The Long Road Home

This weekend, I wandered down to Portland for a barbecue my friend Dan and his lovely fiance Moonrise were holding down there. This was a remarkably good idea on several levels, not the least of which that I’d completely forgotten that my friend Jen was in Portland for the week, and that I’d promised to head down and hang out, so a quick IM later, she swung by and we chatted for many hours. The actual trip down was notable primarily for the fact that I was pulled over. It’s complete bullshit, and I will be fighting it tooth and nail if I have to.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, getting pulled over happens, and I don’t begrudge a ticket if they catch me dead to rights. I’ve literally had a check in the mail within the hour before. But this… this is worthy of my rage. First of all, I was going 65 in a 60 — whups, yep, I was speeding, a whole 5 miles over. He claims I was going 75 in a 60, which I am completely positive in saying I was NOT doing (mostly because I was frustrated at the traffic not going faster, so I was abundantly aware of my speed). I’ve had cops try to over-charge me before, and generally I’ll even begrudge that, though I’ll certainly bitch about it. BUT, he decided to also slap a $1000 fine on top of it, for “failing to pull to the right for an emergency vehicle.” It was markedly unsafe to pull over to the right, and since there was a 15 foot wide breakdown lane on my immediate left (and I’ve been pulled over on the left side in Washington before without issue), I pulled over immediately, but to the left. I feel fairly confident that the only reason he gave me this extra fine was because I a) was with out-of-state plates, and b) disagreed with him regarding my speed. I WILL be contesting this.

But, that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing about the trip home. Given that it was Memorial Day, I sort of assumed that it was going to take me many hours to get home, regardless of the route I took, so I opted to take a scenic route (long duration due to going out of my way, not because of traffic). I split off eastward at exit 21, and took 503 out towards Cougar, heading through the national forest on the east side of Mt St Helens (I’d post pics, but I’m at Zoka, and left my card reader at the apartment). 503 at some point became 25, and passed through Packwood, and still I kept on going. The roads out there are long and winding, with unbelievable views and no traffic, but you need to be careful that you don’t slip off the road: there are often no guardrails and no shoulder, just a steep drop down a thousand plus foot embankment to water or trees below. There were some lovely lots for sale out near Yale Lake, in 5 acre and 20 acre allotments that would probably do well as a spot for a hermit’s cabin or camp.

Continuing onward and up through one of the passes, I saw a man walking up the road, with no backpack or anything, just a machete strapped to his leg. I hadn’t passed a camp or even a pullout for a few miles, so I found this odd… a quarter mile later, I saw another solitary man, without equipment other than a machete. It was another 5 miles before I saw a logging trail leading off into the hills, with a crudely drawn chalk arrow pointing that direction… I don’t know what was going on, probably nothing, but it sorta weirded me out. It was interesting to see snow in the pass, as well, and kind of reassuring, as well: I was glad to see snowbanks available rather than a straight shot down the precipice, considering I had already been passing several spots where the embankment under the road had eroded away, the pavement sinking into oblivion and an orange cone warning off drivers.

By then it was rolling up on 9pm, and finally starting to be truly dark. The moon was a welcome addition. Unfortunately, 9pm means a lot of the gas stations out in that area are already closed for the night, and I noted that it was highly unlikely I’d have enough gas to finish the trip. I started putting the car in neutral and riding the brake down the passes, just to save gas (I was seeing a car perhaps once every 30 minutes). Eeked it out until I found a gas station that was actually open around 11. I tried cutting through Mt Rainier National Park, but the passes there are still closed due to snow, so I had to cut back a bit and take 410 instead. Heading up over Chinook Pass was impressive, with WALLS of snow, 8 feet high, on either side of the road, though the road itself was clear and in good shape. Coasting down that switchback was completely crazy, but immensely fun and refreshing (considering the night was stretching on, having something to refresh and excite you in your drive to keep you alert is a godsend… you will NOT fall asleep on these roads, there’s too much to pay attention to, all the time). Finally made it back into town a little before 2am, and then trundled off to bed.

Hell of a trip, great roads. It’d be nice to do it again with more of it in the daylight. Maybe once the passes in Rainier are actually open. (That reminds me, I need to renew my National Parks pass… hmm, it can wait a few paychecks, methinks.)

HDR Experiments

Monorail on 5th Last night, I spent a fair bit of time out and about — simply didn’t feel like going home, for a variety of reasons. I hung out at the coffee shop til they closed, and then took their recommendation on an all night diner, which was delightful, greasy, and good. Jabbered there for a bit, and then I ended up wandering down to downtown Seattle to finally get around to taking some shots for experimenting with High Dynamic Range photography.

For some quick background, let me fill in some details (CS2s “Merge to HDR” doesn’t retain exif data… which makes sense, since it’s a composite of multiple images, so which exif data do you keep?): it’s around 1:45am, on 5th Ave just north of Teatro Zinzanni. For those not aware, Seattle has an elevated monorail system that runs down the middle of 5th Avenue, connecting downtown with Seattle Center, which would be the pylons you’re seeing running down the middle of the street (and providing a handy protection from getting run over while standing in the middle of the street). This particular image is a set of 4 images composited together, each a 1/3 stop apart, with a roughly equal balance between over and under exposed. In hindsight, I wish I’d gone heavier on the under-exposed range, even a full stop apart, and opted for the “proper exposure” to act as my high end. As it was, I ended up dropping a fifth over exposed image from the composite, because I found it too “bright”. I was running at f/22, with an exposure time ranging from 13 to 30 seconds, and using my 17-40mm f/4.

Monorail on 5th The next set is a composite of around 7 images, of which I dropped two. I decided to play a bit with ghosting (go stand in frame for part of a long exposure). It’s also worth noting that this set had a few cars passing through the frame, which left those delightful light trails on the right side of the image. Again, I was running f/22 with the 17-40, and a range of 13 to 30 seconds per exposure. I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll keep the ghosting (I took two shots at the same exposure, one with ghosting, one without, so it’d be easy enough to alter it without affecting the rest of the composition).

It felt really good to be getting out and about with my camera in the night again. I don’t know why I find it so appealing, but I do. Maybe it’s the introvert in me. In either case, it was rolling past 2am, so I opted to pick up and move over to a different location, further into the city. I’ve been wanting to take some pictures of the Seattle Library for a while now, as it’s this awesome conglomeration of odd angles and glass, right in the heart of downtown Seattle. (How they managed to get the city planners to approve it, I dunno, but I’m very glad they did!) Another nice aspect of doing night photography in the city is that parking is a breeze. No traffic, no passersby, plenty of spots to just kinda pull over and fiddle with things or ponder grabbing the camera. In both of these cases, I was able to park no more than 50 feet from where I took the shots.

Downtown Seattle Library This first shot is a composite of 6 or so shots, and once again I found myself dropping the higher exposures, ending up with a 4 image composite. Not that you can tell, to be honest — in the case of the Seattle Library shots, frankly I’m not gaining much of anything from the HDR process. The building is already relatively well lit, so I’m not filling detail into shadows or highlights, nor pulling much of anything in the way of a higher saturation of color (even with the heavily orange light of the streetlights). But, I still like the shots, and so I’m sharing them anyway. (This is definitely a picture-heavy post.) Again, f/22, speeds ranging from 15 to 30 seconds, with the 17-40mm. (I should also mention: Canon 5D, running RAW.)

Downtown Seattle Library This second shot is similar to the first, though from a slightly different angle that was apparently enough to alter the metering markedly, to the point that I ended up dropping down to f/16 just so I could avoid using the Bulb function, keeping my max exposure length at 30 seconds. Other than that, it’s largely unchanged… half a dozen shots, once again dropping the higher exposures (something to know for the future for the shots I like to take), taken with the Canon 17-40mm f/4. It’s such a neat building! I’d love to get in there at night sometime, to be able to photograph the interior (also trippy and fun) without pesky people all over the place. Anyone have thoughts on who to talk to about that?

Downtown Seattle Library Alright, this is the last set (I’m calling it a set despite being a single image because it’s a composite, if that makes any sense). I decided to try a different angle, and really ended up enjoying how this came out. It’s notable that you actually can see into the windows of the building across the street better than you could that night (THAT would be a benefit of the hdr merging), and the mishmash of geometry between the grid of the library and the building across the street I just found really pretty appealing. I like how you get a mesh feeling from the reflection of the library in the other building.

Overall, it was a really fun evening, and it felt great to finally get to experiment with something new. I wouldn’t exactly call any of these images exceptional, but I think they came out decently enough. I’m looking forward to heading out in the evenings some more, though given that I start work again next week, I imagine I will be somewhat curbed in my late night escapades (so unfortunate, this “needing money” thing). Days like this that I wish this work was salable, and for good enough money to do it for a living. Going around and taking late night photos of the urban landscape sounds like a pretty awesome career to me!

I Should Really Start Bringing Headphones

Not, mind you, to shut out the music. It’s just that there ends up being a lot of songs I recognize that I want to be sure I’m getting the song and artist right in my head. For instance, there’s a song playing right now that I’m 90% sure is X’Hal by Aphex Twin (one of his ambient works), but it could also be a song off, say, Purified, which is a gamut of “chill” electronic work.

…or I can just wait, because the next song makes it clear that we’re listening to Selected Ambient Works 85-92. This is fine by me, I’m a fan of Aphex Twin myself. (Not like I just dug the album name out of my iPod, no no.) I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with this blog, and I’m still not entirely sure. I know I’m sick of non-posts that fulfill no purpose other than to inform you of the mundane day to day details of my life. If I’m bored writing them, I can only imagine how you feel. I don’t really expect that those posts will entirely go away, but I do want to start putting in something a bit more substantive, something folks can read and say “Damn, this site is worth keeping in my RSS feeds.” The question, of course, is what. My game centric blog (Critical Games) continues to sit in idle, having never really gotten past first gear. I should be working more on that, but frankly I’ve just not been thinking scholastically about games much lately. The hum-drum of day to day life has been occupying a lot of my mental cycles, notably in figuring out how to pay rent. So, to some extent, that topic is too big for me right now, in terms of finding ways to function within a 15-30 minute timeframe.

So, I’m thinking music. There is a wealth of music that I’m exposed to out here that I think people would really enjoy, and a lot of it is free and available for download in a variety of ways. Notably, I was thinking of doing quick “readings” of KEXP’s Song of the Day each day. That means that there will never be a day without something to write about (excepting weekends, since the podcast only updates on weekdays), no flailing about trying to come up with something rewarding for my readers to enjoy (and hopefully something I enjoy writing as well). I was once told that if you do something every day for twenty nine days in a row, it will become a habit. So, the question then is when to start the twenty-nine days of this experiment. Perhaps July 1st would be a good bet. Thoughts?

Status: Online

I’m back up, I’m back online in my many forms. Ping me, we’ll chat. Yes, you.

I’ll post something longer later, but right now it’d be nothing more than more non-updates, and I’d really rather get back into writing something more substantive, thanks.

Oh Noes!

Yes, that’s right, my intarweb is down. I had a tech in yesterday who couldn’t even get his unit to talk to the main office from the tap outside the house, the line was so screwy. They’ll be sending out a maintenance crew sometime tomorrow to work on the line, at which point my network should be copacetic. Until then, no net at the house, and I’m STILL not being as productive as I should be (though more than I have been for the past week). I’m starting to feel that urge to try my hand at programming again, so we’ll see how long that lasts. It looks like I’ll have most of this week to work on it, at least, since I haven’t heard from work yet (I’ll be calling again saying “give me work!” soon). On the bright side, while this past week was a total wash money-wise, and it looks like this coming week may be as well, next week I start a new project on a PC title that should run for the next 3 months, Monday through Friday, 9 to 6, at higher pay (still not matching cost of living, but a HELL of a lot closer, enough so that I hope to be able to “fake it” at least). I broached the topic of heading east for a week in late July, and from initial talks it shouldn’t be a problem (will get final confirmation later this week when I go in to sign new paperwork and additional NDAs and such), so I’m currently still planning on heading back to New England for a week at Squam in July (if you know me in real life, ping me if you want to get together? It’d be nice to see people).

I was a total shut-in this past week, despite the absolutely beautiful weather. This is a shame, since I’d really like to take some bracketed exposures in order to play with HDR imagery (since cameras currently don’t take HDR images — though they’re being worked on from all rumors — the way you make HDR images is take multiple exposures (over and under expose), and then merge them via “Merge to HDR” in Photoshop. You can get some really spectacular, rich colors and fill that way. While I do often take multiple images, very few of my available shots are varied in exposure enough to really work for this purpose (not enough dynamic range), since while the time and aperture may vary from shot to shot, I’m still aiming for the same exposure level. There’s a bracketing feature in my camera that I’m going to need to explore, that should help a lot with this process, but since I’ve not played with it so far, I’m going to need to sit down and futz for a bit.

I’ve applied for this position over at Areae, and really do think it’s right up my alley — I just hope they feel the same way. (This would mean relocating, but so what? I love Seattle, don’t get me wrong, but that community manager position is something I’d really love to do. The job is totally worth relocating for.) It is (simplified a bit) basically a job where I’d be able to apply my work for Avatar and on my first thesis (Online Communities from a User and Administrator Perspective) towards creating and fostering a viable online community, and my Don Quixote nature concerning player advocacy and casuals (I’m decidedly PRO-casual players, and feel they are the core of the social element of any online game… they’re the ones who are most likely to be willing to stop and have a conversation or answer questions, rather than focus on min-maxing and a mad rush for levels… if you sacrifice your casual players, your online community becomes “just a game”).

Some Days You’re Busy

Nabil in November 06…and some days, you’re just a bum.

May has been a weak writing month so far, for no discernable reason. A good chunk of the first half of the month was spent working nearly every day — good for the wallet, bad for writing. This week, however, I’m not sure if I’ll be working at all: the problem with this testing gig (other than low pay and no benefits) is that it’s as-needed, and sometimes projects simply don’t time out to give steady work. There may be a shift starting on Wednesday, but in the meantime, that means Monday and Tuesday are something of a wash. I managed to get some errands done today, and tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful and warm, so I’m hoping to go out and enjoy it.

Saturday morning, I got up and headed south to Portland, where I helped my friend Adam move one of his friends into her new place… we got back north about 4am, so a kind of long day, but it was fun and good nevertheless. It felt good to get out and doing something with other people. Timing unfortunately didn’t work out to catch up with Dan, but hopefully I’ll manage to track him down some other weekend.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about HDR photography, and decided to experiment a bit with some of my existing work… I already take doubles and triples of a lot of my shots, so I figured it’d be reasonable to find at least a few sets that would be suitable (the best way to create an HDR image is to set your camera to do exposure bracketing, and do multiple shots at multiple exposures… 3-9 shots at different exposures should give you a nice range… tripods are practically a must). In the process or sifting around, I found my shots from spending Thanksgiving down with Claire and her family in Williamsburg, VA. I miss her like crazy.

I tend not to talk much on this blog about the personal stuff — I’ll bore you to death with mundane shit and idle references, but when it comes to personal interactions, they at most get a mention. This is entirely intentional, and has nothing to do with wanting to avoid being “emo” or any other similar poseur bullshit. It comes down to the fact that it’s personal and private. Sometimes I think I shut it down a bit too much, though, so let me open up a little bit: this past fall, I wasn’t exactly in the best frame of mind, and several events transpired that exacerbated it — in short, I was a trainwreck. I ended up relying heavily on Claire for support and a receptive ear, which put a lot of extra stress on her. Things started to fall apart, and ended back in January with her decision to cut off all contact. This is largely my own damned fault, and you’ll not hear me argue any different. I regret where things ended up, and daily wish there was some way to fix things. Not looking for anything, not pity nor advice, just saying it because it’s been on my mind.

Not the Post You Are Looking For

First: welcome to May, may it be warm and lovely and enticing towards things to come. Second: Robot Chicken Star Wars Special. Oh hells yes.

I’ve been working a fair bit, including overtime (which is ironic in that they made a point of explaining how that NEVER happens during the orientation not a week before), working on “things.” I took a few days off earlier in the week to take some classes they were offering on project management — seemed to make a lot of sense naturally to me, so I’ll take that as a good sign. I was sure to thank my employee rep the next time I saw her. After that, it was back to work, wrapping up the project we’d been working on all last week (I’m working this weekend, but I’m not sure on what yet… the project from before is now “done” for the time being).

I haven’t really been doing much with my time other than work, though. While it’s only an 8 hour shift, with commute and waiting for the shift to start, it usually ends up being closer to a 12 hour day. This isnt horrible, but it has been taking a while to adjust and make better use of the ~4 hours I have left before heading to sleep. I’m definitely thinking about doing less with the screen and more with the reading. (This is my first time in Zoka in over a week, simply because while I’m thinking that heading there after work sounds like a great idea when I get off shift, by the time I deal with 520 traffic, I just end up going home and not going out again. Good for the wallet, but is making me feel like a bit of a shut-in.)

My creative and social energy has always had a bit of an ebb and flow to it, so part of it I suppose is just that I’m in something of an ebb right now. The goal, of course, is to make the ebbs as short and minimal as possible, and encourage the flow, the upswelling of energy, to go as high and last as long as possible. I think it speaks well that I’ve still managed to write at least a little on most days, whether during lunch, or waiting for work or class to start. None of it has been something to post, simply a page at a time in my personal, physical journal, but it’s still something.

At work, I sit around and talk with a bunch of geeks about geeky things, and even then, I feel like something of an outsider, and always in the back of my head, I wonder if to them, I’m one of the “annoying hangers on.” You know the ones I’m talking about — they’re basically ignored by the group, but keep on trying to interject, and end up just sort of talking to themselves and laughing nervously and too loud whenever someone says something remotely, possibly amusing. I know what you’re thinking: wouldn’t you KNOW if you’re one of those? You’d think, but I don’t think anyone ever intends to be that way, so maybe you don’t realize it when you’re doing it? (And yes, I know it’s probably all in my head. It’s just part and parcel of getting to know new people.) I feel like I’ve been talking too much and too quickly, but can’t seem to stop myself or slow myself down: all the time alone over the past several months has left me a torrent of words when I’m finally able to break the seal (for better or worse). Definitely some interesting people, at least. I don’t know whether any lasting friendships will come out of it (since the job doesn’t actually pay enough to cover my monthly bills, I sort of need to move on sooner than later, and have been working with my employee rep about doing so), but it would certainly be nice. There’s a certain point where eating alone all the time gets old, and I passed that a while ago.