Odds & Ends

A few little items:

I’ve been working from home for the past month or so. We’d been in a co-working space in Boston for the past year, and it was decided that since most of the developers are remote from the main London office, we should work remotely too. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I’m finding that I personally end up working very late. On the flip side, I did pick up two lovely 27″ Thunderbolt monitors which work just as well with my personal Mac as they do with my work Mac.

There’s been a nasty strain of what’s probably the flu going around this week, and I managed to pick it up. I was fine on Sunday, with just a little cough, Monday, I was a little achy over the course of the day, and I was pretty much out of it the rest of the week. Tuesday and Wednesday I managed to get up and get dressed, get some code reviews done, do some minor work, and then fall back into bed. I haven’t felt this crummy for so many days since grade school. No appetite, achy and feverish all over, chills, headaches, the works.  By Friday I was starting to feel a little better, but I’m still feeling a bit light-headed. It’s also run through my brother’s family, my sister’s family, the family across the street, and my friends report being sick too.

We’ve had a pretty strong nor’easter Friday and Saturday. Rain and snow Friday, heavy rain yesterday that turned back to snow. And then today, I noticed the first of my new planting of crocuses had blossomed.

New crocuses

First of the new crocuses

Spring time, and better days, are ahead.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2016

This year was a bit unusual in that I actually had two competing ideas for a card, and I was able to do them with a minimum of stress. The first idea was to get some pictures of Christmas lights at night, and I actually brought the tripod with me into work, and went out shooting afterwards at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. I did get some good stuff there, but in the end, I decided to go with my second idea.

I’d gotten a “Table Top Studio” kit the previous Christmas. Essentially, it’s a small square tent with white nylon sides to soften the light coming from the included pair of quartz lights. It came with four backgrounds: red, white, blue and black, and I decided to pick up a small snow globe and photograph it.

My initial thought was to use the red background, because red’s a Christmas color. I shot a number of frames. The snow globe lights up and has a small impeller to stir up the glitter inside, so I shot a a number of pictures with the globe both on and off.

I found that the moving glitter didn’t really read as glitter (or snow) but rather as noise.

I also decided, more or less for the heck of it, to try it with the white and black backgrounds:

I found I really didn’t like the black ones at all, and the white ones were underexposed and the white background was wrinkled, so I decided to shoot a few more with more exposure. I also got the idea to hide the bottom of the background with some fluffy cotton, to make it look more like snow. I shot both red and white versions:

The cotton balls in both are a little too obvious, but I figured that would be easy to fix in Photoshop. The red one was more in line with my original conception of the shot, but there was something about the white one that I liked. The red one was a little cleaner; the white one had some color casts that needed cleaning up. The snowmen in the white one were a little easier to read, and the reflections of the lights on the globe were a little less prominent on that one too. It would also take less ink to print. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to go with the white one, and took it into Photoshop.

All these steps took a lot less time than it usually does. The photography took maybe 45 minutes, and I had the Photoshop work done in less than an hour.

Next, I imported the picture into the card template in Pages. This was a little ticklish since I had to rotate everything 90°, because the template is designed for horizontal pictures. For the text, I used Museo Slab, the same font I use here for headings. I ended up choosing golden text with red rules above and below.

All in all, pretty simple, but I’m pleased with the result, more so than I was with last year’s card.

Final Result

Final Result

Merry Christmas everyone.

Stick a Fork in It…

Back on May 1st, I scanned a slide of myself with my cousins in front of Old Ironsides. The slide must have come into contact with some darkroom chemicals, as it was heavily stained and spotted, not to mention covered with hairs, fungus and other crap:

Before retouching and cropping

Before retouching and cropping

Obviously, it’s in pretty bad shape, but still… there was something there I wanted to save. So I went to work, and all other scanning work has been on hold (save one other, also difficult, slide) while I worked on this one.

The first step was to adjust color on the unstained parts of the slide, which I did via an adjustment layer. The next step was to go after the fungus in the sky, and all the little blue spots in the black parts of the ship. Those were the easy parts. Next, I had to fix the blue spot over Billy’s eye, and the spots on his shirt. At some point I conceded the right fifth of the image and cropped in much tighter to get rid of most of the blue blob. For the rest, I added a series of masked adjustment layers to remove the blue color and change the tonality, until I was finally able to get the rest of the bow passable.

It’s certainly not perfect. I’ll plead guilty to a certain amount of retouching fatigue on this one. I do admit I like the looser composition of the original better. But still, it’s a damned sight better than what I started with:

After restoration

After Restoration

 

July 4th on the Charles

I spent Fourth of July watching the Boston fireworks on the Charles from my kayak. Without a doubt, it’s the best way to see the fireworks.

I’ve done this a couple of times now; Charles River Canoe and Kayak rents boats from their Brighton and Kendall Square locations for the event. The first time couple of times I did it, the atmosphere was very relaxed, and there was a lot less security. I remember one year seeing a couple of guys on a raft made up of office water cooler bottles, and people on floating rafts; after the marathon bombing, security was tightened up. The last time I did it, in 2013, all boats had to be anchored by 7 and there was a Coast Guard boat with a big black machine gun on the front deck patrolling the river.

This was the first year I did it in my own boat. I put in from Herter Park, just downstream from Charles River Canoe and Kayak, around five-thirty-ish, and got to the Mass Ave bridge a little past 7. There were already a bunch of boats there, some of them fairly large. Boats were required to anchor by 8:15, but I felt like a motorcyclist among a bunch of SUVs with all the boat traffic, so I waited until nearly 8 to anchor. I wanted to be able to move if a boat did something stupid.

Once I anchored, there was nothing to do but wait. Fortunately, the weather was gorgeous: clear, not humid, not too warm. There was enough wind to raise a little chop, but it kept the bugs away. It was really nice just sitting there in the boat. We were treated to a spectacular sunset:

Sunset, July 4th

Sunset, July 4th

This year, the concert and fireworks were on network television. I’ve been to years both with and without the network, and I much prefer it when network TV isn’t calling the shots. This year, they played the 1812 Overture fairly early, with a small display of fireworks, and then there were 90 minutes of filler country music until the main show at 10:30, timed to end just before the 11:00 news.

But, oh, what a show it was. It made the wait worthwhile. Not only did they shoot them from the barge, but they launched sprays of fireworks from the Mass Ave bridge itself, and I was close enough to the bridge to feel the heat from the fireworks. There were jets of fireworks flying up from the length of the bridge, with sprays of light in the sky beyond. It was magnificent.

Finally, though, came the finale, and then it was time to up-anchor and head back. It was kind of cool kayaking in the dark, part of a stream of boats heading upstream. Each boat had at least a light, and several of us were adorned with a number of glow sticks. I’d been worried about pulling out of the river, but I found the exit pretty easily, and was able to get out without a problem. All in all, a wonderful night.