Recently in Life Category

Cheap Bastard #1

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And so begins the first in a series of postings where I detail how I can sometimes be a cheap bastard. To start things off I bring your three recent examples:

  1. .Mac Trial account surfing
    The GTD software I was using only did sync'ing through .mac and rather than fork over the $100 per year I instead just created a new trial account every three months and copied the single backup file across. I just couldn't stomach giving Apple more of my money to store less than 25KB of my data on their servers. The iPod belt clip I bought when I thought I'd lost mine (but now just sits gathering dust) should more than cover the bandwidth and harddrive storage costs. I no longer trial-surf as my current software doesn't support sync'ing yet.

  2. MAKE Magazine subscription
    When MAKE Magazine was just starting out they used to offer a T-shirt with their yearly magazine subscriptions. My mother-in-law got me a subscription for Christmas but neglected to ask for the T-shirt. When I called to renew the subscription a year later and also order a boxed set of MAKE's first year I asked if they could throw in a T-shirt since I didn't get one the first time. The guy on the phone was so dismissive of the idea that I reacted by cancelling my whole order and hanging up. I haven't read MAKE magazine since last November. I miss it. Stupid T-shirt.

  3. Haggle with a poor student
    I saw a 20mm Nikon lens being advertised on Craigslist recently and contacted the seller to show my interest. I talked him down from his $410 asking price to $250 even after finding out he was a student selling his camera gear so he could buy textbooks. I still cringe a little thinking about this.

Well, those are mine. Anyone else have examples of their recent cheap-bastardisms?

Photographic Utopia

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It seems to me the ideal camera is one which doesn't involve a series of tradeoffs but instead allows one to dictate the photograph they intend to take.

With current cameras, if you want a shallow depth-of-field (DOF), you need to have your aperture wide open. To have your aperture wide open means more light so you need to adjust your shutter speed to compensate. If you shutter speed is already at its maximum (or faster than you would prefer) then you need to adjust your ISO speed to make your film/sensor less sensitive.

If you are less concerned about DOF but would rather freeze those sprinters in their place, then you need to make sure you shutter speed is set fast enough to avoid any motion blur. Once shutter speed is determined, then comes aperture to compensate, then possibly ISO to compensate even further to make sure you have enough light for your shot. It is all about juggling light.

This whole tradeoff process becomes even more pertinent in low-light situations where there is even less light to be juggled. Regardless of what kind of DOF or shutter speed you desire, you will inevitably need to increase your ISO to get the shot your desire (or use a tripod to keep your camera still for that 0.5s exposure -- or, god forbid, use your flash!). One of the serious downsides of an elevated ISO is a graininess in the resultant photo that, for reasons beyond me, has been mirrored in the migration from film to digital sensors. Is there some scientific reason why both both an ultra-sensitive sheet of chemicals and an ultra-sensitive array of electronic light-sensors need display graininess in roughly the same respect? The most recent digital cameras are finally exhibiting less graininess at higher ISOs, but this is a fairly new development and they are crazy expensive.

Rather than dealing with Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO I would prefer to have just two big dials on my camera simply labeled depth-of-field and motion-blur. Two dials. That's all I need. Graininess can be added as needed in Photoshop later. Don't make me worry about all the dang tradeoffs, instead just let me craft the photo I want and not worry about having to tweak, test and compensate for the light levels and the sensitivity of the sensor I happen to be holding.

If I want a nice highway-overpass shot of long lines of blurred brake-lights and head-lights all in focus, then crank up the motion-blur and crank-open the DOF. If I instead want a super-crisp capture of that water droplet falling against a soft blurred background, then drop the motion-blur right down to nothing and lower that DOF nice and narrow.

I definitely think we're moving toward this type of camera interaction, but we're still a number of years out. Cameras sensitive enough to even allow this ignorance of trade-offs are out of reach to anyone except high-end digital photographers. Ironic, no?

Homeless Blogger

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While digging through my blog archives to see how bad the linkrot has gotten I came across a link that is worth revisiting. I first blogged about The Homeless Guy back in 2003 and I'm happy to see that he is apparently still posting almost daily. He is an engaging writer and offers a perspective that I personally don't have much experience with. His recent post about getting to stay a night in a cheap hotel points out to me just how much I take for granted each and every day. From warmth, to sleep, to privacy. Eye opening. Adding his blog to my reader list.

Born: Orion Eric Lloyd Parker

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My wife and I had a kid a few months back. His name is Orion. After the constellation from Greek mythology. We've been busy obviously and that's why it has taken me almost 3 months to announce this. Time seems to both stretch and compress. It seems days last much longer now, but it amazes me that three months have gone by so quickly. How about a picture?

Each day seems to bring something new. More eye-contact. Better control over arms and hands. Mimicking laughter. Big kicks in the bath. Both Tracey and I feel so lucky that we get to be his parents. We keep expecting some time limit to be reached where we have to give him back.

Orion was born at home with two excellent midwives (and a kick-ass husband) for support. The labour was very sensible, starting in the early morning, progressing steadily with the finale taking place a little after 5PM in the evening. No complications. I even got to hold my son's head and 'help' the midwives with the delivery. Definitely one of the most surreal experiences I've had.

Life definitely changes. Mostly a priority shift. He is now a part of this family and has some kind of impact on everything we decide or do. As much as it is a cliche to say how much a baby will change your life, its true... and it is one of those things that I couldn't fully grasp until it happened.

We could sit and stare at this kid for hours. And we do!

Losing Weight

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Bathroom Scale Between Jeremy Zawodny losing 50 pounds over the past year and Aaron Swartz having success with the Shangri-La Diet I decided a month ago to (again) make a serious concerted effort to lose some weight. The discovery of The Daily Plate website has been extremely helpful with this effort. It combines a calorie search engine with easy meal recording and daily weight monitoring all in a simple interface. Do a search for what you ate, click 'I Ate This' and it gets added to your daily record. Specify some information about yourself along with your weight goals and the site will provide guidelines on how many calories you should eat each day to achieve those goals. Record your weight each day and a nice graph is generated to give you visual feedback of your progress.

Losing weight is really quite simple in principle -- eat less than your body needs and your body will burn fat reserves to make up the difference -- but it was a surprise just how little I need on a daily basis and how easy it is to go over that limit. I'm trying to lose 2 pounds a week and at my age, height and current weight this means I should be eating around 1400 calories a day. Did you know that 1 tbsp of mayonnaise has 100 calories in it? It suddenly makes you think twice about how much you smear on that sandwich when it is going to consume so much of your quota for such little payoff. I'm hardly aware of the flavour anyway. Take a look at a tablespoon. It really isn't that much.

After a few days of keen awareness of each item I put into my mouth I seemed to naturally migrate towards items that satisfy my hunger with minimal calories. To eat something greasy or sugary seems like just such a waste of my daily caloric budget. Something like a donut will taste great in the short term but ultimately will make it difficult to not over-eat by the end of the day. When you have all the information the choice is actually quite simple.

During previous weight loss attempts I would down-play the need and effectiveness of exercise. I would compare the amount of exercise needed to work off, say, a piece of cake and would argue that not eating the piece of cake is much easier. That may be true, but tasty cake eating aside, doing some exercise and being able to increase your caloric intake by even a hundred calories is a very nice incentive. Once I fully grasped how quickly 1400 calories can be reached I was suddenly very interested in exercising as it gave me the ability to replenish my daily budget. A good brisk walk means a guilt-free beer with dinner. An hour of Squash or Badminton and, depending on your exertion level, you are looking at an additional meal.

I started at 188 lbs four weeks ago and am now down to 180 lbs. I love how the process is deterministic and predictable. Follow A and get B as a result. It isn't easy but it also isn't mysterious. Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain weight or just stay the same I would definitely suggest checking out The Daily Plate to get some perspective on what you consume everyday.

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