I Can’t Take It!

Rusty and I were just talking about the recent decision by the Democratic party and how we’re going to count delegates from the two states, which has left both sides somewhat unhappy.

But then we kind of realized that no one is talking about the real issues? I don’t particularly care how we seat delegates. The whole system sucks, and I hope after 2008 is over we can overhaul the way the DNC works. And I kind of had an epiphany: I feel like I’m trapped in this country, a faded emblem that used to be a beacon of prosperity and freedom.

Let’s talk about some things that actually matter.

  • I paid $53 to put gas in my car yesterday. It’s increasingly tempting to get a hybrid, but they’re in short supply. Not because they’re in high demand (though they are), but because not many are produced. American auto’s only hybrid seems to be the Ford Escape hybrid. (I refuse to count GMC’s “greenest” SUV that gets 20MPG.) A question on Ask MetaFilter today called my attention to the fact that they’re basically impossible to get, with the dealer he went to telling him flat-out that they wouldn’t order one for him. BTW, Ford just announced a $3 billion plant in Mexico.
  • We are the only civilized country in the world that doesn’t have universal health care. Americans are running into massive debt because they got sick. The typical response, beneath it all, seems to be a survival-of-the-fittest mentality that if you get cancer and go bankrupt paying for your treatment, it sucks to be you. Attempts to reform the system are consistently subverted by cries of “socialized medicine” without ever presenting a legitimate claim, just the catch phrase? (And there’s a good point to be made about how this is costing us huge money in less-obvious areas.)
  • If you come to see homosexuality as something that isn’t ‘wrong’ or ‘bad,’ opposition to gay marriage seems appallingly bigoted. I really don’t think opposing gay marriage is any different than opposing interracial marriage.
  • College is $40,000 a year. Schools throughout our country are failing. To quote, well, everyone, No Child Left Behind has left plenty of people behind.
  • Veterans are returning home and getting next to no support, or staying in ramshackle hospitals. Support our troops! Anyone? Those who oppose sending young Americans—my peers; people I went to school with; maybe me if I was born into a different family—to die in someone else’s civil war are branded as unpatriotic and not supporting our troops by the same people who can’t be bothered to waste money caring for our returning soldiers?
  • The United States economy is tanking. It probably has something to do with the fact that our schools are being surpassed by countries around the globe, that our post-9/11 xenophobia has resulted in immigration policies forcing college students who come here from abroad to leave our country, and that our health care costs are through the roof.

The thing is, I really love this country. But all around me I see signs of our great nation crumbling. At times I almost feel trapped. Can we please stop focusing on the things Republicans and Democrats disagree on, and instead work on getting things done? We all love America, want our troops to be cared for, want our schools to be the best, want to get treated in hospitals, and want our economy to thrive. Working with two parties seems to keep us from ever getting anything done, because all we can ever do is disagree. But why does it have to be that way? We all want the same things deep down. Can’t we take our different viewpoints and use them to our advantage, crafting solutions that appease both of us?

Damnum absque injuria

I was pleasantly surprised by what my little 55-200mm Sigma can do! I’ve noticed that if you’re not exacting in aligning the polarizer, you lose a lot of contrast, BUT it’s very easily fixed in Photoshop. I’ve also noticed that, short of focus problems, most everything is easily fixed in Photoshop. (I’ve stopped thinking of the images out of the camera as the final product, really.)


Shot at ISO 1600, with less noise than I’d expected, even after ‘lighting up’ the shadows a bit in Photoshop. There’s noise if you look for it at high resolutions, but I’d forgotten that 1600 can be quite usable.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, I’ve started doing a lot of post-processing in Photoshop. It’s something I hadn’t really been tuned into until I started doing a lot of photo enhancement, but a lot of images have a sort of ‘haze’ to them. (Shooting through a window, or shooting through a misaligned polarizer, will do this… But some cameras with crappy metering equipment do this on their own.) That’s easily fixed with Levels. Some images aren’t quite as tack-sharp as they should be, which can also be tweaked in Photoshop. Even the best cameras have imperfect dynamic ranges, leaving some details in darker areas obscured, and brighter portions overexposed (“blown out”). So my workflow (that’s a major buzzword right there) is to align images (rotate as needed, and adjust any that have sloping horizons), perform a Shadows & Highlights enhancement (CS2 and newer, I believe, have this feature, which is invaluable!), adjust Levels, and then apply an unsharp mask (I’ve been tending towards Smart Sharpen, 55% over a 1-pixel range, but it gets tweaked as needed.) Periodically I’ll play with Variations to get colors just right, and boost (or tone down, depending) an image’s saturation, but that’s only as-needed.


That’s straight out of the camera. Not necessarily a bad picture, though a bit underexposed for my liking. (I’d gotten a batch of slightly overexposed shots, so I set it to underexpose slightly, which ended up being a mistake.) But here it is after 60 seconds in Photoshop:


It’s a striking difference: the apparent ‘haze’ has been lifted: the image is brighter (properly exposed!) and sharper.

It’s really not a great shot, but I tried the obligatory HDR shot:

MerchantsAuto.com Stadium

It’s an okay shot, but I think it’s a case where HDR really isn’t appropriate. It ends up being a very busy shot, and the very bright (very saturated!) colors in the crowd end up drawing attention away from the batter.

Nashua Fishercats Panorama

I’m also becoming a fan of panoramas. I’m glad Mr. T recommended Windows Live Photo Gallery or whatever it’s called; it’s worked pretty well. This ended up being a GIGANTIC photo (15297×1263 pixels, and that’s AFTER a very heavy crop, since my images didn’t line up that well, leaving huge black areas on the top and bottom). The downside is that there’s really no good way to view it; Flickr’s next size up (if you click through) is 1024×85 — 1024 pixels is a good width, but an image 85 pixels tall is practically useless. After that is the original, which I don’t recommend unless you have a fast connection and a lot of time to scroll around.

Anyway, it was fun… We left at the close of the 6th inning because it was getting late, but we (Manchester Fishercats) were losing 8 to 14. But I got some good pictures.


I think the best thing about SLRs isn’t their elimination (well, exponential reduction) of shutter lag, nor the support for high ISOs, or even advanced exposure and metering modes. It’s that even at relative high apertures (f/5.6), you can keep a shallow depth of field. Consider this photograph:


(Does anyone know what type of flower this is, BTW?) The photo wouldn’t be half as good if everything were in focus, as a normal camera would have rendered it. But by throwing the distracting (and ugly!) background out of focus, the shot comes out a lot better. I don’t entirely love the depth of field on this one; I wish you could see a little more of the plant clearly (which would have required that I stop the lens down a bit more), but I also wish the background were even further out of focus (which would have required that I open up the lens a bit more). BTW, a little bit of HDR going on here, as it wasn’t the best lighting.


There’s another example. Too shallow, or at least, I should have manually selected the autofocus sensor to use one on the left, so that all the caterpillars were in focus. But the background (green and purple bushes) are pleasantly blurred, keeping your attention on the tree.


Here I totally disregarded the rule of thirds. I like it anyway. The other leaves were pretty nearby, so they’re only slightly out of focus. But again, it draws your attention in closer.


There’s the best example. The trees in the background were across the street, and thus extremely out of focus. The camera focused on the leaves, which are tack sharp.

And now, I’m going to go finish mowing the lawn. There were just too many photo opportunities I noticed… 😉

Although I’m attending a Fishercats game tonight… It’ll be my first time with an SLR there. Let’s see how that goes.

Installation, Lazy

I’m going to use the default Apache and PHP that come from the CentOS repositories (until I get irritated enough with how old they are…).

So I just did an install of php-pecl-memcache and let yum fetch the “dependencies,” which, in this case, included Apache and PHP. O:-)

In other news, I’m slightly confused about why memcache isn’t a package I can install, but the libraries for it are?

I Take the “Suck” out of “Internet”

Working title: “Using Crafty Google Searches to Turn in Spammers”

Like most Internet users, I get a lot of spam. GMail filters 99.99999999% of it correctly, but I periodically browse through the spam to make sure. One day I read one of them, and realized it linked to something.blogspot.com, a Blogger blog. As I’ve previously posted, you can report spam blogs to Blogger with a simple form.

So I then searched my spam for “blogspot” (in:spam blogspot) and went to the handful of URLs (stripping off any variables passed) to verify they were spam, and reported each.

But it gets better! I reported maybe 4 people that way. But I get a lot of spam with the subject “What a stupid face you have here $name,” where $name is the e-mail address they send it to. The body of the message just contains the word “Watch” with a link, which always takes you to a file called watch.exe on various servers (most likely hacked by a worm to host there?)… I’m not about to download it to see what it does, though, but I assume it’s no good.

So I was curious about it, so I Googled “what a stupid face you have here,” and realized that a lot of the results were spam. And, in fact, several were on Blogger. So I refined my search to site:blogspot.com "what a stupid face you have", and started clicking through to find them. A few are people posting about the mail, but most are splogs.


LayeredTech just announced a 50% increase in server pricing for me. Consequentially, I’m working today to get my virtual machine up and running, and then I’m going to move everything over there. This is an all-around upgrade, too: we’re moving to a closer data center (PA instead of TX) on a faster machine, and inside a shiny new virtual machine where everything will be set up right and where upgrading to a new version won’t require spending 20 minutes to update Portage and then even more time to compile everything.

I’ll keep you posted; I just got networking set up on the machine, next comes pulling down updates and basic configuration, and then all the packages!

Enough Already!

I used to have a great deal of respect for Bill Clinton. Sure, the Monica Lewinksy scandal wasn’t so great, and I was pretty peeved at how many people he pardoned on his way out. But overall, I thought he did a good job, and his continuing work on charitable causes painted a picture of a man who truly cares about helping the world.

The more he campaigns for his wife, the more I think he’s a loose cannon who may have developed mad cow. Besides all the occasions of him flipping out, this news article (with a ludicrously long URL) says it all. His Sunday speech in South Dakota accused the media of some sort of vast conspiracy against his wife, and suggested that McCain will win if Hillary isn’t nominated. (Which is odd since most polls I’ve seen suggest the opposite: we need Obama if we’re going to beat McCain.

I also used to think it was premature and tasteless to try to suggest that she had to withdraw from the campaign. I’d have loved to have seen her withdraw and give her approval to Obama, but I thought it was inappropriate for people to call her to do so. But there are increasing calls for her to do just that, and I think the time has come. Unless she finishes big in June, she’s going to seal her fate, and it’s important that she, as the linked article says, withdraws while she still has some dignity left. Between her husband’s increasingly paranoid-sounding angry speeches, and her comment about Bobby Kennedy being killed*, which still hasn’t blown over, she’s already attracting a lot of negative sentiment, and I don’t think it’s going to get any better. I can’t find the link, but a few vocal people in New York are suggesting that, if/when she loses and goes back to being a Senator, she’s going to have a lot of wounds to heal first.

As Wikipedians would say, it’s time for her to withdraw under WP:SNOW. Wait until the next round of elections, but if she doesn’t finish big, it’s time she gracefully withdraws and urges her followers to cut out the business of promising to vote for McCain if she doesn’t get the nomination. Otherwise, she’s going to fracture the Democratic party, humiliate herself, put John McCain in office, and be hated for 20 years.

* While campaigning in New Hampshire, someone speaking at an event before she arrived said something to the effect of, “Some have compared Obama to JFK… But let’s not forget what happened to him.” Hillary seemed to be genuinely horrified when she was told about the remark, but still… Double references to Kennedys being killed, both times insinuating that the same might just happen to Obama…?

Windows Login, Verbose Mode

I made a bunch of changes all at once, and suddenly my system froze when I tried to log in, just saying “Loading your personal settings…”

For a long time, I’ve wanted Windows to show me exactly what it was doing, since “Loading your personal settings…” means nothing. Is it choking on a config file? Trying to reconnect to the network share that doesn’t exist anymore? Is my new anti-virus software conflicting with the old?

I’m still not entirely satisfied, but it turns out that Windows does support extended messages in the login dialog: in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE / Software / Microsoft / Windows / CurrentVersion / Polices / system, create a DWORD called “verbosestatus” and set it to 1. (And, per some of the online guides, make sure you don’t have a “DisableStatusMessages” key, or at least make sure it’s set to 0.)

Now, instead of getting “Loading your personal settings…” I can see exactly what file it’s loading. Although to be honest, that wasn’t at all helpful in this case, but this is a setting I’m going to leave on.

As an aside, don’t ever run two anti-virus programs at once. I’m pretty sure that’s the program. Safe Mode doesn’t let you remove software (stupid! stupid! That’s why I needed to get into Safe Mode), but I remembered the old msconfig (Start -> Run -> “msconfig”), where I was able to be judicious in disabling both anti-virus applications, along with some other services that I really don’t need running in the background anyway. And now it works like a charm.

Central NH Photos

I joined my family today in central/Northern New Hampshire. It was opening day at Clark’s Trading Post, a favorite of my brother. My brother encouraged me to go with them, and the forecast called for a decent day, so I figured I’d tag along. The area’s always been quite photogenic, and I figured it’d be a good chance to continue my exploration into HDR.

Climax Locomotive

That’s the train at Clark’s. This is what I like to think of as a halfway-decent HDR shot: a close inspection will reveal some technical flaws, but it’s normally a difficult subject to shoot well. It’s largely a black train, glossy in parts, matte in others, but it also has shiny metal highlights, plus the sky. This isn’t to say that it can’t be photographed, just that the results are ordinarily less than stunning. What I like about this shot is that your first thought isn’t, “What type of surrealist artwork is this?!” As seems to be typical of my shots, the sky looks kind of wonky, but overall, I’m happy with the shot.


There’s an example of the type of stuff I’m still on the fence about. It’s just kind of jarring in a way, as the colors, while “correct” in a sense, are unnatural. Rather than correcting for the fact that the camera can’t capture the whole scene the same way the human eye might, it goes further and does something even our eyes can’t. It’s a little surreal, but the style is growing on me. (Trivia: look closely and see how many things you can spot wrong. When stitching together multiple photos in which people are moving, things are bound to not quite match up right. They’re fairly subtle in this photo.)


There’s another building, again showing the more “legitimate” aspects of HDR photography in my mind. (Besides the ghostly half-man.) This would ordinarily be a lighting disaster. The building was receiving what was almost direct sunlight, while a dark shadow existed. And the sky was somewhere in between. In this case, I think the blended exposures work perfectly. The same goes true for this shot:

Tuttle House

I didn’t know how it’d turn out at first… It looks like a simple shot, but it wasn’t! My typical method is to set my camera up for auto-bracketing, taking three shots in a row, one properly exposed, one too dark, and one too bright, thus increasing the odds that there’s a good shot in there somewhere. Often the main one looks good, but I know that some of the details from the others will boost it when converting to HDR. In this case, though, none of the three worked. If the bottles looked good, the wooden headstones were washed out. If the wall looked good, the grass was far too bright. I had a nicely-bracketed set of three bad photos. Fortunately, Photomatix worked it magic and produced a good shot.

We eventually tired of Clark’s and went exploring the area. Lost River was nearby… I pondered what lens to take, since it wasn’t practical to carry all of them, and made the right choice to bring my wide-angle 18-50mm lens. And here I realized that shooting for HDR, much like switching to using two computer monitors, starting to carry a cell phone, or buying high-thread-count sheets, is a habit that rapidly becomes very hard to break. I’d take a “normal” shot, but realize that parts were under- or over-exposed, so I’d retake the shot as a bracketed set of three, and spent some time in the car ride back home on my laptop merging them.

Trees & Stuff

This is at the Lost River section; hardly the best shot, but a quick-and-dirty example of an ‘acceptable’ use of HDR. The trees are well-lit, and so is the sky. Difficult to pull off with one exposure, but a piece of cake with three and HDR!

As we went along, I noticed various parts of running water. (I thought this was a lost river… Pretty easy to find.) I’d never actually taken the stereotypical long-exposure moving-water shot, so this served as a good opportunity. I set the camera to ISO 100 (pretty insensitive to light, very low noise, but meaning slower shutter speeds), and stopped the lens down to f/22, which gave me about a one-second shutter speed. I set the camera down on a railing and pressed the shutter. Viola!

But I was curious… How would my newfound obsession with HDR play into this? Could you “bracket” that type of shot, and merge them with any success?


I actually didn’t expect this to work, but it ended up being one of my favorite shots from the day. The shots were something like 1/3 second, 1 second, and 2 seconds, so I expected that the water / person would have moved too much. As luck would have it, they didn’t, and the result was that shot. (A nice side-effect is that I rarely remember to stop the lens down for landscapes, but I necessarily did here… At f/22, everything, in theory, is in focus. Although if you look closely, you’ll notice that some of the photo is kind of soft where things got matched up slightly off-kilter.

We then went to the Indian Head Resort, where, in a welcome break from $15 admission tickets, we paid 50 cents to climb the tower. (In hindsight, they should have paid me to climb that thing!)

Indian Head Tower

Doesn’t it look big and scary? Nevermind that I used a wide-angle lens feet away from the base to distort the perspective, nor that I made it an HDR exposure to boost the ominous dark clouds that really weren’t that ominous or dark.

Indian Head Rock

That’s the Indian Head. For those easily confused like me, the Indian Head, and the Old Man of the Mountain are two separate things. I initially remarked, “It kind of still looks like a face,” before realizing that it was the Old Man that came tumbling down, not the Indian Head.

This was yet another one of those shots that was pretty tricky. I pulled out a polarizing filter for this one to try to boost contrast and get the sky to not look so gloomy; you wouldn’t know from the picture, but it helped. You also wouldn’t know from the picture, but this, too, is an HDR shot.

Facing the other way, I decided to take a series of shots holding the camera vertical, intended to be stitched together into a panorama. Since I have under 500MB free on my hard drive (?!) and since I couldn’t find PanoTools or any of its ilk, I ended up trying Windows Live Photo Gallery, which I installed at Mr. T’s suggestion but never got around to using much. (I also brought the image into Photoshop, where I cropped it and tweaked it.)

I’d like to give it good reviews, as it was very easy and quite intuitive. The problem is that I’m fairly certain this isn’t actually how things looked. The pond looks right, but I’m fairly certain that there were more ‘humps’ off to the left. I’m really not sure what happened, but the end result looks good, so I’m happy.