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Windfalls

When I bought a flat on the ground floor, it was just because it looked a nice place to live, but it turns out there’s an additional benefit I hadn’t foreseen - windfalls. Whenever there’s a bit of a wind, I often get up in the morning to see strange new things lying around on my patio, things that weren’t there the night before. Usually if the thing looks like it’s of any value, I’ll pick it up and fold it neatly and leave it sitting on the fence where anyone looking for it has a chance to see it and retrieve it, but if nobody’s claimed it after a week or so, I generally figure it’s mine now.

So far, I’ve claimed a number of clothes pegs, a tennis ball, a towel, a bathmat, and an apron, most of which have served me well in various ways. However, a week ago I found something new: some kind of minimalist female undergarment. Nobody’s yet claimed it (potentially out of embarrassment, I guess), and I don’t exactly have a use for it myself, so I’m not sure what to do.

Suggestions (and bids!) welcome!
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Mmm, music.

It turns out that one of the other features of the Nintendo DSi I bought recently is ‘playing music’ - stick M4A files on an SD card, bung it in the DSi and you can play music as long as you’re not doing anything else. Yesterday I scraped together the few M4A files I had lying around, and this evening I rediscovered what a joy it is to stride down the street with your own personal awesome soundtrack - something I’ve missed since my iPod broke a couple of years ago.

If only there were some kind of music player with support for playing my Ogg Vorbis files, along with enough storage capacity to actually store them.
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Flickr update, Nintendo edition

Although I didn't mention it in the previous entry, one of the things that got nicked along with my camera and my laptop was my Nintendo DS (luckily, the game that was in it at the time was a game I'd decided was a waste of time not hours before). On returning to Australia, I quickly upgraded to a shiny new Nintendo DSi, which (among other bullet-points) now features two crappy 0.9MP noisy digital cameras. Having nothing else to photograph with, and inspired by Ken Rockwell's ranting about the photographer being more important than the camera, I thought I'd take it out for a spin and see if I couldn't make something worth looking at.

I think some of them turned out OK.

In other, related news, I'm trying to do photo management with F-Spot once again, having been too thoroughly depressed at the prospect of trying to wrestle Digikam into working under GNOME again. First impressions: F-Spot allows me to edit a photo without trashing the original (Huzzah!) but won't let me rename photos (D'oh!), and the tag-management is kind of clunky.
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Buying a digital SLR

As mentioned previously, my trusty ol' mega-zoom all-in-one camera got nicked while I was on holiday, and now I'm in the process of choosing a replacement. My first thought was to find the latest revision of my old camera and buy that, but it turns out to have some serious chromatic aberration issues, and I'd rather not mess with that. Also, it's AU$900, and it seems that DSLR price-wars have created a new breed of entry-level cameras at about the same price.

When I first started thinking about a DSLR, some DSLR-owning-friends volunteered to loan me their cameras so I could get a feel for how DSLR photography differs from what I'm used to. So far as I can tell (and please correct me if I'm wrong!):

  • More useful ISO levels: With a compact camera, I set it to ISO100 when I got it and never changed that setting ever again, for fear of horrible image-destroying noise. Although higher ISO levels do add noise to DSLRs, it's reasonable to go up to ISO 1600 if the lighting demands it, although you might think twice about ISO 3200.
  • Depth-of-field is a razor-sharp tool, to be wielded carefully: on my old camera, I had to fight to create a shallow depth-of-field, but on the DSLRs I've played with, depth-of-field effects keep showing up un-asked for (some more than others, of course). Definitely something to keep an eye on.
  • "Macro mode" is much less important: With my old camera, I used to use the included macro mode fairly often (focus down to 10cm away) and even super-macro occasionally (down to 1cm away). In my experimentation, DSLRs don't seem to need a macro mode to photograph small things or close things, except in extreme cases. One of the cameras I used had a lens that would happily focus on things only 30cm away, which at the telephoto extreme was fairly useful. The other camera came with a 70mm-300mm zoom that had a macro-mode you could enable between 200mm and 300mm - although you had to stand back to get it to focus, you also had to stand back to fit the entire subject in-frame, so it worked out.

With that experience, I've been reading camera reviews and trying to decide what I want to buy. Currently, the contenders are... Collapse )

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Videogame Mini-Reviews, part 1: Ridge Racer 4

I was never much of a videogamer until I stumbled across Insert Credit a few years ago (the site is now on indefinite hiatus; most of the forum traffic moved to Select Button and a number of the reviewers are now posting reviews at ABDN). I've always been interested in listening to smart people sitting around and discussing things they care about passionately, even if the subject under discussion is something I wasn't previously interested in or even aware of. These sites talked about video-games in a way that I'd never heard them discussed before; talked about atmosphere and interpretation and the genius of level-design, as opposed to the usual gamer banter of resolutions and frame-rates and weapon-counts... I was intrigued, and I started buying games for myself so I could practice looking at them in these ways.

I haven't gone back to the Select Button forums in a year or two now; there were some bazillion posts a day and if I actually read all the ones I was interested in I literally didn't have time to do anything else. Still, I've kept buying games and promising myself I'd actually write down what I thought about them at some point, and while I'm clearly not going to be able to write full 20,000 word reviews, I can at least jot some notes.

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Where has Screwtape been?

I keep forgetting this place exists; alternatively, I keep thinking of things I might write up into posts someday, but never quite do. Ah well, such is blog.

A while ago, my parents inherited a sum of money and decided that the best thing they could do with it was take my sister and I on a holiday to a tropical island, an event I've been informally referring to as The Last Allen Family Holiday. Last month, the time came and we spent ten days in the Cook Islands, and the main island Rarotonga in particular. In short, it was awesome.

  • The moment we got off the plane and saw the emerald-green mountains jutting up toward the sky, practically right there beside us... I hope I never forget.
  • Rarotonga has a main-road encircling the island about 20 to 50 metres from the shore, and it takes about half an hour to circumnavigate the island by car. Pretty much everything important (all the shops, government departments, resorts, car-hire places) is on that main road. When we got there I jokingly suggested that rather than traditional north/south/east/west, we should use the cardinal directions from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books: "hubward", "rimward", "turnwise" and "widdershins". It turns out the two bus routes on the island are called "Clockwise" and "Anti-Clockwise" and I did later observe a local referring to the "inland" side of the room, so I guess it really is the natural reference frame after all.
  • Coconut palms. They're so closely associated with tropical islands it's like an overworn cliche, and yet it's absolutely true. Three or four coconut palms in our back yard, coconuts strewn around so liberally you stand a good chance of stubbing your toes on them in the dark, the coconut palms themselves growing nearly anywhere they please like thirty-foot dandelions. Coconut palms. Everywhere.
  • For transportation, we hired a car - but for the proper tropical island experience, we hired a convertible. Zooming around with the top down and the wind in my hair and a practically 360 degree view of blue sky and coconut palms... another view I hope I never forget.
  • Swimming, snorkelling, cycling, a somewhat strenuous bushwalk to the top of one of the jagged, tree-coated peaks in the middle of the island, and a day-trip to Aitutaki, an even more ridiculously perfect tropical island... yeah, it was grand.

About the only downer of the entire trip was that on the second night, some schmuck snuck into my bedroom and made off with my camera (which I brought for recording the sights I saw) and my laptop (which I brought for transferring photos when the camera was full). Luckily, they didn't notice my wallet (in my satchel with the camera), and I didn't have anything particularly important on there that wasn't backed up.

I've been rather enjoying the process of shopping for replacement items, really - I've bought a new computer, and am currently shopping for a new camera (about which more later). Probably the biggest disappointment was that the thieves didn't nick my mobile phone, so I don't have an excuse to upgrade.

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Birthday time!

I now consider myself old-for-practical-purposes, even if I'm not technically old yet.

Although it's not *actually* my birthday quite yet, tonight my parents happily seized an excuse for a family get-together, and took me and my sister out to dinner. They also gave me a little printed scrapbook/album with a selection of the photos I've uploaded to Flickr - very professional looking, and I've never actually had a hardcopy of any of my pictures before.. I think they came out rather well, and I shall very definitely be "accidentally" leaving it on the coffee table in case of visitors.

On the way home, it occurred to me: My parents have been married for about thirty years now. A few months ago, my father was doing something while my mother went on a tour for three or four days, and he mentioned in an email that was the longest period they'd been apart since they were married. As I chatted with them tonight, they were telling stories (as they often do) from just recently about things they'd said or done that cracked each other up, movies they went to see together, things they wanted to do in the near future... as I get older and learn more of the world, I realise how fantastically lucky I am to have the family I have; to have had the childhood I've had. It's also kind of daunting - if I ever start a family of my own, how ridiculously unlikely is it that I'll be able to do as well as my parents have done? But that is not a helpful mode of thought - my life and my challenges are my own, and tomorrow I shall face them afresh and we'll see what happens after that.
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Nerding it up like a nerdy nerder

Today I got around to packaging up the BDF-font-handling Python library I've been sporadically tinkering with for the past few months, adding licensing information and actually telling the world about it. It turns out that it's actually pretty damn easy to do, once you've got your setup.py written. In about ten minutes, I'd created a PyPI record for my software and populated it with a source archive, and a pre-built tarball for Windows and Linux.

In other news, I've successfully used that BDF font library to create a chimera of the classic Macintosh fonts "Chicago" and "Geneva" which I call "Chinega". My intention was to make GNOME look more like the classic Macintosh interface by having all the normal-sized interface items use Chicago, and all the smaller interface items use Geneva... in principle it works, but whereas the classic Macintosh interface used smaller-sized fonts frequently, GNOME doesn't - by far the majority of text shows up in chunky, aggressive Chicago, which is rather tiring.

To show the effect I'd hoped for, here's the nicest looking example I could find:

A screenshot of the GNOME 'shutdown' dialog, where each of the main choices is labelled in Chicago and the explanations are in a tasteful, smaller Geneva beneath.