot, I just wanted to see what could be done on the surface. If and when I find a more interesting subject, I'll spend considerably more time on it.

Still, it's a good start I think.


Photo Blogs & Lenses

Wednesday May 14, 2008 at 3:06pm photography, lenses Comments (0) »
Photo Blogs & Lenses Image

So, in case you haven't seen the gallery, I've been having a lot of fun with my camera since I got it in december. I haven't really had the chance to go to many interesting places to shoot as yet, but I've been having fun with what's around.

For anyone who's interested, I've also found a few camera/photography blogs/sites that I've found to be very entertaining and informative:
- OnTakingPictures
- CameraPorn
and, to some extent,
- PhotoJojo.

One of them recently had an article about Canon celebrating producing its 40 Millionth EF lens - which included the picture here, which, in turn, elicited ooh's & ahh's from some of us. So then I got to thinking about lenses i'd like to get at some point. My 28-135 IS lens is a great multipurpose lens - but it doesn't do everything as well as I'd like, so ideally, i'd like to eventually get about 4 others (probably in something like this order):

- A Normal prime wide-aperture lens. Basically, a 50mm lens that can open up as wide as possible (something like f/1.4) for low-light situations (since i generally don't like using flash) and for fine depth-of-field.

- A nice Telephoto IS zoom lens. Something like a 100-300/400mm. This is the only zoom lens i'm really after as i think using a telephoto prime would be a bit difficult for me. IS is necessary since i intend to use it hand-held (at least through the shorter part of its range).

- A good Macro lens. I've found I really enjoy doing super close-ups. My lens can focus at about 8", but having a super-close-focusing lens with some good magnification would be lots of fun.

- A nice Wide-angle prime. Preferably somewhere in the 14-20mm range. Since my camera has a cropped sensor (1.6 flm), the shorter the better. This would be nice for cramped-quarters (indoor) and landscapes.

I do have specifics in mind for most of those, but by the time I'm able to afford any of them, there may be more options available. I still periodically add stuff to my wishlists on bhphotovideo.com to keep up with the options. I'll also want to get a nice flash eventually, though I'd prefer to use fast lenses instead where possible.


Craziness, Pt. II (Once more, with pictures!)

Thursday April 10, 2008 at 11:50pm photography, pictures, concerts, cats Comments (0) »
Craziness, Pt. II (Once more, with pictures!) Image

Whew, I've made it back. That's a lot of driving for a 24-hour period. Still well worth it though. Much fun was had (although, I hear the jeep was misbehaving while I was gone). ....Oh, and what would a trip to see Kevin be without the subsequent inheritance of fun-yet-obsoleted tech toys?

So yeah, i've downloaded the concert pics from my camera, sorted through them, pulled out the best ones and posted them on the site in the Cat's Cradle Gallery. They're a little noisy, but the exported jpeg's clean up pretty well at the small, web-friendly resolution and I'm quite happy with the results. I think i got some good stuff there. :-)

I've also expanded Anselm and Paddington's Gallery, which now included a few pics of Stitch and Dharma.

Anyway, I'm tired. Later.


Craziness, Pt. I

Thursday April 10, 2008 at 11:06am crazy, friends, concerts, photography Comments (0) »

Now to expand on something I previously mentioned in passing...

Yesterday I drove out here to Kevin's place in Durham to see the Weakerthans play at the Cat's Cradle. I'm currently reclining on his futon (where i crashed last night) doing some work (i love how i can work from anywhere with a net connection) and generally hanging out (cause those two can go together quite nicely for me).

It was kind of a crazy thing to do - drive 4 hours (each way) in the middle of the week, pull some rather complex car-switching (special thanks to Ginger) and orchestrate things around work and play schedules just to go to a concert and hang out with an old friend... ..but it occurs to me that I don't do crazy stuff all that often, so i figure i'm good. And it's totally been worth the trouble.

The show last night was awesome. The opening acts were good, and the Weakerthans are great in concert - very talented, energetic, animated, and entertaining to watch. They played a lot of their upbeat stuff - which is great at concerts - though I'm also a big fan of their much mellower stuff as well. They played most of the songs that I really like - including Plea from a Cat Named Virtue, which is probably my favorite.

I (of course) took my camera and, by cranking the ISO to 3200 (and possibly using some under-exposure), I was able to get what I *hope* are some pretty good shots with my lens (which isn't particularly fast). If I had a lens that could open up to 2.8, I think I could have done a lot more. Still, very fun. I found the burst drive mode to be very handy in this application as well. Anyway, I'll be posting the best of them after i get back to the Igloo, as I don't want to mess trying to pull them off my camera and convert them from raw from here.

My plan for today is to hang out here in Durham and head back to JC sometime this evening.



Monday April 7, 2008 at 5:10pm friends, gaming, photography, concerts Comments (0) »

It's been a few minutes since i've written up a blog entry...

Been doing a lot of gaming - as it happens, every group i'm in or running (total = 4) has met or is meeting in this two-week span. It's been fun.

We had a cookout for Justin on saturday. He has successfully defended his masters thesis and, though he's not quite out of the woods, things are looking good. It seems none of his family or out-of-town friends are going to be around for his graduation - which is sad. We needed to celebrate, so we did.

Sunday (yesterday) was spent in Erwin - the first time we've had to do that in few weeks. It was a beautiful day and we went down to the Linear Trail (which follows the river). I took about 240ish pictures - granted, a lot of those were duplicates. I've developed the mantra that any shot worth taking is worth taking (at least) twice - just to make sure you get a good one. I created a gallery for the Erwin Linear Trail and put a few of the best shots in it. Speaking of taking pictures, I put a couple really nice ones I took at dusk at Milligan a while back in its gallery, and I also posted some pictures of the dogs (Ally and Abby) from saturday evening.

Tonight we have Robb's Exalted game, which I'm looking forward to. It's the only game I'm a player in. It's nice to be on the other side of the screen (as it were) once in a while... ...and it's also nice to take a break from d20.

On wednesday I'm planning to drive out to Durham, NC to visit Kevin and go to a Weakerthans concert - that should be pretty sweet. :)


Night Photography

Tuesday April 1, 2008 at 12:40am photography Comments (0) »
Night Photography Image

I've just been outside for the past 30-40 minutes (it's a nice night - probably 60 degrees or so here in JC) taking pictures of the random scenery surrounding my house - using the sky and clouds as background since, despite (or perhaps due to) the absence of a moon in the sky, appear extremely lit up tonight.

Attempting to manually focus on an object (or outline thereof) that is barely visible in the ambient light has been my biggest challenge here, but as i'm getting more experience with my camera, i think i'm getting better at it and most of the shots i made tonight were pretty well in focus. I've posted a few others in the General Scenery Gallery.


Previous Week: VBS + Sycamore + Milligan = Lots of Photos

Saturday March 22, 2008 at 8:23pm photography, vbs, milligan, sycamore shoals Comments (0) »
Previous Week: VBS + Sycamore + Milligan = Lots of Photos Image

This last week was VBS at our church. We decided to do it during spring break this year (like we did a couple years ago) so as not to have to compete with other area churches for attendees.

We had a sort of kickoff/egg hunt last saturday and started the actual program on sunday night and ran it thru wednesday. Overall, I think it went very well.

In addition to my usual duties as A/V / computer-tech guy, I also got to be the "official" photographer for the week. I think I took about 300+ shots - about 160ish of which I felt were good enough for the slideshows that I put up prior to the opening each night (of the previous night's events). I have posted the handful of shots that I feel are truly wonderful in the VBS 2008 Gallery, as well as a few others I thought were pretty good for various reasons.

The weather this last week has been great overall. I even mowed the lawn (well, the front and part of the back anyway) for the first time this year today. Due to this fortuitous circumstance, we decided to go on a picnic friday afternoon at Sycamore Shoals and then walk around a bit. A few more images have been added to the Sycamore Shoals Gallery.

Later that afternoon, Sheri and I went over to Milligan to walk around and take pictures - the campus is mostly empty this weekend due to Easter and it seemed like a good time to shoot scenery without being in peoples' way. Several more shots have been added to the Milligan Gallery as well.

In addition, a few other, random pics have been added to a few other galleries (like the one I've included in this post). All told, I'm sure I took over 500 pictures this last week... EDIT: Actual count of pictures downloaded to my computer from the last week is 706 - which of course isn't counting the ones that i erased on the camera. The actual total for shots taken is probably well over 1,000.

Oh, and there will be some certain, other shots posted a little later... ;)


Checking In

Thursday February 14, 2008 at 12:34pm friends, gaming, music, recording, photography Comments (2) »

It's been about a week since my last blog post, so I guess it's that time again. Not too much interesting going on. Not to talk about anyway.

Last saturday Rucht, having decided that way too many of us gamers had never seen the movie Conan the Barbarian, had a bunch of us over for a viewing of the very old and cheesy film. Apparently we've been initiated now. We did have a good time playing with the plastic swords he got for the occasion, eating some tasty food, playing an epic game of munchkin and making another (failed) attempt at finishing a game of Arkham Horror. Oh, and because i'd seen that movie, I realized last night that James Earl Jones is also in Dr. Strangelove. Weird.

Sunday, I continued my longest currently-running campaign (18 sessions now, started a year ago last october). I love that game. It's so much different than most rp games.

I've been continuing to work on my RPM project. I'd hoped to be a bit further than I am, and it's beginning to look like I'm not going to finish. We've now reached the half-way point, and I've only got 2 songs down. I wrote about 1.5 more last night, but I haven't even started recording them yet. Perhaps tonight while sheri's at choir practice. I'm also discovering this project to be more a 'proof of concept' than an actual finished product. I'm way too picky to settle for what's coming out so far. Still, it's been most enlightening and enjoyable.

Also, I've posted to the gallery a few more pics i've taken recently. A couple more cute pictures of Ally (apparently one of my favorite subjects)(Ears!) and a few scenery pics - including a decent moon shot and a killer sunset sky. I'm looking forward to the weather warming up enough to actually go out to some different places to shoot.


Picture Perfect?

Tuesday November 27, 2007 at 6:13pm cameras, photography, long freakin post Comments (2) »

Given the amount of time i've spent on it, it was destined to make it onto my blog sooner or later. The blog is a place to write down my thoughts, and this has taken up a fairly large number of thought cycles over the last several months.

I enjoy picking up new hobbies (despite the fact that I have less and less time for current ones), and ever since I held ginger's XT hostage for a few weeks back in July (during which time i played with it almost constantly), i've had a rapidly-growing interest in the art and technique of photography, doing a considerable amount of reading on terminology, practices and how cameras work.

So anyway, I've decided that I want a DSLR camera. I usually get a bit of money for christmas, I'm supposed to get a significant raise as of January, and a christmas bonus of some undisclosed amount. I figure between those boons, I may be able to save up for a decent camera in a (relatively) short amount of time. I hope.

Anyway, that brings me to the matter at hand: what to get.

I've spent hours reading specs and reviews on quite a few different cameras and lenses, made lists of pros and cons for several, and waffled back and forth on what I think I should go for at least 17 times (I'll probably add at least 2 more to that number as I write this entry).

Unfortunately, there seems to be some discrepancy between what I *want*, and what I think I'll be able to afford in some fashion. :-( See, the more I read and understood, the more I realized what some of the nicer (read: expensive) cameras have to offer, and part of me would rather have a camera that I can grow into, as opposed to out of. I'm usually the kind of person that will wait a little longer and spend a little more to get what I really want, as opposed to settling for something *almost* as good that i can get much quicker and cheaper.

Still, I would probably be happy with a less sophisticated camera, and as a first DSLR you can make the case that I really don't need anything more than that. Also, if I truly found that I had "out grown" the thing or really wanted some of the capabilities of the spiffier models, I would by that point have much more experience and perhaps a still clearer idea of what I'd really want to buy as an upgrade. True that I'd have already spent the money on the initial investment, but several years later i might be able to afford something a little nicer if it came to that.

The Specifics - here's what I've been looking at.

The first camera I looked at is the Canon XTI. This camera gets great reviews - esp as a first DSLR camera. It is lacking a couple of features I'd really rather have, but at only ~$580, it's the least expensive of the lot. Enough that I might be able to get a bit of a nicer lens with this one than with the others. As mentioned, I've spent quite a bit of time on ginger's XT, and so I already know a lot about how it works.

relatively inexpensive, but still has most of what i want
large lcd review screen
dust detection/cleaning system for low-pass filter
no dedicated info lcd
substandard battery life
a few missing features (no color temp, no spot metering, etc)

A camera that i've spent a bit of time actually playing with at Best Buy and liked was the Nikon d80. It's a great camera, and at ~$800 it's at a pretty good price considering, but the one thing that keeps me from saying "this is what I go with" is the fact that it has a sort of known issue with its metering being a little...wonky. It overexposes shots at varying increments between .3 and .7 ev. It's the inconsistency that many have commented on as being difficult to compensate for to the point that a shot often has to be taken two or more times to get the proper exposure - a luxury not always available.

Dedicated info lcd screen
larger, brighter viewfinder
has features missing on XTI
better build and feel than the XTI
more nice, affordable lenses I want for Nikon
impressive battery life
Uses SD not CF cards
More expensive than the XTI
Wonky metering
a *tiny* bit slower than the XTI (negligible)

A considerable step up on the quality/price ladder from either of those is Canon's 40d. This one sells for about ~$1300 for just the body, or about ~$1500 bundled with a decent kit lens.

Much like the D300 mentioned below (though to a lesser extent), this camera has pretty much all of the things I like about the previous two and more, with none of the listed drawbacks of either.
Expensive. I'd have to save a bit longer for this one and would probably go with the kit lens

The camera I would really like is Nikon's D300. Unfortunately, at ~$1800 for just the body, it's just too expensive. I couldn't get a decent lens to go with it and still keep the package under $2000 (not that I want to go up even that high) - so, barring something like an unexpected inheritance from a late and unknown great uncle, I think i can safely say that one's off the table. Sadness. As such, I won't bother rambling in greater detail about how cool it is.


So anyway, that's about how it breaks down. I looked over a handful of other cameras too, but those are the top 3 contenders - at the moment anyway. I didn't go into the lenses I've looked at and considered here, because that largely depends upon what camera I get.

If anyone has any input, I'd be glad to hear it - esp. if you've some knowledge of one or more of these cameras and/or photography in general. Leave a comment or send me an email.

As of now, I'm leaning toward one of the canon cameras. Not that that narrows the field too much...


A lot about not much

Friday November 9, 2007 at 10:15am busy, family, gaming, church, photography, friends, dogs Comments (0) »

So i guess when my dad points out that i haven't put up a blog post in about two weeks, I must be slacking a little. We were talking on the phone last night about another possible web project, but I'll talk more on that later when/if it pans out.

We've been fairly busy the last couple of weeks, but there's really not much to talk about.

We did go to our church's 'Trunk or Treat' thing on halloween (think: give candy out from trunks of cars in the church parking lot), which was pretty amusing. I think the best costume I saw was this little girl dressed up as Raggedy Anne. Followed closely by this boy as a pirate - complete with mustache the hung down to his chest. Those two were very well done outfits amongst the majority of walmart suits. Alas that I was unable to get pictures of them - partly because i felt a little odd taking pictures of other people's kids, and partly due to the limitations of our camera (recycle time & low-light capability (I hate flash). Talking of which, I've been looking at a lot of digital SLR's and lenses lately and reading a lot about what's good and what's not and learning a bit more about photography in general. Pretty fascinating. But, I digress...). After that, we went over to Ginger's place an hung out with some friends there for a while - which is always fun.

Apart from that, we've done some gaming (though not on "world-wide d&d day" - which was last saturday. a friend of mine was running some stuff at a local comic shop, but i didn't make it out. Other things going on. It was coolest a few years ago on the 30th anniversary anyway... but i digress again...), hung out a little at Ginger's church's coffeehouse, managed to remember the time change from DST and went to our church thanksgiving dinner. I think that pretty much brings us up to speed.

As far as upcoming events, I have 2-3(!) games this weekend (running 2, maybe playing 1), possibly swinging by Edie's birthday party, church's oh-so-exciting committee & board meetings on monday, planning to (finally) have Bart & Sarah Price (youth minister & his wife) over for dinner on tuesday, celebrating Ginger's birthday (a bit early) on wednesday and probably running another game on thursday. Keeping busy.

Don't think i've given any update/info on this point either: Ally has so far been inside for a little over two weeks. Thus far, there have been only one two "accidents" (that were probably my fault) and one case of negligible property damage (when she accidentally pulled my trackball off my desk and one of the buttons cracked. Still works though.). She seems a lot happier and less frantic (except at breakfast time) in here. Plus she keeps me company while Sheri's at work.


Sycamore Photography

Saturday September 8, 2007 at 10:44am photography Comments (0) »

I finally got the pictures. :-)

Ginger, Sheri and I went out to Sycamore Shoals last monday - each of us with a camera. Ginger brought her film SLR (complete with fun lenses) and let me use her digital and Sheri brought our digital point-and-shoot.

It was great fun, despite the fact it was a little warm still. We had almost an hour of decent light - depending on where we were and what one was trying to photograph.

I've found that I really enjoy an artistic approach to photography (as opposed to merely taking pictures for the sake of having a picture of X). I experimented with some of the nifty functions on Ginger's camera but, despite the fact that I know how most of them work, I don't have enough photographer's intuition yet to actually think of the best settings for a given shot.

Anyway, I posted some small images of some of the shots I thought turned out the best. They're in the Still Life gallery.

I hope I/we get a chance to do that again...


Jellyface & the Week

Saturday August 25, 2007 at 2:09pm food, origami, gaming, photography Comments (0) »

It never fails: If I eat peanut butter and jelly, i get jelly all over my face.

It is inevitable.

So this week was pretty ok. Same as usual for the most part. Calendar was pretty blank. I'm starting to get some of the big projects for work out of the way. At least until i get the next one.

Made an origami owl last night. That was pretty fun. I tried making a flying stork too, but i couldn't figure out the starting point (the book was less than great as an instructional device).

Still trying to sort out my gaming schedule for the upcoming games - trying to figure out how much my plate can hold.

Still wanting to go out and take some pictures with ginger's spiffy camera. She said she'd get some film for her other camera, let me use her digital and we could go around, take pictures and hopefully teach me some stuff. Preferably some day when it's not too hot/humid/raining/etc.