Wednesday, January 30, 2008

It was a bad idea 50 years ago...

Toronto trustees narrowly approve black-focused school
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
January 30, 2008 at 12:49 AM EST

TORONTO — In a tight vote, Toronto District School Board trustees Tuesday night approved a contentious proposal for a black-focused school that opponents argued would be the equivalent of segregation.

The 11-9 vote in favour came after an evening of impassioned pleas both for and against the school from community members, including one from the mother of slain 15-year-old Jordan Manners.

Tuesday night's vote means that an alternative Afro-centric school will open in the city in September, 2009, but its location and grade levels are still to be determined.

I've thought about it, and while I understand the intentions behind it, I'm opposed to this. I think it's a very, very bad idea. We need more interaction and more inclusion in a society like this, not less. I'm sorry, this is segregation. It will promote different standards. It will lead to disparities in resource allocation — perceived, if not real. It will exacerbate the alienation already fostered by race when it makes that very aspect a matter of public policy. This does not serve the community interest. Where does it lead us? Chinese schools? Indian schools? Arab schools? Nordic schools? Is this good for Toronto? Is it good for Canada?

I agree that the teaching in schools is too Eurocentric. At least it was 20 years ago when I was there. There was discussion of what happened in Europe leading to the European colonization of the Americas and then our role in several European wars. Little was said of Asia; nothing of Africa outside of the slave trade. That should change. This country is forged of threads from around the world; it is in the interests of every Canadian to understand the history, trends, and motivations of every culture and society that has come to these shores to contribute. We need to learn about one another, because it's now about learning about ourselves. Breaking off from one another to go to our own rooms and stare at our own pretty navels is not the answer. As has been demonstrated concerning Eurocentism, it is, in fact, the problem.

Tax records should be off limits, Mulroney lawyer says

Yeah, you heard right. That's a headline from today's first section in The Globe and Mail.

How about....

Gun with fingerprints should be off limits, murder defendant's lawyer says

Bodies in the basement should be off limits, serial killer defendant's lawyer says

Victim's semen-stained clothing should be off limits, rape defendant's lawyer says

Well, I guess that's a lawyer's job, huh?

HDR from a single RAW

Just lately I've discovered the joys of working with RAW image format in a big way. Previously, I didn't have much use for it, but Photomatix has come out with a new version that takes a RAW image, processes it itself, and creates what they call a "pseudo" HDR (high dynamic range, if you're new to this) image from the information in the RAW. (Again, if you're new to this, RAW is the generic term for any file generated by a digital camera that simply captures what the sensor received without processing it.)

I got into HDR stuff about two years back. Basically, it requires you take an AEB spread of at least three images; one underexposed, one overexposed, and one balanced. The detail in the highlights is in the underexposed, and the detail in the shadows is in the overexposed shot. Combine the three and you can an image with startling clarity. The trick is making sure the camera doesn't move during the three (or more) exposures.

One way around that is to shoot RAW. A RAW image typically has 12 to 14 bits of information per pixel, rather than just 8 for a single JPG image. There's also the added advantage that, since it's a single exposure, there's no need to worry about anything moving from shot to shot, or the camera tilting slightly (a tripod can address the latter only).

I haven't worked a lot with RAW for two reasons. Mostly, I couldn't think of a good application for it that justified the huge footprint of the file (usually twice or more the size of a JPG). But also because the vast majority of the photographic work I've done in the past two years was using my S80, and for reasons known to them alone, Canon dropped the RAW format from the PowerShot S line with that model (my S70 shoots RAW). For big treks I'd often bring my Rebel XT, and it, of course, shoots RAW (so it was the source of most of the material I've been experimenting with the past few days). But, again, I rarely shot RAW because there was little reason to... it just meant ages of processing just to see the image. But, now I'm carrying around a G9 that does shoot RAW, and Photomatix gives me a reason to, so I'm considering making RAW my default format rather than JPG.

When I started in HDR, the idea seemed to be to make something as garish and eye-catching as possible. But I can see now that the real treasure in the process is actually making something that's hyper-real, rather than something from a acid trip. Carefully done, an HDR image can look like something from real life, but at a glance can show you the details in highlights and shadows that you normally cannot see all at once. Your eyes would have to adjust to view either one, or the other. And so while the scene looks real, there's a slight, exhilarating otherworldliness to them in the, well, range of what you can see all at one time. Now to me, there's a real value in that, which is why I'm thinking of taking all my shots this way and processing the really interesting ones with Photomatix to show people the entirety of what was really there.

A few purists I've read have said you can't get a good HDR image out of a RAW. I beg to differ. I know from my own experience it doesn't work every time, but then again, neither does a three-image AEB spread either. In both cases, you seem to get the best results when there's a lot of light in the scene, or at the very least, a lot of contrast. But you can be the judge for yourself. The following are HDR images I've recently teased out of single RAW exposures.

HDR Grindstone curtains

HDR Sombre December

HDR Mini falls

HDR Held maple

HDR Good friend on the road

HDR Facing Canadian winter

HDR Base of the falls

HDR Autumn in Ontario

HDR 427-bound, once

HDR Niagara trail

HDR Silken moment

HDR Foggy riverside

HDR IR Lost railway bridge at Bowmanville Creek

HDR Building and brewing

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fate of the Union

I caught the last half of George Bush's State of the Union address more or less by accident last night, and ironically, on the BBC. I think it's the first time in my life I've watched a State of the Union address. It was revealing.

I have to ask the question: is there an opposition in the United States? I mean, really? The way I'm used to thinking of an opposition? Because I saw a whole lot of people sitting in a big semi-circle focused on this guy. There was no telling one party from another. Not by where they sat. Not by how they behaved. Not by their reactions to what he was saying. They applauded as one. They rose as one. Honest to God, I was reminded of watching the Politburo under Brezhnev.

I tried to imagine people sitting on opposite sides of the House of Commons behaving as one, reacting as one, during the Speech from the Throne. The idea is chilling. A statement from the executive ought to be a challenge to the opposition... not to oppose just for its own sake, but to criticize, suggest, improve, defend. I saw nothing like that last night. I saw a man call on his countrymen for more money they didn't have to draw more blood that wasn't theirs, and a nation on its feet in the form of Congress in accord. It was evil. I feel that's a fitting word for it. To me, it looked wholly evil.

A man who talks of "tearists" getting "nuculer" weapons purports to lead the Free World, or at least its most powerful member. He does not allow discordant facts to dissuade him from action or threats. It's as though all the world were wed to a man who will not believe in the fidelity of his spouse. "Come on, I know you slept with my brother last summer at the cottage; admit it! Come clean, it'll be alright. What, you just compliment his shirt, and that's supposed to mean nothing? Alright, what about Bob at the convention last spring? What, I'm supposed to believe it's just a coincidence you just happen to like the same wine? Admit it! Why do you lie to me?" But there's no divorcing this guy. And he has a proven predilection for domestic violence.

The US economy is circling the bowl with dollar bill toilet paper, but aside from a few platitudes and the promise of spending more money the US doesn't have, hardly a word of concern. But he really lights up when he talks about putting a glass to the wall to hear what people in other rooms are up to, and asking for more Superman outfits to kick in their doors and set them straight. It was entirely revolting. If the Free World is a gang, does having a bloodthirsty psychopath as a member really qualify as an asset? Especially one who thinks he's running the show and calling the shots for us all?

The torch is being passed to southeast Asia... that was probably inevitable, but George Bush really greased the wheels with oil and blood that his great-grandchildren will still be paying for. I honestly feel we're watching the decline of the United States, and with it, the eclipse of the West as the principal civilization of the world. I think those days are ending. There was probably always a reckoning due. But it probably didn't need to be either this sudden, or this pronounced.

That's the State of the Union, folks.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Au revoir, mon petit

Earlier this month, on January 8th, I bought a used Canon PowerShot G9 from a professional wedding photographer in Ottawa. For me, this represented the next step up, in several functional respects, from the Canon PowerShot S80 I bought on May 12, 2006 (the first real accounting it gave of itself can be read here), not quite two years ago.

Well, as a result of that purchase, about a week ago I offered the S80 to fellow photographic enthusiast P-Doug. I did it for a number of reasons, but they all basically branch from the fact that the S80 would basically be sitting around doing nothing from now on. The limbs were: I wanted to gain some remuneration; I wanted the camera to remain "in action"; and P-Doug is a friend with photographic experience spanning decades. All-told, it's where the camera needed to be.

In August of 2005 I sold P-Doug my Kodak DC4800 for pretty much all the same reasons when I replaced that camera with the Rebel XT. I've been with him any number of times he's had that camera along on various hikes and tours, and I know he's made good use of it... about as much as I did, given it's not the kind of camera you can carry around with you on a daily basis. But the S80 is a pocket camera in spades, so his output may rise exponentially. We'll see.

When I made the offer a week ago I was sincere, but I nearly immediately regretted it. The S80 was, all things considered, easily the camera I've made the most use of in all my life. For over a year and a half it was pretty much a constant companion, worn on my hip in a fanny pack, rain, shine, snow and whatever. Dozens of gigs of memory are dedicated to containing its output. Today, I went to a local watering hole P-Doug and I favour and I handed the dear thing over. It's now in good expert hands. I know it's silly personifying stuff like this but I can't help it. That camera was essentially part of me for 20 months... it was my eyes and memory. Sorry to say, but it's hard to turn my back on all that and leave it behind even for money.

Brad Neely is a genius

For me, this is where humour kicks into 4WD... bitter, sardonic, cynical, and slightly demented. Enjoy. Live free or die. :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

O this fiery moment

O this fiery moment

I have two IR-reconditioned PowerShots (a G1 and an S70) that I've been using since March, 2006 and May, 2007 respectively to do most of my infrared work. But I also invested in a 58mm Hoya R72 infrared filter for my Rebel XT. My new G9 has an adapter that, fortuitously, is also 58mm threaded. I took this photo using the G9 and the R72.

I picked this photo to experiment on in Photoshop because it was reasonably clear. There's a custom white balance setting, but it didn't look like much till I swapped the red and blue channels, when it suddenly seemed to acquire some real life. It's a one-second exposure.

I think this is what the world looks like to you after you're dead.

Candle time lapse

Friday, January 18, 2008

Too bad he'll never win

Here's what John Edwards had to say about Ronald Reagan, prompted by praise of the man from Barack Obama...

"When you think about what Ronald Reagan did to the American people, to the middle class, to the working people," Mr. Edwards said, adding that Reagan was intolerant of unions and the labor movement, he "created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day."

"This president will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change," Mr. Edwards added, referring to himself.

It's nice, really nice, to see somebody with some guts finally say it right out there in the political arena. But it's part and parcel of the reason why they'll never elect John Edwards. And God knows, they need to.


Thought I'd test the time lapse capabilities of the G9 with something besides traffic. So... an ice cube doing its thing! Excitement reigns! Ah, but there's a twist. Also, retro music. :)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

US to resume nuke testing — guess where?

WASHINGTON — On the heels of a recent announcement from Tokyo that the Japanese whaling fleet would resume killing humpback whales "for scientific purposes" since their numbers have recovered in recent years, the Pentagon today announced that, since Japanese numbers have nicely recovered since the Second World War, the United States will resume the atomic bombing of Japanese cities.

"Obviously the Japanese have recovered to the point where blasting three or four of their cities a year will be sustainable," said USAF General Howie Friezum. "We're doing this for scientific purposes, of course. We got some great data in 1945, after all, and our studies have really suffered as a result of the moratorium."

The General went on to outline what his team hoped to accomplish. "Our researchers want to know how many Japanese cities have to be vaporized before they own up to Pearl Harbor, the Rape of Nanking, the brutal occupation of Manchuria, the abomination of Korean "comfort women", modern Japan's near refusal to accept refugees, and so on. We've been utterly fascinated by these ongoing displays of the complete and utter inability to demonstrate either empathy with or sympathy for others, all the while inserting self-pitying references to the nuclear devastation of Japanese cities into every movie, book, anime, and cat food commercial produced in Japan in the last sixty years. So, I guess time will tell."

When asked which city would be experimented upon first, the General said, "To reveal that would be to risk affecting the outcome of the experiment. Besides, why ruin the surprise?"

Monday, January 14, 2008

Creatures of night, brought to light!

3D pairs of images taken at the Royal Ontario Museum last Friday night.

It's the first time I've been able to see the dinosaurs. What amazed me wasn't so much that anyone could even imagine such creatures — that they were in fact real — or even that someone could place these skeletons here for us to see... no...

What amazes me, utterly amazes me, is the realization that every one of these skeletons was once a real, live animal; an individual being that breathed our air, walked around, saw the sun and felt the rain, ran and chased and fled, for years and years. And eons upon eons later, here they stand, reborn in a fashion, given a place of honour by a race of animals whose ancestors at the time were humble ratlike things hiding in their shadows.

It's all too remarkable for simple words to really convey.

3D Dinosaur 01

3D Dinosaur 02

3D Dinosaur 03

3D Dinosaur 04

3D Dinosaur 05

3D Dinosaur 06

3D Dinosaur 07

3D Dinosaur 08

3D Dinosaur 09

3D Dinosaur 10

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Forward to the Past

So, like, tonight, I'm watching Back to the Future for the first time in several years. When this movie came out in 1985, I was 17.... same age as Marty in the movie. He goes back 30 years in time. It's almost unutterably different; he can't relate. Ha ha, what a great joke! In 1985.

Well, it's 2008 now. And it occurs to me that nearly as much time has passed between when I saw the movie and now, as Marty traveled back from 1985 to 1955. It won't be long now at all till the distant future portrayed in the second movie, in 2015, will be upon us. Somehow, I doubt we'll have floating reporter robots or anti-gravity hoverboards. But on the other hand, no one seems to have conceived of the iPod circa 1990; or the web or the internet or Wikipedia. Or Blogger. :)

Around the time Back to the Future came out, my aunt and uncle (both of whom have passed on; him in May of 1999 and her last autumn) still had their cottage on Lake Erie. They had an outhouse that was well-stocked in reading material... I spent many an hour there (sounds weird, I know, but it was an unusual sort of public library). I still have the copy of The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Bunker that once resided there. But the one thing I wish, dearly, I had was a copy of a magazine from — ironically enough — 1955 that predicted what life would be like in 1965, three years before I was born. So even as a teenager, I was approaching its "predictions" as something of a subject matter expert. The predictions were, not surprisingly, hopelessly optimistic. By 1965, you (rather, my parents!) would have been working a four-day week... really? I still work a five-day week; indeed. THIS week has been a SIX-day week, technically... Robot lawn mowers would manicure your lawn. You would preserve food with radiation (well, okay, we don't preserve it that way so much as reheat it that way). But the best part was, while they were too optimistic about some things, they were too pessimistic about others. They swore that no one would land on the Moon before 1975, if not later. Of course, we know now that everyone who ever walked on the Moon did so before 1975, and actually, no one has been back there since 1972, never mind 1975 onward.

I hope that changes during my lifetime. I was alive when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, but far, far too young to remember it or even to have understood it. Even so, enough time has passed that I think even the most jaded of people who were bored by Apollo 17 (the last Moon landing) will be excited by the first Moon landing of the 21st century. Here's hoping it's not too long now, and that the younger of those who remember the first Moon landing will live to marvel at the next.

An open secret

I whispered to my cat Max "I saw the triumph of our kind last night..." At the ROM, I photographed the fossils of dinosaurs, long dead. Earth belongs to the mammals now... in fact, never more so than in the last 15,000 years. No dinosaur ever had so much as a campfire.

Or a hydrogen bomb...

Two Nights in a Toronto Hotel

Just like the name says. I've just spent two nights downtown on business, put up in one of the city's premier hotels. My second hand Canon PowerShot G9 arrived on Wednesday, just in time for the fun... enabling me to take several time lapse movies of the wonderful views to be seen from the hotel.

Music by the Canadian comedy team of MacLean & MacLean (rest in peace, Gary).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Weapon of choice

Weapon of choice

The Canon PowerShot G9... I've wanted this one since before it existed. I balked at the G7 because Canon was on a bent of removing RAW from anything below their DSLR range, and I already had the PowerShot S80, which had had RAW removed from it, though the S70 and S60 and likely others prior had featured it.

When Canon announced the G9 late last summer, I took notice. I saved up and started looking around for a deal, and I actually bought this one, used, yesterday from a professional photographer in Ottawa-Gatineau for about 75% what it would have cost me retail. It arrived today a little after noon hour.

Compared to the S80, it's larger and the controls can't be managed with just your right thumb. But it features the DIGIC III processor, a step up from the S80's, including face recognition and image stabilization. I've already noticed it's somewhat better in low light conditions than the S80. Added to that the images it captures are 50% larger, so there's more detail to work with. It also takes 58mm filters with the adapter I also got from the photographer, and I have several of those due to owning the 18-55mm lens that comes with the Rebel XT. So I'm looking forward to putting this one through its paces in the coming year or so. Hoping to use it at the Royal Ontario Museum this coming Friday night. Stay posted.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

First attempts

A couple of years ago, when I started working on editing videos myself, I was backing up my copy of Jungle Book II and I used that, arbitrarily, as a source to work from. I'd recently gotten a copy of Leaving New York by REM, and that become my guinea pig track. All I was after was matching a sound to an image stream, but I was struck by just how stunningly they worked together...

I showed it to a friend of mine in New England, and he replied by suggesting the following... which is funnier. :)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Nathan Phillips Square and the Eaton Centre time lapse

I took all the guy's advice this time, 1/2 second exposures, neutral density filter, and this time I used a custom-set white balance so the brightness of the images didn't flicker. It worked really well. The first three scenes are darker than I would have liked but on the other hand, you can see the clouds boil in the sky. I'm especially glad I opted to take the 18-55 mm lens instead of the 135 mm lens. As it turns out, even 18 mm was a little tighter than I might have liked!

Music by Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

Another weird one

Odd one this morning, but not too disturbing. Kind of interesting, actually. I was in a large motel somewhere in the States, loose t-shirt and shorts and barefoot. I don't know what I was there for, but it was like one of those conventions I used to go to years ago.

Anyway, I wandered the town a little, and I came to this street opposite a huge lake, the other side of which was so far it couldn't be seen. All the houses on it, built after WWII, were condemned. They were being torn down to build hotels or condo towers or something. I was intrigued, and I went to explore one; a robin's egg blue one that was partly collapsed by the construction work, I guess. It was number 68. As I stood in the porch, it suddenly collapsed like a trap door. I fell into a pit about four and a half feet deep, but wasn't really hurt. It wasn't too hard to climb out, but I realized a had a bit of a gash on my right foot, and I was a little concerned it might become infected.

That's about it. Again, nothing profound, but if I write it down, I'm more apt to remember it. :)

Future musical

[Early morning in a small town. Windows are being thrown open.]

Woman: Obamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...
Baker: Obamaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...
Bum on bench: Obamaaaaaaaaa...!

[People burst out into the street, marching, happy and joyous, singing]

Obama 'nother country,
Obama 'nother land,
Obama 'nother country,
With oil in the sand!

Doctor (singing)

Our soccer moms are anxious,
Our soccer kids are sad,
Their SUVs are hard to feed,
And that makes Jesus mad!

All (singing)

Obama 'nother country,
Obama 'nother land,
Obama 'nother country,
With oil in the sand!

Businessman (singing)

Poor folks are looking hungry,
Poor folks are looking mean,
Let's get them all in uniform
And send them overseas!

All (singing)

Obama 'nother country,
Obama 'nother land,
Obama 'nother country,
With oil in the sand!

Mayor (spoken, not sung)

No need to piss off Arabs
Or struggle with Iran
When Canada is RIGHT UP THERE...

All (shouted in realization)


Obama 'nother country,
Obama 'nother land,
Obama 'nother country,
With oil in the sand!

[Cheering, missiles fly, planes take off]