Jul 242014

Given that digital music downloads put significant downward pressure on physical media sales, and that online streaming/subscriptions now appear to be doing the same to the per-album/track purchase model, it was really funny last year when buying this album (mostly to support the artists) to see the sticker attached to it:

Seems almost like a horse & buggy with a brass plate reading “from the makers of Tesla”. It’s doubly funny because just about anyone can put just about anything on YouTube. Then again, I really did first stumble upon the Piano Guys on YouTube, and I really did buy the physical media afterwards, so perhaps it’s not that crazy after all. Having said this, this album (and their second) are probably the last physical CDs I’m ever likely to buy; I subscribed to Google Play Music All Access when it was introduced in mid-2013, and with the breadth of the catalog it provides, I’ve not found it necessary to purchase anything since. If Nobuo Uematsu was still scoring the Final Fantasy series with tunes memorable enough for me to want to buy exorbitantly priced imported Japanese CDs, things might be different, but as it stands I don’t anticipate any CDs in my future.

Though the Piano Guys become fairly popular in their own right, the path to discovering them was actually fairly convoluted for me. Like most things, it started with Starcraft; back before there was a ton of high quality professional content, I watched free broadcasts from HuskyStarcraft (amongst others).  Husky did a parody music video – “Banelings” – which I found pretty funny even though I’d never heard the Justin Bieber song it was a parody of, with another YouTube act, the very talented KurtHugoSchneider. I’d never heard the original version of the cover of “A Thousand Years” that he did, but the violin part to the that cover seemed pretty nice.  I didn’t actually pay attention to who the violinist was, though, until seeing her again in the hilarious (if you’ve played the series) “Legend of Zelda: Pot Smasher” playing the role of Link, at which point I learned both that her name was Lindsey Stirling, and that a Zelda medley explained how I’d run across her in two very different contexts. From there, it took just one more collaboration – on the Mission Impossible theme – to find the Piano Guys.  Their work was consistently awesome enough that I figured I should at least buy something from them – hence the hilarious sticker above.

The physical albums, incidentally, turned out to be great purchases despite Play All Access. Our kids wound up loving their music too – Leo immediately converted a children’s guitar into a cello – so the CDs have been played probably a hundred times in the car on road trips.

 Posted by at 9:24 am
Jan 202013

So the 24/1.4 I mentioned picking up in my earlier post was not actually the end of the insanity for me during 2012; in November, I also purchased the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G fast prime. Truth be told, this was the last lens I was even remotely thinking about – I ceased even perusing what people were selling on craigslist after picking it up, as getting any more equipment at this point would be a total waste (if I wasn’t already squarely into that territory). Indeed, even the 85/1.4 was pretty excessive considering I already had the older but fully functional 85/1.8 AF lens. But after months of waiting for someone to offer the lens on craigslist, I actually finally bought it new from 42nd Street Photo when they had a promo for ~10% off. That might not seem like a huge discount, but Nikon strictly controls retail pricing across all sellers so things are very rarely available below regular Nikon-mandated prices. Also, used prices are often only ~20% below new prices, so any Craigslist seller would probably ask for pretty close to what I paid ($1495) in any case.

I’ve just had the 85/1.4 for a couple of months, so I have less experience and fewer examples than with the 24/1.4, but I’m using this lens a lot too. So far, over 90% of the shots I’ve taken have been at f/2.8 or wider; almost 40% were wide open at f/1.4. I don’t actually have too many examples I can share, since many of friends kids at birthdays and the like that I ought not to post here, though Olivia’s always got a face or two to show:

The above highlights an important difference between this lens and the 24/1.4, which is that depth of field is super shallow (Olivia’s eyes are in focus, but her lips aren’t, and even without clicking for the larger image it’s easy to see that the hair around her shoulders is totally blurred). Still, it was nice to get that shot at ISO 900 – instead of ISO 3600 with an equally expensive f/2.8 zoom, or at ISO 12800 with  a kit lens! And true to what was claimed about the lens, it is consistently great at blurring the background in a pleasing way. This is even true when the background is pretty close, like with this picture of Leo:

 Many lenses do OK, even at smaller apertures, when the background is far away (like in the first shot), but in this case, what you see behind Leo is actually the bench seat and wall he was sitting against (he was leaning forward over the table a little). Both of these pictures are just casual snapshots, but it is really nice to be able to have backgrounds just fade away like that.

One final example is a total miss on focus, exacerbated by Olivia moving a little too fast for the shutter speed I’d set (1/160th); I really wish I’d gone to 1/500th and taken the ISO penalty. Still, she looks semi-pro – if you ignore that this is badminton, not tennis; if you ignore that she completely and totally missed the bird; and if you ignore how she’s holding the racket. For reference, she totally can’t connect with a badminton bird yet :).

 Posted by at 4:17 am
Nov 282011

Just a quick post with a few more details on the car that drove through our fence and took a 15 ft. dive into the ravine below:

  • It belonged to the friend of our neighbors (who are college-age kids; their parents seem to have moved elsewhere).  He had parked it on our shared driveway, and apparently not engaged the parking brake fully enough.
  • First question from his dad: “Did you turn the tires”? First question from his mom: “Did you turn the tires”? Apparently, he wasn’t too versed in parking on a hill – and here in our area, you really have to be.
  • Talking to his dad, who came to repair the damage to the fence, we concluded the car really must have gotten enough speed to just go straight over the edge without a big change in its orientation.
  • The trees, which were still standing, hadn’t been touched or repaired.  They were simply flexible enough that instead of snapping, they got bent backwards and then rebounded back almost to their original placement. Pretty resilient.
  • They had to bring a crane, usually used if trucks or tankers roll off the road, to hoist the car out of the ravine. It was essentially a straight lift and pivot to get it back onto solid ground.
  • The car was in driving condition! Apparently, the owner of the car is still using it to go to/from work every day.
The best part was an exchange between the dad and son when we were discussing the above part about the speed of the car.  The son said “it’s lucky nobody was in the car, or maybe it would have tipped over instead of landing flat”. To which his dad dryly responded: “if there was someone in the car, they would have pressed the brakes!”.
 Posted by at 3:39 pm
Oct 042011

At least, this was a refrain we were growing used to hearing when telling people that we were moving to Kirkland, in the greater Seattle area. And I have no doubt that there’s a lot of truth to this, that we will unfortunately ultimately discover. Certainly the contractors trying to convince us to spend thousands on changes to better protect against moisture – and the beams in our deck that were clearly destroyed by it – make it clear that it’s not as dry as Arizona here.

Still, I had nothing to complain about on my first Sunday afternoon there, when I finally got to walk around close to the area where we’re living:

If you’re wondering about the 2nd picture, no, we don’t have a house on the water, though fortunately this location is walkable from where we do live. And I have to comment since a colleague, Nicolas, had asked about the earlier post about leaving Toronto about whether skyline picture I took was from my home.  (I said if it was, I wouldn’t have been leaving Toronto!).

Indeed, in the 8 days I spent in Kirkland, only one was truly miserable and while the others did have some rain here and there, it really wasn’t anything much to complain about. It is a little odd, though; you can look up and see not a cloud in the sky and still have a little rain falling on you.  I’m sure it will be worse, perhaps much worse, over the winter months – but at this point, I’m thinking I’ll take that over snow and ice. Though I reserve the right to change my mind on that once I really experience it!

 Posted by at 5:58 am
Mar 262011

I had meant to explain the (current) header image for this blog, but hadn’t yet.  My lack of visual creativity made it difficult to pick a header image because the dimensions are nothing at all like a regular photo.  And since this is really just a personal blog I wanted to use some picture I had taken, as opposed to just using a theme that already looked decent by default.  In any case, I wound up going with a further crop of the following already-cropped image:

I took the above in January of this year, and it was never intended even to be an actual photo.  Rather, the wife and kids – and by now, you know I have just two of them despite what the above image suggests – were still in Asia, and I was trying to clean up our home a little.  Considering that they brought a completely adequate supply of bottles to Asia (another half dozen or so), it seemed sort of ridiculous to me that we had so many remaining bottles completely occupying a drawer.  So I took a picture the above just to say “isn’t this a bit much” and to ask permission to throw some of the less used bottles out.

I got a header image for this blog, but I didn’t get permission :).

 Posted by at 6:47 am
Jan 222011

Well, after telling myself I should do this for several years, I finally created a blog – not really for blogging in the traditional sense, but more for recording things I might want to remember in many years from now – especially about the things I’ve used and why I used them.  I’m also hoping to use this to capture conversations and random thoughts on various topics that currently get buried in a mail folder somewhere, but we’ll see how successful I am in that respect.

At least to start, I created an initial list of Things I Use, albeit with minimal detail and no commentary or pictures at this point.

 Posted by at 7:46 pm