Saturday, April 30, 2005


I bought an SB-600 flash today, to use with my Nikon D70 DSLR. I've been salting away some of my allowance, trying to strike a balance between having folding money to spend at Anime Expo this summer, and having a flash to use indoors at the convention. I finally hit that balance, and Suburban Photo had it in stock (for the first time in months), so I went for it.

I don't know squat about using a flash, so I just hooked it up and took a few photos to make sure that it wasn't dead on arrival. This is an example of the output.

You can see the four 'quickie' shots I took this afternoon at my Flickr account. "Initial Flash Test" is neat, since it was taken in a dark bedroom, by flash only. With the white balance set to flash, and a little levels adjustment, I got the image you see here. "Bounce Flash and Incandescent Chandelier" was to test whether the flash overwhelmed an already lit image. I think it's a little washed out, but okay. "Ambient Daylight and Bounce" is very interesting to me, since the light from the back yard is behind my subject. Without the bounce flash, I think Jean would have been a bit dark in the foreground, while the window would have been bright. The sidelit "More Ambient Daylight and Bounce" is just a variation on this theme.

Another interesting facet of these photos is that I used a different RAW converter than the usual Adobe Camera Raw converter (ACR) that comes bundled with Photoshop CS. I was reading a thread on the D1scussion mailing list about a recent controversy. Nikon is now encrypting white balance info in their RAW file format (NEF) for the D2X camera. Adobe has made noises about perhaps not being able to support this RAW file format in ACR, since "the DMCA makes reverse engineering criminal". I think it's really about jockeying for position as to who gets to control RAW formats, and who has to pay license fees, but it's getting talked about a lot.

One poster on the list mentioned that as a professional photographer, he didn't have time to convert each RAW file by hand, which is a limitation of ACR. Instead, he uses a commercial RAW converter that can do batch conversions given a set of parameters. So he'll choose a white balance, sharpness, etc. that suits a set of NEFs and then convert them all to TIFFs in a batch. Two tools were mentioned: Capture One, and Raw Developer.

They both have demo versions, so just for chuckles I downloaded them. At $100 and $70 respectively, I can't really justify buying them for my rather amateurish efforts. But I thought it would be fun to play with them. Capture One allows you to use the full feature set of the tool for 15 days. This is the converter I used for the photos I converted from the flash. Raw Developer lets you use s demo version forever, but puts a small print message in the middle of your photo encouraging you to buy. I plan to do conversions using both these tools and ACR, then compare the output. My chief criterion for useful software is a tool which is better at producing nice conversions with presets. So far I like Capture One best. If I were buying, I'd have to come up with the extra $30 over Raw Developer. But in reality, of course, I'll most likely continue using ACR, since it's included in Photoshop.

Friday, April 29, 2005


I came into the den to listen to Extraordinary Machine, the unreleased album by Fiona Apple that is supposed to be a work of genius (it isn't, but it's good). So Kelly followed me in, wearing headphones and listening to a CD I'd burned for her maybe six months ago. At the time, she didn't know what to make of Several Species of Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict. Now she thinks it's hilarious.

I'd enjoy her musical growth more if she wasn't singing along with every damn song on the CD, all while Fiona is singing to me. Now she's rendering a fractured version of Stand. Earlier it was It's Your Thing. I don't know what's next...


It was We Will Rock You. Now she's looped back to the beginning. "Hmm, hmmm, uh something ... Run Rudolph!" It's like having Rain Man in your room while trying to listen to a new album.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ready to Flee the Country

My passport photo, then and now. True, the new 'foil Eagle' watermark sort of obscures my current picture, but you should be able to pick out the salient changes in my features.

A larger version is available at my Flickr account.

The mildly amusing part is that while I've had a passport for the last ten years, I've never used it. Ever. I was almost afraid that they'd refuse to renew my passport because I hadn't used it enough. Of course, my original justification for getting a passport was not to travel, but to have two pieces of photo identification for my GRE exam. Strange, huh?

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Jean is feeling better, the stars are aligned right, and I don't have any more errands like sick computers or dead microwaves, so today marked my first attempt at preparing Sweet and Sour Chicken. Another high effort recipe, but pretty much worth it if I do say so myself.

Today was mega-calorie day, as Jean ordered a pizza to reward herself for making it through another week of fourteen hour shifts folllowing a cranky nurse. She had gastroenteritits last week, is now running nonstop again, and to add insult to injury, doesn't really have time to eat dinner during these torture shifts. So the pizza was both a reward and an attempt to put on some weight again. Pizza for lunch, S&S Chicken for dinner... The only thing she failed to follow up on was a threat to get a milkshake. I failed you, Jean!

Kitchen Entropy

After a few years, and a couple of trips to the shop, we finally had to retire our sturdy microwave oven. On reflection, I realized that we had, for one reason or another, always bought Sharp brand microwaves. I haven't kept any records, but they all seemed to need a trip to the shop after one or two years. I don't know if this reflects poorly on Sharp, or is representative of mass market consumer appliances. Consumer Reports indicates that Sharp has one of the highest rate of repair of any brand.

So. Over the weekend I did a survey of various brands, then checked a few local stores for what was available, and we settled on a Panasonic model available at Fry's. Consumer Reports rates it second only after Sears Kenmore, and it's got the requisite features, so we are back up and running. This entry serves as a reminder of when it went into service, so I can check if and when it starts having problems that doom us to another service trip.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Hard Goodbye

This is volume one in Frank Miller's Sin City, and is one of the three volumes which served as source material for the cinematic triptych now touring the theaters. It's a graphic novel I picked up from the library.

It's violent, often misogynistic, corny and melodramatic. It is, after all, a tribute to and a send-up of the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and the film noir genre that is filled with so many losers like Marv, the 'hero' of The Hard Goodbye. The hard, angular art, in blocky, stark black and white, is Frank Miller's signature style, and the perfect medium to portray the story.

I'm going to give it a rest, but I think I'll be grabbing the second volume, A Dame to Kill For next.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Megumi Is Home

I drove to the Apple Store and picked up my iLamp, the powerful Megumi-chan, this afternoon. I've been restoring and tweaking and maintaining ever since. She's up and running as if she were never gone. In fact, I'm soaking in it!

The verdict was in fact a dead hard disk, rather than the much less painful loose connection I tried to bargain out of reality. The consequence is that they replaced the dead drive (free! Gotta love my AppleCare contract), but there was no data to put on it. I am so glad I'm reasonably diligent about back-ups. After setting things up, I did a full restore, and lost only about a week's worth of data, none of which really hurts. True, I'm scrambling to grab some anime Kelly's been watching, but other than that, we're golden.

So for the next few days I'll be closeted with my uber-gadget, bonding and renewing ties. Sad, ain't it?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Health Watch

For those of you keeping score:

Kelly seems to be fully recovered, not even coughing. Last night she 'forced' me to play Shadow Hearts for nearly an hour, taking her shower and brushing her teeth early to clear the way. So her energy and plotting skills are back to peak!

Jean completed her full twelve hour shift walking the floor with a nurse on Tuesday, and Wednesday showed no ill effects. We both have our fingers crossed for her.

I have pretty much said goodbye to my nasty cold. Except for a couple of days of disturbing 'tight' stomach sensations, I seem to have dodged the gastroenteritits bullet. Fingers crossed and all that, but so far...

I saw Dr. Selby yesterday following up on recurrent issues and getting a blood draw for my annual physical. He seemed utterly tickled that I knew to use the term gastroenteritis, and not the misnomer 'stomach flu'. Pays to have a nurse-in-training in the home!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Yummy Curry

Yesterday evening as Kelly and I awaited Jean's return from her twelve hour shift, I thawed, diced and stir fried about two pounds of chicken. Tonight after work, I made the How to Make a Simple Curry "Anything" recipe with chicken. Eaten with vegetables for dinner, it was very tasty. If my experience with tofu chili is any guide, it will be even better after marinating for 24 hours.

One lesson I learned is not to dice jalapeno peppers with bare hands. Four hours later, my fingertips are only now cooling down. I washed them two times with soap and warm water, and even then my lips and gums were hot when I flossed my teeth. Jean has some size-large surgical gloves, so I'll try them next time.

Do try the curry recipe. It's really easy, and quite cool, er, hot!


I know who to suck up to, and she is suck-up-to-able.

Anonymous, to protect the innocent...

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Hit Parade

First Kelly with walking pneumonia, then my nasty cold. Now Jean has a virus. Gastroenteritis. She was up all night being sick. I'll do the groceries, but otherwise avoid rubbing shoulders with my fellow man, in case I'm brewing a batch myself. Jean says it's highly contagious, so that's likely. So no NOVA tonight, I'm afraid. Sorry guys.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Computer on the Fritz

I saw this phenomenon once before. My den computer doesn't want to boot up. It can't see the hard disk. Last time, I held down 'shift' while booting, and after a few tries, it found the hard disk, and all was well again. That really shouldn't have worked. 'Shift' during boot means "go into safe mode", or no extensions. This time it ain't working. Instead it just shows the icon of a folder with a question mark. This means "where's my disk?" Since last time when my computer 'healed', the hard disk had all it's data intact, I theorized an intermittent loose connection.

I tried jiggling the computer before a reboot, trying to adjust the 'loose connection' I was theorizing about. It worked. Now my computer complains about the missing disk much sooner during the attempted boot sequence.

So tomorrow I'll clean it up, blow compressed air into it, and if that doesn't work, I'm off to the Apple Store at the mall. They were very quick about fixing Jean's computer, so I can only hope that they do the same for me. Especially if my theory of a bad cable is correct. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Torn Between Two Food Groups

Jean's got a vote in for Sweet and Sour Chicken, so I'll have to make that first, but I can't wait to try this Curry recipe. It's really a curry base, to which you add the 'something' of your choice. But chicken is pretty much the main currency around here, so Curried Chicken it is!

I love curry. I haven't been to an Indian restaurant in yonk's ages, so I've evolved the rather trashy habit of making faux curry sauce to have with my veggies. It's really simple. Get a little jar of that red curry paste that every whitebread supermarket stocks in their 'Asian foods' section. Put a dollop on your plate (not too much!), cover it with ketchup, and mash it all together. Voila! Instant skanky curry!

The thought of making a scratch sauce that actually resembles an Indian curry makes me all warm and fuzzy inside!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Thump Thump!

This poster is pretty cool, and part of the heartbreaking workload Jean has to endure while working toward her nursing degree!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Back to My Roots

This afternoon I returned to Dr. Lampert's office for a three month checkup on the root canal he performed. He was concerned that the bone surrounding the root had been eroded by bacteria, and wanted to see it after some time had passed. I was very nervous, worried that he'd see further damage and need to do 'something'. He took a pair of x-rays and gave me the verdict.

Unfortunately, the most he was prepared to say was that things had not gotten worse. This is exactly what he hoped for. Apparently, three months is not long enough to see if bone is regrowing in the damaged area. The purpose of this visit was to observe that the damage was arrested. I'm to visit him again in three months, and yet again three months after that. Only then will I know what the verdict is. Fun, huh?

Speed Grapher

Adam of the North recommended this one (sorta, since he had only seen the artwork at the time, I'd guess), so I settled in tonight and watched Speed Grapher, episode One.

There's a lot of stuff in that first episode. I get a bit that they're shooting for Cowboy Bebop territory, but only in the mature and trendy sense. This show would probably get an R rating here in America, or at least show up somewhat truncated on Adult Swim in a year or so. They got blood, nudity, elastic assassins and floating faux goddesses in secret subterranean clubs into this first episode, so who knows where they're heading?

I'll probably watch a couple more episodes, in addition to the stuff I'm watching with Kelly. Reports as things progress...


Eating into the time I allot to books of my own, I took time off to read Krindlekrax, by Philip Ridley. I brought it home from the library after reading a review of childrens' authors which mentioned his name. Kelly picked it up, read it in one day, and approached me Saturday evening with tears in her eyes. The book made her think of Grendl, our deceased family cat.

I felt bad, so I agreed to read the book to try to better understand her feelings. It turns out that the hero of the book has an adult friend who means a lot to him, and gives him gifts, physical and intangible, which enable him to transform his life for the better. But this adult friend dies late in the book.

The story is whimsical and fantastic, so to insert something so sombre in the middle felt like something of a betrayal to Kelly (sort of like I felt watching The Purple Rose of Cairo, a whimsical film by Woody Allen that ends in tragedy and tears). Why do authors do this? It's one thing to introduce a child to the idea of tragedy in a dramatic novel. It's quite another to sucker punch 'em when their guard is down.

Anyway, it was actually a pretty good book, and I would have to agree that Philip Ridley's writing bears a strong resemblance to Roald Dahl's.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


I felt good enough in the afternoon that Kelly and I went to see Robots. It's not the worst animated feature I've seen, nor is it the best. It was just perfect for an outing with Kelly, though, and we had a lot of fun together. I decided not to push my luck, and had zero theatre food/drink. That turned out for the best, since I was feeling less than stellar by the time we got home. But a treat was waiting for us, Jean was home! Yay!


I forgot this until I was telling Jean tonight. They showed the Star Wars trailer before the movie. Lots of scenes of Palpatine at his slimy best luring Anakin to the dark side, lots of action, hints of characters to come, until the end, which closes with a shot of the full Darth Vader rig.

Kelly leaned over to me in the silence between trailers, and whispered "Darth Vader ... returns!"


Here's a first. I got an email from my longtime penpal, Nami Okamoto! She's pointed me to her email addresses in the past, but I don't think she spends much time on computers, as I never seem to get replies to any email I send her. So imagine my shock when I open my Gmail page today and see an email from her. It's Summer in Japan! Or anyway, it's a sneaky Summer preview in Fukuoka, where she lives. She gave the temperature in Celcius, but it works out to around 77 degrees. I do love that first hand weather report from foreign lands. Good to hear from her in 'real time'.


So Kelly seems more or less completely recovered from her walking pneumonia, no fever, very little coughing. As seems appropriate, however, I came down with a nasty cold around the middle of the week which I'd trace directly to her. Now it's Sunday, and I feel as if I'm on the mend. I've got my fingers crossed, since my typical pattern is to bounce back and forth between the sinuses and the lungs a few times before fully recovering. But I feel a little less beat down today than I did yesterday, so I may actually do a few of my weekend chores.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

'High' Fidelity

Bluegrass, hothouse jazz, I'm grasping for labels to capture this Back Porch Vipers album I bought. But as I listen more carefully, the score is five songs out of seven devoted, to one degree or another, to marijuana. These folk love to toke!

I guess I should have guessed from the album title, "Light Up", and the subhead, "We never have too much fun."

Friday, April 1, 2005

Running Out of Time

Some may recall that I saw Running Out of Time 2 a couple of years ago, and rated it high enough to purchase the original, Running Out of Time. So now, two years later, I've found time to watch it (feeling a little under the weather myself, I've been unable to sleep, so...).

The verdict: I don't know why the reviews I read rated this one so much higher than the sequel. It is great fun, in the typical Hong Kong melodramatic way, and I still love Lau Ching-Wan, but it's not really head and shoulders above the sequel. Worth a gander, if you're a friend and want to borrow it, though.


Just when we thought we were over Kelly's illness, it sprang back. Jean called me at work to check what Kelly's temperature had been this morning. It was normal, and I sent her off to school. But she got home and had a meltdown, and her fever was back. I came home early to go with them to Kelly's doctor. Turns out she has walking pneumonia. According to Dr. Hoffman, it responds well to Zithromax, which is why it beat off the effects of Amoxycillin and made a comeback. So Kelly's on Zithromax now; the regimen is three doses over three days, and then the antibiotic lingers in her body for around ten days, killing off nasty bugs. I've got my fingers vigorously crossed this time.


I've had five of the eight songs from Secret American Livingroom for two or three years. Dealership make a lot of their music available online, especially this, their debut album, which was out of print for awhile. Now it's not, and it's mine:

  1. Jungle Gym

  2. My Box

  3. Nerdy Girl

  4. Fallout

  5. Perfectly Happy

  6. Montserrat

  7. You're Dumb

  8. Green

By the way, a very good album. I love You're Dumb (one of the tunes I've had for years now).