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Computechnicogrammingalities. I find them, I use them, and I either love or hate them. So I write about them.

Stepping into the invisible world

Sunset has come and gone silently and the chilly night has begun extending its cloak over the lower mainland.  It’s not completely dark yet, however, and I can see perfectly well around me despite the lack of daytime color. The forest is quiet but I meet a few late silhouettes walking their dogs or coming back from a trail run. I put my MP3 player away, preferring to enjoy the ever-present roar of the river. Fall has triggered new rainfall and the volume and level of the water are definitely higher than on my last visit.

A couple heading back hurriedly towards the parking lot smile at me, and I see them from the corner of my eye exchange quizzical looks. They obviously think I must be a little crazy walking into the park at dusk with my camera and a tripod, when daylight has all but vanished. They are right, and wrong. Crazy, I am. But the light certainly hasn’t vanished. What’s vanishing is only the strong light our very weak eyes manage to see, but that’s in no way all there is.

A camera sees the world in a very different way than we do. It has the ability to "see" and record the faintest light through long exposures and as such, it becomes a window into another world, a world that we will never see for ourselves but nevertheless exists around us, every time it gets dark.

My mission today is to start recording this world, and I’ve given myself an easy assignment. Since I’m depending on buses for my way back home from Lynn Canyon and the night temperatures are already dipping close to freezing, I’ll limit my experimental exposures tonight to a few minutes, prior to absolute darkness. Stay tuned, this will be an ongoing project, and it gets more amazing as the night matures and exposure times drag on up to a few hours…

For now, all I need is a tripod, a neutral density filter (proof that there’s still too much light for this to be the real invisible world), a remote cable, mirror lock-up and patience. It has gotten dark enough for the autofocus to give up and start roaming back and forth, so I switch to manual. And yet, the nearly invisible world is there and alive, as I find out later in Adobe Lightroom.

Posted in: Bits and pieces & Photoblogs on November 1, 2006 | Show Comments(3)

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A Smart shell

EasyPark, one of the major public parking companies in Vancouver, offers a 50% rebate to environment-friendly cars. All hybrids get the discount which has just been extended to Smart Cars.

Yeah, but Smart Cars… I can see some heads shaking. I wouldn’t want to be sitting in one of those when another real car or a SUV smashes into it!

Well check out this video of a crash test. The Smart Car driving at 70 mph (or 110 km/h) collides head on with a cement wall. You’ll be amazed at how well the frame resists the impact. Both doors still open after the crash and one even closes back perfectly!

Now there’s no guarantee that the human cargo would be as intact as the container after such a thing but with the help of airbags and seat belts, this is as good as what any other car will do for you, and we are talking about urban driving.

René Barjavel had a smart (pardon the pun) and very funny line about this in Ravage, talking about a new train car (it’s in French, I’m afraid):

" Celui-ci était fait d’une seule pièce de plastec, moulé sous pression. Cette matière remplaçait presque partout le verre, le bois, l’acier et le ciment. Transparente, elle livrait aux regards des voyageurs tout le ciel et la terre. Dure et souple, elle réduisait au minimum les risques d’accident. Quelques mois auparavant, elle avait fait la preuve de ses qualités. Entre Paris et Berlin, un wagon se décrocha dans un virage, percuta contre une usine, abattit cinq murs, rebondit et se planta, la pointe en l’air, dans un toit. Les voyageurs qu’on en retira ne possédaient plus un os d’entier. Quelques-uns en réchappèrent et se firent mettre des os en plastec. Le wagon n’avait subi ni fêlure ni déformation, ce qui montrait l’excellence de sa fabrication. Ce n’était pas la faute de la Compagnie si les contenus s’étaient avérés moins résistants que le contenant."

René Barjavel, Ravage.

Posted in: Bits and pieces & Cool on | Show Comments(1)

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Geeky Toys

There are quite a few fantastic toys keeping me busy these days. First there’s Timothy Farrar’s FFDD5 set of scripts and actions for the digital darkroom. I’m experimenting with simple sets of 3 bracketed RAW exposures and blending them into an HDR digital negative that I can then develop to my taste. The results are much more natural-looking than with Photomatix, for instance. And for inspiration, I go browse through the Farrar’s stunning photo galleries.

Then there’s Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, released as a beta version (now v.4) to the public for testing. Lightroom combines in one single interface the functions of Adobe Bridge and Photoshop, as well as my Canon Digital Photo Professional. It is aimed entirely at digital darkroom work and even though it  doesn’t yield the same results as using FFDD5 or working with masks, it’s a great way to develop RAW pictures fast and very efficiently. The interface is slick and intuitive, and the program seems pretty stable despite the beta stage. A very complete panoply of settings are applied via easy-to-use sliders and the results are displayed in real time. Cool and complex toy.

My desktop and Windows now have a new look. It’s called BricoPack Vista Inspirat 1.1 and it looks really, really slick! The kit is an alternative skin for Windows XP, supposedly based on the upcoming Windows Vista. In any case, between this pack and the included software (of which is Stardock’s ObjectDock, but I already used my own free version of it), my computer looks and feels almost like a Mac…

And finally, there’s the new baby. But birth was a little difficult, so I’m not quite ready to talk about it. Soon, though. Soon.

Posted in: Bits and pieces & Photography on October 17, 2006 | Show Comments(3)

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Shooting for the darkroom

Since I switched from film to digital, quite a few years ago, I’d been walking in a haze, half asleep. The pictures I was taking were but ghosts of themselves. Letting the camera record a JPEG is like standing next to the Mona Lisa and sketching it on a piece of cardboard with white chalk; most of the original purity and complexity are lost and can never be restored.

I still attempted to enhance my shots on the computer, of course, but it was a messy process and would unavoidably cost me some resolution, definition or range. I’d manage to get decent small final images for the web, but often felt like I had pushed my luck a little far.

Then a few days ago, while doing research on the HDR topic – which was not giving me the results I’d expected – I stumbled upon a site which used slightly different terms and looked at things from a different angle. I read it once, the entire site, missing some of the subtleties, then read it again. And suddenly it struck me in all its simplicity: I’d been approaching digital photography from the wrong angle all along.

The secret it seems, lies in recognizing that just as traditional photographers have been incorporating darkroom work into their final output, so must digital photographers! And in order to do so, one must absolutely shoot initially in RAW format. The RAW format is the digital equivalent to an exposed but undeveloped roll of film. All the scene’s information is there, intact, untreated and uncompressed, as opposed to the JPEG format where information is interpreted and compressed by the camera, with a serious quality loss and no way back.

And so that web site spoke of “undeveloped” digital pictures, and of developing them, and it suddenly all made sense. The RAW file had become the “digital negative”, my favorite photo editing program would be the darkroom and only skill and patience would allow me to reveal the digital photograph’s secrets and make it come to life.

So after years of resisting the temptation, mostly because it meant sitting on twice the capacity my memory cards would have yielded, I have finally switched from shooting JPEGs to RAWs. Nothing about the move has been easy, nor fast. I’ve effectively dropped my in-camera storage space by half. I now have images that load slowly, which nobody can view as is and on which I’ll have to spend more time to get them to exist.

But I have also gained a new playground, a mysterious Cave of Ali Baba. I’ve opened my own digital darkroom.

And what’s even more promising is that I now have the option of incorporating High Dynamic Range blending techniques into the early development process, effectively gaining an HDR negative to start with.

It will take time. I have to learn photography all over again. But I can now look at scenes with a more daring eye. I am one step closer to the creative landscape photography I’ve always dreamed of accomplishing.

The sleeper has awakened.


[The first attempts at digital developping, shot on the Seawall, will be posted in a day or two...]

Posted in: Bits and pieces & HDR & Photoblogs & Photography on September 29, 2006 | Show Comments(2)

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Blogging in music…

Well since these are geeky days, I’m temporarily experimenting with streaming music directly on the blog. You will have noticed the simple controls at the top just below the main menu. I’ve set the music to begin playing automatically for now, to attract attention to it and cause your feedback, but it probably will become an option, no more. You can stop the music or skip tracks with the controls on the left, and change the volume by dragging the scale on the right. Limited music selection for now. The XSPF player is a great Flash-based application created by Fabricio Zuardi; I simply adapted the colors a little. Comments welcome; does it work well, or slow down page load, or bug you to death?

Update: 6:30 am the following day. Ok, it was already bugging me, so I killed the autostart. If you’d like nice music to have a nice time while you read this nice blog, just click the nice play button. ;-)

Posted in: Bits and pieces on September 23, 2006 | Show Comments(8)

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Ongoing template tweaking

Thanks to my amazing powers of observation, I’ve noticed that most visitors to the blog do not care to comment. So I’ve decided to make it easier on them/you by customizing the page with the addition of a simple "View / Hide Comments" button at the bottom of each post. While not essential to the posts, comments become part of the whole experience and add interaction and dialogue to what starts as a very unilateral text. So while I strongly encourage every visitor to comment away, I also wanted anonymous visits to the blog to be as enjoyable as possible, yet complete and informative.

So rather than clicking on the bottom link to add a comment and having to wait for the specific entry’s page to reload, all you now have to do to read comments is click on the button below a post. They will appear instantly without a need for reload, giving you a taste of what people are blabbing about and hopefully encouraging you to do the same, at which point you do need to click on the bottom "Add Comments" link.

How I hate writing manuals. It’s always a challenge to explain simplicity without complicating it.

Posted in: Bits and pieces on September 20, 2006 | Show Comments(8)

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