Garstor's World, My realm of 3D art, LEGO and atheism

Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

A Prestigious Anniversary!

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Although today is my birthday, that is not the anniversary that I refer to.

Twenty years ago, I was laying in bed in my downtown Hamilton bachelor pad. The phone rang and I fully-expected it to be my mother wishing me a happy birthday. But it was not.

“This is Mohawk College Admissions. Are you still interested in the Software Engineering course?”

After getting fired from Proctor & Gamble (long story…), I signed up for college in spite of believing that I could not handle any post-secondary education. It had been an act of desperation. I have loved computers since the days of the Commodore-64 – I still remember the family trip to Maryland, to meet mom’s extended-family and dad buying our C-64 at Toys R Us (they had not expanded to Canada yet, the idea of an entire store just for toys blew my mind).

There was a waiting list for the 3-year Software Engineering program. So I assumed that I would have to return to a temporary employment agency for work.

YES!! I’ll be right there!”

With that, I was awake, showered and out the door to catch the bus up to Mohawk’s Fennell Campus to register. Although I would need to depend the student loan program – Socialism for the win – this would be one of those life-changing days.

It wasn’t smooth sailing by any means. The biggest challenge was the dot-com bust that happened immediately after I graduated. That made getting a starting job a real challenge.

But I had fallen in love with databases and after that bumpy start, I eventually got employed by Microsoft to support SQL Server. It has been an interesting ride ever since. I lived in Texas for 8 years. Bought and sold a house. Made many new, incredible friends. Have started traveling globally.

All because of that birthday-morning phone call…

Light Modifiers For The Lume Cubes

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

I should have written this yesterday. However, I visited my grandmother in Dundas and that ended up being very draining. Once I got home, I could barely deal with Facebook.

On Friday afternoon I zipped over to Henry’s to order some light modifiers for the Lume Cubes. I first bought the cubes, the store did not have any modifiers. Fortunately, this time they did! No waiting!

I picked up the Light-House cage housing. A Lume Cube fits inside this device and the light modifiers can be attached to it magnetically. It came with diffusion filters but I also bought the diffusion bulbs and the honeycomb filters. To top everything off, I added in a small tripod-like device with adjustable grip legs.

With that done, I’m adding in the latest Sevenstyles Photoshop Actions this afternoon. Lastly, I’ll pickup some of the bundles of HDR skies from HDR Maps.

Why throw around all this money? Well, it’s not that much really…but it is also my birthday gifts to myself!

Since this is a long-weekend, it is time to get back to some 3D modeling.

Finally Calibrated The Monitors – I Think…

Sunday, August 27th, 2017

Many months ago, I bought the Datacolor Spyder 5 Elite to calibrate my monitors.

When I examined the ASUS monitors on my 3D machine though, the controls to adjust brightness and contrast were greyed out. I could not use the Spyder to test them. I searched for but could not find the manual for them either.

So the Spyder tool sat useless on my desk for months. Annoyed I was certain that I had wasted several hundred dollars.

But a few nights ago – I cannot say why – I played with the monitor controls. Somehow I re-enabled the settings control! Last night I calibrated the first monitor.

I didn’t know what to expect though. The tool and application are fairly straightforward. Once all was said and done, the app saved a file to C:\Windows\System32\drivers\color. The monitor was about 80% within the sRGB colour space.

The second monitor was calibrated this morning and I got it to 98% of the sRGB space. That encouraged me to move on to the Samsung monitor that is connected to my laptop. This is where most of my email, web surfing and blogging happens.

Things went off the rails this time. Baring teeth smile

During the calibration, I was asked to set the brightness to maximum. Later on, I was asked to adjust until I was in range of a target candle power – 120 cd/m2. The monitor was measured at 112 cd\m2 but I could not make it brighter than maximum brightness! Confused smile

Is the software or Spyder defective? Is it that I have a cheap monitor? Whatever the result, this monitor now has a gross colour cast to it. I hope I can get it reset to where it was before – even if that is wrong, it would be better than this.

The exploration continues…

Flickr Versus…

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

I have been using Flickr Pro for over 10 years. Generally speaking, I really like it and the few quirkier bits of the service, I have either became used to or ignored completely. All in all, I am happy with it.

As my interest in photography grows, I would like to get more critical feedback from other photographers. This is where Flickr seems to be falling down for me. Aside from the family and friends that I share links with, I don’t think my images are getting many eyeballs on them. In order to write a comment, one must also have a Flickr/Yahoo account.

The best thing going for Flickr is the cost. It is only about $20 USD per year to get Pro access.

As a member of KelbyOne, I was able to get a discount on Pro access for 500px. Even with the discount, this came to $81 USD. While that won’t put me on the street corner begging for change, it certainly is a steep difference. I am willing to spend a bit more coin if it boosts my exposure to more viewers.

So now I need to explore what 500px offers. I’ll likely use both Flickr and 500px together; maybe one will win out over the other?

Adobe offers Behance as part of their Creative Cloud services. I am still trying to wrap my head around this service. Since I have a Creative Cloud membership, I will definitely explore what it offers.

I will have to write another blog post once I have a good idea of how these three services compare. So stay tuned!

Dad And Delys Are Visiting!

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

It has been about seven years since I’ve seen my dad and his awesome wife, Delys.

Dad and DelysDue to health issues, this is very likely dad’s last trip back to North America. Fortunately, I am planning a trip back Down Under for 2018.

They are primarily here since dad’s mom is already 100 years old. I try to visit my grandmother on weekends when I am not working.

I took two photos of them on my balcony. These are in my Family Photos Flickr album. I played around with the Topaz tools and came up with some painterly versions of the images. I put those into my Photoshop album (along with a painted version of Mimico Creek).

Dad and Delys will be in Ontario until the end of August. So I will have the chance for more photos of them.

More LEGO Architecture

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

imageBack in the middle of May, I posted about my newest Lego Architecture sets. The Louvre Museum was one of those and I still have not built it yet!

I have now added the Sydney and London skylines to my collection. I love how these skyline sets captures the essence of each world famous city.

I only lack the Chicago skyline set now.

I’ll acquire the Buckingham Palace and U.S. Capitol sets in the near future too. First, I need to get these three sets built and on display somewhere.

Dundas Street West Photowalk

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Last week I managed to spend a few hours in the neighbourhood with my new 50mm f/1.8 prime lens attached to the camera. But I screwed up!

Sadly, my brain became locked on the idea that the lens would always be at f/1.8. I have no idea how that notion formed in my brain. So all the photos that I took were at about f/22 and had the deep field depth it produces.

I put the worthy photos into my Toronto, Ontario Flickr album. Here are some of the better shots.

2017-06-25 Photowalk

This footbridge crosses Mimico Creek. I had my first photowalk with the 80D here after some excessive rain. So this time the water levels were much closer to their normal levels.

Timer Priority Test

I have long wanted to try some longer exposure photos with running water. This one came out alright considering that it was darn close to being hand-held. In the large version you can see that the rocks are not tack-sharp. Next time I will use the tripod and the cable-release.

Dundas Street West

I walked down Dundas Street West almost all the way to Royal York before turning around. This shot was a fast, hand-held shot while the street was uncharacteristically void of cars. I did edit out one car and a couple of compost bags by the nearby trees. This probably would look better with the shallower depth of field that the lens can produce.

Random Garden Along Dundas Street 02

This one was an off-the-hip shot of a small garden in front of a house that I was walking past. It was while looking at this photo afterward that I realized the f-stop had been set incorrectly.

As always, this is a learning experience.

New Lenses For The Camera

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

There was a serious combination of inspiration and envy on my part in The Netherlands. Zakhia and Dax had some amazing lenses for their cameras. As impressed as I am with the EOS 80D kit lens, these pieces of glass were jaw-dropping.

My new Canon lensesZakhia uses a Nikon and had a 70-300 mm telephoto. He was bringing objects at the end of a street into frame-filling glory. Similarly, Dax used a 70-200 mm on his Canon as well as a 50 mm Prime lens.

Once I got back home; I consulted with Dax on what lenses I should add to my camera bag. As you might expect, I essentially copied him. The EF 70-200 mm USM is really nice and I fully expect this to be the lens that stays on the camera body most often.

This lens was less expensive since I opted not to get image stabilization. That would have doubled the price.

At the recommendation of the clerk at Henry’s camera store, I also picked up the EF 50mm STM. This will make a great portrait lens since it has a shallow depth-of-field at f/1.8. Dax uses this to great effect with his street photography.

I’m still exploring the various types of photography to see where I want to focus (hahaha!!). I like the results of street photography but I can’t quite get over the voyeuristic aspects of it. I took a few pictures like that in Vondelpark but did not put them up on the Flickr album.

Hopefully the weather today is co-operative – there are thunderstorms forecast – and I can get outside to try these new toys out.

The Netherlands & End User Event 2017

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Two weeks ago – late in the evening – I left Toronto Pearson airport on an Airbus A330-300 for Amsterdam. This would be my first time visiting Europe.

Several months back, Dax Pandhi of Quadspinner had posted on Facebook that he would be giving a talk at End User Event 2017. I had not heard of EUE before and none of the other talks covered technologies that I use. But it was in The Netherlands! In a bar! How cool is that? I decided to make this my major vacation.

Flying overnight, we landed at Schiphol airport around noon on Tuesday. I made my to Utrecht via the excellent train system. EUE didn’t start until Thursday; but there was to be a Wednesday night pre-conference drink-up. It was raining on and off Tuesday afternoon; I walked to the hotel from Utrecht Centraal station. I nearly got lost – a portend of things to come – but managed to arrive damp and tired.

In spite of more drizzle and rain on Wednesday morning, I set out with my camera to explore Utrecht. My passport was stowed into one of the camera bag pouches for safe keeping…

The adventure begins! I got lost. In the rain. It was all in fun though and I eventually found the hotel again. That evening, I had a really nice dinner with Dax and Cynthia at the hotel restaurant. If you visit Utrecht, be sure to stop into Luden Restaurant & Brasserie for a meal and a few bottles of Bastaard. We became instant friends. Very cool.

On Thursday morning I registered for EUE and attended the first talk, followed immediately by Dax’s talk. Awesome stuff. Things were off to a great start!

This is where the sound of a record player needle scratching across your favourite vinyl album should play in your mind. Over lunch I realized something awful. My passport was gone.

not really a pouchThe zippered camera bag pouch was not a pouch. There was a second zipper along the bottom – this was actually meant as a way to secure the camera bag on an extended luggage handle. My passport had fallen out while I was exploring Utrecht.

I had a few things in my favour; I had made copies of the passport bio page and the hotel staff was super helpful. So much for attending the other EUE talks though!

I had to file a police report and got lost again while walking to the station. Me getting lost would become a recurring joke with my new EUE friends. With the police report in hand, I had to take the train to The Hague and deal with the Canadian consulate.

There was a ton of paperwork and they wanted four non-family contacts who had known me for at least three years. I also had to provide my ticket home to prove that this was an emergency. Since I only had my cellphone with me, I had come back on Friday to complete the forms and provide them with new passport photos. That wiped out attending the morning EUE talks.

Your whole life is an application errorWhen I returned to the pub where EUE was being held, it was just after the lunch meal. They had provided chocolate fortune cookies. Being a mite bit peckish, I ate one and looked at the fortune inside.

I wish I were making this up! “Your whole life is an application error.”

Indeed…

EUE wrapped up that evening. Dax and I “stole” the flags that had been flying outside of The Florin pub during the conference.

I spent Saturday in Utrecht, walking around with my new friends and taking a ton of pictures. Roman lives in Russia, Zakhia is in Lebanon, Barry lives in England, Daniel is in Germany – and all of us were immediate friends. United by the common threads of digital art and drinking beer. The perfect way to achieve peace on earth!

Amsterdam 05 - VondelparkOn Sunday I went to Amsterdam for the rest of my vacation. I had to wait several hours for my hotel room to be ready but Vondelpark was only a block away. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, so the park was packed with people. Lots of trees and walking/biking paths and large ponds.

Monday was the hop-on / hop-off city bus tour. I also visited Gassan Diamonds. I don’t really have decent photos from that – but it was interesting and I learned quite a bit about diamond cutting and polishing.

Tuesday was the canal boat tour in the morning. I was supposed to have a day trip to Bruges, Belgium on Wednesday but my temporary passport was ready – so I had to make a third trip to The Hague. The tour company swapped the Bruges trip with the Windmill / Volendam tour on Tuesday afternoon.

Windmill Tour 01If you visit The Netherlands, be sure to take the Windmill and Volendam tour. The windmills are fascinating and you tour a cheese factory and a bakery in Volendam.

It is a quaint and quiet town with a long fishing heritage. A new dyke has all but eliminated fishing as a livelihood; so they have had to re-make themselves for the 21st century.

You won’t want to miss out on the Amsterdam Icebar either. It is a small venue and a steady flow of patrons is kept flowing in and out of the place. It is themed on the Dutch explorer Willem Barents’ search for the Northwest Passage.

My Flickr album for this trip is located here. I will add more photos to it over the next few days.

Here is the official EUE photos on Facebook.

I strongly recommend visiting The Netherlands. They are a very friendly people. They love bicycles more than you can know. There is a vast history here and plenty of things to see and do.

I will have to return – probably for End User Event 2018. With my passport secured nine ways to Sunday this time.

Dearth

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Weeks have marched past without a post once more.

It has been crazy busy – and annoyingly frustrating – at work lately. The WannaCry emergency patching was brutal; even though it really did not require the DBA team, we were on-hand and gathering overtime pay.

Other work-related items have been equally draining.

But things are looking up! Tonight is the start of Imagine No Religion 7! It will be held near the Toronto airport, so I can take the bus to the event instead of flying to another city and staying at a hotel. The line-up of speakers is going to be awesome.

I have already heard Professors Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Lawrence Krauss speak at FFRF Conventions before. But it will be nice to see them again. Seth Andrews will be speaking, I hope to meet him and get another book signed. I am looking forward to hear an update on Gretta Vosper’s story too.

Ali Rizvi and Matt Dillahunty will be there too. There are many other speakers, so I am totally stoked for this weekend.

Monday night, I’m off for my first trip to Europe! I’ll be attending the End User Event in Utrecht. This was triggered by Dax Pandhi from Quadspinner speaking about his latest terrain tools work. So I turned this into a major holiday for me.

I’ll be spending a few days in Amsterdam. I’m really excited about the photographic opportunities.

Phew! Hopefully all this generates a lot more blog posts this month.