Hampden, March 19

Near my home is a metalworking shop which, like many such, collects scrap for repurposing. I’m not sure what they intend to do with a giant hydraulic press – but on the other hand, given that it’s been where it is long enough to be visible in commercially available satellite imagery, I suppose they’re not sure what they intend to do with it, either. If they can restore it to working order, perhaps they can start a YouTube channel…

Welcome to Barbizon

I visited Manhattan last year, and stayed in the Hotel Pennsylvania.

I can’t recommend it unreservedly, I’m afraid. The room I’d rented struck me as the sort of place you’d see in an old noir flick, probably with a suicide dangling from the ceiling:


But I came to appreciate the place as we grew to know one another. Did you know the Hotel Pennsylvania has at least one abandoned floor? It’s true! I got on an elevator at one point, somewhat the worse for drink – it was that kind of weekend – and pressed ‘1’, thinking that would take me to the mezzanine or the lobby or something. Instead, the doors opened on a strange and ominous slice of hotel space, all cheap cracked white paint and stained linoleum and buzzing, flickering fluorescent fixtures – the sort of place that’s less old noir flick, and more the fourth act of one of those cheesy thriller-horror films which nonetheless manage a scene or two that inexplicably stays with you long after the rest is forgotten.

So, of course, I got off the elevator and started wandering. What else can you do with something like that? Just forget about it and go back to the nice, normal, ordinary world where nothing unexpected really happens and when it does there’s Cigna and Citibank and Geico and H&R Block to put between yourself and it?

Well, maybe so. But I can’t. Sooner or later, I’m sure, it’s going to cost me. But this time, after a half hour or so, I happened across Barbizon. And I knew this was the point where I could no longer adequately describe the strangeness of the place I had found – my command of metaphor just wouldn’t suffice. And so I pulled out my phone. And so:

Then I went back down to the hotel bar and let the bartender pour another three or five free shots down me, the way he’d been doing all night. Perhaps there was more to it than neighborliness; in retrospect he did seem a touch fey, but I’ve always been poor at noticing such things, and Barbizon had left me in something of a state regardless.

The next day, I called out Richard Stallman in front of three hundred or so fanatic devotees of the FSF party line. He swore at me, and one of his minions cut the mic I was using. Then, a few hours later, I got him to sign my Emacs manual. It was a good weekend.

“Resize keeping original” plugin

My camera, in the JPEG Fine mode where I generally shoot, produces 6000×4000 images. That’s a bit too large to serve on the web, but I didn’t want to have to go through a fiddly, painstaking manual resize process every time I upload something – I tend not to do a lot of post-processing in general, because my D5300 produces images of sufficient quality that I really don’t feel much time in post is required, and I prefer to save post work for stuff like this:

…because I am unbelievably basic. But hey.

I also noticed that a lot of web clients don’t correctly interpret EXIF orientation data in all cases, and a lot of the gallery thumbnails and the like were therefore displaying sideways.

So I wrote a WordPress plugin to deal with both of these problems for me – when I upload an image larger than 2048 pixels in either dimension, it’s resized down, respecting the aspect ratio, to fit within that bound (modulo a pixel or two to avoid fractional resize dimensions), and if its EXIF data says it was taken in a rotated orientation, then it’s counter-rotated so that it still looks right in clients which don’t respect the EXIF orientation field.

As the name implies, the original (full-size, unrotated) image is retained on the server, but it’s not exposed anywhere in WordPress, and can’t be accessed from the web. I’ve heard from a few people locally that it’s not at all inconceivable for someone to make a little side money selling photos on the web, and on the off chance that ends up looking like something I might be able to do, having the full-size originals already available will save me a lot of effort.

The resize-keeping-original plugin can be found on Github, for the benefit of anyone who might want it. Sooner or later, I’ll clean it up into something properly releasable and put it on the WordPress plugin list, so it can be installed from the dashboard. In the meantime, share and enjoy!

Inner Harbor, July 4

I’m not really happy with a lot of these. But that’s okay; I wasn’t expecting to be.

This was the first time I’ve ever photographed fireworks, and despite the advice of various articles written by both professionals and amateurs much more skillful than I, I went in with really next to no idea what I was doing beyond the simple mechanics of long exposure and narrow aperture. So I expected to make mistakes, and resolved to identify and learn from them. Here, as nearly as I can tell, they are:

Positioning. I found what I thought was a great spot, just next to the cannon on the northern brow of Federal Hill. But when I found it, it was daylight out, and while that did give me a valuable opportunity to get some sorely needed practice photographing people – turns out there’s something about wielding a DSLR that makes people think you know what you’re doing with a camera! Their mistake, although they didn’t seem displeased they had asked me to take a family snap with their phones – I overlooked one vital point: lighted signs. You can see throughout this gallery how severe a mistake that was; the surrounding buildings aren’t so bad, but if I had it to do over, I’d have found an alternate position that didn’t put the FNB sign squarely in the middle of my frame. By the time I realized my mistake, it was close enough to showtime that the place was packed, and there was no way in the world I’d be able to adjust position, set up my tripod, and get my focus and frame dialed in all over again.

Whichever unsung hero is in charge of Rash Field’s lighting did an amazing thing this year and turned it off, making it much easier both to photograph, and simply to see, the fireworks show. If I go to the Inner Harbor show next year and don’t have a better option available, I’ll set up on the field, which will put me much closer to the action – with a much higher shooting angle, too, that should let me keep the building light mostly out of frame.

Lens swapping. This was just a terrible idea all around. I started with the 18-55 kit lens that came with my D5300, and that was fine. Partway through the show, I decided to swap it for my 70-300 tele, and that was not fine. It needed reframing, it needed focusing, the DX crop factor meant I couldn’t fit a whole burst into frame – and, of course, in swapping the 18-55 off and back on again, I messed up its carefully configured focus, too, which is why a number of images in this gallery are blurrier than they should be.

I had in mind that, since I was already treating this effectively as a practice run, I may as well take the opportunity to find out whether or not a tele, or a lens swap mid-show, were even things that’d work – and I suppose I did find out, after all. They are not even things that work! They are not even things that work at all. So I won’t do those things again.

Chimping. I know, I know! But I’m new and insecure at this. ;_;

In all honesty, I wasn’t being too bad about it; I checked, I think, about a half-dozen shots – which probably means I actually checked a dozen. I know I missed at least a few good exposures because I was too busy looking at the back of my camera, worried about whether I had the aperture open far enough to properly capture single shell bursts with two- and three-second exposures. Turns out it was fine and I shouldn’t have worried. Next time, I won’t.

Showing up way too early. It topped out around ninety degrees yesterday. I left the house a little before one in the afternoon and took the train down to Camden Yards station, then did an almighty lot of walking. To be sure, it helped me find and then secure the spot I wanted – but I could’ve just as easily left a couple of hours later, once the heat of the day had already peaked and begun to wane, and spent less time finding a spot. It might’ve even worked out better, since I could’ve grabbed a waterside bench with the same high shooting angle I mentioned Rash Field offering. Also, I wouldn’t have spent so much time regretting that I didn’t think to bring a camp chair…

Choosing the Inner Harbor fireworks show at all. It only ran fifteen minutes, and ended with the most disappointing finale I’ve ever seen in a fireworks show – I was just starting to experiment with focus and zoom adjustments during the exposure, as one of the images in today’s gallery reflects, when they decided they were done. Next year, I’ll spend a few bucks and go to the Oregon Ridge show, or to any of the several shows that carried on a good half hour and more after the Inner Harbor show called a halt.

But it wasn’t entirely a matter of making mistakes in order to learn from them! After only a few prior experiments with bulb mode and a cable release, and after not having been to a fireworks show in more years than I can count offhand, I was basically guessing at my camera configuration and hoping for the best. Judging by at least a few of these shots, it appears I guessed pretty well – and, as far as the rest of them go, I’m pretty sure I know how to do considerably better next time. Perhaps you’ll let me know what opportunities for improvement you see here that I don’t!

New site, new style!

It’s been a few years!

My previous blog was…hardly a thing of beauty, and by now its technical content is so sorely out of date as to be not really worth porting over. I’m also these days less narrowly focused on purely technological endeavors, and in particular have lately been developing a serious, if thus far only amateur, interest in photography.

So better, I think, to make a fresh start, with a site that better reflects my broadening scope. Thus, this!

Medfield-Hampden, June 25

When choosing a day on which to wander, I tend to prefer Sunday over Saturday. The former is hectic, full of young folks fighting to make the most they can out of the too-brief weekend, and by nightfall 36th Street is all but thronged; the latter, by contrast, nursing a metaphorical hangover, I find much better suits a more relaxed sort of peregrination.

I hadn’t quite expected to find myself in Wyman Park, but having once done so, sought to make the most of it. I did rather feel sorry for the folks who’d come out to walk the trails, so many of whom were plainly struggling under the hot and merciless sun; stray but a few yards off the so carefully demarcated paths, and one may find the cool gentle solace of forest shade.

That said – when in Wyman Park, please keep your dog on a leash, or at least out of the woods unsupervised. While there’s nothing in those woods which will do a dog harm, there is plenty of harm for a dog to do there – as for example to the rather freshly dead vixen I tripped over, very nearly in the literal sense – throat torn out, but otherwise unworried. A coyote wouldn’t do that – kill a fox, certainly, but not leave the body otherwise untouched. A dog would, though. And while we’re hardly short of foxes in these parts, I can’t imagine it’s much more pleasant for you to have your dog come out of the woods streaked in gore, than for me to stumble across the pointless murder that same dog left behind. So, please, look after your pet responsibly. I think we’ll both be happier for it.

Mount Washington, June 29

Commuting via light rail affords frequent opportunity to hop off the train somewhere new, or new to you, and go wandering around to see what’s to be seen. Here are some of the things I saw on a recent wander in Mount Washington, more or less around the Whole Foods store.

Well, eventually, at least – as I recall it, I left the Mount Washington platform heading roughly north, cut eastish along a deer trail through the thick brush there and went under the 83 bridge, and found on its far side a narrow little street that took me southeastish into the back lot of the Mount Washington Mill, opposite Falls Road.

Following the Jones Falls, I was surprised to be overflown by a rather sizable turkey vulture – surprised both because it’s relatively rare to see them glide so low over human habitations, and because turkey vultures are themselves relatively rare around here, black vultures being the much more typical buzzard to see in these parts. Mockingbirds, of course, are ubiquitous everywhere, and quite stroppy besides – I recently saw three of them fight a Cooper’s hawk nearly out of the sky altogether.

The Jones Falls goes into a sort of culvert there, whose 45°-sloped concrete walls were a momentary obstacle and noisy enough to descend that the geese got upset – getting back out again was harder, but my old rock climbing skills stood me in good stead, much to the amusement of a fellow crossing the street who I suppose did not expect to see a fat old redneck haul himself up over the side of the bridge.

From there, it was a short and rather pleasant walk back to the train station along the north bank of the Jones Falls, which is paralleled for part of the way by a cement path under another I-83 bridge. Once there, I happened to glance sidewise into the stream again, and spotted some sort of bright orange aquatic creature sharing its space with a few rather less striking specimens. This occasioned a few shots, although I am not nearly so good at spotting fish as I am with birds, so I have no idea quite what that photo actually depicts.

From there, I got back on the southbound train, bound for further – is “adventures” too pretentious a word for a middle-aged divorcé to use? Perhaps it is; further indulgences of a developing mind’s eye, then. But that’s a post for another day…