Dec. 26, 2008

Recipe: Harry and Janie’s Raspberry Pecan Feta Salad

The Dallas Camera Club occasionally has one or two potluck meetings each year and one of the dishes that I’ve always enjoyed over the years was Harry and Janie Rumberger’s Raspberry and Feta Salad which they would often bring.

A month or two back, I got around to asking them for the recipe since I had wanted to make the recipe for Thanksgiving. As it turns out, the recipe isn’t too complicated, but it comes out great every time.

Harry and Janie’s Raspberry Pecan Feta Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 5-oz box of mixed greens of your choice [I found these in one of the refrigerated cases next to the produce]
  • 1 6-oz box of fresh raspberries
  • 1 4-oz package of plain feta cheese
  • About 1/4 pound of candied pecan halves, coarsely chopped [I found these with the other bagged nuts in the baking aisle]
  • 2–4 Tbsp Ken’s Non-fat Raspberry Pecan Dressing (or Ken’s Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette), to taste

Directions:

  1. Toss dressing and greens.
  2. Add cheese and toss very briefly.
  3. Add raspberries and nuts last and stir just to mix, being careful not to crush the berries or get too much dressing on the nuts.

Dec. 21, 2008

A Quick Primer on Blu-ray Profiles

I was chatting with some friends last night, trying to explain the scoop on Blu-ray profiles, but I’m not sure I did a terribly good job of it. I've just come across an article at C|Net, though, which does explain Blu-ray profiles pretty well.

(The short answer, though, is that Profile 2.0 is the final one and, if you’re going to buy a Blu-ray player, that’ll be the most future-proof.)

And if you were to get a Blu-ray player, I can also recommend this comparison chart at AVSForum as a good starting point—ostensibly, it’s a table comparing the audio capabilities of various Blu-ray players, but it actually does a good job of summarizing things in general.

In the case of that table, the short answer is that you’d want to get a player with the green-colored cells all the way across its line in the chart. As I write this, and of the players that are currently available, that narrows things down to Panasonic’s DMP BD-55 (the Blu-ray player I have) and Sony’s BDP-S550.

Dec. 9, 2008

Photos from Thanksgiving 2008

Mom Looking Over to the Grill

My family came to visit over Thanksgiving and, while my brother has hosted Thanksgiving at his place a couple times, this was the first time that I’ve hosted Thanksgiving here. My parents flew down from North Carolina and my brother came in from San Francisco. Quite pleasantly, my friend Anella was also able to join us, so in all it made for a really enjoyable Thanksgiving.

As I usually do, I kept my camera on-hand for photos. And, while I was pleased with how they came out, there were a few photo-nuances of which I made mental notes as well.

I really dig my Canon 40D and, to its credit, it does have an Auto-ISO mode (of sorts). Though it doesn’t offer settings for a shutter-speed threshold at which the ISO would be nudged upward (as Nikons do), its Auto-ISO is usually pretty competent. What I find odd, though, is that its “normal” ISO for ordinary scenes—its default ISO in Auto-ISO mode—is 400. You’d think that it’d simply choose the lowest possible ISO, and move it up from there as needed, but nooooo.

Most of my shots still worked out, and to be fair, I didn’t reject any of my shots based on ISO-grain alone. Still, if you look really closely at some of the images (at full resolution), you might be able to discern some grain there. If the shots happened to be at 1/15sec or something, that wouldn’t be so bad, but most of the shots were in the vicinity of around 1/200sec, so it’s not like the camera couldn’t have dropped the ISO to 200 and gone with a 1/100sec shutter speed. Well, c’est la vie. I suppose I’ll just have to set the ISO manually next time.

The other thing that I noticed is that my 430EX flash has no battery indicator whatsoever. More precisely, I tried to take a couple shots indoors—in the kitchen—only to find that my flash wouldn’t fire; later checking revealed that it was simply a case of the batteries not having enough juice, but it would have been nice if my flash could have told me that before I had attempted to go for those shots.

I was chatting with my chum Travis over IM today—we both happen to have flash units from Canon—and we ended up coming to the conclusion that Canon enthusiasts have little choice but to keep a spare set of batteries in his or her pocket throughout one’s flash work. Now if flash units from Nikon happen to have battery indicators, feel free to laugh at us Canon people. On the other hand, my hunch is that Nikon flash gear doesn’t have battery indicators either. I guess that’s just the way things go.

Nov. 9, 2008

Photos from the Quarterly Meeting

Back Row of Coworkers

The local office of company I work for, EMC, has a meeting each quarter in which the management guys go over our numbers from prior quarter (among other announcements). Some of them had been held at Dave & Busters, though most of the recent ones have been held at Studio Movie Grill. (Studio Movie Grill is a local movie theater chain that also serves food.)

The general format of the meetings is that the first hour or so is mingling time, followed by the main presentation after that. There’s also an open bar and buffet of various snacks (like pizza and cookies, just off the top of my head) and that certainly doesn’t hurt. In all, I actually find myself looking forward to these meetings a bit. The information conveyed by the presentation is part of it, but I also appreciate being able to catch-up with my coworkers. (As a consulting company, it’s not uncommon for various people to be strewn about across different client sites.)

A few days beforehand, one of my coworkers asked if I would take some pictures during the meeting. Since I enjoy taking photos anyway, I thought I’d give it a shot. I mean, how hard could it be? Well, I came to discover that Studio Movie Grill is approximately as hospitable — photographically speaking — as if I had been on the moon :-/.

You know that momentary sense of blindness you experience as you walk into a movie theater as your eyes acclimate to the darkness? Well, as luck would have it, that’s exactly how a camera sees that environment — except without the acclimation part. To make the most of the light that was there, I ended up using just about every low-light trick of which I could think:

  • I set the lens to its largest aperture, f/2.8. (I was using Canon’s 17-55 f/2.8 IS at the time.)
  • I cranked up the ISO to 1600 (which actually wasn’t as noisy as I thought it might be).
  • I also made use of my trusty flash, Canon’s 430EX.

In the end, I still had to throw away a good handful of underexposed shots (though there were also a good many that worked out). Other than what I had already tried (with the aperture, ISO, and so on), I’m not sure if there was anything else I could have done. As far as the ISO goes, I might consider ISO 3200 next time, but I’m a little uneasy about the prospect of introducing more chroma noise. The flash itself worked well, though I think there’s only so much it could do. (I suppose I could upgrade to Canon’s 580EX II, but I haven’t yet wrapped my head around how much of an improvement that may be able to offer.)

Lighting wonkiness aside, I was pleased that quite a few shots did turn out all right. Studio Movie Grill generally works out fine as venue — the seating is comfortable and the beer is always cold — but it’s just a shame that movie theaters have to be so dark inside, eh? ;)

Sept. 23, 2008

Twitter Back-Channel for the Presidential Debates on Current

If you’ve been to a conference over the last few years, you may have encountered a “back-channel”. A back-channel is simply an alternate communication channel that continues alongside the primary communications channel. For instance, there may be an IRC room where audience members can discuss a panel while the panel is going on.

For the upcoming Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates, the channel Current is doing just that with Twitter in a project that they're calling Hack the Debate. In short, if you tweet during while you’re watching the debates, just include the tag “#current” and your tweet will be overlaid onto the broadcast (probably similar in look to subtitles or closed-captioning, but just with a lot more people contributing to the feed).

In this promo video, the Current team goes over how this might have worked if Twitter had been around for the Kennedy/Nixon debates:

I don’t know about you, but I think this sounds like it could be good fun. And while I might normally watch the debates on CNN or MSNBC, I think I’ll give Current a try. If you’d like to play along, here’s the schedule for the upcoming debates:

First presidential debate:
Friday, September 26
University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS
Vice presidential debate:
Thursday, October 2
Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Second presidential debate:
Tuesday, October 7
Belmont University, Nashville, TN
Third presidential debate:
Wednesday, October 15
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

That news item from the Commission on Presidential Debates goes on to say that all debates will be 90 mins in length and will start at 9 p.m. Eastern / 8 p.m. Central / 6 p.m. Pacific. And, yeah, that first one — on Friday September 26 — is this Friday.

Sept. 7, 2008

Photos from Ian and Briana’s Wedding

Ian and Angelika Walking Down the Aisle

My cousin Ian and his fiancée Briana got married last weekend (Labor Day weekend) in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. As it turns out, they live in the Chicago area (I believe), but they chose to have the wedding in the Charlotte area since many relatives (including Ian’s parents and my parents) live there.

Ian and Briana had their wedding at a botanical gardens in the area and it was lovely. There happened to be a 30% chance of rain on the day of the wedding, if memory serves, but it didn’t end up raining until quite later in the evening. The reception was held indoors, so the rain didn't have much of an effect on the festivities; and, even when people went outside for a smoke (or just to go outside), there also happened to be an awning around the circumference of the building.

It also so happened that this was one of the first opportunities I’ve had to make use of my Lightsphere flash diffuser. The basic idea with diffusers, if you’re not familiar with them, is that they serve to diffuse and scatter the light coming out of one’s flash in order to help reduce that portrait-in-the-headlights look that can be common to some cameras.

With the Lightsphere, like all diffusers, the enclosure attaches to the end of one's flash. On top of that, an additional strategy that’s often used — and one that I put to use — was to fire the flash upward to reflect it off the ceiling. In may sound a bit weird to fire, at first, but by firing the flash upward, the light becomes even more diffuse as it bounces off the ceiling (and then the walls and so on, a bit like billiard balls might travel across a pool table).

What ends up happening is that the light which may have formerly been harsh and direct is now much softer and generally absent of that yucky-flash look. This is all a good thing, but I can attest that it can take a little getting used-to. One adjustment (both on the part of the camera and its operator) is that the camera isn't always able to compensate for the longer distances that the light from its flash has to travel (up to the ceiling, off a wall, nothing but net and onto the subject).

Fortunately, this generally only requires a few minor adjustments to bump up the flash power; unfortunately, the operator has to remember to do so. In my case, I fell more into the latter category. Luckily, I was shooting entirely in RAW mode (well RAW+JPEG), so I had some leeway toward adjusting some of my shots that had ended up a tad underexposed as they came out of the camera. In the end, though, I was quite pleased with how things worked out. I had a great time at Ian and Briana’s wedding and the photography fun was just an added bonus.

Aug. 20, 2008

Preventing Pens from Leaking on Airplanes

One of my coworkers, T.Scott, had his pen start leaking on him after a recent flight. And, in case it might help anyone else, I thought I’d write a short post about a strategy that has worked pretty well for me. In short, you can generally prevent pens from leaking if you keep them upright (tip pointed-up) during flight.

That way, if the air expands within the chamber (due to a change in air pressure), the air can harmlessly escape through the tip (rather than pushing the ink through it). Typically, I’ll use the pen’s clip to attach it to one of the in-flight safety cards in the seatback in front of me just before takeoff (while keeping the tip pointed up, of course).

PS Some pages that address this topic also recommend removing the cap during flight (while keeping them pen upright) to allow further airflow through the tip of the pen. I’ve had good results without having to remove the cap, myself, but that option is there if you had wanted to take extra precautions.

Aug. 8, 2008

Seattle Sightseeing Photos

Dad at the Bow of the Ferry

I’ve been in Seattle on a project for a client here in the area and my dad came to visit over the weekend. We went on many of the classic sightseeing spots and I thought I’d give a couple thoughts in case you might ever find yourself in the Seattle area:

  • Museum of Flight — If you like planes and flight, I can recommend this — they have a Concorde and it’s probably worth going for their SR-71 alone.

  • Seattle Aquarium — One of my coworkers who visited the aquarium didn’t like it very much, but I thought it was a hoot. Their exhibit on tropical fish (the coral reef kind) was particularly good. (And, I gotta give props to the staff — they were very knowledgeable and were happy to answer all of our questions.)

  • Seattle Underground Tour — As you may be aware, much of Seattle was decimated by a fire in 1889. In the aftermath, the city planners decided to regrade the streets one or two stories higher than they were originally; this tour visits some of those formerly-first-floor areas of town. When my dad and went, our tour guide was very lively, but still informative at the same time.

  • Space Needle — In many ways, the Space Needle is Seattle’s icon. The architecture is novel, of course, and the view really is fantastic; it probably helps, also, that even though the Space Needle is no longer Seattle’s tallest structure, most of the buildings anywhere close to the Space Needle aren’t exactly of the skyscraper variety.

Aug. 5, 2008

Photos from the Seattle Mariners Game

Wide View of Safeco Field

I’ve been working on a project for a client in Seattle since early June and a bunch of us recently headed out to Safeco Field to catch a Seattle Mariners game. It was good fun — and any ballpark that has Pyramid Hefeweizen on top is a-ok with me.

I had also been pining to purchase Canon's 10-22mm lens and this outing provided just the excuse I had needed. (Besides, it had been months since my last lens purchase, I tells ya.) After getting the lens, I didn’t actually have many opportunities to play around with it; if you look over the photo set, though, you’ll see a few Seattle cityscape-type shots, but even those were taken with my 50mm lens (before the 10-22mm had arrived).

In all though, I’ve had great deal of fun with the lens. In months prior, I can’t even count how many times I had said to myself, “Hey this viewpoint would be great for a wide-angle shot… now if only I had a wide-angle lens :(.” (And, yes the unhappy face was included in my mental notes at the time.) And, since getting ahold of the lens, I’ve been nothing but pleased when those scenarios have come along.

July 29, 2008

Photos from Seattle

Sunset with a Ship

I’ve been working on a project for a client based out of Seattle since early June. Each week, I’ve been flying out on Sunday to Seattle, and then flying back to Dallas on Friday. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I’ve been working on the project with two other guys from my company and they’ve put us up at the Washington Athletic Club. And, yeah, even though that probably sounds like a Gym Extravaganza or the like, it is actually a regular hotel (though it does include a couple floors of exercise equipment, natch). The hotel has been generally pleasant and that staff has been very nice. (I think I’ve learned most of their names by now.)

What’s interesting or peculiar — depending on your point of view — is the decor. It kinda looks like the hotel was built several decades ago. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I mean, everything is clean and well maintained. It’s just that the fixtures, the lighting, and even the carpet makes me feel like I’m stepping into another era. I mean, their uneven hallway lighting kinda makes their interiors a little gloomier than they really need to be. Well, no matter — wonky lighting aside, the hotel is generally fine.

Other than some shots of the hotel, I also included some pics from a recent photowalk around the area after dinner one evening. If you happen to be the type that peers into Exif data, you might notice that all my exterior shots were taken in shutter priority at 1/100 sec. “So”, you might be thinking, “why take exterior landscape-type shots in shutter priority rather than aperture priority?”

Well, as is turned out, I didn’t have my tripod with me at the time, and especially with the setting sun, I knew that I didn’t have that might light to spare. I also only had my 50mm f/1.4 lens with me at the time and I knew that I could safely hand-hold shots at that focal length down to maybe 1/80 sec. So that’s why I chose to force my camera to take shots at 1/100 sec. Pleasantly enough, that strategy seemed to have worked — though not every single one of my shots was a keeper, none of the shots that I tossed aside were due to camera shake.

Last but not least, I’d also like to give a shout-out to a little gizmo from Manfrotto, their Hot Shoe Bubble Level. Yeah, just like the name implies, it’s a tiny level that fits in the hot shoe mount of your camera. It’s not exactly cheap — it’s about $30 — but the thing works marvelously. When it comes to hand-held landscape-type photos, a level shot can sometimes make all the difference.

For instance, this hand-held sunset shot may look perfectly level, but that?’s because it is. I measured the waterline in Photoshop (so that I could minutely rotate shot, if needed), but the shot was dead-level right out of the camera. For anyone that takes hand-held landscape-type shots (or other shots that need to be level), I can heartily recommend Manfrotto’s Hot Shoe Bubble Level.