Monday, December 31, 2007

New Restrictions on Flying with Batteries

Since I only found out about this because I'm subscribed to the RSS feed from, I figured I should pass it along. Apologies if your standard news source has already warned you:

US Department of Transport announces restrictions for Li-Ion batteries

Travel Alert Starting January 1, 2008
Spare Lithium Batteries No Longer Allowed in Checked Baggage.

From what I can tell, here is how it affects me:
-I can not put my spare batteries in my checked luggage, especially since I'm not going to check the equipment that uses the batteries.

-I need to check if the batteries I'm using are quantity limited, if they are, my travel companion gets to carry a few.

-Each battery will be carried in its own plastic zip-top bag.

-I'm going to follow the carriage rules for other types of rechargeable batteries as if they were Lithium, to avoid harried baggage checkers pitching innocent batteries. If a few plastic bags save me a few minutes of grief in the security line, I think it is worth it.

Ugh. Yet another hoop to jump through. At least this one is based on actual safety rather than Hollywood safety.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Digital Photography Workflow, Part 1

Digital Photography Workflow, Part 1

What Your Software Can't Do:

I'm planning to make a series of posts about digital photography, mostly about what happens after the pictures are taken. I grew up shooting with film, getting the rolls processed wherever it was cheapest. Now, the level of control I have with shooting RAW digital has me spoiled for anything else. My strengths in photography are dynamic compositions and capturing interesting moments. My weaknesses are exposures and patience. I like to set the camera up once per location, and just shoot without thinking much about settings. I hate using filters. RAW is perfect for me.

Here is what your software can't do, even when you start from RAW:

1. If it is out of focus, it will always be out of focus. Use on-camera preview to make sure you hit focus on important shots while you still have a chance to retake them. Be familiar with how your lenses behave with your camera's autofocus. Be ready to switch to manual focus if the autofocus isn't cooperating. Learn how to use the diopter adjustment on your viewfinder to compensate for your own bad eyes. Sharpening may bring back a shot that is just a bit out of focus, but this will only look good in very rare situations. Worth a try, but it is best to just take another picture that actually is in focus.

2. If you totally blew out the highlights, sorry, they're gone. In bright settings or when using the flash, I'll set my exposure compensation to deliberately under-expose in order to avoid this problem. Bibble does have a highlight recovery tool, but it can't do enough if you really saturated your pixels. If you take a questionable shot, check the in-camera histogram to make sure there isn't a spike right at the bright edge that may indicate you've lost information. Again, just taking another picture after adjusting the exposure compensation will be your best insurance.

3. If you want the effects of a polarizing filter, you actually need to use a polarizing filter on your lens. RAW doesn't keep track of the polarization of the light hitting the sensor. Though, that would be REALLY FREAKING COOL if someone built a camera that could do that...

4. If you didn't shoot at a high enough resolution, or zoom in as far as you wanted to, there isn't a good way to get the information back. Memory is cheap. Buy more, and always shoot at the highest resolution for your camera. (Note, this doesn't mean using the .tiff setting. If you aren't using RAW, you may as well just use the finest .jpg because the .tiff setting never seems to have enough extra information to make it worth the file size.) Bibble lets you choose the resolution you export to at the final processing step, so you can make smaller res files to put online after the fact. But you never want to set your camera on a smaller res, because that is just telling fate to give you the best photos ever. If your camera was on 640 x 512, you will never be able to print those photos.

5. If you shot with an unflattering camera angle or lighting set up, your subject will not like the photo. Resist the temptation to shoot from below - the undersides of chins and insides of noses are not attractive vantage points on most normal people. Use fill flash outside, use bounce flash from above when inside. Study pictures to get a feel for the lighting and viewpoints that make people look good.

6. If you missed the shot, all you have left is the story about the one that got away. My camera has a setting that I call "take the damn picture" that tells it that when I push the button, I want it to take the photo instead of complaining that it can't find the perfect focus. It is officially called "release priority" in the instruction book. (As an extra source of aggravation, this setting defaults back to "focus priority" each time I replace the battery.) Also, don't delete in-camera. Buy more memory cards instead. Even nearly black frames (flash wasn't fully charged...) could have a great moment hiding in them, which you can recover if you are shooting RAW.

Thankfully, this is a very short list compared to the photography sins that can be forgiven by using a good RAW converter. I like Bibble, and I have since I got my DSLR. They were one of the few at that time that would support my camera (Minolta 5D) and my laptop (Apple iBook G4). Bibble only costs about $70 for the Lite version, and I've had free upgrades to all new versions since then. I'm also impressed by the customer service. One time I was having a big problem with Bibble crashing and I couldn't find an answer in the forums. My desperate email for help was answered by the main man, Eric Hyman. In twenty minutes. At 10:30 pm. Sweet.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Five Pounds Down

Remember that post a while back about the really long walk, and the fall colors? Well, a few days later I twisted my leg funny while wearing high heeled boots at work. I took about three weeks before it felt normal enough to exercise again, but by then I had gained about five pounds. Yuck. I was NOT happy.

Since about March of this year I've really been trying to reverse the direction of slow and steady weight gain that was happening to me. I'm in great physical shape, unless you look at my weight or my body fat percentage. Both are higher than they should be, in the "health risk" section of the charts for my height (5'5") and gender. The American Heart Association No Fad Diet didn't help me lose any weight, but the lifestyle changes did succeed in leveling off the number on the scale. As long as I exercised, I was pretty good at balancing things to stay at steady state.

But steady state isn't my goal, and gaining more was not fun. So the week before Thanksgiving, I joined Weight Watchers. I've been going to local meetings, following the Core plan, and spending longer in the gym. Result: today, five weeks in to this effort, I have lost 5.4 lbs. I'm really happy about that!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Strangest Thing I've Done at Work

My actual job is to be an Opto-Mechanical Engineer. I enjoy it a lot, and I get plenty of satisfaction out of seeing my designs turn into real objects and function how they are supposed to. The past two months at work have been a bit strange, because I got to do something completely outside of my regular job description.

The Security Department put on a play this year for the first time. I volunteered to direct. We just finished up on Monday, after playing to THREE packed houses in the company auditorium. This was no skit - it was a 45 minute, original, one-act play. A lady in the Security Department wrote it, to help increase awareness of the Counterintelligence Threat. As far as we know, this is a first for our location, our division, our sector, and possibly for the whole company. It has been recorded to turn into a DVD to share with other locations.

Being a director is only about 30% telling actors what to do on stage. The other 70% is the rest of the stuff that is needed to get a show to happen. This includes: rehearsal scheduling (in Outlook - all booked in conference rooms until the final week), cast changes (someone drops out, gotta find someone else), facilities coordination (lights, faking a backstage), staging coordination (thankfully I could delegate props, costumes, and sets to other volunteers), publicity (the graphics department came up with an amazing poster for us), script changes, crisis management, cast parties, announcements, sound recording, and a hundred other little details. But, I really loved it. And, since I got a charge number to use, this is the first time I've been paid to do something theater-related.

The response from co-workers has been amazing. We just had a year-end party for all of Engineering and Manufacturing, and I was approached by so many people who wanted to congratulate me on how the play went. This includes people I didn't know beforehand - they recognize me now because of the play. It was certainly the strangest thing I've done at work, but also one of the most rewarding.


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