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

Wisconsin–September 2017 Flickr Album

Posted on Sunday, September 24th, 2017 at 11:08 AM in Personal, Photoshop, Travel by Garstor

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.

Re-reading A Song Of Ice & Fire

Posted on Friday, September 22nd, 2017 at 6:59 PM in Books by Garstor

Since the next HBO season for Game Of Thrones might not air until 2019, I decided to re-read the books. Heck, maybe I’ll get lottery-win-lucky and George R. R. Martin will publish The Winds Of Winter in the mean time…

So I am digging back into A Game Of Thrones. I’m only about 87 pages in so far. Yet I am already struck by the number of differences between the books and the show. The biggest one that hit me was this:

Robert’s queen, Cersei Lannister, entered on foot with her younger children. The wheelhouse in which they had ridden, a huge double-decked carriage of oiled oak and gilded metal pulled by forty heavy draft horses, was too wide to pass through the castle gate.

The royal entourage on the show was impressive; but it did not have anything like that!

A Wiki Of Ice And Fire is an excellent resource for fans. In particular, the Chapter Summaries feature is wonderful.

Naturally, in my mind’s eye as I immerse myself in Westeros, I am seeing the actors from the show. Sean Bean is Eddard Stark to me. I just cannot see it any other way; but I don’t think that is a bad thing. I’m curious to see if I can build a vision from the books that replaces something on the show.

Madison, Wisconsin Trip & The 40th National FFRF Convention

Posted on Thursday, September 21st, 2017 at 3:50 PM in Atheism, Personal, Politics, Religion by Garstor

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.

Buckingham Palace Model Finished

Posted on Monday, September 11th, 2017 at 6:08 AM in Lego by Garstor

Buckingham Palace Model #1Yesterday, I finished up the remaining work on the Buckingham Palace Lego model.

As is my custom, I took a few photographs of the completed model and experimented a little bit with the lighting and lenses. The first photo was face-on and I used both Lume Cubes here.

I balanced a diffusion bulb modifier against a Lume Cube off to the photo’s right side. I only have a single mounting bracket for the Cubes, I’ll have to remedy that oversight. The second Cube used the mounting bracket to hold the hexagon grid and a flat diffusion modifier. That was probably redundant on my part, but that is what experimentation is for.

I used the kit lens, so I could only get f/5.6 focal depth. Aperture priority mode caused for a rather high ISO. Because of that, I had to use Topaz Labs De-noise to clean up the image noise.

Buckingham Palace Model #3I switched to the 50mm prime so that I could get a shallower focal depth and moved the camera higher. I specifically reduced the ISO value so that it would not be noisy.

There was only one Lume Cube plus the ambient room light illuminating this shot. I used Topaz Labs Lens Effects to create a heavy vignette.

My friend Cris suggested using card stock to create backdrops for these photos. That’s a good idea and one worth exploring. If nothing else, I could use them as mattes and do things like sky replacement in Photoshop.

Next up in my collection is the U.S. Capitol Building model. That will take quite a long time to build I expect; it appears to be nearly as large as the Robie House model.

I still need to buy the re-designed Guggenheim Museum and the new Arc De Triomphe models. I will probably end up getting those and finishing them before the Capitol.

40th FFRF National Convention Next Week

Posted on Sunday, September 10th, 2017 at 6:23 AM in Atheism by Garstor

Yesterday, I took Debug into Hamilton with me so that I could leave her at my mother’s place. Of course, I miss her already – but on Wednesday morning I am flying out to Madison, Wisconsin.

This will be my third visit to Mad-Town. It is a beautiful place. Friday is the start of the FFRF’s 40th National Convention. FFRF alternates the Convention between Madison and east coast / west coast locations. Last year was Pittsburgh and next year will be San Francisco.

I’ll have a day-and-a-half to hang out with Dan and Kevin first. Two brothers-in-3D and all-around cool cats. We met digitally in the Daz-3D forums and then met up in the real world when I first came to Madison. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

imagePart of the Convention warm-up is a boat tour of the two lakes that frame the city of Madison.

Hopefully my photography skills have improved enough that I will be able to capture to some great views.

I am looking forward to seeing Holly and Mitch again. Mitch was honoured with the Freethinker Of The Year award at the Hartford Convention for their activism work in Honolulu. Holly is super-friendly and started talking to me and we hit it off immediately.

Mitch helped keep me sane regarding American politics – this was during the rise of Sarah Palin. He told me that generally speaking, Americans make the right choice on election day regardless of the lunacy of the candidacy lead-up. Clearly he needs to revise that view now! Smile with tongue out

A Prestigious Anniversary!

Posted on Friday, September 8th, 2017 at 6:38 AM in Personal by Garstor

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

Posted on Sunday, September 3rd, 2017 at 11:53 AM in Personal, Photoshop by Garstor

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.

New YouTube Video – Creating Roof Beams

Posted on Thursday, August 31st, 2017 at 7:31 AM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

It has been a month since I posted about 3D modeling.

The Turin bell tower model has been progressing rather nicely these past few weeks. I used the LWCad Shingles tool for the first time to excellent effect. My photo references for the roof structure are weak though so I am winging most of this part of the model. I couldn’t have the roof floating in the air though; so I begin working on support beams for the underside.

imageThe support beams were fairly easy at first and I was rather proud of how they were turning out. Then I hit a snag.

Fortunately, a member of the LightWiki group on Facebook pointed out an easier way. LWCad provides for some really intriguing options.

The tip worked beautifully! It is a huge time-saving technique. So I made a miniature tutorial to demonstrate how to use LWCad to creating the support beams for a roof.

One point that I forgot to mention in the video is that Modo – and presumably other high-end 3D modelers – have features like LWCad’s UCS baked in.

We LightWavers are still waiting for the next version to be released. It is looking bleak though and the embittered come out in force whenever the topic is raised. I’ve seen this pattern of behaviour with the DAZ-3D treatment of Carrara.

I hope LightWave does not suffer the same fate! But that would be a different blog post.

Game Of Thrones Season 7 Episode 7

Posted on Monday, August 28th, 2017 at 2:33 PM in Entertainment by Garstor

Whelp, my memory failed me again. I thought there were eight episodes for this season. Even though last night weighed in at a record-setting 82 minutes, I still feel unsatisfied! I need more GOT!

But this is all I am going to get for at least a year. I heard Season 8 might not even air until 2019! Surprised smile

The writers have definitely trimmed some of the loose threads this season. As befits the penultimate season, we were left with a doozy of a cliffhanger too.

I’ll have to settle in and wait for the Blu-ray release now.

Finally Calibrated The Monitors – I Think…

Posted on Sunday, August 27th, 2017 at 2:58 PM in Personal by Garstor

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…

Re-Designed Burj Khalifa Model Finished

Posted on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 at 5:44 AM in Lego by Garstor

Both Burj Khalifa Lego ModelsLast night I finished building the re-designed Burj Khalifa Lego model. Even before starting the build process, I knew that my photo would have to be both models side-by-side.

The original Burj Khalifa primarily used the 1×1 cylinder pieces. It was released in June 2011 and captured the essence of the building. This essence or artistic impression is what draws me into the Lego Architecture series. The first designer in this series – Adam Reed Tucker – calls himself an artist. Lego is simply his medium.

I had mixed feelings when I saw that Lego had re-designed Burj Khalifa. They also re-designed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum model. In both cases, the models are bigger and more detailed than the original release. I felt like this was taking away from the artistic impression of the series.

Having built this model, my misgivings have vanished. I love both models for what they are.

A note about this picture. This marks my first use of my Lume Cubes to light the scene. The light is brighter and whiter than when I depended on my two, weak, apartment lights. Also, the Lume Cube is a tough sucker!

I had the camera setup with the cable-release. I switched on the Lume Cube and was holding it in a position that I liked… When it slipped from my fingers and tumbled about five feet to the floor. A naughty word escaped my lips. The impact sound made reminded me of glass cracking.

The Lume Cube stayed illuminated. I don’t see any obvious damage to it at all. Phew!

Game Of Thrones Season 5 Episode 6

Posted on Monday, August 21st, 2017 at 5:55 AM in Entertainment by Garstor

Holy FUCK!

My friend Dan and I both had that reaction and emailed each other as much after last night’s show.

The compressed season definitely has a forced feel to a lot of events; but I am still enjoying Game Of Thrones as much as ever. There are only two episodes left for this season. This makes me wonder how the show will leave us with a cliff-hanger.

I won’t say anything further because that is not this blog’s primary purpose. There are other great resources out there for anyone who wants to dig deeper and/or get spoilers.

But…holy FUCK!

Flickr Versus…

Posted on Sunday, August 20th, 2017 at 8:40 AM in Personal, Photoshop by Garstor

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!

New Toys!

Posted on Thursday, August 17th, 2017 at 7:34 PM in Lego, Photoshop by Garstor

I’ve been on quite the Lego kick lately. After finishing the Chicago Skyline model I only waited a few days to buy the re-designed Burj Khalifa model and the Buckingham Palace model.

I have the first Burj Khalifa model. It is rather tiny and uses the 1×1 cylinder pieces primarily. It captures the essence of the structure – which is what I love about the Lego Architecture series. This new model is the tallest Lego Architecture and uses pieces that more accurately reflect the look of the real building.

After work today, I rushed over to Henry’s to see if they had any Lume Cubes. They had the lights but none of the accessories. So I bought a two-pack – they are charging up now.

I’ll have to get a proper hot-shoe flash kit for the camera eventually. I hope these Lume Cubes tide me over in the mean time and let me get a little more creative with lighting.

Chicago Skyline Model Finished

Posted on Thursday, August 10th, 2017 at 6:12 AM in Lego by Garstor

This marks the completion of all my Lego Architecture models. Some of my earlier models are still boxed away since I moved from Texas.

Chicago & NYC skylinesHere is the Chicago and New York City skyline models together. I cannot think of two more iconic American cities – indeed, these are the only two American cities in the skyline series.

The model showcases Big Red, the Willis Tower, the Wrigley Building and the John Hancock Tower. Also featured is the Cloud Gate (aka The Chicago Bean) and the Michigan Avenue bridge – I’ll guarantee that you have seen that bridge in movies.

I am not sure if Lego is going to release more skyline models. I hope that they do. Maybe they could re-create Toronto?

The newest Architecture model is the Arc De Triomphe. But I have older models to acquire first.

Photowalk August 7, 2017–Toronto Sunrise

Posted on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 at 6:05 PM in Photoshop by Garstor

After an extended – and stressfully busier than usual – on-call rotation; I was extremely grateful for yesterday being a provincial holiday. Yay socialism!

There was not much walking involved here. I woke up at 4:20am and caught the Islington bus to the end of the line at Lake Shore Boulevard. From there, I walked a few blocks to The Prince Of Wales park.

imageI doubt that there will be any details visible in the screen scrap to the left. The red arrow is pointing to Prince Of Wales park.

I found a decent spot that let me shoot across Humber Bay toward downtown Toronto. I reached the park at about 5:30am and quickly setup my tripod and cable release.

This photowalk was to be a series of firsts for me. This was the first serious use of the cable release – I know, that’s not very exciting. It was also my first attempt at capturing a sunrise and a decent cityscape. Even though the sun was not due to rise for another 45 minutes, I was surprised at how much light there was. The camera was still kicking up the ISO to 6400.

I took a lot of photos. Maybe it is just me, but it felt like the cable release made me want to take more pictures. In spite of that, only a few shots were really worth sharing out on Flickr since so many were near duplicates or me experimenting with settings.

First Photo Of The MorningThe very first photo turned out surprisingly well. More firsts for this photowalk is how much I used the Topaz Labs tools during my post-processing. Because of the high ISO noise, Topaz DeNoise was essential – I used it on every single photo. Topaz Clarity was also heavily used to sharpen details.

I really wanted to show off the pre-dawn pink in the sky and the city lights reflecting off the water. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the other edits that I made to this image.

One thing that I want to point out is the larger-than-life starburst to the left of the CN Tower. That is not enhanced – it came off the camera that way. It is the green “TD” light on the Toronto-Dominion bank building. The f/22 aperture created the starburst effect.

SeagullsThe last photo that I took once the sun was fully risen also turned out rather nicely. Straight off the camera; it was rather a meh shot of seagulls starting their day.

I used the Nik Collection Silver Efex on this photo to give it a grungy black & white pop. Topaz Labs also produce a black & white tool but I have not used it yet.

 

To the see the other photos – including the sunrise – please visit my Toronto, Ontario album on Flickr. The newer photos in an album are towards the bottom.

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