I Need Spring Like Crazy

Doppler just went out for her last walk of the night. She’s cute.

Normally, when she’s ready to go outside she’ll climb onto my lap and lick my face. Not this time of day.

We laze on separate sofas, both prone and with Afghans. For a few minutes she’ll stare at me. Then she’ll bark

It’s her signal, the weakest, quietest bark possible. Actually, it’s more dog grunt than bark. It’s Doppler’s equivalent of clearing her throat.

I got her leash and a flashlight. We went out in the chill. Where the hell is spring?

Bridgeport was 10&#176 below average today. Bradley was 18&#176 below! Much of the state never saw 50&#176.

We really need spring after this crazy winter. Bridgeport had over twice as much snow as usual. At Bradley it was around 40% over norm. Here on Mt. Carmel we had over a month of continuous snowcover.

It seemed endless.

Wednesday will be closer to the weather we’re used to in late April. Over the weekend 70&#176 is possible.

Right now I need spring like crazy and I’m not embarrassed to say it!

The Customer Is Always Right Screwed

united_continental_logoIt amazes me how many companies are happy to be perceived as pricks! Just when you think cable TV or banks or cell carriers have the lock on customer unfriendly policies, in comes United Airlines to raise the stakes.

It now costs $200 to change a domestic ticket on United. If you’re going to South America that’ll be $300, $250 for Asia and Europe!

There are a few reasons United is doing this. Obviously, they want to be able to lower prices (if necessary) without letting those already holding reservations take advantage of the discount.

Why can WalMart do this, but not United? From WalMart.com:

  • We will match any local competitor’s advertised price.
  • We do not require customers to have the ad with them to honor a competitor’s ad.
  • Items purchased must be identical to the ad (size, quantity, brand, flavor, color, etc.)

stew-rule-stoneEven better than WalMart’s is Stew Leonard’s customer policy, carved in stone!

Businesses are supposed to make money. No one, certainly not me, wants to deprive them of that ability. What bothers me is when businesses take advantage of their market position and create one-sided rules. It almost seems as if they’re relishing our pain.

Airlines can change my flight times or itinerary or nearly any other part of my trip without compensating me. On the other hand, I have to cross every “t” and dot every “i” or suffer their wrath. That seems inherently unfair.

Airlines can delay without penalty when they can’t get a crew to the airport on time. If I can’t get to the airport, tough luck.

Not only can’t I freely change my ticket (except on my fav, Southwest), I can’t sell it or give it away either. Why should any airline care if it’s Helaine or Stef or me or anyone else? From where I sit, this is mean spirited.

Like I said, airlines aren’t alone operating like this. The less competition there is, the more likely stuff like this will happen.

I am happy to see Google beginning to compete with cable companies and T-Mobile upending the cellphone business model. We need more.

Where is PeoplExpress when you need them?

I Was Wrong, Unfortunately

Right after the Patriots’ Day bombing I predicted the culprits would be caught through the use of facial recognition software.

Here’s what I wrote

There is no doubt the finish line for the Boston Marathon will produces hours, maybe days, of video. In the past that would have presented a daunting task. No more. Beefy computers will ingest that data and ask for more!

The video was there–hours and hours of it, along with thousands of stills. All we had to do now was wait for the AI to do its thing. That’s what I thought. Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis thought so too.

We were all wrong.

Davis said he was told that facial-recognition software did not identify the men in the ball caps. The technology came up empty even though both Tsarnaevs’ images exist in official databases: Dzhokhar had a Massachusetts driver’s license; the brothers had legally immigrated; and Tamerlan had been the subject of some FBI investigation.

The best tip actually came from a hospitalized man who’d lost both legs in the explosion. He was standing next to the bomb. He saw who’d placed it at his feet.

The witness, Jeffrey Bauman, couldn’t speak, so he wrote:

“Bag. Saw the guy, looked right at me.”

Bauman’s revelation was major breakthrough and a large part of why the FBI was able to distribute photographs of the Tsarnaev Brothers on Thursday.

But the photographs were not enough. They had faces, not names.

The FBI’s decision to release the photos was the right one. Where computers had failed, humans succeeded. It was the public who identified Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

We live in a surveillance society. Our government has access, often easy access, to the smallest details of our lives. We are monitored by armies of cameras, public and private. I find all this spying troubling and have often wondered if it’s really legal?

We are told it’s for our good… our security. Yes, it might be invasive from time-to-time, but only inadvertently.

Now it looks like all this monitoring can’t do what it was bought to do! It was sold on a falsehood. The monitoring goes on.

My New York City Photo Safari

nyc-paintede-wallChris Gampat appeared on my radar a few years ago. At the time we were both freelancers, churning out short snippets for PCMag’s ancillary blogs. Chris and I wrote on a variety of topics, but it was easy to see we both gravitated toward photography.

He is now the proprietor of The Phoblographer, a photocentric website with tips and reviews. When he divulged the traffic numbers I gasped.

We’d never met until yesterday. There’s a spot on the East River in Queens that, on paper, seemed like a great photo location. I asked Chris if he wanted to go?

We met in at the corner of Greenpoint and West in Brooklyn. Neighborhood gentrification is in progress, but there are still garages, warehouses and small manufacturing companies. Business is there for the same reason we were–the waterfront.

We took a few shots out on a pedestrian pier, then hopped in my car and headed to Long Island City.

A few years ago LIC was like Greenpoint, industrial. Not now! Tall, slender high end condos have spring up behind the giant Pepsi sign on the Queens bank of the river. We were directly across from the United Nations with a great view of Manhattan.

We stayed a while capturing the spectacular view, then hopped the subway and headed west. Part of Long Island City’s value is its proximity to Midtown. We were under Times Square in ten minutes and down in the Meatpacking District on the Highline five minutes after that.

The Highline is an abandoned elevated rail line on the West Side of Manhattan. It has been converted to a linear park, winding its way between buildings. The views are great–people and scenery.

We walked north, taking time to take photos. As 7:00 PM approached we exited the Highline and returned to LIC.

The purpose of the trip was to get the skyline at night. It was everything I had hoped for.

Unfortunately, my gear wasn’t everything I’d hoped for! My tripod was shedding pieces as I set it up. The stiff breeze made it unstable.

I also brought my little GoPro camera for timelapse, but the battery was dead! It had been charge overnight. Early verdict: bad battery.

By the time we packed up I had a new friend and around 800 shots to go through!

(click on any of the photos for a larger view)

nyc-lic-gantry-park-pano-daytime

nyc-un-empire-and-chrysler-hdr-daytime

nyc-un-empire-and-chrysler-hdr-nighttime

NYC-skyline-1-HDR

nyc-pepsi-sign

nyc-long-island-city-condos

nyc-empire-from-highline-HDR

nyc-east-on-23rd-street

nyc-daylight-nw-wide-look

nyc-chrysler-building

nyc-59-st-bridge-upper-east-side

One Shot From Nine Shots

NYC-skyline-1-HDR

Last night on Facebook I posted one picture from Saturday’s trip to New York City. It was one of the first ones I looked at and among the last I shot. In case you’re interested I’ll tell you how this shot came to be.

First, it is not really one shot. It is nine shots! Each was exactly the same–shot from a locked down tripod. The only difference was how long the shutter was open. The fastest was 1/8 second. The slowest was 32 seconds!

That’s a 256:1 ratio between longest and shortest which is easily seen as brightness.

nine-skyline-shots-for-HDR

Shooting a wide range of exposures is a workaround for a weakness of cameras and the human eye. In both cases (though worse with the camera) we can see a large range of light levels, just not at the same time! To get an image bright enough to see detail in the shadows, we must also ‘blow out’ detail where it’s bright.

I ended up with lots of detail in bright and dark spots, but in nine separate images. Enter Photoshop. It is programmed to combine those images, preserving the most detail from each. There are other standalone programs (including Luminance (free) and Photomatix, the standard for this kind of work) which will do the same job.

The technique is called HDR for high dynamic range. When done judiciously the result is pleasing and looks more like reality than any single photo. When done poorly it looks like Elvis painted on velvet!

The images were shot with a Canon 7d DSLR using a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens wide open. ISO was set to 100.

Many thanks to the development team at Magic Lantern who have produced ‘firmware’ for my camera to allow it to do things it was never designed to do! The process for getting the nine separate photos, all with different shutter speeds, was automated by Magic Lantern which is free! HDR automation is just one tiny feature of Magic Lantern.

More pics to come.

Now That The Bomber’s Been Caught

The second Boston Patriots’ Day bomber has been captured. People are standing in the streets of Watertown, MA wildly applauding any and every uniformed officer–and there are plenty. Applause is in order. Cops and other first responders show bravery and courage well beyond anything I could muster. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Here’s what […]

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Bad Night For Reddit

I didn’t get to bed until 5:00 AM. Most of the night was spent watching screens. WCVB’s streaming video was full screen on one computer monitor. A second screen scoured text based sites like Boston.com, NYTimes.com, Twitter.com and Reddit.com. A TV across the way grazed between MSNBC, CNN and Fox. Reddit was particularly interesting because […]

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This Is When Live TV Is Most Exciting

I missed being in a newsroom the past few days. Understand, I would have been the least important person there. On days like this it is exciting to “watch the sausage get made.” News shows are usually live, but heavily scripted (except weather). Even camera shots and sequences are repeated regularly. Not for the past […]

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Back To New Haven

When I worked on Elm Street I was in New Haven every day. Now my trips have a purpose. Today it was lunch with my friend Josh, formerly a publisher, now a do-gooder for the United Way. We found a parking spot right in front of Prime-16 where we had lunch (Lamb burger with feta […]

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Finally, Permission To Post The Picture

You probably recognize Whoopi. Next to her is my reclusive friend from the Valley. I’ve known this guy since we were both 19. How could I not think it’s a cool picture? He and she are together because they were working together. My friend (whose name will be on the credits–not here) is the executive […]

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