Photos from Thanksgiving 2009

Dad and Angelika Talking

I joined my family for Thanksgiving in Charlotte, NC. Well, not my whole family—my brother Adrian has been living in South Africa since August-ish and so he wasn’t able to join us. I missed him a bit; he’s a good brother. Fortunately, I’ll be seeing him (and the rest of the fam) for Winterfamilytime later in December, so I’m looking forward to that.

My family doesn’t often have big Thanksgivings—sometimes it’d just be the four of us—but this year we had something like fourteen people. My dad’s sister Angelika’s family was all there including my cousin Ian’s new wife Brianna—uh, would that be cousin-in-law?—and some friendly neighborhood folks as well.

In my effort to try to be a good host to everyone, I ended up neglecting my photography a bit. In all, I took a few dozen shots and I’ve posted four of them. Interestingly enough, my Canon 40D’s autofocus system ended up leading my astray on one of my shots (the one with my Dad and Angelika talking, which is also featured at the top of this post).

My intention at the time was to keep my Dad in focus while placing Angelika outside the depth of field. As I later found out—and this was when I was reviewing my shots on my computer screen back here in Dallas—is that Canon’s autofocus system (at least on the 40D) apparently places a focal-preference to objects that are closest to the lens (even if they aren’t the largest objects in the scene). To be fair, I’m not really blaming Canon for this; I could have (and perhaps should have) used manual autofocus-point selection to ensure the precise focal point that I had in mind.

In the end, I still kinda like the shot for some reason. Maybe it’s the canonical Dad Face that my dad has at the time. (He tends to have that look on his face when he's listening intensely to someone. It’s part of what makes him my dad.) As my friends are fond of chiding me about, I only post a fraction of the shots I take on Flickr; put another way, if I didn’t like a shot, I wouldn’t be sharing it with other people. Even though I can’t quite put a finger on it, part of me wants to be able to put a finger on what I like about it (and I can’t).

Photos from the Rangers Game

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

Our chum Nick hooked us up with some tickets for the Rangers game on Sunday and I took my camera along to see if I could get a few shots. The game was super fun and I think the Rangers may have even won—to be honest, as long as I get some beer in my gullet and ballpark munchies in my pie-hole, I’m almost assured to enjoy a ballgame (and this was no exception).

The one part I wasn’t quite sure about was how my shots might turn out. The game started at 7:05 p.m., I believe, and given that we we’re in Texas and it’s August, the sun was still a good ways over the horizon at this point. So, for the first hour or two, I didn’t have that many chances to take shots—the sun always ended up in the corner of my frame and was blowing out my sky. After the sun started to go down, though, the lighting situation got a bit more manageable.

During the sixth inning, I walked around to the seats behind home plate and tried my hand at a panorama from that area of the stadium. I ended up taking fifteen shots and I’m generally pleased with how it turned out. Pro Tip: If you’ve opened fifteen RAW files and you’ve just told Photoshop to stitch them all together, you may as well go get a sandwich. You may even have time to brew a cup of tea while you’re at it.

Eating a Klondike Bar Without Having It Melt

Preface: This tip might not be practical for picnics. Then again, you never know. [*]

So, you enjoy a succulent Klondike bar more than life itself? Or, it’s at least one of your favorite frozen confections? Either way, one of the common hazards of such treats is that, even if you wrap the keep the bar's wrapper snuggled around it as you eat it, the bars tend to melt toward glopitude by the time you get around to your last bite.

The solution? Oven mitts. Indeed, I came across this one by accident, but after grabbing a Klondike bar from the freezer and dreading its inevitable demise toward meltification, it struck me that an oven mitt—much in the same way that it insulates one’s hands when taking hot items from an oven—might also serve to insulate the Klondike bar from my own five-fingered 98.6° heat source.

I gave it a shot, and sure enough, it worked like a charm. Better than I could have imagined, even. Oven mitt on-hand and with only just enough wrapper present so as to shield the mitt from the bar’s chocolaty coating, I took a leisurely pace as I savored a (dark chocolate) Klondike bar after dinner this evening. I had an episode of Top Chef Masters rolling on the screen and it probably took me 20-25 minutes to make it all the way through. Sure enough, the ice cream was barely more melted upon the last bite as it was during the first.

Splendid. I may have just conquered the heat-borne menace that happens to attached (and inherent to) each of my opposable thumb-bearing appendages.

[*] Okay, okay—if you happen to enough oven mitts for everyone at your picnic, I suppose this could theoretically be put to use there. But, if you’re anything like me, I'm guessing you don’t exactly have a closet full of oven mitts.

The Palm Pre: 8 GB Must Be Nice

I’ve just realized that the Palm Pre, with 8 GB memory, has 25,500% more memory than my Treo 650. That’s the actual math; I’m not kidding.

[My 2005-era Treo 650 — which I still use — has 32 MB memory, of which 24 MB of which is user-accessible.]

(For those curious, AppleInsider has a pretty good roundup of the major Palm Pre reviews that are already out. The reviews from Engadget and Pre Central are two of my favorites so far.)

Blu-ray Discs for Home Theater Demos

My friend Mike recently asked for some suggestions on Blu-ray discs for demoing one’s home theater setup:

Could you recommend a Blu-ray movie that would make a good “demo” to show off the capabilities of a new A/V system? From the few Blu-ray movies I&Rsquo;ve seen, the encoding quality varies dramatically from disc to disc. I’m sure that some of the variation is due to lower quality or older original film stock, but even a few “new’ movies sometimes have picture quality more like DVD than Blu-ray.

For that, I’ve found The Blu-Ray Picture Quality Thread at AVSForum to be rather handy. There, commenters suggest rankings for movies and the thread maintainers aggregate those into overall rankings. More specifically, they group movies into six categories from best to worst:

  • Tier 0 — Blu (Reference): Blu-ray titles in this tier consistently offer reference level high-definition picture quality.

  • Tier 1 — Gold (Excellent): Blu-rays in this tier are demo-worthy and exhibit many of the same image qualities as titles in tier zero, albeit with a few qualifications.

  • Tier 2 — Silver (Good): The titles in this tier are representative of good picture quality that is above-average and a significant upgrade over standard definition.

  • Tier 3 — Bronze (Average): The titles in this tier are representative of average picture quality considering all Blu-rays.

  • Tier 4 — Copper (Below Average): The titles in this tier typically represent below-average picture quality that is subpar for the Blu-ray format.

  • Tier 5 — Coal (Unacceptable): The titles in this tier have severe limitations in their picture quality that is strongly underwhelming compared to the average Blu-ray.

In general, a good approach might be to look over the list, particularly the movies in the “Blu” and “Gold” tiers, and pick out a few flicks that you personally enjoy.

Just to get things started, here’re a few that I might go for:

Baraka (Tier 0 — Blu): As High-Def Digest put it in their review:

The 1080p/VC-1 transfer is framed at the original 2.20:1 aspect ratio of its 70mm source. The image is very sharp and detailed, often breathtakingly so. Even the widest of master shots exhibit a tremendous clarity throughout the frame. Facial expressions can be read on individuals within a huge crowd. Colors are vivid, yet always natural, without looking digitally manipulated. […]

The Dark Knight (Tier ‘1.25’ — Gold): Also from a review at High-Def Digest:

Don’t worry — ‘The Dark Knight’ does not disappoint. Easily Warner's flagship title for the year — if not the most highly-anticipated Blu-ray of all-time — this is a superlative 1080p/VC-1 encode that is guaranteed to be the new demo disc of choice in home theaters around the world.

The Fall (Tier ‘1.25’ — Gold): And, again, from a High-Def Digest review:

‘The Fall’ features a stunning, near-flawless 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that’s ripe with vibrant primaries, lush bronzed tones, and exquisitely inky blacks. Contrast is spot on and never buckles under the intensity of the beating sun or the low lighting of Alexandria’s hospital. Detail is remarkable and precise as well. Every cracked rock, parched patch of skin, and tattered costume reveals fine textures and minute imperfections that simply could not be achieved on DVD. […]

In addition to the scores in that AVSForum thread, there're also lists published elsewhere such as this 10 Best Movies to Show Off Your Home Theater article from On the plus-side, those types of articles often suggest specific chapters within movies, which can be handy, but on the other hand, they do eventually become dated as more movies come out.

For instance, that article offers these scene suggestions for Baraka and The Dark Knight respectively:


Chapter 1: After some stunning shots of mountains, the camera zeros in on a monkey sitting in a hot spring, surrounded by snow. I found myself looking at one hair wiggling in the wind.

Chapter 4: As the camera slowly moves across terraced gardens, you feel the movement. When it glides through a tunnel, people’s voices seem to come from all around you. When it finds a large crowd of men performing a “monkey” chant, it just stuns you. […]

[The Dark Knight]

Chapter 1: After nearly a minute of logos, you get an astonishingly clear and detailed IMAX cityscape, bringing you into a weirdly funny yet shockingly violent bank robbery. Shot entirely in bright daylight, it’s crystal clear.

Chapter 20 and 21: A big chase, this one at night, shot in IMAX and showing plenty of shadow detail. It also shows a big rig turning over. And the sounds, coming from all directions, show why Dolby 5.1 was invented. At 1 hour and 16 minutes into the film, gunshots fire all around you. Duck! […]

In the end, it’s up to you. There’re plenty of good discs at the AVSForum thread and if you find a movie that you like within, say, the Blu (Tier 0) or Gold (Tier 1) groups, I think you’ll be off to a good start.