Quiet Time in the Garden – Goodbye, North America

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 30th, 2008 by MadDog
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I’m not a guy who enjoys change. A little vacation is always a break from the ordinary and provides time to step back and renew one’s perspective. Two months is about my limit. I’ve reached it.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading for home. I’m glad for that. Nevertheless, things concerning work have changed dramatically. What had seemed possible – relief from the pressure of being a one man show – has evaporated. I’ll now return to the office in the same situation that plagued me two years ago. It seems nobody wants my job.

I’m troubled about that, but I’m filled with wonderful feelings about returning to Madang – friends, surrogate family, familiar routine, and freedom from the overwhelming pressures of a culture which to me seems to have become obsessed with rules for every situation.

So, when I saw the late afternoon sun doing crazy things in the garden, I escaped from all the mental turmoil and relaxed with my camera. It was a blessing.

I’ll show you some of the things that caught my eye.

The sun, through the lattice of the fence, graced a blooming pulmonaria: 

Pulmonaria

A lilac bush, found in nearly every garden here, was bathing in the afternoon warmth:

Lilac

 A columbine, seen from below, becomes translucent as the sun illuminates its petals:

Columbine

 The redbud, its blooms beginning to fade, gamely sports its colours: 

Redbud

And this lily of the valley seems to reach upward for the last ray of sunlight:

Lily of the Valley

 Just for fun I turned these forget me not blossoms into a watercolour:

Forget Me Not Watercolour

 I’ll soon be back in my garden in Madang. Not a day too soon.

Family Picture Day

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 29th, 2008 by MadDog
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Yesterday was Family Picture Day. Rounding this mob up and settling them down is no small task. Of course, the light wasn’t cooperating either. I did manage to find a spot on the veranda that gave indirect lighting and with the help of some white cardboard to fill in the shadows, we came up with some reasonable photos for printing.

Here’s Hans, Tamara, Pippa, and Audrey: 

Hans, Tamara, Pippa, and Audrey

The most difficult task is getting the skin tones right. I’m not completely satisfied, but when I have to work with subjects that are so pale by our standards, I never am. I’m used to a lot darker skin tones, so everybody looks pink to me.

Here’s a nice one of Pippa: 

Philippa Jayne

And Audrey:

Audrey Rose

I have only one full day left here before I begin my long trudge back home. It’s bittersweet. I’ve enjoyed Canada and the warmth of family. Snapshots of family-by-blood every four years are insufficient to satisfy my yearnings, but the possibility of changing that is slim.

On the sweet side, I look forward to returning to my other family in Madang. It’s bigger and even more rowdy, but comfortable.

Posts for the next few days will be few. Eunie is holding onto the Toshiba. I’ll be subjected to the vagaries of Internet Cafes.

I’m going to need some taking care of when I get back. Fortunately, my Madang family will look after me and keep me under control until Eunie returns a month from now.

The wild man must be constantly tamed. It will be good to be home.

Westfield Heritage Village

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 28th, 2008 by MadDog
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Sunday was as sweet as maple candy. Another family day, probably my last for four years, began with the amusing sight of one of the last human beings left on the planet who mows his (blessedly small) lawn with an old-fashioned reel-and-blade push mower: 

Hans mowing his lawn

Yes, it’s my son, Hans. Making smaller footprints on the Earth is a priority with the family. Few others are willing to sweat to do so. It’s one of the many things I admire about our son. Look at that grass fly!

With our granddaughters, Eunie and I were off to (WARNING: annoying music on this link) Westfield Heritage Village near Hamilton. Americans will be familiar with the theme. It reminds me of Colonial Williamsburg.

Nearly all of the buildings have been laboriously removed from elsewhere and meticulously restored to their original appearance. There are many attractions at the venue and a long list of special events (see the Westfield link above).

Here’s Pippa in the Post Office:

Pippa at the Post Office

In the small pavilion, a nice lady was playing a Bowed Psaltery which was made by her husband, who volunteers in the cabinet-making shop:

Playing the Bowed Psaltery

Of course there was a school house. The girls heard a brief lecture from the schoolmarm:

In the Schoolhouse

At the Train Station, the girls and Eunie sat on the cowcatcher of the locomotive:

On the cowcatcher

And here’s Pippa and Audrey on the luggage carrier:

At the Train Station

Our last stop was at the sawmill, where a very interesting gentleman went on and on about how it worked. I now understand what quarter-sawn timber is and why you should use it for building furniture. I’ll remember that the very next time I build furniture: 

The Sawmill

We finished up the day with dinner at an Italian restaurant. It was Birthday Day. Since we can never be together for birthdays, we pick one day and it’s everybody’s birthday! I wanted to suggest that we sing “Happy Birthday to US” very loudly, but I suppressed the urge. A nice bottle of Rufino Chianti helped.

A Cool Photography Trick That Anybody Can Do – HDR

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on May 27th, 2008 by MadDog
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This post (and, undoubtedly, more to follow) is written for those with an interest in photography, but it might be worth a read for others.

On Sunday at Westfield (more on that tomorrow) I was, as usual, looking for interesting images. In the corner of an old building a classic still life caught my eye. The only lighting came from two windows in the adjacent walls. A flash shot would have captured the image, but it would have been lifeless and flat. This normal automatic exposure taken without flash is interesting, but it certainly doesn’t have much to say: (as usual, you can click on any image for a larger view – the effect will be more evident)

A normal exposure.

All of the subtle textures that you can see with the eye are lost in the darkness of the underexposed regions in the corner and other shadow areas. The human eye has a huge ability to extract details from an enormous range of lighting (a large dynamic range). Digital cameras have varying dynamic ranges, but none can match the eye; none that I can afford, anyway.

A trick that we can use, given a computer and software, is to take three or more images with different settings of the camera and glom them together. I use Photoshop, but several other programs can do the same thing.

First, we take three or more images with different camera settings – one or more underexposed (too little light gets in), one normal (just right according to the camera), and one or more overexposed (too much light got into the camera). Many cameras can do this for you automatically. Look for auto bracketing in your owner’s manual.

Next, we can use the computer to merge them into one image that combines all of the best exposed parts and shows details that would have been lost in any single exposure. It works not only for the dark areas, but also the bright areas that might be ‘blown out’ (turned white) in a normal exposure. Here is an image that combines three images into one using this method: 

An HDR version usnig three exposures.

As you can see, the details in the dark corner and shadows are now visible. The photo takes on an almost painted look. I think it looks like this because it’s an image that more closely matches what the eyes see – as a painter records what he sees with his eyes.

This is called High Dynamic Range photography. You can see some amazing examples in the Flickr HDR Pool and in The Hive Mind. You can also see that it can be carried to artistic extremes.

I should mention that HDR is better accomplished if you can keep the camera absolutely still. A tripod is perfect, but you can usually find a way to brace well enough. I was shooting from the middle of the room and the image is suffering a little from motion blur due to the slow shutter speed. Also note that nothing in the composition can be moving – you’ll just get several ghostly images (one for each exposure) if anything moves.

If you want to take it one step farther, you can use one of many ‘artistic’ filters available in Photoshop and other programs to enhance the artsy effect. Here’s the same image with the Watercolour filter applied: 

HDR image with the watercolour filter applied.

This is the kind of thing that anybody can do. I love photography today more than ever. I can do amazing things with virtually no equipment (an average pocket digital can take the exposures), free software (such as GIMP for PCs and MACs) and a few minutes of figuring it out. Most of these things were impossible only twenty years ago.

Life just keeps getting better and better.

We Miss Connections

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 26th, 2008 by MadDog
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Today we’re going on another family outing. I’m killing time until we leave, so I’ll relate an amusing/disturbing incident that occurred when I arrived from Boise at Buffalo.

I came in on time at about 11:30 PM and, following the signs, walked to the “Baggage Claim & Ground Transportation” area. My idea was that I’d sit out in front and wait for Eunie to drive by looking for me. It was quite cold. After waiting about a half-hour, I got a bit concerned. I had both cell phones with me, since they didn’t work in Canada and we were trying to use up our minutes. Therefore, we had no way to call each other (dumb move on hindsight).

By 1:00 AM, I was cold, tired, and not a little worried. It’s not like Eunie to be late. I called my son, Hans, in Hamilton, waking him up. He said she’d left before nightfall so that she would not have to drive in the dark to Buffalo. Now I was seriously concerned. I felt ghostly fingers of panic creeping up the back of my neck. Hans said he’d make some calls. I called him back a half hour later. He had nothing to add – none of the cops on either side of the border had any reports of accidents along the route. Now the back of my skull felt like ice.

At about 2:00 Hans called me and said, “Dad, stay on the phone and walk up the stairs.” I did. There stood Eunie at a pay phone trying to call Hans. She’d been there since 10:00 PM waiting for me. She had walked straight out of the parking garage into the terminal where many people were walking out as the planes arrived. She knew I had no checked baggage, so she wasn’t thinking about the carousels. She reckoned that I’d head for the garage where she had parked the car. I was on the floor directly below her. We were never more than twenty meters apart.

She said that she didn’t know what to think, since my incoming flight had never been posted on the arrivals list. She had assumed that I’d been bumped or the flight had been canceled. The last flight from Chicago had arrived a little earlier and I wasn’t on it either. She’d talked to Hans a few minutes ago and was trying to call him back when I walked up the stairs. My poor son was just trying to figure out if we were at the same airport.

The assumptions we make are not always the same. It’s nobody’s fault.

Since I hate to make a post without a picture . . .

Would you like to see what your LCD screen looks like up-close-and-personal? Here it is:

Your LCD Screen

We Do a Fashion Shoot

Posted in Humor, Mixed Nuts on May 25th, 2008 by MadDog
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Why should fashion be dominated and dictated by the young? I rebel against the concept. Mature people have earned the right to decide exactly how they wish to appear, no matter how goofy they look, with no interference from whippersnappers.

After dropping a load of cash on some new duds (all of $50 Canadian), we decided to celebrate with a fun fashion shoot. This is my new look. Admittedly, it’s not all new, just the jacket (sort of) and fedora. But, seriously, how much does a guy have to spend on clothes anyway?

This shot is captioned “The Last Hitchhiker That You’ll Ever Pick Up”: 

The Last Hitchhiker That You’ll Ever Pick Up

The jeans are 501 Snug Fits by Levi Strauss (yes, with the buttons – no zipper). The boots are by Timberland. The T is by Harley Davidson of Budapest. The belt is a Harley Davidson item from Australia (a gift from Trevor Hattersley and Karen Simmons). These items were already in my wardrobe.

The jacket is by Moore’s Suits, purchased at the poor people’s used clothing store in Hamilton for $7.98. The very nice black fedora is by Mantles, purchased at The Bay for $39.98. Yes, I went on a wild spending spree.

Here’s a shot surreptitiously taken at the delightfully named “Philthy McNasty’s” joint in Hamilton: 

Dream Up Your Own Caption

You can make up your own caption and leave it as a comment. Be nice.

No, I’m not going to wear this outfit to work. But, parties . . . The fashion competition in Madang is fierce and unrelenting. One has to do one’s part.

Thanks go to Eunie for being my photographer. She was patient and undemanding. These were the best two of about fifty exposures.

Stay cool.

Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Posted in Mixed Nuts on May 24th, 2008 by MadDog
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I was astounded, previously ignorant that there were so many Canadians that could fly an airplane (one note of self-deprecating sarcasm before getting serious), by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum at Mount Hope near Hamilton, Ontario. I’ve been in many aircraft museums, having no small interest, as I was myself a helicopter pilot. What it lacks in a massive collection, it makes up for in sheer class and dedication to make as many of these old war birds flyable as possible. Here’s the entryway tribute to the heroes of Canadian aviation: 

Heroes of Canadian Aviation

This is very much a working museum, all managed and operated by dedicated volunteers. In fact, you have to navigate around the roped-off areas where people are working on restoration projects or maintaining flyable machines. Even as we walked around ogling fascinating bits of living history, the hangar doors trudged open and out rolled a Firefly towed by a small tractor. They fired up the engine – what a sweet sound to an old man who heard the war birds as a kid. After revving it up, they unfolded the wings: 

Firefly

Inside, a mechanic was working on a Lancaster engine. This is the largest aircraft in the collection. It’s flyable and they fly it regularly. Many levels of membership are available. The Bomber Crew Membership at $2,000 (Canadian, of course) allows you a one hour flight in the Lancaster – a great bargain for any aviation enthusiast: 

Working on a Lancaster Engine

Several of the restored aircraft are open for your inspection and seating. In this photo Hans shows Audrey Rose how the controls work: 

Audrey and Hans

As an adoring grandma looks on (this woman could NOT be sixty-three years old!): 

Eunie looks on

Here a volunteer (ninety years old) stands by while Hans eases into the cockpit of a CF-100

Hans gets into the cockpit of a CF-100

If you like airplanes or history, this is the best ten bucks you’ll spend in Ontario.