Archive for December, 2006

Independence Day

Posted by Arlo on Dec 29, 2006 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Independence Day

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Six months ago, I took my fancy-schmacy 8 MegaPixel digital SLR out to take pictures of the Independence Day fireworks show.  Except for leaving my cable release at home, I was completely prepared.  The weather was clear, I had a tripod, and thanks to a friend, we established ourselves in the perfect vantage point: The top floor balcony of the Juneau Public Library.  We had an unhindered view of the channel and I had more than enough time before the show to test out different exposure settings. The above picture is not from that night.  The half-assed snapshots I took in 2004 came out far better. After looking at them, I think it’s because I was exposing for what I saw that night rather than exposing for an aesthetically pleasing fireworks photograph.  It never gets truly dark during the summer in Alaska, so the sky was still bright when the fireworks started at midnight.  I thought the cold blue of the sky was great and exposed my pictures to keep it intact.  Unfortunately, the fireworks were brighter and when the blue of the background sky was kept, the fireworks themselves couldn’t avoid being overexposed. The photo above was taken with a 3-MegaPixel point-and-shoot.  Of course, I didn’t just point and shoot with it; I know how to use the PowerShot s30’s manual controls.  But the shooting conditions were less than ideal, that night.  It was a drizzly and my “tripod” was a staircase railing up on the hillside.  My pivot head was a quarter.  And yet… so many of the pictures turned out that it was difficult to choose a favorite from a directory full of 4th of July photos. Because of the rain, it was dark enough that night that I didn’t even notice the tree on the left until after the first picture was displayed on the LCD screen.  Even choosing my focus point was difficult — I had to wait for the light from the next explosion before my camera could auto-focus again.   Despite all that I got good pictures!  The sky is nice and dark (but still with a tinge of blue), which accentuates the colors of the fireworks.  The silhouette of the tree definitely adds to the composition.  Even the smoke trails seem to align within the rule of thirds.  Lucky, I guess. Canon Powershot s30 Date: 4 July 2002 Focal Length: 12.3mm Shutter: 6 seconds Aperture: F/3.5 Photoshop: Cropped from 4:3 to 3:2, Minor color correction

Guitar Hero

Posted by Arlo on Dec 29, 2006 under Life of Arlo

Guitar HeroI’ve got a nasty bruise on my left palm, just below the index finger.  The tendons in my hand and wrist ache like previously-broken bones warning of a change in weather.  My right thumb is developing a callous.  Oksana bought me a PlayStation 2 with Guitar Hero II for Christmas.

As cramped up, clawed over, and carpel-tunnel destined as my hands are right now, I still have to will myself away from the TV long enough to write down my thoughts.  Guitar Hero II is an instant addiction and I want another fix.

I’d never even seen the original Guitar Hero played, let alone picked up one of its flimsy-looking, plastic controllers.  But Penny Arcade’s, Jerry Holkins kept preaching the virtues of rock, and when a game magazine’s editor decided a comment on it was worthy of a place in his parting words of wisdom (“Guitar Hero really is as good as everyone says. If you haven’t played it yet, do so.”), I started dropping hints for Santa.

The game is slightly more expensive than most new PlayStation games if only because it comes bundled with a game controller shaped like a miniature guitar.  A first blush, it doesn’t look like much.  Five colored buttons adorn the neck and make up the “frets.”  A simple rocker switch in the middle of the body is your “strum bar.”  There’s also a whammy bar and tilt sensor hidden inside.  It looks cheesy as hell.  One wouldn’t think you could rock out on such a clunky piece of plastic.  One would be wrong.

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Blogging about blogging

Posted by Arlo on Dec 27, 2006 under Website

The only photo I had of my website.“I hate to write; I like to have written.”

I read that somewhere, but try as I might, I can’t seem to find a proper attribution.  Whatever.  It describes the interaction I have with my blog quite well.

In the last week, I’ve posted three entries.  Good.  That means this one can avoid being another pathetic “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while” file to Google’s cache.  However, I’m still going to write about what I write about here.  Again.

As I look back over the archives, I see that I’ve barely averaged one entry a month over the past year.  My ego’s not so swollen that I worry for my readership; what bothers me is that I’m not writing about things that I will want to read about in years to come.  One of the things I enjoy about my blog is that I can go back and read about things that happened before.  I’m reminded of the thoughts and feelings I had at the time.  Usually, that’s a good thing.  That’s the “have written” part I like.

A Midgett Blog seems to break down into just a few categories:

  • Stuff that happened to me (1, 2 , 3),
  • Travelogues (1, 2, 3),
  • Essay-like writing (1, 2, 3),
  • Movie Reviews (a short-lived experiment),
  • Creative writing (of which there is really only one example ), and more recently,
  • Photography

I always wonder if the things I want to write about have a place on my blog.  When I created it 3 1/2 years ago, I appended the “sporadic and rambling by design” subtitle specifically so I wouldn’t have to worry about a theme.  Sometimes I wonder if what’s posted here is a little too sporadic and rambling.

One of my writing goals is to effectively communicate what I’m thinking.  Stephen King calls this telepathy; I like that.  Often, I use many words in pursuit of this goal.  (Too many?)

I’m off-contract until mid-January so I thought I’d change things up a bit while I have the free time.  For the next little while, I’m going to shoot for shorter entries.  I’m hoping this will have the added benefit of more frequent updates.  Hmmm…  Perhaps I’ll change my subtitle to “periodic and rambling by design…”

I’ve got plenty of topical ideas jotted down.  More photos, essay-worthy musings, overdue notes on my trip to Russia, maybe even a half-hearted stab at fiction…  For those few friends and family that are among my regular readership, if there are past entries or categories that you’ve particularly enjoyed (or other suggestions), well, color me curious.

Caribbean Blue

Posted by Arlo on Dec 22, 2006 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Caribbean Blue

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Ever since catching up on naming all my digital images, I’ve been meaning to go back through them and set aside the photos I especially like.  The first choice was an easy one because Oksana made it a part of a montage of honeymoon pictures that hang on our bedroom wall.  Every night I’m reminded that I should quit procrastinating…

One day on our honeymoon in St. Thomas, Oksana and I went on a day-long sailing excursion.  It was a beautiful day (as most days in the Caribbean are) and we passed the time lounging on the deck, sipping frozen rum drinks, and snorkeling at various spots along the coast of St. Martin.  We were under sail at one point, moving fairly fast, when we passed this skiff anchored in the deep, clear water.  I didn’t have time to frame my shot, but I managed to take two quick pictures as we sailed by.  Looking at them later, I decided that neither was well composed.  The first framed the boat and its shadow, but it was the second that caught the shoreline and a piece of the sky.

After looking at both pictures, I decided to see what Autostitch would do with them.  Turns out, nothing at all.  Understandably, It didn’t see them as photos in a panorama.  I decided to trick the software by cropping out just the upper portions of the photos, rotating them both 90 degrees, and trying again.  That gave me a tiny “panorama” of just the shore and sky.  I took that into Photoshop and laid it over the first photo.  A little bit of soft-edged eraser here, some cloning of the sky there, and voila; a new composite photo with only the best parts remaining!

(I think the horizon still looks off, sloping down a bit to the left as it does.  I tried rotating it back to the horizontal, but for some reason that looked even less correct.  Maybe it’s a curved-peninsula-perspective thing.)

Canon Powershot s30
Date: 4 September 2002
Focal Length: 7.1mm
Shutter: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/2.8
Photoshop: Merging of two photos, Cloning sky (upper left), Minor color correction

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Alaska Communications Systems

Posted by Arlo on Dec 21, 2006 under Life of Arlo

When I originally wrote this, I was just venting.  Something actually came of it.  Be sure to read the follow-up!

Hypothetical Google ResultsACS is pissing me off.

Hey, that’s a good opening line, isn’t it?  Probably got you interested.  That’s great, but honestly I wrote it in the hope I’d eventually see a change in Google’s search results.

My wife and I have been loyal ACS customers for over five years.  Of the local carriers in Juneau, they have the best wireless cellphone service, at least in terms of coverage.  Oh, sure, we’ve had our gripes.  ACS’s plans are more expensive and their cellphone selection is rather poor.  But what good are extra Cellular One or Alaska Digitel minutes if you’ve got no bars?  Besides, my wife and I comfortably share 330 minutes and we don’t use our phones as cameras. 

So what’s the big deal?  It’s their “Retail Services” department.

A few months ago, we received a letter in the mail stating that ACS was upgrading their cellular network from TDMA to CDMA.  The reasons for the network switch weren’t exactly clear.  Except for the FCC-mandated “emergency safetly feature” (i.e., 911), we could expect “crystal-clear voice quality, the fewest dropped calls, advanced wireless features, higher security, and much more!”  I could break those down into bullet points and explain why each of them say nothing, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.  They were willing to offer us a new phone; well, they’d have to since our old phones wouldn’t work on their new network.  The letter told us we could stop by our local ACS office and pick up one of three, free* CDMA models:  “An Audiovox 8615, Koycera SE 44, or the new Motorola RAZR V3c.”  After checking them out online, it appeared that this new network could finally allow us to do some web browsing, picture sending, and other stuff that Alaska’s backwater service hasn’t offered yet.  Cool.

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Alaska Airlines

Posted by Arlo on Dec 18, 2006 under Life of Arlo

SeaTac AirportAfter Thanksgiving, our flight from Ketchikan to Juneau was delayed by mechanical troubles. Our Alaska Airlines jet pulled back from the gate on time, but during the pilots’ preflight check at the end of the runway, some sort of fuel valve indicator light wouldn’t turn off. The pilot informed us that it was likely just a problem with the light, not the fuel value itself, but at the very least we’d need to return to the gate so that the mechanic could fill out the appropriate paperwork.Back at the gate, we discovered that the mechanic had already gone home for the night. Makes sense, really. It was 9pm, and the last flight had already left the jetway (if not the runway.) Now we had to wait for the mechanic to be called back. Normally not a big deal, but congress made a stink about the Bridge to Nowhere, so Ketchikan travelers are still at the mercy of the airport ferry’s schedule.

Over the intercom, we were informed when the mechanic actually did arrive, when he discovered that the fuel value was, in fact, faulty, and again when the job took longer than expected. I didn’t mind. I’d lost myself in Stephen King’s newest paperback, Cell. I barely looked up when they passed out placating coupons worth $25 or 1000 miles.

After two and a half hours, however, it looked like they were going to cancel the flight. When the flight attendants announced that we could deplane and wait in the secured area, Oksana and I took them up on their offer. I figured that if the flight were to be cancelled, I’d want to be the first in line for new reservations.

The flight was cancelled, of course, and if the rumors were true, not because of the mechanical difficulties. Rather, the time it took to fix the fuel valve pushed the pilots past their maximum hours for the day.

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