Slide Scanning Update

I was just re-reading my post on my slide scanning workflow, and thought I’d post an update. I’m just about to finish my second carousel, and I’ve made a change that has sped things up a bit.

First of all, I’d like to mention that VueScan no longer requires the the slides to be set to “Mirror”. There was a update a couple of months ago that took care of this issue.

Second, I’ve found a better way to use the “Dust and Scratches” (DS) layer that I generate using the old Polaroid Dust and Scratches plugin. I would imagine this technique would also work with the default Dust and scratches plugin too. To recap, I found that the Polaroid dust and scratches plugin did a very good job of getting rid of dust spots, and to a lesser extent, fungus, but it also left artifacts, and removed detail.

Kids watching my uncle feed a squirrel

Cousin Susan, Uncle Tom, and neighbor watch my Uncle Dick feed a squirrel. Circa 1955

Previously, I was running the filter on a copy of the file, and then adding the result as a layer, and erasing the layer where it was causing problems. This created a lot of work, because I had to carefully inspect the whole image in order to erase the layer where it was causing problems.

Eventually, I realized it would be better to reverse things. Now, I add the layer, and immediately add a layer mask to it in Photoshop, making the layer completely transparent. Layer masks allow you to make make parts of layer transparent or translucent. When the mask is black, the layer is transparent. Where the mask is white, the layer is opaque. Gray generates a semi-transparent area. Once the mask is created, you can paint on it with the brush or any of the other tools, allowing very good control of what parts of a layer are visible. It’s a great tool for creating collages.

So I start off with a completely transparent DS layer, and then use the graphics tablet and brush tool to unmask the layer over dust spots. Generally speaking, for spots and fungus tendrils, it’s faster than using the Spot Healing Brush, and working this way allows me to avoid applying the layer to areas with a lot of detail. For hairs, scratches, and areas of detail, I find the Spot Healing Brush works better—it’s more complete, and it’s less likely to add artifacts or remove detail.

I’ve found this speeds things up quite a bit, since I can keep the brush away from edges and detail, only applying the layer where it’s needed. This means I don’t have to keep checking the DS layer to make sure it isn’t obscuring detail. It’s also usually faster than the Sport Healing Brush — my aim doesn’t need to be as accurate, and I don’t have to fuss with it as much. Using this technique (plus the fact that the current batch of slides hasn’t been as dirty as the first batch) meant that I was able to get many more slides scanned for my aunt than I anticipated in time for Christmas.

It’s Only Snow

If you listened to the news yesterday, you’d think New England was getting ready for The Big One or something. Blizzard Warning! Winter Storm Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!!. (Well, maybe not the last one). And then you listen to the forecast, and you realize, for most of the area… it’s not a big deal. (I will grant that on the South Shore, it was a medium big deal).

First off, we knew yesterday that the snow was going to be light and fluffy. I’ll take a foot of fluff over six inches of heavy stuff any day. Second, for most areas, the forecast was 6-10 inches. Around here, six inches of snow is not a big deal. This is not the South. We have plows and snowblowers and shovels and know how to use them. Here, we wound up with 10 inches of fluff, and even that wasn’t a hard to get rid of.

This is New England. This storm was not a disaster. It was a nuisance, and I wish the media would learn to distinguish between nuisance storms and more serious ones.

I did take the train to work yesterday, but this morning I drove, because there’s no train between 7:40 and 10:16. Route I-95 was mostly clear, but somewhat slush covered. Gary LaPierre once stated that “Snow causes brain damage,” but driving in the snow isn’t really all that hard:

  • Keep the speed down
  • Maintain a lot of space between you and other cars if you can. Don’t tailgate, and don’t let others tailgate you.
  • Avoid sudden movements. Keep turns gentle and gradual if you can, and avoid hard braking.
  • Avoid it if you can. If we’re expecting dirty weather, I’ll take the train if I can.

So I left an hour later than I normally do, and it took slightly longer than normal. No big deal. It’s only snow.

Thousand Year Graveyard

I just finished Science’s online article, “The Thousand Year Graveyard“. It’s a very interesting story about excavations around an Italian monastery that’s been a cemetery since the middle ages. It’s a very slick HTML 5 presentation, with big pictures, video, and elements that slide in and out. It gives the background of the monastery, and explains how the excavations were done and what the scientists were looking for.  I highly recommend it.

The story feels oddly incomplete though. It talks about the excavations, and what the scientists were looking for, but there’s not as much analysis of what they found as I would like. I suspect the article is about a year premature–the text keeps mentioning how the archeologists were planning on looking for pathogen DNA, but doesn’t say whether they found any.  I feel that the article would have benefited from being held a year while the results came in. Only the fourth chapter, which deals with a set of skeletons buried en masse, draws any conclusions. Excavators found five skeletons covered in lime, generally a sign of a hasty mass burial; the lime being put down to prevent smells and contagion from the bodies. The archeologists had hoped that they’d found victims of the Black Death, as that would give them information about what caused the plague.

One of the skeletons was very intact and complete; by the fragility of the bones, they could tell it had been an older woman. The lime had preserved the impressions of her clothing, and they found an earring under her. The style of the earring told the investigators that the grave was not from the Middle Ages, but from the mid 1800’s – around the time of a cholera epidemic. They’re now hoping to culture the earth from the grave in hopes of finding cholera DNA, in order to find out if somehow cholera has become more or less virulent.

It’s all very interesting, and very well done, but I have the same problem with it that I had with the Body Worlds exhibits. The skeletons are too human. They’re not beetle browed monkey-like distant hominids from millions of years ago. I keep remembering these were people. From not too long ago. I get the scientific curiosity; I get the potential for discoveries, but there’s part of me that’s bothered by digging them up in the first place.

Happy 2014

Happy New Year 2014! I tend to agree with what Rich Siegel said on Twitter last night,”Oh, and a final thought to 2013: DONT LET THE DOOR HIT YER ASS ON THE WAY OUT.”

I went to First Night last night, and had a grand time, despite the cold. Dressing for it helped. I saw the procession from around Arlington St. It started off with a big truck carrying Mayor Menino and his party, blowing confetti all over the place:

Confetti truck at the First Night Grand Procession

Confetti truck at the First Night Grand Procession

After the procession passed, I walked up to the Public Garden (re-experiencing the tail end of the procession) to watch the fireworks. They were great.


Fireworks over the Common

After the fireworks, I headed up through the  Common to look at the LED sculpture there; there was also a single, small ice sculpture. I miss having the big sculptures at the Common. From there, I headed down to the Old South Church to see the concert put on by the Old South Brass, Organ & Percussion. They were magnificent. The church boasts an incredible organ with about 8,600 pipes located to the front and rear of the church. When the bass pipes play, the floor shakes, and that’s what it did, as they started the program with the Fanfare to Also Sprach Zarathustra, more commonly known as the theme to 2001, A Space Odyssey. Then, when the brass and kettle drums came in—it was awesome.

After the program, I walked down to the Hynes to see a stand up comedian from Laugh Boston. I wish I could remember his name; he was good. A hall in the Hynes is not the best place to see comedy, but he made the most of it. First Boston had provided a sign language interpreter for him; it was interesting to see him play off her. I wish I could understand what she was ‘saying’.

While at the Hynes I saw a big computerized LED wall. It was kind of mesmerizing.

LED wall

LED wall

I then walked back to Copley Square; there was only one ice sculpture there, called “Peaceable Kingdom”, about the lion laying down with the lamb.

Peaceable Kingdom-- ice sculpture of the lion laying down with a child and lamb

Peaceable Kingdom

At that point, I didn’t feel like heading over to Fanuil Hall or the harbor, so I called it a night and headed home. On the way back from Riverside, I swung by the Weston Ski Track to take a look at the snowmaking.

All things considered, it was a good night. I wish the organizers would schedule around the early fireworks a little better; it’s hard to get from the Common to the Hynes to make a 7:30 program, which is partly why I chose the 8 PM program at Old South Church. I was using the First Night app as a guide; it was good for figuring out the schedule and location of the individual programs, but not good at describing or locating the “overall” features like where to find the ice sculptures or what time the fireworks would take place, what would be the route of the procession, or content that would be available all day.

Here’s to a bright shiny new 2014.