Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jpeg and image quality loss

Ok, folks, I've had enough of the talk by the photographers who argue against shooting jpeg format with digital DSLR cameras. One argument they use againt jpeg to bolster the argument for shoot raw is that all photo editing software packages lose something in the image every time you open and save the image file.

That was the case a few years ago, but since then and especially now with the latest version of packages, well, to them I say they're wrong. All the latest photo editors, from Adobe (Photoshop), Apple Aperture) and LightCrafts (LightZone) are lossless editors with jpegs. So, if you trust your camera, know your photography, and want to take a lot of images with the minimum of post-processing, shooting jpeg isn't bad and you won't lose any quality in the editors.

I'm not against shooting raw format. I use it for the final images with my landscape, nature or studio work. I like to shoot a lot of jpegs to see the different compositions, light, exposures, etc., and then when I get one I like I'll switch to raw+jpeg. In the end I still rarely do anything with raw image. I still find most of the jpeg images to be right on or requiring only minor tweaking and sizing for printing and Web display.

Since I shoot to capture what I see, I don't do much abstract or fine art photography which requires raw and where you can take full advantage of the photo editors. I do use the functions and features with my 4x5 scans of color transparency and black&white negative film, but then I'm working with a large file where the functions and features help.

But having been a longtime film photographer, and living with the pros and cons of each type of film, you have to adjust and learn, and work to get the most in the image at the time. Some films have a good dynamic range, especially black and white negative, and less so with color negatives. Color transparency films, on the other hand, weren't robust and you had to be spot on for the best image.

You learned to work in the framework and mode of the film. And I still do. I love it and it makes me think about everything, or try to anyway, to capture the best slide photo I could that printed with the least work. Shooting jpeg is very similar, except you have the full range of transparency films in one camera, but you have to get the exposure right, because even with the best photo editor, you don't have a lot of room to play.

It's the basic challenge of being a good photographer while your standing behind the camera. And while I will shoot raw occasionally, for the rest of my photography jpegs works fine and with the latest versions of software, it's not a point against it anymore. So can we stop the rants about jpegs now? Because being me, the longer you rant the more I rave.

NPR - Walking revisited

This week the trusty, dusty - but washed and cleaned this last weekend - is in the shop for a new clutch and related issues. At nearly seventeen years, the van doesn't have problems, it has issues, similar to get old, some things just wear down, and then they make noises, leak, clunk or bump, or somesuch thing. Things of warnings for the mechanic to do now than wait for it to break.

The shop where I'm taking it now, Small Car Performance, specializes in VW Vanagon, and especially the later wasserboxer models (post-microbus model). It's not the dealer where I bought it and had it serviced all the time before. They also have a shuttle service, but not this shop, which is your choice of taxi, friend, family or feet. So, knowing a taxi ride is $25+, feet sounded pretty good.

So, cranking up Google Earth I discovered it's 7.1 miles from my home, about right by the odometer. But I can't walk on the highway, so it's an 8-plus mile walk one way. The walk is up older streets in Tacoma to the new Narrows Bridge, across and onward home. And it was the walk through these areas that made it interesting.

Neighborhoods settled and developed long before being incorporated into the City of Tacoma and before zoning and building laws governing lots and homes. You walk past the history of then rural Tacoma and the subsequent development of individual homes over decades. On top of that, you see the interspersed conversion of homes into business with the old to new small commercial buildings alongside houses on the main traffic streets.

It's the dynamic history of Tacoma, all in a short walk down the street. I could have ridden the bus, it's a major street with a route it's whole length (I had to walk about half it's length), but it would lose the slowness of walking and the opportunity to experience it, to stop and look. And to meet and talk to people. A human experience. A history lesson. A snapshot in time, one day in the life and evolution of a street, one long passed its prime playing catch up with the new neighborhoods.

Too bad we don't do this enough. And when I pick the van up I'll have to reverse the direction of the 8-plus mile walk, to see the same things but from the other direction and side of the street. And stop at a different cafe to taste their coffee and the work of their barista.

Monday, February 25, 2008

NPR - Concrete floors

Why do people like standing on concrete floors? And not just physical ones, like basements, but more so the mental ones, the ones they like to call the foundations of their view and perspective of the world and life. I don't mean just the religious folks who preach and teach about the absoluteness of their ambiguous religion, but in a way many of us, and all in some aspects and respects, who try to make an issue something solid they can stand on without any possibility of being moved.

And yes, we're all there, standing on our own concrete floor. The question is how big and thick the floor is, meaning how much of your life and how many of the issues in life, not yours but the whole of them, is your floor so solid you won't budge and it can't move, or so you think and like to say. Ever heard of an earthquake?

Not the kinda that rocks California and other places, although they do wonders on concrete floors, but the kind that rocks your heart, your mind, your soul and your spirit. In other words knives through the mental walls you've built around yourself and your views of the world, and shakes your mental floor so hard it not only moves, but cracks and crumbles from the obviousness of the reality you've just experienced.

And still you insist on standing on concrete floors?

Where I live earthquakes aren't common, or at least the ones that are felt - the San Juan de Fuca plate likes to vent itself in smaller, shallower increments of movement, except the occasional really big one, like the Nisqually earthquakes of April 1949 and February 2001. Where I live, I've felt about four in the last twenty-plus years, most small ones (<4.0) originating a few miles north and shallow).

The February 2001 earthquake was different. It shook the house like a child shakes a toy. Everything moved every direction except up or down, just waves going through from one corner to the opposite corner. The house twisted and swayed, and in the end, when the earth settled down, came back to normal. Nothing fallen off the walls, not fell from the cupboards, nothing slid off tables, but everything was different.

And through it all and afterward, it confirmed the old-fashioned logic about your house and your land. You build a flexible house on firm land and a stiff house on less than firm land. I live on the top of a well cemented sandstone bluff, old glacial fill from the Vashon Stage where the weight of the glacier sat and pushed everything into a tight, solid mixture of everything it deposited about 12,000 years ago when it advanced south and then receded north.

So solid earthquake waves simply pass through not disturbing the land one bit, but transftering all the energy to the house. And if your house isn't flexible, it falls. And while it demanded your attention to your world for those moments in time, mental earthquakes do the same to our reality and life. The lesson is the same.

You should be flexible in your life where everything appears solid but transfers energy to you. You need to know to be open to seeing, learning, understanding, accepting, and whatever else the situation demands of you. You're already standing on firm beliefs and values, but you have to be flexible for the diversity of the world, life and people. It's about giving and forgiving, yourself and others for being human.

You should be stilff but learn to move in your life when everything isn't so solid, where everything can move dramatically in many directions, and you end up somewhere else. You have to have that belief in yourself to adapt and adjust to the new situation and reality while maintaining your sense of yourself. And be willing to have a few mental bumps, scratches and bruises.

And even maybe a significant paradigm shift. For being solid isn't about being rigid. It's about be alert and alive, and being in the times to know everything else is different and you have to change your view but not your beliefs. When everything is different when it's up, down and sideways, you have to find your foundation again for your mental floor.

The point? Well, it's about thinking that standing on concrete, physical or mental, is absolute and solid for your world and life. It isn't. It's about being relative to the whole world, life and people today and being relevant to the whole as a person and a human being. And standing on concrete will only leave you cold, stiff and sore, and no one around you.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How much to learn

I've been spending some time learning to produce better prints, if only for 4x6 prints for photo cards. And no, this photo isn't scheduled to be a photo card, yet anyway. Because everyone I show the proof prints haven't expressed any interest in this one. But I like it, which is enough for me and my photography.

Ok, I wandered a bit, like I always do. My goal of late has been developing a portfolio for photo cards where I can print them on demand for family, friends, and anyone interested in some of them. Again, off the subject, I've learned that I'm a poor judge of what people like in photo cards, and I've also learned people choices vary if they're buying them or getting them for free. Currently I give cards away, the business and marketing of them isn't worth it.

Ok, back to the subject. When I started to print my third generation cards I decided to really learn printing. The first generation cards were with prints from local labs. The second was getting started with my photography computer, using a lot of default settings with the scanner, Photoshop and printer. And slowly I started playing with the tools and settings. I'm a learn by doing person, and read books when I want to know something or I'm stuck, usually the latter.

Then I discovered how little, really very little, I knew. But then I discovered how much information there is, except much of it is too complex and complicated to be useable to understand enough to get a basic understanding and get on with my workflow. So, it's a question of how much information does one need or want to know to do a better job and still understand the whats and whys of the process and work. And so I started going through the literature, mostly scanning to see if it's useful for basics and then onward to more.

Another part of my understanding is that I have to understand the logic and ideas behind something. It's not essential to doing the work, like a mechanic not knowing the enginneering to an engine but they can fix one. The same applies to photography. You don't have to know the concepts behind color management, photoshop, printing, etc, just the tools to produce what you want in the results. That's not always smart, but works for some people, just not me.

Or at least I like to know enough. And that's where it gets complicated, in both the information and the wealth of books and Websites. Doesn't anyone understand enough to write good overviews? Well, so far I've only found one, Harald Johnson's Mastering Digital Printing, Second Edition. It has a good overview in the chapter, "Understanding and Managing Color."

Well, that's it for now. I'm still reading, learning and printing. And hopefully the cards get better in the process.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

JMO - Real WTF moments

Ok, we know what "WTF" means, and it's used a lot more than really necessary, but these two really are these moments. And they are?

First, from NPR's story when "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured members of Congress on Wednesday that the Bush administration isn't going to limit the options of future presidents regarding U.S. policy in Iraq.", see the whole story. We're building the largest US Embassy in the world in Baghdad and we're building three permanent bases in Iraq. In addition, we're negotiating a longterm alliance agreement with the Iraqi government to assure we'll support them to at least 2018.

Ms. Rice is one of those real people that the joke applies. "How can you tell when someone is lying?", pause, "Their mouth moves." Every statement she has made can be parsed to reveal it's a twist of the truth and reality, and often avoiding an answer, turning it into something else. She is one of the best at it, but she's fired all her bullets and people have learned she lies everytime she talks.

Second, from NPR's story on war veterans. The Department of Defense and the Bush administration asks them to fight for their country and they treat them like shit when they come home. They get less than good care, often denying them care if they're reservists or National Guards because they're not "regular" personnel. And even regular veterans have had less than adequate care for mental health, often discharging them to avoid longterm care.

The government has not supported the Reservists and National Guards in returning to the jobs, supposedly guarranteed in law, but not prosecuted by the government. We promised them and then the government abandoned them. And now this, the reality that many are losing their children because they served our country and left their children with caring family or friends.

These are really WTF moments where I want to go see George and thump him on the forehead with a hammer. Hard. To dent his dulled mind and to get his attention to his intentional acts of stupidity to the veterans. I'm a veteran and I wasn't treated this badly by our government.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

JMO - Big Brother

I was listening to the story about the new surveillence bill passed by the Senate. The House hasn't passed their version of the bill, but the most important feature is theirs doesn't have the retroactive legal protection for the communication companies for violating the laws granting the NSA access to eavedrop on everyone's phone call, e-mail and Internet usage. I suspect the House or in the conference committee will include this feature.

And while the Democrats during the 2006 election campaign and in the first session taking over Congress promised to protect the civil rights of citizens, they reversed course and gave the President even more powers and control than the Republicans had planned to give the President. The Democrats betrayed the American people and have set the stage for a permanent Big Brother government.

We will have government agencies, such as the NSA, FBI among others which have full and unrestricted access to the private affairs and communications of all citizens. Studies have shown the warrentless wiretaps and other surveillence provsions of the Patriot Act have been invoked far more times than almost the previous requests under FISA before the Act. And that 95+% of those intercepts have been for either criminal acts or citizens incidently, often accidently, associated with criminals.

While they focus the discussion on fighting terrorism, that's not how the law reads. It give the agencies blanket authorization to conduct searches for suspected terrorist activities or with individuals suspected of providing material support to terrorists or their organizations. In short, they don't have to show proof of anything except a thought it may be. They only need a suspicion, which we've all learned is dubious at best.

Do you realize they have conducted surveillence, reading all the e-mail, listening to the phone calls and watching the Internet traffic of innocent people who were incidental or accidental in the lives of criminals or were part of blanket searches? They accessed your private life as part of a broader search for suspect of something they don't know and can't determine even if anything they did was illegal. Do they really need all the power?

No. They had enough power before the Patriot Act. But now we will have an unrestricted government watching the private life of every citizen in the name of fighting of terrorism. It's a facade, pure and simple. The 9/11 Commission and other studies have shown that 9/11 could have been prevented had the FBI and other agencies simply shared information and had better internal communications between agents. Simply human communications.

And now we will have the real Big Brother government who can peer into every aspect of your life through your telephone communications and Internet usage. Is this what the founding fathers would consider fair and reasonable? It will never been undone, and we're now forever into the future a totally different republic and democracy, and not even either but a corporate oligarchy where the government doesn't trust its own citizen, and can and will spy on them at will.

Yes, Margaret, 1984 has arrived and Congress is making it legal. And if someone reads this, so be it. I'll stand with my right of free speech. Is the next step the right to arrest and prosecute someone for thinking? Oh, they've already done that too, but that's another issue.

Monday, February 11, 2008

JMO - Lesser of Evils

Why is picking a Presidential candidate so hard? So hard, in fact it's a choice of the lesser of evils. Last month I wrote an essay about my opinon on the issues in an open letter to the candidates, meaning if you want my vote, you have to consider these as ideas for a better country and nation. Like it matters to them?

I know I'm one of many votes the candidates are trying to entice into their camp. I'm an independent - not registered as either a Republican or Democrat, and I choose my view on the issue, not the party or person. And I also select my candidate not just on their views on the issues, but on their personality, character and values. You can disagree with someone but if they have the character to listen and discuss an issue, and are will to negotiate a compromise, then they're better than someone who isn't even if you agree with them.

Why? Because being obsinate won't get you very far in the world and very far working with other people. I know, I'm obstinate on some issues, but I'm also willing to talk, listen and compromise to get an agreement. It's not always true, but sometimes, something is better than nothing. And being obstinate often leaves you with nothing. Been there done that.

My point? Personally I would like to have a buffet with the candidates. Can I make one from the many? Reading their views on issues, I realize I like a some of their views and dislike many of their other views. I even like some of the views the Libertarians have on the Iraq war and civil rights and protections, just not on government and taxes. And it's the same with the other candidates, a few here and a few there, and soon I have a whole candidate, just not in one person.

I know I can't, and you have to pick one from the array of issues you agree with and the array of issue you can live with. And the rest of the issues, the ones you hate them for? Well, you swallow and hope that they will change, knowing they won't. And that's sad part of it, you know you won't like some of their views you value, and there is little you can do about it.

What also bothers me with the primaries, and will be even more in the election, is the sheer volume of political rhetoric we all know is simple rhetoric, and for the most part, meaningless, simply designed to sway you to vote for them. And all the while we've argued for real debates, all we still get are snippets, nothing of substance or value to really understand who the candidates are and where they stand on issues. And what they're willing to do about solutions.

All we hear are problems and general or, worse, generic solutions. We don't hear about the complexity of an issue, their willingness to talk about the facets of an issues, and their interest to find a good solution which works for everyone and works for this country and nation - country being our whole economic and social environment and nation being our identity about ourselves and in the world.

I would love to hear answers to questions like these where they talk for 30-60 minutes on each with people asking questions to clarify their views, ie keep them honest.

"What is your realistic view of the right of a woman to the whole array of medical information and choices with respect to her reproductive rights, from when she first becomes a woman through menopause?" Abortion is part of the array, so where do they see what right a woman has to it. Why do you think, if you do, anyone other than the woman and her doctor has the right to interfer with your choices to information and medical proceedures?

"What is your realistic view of the role and work of the US in the longterm solution to the Middle East and South Asia - from Egypt to India?"

"What is your realistic view of the future of this country economically to prosper in the global economy given our current labor structure, organization and costs?" What would you do to ensure Americans will earn liveable wages with good retirement benefits to have a home, raise a family, feel safe in their neighborhood, have access to good health care, have access for their children to a good education through college, and so on?

"What is your realistic view of the role of the US military in the world?" Do we really need to outspend all the other nations combined on annual budgets, act like the world's police, and continually degrade American values toward human rights with wars, prisons, torture, etc.?

"What is your realistic view of the role of the US in international politics?" Do we need to be a leader and a partner with other nations, to promote human rights instead of dictatorships, military oligarchies, etc.? Where do you stand on working toward peace initiatives to ensure we don't have wars again?

And so on. I'll add questions as I think of them. And until then, I'll wait, watch and listen for something to feel good about in this election. So far, I haven't seen any good feelings other than telling me what I want to hear to vote for them. And that doesn't win my vote.

Friday, February 8, 2008

JMO - Jennifer Boylan

I had the opportunity to listen to Jennifer Boylan on tour for her latest book, "I'm Looking Through You: Growing up Haunted." And yes I bought the book (earlier at the store) and she signed it. If you don't have the opportunity to hear her in person, you can catch an interview with her on KGO radio.

Ok, so why should I listen to her or read her book? Besides being an excellent storyteller and a superb speaker - ok, it was a book reading, but she's a professor with a good sense of herself and audience, and she's witty, funny and authentic? So what's not to like and enjoy? And most of all, she's has a great story to tell, which she does with great ease and grace.

And why after that? It's an interesting book? Yeah, really. It's about her growing up in a haunted house and seeing a ghost, which later in her life shows up as herself. We can all relate to having ghosts in our life, and not always in the traditional sense but the personal sense of yourself. And what makes her life interesting is her history.

Her book, along with her other one, reminds me a lot of John McPhee's book in terms of style and ideas. John writes about regions of this country, or his books I've read, with stories about people and places, and along the way teaches you history and science. Jennifer Boylan does this with her life, telling stories about people and places, and bringing you along her life.

And she has an interesting life. And for that you should listen to the interview, or buy and read the book. And even better yet, get to a book reading. You'll not only be entertained, you'll walk out a little smarter and wiser about life and people. What's not to like about that?

NPR - Life in the fine print

A friend sent an e-mail saying that the wife of a cousin was killed in the recent tornadoes that struck from Arkansas to Tennessee. The cousin lived in Alabama and his wife was one of the 55 people killed in the storms or from injuries. His wife was struck in the head by flying debris, was in a coma, and passed away during the night after surgery. In an instant, the man lost his home and his wife.

I've always believed in the randomness of life, our individual life lost in the numbers of the on-going events and life of the world. For much of life we exist because the randomness of things didn't find us, and then in an instant, it happens. And we're either the one who died or the survivor wondering what the hell happened. And we become a number or a line in a news article, and eventually perhaps an obituary.

Very few people are important or do significant things that merit more than being lost in the fine print of life. Almost all of us leave with just a short reminder, if that, of our existence, and perhaps mention of those we left and loved. And maybe a short description of what befell us, some disease, accident or event, and what type of life we had, we we did, accomplished or left as a reminder. How do you summarize a life?

I don't know. I don't know what my friend's cousin is wondering. God knows the enormity of what's ahead for him from a few minutes in his life. Everything is different and everything ahead a struggle. And everything behind a memory with little to hold for it, except in his heart and mind. Somehow, in the end, that's all we have anyway. Belongings are just reminders. Only those we love are real.

I've always rememebered the stories about friends who died, but now I know when I read the newspaper about such events to take a little time to think about those that perished and those they left behind. It's continuous in the world today, but it doesn't mean we can't think about the reality of it. Because some day all of us will be the life in the fine print.