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

Photo Walk: Royal Botanical Gardens

Posted on Monday, May 16th, 2016 at 3:58 AM in Personal, Photoshop by Garstor

On late Saturday afternoon, my friend Gabriela drove us over to Hamilton’s Royal Botanical Gardens for another photo walk. It was cloudy – but not as bad as New York – and a bit chilly for mid-May. But it turned out to be totally amazing!

Macro shot of a dandelion puffI had never really tried my hand at nature photography before. It seems to be one of Gaby’s major passions and some of that rubbed off on me. Even with just a basic kit lens on my Pentax k-X, I was trying to get some macro shots of flowers. I took so many pictures that I very nearly filled the 8 GB SD card in the camera.

Based on the style and number of photos, I opted to create a new Flickr album just for The Royal Botanical Gardens. These just did not seem appropriate to add to the Hamilton album.

In addition to the trees and flowers, the animals were unbelievable. Gaby insists that I was good luck in bringing out such a variety. The chickadees and chipmunks are used to people feeding them, so they were particularly fearless. We also saw squirrels, a raccoon, muskrat, woodpecker, red-winged blackbirds, swans, ducks, Canada geese and probably more.

Laying down in the grass for a unique shot angleI really liked how this one turned out. Something about this part of the park made me lay down in the grass to shoot just over the top of the blades. There was lots of potential to play with focal depth here.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to think too much about it. My camera auto-focused on the grass so the trees in the background blurred beautifully.

May 14 2016 PhotoWalk - RBGI cannot end this post without showing the chickadees feeding from my hand. It was an assault really; so many of them were trying to land that I felt like O’Hare Airport. As soon as one flew off, another landed. I could have stayed like that for awhile and took hundreds of images. Apparently, they like sunflower seeds best of all – so next time, I will have to come more prepared.

I have other images that I did not upload to Flickr, so more shots will appear in the album. I will most definitely aim to return to the RGB in the future too; there is much more to see and capture in an image there.

This experience has made me want to seriously consider adding some lenses to my kit or maybe even upgrading the camera body entirely (the k-X came out in 2009). The style and technique of nature pictures is also quickly climbing on my list of interests.

New York, New York

Posted on Saturday, May 14th, 2016 at 1:30 PM in Personal, Travel by Garstor

The trip went well and I am very glad that I went. As expected the Hilton Grand Vacations was an extremely hard-sell that had to be resisted. But I am getting ahead of myself.

All of this began while I was still in Texas. Hilton Grand Vacations contacted me because I had stayed at one of their properties on a business trip. At first I had thought that their offer was an inexpensive stay at a newly-built property and they wanted to guests to evaluate it before an official opening. Since I had not been in the Big Apple since I was a teenager, I figured, “Why not?”

I had booked some time off of Avanade last year for this trip. But United Airlines fucked me over and cancelled the entire flight due to “crew availability.” This was just a few hours before my cab arrived to take me to the airport. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed-off about that.

Then came my Avanade resignation and moving back to Canada. More delays. This was a time-limited thing and also featured extra fees for cancellations. So I really wanted to go. I cut it to the wire with only one week remaining before the offer expired.

As it turns out, it was a timeshare program that they were trying to sell. I may do a separate post on that program just to get the word out about it.

My goals were simple. Since I only had two nights and two days, I wanted to visit the Empire State Building and Hayden Planetarium. Anything else would be nice extras. I landed at LaGuardia airport at about 11:00 AM last Monday and caught a cab over to Hilton’s West 57th Street Club.

A word about New York City cabs. Use them! First and foremost, you do not want to face New York City traffic. I am a proud atheist, but the traffic here nearly got me praying again! Treat your cab ride as part of the Big Apple experience, you won’t regret it. Second, they are surprisingly reasonably priced!

Empire State Building from West 34th and 5th AvenueGiven my experience in Dallas, I expected to pay upwards of $100 to get from LaGuardia to West 57th and 6th Streets. I paid $40 and that included a tip for the driver. To get from West 57th to West 34th to visit the Empire State Building, was only $9 before a tip!

The ESB was my first stop after dropping off my stuff in the room. It was the primary reason for my visit. My family spent a couple of days in NYC when I was 14 or 15; we visited the 86th Observation Deck but did not have the time or money to visit the 102nd Observation Deck. That was going to be rectified on this trip!

Empire State Building looking southMy Flickr album for this trip shows that the weather was not willing to co-operate unfortunately. It remained cloudy and drizzled rain every day. Bummer; but a good excuse to return one day!

In the photo to the right, you can just barely see the Statue Of Liberty (center-right of image) through the mist. The new One World Trade Center spire stabs through the clouds, completely obscured.

One very strong recommendation about the Empire State Building tour; buy the tickets online pay the extra for express service. The tickets are good for a year and the express option is absolutely worth it.

I recommended using the taxi system above. But I also did a lot of walking because that is a great way to see any city. After taking the picture above of the ESB from the corner of West 34th and 5th Avenue, I decided to walk the 23 blocks back to the hotel.

That allowed me to pass by Rockefeller Center, the Central Branch of the New York Public Library (made famous in Ghostbusters), St. Patrick’s Cathedral (I took photos for 3D reference but did not put them on Flickr) and Trump Tower. Once I reached West 57th Street, I kept going north until I was in Central Park. Some of my favourite photos came from Central Park.

Times Square 1Aside from the weather, I only had one other minor disappointment. I ended up getting to the Hayden Planetarium and the American Museum Of Natural History late (after the 2 hours hard-sell timeshare presentation). The  complex closes at about 5:45 so I could not attend all of the programs. At least I saw the Neil deGrasse Tyson program Dark Universe.

More walking after the museum closed. I was wandering back to the hotel when I recognized the structures of Times Square several blocks away, so I kept walking. I wasn’t down there for very long, but I took a couple of pictures there.

Checkout time at the hotel was 10am, on Wednesday morning I debated trying to do some more sight-seeing or heading back to the airport. The weather being what it was, I opted for the airport. My original flight was not until 8pm, but I managed to arrange an earlier trip home.

Definitely worth a return visit. Just without the hardcore sales pitch!

Big Apple

Posted on Sunday, May 1st, 2016 at 9:44 AM in Personal, Travel by Garstor

Time for a short vacation!

This was triggered by a stay in Charlotte for Avanade. What appeared to be a routine customer satisfaction survey follow-up was actually a barely concealed recruitment drive for a time-share program with Hilton Grand Vacations. I get a couple of cheap nights in a (presumably) ritzy New York City hotel and in exchange I must attend a 2-hour propaganda-feeding for the time-shares. Naturally, I have no intention of getting into something like that but I haven’t seen NYC since I was about fifteen years old.

So, what the heck? I see a few sights and chillax. Just so long as I am careful to avoid getting legally-entangled in the time-shares.

I’ll post updates and pictures when I get back later this week.

Some Catch-Up And Mustard…

Posted on Sunday, April 24th, 2016 at 7:51 AM in Personal by Garstor

Well it has been nearly a month without a post. For awhile there I was making doing regular posts. Well work has been quite busy with a fair amount of things to do off-work hours from home. It has left me mentally fatigued in the evenings.

I have managed some activities in 3D and Photoshop. It would be awesome if I could share that work here but I am hoping that it will become a commercial product. So I will have to hold-off on that.

The 3D news that I can share is that I have upgraded to the newly released Substance Painter 2 (here is the YouTube release trailer for v2) and LWCad 5.1. It is absolutely stunning what can be created with these tools. I really hope to build my skills with them.

In technical and personal news, one of the drives in my ABEIR server died. It contained several of my virtual machines – including my most used GREENDRAGON, which was running SQL Server 2012. I was not performing proper backup practices and had been storing the backups for my key database on the same VHD as the VM. So I’ve lost quite a bit of work from many years. Bummer.

This isn’t really tragic, it won’t impact me financially or anything. It is just extremely annoying. But also educational – have a backup plan that actually protects the data.

I expect this coming week to be every bit as busy as last week. Hopefully I can managed another post before May rolls around.

Finished Reading “Did Jesus Exist”

Posted on Monday, March 28th, 2016 at 4:11 AM in Religion, Skepticism by Garstor

I guess it was appropriate that I finished the book on Easter! Open-mouthed smile I would have completed it sooner but I took it out of my laptop back to fit the Surface Pro and work laptop in there.

As I fully expected with Bart Ehrman’s writing, I enjoyed this book immensely. He presented a ton of useful information about the historical criterion for evaluating the likelihood of some past event. It is very difficult to argue against these points.

I was a little disappointed with the section on Josephus. The Antiquities Of The Jews has long been cited by believers as evidence for their stories. I remember the shock of reading (in Earl Dougherty’s book, The Jesus Puzzle and later in Robert Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son Of Man) that the paragraphs about Jesus are likely later insertions by Christians to beef up their claims. I think that they present a solid case for that claim.

Ehrman makes the opposite claim. To me this part of the discussion feels too much like a He-Said-She-Said argument. Ultimately, neither side will overcome the other. My only other choice is to become a first century historian and Josephus expert myself – something I have neither the time, money or sufficient interest in doing.

As mentioned, I will read some more of the mythicist side regarding Jesus’ existence. Richard Carrier and more Robert Price are likely. There will probably be a palate cleansing read in-between though. Winking smile

Ehrman’s newest writing concerns how Jesus has been transformed into God over the centuries. There is even a video lecture series about this. I’m very likely to buy this lecture and probably Ehrman’s book too.

Another Photo Walk: Albion Falls

Posted on Sunday, March 27th, 2016 at 5:59 PM in Personal, Photoshop by Garstor

The weather seems to be warming up – although this winter has been about as stable as Charles Manson… So I used this long weekend to take another photo walk around a Hamilton location. Today, I went up to Albion Falls.

I had a brief scare once I got there (it is near the end of the Upper Kenilworth bus route). I started taking pictures and saw my Pentax flashing at me, “No card in camera!” I swore harshly but then remembered I had space SD cards in my camera bag. Phew!

March 27 Photo Walk - Timer & Aperture mode blendOne of my goals for this walk was to photograph a waterfall with the Timer Mode. This keeps the aperture open and creates beautiful silky textures out of flowing water. However, you need a neutral density filter to pull that off. I don’t have one… But I do have Photoshop!

So my Timer Mode photo got blown out but I also took an Aperture Mode photo. Since I used my tripod, it was easy to blend the two pictures with Photoshop. I managed to get some of the silky texture in the water while keeping the rest of the image tack sharp.

All in all, I took 77 photos but only a few were worth putting up on Flickr.

March 27 Photo Walk - Albion Falls 2I should have worn hiking shoes and climbed down into the gorge. I’ll do that next time!

I felt that some of the photos would look good with the Brad Goble’s Photoshop Actions. So I used the Watercolor Action on the photo to the right. That turned out surprisingly well and I only made a few minor tweaks to it.

Mountain Brow Boulevard crosses Albion Bridge just above the falls. On the other side of the road, I took a few photos at low angles of Red Hill Creek before it plummets over the Niagara Escarpment.

One of those photos got the Brad Goble Hand-Drawn Action applied to it. Pretty good there too I think!

Further Terrain Tweaks

Posted on Friday, March 25th, 2016 at 3:26 PM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

Terrain test 3It seems that I am spending my commute time during the week thinking about what I can work on in 3D over the weekend. To that end, I am grateful for the three-day weekend.

As mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to add an HDR background so that I could have realistic sky and clouds. That is exactly what I did here – I used LightWave’s Image World feature to display this HDR.

Unfortunately, it is a rather low resolution HDR. It was a free sample from some site that I have long-since forgotten. I should put together a collection of better quality HDR skies; even if it means paying for a few images.

I also tweaked the water texture since it was really bugging me. While still not great, this version makes big strides forward. I used the Fast Fresnel shader so it started reflecting the terrain and sky. I couldn’t get the ripples / wave displacement but there is enough there to distort the reflections.

I may try another terrain creation and another photo-walk this weekend.

Improving The Terrain

Posted on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016 at 7:01 PM in Ray-Tracing by Garstor

terrain test 2A bit later on Sunday afternoon, I managed to get some of the original terrain texturing that I was seeing in Substance Painter. Inside LightWave Layout, I mixed the flow map from World Machine with texture map from Substance Painter.

That really added punch to the crevasses in the rock!

In the previous post, I mentioned adding a brownish coloured fill layer. The Substance Painter mask generator created a happy accident and added very nice strata layers throughout the rest of the terrain. I was very pleased with that!

Several people in the LightWavers Are Everywhere forum on Facebook provided positive feedback. I appreciated that. Mention was made of Andrew Comb’s compound node network that allows LightWave to use the Substance PBR maps. I will definitely have to get that installed and try it out.

I cannot post this without mentioning the terrible looking water plane here. I used a LightWave preset shader for water and did not try to tweak it. Obviously it takes quite a bit away from the scene rather than enhancing it. We’ll see if I cannot improve it.

I’d also like to try out an HDRI sky dome (or LightWave’s Image World) to get a realistic sky with clouds. Fortunately, this is a long weekend – so I’ll have some extra play time!