Thursday, August 14, 2014

I should not own tools.

Just thought I'd start with some "sporadic musings".

First, a sad moment.

R.I.P. Robin Williams

As I get older, the list of people whom I have admired and who have died grows necessarily longer and longer. Some were taken from us too young, some lived to a ripe old age, but in every case, it was too soon.

My father tops the list; today he would have been 94. Nobody lives forever but they leave a big hole when they're gone. I'm lucky. I can count on one hand the people to whom I was close who have died. But there's a longer and longer list of those whose talents were so huge who are gone.

Robin Williams was one of those. His off-the-wall humour, his incredibly quick wit made him my all-time favourite comedian. And some of the more dramatic roles he played were memorable because he made the characters believable. Good Will Hunting, the Dead Poet's Society, August Rush, yes, even Mrs. Doubtfire. I read somewhere that most of his dialogue in Good Morning Vietnam was not scripted, he improvised it.

In recent years, he pushed the edge of the envelope. His comedy became vulgar, his intent, to shock. I didn't like it, but I appreciated it. He explored boundaries, he pushed buttons. No doubt his substance abuse issues were a contributing factor in his death, but it was inevitable, in him and in others, mostly musicians, who brought their bright lights to live among us and make us feel. Maybe he really was an alien, Mork from Ork.

I wish I could have met, you, Mr. Williams. R.I.P.

Are you a good Samaritan?

The other day I saw a van parked by the side of the road, the driver, an older gentleman, sitting on the grass nearby, with his hand on the side of his neck seemingly feeling for his pulse. I made a U-turn and stopped. He wasn't really in distress, just waiting for a friend in another vehicle that had become separated, but he thanked me for stopping.

Just food for thought. Suppose you saw a motorcycle broken down at the side of the road. Would you stop to help, or at least offer the rider a lift to the nearest service station? Would you still do that if the biker was muscled, tattooed and wearing a ratty leather vest with a 3-part patch on the back?

I would. Would you?

I shouldn't own tools.

If I have tools, it's easier to break things or hurt myself. In fact, my picture should be posted in every Canadian Tire, every Home Depot with an order not to sell tools to me. My latest escapade?

I wanted to remove the ball head from my Gitzo tripod (the head is a Manfrotto 486RC2) but couldn't get it off. I wanted to mount my gimbal mount on it, which sits in a box in the car, unused, and which, I've found out, isn't a wise thing to mount on my lightweight 3LT carbon fiber tripod. But I couldn't get the ball head off.

So I Googled it. Sure enough... however the article talks about a set screw in the bottom of the head, and mine doesn't have one. I figured it's just too (friction) tight and then I thought, "I have an oil filter wrench that should fit around the base of the head, let me give that a try".

I now have a Gitzo tripod with a sheared off 1/4 inch bolt on the clamp that holds the centre column in place, with a Manfrotto 486RC2 ball head still firmly attached to the centre column. Fortunately, I know where Gentec is, the Gitzo importer and repair depot. Next trip to Toronto. Maybe I should buy a whole new centre column piece, after they fix the tripod, of course. Wonder how much that exercise is going to cost me?

If you see me coming, don't sell me tools.

Emergency Medical Information Card

Every now and then, I remind people about this. Suppose you were taken to an ER, unable to communicate (say, God forbid, in an accident and unconscious, or having suffered a stroke or other attack of some kind). How difficult would it be for the ER staff to find out about pre-existing medical conditions, allergies, or what meds you're taking?

Years ago, I made a wallet-sized Emergency Medical Information Card template and made it available to anyone for free. It's a PDF you download, you can fill it out and print it on your own computer (no information is sent anywhere) and get it laminated at Staples or wherever.

Over 20,000 people have downloaded it. That makes me feel good. The link is over on the right side of this blog, or here. Do it today.


I shot the same picture of the so-called "Supermoon" that everyone else did. I wasn't going to, but there it was, around midnight, when I went out to check if there were any stars to be seen (there weren't). I grabbed the 200mm with 1.7x converter and took a few handheld shots. Cropping out of the awesome 36Mp D800 image, I got this:

But everyone has the same shot. So I sat down with my coffee to play for a few minutes. That dragged into about an hour because when I posted it on FB, someone said the clouds should be in FRONT of the moon, so I went back and fixed it.

Just playing, you understand. You've seen this landscape before, I grabbed it, did some layer masking, then drew the birds in with the Wacom stylus. I darkened the image with some gradients, for mood.

New Technique

I picked up a new technique for rendering flowers in black-and-white on a black background from a fellow named Antony Northcutt. He put it together in a pdf eBook tutorial which I bought for £4.99. It's well done. The key is to choose a good picture to use. I'll do some more of these, but here's my first effort using that technique.

I put my own spin on this, doing some things differently from Antony. For instance, I used Silver Efex Pro for the BW conversion, and added some Topaz Simplify as well. The difficult part for this image was making the selection, it took a bit of painstaking painting on a mask layer to get rid of the background. 

Here's another, my second or third attempt. I went out today in search of subjects that would suit this style, this is a bit closer to my vision. This took me about an hour in Photoshop. It's closer to Antony's style, although I added a background glow.

Here's another one, with a difference. Instead of focusing on details, I went for textures. Topaz Simplify was the finishing tool.

Last but not least. Simplify again, but more detail. I like this technique and I'm thinking about printing a series of these images.

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