A Year of Photography

About this time last year, I took the plunge and bought my first-ever DSLR. Having just come back from a tropical-island holiday (where I was thinking about photography) and spent the prior two months researching cameras (and thinking about photography) I was all fired up and went out to photograph things all the time. I’d heard of a thing called “Project 365” where people post a photo a day for an entire year. I didn’t want to commit to a thing before I knew whether I could deliver, but I figured if I started posting a photo a day and just happened to make it through the year, that’d be a happy coincidence...

Well, here I am almost exactly a year later. I’m not quite sure exactly when the 365 days is up - as I mentioned, I tried not to be too rigorous at the beginning, and while some months I posted more than quota, some months I posted less (generally because I hit my Flickr upload limit). That said, since the beginning of September 2009, I’ve posted 361 new photos to my account - I figure four more days, and I’ll be done.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to it. As much as I was completely on fire and enthusiastic about photography a year ago, I don’t feel the same way right now. Sometimes I feel like going out and taking pictures, some times I get obsessed with solving some particular programming problem, sometimes I just want to curl up with a book and read. Right at the moment I’m in a programming phase, and trying to do anything visually creative leads to frustration, resentment and pretty crappo results (as anybody who’s been following my Flickr feed over the past month or so can attest).

I do still like the *idea* of photography. Over the past year I’ve definitely produced some things I’m rather proud of - and I very much want to produce more images to be proud of in the future. Just... not right now.

So, if you could all unsubscribe from my Flickr feed for the next four days until I’ve gotten my shameful obligations out of the way, I’d much appreciate it.


Trackpoint USB Keyboard under Linux, part 2

I haven’t blogged in a very long time; the top item of my To Do list is “post a review of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks” but although I wrote myself a great little rambling Rogerian intro to that post, I hit a mental block the size of an office building when the time came to talk about, you know, the actual game.

But right now, I have a cold and don’t feel like doing much of anything, let alone creative exertion, so no review tonight.

However, Ubuntu 10.04 “Lucid Lynx” came out last month, and I’ve only just gotten around to upgrading (thanks, crappy Australian internet bandwidth caps!) and I’ve spent the evening upgrading, grumbling and generally trying to get things back the way I like them. Most of my settings came across well enough, but the TrackPoint USB Keyboard I use was pretty annoying.
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Lazyweb: Trackpoint USB Keyboard under Linux

Years ago, I used a Toshiba laptop for a week or two that had a TrackPoint (commonly known as a “nipple mouse”). My first impression was that it was incredibly annoying, but I kept using it and when I gave the laptop back I was amazed to discover that switching back was even more frustrating: half a second of feeling around the desk hunting for where I left the mouse, instead of just moving my index finger an inch to the left.

Ever since, I’ve wanted to try a standalone TrackPoint keyboard, but never found one I liked - IBM originally had full-size Model-M style keyboards with TrackPoints, but they were hideously expensive. Later models only had two mouse buttons (where Linux really wants 3), or were too big, or had a useless trackpad attached. The other day, I was whining on IRC, and a friend pointed out that Lenovo had released a model that met all my criteria, and I had no excuses left not to pony up the cash and find out for myself.

A few days ago it arrived, so I plugged it in and started figuring out how to get everything working. Most of the stuff I can find on Google is exclusively about the built-in ThinkPad TrackPoints which connect via PS/2, not USB like this keyboard. For the sake of future generations, here’s what I’ve got so far.Collapse )

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So, 22:15 and I just got home. I left work about 19:30 or so (got to work late, gotta do my hours) and on a whim, instead of taking the most direct route to the train station, I just started walking south. Pretty soon, I caught a glimpse of the Sydney skyline in the distance, neon blaring, and decided I needed to check it out, so I kept walking.

Turns out, I was walking down Blues Point Road, which goes to Blues Point Reserve, which is directly facing the Harbour Bridge. When I arrived the sun had set, and I had the most gorgeous panoramic view of the harbour and the skyscrapers and the bright lights; I spent ages experimenting, trying to see how long an exposure I could take without visible camera shake (it just occurs to me I didn’t try curling up in the foetal position, or resting the camera on the back of a park bench or something... things to try for next time!) I followed the road around a bit, and wound up with another gorgeous vista of Milson’s Point and Luna Park.

Then I had to turn around and come home.

The thought occurs to me that unless something truly spectacular shows up when I import the photos later, probably none of these pictures will ever leave my hard-drive. As much as it was a novel and exciting experience for me, the world is already quite sufficiently full of skyline-at-night photos, and I doubt I’ll have anything new or interesting to say on the topic. It’s a bit sad, but I guess even if this evening hasn’t contributed to my personal development as a photographer, it’s still helped my personal development as not-completely-boring person, and that’s something to savour.

Lazyweb: Looking for a server PC

I have two computers; one is plugged into my nice monitor and keyboard, and runs my games and web-browsing and general mucking about, the other is headless and sits quietly in a corner, looking after my long-running communication needs: email, IRC, long-running downloads, etc. The idea is that I can mess around with my main PC as much as I like, and when it crashes or needs re-installing, I haven’t interrupted anything important. Unfortunately, the other day I got a warning that my server’s hard-drive is beginning to wear out, so I’m thinking about replacements.
Option 1: buy a new IDE drive
Unfortunately, my server is so old that it won’t talk to hard-drives over 137GB, and the smallest IDE drives I can find are 160GB. I guess it would just use the first 137GB and ignore the rest, but it seems a waste.
Option 2: buy a SATA drive and adapter
I could buy a new SATA drive and a PCI SATA adapter (assuming I can find them in stock somewhere) for about the same price as an equivalently-sized IDE drive, and I think I’d be able to use all the space, no problems
Option 3: Buy a new computer
The server I have I built from parts I got for free, which means it’s very, very old and probably uses way more power than strictly necessary. If there’s any low-power, low-profile systems I can install Debian onto and plug in a reasonable hard-drive, I think that might be a better overall investment.
So, Lazyweb - anyone have any experience, hints or suggestions?

Christmas Aftermath

I haven’t been uploading photos to Flickr for the past few days, mostly because I’ve been away from the computer but also because my Flickr account ran out of upload quota AGAIN. I’ve bought myself a Flickr Pro account as a belated Christmas gift, so I’ll start up again soon. This also means that every photo I’ve ever uploaded to Flickr is available again (not just the last 200), and you can now download the original-size versions, not just the “large” size.

Photography News

I’ve been quiet lately - for a while I’ve been keeping to my schedule of posting a new photo to Flickr every day (although I’ve enough backlog that I haven’t been taking photos every day), but that discipline hit a snag this evening:
You have a free Flickr account and have used 101% of your upload capacity for this calendar month
I guess normal service will resume on December 1st.

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Photography Walkabout

In Februrary, during one of my occasional photography-sprees, I exhausted all possible routes from my office to North Sydney Station and felt the hunger for more subject matter. I hatched a crazy plan to walk all the way to Waverton (the next stop homeward) before boarding the train and continuing home: It was unexplored territory, it was raw suburbia, it was a pretty nice neighbourhood so I was unlikely to get mugged, and so I went for it, and got some pretty nice results if I do say so myself. I decided I wanted to do it again, but then daylight saving ended, and I got distracted by other things, then my camera got stolen... but when I got my new SLR, I jumped back in and rode to Waverton then walked to Wollstonecraft, followed by Wollstonecraft to St. Leonards, St. Leonards to Artarmon, and so forth. Most of my daily Flickr posts for the past month or so have been from these journeys.

This evening was to be the final leg of my journey, from Warrawee to Wahroonga (I’d done Wahroonga to Waitara years before), but as I was walking out the door I saw an unusually grey sky. “An odd time of day for fog”, I thought...

When I got outside, rain was bucketing down. Most of my path to the train-station was covered, but I still got noticeably damp. After zipping northward for half an hour, I reached Warrawee with the skies still overcast and the occasional tumble of thunder rolling across the sky, but it wasn’t actually raining so I got out, unfurled my camera and got to work recording that curious lilac thunderstorm lighting. “How lucky I am to have arrived just after the rain stopped!” I thought. Then I looked down at my feet and realised the ground was still dry...

About fifty metres further on, I felt something splash on the back of my hand, and it was all I could do to get my camera stowed and the umbrella deployed before I got seriously drenched. I trudged onward, marvelling at the bombardment of the road and the instant, swirling streams in the gutter, but too afraid actually try photographing them.

I made it to Wahroonga as the rain eased up, and just as a train pulled in to take me home, so it worked out alright - I just didn’t get many photos, that’s all. There have been a few other off-days where the sun set halfway through my walk, or it was overcast and I didn’t have enough light, so I’m tempted to start over again from scratch and see if I have better luck next time around... but there’s also lots of Sydney I haven’t photographed yet. We Shall See!

Buying a camera: the conclusion

On Saturday, I decided I’d deliberated long enough, and trekked across the city to buy a Nikon D5000. Unfortunately, it seems I managed to get one of the ones subject to the recall, so I’ll be ringing them up this week to find out what the procedure is.

Apart from that, though, I’m hellaciously pleased with my purchase. I’ve been out photographing every day since I bought it (all three of them!) and generally rejoicing in my newly regained ability to frame shots, resolve fine details and use depth-of-field as a tool rather than a happy accident.

By far the most awesome thing has been coming home from work today, camera in hand, and discovering one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen in ages, happening right over my home town.

Seriously, guys. Seriously.

On choosing a camera, part deux

After a couple of weeks reviewing specs and review sites, I’d pretty much decided I wanted to buy the Nikon D3000, mostly for its superior kit lens and the broader range of cheap lenses. The only problem was that being a very new camera, nobody had actually reviewed it yet, so I sat down to wait for some reviews - just to be sure.

Well, the first review is out: “It’s a good camera all by itself, but it’s the worst DSLR Nikon has ever made.”

This being Ken Rockwell, I’m not entirely sure how seriously to take his criticism - I mean, his main beef seems to be that the D3000 has a noisier sensor than his cherished (obsolete, unavailable in Australia) D40, which is only 6MP rather than 10, and hence this is an unsurprising result. Also, the D3000 has exactly the same sensor as the D40X and D60 which preceded it, yet Ken doesn’t compare the D3000 to either of them.

All that said, I’ve mentally downgraded the D3000 from ‘probably’ to ‘maybe’.

Meanwhile, I visited a camera store last week to judge the general weight of each camera - since I plan on carrying it about a lot. Turns out the D5000 isn’t as prohibitively heavy as I’d feared - even with card, battery and lens. The D5000 is more expensive, but not out of my budget, and it has a much, much nicer sensor than the D3000 - so I’ve mentally upgraded the D5000 from ‘no’ to ‘maybe’.

And now I’m stuck between these two cameras, with little reason to choose one over the other. Meanwhile, I’m walking around with my little DSi camera, shaking my fists at the heavens and growling with frustration at all the wonderful shots I could take if only I had access to telephoto, or depth-of-field control, or higher-res images for cropping...

I’m tempted to just buy the D5000, so I can’t use the ‘poor tools’ excuse for all the bad shots I take. Money gets replenished every payday, but nagging buyers’ remorse is forever.