Archive for January, 2009

Speaking of purebreds

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

America isn’t unique in having an affinity for pedigreed politicians (Bush, Kennedy, Adams, Taft, Roosevelt, and that once-again popular new breed, the Clinton). Lots of third world countries also choose their leaders from a small pool of advantaged families. Europe does also, with the Saxe-Coburg und Gothas  providing the breeding farm for royalty, although most of that breed are mascots without any ability to cause any harm beyond the occasional politically incorrect remark.

It recently hit the local news that the great symbol of British character, the English Bulldog, is considered to be inbred and genetically deficient. Last year’s symbolic RSPCA boycott of Crufts was just responded to by a kennel club pledge to improve the standard of several hundred breeds.

Who could have known that a Bulldog was inbred just by looking at one, right? Although with their mouths shut, Kennedy and Bush both look better than a Bulldog, neither  have the sort of eloquence that a selective breeder might desired. For inbred dogs, their bite is worse than their bark. For politicians, the opposite is the case.

Poor Churchill is not considered an appropriate use of the limited NHS funds available for orthodontia. I have to admit to little sympathy for the owners. I’m in support of greater genetic diversity for the dogs, who are really just victims of fashion, if not outright snobbishness.  A few years ago at a high school sporting event, I overheard some 14-year old girl bragging about her expensive Retriever that the white ones were much better than the plain out golden ones. Pity for the dysplasia-prone dog, who will probably be on crutches before her owner outgrows (I hope) her elitist phase.

The very word ‘purebred’ is a value statement all by itself.

I’ve been aware for some time that purebred dogs not only cost more than mutts, but they are less healthy, and in some cases, are even prone to violent outbreaks. I did do a bit of research into the Bulldog issue, quickly finding a long rant in a blog last year from some guy who spent $6,500 on a Bulldog from someone he thought was a reputable breeder, but the canine turned out to be ugly, and underweight, reaching only 40 pounds, instead of the expected 50.  Its an animal, not something predictable like a mortgage-backed security! A low-resiliency animal, it was deliberately bred to accentuate characteristics that will make it one of the first victims of the coming crisis.  Why people don’t take pride in having pets that can live out a pain-free life of relative health?  Oh, they will claim that its just the disreputable breeders responsible for substandard dogs, and just badly bred owners who are too ignorant or cheap to purchase well bred beasts.  No sale. Look at the picture. How can that possibly be healthy? These things are genetic disasters, fit for no purpose other than human whimsy. Its time for a new standard of pet desirability and breeding practice.  My prediction is that it will never happen until dog-pound dogs are considered ‘cool.’

in ’01, who could have predicted all this?

Monday, January 19th, 2009

As gleefully pointed out in When Satire becomes Ironic, a January 2001 article on humor site The Onion, made multiple jokes about the future Bush presidency that would come almost spookily true. Entitled Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over’, the satirical article went online 8 years ago today.

Promises purportedly made by the incoming President in his January 2001 address included a promise “to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton,” assuring citizens that the U.S. will “engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years”, and pledging to “bring back economic stagnation.”

A Republican congressional leader reportedly said “Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend.”

“For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped,” conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. “And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that’s all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up.”

There’s more satire come true in that prophetic piece, on the state of poverty in America, disenfranchisement of black voters, and the need to find and defeat an enemy.

It’s easy to take an “I told you so” attitude, but remember that the majority of Americans supported a pre-emptive war, although many of them subsequently revised their personal history when it went pear shaped.  It could just be a bizarre coincidence that the political humorists at The Onion managed to so effectively predict what actually would happen during the next 8 years, but I think not.  No one would accuse the Bush administration of excessive transparency; indeed, as Bush so eloquently said himself during his final press conference last week, “We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.” Forgive me if I’m being ungenerous by suggesting that this was not an elected official who felt a duty to be frank.

In spite of a tendency to obfuscate, spin, and avoid answering direct questions, doesn’t this vintage Onion satire suggest that  the values of the Bush administration were, if not crystal clear (or should I say Kristol clear), discernible from the very beginning?  How much of a surprise can a collapsing economy and 6 years of aggressive war be, when peace and poverty be treated so cynically? It has often been said that a democracy gets the leadership it deserves.  I’m hoping that for the next 8 years, America gets better than it deserves.

NOTE: as verification that the original satire truly was published at the beginning of the Bush years, an archived copy from 19 January 2001 is available on The Wayback Machine.

Nice photos! What camera did you use?

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

A famous photographer was invited to dinner party at the city apartment of a woman known as being something of a gourmet cook. As he entered the house, the hostess gushed over him and his work, exclaiming “You must have some very fine camera equipment to produce such fine pictures.”

After the party started to wind down, the photographer made the proper thank you to the hostess for the evening, saying “that was a wonderful meal. You must have some very fine pots and pans to produce some fine dinner like that.”

When people look at my pictures, they often ask me what camera I use, sometimes commenting on the rich colors, or sharpness. I don’t want to be rude, but you shouldn’t expect that your pictures will look like mine, just because you buy a camera like mine.

For what its worth, I’m using a Canon 20D DSLR that I purchased in 2005. A mid-range SLR that is getting a bit long in the tooth, it fills up a heavy little backpack when I include 3-4 somewhat expensive lenses, Canon’s high-end electronic flash and a bit of other gear.

My camera is always set to capture images in RAW. This is a a camera-specific format that captures all of the sensor info, which bears some explanation. Virtually all digital cameras output JPG or ‘jay peg’ either exclusively or optionally. This is a compressed format that contains a lot fewer data than your camera’s sensor collected at the time of exposure. When you choose to use camera-generated JPGs, you are allowing your camera to make a number of aesthetically-relevant decisions about the appearance of your image, including color balance, exposure, contrast, and sharpening. When you shoot in RAW, you retain as much data as possible, so that it can be effectively applied when consciously making decisions on exposure, color, contrast, and sharpening after-the-fact in your digital darkroom. This takes more time, but gives you much, much, more flexibility, and most serious photographers do it. You can spend a lot of time on a single picture.; hours, and even days. Press photographers often shoot RAW and JPG simultaneously, so they’ve got something they can immediately upload, but also have a ‘digital negative’ that they can use later for an enhanced version.

It should also be obvious that taking the photo in the first place requires the application of knowledge and experience, in addition to the making of aesthetic judgments on subject, timing, field of view, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, and lighting.

All of that said, the bigger your camera, the more likely you are to get better pictures. No camera can make aesthetic decisions on your behalf, and I’ve seen plenty of lackluster photos taken on high-end camera gear, but the better the camera, the more likely that it will get the exposure correct, freeze motion, be in focus, and be free of distortion. Although its effect can be somewhat ameliorated by several hundred dollars worth of software, lens distortion degrades the quality of pictures taken with less expensive gear, and avoiding it is one of the reasons why my normal lens is inconveniently heavy, and costs more than an entry level DSLR & lens combined.

Buying a Stradivarius won’t turn you into a world class violinist, but if you have some talent to see and capture interesting images, a cheap camera will hold you back. In any craft, the more experienced you become, the better able you are to take advantage of sophisticated tools. A $500 wood plane won’t turn an apprentice into a cabinet maker, but a $50 plane would often prevent a master woodworker from reaching the full potential of their art. You should purchase something commensurate with your skill level. Today’s entry level DSLRs are pretty darn good, and very reasonably priced. Instead of buying a mid-level camera with the maker’s cheapest 18-55mm zoom, spend less on the camera and buy a better lens. Or consider getting a bridge camera, which is similar in layout to a DSLR, but is smaller, and avoids the need for changing lenses.

Windows version what?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

What’s the matter with the OS I’m using?

“Can’t you tell that your Window’s too wide?”

Maybe I should buy some old Sidekick?

“Welcome back to the age of hive.

Where have you been hiden’ out lately, Sam?

You can’t throw trash till you spend a lot of RAM.”

Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout the new GUI,

Funny, but it’s still NT to me.

Music Video:Istanbul in song

Saturday, January 10th, 2009


This represents a couple of experiments. I created this slideshow from pictures I took during a weekend in Istanbul last month, using Adobe Lightroom to process the RAW shots, and ProShow Gold to create the slide show and add music. This version in Photodex’ proprietary .px format, which requires a plug-in (it should download automatically if you need it). The second part of the experiment is that this AV presentation is hosted on my web server, and mashed into my blog, and that it plays right inside this post (with no annoying YouTube logo).

You can view this in full-screen, but native resolution is 640×480. I’ve also uploaded one to the Photodex server, which probably has better Internet connectivity than does, and will show at a higher res.

For my parents and co-workers who found it impossible to download Photodex’s plug-in, here’s a version in Shockwave that is less attractive and less reliable, but more likely to function.   If all else fails, or you really want to take some time to look at higher-res 1280×1024 versions, you can view the photos in my photo gallery. Note that you can access a non-animated, non-musical slide show from a link at the bottom of that page.

I’d like to upload more of these–let me know if you have problems, or what you’d rather see. Too big? Too slow? Too small? Too technically difficult?

Reinstall: A pain in the Microsoft Windows

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I took an extra long vacation this winter, from Dec 22 until Jan 4.  I needed that many days so I’d have some undisturbed time to reinstall XP on my home computer. This is just one of the normal rituals necessary when using the world’s most popular operating system. Historically, I’ve done it every year or two, once the computer gets painfully slow and unreliable.

I managed to go almost 3 years without having to do it.  My machine  just got slower, and slower, and less reliable. I couldn’t hear sound on YouTube (big loss, there), the slot wouldn’t read CF cards from my DSLR, a couple peripherals wouldn’t work in some USB ports, strange install scripts would kick off for no apparent reason.  It’s a weirdness that gives Microsoft products their own special random charm.

A reinstall is when you hope you know where you’ve put everything on your PC, you open up the box, you hose out the 2 inches of dust that the 4 fans collected, you put in new drives that will hold another 6 months of RAW files, you reinstall Windows, and then you do your best to restore all your data (neatly ruining useful meta data).  Once you are sure it is running correctly, and is faster and more reliable than it has ever been, you  spend a solid two days carefully reinstalling all your software, just to slow it all back down again and introduce random errors and internal conflicts.

Then you spend a couple weeks reinstalling the stuff that you didn’t know you didn’t have.

Windows is especially challenging because you can’t just pick up stuff and move it. Unlike Apple’s OS, Linux, Xenix, Unix, and other efficient, reliable, and easily-administered computer operating systems, Microsoft consistently avoided design facilitating intuitive decisions about system operation. With a normal OS,  if you want to move somebody’s files, you just pick them up and move them. If you want to move an application, you pick it up and move it. If you want to delete temporary files, you delete them.  Windows just throws all that stuff together–in three entirely different places, one of which is not visible to mortals. You can’t just move it–you need to do a planned migration.

How did this happen, you might ask?  Well, it is actually very simple: (more…)