Photography

About a month ago, I posted about how I was finally cutting the cord, and moving all my serious pictures out of the Apple Photos application. It was just too constricting, and while their “Pro” app for photographers, Aperture was great, they have abandoned it.

I began seriously using Adobe Bridge which was free (as in beer) and worked pretty well as a lightweight photo manager. But it’s major flaw was that the importer really didn’t handle RAW files gracefully (the version I had, CS6, wouldn’t preview the .CR2 files from my camera, so I couldn’t do any pre-sorting. Lame.)

SO, it is back to Lightroom, a more feature rich Adobe product, that integrates well with Photoshop, and offers many capabilities. A bit overkill for a hobbyist like me, but its importing tool is incredible.

Now, I am going through my images, re-organizing them, and selectively editing them. If you follow me on Facebook, look at my photo albums for some of the results.

One thing I was turned on to are a set of filters from Topaz Labs, plugins for Photoshop, that give you some insanely cool effects for your pictures. I have to thank an old friend Inge Fernau, for this addiction. I will write about them in future posts, but to summarize them, they are plugins for photoshop with presets (and other manual controls) that give a huge variety of really incredible effects.

Here is a gallery of images that I have processed.

Train kept a Rolling

Having rejoined the working world, I am now lucky enough to be working for a company that it makes total sense to take the VTA Lightrail in to the office. I live about 1.1 miles from the Cottle station, a 20 minute walk from home. Then 50 minutes to get to Tasman station, and a 5 minute walk to the office.

Since driving the 18 miles takes between 40 minutes and an hour, and the train gives me a low stress travel versus the stress of stop and go traffic.

Over the last 7 weeks, I have learnt the following.

  1. The trains have wifi. Cool, and it is free. But it appears to be a single cellular connection. Ok to surf Facebook, but it is too inconsistent for logging into VPN. That’s OK, I prefer the solitude and reading my Kindle to working.
  2. The first five and a half weeks, not once was there a fare enforcement officer. I was beginning to think that it would be low risk to not swipe the Clipper Card and pay the fine if caught. Then in the last week and a half, there have been 5 verifications.
  3. Apparently, if you want to score some pot, near the Santa Clara stop is the place to do it. It seems like every day I see some dealing going on on the sidewalk or in that parking lot.
  4. It is (in general) worth timing my commute to catch the limited express. The express saves 6 stops, and about 10 minutes.
  5. $2.00 a trip is a pretty good deal. I figure that if I would drive, 34-35 miles round trip, at 21mpg and $3 a gallon (Stewie needs premium), that is about the same cost to drive and ride the train.
  6. Some smugness, to know that I am doing even a little bit to reduce my carbon footprint. Of course, I wipe that out by driving a sports car for fun.

Yep, it is a pretty good deal.

An aside: Taking the train is convincing me that one day I need to bum around downtown San José and take pictures. St. James park, the post office, SJSU, victorian homes, and others are begging to be captured.

Photography – Library Organization

Having written about my struggles as an undisciplined photographer, first outgrowing iPhoto, finding a safe harbor with Apple’s “pro” application, Aperture until they orphaned it, and then casting around for a solution.

I tried Adobe Lightroom, and it was reasonable, but being geared for professionals, it was a bit overkill.

A friend recommended another Adobe product, “Bridge”, as a good, lightweight solution. It is included for free with Photoshop (and possibly other Adobe products), and it has long lain idle.

Hummingbird street artWith that recommendation, I took a serious look at Bridge, and began using it for my ungainly photo collection. Here are my observations:

  1. It is quite snappy at creating indexed thumbnails. When you open a folder, even with more than 1,000 images in it, it quickly lets you work with it, while it is creating the thumbnails. If you set the preferences to (when possible) push the index file to the local directory. This makes it really easy to reorganize or move (via a remote drive) to another computer.
  2. The UI is very flexible. It is intuitive to navigate, and you can set it up to facilitate your workflow. Sure, Lightroom has more bells and whistles, but with that is a heavier overhead to learn and build familiarity with. But, it doesn’t prevent you from accessing all the meta data and other tags.
  3. Batch rename. Best. Feature. Ever. I had one folder with over 1000 images, where I mixed photos from my wife’s point and shoot Canon, with my EOS 20D. This meant that I have a lot of low res images mixed with the good stuff, and it was painful. The “Advanced” find option, looking for the camera ID tag, and then use the Batch Rename option to separate the intermixed images.It also makes it easy to rename files, to insert mnemonic flags in the filename, and date/index coding. Really helpful.
  4. Rating/Flagging of images. The ability to assign a rating to each image is nice, and expected. Also, the ability to use the delete key to “reject” an image. This is helpful for sorting/ranking images. Alas, I am not disciplined enough to use this consistently. Maybe one day (who am I kidding…)
  5. Minibridge. This is a tight integration with Photoshop, that give you a way to traverse your collection easily from within the photoshop interface. Handy if you are in the think of working with your collection, relieving you from switching between programs.

Additionally, as it is part of the “Creative Solutions” ecosystem, it helps you index and organize all media files. Images, videos, even mixed media files, all with aplomb. It really helped me organize a huge collection of memes I snagged from the internet.

It is not all Unicorns and Roses though…

The photo import tool is pretty sucky. At least on the Mac. It is pretty spartan, and while it can do some rudimentary file renaming, it is pretty pathetic. Of course, the Apple Photos app is less flexible.

Also, it is unable to preview before importing RAW files, so you are pretty blind when importing. Not too useful if you have multiple sessions of photos on the memory card.

Sure, I can just import bulk from the card and mess with it later, but that is sub optimal.

Summary

For a free-as-in-beer program, Adobe Bridge is remarkably feature rich. It is lightweight, yet usable. It integrates very well with Photoshop, and since it isn’t a monolithic library (like the Apple products), it is really easy to move/organize your library around.

And it really is free. Don’t have Photoshop or any of the other CS products? No problemo, get an Adobe ID, and you can download it gratis.

Still, I need to find a better photo import option.

 

Next up, I will talk about some fabulous filters for Photoshop…

NCIS at 13

A week or so ago, the magic icon on Netflix appeared, “New Episodes” for NCIS. Cool. Season 12 left with a cliff hangar of Agent Gibbs being shot by a child member of “The Calling” and I needed closure.

So, we tucked into some binge watching of the latest season of NCIS, re-watching the final episode of season 12 to get in the groove.

What a disappointment. It was a pretty weak closure of the cliff hangar (di Nozzo shoots the master mind in China), and then it got into the absurd. Seriously, they are called in to a massacre on a quasi “Doctors without Boarders” camp in South Sudan, and find out that the missing doctor is the husband of Jean Benoit? Are you fucking kidding me? How cheesy is that plot twist.

Read moreNCIS at 13

What I learnt from Forza Motorsports 6

Pretty much the saving grace of the XBoxOne is Forza Motorsports 6 (ok, the latest Doom is pretty cool too.)  I splurged for my birthday, and bought the 6th version of this, and I was not disappointed.

VW Corrado from ForzaI began playing back on my old Xbox360, with Forza 2, and was hooked. The cars, the tracks, the physics were what made the game. Each major release upping the ante, making it more realistic, and thus more enjoyable. Ah, the modded VW Corrado I had in Forza 3, a joy.

Of course, it isn’t perfect, even when I bought a steering wheel it was a bit arcade like (and when I moves from Tucson, I sold that at a Garage sale). It is an Arcade game, but it still has enough realism to make it fun.

The 6th version brings the best rendering of the cars. Tracks that are both gorgeous and accurate. It adds weather and even night racing (the Nordschliffe at Nurburgring at night is haunting), and tacing in the rain makes all tracks challenging.

Things I have learnt:

  • Audi’s with their 4 wheel drive make navigating the courses enjoyable. As expected, the all wheel drivetrain gives a benefit in handling, all else being equal.
  • A race spec Honda S2000 is a monster, and hard to control. While in street trim it is a pleasure to drive, it is not for the faint of heart in race trim, getting squirrelly easy.
  • Hypercars are fun. I have (I won it in a spin) a Bugatti Veryon, and hooboy that is a fun car to drive. One day, I must buy (in Forza) a Koenigsegg, or Pagani. A Ferrari seems so mundane next to one of those hand built beauties.
  • The ‘Drivatars‘ (avatars of other racers that provide AI to the competitors) are fun. You see some really bad driving. Then you realize that you drive just as bad. I am sure that the drivatar based on my driving is as much of an asshole as I am racing directly.
  • While the simulation and physics are good, you still are given a lot of latitude to screw up and recover. Things that in real life would be race ending or even life threatening. Nothing like diving under a pack of cars in a tight apex turn and using them as bumpers to get around the corner (and pick up a bunch of places).
  • I should have bought the Porsche add-on package. It seemed expensive at $20, but as I see their catalog when buying cars for races, I am wistful. Sigh.
  • American heavy metal muscle cars are shitty to drive fast on the track. GT500 or Shelby Mustangs are just awful at going around corners.
  • I think I would really like to drive a WTCC Honda Civic. About $300K but it is an amazing piece of kit on the track.

Summary

Ok, I guess I shouldn’t be so harsh on the Xbox One. But the truth is I do mostly play Forza 6 on it. I am also able to play some of my old Xbox 360 games (the Namco Arcade Classics are fun on it too).