Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Final Step

Let's talk post-processing, the "final" step in digital photography. Often, this is the most involved, and can save even terrible photos. I rather like a shot I recently took and put through the paces, so I figured I'd document the high-level view here. Not the individual steps mind you (there are plenty), but enough to show why this is such a key part of the process. Each picture can be clicked to show a larger version.

My route home from Las Vegas flies over/around The Grand Canyon. Usually, I'm in an aisle seat, or asleep, or my camera is in the baggage compartment, or it's 1am and dark. My last trip, I made sure that none of these was an issue -- I flew home in the afternoon in a window seat on the right side of the plane, with my camera in my lap. Then I fell asleep. But I woke up just in time. One of the MANY pictures I took was this one:


Nothing special, it's washed out, poorly-composed, and looks very little like what I saw. But I loved the landscape, the plateaus and canyons and cliffs. I figured I had to be able to save something of this shot. So I ran it through a bunch of Lightroom editing to get to this:


Better,but I'm still not a fan of my crop, it's VERY blue, and the details are still ill-defined. So to Photoshop it did go for some sharpening. Then there was more editing in Lightroom after that to come to this:


Now we're getting somwhere. The colour is reaching something recognizable, the details are, well, detailed, I like the crop more, and the contrast is showing off the depth of the scene. I could have left it here and been fairly happy with it. In fact, I almost did. But then I decided to see if running it through Photomatix as a 1-image pseudo-HDR shot would add anything.

It was a good call. It cleared it up even more, brought out more detail, and was a measurable improvement. I went through another round of editing in Lightroom, now mostly tweaking, and called it day and uploaded it. Then I looked at the next day and realized how BLUE it still was. Being away from my computer, I opted to play with a few other options. On my phone with Snapseed I hit the "auto" button and was immediately sad that it had fixed it so well. Then I tried the same with Flicker's online editor and it automatically made the blue shot even better than Snapseed had.

Well, this upset me a bit, because I figured I should be better able to tune a photo on my desktop with all my fancy software better than an app on my phone or some Yahoo! web tool. So I returned home and started futzing with colours and white balance and saturations until I was able to replicate what my phone could do. This is the final product:
Canyons

Deeper shadows, the blue gone, the haze lifted, the details popping out - what a difference from that original image up top. There are trade-offs to this - the noise is pretty obvious in some areas, and what noise-reduction I did apply smoothed out some of the rougher edges to the rocks. It's also developed a somewhat surreal, alien-world look, but I rather like it myself.

There's more that could be done here. I could work on specific shadows, do some localized noise reduction, manually edit details. I may still do some these things. Eventually though, I have to step back and stop, otherwise it's a paintbrush on individual pixels that nobody will ever notice.

Of course, not every shot needs all these steps, and a lot of an editing workflow becomes second nature over time. Still, the fact that I go through every shot I take to one degree or another has really slowed down the rate I post photos. But then again, it's also made me somewhat more picky in what I choose to actually show.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Canadian Cell Costs - Part I

I've been ranting enough on Twitter about this, so I figure it deserves its own blog posts. First, the background:

For around 13 years I was with Bell Canada for my cell service. From a monochrome-screened bar phone, to a slider, to a shiny LG flip phone, to my iPhone 4, and briefly, a 5s.

I've never really had much of a complaint with regards to the service (other than my folks' place being between towers in a bit of a dead zone), but man have their prices ever sucked. My first phone was under my mother's work plan because it was a huge improvement over what was publicly available and my company didn't yet have an individual cell plan deal in place. I moved to my own work's corporate plan when I upgraded phones.

The problems started with the next move, to the LG. I wanted a new phone. This meant a new plan. I said I wanted something close to what I currently had. They gave me a plan that I shouldn't have been able to get (I had no idea at the time). The next bill, Bell changed my plan without telling me. I didn't notice until a few bills later, and Bell refused to make any changes or refund the difference.

Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve in a friend who worked high enough in the Bell hierarchy to complain on my behalf and get actually helpful people to call me. The problem was resolved beyond my satisfaction and I was happy. The next upgrade to an iPhone meant the inclusion of data - that whole move was actually painless, just add $25/month for 500MB of data. Not a great price, but the best option at the time based on how cheap my voice plan was.

Then came the end of that contract.

My Bell friend and I have long since drifted apart, so calling him up out of the blue would just be rude. Instead I opted to go through the regular channels. It consistently went something like this:

"My contract is up soon. I want to upgrade my phone, which I know means I need a new plan. Here's what your competition is offering. Can you match it?"

"Nope."

"So for 13 years I've been a loyal customer, paying my bills on time, using extra services like roaming plans, and you can't even make an offer?"

"Nope"

"I guess I'll be leaving then."

"Okay, have a nice day."

Wow. Considering I have my Internet connection and landline with them too, this was... surprising.

So I hemmed and hawed and finally, after months of wanting to toss my phone against a wall every day, walked into the Apple store and paid full price for an unlocked, non-subsidized phone. It was worth it to not be tied to any of the carriers in this country.

Then I did the math and discovered something - there are no real phone subsidies.

If you bring your own phone to the big 3 providers (Bell, Rogers, Telus) - you get $20/month off your bill on a two-year contract. That's $480 you're paying towards your phone.

iPhone 5s 32GB - $819. On contract? $329. Difference? $490. $10 in subsidies from the phone companies, if you don't include time value of money calculations. The rest is you paying $20 more a month to get a "cheap" phone up front.

Whoopdeefuckingdoo. That's not a subsidy, that's a phone mortgage.

I'll continue this in another post with some rough comparisons between my options, and how I think these guys will hurt themselves in the name of protectionism and short-term greed.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

WPBT Report

Lookee! A report! Kind of.

Insert all other reports here. Arrived, ate, played poker, saw good people, gambled, drank a bit, ate more, left. Good eggs, etc, etc..

I mean, why be repetitive? You know how these things go by now. Okay, fiiiiine, here are the highlights of a busy 5.5 days.

Small group this year. Around 40 in the tournament. The group of veterans of previous gatherings who were in New Orleans certainly cut the numbers down a bit. So be it. People can do what they want.

Brought my friend along so she could experience what I always rave about. This led to a tour of the classics for me.

Robuchon was as incredible as ever. This time the chef came out to talk to another table, and I noticed the tri-coloured collar on his jacket. The sign of a M.O.F. - the highest order of achievement of artistry in France (for many categories, cuisine among them). This should have come as no surprise, yet I was still impressed.

é was it's usual creative best, save for the annoying guest who felt it was his duty to educate his friends (often incorrectly) about what they were eating. The staff was visibly annoyed/amused, and the sous-chef for the evening focused on us as it was clear the other party couldn't hear him over their braying companion.

Craftsteak was delicious, even if we had to cover the cost of flakes who bailed last-minute, despite my rather clear exhortations to let me know ahead of time. Next time I think we aim for multiple small groups.

Raku was solid, but disappointing only because I've been there before and it didn't live up to past visits. A clearly missing broth course (that bowl and spoon wasn't for fried fish, I guarantee you), and the definite impression of at least one or two more courses missing (asparagus? chicken on a bed of spinach? where were you?). What was served was excellent, but if costs have gone up, then I wouldn't mind paying a bit more to get the full experience.

The last night's meal was at FIX, courtesy of Grange, and it was a great way to end the trip. Good company, good drinks, imported brandy (thanks Lori!) all adds up to a fine meal.

Also grabbed some fries and a beer with OhCaptain, Absinthetics, Nickerson, and Atarifan in there too.

Ziplining was freezing, but fun nonetheless. Maybe I'll get some video of my legs flying through the air up here sometime. Or some pictures at least.

The Neon Museum on Sunday was also pretty chilly, but the place looks far more orderly since the visitor's center went in. Pics eventually.

Managed to grab a bottle of can't-find-at-home liquor (Swedish Punsch) at Total Wine. Struck out on high-end whiskeys this time, but what can you do? I got good beer, some of it even free from Nate/Atarifan (yay backpack of alcohol!). Sadly, I didn't catch up with Grange in time again to snag an offered free bottle of Templeton. Them's the breaks... Superman slots were being too kind to me, and night photography outside the Bellagio is hard to pass up.

Even hit the north outlets and bought clothes and sunglasses. Although I think I could have got the shades cheaper back home.

Saw Beatles Love for the second time (first time was... wow, 8 years ago), and actually stayed awake through it (yay caffeine mints!). Great show, great seats.

Saw what's become of the IP. Bones are still there, but it's a scarily sterile place now.

Went out halfway in the tournament, but my last-longer partner Vinnay went out as Gigli on 0 hours of sleep in the previous 30ish hours, so I don't feel too bad. Then made a bit of profit playing cash at Monte Carlo with CK, Grange, Penner, Mondo, Katie, Matt, and some random others, I recall Drizz railing for a bit too. Hope I'm not missing anyone. Oh yah, and Bayne finally joined us too. This is where some Edmontonian convinced Grange and Katie to bet on a terrible hockey game.Suckers.

Railed BrainMC at Pai Gow, but when I finally sat down to a game, only Penner was still around. It's for the best, as the dealers hated me and kept taking my money away, so I may have been dubbed worlds worst Pai Gow player if there were more witnesses.

Some craps was played and some slots. A wee touch of bad video poker too. All told, I ended up a small amount. Enough to cover... well... not much. Gas? Resort fees? But it's better than a loss. And as always, not the point of the trip.

See you all same time next year? Super.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Maybe I'll Even Get Some Gambling In

It's rapidly approaching that time of year again.

The hap-hapiest time.

With brightly coloured lights, friends sharing food and drink, laughter abounding, stories being told over the warm glow of green felt tabletops.

WPBT time is next weekend. Remember when there used to be blogs about it?

I'm once again in town for my maximum tolerance level, and have once again crammed my schedule full of food and fun. Maybe even a comet this time around, depending on the power of our mighty sun. All hail Sol, destroyer of icy rocks.

I think we've got 13 people lined up for Craftsteak on Friday night so far. Still room for more if you're interested.

I'm running through my schedule in my head. I think I have a window of not doing anything early Thursday afternoon, and of course, post-midnight every day. Of course, this is under the assumption that my last longer partner Vinnay and I end up heads-up in the tournament. I see no reason to doubt that will come to pass.

But hey, Pai Gow and craps are always better after the witching hour, with a stomach bloated with food and a liver working on fine wine and cocktails. Which reminds me to check on my caffeine supply. Ah Vegas, land of health. Hell, dinner on Saturday starts at 10pm. Positively European... except that it's Japanese.

Happy Yanksgiving

Plenty

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Find Your Targets

I was watching the local news last night, mostly to see if anything new was going on in Ford Nation.

They ran a story about how His Worship Laughable Bumblefuck still has strong supporters and showed interviews with 3 or 4 people who more or less made excuses.

"There's been nothing proven in the courts."

"I think he's doing a good job, and if this doesn't interfere, who cares?"

"Everyone makes mistakes, we're all human."

etc..

Now, for the majority of viewers, this may have seemed fine. I noticed something though. I knew the neighbourhood all these people were being interviewed in. I used to live nearby, and I worked a couple summers across the road. All these people-in-the-street were found in the same place - directly in front of a pub, in the middle of the day. Each one looked... off. Unkempt, eyes glazed, and speech a wee bit slurred.

Yup, they found a bunch of drunks and asked them what they thought of Rob Ford.

At least we have an excuse for his base now.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Or Else What?

As a kid I remember it occurring to me that "or else" could mean nothing. Counting to 3 without a defined punishment at the end means that 4 could be what comes next.

I often find myself also thinking how delicate the agreed-upon rules of society are. If you walk out of a store with a bag full of stuff, that's shoplifting. I'd like to think most people don't steal because they know it's wrong. Many probably don't because they're afraid of getting arrested. But the reality is that if you went somewhere you rarely frequent and randomly walked out of a small store without paying for anything, that you'd probably never be punished.

An extreme example? Maybe. But so many rules are set up with the expectation people will act decently. The line "make me" or "what are you gonna do about it?" come to mind.

Which brings me to Rob Ford.

Toronto's Mayor's foibles and fuck ups have been well-documented. The latest twist is his friend, Alexander Lisi, a "stand-up guy" by Ford's own written admission, has been arrested for extortion, drug trafficking, and probably a few other things. The press got the documentation for the search warrants released, and they were revealing. Photos of Lisi and Ford going through spy-level package drops and meets, possibly drinking and driving, and generally looking shifty. Along with these came the admission from the Chief of Police that the cops also now had a copy of the crack-smoking video in their possession. The video Ford said didn't exist. The one that Ford had hoped had been mostly forgotten.

Oops.

So with this revelation, the media descended on City Hall. Ford came out, mumbled his way through excuses, and said he wasn't going to resign, because there was no reason for him to.

He's kind of right.

There are no criminal charges against Ford. Even if he WAS smoking crack in the video (and his lawyer has already said it wasn't crack in the pipe, or more accurately, that they can't prove it was crack, because straws offer good grasping support), that's not enough evidence to charge him with anything. It just means he's a liar, which most people already knew.

If you were accused of a crime and told to quit your job, would you? Or would you defend yourself? Especially if there was no actual charge, just the public casting you as guilty.

Ford SHOULD temporarily step aside to avoid being a further distraction, with the promise to return when his name is cleared. But he won't do that either.

For he knows full well that there's nothing anybody can do to him. Council can't have him removed. There's no recall option. The Provincial Government can only remove him if he's charged with (or convicted of?) a crime. He also knows the support he has left is among die-hard morons who would stand behind him as he threw puppies at a button that would nuke the city. So in short, what can be done to him? He'll just keep deflecting and denying and hoping it all blows over and is forgotten.

What this will do is reignite the investigations into his life and past. He will have no privacy, and no secrets. He knows the police are following and recording him. His friends are rapidly getting arrested. His allies are abandoning him to save their own hides. It will end up being him, his brother, David Price, and maybe one or two council members who are too stupid to get away.

Oh, and I expect Lisi will look for a plea bargain to avoid court, which could keep the video under wraps indefinitely. Because for some reason, the Ford family seems to be scarier to criminals than jail.

Here's hoping he doesn't see a second term.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vegas Bound

18,682.

Either $747.28 or $622.73 depending on how the bonus works on tier credits.

That's all I need to hit platinum on my M life status. A pittance by Vegas standards. But it has to be achieved by October 1st.

So I'm heading to Vegas this weekend to reach that goal. Clearly I'm a sucker for loyalty programs. I get a 10% better point bonus, taxi and valet priority, and an extra 5% off at retail shops I buy water and snacks at. Oh, and probably better deals on hotel rooms for future trips.

Just checked - also turndown service! (which I've had the past couple trips on Gold, but maybe that was the tip at the front desk). Priority access to cabanas and clubs I don't frequent!

But the card is a different colour, and that taxi thing and better deals are the real appeal. After all, I'll be back in December and February, so that's when this pays off.

Anyway, off to Vegas this weekend on a flight paid with other points. The hotel rooms pretty much cover the tier points I need (due to some big-ass music festival this weekend driving up the prices), but I'll do a dinner or two in MGM properties to make sure... plus the gambling.

Solo trip. But it helps to have friends there so I don't seem too degenerate. I just have to make sure I actually set some stuff up with them. I'm also curious how the festival (which has some pretty huge names) will affect The Strip. Massive crowds usually means expensive tables and busy poker rooms.

But I'm not even sure how much gambling I'll see. I'll likely play in a tournament or two, and maybe play bad poker at cheap tables. I can't see me not rolling some dice and hitting the slots as I wander around, but I can't say I have a huge gambling urge this time around. I suppose that's generally a good thing.

No, I think I'm most looking forward to seeing a few friends and generally taking it easy. I'll keep the planning to a minimum and try to clear my head. Maybe get into the right mindset for my even less-planned birthday the following weekend. After all, it's a completely non-number one. No 5's or 0's. No significant milestones of life, just another tick on the calendar. Hell, nothing even expires this year. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

Who the hell goes to Vegas to relax? This guy apparently, and I don't even know where the pool is.