A Bit Of Radio Silence

I haven’t had much time to post this week.

Things are getting crazy at work as we prepare to enter the holiday shopping season – obviously an important time for payment processing. Before the annual freeze-period, we’re pushing to get updates in place.

I bought a huge 8 TB external USB drive. I’ve been very busy backing up all my assorted digital assets from the 3D machine and this laptop. That took several days to complete but I hope that future passes will complete much more quickly. I had to keep the 3D machine shutdown during this time since I ran out of power sockets to power everything!

New Lego Architecture sets are here! The new Solomon Guggenheim Museum and the Arc de Triomphe are still in their boxes. I’ll try to start working on one tomorrow.

Southern Ontario got it’s first real chill-snap of the winter this week. It will get colder of course but the first one is usually still a shock to the system.

Finally, I’ll be turning on the comments feature here after many years. The comment spam has not returned for weeks now. I’ll switch them off again if the spam returns though. Hopefully I can have some interaction with readers.

R.I.P. Gord Downie (1964 – 2017)

On Tuesday, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie succumbed to the terminal brain tumour that he was diagnosed with last year.

I’ve spent the rest of the week processing this and listening to The Hip constantly. Much of Canada is still mourning this collective loss. Downie’s music and poetry has a way of vibrating the Canadian nerve.

He will be missed deeply.

New Camera Bag

In a recent post, I mentioned a new Manfrotto camera bag.

Well that did not last long. I quickly realized during the High Park photo-walk that this bag would not suit my purposes. The way its zippers opened to access the gear made it prone to things falling out. Not a good scenario!

Fortunately, Henry’s let me exchange the bag for a different one. I bought a Cameron BP 350 AW. This should be much better – I can’t wait until I can take it out on another photo-walk.

U.S. Capitol Building Model Finished

US Capitol 2I completed the model on Friday night, ahead of an expected busy weekend.

But I’m only getting to writing this now.

In spite of its size, it was a fairly simple model to build. The symmetric nature of the structure leant itself to fast building. The slowest aspect to the build was the large number of 1×1 flat pieces making up the surrounding property and parts of the walls.

The central dome can be removed. Beneath it is a nice representation of the National Statuary Hall. That’s a nice touch of detail I think.

I’ll have to buy the remaining two Lego Architecture sets soon.

Photowalk October 14, 2017 – High Park

imageYesterday was a drizzly, foggy day with a heavy cloud cover over the city. But I was determined to have another photo-walk and I have long wanted to go to High Park.

So that’s what I did.

The Lambton bus route stops outside my apartment and goes to High Park Station. Very convenient! I packed up my tripod and gear (in my new Manfrotto camera bag) and set out into the misty weather.

High Park is certainly no Central Park; but it is big enough that you can get away from the sounds of the city. I stayed along the western edge of the park – the Wendigo Creek and Grenadier Pond that it feeds. So I have plenty more exploring of this place to do in the future.

I added these photos to my Toronto, Ontario Flickr album.

Please be aware that Flickr sorts album photos in ascending chronological order. You will have to scroll down to see the photos starting with “Waterfall 3.” Lack of photo order is one of the mild annoyances with Flickr.

Crosby 2I think this photo is one of my favourites. I met Crosby and her owner just after arriving at the park at Bloor and Quebec streets.

Although I am not a dog fan, Crosby was a beautiful and energetic beast who loved chasing her orange ball (or gnawing on a fallen tree branch). She is a 3-year old chocolate lab and is very friendly.

I spoke with her owner for a little while and he gave me permission to take some photos. Unfortunately, most of the shots of Crosby running with her ball did not turn out. I must have missed a setting and did not get an adequate shutter speed.

Next visit, I will go to Keele subway station and enter the park from the northeastern corner.

A Health Update

On Tuesday I had a consultation with a gastroenterologist. I have long suffered from acid reflux; there are times at night when I am trying to sleep that it becomes intolerable.

I used to eat Tums or Rolaids like candy. Although there is an over-the-counter antacid that usually relieves all the effects, I would prefer to understand and fix the root-cause. Unsurprisingly, the top item on the doctor’s list was to lose weight.

I’ve definitely packed on the pounds again after stopping the regular workouts I was doing in Texas. Once Josh had left Gold’s Gym, they had no quality trainers. After returning to Canada – I just didn’t go anywhere. Nor have I ridden my bicycle even once.

There is a Goodlife Fitness gym in the building where I work and I am signed up there. But it is hard to describe how I feel about it – it just doesn’t feel like a place that I want to work out at.

Life is hardly worth living after reading the lifestyle changes items from the doctor:

  • No chocolate
  • No peppermint
  • No alcohol
  • No caffeine
  • Nothing acidic (tomatoes, citrus juices)
  • Nothing spicy
  • Decreased fat
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Elevate head of bed about 6 inches
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking

Smoking is easy to stop when I already don’t do it. I’m not super-big on chocolate or peppermint either. I don’t drink a lot of booze; but I certainly don’t mind the occasional tipple.

Caffeine! Cruel fate! Why must thou mock me?

As it turns out, I had run out coffee last weekend. So I have not bought a new tin. I have broken down and bought the occasional beverage at Tim Horton’s.

There are no two ways to slice it. I really need to change-up my diet and exercise more with the goal of losing weight in mind.

The Spam Battle–Part Two

It has been five days since I deleted the post that seemed to be attracting all the spam comments. So far, no new spam has arrived.

If things stay clear for a few more days, I will try to turn on commenting again.

The curious part of my brain now wants to know why that particular post was the “hole” by which the spammers could crawl in…

The Spam Battle

I have been posting to this blog for several years now. Almost immediately, I turned off the commenting option. I had a few comments from friends and family (notably my now ex-cousin-in-law…if that is such a thing) – I don’t know if I have regular readers and I do want to engage with them if they are out there.

But for the spam…

It is the bane of the internet. We’ll never be free of it.

imageUnfortunately, turning off the comments did nothing to stop the spam – it just hides it. On the WordPress Administrator site, my comments section is still plugged up with garbage that I have to manually delete.

There are only seven spams as I write this post because I recently deleted everything. But they trickle-in at a steady rate of a few every day.

What I noticed is that they are all attached to the same blog post. It has been about 2000 pieces of spam now. All on one post. I had written this post back on June 14, 2015 to explain one of my frequent absences from posting. The previous post was on May 24th about the gradual recovery from the flooding in North Texas.

I have decided to see what will happen to the spamming when I delete the June 14th excusing post. Deleting this post won’t change the story of my life as documented. My guess is, the spam gets tied to a new post – and probably one that I care about and won’t want to delete.

We’ll see.

If there is a way to stop comment spam entirely, I’d love to learn it. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to learn the intricacies of WordPress on my own.

A Visit To Grove Cemetery

Yesterday I paid another visit to my grandmother. She was in wonderfully high spirits – I love visits like that. My mother was able to come along with me.

After we took grandma down to the nursing home cafeteria for her lunch, we travelled over to a tea room in downtown Dundas. Mom had planned to meet a friend of hers there. After a few cups of Earl Grey, I excused myself. Grandpa's Grave SiteI wandered over to Dundas Driving Park – I used to play there as a little kid when we lived at grandma’s place. A small bluff separates the park from Grove Cemetery; so I set out to find my grandfather’s final resting place.

It has been about 30 years since I visited here. Yet my memory did not fail me and I quickly found his plot. My heart sank a little when I saw how unkempt it was.

I managed some impromptu trimming and sweeping with my hands, but I wish that I had brought proper tools. I will do that next time.

I never met grandpa. He died while my family was still living in Australia.

As you can tell, my grandfather – among other things – was an actor. We Garstins have a respectable lineage there. My great-great-great uncle Lionel Belmore played the town burgomaster in the movie Frankenstein with Boris Karloff.

Grandpa was a founding member of Dundas Little Theatre. Their performance stage is named in his honour.

Grove Cemetery BenchTo my shame, I have never seen one of their productions. So I intend to remedy that in the near future.

An odd melancholy had settled over me. Even though I had my camera with me (only the 50mm Prime lens though), I found myself hesitant to take many photos.

This bench could not be passed up though. Just like the half-submerged picnic table at Devil’s Lake State Park, I knew that this would make a great black & white image.

It won’t be another three decades before I return here.

Wisconsin–September 2017 Flickr Album

I have uploaded the first 48 images to my Wisconsin – September 2017 Flickr album.

It is likely that I may upload a few more photos over the next few days. I took over 360 photos; so even after removing the wheat from the chaff I still have plenty more material to work with.

Betty Lou Boat Tour 03Just about every single image went through adjustments with Topaz Labs Adjust and/or Detail. I hope that I didn’t go over the top with the post-processing though.

I arrived in Madison on Wednesday morning. My friends Dan and Kevin were already in town, so we started wandering. I was able to spend nearly two days with them before the 40th National FFRF Convention got underway.

Madison is a cool city. There is so much to see and do there for its size. Spending more time on the UW campus and at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens would have been nice. I expect to be back there in 2019 for the 42nd National Convention; so I will aim to make time then.

Wisconsin Dells 02If you have never been to Wisconsin before, I very strongly recommend the Wisconsin Dells river tour! It is so uplifting to see and to know that so many have worked hard to preserve the region (although not far away from the river there is a gob-smacking display of commercialism).

This photo is one of my favourites from The Dells. The rock outcroppings are one of the narrowest parts of the river and surprisingly also one of the deepest.

I definitely wish that I had been able to bring my tripod along. So many photos could have turned out even better that way. The tour guides do keep each group moving fairly quickly; so unfortunately one cannot spend hours ashore taking photos of this jaw-droppingly beautiful part of Wisconsin.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens 13I will close out with the Thai Temple at Olbrich Botanical Gardens. This amazing structure is gilt with gold leaf and was built without using any nails.

Madison, Wisconsin Trip & The 40th National FFRF Convention

As previously noted, last week I was back in Madison, Wisconsin for FFRF’s 40th National Convention. I arrived two days early so that I could spend some time with my friends Dan and Kevin.

Kevin is a Wisconsinite through and through. He suggested that we visit Devil’s Lake State Park, the Wisconsin Dells (Kevin made a 3D model inspired by The Dells) and the Botanical Gardens. All three were excellent choices and my only regret is that I did not have more time to spend with my friends exploring them.

Part of the Convention included the Betty Lou Boat Tours of Lake Mendota or Lake Monona. So I took a lot of photos. Quite possibly more photos that I have ever taken before. I am still sorting the wheat from the chaff and editing the RAW files for upload to Flickr. I will try to get that album created this weekend.

I am happy to report that the FFRF membership has seen a considerable spike upward this year. This is almost certainly caused by the election of Donald Trump. The White Evangelical segment continues to support this dumpster-fire of an administration because they have been promised arch-conservative judges being nominated to the bench. The obvious goal is to further restrict abortion and LGBTQ rights. This is a match made in hell if ever there was one.

At least people are pushing back against this. As the columnist Dan Savage likes to say, “Impeach the motherfucker already!”

Of course, the FFRF National Convention was also excellent. I practically gush about it every year since it feels so good to be surrounded by like-minded persons.

There was a solid line-up of speakers this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. Steven Pinker, Katha Pollitt, Maryam Namazie, young Kelly Helton (only 12 years old and already a firebrand for reason!) and Michelle Goldberg.

I kept myself on a leash this year and only bought one new t-shirt and one book – Katha Pollitt’s Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

A Prestigious Anniversary!

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

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…

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…

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!

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.