December 20, 2008

Self analyzing my photography styles

As I look over my growing collection of photos in iPhoto, I have several patterns I tend to follow. Of course, there are plenty of shots of friends and family, but then I have a lot of material that I prefer. I lean towards landscapes and nature photography mostly. The subject matter generally doesn't talk back.

I have a decent "prosumer" DSLR camera and two basic zoom lenses to cover wide angles to respectable distances. Recently, I picked up my first prime lens -- a 50mm f/1.8 which really should be the first lens for all photographers. With this, I can really push the depth of field technique. A second prime lens is on my wish list -- a 28mm wide angle.

Also, I started using a speedlight for better flash coverage instead of using the unreliable popup flash.

I have modest aspirations of having my material used for stock photography companies. I have pending applications at a few places, but even if they never pan out I'll still be out there clicking away.

So, here's the first in a series of my growing body of material.

Macros, or close ups

Sometimes, the subject is the "trees" instead of the "forest." Getting up close with your subject can give you more rewarding results. The first is the side of a log cabin barn at Keystone Colorado. Its texture fascinated me and I felt the story was better explained in a tight shot rather than a wider one to capture the entire cabin. The second is the base of a tree that had been struck by lightning, causing it to split down its trunk. The exposed fibrous elements were best captured in a closeup rather than a possibly more understandable wider shot.

Future posts will cover depth of field experiments, candid subjects, the rule of thirds, elongated perspectives, and ideas that were great but didn't quite work out.

December 19, 2008

Mouse Trap Drop Dog

If I ever formed a band, I'd name it Mouse Trap Drop Dog. Complete non sequitur, right? No, just a cool name for a emergency braking system on older chairlifts.

I worked as a lift operator during the 1988/89 ski season. The first order of business was to learn the nuts and bolts of the mechanics of the chairlifts. Sheaves, cables and bullwheels, among other items.

The worst thing that can happen is a rollback, when the cable starts going backwards. The momentum of the weighted rightside will quickly accelerate backwards, and the chairs are whipsawed around the bottom bullwheel.

An emergency brake technique is to use a heavy steel bar (the "drop dog") that is dropped down between the spokes of the bullwheel. An abrupt stop but effective. Some bullwheels are designed with a series of notches on the spokes. As the bullwheel turns in the correct direction, a small metal latch ("mouse trap") drops into the notch, which is cut to allow the metal latch to slide out and then drop into the next one. The sound effect is a constant clicking. Think of the old playing cards in the bicyle spokes trick we did as kids.

However, should the bullwheel turn in the opposite direction the notches are cut in a manner that causes the metal latch to catch and yank on it which will then trigger the drop dog to fall into the spokes.

October 11, 2008

It's gonna be the future soon

Last week I left a note on Laura's desk
It said I love you signed anonymous friend
Turns out she's smarter than I thought she was
She knows I wrote it, now the whole class does too
And I'm alone during couple skate
When she skates by with some guy on her arm
But I know that I'll forget the look of pity in her face
When I'm living in my solar dome on a platform in space

Cause it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here

I'll probably be some kind of scientist
Building inventions in my space lab in space
I'll end world hunger I'll make dolphins speak
Work through the daytime, spend my nights and weekends
Perfecting my warrior robot race
Building them one laser gun at a time
I will do my best to teach them
About life and what it's worth
I just hope that I can keep them from destroying the Earth

Cause it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already

Here on Earth they'll wonder
As I piece by piece replace myself
And the steel and circuits will make me whole
But I'll still feel so alone
Until Laura calls me home

I'll see her standing by the monorail
She'll look the same except for bionic eyes
She lost the real ones in the robot wars
I'll say I'm sorry, she'll say it's not your fault
Or is it?
And she eyes me suspiciously
Hearing the whir of the servos inside
She will scream and try to run
But there's nowhere she can hide
When a crazy cyborg wants to make you his robot bride

Well it's gonna be the future soon
And I won't always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here

Lyrics by Jonathan Coulton

September 26, 2008

Farewell to The Adventurers Club

Those who know me will vouch that I am a "Disney" guy. It's a large part of who I am. However, I made a conscientious decision with this blog to keep Disney posts few and far between. There are plenty of Disney entries in the blogsphere, and most can say it better than I can. Today is one of the exceptions. I need to honor and say a few words about The Adventurers Club, which closes tonight, along with all the other nightclubs at Pleasure Island in Downtown Disney.

What exactly is The Adventurers Club? I think the slogan -- "Come In a Stranger, Leave a Little Stranger" -- sums it up perfectly. it is one of Walt Disney World's truly hidden gems. It's neither a comedy club, nor a vaudeville show, nor a bar, and yet it's all of them and more. Its sum is greater than its parts. Disney's Imagineers outdid themselves with this establishment. Joe Rohde, of Disney's Animal Kingdom fame, was involved in its creation. The premise: it's 1937, and you are the invited guest for an open house at the eponymous establishment. Inside, you meet the oddball cast of characters that consider themselves "adventurers":
  • Hathaway Browne - a rakish aviator, and the club's resident innuendo-making ladies' man.
  • Otis T. Wren - Club Treasurer and ichthyologist
  • Fletcher Hodges - Absent-minded Club Curator
  • Pamelia Perkins - Club President
  • Samantha Sterling - Explorer and cabaret singer
  • Emil Bleehall - a 'Junior Adventurer'
  • Graves - Club Butler
  • The Maid
Different actors would portray different characters on different nights. There are several loosely scripted shows throughout the night in the largest room (the library), and smaller shows in the Mask room and the Treasure room. Additionally, many unscripted character interactions with the guests would occur throughout every evening in the main two level salon. In the center was a statue of Zeus holding a fishing pole. In true Adventurers Club fashion, it's dubbed "God with Rod."

The rallying cry is Kungaloosh! A sort of multipurpose term to indicate hello, cheers, or farewell. It's also the specialty drink at the bar. Additional treasures are the British Colonel Critchlow Suchbench (a puppet on the wall operated by cast members behind it) who leads the guests in the the Adventurers Club song.

I had read about the Adventurers Club long before I visited it, in both Lou Mongello's Walt Disney World Trivia Book and the annually updated Passporters Guide to Walt Disney World. From this, I knew it was something I had to experience. My first opportunity was in 2005 when I was at Disney attending a work conference without the family. My evenings were free so I went for a solo trip to the AC (as it's known to its aficionados). The crowd was light and that actually was a good thing, since it gave me a few hours to enjoy the vast treasure of it all. The shows, while mostly scripted, were delivered by a talented cast of standup comics and comedic performers with tremendous improvisational skills. I even was drawn in to perform the fertility dance for Babylonia!

The AC, of course, is geared toward a more mature audience. The material is bawdy but not too terribly risque and full of double-entendres. It's definitely for adults and not kids. I fully realized this on my first visit when I heard Emil Bleehall sing an ode to mailmen.

I returned a few more times, the most recent being January 2008. As it turns out, that was also my last visit. This summer, Walt Disney World management announced a major change to Pleasure Island. The rationale hasn't been fully explained, other than noting that customer surveys revealed that they wanted more dining and shopping experiences at Downtown Disney. The Adventurers Club, along with a comedy club and several other adult-oriented nightclubs all will be shut down after Saturday night, September 27.

Along with thousands of others, I sent letters to Disney Management asking them to reconsider the closing of The Adventurers Club. It's too good of a gem to be closed down. It's a brilliant concept that can easily fit elsewhere on Disney property and could continue to provide an outlet for adult entertainment. For now, the only way I'll be able to enjoy the AC is vicariously through others, as there are plenty of video clips on YouTube and multiple audio segments on podcasts (notably Trapped on Vacation) that celebrate it.

I listen to numerous Disney-themed podcasts and regularly read several Disney blogs, and from them I've heard some quiet rumors that the AC may not be quite dead yet, but I'll believe it when I see its doors open again. So for now, we sing the Adventurers Club song for the last time. Take it, Colonel Suchbench:

Marching Along, We're Adventurers
Singing the Song of Adventurers
Up or Down
North, South, East or West
an Adventurers Life is Best!

September 10, 2008

Great Otway National Park

Think of Australia and what first comes to mind? I'll guess it's one of the usual suspects - the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, kangaroos, koala bears, the vast red outback, or Uluru. But a rainforest probably isn't going to easily register.

We had the pleasure of a three week trip to Oz a few years ago and it remains one of our most enjoyable vacations ever. I don't have enough good things to say about Australia, its citizens or its natural and man-made resources.

Our itinerary included a trip along the southern coast, near Melbourne, to the town of Warrnambool. From there, we saw the highlights of the Great Ocean Road, including the famous Twelve Apostles (now eleven). On a more intimate note, we traversed through the Great Otway National Park, and witnessed firsthand some of Australia's temperate rainforests. We traveled down a well worn path to the base of this waterfall, all the while admiring the lush oasis around us. I didn't have my tripod, so I utilized a fallen tree and my camera bag to steady my camera and used my trigger release cable to captured the long exposure shot of the waterfall. Interestingly enough, this was on my old film SLR (Minolta Maxxum 8000i).

If you have a personal 'bucket list' please put on it a visit to Australia. You won't regret it.

September 01, 2008

Back to school!

Even though this advertisement hasn't run in years, it's still one of our favorites. The boys, understandably, are underwhelmed.

August 30, 2008

I just *love* return receipts!

I serve as a Lotus Notes administrator in my day job. I've been an end user of Notes since R3 in the mid 90s. I've been a Notes administrator since R4 and an amateur application developer since R5. Presently, We're at R7 and R8 is on the horizon. In my office environment, Notes is the backbone of many corporate applications -- workflow tools, enterprise messaging, and of course good old email. Notes, like all email applications, has the capability to include a return receipt in any sent message. In essence, you are requesting to be notified when the recipient of your message has opened it up. And that's why I hate it.

As a concept, it's perfectly valid. If you have critical information that needs to be shared, and you have a dependency upon others completing an action, then a return receipt request on your email is a way to ensure that your colleagues are staying on point.

But a return receipt has absolutely no guarantee that the recipient has actually read the email, only that they have opened it up! So when the notification comes back to you indicating that your email has been opened, the only assumption you can draw is just that - it's been opened. I've been burned at work before by colleagues who interpret a return receipt with 'action completed.'

So what do I do? I make sure they never get their return receipts! First I determine if they have even requested a return receipt. Notes uses the field ReturnReceipt on documents; if its value is 1 (true), then a return receipt has been requested. I modified my inbox to show any incoming messages with ReturnReceipt = 1 to display with a flag. Once I see those, I then run a simple agent against those messages that sets the ReturnReceipt field to 0 (false). Problem solved! I can open the message -- even read it -- and the sender is none the wiser.