Archive for February, 2007

The First Step's Definitely a Lulu!

Posted by Arlo on Feb 28, 2007 under Life of Arlo

Word CountI’ve been working on that book idea — taking the 175,000+ words and pictures in this blog and archiving them in a dead tree format.  I didn’t think a crash course in publishing would be this time consuming. 

First, I grabbed a hardcover book template from  It’s a Word document and the page numbering, margins, and the like were already set.  Next, I needed to figure out how to get the content off my blog and into the blank document.  I found the easiest way to preserve the formatting was to copy and paste directly from my html pages.  Took quite awhile, but all the italics, bolds, hyperlinks, and pictures pasted into the document essentially intact.

While doing that, I managed to do something smart.  I set up a number of styles and applied them to specific sections of each entry.  Photos are centered, captions are italicized, dates are right justified, titles are big and bold, comments are formatted differently than the body text, stuff like that.  I learned some neat things about styles in the process, but I haven’t actually used them yet.  When I’m ready, however, I’ll be able to make global formatting changes with just a couple clicks.  New font for every titles?  Center justify every date?  Perfect.

Right now I’m staring down 12 Megabytes of text and photos, spread across 462 pages.  It’s so very tempting to simply fire this off to the press and call it good.  Instead, I’m hoping to persevere long enough to make this something I’ll be proud to show off.  That’s not going to be easy.  I’m learning that the web is a very different medium than a book.  I’ve got more questions than answers at this point.

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Posted by Arlo on Feb 22, 2007 under Photography


Oksana gets all the credit for this one.

I take a lot of outdoor pictures.  If I’m browsing through a directory of my digital photos, the best way to tell if Oksana was with me the day I took them is to look for flower pictures.  When she asks to hold the camera, it’s almost always so that she can crouch down and take a macro shot of a particularly colorful blossom.

On this memorably sunny summer day, we decided to take a walk through the university.  The camera’s lens spent most of the walk shuttered, but we did uncap it long enough to take some pictures of the lake (me) and the landscaped flowers (her).  This particular daisy wasn’t even a part of the campus flowerbeds — it was down in the ditch along the bike path to housing.

I spent some time in Photoshop working the image over.  I cropped it to remove some excess head room (and to try to balance in the stray dandelion in the background.)  Most of the work was in cleaning up the white petals.  I cloned away some black and yellow specks, removed a few strands of spider web, but stopped short of removing the pinkish hemlock needle on the right.  Sounds like a lot of work, but really it’s not so different from the original image.

I think the contrast between the white petals and the black background is what makes this photo.  I also love the detail in the full-res image.  The tiny, not-quite-open-yet star-shapes in the yellow florets, the single grain of pollen(?) in the middle, and the dark and blurry depth of the background.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 13 June 2005
Focal Length: 55mm
Shutter: 1/320 second
Aperture: F/5.6
ISO: 200
Photoshop: Cropped, cloning to remove specks on petals

Continue on to see a closeup of the florets… Read the rest of this entry »

Fingerprint Notification

Posted by Arlo on Feb 22, 2007 under Life of Arlo

See the ornate banner at the top?  Looks like a dollar bill, to me.Yesterday we received a letter from the INS.

Wait a minute, back up.

Back in November, after four years of marriage, the INS finally allowed Oksana to apply for U.S. citizenship.  She spent a number of hours filling out applications, gathering supporting documents, and writing checks for something like $400 in form filing fees.  Then we packaged it all up in a manilla envelope and mailed it off to Nebraska.  A month or so later, we received a nice form letter in the mail.  “Thank you for applying for ___U.S. Citizenship___.  You can expect to hear from us within __365___ days.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”  The wording was different, but that was the exact message, honest.  We resolved ourselves to a long wait.

So yesterday, when an official envelope arrived, I thought it was going to be time for Oksana to start reading up on the Civil War.  After scanning the letter (which, by the way, curiously uses design elements cribbed from our currency), however, I realized that it was just notifying us that she had to get fingerprinted.  Again.

I don’t know how many times she’s been fingerprinted for this naturalization process.  This might be the third time.  I have a question:  Isn’t one of the reasons we use fingerprints as a form of identification because THEY DON’T CHANGE?  What are they hoping to accomplish here?

Also, isn’t it just like a government agency to notify you that they’ve scheduled your appointment without consulting you?  “You are hearby commanded to appear at the official INS office at 3pm on March 6th.”  Fine, but what if we’d been on vacation or something?  I’m just glad she doesn’t have to fly to Anchorage again as a part of the process.  (Something tells me they don’t actually offer the citizenship test here in Juneau, so it looks like the cost of another trip to Anchorage or Seattle will be added to her citizenship’s bottom line.)

But, hey.  Someday it’ll be cool.  Oksana will be able to vote for the president, get a federal job, or whatever.  I’m just looking forward to the day when we can both travel under the same passport.

Shopping Fantasies

Posted by Arlo on Feb 19, 2007 under Thought Objects

Sunkist is greater than Zipfizz

When shopping, have you ever noticed a product completely out of place?  I’m not talking about a display set up in a strange place – canned corn, now on sale in the bakery! – I’m talking about a single item, set among a whole shelf of different products.  You know, the kind of thing you’d see if someone decided they no longer want something they’d put in their cart.  Ideally, the poor item should have been reunited on with its brethren, but shoppers can be lazy.

Back in high school, when I worked in a supermarket, I hated that.  Now I amuse myself by reconstructing the thought processes of those thoughtless shoppers.

For instance, this weekend at Costco, I noticed a lone box of Zipfizz Liquid Shots sitting atop of an almost-full palette of Sunkist soda.  “What led to that decision?” I wondered.  My brain gave me back something like this:

    A large woman pushing a full shopping cart stops at the corner Zipfizz display.
    “Hmmm…” She thinks to herself.  “What are these liquid shot things?”
    She turns the small, plastic wrapped case over in her hands, reading the packaging. 
    “Only four fluid ounces each – how could they possibly be good for you…?  Wow!  44,667% of my daily B12 needs!”  She rubs her chin with her free hand.  “My doctor always tells me I need more B12.  I’m totally buying this!”  She wedges the case sideways into her cart.
    She begins to push the cart forward, glanceing up at the price.  “30 bucks?  That’s kind of spendy…”  The cart slows, then, as she seems to reaffirm her decision, pushes on.  “It must just taste really good.”
    Shortly afterwards…
    The cart rounds the corner and enters the frozen food aisle.  Refrigeration cases line both sides, along the middle sit a dozen palettes of soda.
    A towering stack of Sunkist cans appears on her left. “Ooo!  Sunkist!” she says out loud, exchanging the Zipfizz in her cart for a larger case of soda.  “Orangey!”
    The woman leaves, the case of Zipfizz left behind on the stack of orange.

Next time you’re shopping and you see an orphaned item, you might take a moment to think about what it was exchanged for.  For the people that are selling these things, there just might be a marketing strategy hidden away in the forensic evidence.  For you, perhaps just an entertaining yarn.

Feeding Time

Posted by Arlo on Feb 16, 2007 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Feeding Time

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The life of an amateur photographer in Hawaii must be depressing — some of the best photo ops are underwater.  Without a crazy-expensive setup consisting of an underwater housing and lights, there’s practically zero probability that you’ll take home a great photograph.  Every store has an 800-speed disposable camera at the checkout line, but you’ll be lucky to get a few pictures for the photo album with those.  There’s no real use in blowing up one of those dark and grainy images.

What can be done?  Take your camera to the Maui Ocean Center!

Oksana and I decided to spend half a day wandering around the aquarium.  Initially I was skeptical, but it turned out to be money well spent.  There’s hammerhead shark tanks and green sea turtle pens.  There’s a massive pool with all manner of sharks and rays and a transparent tube you could walk through as you marvel at them.  One never-ending series of darkened rooms held small, well-lit tanks containing all sorts of rarities you’d probably never see while snorkeling:   shrimp and lobster, octopi, anemones, seahorses, glowing jellyfish, sand worms, and the like.  We both had fun trading off the camera for the camcorder.

Shooting in an aquarium has its own problems, though.  With a tripod (which I didn’t have, anyway), one would be forced into using slow shutter speeds.  For fish that just sit there, that’d be fine, but most underwater life tends to move around… and blur.  You can always shoot handheld with a flash, though… and get a nice bright reflection in the glass.

So how did I manage to get this picture?  Just lucky, I guess.  I was snapping pictures of Oksana posing in front of the glass, getting bright flash spots or blurry fish in every one.  It wasn’t really bothering me, though, because we weren’t going for high art, just some “I been there” photos for the inevitable Hawaii photo album.  Oksana stepped away and I lowered my camera… and suddenly the tranquil aquarium burst into action.  Within maybe three seconds, colorful fish appeared out of nowhere, darted left and right, all flashes of color and motion.  I never saw what riled them up — feeding time or maybe a predator — but I did manage to bring the camera back up and snap a few pictures.  There had been no time to think about flash, aperture, and shutter speed, I just went with the previous settings on the camera.  Seconds later, the aquarium was back to normal.

EXIF data reveals that my camera’s iris was wide open and the shutter speed was set for 1/100th of a second.  That’s darn near the perfect setting for this situation.  Any faster and the exposure would have been too dark, any slower and the fish would have blurred (via their movements or the movements of my hand), and a flash would have reflected in the glass.  Lucky.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 11 August 2005
Focal Length: 25mm
Shutter: 1/100 second
Aperture: F/4
ISO: 1600
Photoshop: Auto color, Minor blurring of red and blue channels to reduce ISO noise

Continue reading to see some examples of what didn’t work…

Read the rest of this entry »

Diet Coke Plus

Posted by Arlo on Feb 15, 2007 under Life of Arlo

Diet Coke PlusAnyone that knows me well, knows that if I’m awake, I probably have an open can of Diet Coke nearby.  It’s a vice I’ve had since high school, when my step-dad, a diabetic, kept nothing else in the ‘fridge.  When people express wonder that I drink it so early in the morning (and so often in the hours thereafter), I compare it to your typical coffee addiction.  It’s simply a caffeine carrier, one without calories.

My family knows this.  Whenever I visit, my mom grabs a case from the store before I arrive.  My friends know it, too.  They can always count on Diet Coke being stocked in our ‘fridge.  Yesterday, I reaped the first benefit of having a semi-public habit.  One friend, a friend who shall remain unnamed (just in case this could get him in trouble), stopped by my office with two bottles of Coca-Cola’s newest product, Diet Coke Plus.

I hadn’t even heard the rumors, yet, so it was a complete surprise to me.  Diet Coke Plus is “Diet Coke with Vitamins & Minerals.”  10-15% of your recommended daily allowance for Niacin, Vitamin B6 and B12, Magnesium and Zinc. 

My first taste wasn’t very revealing; I’d been chomping on Valentine’s Day Cinnamon Altoids.  A few minutes later, though, I took another swig.  To me, it tasted like Diet Coke… with just a little indefinable difference.  Kind of like drinking Coke Zero or Diet Coke with Splenda.  They’re all trying for the same taste, but they just can’t quite get there.  Later that evening, Oksana said that it “tastes like the Diet Coke in Russia.”

Anyway, I thought it was quite cool to be one of the first people (at least in Juneau) to taste Diet Coke Plus; not even my secret friend had sampled it.  The local Coca-Cola distributor hasn’t decided if they’ll carry the product or not.  They’ve got only one batch, and as far as I know, it may not even reach the shelves.  Our market is so small, they just can’t afford to carry every one of the umpteen billion varieties Coca-Cola pushes on us.  Which is sad.  I could be Niacin deficient.

Batch number, expires APR 23 2007


Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

Posted by Arlo on Feb 9, 2007 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

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Twice now, I’ve visited Cuba, and twice I’ve spent some time in Trinidad.  It’s a beautiful colonial town in central Cuba, just a couple miles from the coast.  There’s a church on the hill, cobblestones on the streets, and picturesque landscapes and architecture around every corner.

On my first visit, I spent a lot of time moving around the central plaza with my 35mm camera.  There’s a wonderful bell and clock tower at one corner and I was continually trying to find the best angle on it.  I eventually found one; it’s now framed and hanging on the wall in my home office.

Four years later, my camera had changed, but the view in Trinidad was mostly the same.  I amused myself by trying to find the exact spot where I’d taken the first picture, then set out to frame something new.

There’s a museum in the base of the bell tower — something I’m not sure I was aware of on the first trip.  My companions and I paid a few dollars to go inside, hoping we’d get a chance to climb the tower.  Despite the rickety stairs and often a lack of handrails, tourists are, indeed allowed up.  Not all the way, though; the top room with the clock was barred with a trapdoor and a hefty padlock.

We stepped out onto the museum roof and paced around the edges.  From there we had a wonderful view of the terra cotta tile rooftops and the lush green countryside.  (Not to mention an ancient, rusty air raid siren.)  Walking back down the stairs, I stopped at the oval window we’d skipped on the way up.  I had to climb half into the cement ring to take an unobstructed picture of the courtyard below.  When I climbed back out, I took another picture to remember what the window was like.

I like the cement window frame better than the original.  It gives the viewer an interesting perspective, and in combination with the other photo I took years before, tells an interesting story.  Looking back and forth between them, I can identify the exact location where I took each picture!

Canon Powershot s30
Date: 27 December 2003
Focal Length: 8.6mm
Shutter: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/3.2
Photoshop: Adjusted levels slightly to deepen the black edging