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    Costco: Photo Contest

    2011 - 09.27

    Hey everyone, if you haven’t already done it, you should enter the Costco Photo Contest.  I did.  But second place is still open.  Only requirement is that you need to be a Costco member to enter/receive a prize, otherwise it’s wide open.  If the picture you submit is of a cat or a dog then you can enter your picture for an additional prize.  It’s free, so there’s no excuses.  Go enter now!

    Prizes are:

    1. $1,500 Costco Cash card (First Prize)
    2. $1,000 Costco Cash card (Second Prize)
    3. $500 Costco Cash card (Third Prize)

    Winners also receive:

    • a Photo Book
    • 200 Free 4×6 online digital prints
    • SanDisk Ultra SDHC 8GB memory card

    The additional prizes that Dog/Cat photos are eligible for:

    1. $1,000 Costco Cash card (First prize)
    2. $750 Costco Cash card (Second prize)
    3. $500 Costco Cash card (Third prize)

    Costco closes September 30th, 2011.  But that doesn’t matter because you already entered, right?!

    HDR: Night Views (Burnaby)

    2011 - 09.05

    HDR: Night Views (Burnaby), a set on Flickr.

    Some of the source images here have been posted before, but now here are some actual HDR compositions on a particularly interesting evening in Burnaby.

    Blueberry Glaze

    2011 - 09.04

    Regular readers may remember that Karin went blueberry picking a while back.   One of the things which she wanted to make in addition to jam was pie or tarts.  White Spot apparently does a fresh blueberry pie while they are in season and she just loves it.  So the goal was to approximate it.  Unfortunately this did not happen in a timely manner, mostly because I refused to spend $2.00 on Blueberry glaze from the store (it was on SALE for that price), and on top of it you still needed to supply your own sugar.  No thank you!

    This week her mother went blueberry picking again and provided Karin with a small supply of new fresh berries.  She had already baked the tart shells, so the only thing missing was the glaze.  Tonight, I made it.

    So the glaze recipe really is very very simple, and I would recommend that you experiment a little yourself if you’re feeling it.

    1 cup/250ml – sugar
    1 cup/250ml – water
    3 tbsp/50ml – corn starch (heaping tablespoons)
    1 cup/250ml – berries [optional]

    1. If you’re lazy, throw everything in a sauce pan over medium-high heat stirring frequently with a whisk, bring to a boil and allow to thicken before removing from the heat.
    2. If you’re less lazy, add the sugar, 3/4 cup water and 1 cup berries (if using) to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  The berries will add colour and flavour to the glaze, making it a ____berry glaze instead of just a generic glaze.  This is optional.
    3. Combine the corn starch and the remaining 1/4 cup water, stir well until completely combined.
    4. Add the corn starch mixture to the sauce pan, stirring while bringing it back to a boil.
    5. The glaze should thicken, remove from heat.  Depending on what you’re doing you may choose to allow it to cool at this point.
    6. You may either pour the glaze over things now, say a pie crust filled with fresh berries, or you can add the berries directly to the glaze, stirring until completely coated, and then spooning into tart shells or onto pound cake (that’s what we did).
    7. All of this should take less than 15 minutes.  Enjoy.

    Below you’ll find a few pictures of the end result.  It should work find with pretty much any fruit or berry.

    Blueberry tartsBlueberry tartsBlueberry tartsBlueberry tartsBlueberry tartsBlueberry tarts
    Glazed Blueberries on pound cake

    Blueberry Glaze, a set on Flickr.

    Normally Karin’s the take pictures of food I made person in the family, but the camera’s been used a lot in the last couple of days so was really handy, so I figured why not.

    The Classroom

    2011 - 09.03

    Duh Duh Dugh!  Definitely the storyline for the week has been unpacking Karin’s classroom and getting it ready for students next week.  Normally you wouldn’t think this would be a big deal, but last year Karin’s school underwent seismic upgrading which means that her classroom needed to be packed up to be moved to a new school/classroom, and this time last year unpacked and setup, then at the end of the year (June) packed up and moved back to her old school (but a new classroom).  That’s probably a little hard to follow, here’s the timeline:

    • June 2010: old class packed up for moving to new school/class
    • August/September 2010: unpacking at new school/class
    • June 2011: packing at formerly new school/class
    • August/September 2011: unpacking at old school in new classroom while construction is still ongoing to finish the seismic upgrades

    So she’s back at the old school, in a new classroom, HER classroom.  She’s organized, and it shows.  Here are some “after” shots of the classroom setup (there’s still a bit of work to be done, but the heavy lifting is finished).  Perhaps Karin will post the “before” pictures in the next couple of days.



    Her desk and area:



    The pop machine last year’s class made for her:



    View out the windows near her desk:



    View out the windows at the other side of the classroom:



    The bulletin board on the cloakroom (I did the papering):



    Another bulletin board, and are those expertly assembled Ikea Ivar shelves?  Why yes they are:



    Another bulletin board, and are those expertly connected computers?  Why yes they are:



    Rolling cubbies with books in front of the radiator:



    Full room shots:





    So it took a lot of work this week, most of it by Karin, with help from her mom, and minor contributions by yours truly.  The results thus far are very impressive and satisfying, should be a great year!

    The downside is that Karin has a very sore back from all the work she’s been doing, so hopefully that will pass quickly, hopefully.

    Photomatix: Review

    2011 - 09.02

    As mentioned earlier we bought Photomatix to do some High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.  We decided to do that after we tried it out a little bit and posted some pictures to Flickr as mentioned before.

    The trial version of Photomatix is the same as the full version except that it adds watermarks to the final version of the image, which effectively renders it useless, unless you really want to advertise the fact that you used the trial version.

    Anyway, when doing the original HDR photos of the arbutus trees and foliage I planned ahead a little bit.  When you are saving a file in Photomatix you also get the option of saving the settings that you used to manipulate or perhaps more appropriately combine the multiple exposures into a single exposure.  The end result is an XMP file.

    “Ok, good.” I think to myself, now if I buy the software later I’ll be able to remake these same HDR photos without the watermarks, as I have saved the settings I used to make them in the first place!

    1. So you’ve bought the software
    2. You previously saved the settings used to make the HDR photo as an XMP file
    3. You open Photomatix
    4. Now what?

    I spent a lot of time on number 4.  I thought, I’ll just go to “Open” and select the file, and automagically things will just happen.  Well that fantasy didn’t last very long, as the “Open” dialog doesn’t allow you to open .xmp files.  Huh!?!?  That’s helpful.

    Drag and drop the file into Photomatix?  Nope, doesn’t work either.

    I probably tried a few other things too, it turns out what you need to do is go through the same process of loading the original source files (I guess that what they were is not stored int he .xmp file, or Photomatix simply isn’t set up to make use of it) into Photomatix as though you were making a completely different HDR image.

    After it has loaded the bracketed photos into the HDR image for you to manipulate prior to processing it, you’re hoping that somehow you’re going to be able to make use of the .xmp file that your past self thought was pretty smart of it for having the forethought to create.

    Well it turns out that you can use it, but it’s still not anywhere near as simple as it should be.  There are a few different types of HDR image within Photomatix: Tone Mapping and Exposure Fusion and within those there can be a couple of different sub-types as well.  The downside is that you need to select the appropriate mode and sub-type and then go to a drop down box and select “load settings” before you can load the settings you’ve previously saved.

    It works, but it’s cumbersome and clunky.  Realistically I should be able to include the .xmp at the beginning when I’m loading the bracketed photos, so that it would default to that settings file and the type of HDR composition used in the settings file when presenting the intermediary HDR for manipulation.  Of course that’s only assuming that you couldn’t use the ideal method of just loading the .xmp file and having it load the bracketed photos used for the HDR automagically based on the values in the .xmp file.  But really there’s no excuse for having to pre-select the appropriate type and sub-type of settings before it will let you load the settings file (it literally has a pop-up that tells you that the settings file doesn’t contain settings for that type/sub-type).  On some level it’s good for you to know, but even if they really thought that was important, why couldn’t they instead add to that pop-up: “These settings are for type/sub-type and not the currently selected other type/other sub-type, would you like to load these settings which will result in a change to the type/sub-type or would you like to load a different settings file for the currently selected other type/other sub-type?  [Do it anyway] [Load other] [Cancel]”

    Of course if you never save the settings with the intention of using them to recreate the same image, or to use for other images to apply identical settings, well then you’ll never encounter this issue.

    Is it annoying?  Yes.  Is it bad design?  I’d say so.  Is it a show stopper which makes the software not worth using?  No, I don’t think so.  Especially if you know what to expect, which obviously I didn’t, and came in with unrealistic expectations of how easy it would be to recreate those previous HDR images.

    The final result of all this is actually that I’ve redone all those earlier HDR images so that they no longer have the watermarks, which means I can order prints of them now.  You can see the updated images on Flickr.

    Photomatix: Educational Pricing

    2011 - 08.29

    The other week we contacted Photomatix to see if Karin qualified for their educational pricing, and it turns out she did!  So we now have a licensed version of the software for 60% off the regular price.  We sent in a scan of her BC College of Teachers card and that was sufficient evidence.

    Amusingly we have done next to nothing with the software since we bought it, but it does mean that we can now put together HDR photos without the watermarks on them, so maybe we’ll soon have some of those decorating our walls.  It’s also a good reason for us to do more of that type of photography… so you may see more experimentation in the coming months.

    Unexpected Visitor

    2011 - 08.08

    With Karin on vacation I had expected that the house would be a little more empty, but what I really wasn’t prepared for was an unexpected visitor!  What gave it away was it the whole “unexpected” part?

    So I’m in the en-suite taking a cold pill because I’ve got a bit of a sore throat which mostly only bothers me when I’m talking (but I could totally record a smoky jazz album right now, if only I could do jazz), and I hear this chirping.  Not really that strange, the slider to the balcony is open in the bedroom (blinds closed), and there are birds out there reasonably regularly.  Seems as though one of our neighbours (above us) has contraband bird feeders.  That coupled with Karin’s jungle (e.g. garden) means that we see little birds on our balcony reasonably regularly.  Pretty timid little guys, took us quite a while before we were able to get any pictures of them, as they’d take off pretty much as soon as they saw us through the doorway.

    But as I walk into the bedroom, it becomes clear that the sound isn’t coming from the balcony.  Ok, no problem, Karin mentioned that she’d seen them perched on the outside of our windows before, and sure enough it sounds as though it’s coming from near one of our open windows in the livingroom.  Unfortunately, it turns out that this little birdie decided to visit the inside of our apartment.

    2011_08_08_IMG_6320 by dcowley
    I own this place!, a photo by dcowley on Flickr.

    So I watch for a few seconds, and it’s clearly trying to get out, and doesn’t like our guest rewards program (no air miles).  So I fiddle with the blinds for a few minutes trying to get it to either fly high enough to get out the little tilt out window (30cm/1 ft) or to fly in the direction of the open door to the balcony.  Neither met with any real success.

    A phone call to the parents to see if they have any brilliant suggestions, and the best one was trying to herd it with a soft broom, or use a pillow case to catch and bundle it.

    I have one of those grabber things, and I got a tea towel and used the grabber thing to hold the tea towel hanging down to try to herd the bird, this was mildly successful, and at one point I had it inside the towel, but it got out before I could take it away from the window.

    Moving some furniture around so that I could hopefully herd the bird all along the front windows and eventually to the balcony door, this met with some success, I was able to close the blinds behind the bird and keep it moving towards the balcony, but it didn’t want to turn the corner and leave the windows behind.  So after some additional effort and a couple of failed attempts, I managed to get the tea towel over top of it, then carefully trying to tuck the bird into the towel I was able to carry it to the balcony door.  I tossed the towel to the balcony floor so that the bird would have some space.  It landed fine on top of the towel, and then flew up to the railing and then away.  So thankfully the story has a happy ending.  I however have a bunch of cleaning and putting back to do.

    In some of the pictures you can probably see a purpley substance, I’m not sure what it is, but I figure I had best clean it up.  I had not actually planned to work on that area of the house today, but luckily I can be flexible.

    Here’s the pictures from the encounter:


    Unexpected Visitor, a set on Flickr.

    Via Flickr:
    A bird flew into my appartment today…

    No that’s not the beginning of a joke, it actually happened.

    Books, books, BOOKS!!!

    2011 - 08.07

    I bet that the title of this post gets Karin all excited ;-)

    Just checking out my holds at the Burnaby Public Library (BPL), and looks like I’m in a good place for most of them, and will be getting them soon:

    Karin will like that it’s possible that I’ll have some of these books by the time she’s back from her vacation.  She might not like that I may have already started reading them (and despite the fact she reads way faster, we have a standing rule: if someone has already started reading the book you have to wait until they are finished.  No Poaching! or “Book-jacking” as we sometimes call it).  However, I’ll have missed her so much I might let her read them first (assuming I even have them yet).  Then again right now I’m on page 97/994 of The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Two) so I might not even be finished that by the time she’s back.

    This appeals to one of our readers (e.g. me), so here’s a couple of videos:

    Patrick Rothfuss Interviews Jim Butcher at San Diego Comic Con 2011: No Ghost Story spoilers, but there is a Changes spoiler around 10:50, you have been warned.  [I haven’t actually listened to it yet]

    Jim Butcher Interviews Patrick Rothfuss at San Diego Comic Con 2011: Don’t know if there are spoilers as I haven’t listened to it yet.

    Patrick Rothfuss also appears in Writing Excuses, in particular Episode 1.32.

    Technical Tip: Picasa 2 Flickr

    2011 - 08.05

    We have been using Picasa for a little while now to try to get a handle on the huge number of digital photographs that we have (using version 3.8), and so far it seems to be working fine.  Not necessarily perfect, but definitely better than nothing.  Given that Picasa is free we didn’t spend huge amounts of time doing research, but rather decided more or less that we’d start there and if it wasn’t adequate that we could start looking for something different.  I don’t think we’re at the point yet where we’ve started to look for something different.

    One of the features that Picasa has now (and hasn’t always had if you haven’t tried it in a while) is the ability to detect “faces” in pictures, and so it will scan through all the photos it finds on your computer and identify what it thinks are faces in the pictures.  This can lead to some amusing errors, as I’ve seen it detect faces on billboards, artwork or advertising as faces, and on some level they are, they just aren’t “people”.  Regardless it does a decent job of this, after it finds the faces it starts to group them based on similarity and then you can start to label who those faces belong to.  It’s a little bit like training dictation software, the more faces you identify the better it becomes at suggesting other pictures which contain that person.

    The end result is that we both have fairly large listings of photographs which are identified with having either myself or Karin in them, which vastly narrows down the number of photographs that I needed to look at in order to find one of us that Karin could use to get a print for Oma.  The other nice thing about it is it virtualizes the folders in which you store your photographs, so it doesn’t matter if physically the photos are actually in the same folder, I can look at all of the ones with me in it regardless of their location, which is definitely a time saver.

    Picasa has this thing called Web Albums and to be honest neither of us has tried it, so maybe it’s awesome, maybe it’s not, but we’re both on Flickr.  But given that Picasa is maintained/owned by Google and Flickr is maintained/owned by Yahoo it’s not surprising that there isn’t native functionality that allows you to upload photos that you find in Picasa to Flickr… which leads to a little frustration, you can find the pictures, but not necessarily put them where you want (in this case a private set on Flickr where Karin can browse full resolution photos which she may then use to order prints from in Edmonton; which is just way more efficient than trying to email a bunch of high resolution images).  That said, we’re obviously not the first people to want to do something like this, and someone else has already solved the problem.

    Enter picasa2flickr which is essentially a “button” which you can install in Picasa (download it while you have Picasa running and it will prompt you to install it there), it will then allow you to select photos and send them to the Flickr Uploadr which you probably already installed if you’re using Flickr.  So once you have everything installed it’s a multi-step process:

    1. Find the pictures you want to upload in Picasa
    2. Send them to the Flickr Uploadr using the picasa2flickr button that you previously installed
    3. The pictures will appear in the Flickr Uploadr, and you use it as normal to create sets, add tags, and upload to Flickr

    Not necessarily super fast, but it works fine.  So despite the fact that the website doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2009 (picasa2flickr) it still works fine (or at least it did for us in both Windows XP and Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit).

    Anyway, if you find yourself dealing with a similar problem, this just might be the solution for you.

    Long Distance Quest

    2011 - 08.04

    Talked to Karin today, which was nice.  Looks like I’ve got a bachelor pad until late next week, which means… hmmm… don’t really know what it means.  I guess it means that for the next week all the mess is my fault…  I don’t like that, so I’ll have to clean.  I think she tricked me somehow.

    Oma has requested a picture of Karin and I, both of us together, so I now get to look through our photos and see what we’ve got.  Since we’re usually behind the lens there won’t be huge amounts.  So if you think you’ve got a good candidate shot send it our way.  I think that Karin’s intending to have it printed in Edmonton while she’s there, so the sooner the better.

    If you accept this quest, you too can spend much time looking at pictures, your reward: many of them will have Karin in them.